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Canary in a Cage

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The woman’s name was Hunith.

At least that’s what the guard who brought her said. The peasant hadn’t said a word since she was brought to the castle, though Uther didn’t think she needed to. Her eyes told him everything he needed to know. He saw the fear. The pity. The pain. All wrapped up in a neat little blue package.

“Were you aware you were housing a dragonlord?” He asked her quietly, and Hunith’s head tilted to the side. She looked around the court, clutching at her ripped skirts, hair fallen from its messy braid to frame her face.

“I was, my lord.” She finally spoke. Her voice was stronger than Uther expected. Clearer. “I was of the belief Ealdor was in Cenred’s kingdom and my actions regarding magic and dragon lords bore no consequences there.”

Several members of the castle muttered among themselves. The statement was a bold one. True and justified, if Uther was being reasonable… But considering he had buried his beloved this day a year ago, he figured being unreasonable held merits as well.

“It is for this reason I allow you to live,” He warned her and stood, abandoning his throne to walk directly up to her “I can tell you are with a child. Tell me where Balinor is and I will not have it harmed.” He promised and the woman took a step back, giving a sharp intake as she jutted out her chin. Her hand flittered to her stomach, curling around it protectively.

“I don’t know,” She whispered “And even if I did…” Her voice trailed off “He’s a good man. He told me you were too.”

Uther stared. He opened his mouth, ready to pass his sentence when the doors burst open and Gauis himself walked in. The man looked exhausted – no doubt still recovering from his time in the dungeons. Uther had only just agreed to spare his life, knowing Ygraine was fond of him and silently admitting the man had become a close friend over the years. The king would be lying if he said he didn’t think this would happen. The guards told them who Hunith was when they brought her here. It was only a matter of time before Gaius learned of it too.

“My king,” He started, falling to his knees. Seeing him and Hunith side-by-side the resemblance was even more clear. Although Gaius was maybe ten years older than his sister, they both had the same dark hair and high cheekbones. Hunith’s eyes widened at the sight of her sibling and she stumbled forward a bit, trying to reach him. The guards threw out a hand to stop her. “Please, I beg of you to spare her life.”

“And what of the life of her child?” Uther asked, watching carefully as Gaius froze. His eyes flickered back to where Hunith stood, confirming the fact the physician hadn’t known. Uther sighed. He thought of his own son waddled up in the west tower. He thought of Morgana cooing over the crib, poking at Arthur’s cheeks and giggling whenever he tried to pull at her hair.

“Is Balinor aware of this?” He asked before Gaius could answer him. Hunith shook her head, swallowing. He didn’t think so. According to his guard, Hunith hadn’t figured it out until weeks after Balinor left. Nobody had seen her send word, perhaps confirming her story she didn’t know where Balinor was.

He could send them both away. They lived in Cenred’s kingdom, it wasn’t unreasonable simply to banish the both of them… However, there was still the risk of Balinor learning of his child. The risk that the pair of them would wreak havoc on his home with their dragons out of vengeance. Uther hadn’t managed to kill all of them yet, there was a good chance it would be many years before he killed all the dragons. The child would be born and could gain power by then.

If he died tomorrow, Arthur would technically be king as well. Thus was how power worked.

“Your majesty,” Gaius whispered. Eyes still wide and begging. Could Uther honestly kill this child? Part of him said yes. Most of him said yes. Maybe he was feeling sentimental over the sacrifice he had given for his own child. A sacrifice magic pried from him wrongfully and horrifically. He wasn’t sure why, but he saw Ygraine in Hunith’s eyes. Uther sighed. He had already killed so many children, it seemed. What was one more? Though perhaps…If he hadn’t killed all the dragons by the time Balinor died it would be useful to have someone who could. He felt prying eyes on him. It wasn’t as if Balinor was a sorcerer. While dragons were still a threat – and closely linked with magic he needed to remind himself that the two weren’t always mutually exclusive…

“The child can be raised here.” He answered “Under close, very close observation. As my ward so that I may decide as he grows how much of a threat he will be to my kingdom.”

The council chattered and Uther raised a hand to silence them, already regretting the decision. Now that he said it aloud there was no going back. Hunith opened her mouth, but shut it promptly when he glowered at her. Gaius nodded, accepting his words immediately. Uther rapped his fingers on his throne. In truth, he didn’t think the child would be around for much longer anyways. Assuming he did manage to defeat the dragons he would have no more use for it. Jerking his head, he signaled for his guards to lead Hunith towards an empty guest room. He would decide what to do with her later…

“Thank you, my king.” Gaius whispered. Uther said nothing. There was nothing to say. Instead he went back to the list of names in front of him. There was more work to do.


“Aw!” Morgana clapped her hands together as she peered into the crib, eyes bright “He’s so cute! Look, Arthur.” She said and grabbed the hand of the prince who was waddling over “Look, it’s a baby!” She told him and Arthur struggled to look into the basket.

His son was deeply unimpressed with what was inside.

“Baby?” He frowned and put his hand in. The child grabbed his finger and Arthur froze, looking terrified. Morgana laughed.

“His name is Merlin.” She told him “Can you say, Merlin?” She asked, but Arthur was too busy trying to release himself from the baby’s vice-grip to be bothered with the name. After he struggled free, he glowered at the basket, muttering child gibberish under his breath as he waddled away. Uther snorted. No concern there then.

Hunith sat in the corner with Gorlois by her side, both chatting idly as they watched the children play. It had been only a month of Hunith staying in the castle, but it would appear she survived the birth of her child. A bit of resentment filled Uther’s throat at the thought, but said nothing. It was magic that took Ygraine. Not Arthur.

“Morgana,” Gorlois called “It is time to go, my love.” He said and there was another jolt as Uther looked up towards his best friend. Morgana pouted, still hanging over the crib in attempt to make more faces at the baby inside.

“Can’t I stay a bit longer, father?” She asked, large eyes pleading. Uther still kept his mouth shut. He had…Promised Vivienne not to say a word on the matter. And he wouldn’t. Even as he watched his daughter looking so lovingly at someone else.

“Stay!” Arthur demanded, hitting the side of the crib. He jumped when Merlin made a noise in retaliation, hiding behind Morgana as he glowered in the direction of the baby. “No…” He whispered.

A few weeks later Uther learned Arthur actually had gotten attached to the little boy. Morgana happily informed him over breakfast that Arthur wouldn’t let anybody else hold Merlin while he was in the room and was attempting to get him to say ‘Arthur’ as his first word.

Uther hoped that didn’t mean anything.

Still, he had other worries. Hunith being the main one at the moment. He still had no idea what was to be done with her yet…but she couldn’t stay with her child, that much was certain. Not to mention they were preparing for a battle still. And another magical raid. The list seemed never ending and Uther was tasked to do it all alone.

Perhaps he would kill the child. Just to make sure his son didn’t get too attached to it.


The king had made a horrible, horrible mistake.

Arthur was currently in front of him, face bright red with angry tears streaming about as he glowered up at his father. At four years old, he thought he had escaped most of the wild tantrums and screams. Unfortunately, Arthur seemed hard to win over as he lower lip trembled. Merlin was clinging to Morgana behind him, looking over at the prince curiously.

“Morgana,” Uther sighed, completely ignoring his son “Enough. Give me the child.” He ordered. Morgana was clutching Merlin in a vice grip, eyes wide and panicked. She swallowed, tightening around the boy before looking over at Gaius, who looked ready to jump in at any moment. Gorlois was still watching silently, not doing a thing to help.

“My lord,” The physician spoke softly and placed a hand on Arthur’s head “I don’t wish us to act rashly, here.”

Rashly?” Uther repeated, voice lowering dangerously “Someone has been teaching a three-year-old magic!” He yelled and Morgana winced at the volume, tucking Merlin’s face into her shoulder. Arthur didn’t move, stubbornly standing between the them and Uther next to Gaius.

“I… Understand the concern, my lord.” Gaius told him and intertwined his hands together in front of him. “However, there… This appears to be a complicated matter.” He managed to get out and Uther crossed his arms over his chest. “I believe Merlin might not have been taught… He may simply be born with the ability.” He said and Uther stared.

“I was told that is not possible.”

“It wasn’t thought it was… Until now.” Gaius told him weakly “It… It is a sign that he is very powerful. If we spoke to the druids we could learn more-”

“Not necessary.” Uther interrupted “Kill him.” He ordered and one of the guards took a step forward at the same time Arthur gave a cry of outrage while Morgana stumbled back, shaking her head frantically. She looked desperately over at Gorlois who seemed torn by his daughter’s kindness and loyalty to Uther.

“No!” She shouted, clutching the child “He didn’t hurt anyone! He’s just a baby!” She yelled at him, tears gathering in her eyes. Arthur’s face grew bright red again, taking in a deep breath to probably start screaming again. Gaius opened his mouth to speak again, but Uther beat him to it.

“Which is why we need to get rid of him while he’s weakest.” He explained to the girl “That thing is dangerous. We can’t allow it to grow.”

“Might I offer an alternative, sire?” Gaius intervened before Morgana could respond. Uther sighed, but nodded. He doubted much could change his mind, but knew he would receive less grief if he at least humored this as a debate.

“Camelot will face many magical threats in the future. It may be…Wise to have something magical on our side.”

“It wouldn’t be on our side, Gaius. If I let it stay in our walls it will kill us all.”

“Not if we are able to contain it.” Uther turned, disbelief hinting at his features as he recognized Gorlois’ voice. The man shuffled forward, placing a hand on Morgana’s shoulder. “The king is right,” He told the children “This…boy is very dangerous and will harm people if left alive and unattended.” He reasoned and his eyes flickered back to Uther “However… We know there are methods to keeping magic at bay.” He reasoned “Iron being one of them…I believe Gaius is right that we can use him to our advantage, my lord. He may be what allows us to get rid of all magic once and for all.”

“It’s too risky.” Uther hissed out, stubbornly “I will not allow it near my son.”

“Then lock him away,” Gorlois reasoned “No one can fault you for being cautious. Simply…Think of the opportunity it might bring. And if he hurts anyone we can easily kill him.” He said and Morgana’s grip tightened. Uther stared.

There was no way he was truly considering this.

“My lord, please.” Morgana whispered.

“Please.” Arthur echoed and Uther paused, momentarily seeing Ygraine in his eyes. Perhaps…If this is what it took for them to truly, truly be rid of magic… To be able to see an end to all magical existences… He might take it. For her sake. To ensure there was proper vengeance for her death.

“For now…He may live.” The room sighed “For now.”

And for the first time, Uther looked at the boy in question, hiding into Morgana. He was so small and wide-eyed it seemed impossible to think he was harboring evil… Perhaps that’s what this all was. An innocent child contaminated with magic. A shame, really. Well, if Uther could help him he would. Maybe by the time this was over he could find a way to rid this child of the disease once and for all.


“I brought you apples.”

Merlin blinked, looking up from his book to see Arthur with a sack thrown over his shoulder. With a smile he snapped it shut, licking his lips in anticipation.

“Brilliant, I’m starving.” He greeted and the knight snorted. He looked sweaty and red – no doubt finished training for the day. He was almost tempted to tell him to get out of his room until he had a bath, but wasn’t willing to risk the apples.

“I’m not surprised. Rumor has it you threw your breakfast and Lord Bunting this morning.” He said, raising an eyebrow in such a way that Gaius would have done a double take. Rolling his eyes, he moved over so Arthur could dump the sack on his bed. “Help me get this off.” He added, gesturing to his armor.

“Don’t you have servants for that?” Merlin muttered, but tugged at plates.

“I do. You.” Arthur told him lightly and Merlin made a show of tossing the chest piece to the ground with a clang. “I’m not bringing you apples again.” He muttered and the younger tried to hide his smirk. “So, what happened with Bunting?”

“He was being a prat,” Merlin answered “Asked me if I could turn his wife into a toad so he could marry Lady Senya.” He shook his head “Then propositioned me when I said no. Please.” He muttered and Arthur blinked, turning to look at him.

“He propositioned you?” He demanded, lips quirking up. “People are taking the damsel in a tower thing very literally, are they?”

“Shut up.” Merlin grumbled and grabbed a spare shirt from his dresser. He was pretty sure it was Arthur’s anyways, but couldn’t be certain. “The point is he deserved my food in his face and your father shouldn’t be so upset about it.”

“Oh no.” Arthur groaned.

“What’s he going to do anyways? Keep me in a different tower?” Merlin muttered “Or perhaps the dungeons? I would love a change of scenery quite honestly.” He mocked and collapsed on his bed. From beside him, he reached into the sack and pulled out one of the apples, relishing the crunch as his bit into it. Arthur snorted from somewhere opposite him and a few seconds later the bed dipped slightly as he was joined.

“Don’t be an idiot. You know he can make your life a living Hell. Don’t tempt him.” Arthur warned “You are lucky he let you lives, Merlin.”

“I would like to see him get past Morgana.” Merlin smiled, turning to look at him. “I would like to see you get past Morgana.”

“What makes you think I would be pulling you to the pyre?” Arthur demanded, yanking the apple out of his hand with a frown.

“Because you are a total daddy’s boy.” Merlin muttered and rolled over to dodge Arthur’s hit. “Does he even know his precious son is alone with the big bad warlock?” He asked and a second later the apple came flying at him, nailing him right in the face. “Ow!” He yelped and shortly after another apple hit him. The third time, Merlin was ready and raised his hands to stop the fruit assault. His magic froze the item in the air before he sent it back hurtling at Arthur.

“Cheater,” The prince grumbled “You can be such a brat.”

Merlin grinned and leaned back. A few seconds later the realization of Merlin’s magic must have hit the prince because Arthur sat up and glared at him.

“Where’s your bracelet?” He demanded and Merlin groaned, rolling over so he could bury his face in the pillows around them. Arthur gave his side a firm prod before getting off the bed. “Merlin, you know you can’t take that off!” He snapped and Merlin heard a bit of rustling around the room. Truthfully, Merlin had considered throwing it out the window, but knew it would cause more trouble than it was worth. He was pretty sure Uther made a thousand copies of the damn thing anyways.

“It doesn’t fit anymore.” He lied, voice muffled by the fabric and Arthur made a sound of disbelief. A few seconds later a hand encircled his wrist and firmly jutted the iron band on him. Sighing, he sat back up, glaring bitterly at it. “I hate it. It makes me tired and sick.” He muttered.

“No, magic makes you sick.” Arthur argued “It’s evil and trying to corrupt you. This keeps you healthy.” He nodded. Merlin didn’t really buy that, but had lost the argument so many times he wasn’t sure if it was worth it anymore. Morgana didn’t mind when it was off, but Morgana wasn’t Uther.

“Nobody minds me being sick when it is for your benefit.” He said instead, lips pressing together. Arthur winced at that. A few weeks ago, Uther had summoned Merlin to help take care of a magical issue, which had included Merlin slaying a griffin. Merlin typically excelled at that sort of thing. He was allowed to leave the castle and use his magic (sort of) freely. Last time though… It has been a bit more difficult.

“He was just banished.” Arthur reminded him gently.

“I liked him...” He muttered “He should have been a knight. You agreed he was worthy.” He said and leaned his head back against his headboard. He didn’t dare to voice the rest of his thoughts. That it had been Merlin to forge Lancelot’s papers of nobility. That he had only met the man at all because he had attempted to run away only to be faced with the reality that a griffin was going to kill the people he left behind. That Lancelot had lied to Uther’s face when he realized the king would kill him if he had learned what Merlin had done…And was banished for it.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur told him quietly and Merlin wondered if he knew after all. Swallowing, he shrugged and turned away. His chest was tightening, the swirling usually present in his chest now banging against his ribs. He shifted uncomfortably, sighing at the familiar sensation.

“Where’s Morgana?” He asked instead and Arthur frowned.

“The gardens.” He answered and Merlin hummed, eyes glued to the window. He wanted to go to the gardens. He had seen them a few times – usually after some sort victory he was allowed to go to some part of the castle. He almost always chose someplace that allowed him outside, but he occasionally went to the library or maybe the court room – just so he could see people once in a while. Not that he couldn’t see people. They just were never altogether. His room didn’t really accommodate crowds.

“Arthur?” He asked and debated his next words. “When you’re king, will you let me go?”

Arthur tensed. It was a bit of a cruel question, but Merlin had to ask it. He had resisted in the past, but the older he got, the more pressing the question became.

“You’re not a prisoner, you know.” Arthur told him and Merlin pressed his lips together. It wasn’t quite an answer, but telling all the same.

“No?” Merlin muttered and held up his wrist “Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.”

“I just said-”

“It’s to keep me from becoming evil and sick with power.” Merlin repeated the mantra he had been fed time and time again. “Yeah, thanks for that. I guess that means you’ll be continuing your father’s…treatment.” He said bitterly and Arthur reached out for him. Merlin knocked his hand away, leveling him with a cold look. He wondered if it looked evil. “Thank you for the apples and the company, sire. I’m sure you have other matters to attend to.”

“Merlin-”

“That was a dismissal, Arthur.” A voice said from the doorway. Merlin jerked his gaze up, a little pleased to see Morgana watching them both with her arms crossed over her chest “You should know. You’ve given enough of them to know what they sound like.” She said and Arthur scowled.

Without giving another word, he stood up and pushed past Morgana. The door slammed shut behind him, leaving his armor behind. Merlin figured he would send a servant later to collect it. The clotpole was lazy like that.

“Thanks,” Merlin said and Morgana smiled. “Save me the lecture though, I know he means well.”

“One day,” Morgana told him, sitting at the edge of his bed “Arthur will surprise us all by how decent he can be.” She said and Merlin chuckled. He tilted his head back, studying the stone ceiling silently for a moment.

“Was it nice outside?” He asked quietly and Morgana sighed, clasping a warm hand over his.

“It was,” She assured him “The flowers are beginning to blossom. We have a wide range in the gardens this year. Blues and yellows… A bit of red and purple too. I’ll bring you some tomorrow.” She mused and Merlin tried to give her a real smile. It must have fell flat because she bit her lip. “Maybe I’ll grab you some books from the library too. Have you finished those?” She asked, nodding towards the pile in the corner. Geoffrey would have been appalled by their treatment. Merlin often tossed them lazily aside when he was doing reading them, not paying too much attention to how they landed. Gaius scolded him enough about it as it was.

“Sure,” Merlin agreed easily “Lord Bunting leaves tomorrow. Do you think I can move about the castle again?” He asked hopefully. Uther tended to give Merlin more freedom when there were no visiting nobles. Most knew he existed, but only a few actually saw him. Lord Bunting had made his acquaintance only yesterday and that relationship hadn’t even lasted twenty-four hours.

“If so, Uther will try to get you training with the knights again.” Morgana smiled and Merlin wrinkled his nose. Arthur loved dragging him into the armory only to hack at him for hours. They called it training, but Merlin was pretty sure it counted as torture. Still, he could take down a few of the knights so Arthur and Uther liked to think of it as productive.

“I’m better when I’m attending to the sick with Gaius.” Merlin grumbled “Uther could make me his apprentice or something and then I wouldn’t have to do any knight training.” He muttered. It was yet another argument that Merlin had lost numerous times at this point in his life. Morgana gave a sympathetic smile, patting the side of his face.

“There’s always Arthur.” She tried weakly, but Merlin rolled his eyes.

“Right,” He agreed and stuck out his lower lip. “How is he? Still a prat?”

“You just saw him.” Morgana laughed

“Yeah, but I don’t see him around other people. Is his prattiness still reserved for me or do others get the same treatment?”

“He made a servant hold up a shield for target practice again today.” She said as an answer. Merlin wrinkled his nose, giving a slight shake of the head.

“He’s lucky I’m not a servant. I would not put up with that nonsense.”

“You should disguise yourself,” Morgana told him “Blend in for the day.”

Merlin blinked, eyes widening. Morgana seemed to catch onto his train of thought because she quickly shot down the idea before he could even voice it.

“Merlin, do not even try.” She warned “Uther would be furious if you used magic like that. He could kill you for it.”

“Why? It isn’t hurting anyone!”

“Leave me to stick my hand in the fires, alright? You are already a burning building to him.” She shook her head and before Merlin could argue more, Morgana’s maid popped her head in.

“Hi Gwen,” He smiled at her with a wave. The girl beamed back at him before telling Morgana she was being requested by Lord Bunting. The pair exchanged exasperated looks.

“Do you need me to bring you more food?” Gwen asked, raising an eyebrow “I hear you wasted your breakfast this morning.”

“Maybe,” He shrugged innocently “If you bring me some pudding we can split it. I’ll tell Morgana I had urgent matters for you to attend to.” He said after Morgana had descended down the winding staircase. Gwen’s eyes sparkled. Out of all the servants and maids he had met throughout the years, Gwen was by far his favorite.

“Consider it done,” She beamed and the door shut with a click as she whipped her skirts out of the room. Merlin smiled, throwing himself back on the bed. He rolled over, reaching under the bed to pull out a small, leather bound journal Morgana had bought him when he was six. Rummaging around for a few minutes, he grabbed himself a quill and marked a single line on one of the pages. He flipped through it, looking at all the tally marks bitterly. Hundreds of pages were covered in the little lines, adding up so high Merlin couldn’t possible count them at this point. Sighing, he threw it to the side.

Another day.


When Merlin was around six-years-old Uther had taken him for a walk.

It had been rather exciting at the time – especially given that it was the first time in his life that Merlin had even seen the outside of Camelot’s walls. For the most part, the king had been rather distant with him, keeping their interactions to giving order and threats.

So, the walk was kind of a big deal. The moment Leon had told him he had put on his very best clothes and debated for over an hour on what kind of shoes were suitable for such an adventure. After all, Morgana often told him of the outdoors. There were things like fallen branches and mud and animals that he needed to be wary of.

Looking back…It had been a very cruel thing to do.

Sure, Uther had showed him outside. Told him about the different trees and animal tracks. He let him pick some blueberries and they rode out to a large, grassy hill that overlooked a beautiful lake.

That was when the king had explained magic to him for the first time.

“It isn’t your fault,” He had reassured him, putting a hand on Merlin’s shoulders. “Gaius told me you were born ill, but it makes you no less dangerous.”

Dangerous. Merlin? Dangerous?

Merlin knew he had been a bit strange, of course. Although Arthur and Morgana saw very little of him at that time, he knew they were allowed outside their rooms – and even the castle – on a regular basis. He had been told he was ill and that he must stay inside taking his medicine and keeping iron on him at all times. It was to keep him safe.

Except, that apparently wasn’t the case.

It was to keep them safe.

Because Merlin was a threat. Merlin. Who was only six and pale and skinny. Who cried when Arthur had gotten a cut on his hand for over an hour. Who liked to share his food with servants and make paper birds for Morgana when he was bored.

“But…” He remembered saying, brows furrowing together in confusion “I don’t want to be dangerous.”

Uther’s eyes had softened. It was one of the few times Merlin remembered ever seeing him almost regretful as he patted his cheek.

“I know…And I swear to you that we will try to fix this. I have Gaius looking into cures. If there is a way to get the magic out of you we will.” He promised. Merlin bit his lip.

“And I can’t use the magic for good things?” He tried, looking up from the sliced apples Uther had handed him at the start of their conversation. “Maybe…Maybe I can be a good sorcerer.”

“I’m glad you would want to,” Uther told him and tapped his fingers against his thigh thoughtfully, eyes lost in the sky above them as he considered. “We face many magical threats. If you wish to use your…Condition to aid in Camelot, I would be very impressed.” He told him. Merlin had straightened up, eyes wide. Yes. He could do that. He could be helpful. “But eventually it would consume you. You may help us while we find a way to save you, but…” He trailed off, lips pursed. Merlin slumped.

Uther had given him his first bracelet that day too. Most of the iron he wore were like shackles. Thick and heavy and ugly. The bracelet was…Less so. It was a wide band that was painted gold with Camelot’s crest bared in red.

“We will have to get you stronger ones when you are older, but for now it will do the trick.” The king had assured him. “But you must never take it off unless instructed to. It’s dangerous to let you live without touching iron.”

A strange thought had crossed his mind then. It was something that six-year-olds shouldn’t spend much time pondering over, but once it lodged itself into Merlin’s mind he couldn’t help but voice it.

“What if…I get too sick?” He had asked quietly and the servant who had been packing away their picnic paused to look at him. Uther’s eyes had flickered to him with veiled interest. “Would you kill me?” He asked. Uther looked at him.

“I would have to, I’m afraid.”

It hadn’t been the most ideal sixth birthday…And unfortunately, the trend continued.

“Are you ready, my lord?”

Merlin straightened his shirt a bit before nodding. Leon smiled warmly before gesturing him down the staircase where the other guards were waiting. A few of them shuffled at Merlin’s presence – the newer ones who had probably only heard of him until this point. He wondered what the newest rumors were. The last he had heard was that he had killed his own servant by using his magic to boil a pot of water and shoving them in. He supposed that’s what happened when you were locked away from the public view.

And as strange as it was…Uther did look out for him in that way. He had lost count of how many people were locked in the dungeons under allegations of ‘seditious libel’. The woman who had even claimed that Merlin had bewitched the king had been banished for her words. The man who whispered that Merlin was plotting to kill the prince had been beheaded. He supposed Uther didn’t liked the implication that he couldn’t control his ward. That wouldn’t surprise him.

“How does it feel to be a year older?” Leon asked lightly as they walked towards the stables. The king would no doubt already be saddled up and ready to go for their annual walk. There would probably even be some bards in the corner, watching carefully so they could gather more material for their next song. Merlin wasn’t too fond of the tradition. Morgana and Arthur obviously had plenty of songs written about them and their births – which said something since Arthur’s birth had included his mother’s death. Merlin…Less so. Apparently, it made him more mysterious so people always got excited whenever he was given more time with them.

“The same.” He said and sighed as he looked out towards the citadel. “They aren’t really celebrating, are they?” He asked, wrinkling his nose. “I won’t even be here.”

“Ah, but the people always look for a good excuse to throw a festival.” Leon told him with a wry smile. Besides, some of the lower town folk are planting flowers outside your tower as a gift.” He said, nodding to where he could see mounds of dirt being moved through the courtyard.

“That’s…Sweet of them.” Merlin said, biting his lip.

“I think they’ll hope to see more of you this year.”

“They won’t.” Merlin rolled his eyes. “I hear that some don’t even believe I really exist.” He muttered. Leon didn’t reply to that, instead giving a deep bow as they approached he king. Knights blocked off the exits and entrances so nobody could peer as Merlin got on his own horse. He could see a few wanderers freeze – perhaps noticing the king and deducing who he was. A little girl was trying to see through a guard’s legs, eyes wide with wonder.

“MAKE WAY FOR THE KING!” Somebody yelled and Uther grinned at him – as if this were fun. Merlin tried to smile back. He was going to get to spend time in the forest…He could at least appreciate that. Letting his smile become more genuine, he spurred his horse forward.

“They’re so nosy.” Uther laughed after they galloped outside the gates. “There are plenty of accounts detailing what you look like. I’m not sure I understand the fascination.”

“It is one thing to hear of beauty…Quite another to see it.” Merlin quipped back, giving a small smirk as he let himself relax. The forest had always made him feel so…Alive. It was overwhelming at times. The birds. The leaves and trees and sunlight spilling overhead. He sighed and tilted his head back a bit, trying to ignore the guards and knights surrounding them.

“Ah, yes.” Uther snorted “I’ve heard some of them. Ebony hair. Sky blue eyes.” The king clicked his tongue in amusement. “Sometimes I think they’re describing Morgana.” He snorted and Merlin scowled at him.

“I do not look like Morgana.”

“Oh? You don’t find her beautiful?”

“Not when she’s angry, my lord.” Merlin said and Uther gave a slight nod at that. It said something that even the king gave pause at Morgana’s temper. It was probably only rivaled by his own. “Now tell me, how have kingly affairs been? I don’t hear that much of them since my tutors left.” Merlin asked.

“You can’t honestly be interested in such things.”

“Someone has to be. Your son sure isn’t.” Merlin informed him dryly. Uther groaned.

“He…Will be.” He said, though the tone was doubtful. “If he put as much effort into diplomacy as he does into fighting we would no longer have need to fight.” He mused.

“Oh, don’t tell Arthur that.”

“We’ll keep it between us.” Uther snorted, patting the side of the stallion’s neck. “And what of you? I heard you and Lord Bunting had an interesting time of it.” He said and Merlin winced. Uther didn’t…Look mad.

“I wasn’t a fan, sire.” He admitted and ducked his head under a low hanging branch “I hope I didn’t cause too much offense.” He said. The king looked at him – a smile hinting at his lips before he shook ahead and continued forward.

“It would seem as if Arthur has been taking his notes in diplomacy from you.”

“Now that’s just unfair.” Merlin mumbled and pulled back on the reins. They were here. The same hill overlooking the lake they had always come to since he was six. It looked the same as always – the scene never changing below them as he slipped off the horse and the servants set to work bringing out blankets and food.

The worst part about Uther…Was that he never did the nastiness to Merlin’s face. Not directly anyways. The few times a year they interacted it was always times like this. Merlin’s birthday – maybe his own or Morgana’s or Arthur’s – a win in battle or Yuletide, perhaps. It was always pleasant and fun with lighthearted banter…and, well, only a few reminders that Merlin might die at any time.

“It’s nice out.” He decided, collapsing on top of a mountain of pillows. Uther shook his head at him.

“Sit up straight.” He reminded him and Merlin resisted the urge to make a face. It wasn’t like anyone but the servants could see them… But he wasn’t dumb enough to point that out so instead he just sat up. “Morgana also wanted me to ask you what you would prefer for the feast – ham or stag?” He continued. Merlin blinked.

“I…I’m not going to the feast, am I?”

“No, but it is still your feast.” Uther told him, accepting a plate of fruit. Right. Obviously.

“Ham is fine.” He dismissed. Arthur always wanted an excuse to go out and hunt those poor deer but Merlin refused to give it to him. “What’s that?” He added, watching as one of the servants – George, apparently – walked over with a velvet back in hand. Uther glanced up and hummed.

“I’m glad you asked,” He said and grabbed it from George. “Your gift.”

Yay… Another bracelet.

“Ah. Thank you, my lord.” Merlin said, trying to sound as enthusiastic as possible. When he took the bag though…It wasn’t as heavy as he thought. In fact, it felt like it weighed nothing at all. Had Uther decided it would be fun to just give him a bag? He tilted his head, looking suspicious as he undid the ropes and glanced inside. “Oh, wow…It’s…Um…” He began and furrowed his brows together. “Grass?”

Uther snorted.

“That’s what I thought too. Apparently, it is the right collection of herbs to cure an infection.” Uther told him. Merlin hadn’t had a single infection in his entire life, but okay. “Gaius said it will be the first one you’ll learn during your lessons.”

….wait.

“My lessons?” He repeated and choked. “You don’t mean…?”

“This is only because you proved yourself in healing Camelot last month and nothing to do with Morgana annoying me about it for three weeks.” Uther started, raising a hand. “I don’t need to tell you this is a privilege. Gaius will oversee your training – though you will not see a single patient without my approval first.” He warned, unaware that Merlin was currently having a heart attack. “I know we had you use your magic before but there will absolutely be none of that here. Perhaps in a few years we can have Gaius show you a thing in case of extreme emergencies, but I don’t want to expose you to anymore of that than I have to.”

Merlin was dying. He had to be. This couldn’t be real.

“I…” He began, frozen. “This is amazing. Thank you so much, my lord.” He managed to get out, voice wavering a bit.  Uther nodded as if this kindness had simply been a mere trinket. Perhaps to him it was. Merlin could hardly breathe as he tried to process it all. Would…Would that mean he could leave his tower more to go to Gaius chambers? He wanted to ask, but Uther was busy handing him another velvet bag.

…There was the damned bracelet.

“It’s beautiful,” Merlin forced himself to smile despite the fact the bracelet was definitely heavier and wider than in previous years. He could only imagine how uncomfortable wearing it was going to be. “Thank you.”

“Happy birthday.”


It was another five weeks until he was allowed to leave the tower again.

As per usual he was escorted by a ridiculous amount of guards. Morgana once commented that Merlin’s usual crowd of escorts were enough to lead an invasion. What was most amusing though was that Uther tried to convince him it was for Merlin’s safety.

“Camelot’s people are aware of the dangers of magic,” Uther had once told him “It is not unreasonable for them to fear you – or even attack you.”

Merlin had tried to point out during this conversation (when he was only the tender age of eight) that he could probably defend himself…That had not gone over well. In truth, he highly doubted anyone within Camelot would attack him. The people seemed more…Intrigued with him than anything else. Very few outside the castle saw even glimpses of him even though he was fully regarded as a member of the royal household.  

“Ah. Merlin.” Leon smiled when the guards broke apart to let the knight through. “Good, good. How have you been?” He asked, eyes flicking the ward up and down critically. He rather liked Leon. While many of the knights regarded Merlin with some non-subtle wariness and backhanded glares, Leon seemed more or less unbothered by his presence. It was probably because he had been a squire when Merlin was very young, thus had been around since he was a boy.

“I can’t say there has been much scandal, Sir Leon.” He smiled with a shrug “Though, I did see nine birds yesterday so that was rather exciting.” He drawled out. Leon looked out the ground, obviously hiding a smile as a few guards coughed. Merlin smirked. He would win them over eventually. Evil or not.

“Well, if you’re lucky maybe we can convince the king to let you see the tourney.” He winked and brought Merlin over to the racks of swords. “As usual, we’ve compiled all of the contestants’ weapons for you to examine.” He said. Merlin nodded.

Once, there had been an…Incident. Some bloke named Valiant came with a shield that had magical snakes and almost killed Arthur. It was one of the few times he had been allowed out his damned tower (Arthur had wanted Merlin to see him compete). It didn’t take him long to realize magic was involved and Valiant was immediately killed.

One would think that Merlin could have been rewarded with…You know, being allowed to other tournaments since that worked out so well.

Instead Uther decreed that all contestants turn over their weapons before the contest so Merlin can examine them and still not go to the actual competition… Ungrateful. Downright disrespectful.

Sighing, Merlin walked over and lifted a sword. Leon watched.

“How have you been, Sir Leon?” He asked, tossing it to the side to pick up another.

“My lord.” Leon scowled and picked up the sword “Handle these with care. And I’ve been well.” He said, carefully putting the sword on the rack. Merlin rolled his eyes.

“They are just metal.”

“That’s not true,” Leon told him and stepped in front of Merlin so he could point at the weapon in his hand. “For warriors, this is a piece of their soul carried with them. It protects them. It gives them the power to prove their mercy or their malice. It is their honor and their mistakes.” He told him, running a hand over the polished blade. Merlin stared, brows wrinkling.

“But…” He began “In the end it is still just metal. The man behind it gives it all those things.” He said, gently putting it down. Leon looked at him. “Do you… Do you think magic could be like that?” He asked, voice going softer. Leon blinked, looking startled. Immediately, Merlin flinched as his mistake. “I’m sorry.” He said and picked up the next weapon. “I didn’t mean-”

“My lord,” Leon said gently and put a hand on his shoulder. It was a bit startling – being touched. It happened so rarely that Merlin never knew how to react to it. “It is a far greater feat to be honorable and kind despite the misfortune of magic than to be honorable and kind while holding a sword that could be used for anything.”

It was meant to be a compliment. He knew it was. An ode to Merlin’s bravery as he faced the depravity of his own nature…But it didn’t feel like one. It didn’t feel like any truth that Merlin knew.

Still. Leon meant well so he smiled.

None of the weapons were enchanted.


Uther was quite sweet when picking out Merlin’s tower. It provided a perfect view of the execution sites so that Merlin was able to see the fate of each convicted sorcerer with ease. He was also the perfect height to hear their screams rise up or hear the yells from the crowd. A subtle reminder of his fate if he were ever to step out of line.

Merlin found himself less and less impressed by the display by each passing day… Which is why his secret escapes from the tower were getting bolder. The first few times, he had taken every precaution he could think of. Disguises, sleeping draughts, stuffing pillows in his sheets – everything. Now? He just sort of walked into Morgana’s room without too much of a thought.

“Hi,” Morgana greeted without looking up while Arthur spluttered in alarm. Merlin’s first un-authorized escapade was three months ago. He wondered why he hadn’t done it sooner. Morgana knew, but Arthur hadn’t really been included in the information for…Obvious reasons.

“I have a plan.” Merlin told them. Arthur was still recovering from Merlin’s entrance so didn’t really respond as Morgana nodded “I can sneak the druid boy out of here and take him home. I just need Arthur to sneak him from the dudgeons and we can escape-”

We?” Arthur demanded

“I could go too!” Merlin replied earnestly “You said it yourself! Druids are peaceful. Gaius says they’re kind and are familiar with my magic. It’s perfect.” He beamed. His excitement dampened a bit at the stares he was receiving. “What?”

“Uther would search for you, Merlin.” Morgana said “And I think it stands reason to assume he would eventually find you.”

“He hasn’t found my father yet.” Merlin pointed out.

“Your father is probably dead, Merlin.” Morgana said gently and Merlin shook his head.

“Kilgharrah would have told me.” He said and Arthur wrinkled his nose at the dragon’s name. When Merlin was ten, Arthur and him had given Sir Leon (a then newly appointed and young knight) the slip and gone exploring. Merlin insisted he heard a voice in his head and eventually it led them to a cavern where a dragon was waiting for them. Merlin was quite taken to Kilgharrah when he wasn’t being annoying. Arthur had wet himself and despite the fact it had almost been seven years, Merlin wasn’t going to let him forget about it.

“Kilgharrah isn’t right in the head.” Arthur muttered “His words don’t mean much.”

“Well, I can’t control him at any rate, which means my father’s power hasn’t passed down to me yet.” He reasoned and clasped his hands together “Maybe I can search for my father.” He said brightly. A rise of excitement warmed his chest at the thought.

“Merlin,” Arthur told him firmly and grabbed his shoulder “No. The answer is no. Even if you don’t get caught by my father, the magic can still corrupt you if you aren’t careful. And even if the druids are peaceful, who’s to say they wouldn’t let it devour you?”

“Or maybe they can teach me how to be peaceful with magic.” Merlin tried “Arthur, please-”

“I said, no.” Arthur snapped loudly and Morgana jumped a bit at the anger in his voice. Merlin stared back. Silence fell over them for a moment and he could see immediate regret flash over the prince's face. He waited to see if he would take back the words. When only more silence came Merlin fought back his own annoyance. Taking a deep breath, he turned to Morgana.

“Fine.” He gritted out and even though there was guilt in Arthur’s eyes, he still clenched his hands into fists by his sides. “So what is your plan?” He asked the other ward. Morgana bit her lip.

Emrys…

Days went by as the three worked together to free the boy. Morgana and Arthur had both agreed Merlin was too obvious of a suspect to be directly involved. This turned out to be a fair concern because after Morgana’s first attempt fell short, Uther had locked Merlin away in the dungeons in chains of iron with no less than ten knights at the door at all times.

“He wasn’t even involved!” Morgana had yelled as they dragged him away. Not that it mattered much…

Help me, Emrys

Merlin didn’t daresay he heard the boy’s voice in his head. Or mention the name Emrys to anyone who might hear. There was no point in asking Gaius or the Great Dragon considering he was locked up and alone. Even after Arthur had managed to sneak out the boy, Uther still held the belief that Merlin was responsible. Which, well, Merlin actually had played a small role. Since he was able to speak to the little boy in his head it was Merlin who had helped guide him through the castle when Arthur made the final attempt to escape with him and Merlin who had used just a little bit of magic to create some diversions after his guards had fallen asleep.

He had tried to ask the boy why he called him Emrys but he didn’t answer. Then again, nobody ever answered his questions particularly well. Aside from…Maybe one person…

“Who is Emrys?”

The cloaked figure didn’t seem terribly shocked by the question or Merlin’s knowledge of her presence. On the contrary, she smiled. Merlin had only just been allowed back into his tower after weeks of Morgana and Arthur persuading Uther he hadn’t been involved in the druid boy’s escape. Merlin had been expecting a visit from the woman after all of that.

“You are.”

“Right…Except I’m Merlin,” He pointed out, tapping his quill thoughtfully on his desk. “So, something is not checking out.”

“You have many names…In the prophecies anyways.” The woman told him, now fully entering the room to perch herself on the edge of Merlin’s bed. “I’m sorry it’s been awhile since I last visited. You seemed…Upset after our last fight.” She commented, voice going dry at the end. Merlin pursed his lips.

There had been a sickness awhile back spread through the water. It had been quite an opportunity for Uther to allow him to practice healing. He had always wanted to work with Gaius to learn more about his work – especially healing magic – but it had been the first time the king had seen the use for it. Morgana swore she was going to get the king to allow him sessions with Gaius...And was apparently successful in that regard considering his birthday. However, Merlin had admittedly been more interested in who was casting such sorcery over Camelot at the time. Confused and angry he had confronted the only witch who had dared to reveal herself to him.

“I’m sorry…I know you would never harm Camelot.” He sighed “It was foolish of me to think you would hurt anyone.”

“Apology accepted,” Nimueh smiled, letting her hood fall back as she undid the clasps of her cloak. “But let’s not live in the past. That’s more of Uther’s specialty.” She murmured and walked over, kneeling in front of him.

Nimueh had been around since…Well, as long as he could remember. Always in the midst of the night – showing up in the same, never-aging form. While nobody needed to teach Merlin any sort of magic, Nimueh was always there to guide him when things got complicated or messy. She was a bit like a mother…If Merlin had ever had such a thing. He had been keeping her existence from everyone since he was...Seven, maybe? It felt like even longer.

“You always mention prophecies – but never what they are.” Merlin sighed as Nimueh’s eyes went gold and several candles lit up. “If the prophecies refer to this Emrys person who is to say it’s me?” He continued, ignoring her as she patted his shoulder.

“I am not a druid…So I have limited information on such things, but if the druids say you are Emrys…Then you are Emrys.” She said simply. Merlin wasn’t sure that logic was solid, but he wasn’t willing to risk annoying her right now. He had too many other questions. “That isn’t why I’m here though.” She said and sat at the end of his bed. Merlin waited as she looked at him for a few seconds silently.

“Merlin,” She finally spoke and grabbed his hand “Have you ever asked Uther about your mother?”

For a moment, the world froze.

“My mother?” He repeated numbly and swallowed. Quite honestly…His mother had been a…Difficult subject. Growing up, Merlin hadn’t realized such a thing existed. How could he? Arthur had no mother. Morgana never mentioned hers – only her father until he died. It was only through books that he realized there was such a thing. By that point, he had obviously known his dad was a dragonlord but… Was his mother a sorceress? Some priestess of the Old Religion?

He had only dared ask Uther only once and he had been put in the dungeons for it the next day.

“I didn’t think he would tell you,” Nimueh clicked her tongue and sighed, letting go of him to clasp her hands on her lap. Merlin waited for her to continue – heart thudding loudly in his ears. “She hailed from a place called Ealdor. I heard the people recently starved to death…Bandits, I believe.” She mused. Merlin frowned.

“Ealdor?” He repeated. He hadn’t heard of that kingdom…And his tutors were pretty relentless on that sort of thing. “Is it a…Place of magic?” He guessed. Perhaps Uther had erased it from all the books. Nimueh smiled softly.

“No, it is a small farming village in Cenred’s lands.” She told him. Merlin stared.

“My…Mother was… A farmer?” He repeated, bewildered. Huh. He had just assumed he had been a high-born child. His father had been a nobleman before he was cast out…It was only logical to think his mother was the same. Nimueh nodded. Interesting. “And, these bandits…?”

“Kane was their leader. He took all their food so they could not survive the winter…Worry not, though. Your mother no longer lives there. Uther sent her someplace else.”

“She’s alive?” Merlin whispered and took a long breath. This was…Was so much. “Why are you telling me this now?” He asked. Nimueh’s smile only grew.

“I believe you are now old enough to know of her,” She said, voice careful and firm. “I saw how you saved the druid boy… Why?” She asked and Merlin could have laughed. What kind of question was that? Why? He shook his head at her in amusement.

“He was a child…And no different than me.”

“Did it make you angry that Uther would have him killed?”

“Of course,” Merlin furrowed his brows together “What does this have to do with my mother?” He asked. Did Uther put her with the druids? Was that it? Before he could ask, Nimueh got off the bed, kneeling in front of him as she put a hand on either shoulder. It felt strange sometimes – to receive such tender and maternal affections from her when they looked so similar in age – but he didn’t shrug away.

“I think you might be ready to soon escape from this place and join her.” She said softly. Merlin felt his breath catch. “I know where she is. I can bring you there.” She promised and squeezed him tightly. “Then…You and I can right the wrongs Uther has done.”

The shock blinded him for a moment, but not enough so that he couldn’t feel the uncertainty that surrounded that last statement.

“What do you mean?”

“I have watched over you for many years, Merlin.” Nimueh told him, meeting his eyes with a steely gaze he had never quite noticed before. “Protected you. Helped you. But I never rescued you…I needed you to see Uther’s hatred and callousness yourself. To see how Camelot and magic will be poisoned under his care. Tonight…When you rescued that druid I knew…” She trailed off and grinned broadly at him. “We can go to your mother and rid Camelot of Uther. All will be right again and you can return a free man.” She promised. Merlin stared.

“Really?” He whispered, voice shaking. It was…Well, it was more than tempting. Freedom. His mother. A world with magic in it. “But…But what about Arthur?” He asked. Nimueh blinked.

“Arthur?” She repeated and her brows furrowed “Surely, you see he is no different than his father. He isn’t one of us.”

“He helped rescue Mordred too.” Merlin told her “He isn’t the same as Uther. I’ve seen it.” He promised and Nimueh tilted her head. He wasn’t sure why she seemed so shocked. Of all people, she would have seen how close he had grown to the prince. Sure, they argued constantly but… It was Arthur. “And Morgana?” He said. At this, Nimueh’s confusion flittered to relief.

“No harm shall fall the Lady Morgana. I believe she will…Do very well in the world you and I will create.” She promised. Merlin bit his lip, uncertain.

“What would you have me do? Hurting Uther would upset Arthur.” He said, wringing his hands “And I promise you Arthur is good.” He added, just to reassure her. Nimueh’s hands slid down his arms, a frown hinting at her lips. After a few moments she nodded.

“We will not harm Arthur,” She said finally “It is not our destiny.”

He didn’t know what that meant, but okay. She looked at him for a few more seconds before standing again, lifting up her hood back up. Merlin opened his mouth to ask more – but Nimueh seemed done with the conversation at any rate. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be doing for whatever cause she just enlisted him in…Nor was he sure he wanted to know.

“We’ll talk more about this another time,” She finally told him as she headed towards a door. “Just keep an eye on the Pendragons. Remember their actions…And do your best to keep our kind safe.”

Merlin stared at the door, feeling as though he had been bestowed some kind destiny he hadn’t asked for. Slowly, he walked out towards the window of the tower, staring down. The little boy’s voice was still echoing in his head.

Emrys…


Personally, Merlin thought it was a little rude that Tristan was trying to kill Arthur rather Uther.

Yeah. Okay. It wasn’t actually Tristan de Bois and was most certainly possessed by a different sorcerer but even in death Merlin thought that a bit of Tristan might be like ‘hey…this is my sister’s kid who she really loved. Maybe I should kill the man I was originally mad at’.

But the wraith seemed determined to just throw the gauntlet in front of Arthur every freaking time.

“How dare you?”

“How dare I.” Merlin laughed “Oh, wow. How dare I?” He mimicked, throwing his jacket on the ground. “Get out of my room.” He snapped, falling onto the bed with a glare at his ceiling. Arthur looked at him – eyes glittering with ire as he grabbed at Merlin’s arm.

“You question my skills?!”

“Your sanity maybe,” Merlin yelled as he sat up “If I had been there I would have taken the damn gauntlet myself. There is no way you can win.”

“So, I should let another man die for me?”

“You should let me take your place, damnit!” Merlin growled as he sat up “I have magic. I can stop him somehow if you just let me figure it out.”

“We are not just going to hand you magic books or let you talk to freaking dragon just because you think this thing is unbeatable!” Arthur yelled back and Merlin tried to remember how to breathe. He was just…So damn angry though.

“Isn’t that why your father kept me?” He yelled back, standing up to pace the room. “Why not? Why not let me learn more magic if it means keeping you from dying? Gaius is allowed to-”

“Only to instruct you on the rare occasion.” Arthur said sharply and Merlin groaned.

“Why can’t I do it myself?”

“Because it is too risky and you wouldn’t know when to stop!” Arthur said and grabbed his arm. “Quite frankly, you are in more danger than I can ever be.” He snapped and while the words were definitely harsh, he could tell that Arthur fighting to not completely lose his temper.

Merlin didn’t care.

“Because of this evil thing inside of me?” He asked and shoved Arthur away from him. “If you want to be stupid and die fine. Go. Leave your people without an heir for the sole purpose of never wanting to question your father.” He said, clenching his hands by his sides. Arthur’s face went bright red.

“Don’t talk to me that way.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead and be stupid, my lord.” He mocked and walked towards the window of his room, staring down at the ground. Again, he thought maybe…Maybe he could survive the jump… His magic was strong, right? It could heal him even it went wrong.

Arthur didn’t say anything else. He just left the room loudly – slamming the door so hard that Merlin was certain one of his hinges were broken. Closing his eyes, he leaned against the cool stone. Arthur was going to die. There was no spinning this. The wraith would kill him and obviously nobody was going to tell Merlin how to prevent it.

“You seem upset.”

Thank the gods.

“Nimueh.” He whispered, turning to look at his friend. She lowered her hood, offering a wry smile as she knelt down in front of him. “You have to help me. There’s a wraith…At least, that’s what Gaius thinks it is and Arthur is going to fight it tomorrow and even Uther is worried but he won’t let me-”

“Shh.” She whispered, putting a hand on his cheek. “I know, sweet one. I know.” She promised and patted him. “It’ll be over soon.”

“What do you mean?” He frowned “Do you know how to stop it?” He asked, hope creeping into his voice. Maybe Merlin didn’t have to do anything after all. Nimueh was a friend to Camelot. She could keep Arthur safe as she has told him she has done so many times before. Still, something felt…Off.

“Uther will take Arthur’s place tomorrow.” She smiled and stood to take off her cloak. “Once the king is dead than the wraith will be pleased and vanish.” She informed him. Merlin stared.

“But…It was after Arthur.” He said slowly “Why would it be pleased with Uther’s death?” He asked, brows furrowing together. Nimueh didn't answer. In fact, she seemed to be studying him with eyes that were much too knowing. Merlin was going to start his line of questioning again, but the witch held up a hand.

"Would you have me tell you how to save them both?" She asked suddenly. Merlin frowned. This was a test. He knew it was. He just wasn't how. "Even Uther?" She pressed. Merlin hesitated at that. Part of him wondered after everything...Perhaps things would be better with Uther dead.

Then he thought of Arthur. Stupid, stubborn, infuriating Arthur.

"Even Uther." He agreed. Nimueh closed her eyes, taking a long breath. "Please...Tell me how." He tried. Nimueh's jaw clenched. "This world you say we ought to build. It shouldn't be built on blood, right? That is no way to prove magic is good." He reasoned. Nimueh did not look impressed.

"So instead it must be built on us ignoring the blood Uther spills?" She asked. "I must say. I had hoped this wraith would rid us of a tyrant king...but it appears you aren't ready for that." She said dryly. Merlin wanted to argue. To defend himself from the sudden venom in his voice he hadn't heard before. "You'll need a sword forged in a dragon's breath." She began, ignoring Merlin opening his mouth. "It is the only weapon that can slay what is already dead. However, Kilgharrah will only agree to such a weapon if he believes it is for Arthur and Arthur alone."

"But if Uther takes Arthur's place tomorrow-"

"He will," Nimueh interrupted and fixed him with hard eyes "So...Are you prepared to lie to him? There is a reason for his request, you know. Letting such a weapon fall into Uther's hands... More of our kind could die."

Arthur was really lucky Merlin liked him.


“Get out, I’m mad at you.”

“You’re always mad,” Arthur threw up his hands “You and Morgana both! It was a good kill!”

“You murdered a unicorn!” Merlin scowled back at him and for good measure, threw a book at him. Arthur dodged it easily “A unicorn.” He stressed because honestly. Who kills a unicorn? Arthur, that’s who. And people called Merlin a monster.

Granted, he was questioning that himself at the moment. He had gone through and gotten the sword forged in a dragon's breath for Uther to defeat the wraith. The sword was now hidden away in Merlin's room, veiled in magic that Nimueh had shown him. It was the only appeasement he could offer after Kilgharrah had learned he lied to him. Now he was indebted to the dragon and Merlin got the feeling the favor he had offered in return wasn't going to be one he liked.

“You’re such a girl.” Arthur grumbled “What’s it matter? They’re creatures of magic, anyhow.”

Merlin clenched his teeth. He waited for Arthur to realize his mistake, but the prince’s eyes didn’t seem to register the offense he just called. Maybe he just didn’t care. Swallowing, he turned to the window. Again, he wondered if he jumped, if his magic would save him. Sometimes he thought it was worth the risk.

“Merlin?” Arthur asked, but he ignored him. Perhaps Arthur was finally beginning to realize what he said because a hand touched his shoulders gently “I…Uh, I only meant-”

“Just get out.” He said, shrugging off the touch.


Merlin had named him Frank.

For the sole purpose being that he had been named after a bird so this bird should have a very human name.

He knew it was a little sad…Being friends with a bird, but sometimes he could go days without any visitors and, well, he got a little lonely. He often would save nuts and seeds often for when the goldfinch perched himself on his window, singing loudly to get Merlin’s attention.

“You’re back!” He beamed, reaching into his drawer for the food. All he had was a bit of bread today…With Camelot currently starving and dehydrated due to Arthur’s idiocy it was the most he would have for a while, but Frank didn’t seem to mind as he gently pecked at Merlin’s hand. “How have you been?” He asked, keeping his voice low. Winter had come and gone so it had been a few months since he had seen his friend. Frank stopped eating for a moment to sing some more. Merlin grinned.

“I have a surprise for you.” He told the bird and looked over his shoulder to make sure nobody was entering. “Here.” He said and placed Frank on the table along with the bread before yanking off the steel band and tossing it on his bed. Carefully, Merlin cupped his hands together. A warmth spread from his chest to his fingers before he pulled them a part. A blue orb appeared, glowing even in the midst of daylight. Frank gave a soft whistle as he cocked his head.

“Do you like it?” Merlin laughed, pleased at how entranced the bird’s reaction was. Frank moved a little closer to it, giving a curious peck. The magic wobbled for a moment before returning back to the orb. Frank squawked and backed away. “Oh, come now. It won’t hurt you.” He chided. Frank did not look convinced. Merlin held out his hands again.

This time Frank flew over it in circles before giving it a few more curious pecks. In the end he must have decided he liked the orb because he settled in Merlin’s hand, looking directly above at the light hovering over him.

Then the door opened.

Merlin was pretty well practiced at hiding his magic when someone walked in unexpectedly. He immediately vanquished the orb and put his hands behind his back as Frank flew at the door (like the loyal friend he was) to distract whoever was entering.

“…we need to visit you more.”

“What?” Merlin asked and Arthur stared at where the bird had flown back to Merlin’s shoulder and perched himself there. “I mean, I’m not arguing, but why?” He frowned and Arthur rolled his eyes.

“You have a bird minion.”

“Frank isn’t a minion!” Merlin objected. “He-”

“You named it?” Arthur demanded and held up a hand when he went to respond. “Nevermind. I… my father has requested your help.” He said, crossing his arms over his chest as his eyes lowered. Merlin rose his brows. That was definitely a lie. If Merlin’s help was needed that Uther came himself with a mass of armed guards. He didn’t send Arthur alone.

You are requesting my help.” He corrected and looked at Frank “He doesn’t take responsibility for his actions much.” Merlin explained and the bird chirped. For his part, Arthur really did look alarmed by Merlin’s relationship with this bird, but didn’t respond. “Is this about the unicorn?” He sighed. Arthur didn’t say anything. “I would never have guessed murdering something of magic would have magical consequences. Amazing.” He muttered and sat on his bed.

“A…A sorcerer has done this,” Arthur said sharply and winced “But he has informed me it was due to me…Doing that.” He admitted and closed his eyes. “I am to complete tests…Have you heard the water came back?” He asked, voice wavering. Merlin shrugged. Yeah…Not that he had gotten any yet, but yeah. He had seen the townfolk from his window gathered around faucet in celebration.

“You past the first test then,” Merlin told him “Good job. What do you want with me?”

“I failed the second one…And he said if I failed even one that Camelot was doomed.” Arthur said, collapsed next to him. “If my people die…That’s my fault. I’ve done this.” He said, voice catching. Merlin tilted his head a bit. “Do you think your magic could make the food come back?” He whispered.

Merlin grimaced.

“I’ve already tried,” Merlin told him as gently as he could. Arthur’s face fell. “I’m sorry.” He said and wrung his hands together. “Maybe…I could try again?” He said. Arthur said nothing. “I’m sorry.” He repeated.

“It isn’t your fault.” Arthur told him numbly “It is mine.”

“Arthur-”

“Good day, Merlin.” He said and just like that. Gone. Merlin sighed and stared up at the ceiling. He turned to where Frank was watching him carefully.

“He really is a good guy.” Merlin informed him and sat up “Hey…Do you think if I gave you a message you could find this sorcerer?” He asked suddenly. Goldfinches weren’t exactly carrier pigeons but Frank was pretty smart. The bird tweeted. Immediately, Merlin went towards his desk. “Okay. I’m just writing that Arthur deserves a redo of that test or whatever. He’s a sorcerer too…Maybe he’ll appreciate a vouch from someone like him.” Merlin reasoned, dipping his quill into the ink. Frank squawked again and Merlin frowned for a moment.

Oh.

“Um…Don’t worry about it.” He said looking at the quill in his hand. “It…Uh…It doesn’t come from birds like you.” He said. Frank did not look impressed. “Sorry.”

Frank was a little huffy and delivering the letter.


You vouch for Arthur Pendragon?”

Even if it was under dire circumstances…Merlin was pretty excited to have a visitor.

“You came!” He gasped and sat up with a bright smile. The moon hung high in the sky, shining in so the man in question seemed illuminated by the window. “I’m Merlin.” He added. The sorcerer tilted his head.

“My name is Anhora…Keeper of the unicorns.” He introduced hesitantly and looked around. “You are a prisoner here?”

“I’m…Technically the king’s ward.”

“But a prisoner.”

“…yeah.” Merlin admitted and crossed his legs under him. “But one who gets nicer clothes and a bigger room and usually better food. Not so much right now though. For obvious reasons.” He shrugged and looked him up and down. “So…Keeper of the unicorns, huh? What’s that like?”

Anhora stared. The man seemed slightly horrified and slightly intrigued. Two common reactions upon meeting Merlin. He looked at him for a few more moments, rolling his wooden staff I his hands for a moment before nodding.

“You wish to talk?”

“Um…Yes, please. About Arthur, obviously, but if you have time I would like to hear more about magic.” He said, lowering his voice at the last part. Anhora smiled a little at that.

“You have magic.”

“Yeah,” Merlin smiled and looked him over “You know, I was kind of hoping the keeper of unicorns would…Not doom my home. I’m trying to convince people here that magic isn’t evil but if the unicorns are turning on us than I’m going to run low on arguments.” He informed him. Anhora scoffed.

“I did not place the curse. Nor do I have the power to lift it. For it was your prince who showed he was not pure of heart by murdering such a creature in cold blood.” He said. Merlin leaned back. Okay. Fair, he supposed. He tapped his lip in search for a rebuttal.

“I’ve known Arthur all my life…I don’t think I would be alive without him. It is really hard for someone in this place to have a pure heart. Lots of bad things tend to happen,” He said, shaking his head in slight exasperation. “But if anyone could learn it would be him. He cares about his people more than anything else in the world.” He said and thought back to how forlorn the prince had seemed. “He is really upset they are suffering.”

Anhora nodded thoughtfully. Merlin wanted to ask him more about unicorns, but kept quiet for the sake of letting him think it all over. After a few more minutes, he nodded.

“I will let him retake the test.” He said. Whether he believed Merlin's words or just wanted him to stop talking was uncertain. Merlin thought it was a win either way.

“Great! Now, do you just…Look after the unicorns or are there other duties? Because I-”

"They don't visit you that often, do they?"

"You know, you're not the first person to notice that."


This was quite honestly…The worst day of Merlin’s life.

Do something!” Uther demanded, voice shaking ever so slightly as Merlin stood over Arthur’s lifeless body. “I kept you to fix something like this!” He hissed and Merlin swallowed before putting his hands on Arthur’s chest. He could see Uther tense at the action, but for once…He didn’t cringe away as his ward’s eyes went gold.

Arthur didn’t move.

“My lord,” Gaius interrupted. “The Questing Beast-”

“No.” Uther said, voice hardening. “He can heal. What is it? Do you want him to die?” He asked and Merlin whipped around, trying hard to fight tears pricking at his eyes.

“No!” He yelled back, possibly too loudly, but Uther didn’t seem to notice as he glowered back. “I’m trying – I don’t know why it isn’t working. I’m trying. I…I…” He managed, throat tightening as the breath escaped him. He felt Morgana’s hand touch his arm as he fought to stay calm. Arthur was dying. God, he was dying and Merlin’s one job was to use his disease to cure him and he couldn’t and what good was he if he couldn’t even cure him and-

“There is no cure for the Questing Beast’s bite.” Gaius interrupted again “I’ve told you this before, my lord.” He said gently. Merlin shook his head and went back to Arthur, trying his best to summon every piece of magic he could. Uther’s panic and anger seemed contagious at this moment.

It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair.

“He is supposed to be powerful!” Uther hissed “That is what you told me. Was it a lie?”

“Not even his powers can control life and death.” Gaius tried and Merlin felt his hands tremble when Arthur still hadn’t moved. Uther stiffened.

“Then I swear…If my son dies, you can die with him.” The king said coolly, voice laced with barely concealed rage. Merlin didn’t care. Not even when Morgana gasped and hands clenched by her side in anger as she stepped towards the king in defiance. Merlin just wanted Arthur to wake up. He wanted him to –

Nimueh.

Something she had told him…Long ago, hinted at the back of his mind. The Isle of the Blessed…Something about trading lives and the Old Religion being satisfied? He leaned back, wiping tears from his eyes as the thought began to form into an idea.

There was no way that Uther would let him go but… His eyes flickered to Arthur. There was no way that Merlin wouldn’t try.


His success was mainly due to Leon.

Sweet, brave, wonderful Leon who had taken one look at Merlin under the cloak and escorted him out of the castle without question. No guards stopped them. No knights called them over. Not even a passing noble questioned it.

“I will save the prince.” Merlin told him – because he wasn’t sure if Leon thought he was helping Merlin escape from Uther or not. “Though…I fear I may not survive it.” He said and put a hesitant hand on his arm. “So, I want to thank you now. You’ve always been so kind to me.” He told him and gave a small smile. “Maybe in death we can meet again.”

Leon stared for a moment and Merlin thought he might have seen a glimmer of emotion on an otherwise passive face. Slowly, the knight unsheathed his sword and placed it in his hands.

“I have no doubt you don’t need this,” He told him as Merlin stared down in surprise at the glint of metal in the moonlight. “But a true knight of Camelot will always die with a sword in hand…And you are more of a knight than anyone I have ever met.” He said and squeezed his arm. “Now hurry.”

Merlin wanted to say more…To argue he couldn’t accept such a gift, but Leon was right. Arthur only had so much time. So instead he nodded and turned to get on the horse. After one last look and a nod of confidence that Merlin had never once received before that moment…He fled.

The sound of the alarm bells followed him.

If it wasn’t under such dire circumstances, Merlin would have enjoyed his escape. He so rarely had been privy to the woods and life within it. His time in the woods mainly came from spending time with Uther to celebrate his birth. When he was young, he was occasionally allowed on a hunt or two under the supervision of…Well, everyone in Camelot it seemed, but now…

Now he was alone. Never had he felt more alive than as he raced through the forest with birds singing and fresh air hitting his face as his horse adeptly jumped over rocks and over brooks and through the nooks and crannies that Merlin so desperately wished to explore. He didn’t dare though. Not now.

There was also the problem that Merlin had pretty much no skills on how to survive on his own. There were no servants with him. Nobody who knew how to make camp. Nobody who had knowledge of what animals were in these woods. He figured he would just have to use magic to confront every problem – no matter how small. He thought back to his farmer mother and wondered if she would know how to survive such a trip.

He did make it to the Isle relatively unharmed. Was he hungry? Yes. Clean? No. Were his clothes absolutely ruined beyond repair? Definitely. But was he there and alive? Absolutely and that meant this whole thing was a success so far.

After taking a magical boat and climbing among the ruins of what might have been an old temple, he found himself in the middle of…Well, nothing particularly interesting. Panic rose. He had no idea what the next move was. How was he supposed to trade lives now? He had no idea.

Slow clapping stopped his train of thought.

“Well done, Merlin! You remembered my words after all.”

He spun around and stared.

“Nimueh?” He asked, a little uncertainly. She smiled at him warmly, fingers curled around a silver cup that Merlin could barely recalled held some sort of significance she might have mentioned to him before. “What…?” He started before a realization hit him. “You’re the priestess who oversees these ceremonies?” He asked and guilt ebbed at him. He didn’t want to make her watch him die. Especially since they had not done all they had set out to do.

Not that she looked particularly concerned about that. On the contrary, she seemed…Pleased.

“I am,” She said and set the silver goblet on the table “I guess you have come to save Arthur’s life?”

“I have.” He confirmed and felt the first wave of fear hit him. He had never been scared of death…Yet never before had it loomed over him so precariously – even though it had been a roommate for many years now. Nimueh hummed, looking at him thoughtfully. “What do I need to do?”

Merlin,” She sighed, looking briefly exasperated. “You don’t need to do anything. Why save Arthur Pendragon at all? His life and death are…Not relevant to us. Trust me on that.” She said. Merlin sighed. This again. She still didn’t seem to understand they were friends.

“I won’t let Arthur die.” He said stubbornly. Nimueh looked at him with a flicker of disappointment in her gaze. “I’m here to trade my life for his.” He said and waited. Nimueh’s hand fell to a golden cup beside her, fingers tracing the rim thoughtfully as she looked him up and down. After a few moments she nodded to herself and rain suddenly fell from the sky. The wind picked up quickly, sending Merlin stumbling back as the cup filled.

“The price may be more than you’re ready to give, Merlin.” She said slowly "And I have lost much of my patience waiting for you to see things my way. After years of this, how are you not tired? Not angry? You've watched them kill and slaughter and murder. How could you defend even the son of a man who causes such anguish?" She asked, pushing back hair damp from the rain. Merlin's heart slowed. A realization was tugging at him...but he didn't dare say it aloud. "I let your heart stop me from crushing Uther in hopes that I could gain a more powerful ally. Now...What do I have to show for it? Other than that very same ally choose the Pendragons over his own kind?" She asked. Merlin closed his eyes.

"You are no friend to Camelot, are you?"

"Of course, I am. To the Camelot we will build. After Uther Pendragon is gone. After our people are freed." Nimueh told him. Merlin thought back to the wraith. The the poisoned water. To other times threats loomed over his home and Nimueh...Nimueh had been so calm. So composed despite the danger.

"You didn't just try to kill Uther," Merlin managed "Innocent people died. People who had nothing to do with-"

"More innocent than our own people?" Nimueh interrupted. She held out the cup. "I'll tell you what I told Uther all those years ago. The Old Religion will take a life in return to giving a life. You say you can handle the consequences of that now...But after all is said and done, you might not be so sure." She warned and Merlin said nothing as she walked over to place the cup in his hand. "How much is a Pendragon's life really worth?" She asked, eyes glittering in a way that made him uncertain of what came next. "Perhaps another Pendragon's?"

Merlin swallowed.

"I'm listening."


Everything felt numb.

Empty. Cold. Lifeless.

He should have smiled when Arthur woke up moments after the water touched his lips. Maybe even hugged him. Uther hadn’t arrested him…On the on contrary, the man mused his hair fondly before giving him another promise of healing him from his awful curse of magic. Merlin didn’t say anything.

“What? Did you prefer me dying?” Arthur asked a few hours later when Merlin still hadn’t moved or said a word by Arthur’s bedside. The prince tilted his head, pausing in taking bites of bread to look at him in baffled confusion. Merlin opened his mouth and felt his throat catch. “What’s wrong?”

What was Merlin supposed to say? That he had killed the one person…The one fucking person who he thought used magic for good. That Uther was right and this…This part of him was evil. It must be. He had murdered someone he had known and cared for years in cold blood.

Should he tell Arthur he lied about harboring such a sorceress? That he had been so easily fooled by her lies? Hell, she probably made up that stuff about his mother too. He felt like such an idiot. And now she was dead…Because Merlin had killed her.

Obviously, he had killed before. Uther had him fight other sorcerers – he had murdered the man who tried to cure Morgana’s ‘illness’. What was his name? Edwin? At any rate, this wasn’t new…

But it had also never been his decision. His own anger. His…Friend.

“Merlin?” Arthur frowned and leaned forward to shake him a little.

Why was Merlin mourning? He should hate her. He should be glad she was gone. After all, she had lied. Broken all of her promises. She even tried to use Morgana’s life as the sacrifice to bring Arthur back instead of Merlin. If he hadn’t caught it… He shuddered. In the end, it had been Nimueh’s life used to bring Arthur back. He should be…Pleased.

Maybe…He was. It was all so confusing that he didn’t bother to try and separate all the emotions right now. Instead, he tried to focus on Arthur sitting across from him alive. Breathing. Using the life that had once belonged to Nimueh and… He just couldn’t help it.

He cried.

Chapter Text

"...no," Arthur said for what could have been the hundredth time. "This is red. Morgana, he isn't listening!" The prince huffed as Merlin examined the blue piece of cloth in front of him. Morgana was fairly certain the boy already knew his colors, but was more or less just humoring Arthur at the point. At five, Merlin had already surpassed most of his age academically...Partly because he was smart and partly because there wasn't much else to do while locked away with a bunch of tutors.

"Merlin." She chided and the boy blinked up at her. She fixed him with a small grin and he gave her a dopey smile right back before looking back at Arthur with his full attention.

"Honestly, Merlin." Arthur sighed "You have to know what red looks like in case there's a battle!" The six-year-old informed him. "Camelot is red. See?" He continued, pointing at the banner above them. Merlin glanced up and nodded.

"Blue." He proclaimed. Arthur choked. Morgana wasn't sure how this poor, adorable prince didn't see that Merlin was messing with him, but alright.

"Merlin," Arthur begged "No! No, it's red!" He shrieked. Merlin hummed before furrowing his brows together and leaning forward to press the tip of Arthur's nose. A few of the many guards who had been standing by shuffled closer in alarm, but Morgana threw them all a dark glare in warning.

"Red." Merlin decided. Morgana laughed. He wasn't wrong. Arthur's face was pretty red.

"...you're annoying." Arthur decided with a growl "So annoying!"

And just like that...Morgana was back in the present.

"You're annoying!" Merlin shot back, pacing back and forth. "I'm telling him something is wrong with him. He's...He's..." The ward struggled, looking for a good word. Apparently finding none, he threw up his hands. "He's up to something!"

"No he isn't," Arthur groaned "You don't know how people act. You're barely around them!"

Ooh. Morgana winced at that one. Merlin's eyes narrowed as he whipped around.

"Gwen said other people have noticed too. Besides, he got your servant fired. Doesn't that tell you something?" He asked. Morgana said nothing as she watched Merlin reach to rub the bracelet around his wrist mindlessly. Sighing, she reached over to grab a chair. Neither Arthur or Merlin seemed to notice.

"So? Cedric has more than proven - really?" Arthur interrupted himself when Merlin blinked a few times and leaned heavily against the wall. Morgana shot him a sharp glare.

"Really?" She mocked as she pulled Merlin into the chair. "How would you like to switch places with him?" She asked. Arthur's mouth snapped shut at that. Good.

"Wait, I'm not done-" Merlin said, but flinched when he tried to get back up out of the chair. "Yeah, okay. I'm done." He rectified as he sunk down, running a hand over his face in frustration. Morgana rubbed his shoulder in sympathy. While Merlin tended to get sick after wearing iron for a period of time, he seemed to get sick even faster when he was upset and wearing it. "Um...Morgana..."

"Got it." She said and grabbed a bucket. Merlin snatched it up from her to start retching in. Arthur watched him silently, previous annoyance melting away into guilt as he hunched his shoulders.

"Do you really like this Cedric boy that much?" She asked him. Merlin put the bucket down to pry off the bracelet and throw it moodily across the room.

"Am I not even trusted to choose my own servants anymore?" Arthur muttered and snatched up the bracelet. "Merlin, keep it on."

"You're kidding!" Morgana frowned.

"If he's sick that means it's working. It is actively pushing the magic away-"

"And when did you become a physician?"

"I'm telling you what Gaius always says!"

"I've never heard him say that."

"Well maybe you should listen better before you get Merlin killed."

"Me? Oh, that's funny. You-"

Merlin interrupted them both by grabbing the bucket to throw up again.

"Don't mind me," He muttered, wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve "Keep going."

Morgana sighed before leveling Arthur with one last glare.

"I'll get Gwen and Gaius." She told him. Gwen was usually a comforting presence for Merlin at least. She visited him more often than the others. Perhaps she could get her sleeping draft too... Not that it worked anymore. Closing her eyes, she squeezed Merlin's arm again before turning away. She hoped this Cedric thing was resolved soon. In truth, he was probably harmless, but Merlin didn't know any better. How could he? All the people he seemed to meet were enemies of Camelot that Uther asked him to destroy or just a bunch of scheming nobles who were trying to benefit from him in some way. Obviously, if Gwen made a complaint about Cedric then Merlin was going to immediately see a threat. She didn't understand why that fact was going over Arthur's head. He seemed to be as perceptive as he was when he was five.

"...you're annoying." Merlin told Arthur as she closed the door.

Well. At least Merlin always could see things clearly. Child or not.


Five thousand nine hundred and sixty one.

That was how many days he had been in this God forsaken tower.

Granted, the number wasn't exact. He had done some math. He had started keeping tallies in his notebook since he was five. That meant five years were not accounted for. However, Merlin made sure to make use of his time locked away. Through very scientific methods he had counted the days for every season. Then, he added them up to get a rough idea of how many days were in a year. Multiply that number by five and BAM! There you go.

...what? Sometimes there was nothing else to do other than solve mathematical equations. He even spent an entire day adding in the tallies for his first five years of life in his notebook. Sometimes there was just really nothing better to do.

Merlin was in the middle of putting another line in his notebook when the door was slammed opened. He jumped, thoughts flying wildly around his head as he dropped his quill and stood up, ready to face the army of knights coming to drag him to the pyre.

It took him a moment or two to realize that the person in the doorway was more certainly not a knight. Or even a guard. In fact, Merlin had never seen this man in his life. He tilted his head in confusion, at loss for words. He wasn't in the habit of meeting people all that often. Normally, he might be formally introduced and he would bow. However, it seemed a bit strange to randomly bow to this peasant who just intruded so he just stood there.

"I am so sorry! I was just looking for..." The stranger started, offering a rather apologetic smile before freezing. Merlin waited. "Holy shit."

"...what?" Merlin asked, looking around.

"You're the king's ward. I...I didn't really think you existed."

If Merlin had ever considered befriending this trespasser then the thought was squashed almost immediately.

"Pleasure," He said and crossed his arms over his chest "How did you get past the guards?" He asked and slowly suspicion rose. "Or...Oh, you came here because of the guards, didn't you?" He asked. The man's face paled for a moment before he gave a weak smile.

"I don't know what you mean, my lord."

"I mean that you're a thief." Merlin said and looked over his shoulder. Where was his brigade of overzealous keepers? Surely one of the hundreds tasked with keeping him in line would have noticed that, you know, Merlin could just prance down the staircase with a common thief. "Did you think they were guarding gold up here? You should have stuck to the vaults."

For a moment, Merlin swore he saw a flash of amusement dance in his eyes as his lips quirked up slightly before frowning in almost mock confusion.

"A thief? My lord, of course not. I am Prince Arthur's servant. It's only my first day so you'll confuse me for getting lost."

Merlin internally gasped.

He fucking knew it.

"You're Cedric!" He said, probably a bit too loudly. He also pointed at him as if there was anyone else in the room that could be Cedric...Or needed that fact clarified to them. Cedric jumped, scrambling away from before just collapsing onto the ground. Merlin stared. Ah. Right. Magic. "I wasn't casting a spell on you."

Cedric glanced up at him.

"Though I should," Merlin added because why not scare him a little? "It is my job to destroy enemies of Camelot."

"I'm not an enemy!"

"Yes you are!"

"No!"

"Yes!"

"I'm just trying to do my job!"

"You're trying to steal!" Merlin yelled and with a wave of frustration marched over to the doorway. Cedric jumped away as if he might burst into flames. "HEY! THERE'S A THIEF IN MY ROOM TRYING TO STEAL THE BRACELETS THAT KEEP ME FROM BECOMING EVIL AND KILLING YOU ALL!" He shouted.

Almost immediately there was a crash from somewhere down the staircase. Cedric made a noise of alarm.

"No!" He said, holding up his hands "No, no, no! Do not tell them that! I wouldn't do that!" He said, looking around, possibly for an escape route. Sadly, there was none. Merlin had already checked for the past couple years. "I didn't even know you were real, I swear! I was trying to get into vaults, yes, but only to take things that nobody would miss." He explained frantically. Merlin rose an eyebrow. "I wouldn't wish harm on the royal family or on anyone in Camelot. Please, my lord...." 

Ugh.

"Can I ask you a question?" Merlin asked, brushing past Cedric to pick up his fallen notebook. "I get that people never see me...but why would Uther make up having a magical ward? I don't get that part." He said. There was shouting now. He could hear knights beginning to rush up the stairs while others yelled for Arthur.

Ooh, he couldn't wait to rub this in Arthur's stupid face.

"I..." Cedric began and swallowed at the noise below them "It just seems like a power move is all. Like how people say there's a dragon in the castle. The king wants people to think he can control this evil mighty sorcerer." He said, stuttering a bit towards the end. Merlin stared blankly.

"There is a dragon in the castle."

"...Wait. What?" He asked right as Arthur burst through the door, weapon out. He took one look at Cedric before looking up at the ceiling in clear frustration. The others piled into the room, pointing swords and spears at the intruder's throat while a select few pointed their weapons at Merlin.

"Hi everyone," Merlin greeted as sat on his bed "Turns out he wasn't trying to steal my bracelet. He just got confused on how to get to the vaults. He was meant to rob those." He said with a shrug. Arthur stared at him. "I think this is the most people I've ever had in here before!" Merlin smiled brightly. "You aren't as bad as I thought you were, Cedric. Thanks for the party." He said though his eyes didn't leave Arthur.

"Arrest him." The prince said through gritted teeth. Immediately half the room divided. Half went towards Cedric while the others went towards Merlin before pausing. "Not Merlin, you idiots!" Arthur hissed and a few guards shuffled back to Cedric. Rude. Merlin waited until they started filing out.

"I told you-"

"Shut up, Merlin."


It was about a month after Cedric was banished that Merlin had what could possibly be labeled as the most confusing week of his life.

And it all started over a game of checkers.

"You're upset..." Merlin said, looking Arthur up and down carefully as he slid the board between them and laid the chips down. "And you came to me to...Play a board game?" He asked, gesturing to the piece of wood between them. "Don't you usually just beat people up?"

"It's your turn."

Merlin frowned before looking down to see Arthur nudge the board towards him. Weird. Just weird. Still, he could see the prince was going through something so he figured he might as well let him win.

Apparently, that wasn't the right move.

"You let me win!" Arthur said through gritted teeth as he paced the length of Merlin's room. "I can't believe it. You do it too!" He shouted, throwing up his hands. Merlin stared. "Did you know?"

"Know...What exactly?"

"That people were just...Just letting me win or telling me that I'm right all the time or just...Telling me what I want to hear?!"

"You didn't know that?"

"This is serious!" Arthur said, spinning around to point to him. "I'm supposed to be king. How do I know if I'll be good enough when people won't tell me the truth? For all I know, I'm not really good at anything after all!" He continued, voice rising steadily with panicked. Merlin didn't realize a game of checkers was going to lead to a mental breakdown regarding Arthur's self-worth, but he supposed it was better than just staring out the window.

"Just ask Morgana. She says you're bad at everything." He suggested. Arthur paused.

"...do you think she's right?"

"You know, Arthur, I actually don't get out much to know." Merlin told him dryly. "Which is too bad for you, really. Maybe if you stayed inside all day then people wouldn't recognize you when you left."

He tried to say it casually. Like Merlin hadn't considered the fact that nobody would recognize him if he ever - accidentally, of course - found himself outside the castle walls. Hypothetically, of course. Thankfully, Arthur didn't find the comment strange. On the contrary, he snapped his fingers.

"You're right!"

"But how? My evilness doesn't allow for such a thing!"

"I could disguise myself! I'll enter in the tournament under a false name... I could find a commoner to pretend to be a knight, but I'll be the one lancing, obviously...Yes, yes...I'll have to tell my father something, but that's fine..." Arthur mused, muttering under his breath as he ignored the previous comment. Merlin frowned, sitting up.

"Wait." He interrupted "You can't drop out of the tournament."

"Didn't you hear me? I'm just pretending-"

"But your father said I could go to this one!" Merlin said, already feeling his hope slipping away. "He won't let me if he doesn't think you're competing."

Arthur froze. The pair stared at one another.

"Right...You're right." Arthur finally said, shoulders slumping a little in defeat. "It...Nevermind." He said and dropped into an empty chair by the fire. Merlin watched him for a moment before internally sighing. Part of him wanted to suggest that Arthur bring Merlin with him. He could tell Uther there was a magical problem and both of them could go. It was a silly thought, though. There was no way Uther would agree to Arthur and Merlin going on an expedition without a million other knights there.

"Want to play again?" Arthur asked, turning away from the fire to nod at the board. He didn't seem nearly as enthused as he had when he first burst into the room. Ugh. Merlin closed his eyes. He hated this.

"You should do it." He sighed. Arthur blinked. "But you owe me!"

"Really? You don't mind?" He asked, eyes widening. Merlin nodded. "You're the best!" Arthur beamed, laughing a little as he got up. "I'll win. I'll win and show everyone that they don't need to go easy on me." He said, voice resolved as he nodded. Merlin gave him a weak grin in return. It was probably for the best anyways. Arthur needed to do this. He was right. He would be king someday and needed to sure of his skills without the bias. Merlin didn't...Well, there wasn't really a need for him to go...

"Did the lances all look safe?" Leon asked him the next day. At least Merlin got to go to the armory. That was a nice change of pace.

"Nothing seems to be enchanted." Merlin said and stopped walking to lean against a wall, staring out the window leading to the gardens. He reached out, finger trailing over a leaf of a vine that had curled its way on the side of the wall. Leon waited.

"I...Heard the prince won't be able to make the tournament tomorrow." Leon finally said "I'm sorry. I know you were looking forward to going. The people are quite displeased to hear it too." He added gently. Merlin thought to the flowers the people had planted outside his tower for his birthday. He wondered if they were more disappointed in not seeing their prince compete or not being able to get a good glimpse at Merlin.

"I'm sure Lady Morgana will be able to tell me all about it." He said and let his hand fall from the plant. "If she is feeling well, of course." He added. Morgana had been sleeping worse and worse each night it seemed. A selfish part of him was annoyed that it lessened the amount she visited him. A thought that evaporated the moment he was returned to his room to find her sitting on his bed.

"I heard Arthur was staying with Gwen. Is he driving her crazy?" He asked immediately as he shut the door. Morgana blinked.

"Gwen? Arthur is out hunting...Hunting something..." She murmured. Merlin frowned. Arthur didn't tell her? Maybe there hadn't been enough time. Or maybe she was too fragile with her sleepless nights to be involved in Arthur's convoluted planning. "Where do you keep your old bracelets?" She asked suddenly. Merlin stared.

"My...Why?" He asked, bewildered. Morgana offered a smile, but it seemed... Out of place somehow. Nervous.

"I was just thinking how nice they looked. I thought I might wear one of your old ones so that I could think of you when we are apart." She said. Merlin walked over to his bedside table, brows furrowed a bit as he pulled out a drawer. He pushed a few old drawings inside to show at least thirty different bracelets. Maybe more. There was a time where he used to go through three or four a year when his magic got stronger. Morgana walked over, fingers trailing over them. After a few seconds she picked one up and slipped it on her wrist.

"Is everything alright? I've been spending more time with Gaius. Maybe I could-"

"Thank you, Merlin." She interrupted and kissed his cheek. "I'll see you after the tournament!"

It really was a confusing week.

And it just got worse.

Arthur. Liked. Gwen.

What? What?

...what?

Now, Merlin wasn't stupid. Gwen was pretty. She was nice. She was funny. She was overall pretty great.

But...She was also a servant. Merlin wasn't as socialized as Arthur and Morgana but he knew you weren't supposed to fall in love with servants if you were nobility. Also, Gwen apparently liked Arthur back which was very confusing too. While Gwen was (as previously mentioned) pretty and nice and funny and overall pretty great...Arthur was not.

Well, he was pretty. Fine. And sometimes nice. Definitely not funny though and at best he was average in Merlin's humble, evil opinion.

Yeah. Confusing times.

"...and I won," Arthur was saying as he gestured vaguely to nothing. "I won without anyone knowing who I was. I came as regular man and left a victor. That means I was the best." He said, pounding his fist into his hand. Merlin squinted at him.

"Did you really kiss Gwen?"

Arthur's face fell.

"You never focus on the important things."

"Why did you kiss her? I don't get it."

"Merlin-"

"You know, Uther kept Morgana as a ward too. I'm pretty sure he has a habit of collecting children who can benefit him. That means you're going to marry Morgana and you went and kissed Gwen." Merlin said, crossing his legs on his bed. "And she's a peasant. You're not allowed to do that." He added for good measure. He wasn't sure why this was bothering him so badly. It was just...Confusing. He supposed he thought Lancelot should have been a knight despite his status. Really it was a bit hypocritical of him to be concerned about that bit of it. 

"Morgana?" Arthur snorted "I don't think so. It would feel weird to marry her. She's...She feels more like a sister than a wife." He mused. Merlin tilted his head. He didn't like that either. Not at all. Again, he wasn't sure why it unsettled him so much. He supposed for Arthur and Morgana...Well, it would make sense if they saw each other as siblings. They were raised together. Merlin supposed he was as well, but that was different. He wasn't really raised. More...Maintained. It was hard to think of anyone as family when said family might murder you at any given moment.

He definitely didn't see Arthur as a brother. That felt strange. He really hoped Arthur didn't think of him that way.

"Besides," Arthur continued "I don't think you can help things like that. I know I can't...I can't marry Gwen or anything, but... You know." He said uncomfortably. Merlin didn't know. He wasn't sure he would know what romantic feelings felt like if they slapped him in the face.

"I'm not sure I can feel things like that." He said suddenly. The realization had just hit him, his mind slipping to Nimueh. Could sorcerers feel love? He had always thought he could. He thought he loved Morgana and Arthur and the birds and sky and sun and the sound of rain and the taste of honey but...Maybe that wasn't right. He thought he had loved Nimueh too... but he had killed her. And her affection for him was clearly not as motherly as he thought. It had been shrouded in revenge and lust for power.

"I'm sorry." Arthur told him quietly. Merlin gave a weak smile.

"It's alright," He found himself saying "It sounds like quite the ordeal, anyways. It might make the whole arranged marriage thing easier for me." He said, wrinkling his nose. Bloody Uther. The king wasn't worrying himself over finding Morgana a husband or Arthur a wife. Still, Merlin would be a fool if he truly thought the man wouldn't use his magic to extract a treaty with some other kingdom.

"Tell me more about the tournament." He found himself saying. Immediately Arthur's eyes brightened.

"Oh! Well, there was an assassin. You saved my life by the way."

"What?"

"Somebody killed one of my opponents and tried to use their own lance in the joust. Leon was really strict about not letting anyone use weapons you hadn't approved though, which was good because it turned out to have a blade at the end of it."

"For the love of Camelot, how does this always happen to you?"


Merlin liked to think he was pretty smart. Or at least observant. Enough so that he could subtly fix this mess of a situation.

"My lord, are you sure I shouldn’t just bring her to Gaius?" Gwen asked as she helped Morgana inside. Merlin paused in his sketch of Frank (who was happily perched on the window) to look over at Uther's other ward. She looked awful. While Arthur had mentioned she had been sleeping better the rest of her health and seemingly deteriorating. She was paler than he had ever seen her, eyes fluttering open and closed as she practically collapsed onto Merlin’s bed.

"Gaius has taught me some pretty good remedies for nausea and fevers. Trust me." Merlin reassured her, putting the parchment and quill to the side. Frank tweeted, seemingly understanding he was dismissed and fluttered away. Gwen bit her lip as she let her hands hover over her mistress. "Could you get us a fresh pail of water?" He tried. After a few moments, Gwen finally nodded.

"Well Physician Merlin?" Morgana asked weakly as she watched her maid leave. "What’s your treatment?"

Merlin looked her over critically, noting the shivering and dazed expression. Finally, he just decided to do it and reached to where his bracelet sat on her wrist and yanked it off.

"Feel better?" He asked, placing the iron on the table beside them. Morgana froze. Already he could see some color back to her face - along with an expression of pure panic. "Come on, did you think I wouldn’t notice that you got sick right after you decided you needed a reminder of me to wear?" He snorted.

"I..." Morgana said, rubbing at her wrist absently. Her eyes fluttered closed for a moment. "I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t mean to! I swear, it happened by itself. My dreams started coming true and then the fire in my room happened and I thought maybe if I wore the bracelet it might just go away and-" 

"It’s alright," Merlin interrupted and reached forward to grab her hand "It just happened with me too."

Of course, Merlin’s magic just happened when he was three. Not an adult. He wondered if that had ever happened before. Gaius said that being born with magic was extremely rare as it was.

"Uther won’t see it that way." She whispered "He only has need for one magical ward, Merlin." She warned. Merlin frowned. That was a good point. He tried to think of a better one.

"He would choose you. He likes you better."

"Merlin," She groaned, running a hand over her face. Her voice was stronger now. Merlin glanced to his drawer. The one she was wearing before was probably too strong. That would explain how she got so sick so quickly. "I don’t want to see you hurt - and he might blame you for this!" She added, almost hysterically.

Merlin froze.

Was this his fault? Had he somehow infected her? Morgana did spend more time with him than anyone else. Could that be a coincidence? He swallowed at the thought. He never wore his bracelet around her...Maybe he should have...

"I’ll teach you how to control it." He interrupted, wanting to push the thought away. Morgan’s blinked. "We won’t let Uther find out. I’m pretty good with restraining my magic." He said and threw his legs over the side of the bed to grab a different bracelet "And try this. It isn’t as strong." He said, handing it over "But maybe wait until you feel a bit better." He added and grabbed a piece of cloth to wrap it in just in case.

"Thank you." She whispered and glanced up "Why are you smiling?"

"Sorry," Merlin told her and squeezed her hand  "Just... If you were born this way like me... I mean, I know your scared and confused, but it still kind of makes me happy." He admitted. Morgana tilted her head. "Only because you’re good. You’re kind and loyal and...Not evil."

Morgana’s face softened.

"I could have told you long ago that magic didn’t make you evil, Merlin."

"Yeah, but...You’re the proof I needed." He said. Morgana smiled at him and he knew that he would do pretty much anything to keep her safe. 


It was Arthur who caught him.

Of course, it was Arthur. Morgana would have let him run away and Uther would have brought out the entire army.

He knew it was a long shot. He had attempted a few escapes before but something always prevented him from actually going through with it. If there had ever been a time for which he would succeed though...This would have been it. If he left than it at least ensure Morgana’s safety if she was ever caught. Camelot was her home more so than Merlin’s anyhow. He knew she was considering leaving herself too. It seemed unfair to force her out and, really, Merlin was all too happy to escape.

This was all before Arthur caught him, obviously. 

Over the years, he and his best friend had their share of fights. Arthur was capable of so much, but more often than not couldn’t pull his head out of his ass. Merlin was… Well. Merlin.

So, when Merlin managed to successfully sneak himself out of the citadel and into the woods, Arthur was… Not happy.

For the first ten minutes, Arthur couldn’t even talk. Anger seemed to have completely taken him over before he finally found his voice and just started yelling. Merlin tried to tune it out, mourning his escape, but he found himself feeling a bit guilty. He did love his family - or wait. He had decided not to use that word. Captors? Keepers? Jailers? Whatever they were, he cared about them. Even if he was pretty sure Stockholm syndrome had something to do with it.

“Get on the horse,” Arthur finally hissed at him after another twenty minutes of yelling. Merlin looked at the animal and kissed its head affectionately. It made a noise of approval.

“Are you sure you can’t just let me go?” He tried and the prince threw up his hands in exasperation.

“Do you want to be killed?” He demanded

“Sometimes I don't really care.” Merlin admitted calmly. Arthur paused. Taking advantage of the silence, Merlin gestured to the woods around them “Tell me this isn’t messed up, Arthur? I know you believe your father knows best and I know you think you’re protecting me, but…” He laughed “If anything is going to turn me evil is it being locked in that fucking tower. I’m going crazy there. And this… Stupid band.” He growled, pulling the item from his pocket “It hurts me. I tell you this a thousand times, but you never listen. If this is really what it takes to keep me from killing everyone,” He laughed “Then I would rather you run me through now." He thought of Morgana. How kind she was. "I...I'm good. I know I am good, Arthur. I swear on my soul I am… But I need you to believe me.”

“Of course, I believe you,” Arthur frowned “You are the best person I know. Brave and honorable and kind. Magic will take that from you-”

“No. No, magic is part of me. It is what allows me to be all that I am. Please, Arthur. If I stay in that tower…” He trailed off and grabbed the prince’s arm “Please-”

Arthur stared.

“You’re sick-”

“No, I’m not!” Merlin groaned and tugged at his arm “How many times have you seen me use magic for good? How many monsters have I slain? How many butterflies have I made? Flowers? Pictures with fire? How is any of that evil?” He begged, fingers clasping desperately at the man’s sleeve. The more he said aloud...The more certain he was it was true. Any doubt he had niggling at the back of his mind eased. He looked at Arthur. For a second, he could have sworn the prince was fighting tears.

“If you do this, and we see each other again… I might have to kill you.” He said and while his voice was even, Merlin saw the emotion.  “If you leave Camelot would be undefended against magical attacks.”

“I’ll protect you.” Merlin frowned “Just… In secret.”

“In secret,” Arthur repeated and sighed “Merlin… Go.” He said and Merlin almost let his mouth drop in shock “Be careful, but… Go.”

Merlin launched himself at him. They hadn’t hugged in years, but Arthur was still just as warm and annoyingly nice smelling as the last time Merlin had hugged him. He wanted to thank him, to say something worthwhile before their goodbye, but the sound of a sword being drawn diverted their attention.

“Sir Leon,” Arthur said and quickly let go, shoving Merlin behind him. The knight was joined by several other members of the royal guard and a few more knights. Each looked ready to draw their weapon at any moment.

“The king’s ward is missing,” Leon said eyes flicking almost apologetically to Merlin “We were given orders to find him and kill him if he was trying to escape.” Leon told them. Arthur’s hand clenched around Merlin’s wrist, shaking his head.

“I’m afraid this is my fault, sir. I took him out for a ride.”

“Arthur-” Merlin started, but was silenced when Arthur turned to glower at him.

“Be quiet.” Arthur hissed.

Leon, for his part, seemed truly sorry that he had caught them. The ride back to the castle was full of regretful looks and small attempts to make conversation. Uther had been less than impressed by the entire thing. Merlin was lucky he believed that Arthur had taken him out – Arthur was unlucky that Uther believed that.

“Does he hate me?” He asked Morgana the next day. She chuckled as she offered him some soup.

“Maybe for now, but I think by next week you should be in the clear.” She promised, pushing his hair to the side. Merlin groaned and rolled over, miserably staring at the bracelet enclosed around his wrist. He had been so close… Freedom had been at his fingertips. Was it wrong that Arthur had just saved his life and Merlin was still yearning for it? He turned back to Morgana.

"I'm sorry," He finally said, voice barely above a whisper. "I thought...I thought I should leave. This is more your home than mine and if you were ever caught..." He felt her tense up at the admission, breath almost hitching. For a moment he thought she wouldn’t answer, but after a few minutes she swallowed.

“I..." She began and closed her eyes "Merlin, if I were ever caught...I don't think I could live as you do." She said slowly. "I think I would rather run and be hunted than stay here if I'm honest." She said. He could see the guilt in her eyes as she said it. The underlying implication that she would rather die than be stuck in Merlin's life.

He leaned back on the bed. He thought back to all the previous times he thought to escape. How something always convinced him not to or brought him back before he made it too far. This time though... If Leon hadn't come... He would have actually done it. Maybe it was because he thought he was doing it for Morgana. Maybe it was because a sliver of him thought Uther was wrong about magic after all. Or maybe... Maybe he just didn't care whether he was right or wrong anymore.

"Yeah," He finally said "I understand that."


Merlin thought he was pretty well-behaved the next few weeks. He saved Uther from a hilarious troll marriage, which had been amazing. Truly, one of Merlin's fondest memories was Uther Pendragon himself visiting Merlin's tower to introduce his wife (who was most certainly a troll) while Arthur silently lost his mind in the background. He had honestly been a little sad to end such a beautiful love story... But Arthur told him if he didn't that he was going to start bringing the dung from Katrina's chambers to Merlin's.

Then, he had kept a straight face when Arthur lost to a girl in a duel. Quality content. Merlin got see it all happen from his window. Arthur was so mad.

Unfortunately, what came after wasn't as fun...

"You're the best!"

Well. Okay. It was a little fun.

"Merlin, please - no. Don't!" Arthur began when Merlin started munching on a piece of bread he had pulled out from the sack slung over his shoulder. "Those are supposed to last us three days!" He said and snatched the food away. Merlin pouted.

"Why didn't you pack more?"

"Because then we'd have to carry more."

"...so you're not strong enough to carry extra bread?"

"I break you out of the damned tower for a quest and this is how you treat me?" Arthur asked, running a hand over his face. "Come on, Morgause said-"

"Why did you break me out? You always err on the side of caution with these things and your father definitely will kill me for this." Merlin said as he stopped to admire a rather beautiful looking flower. Arthur sighed and pulled him along.

"Morgana is going to say I drugged you and forced you out," Arthur grumbled "As long as I bring you back it shouldn't be an issue for you."

Huh. It still seemed pretty risky in Merlin's opinion. No offense to Arthur's planning but Uther still might kill him anyways. He had never  - never been alone with Arthur outside the castle before...Unless you counted the time where he was trying to run away. He hadn't been on a quest either. Things were really looking up for him.

"That doesn't answer why you're bringing me." Merlin said and laughed when a butterfly landed on his nose. Part of him was more than tempted to jump in the puddle a few feet away...but knew it would only annoy Arthur. Still. He hadn't jumped in a puddle before. Could he really pass up such an opportunity? While Arthur was mulling over his answer he sprinted forward, awed at how mud sprayed everywhere the moment he touched the water.

"I'm wondering the same thing," Arthur sighed "Look...Morgause...She mentioned something about your mother."

"My mother?" Merlin asked, pausing in his puddle fun. "What would she know about my mother?" He asked and Arthur gave a helpless shrug as he continued forward.

"She...She said she's alive." He finally admitted. Merlin mulled over that. Nimueh had said the same. It should make him feel better that two people had corroborated that fact, but it only made him more wary of this Morgause character. Morgana seemed to also regard her with some wariness. Maybe her magic was telling her something. "I just thought," Arthur continued "It might be a good idea for you to meet her if that was true. She could tell us where your father might be and-"

"And what?" Merlin interrupted suddenly. Arthur looked at him. Merlin stared back.

"I didn't mean it like that."

"Yes you did," Merlin muttered and kicked the puddle, sending water spraying in Arthur's direction. "I bet that's what you're going to tell your father to justify all of this too. 'Oh, I know I kidnapped a deadly weapon out of its cage but look! I brought you a dragonlord to kill!'" He mimicked and walked forward, blood boiling. Arthur closed his eyes for a moment before following.

"We wouldn't necessarily kill him-"

"Now you're just acting like I'm stupid." Merlin said, kicking a branch out of the way. "Come on. Let's go see what this sorceress has to say. I hope she beats you up again."

"Hey-"


When Merlin was ten he had found Arthur staring at a mirror.

Not in the way he usually did where he made funny face or smiled brightly. No, he was studying his face intently. Utter concentration sketched into his expression as he stared unblinkingly at his reflection.

"You're supposed to play with me!" Merlin complained, collapsing on the ground next to him. "Stop being boring!"

"We're much too old to play like children, Merlin."

"Not uh! I asked Morgana and Morgana says you aren't too old until you're a hundred. I'm only ten. You're almost twelve so that isn't too old. Besides, old people don't look in mirrors all day." Merlin chattered, climbing on top of Arthur to also peer in the mirror. "Gaius is old and when he visits me he always looks at me and not the mirror." He hinted. Arthur sighed and shoved him away.

"I don't look like my father."

Merlin groaned as he rolled on the ground.

"So?"

"That means I look like my mother." Arthur said simply. Merlin froze. He sat back up, feeling a wave of understanding wash over him. Arthur turned back to the mirror. "I think...She probably had blonde hair. And eyes like mine." He said and squinted a bit. "I might have my father's nose though."

Merlin watched. Before Arthur could continue he scrambled to the other end of his room and pulled out some parchment and a quill before scurrying back.

"Look at me." he instructed. Arthur turned.

"What are you doing now?"

"I'm learning how to draw!" Merlin sniffed, puffing out his chest "Which you would know if you talked to me more." He groused, shifting the parchment around. Arthur had officially become a squire to some old, stuffy knight which meant he didn't visit so much anymore. Merlin was very bitter. "So if you tell me what you think your mother looks like then I can draw her." He explained. Arthur blinked owlishly at him.

"Really?" He gaped and abandoned the mirror. Merlin grinned.

"Yes! So stay still!"

While Merlin's drawing hadn't been the work of an expert...It turned out he had gotten it fairly accurate. Ygraine Pendragon did bear a striking resemblance to her son.

"Arthur showed me that picture," Morgana said quietly as she sat at the end of Merlin's bed. "He still has it, you know. I saw it once when looking for through his desk."

Merlin didn't bother to ask why she was going through Arthur's things. He was too busy being touched at the thought that Arthur had actually kept the thing.

"You shouldn't have lied to him," Morgana spoke again. Merlin glanced up. "You should have let him kill Uther."

"What? Morgana-"

"Morgause didn't lie! You said that Gaius told you it was the truth. Arthur is entitled to that truth."

"But he was going to kill Uther!" Merlin argued, eyes flickering to the door in case someone was outside listening.

"So?" Morgana asked. Merlin leaned back "Then you would be free, Merlin. Arthur would have known magic wasn't evil and all of this could have been over." She said, standing up to pace back and forth, voice rising steadily. "After all the people he's killed - doesn't he deserve to die?"

"I...I don't know." Merlin began, feeling as if he had been punched in the face. "But even if he does it shouldn't be Arthur who kills him! That isn't how his rule should start out and he would regret it for the rest of his life." He pointed out. Morgana didn't seem appeased.

"Don't do that. You don't need to prove anything to me." She muttered.

"Do what?"

"Act like a saint. I know you aren't evil, Merlin. You can tell me what you really think."

"That is what I really think!" Merlin said, standing up. "Morgana. You can't really think that Arthur should have murdered his own father-"

"You're brainwashed," She threw back at him "You've been locked up and forced to say and do whatever Uther wants you to. I haven't. So I can see this more clearly-" She began, but stopped when Merlin flinched away. Immediately, her shoulders dropped, anger melting away. "I'm...I'm sorry." She said and held up a hand as if to touch him. "I didn't-"

"-mean it like that," Merlin finished "Yeah, I know." He reached down and grabbed a piece of parchment from his beside table and handed it to her. "Could you give this to Arthur for me? I...I'm a lot better now." He said and went to sit by his window. Morgana looked down at the picture of Ygraine before nodding. She opened her mouth for a moment as if to say something and then turned away. Right as her hand touched the door, she paused.

"He should know the truth one day. For her sake." She said, holding up the drawing.

Merlin didn't answer.


Merlin had seen plenty of bounty hunters before. He had seen plenty of ‘bounty’. Druids, mostly. Sometimes they were children. Sometimes they were families. Sometimes men who refused to fight back…Sometimes men who would only fight. Old women who were frail and worn from life. Young women who never flinched when faced with Uther's wrath. There was plenty of diversity in what hunters dragged in for a spot of coin.

None though…None were like her.

Merlin wasn’t exactly sure what was so special about her. She was pretty, sure. Merlin had seen plenty of pretty girls though. Maybe it was because he knew she was magic. Maybe it was because there was something…Something about her that just seemed important. He suddenly understood Arthur's earlier words about Gwen. While clearly this girl was not of noble birth (druids never were) he couldn't help but... but feel things that logically and strategically and rationally he should not be feeling.

At any rate, he couldn’t let her die.

“Is this yours?” She asked, frowning as she picked up a silver circlet embedded with sapphire jewels, fingers trailing over it. Merlin grimaced.

“Yes. I don’t wear it often. Only on Arthur’s birthday or something.” He said, flushing a little. The girl smiled before putting it on her head and turning to look at Merlin’s mirror. She laughed, clearly pleased with the trinket. It looked out of place with her hair matted in dirt and clothes nothing but rags…Still, Merlin thought it suited her. “Here,” He said and pulled out a trunk from under his bed. “I got you something.” He said and pulled out a few of Morgana’s dresses. The girl froze.

“It’s…They’re beautiful,” She breathed, placing Merlin’s circlet down to look down at the silk. “I couldn’t possibly wear something like that.” She frowned. Merlin tilted his head.

“Why not?” He asked and she sat down across from him, leaning against the bed frame while tugging at the end of her hair, eyes lowering. “It’s okay.” He rectified and placed the dresses to the side. “I also got you some strawberries.” He tried instead, pushing the bowl towards her. The girl looked at the bowl for a few moments before rising her eyes to him, brows furrowing in confusion.

“Why are you so kind to me?” She asked, fingers brushing over the berries. After some consideration, she took on and bit into it slowly, shoulders relaxing a bit at the taste.

“I’m magic too.” He said and bit his lip “And…You’re good. I can tell.” He nodded. She said nothing at that, instead keeping her eyes on the strawberries. He racked his mind, trying to think of a good conversation starter. He didn't really know too many people to be well-versed in the art of conversation...Even if he did love talking.

"How do you sleep on this?" She said suddenly, jolting Merlin out of his rapidly devolving train of thought. He turned to watch her poke at the mattress.

"...on my back?" He frowned, bewildered. "How do you sleep?"

"At home I slept on the floor." She mused. Merlin let his mouth fall open. On the floor? He knew she had been treated poorly these last few days, but he didn't think it had extended into her life before being caught. He spluttered for a moment, trying to find the right words for his outrage. Even he got a nice bed and he wasn't exactly spoiled. "You look surprised...Most people sleep like that, you know." She told him, lips quirking upwards.

"No they don't."

"People who aren't nobility do." She told him. That shut him up. He knew, obviously, that nobility was wealthier than commoners. He didn't know it was to the point most of them didn't have beds. He hadn't visited the lower town to really see commoners outside the servants and for the most part they were all pretty well paid. The thought bothered him.

"Oh." He finally said and looked at his hand, regretting his earlier thought about him not being spoiled. "I...I don't know a lot about out there, I'm sorry." He flushed, wringing his hands. Dark eyes studied him for a moment. "What, um...What is it like?" He tried. Plenty of people had told him about the world...Though most of them were nobles now that he thought about it. He wondered what the world was like for someone like this girl. Poor and alone and hunted. It made his own woes seem so small in comparison.

"It's...Beautiful."

"It is?" He tilted his head. She nodded.

"Where I come from...We lived by a lake with mountains towering over with flowers and boats with fisherman and children playing by the water." She smiled, running her fingers over the stone floor as if imagining it were grass. "We never had much but I don't think I minded. I had my life. My family. My choices."

"...And magic?" Merlin asked, shifting forward a little. Her eyes flicked to him.

"And magic." She agreed. "That was beautiful too."

He had never heard anyone call magic beautiful before. Part of him thought he had never seen anyone so beautiful before either.

“Could I know more about you?” He tried, moving a little closer. The girl tensed and immediately he leaned away. “What's your name?”

It seemed like such an innocent question, but it had been difficult to get an answer. After Merlin had rescued her from the cage he had done his best to hide her…It had been terrifying. Merlin's nighttime secret escapades had never included going outside the castle. Even after he had gotten her inside he felt so certain they would be caught. Luckily, he wasn’t the prime suspect for once. Uther had him tracking down this magical creature that was killing people at night. Apparently, that meant he couldn’t possibly be hiding the druid girl while doing that.

He always did love a spot of irony.

The good news was that she was safe in Merlin’s room at night as he tried to track down this winged-cat-thing and was fine to spend time with him during the day.

“Why do you care?” She asked “You…You’re part of the royal family. I’m just a peasant.”

“I’m hardly part of the family,” Merlin chuckled and picked at a thread on his quilt “I’m more like a…Very exotic pet.” He sniffed and looked out the window to where the sun was setting. “I tried to run away a few times. I almost made it.” He said and tore his gaze away from the outside world. The girl was watching him. Possibly waiting for an answer still. “I like you.” He finally answered “You’re special.”

“Special.” She repeated. He nodded.

“But in the good way. Not in the way Uther tells me I’m special.” He correctly quickly. Amusement flittered in her eyes. “You know…My mother might have been a farmer.” He tried when he got no response. “I don’t know how good I would be at farming, but I always thought if I left this place I could try.” He said.

“You didn’t know your mother?” She asked and he shook his head. After a few minutes of silence she spoke again. "You...You're very kind." She said and Merlin tilted his head at her "I don't think anyone could be so kind being trapped in here all the time, Lord Merlin."

"You can just call me Merlin." He shrugged, though part of him felt a little giddy. She thought he was kind. Him! And she was kind too. A sense of warmth flooded him at the thought. Clearly, Uther was wrong. Morgana was good. This druid girl was good. That meant Merlin could be too.

“Freya.”

“What?”

“My name is Freya.”

Merlin thought it was perfect for her.


Merlin, was tragically, a very useful ward.

He had learned pretty early on that Uther was ready to use literally every aspect of Merlin’s existence to benefit himself and his kingdom. This…Well, this was one of them.

"You must be pretty special." The girl said as she jutted out her chin, arms crossed over her chest. "My father has never considered a marriage for me before."

Merlin blinked. He had literally just exited the staircase of his tower. He hadn't been ready for this.

“Uh, my lady,” Merlin said, dipping his head as he took her hand. The girl scowled slightly, but nodded and tilted her head back. “I hope you don't mind that I am escorting you to the feast…?” He asked, trying not to sound wary. He was wary though. So very wary. Arthur had warned Merlin about this girl long before this 'alliance' was even suggested. Merlin was fairly positive that a treaty could be made without marriage on the table, but with all of Camelot's rival kingdoms in one place...Well, he assumed the opportunity was too good to pass up.

"I don't think I have much choice in the matter." She told him, eyes narrowed. Merlin stared. What on Earth was he supposed to say to that? He didn't have the social skills for this.

"Neither do I." He said and narrowed his eyes "And quite frankly you don't seem like good company."

Leon choked from behind him.

"Well there goes our alliance with Olaf." One of the guards muttered. Merlin internally winced. Uther was going to kill him - either figuratively or literally...He wasn't sure yet. This was Olaf's daughter? Nobody bloody mentioned that! Of all the kings in Camelot Olaf was probably Uther's biggest adversary. With a sudden jolt he realized why exactly Uther was pushing for marriage...And would no doubt be livid that Merlin screwed it up.

He waited for the girl to scream or yell or throw something.

"Well," She said instead "If you don't find me entertaining enough I'm sure one of your many guards might amuse you."

Merlin turned to look over his shoulder to look at the small crowd surrounding them. He turned back to the princess only to find a glimmer of humor touching her lips. Huh. Okay...

"You sound jealous...If you want my guards take one...Or thirty." He said dryly. Immediately the amusement on her face rose. She walked over, sweeping blonde hair dramatically over her shoulder before grabbing his arm and steering him towards the hall. Alright then. He felt as though he somehow had passed a test, but if he was honest...He had no idea what just happened. She wasn't shouting though so that was good.

“Do you really think they’re going to marry us off?” She asked, nodding to a few people who passed by them. A few people froze to whisper, eyes wandering to Merlin with thinly veiled curiousity. "My father has never shown interest in wedding me. In fact, the last man who tried lost his head for asking." She smiled fondly. Which was terrifying. Definitely terrifying. "And of course, the boy before that got his hand cut off for being too friendly." She said and patted Merlin's hand almost tauntingly. "So like I said. You must be special."

Annoyance rose.

“Uther is in negotiations with several kingdoms for my hand,” He told her, gesturing for a servant to bring them some wine as they waited outside the doors to be announced. “So it would be best if I don't lose it. He’s even considering to marry me off to a prince that prefers men. I suppose that would be interesting.” He added lightly “It all depends on what the king wants.” He shrugged. From the other side of the door there was rumbling as they creaked open.

"PRINCESS VIVIAN OF AMATA AND LORD MERLIN OF CAMELOT!"

Oh, right. Her name. He didn't ask that. Arthur had ranted so much about her that he didn't think to play dumb and ask. Oh well. Vivian didn't seem to notice.

"We do have...Problems at the moment." Vivian admitted, still smiling and nodding as the room clapped when they entered "Of the magical sort. However, I think using you as a solution may prove only to be a passing fancy. I am quite lucky in that my father adores me enough to allow such freedom." She added. Merlin felt his previous annoyance waver a bit at that. He turned to look at her, noticing a subtle purse of her lips as she nodded to a few of Olaf's advisors at one of the tables.

"You don't want to be married." He guessed. Vivian shifted a little, straightening her dress as one of the servants scurried to pull out her chair for her.

"Why would I?" She asked him, almost aggressively. Or maybe just aggressively. She seemed like an aggressive person in Merlin's opinion. "I'm my father's only heir. If I remain unmarried than I am free to rule my kingdom as I see fit. Despite what the men surrounding my father say I do not need anyone else with more authority than me. Besides, what does Uther want from my family?” She asked. Merlin sat down. He could feel Uther's eyes on them.

“If we were married then he would be entitled to some of your land and absolute loyalty if Camelot were ever in need of aid during battle,” He reasoned “And in exchange your family could use me to rid themselves of whatever magical inconvenience they are experiencing at the moment.” He told her. Vivian’s eyes swept over him as she nodded, taking a sip of her goblet.

“Are you really as powerful as they say?” She asked. Not…Fearfully, like many might be when they looked at him. More…Curious than anything else. Merlin tilted his head, trying to pick up on if she was actually asking or if she was doing her father’s bidding.

“I have no idea,” He admitted “For the most part I’m kept in this.” He said, showing her the iron bracelet around his wrist. Vivian held out her hand and he obediently put his wrist in it for her to observe. No doubt, the thing was pretty. It was painted a deep red with gold writing on it that spelled out his name. “It keeps the magic at bay,” He told her “I get a new one every year for my birthday that is just a bit stronger than the last.” He snorted and took his hand back.

“You don’t sound fond of it.” She noted. Merlin smiled.

“I’m sorry…I don’t mean to sound bitter. I’m quite lucky Uther keeps me alive at all…” He admitted. This was true. Sometimes he got so caught up in the bitterness that he forgot to be grateful for that fact. Even if it was hard. Vivian said nothing to the comment, only watching him. "I suppose I understand the wariness of people being able to control you." He added, a bit more lowly as he took a sip of wine.

“Do you like other things?” She questioned and Merlin paused “Than magic, I mean. If, by some miracle, my father agrees to this nonsense I would like to talk about something other than magic.”

For a second, Merlin floundered, a little caught off-guard. Vivian rose an impatient eyebrow at him.

“Nobody has asked me that before,” He admitted and looked around, unable to hold back some of his excitment “Sometimes, I get to help the court’s physician – Gaius. He sends me books about medicine and science and stuff…It is all really interesting!” He told her brightly and the girl nodded, giving a silent nudge for him to continue.

It was a few hours later that they stopped talking – the feast ending causing the interruption as Vivian tried to tell a story about her learning the lyre that ended in a small battle between her father and a stable boy. Merlin honestly couldn't say whether or not he liked her. She was...Well, really rude and blunt and not easily impressed. However, he couldn't help but wonder if that was on purpose. The longer her talked to her the more he saw flickers of a sense of humor - and even a smidge of kindness.

He knew Vivian would never compare to...Well, her, but maybe she could be a good friend at least. God knows Merlin needed a few more of those.

“Shall I see you for breakfast then?” Vivian asked, dipping her head and for a second, Merlin thought of Freya. Part of him felt a little sickened by it. He opened his mouth to say no when he caught sight of Uther watching. "If my father is still playing along with this, I mean."

“Perhaps,” He said, leaning down to kiss her hand “If I am lucky enough to be escorted down again.”

“I’ll put in a good word for you.” Vivian scoffed with a roll of her eyes. "Who knows...If my father sees this as a benefit to our kingdom...Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge." She said, eyes softening ever so slightly. Merlin paused.

Damnit. He kind of liked her...Which meant he couldn't keep lying.

"Let me walk you back," He said and grabbed her arm "They're tricking you. Both you and your father." He whispered the last part. Vivian froze before turning back to wave at her father. Olaf was watching Merlin with narrowed eyes, but didn't say a word. When she turned back, she gave him a subtle nod. "Your father is assuming if we got married than it will be easier to keep you in power as queen after he dies. It won't work like that."

"You don't seem quite fit to be a king, my lord."

"No," Merlin agreed "I'm not. And your people won't accept a sorcerer of all things as such."

"Then how is this a threat to my rule?" Vivian asked as they turned another corner. Merlin slowed their pace a bit, making sure they didn't get to her room too quickly.

"Because Uther owns me. How easy would it be for him - or Arthur, if he is king then - to make a claim to your lands? Your father's advisors would more than welcome a strong king such as him instead of you. The people know of Camelot's wealth and prosperity. It stands to reason they wouldn't fight it either." He said. He hoped to God none of the guards or knights could hear him. They seemed to be giving him and Vivian a bit more distance than they might usually give, but Merlin swore some of them had bat-like hearing. Vivian jaw clenched, eyes flickering with barely concealed rage.

"If I tell my father this...He'll declare war. Why would you tell me?" She asked suspiciously. Merlin stopped walking. They were at her room now.

"Because I already know what kind of king Uther is...I'd rather see what kind of queen you might be." He said and offered one last bow. "I don't want war. If there's a way to prevent a marriage without telling your father, please consider it, but..." He looked over his shoulder. Leon was waiting for him, head tilted in slight curiosity. "Remember my guardian is more clever than people give him credit for. He does have a sorcerer as a pet." He finished lowly.

When he went to turn away, Vivian reached out to grab his arm. A few guards shuffled nervously.

"Thank you, Merlin." She said and opened her mouth for a moment before shaking her head. "I will do my best to ensure we leave in peace."

Merlin smiled. He liked the sound of that.

Unfortunately, there was no peace with Morgana and Arthur.

“She’s too selfish,” Morgana grumbled as they all filed into Merlin’s room. “She spent most of the night looking in a mirror than she did talking.” She added, shoving Arthur to the side so she could sit on Merlin’s bed.

"She's also the worst." Arthur added.

“Why does that matter?” He asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Because we need someone who will vocally be on your side. That’s why I keep saying Prince Xander is a better fit!” She argued, taking some pins out of her hair and tossing them on Merlin’s dresser “He could at least put a stop to Uther’s threats to kill you.”

“Except if Merlin were to marry Xander that would have to mean he would go to their kingdom. There’s no way my father will seriously consider a marriage that will allow that.” Arthur commented. Morgana raised an eyebrow.

“I would think Uther would be pleased at an arrangement to allow that – and he could still call upon Merlin whenever he so pleased, would he not?”

“Do I not even have an opinion on this with you two?” Merlin interrupted loudly, effectively silencing the conversation. Arthur and Morgana paused, offering bowed looks of apologies. Merlin took a long breath. “Honestly, it doesn’t even matter.” He grumbled, feeling a wave of defeat hit him as he sat down in one of the chairs by the fire.

“Wha -? Yes, it does!” Morgana argued “He may have the final say over who you marry, but Arthur and I certainly have sway…And we want someone good.” She added. Merlin didn't bother to tell her he was more referring to the fact he had told Vivian the truth. He wondered if Arthur and Morgana had figured out what Uther was planning. Hopefully it wouldn't be too big of a deal. Uther had ensure there were still plenty of other candidates. Merlin thought to Freya. Her smile…

“What if I don’t want to marry anyone?” He asked and saw a stab of resignation in the pair “He wouldn’t let Arthur marry that Sophia girl!” He pointed out and Arthur winced at the reminder.

“You said she was a sidhe.” Morgana pointed out.

“Yeah, but Uther said no before I pointed out that her and her father were trying to use his soul as a fast-pass to Avalon.” He grumbled and glowered at Arthur. The dumbass was almost always dying. Arthur merely shrugged in apology. “The point is, nobody should have to get married this young.”

“Well you certainly have a few years,” Arthur pointed out “My father is not going to make a decision anytime soon.”

Wow. He loved Arthur – truly, he did – but sometimes he wanted to turn him into a donkey from his lack of sensitivity. Morgana elbowed him in the ribs. At this point...She was probably at the height of sensitivity which was also kind of driving Merlin crazy. He could see the look in her eyes when she watched him. Knowing that if she wasn't careful she could end up with Merlin's life. A life she didn't want. That nobody could possibly want.

“Let’s…Not worry over it for now,” She said placatingly and grabbed Merlin’s hand “Would you like me to bring up your medicine?” She asked and Merlin sighed, tilting his head at her. “Sorry.” She tacked on hastily, but it was too late.

“Have you not taken it yet?” Arthur jumped in hastily “Merlin.”

“It just drugs me, Arthur.” Merlin pointed out “It doesn’t actually help with the evil magic.”

“Gaius says it does.” The prince insisted stubbornly. Merlin didn’t have the heart to tell him that Gaius had admitted to him long ago that it didn’t. It was just a way to ensure he didn’t do anything stupid at night. Morgana looked between the two, wringing her hands together for a moment before placing a hand on Arthur’s shoulder.

“Could Merlin and I have a moment?” She asked. Arthur scowled at her before looking at where Merlin was glaring back at him. He sighed, throwing up his hands in resignation before stomping out like the loud, annoying prat he was. Morgana snorted as she watched him go before sitting in one of the empty chairs by the fireplace.

“This is about Freya.” She announced. Merlin froze.

“…no.”

“I know it is,” Morgana sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “I get this must be hard. But you weren't the one who killed-”

Lies. Lies.

"Morgana, I'm tired." He interrupted. She looked at him for a second before sighing. He waited for her to leave but she merely took off her shoes and climbed into the bed. "Wha-"

"I'm sleeping." She told him and Merlin rolled his eyes. Uther would be angry, but Merlin was too tired to care. He had to worry about a war. God forbid Uther found out that it was Merlin who warned Vivian. Wordlessly, Morgana took off the bracelet Morgause had given her and slipped it on his wrist. Within seconds he fell alseep, freeing his mind of thoughts of war and memories of Freya's face.

Chapter Text

Arthur, for the most part, was very fond of his father.

Uther wasn't an easy man by any means. He could be too paranoid and wasn't much for empathy, but the prince knew it was what came with being a ruler. How could someone not be paranoid when your kingdom was constantly under attack? Or show mercy and kindness to every enemy you come across? Arthur knew that eventually he would be molded in the same way. That years of leadership and battle would shape him into a king that would hopefully be similar to his father.

With that being said, those days seemed far and Arthur...Well, Arthur had a big heart.

There was only a handful of times he could say he'd ever really been angry with his father. In fact, he could only think of three times right off the top of his head. One of those times had been when he was fourteen. It was a...A strange age. Definitely not a child, but also not quite an adult either. It was already a frustrating time. Here Arthur was with years of training under his belt being forced to play squire when he was certain he should be a knight. Not to mention a growing conscious that left him with the ability to question some of his father's methods...Especially when it came to Merlin.

"What happened?"

"Sire, you must understand this is part of the process-"

"What bloody process? Arrest him!" Arthur hissed and while a few of the guards immediately obeyed his command there were some others that hesitated. Arthur's previous annoyance rose - the heat in his chest swirling into something akin to rage at their lack of reaction.

The man who was currently being placed under arrest squealed like the pig Arthur had decided he was - jerking away with shouts of innocence and mercy. Arthur ignored him. He turned to glower at the guards instead, daring them to not move forward with his order when a weak cough came from behind him.

"...let him go, Arthur."

He swung around, mouth opened where he saw Merlin continuing to clutch at his throat, eyes closed as he gave a few shuddering breaths. After a couple seconds he coughed again, blood spraying onto his hand.

"He poisoned you!" Arthur informed the idiot. It had been fairly obvious. The bottle was still sitting on Merlin's vanity - not even cleverly hidden. Even Arthur could tell the bottle was bad news. Gaius' handwriting riddled the label with warnings and a huge X to ward off any accidental ingestion. He wasn't sure how Merlin missed it with how clever he claimed to be.

"I know," Merlin sighed "He was supposed to."

Arthur stared. Clearly this poison affected the brain. It had to. He glanced over to where the man was standing between the guards, nodding quickly in agreement with Merlin. Arthur turned back to study Merlin's face. He was way too pale...A thin sheet of sweat was tricking down his face while his eyes fluttered opened and closed.

"I don't understand." Arthur finally said.

"It's a treatment!" The man burst out "I wasn't giving enough to kill him, sire. It was only enough to kill the magic. The king gave me permission." He added. There was a tremble in his voice. It made Arthur feel a little guilty, but when he turned back to Merlin the feeling disappeared. The words took a moment to process. Arthur wasn't really sure they made sense.

"My father did not condone this." Arthur frowned. His eyes flicked over to Merlin, who nodded weakly. "It... That's way to risky. What if he gave too much?" He said to nobody in particular. "Why weren't Morgana and I informed of this?" He asked and paced the length of the room. Nobody answered. "Where is my father? Send for him now." He hissed. One of the guards jumped at the ire in his voice. "And get Merlin to Gaius." He added because if he knew one thing...It was that Gaius hadn't been informed of this either. No way.

Like he mentioned before, it wasn't often that he got angry at his father... And the reverse was also true. Uther never really got angry with Arthur as a child either.

Unless it was over something like this.

"Send for me? I am the King of Camelot!" His father hissed as he stood in front of his throne. "You do not give me orders and you certainly do not make decisions when it comes to Merlin. I am his guardian!"

"He was poisoned! How was sending him to Gaius a detriment?" Arthur threw back, fists clenched by his sides. He took a long breath. It didn't calm him down. If anything, it made the whole situation that much more ridiculous. "And what kind of guardian asks for their ward to be poisoned? You could have killed him!" He shouted. He could hear a gasp from outside the door. No doubt, some of the staff were gathered around, whispering at the scandal of it all. Arthur didn't care.

"You dare question me?" Uther asked, face turning redder by the second. Arthur scowled and jutted out his chin in response. "I only have Merlin's best interests in mind-"

"Because poison is definitely in his best interest."

"Interrupt me again and I'll have you in the dungeons," Uther warned. Arthur resisted the urge to scoff in his face. His whole body felt hot - fingers pricking with rage he wasn't sure he had ever felt before. His father stared back down at him with fire in his own eyes. "Come with me." He instructed. Arthur stood still. "Now."

For a few moments, Arthur thought he really was going to lock him in the dungeons. Instead, the king simply yanked him down to the cells and pointed to where people were all stuffed inside. It was a wonder any of them could move, really. Between the large iron cuffs placed on their wrists and ankles and the size of the group itself...Arthur felt another hint of rage rise. There were plenty of empty cells on either side. He turned to demand an explanation when one of the men screamed and jumped forward. Arthur stumbled back in alarm as a hand reached for him, only for it to be hit away by the guards.

"Sorcerers." Uther said through gritted teeth. He pointed. "That one killed his own brother. That one stole the only remaining food from a starving family. That one sold children as slaves to other kingdoms." He said, pointing them all out. Some of the others in the cells seemed to curl away from those mentioned while others seemed more preoccupied with glaring at the king. "Each corrupted. And each sentenced to die. Tomorrow they will all be placed at a pyre to burn." He said, voice slowly calming.

"...And...They received proper trials?" Arthur asked, unable to think such crimes were not usually so harshly punished. Well, maybe the slave one, but stealing and maybe if the murder had been in self-defense or-

"No!" One woman cried "I just used magic to heal my daughter, I swear! I'll never touch it again, I just couldn't let her die. My lord, if it were your son...Please. Please, you must understand. Please-"

"Even what seems to be innocent magic will turn you towards evil." His father said. One of the men scoffed.

"Hypocrite. You have a sorcerer of your own locked up to do your magical bidding for you. You've done the same as her! Follow your own laws or burn beside us!" He yelled and one of the guards pounded against the cell walls to silence him.

"You see? It only poisons their hearts and mind." Uther continued and turned to look at Arthur. "Would you like to see Merlin join them?" He asked, arching his brow. Arthur blinked. Merlin...Merlin could never be like that. Arthur understood the risk, of course. He had been told the idea that magic would corrupt him, yes. He had accepted that but...Not to the extent. Arthur had always figured Merlin being corrupted might be that he broke a vase or something. Not stealing or murder or kidnapping. "Because this is not the worst of what he would become. No, if we let the magic consume him then he will turn against us and see harm to everyone before bringing this kingdom into chaos. Would you like to see him like that?"

"I - of course not, but-"

"But you think finding ways to treat the magic are too harsh? That we should instead abandon him and let him turn bitter and full of hatred?"

"Father, it was poison! How could you-"

"I cannot save every child from magic. Unfortunately, I must kill others to ensure this disease does not spread. However, I have decided to care for this one and work to heal him from his affliction...But I will not be around forever. If you cannot ensure he will be helped and treated when you are king then I need to know so I can kill him now." Uther informed him coolly. Arthur stepped back. "It would be better to send him off with some hemlock than for you to be forced to slit his throat when magic causes him to turn against the kingdom." He said. Arthur swallowed. He tried to imagine it...Pointing a sword to Merlin's chest, dragging the end to his throat and...

"I can handle it." He whispered.

"Good. And to ensure that I want you there for all of his treatments so you can be reminded of the consequences if you ever decide he doesn't need it." Uther finished coldly and spun away, cloak flapping dramatically as he went. A few people in the cell shouted after him angrily, but Arthur only caught wind of the woman's voice.

"...God help that little boy," She said "The devil is telling an angel why he deserves Hell."

The words whispered in his ear a few weeks later as he sat next to where Merlin was fidgeting nervously in his bed, eyes locking on the knives laid out neatly next to him. He wasn't very tall for a thirteen-year-old. Despite Merlin's insistence he would eventually grow, Arthur still found himself a good few inches above the boy.

"...um," Arthur shifted uncomfortably and Merlin's eyes latched to his. "Here." He decided and grabbed Merlin's hand, flushing as he did so. Merlin blinked.

"I'm not a kid!" He said, a little outraged. Arthur fought back a smirk, his previous tension melting a little. "It's just a few cuts. It isn't that scary."

"Actually," The woman who Uther had sent in began, pulling out more bottles as Gaius scowled at her from where he was sitting in the background "It'll be around thirty cuts. Maybe more if we don't feel like we drained most of the magic out." She said and Merlin's face whitened. Arthur also felt himself pale at the proclamation. He opened his mouth to object only to think of the people he had seen burned a few weeks ago. Part of him reasoned this should seem insignificant in comparison.

"Well, Morgana made me promise." Arthur found himself saying and squeezed Merlin's hand "And I don't want to make her mad so you have to deal with it. Sorry." He said. Merlin considered this for a moment before giving a solemn nod in acceptance. Arthur resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Merlin was amendable to pretty much anything if Morgana said it.

The woman picked up the first knife, pricking herself with the end as if to make sure it was the exceptionally pointy. Merlin bit his lip.

"I need to tell you about Sir Bedivere!" Arthur burst out, making Merlin jump. "I've been squiring for him, you know."

"You...Mentioned it. Once...Or a thousand times." Merlin said, narrowing his eyes at him. "Though usually you sound a lot more annoyed about it." He added. Arthur nodded.

"I was...but that was before I saw him take down a dragon." He said. Merlin, who had been wincing at the first cut at the knife, immediately turned away with an air of outrage.

"He did not!"

"He did so!" Arthur argued, "He did it with nothing but a sharpened stick too!"

"You're a liar!" Merlin told him, now completely ignoring the cut, though he did seem to squirm a bit at the pain. Arthur fixed him with the most incredulous look he could manage.

"Am not! I'll tell you how. First, you should know the Sir Bedivere is quite a large man. He simply doesn't fit in any of our armor. His very first quest was to raid the cave of a ogre and rob it of its precious metals to even get enough silver to make his armor." He explained. The disbelief in Merlin's eyes was not missed, but he stayed quiet. "So I'll tell you what he did, he snuck in at night with only a single loaf of bread-"

"You're so ridiculous," Merlin's voice came, knocking Arthur back to where he was sitting with the current Merlin who was rolling his eyes. "I never believe any of these stories you tell me." He sniffed before tilting his head as he rolled up his sleeves. "You know, you don't need to come to every one of these. I promise, I don't need you to hold my hand anymore." Merlin informed him dryly from where he was lying on his bed. Gaius sat in the corner, lips still pursed in heavy disapproval as a man in velvet robes brought out what appeared to be leeches and set them to the side.

"Morgana says I have to." Arthur dismissed, as he did every time Merlin told him that, "And I'm telling you, it's true. Sir Bedivere managed to fight three lions with nothing but a rag. I'll tell you how he did it-"

"Arthur," Merlin snorted, but the smile on his lips was fond. "I've seen Sir Bedivere, you know. He hardly looks like he could fight a pigeon anymore."

"Ah, but that's the mistake all his enemies make."

"Even the lions?"

"Oh, definitely the lions." Arthur agreed. Merlin sighed and wrinkled his nose when the first leech came out.

"How exactly does this work?" Merlin asked and looked over at Gaius "I feel like you would have told me if leeches could suck the magic out of me." He added to the physician. The man in velvet - Caine? Cornell? Carac? Something with a C, gave an irritated shake of the head.

"No, my lord." He answered before Gaius could. "These are not normal leeches."

"Ah, so are they magical leeches? That seems a bit counterproductive." Merlin asked in feigned concerned. Caine or Cornell pursed his lips.

"They are not magic. They are a very special breed from a few kingdoms over. I have spent my days studying them and feeding them on only magical blood. It is now the only blood they are willing to feed on." He explained. Merlin's brows shot up before he turned to Gaius. Now that Merlin was studying medicine with him, he had begun to be more vocal about his disapproval of Uther's prescribed treatments. Naturally, Arthur was dragged in the middle of it.

"If it no harm to you, we shouldn't discount it." He interjected with an apologetic look at Gaius. "You have to admit your magic has...Grown, recently."

"I don't feel any different!" Merlin objected and subtly shifted from the first leech.

"You got angry and accidentally shattered all the mirrors." Arthur pointed out. Merlin looked up at the ceiling.

"It isn't that big of a deal..." He said, though his voice got smaller as he tried to find the end of the sentence. Arthur pursed his lips, watching the first couple leeches applied to Merlin's arm. If he was honest, he didn't really think it was going to do much either. None of what his father tried really seemed to rid Merlin of his magic - though the man would argue vehemently that he had slowed down the progress of it getting stronger. But if it meant giving Merlin even a chance... Well, they had to at least try didn't they?

"You know, it was Sir Bedivere who caught King Alined's fool trying to put a love spell on me and Vivian." He said, recapturing Merlin's attention. "So you have him to thank for ending that marriage." He said. Merlin shook his head at him. Merlin and Vivian’s proposed marriage was completely forgotten when King Alined attempted to turn Camelot and Amata against one another. While that meant the five kingdoms couldn’t draw up the treaty they wanted, it did mean the four of them were more than happy to put aside their differences to destroy Alined. "Vivian!" Arthur continued as Merlin rubbed his temple "I would have been in love with Vivian! Could you imagine?" He asked, shuddering.

"She isn’t that bad, Arthur." Merlin told him, voice tight with pain "Besides, I think she’s more relieved she didn’t fall in love with you. I’m sure she has bigger ambitions in life than trying to get your lazy arse out of bed." He informed him and squeezed his eyes shut. Arthur frowned. The leeches seemed far less painful than other treatments he had endured over the years.

"What’s wrong with you?" Arthur frowned and reached over to put a hand on his forehead. "Did Alined try something with you too? If he did-"

"No," Merlin interrupted warily and grabbed a glass of water as Crowley or Candice or whatever went to get more leeches "It’s Kilgharrah. He’s talking in my head again and will not shut up." He said, lowering his voice so only Arthur could hear. Arthur made a face at the mention of that name. He was not fond of the dragon under their castle. At least he didn't have the thing crawling around his mind like Merlin did.

"Ah," He said as he pulled off his boots and sprawled out in Merlin’s bed next to him so he could continue the conversation without being overheard. "Maybe your dragonlord powers kicked in. Try telling him to shut up." He said. Merlin grimaced.

"Hey, Kilgharrah. Stop talking." He said. There was a pause. "Yeah...Didn’t work." He sighed. 

"Worth a shot." Arthur told him with all the sympathy he could muster "What's he saying?" He asked and Merlin tensed.

"Um...Nothing." He shrugged. Arthur frowned. Merlin was a bad liar. He always had been. A great example would be whenever he was little and would try to tell Arthur he didn’t request the kitchen's entire stock of cookies. He nearly always had a small internal crisis about it and ended up crying for an hour before finally confessing. He was seeing a similar look on his face now.

"Nothing?" He repeated and flicked the side of his head "Doesn’t seem like nothing."

"It’s nothing!" Merlin almost shrieked. Arthur rose his eyebrows, but decided to cut him some slack. The guy did have a solid thirteen leeches on his arm.

"Much more and he won’t have any blood left." Gaius said, saving Merlin from Arthur’s questions. Carol? Connor? Whatever, Arthur was done guessing. Whoever he was glanced up and glowered a bit at the physician.

"I can assure you, as I have assured the king that I have this down to an exact science." He sniffed. Merlin’s eyes narrowed. Oh no.

"Gaius, knows about science. Why don’t you explain it to him?" The ward asked innocently. Arthur sighed. They were going to be here awhile.


The leeches were the least of Merlin’s worry at the moment. No doubt he would be exhausted for days (which was a problem) but he was currently more concerned with the dragon in the back of his head screaming for freedom.

He empathized, of course. If he could constantly scream in Uther’s head to release him then he definitely would. Nobody could fault Kilgharrah in that regard. The problem was that Merlin was almost certain he was going to cause mass amount of chaos and destruction if released and simply just could not have that on his conscious.

And as if that wasn’t enough there was Morgana.

"I’m sorry, but I don’t understand why you’re upset, Merlin."

"Morgause?! That’s who you’ve been sneaking out to see every night? Morgause?!" He said and winced a little as his head spun. That would be the lack of blood. Taking a deep breath he sat back down before he could faint.

"What’s wrong with Morgause? She’s just like us!" Morgana shot back immediately. Merlin clenched his jaw. He wasn’t sure about that. "She hasn’t lied nor caused us any harm-"

"She tried to get Arthur to kill his own father!"

"Merlin, listen to yourself. I love Arthur as much as you do, but Morgause wasn’t actually trying to harm Arthur. If anything, she was trying to get him to see the validity of magic. What Arthur did with the information was his decision.” She said and reached to steady him when he tried to stand again. Merlin closed his eyes. She was right. He hated it, but she was right. It just...Something felt off.

"Then why haven’t you told me you’ve been seeing her?" He asked and gave up on trying to move, instead just flopping onto his bed. Morgana sighed.

"I...Didn’t want to say anything." She began and bit her lip "But I’ve learned something about her. I wasn’t sure how you would react." She said slowly. Merlin waited. "Morgause is my sister."

Well. That wasn’t what Merlin wanted to hear.

"No she's not." He laughed nervously. Morgana nodded. "...no."

"It’s true."

"No, it isn't."

"Merlin, why would I make this up?"

He looked at her.

"No." He clicked his tongue and and buried his face in his pillow "No!"

Merlin felt like he put up with a lot in life...This was crossing a line though. He wasn’t sure what exactly he had against Morgause. He just knew he didn’t trust her...And that Morgana absolutely could not be related to her. The pair was essentially opposites. Observe....

Morgana: dark hair, light eyes, very kind and good.

Morgause: light hair, dark eyes, very creepy and bad.

Thank you for listening.

Unfortunately, Morgana did not see these stellar points because her gaze didn’t relent as she looked down at Merlin, lips pursed into a thin line of disapproval at his childish antics.

...Whatever.

"Fine," He sighed and rubbed his temple to rid himself of Kilgharrah’s grumblings. "You’re sisters...Somehow." He said, muttering the last part. Was Morgause Gorlois’ child? Vivienne’s? Both's? Where the Hell had she been? It was unlikely that anyone knew Morgause was magic as a baby so what did they do with her? "Why are you visiting her every night?"

Merlin wondered if he had a secret sibling somewhere. His father was still alive. It wasn’t impossible...Would Merlin want to see them everyday if he met them?

Morgana paused.

"Well," she began slowly and wrung her hands "I...Morgause has a plan to bring down Uther."

Merlin stared.

"To...bring down Uther." He repeated, tongue numb. "Morgana..." He said, though now that he said her name he found himself at loss for words. "What exactly do you mean bring down?" He asked. Morgana looked at him. Yeah. It was a stupid question, but he was trying to buy himself more time to digest everything she was throwing at him.

"Before you say anything," Morgana jumped in "I want you to know I’ve already talked to her about Arthur. She said she wouldn’t hurt him."

"Well, that definitely isn’t reassuring. Why would she want Uther gone if Arthur is only going to take his place?" Merlin asked "His views on magic are just like his father’s-"

"Well, if we could tell him the truth about his mother-"

"You think he isn't going to be suspicious at this point? 'Yeah, Arthur. I said Morgause was tricking you, but surprise! Your father really is responsible for your birth and mother's death and we think that means you should be cool with us killing him and freeing us. Oh, Morgana also has magic by the way! Isn't this fun?'" He mimicked, throwing up his hands at the ridiculousness of it all. "He'll think we're lying. Even if he does believe us - by some miracle - he won't trust a bunch of sorcerers who lied to him."

"Morgause didn't lie. You did." Morgana argued stubbornly. Merlin closed his eyes. "Listen, I know this is confusing. You've been trapped here all your life and told what to think and believe and so now you're conflicted." She said. Merlin let his mouth gape open a little.

"Are you saying I'm brainwashed?" He asked, voice rising an octave. Morgana sighed. "You are!" He laughed, a little incredulously. He couldn't believe this. An unjust spike of outrage washed over him. He knew the assumption was...Well, it wasn't completely crazy. Merlin had often wondered about the validity of his own thoughts. How much had Uther's propaganda was true and what if it wasn't?  

But to hear it said... And for it to come from Morgana's lips of all people... It stung.

"Merlin, please." She said and lightly gripped at his arm "Come on. Look at you." She whispered, voice catching. Her hand drifted to his arm where sleeves were covering up numerous marks from the leeches. "He has kept you in this room for over sixteen years, now. You've been tortured and-"

"I have not been tortured!" He objected loudly, jerking away from her.

"What do you call getting poisoned every couple months? Or forced to swallow bits of iron? Or cut up to have magic drained out of you? Or-"

"I think I know what I have lived through better than you do." He told her coldly. Morgana's eyes flashed, but she didn't answer. Merlin took advantage of the silence to keep talking. "Listen, this could go very wrong. Uther is powerful and even if we could kill him...Who says we should? Maybe his view of magic is wrong, but isn't he a good king in other ways? Besides, Arthur isn't ready. Put him on the throne and all he'll be able to do is follow the directions of the advisors Uther put in place."

"Morgause can-"

"Can what? Serve as a councilor? I'm sure that's what she wants. Morgana, she just wants to use Arthur as a puppet. That isn't fair."

"What isn't fair is that I have to worry which one of us Uther is going to kill first!" Morgana said, fists clenching. "Can't you just hear her out?" She asked and Merlin looked away. "Merlin, please. Trust me. I just want to help you." She said, gripping his wrist. "You don't have to trust her but...Trust me." She said, voice wobbling a bit at the end. Merlin blinked, noticing that Kilgharrah's voice had gone silent as she spoke. He wasn't sure if that was a good or bad sign.

"Just hear her out?" He repeated, voice thick with askance. Morgana nodded eagerly. He was going to regret this... "Fine. That's it though."

Morgana beamed.


Fun fact: Uther let Merlin carry around poison.

Baffling, he knew. The man didn't trust Merlin to be outside the castle walls without a bunch of guards, but sure. Let him carry around a deadly toxin. The idea was that if his magic felt too overwhelming that all he had to do was take a small sip and BAM! No more magic because now he was dying. He supposed it was pretty solid logic. It was definitely a bonus right now considering all that was happening.

"I knew you would be a problem." Morgause said when Merlin flicked his wrist and sent a Knight of Medhir flying away from Gwen's unconscious body. He glared at her, his narrowed. "You should be wary of making enemies with me-"

"She had no part in this," Merlin interrupted "Keep your knights away from innocent people and I won't get in your way." He said, crossing his hands over his chest. "And you'll be happy to know that as the host of your spell I am the reason for your success rather than an enemy." He added wryly. Morgause rolled her eyes. She had been adamant that Morgana serve as the spell's host. Something that Merlin was not having. In fact, he wouldn't have gone along with this at all if he hadn't been worried that Morgana might take his place in the plan if he didn't stand his ground.

"My sister is the reason for this success." Morgause said, crossing her arms over her chest. Merlin sneered. Part of his mind was focused on the bodies strewn around him - a consequence of Morgause’s spell. Luckily, they were all simply asleep rather than horribly dying. The other part of him was finally placing why he didn’t like Morgause.

"You’re a high priestess." He said suddenly. Morguause blinked. "Like Nimueh was." He added and stepped back.

"You know of my predecessor?" She asked, faltering for the first time since he met her. Merlin’s jaw clenched. It was so obvious now. He wondered if Morgause simply filled the spot when Nimueh died or if they had known each other.

"I was the one that killed her." He said calmly and turned away "So maybe you should be wary of making enemies with me." He added as coldly as he could. Before Morgause could respond to that, the door flew open.

"Oh, you’re both here!" Morgana managed as she stumbled in. Her eyes were drooping a bit as she walked, leaning heavily against the wall. It was amazing she was still standing. Morgause hurried forward to help her. "You need to hide, sister. Arthur is coming. He’s hidden Uther in the throne and-" Her breath caught. Morgause murmured something to her before giving Merlin an icy look and handing her off to him. It was only seconds later that the door opened again to reveal Arthur.

"Merlin." He managed and tried to rub the sleep from his eyes. "You...You don’t look sick like..." he said, struggling to find the end of the sentence.

"Magic." Merlin said as an explanation. This seemed to be enough for Arthur, who nodded and weakly gestures for him and Morgan’s to follow.

"I don’t know...What this is or..." He muttered and held up his sword at the flash of black from one of the undead knights. Merlin stiffened. "They won’t hurt me." Arthur said and shook his head "One of them cornered me and another had me within striking distance but they didn’t...They didn’t do anything." He managed and swallowed. "I think they’re after my father."

"What?"

"No way..." Merlin and Morgana both said in feigned surprise. Arthur nodded stoically. Merlin tried to ignore the growing guilt in the pit of his stomach as they were led to the throne room. He felt Morgause’s eyes follow them.

Uther laid in the midst of all his subjects, clearly having been dragged out of his room if his clothes were anything to go by. Merlin would have disguised him, but there was no point in suggesting it now. Especially when it would do Arthur no good.

"Okay," Arthur breathed "We need to seal the doors to make sure they can’t get in." He decided, fumbling a bit as he tried to grab something to barricade the room. Merlin walked over towards Uther, staring down.

He looked...Smaller, somehow. Less like a king even though he was still adorned with his regal memorabilia. Merlin knelt beside him as Arthur cursed and kept ahold of the door with the pounding outside. Morgana was almost passed out on the floor, though she was also staring at Uther.

"You don’t want to do it." He guessed, making her jump.

"I...I’m not sure." She said, voice strained as she squeezed her eyes shut tightly before opening them again. "We have to though. If we ever want to have a world you or I could live in..." She trailed off and put a hand on Uther’s arm. "He started this war. Not us."

Her voice caught at the end, a subtle hint of emotion softening the words. It was a relief, really. Ever since Morgause, Morgana had seemed less and less in touch with her emotions...Or maybe too in touch. It was hard to tell.

"There are other ways." He whispered and looked where Arthur was fading fast. He seemed to be fighting a losing battle alone with desperate glances towards where the two of them were huddled over Uther.

"Not now," Morgana shook her head "The spell won’t be lifted until it’s finished what Morgause wants it to do." She said and rubbed at the side of her head "It’s what’s best. Arthur...Arthur will make a good king." She nodded. Merlin didn’t doubt that but it did nothing to ease his conscious. "You were right before...He...He wasn’t all bad. He loves Arthur. Maybe me too." She murmured "I think even you...We should give him a nice funeral." She rambled sleepily. "Like my father’s. Uther gave him a nice funeral. It should be like that..." She decided and finally let herself flop onto the floor with her hand still sprawled out on top of Uther.

Honestly. Merlin had not been prepared for all of this.

"Merlin!" Arthur managed through heaved breaths across the room "I might need your magic." He said, sweat dripping from the side of his face. Merlin grimaced. There was a note in desperation in his voice that hurt.

Really, there was no decision. Merlin has known what to do before any of this even began. He looked down at Uther’s unmoving form beside him.

"You know...The irony of it all is if I go through with it then you would be right about me." He said and dug into his pocket "Lucky for you, I enjoy proving you wrong."

"Merlin?" Arthur’s voice called. Merlin uncapped the bottle. "Merlin now isn’t the time for - what are you doing?" He shouted as Merlin tossed back the poison. It tasted the same as it always did. Sweet with a sharpness that made his mouth a bit numb.

There was a whisper in the back of his head that told him he took too much. Definitely too much. Except, was it? Because he had always drank small doses of poison growing up. Surely, he’s built up some sort of immunity to it...

"Merlin!" There was a shout as the doors flew open as he saw the black knights all piling in, eyes glowing as they started forward. He could hear Morgause scream in frustration along with a string of curses but he already felt his throat tightening up.

Everything was getting darker... And for once Kilgharrah’s screams seemed to be silent as he felt the cold stone beneath him get closer. Even the yells around him seemed nothing more than an inconvenience as he hit the ground and the world became shrouded in black.


When Merlin woke up, he was alone.

Which was kind of weird because he was in the dungeons. Not a single guard seemed to be by or even another prisoner. His mind spun as he went to sit up only to feel a weight holding him down. Iron. Large shackles of it holding him in place on his wrists and ankles and...legs? That was new.

"Morgana?" He called, mind spinning. What had happened? Did Morgause manage to kill Uther before the spell was broken? Did Arthur do this to him?

Nobody answered. Instead he was jolted by the castle shuddering, dust falling from the ceiling as the whole building shook.

...what?

"Arthur!" He shouted and swore under his breath. Never in his life had he been in a position where people were too far to hear him. At the very least a guard was usually just outside his room. Muttering lowly to himself, he tugged at the chains.

"Kilgharrah?" He tried "Do you know what’s going on?" He asked, looking around. The dragon hadn’t bothered him so far. Nor did he answer. Frustrated, Merlin felt his magic flare up in annoyance. For a moment, the metal seemed to heat up around him.

"HEY!" He yelled and clenched his hands into fists "SOMEBODY ANSWER ME!"

"Merlin?"

God damnit.

"My lord?" He said and felt a sudden surge of relief as Uther stepped around the corner "You’re alright!" He laughed and the chains suddenly seemed lighter. It immediately vanished when he registered that maybe seeing Uther after waking up alone and chained up in the dungeons....wasn’t good news.

Uther didn’t seem upset though. Only wary as he opened the cell and looked down at him for a few moments. Merlin waited.

"You almost died." Uther said. Merlin frowned at the bluntness. He had figured out that much at least. "Morgana told me what happened."

Hot betrayal hit him as he opened his mouth only for no noise to come out. He closed his eyes. Waiting. When nothing happened he glanced up at the king in confusion.

"You aren’t...Upset?" He asked, a bit bewildered on why there wasn’t a sword pointed at his throat yet. There was a long pause before Uther finally just sighed and sat down next to him.

Well. Alright then.

"It is unfair," He finally said "That you are burdened with this."

Merlin honestly could not be more confused if he tried. He was beginning to think that Morgana might have told him a different version of what happened...but if so, what on Earth did she say to create this scenario?

The castle shook again. Merlin jumped at the force of it.

"My lord, I...I’m afraid I don’t remember what happened," He lied "I just went to bed and woke up here."

"Ah," Uther said, seemingly unsurprised by this. "I see...I suppose that makes sense."

Did it though?

"Why am I locked up?" He tried again. Uther sighed and reached over to grab Merlin’s hand (as if the rest hadn’t been confusing enough).

"Your magic went rampant," He explained quietly "There were knights that attacked and you attempted to subdue them. Only you instead put the whole castle to sleep and were unable to fend off the attackers. Morgana said you tried to lift the spell but when found you were unable to do so..." He trailed off. "It worked. The spell was lifted the moment your heart stopped."

Merlin tried to find a reaction to this. Instead he just felt shock...And a little outrage. Sure, Morgana had played him as the hero, but it was still a huge risk to tell Uther it was his magic that caused this - even accidentally - all to avoid throwing Morgause into the fire. He had always thought that...At least with Morgana he might come first. He pushed the bitterness away firmly.

"Then how am I alive?" He asked carefully, masking his face of any emotion. Uther’s expression hardened. Whatever softness had crossed his face before was now gone as he fixed Merlin with a firm gaze.

"You made a deal with that dragon." He said coolly. Merlin felt his mouth drop open. He hadn’t even told Morgana about that. "My understanding is you have refused to hold up your end of the bargain." He said. Merlin looked down at his hands.

"I went to him to make a sword. It was for Arthur, I swear, I didn’t mean to-"

"It is a discussion for another time. Your magic and...agreements are not the most pressing issue in these moments." Uther told him. There was a scream somewhere outside along with a horrible grinding sound. "Gaius also went to the dragon. By all accounts you were dead, but he suspected that with your magic you could be saved." He spoke warily. Merlin closed his eyes.

"Kilgharrah wouldn’t tell him?"

"Not without freeing him first."

As if on cue there was a screeching roar. Merlin felt his heart stop. Gaius. Gaius freed Kilgharrah to save his life.

"Don’t blame him. I should have never-"

"It was under my orders, Merlin." Uther interrupted, silencing him. Merlin blinked a few times. That...Was just the cherry on top of everything that was going on.

"Your orders? But why-"

"Kilgharrah is out," He said, cutting Merlin off. "So either you must use your powers to subdue him or..." He trailed off, but Merlin already knew where this was going. He took a long breath.

"Or you need to find my father."


Arthur was mad at him.

Then again, when wasn’t Arthur mad at him? Merlin was beginning to think that it might be a permanent thing.

"You shouldn’t be rewarded for almost killing yourself." He said for maybe the hundredth time. Merlin sighed and fixed his cloak.

"Balinor is apparently a recluse. I doubt that marching up with a thousand guards will make him comfortable. Besides, your father seems to trust that I’ll do what’s best for Camelot now that I’ve almost killed myself." He shrugged and tilted his head "And it should be fun! I liked our last quest without guards...You won’t let me escape, I’m guessing?" He asked.

Arthur scowled.

"Fun? Camelot is burning down."

"What do you want me to say, Arthur? That I wished my father was dead so I could take care of this quicker?" Merlin asked and made a face "We aren’t going to have to sleep on the floor again, are we?"

"Do you think there are beds in forests?" Arthur said, voice snapping. Merlin sighed. As much as he enjoyed his limited time in the outdoors there were some downfalls. No beds was a big one. Another was that they had to cook for themselves and Merlin just didn’t enjoy that. The food never turned out as good and it was time consuming. He wished at the very least they could have brought a servant with them, but decided not to complain too much for the rare isolation outside the castle.

"Be nice to me. It is very likely your father might kill me as soon as this dragon is taken care of."

"He’s the reason you’re alive... And that the dragon is out at all."

"I know," Merlin mused, still baffled by the turn of events "But I did lose control of my powers and put all the castle under a spell." He said, trying not to sound bitter at the lie. He wondered where Morgause was now and if Morgana was still seeing her. "He can’t honestly justify keeping me anymore. I’ve been threatened for a lot less."

Though...Honestly, was it really that out of character? It wasn’t as though it was unheard of for Uther to slip into hypocritical tirades to get what he wanted. Maybe he was scared of what might happen if Merlin was gone. After all, his mere existence kept certain magical entities from attacking and Merlin's loyalty was just proven to be unwavering.

Another part of him whispered that maybe after all these years Uther really had grown fond of him. It wasn’t completely crazy but Merlin didn’t want to dwell on that. Especially after similar feelings allowed him to spare the king’s life.

Arthur didn’t answer him. It stayed that way for another few hours as they traveled. 

"You look like you've seen better days."

Merlin snorted as he sat down at the tavern, looking around curiously. He had only heard stories of such a place. The lights were dim with the smell of mead piercing the air as men and women loudly talked over one another with sharp peals of laughter. The man who had spoken was eying Merlin up and down with a small tilt of his head. He wasn't like anything Merlin had ever seen. He wore simple clothes with matted hair that was clumsily braided back. What was most intriguing though was the scar that slashed through his eye. Merlin wondered if he was perhaps a dishonored knight to get such an injury...Or perhaps ran into those bandits Arthur was always groaning about.

"Actually, this is one of my better days." He answered, tossing back his hood. Arthur had gone to talk to the bartender, leaving Merlin to amuse himself with the mystery man. "Aside from the dragon terrorizing my home, I mean." He added. The man snorted and clicked his tongue.

"Camelot then, hm?" He asked and licked his lips "I had expected they would sneak nobility out first." He scoffed and took a sip of his drink.

"How do you know I'm nobility?" Merlin asked, mouth popping open. The man rose his eyebrows and pointedly looked Merlin up and down. "Is it the clothes?" He asked and touched his cloak. It was made of velvet... Did they not have velvet? He sighed. Freya might have laughed at him for such an obvious mistake. "Oh." He said, voice going small. He looked down at his hands, pulling off a ring. "Here." He said, plopping it down in his hand. The man stared. "Or...Do you...Have things like that?" He asked, uncertain. He tried to think. Freya had absolutely nothing when they met...but she had also been on the run for a long time.

Also, Merlin had absolutely no understanding of the value of things. Was this ring worth more than a bed? He knew some peasants didn't have beds.... His tutors had mainly gone over how much things like grain and trading materials were worth but that was really it.

"We do not have things like this." The man finally said and Merlin beamed. He had gotten that right at least. "What house are you of?" He asked. Merlin shrugged.

"Pendragon, technically-"

The man choked.

"Merlin!" Arthur's voice cut through as he pushed his way over. "For the love..." He sighed and looked around. He grabbed some coins from his pouched and slammed it in front of the man. "Keep this quiet and you can keep this." He said. Merlin wanted to point out he had already given him a ring, but figured maybe he could use some pocket change too.

"Why does he need to keep this quiet?" He asked instead. Arthur pursed his lips.

"Of course, your majesty." The man whispered and scooped up the coins. He paused "Um, do you mind if I ask about...?" He looked over at Merlin. "He's...He's not...You know." He said. Merlin frowned. He had kind of thought he was making a friend just now but based on this interaction he wasn't so sure anymore.

"I'm Merlin," He clarified "The king's ward."

"No!" Arthur threw up his hands. The man gasped. "We're going. Good day." He said and dragged Merlin out.

"Wha-"

"Discreet, Merlin. We're trying to be discreet! Can you imagine the chaos that would follow if people realized you were out of the castle?" Arthur asked, letting him go. Merlin rolled his eyes. "Come on. I found out where Balinor is hiding." He muttered.

"Great," He sighed and pulled his hood back up. "I hope you're not going to be in this charming mood when trying to reason with Balinor." He said and looked at where some children were sprinting by, shouting insults.

"PHILLIP! PHILLIP COME BACK HERE YOU DOLLOPHEAD!" One girl shouted. Merlin turned to watch them, mystified.

"Dollophead." He repeated and ran to catch up with the prince. "Hey, Arthur. Stop being a dollophead for a moment and-"

"What did you just call me?"


So his father lived in a cave... That was exciting. Maybe. 

Merlin wasn't really sure what he expected upon meeting the famous 'Balinor'. Dragonlord. Nobility in his own right. The one and only of his kind to escape Uther during the Great Purge. Merlin knew he was in hiding but he hadn't pictured him him looking so...Ordinary. After all, this was the man that Uther had feared for years would come back to haunt him. However, Balinor looked like he could have been just a normal person strolling through the castle...Though he did have a sort of grace to him that reminded Merlin of other nobles he had seen.

"I have no interest in helping Uther." The man was telling them bluntly as he threw a skinned rabbit to the side...Which was horrifying by the way. Horrifying. Arthur always teased how he could never take him hunting with how soft he was...Now Merlin was inclined to agree. Poor rabbit. "Nor will I allow you to drag me back." He added looking up and down. "Not that either of you could make me."

Arthur rose his brows before turning to look at Merlin. Merlin shrugged back. What did he want him to say? That he could easily force Balinor to comply? That wasn’t how he wanted this father-son bonding to go.

"I want to know about my mother." He announced instead. Because he did. Maybe she was in Camelot and Balinor would agree to help because she was in danger.

"...Um. Okay." Balinor said and after a few beats of silence turned to look at Arthur "Tell him about his mother."

Arthur sighed, running a hand over his face before turning to scowl at Merlin. Merlin started back with absolutely no regrets. He wanted someone to finally answer this God foresaken question.

"Hunith." He said and Merlin turned to look at him. "His mother is a woman named Hunith. I believe you know her?"

"Wait. You know her name? How long did you know-"

"Hunith?" Balinor interrupted and picked up a few pieces of wood to throw into the fire. He looked Merlin up and down carefully "I...Know of her. I hadn’t known she married."

"She didn’t." Arthur added helpfully. Merlin gaped at him. "I’ll explain later..." He said when he saw the hurt cross Merlin’s face. "My father told me before we left. I thought-"

"If she didn’t marry how..." Balinor began and looked at Merlin. There was an awkward pause. "Uther." He said slowly and looked between Merlin and Arthur "He kept her child? I wasn’t even in Camelot’s lands when I had met her." He said, swallowing "Where is she now?"

"I don’t know," Arthur admitted. There was some relief in that. Merlin wasn’t sure he could  take Arthur withholding something like that from him. "But when my father spoke of her I got the feeling she was alive and well." He said. Balinor’s flicked to Merlin again.

"And this is her child? My child." He corrected himself, almost surprised at the realization. Merlin nodded dumbly. "Where exactly have you been all these years?" He asked suspiciously. Merlin shifted a little under the weight of the gaze.

"Camelot," he answered and looked at Arthur who was watching them both closely, hand on his sword. "I’m Uther’s ward."

"Uther’s ward." He repeated softly and closed his eyes "Of course you are." He muttered and ran a hand over his face. "What exactly would Uther want with my son as his ward? He had the chance to lure me into Camelot with him but didn’t. Clearly, he’s been serving some sort of purpose." He said dryly. Arthur opened his mouth as if to snap out a response. When Merlin gave him a pointed look he immediately snapped it back shut.

"I get rid of other magical creatures," Merlin finally said "Also, Uther has been experimenting to see if he can get the magic out of me so I don’t turn evil." He said dutifully. Balinor’s eyes hardened.

"That’s a lie he’s been spreading for years now," He muttered and reached forward to grab Merlin’s wrist. It went to the iron band, fingers brushing over it before sighing. "There’s nothing wrong with you."

"Well, I don’t know about that," Merlin told him "There are a few things. I’m really clumsy and am fairly certain that I’m allergic to blueberries...but I really like blueberries so I eat them anyways. Also, I have no social skills. At all. Ask Arthur. I tried to make a friend at the tavern and am pretty sure I just insulted everyone." He shrugged helplessly "In all fairness, the last one isn’t my fault. I’m locked in a tower for the most part so - I’m doing it again." He cut himself off. Balinor blinked.

"Locked in a tower." He repeated and clenched his jaw before turning to Arthur "What is he? An animal?"

"It’s for his safety-"

"Don’t start with that," Balinor rolled his eyes "And you expect me to help you? Hunith is God knows where with no knowledge of her son and you’ve locked a child I didn’t even know I had away in a tower with iron around his wrists." He frowned and shook his head. "Never."

Arthur didn’t look surprised. Neither was Merlin, quite frankly.

"It’s a good thing I’ve come prepared to offer you a deal then," Arthur told him calmly. Merlin tilted his head. What was Arthur going to do to make this more complicated now? Balinor narrowed his eyes. "Recently, Merlin’s magic has grown. A lot. My father is convinced of his loyalty to this kingdom which is why he hasn’t been killed for it." He explained "But I worry his fear might one day outweigh that...or that Merlin might one day kill him self trying to prove that loyalty." He added with an irritated glance towards the other boy.

"So," Arthur continued "You help us and I’ll make sure you leave with Merlin. Assuming he agrees to going," He added quickly "I can’t promise you Hunith too but I’ll see what I can do about that."

There was no way Uther agreed to this. Balinor must have been thinking along the same lines because he pursed his lips.

"Your father offers this?"

"No. My father told me if you didn’t agree to kill you so that Merlin can inherit your powers." Arthur told him - still calm as he waited for a response. Merlin wasn't for sure what to say. On one hand... That sounded incredible. While Merlin wasn't sure what to make of Balinor based on this brief interaction there still held the promise of freedom...And magic. And someone who could teach him magic and maybe even his mother. How could Merlin not want any of that?

Then he thought back to Morgana and felt his stomach twist. He couldn't leave her...Especially with Morgause still around. Twisting his hands together he tried to think of a way he could bring her with them.

Balinor was studying him closely, a little uncertainty in his eyes as well. The message was clear. Balinor wasn't sure what to make of him either. That was probably fair... He had grown up a noble imprisoned by a king who hated magic. Surely he suspected this was a trick or that maybe Merlin might be too broken to bother with. The thought made his chest tighten a bit.

"And would you be agreeable to this?" Balinor finally asked. Merlin blinked before turning to look at Arthur.

"You aren't afraid I'll turn against Camelot if I'm left untreated?" He asked, voice growing quiet. Arthur's jaw tightened. For a moment, Merlin thought he might not answer. Finally, the prince reached forward and gripped his arm, fingers digging fiercely into his skin.

"Keeping you in Camelot...It is the safer option...but," He began and swallowed "I don't want to kill you, Merlin. I've lived in fear I'd have to one day. For years." He told him and stopped again, clearly thinking over the words. His hand fell away from his arm. "If I'm honest I would prefer you to stay, but I know that doesn't guarantee anything. You haven't been given many decisions in life. I'll let this one be yours." He nodded "Just...Please. Don't anything that would put me in a position where I'd have to..." He trailed off. Merlin nodded. He didn't need to finish.

"I meant what I said before. I am good. I promise." He said quietly. Arthur gave a weak smile and nodded. Merlin turned back to Balinor. "Then we should talk about how we plan to rid the kingdom of this dragon."


The plan was this: Balinor would stop Kilgharrah and then order the dragon to take Merlin and himself away from Camelot. Arthur would then inform Uther of the deal he had struck in order to try and prevent the king from pursuing. It was no guarantee of safety, but it would buy them some time to get far enough away from the kingdom.

The journey on the way back was mostly uneventful. Merlin let himself enjoy the time outside with the animals and woods while allowing Balinor to occasionally show him different herbs and plants as a way to strike up conversation. They ran into bandits a few times, but Merlin's magic managed to solve that problem fairly quickly.

To be honest, Merlin should have known things were running to smoothly for any of it to last long.

It happened so fast...Merlin was in the middle of explaining how he accidentally made a lord's pants levitate off of him during a trial (another reason Uther preferred to keep him away from visiting nobility) when there was a sudden blast of magic that sent him flying back. Immediately, he held up his hand, lashing back at the direction his magic sensed the attack come from. Before he could pinpoint the danger there was he felt a push from behind - sending him flying once again.

"Arthur?!" He shouted immediately, but when he reached out he couldn't feel Arthur next to him. Sitting up, he looked around to find the other man sprawled out a few feet away, eyes closed. A jolt of fear raced through him though not before he caught Balinor holding up a hand in front of him.

"The infamous Balinor. I'm glad we're having a chance to meet." A voice said and Merlin felt his skin crawl.

"Morgause." He spat before his father could answer. The witch's eyes flicked to him before fixing him with a small smile. It was only then that Merlin remembered the second wave of magic. "Morgana?" He asked, voice rising a bit with tight anger. Sure enough, he felt a hand touch his shoulder.

"Are you hurt?" Morgana frowned "I hadn't done that spell before...I didn't know it would be so strong." She said, putting a finger under his chin as if to check him for injuries. A wave of anger flashed through him as he pushed her away. "We aren't here to hurt you-"

"Oh yeah?" Merlin hissed "Then why is Arthur unconscious? And why did Uther think the spell and knights were my fault?"

"It was your fault," Morgause told him dryly. Balinor was frozen between the three of them, eyes flicking warily around the forest. "You should have held up your end of the bargain, warlock." She sniffed and gave him a distasteful scowl "Letting Uther live...How he has corrupted you-"

"I am not corrupted!" Merlin snarled at her, fists clenching. Morgana pulled him back.

"Sister, please." She said, rubbing Merlin's arm consolingly. "It isn't his fault."

"Why are you here?" Merlin asked before glancing at Arthur. He was breathing. That was something. Still, he couldn't rush to his aid right now. Especially not with Morgause looking at his father with such sharp eyes. "Let me guess, you want the dragon to keep killing innocent people?"

"Of course not," Morgana interrupted before Morgause could answer. "We just want to figure out how to go about it the best way."

"Prince Arthur already ensured both Merlin's and my own freedom after the request was filled." Balinor finally spoke up and narrowed his eyes. "So I believe we found the best way Lady...?"

"Morgause. And I'm not sure we have. After all, you can't really let the man who is keeping your son and his mother hostage go unpunished, can you?" She asked and tilted her head "Or...Perhaps you can. You did run away after all. I hear many of the other dragonlords fought back against Uther. Where were you?"

"Sister." Morgana said sharply. "Merlin, come on. We're leaving." She said tugging at him.

"What do you mean?"

"Morgause is taking us all out of Camelot. We'll be safe, I promise. Then we can come back to get rid of Uther."

"Are you insane?" Merlin objected and turned to her "Morgana, please. Remember what you said back in the castle? We can't just get rid of him. There are better ways to go about this."

"How?" Morgana asked and touched his arm "I don't want to see you locked up again. Uther has done so much wrong...We just want to make it right. Then Arthur can be king."

"The same Arthur you knocked out, right?" Balinor asked and glanced over at Morgana "My son is right, child. Revenge is no way to go about living." He warned and in the distance there was a screech. Smoke rose, turning the sky an ugly mixture of black and red. "Let us take care of the dragon and we can all leave as you said." He reasoned. "There doesn't need to be any bloodshed."

"That is how you win wars," Morgause told him coldly "Uther has taught us that much."

Balinor closed his eyes, head lowering slightly as if he coming to terms with something. Merlin frowned before he turned to Morgana who was watching with equal wariness as she attempted to pull Merlin away.

"Morgause?" She asked, looking over her shoulder "Sister, we must hurry. We don't need to do this now."

"Every second Pendragon lives is another second he has to kill our kind!" Morgause shouted and Balinor jutted out his chin.

"So far...I don't see how you are much better." He said calmly. "Bitterness found me since Ygraine's death, of course, but even I can still the value of life and peace. There is a part of me that wishes pain upon Uther knowing he has stolen all I have and could love..." His eyes flicked to Merlin "But I stand by my son's words when he says there are better ways to go about this. I will not help you kill Uther Pendragon."

A surge of relief flooded Merlin. He hadn't even realized how much tension he had been holding until Balinor's words washed over him. He turned to Morgana, hoping she would be nodding in agreement to his father's words. Instead he saw her eyes widening.

"Morgause, don't!" She screamed and Merlin spun around.

It just...It just happened so fast.

Morgause rose her hands and Merlin felt his magic immediately move to throw her back. Before he could strike there was a flash of pain as something slammed into him, knocking him hard to the ground. The breath left him - pain shooting up his back at the collision. Part of him registered it was Morgana on top of him, hands shaking as she pushed herself away.

"Merlin?" Arthur's voice came, groggy and disoriented. Morgana's hand latched around Merlin's wrist.

"Merlin, come on." She whispered, tugging him up. Merlin managed to jerk away from her, heart stopping as he looked around desperately to find Balinor on the ground - Morgause over him with her eyes burning gold.

"No..." He found himself saying and pushed himself off the ground. "No, no, no. Please. No." He muttered, panic taking over. Morgause stepped away from the body, eyes flickering to where Arthur was slowly stirring. She stared at him for a moment before turning to Morgana.

"Come on, we need to go." She finally said.

"Merlin." Morgana began and held out her hand "Please." She whispered. He looked up at her. "Please, Merlin."

"She killed him." Merlin managed "She killed him!" He shouted and went to get up. Morgana raised her hand, eyes brimming with tears as she looked between Merlin and Morgause. "Morgana, she is evil! I told you before and you didn't listen! I should have never trusted you!" He yelled, his own tears rising. Morgana bit her lip.

"I know...I know, this is confusing. Just come with us." She began. Merlin stared. How could she think he would follow? How could she even stand between him and Morgause? "Please. We can make this better."

"Sister," Morgause said and grabbed her hand "The prince is waking. I don't want to hurt him." She said and Merlin clenched his fist. He was going to kill her. He was going to kill her before she even had a chance to lay a hand on Arthur. Morgana stared at Merlin before lowering her hand.

"I'll come back for you." She promised, voice shaking and turned to let Morgause drag her away, leaving her with Balinor's body and a slowly waking Arthur.


Kilgharrah was gone.

Merlin wasn't sure if he was right or wrong in letting him live, but at least he wasn't in Camelot anymore.

"Hey."

"Hey," Merlin said, not looking away from his window. He wished Frank was here. He wondered if Kilgharrah killed him too. Surely, small, innocent birds couldn't have been victims of the dragon's rage? He sighed. It was more likely he was collateral damage. "Is your father pleased?"

"He is...Distressed." Arthur said and went to sit down next to him. "He wants to find Morgana."

"Morgause kidnapped her." Merlin said immediately. "It wasn't her fault."

Arthur stared at him. He wondered if he knew it was a lie. Finally, the prince nodded.

"We'll get her back," He said softly and shifted a little. Arthur had no idea how much Merlin wished that could be true. "And...And I'm sorry." He added "About your father." He added as gently as he could. Merlin said nothing. It was fine. It wasn't as if he knew the man very well. Merlin should be more worried about Morgana...And he shouldn't be angry at her. This wasn't her fault. She didn't know what Morgause would do.

But she still went with her, a voice whispered in the back of his head. He gritted his teeth. His mind thought back to everything Uther had said about magic and corruption. His father had said it wasn't true but...

Morgana went with her. She went with her after killing your father.

"Could you ask your father to send another physician?" He asked suddenly. Arthur blinked.

"A...? But you just had one."

"Please?" Merlin asked him, voice catching. "Please, could you ask him?" He said, hating how tears were threatening to spill over and hating how his voice seemed to catch towards the end. Arthur stared at him before slowly nodding. Merlin took a shaky breath before turning back to stare out his window. Silence followed.

"Hey," Arthur finally said and moved over to grab his hand "I don't think I ever told you about the time Sir Bedivere saved my father's life when he was only two-years-old."

Merlin grimaced. Sir Bedivere was dead. Kilgharrah had gotten him along with most of the others. Arthur seemed to tense as he mentioned the name, fingers twitching in Merlin's hand to remind him that he wasn't the only one hurting. Maybe that was why he decided to play along.

"He did not."

"Did too! Let me tell you how..."

Chapter Text

Merlin didn't remember receiving the gift. Not really.

He had only been four when he was given it and while he had a sort of vague recollection on the matter he would never go as far as to say he remembered the ordeal in great detail. The story had been more handed down to him.

Apparently, Merlin wasn't born in the East Tower. Shocking, he knew. There had been a point in his young life where he had once been allowed to roam as freely as Arthur did (in theory). He wasn't sure if Uther had always planned to lock him away when he was older or if it was something to do with his magic, but at any rate he had supposedly once shared a room with Morgana.

Gorlois and Vivienne had a chamber connected to Morgana's as a child and when Merlin was born she had begged and begged and begged for him to be placed with them ('Just until he's old enough, father!'). Nurses and tutors and governors had all tried to explain he was to stay with them or be given a reasonable accommodation with servants of his own. Morgana was not having it.

Merlin had no idea how she had managed it, but Gorlois had eventually caved and convinced Uther to let him stay with her. This continued until Uther announced that when Merlin turned four that he would be placed elsewhere (this definitely had something to do with the discovery of him having magic). So Morgana, who had then been the very wise age of seven, staged her very first rebellion.

"Morgana, darling. Sweetheart. Please put down the the ladle."

"YOU CAN'T TAKE HIM!"

"He's just going to a different room, Morgana. Please."

"NO! HE ISN'T GOING ANYWHERE!"

"Gorlois, do something." Vivienne sighed, running a wary had over her face. Gorlois, for his part, looked a little proud at his daughter brandishing the ladle with an air of unwavering stoicism as the guards stared while exchanging daunted expressions at one another. "My love, please. He won't be harmed."

"No!" Morgana hissed and whacked the ladle at one of the guards' hands. "Don't come closer! I'll kill you!" She warned. From behind her, four-year-old Merlin gasped in either pleasure or alarm before clapping at Morgana's display. Vivienne turned to raise her eyebrows at her husband expectantly.

"Morgana," Gorlois finally sighed, fixing his expression into something akin to stern "While I appreciate your valor, you must understand that you cannot fight battles where there is no enemy." He said. Morgana paused, ladle frozen in mid-air as her eyes flicked to Gorlois with wary consideration. "Merlin will not be harmed, darling. He is simply growing up. You do want him to grow up, don't you?" He asked. Morgana's brows furrowed before she turned to look at Merlin.

"Play?" He asked, patting the empty space beside himself as he held up a horse toy. A few of the guards snorted before seemingly realizing the innocent question had been asked by a dangerous child. "You can be the princess and I can be a dragon and there's a horse - I like horses - and Arthur can be a knight...No, he can't be a knight. He can be a...A....Dog!" He decided, picking up another toy. A guard stepped forward and immediately Morgana slapped him away with the ladle.

"My lady," One protested and Morgana scowled "We have orders!"

"I order you to leave." She hissed and took a long breath before looking over her shoulder to give Merlin a reassuring smile. "Merlin, I can't play right now."

"Why?"

"Because, uh," She started and pointed her ladle at another guard "I'm practicing....Fighting." She decided. Gorlois scoffed.

"Oh." Merlin said and flopped on his back "When are you going to be done?"

"Very soon," She promised. Vivienne threw up her hands. "I - Arthur?" She interrupted herself as she glanced towards the door. Sure enough, Arthur was there with his chin held high as he strode into the room. He looked ridiculous. Clearly, Arthur had attempted to dress himself in all royal-regalia and failed spectacularly. His clothes were in disarray with pins and golden chains a mess while what looked to be a crown that wasn't even his was falling off of uncombed hair. A few guards bowed.

"Prince Arthur."

"Hello," Arthur greeted them all and looked around very slowly. "I heard a commotion. My father sent me."

"HI ARTHUR!" Merlin giggled, waving his hands. "You're wearing a funny hat!"

Immediately, Arthur lost his princely-ness in favor of gaping at Merlin with horrified eyes.

"I - It isn't a hat!" He gasped, pushing the crown out his eyes as it drooped off his head "Princes don't wear hats!" He added vehemently. Merlin wrinkled his nose.

"Your hat looks silly." He decided. Arthur clenched his fists.

"Does not!"

"Does too!" Merlin said and reached over to tug on Morgana's sleeve "It looks silly, doesn't it?" He smiled. Morgana's eyes softened as she looked at the five-year-old in front of her and gave a slight bow as she lowered her ladle.

"You look very refined, my lord." She said and Arthur puffed out his chest. She turned to Merlin "And a little silly."

"Hey!" Arthur yelled and Merlin continued giggling. He looked as if he was considering arguing further when eyes flicked back to the guards. After a few more grumbles he turned to look at the adults of the room. "My father sent me to tell you all to go away." He sighed with a small glare towards Merlin. The guards paused.

"...my lord?"

"He said to go away."

"The king told us not to fulfill his request?"

"Yes. He said that...And he'll be really mad if you don't listen." Arthur told them. Slowly, everyone's weapons lowered. Gorlois rolled his eyes.

"You are going to believe him? Obviously, the king didn't order that." He said and the guards' weapons went back up. Arthur gasped in offense. Morgana brought her ladle back up.

Merlin was told it took three hours of negotiating before Morgana finally agreed to let Merlin leave. One of the conditions was that Merlin be allowed to take the ladle in question with him to defend himself. It was a silly request, but eventually it was allowed and that was how Merlin had come to possess a ladle that sat in his bottom drawer. 

He found that almost thirteen years later he still occasionally took it out to try and imagine how the scenario had really gone down. Morgana had her own version of the story that included a lot more hitting and screaming. Arthur also told him that he remembered how it went (Merlin didn't believe him) and said that he took the ladle from Morgana and defended them all for those three hours (definitely lying). Uther's version was a more vaguely amused retelling that sounded as if everyone had more humored the three of them than there actually being any conflict.

Merlin wished he could remember it himself now. Especially now...Now that...Well. It happened. Sometimes, if he strained his mind enough, there was one part of the story that seemed to wiggle to the surface.

"You don't need to be afraid," Morgana's voice echoed around his mind as he remembered her pressing the ladle in his hands "I'm going to keep you safe even if you're far away. I promise. This is just in case, okay?"

The words were a little fuzzy in his mind but he could still feel the warmth and relief that had flooded him at the time. The same relief and warmth he had always felt when she was with him. The same relief and warmth that was just...Gone. Like she was.

Everything felt off. The cooks always made slightly too much food. The servants would bring more wine than necessary. Visiting nobles would always pause as they waited for another introduction only to realize it wasn't coming.

If anything good could come from the heartbreak of it all, Merlin supposed it was his leash was given quite a bit of slack. When Uther wasn't obsessing over finding Morgana he had taken to turning his attention to Merlin. Which was...Nice? Maybe? He hadn't been really sure what to make of the king suddenly visiting him or taking him on impromptu rides outside of Camelot's walls. Merlin never commented on the strangeness though. It was a nice distraction away from the emptiness of the castle walls and filled the void that Morgana's visits might typically fill.

"Tell me about this one."

"I never knew you took such an interest in jewelry," Uther said as he slipped off one of his rings to had to Merlin. It was gold - the color startling in the sunlight with the emerald surrounded by pearls. "That was given to my the Duke of Cassingworth. He told me it took him three trips across the sea into foreign lands to find the jewels to make it. Then he told me that he took the jewels to sacred ground and when he woke the next day there was the ring." He said. Merlin rose his brows.

"Do you believe him?"

"I believe that the Duke of Cassingworth has never stepped foot in a boat." Uther told him blandly. Merlin snorted and handed it back.

"I like the stories," He said as he rolled on his back, letting his fingers dig into the ground beside him. Uther didn't scold him for laying down in the grass, instead watching with puzzled eyes. "People are very strange about their stories. Especially when it comes to jewels and treasure." He noted. "I don't think any of them are really true... But it is fun to think that there is some strange land out there where the sacred ground makes rings for dukes who don't know how to sail." He said and propped himself up on his elbows. "What's the one around your neck?" He added, eyes drifting to the familiar chain.

It was definitely the one piece of silver that Uther wore the most often. In fact, Merlin would say he didn't often see him without it. It was large and gaudy with the chain intertwined with a leather cord until it stopped a silver circle with lines twisted within. Below it sat a second pendant that was also silver and circular. It held more intricate designs as well before connecting to red jewels below that almost sat at the king's waist. It definitely wasn't Uther's typical style. Merlin could only conclude there was something special about it as the king absently grabbed at it.

"This..." He began and ran his thumb over the metal with a frown "It was a, um." He started and paused. "A gift. From Ygraine."

Merlin blinked. Not even Arthur heard much about his own mother... Let alone Merlin. In fact, he wasn't even sure he had heard the name pass Uther's lips until this moment. He bit his lip, a little unsure if they had wandered into dangerous territory. Before he could change the subject, Uther continued.

"She was an unusual woman, my wife. The de Bois family had always been an enemy of my own. Our two bloodlines were contenders for the crown. Ygraine's parents wanted Tristan on the throne and my parents wanted me on it." He said. Merlin didn't dare to even move. "Our marriage was proposed as an answer, but obviously nobody saw it as a viable solution since Tristan was older and more experienced in the art of battle."

Merlin thought back to the version of Tristan Nimueh had sent them. He wondered how surreal it must have all been to Uther at the time. If killing him a second time felt like a triumph or a loss.

"So...We were destined to fight one another for the crown. At the time I thought it was an honor to fight for such a triumph. I suppose it was..." He mused. Merlin said nothing. He knew the facts, of course. Arthur always complained this was where his father's pride came from. The man always spoke of how Arthur's inheritance was given rather than earned like his own was. Still, Merlin had no idea it was the de Bois family he had been up against. "I just hadn't anticipated to find Ygraine under that helmet instead of her brother."

"What?" Merlin gaped and sat up fully. "She fought in the battle?"

"Oh, yes. I was in the midst of killing hundreds of men. Slaughtering without thinking to get to the glory of killing my contender to the throne. Then, right as I was about to strike she took her helmet off. Tristan was off fighting in a different section of the battle altogether... She had stolen a spare set of his armor for the sole purpose of keeping me away from her brother." He snorted, still looking vaguely annoyed the the memory. His hand tightened around the necklace. "I took her as a prisoner, of course. It was the worst decision I ever made. She was horrible. Always causing problems or being loud to keep me from getting rest. She would push cooks around to keep them from preparing food for the soldiers or set horses loose. Considering this was the first time I ever led an army..." He rolled his eyes. "Gorlois thought it was hilarious."

"...this led to marriage?" Merlin asked, though he found himself a little besotted by the story. He tried to imagine a young woman who looked like Arthur running amok to sabotage an enemy's army while being held captive. The thought made him smile.

"Well, the more time we spent together the more amendable she became. Though every once in awhile she would still try to set my tent on fire."

"Of course."

"Eventually, her family surrendered and I had to return her. Obviously, by that point her family thought our marriage was a wonderful idea." He added. Merlin laughed. "We both agreed and on our wedding day she gave me this." He said, tapping the necklace. "She had a blacksmith melt down the armor she wore that day to make it. Her brother was very displeased." He grinned and tapped the red jewels "She also had this added because she insisted she cut me during that fight and wanted to commemorate that."

"Did she cut you?"

"I think she believes she did." Uther sniffed. Merlin laughed, delighted at the revelation. Part of him felt a stab of guilt though, knowing Arthur probably hadn't heard this story before - or had any idea that his parents had met before their wedding day. He made a note to recount the tale for him, mind spinning as to why Uther would have ever thought to tell him of all people. Unless...

"She sounds like Morgana." He said quietly. There was a long pause before Uther nodded. Ah. That would be why then. Merlin fell silent as he let that sink in. They had spent days...Weeks...Months looking for Morgana. Part of him wondered if it was cruel of him to keep the truth a secret. To tell him that Morgana was kidnapped rather than gone of her own volition. Merlin wished it was more of a comfort to him. He knew he shouldn't wish that Morgana was taken against her will and yet... Part of him hated this more.

That's the magic talking, a voice whispered in the back of his mind. You don't mean that.

"We'll find her." Uther said - to either himself or Merlin, he wasn't sure. "We'll get her back."


He was right.

It was Gwen who told them the news. She had been spending more time around Merlin as of late. Once Morgana went missing he asked for her as a maid for himself to avoid Uther potentially firing her. It was nice, he decided. Gwen had always been a favorite of his but the more time he spent with her the more he appreciated her calming presence and clear sight of the world around her. If you were lucky enough to coax an honest opinion out of the maid then you just might hear some valuable wisdom.

Not that she was filtering her words now. She seemed all too eager to update Merlin on her mistress' progress upon returning to Camelot. Arthur had apparently found her wandering around the forest alone. He sat as he listened to her explain to him in detail where she was found and how her health was.

"...obviously a bit cold, but a bath solved that. I think she's more exhausted than anything. I left her asleep a moment ago. Gaius will attend to her." Gwen was saying with a fierce nod. Merlin said nothing. "Oh, I'm rambling, aren't I? Do you need anything, my lord?" She frowned. Merlin blinked, snapping out of his thoughts for a moment to find the maid looking at him with wary eyes.

"No. No, Gwen, I'm fine. Sorry." He smiled and patted her hand "Sorry, I'm just...Wow. She's back." He said, forcing a weak smile. Gwen beamed and squeezed his hand.

"I know," She told him and gave a small laugh "I've missed her so, but I imagine you have much more. Would you like me to send her over when she's feeling up to it?" She asked. Merlin blinked. He thought of the last time he had seen her...Running away with wisps of fog tangled among her feet as she grabbed Morgause's hand with his father's body on the ground...

"She can visit me whenever she'd like. No need to pressure her to recover faster." He said, choosing his words carefully. Gwen tilted her head, eyes flicking him up and down for a moment before giving a nod.

"Of course," She told him and dusted her dress off, moving to Merlin's old plates away before pausing. "She...She seems the same, you know."

"The same?"

"Well, I thought," Gwen began and frowned "I worry perhaps you think she is different after being kidnapped," She said and quickly tacked the rest on "But maybe you aren't, I don't really know. I just think you should know she's the same Morgana we've always known. If you were worried...Which you might not be." She nodded. Merlin smiled.

"I believe you...Thanks, Gwen." He said, voice softening towards the end.

He really wished that wasn't a lie.


He had a visitor that night.

Which was quite the rude awakening (quite literally). His magic lashed out when a hand suddenly touched his shoulder. It should have sent the offender flying back, but there was a whisper of magic and he felt his powers still.

"What the-?" He started as he sat up and froze. "Morgana." He greeted, voice stiffening as bit as he registered the other ward in her nightgown, standing by his side. There were a few beats of silence. "Welcome back." He told her dryly.

For a moment she just looked at him and slowly sat down at the edge of the bed. Merlin shifted to make room for her.

"I couldn't have returned if it hadn't covered for me," She said quietly and gave a weak smile "I promised I would come back for you." She added. Merlin stared. His heart seemed to flip a little at the reminder. He wanted to be happier at her seeing her, but all he could think of was Balinor. Morgause standing over him and...

"I'm not going anywhere." He said, fists clenching. "So, if that's why you're here then you can just go back to Morgause." He snapped and moved to lay back down again. Morgana didn't say anything at first. She didn't move either. There was just silence as he bitterly stared at the side of his walls.

"I know you're angry with me."

"Oh, well, now that you mention it-"

"I am so sorry," She interrupted him and put a hand on his arm, trying to turn him back towards her "I know you must think I'm horrible for leaving with her."

"You mean, after she murdered my father?" Merlin asked, sitting back up. He couldn't help it. The hurt and confusion were bubbling over until it mixed into hot anger that numbed his chest as he stared at her. "How could you do that? He was my only family. Arthur was going to let me leave with him! And he wasn't even against us! He was one of us and Morgause killed him just because he disagreed with her! How could you still go with her? I told you. I told you there was something off about her. I told you that we shouldn't trust her and you didn't care! You-"

"I know, Merlin." Morgana interrupted again and sighed. "I know. I was... She's my sister, Merlin. I wanted... I just wanted it to work. I wanted to see someone who was like me and who was family and feel safe." She told him. Merlin pressed his lips together. "And I already had that with you. I just lost sight of it." She explained. Merlin chewed the inside of his cheek, mulling over the words.

"So..." He began and let his eyes drift over her face skeptically "What happened then? With Morgause, I mean. Where is she?" He asked. Morgana's expression shifted for a moment. It twitched into something he didn't quite understand before softening again.

"Gone. I haven't completely lied, you know. I was wandering around in those woods for quite some time. After we left we got into an argument. What she did to Balinor was wrong, but there wasn't much time for me to react. Arthur was waking up and I didn't want him to be thrust in the midst of everything too." She sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. "But after awhile I left."

"You left?" Merlin repeated "She didn't come after you?"

Morgana gave a bitter smile.

"I know, I was surprised too," She sighed and folded her arms over her stomach for a moment "I know my sister has wronged you, but she isn't the same as Uther. Not everyone comes after you when you want to be free." She told him. Merlin had to fight not the respond to that. Morgause killed someone. That struck him as being the same to Uther. Still, he felt he was walking a fine line at the moment.

"So you...Left just like that? You were gone for so long." He said slowly. Morgana shrugged.

"I didn't leave that suddenly... In fact, that's a bit of why I'm here. I have something for you." She smiled and leaned over to squeeze his hand. Merlin felt the previous tranquility he had at seeing Morgana faltered. "Oh, don't look so worried. I promise you'll love it." She said and pulled out a piece of parchment that had been carefully hidden in the folds of her dress. "I'm afraid you can't keep it. To be safe you should probably burn it after." She warned. Merlin frowned.

"What is it?"

"A letter," Morgana told him as if that much wasn't obvious. Merlin scowled at her. "It's...From your mother." She added. Merlin froze.

That wasn't possible. Sure, Arthur had said Morgause knew where his mother was but... No. It just wasn't possible. What? The woman killed his father and told Morgana where his mother was? Obviously not. Perhaps Morgause just told Morgana that was where she was or -

"I met her," Morgana continued, voice quiet "She looks just like you. Same eyes and hair." She noted, studying him carefully. Merlin pulled away.

"It probably wasn't her. Morgause just lied." He said and Morgana blinked. "What was her name?" He asked, thinking back to what Arthur had said it was. Would that be information everyone had? Or was it a secret?

"Hunith."

Damnit. Damnit, damnit, damnit.

Could it be possible? His stomach turned as he leaned back, eyes fixed on the ceiling. After what felt like an eternity of silence, Morgana spoke again.

"I know this is cruel... And I don't expect you to believe or forgive me."

Merlin waited.

"But...?" He prompted. Morgana scoffed.

"But nothing," She shrugged "I guess I can't say for certain the woman I met was your mother. I like to believe that while Morgause did...Make a mistake with your father that she would try to make things right by giving you your mother, but you're right. I'm not certain and I don't know my sister well enough to know if she's all I make her out to be." She told him. Merlin let his eyes fall to his lap, unable to answer. "I want it to be real though. You deserve to know her. I want to help you do that. Just...Let me know if I can help with anything, okay?" She asked and stood up.

It took Merlin a couple minutes for his mind to snap into focus. He just let his gaze fixate over the scroll she left behind before sitting up quickly, heart pounding uncomfortably in his chest.

"Morgana!" He practically yelled when she reached for the door. She turned. "I... I've missed you," He admitted, voice catching a little "Welcome back."

He still didn't know if he could ever look at her the same way again... But he meant that part.


Merlin didn't read the letter.

Which was stupid and foolish and a little reckless considering that it could get him killed if anyone found it... but the whole thing was just too goddamn scary. He couldn't bring himself to read the words of his mother, knowing they might not be true...Or maybe they were and Merlin would be forced to think of someone who would never be able to meet. It just seemed like a lose-lose situation.

He needed a distraction. So far his usual methods of writing and reading and drawing hadn’t worked so he was forced to try a more drastic approach. 

"Are you sure, Merlin?" Morgana asked, raising an eyebrow. "This is dangerous."

He looked at her for a moment before giving a small shrug. It felt...Strange. He wasn’t sure he had forgiven Morgana yet. He wasn’t even sure such a thing was possible. As much as he tried to focus on her viewpoint and fear and confusion...There was a bitter part of him that seemed to whisper in the back of his mind to never forget it. To hold his father’s death over her forever.

But the truth of the matter was that even when their relationship was at their lowest...She was still his biggest ally and number one supporter. It was a bit of an annoying sentiment, but still rang true. For that reason, he was trying his best to get things to how they were before. 

"And?" He asked, lifting up his hood "Uther is overjoyed to have you back. Plus, he's been giving me a pretty loose reign these past few months. Even if I am caught, he won't be too angry, I think. Besides, this melee will overshadow me being gone for a couple hours."

"Leon will ask you to check the weapons." Morgana warned and bit her lower lip to keep from smiling as she leaned forward to ease the gloves off of his heads. "Common people don't typically wear these." She told him. Merlin sighed. Common people didn't wear anything, it appeared. He would need to talk to Gwen about that. Ever since Freya had come and gone into his life he had been giving the maid some of his funds and asking her to distribute among the lower town. Maybe he needed to go ahead and give away some of his clothes too. He wasn't sure how these people were alive if he was honest.

"Thank you...And I'll be back before Leon can ask for me. Only a few of the nobles have arrived."

"And they'll be asking to meet you."

"Oh, but that's such a shame. Uther wouldn't want little old me outshining his newly found favorite ward." He teased and Morgana made a face at him before peering over her shoulder down the staircase outside his room. "Thank you for doing this." He told her. Morgana's face brightened a bit as she leaned forward to kiss his cheek fondly.

"I owe it to you...Besides, Gwen says you've been wonderful to her these past few months. Has she captured more than Arthur's heart?" She asked, tilting her head in feigned innocence. Merlin felt his jaw drop in betrayal. Him and Gwen? While he had heard very little about Gwen and Arthur recently (he honestly had kind of forgotten about it) he would never interfere in their relationship like that. Besides, it wasn't like anything could happen. Merlin was being offered as a suitor to no less then six other people.

Morgana laughed, perhaps seeing the pure panic on his face before tapping the end of his nose and disappearing out the door. Merlin was left to splutter for a moment. His mind only snapped back to attention when he heard a clatter outside, along with Morgana's fake yell of surprise. Immediately the guards outside his door scattered - each crying out in alarm at Morgana's fall. The castle was particularly cautious around her as of late. Big surprise.

It didn't take long for her to pop back up right as Merlin snuck passed, using bits of magic to minimize the sound he was making.

All in all the plan was going pretty great until Arthur rounded the corner.

Freaking Arthur bloody Pendragon. Merlin loved the guy, but wasn't in the mood for a lesson on how reckless he was being and especially wasn't in the mood to hear how he should have agreed to attend another knight training last week because 'you were pathetic on our quest and should at least hold a sword properly'.

Whatever. Merlin could turn a man's brain into soup. What did he need to use a freaking sword for?

Of course, Arthur always argued back vehemently that he wouldn't have his magic forever (since, you know, obviously one of this gosh darn treatments were going to work eventually) but the whole conversation was exhausting and Merlin would just rather dive behind a pillar next to the gardens and avoid him. Morgana (who was still unfortunately the hero of his goddamn life) seemed to sense the danger and sprinted forward with one of her shoes in hand.

"ARTHUR!" She shouted a little too loudly as Merlin adeptly ducked behind some bushes. The prince jumped. "Uh, my shoe broke." She added, holding up the heel that had clearly been snapped off. Arthur stared.

"...wow." He finally said after a couple beats of silence. Merlin waited for him to make a snarky remark, but Arthur seemed cautious as he looked the other ward up and down. "That's really, um, upsetting. Perhaps I could find someone to mend it for you?" He asked. Merlin had to fight not to scoff. Especially since Morgana was so obviously amused by how wary he was.

"Oh, no. I was just wondering if you might cover for me if I stabbed one of the visiting nobles in the eyes with it." Morgana said. Arthur's posture immediately relaxed as he registered the familiar wit. "Though I appreciate such consideration, Arthur. I knew you were a gentleman at heart." She beamed, tossing her hair over her shoulder.

"Shut up."

"Ah, there he is."

"Morgana!" Arthur complained but went silent as another pair of footsteps clicked down the winding turns of the cobbled trail. Merlin inwardly cursed. More people to get rid of before he could escape the castle walls. He squinted for a moment before frowning with vague recognition. "Sir Oswald!" Arthur greeted immediately and Merlin nodded. That's right. He would be here to compete. "I thought you were coming to the melee!"

"Ah," Oswald said as he paused and looked around "Your highness! How good to see you. Ethan and I arrived this morning." He said, shifting a bit awkwardly.

"Sir Ethan is here as well? Good, good." Arthur mused, clapping the other man on the shoulder. "This is Lady Morgana, my father's ward. I don't believe you've met." He added. Morgana smiled, dipping into a low curtsy.

"My lord," She said. Merlin resisted the urge to sigh at the pleasantries "A pleasure. I had the honor of meeting your father a few years ago. I am pleased to know you've now taken his place." She told him. Merlin nodded. He couldn't remember much of Sir Oswald, but he did remember both Gaius and Arthur said the man was much kinder than his father. It had been good news to hear he was taking his place after his death.

Oswald didn't seem pleased by the compliment.

“Lady Morgana,” The lord said, his brows furrowing as he took a step back “Pardon me for the assumption, but I was told the king’s ward never left the East tower?” He asked and gestured vaguely around the gardens. Morgana smiled and Merlin smirked from his hiding place as he watched Arthur consider swooping in to save the man, but clearly thinking better of it.

“Ah, of course.” Morgana said “You must be confused. There are two wards of the king. I’m afraid you won’t be able to meet Merlin today.” 

Oswald blinked. It was a bit strange... You would think someone like Oswald would have that bit of information in his head straight - especially considering the talk of Morgana's disappearance. Merlin dismissed it though. Clearly, he was nervous about the upcoming melee. Besides, it was unusual for a king to have two wards and with how little Merlin was around...Well, confusion was inevitable unless you lived close by.

Arthur tilted his head a little, a frown hinting at his lips as he watched the other man. He must have decided to let it go because in the end he grabbed his arm and offered to escort him to his room.

"...the servants here can disappear at the worst of times," He was saying. Morgana rolled her eyes as she watched them leave. After they rounded the corner she jerked her head.

"Hurry up!" She whispered and Merlin was off again.

He hoped the common people were interesting.


"I AM A GUEST OF THE PRINCE OF BLOODY CAMELOT! SO GIVE ME ANOTHER MEAD!"

His name was Gwaine and Merlin loved him.

Merlin wasn't really sure where to go now that he had given himself access to the lower town. He amused himself with the market for awhile and spent some time discreetly leaving coins on counters before giving the tavern a whirl. He had eventually found Gwaine amongst the chaos. The man had apparently saved Arthur's life during a brawl of some sort. He wasn't sure of the details but it didn't matter much because he was too enthralled with Gwaine.

Never had he met someone so... So unrefined. So overt and crass and unapologetically fun. There were no rules with Gwaine. No censoring or guessing games. You said what you wanted to say and did what you wanted to do. That was it. The whole thing was so refreshing that Merlin was already half-considering asking the man to sneak off with him where they could live their lives drinking mead and starting fights.

"...a boat? An actual boat?!" Merlin was gasping as he looked at Gwaine with wide eyes. "I've never been on a boat. Well, I have technically. That boat was on a lake though... Not the ocean." He said, shivering a little at the thought. He had never seen the ocean before but had heard many tales of water that tasted of salt and whipped itself into crashing waves constantly. To ride a boat on such water... Amazing. Gwaine was amazing.

"Well, it isn't much fun, mate. I spent the whole time puking my guts out," Gwaine snorted as he wiped some mead off of his lips "Did you miss the part where I said I killed a man or was the boat thing somehow more important?"

"Oh. Uh..." Merlin floundered "Oh no! You killed him?!" He asked in fake distress. Gwaine laughed.

"Impressed by a boat but not by death. Have you killed then?"

"Of course. Many times." Merlin shrugged. Gwaine's brows rose. "What? You don't believe me?"

"Well," Gwaine said and squinted "You don't strike me as a fighter...but perhaps that's the mistake everyone makes." He added in a low whisper "Do you plan to kill me, oh feared one?" He asked. Merlin grinned as he accepted a pint from the barmaid. "I hope you don't right now. I must say...Camelot is quite lovely." Gwaine said, watching the tavern. "A shame it's infested with nobility."

"You don't like nobility?"

"Does anyone? It's a bunch of washed up old cabbage heads who take what they want and waste away ignoring other's sorrows." He said, a bit bitterly. Merlin paused. As a nobleman, he was insulted. As a person, he was fascinated by the use of the word 'cabbage head'. Before he could decide which route of questioning he wanted to take, a woman sprawled out on the table next to them sat up.

"Not so, good sir!" She shrilled, making Merlin jump. "Our nobility is quite the force to be reckon with...And pretty too."

Fascinating. Merlin wasn't sure he had ever seen someone this drunk before. He resisted the urge to poke her. Common people were wonderful...And so much fun. He wasn't sure why Arthur made visiting the lower town sound so taxing.

"Ah, yes." Gwaine sighed "Prince Arthur seems quite the... Catch."

"So is the Lady Morgana!" The woman snickered and looked around "Also, I hear the same of Lord Merlin. Not that anyone knows what he really looks like." She whispered, though the volume felt the the same as if she had been shouting. Immediately, Merlin bit his lip. No... Nobody would know.

"How does one not know what a lord looks like? Does he not prance about and grace you with his presence?" Gwaine asked and plucked up a few pickled eggs from the center of the table. From Gwaine's other side, a man threw back his goblet and laughed.

"Lord Merlin doesn't leave the East Tower...Unless the king has need for him of course. The boy is said to be magic." He crowed and Gwaine hummed in feigned-interest. "Took him as a baby, he did. We've seen him a handful of times. Only the bards and nobles really know, of course... Though there are rumors. One of the servants from the castle bring us coin and say it is on his orders!"

"Poppycock!" The woman yelled and swung her legs over the table to lean forward "No, no, no. Why would he help people he's never even seen? I'm just grateful he keeps us safe from them giffins and sorcerers." She said, flicking her hair back "Though it would be nice if the king let us see him occasionally. Perhaps he is too beautiful to let loose. I do believe his hand is being fought for." She snorted. The man also laughed, raising his glass to that.

Merlin tried his best not to be insulted.

"The king doesn't let him out because you lot would attack him for being magic." He couldn't help but say. It was what Uther had told him over and over and over again. Granted, Merlin knew that part of it had to do with Merlin being too dangerous to let out, but he did have suspicions that the king's words weren't always a lie.

"Right," The woman snorted "What exactly are we going to do? Throw rocks at him? The boy is a powerful sorcerer. We couldn't hurt him."

...Touché.

Luckily for him, the rest of the night didn't center around Uther's mysterious ward. Though Merlin did learn the tavern occasionally toasted to him which was a little pleasing. At least his was appreciated. It made him feel a little guilty when Gwaine drunkenly stole a whole tray of pickled eggs and dashed out while dragging Merlin away. Merlin made a note to pay them back as he weaved and dodged through the wooden houses and barrels while trying to keep Gwaine upright. 

In truth, Merlin wasn't much help. He was equally as wasted.

"Let's go to your tower!" Gwaine announced, patting his arm. Merlin gasped.

"I don't have a tower!"

"Yes, you do!"

"How did you know?" He half-grumbled and half-yelped as he fell to the ground of the alley they were currently hiding out in. "I wore a disguise! See! See!" He said, gesturing wildly to his clothes. "Morgana helped me." He added as if that was supposed to give him any credibility. Gwaine rolled his eyes and lifted Merlin's wrist to where his iron band was sitting innocently.

"It has your name on it, mate." He pointed out. Merlin stared.

"...that says Marvin."

"I can read!"

"You aren't supposed to know how to read!" Merlin snapped, a note of accusation in his voice. "Gwen says common people can't read and so you can't read."

"But I just did."

Merlin really couldn't argue that point. What? These people couldn't afford things as simple as beds but they had time to go around learning to read? It seemed ridiculous. Grumbling, he managed to sit up and give a weak glare. Apparently the gig was up...He hoped Gwaine still liked him. It felt like if Gwaine didn't like him then literally nothing else mattered and Merlin would never be happy again.

"Fine," He said "But we can't go to the tower because we have to get past the guards and I can't get past the guards because - wait a minute." Merlin interrupted himself. "Why aren't you mad?" He asked. Gwaine blinked. "I'm magic...and I lied...And I'm nobility! You're supposed to be mad." He pointed out. Gwaine made a face.

"I'm not mad."

This man was just so damn difficult to make out. Never had he met someone so complex. So...enigmatically clear.

"Oh." He found himself saying. A few beats of silence passed. "Are you sure?"

Gwaine wrinkled his nose. He looked at Merlin before tapping his fingers on his lips and giving a long sigh.

"I'm afraid I'm actually very mad."

Merlin fucking knew it.

"But," Gwaine continued, lips quirking up into a smile as he leaned forward to grab Merlin's knee "I won't be mad if we grab another pint of mead and sneak up into that tower of yours so we aren't caught." He winked.

Merlin was pretty sure he would die for Gwaine.


"What," Arthur began as he paced back and forth, running a hand through his hair "the Hell? What the Hell?" He shouted.

Merlin sighed as he looked at where Gwaine was trying to put a pillow over his head. He was sure it looked bad. Some random stranger had found his way into Merlin's heavily guarded room while both looked suspiciously hung over and were currently occupying the same bed.

"Don't worry, Arthur." He muttered as he sat up and yawned "Nobody saw us. I used my magic to distract the guards while we climbed up the side of the tower."

There was a paused.

"You what?"

"Hey," Gwaine shouted, voice a little muffled from the pillow "Keep it down over there, will you? I saved the bloody prince's life."

"It's me, you ignoramus."

"Ah, hello Arthur." Gwaine immediately said, peering out from under the pillow "Don't mind me...Actually, do mind me because this entirely my fault. Merlin was minding his own business and I just happened to stumble in." He smiled charmingly and looked over at Merlin. "Hi. We haven't met. I'm Gwaine."

Arthur threw his hands in the air.

"He just told me that the pair of you snuck up the side of the bloody tower. Which, by the way, what the Hell were you doing out of the tower anywa-"

"I'm Merlin," He interrupted, holding out his hand "Nice to meet you. I hear you saved Arthur's life. Funny he didn't mention that to me."

"Yeah...I keep having to bring it up. Does it make me sound crass?"

"Oh, not at all! I enjoy the company of someone who can speak their mind." Merlin beamed. Arthur closed his eyes. This was fun. Usually it was just him and Morgana who annoyed Arthur. Gwaine's eyes twinkled, telling him that he wasn't at all averse to getting on the prince's nerves. "Are you watching the melee coming up?"

"Now that you mention it-"

"This is the second time you've brought a stranger into your room!" Arthur said loudly over them. "Merlin, this is reckless. And I just met you!" He added to Gwaine. From the doorway, there was a light knock. Immediately, Gwaine dived to the ground as if training for this moment before sliding under the bed. Merlin watched in awe. He was just...The best. The coolest. How could anyone be so amazing? Arthur only rolled his eyes before relaxing a bit when Morgana walked through the door.

"Why is there so much yelling?" She frowned. Merlin sat up, beaming.

"Come meet Gwaine!"

"Hi!" Gwaine's voice came from under the bed. Morgana's brows raised.

"First Lancelot. Now this. Honestly, Merlin." Arthur muttered, running a hand over his face. "Have you lost your mind? If my father were ever to find out you were mucking outside this castle with strangers-"

"I'm not a stranger!" Gwaine objected, reappearing on the bed beside Merlin "You and I met back at the tavern, remember princess? I saved your life. It is something Merlin and I found we have in common actually...Saving your life, I mean." He added, slinging his arm over Merlin's shoulders with a wink. "And I found I rather like this one. For a noble he is quite sweet." He added with small smile. Merlin rolled his eyes.

"I could disintegrate you with my mind."

"But you would never do it." Gwaine dismissed with a wave of his hand. Merlin felt his entire expression brightened. Lancelot also held the belief that Merlin could never truly harm a friend, even in the short time they had known one another. He would have to write to him after this. It had been a few months since he had last heard from the man. His fondness must have shown on his face because Morgana's smile widened a bit before turning to look at Arthur.

"Leave them be, Arthur. Don't you have a melee to prepare for?" She asked, tilting her head as she crossed her arms over her shoulders. "You're only going to draw attention to the matter by yelling like a madman."

"Yeah. Like a madman." Gwaine echoed as Merlin nodded in agreement. Gwaine rose his hand to let Merlin high-fived him. Arthur took a long breath for a moment. His eyes darted around the room - perhaps looking for a reasonable soul to appear and side with him. When he finally seemed to accept it was three against one he fixed Gwaine with a hard look before pointing his finger at the other man's nose.

"If he is endangered because of you..." The prince began taking a step towards him "My father's wrath will be the least of your worries."

"Coming from the one who stands to the side while he chained to this castle like a dog." Gwaine hummed, returning to the look with an equally steely gaze. Merlin bit his lip before standing to put himself between the two.

"Arthur and Morgana have actually vouched for my freedom more than anyone." He informed him quietly. This did nothing to lessen the ire in Gwaine's eyes. "In fact... Had my father not died a few months ago then I would be with him now." He added. Morgana tensed at that - eyes lowering. Merlin could only offer her a weak, reassuring smile. "It's fine," He added to Arthur "Go train."

"I don't like this." Arthur muttered and stomped towards the door. He slammed it a bit harder than necessary, but Merlin wasn't phased as he sat back down next to Gwaine.

"Do you know when Leon will need me?" He asked Morgana as she looked Gwaine over with some consideration.

"I'd expect soon...Perhaps your friend should go back under the bed?"

Gwaine propped himself up on a pillow and hit her with a dazzling smile.

"For you, my lady? Anything."


So as it turned out...Sir Ethan and Sir Oswald weren't really Sir Ethan and Sir Oswald.

It was a whole situation, really. Merlin had noticed immediately when checking over the weapons that their blunt blades for the melee weren't actually blunt at all. Instead they were actual swords concealed with magic. He had requested they be brought to him for questioning which all led to a very awkward encounter.

"The king will be furious!" Ethan was saying, ignoring the spear at his throat "Accusing us of cheating in the melee!"

"I'm not accusing you of cheating. I'm accusing you of trying to kill the prince." Merlin said calmly from his place on the throne.

Well. Not throne. That was a bit generous.

You see, Uther didn't like for Merlin to operate any of his investigations publicly. The king would rather Merlin do the dirty work of figuring out the crime and then deliver the verdict himself in the actual throne room. So for the most part, Merlin was given his own little area to meet with people. It was where he tended to meet people outside of his room such as visiting nobles or suspected criminals. Unlike the actual throne room, this was entirely made of stone with pillars to either side. Merlin had taken to growing vines on them with his magic to liven the otherwise dreariness of it all up. In the midst of it all was a wooden armchair with a high back and ornate blue velvet.

Merlin was convinced Uther ordered this room to be made for the sole purpose of making him look more intimidating. After all, Merlin had been told he didn't exactly bear the 'evil and powerful' look his reputation made him out to be. It was probably the first thing most of the nobles said about him.

"Killing the prince?" Oswald scoffed as he yanked against where the guards were having him kneel on the floor. "You're mad. No wonder Uther keeps you locked up!" He spat. Merlin sighed. He had really just wanted to spend the day with Gwaine and make fun of everyone in the melee from his window. Why couldn't he even have the simple pleasures of life?

"He keeps me locked up," Merlin said, standing up so he could crouch down in front of him "Because I am said to be too dangerous to be free." He explained, making sure to keep his eyes locked on Oswald's. "You know, I've been doing this since I was twelve. I've sat in that chair and looked at hundreds of people who claim they would never dare harm the royal family or Camelot." He said and moved his gaze to Ethan. "So, I think, I have a bit more practice at this than you." He told him and stood back up.

"And what will you do if we said we have no intention of harming the prince?!" Ethan shouted at him.

"I'll ask who you did intend to harm." Merlin said and glanced towards the doorway. Uther didn't appear to be lurking anywhere nearby so he decided to make himself comfortable, throwing one of his legs over the arm of the chair so he could lazily sprawl out. Ethan and Oswald glanced at one another, but said nothing. "You know, if you don't work with me I'll have to use more extreme measures." He warned.

"Torture?" Oswald guessed, rising his chin slightly. Merlin snorted.

"No," He said "I don't torture people. But, I'll have to look for any other traces of magic you might have touched and I'm told that's a rather uncomfortable process." He shrugged. "As it is you'll probably be executed for even having the swords-"

"We didn't know they were magic!"

"And I might be more inclined to believe you once I have proof you bear no other marks of enchantment." He said. Ethan seemed to shrink at this announcement. Merlin already guessed they weren't born magical. He had prodded the telepathic connection he usually had with creatures like Mordred or Kilgharrah, but nothing was there. He wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad sign yet. Probably bad. All signs were usually bad in his case.

"Fine," Oswald said, jutting out his chin "Come search us." He said and knocked off one of the guards. From beside him, Ethan’s eyes seemed to widen at the invitation as he looked desperately from his friend to Merlin.

Perhaps that should have clued him in to the fact something was very, very wrong. He definitely should have been a bit more paranoid by the fact Oswald approached him much too eagerly, leaving the guards to waver between the space with Merlin and Ethan.

All in all...There were some solid reasons to support Arthur’s ruthless accusation that Merlin was, indeed, a dumbass. With as many sorcerers as Merlin took down you would think he would be more cautious. No. He just let Oswald approach and raised his hand to start the spell.

So imagine his surprise when Gwaine appeared out of nowhere to knock him to the ground just as Oswald brought out a knife hidden in one of the folds of his tunic.

"MY LORD!" One of the guards managed to yell while the others tackled Oswald. Some rushed to Gwaine, yanking him away from Merlin.

"Easy!" Gwaine snapped, "I just saved the bloody king’s ward! Right after I saved his son too. You lot have got to start getting better at your job. I can’t do it all the time, you know." He informed them before turning to Merlin. "Are you alright?" He asked, narrowing his eyes at him as if daring Merlin to have the audacity to be injured.

"I’m...Fine." He said, blinking slowly. He turned to Oswald. "You tried to kill me." He announced, a little shocked. Oswald spit on the ground...Except he wasn’t Oswald anymore. He was...well, someone that was not Oswald. Merlin stood up, eyes flicking him over before noticing a pendant on the floor, the cord broken in half. Frowning, he walked over to where Ethan had gone white before finding a similar cord. He yanked it off. 

"You." Gwaine gaped as Ethan melted away into a new stranger. "Those are the men who attacked Arthur in the tavern!" He shouted and tugged against the guards’ hold. "Oh come on. He’s obviously the bad guy." He grumbled. Merlin nodded and immediately the guards released him.

"So," Merlin said and turned back to not-Oswald and not-Ethan "You were saying?"


It was complete bullshit.

"He saved my life!" Merlin was saying as he followed Uther "You would banish a man who not only saved me, but Arthur as well?" He tried, whipping around a pillar to catch the king’s stride. "My lord-"

"It is for those reasons I don’t have him beheaded!" Uther told him, spinning around. "He should have not been in this castle and definitely should not have been anywhere near you!" He said, turning to meet Merlin’s gaze.

"Well, it was a good thing he was."

"Perhaps this time, but the man broke into the castle. He broke into your chambers. I cannot allow people thinking that it is acceptable to barge in simply to get a good look at you. It is dangerous for both you and them." He said, pointing a finger at Merlin to emphasize the point.

"So banishment is the fair price to pay?" Merlin asked, bristling. He wished he could better defend Gwaine... but in truth, the man was doing him a huge favor by not revealing that he had actually met Merlin outside of the castle. The thought infuriated him. 

"Nobody has access to you unless I say so." Uther dismissed. The frustration rose, bubbling dangerously over his usually high level of patience.

"I’m not an animal!" He shouted, fists clenching by his sides. He felt a hand brush his shoulder. Arthur probably. Another wave of anger hit him. Maybe Morgana had a point after all. Maybe Uther should have died. Maybe Arthur deserved to see that. He did nothing. He always did nothing. Let him watch Uther die in the way Merlin had been forced to watch his own father die.

"No," Uther told him, voice cold as he took a step towards him so that they were practically nose to nose "At least animals can be tamed."

Merlin swore on his life that next time he would just let the next round sorcerer kill them all. 


As it was... The next sorcerer didn't want to kill them. At least, Merlin didn't think so. The man had come in the middle of the night according to the guards. Merlin was a little shocked Uther had kept sorcerer in question alive for this long.

His name was apparently Taliesin and he claimed to be a seer to the Great Kings in the time of the Old Religion. The only hiccup in this was that Gaius and Geoffrey did their research and said that Taliesin had died over three hundred years ago. At any rate, all of Camelot was whispering at his appearance.

"They tried to kill him," Gwen said lowly as she laid out his clothes that night. "He keeps reappearing. I'm not sure he can be killed."

"What does he want?" Merlin frowned. Frank was nibbling some seeds from the palm of his hand, head twitching up as if recognizing Taliesin's name. "Surely he isn't here for me. If he's so powerful he could just appear in this tower." He said, mind flashing to Arthur. Was this another foe? Why hadn't Uther called on him in that case? The prince's life could be at risk - or worse. What if he was here for Morgana? The thought settling uncomfortably in his chest as he tapped a finger on his knee. He didn't like that at all.

"He has...Requested to meet you. I don't know why he doesn't just come up here himself," Gwen shrugged helplessly "He said something about a Crystal Cave. Gaius seemed to know what it was." She said and sat at his desk. Merlin didn't comment. He wasn't sure what to make of a mysterious man who couldn't be killed turning up to ask for him. There was no way Uther would bend. No doubt he would think this man would only further corrupt Merlin.

"Well," Merlin finally said as he turned to smile at Gwen "I wish him the best of luck getting to me."

To his surprise...Uther did cave. Merlin wasn't sure why until he was in the throne room and saw Taliesin himself.

Well, what Taliesin was holding, at least. The man himself wasn't very intimidating. An older man with hair pure white and a beard that made him look no different than a common noble that Merlin might be dragged out of his tower to meet. What really drew Merlin's attention was the crystal. The Crystal of Neahtid.

It was perhaps almost a year ago... Maybe less than that when it had been stolen. He had known it was Morgana, of course...And Merlin had been the one to help her steal it.

Listen. He knew it sounded bad, but hear him out.

Uther barely knew what the thing did. Merlin had been allowed to touch it a few times in his life as a child, but the thing gave him such horrific nightmares that he preferred to stay far away from it. Everyone agreed, worrying it could cause further corruption. It was only when he was older that he realized it was premonitions the thing had given him - which made him like it far, far less. Morgana had said they could return it to the people who knew how to actually use the thing. His people. Their people. Merlin hadn't been sure, but once she mentioned Mordred was among them...

Well, how could he disagree?

Arthur had been sent to look for it, but nothing ever came up. Merlin assumed it was still with Mordred. The idea that this...This Taliesin had it was more than concerning. It also explained why Uther was being amendable. He knew that the king would wage another war if it meant he could have the crystal back. No doubt meeting Merlin seemed like a small price once he realized what was at stake.

"Ah, there he is." Uther said, voice tight and jaw clenched slightly so the words were barely enunciated. Merlin glanced around nervously. The throne room seemed crowded. There were whispers as he entered, eyes flicking him up and down. Passing nobles leaned forward as servants who had never attended him got on their toes to get a better look. "Merlin. You have a guest."

He had a guest. Merlin fixed the king with an annoyed look. This wasn't his idea. Taliesin smiled.

"Ah, so that's what you call him." He said as if this was fascinating news.

"That is the name his mother gave him at birth." Uther shot back, almost defensively. A few of the guards shuffled forward nervously. Merlin tried not to roll his eyes. He didn't want a fight to break out over his name.

"Oh, I'm sure," Taliesin said brightly and looked Merlin up and down "That is simply not the name he is given in the prophecies." He said and bowed his head. Merlin blinked, looking to where Morgana and Arthur flanked either side of Uther. Based on the looks on their faces...They weren't sure what that comment meant either. Uther went downright white at it. "My lord, I am sorry we have been forced to meet in such a way... I simply wanted my terms to be heard for all to hear." He smiled, gesturing to the room before them.

Merlin looked to Uther.

"Am...I to assume these are the terms you are issuing for the safe return of the Crystal of Neahtid?" He asked, nodding to the crystal. "I would recommend you speak them to the king. I have no authority here." He told him. Taliesin's smile grew. He didn’t answer him at first, instead watching him with his thumb running over the crystal in his hand thoughtfully. 

"I foresaw this meeting many years ago, young warlock. Still, it is surprises me that this is the future that came to pass...You know, in one vision I foresaw you meeting me as a servant." He said, eyes glittering with something Merlin couldn't quite place. The room muttered to one another, perhaps sensing the statement was offensive. Merlin tilted his head, uncertain.

"A servant..." He repeated and let a small smile touch his lips "You must be mistaken. I don't think I am quite suited for such work. I'm told I don't have the temperament for it." He said and clasped his hands in front of him.

"Perhaps not...But the freedom suited you well." Taliesin dismissed. The statement almost threw him off balance. Surely that wasn't true. Even...Even if he wasn't property of the king he would still be magic. Magic in a kingdom that would see him struck down and killed. What freedom truly was there in that? Before he could school his expression, Taliesin continued. "I am here to offer you the crystal upon the request you use your magic to gaze into it."

"And what are the consequences of that?" Uther interrupted, eyes studying the crystal carefully. "He’s looked into it before and nothing happened other than making him sicker. What use is there?" He asked. Taliesin paused, eyes narrowing at the king as his lips seemed to tighten. 

"It is strange," the sorcerer finally said "To hear such concern in your voice. I only wish I could forget you have a heart, your majesty. It is so much more appealing to simply pretend you don’t and hate you for it...But then again, you would understand that, wouldn’t you?" He asked. The entire hall seemed to rise at that, mutters and disgruntled whispers flying about. Before anyone could loudly voice their offense, Taliesin continued "It will not harm him. As a child his magic had not grown enough to fully comprehend the crystal. I suspect that while he will still be overwhelmed by the power now, his own will balance him fine." He dismissed, nodding his head into an almost taunting display of difference. 

"And what is it you hope for him to see? He is first and foremost my ward. I’m not risking his magic growing simply for a vision you aren’t strong enough to obtain yourself." Uther sniffed.

It was a little sweet...Though completely not misled. Merlin knew that even if Uther was serious about his safety that the crystal would likely take priority...And the king really had no choice if he wanted the crystal. 

Taliesin smiled. 

"I hope for him to a see a truth."

That was a garbage answer, but alright.

Merlin glanced over to Uther, waiting for the final say on the matter. As he expected there were a few beats of silence before the king raised his chin and nodded.

Merlin really hoped this truth was interesting.

He moved forward, trying to ignore the prying eyes and mutters that seemed to fill up the room as he held out his hands for the crystal. Taliesin leaned forward, first grabbing his hand and squeezing tightly before dumping the rock into his hand. For a moment nothing happened. Typical. 

Then everything happened.

The throne room was gone - only blackness surrounding him that melted into something that resembled a cave. Thousand of crystals bloomed into view, whispers and cries coming from each of them. Merlin floundered. He wasn’t sure if he could move.

"The Crystal Cave," Taliesin’s voice answered "Look around."

For some reason, he wasn't sure he wanted to. The crystals seemed unsettling with colors flickering around him and voices coming from nowhere. Still. Uther hadn’t raised him to be a coward. He stepped forward and let his fingers touch the first one.

Immediately his own voice screamed back at him.

"ARTHUR!"

He was on a field surrounded in flames. Fire and blood and black smoke seemed to obscure most of his vision but there was no mistaking Arthur who stood feet away, falling to his knees as a figure shrouded in black stepped away.

Immediately, Merlin stumbled back only to let his gaze fall onto another crystal.

"Run. You need to run!" Someone yelled. Merlin tried to move, but his feet seemed glued to the spot as he turned to find himself surrounded by an army of men. Lancelot stood somewhere in the distance, eyes wide as he tried to gesture Merlin to move. He couldn’t move though. Not when he saw Morgause standing in the distance, blonde hair rippling past her shoulders as she smiled smugly at him.

Rage took over.

"COME KILL ME!" He found himself shouting "STOP HIDING BEHIND THEM AND FACE ME YOURSELF!"

The anger was familiar but...Something about it was different. Deeper. Like fire coiling in his fingers as he tried to race towards her. She had done something. Something he didn’t know about yet...Something somehow more awful than all she had already done.

Before he could figure that out his mind seemed to slip from the vision once more. He tried to keep away from the crystals when the cave came back in view again but only found himself helplessly sucked in again. He saw flashes of everything and seemingly nothing pass by. Some he could digest, others just left him confused until they slowed into one. 

Morgana.

He felt a stab of relief hit him as he caught her face, expression cautious as she lifted her hood as she hurried down the stairs. He followed, a little unsure where she was going as she pulled out a silver knife with glittering jewels. There was a flash and Morgause’s face loomed over them again. Without warning, Uther’s chambers suddenly materialized.

Merlin realized exactly what was going to happen a second before it did.

"Wait-" He started, reaching towards her. Before he could intervene there was a sickening crack and suddenly he found himself on the floor of the throne room.

"Merlin!" A voice called and he felt something warm touch his face. He blinked a few times, trying to decide if this was real or a vision. "Merlin, let go. Let go, okay,?"

Let go?

He glanced up, processing that he was being held up by Arthur while Taliesin was calmly being held up the guards with a knife at his throat. What appeared to be most concerning was the crystal clutches in Merlin’s hands. Blood dropped from it, the red slicked over it like crushed berries.

Huh. That was his blood. The pain hit a second after he registered that, his hands shaking at the realization he had managed to cut himself by gripping the crystal too tightly.

"Let go." Arthur said again and reached down in an attempt to pry it from his hands. There was a thunk as Merlin let it fall to the floor.

"I’m okay," Merlin murmured and tried to shove Arthur off of him. "Let me go."

"Um...No."

"Arthur!" He snapped, all too aware that dozens of eyes were burning into him. "Get off."

"I can’t do that."

"I’ll throw you off of me," Merlin warned. "Remember when we were kids?" He asked, nudging him with his elbow. Arthur made a choking noise. It was a badly kept secret that Merlin may have accidentally thrown Arthur against a wall once or twice after Arthur had taken his toys. Morgana was pretty much the sole reason he wasn’t immediately killed...That and Arthur had insisted for three hours it hadn’t happened at all.

"Merlin, I actually can’t." Arthur said, voice rising with a hint of irritation. "Your magic is keeping me here."

...Oh.

Merlin felt the swirling in his chest latching into Arthur and immediately went red. He wasn’t sure what it was - perhaps the vision of seeing him die - but it appeared to have reached out to keep Arthur glued to him. That was embarrassing.

"Sorry!" Merlin said quickly and both he and Arthur fell to the floor.

"You got blood on me." Arthur said as he sat up and narrowed his eyes "What happened? Are you okay?"

No. He wasn’t. His eyes flicked to Uther.

"Well?" The king asked, folding his arms over his chest "Have you seen this truth the sorcerer speaks of?"

Merlin wasn’t actually sure.

He stood up, wiping his bloodied hands on his trousers before dumping the crystal onto Arthur’s lap. Taking two decisive strides he walked up to Taliesin.

"Why?" He asked simply. Taliesin rose his brows as if vaguely amused by the question before deliberating.

"There are hundreds of futures, Emrys. Some we get to choose. Some we don’t." He answered cryptically...Because why say anything straightforward? That was one stereotype of the magical community that Merlin agreed with. Nothing was ever to the bloody point.

His mind immediately switched tracks when the last part of his sentence clicked.

"What did you call me?" He asked, skin prickling. Nimueh. Nimueh again. She was everywhere. In Morgause and now seemingly speaking through Taliesin.

"Your name," the man said simply "Don’t worry too much if you don’t like it. The legends will always call you Merlin."

His mouth seemed to dry at that but before he could ask anymore questions or even demand a better explanation there was a slight breeze that flooded the room.

Taliesin was gone. 


It wasn’t easy to ignore the aftermath of that adventure, but damn if Merlin didn’t try.

The name ‘Emrys’ had pretty much been outlawed. Merlin figured the moment it touched Uther’s ears it would be tabooed. Really, Taliesin just sped up the inevitable.

The crystal, on the other hand, was returned to the vaults surrounded by more guards that even Merlin had outside his tower. It was haunting. Even more haunting was the visions and dreams the crystal had left him with. Uther had asked of course. Merlin only frowned.

"I’m not sure what truth he meant, my lord. All I saw was nonsense that didn’t mean much to me."

It was a lie. They both knew it. Strangely enough, Uther didn’t press. Perhaps it softened him to see Merlin covered in his own blood. Maybe it was the fact he was still clearly shaken by the ordeal...Maybe it was because Morgana looked like she was eyeing another ladle if he got too testy. Who knew? Not Merlin.

The visit had definitely dampened the castle’s spirit...Though not for long. A few weeks passed before Merlin got the news. Amazing news. Wonderful news. This, after all, was going to be the best day of Merlin's life.

"AHA!" He shouted and flopped on his bed "Yes. Yes. It's your turn!" He beamed, pointing at where Arthur was gaping at him open mouthed from the armchair on the other side of his room. Merlin paused, sensing this wasn't the correct reaction. "I mean," He rectified "What? An arranged marriage? No way..."

"You're annoying." Arthur said and threw a book at him. Merlin dodged. He did feel a little bad that Arthur was so suddenly being married off to the elusive Princess Elena. But also. It wasn’t Merlin who was being sold like cattle so he was pretty pleased.

"But you know she’s going to be wonderful," Merlin rolled his eyes, pushing his hair back "After all, he can get any alliance he wants through me. I’m sure he’s picking the prettiest, wittiest, most lovely lady in all the five kingdoms for you." He said, giving a fake swoon. Arthur made a face. "I hope we get along. I want to be certain I can team up with her against you." He said sitting up. "Besides, the future queen of Camelot seems like quite the ally!"

"You know, I think Morgana might be more comforting than you in these moments." Arthur scowled.

"Goodness, Arthur. Just tell your father you don’t want to marry yet. He’ll give into you as he always does."

"But he won’t!" Arthur said, throwing up his hands "He won’t even listen to me on the matter - and you haven’t met her. She’s..." He trailed off. Merlin waited. "Unorthodox."

"That’s a nice word for ugly." Merlin told him flatly.

"No! No, that’s not what I meant!" Arthur said immediately "She’s just not very...Proper." He decided. Merlin stared. He had no idea what any of that meant.

"Proper?"

"She’s...Like Gwaine?" He tried and when Merlin brightened, immediately shook his head "No, that’s not right. She..." He started again. Merlin rose an eyebrow. "You have to meet her."

"What a nice a thought. Let me just head on down there-"

"You’re already allowed to go to the feast. You can see her there." Arthur told him, folding his arms over his chest. Merlin shrugged and fell back on his bed, twirling his bracelet around his finger. This was going to be fun.


This was not fun.

Merlin had...Kind of...Accidentally...Sort of... Started a very small war. It wasn’t even a war, probably. Battle. A tiny, little, insignificant battle.

"I want his head on a spike!"

It wasn’t a big deal. Honestly.

Allow him to explain: Elena wasn’t human.

He didn’t mean that in a nasty way! In fact, he was sure she was very human when she wasn’t possessed by a magical creature...Not that her father really cared to hear an explanation.

It probably wasn’t the best thing to announce when meeting Arthur’s future wife for the first time, but also, Merlin felt like it was kind of important to mention.

So now Uther was convinced Godwyn was consorting with the sidhe and Godwyn was offended on his daughter’s behalf and accusing Merlin of trying to ruin the alliance and Grunhilda was over there definitely being a pixie.

"I wonder," Gaius commented as he watched Uther march away "If perhaps the prophecy Taliesin mentioned you must fulfill is to learn some tact."

"...you have no other advice?" Merlin asked him dryly. Gaius scoffed.

"That wasn’t advice. That was a comment."

"Of course. Do you have any advice for me Gaius?"

"No."

"Of course not."

Luckily, Merlin figured it all out! All he had to do was kidnap Elena, force the sidhe out of her, kill it, and murder that damned pixie-nanny by whoring out Gaius. It was an excellent plan... Sort of. It actually was well executed! Kudos to him for stopping fullscale violence (he wasn’t counting Grunhilda and the sidhe’s deaths, it was fine).

Unfortunately, this meant Arthur was back on track to get married...Or so he thought.

"That was...Surprising." Merlin said when the prince collapsed on the bed beside him "Your father isn’t mad?" He asked, turning over to look at him. Arthur shrugged.

"A little, but he’ll get over it," He sighed and bit his lip "You don’t think I’m crazy, right? Wanting to marry for love?"

Merlin considered.

"It depends," He said and propped himself up on his elbow "Do you think it exists?" He asked. Arthur nodded. "Then no, you aren’t crazy." He said. Arthur let out a breath, clearly relieved by the response. Merlin grinned down at him. If he was honest... Part of him was a little relieved too. Obviously because he wanted Arthur to be happy. Obviously. Though...He still felt a little uncomfortable for a reason he wasn’t quite able to identify. "Is, uh," He began, looking out towards the window "There anyone you already...?" He asked, thinking of Gwen. She wasn’t noble...But if it was what Arthur wanted...

"I’m not sure," Arthur said, biting at his lower lip. He looked uncomfortable. Made sense. Arthur wasn’t good with emotions - which was a little why Merlin was so surprised he nipped the whole arranged marriage in the bud. "But I have time." He dismissed and sat up. "Come on, I asked father to take you to the training yard today."

"What? No, no, no...I’m not going to let you hit me with a sword for fun again. Arthur." He scowled when the prince started to pull him off the bed. "No. No. No. No." He moaned as he was easily dragged across the floor. "No. No. No. No...Nobody will truly be in love with you if you act like this."

"Why are you so dramatic?"


"....Merlin?" Morgana asked, pacing back and forth thoughtfully. "What do you think of Gwen?"

"Gwen? Morgana, I’m honestly not in love with her." Merlin scowled, focusing on the paper in front of him as he attempted to sketch Frank sitting on his desk. When he didn’t get a response, he glanced up to find Morgana staring at the wall blankly. "Morgana?"

"I had a vision." She said, not moving "Of her on the throne."

Huh. Merlin stopped his drawing to consider this. He...Liked Gwen. He knew Arthur liked her...Enough to marry her, apparently. Given his most recent conversation with Arthur about marriage and love he shouldn’t be surprised. He bit his lip. He wasn’t sure he liked this though. He still wasn’t sure what was wrong with it exactly.

"Oh," he finally said for the sake of giving a reaction. "Well...It would be interesting." He tried. Morgana scowled.

"For a servant to sit in a throne? Yes, Merlin. I’d imagine that would be interesting." She snapped. Merlin tilted his head. "She wasn’t raised for it. She has no idea how to run kingdom nor does she have any right to it." She said, beginning to pace again.

"Uther would agree," Merlin shrugged "But if this happens during Arthur’s rule then it is how he says, isn’t it? If he wants her on the throne then she will be."

"Well that’s irresponsible of him!" Morgana said, throwing up her hands in exasperation "I...Merlin, I’m starting to think he might not be right for the throne either." She said, placing her hands on her hips. Merlin stared. "I know that’s horrible to say... He is a good man. A fine warrior too, but those aren’t going to mean he’ll also be a good king!" She said, wringing her hands.

He tried not to think of the vision he saw of her with Taliesin. Of her over Uther with a knife and - no. No, it was just...Just one future among endless realities. Morgana wouldn’t kill anyone. He thought of his father. It wasn’t the same. Morgause has technically killed him. Not Morgana. Morgana could never kill anyone like that. 

"Well..." Merlin said slowly, forcing himself back into the conversation "There are no other heirs, Morgana. He was crowned by Uther as the official recipient to the land. There isn’t much of a choice." He said, leaving it at that. Personally, he always thought Arthur would make a good king - assuming he ever learned how to listen - but he got the feeling that wasn’t what Morgana wanted to hear.

"Who would you want to rule? If you had a choice, I mean." Morgana asked. Merlin pursed his lips.

"Me." He said with a roll of his eyes. It was meant to be a joke, but Morgana didn’t smile.

"I think so too."

That was....Unexpected. He stared at her, a little uncertain of how to react to that. Morgana’s expression didn’t waver - still serious as ever as she let her eyes flick him up and down with consideration.

"Morgana..."

"It would be better to have someone magical on the throne. Someone who could free our people and lay to rest all those lies about our kind. Taliesin said something about a prophecy-"

"But Arthur will be king." He tried to remind her as she stood up, pacing back and forth. "And it is treason for us to even joke about anything else." He added because they were definitely joking, right? Definitely joking. His mind flicked back to the visions Taliesin had given him. The flashes of future that seemed so jumbled and clear and... 

"Morgana," He said suddenly and stood up, abandoning the parchment and Frank to stand in front of her "Can I ask you something?"

Her eyes flickered up at him warily before giving the smallest of nods as she bit at the ends of her nails. She didn’t look completely focused on him, but Merlin moved forward anyways.

"Are you still talking to Morgause?"

He waited. Morgana froze. She tilted her head up at him, brows coming together in what could have been confusion if he didn’t know her so well...but he did. He had known her all his life. He knew when she was playing innocent.

"I told you already what happened-"

"Are you planning to kill Uther?" He asked evenly. "Are you going to lump Arthur in with him now too? He hasn’t done you any wrong-"

"Why are you asking these questions?" She interrupted, suddenly sitting up straight. It was much how she usually sat next to Uther’s throne. Stiff and regal in a way Merlin felt he could never master. "Don’t worry about these things. I’ll handle them-"

"Not if it means killing the king!" Merlin found himself shouting. "Damnit, Morgana!" He added, feeling a wave of frustration come over him. "I can’t keep doing this!"

"You don’t have to do anything!" Morgana told him, standing up. "Merlin, just trust me. This is the right thing to do. We can make this work."

"And what is the plan, exactly? Murder and steal the throne for...? Yourself? For me?" He asked, dreading the answer a little. He wouldn’t be able to stand it if he even thought of betraying Arthur in the way. Besides, he wasn’t technically of pure noble blood.

"You have a right to it! Didn’t you read the letter?"

Magic. Uther had said for so long that it corrupted. That it tainted your soul and made even the best of men evil. He felt like he had been fighting it for so long...Hoping and praying and fighting for it to be a lie.

Now he just felt... Resigned.

"My mother...Are you saying she’s royal?" He asked. That would be what the letter said. Of course it was. How convenient. Who was the liar? Nimueh or Morgana? The sad truth of it was both were equally likely.

"The daughter of the king before Uther," Morgana agreed with a nod "And your father a dragonlord. You have more of a right to that throne then anyone...And if you don’t want it then you have every right to give it to someone else."

"You should leave."

"What?"

"Get out. I’m not doing this with you. I’m not plotting murder or treason or... Or any of it! Arthur will be king. Gwen...Gwen will be queen. That’s it. Done." He said and stalked back to his window "And if you keep going this way then I’ll show my loyalty to Camelot again." He said, though the warning seemed to catch in his throat.

"By outing me to Uther?" Morgana asked, voice shaking with underlying rage. Merlin hated that he could only hear the anger. Morgana had once been so much more than just anger. Even a hint of fear seemed better than just the cold, dry hatred.

"No," He answered and got up again to yank out the bottom drawer of his bedside table. Inside was a metal ladle. Part of him wanted to laugh. It seemed to stupid now. They were stupid children. He picked it up and tossed it at her. "But I’ll kill you myself. Go ahead and use that to protect yourself." He said, voice wavering. Morgana’s face tightened. "Go!"

She left. Merlin wasn’t sure which one of them was in the right and wrong anymore. 


This kid was a fucking moron.

Arguably, Merlin was also a moron so he shouldn’t be so tough on the guy. He supposed technically Uther really did say ‘any weapon’.

But also...He was a moron. Definitely a moron.

"In fairness," The moron in question was saying from where he sat in front of Merlin’s not-throne "I didn’t think you would be allowed to watch the tournament. Also, I wasn’t sure you really existed...Wow, by the way. You’re real."

Merlin glanced towards the entrance to make sure the guards had stayed out of the room as he instructed them to. He had told them to bring Gilli to him in order to congratulate him on his win in the tournament (Merlin did love an underdog). No doubt the rest of the town would be even more in a tizzy when they found out. Most were already swooning over the kid. Poor Merlin was probably going to receive endless grief about it from Uther but Merlin was resolute that he had to save this child from his own stupidity. 

"Yes," he said testily "I exist. And I know you used magic. See the problem?"

"...no."

He wondered if he was ever this annoying. Probably. The sad part was that Gilli appeared to only be two or three years younger than him so that meant he was this annoying recently. Tragic.

"I should report this Uther," He continued, trying to keep his voice as level and threatening as possible "To which he’ll kill you for it."

Gilli pursed his lips. It was astonishing really. Merlin often rolled his eyes if he got annoyed when people threatened his life but that was because he was freaking used to it. This random guy had no business being so nonchalant about an execution.

"And?" He asked and pulled back his shoulders "I run the risk of being killed everyday. For existing. Whether it’s by Uther’s hand or some thug in the streets. I can’t hold a sword or use a mace, but I do have this." He said, holding up the ring that Merlin assumed he was heightening his powers through. "I can use this." He said and Merlin stared. "You wouldn’t understand...Everyone knows who you are. You don’t have to hide like the rest of us." He said, scowling. Merlin frowned.

He had never...Never considered that...

"There are commoners with magic?" He asked, suddenly dawned with the realization that he was still the moron here. "Commoners who live peacefully in Camelot, I mean."

Gilli frowned.

"Of course. It isn’t just the druids and you."

No...No, obviously not. Merlin had known this in theory, of course. Plenty of sorcerers he slew came from the lower town or outlying villages. It made sense to think there were more sorcerers out there who were simply hiding from Uther. No ulterior motive. No plan for murder. Just...Wanting to survive.

"My father had magic too," Gilli said, recapturing his attention "And yet, he died not defending himself with it. He refused. I don’t want to be like that. I have a weapon it is just a good as any other weapon. If anyone wants to hurt me they can face it."

"You enlisted in this tournament."

"To prove a point!"

Merlin tried to regain his footing as his mind seemed to stumble slowly through this conversation. After a moment he ran a hand over his face. The room suddenly felt much too cold. He thought back to Morgana. Suddenly, she wasn’t just talking about ruling over spiteful people who were mad they couldn’t use magic. She was talking about allowing people to use magic as a right. Like you allowed others to use a sword.

It was everything that Uther said wasn’t possible and yet...

He swore on his life he wouldn’t let Gilli die...Or win this tournament because if anyone was going to use magic to cheat it was going to be him. Also, keeping Uther safe and all that nonsense.

"You’re deep in thought," Arthur said a few days later "I’m concerned." He added and waved a hand in front of Merlin’s face. "You’re not planning on doing something stupid again, right? My father is getting paranoid about the prophecy the one sorcerer mentioned so you shouldn’t press your luck and-" 

"Do you trust me?" Merlin asked suddenly. Arthur tilted his head.

"I’m not going to like this, am I?" He sighed. Merlin shrugged, still waiting for an answer. "I trust you with my life... I don’t know if I trust you with your own though." He added distastefully. Well...That was probably fair actually. "What’s going on?"

Merlin thought back to his bottom drawer. It was empty now. And yet, even though he swore he was done with Morgana...

"I have to make a decision," He said slowly "It’s important and it’s going to affect the entire kingdom."

"Oh, is that it?" Arthur rolled his eyes "You sound like the dragon. Stop being so cryptic-"

"I need you to take me to the Crystal Caves," Merlin told him "And then afterwards...I might need to talk to you about Morgana."

Chapter Text

"I’m sorry," Arthur said, grabbing Merlin’s shoulders so he was forced to look him in the eyes "You want me to...Sneak you out of the castle and take you to a place of magic you’ve only seen in a vision so you can do God knows what and then maybe tell me something about Morgana?"

Merlin nodded.

"Do you even know how to get to the Crystal Cave?"

"Well, I assume Kilgharrah would know and also be able to take us-"

"Oh, so now we’re riding a dragon? Merlin, I swear-"

"I’m a dragonlord! It’ll be fine! If you don’t want to come you don’t have to. I just thought it would be convenient-"

"I will throw you out this window if you finish that." Arthur warned. Merlin held up his hands. Fine. He waited. Arthur pinched at the bridge of his nose, taking long breaths as he muttered under his breath.

"...I would prefer to leave soon-"

"Shut up, Merlin." Arthur snapped and looked at him for a few minutes. "Fine...But only because I don’t want you to do this by yourself! I’m going to disapprove of it the entire time it’s happening!"

Merlin wanted to point out that he didn’t care much for Arthur’s approval, but decided that wasn’t the best route to take at the moment. Instead, he grinned and reached down to grab a leather bag to start stuffing his things into. Arthur gave a groan of utter resignation before heading towards the door - probably to pack his own things. Right as he reached the handle there was a sharp knock that made them both pause.

"My lord?" Leon's voice called. Merlin cursed as he kicked his bag under the bed with a call to enter. The door creaked open a bit, Leon's head hesitantly popping inside with an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry to bother you," He began, shuffling in the doorway. His eyes flicked to Arthur and Merlin could have sworn he sighed. "Uther is...Requesting your presence." He said slowly. Merlin blinked.

"Now?" He asked. What sort of creature was attacking them now? He glanced outside, but there weren't any guards or knights lurking around to give him any hints.

"Yes, my lord. Queen Mara is here...Along with Prince Xander." Leon said, spitting out the last part a little too quickly. Merlin froze.

No freaking way. Now? Now? He kind of wanted to scream. He turned to look at Arthur who seemed just as alarmed by the announcement.

"I had no idea they intended to visit." Merlin said slowly. Though, in all honesty, there was no point in questioning it. If they were here then...They were here. Arthur pursed his lips, crossing his arms over his chest. "May I ask how long they plan to stay?"

"I...Can't say for certain. It seems they were traveling nearby and wished to give Lady Morgana a visit now that she has returned...As well as properly introduce themselves to you." Leon explained. Arthur rolled his eyes.

"You've got to be kidding me." He muttered. For once, Merlin agreed. While there weren't a lot of things that Arthur and Merlin consistently agreed to have a mutual, unrelenting hatred for...Prince Xander of Bernicia happened to be one of them."This should be fun." Arthur added on and Merlin gave Leon a curt nod with a promise to be ready soon so he could be escorted down. As soon as the door shut, Arthur turned to him.

"This is because your father died." He said bluntly. Merlin blinked. "You have your dragonlord powers now. You're more valuable." He explained, looking a little pissed on Merlin's behalf.

"It's been months since my father died." Merlin pointed out and ran a hand over his face. "Maybe they really do want to see Morgana. Her and Xander were engaged after all." He pointed out. Arthur snorted.

"Yeah, when they were eight." Arthur scoffed "And that was before..." He trailed off. Merlin shrugged. Morgana's proposed marriage to Xander had been one of desperation at the time. A contract was made for them to get married when they were of age and in the meantime that held as enough to form a treaty when both Camelot and Bernicia were threatened with war. Eventually, the wars ended...And Queen Mara broke off the contract saying her son's happiness came first.

Morgana had been a little more than offended if Merlin remembered correctly... Though in recent years she had changed her tune.

"Let's just get down there. The sooner we leave the sooner I can focus on saving this bloody kingdom." He muttered and yanked his circlet from a drawer and tossed it on. Arthur rolled his eyes. 

"Saving the bloody kingdom. You're hilarious." He muttered as he followed him out. Merlin dashed down the stairs, not really worrying how presentable he looked. He told himself this whole thing was nothing more than a nuisance considering he had important matters to get back to... In reality, he was trying to swallow his bitterness. Bloody Xander. Never had there been anyone Merlin envied more. For the most part, he managed to keep it under wraps and remain neutral about the whole ordeal. But now that the git was actually here...

Granted, he had never met the prince. He had seen him once or twice as a child, but that was only at a distance from his tower while he played in the gardens with Morgana. He had been jealous then too. That he got to run outside and play with his friend while he was locked away. Perfect...Xander. Who got to do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted with his mother always doting on him. Arthur had to publicly denounce his forced marriage with Elena to get out of it, but all Xander had to do was tell his mother he didn't like girls and suddenly he was free to marry whoever he wanted...And apparently, he wanted Merlin. It made him so frustrated that he might just burst into flames (and maybe tears too).

Well Merlin wasn't going to give him what he wanted - no way. In fact, this wasn't the first time he had fought off this particular suitor. Mara and Xander had tried to come to Camelot before...And Merlin had made sure to be extra diligent in his duties before those visits. Poor Prince Xander couldn't meet him if he was too busy fighting off evil sorcerers, could he? He wondered if it was too late to make one up now as he marched down the hallway. Leon must have sensed his annoyance because the knight offered a reassuring smile as he placed a hand on his arm.

"You know, I've only heard nice things about him-"

"Oh, I'm sure you have." Merlin said shortly as they approached the heavy wooden door that would lead to the throne room. Apparently, this wasn't to be a private affair where he could sit in his not-really-a-throne. Probably didn't want to make poor, precious Xander uncomfortable. Leon fell silent as the outburst. A few guards seemed to exchange wary glances before leaning forward to knock on the door.

"Enter!"

The doors squeaked open and Merlin had to fight to keep his expression clear. For the most part, the room was empty. Uther and Morgana were both drinking a goblet wine, chatting idly with a woman in a dress that seemed to be made of gold itself. It spilled off of her like water, shimmering in the light. Beside her was a boy who seemed a bit older - Morgana's age, he knew - wearing a long dark purple tunic. It almost looked a shorten version of robes with a leather belt securing it shut at his waist. The group turned as the doors clattered shut behind him. Great.

"Arthur! Merlin!" Uther beamed. Merlin glanced to his side, almost forgetting Arthur was with him. "Perfect timing! Come sit. This doesn't need to be a formal affair." He said brightly. Right. Sure, it didn't need to be formal. Xander probably requested a casual affair. Trying not to look annoyed, he let Arthur walk in front of offer introductions.

"A pleasure," The woman said and smiled "I'm sure you've guessed who were are."

"Queen Mara," Arthur nodded pleasantly "It's been many years since I've seen you. I think I was six the last time we met...And you as well, Prince Xander." He added.

Against his better judgment, Merlin turned his eyes to the visiting prince.

Ugh.

He looked just as Merlin expected him to. His hair was...Okay, it wasn't messy, but it was long. Probably because he didn't have to worry about it getting yanked around it battle (because obviously if Prince Xander didn't want to fight then he wouldn't fight). Most of it was in black braids with gold intertwined. He was taller and definitely more built than Merlin had been expecting. Handsome. Of course, he was handsome. The gods probably heard he wanted to be handsome and just did whatever he wanted because it was Prince bloody Xander.

"Merlin?" Morgana's voice called and he was snapped back into focus. Oh. Had they said something to him? He probably looked like an idiot just standing there while they were waiting for him to say something.

"Queen Mara. Prince Xander." He said, voice coming out a little stiff. "I'm so happy to finally meet you."

Xander snorted.

"You sound like it." He said, a hint of a smile touching his lips. Merlin couldn't help but scowl back. Before he could answer, Mara broke in.

"We're pleased to meet you as well. I understand it had been...Difficult to get an audience with you carrying out your duties so... Ardently."

Translation: We surprise visited so you'd stop ditching us.

"I'm only sorry it took this long."

Translation: I'm sorry I didn't stab myself on the way over you conniving cabbage head.

"Well, we're all here now!"

Translation: Try and escape now you slippery bastard.

Maybe he could just throw himself out the window. Forget the Crystal Cave. He didn't even care about Camelot anymore. All he wanted was to ruin Mara and Xander's day. This thought was quickly ended when Uther shot him a sharp look, a warning flash in his eyes that had Merlin inwardly groaning. He looked back at Xander. The prince smiled at him.

Oh, go fuck yourself.

Arthur coughed - probably echoing Merlin's thoughts. He had always agreed that Xander was undeservedly spoiled rotten. He threw him a quick grin before settling with fixing Xander with a smug smile. The prince lifted a brow. It was probably bewildering for him, poor thing. Had he ever not been liked before? What a new experience!

"Mara, I really do hope we can regain a strong alliance through all of this," Uther was saying "Perhaps we should discuss it over lunch?" He suggested. Mara smiled, giving a graceful nod as she accepted Uther's outstretched arm. Merlin bit the inside of his cheek to keep from screaming. From Uther's side, Morgana tilted her head, a strange smirk crossing her face that disappeared when the king turned back to her.

"Mother?" Xander interrupted as they went to move out of the room "I was rather hoping I could see the gardens." He said and bowed his head "Perhaps Merlin could show me the way...If it's alright with his majesty, of course." He added. Mara smiled fondly before giving a small nod and turning to Uther. The king seemed to hesitate. Merlin so dearly hoped he said no as he said no to literally everything else.

"It sounds like a fine plan."

Come on.

Merlin and Arthur exchanged disgusted looks before both moving towards Xander.

"Arthur," Uther called "I think you should join us." He said, gesturing towards Mara and Morgana. There was a pause. Was he serious? He couldn't really be leaving Xander and Merlin alone, could he? Arthur looked at Merlin who sent him a pleading expression. He opened his mouth to argue when Uther cleared his throat, narrowing his eyes a bit.

"Of course." Arthur said, sending Merlin an apologetic smile. Morgana also sent him a warm grin, but he ignored her. Xander gave them all one final bow before turning the opposite way towards the gardens...Ugh. Merlin spun around to follow. 

"Oh, guards aren't necessary." Xander commented when Leon and the others went to follow. There was a pause.

"They aren't permitted to leave me - Ah." Merlin interrupted himself when the group seemed to halt, allowing them both to keep walking without the crowd. "Nevermind then." He said, wrinkling his nose. Xander tilted his head a bit as he looked him up and down for a moment before speaking again, voice slow and careful.

"I would think you would be pleased to have some time without them."

"Well, if you say it then it must be true." Merlin muttered. To his surprise, Xander laughed.

"You don't like me." He said. Merlin blinked. It was true, of course, but Merlin wasn't one to simply agree with people he didn't like.

"Well, if you say it then it must be true." He repeated. Xander's eyes seemed to brighten at the ire - though it didn't seem... Malicious. More playful if anything. He had nice eyes too...A light brown that was warm and inviting...Of course, he did that son of a -

"That's alright. We don't have to speak if you don't want to." Xander said and made his way to the cobbled pathway to the gardens. "I really am sorry we just appeared like this. I told my mother it would be better to announce ourselves...To give you time to plan your escape." He tacked on casually. Merlin almost tripped. "I rather enjoy your excuses, you know... What was it last time? Battling a beast that had wings and two heads. One of a lion and one of a-"

"Wolf," Merlin interrupted, feeling himself flush. Xander snapped his fingers in realization. "I thought you said we didn't have to talk." He added on a little moodily. Xander held up his hands in slight apology before drifting off to look at the flowers blooming nearby.

Tragically, Merlin was bad with silence.

"...You knew I was lying? And didn't tell Uther?" He asked. Xander's brows rose.

"I thought we weren't talking."

"I - well," Merlin managed and took a long breath. "Stop that."

"Stop what?"

"I don't know. Just stop it." Merlin demanded - a little hysterically. Xander reached out to touch the flower in front of him before turning back to Merlin.

"I was honestly astonished Uther didn't figure it out himself...What did you say when the knights didn't see anything?" He asked "I assume they would be required to join you on such expeditions."

"...I may have said only people with magic could see such creatures." He admitted. He wasn't sure why he said it. It was none of Xander's business...Oh, God. He was doing it too. He was giving the evil little twat exactly what he wanted. How? Merlin was so dedicated in his hatred - 

"Amazing." Xander chuckled and Merlin bit his lip. Xander didn’t say anything for a moment before finally letting go of the flower "I know we agreed to not talk...But I would like to apologize to you first." He said, yanking at the sleeve of his tunic. Merlin blinked. Apologize... To him? "When...When I visited here before as a child I remember seeing you," Xander said and pointed up. Far above was Merlin’s tower, the window barely visible at such a height. "Obviously, I was curious and nobody was willing to tell me too much as to why a child was up there." He said and stood up straight, meeting Merlin’s eyes. "So...I should have known." He sighed. Merlin waited.

"Known what?"

Xander frowned.

"That you weren’t given an opinion. When I told my mother what kind of marriage I was hoping for I hadn’t realized nobody asked you about it." He said, voice slow - picking out every word with extreme precision. "I don’t even know if...Do you like men?"

Well then. Merlin hadn’t been expecting that for sure. He stood frozen - mouth opening and closing without much productivity as he tried to process the question.

"Um," He said dumbly "I’ve...Never been...Asked...That." He got out. That must have not be considered an answer because Xander simply stood there patiently. "There...There was a girl. Once." He said, heart freezing at the memory. "Her name was Freya." He said quietly before shaking his head "But I don’t know about, um. Anything else. I haven’t exactly, you know." He flushed. He wasn’t really sure what he meant either. Xander didn’t laugh at him though. He only nodded.

"Makes sense," He said simply "Well, if you figure that out let me know. I don’t want you to be miserable if you end up not liking me. Well, more than you already seem to." He added, amusement coming back towards the end. Merlin stared. How did this happen? What just happened? He wasn’t really sure anymore.

"Yeah, okay." He mumbled and sat down on a bench settled between two bushes. "Why do you care about that?" He asked, just to clarify. "You seem to be..." He trailed off. "Well, I’m a sorcerer." He said, going back to the biggest problem with the whole situation.

"Yes."

"And...I mean, most people would want me to be miserable for that fact alone." He explained. Xander made a face.

"Not most people. Just...Ignorant ones." He said, glancing over his shoulder. Merlin got the feeling that ignorant wasn’t his first choice of words. "My mother has outlawed magic, but it isn’t an offense that is punishable by death. I’m not sure what I plan to do with it yet." He added, voice slipping from the practiced speech of a prince to something softer and more thoughtful. He had an accent, Merlin realized. That made sense. Bernicia spoke a different language than Camelot. He tried to remember what it was.

"You don’t think that it corrupts?" Merlin asked and was suddenly hit with a wave of nausea. "Actually, hold that thought." He said and closed his eyes. He would not be the guy who threw up in the bushes while meeting his potential future husband. He couldn’t live his life like that.

"What’s wrong?" Xander asked, kneeling down in front of him. Merlin swallowed, ignoring the ground spinning beneath him.

"Bracelet." He whispered, holding up how wrist. "Made of iron. Makes me sick."

"Oh," Xander frowned and reached forward to slip it off. Immediately, the pain subsided. "That better?"

"Well, yeah, but now my magic isn’t being repressed." He pointed out. Xander shrugged and held up the bracelet to look at.

"To answer your question, I’ve never bought into the corruption thing...So no need for this, right?" He asked, putting the band in his pocket. Huh. This was not going as Merlin anticipated...At all. Okay. New theory: this was a trap.

Yes. This was all part of the plan. Xander wanted to lure him in by being perfect and kind and annoyingly empathetic so that Merlin would let his guard down and BAM! He was in Bernicia locked away in a new tower away from the few friends and family he had.

Ohhh, he was good. He was good, but Merlin knew better. He would not be taken as a fool.

"I would rather keep it on." He said dryly and held out his hand. Xander frowned, but didn’t argue as he reached back into his pocket to give it back. Merlin glared at him. "I've never had it off for more than a few hours at a time." He explained, trying to keep as much anger in his voice as possible. Xander gave a very slow nod.

"Perhaps...I should give you some time alone?" He suggested. The amusement was gone from his expression - replaced with bewildered wariness as he stepped back a bit. "We can meet back here so that Uther thinks we stayed together." He suggested.

God. The nerve. The audacity.

"No." Merlin said. Xander waited.

"Then perhaps propose a solution that makes you more comfortable?"

"No."

Merlin wouldn’t give him what he wanted. No way. He wouldn’t give into it. It wasn’t fair. He hadn’t always hated Xander. Not really. It felt like something that just slowly built up over the years from the stories Arthur told. And now... Now that he was in front of him... 

"Have I done something to offend you?"

He couldn’t help it. Merlin felt the dam burst so suddenly that he didn’t even have control over what came out of his mouth.

"Your existence offends me," He snarled, fists clenching by his sides. It felt hot suddenly. Overwhelmingly so. "Why you? Even Arthur doesn’t have everything you do. You haven’t won any great battles that I know of. You haven’t negotiated any grand peace treaties. You’re just as giving and kind as some of the other royals I’ve met. It’s only because of your mother. Because she listens to you and respects you -" 

"All parents are like that-"

"Well, I wouldn’t know!" Merlin burst out, voice sending a few birds fluttering out of the trees. "Arthur is the most important person in the world to Uther and even he comes to second to the kingdom. Your mother always puts you first. Do you even know how unusual it is for a kingdom to suggest a marriage that won’t produce children? And I would be a part of that, wouldn’t I? If we married I would get to see everyone dote on you while I am still locked up and ready to die any moment because to your queen I’ll be a tool and you’ll still be a...a..." He floundered, looking for the word.

"Person?" Xander suggested quietly. Merlin felt the anger suddenly zap before the resignation hit.

"Yeah...That." He said, voice catching a little as the realization of it all came crashing down.

Merlin wasn’t really a person. Not to...Anyone, really. Morgana had been his lifeline in that regard and now she was trying to use him to get a throne that wasn’t even hers. A bit of shame seemed wiggle itself up in his throat when he suddenly realized there was a bitterness in his speech that wasn’t too dissimilar to Morgana’s...And he had the nerve to say he was going to try and stop her. What a hypocrite he was.

And it wasn’t like any of this was Xander’s fault. He rose his eyes, ready to apologize when he felt himself being pushed... or attacked? Or...Was he being hugged? He was definitely being hugged. Weird.

Morgana and Arthur had been the only people to hug him growing up...Granted, Gaius and Gwaine were now on the roster for that as well, but it wasn't like there was a plethora of people lining up to give him affection.

"Um," Merlin began and patted his back "I’m sorry?" He said and when he wasn’t released, felt a bit of panic rise "I’m not usually so rude, I’m actually quite good and at controlling my emotions, but I was planning on breaking the law today and - "

"You were planning on what?" Xander asked, suddenly letting go of him. Merlin winced. Whoops.

"...joking?" He tried. Xander narrowed his eyes. "I...There’s something I need to do so I needed to sneak out of the castle. Which, I guess it technically isn’t against the law, but it’s pretty close...And then you came and -"

"I don’t need anymore explanation," Xander interrupted and looked around "You should go do...Whatever it is you want to do."

"Want is a strong word-"

"I’ll cover for you. You go and I’ll take care of the rest, okay?" He said, letting go. Merlin took a small step back.

"Really? You...Are just going to help me? Without any other information?" He asked, a little bewildered. Xander had grabbed his wrist, pulling him out of the gardens back towards his room.

"No, I’m good." He said, still holding his hand as he dragged him to the top of the staircase to Merlin’s room. He let go and Merlin immediately knelt down to grab his bag. "Just tell me how long you need."

"Two days?"

"You got it." He said, which was just...An unreal response. He wanted to ask how the Hell he planned to keep Uther in the dark for two days, but really didn’t have the time. "I’m assuming I’ll need to cover for Arthur too?"

"I - yes. How did you know?" Merlin asked. Xander smiled and took off Merlin’s circlet, tossing it onto the bed.

"Just a hunch," he said and gave him a small smile "For the record...I think you’re a person to him. And I’m sorry Uther has made you feel otherwise." He tacked on "I don’t mean for this to sound like a bribe or anything either but...If everything works out - assuming you want to, obviously - I’ll do my best to put a stop to it. I can’t promise Camelot, but at least in Bernicia you’d be..." He trailed off for a moment, not daring to say the last word, though Merlin knew what it was.

"Thank you..." he said slowly and pulled his pack over his shoulder "And I’m sorry again for losing my temper I..." He began and his chest did a weird flip. "Maybe we should get to know each other properly after this. I, uh, promise to stop avoiding you." He shrugged, face feeling slightly hot as he said the words. A smile touched the prince’s face.

"I would like that...Good luck." He added and squeezed Merlin’s hand. Oh God. That was weird. Was that weird? He was being weird. Merlin’s mind blanked for a moment. Without thinking he lifted Xander’s hand up and kissed it.

Okay, that was definitely weird. And fast. How had this escalated so quickly? Merlin hated him about ten minutes ago.

"Bye." He announced, noticing Xander went a darker shade. Oh no. Did he make him angry? Merlin needed to leave. Tripping over, his own feet, he exited the room to save both Camelot and his dignity.


"Are you okay?" Arthur asked, "You haven’t said anything in five minutes... It’s unsettling. Especially because I need you to explain why you’re about to summon a dragon to go to a magical cave in the middle of nowhere." He added on dryly as they marched through the woods. Merlin bit his lip.

"How...Did you know you liked Gwen?" He asked slowly, focusing on the trees rather than turning to look at him "Did you know immediately or did you hate her at first and realize you didn’t?"

"...what?"

"Was it a, you know, a violent jealousy that you made you hate her and then you were able to see you were being shallow and unfair and that maybe she was kind of pretty and nice and you kind of get why everyone fawns over her-"

"Are you dying?" Arthur interrupted and grabbed his arm so he could press a hand on Merlin’s forehead. "I...I don’t know! I’m not even really sure how I feel about her-"

"How do you not know?!" Merlin asked, a little hysterically, yanking himself away from Arthur. "You knew you didn’t like Elena!" He added with a note of accusation. He gave a huff and continued to march through the woods before calling for Kilgharrah. Arthur didn’t say a word, going eerily silent as he trailed along behind him.

There was a gust of wind before some leaves were thrown from the trees, moving up into the sky as Kilgharrah appeared in the sky, eyes gleaming in the sun. It was a little uncomfortable to see him again. The last time he had seen the dragon his father had died and Kilgharrah was trying to kill everyone. It wasn’t the best circumstances.

"Young warlock, I see you are out of your cage." Kilgharrah sniffed. Merlin rolled his eyes.

"Old dragon, I see you are out of your prison." He greeted in the same tone. Kilgharrah’s body rippled with irritation. "I need your help. Do you know where the Crystal Caves are?" He asked, ignoring Arthur’s eyes digging into his back. There was another rumbling.

"I may-"

"Please don’t do this," Arthur interrupted. "You either do or don’t." He said. Merlin bit back a smile as Kilgharrah reared back his head in offense. Smoke drifted from his nostrils as he leaned back down to try and meet them eye to eye.

"Magic leads one to the caves. There is no place or direction I can give you, young king." He growled, voice high with indignation. Arthur made a face - as he did every time he got called a ‘king’. He seemed to have given up on repeatedly reminding him that he was a prince.

"Can you take us there then?" Merlin asked. He felt Arthur tense beside him, but said nothing. Kilgharrah's wings seemed to twitch at the idea as he looked down at the pair with very clear distaste...Merlin supposed that was fair. Both he and Arthur had been annoying him since they were children. However, he must have sensed that the reason for this request was more than a simple day out of the castle because he lowered himself to the ground.

...Okay. Merlin didn't actually think they were going to make it this far. The idea of flying sent a shiver up his spine.

"I am not a horse," Kilgharrah informed him as he raced over, placing a foot in the space between his back and wing "So don't believe you can make a habit out of this." He said. Merlin opened his mouth to respond only to find his gaze turning to where Arthur was still frozen on the ground.

"Aren't you coming?" He asked, smile slipping off of his face. He supposed he didn't need Arthur to come...Not really... But Merlin wanted him there at any rate. "Arthur?" He asked, a little hesitantly. He moved back off of Kilgharrah for a moment - uncertain if he should get back down or not.

"You can't be serious," Arthur finally said "I know you said we would ride a dragon, but I didn't actually think that we would -" He gestured wildly up and down "Ride a bloody dragon!" He added and his voice rose a bit as he continued "And he's not even a nice dragon!"

"Excuse me?" Kilgharrah asked. Arthur pointed his sword at him.

"You attacked my home and killed many of my knights and people by burning them alive."

"Your father attacked my home and killed many of my kind and people by burning them alive."

"I got to say, that's a solid rebuttal on both ends." Merlin muttered and slipped off. "Arthur, you don't have to come." He said and glanced over where the sun was hanging high in the sky - the warmth radiating down onto him. "It'll probably be dangerous and if you're scared-"

"I'm not scared!" Arthur hissed immediately and tucked his sword away. Merlin waited. "Let's... Let's just go." He muttered and marched over to Kilgharrah before clumsily climbing up. Merlin watched, a little amused by how cautious he seemed at even touching the dragon. After a couple moments, he followed before getting in front.

"Move back." He said, pushing Arthur a bit to make room.

"Why do you get to be up front?"

"Because I'm the one who knows how to control a dragon?" He suggested. Arthur rolled his eyes and moved back.

"How are we even supposed to stay on? There's no saddle-"

"Just hold onto me." Merlin interrupted and tapped Kilgharrah's side. Arthur made a high-pitched noise from behind him.

"Are you sure Xander won't mind?" He muttered. Merlin frowned a bit at that, but before he could question that comment Kilgharrah let his wings spread out suddenly, knocking them both into silence. Merlin felt his chest tighten in excitement. He had ridden horses before, obviously...Something told him he was going to enjoy a dragon a lot more. Arthur's arms were suddenly around his waist, gripping tightly as he lowly started to curse when the ground trembled beneath them.

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no-"

"YES!" Merlin yelled gleefully as they were launched into the sky. There was a rush of air as his stomach dropped but it was only for a moment as he gasped a few moments later. "WOOHOO!" He yelled when they picked up speed, wind running through his hair. It felt...Amazing. Flying was amazing. It was exhilarating and fast and everything he imagined living should be. The coolness of the sky. The wisps of cloud zipping by them. He tilted his head back to soak all of it in.

"I'm going to be sick." Arthur announced "Why are we going to this stupid cave?" He asked, sounding seconds away from passing out. Merlin muttered a quick spell under his breath to keep him from falling off.

"The crystals are supposed to show where magic began...The Crystal of Neahtid showed me stuff from the future, but it also had stuff from futures that might pass or futures that could have passed in another scenario. I think if I'm in the cave it could show me anything. Past. Future. Present. It'll give me the information I need." He said, peering down at the trees and rolling hills below them. It was so beautiful. Part of him felt like a giant - like he could pick up those small houses and farms like a girl playing with dolls.

"Taliesin didn't say they did all that!" Arthur objected. Merlin tensed. Admittedly, Taliesin is not where he had acquired that specific tidbit. Luckily, Arthur seemed to have moved on. "And what information do you need?" He asked. He sounded stronger now. Like he had adjusted to the sky - though Merlin could sense his eyes were definitely placed above them rather then the world below. "And why do you need it now?" He added. Merlin sighed.

"It's... There is something I saw last time. Something about Morgana. I need the crystals to confirm it." He said. Arthur made a noise of irritation - probably because that didn't answer his question really, but it was cut short by Kilgharrah diving sharply to the ground. Arthur gave a string of highly inventive curses as he he latched onto Merlin tightly, fingers digging deeply into his sides. Merlin, for his part, gave a delighted laugh as they plummeted down.

I wish you luck in your endeavor, young warlock, Kilgharrah's voice whispered as he feet touched the ground. I must warn you...You may not like what you find.

Funnily enough...Merlin had been anticipating that. He didn't snap at Kilgharrah though. He had taken them all this way, after all. Taking a steady breath, he slipped off of the dragon's back. Arthur followed - looking a bit dazed as he fell on all fours and dug his hand into the dirt as if he wasn't entirely sure it was real. Merlin snorted as he looked back at him.

"Oh, shut up." Arthur muttered and stood up. "I don't see a cave." He added flatly as he gestured to the vast field of wheat surrounding them. Kilgharrah made a noise of irritation before gesturing to the trees a few yards away with his head.

"It is through there," He said and fixed large eyes onto Merlin "You should be able to sense it by now." He added. Arthur made a face at that, but Merlin did feel a subtle pull in the pit of his stomach. The world seemed... Strange somehow. And not the usual 'Wow, I haven't seen this before!' kind of strange (though, in all fairness, Merlin hadn't seen a wheat field before so that was rather exciting). It was more of a...Calmness. A tranquil whisper that left his fingers tingling and feet moving of their own accord.

"Merlin? Merlin!" Arthur's voice called after him - but it sounded different. Unimportant somehow. Which was another strange thing because Arthur was almost always important. He let his feet guide him forward towards the trees where the ground hardened into rock and the wind seemed to die around. His shoulders relaxed. Camelot had always been his home. He was pretty sure it always would be. But... Whatever this was. This place. This...Strange force. This was where he came from. He was certain.

"Merlin."

"You." He whispered, eyes widening. The last time he had seen her... Well, the last time he had seen her was the last time anyone had seen her. "How?" He asked, tongue numb in his mouth. She was a strange cross of white and blue. A ghostly hue seemed to radiate off of her as the sun trickled through the trees, lighting the entrance to a cave next to her. She smiled but said nothing, instead taking a step inside. "Wait - Slow down!" He called and raced off after her.

"We don't have much time."

Merlin jumped, almost stumbling back at the ghost's sudden appearance next to him. He wanted to yell in alarm, but was stopped by her raising her hand.

"I wish we had time to talk... But you need to hurry." She told him and it was then that Merlin felt his gaze pried away from her towards the inside of the cave. It was... Wow. He couldn't quite find the words as his eyes latched onto the dozens - no, hundreds of crystals covering the entire cavern. Arthur had stayed in enough caves to complain about them being dark and dreary. Either he had lied or was finding the wrong caves because this place seemed to radiate with light.

"Do you like it? I always thought you would. Taliesin agreed that this place... Well. Your mother didn't give birth to you here, but it was still your first home in many ways."

"You know Taliesin?" Merlin frowned and shook his head. That didn't matter now. "Why are you here? Why are you helping me?" He asked and reached out when she turned away "Nimueh-"

"I can't answer all your questions," She said and looked around "You need to hurry. You don't have as much time as you think."

"Why? What's happening?" He frowned, but Nimueh didn't answer. She just pointed to one of the crystals, gesturing him closer. Merlin frowned and stepped forward. Most of them looked like the Crystal of Neahtid... Though these each seemed to have different draws to them. Some he could already tell would make him angry or scared or excited. He wanted to move closer to the one Nimueh had pointed out, but felt himself stop. "I've missed you." He whispered and tried to swallow the lump rising in his throat. "Why did you make me do it?" He asked, turning to look at her. Aside from the ghostly glow, she was exactly as he remembered her. Never aging. Never changing.The same young face. Same eyes. Same torn red dress. She looked at him for a moment and smiled.

"Things are about to change for you, Merlin. I've made the mistake of refusing to let go of the past. I worry that you will make mistake of refusing to remember it." She said and gestured towards the crystal again. "Start with this one. It's my favorite." She told him. Merlin stared. "Hurry now. You have decisions to make, my lord." She said and Merlin forced himself forward. The crystal seemed to demand his attention - glittering brightly enough to outshine the rest of the cave. He wanted to keep asking questions. To figure out why she was being helpful after he had killed her. Still, he let his eyes fall to the crystal almost unwillingly. 

It went white. Then everything else went white.

"Who are you?" A voice called out. Merlin grimaced. Even though it had been years since he had sounded so young and frail, he recognized it as his own. Immediately his tower seemed to materialize around him. Only this time he would see a smaller version of himself curled by the window with tear streaked cheeks. "You're not allowed up here!" He called out and Merlin felt his heart sink when he turned to see the figure in the doorway.

"You looked lonely up here." The stranger said and took a step closer "I thought you might want someone to play with... Could I stay, my lord?"

Merlin watched as the younger version of himself sat up a bit, wiping snot from his nose as he tilted his head in confusion.

"Did the king send you?"

"He did not. In fact, he doesn't know I'm here. We might need to keep it a secret from him." The stranger smiled and sat at the edge of the bed. "Don't be afraid. We're going to be friends, Merlin. You and I have more in common than you know."

"Friends?" Merlin repeated and slipped from his spot next to the window so he could also sit on the bed "I already have friends. Lady Morgana and Prince Arthur." He said stubbornly. There was a small, weak smile that Merlin knew that even as a child he could tell was one of pity. "They are!" He objected.

"I'm sure they are...Very nice. Why aren't they with you now?"

"Well... Well, Lady Morgana is... She's playing with Prince Xander." Merlin muttered, scowling back towards the window where Morgana's laughter could be heard in the gardens somewhere down below. "They're going to get married." He reported unhappily and picked at some loose threads on his blanket "And Arthur says he needs to be outside working on his knight training." He muttered and gave a slight scowl "He isn't even allowed to be a knight yet. He isn't even a squire." He added bitterly.

"I see," The stranger frowned before taking a satchel off of her shoulder and dumping out a bundle of books on his bed "Perhaps I could keep you company until they are less occupied. Have you heard of the tale of the Crystal Caves?" She asked, tapping the books that sat between them. "Would you like me to tell it to you?" She asked and Merlin blinked. He stared down at the book then back up to her.

"You're really going to be my friend?" He asked, eyes uncertain.

"Well," The stranger told him "We may need to meet properly. I believe you are Lord Merlin, correct?" She asked. Hesitantly, Merlin nodded. "Pleased to meet you, my lord. My name is Nimueh."

The scene spun away, colors melting into ground as it disappeared leaving Merlin floundering.

There was more. Some he recognized. Some he didn't. At one point, he could have sworn he saw himself dressed head to toe in some sort of...Rags. A red scrap of cloth hung from his neck as he held out his hand.

"Yet you called me friend..." A voice that sounded strangely like a younger version of Arthur echoed around him. The poorly dressed version of him looked Arthur down with a tight smile and an expression that was so clearly unimpressed it was almost comedic.

"That was my mistake." He answered.

"I think so, yeah."

"I'd never have a friend who could be such an ass."

Before Merlin could react there was more overwhelming him. Whispers seemed to be spinning around as he tried to find what he was looking for.

"You. You're Emrys?" An outraged voice came and Merlin spun to find yet another Arthur looking him up and down with clear disapproval. "You're a child."

"You speak as if you're much older than me!" He said and Merlin stepped in closer - the name 'Emrys' drawing his curiosity. "If this is all Camelot has to offer then perhaps I do not wish to seek such an alliance after all."

"So I have traveled all this way to perilous druid lands to meet with a pagan who hasn't even seen two decades and doesn't know how to negotiate?"

"Your arrogance was not exaggerated, Prince Arthur." Merlin's voice replied, sharp and heated. The image melted away again, showing instead what appeared to be a small village house where a woman with dark hair was sewing what appeared to be a scrap of cloth by her bed. Merlin tilted his head. He hadn't seen this woman before he was certain. Her hair was dark, a few loose curls falling out of hair tied back as she worked. A sharp knock made her jump, cursing a bit as the needle pricked her finger at the jolt.

"Hello?" She answered and gasped as a man barreled inside "What are you doing?" She demanded and grabbed her needle as if she planned to use it against the massive man who had just entered. It appeared she was going to do just that as she held it out with a glare. "Kindly get out before I stab you!" She warned.

"Please. I don't...I don't mean to intrude-"

"Then you shouldn't have intruded." The woman scowled. "I - who are you?" She added as a second thought "Nobody new ever comes through here." She added, brows wrinkling as she looked down. Immediately, all anger drained away as she stared at what appeared to be blood on the man's shirt. "You're hurt." She said numbly and rushed to the other end of the room to grab a bowl. The man...Merlin knew him he was pretty sure. He just couldn't quite place the face.

"You...You're helping me?" He asked bewildered "I thought you were angry?"

"I am. I'm both." The woman informed him. "I am angry and helping you, that is. Though I do demand an explanation."

"I, um, am a criminal apparently."

"Apparently?"

"King Uther... I hail from Camelot. He has outlawed all magic recently and my family...Well, we were known as dragonlords." The man said quickly and Merlin was slammed in the face with the realization that...This was Balinor. A younger version certainly, but he had no doubt now. The woman looked at him.

"And what happened to your family?" She asked, voice growing quiet. Balinor didn't answer. "I'm sorry." She said softly and pressed the rag against his head. "You...Can stay here. I won't stab you with my needle." She added, as if that was still a concern after learning this man was to be claimed by the pyre. A smile twitched as his lips. "These are Cenred's lands. Nobody from Camelot can get you here... If they can even find where here is." She told him with a small chuckle.

"And...What is your name?" He asked, tilting his head "Now that we are on non-stabbing terms, I mean."

The woman looked at him for a moment, dabbing with quite an awful amount of consideration before answering.

"Hunith."

Merlin felt his mouth dry as he moved forward to get a better look only for the world to spin again until he was back in a castle he didn't quite recognize. The whispers around him rose again before going silent.

"Are you sure this will work?" A voice asked and Merlin was able to make out a man sitting on a throne through the dim lighting. He took a step closer, noting the dark hair and leather armor. From behind him there was a scoff.

"You doubt me?" Someone asked and Merlin's skin prickled. Morgause. "We have the Cup of Life now. All your men need to do is prove their valor and we shall not lose."

"Camelot is not a kingdom to be trifled with. They have a sorcerer of their own," The man said, standing up to move close to her. Morgause's eyes narrowed, but she didn't take a step back. "I hear he is a force to be reckon with. Do you think you stand a chance against him?" He asked, raising a finger to lock under his chin. Morgause stared for a moment before letting a smile hint at her face.

"I am not the only witch in your midst, dear king. Merlin may have power but he has no direction. No knowledge of what his magic truly is. Not only can we defeat him but my sister will turn him into your asset. Nobody can loyal to their jailers." She purred and rose her hand. Immediately the man yanked his hand away as if her skin had burned him. "Now, Cenred, sit back and relax. We march to Camelot now... My sister will be waiting to crown a new ruler." She said and walked over to a metal cup, finger running itself over the rim. The wind blew as her eyes flashed gold.

"You can't do this." Merlin found himself whispering as he saw with a wave of horror a line of men waiting outside. He had wanted to see what way Morgana would turn - if there was any scenario he could say her but... If this was his answer...

Morgause's eyes rose. For a moment he thought he had somehow heard her.

"I will take back all you have taken from me." She whispered - though to who she was speaking to he couldn't be certain. The wind blew once more and the scene changed again.

This time, he was in a stone room - red draping the walls as curtains gently blew in the trees. A woman was sitting on the ledge of the window, black hair spun up in gold and silver pins as she tugged at a necklace around her neck. Merlin thought it was Morgana. A sense of familiarity overwhelmed him when she looked towards him and noticed her eyes were brown instead of Morgana's shade of green.

"I have something to tell you." She said, tilting her head so she was staring up at the ceiling. "I don't know if you're ready to hear it." She warned. Merlin looked around, trying to figure out who the Hell she was talking to. It was then that he noticed a figure sprawled out on the bed, an arm slung lazily off to the side.

"I'm a king, Vivienne. I'm sure I've handled much worse."

Uther. Merlin would recognized his voice anywhere. He took a step forward, curiously gawking at the young man in front of him. He... Well, he didn't look like Arthur too much. He could see traces here and there but there wasn't much a family resemblance that he could see. Uther's hair was dark and face set with firmer lines then Arthur's was. Even in what appeared to be blissful peace he seemed tense before he sat up to look at where Vivienne was rolling her eyes.

"I'm with child."

"Congratulations," Uther said immediately "Gorlois must be pleased." He said and then offered her a wry smile "I would think you would be more excited... After the last one, I know your heart broke." He added. Vivienne's eyes flashed with irritation at that, jaw set as she narrowed her eyes.

"You smuggled her out like a bunch of barley," She said sharply and stood up, walking briskly to the vanity to start yanking out the pins in her hair. "Just because you knew I wouldn't let her go. Morgause was - is - a baby. You and Gorlois had no right to send her away."

"You'll see her again," Uther sighed and sat up "Nimueh said she needed an apprentice... She won't be my court sorceress forever, you know. It'll be an honor for Morgause to learn from her come back when she's older to serve in court." He dismissed. Vivienne took a long breath, placing a hand on her chest as if feeling for her own heart.

"Just because my mother was a sorceress does not mean my children are." She said sharply, fists clenching by her sides "What if she can't even perform magic? Then I've missed the first three years of my daughter's life for nothing!" She said, voice rising. "Besides, I don't trust Nimueh... Nor any magic user. My mother... Oh, if only you knew my mother." Vivienne said, pacing back and forth. "You would not be so easily swayed to sending my children off to your priestess then!" She snapped. Uther said nothing. "Will you send this one away too?" She asked, gesturing to her stomach.

"Vivienne-"

"It's yours."

For a moment, Merlin thought the vision had stopped. Nothing seemed to move. Even the birds outside stopped singing as if understanding the significance of the words.

"What...Exactly do you mean by that?" Uther said, brows crinkling.

"I mean, that this is not Gorlois' child." She said and closed her eyes "You are the only other person. I..." She started and her voice trembled "Uther, Gorlois cannot know. Not after Morgause. Not after he's just forgiven me for last time. I can't-" She started and stopped when Uther buried his face in his hands. "What...What's wrong? I thought you'd be overjoyed." She said, brows crinkling. Uther glanced up at her.

"I...Yes. Yes, God, I am." He managed, voice tight and choked. "I... I have a child." He breathed out and then shook his head, "But this...This means Ygraine...She's the one who can't..." He trailed off. Vivienne blinked. When she spoke again, her voice was carefully measured, eyes watching Uther through the vanity mirror.

"Well, perhaps this could be a solution then. If she cannot give you an heir you should find a queen who can." She suggested and when Uther looked up, frowned. "Not me." She added quickly "Nor do I want this child legitimized, Uther." She added, a note of warning in her voice. "If your wife cannot bare you a child do not look to give mine the crown." She said, hand drifting to her stomach.

"Would the loss of Gorlois' love really mean so much to you?"

"It is not Gorlois' love I am worried about," Vivienne sighed and finally turned around to face him "That throne corrupts - as all thrones do. Trust me, Uther. One day you will wake up with your heart rotting. I do not intend for my child to bear the burden of it." She said and brushed by, squeezing his shoulder as he did so.

"There must be another way," Uther murmured "I don't want another queen. I love Ygraine. Perhaps...Perhaps Nimueh..." He mused, fingers tapping on his knee thoughtfully. Vivienne froze as she reached for something in her drawer.

"You shouldn't involved magic. It would require a life to make such a thing unless..." She trailed off. Uther turned to pin her with unrelenting eyes, jaw tightening. "Unless your love is untainted."

"It is!" Uther argued immediately, standing up. "You dare imply that my love for her is marred? After everything we've been through?" He demanded, voice rising. Vivienne didn't back away though. She seemed relatively calm at the outburst before giving a small scoff. Uther's face turned bright red. "You are the one who cannot love her own husband!"

"Maybe not... But I did not choose my marriage, Uther. I think of Gorlois as my friend, but I have never claimed to have loved him like you do Ygraine. And yet, here we both are with me carrying your child. How is it that every time a wrong has been done you fail to see your hand in it? You took Morgause away for your benefit. You married me to Gorlois because my family was powerful and you wanted that for your best friend. When he is of no use to you he will surely perish and you will find a way to blame anyone but yourself, of course." She said, voice whipping sharply. "And what about me?" She asked, taking a step towards him "I give you this child and...What will happen then? I'm not a fool. I know when I've played with fire. You'll find a way to get rid me. I just want to know if you'll even tell our child what happened to me." She said, voice breaking a bit towards the end. Uther stared - chest rising and falling rapidly. Merlin could see the way his face tightened with barely concealed rage fighting not to bubble to the surface. Finally, just when Merlin couldn't take the tension anymore, Uther spoke again.

"If it's a boy we should name him Morgan...After my father. Or perhaps Morgana for a girl."

The last thing Merlin saw was Vivienne's defeated face before he was falling again.

"Merlin," Arthur's voice yelled and Merlin gasped as he jerked up "I swear - Merlin! Wake up!"

"We need to go." Merlin managed, trying not to faint as the world spun back into focus. "Camelot. We need...To get...To Camelot..." He managed, trying to push himself up. Arthur gripped his arm, lifting him so he could sit up at the edge of the cave. "Morgana. Arthur, Morgana's going..." He coughed, trying to get air back into his lungs. His magic felt like it was going to explode out of him. "Magic. She has magic." He finally got out. Arthur tensed.

"What?" He hissed and knelt down in front of him "Did the crystals tell you that?" He demanded. Merlin shook his head.

"She's like me. Her nightmares and stuff. It was all magic we just didn't realize it. She came to me for help." He said. Arthur's hand tightened a bit around him. "I... I didn't want Uther to find out. We didn't know what to do. I just taught her to control it but then Morgause came and they're sisters and she's so horrible and I tried...I tried to keep her from turning out like her but..."

Merlin was crying. Gross. Arthur didn't seem to even realize it - face going white as he tried to process the words.

"No. No, she can't be." He murmured.

"She's teamed up with Cenred. We need to hurry and get back now." He said, trying to stand up. Arthur didn't move. "Arthur, please. I... I also think she's your sister." He said, finally doling out the last blow. Or what he wished was the last blow. Merlin got the feeling this wouldn't be the end of horrible truths for awhile. "Your father and Lady Vivienne..." He said, hoping he could just leave it at that.

Arthur stayed silent.

Merlin was considering just shaking him when Arthur took a long breath.

"Does Morgana know?"

"About your - er, her father? No, I don't think so." He said and closed his eyes "I’m sorry, I thought I’d have more time to explain this to you. I didn’t know she would try anything today." He added with a hint of irritation despite the overwhelming stress of everything. Nah, he couldn’t just have a few days to get everything done. Morgana has to do this now.

Arthur was staring at him. Merlin wondered what he could possibly be thinking. Was he angry? He must be. Merlin lied to him. Did he think it was Merlin’s fault Morgana had magic? The idea alone shot adrenaline through his heart as he shifted, uncomfortable with the whisper of accusation in the back of his mind.

"We should go then. Call the dragon." He said, voice tight. There was a controlled anger there that Merlin didn’t dare poke at.

They didn’t speak again. From the shadows, Nimueh tilted her head. Arthur must not have been able to see her because he stalked away from the trees, running a frustrated hand through his hair as he hit a passing bush in anger.

"You should know... You can always come back to this place. Even if you are far." She said. Merlin didn't know what that meant. Nor did he have a chance to ask since the moment he opened his mouth to ask she disappeared.

For the most part, the ride back consisted of Merlin nervously fiddling with his bracelet while Arthur clenched his hands by his sides. He had to take the damn bracelet off a few times to make sure his magic was keeping him from slipping off. Still, part of Merlin was grateful for the silence between them. It allowed him to enjoy the peace of the sky. He was quite certain as he looked at the thousands of dots beneath them that there was no peace on the ground.

Cenred's army...Can you help get rid of them?

No, Kilgharrah's voice answered. Morgause had them put their blood in the Cup of Life... They cannot die until that blood is spilled.

Oh. That was definitely no the answer he wanted to hear. He closed his eyes and thought back to what he had seen in the cave. They were going to need help. He wasn't even sure Arthur's knights could take on immortal men and he honestly had no idea where the Cup of Life was. He thought back to Morgana's parting words and wondered if the cave could provide him with the answer even from here... Maybe? He supposed it was possible but there was no telling if he was powerful enough for such a task. People were always saying his magic was strong...And sure, he could take down sorcerers and dragons and magical creatures but... Those fights had always been difficult and backed by hundreds of knights and guards at his disposal. Maybe they were wrong. Maybe he wasn't as strong as people said he was.

"This can't be Morgana's doing." Arthur's voice whispered, jolting Merlin into the present. His eyes flicked towards where smoke rose from the castle - turning the sky an ugly gray. Kilgharrah lowered himself and Merlin briefly wondered if he should command the dragon to take Arthur and run. After all, if they were after Uther... Arthur could be next. "I'll find help - my knights or someone to help us. I can think of a few people who will give us aid if I send word." Arthur said. He had apparently pushed past he shock and was immediately pushing into military mode. Merlin wasn't sure how. In addition to the thousands of men storming the castle and fires clearly rising, there were screams in the distant. High and piercing and...Merlin shivered. "You need to find my father. Check the cells and get him out."

"What?" Merlin frowned, voice rattling as bit as Kilgharrah landed. "You think your father is going to trust me to get him out of this? He'll kill me himself before I have a chance." He objected. Arthur didn't seem to hear him as he slid off, yanking his sword out. "Besides, these men are immortal. We need to find a way to get the Cup of Life and-"

"We can do that. After you get my father out." Arthur interrupted and closed his eyes. "Please. I need him safe and if there are really immortals and magic at play...You are my best chance." He said. It must have pained him to admit it...And again, Merlin if his own powers were worthy of such a task. Finally, he nodded, yanking a little at his bracelet. Maybe he should take it off for the fight... No. No, Uther always said if it was off too long he could lose control. Merlin knew it could be a lie but now wasn't the time to test such a thing. He stared doubtfully at the base of the castle. Kilgharrah was looming above them, waiting for a dismissal.

"Those men can't be killed...But they can still be slowed down," He said and turned to the dragon "Do you mind causing some chaos?" He asked the dragon. Kilgharrah's eyes glimmered for a moment before bowing his head.

Right. This could...It could maybe work. He had this. 

If he was lucky...Maybe Merlin could cause some chaos as well.


"Halt!"

"No," Merlin said easily and closed his hands. Immediately the men surrounding him collapsed the ground. Loophole: sleeping spells still worked on immortal warriors. Morgause should have thought of that. "You dumb bitch." He muttered, thinking of her stupid face. He swore he would kill her the first chance he bloody got. A few other men approached him but they were easily taken down with various flicks of his wrists. He felt a wave of dizziness flood through him and he wondered if now was a good time to take the bracelet off...No. Not yet. He needed to save that for when he faced Morgana and Morgause.

Which meant he needed to improvise.

"I need access to the cells." He said in his most commanding voice. He rarely needed to use it since pretty much everyone within Camelot bowed to his wishes without much complaint, but the occasional interrogation had led him to perfect the tone pretty well. He could see the guards were already dead - throats slashed with blood still gushing from the wounds. The new guards - Cenred's men, no doubt - both looked at him with blades raised.

"Excuse me? And who might you be?"

"Who might I be?" He asked, voice growing hard and cold as he let his eyes flash gold. It was a small spell, but it still made his stomach lurch a bit in disapproval. The torch immediately went out and then back on again at the command. "I am the reason you and your idiot king and his stupid witch even got into the castle. Lady Morgana has made it very clear to both her sister and Cenred that my orders are to be heeded. I have not suffered in a bloody tower under Uther's rule to be asked who the Hell I am when I get out of it."

...Fuck Morgause. Merlin was pretty sure he could make a way better adversary to Camelot than she could.

"Lord...Merlin?" One of the men blinked, stumbling back a little. "You...You're real? I mean-" He stumbled a bit when Merlin raised a brow. "Of course, you are. Lord Merlin, I mean. You're obviously him. Who I knew existed. Um," He looked at the other man who was blinking slowly as if just registering Merlin's words then. "I just thought-"

"Do me a favor," Merlin cut him off "Both of you go and tell everyone the thrilling news that I exist while I have a word with Uther, hm?" He asked and crossed his arms "He is in there, yes? Because if he isn't-"

"He is! I mean... Yes, my lord." The man managed and both stepped to the side. Merlin waited. His impatience must have shown through because both of them suddenly made a mad dash towards the exit. Merlin rolled his eyes. When they disappeared he rushed forward inside. Uther. Where was he? A figure moved towards him in one of the cells at the end of the hallway before there was a soft gasp.

"You’re okay!" Xander called, relief crossing his face as he yanked out pressed himself against the cell bars "Thank God - we were attacked by Cenred, I think. I recognize his army but they are led by a woman I do not know." He frowned. Merlin grimaced. That would be Morgause.

"Let me let you out of here," Merlin said and glanced to see Mara kneeling in front of Uther, speaking lowly. "Are they okay?" He asked, tanking off his bracelet so he could unlock the door.

"I...Don’t know," Xander admitted, glancing over his shoulder "After we were captured a few of them men brought him out again. When he came back..." His voice trailed off. Fear crawled down Merlin’s spine.

"My lord?" He asked, swiftly moving into the cell. Mara back away as he entered, face soft with a sadness he couldn’t identify as he took in Uther’s appearance. "Sire?" He asked and knelt in front of him. "We’re getting you out of here. Arthur is getting reinforcements." He said cautiously. Uther’s face looked...Pale. Gaunt. Certainly not the man who had kept Merlin in line all these years. In fact, seeing the blank eyes and drained expression...Merlin thought he looked rather small.

"Morgana." He said as an explanation. Merlin closed his eyes. So he knew then. "Did you know?"

Merlin knew he should lie...For his own sake. For his safety and reputation and Morgana.

"Yes," he said instead. Uther nodded, acceptance flashing in his eyes. It looked wildly out of place "You can punish me later-"

"You tried to help her," Uther dismissed. Merlin faltered. "I know you did. You’re like your mother in that way...Unfortunately, Morgana is like me." He murmured and raised a hand to Merlin’s shoulder.

"She’s just confused," Merlin told him softly and reached over to squeeze his hand "Come on. We’ll make it right after you escape." He said and turned to Mara and Xander "Can you stay with him?" He asked. Both nodded. "Thank you..." he trailed off and moved to glance out of the cell, making sure nobody was coming back for them. "There’s a passageway to the left of here. It’ll take you to the woods. Take him and run. I’ll send men to meet you." He promised.

"What about you?" Xander asked immediately, placing a hand on his arm.

"I’ll be fine," Merlin smiled weakly - with his face his normal shade and definitely not any redder than usually because he’s only know this guy officially for one day and that doesn’t really mean he has a basis for any sort of crush. Not that Merlin has a crush on him because that was ridiculous and not true and shallow. Only shallow because that was assuming Merlin found him attractive. Objectively speaking, obviously Xander was attractive but Merlin didn’t know if he liked men in that way and - 

Okay. Regrouping here. Camelot was under attack.

"There’s a curse on these men. I’m going to end it." He said, voice not any higher than usual. "Don’t worry about me."

Why would he worry? That was stupid. A really stupid thing to say -

"Be careful anyways." Xander smiled and grabbed Merlin’s hand "And...um, good luck." He added, brushing his lips against his knuckles.

"Um..." A voice said. Merlin whipped around.

"Prince Arthur." Xander greeted and dropped Merlin’s hand "Merlin said you were gathering men."

"I, uh. Yes. Yes, I am. I have. I did that." Arthur said and cleared his throat "I thought I would grab Merlin to meet us since he will be joining us...I’ll just. Wait out - Father?" He cut himself off, frowning when he caught sight of Uther. Mara held up a hand, giving a subtle shake of her head.

"Let us take care of him for now." She said gently "Go."

Arthur frowned, mouth opening and closing momentarily before giving a small nod and moving back.

"Come on, Merlin." He said quietly. Merlin gave a small nod before squeezing Xander’s hand. He tried to ignore Arthur's wariness as they exited the dungeons - tried to ignore Uther's blank eyes on his back... Unfortunately, he wasn't really trained to do either of those things. He supposed that's how it was when your life revolved around a prince and king.

"Are you alright?" He asked, already knowing the answer. Arthur wasn't exactly forthcoming with emotion. So when the answer never came he didn't even blink.

"You sent for Gwaine and Lancelot?" Arthur asked, ignoring the question completely. Merlin nodded. He wasn't for sure if they would come - or if the messages would reach either of them in time. God knows where Gwaine even was. Still, they were the best fighters he knew. Their best bet outside of Leon if he was honest. The rest of the knights seemed to have either fallen or given into Morgause and Morgana's attack. "Elyan is coming too."

"Elyan?" Merlin frowned. The name sounded familiar... "Wait. Gwen's brother?" He asked, mind flicking back to something or another he had heard from the maid. Some stunt Cenred had pulled that reunited them together. Arthur nodded. Huh. Interesting. "Is she safe? Gwen, I mean." Merlin asked, though a part of him immediately panicked. What if she had sided with Morgana throughout all of this? They were close... He was a fool not to have thought of it before.

He thought to Gwen's smile and how kind she'd always been... At one point that would have been enough to convince him she'd never betray them but... Well, they were facing Morgana after all.

"She is planning to help Leon escape." Arthur answered.

"I'm sorry I didn't ask after her sooner," Merlin replied cautiously. He gnawed on his lower lip. "You must be worried about her." He said. Something strange flickered over Arthur's face at that.

"I... Have been. Am. I wish she would let me get her out of here." He said slowly, tasting the words in his mouth. Merlin tugged his arm, hiding them behind a pillar as a few of Cenred's men past. Arthur waited until they disappeared to speak again. "It seems you have been worrying over someone yourself."

Merlin thought back to being caught in the cell and felt the tips of his ears burn.

"What? Did you think I'd be destined to only worry over you forever?" He asked lightly, giving a nervous laugh. Arthur rose an eyebrow at him. "Don't start. I've saved your life at least once a week." He added with a roll of his eyes. Arthur made a face but didn't answer as they entered a small room in one of the corridors. He pushed a small, wooden desk aside to reveal a worn door. Merlin hummed his approval.

"We're escaping? We could have just gone with the others-"

"I don't want us to be in the same place as my father. It is safer for him to be away from me. Besides...Xander is said....To be a fine warrior. He can protect them without drawing more enemies." He said, voice tightening as if the admission was physically painful for him. Merlin supposed that was a good point. "It will give us time to come up with a plan. Morgause's men are greater in number and can't die." He sighed, shoving Merlin through the passageway. Rude, but alright.

"My magic-"

"Can your magic kill immortals?" Arthur snapped. Irritation rippled through him.

"Sidhes are immortal and I've killed those," Merlin threw back, pushing away spiderwebs as he tried to see through the eerie darkness of the cave walls. Water dripped around him, running down the walls as if the castle was also crying at the betrayal. "But I was going to say it could at least slow them down. We know if we get the cup of life then they lose immortality."

"Morgause and Morgana are also magical." Arthur pointed out. "I can't really say how powerful Morgana is... Though perhaps you know." He added, a bit snidely towards the end. Merlin clenched his jaw. "I do know Morgause is strong. You might not be enough."

"Hard to say since I've never received proper training," Merlin told him, unable to resist also throwing a few snide comments of his own. Arthur threw him a sharp look. "If you get to blame me for Morgana having magic then I get to blame you for me not being strong enough to wield my own-"

"That isn't what I'm upset about!" Arthur said, voice rising enough so that it echoed around the cavern. He took a long breath. "You could have told me."

"About Morgana? Arthur-"

"I could have helped her but you didn't even let me try."

"What could you have done? Besides, it wasn't just me. She didn't go to you either, Arthur. She asked me not to tell and I didn't."

"Yes and this is a wonderful outcome, isn't it?" Arthur sighed, pushing forward again. Merlin made a noise of irritation as he reached over to grab his arm. "Merlin-"

"Why would I have told you? You are no different then your father at times! And you can never bring yourself to even defy his beliefs when I know you question them yourself. You have stood to the side for years while I was imprisoned. Am I not to believe you would do the same to her?" He asked, voice level with barely concealed rage. "You seemed to puzzled as to why my attitude to Xander changed so quickly."

"Yes, well. Seeing how little you've seen of the world it doesn't surprise me that him being pretty would win you over-"

"He told me that as king he would free me within twenty minutes of knowing me. A promise you have never made after eighteen years. God knows how many times I've asked. It was also refreshing to not have him throwing in backhanded comments about 'how little I've seen of the world'. And hey, why would he? It sounds like he actually feels back that I had to live that way." Merlin said, puncturing each point with a push. Arthur stepped away from him. Before he could answer, Merlin marched away, anger fueling the walk right out of the passage into the forest.

Not for the first time, he wondered if Morgana had a point... Not a point good enough to justify taking over the castle, but a point all the same.

He was so lost in thought he almost didn't notice a hand reach for him until an axe flew through the air. Merlin almost felt his magic instinctively move to stop it, but noticed it wasn't heading for him at all.

"Merlin!" Arthur's voice yelled and he was yanked away just in time to see the axe bury itself in a man's chest. Merlin stumbled back, using Arthur to keep him upright as the blood started to seep through his shirt. "Christ," Arthur muttered and gripped his arm tighter. "Are you alright?" He asked.

"Y-Yeah," He blinked "He isn't getting back up. I thought with the immortality..." He frowned staring at what appeared to be a very dead man.

"He isn't one of Cenred's men," A voice said, answering the unasked question of where the axe came from. "Just a bandit coming to take advantage of the chaos...Perhaps you shouldn't wear such nice clothes, Merlin. Might make you a target."

Merlin closed his eyes - a smile spreading as he registered who was speaking. When he opened them again he was able to make out a familiar face looming a few feet away.

"You came!" He laughed as he raced towards the figure to launch himself into a hug. Hey look! That was another person who hugged him. He was really expanding his horizons here.

"I could hardly ignore a noble's request for my presence at court," Lancelot chuckled and looked him over "Wow you are... Dirty." He announced. Merlin blinked.

"I went into a cave for the first time." He informed him seriously "Which reminds me. I've slept on the ground since we've last spoken. After all of this is over, you'll have to let me buy you a bed. I refuse to let you keep living like this."

"That's very kind of you, my lord." Lancelot snorted and ruffled his hair. He looked over to dip his head into a nod as Arthur approached with the axe in hand to return to Lancelot. "Sire. I hope you don't mind I've broken your father's banishment."

Arthur gave a weak smile.

"I think I'll find it within myself to forgive you."


The next week was...Not great. Kilgharrah was doing fantastic at least. Even though the army couldn't be killed, the dragon kept picking various men up and flying them far away to keep them from completely overrunning the castle. Gwen came with Leon eventually. Gwaine came. So did Elyan. They all met Lancelot's friend called Percival who Merlin thought was the most charming giant he had ever set eyes on (Lancelot said he wasn't actually a giant and it was rude to say such but... Merlin knew the truth). However, their forces were still small and Arthur...Was not doing great.

"Blueberries?" Merlin asked, sitting next to him. They were in a cave hidden by Merlin's spectacular defenses and a bunch of plants the others had used to camouflage themselves. "There's also rat, but I refuse to eat that so I got us some blueberries." He said, holding out the bowl a bit. Arthur let his eyes move from the rock in front of him to Merlin.

"You're allergic to blueberries." Was all he said. Merlin popped one in his mouth.

"I think if I eat enough of them that it will go away."

Arthur sighed and yanked the bowl out of his hands just as Merlin knew he would. Call it underhanded, but Merlin knew what it took to get Arthur to eat. Gwaine's taunting hadn't worked. Neither had Lancelot's very reasonable requests or Elyan's flat out threats. Merlin figured he should step in before they enlisted Percival (who very well might just pry Arthur's mouth open to dump food in).

"So," Merlin said and looked around "How long are we going to be living in this cave? I know I complain a lot about my room...but, uh, this wasn't really what I meant by having more experiences outside the castle." He said. Arthur said nothing. "Hey...I got word from Xander. Your father is fine." He added and touched his arm. "You needn't worry about anything other than getting Camelot back. I've been trying to locate the Cup of Life. I think if I concentrate enough I can-"

"How are you okay?" Arthur interrupted. Merlin paused. "Morgana is...She has magic and she's trying to take over - did you even hear what Leon said she did? She killed citizens. Our people. For the sole reason of getting the knights on her side. I... Morgana isn't like that." He said, voice breaking a bit at the end. Merlin closed his eyes. It wasn't what he wanted to talk about. Not really... But Arthur was looking at him with tortured eyes and Merlin knew it wasn't fair to not give an explanation.

"I don't know," He finally said - because obviously that was an explanation. "She seemed fine at first. Just...Scared and tense most of the time. We were worried what would happen if Uther found out and then...She came and..." Merlin closed his eyes "And Morgana thought she was morally upstanding because she told you the truth about your mother when I lied about it." He got out, rushing it all out quickly. Arthur's eyes snapped to him - widening in alarm. "And I guess that makes this my fault because Morgana just clung to that and refused to see anything else Morgause did as wrong. She was the one that led the Knights of Medhir into Camelot. I... I helped too. Only because they were going to kill Uther and I thought you could get away unscathed and I was angry and bitter and when it came down to it... I couldn't. I think Morgana didn't want to either which is why I drank the poison to break the spell but the Kilgharrah got out and my then my... My father..." He trailed off, voice wavering. "I'm sorry, Arthur." He managed, redirecting himself. "I just didn't know what to do."

"Morgause...Was telling the truth about my mother?" Arthur asked. Merlin wasn't sure if that was all he processed or all he cared about in the mess of things Merlin had just told him. All he did was give a wary nod in return. "Christ, Merlin." He groaned and stood up. He supposed that was progress. Arthur hadn't moved in hours. "What am I suppose to make of any of this?"

"That this isn't entirely Morgana's fault and we need to stop her!"

"How? Am I supposed to go in there and convince her that we can all play nice?" He asked, yanking at his hair. "You said you didn't know what to do, but I don't know what to do now. You and her...You're both right. Neither of you trusted me! You don't think I'm different than my father and the truth is that even if when I do think he's wrong I can't figure out how to do things differently. And so how am I supposed to lead commoners and a sorcerer into battle against an immortal army and two witches! I don't even know what they want! Morgana isn't aware that her and I are - you know - and so I have no idea who they plan to place on the throne or what they'll do with me and... Hell, I can't get over the fact they probably think they are doing the right thing. It makes me think that maybe I'm the wrong one here." He burst out, pacing back and forth. It was all disjointed and panicked and scared in a way Merlin didn’t ever think he had heard Arthur speak before.

Which was ridiculous because Arthur... Arthur didn’t get scared. Not ever.

"Hey," he frowned, standing up so he could grab Arthur’s shoulders. "Stop it. This isn’t all on you. It’s on everyone, okay? You’re just the unlucky guy who has to fix it all." He said. Arthur fixed him with an incredulous look. "And...There were other things I saw in that cave. You and me. It was strange. In every instance and universe we always met. Whether I was raised by druids or a servant or in hiding or vengeful or any of it. I always saw myself meeting you in there. It made me think it’s supposed to be that way. No matter what happens we always meet and that’s because you’re going to do something important." He said stubbornly "And I’m have to keep you from being a dick about it. So, yeah. It sucks and I messed up and you might think you messed up but we can’t just stay here forever, Arthur. You have to figure out. And I’ll help... And they will too." He added, jerking his head to where the rest of the group was sitting outside.

Arthur stared at him. Merlin couldn’t really read his expression, but he figured that might be a good thing. He didn’t want to know what he was thinking right now.

"We have to know where the cup is. Can you figure that out?" He asked, voice slow and thoughtful. Merlin nodded. He had already been experimenting a bit to see how he could reach the cave. Nimueh was right. He could reach it in his mind though never for very long. If he took his bracelet off then maybe...His hand drifted to it. 

"Okay," Arthur nodded "You do that and I’ll...I’m going to bestow some knighthoods."


Good news: Merlin managed to figure out where the Cup of Life was in the castle.

Even Better News: They got into the castle pretty easily. Morgana and Morguase were nowhere to be seen which was nice...Though a little nerve wracking.

Bad News: That would be because Morgana and Morgause were both waiting for them in the bell tower with the Cup of Life.

Even Worse News: They easily knocked out the Lancelot, Gwaine, and Arthur with a flash of their eyes leaving Merlin alone to handle them (How typical. He was lucky the others went to free more of the knights).

"Where have you been?" Morgana demanded. Merlin stared, mouth opening a little in offense. "You and Arthur disappeared without a word or letting me know what’s going on or -" She continued as Merlin scowled at her.

"Yes, I’m sure that would have made your invasion much easier." He told her coolly. What the Hell? Why was she chastising him? He didn’t really want Morgana to be his enemy but if that’s what they were then he expected to be treated as such...Not like an errant child. "What are you trying to do, Morgana? What has Morgause told you now?" He asked, leveling a glare at the other witch.

Morgause tilted her head at him with a taunting smile as she gave him a subtle wave.

"Hi Merlin."

"Shut up," He told her and turned back to Morgana "This won’t win Arthur over to be the king you want him to be."

"I don’t want him to be king at all."

"And so who should? Me? You? Her?" He said, throwing his hands up. "Arthur is your friend. You are only giving him a reason to hate magic more-"

"And you've given him enough of a reason to not hate it!" Morgana threw back, eyes narrowing at where all the knights laid unconscious around them. "I don't care who ends up on the throne. I'll take it myself if it means freeing our people. I'm on your side. Merlin, I'm getting tired for this. We have no quarrel and-"

"Your mother didn't want you on the throne."

The words left his mouth before he could realize what it could imply. Morgause was the first to freeze, her hand having been in the midst of flicking over the cup, murmuring a spell under her breath. Stupid. Stupid. He watched as Morgana's brows furrowed.

"My mother? What do you know of my mother?" She asked, voice slow and full of askance. Merlin kind of wanted to scowl back at her. He had asked those words as well and had only received lies in response. "Merlin." She prompted, hand clenching by her sides.

"I went to the Crystal Cave." He told her and tugged at his bracelet. Now was the time to take it off. He needed his magic to be at its strongest. Only... Maybe he could reason with her. Maybe. Morgana couldn't be completely lost. He swallowed and closed his eyes. "It showed me your mother telling Uther that the throne corrupts. She didn't want you on it." He said, trying to keep his voice even. Maybe she wouldn't make the connection. Maybe she would assume it had something to do with being his ward. Maybe -

"My God," Morgause whispered "She had another affair."

Damnit. Merlin was an idiot. He looked at Morgana a bit desperately. She didn't seem... Stunned by the news. If anything, she merely blinked before opening and closing her mouth as few times as Morgause broke into delighted laughter behind her. Merlin clenched his teeth. He wanted to send Morgause flying back against the wall, but knew if he did then he had all but assured Morgana attacking in response.

"You saw Uther and my mother?" Morgana finally asked and her voice shook. "Did...Did you... Did you see what happened to her?"

Oh.

Merlin gave a small shake of his head. He thought back to Vivienne's words in the vision. How certain she was that she would disappear without her children knowing what happened to her. He hadn't asked Morgana much of her mother growing up. She mainly spoke of her father and his death. It hadn't ever occurred to Merlin that him and her shared the mystery of their other parent as well.

"Our mother probably ran away, Morgana." Morgause told her impatiently as she perched herself next to the platform the cup was on. "She had no problem handing me away to Nimueh. I'm sure she had no problem handing you to your father and leaving." She said coldly. Merlin wanted to say that wasn't true, but at that moment Morgause raised her hands and Merlin felt a rush of wind before ropes suddenly appeared at his feet. Binding him. Crawling their way up his arms and - no, no, no...

He reached to yank off the bracelet, but the coils were too fast. God, he was such an idiot. He threw a panicked look at Morgana. She would help him, right? She had to. She had to...

"You are the rightful heir to the crown, Morgana." Morgause was saying "We don't need anything else. This isn't taking the throne. It is you claiming your birthright!" She smiled and gave Merlin a small smirk "Thank you for letting us know, my lord." She told him with a mocking bow. "Sister, he won't see reason. Now he only serves as a nuisance-"

"Morgause." Morgana said, though her eyes didn't leave Merlin.

"-to think we even needed him." Morgause continued, stepping in front of him. "You should have joined us when you had the chance, Merlin. You should have done right by your people."

"Morgause." Morgana said again, voice sharpening. Merlin swallowed. Morgause paused at her sister's voice but she didn't look away. Instead she brought out something from under her cloak. A dagger. Merlin's mind raced - trying to remember what he had seen in the crystals. What future was this?

"They say you are powerful...I must admit, I've seen little evidence of it," Morgause continued "My sister has appeared to already surpassed you in all regards. Though I did make this blade for you - Just in case." She said, letting the blade glint in the light. Morgana gave a sharp intake. Morgause's smile faltered. "Don't worry," She said, turning to her "I'll make it quick. My grandmother forged this blade in a dragon's breath long ago so it can slay even a high priestess. I doubt it will have any trouble with him," She said placed a hand on her Morgana's arm. "It's better this way... He's already caused to many problems." She told her, voice softening. Merlin tried uselessly to jerk against his binds. His magic was curling around the tendrils of Morgause's. He could almost see it as he focused...Wisps of gold fluttering in and out of focus. He just needed more time. If he had this damned iron off his wrist he might have already been able to break free.

"No," Morgana said and took a step between them. Merlin felt his jaw clench. He should be pleased she was still trying to defend him, but there was an underlying anger burning there. Anger that it had to come to this. "We can still convince him. Merlin, please." She added, keeping her hand raised at Morgause as she looked at him "We can find another way." She whispered, voice breaking at the end.

Merlin felt a jolt from his magic as it tightened against Morgause's hold.

"There is no other way."

The magic burst.

Even years later, he couldn't say for sure what happened. It almost felt like yanking a rope to bring down the building. There was a struggle and then a sudden release as everything came crumbling down. Morgana fell away, along with the Cup of Life ricocheting backwards so blood spilled everywhere. Morgause stumbled back - eyes widening as she realized what was happening. She dove forward with the dagger at the same time Morgana seemed to realize what was about to happen.

"NO!" Merlin shouted right as Morgana stepped between them. "Morgana-" He managed, voice choked as he scrambled up, yanking off his bracelet quickly to send Morgause flying away. There was a sharp gasp.

No, no, no....

He could see the first drop of blood hit the floor. Morgause's eyes widened, mouth parting in shock as looked down between where her and Morgana stood.

"No." She whispered and stepped back. Merlin was already trying to get closer - hands trembling before he saw Morgause give an unsteady step back.

"I’m sorry," Morgana whispered as her sister staggered away. It was then that Merlin saw the red blossoming throughout the center of Morgause’s dress, the silver knife buried deep in her stomach. He stared. "I’m sorry, I’m so sorry..." Morgana kept repeating, voice shaking as she went to gently reach for her arm. "I’ll fix it. I’m sorry." She managed. Morgause flinched away and immediately Morgana’s eyes went glassy "I’ll fix it. You’re going to be fine. I’m...I’m sorry." She said and turned to look at Merlin. "You...You helped Gaius, right? You know can help fix it." She said with a nod.

Merlin didn’t know how to respond. Not really. Morgause fell to floor and Morgana launched forward to catch her.

"We...Shouldn’t take the knife out." He finally found himself saying. He wasn’t sure why he was helping. Especially as Morgause continued to alternate between looking shell shocked at the betrayal and throwing raw contempt at Merlin...But Morgana had saved him. He owed her at least this. From below the tower he could hear a scream of triumph at the realization the men could now die. He should help them but... "I can get some herbs from Gaius, but I don't know any healing spells." He said, a bit of panic rising. He could look into the Cave of Crystals for answers but it seemed unlikely. It had taken him days to find the Cup of Life in the castle. Finding a cure of a magical knife wound in a timely manner seemed even less likely.

"She's dying now!" Morgana yelled at him, tears spilling freely. "Please."

Merlin's mind raced. From behind him, he could hear Lancelot groan as the commotion seemed to raise him from unconsciousness. Merlin ignored him as he jumped over Gwaine to grab the fallen cup. This was a mistake. A horrible, horrible mistake... Among so many he had already made. Against his better judgment, he gave it to Morgana. 

"Get her to the Isle of Bless and have her drink from this. It can save her, but it will require a life in return." He said. Morgana reached out to grab it but Merlin pulled it back. "Swear to me you won't allow Arthur's life to be taken. If it comes down to it use mine if you must, but not his." He said and Morgana's lips trembled. "Promise me!"

"I promise!" She said and he let her yank it out of his hand. There was still blood spilling out of it, slicking the floor and Merlin's hand as he let it go. Morgause gave a choked gasp and the castle seemed to tremble along with her. Morgana flinched in sympathy. "Merlin...I..." She began looking up at him as the wind picked up. Merlin waited. When it was clear she wasn't going to say more he nodded."

"Morgana!" He called suddenly and reached forward for a moment. The wind around them blew harder, making it hard to see. "I..." He struggled and stared down at where Arthur was starting to move before looking back at her. "Come back for me." He whispered. It felt like a betrayal to say. To even think. Morgana stared at him, arms still cradling Morgause. "We can still make this right." He tried, voice breaking at the end. "You promised before that you would come back-" He began and then the building shuddered, throwing him off balance. Lancelot appeared from nowhere to steady him.

When he turned back... She was gone.