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Broken Crown

Chapter Text

All was dark in the room except for the moonlight pouring in through the drawn curtains. A single beam of pale light landed on the slumbering man in his bed. All was still until he started twisting. It started with his face scrunching up with some unnameable emotion, but then his movements became more violent. He struggled against the heavy royal blankets, as they were too confining and his nightmare too real. Then, with a short gasp, the man woke up. Blue eyes met the darkness, and he stayed how he was for several long minutes before his breathing had calmed down. When Prince Arthur had relaxed, he lay back down in his bed, his eyes trained on the dark canopy over his head for the rest of his sleepless night.

When Merlin stepped through the gates, he had been taken in by the splendor of the city, though it wasn't all just glory. Camelot was much different from his quiet farming village of Ealdor, something that was then beaten into his head as he witnessed that man being beheaded for magic. It left Merlin feeling disgusted and even scared to see someone like him die for something they might have had no control over. If they were to ever find out that he had magic, it would be Merlin's head on the chopping block and Merlin who would become another victim of the Great Purge.

And yet here Merlin was in the heart of the Great Purge, the kingdom of Camelot. He was so far from home and only had the guidance of his uncle now instead of the protective love of his mother, whom he missed very much. Merlin had barely been here for a day, and already his magic had been found out by one person. He was just lucky that it had been Gaius who had seen him react and not one of the guards who had directed him to the chambers in the first place.

Merlin continued to act as Gaius' errand boy as he delivered medicines and draughts. To save time, he decided to cut across the training field, but he didn't know that it was such a thing until he saw a pompous blond man throwing knives at a smaller man with a shield. Merlin had been on the victim's side of bullying many times before in Ealdor with only Will to defend him. Here, this servant had no one. Merlin decided to change that.

"Hey!" he called out as the servant's shield was dropped and Merlin caught it with his feet. "Come on, that's enough."

The blond knight started to look up and looked like he was going to say something, but then, something changed in his attitude. His amused, prattish laughter faded away as he stared Merlin in the face like he had grown two heads. Merlin's nerve faltered, having expected some form of retaliation. Instead, all he had was silence and this bully of a man looking at him with an unreadable expression. Confusion? Dismay? Horror?

"Hey," Merlin said again, no longer smiling. "What are you looking at? Has someone ever given you a scolding before?"

There was more laughter, but this came from the other knights as the blond ignored them and continued to stare Merlin's way. If Merlin had to put a name to it, it was like the other had seen a ghost, but Merlin didn't even know who he was.

"Come on, Arthur, say something," one of the knights called out tauntingly, and this was followed by more laughter. "Don't let a peasant tell you what to do."

Arthur's, his name was, nostrils flared, but he kept his face guarded. Even Merlin couldn't tell what the other was thinking, and Merlin stared back with some confusion of his own.

"What are you playing at?" he found himself asking the other. He didn't know what he was expecting, but then the blond knight dropped the rest of his knives to the ground as though they had suddenly turned hot to the touch. They landed with a loud clatter at his feet, and Arthur stepped over the pile to walk back to the other doors into the castle.

"We're done for the day," Arthur announced, tearing his eyes away from Merlin, but it was obvious to the warlock that he wanted to keep staring at him. Maybe he would have done so if it weren't for the rest of the knights watching him.

Speaking of the other knights, their confusion was easily readable. At what, though? Arthur backing off from a fight with Merlin? Merlin did not know who this man was, but there was one thing that felt obvious to him as the blond disappeared inside of the castle, aside from how troubled the man was. Arthur seemed to recognize him, a man whom he had never seen before in his life. Merlin scratched his head, now completely alone inside of the training field. Everyone had gone inside.

Well, not completely alone. When Merlin looked up, he saw a woman in the window of one of the towers overlooking the courtyard, watching him as she folded laundry. She was too high up for him to make out her face, but when he waved at her, she moved away from the window like she was embarrassed.

Now Merlin really was alone. The servant had made his escape during Merlin and Arthur's standoff, so even if he wasn't around to keep Merlin company. His foot was still on the shield from where he had stopped it from rolling away. Merlin released it and stared at the circle of wood for a long moment before turning to go back inside.

"There was a man in the field today," Merlin started up at the dinner table, wanting to make dinner conversation with his new guardian. Things were still awkward between the two, so Merlin wanted to break the ice. "He was acting strange, though."

Gaius glanced up with his eyebrow raised, an action Merlin had noticed the physician often did with him. "Strange how? You're new to Camelot. Of course things are bound to be strange for you."

Merlin sighed and dropped the spoon back into the bowl, allowing some of the soup to splash back out again. "Strange as in he was looking at me as though he were seeing a ghost. I don't know, but everyone else in the training field acted like you'd expect them to: like pompous idiots, but this one man, Arthur... I don't know."

Gaius's incredulous look intensified, and, for a moment, Merlin was worried that he had said something wrong. Then the physician spoke, his voice carefully controlled. "Arthur is to be the Crown Prince of Camelot, and he is not known for stopping to stare. Are you sure that you heard his name right?"

"I'm positive," Merlin affirmed, his mouth set in a tight line. He hadn't expected for the knight to be a prince of anything, and Merlin hadn't seen anything you'd expect of a prince in the man's actions. Arthur just seemed to act like the other knights, a self-righteous, arrogant idiot. "Why would a prince be looking at me like that?"

Gaius frowned, as though trying to solve this riddle himself. "I'm not sure," he murmured distantly.

There was some silence between the two as Merlin shoveled some of the foul-tasting gruel into his mouth, but he didn't have much of an appetite, anyway. He was just thinking of that day's earlier encounter. Going into Camelot, he knew things would be different from his former life in the small farming village of Ealdor. Merlin thought that it would only be because of his magic and the law. He didn't know the half of it.

Merlin clutched the vial Gaius had given him to give to the Lady Morgana. The king's ward, Merlin ended up hearing. He didn't know who she was, but a few guards directed him in the direction of her chambers, just as they had done when he went to find Gaius the day before. Merlin had to dodge all of the servants fervently cleaning the castle and putting up decorations for the coming feast. Merlin knew that he would not be attending, nor would he want to celebrate the deaths of magic users. Thankfully, he was just a peasant and was not expected to go.

Merlin should have knocked on the door, especially since the room belonged to a noble lady of the court. However, being the foolish young boy he was, he opened the door... And stopped.

"It was him, I know it was him," a distressed voice sounded, carefully low in volume so as not to be heard throughout the entire castle. Merlin stood in the doorway, unnoticed by the two people in the room.

The first person he saw was Arthur, who was no longer wearing his training clothes. Actually, he was dressed rather normally in a simple (or as simple as nobility could get) tunic and only had an untouched sword at his side. In contrast, the other person in the room was a beautiful woman with long dark curls who was dressed in an exquisite gown. Just like a princess, Merlin thought.

He should have left. Two royals conversing, this was not a conversation for Merlin's own big ears. But curiosity took over, and he tuned in on what they were saying. The only precaution Merlin took to avoid being caught was ducking behind the wall out of sight should the two look his way.

"That's impossible, Arthur," the woman said, not unkindly. "He was just a dream, he only ever was. Surely this is your mind playing tricks on you."

"And how can you be sure Morgana?" There was a thump as the prince whirled around so fast that Merlin jumped back behind the doorway. He still remained unnoticed, though Merlin had to consciously calm his breathing to keep from being caught.

There was a long, feminine sigh, and Morgana's voice was gentle and soothing. "I've listened to your dreams for years, and they don't always come true."

Arthur mumbled something, but Merlin couldn't make it out, and he didn't dare press his large ears against the wall. More likely he would stumble and reveal that he was eavesdropping. Merlin had never been good at minding his own business, his mother could attest to that, and this certainly wasn't his own business. However, anything that he overheard could answer the question he had been thinking about all day.

So it was true, Arthur seemed to know who he was, but there was no explanation as to how or why. There was just something about dreams, but... That was impossible. Despite all of Merlin's magic, even his dreams were normal. He never saw into the future, never mind the son of King Uther, enemy to all magic. It was impossible for the prince of Camelot to have magic, so why was Merlin even entertaining the thought?

But the seeds of doubt were planted, and he backed away, shutting the door in front of him. Merlin couldn't be caught now, especially since the conversation so obviously pertained to him. Merlin didn't want to know how Arthur would react to being overheard, especially in this state of vulnerability Merlin had not witnessed in the courtyard just the day before.

Merlin stood there for a few minutes longer, trying to decide on what to do with the potion in his hand. Gaius had instructed him to deliver it, but Merlin couldn't do that so soon after hearing what was said. He didn't want to ever face the blond man again, especially with what he had learned.

To Merlin's luck, it was then that a serving girl perhaps a few years older than him rounded the corner with a laundry basket in her arms. Her dark curls were tied up like how Merlin's mother often did, but, unlike the rest of the servants Merlin had seen around, the girl did not cover her hair. She approached Merlin curiously, who stood there with a boyish and awkward smile as he tried to hide the fact that he had been eavesdropping.

"You're the boy who stood up to Prince Arthur yesterday, aren't you?" she asked, smiling warmly at him.

Merlin chuckled dryly. "You know about that, then?" So much for forgetting about the royal prat of Camelot.

The girl laughed, but not unkindly. "I think everyone does. I watched from the window of this room, actually." She bit her lip, and Merlin could easily tell that she was getting nervous. "What you did was very brave, you know. Prince Arthur is a big bully."

A bully? Merlin definitely saw an arse the day before, but with what he just overheard, he wasn't sure anymore. "It was more stupid than it was brave."

"It wasn't," she assured him before shifting the laundry basket to rest on just one arm. "I'm Guinevere, but most people call me Gwen."

Merlin laughed again, unsure if he needed to shake her hand or curtsy or do anything at all. "I'm Merlin, but Gaius calls me an idiot." Because of Merlin's foolish uses of magic, and Merlin had never had a proper conversation with anyone else to warrant being called anything else.

"Well, Merlin, it's nice to meet you." Gwen's chocolate eyes spotted the vial, and she reached out to take it from Merlin. "I could take this to Lady Morgana, if you would like me to. I work for her, she's my mistress, you see." Merlin had already noticed Gwen's tendency to stutter, but she seemed to do more of that once she took the potion from him. Like she knew what it was for.

"Thank you, Gwen," Merlin replied, feeling a sense of relief nonetheless. He could keep from talking to Arthur. Why would he want to now, anyway, after what he had learned through eavesdropping on the royals. As much as he would like to talk to her, he did not know when Arthur would leave the rooms. Merlin wanted to be as far away from him and these chambers as possible. "I should get back to Gaius."

Gwen looked crestfallen, but she nodded. "Of course, don't let me keep him waiting on you. He's a good man, Gaius. Tell him I say hello." Gwen smiled at him again and slipped the potion in her pocket before raising her hand to knock on the door. "If you are ever in need of anything, I live in the Lower Town with my father, the blacksmith. Though I suppose that I'll be seeing you around, since we are in the same castle and everything."

Merlin laughed at her again, though not trying to be mean. He headed back the way he came, the sooner he was out of here, the better. "Of course! I'll see you later, then!"

It was only when Merlin was completely out of sight that his smile fell completely, and he continued on to Gaius's chambers.

"Merlin. Merlin. Merlin."

It was the same voice again, the same one that kept calling Merlin in his head. With a groan, Merlin accepted defeat and got out of bed. It was so dark in his room, and he didn't even know a spell to create light. His bare feet dangled over the side of the cot Gaius had given him, and they plunged in a mess of dirty clothes. No doubt the fruit of Merlin's uncontrollable magic making a mess everywhere.

He dressed himself in his jacket and his boots completely in silence so as not to disturb the old man downstairs. Once Merlin was ready, he sneaked out of his room, still making noise but not enough to wake Gaius.

Merlin allowed the ancient sounding voice to be his guide and followed it all the way into the dungeons. Instinctively using magic to distract the guards, he moved further along the tunnel, grabbing a torch from the wall as he did. The walls were worn and cold as though no one has been here for years. He nearly tripped upon walks, but the voice calling Merlin's name beckoned him to come nearer, so he did. He came to a dimly lit cavern. Merlin stood still on the ledge, looking out over the massive space beneath the castle. There were some stairs at his feet, and he noticed the links of a chain stretched along the walls.

Merlin heard some laughter from somewhere in the cave. It echoed off of the walls, and he couldn't call it evil. However, he couldn't also call it good-natured, and it did nothing to appease Merlin who was already regretting his decision to come down here. He stared down into the black abyss, but the light of his torch was feeble against the sheer expanse of the cave.

"Where are you?" he called out, half expecting to be met by silence and that he was going crazy all along.

There was no silence or stillness. Chains rattled from the depths of the caves, and wind rushed as something large beat its... wings? Were those wings? Merlin's heart pounded as he stood at the ledge, a torch in his hand providing the only light in the cavern. He felt like he should run, but all of a sudden something flew into his face and caused the farm boy to jump backward.

A dragon.

"I'm here," it said, the same voice that had been calling to Merlin all of these nights. It smiled at Merlin curiously as it (he? she?) surveyed him. Yes, Merlin should definitely run by now, he didn't fancy being a dragon's dinner. But the beast only laughed and continued, "How small you are for such a great destiny?"

And with that, reason gave way to something else. Merlin was still shaking as he approached the dragon slowly. His legs wouldn't allow him to leave the cave. Instead, he watched the beast with some curiosity of his own as he had never seen something like this in Ealdor. "Why?" he answered, practically yelling to match the voice of the dragon speaking to him now. "What do you mean? What destiny?"

"Your gift, Merlin." There was a pause filled with nothing but the sound of Merlin's breathing. The dragon was now settled on the rocks before the boy, peering down at him with beady golden eyes like Merlin's whenever he used magic. "Was given to you for a reason."

The pounding in his heart slowed as the pain he had felt all of his life faded away. "So there is a reason?" He wasn't a monster, and, although Merlin shouldn't trust this dragon, he had long since been hopeful for a sign that his magic didn't make him into the monster King Uther had always called people like him.

The dragon inclined his head, seeming to note Merlin's sprout of relief. "Arthur is the Once and Future King."

With those words, Merlin was confused again. "Right."

"But he faces many threats from friend and foe alike." There was something else in how the dragon was acting, as if there was more to be said. There probably was, but, from the dragon's riddles, Merlin couldn't tell.

Arthur? What did that blond-headed man who knew who already knew who Merlin was had to do with anything. Wait... Although Merlin could not see what this had to do with him, a mere peasant from across the border, there was something inside his chest. A purpose. Something connecting him to the prince he had met in the courtyard. Arthur had definitely felt it to. "Does this explain why he knew who I was before I ever met him?"

The dragon studied the young man carefully, and Merlin felt himself wilt under the creature's gaze. There was something so strong and peculiar about it, and it made Merlin feel so uncomfortable... intimidated, even. The dragon was so daunting in itself, but he also seemed to know so much about him... and Arthur. "So you already know."

"No!" Merlin yelled, but no one else was nearby to hear him. "I don't know. How does this explain why he knows me? It's not like he can... see the future or read minds or anything, never mind me."

The dragon laughed. "But that is precisely what he is. Arthur has magic, too."

The silence that followed came from Merlin's being stunned. Nothing, not even the tiny pieces of rock falling further into the cavern, could break this silence. Merlin still believed it to be impossible. When Merlin came to Camelot, he was alone. No one could know his secret, not except for Gaius, the guardian his mother had entrusted him to. It wasn't even as though Gaius shared these powers. There was no one else, just Merlin and his fears of being discovered.

"No, no, you've got it wrong," he denied finally, his voice sounding weak even to his own years. "Not the son of someone who kills people like me."

"There is no right or wrong, only what is and isn't." Anger flashed in the dragon's eyes, making them appear almost amber. "Just as you did not choose your magic, he did not choose his. Arthur was born with it, just like you, only with him, it will bide its time, festering like a dormant disease and growing until it will eventually consume him. Only you can save him from himself. Without you, Arthur will be lost down a dark path of fear and destruction. Without you, Arthur will destroy Albion and everything else he could have achieved."

The hope was gone. Merlin found it impossible to believe that the golden prince had magic, never mind would someday bring about Camelot's destruction. That was what Albion was, was it not? He couldn't think of anything else to explain that word. "No," Merlin said numbly. "No way. No. No. There has to be another Arthur because this one's an idiot." Surely this Arthur wasn't capable of magic or of destroying his home. Surely not.

The dragon laughed again as he straightened his back. "Perhaps it is your destiny to change that." Then he used his wings to lift off again. Rushes of air pushed against Merlin's face as he rose upward into the cave.

The dragon did not respond to Merlin's cries as he called it back down, wanting to know more. It seemed to Merlin that this would be the only information he would receive.

No, it couldn't have been him. It couldn't have. Arthur tried to tell himself that repeatedly ever since he saw the boy in the training field. When he saw him in the Lower Town he turned the other way. Arthur pretended to have not seen the boy because he didn't want to deal with it. Not like he did every night since he was eight years old.

Dreams, they had always been dreams. Well, more like nightmares, but Arthur could handle them. He had to. As Camelot's prince and heir, he had to. He could not be afforded any weakness, especially any from his father who was already so hard to please. Arthur couldn't admit to anyone that he was still terrified of going to bed at night despite coming of age in just a few months.

The nightmares had started shortly after Morgana came to the castle, so, naturally, it was she he went to. It wasn't because he wanted to get to know her or anything, far from it, actually. Something felt so wrong to him every time he overheard a castle servant talking of marriage.

No, there was something about her that Arthur could trust, something that he felt comfortable with confiding in, so, after the third night, he had come to her with the nightmares. They were the only children in the castle, unless one counted the girl brought in from the Lower Town who was close to Morgana's age and acted as her maid.

The two of them grew close, and she was the only one Arthur could talk to about his nightmares... well, her and sometimes Guinevere, whom Morgana had blathered to once Gwen grew suspicious.

But Morgana didn't really understand, especially now that the worst of Arthur's nightmares was starting to come true. The boy who was such a prominent figure in Arthur's dreams was real.

He caught himself staring at the boy again, but this time, he was looking his way as well. The boy was dressed in rags despite the formal setting of the feast and said something to Gaius. He, too, looked troubled, but probably because of the way Arthur had treated him in the courtyard. He had every right to be.

Arthur tore his gaze away first. He had to because he was the prince. He couldn't be caught staring, least of all at a mouthy peasant. What would his father ever say to that?

Thankfully, Lady Helen was about to begin her song, and it gave Arthur an excuse to shuffle back to his seat... Far from Merlin. He was never a fan for song, it was too girly for him. Was he allowed to just sleep through it?

As if on command, his eyes started to droop. Arthur yawned as he suddenly grew very tired... Why... This wasn't natural, there wasn't anything about this. Through his eyelids he could see that everyone was sleeping, buried beneath cobwebs and layers of dust as time went and stopped. Completely asleep. However groggy he was, Arthur... He didn't know why, his mind was so slow, but... Why wasn't he asleep?

He stirred ever so slightly when he heard Helen's - the witch's - voice pause. His heartbeat was a dull thump, but he was too tired to react when there was instead a crash. Arthur was the first to wake. The chandelier had crashed to the ceiling on top of her, and her face was morphing... Sort of familiar now that he thought of it... Didn't his father say that Mary Collins was the mother of the man who had been executed days earlier?

Then her knife was coming towards him, and his legs were lead as they refused to let him move. He couldn't... Arthur was petrified as the dagger spun through the air towards his heart. Then something was pushing him out of the way, shoving him to the ground as the knife embedded itself into the wood. Arthur drew deep breaths, looking at his savior…

The boy. Of course.

He stared at the peasant with... It wasn't awe... Disbelief? That must have been it? Though how did the scrawny boy from his dreams manage to save his life? To get there in time to push him out of the way of the dagger? Arthur had been sitting far away from the boy, he had made certain of it. Arthur wanted nothing to do with him, especially not after the dreams. To get close to him... He couldn't let any of it happen.

"You saved my boy's life." Arthur's father was standing there now, gratitude shining in his usually cold grey eyes. He must have been just as shocked as Arthur that this peasant had saved him. "A debt must be repaid."

The servant met his father's eyes for a moment before remembering his place and looking down again. "I-" he stuttered uncomfortably. "Well..." Arthur's mouth was hanging open, but he couldn't close it. Not with how close to death he had been.

"Don't be so modest," his father chastised, though he was smiling at him. "You shall be rewarded."

"No, honestly, you don't have to, Your Highness..." The boy was smiling, yet... Arthur didn't believe that he had only saved him for a reward. Not after the things he had seen.

"No, absolutely, this merits something quite special." Good, then. Give him his gold, just get the boy out of his father's presence.

The peasant shrugged, sounding happy about something. Probably happy to get his coin for his efforts (not that Arthur thought that this was his reason for saving him. However, he still didn't know why.) "Well..."

His father was still beaming, even if it made Arthur squirm restlessly. His father, the king... "You shall be rewarded a position in the royal household. You shall be Prince Arthur's manservant."

And one look at the boy, and Arthur knew... This was by far the worst thing that could have happened to him. But everyone was watching, he couldn't panic now. He met the peasant's eyes and looked away immediately. How could things go so terribly wrong? True, Morris had since quit his services (Arthur had a knack for making servants quit, which was not entirely accidental). That did not mean that he wanted another servant. He certainly didn't want the boy from his dreams.

"Father," Arthur protested vehemently. Because this couldn't be happening. It wasn't allowed to be happening. The boy needed to be as far away from him as he could get. Just as Arthur was in some way drawn to him, he was also afraid. His dreams were never too clear, but some of it was... And he couldn't let this boy get involved.

Because of all of the images that flooded Arthur's head every night, Arthur knew. He knew who the boy was. In the images was a flash of gold in the eyes.

He had magic.

Chapter Text

Despite the rest of the kingdom being asleep, Merlin was still awake. Probably because he wanted to be sure that he could find the prince's chambers on his own. For the past three days of being the pompous prat's manservant (really, what sort of reward was that?), he had relied solely on the words of irritated and overworked palace guards who barely spared him a glance as they pointed the way to the royal chambers. However, Merlin had to find his own way eventually if he was going to make sure Arthur woke up on time. He decided that when the halls were at their emptiest would he have his best opportunity.

Is it a left here? No, it's a right. More than once did the servant stumble over his two feet. This castle was unfamiliar terrain, and it was worse during the day when there were servants bustling in all sorts of directions with heavy armloads of laundry - gods, Merlin still hadn't gotten around to doing Arthur's! Or polished his armor! Or did anything that his new master had asked of him!

This had not been what Merlin had been expecting when his mother first told him that he was going to Camelot. Oh, what would Will say to him if he learned that Merlin was now working for a prince, especially one such as Prince Arthur? Just the thought of his best friend made his heart sting, but Merlin had left him behind in Ealdor with the life he had always known. It would probably be years before Merlin could see him again. It felt like a lifetime ago when he and Will had been downing trees outside of the village with Merlin's magic and getting into all sorts of mischief.

"Arthur has magic, too."

Somehow the golden dragon's words came back to Merlin, and, as the ancient but powerful voice echoed in his mind, he heard something else... Or, rather, he felt it, like another pulse in his heart reminiscent of a scream. Stark white, Merlin stood in front of the open window. Cold wind made the banners billow, but it was not the wind he had heard. A voice that only lived inside of his mind, Merlin knew that someone had screamed.

Then, all at once, Merlin was hurrying down the corridors. He was not running, but his instinct was reacting to some sort of danger. The castle became more familiar. He recognized certain halls and tapestries, and then he was faced with Prince Arthur's chambers. He stood in front of the door, regaining his breath while his hand was still resting on the door handle.

The room seemed to be pulsing with magic, too.

Merlin turned the lock with magic - he hadn't brought the key entrusted to him. Magic in the heart of Camelot, and Arthur was at the center of it. However, when Merlin found Arthur, he was not practicing magic. Instead, the blond man was writhing in his bed, frightfully alone but drenched in sweat. His face was scrunched up with terror, and a few slurred murmurs escaped Arthur's lips. "Go... Pl... Stop... Mor...Pro..."

And with every word that was uttered, Arthur's body would shake. More than once would his hands lash out at the thin air, an attempt to protect himself from a danger that did not exist. This was nothing like the strange man from the courtyard who stared at him like Merlin was not human. This person was someone else, from the way he fought even while still asleep to the twist of horror in his face. This man was vulnerable, not the stoic knight everyone else saw.

"Arthur?" Merlin said cautiously. He knew that it was never wise to wake someone from their nightmare, but from how Arthur was swinging his arms, he might just get himself hurt. Merlin was actually here to stop it, and there was that part of him that was already despairing at seeing Arthur like this. Maybe the dragon was right. Maybe they really were connected.

Making up his mind, he moved over to the bed where Arthur was thrashing about. One fist nearly made contact with his face, but Merlin's reflexes were lightning fast with the help of his magic. He caught the flailing wrist and held it firmly, knowing in the back of his mind that this was a poor decision but also knowing that he would not be able to forgive himself if he abandoned Arthur now.

Merlin took a deep breath and restrained the other wrist, though the prince was still struggling. Not wanting to wait a moment longer, Merlin's eyes shone their telltale shade of gold from magic, though there were no incantations to be spoken. Just a pure instinct to help Arthur.

Arthur's eyes opened, and Merlin could barely read the terror in his eyes before the prince fought back. It barely took the man any time to switch the grips so that instead he was the one holding Merlin. Their eyes locked, and then Merlin was being pushed backward and away from Arthur's bed.

"How did you get here?!" Arthur bellowed wildly, and Merlin was too shocked to answer. "Get out!"

And Merlin, for fear of what would happen if he didn't, obeyed.

The next morning, when he bore the tray of food for Prince Arthur's breakfast, the man was already awake. Anger clouded his eyes as he gestured for Merlin to shut the door behind him. When he did, Arthur raised a finger threateningly at Merlin.

"I want to make this clear. From now on, my chambers are off limits after nightfall. Under no circumstances are you to go into my rooms unless you are bringing me my meals or if I have permitted you to do so. Is this understood?"

Merlin had not told anyone about what he had seen last night, nor did he know of anyone he could tell. "Of course," he said stiffly, though Merlin did not bow. He hardly knew the man, and the demands sounded ridiculous to him.

"Good. Second thing." Arthur's face was calm, but his eyes told another story. "You are not to go around repeating anything you might have seen or heard last night. If I hear of one whisper of this being said to anyone, you will find yourself without a job. And is that understood?"

Merlin hadn't wanted this job, hadn't asked for it, but, in that moment, he found himself answering quietly, "Yes."

"Another thing. When out in public, you are to address me as "Sire" or "My Lord." Any other name will have you thrown into the stocks faster than you can blink."

"And what if you are being a prat?" Merlin just wanted the joke to lighten the mood, but Arthur didn't laugh. Rather, he continued glowering at his new servant. Merlin sobered up. "Yes, Sire."

Arthur looked like he wanted to say something else, but his fists clenched twice before dropping down to the table. Apparently he decided against it. "Good, now, as I understand it, it is time for breakfast. With any luck, my food isn't cold yet. Now give it here."

Merlin obeyed but lingered by Arthur's side. "What about to you, my lord? I know what I saw last night..." Arthur's eyes flashed dangerously once again but Merlin ignored it. "Would you like to talk about it?"

"No." Venom dripped from Arthur's voice. "Everything from last night never happened. You saw nothing. Don't go mentioning it to me ever again. Do you understand?"

Merlin understood that too.

That did not mean that Merlin would let it go, though. After Arthur gave him a long list of duties that Merlin would be expected to perform while in his service, Merlin completely disregarded that list and instead went to go find Gwen. He found the maidservant with Morgana's laundry in the hall, and one flash of gold later, Gwen was sent tumbling to the ground. The clothes were scattered across the floor, and, like the good friend he was, Merlin fell to his knees to help Gwen pick it up.

"Gwen! Are you all right?" Merlin knew that she was, he didn't have the power to hurt her. He had very little control over his magic, and what magic he could control would come out weak.

"It's nothing, Merlin," Gwen assured quickly, flashing him a sweet smile as she took one of Morgana's dresses from Merlin's hands and folded it. "I don't know what happened. I suppose that I should have been paying attention to where I was going."

"I don't think it was that," Merlin said as an afterthought. "It might have been a ghost."

"A ghost." Gwen giggled at him after repeating the word. "You're such a funny boy, Merlin."

Merlin laughed too and clumsily started refolding some of the clothes. "There could be. You never know with big castles."

Gwen smiled again. Merlin doubted that she believed him, but she was at the very least entertaining him by listening. "Well, if there's a ghost, I haven't seen it yet, but I will keep my eye out for one for you."

Merlin nodded, feeling that the mood was comfortable enough for him to ask the next thing. "You know, there may actually be one. Something had Prince Arthur spooked last night."

As Merlin expected, Gwen reacted to the news... Sort of, anyway. He watched as her movements froze, but she caught it quickly and continued folding the laundry. "I'm not supposed to talk about it," she muttered in case a servant were to pass them by.

"I know that," Merlin cut in, trying to make it sound like he wasn't pressuring her into talking, though he was. "But how am I supposed to care for the prince if I don't even know what is wrong with him?"

"Nothing is wrong with him," Gwen interrupted with some harshness, but she managed to keep her voice down. "He doesn't want anyone to know. I only know because Lady Morgana told me."

"And as his servant, I have a right to know," he continued softly, taking her wrist. She stopped moving and looked into his eyes. Gwen paled, but Merlin continued looking at her for a few more seconds before releasing her. "Please, Gwen. I want to help him, too."

Gwen's fingers curled around the rich silks, and she avoided looking at Merlin. Merlin couldn't tell what she was thinking about, though he did feel a little guilty for basically forcing her to tell him what was going on with Arthur. Then again, it wasn't like Arthur was going to tell him, and Merlin reasoned that he needed to know if he was going to help the prince.

After a little while, she looked at Merlin again. "All right, but he can't know that I was the one to tell you anything, understood?"

Merlin slashed across his chest with his hand. "Cross my heart and hope to die."

Gwen giggled, and there was still a trace of a smile on her face even when she started to divulge Arthur's secrets to him. "It started when Morgana came to Camelot, or, at least, that's what he told her. When he was really young, Arthur had a few nightmares, but so does every child at that age. It was only when he got a little older that they started to get worse."

Magic. That was what the dragon in the dungeons had told Merlin, anyway. The prince's dreams came from magic. However, Gwen wasn't mentioning magic, and Merlin wasn't going to, either. "Worse how, exactly?"

Gwen glanced in both directions to make sure that they weren't being overheard before looking again at Merlin. "The images became more vivid, vivid beyond any child's nightmare. Sometimes, even, the things he sees come true."

Merlin reached for her hand to keep her steady. "What kinds of things does he see?" His voice was soft but urgent. He wanted, no, needed to know so that he could better help Arthur. He didn't know why he was so insistent on helping Arthur, especially since he barely knew him, but he hadn't liked what he had seen when he walked into Arthur's room last night.

Gwen pulled her wrist from Merlin's grip, frowning. It looked like she was about to say something else, but instead Gwen answered, "Flashes, mostly, but sometimes the images are longer, like a scene, almost. Morgana has been lying about having nightmares so that she could give him her sleeping drafts, but they aren't working as well as they used to. Whatever these dreams are, they are stronger than Gaius's sleeping drafts."

Merlin nodded, though, despite having been born using magic, he didn't know much about visions. Maybe he could ask Gaius, or he could ask the dragon again. Maybe one of them would have the answer. He didn't even have to tell Gaius about Arthur's visions to keep his secret intact.

Merlin knew that there must have been a reason why Arthur hadn't told anyone about his nightmares. Even if they weren't connected to magic, they had to be connected to something else. The king may consider them to be a weakness, and Merlin had gotten to know Arthur enough to know that he could be prideful when he wanted to be. However, he had also gotten a sense that the pride might just be a mask to cover the vulnerability he had seen in Arthur that night.

No wonder Arthur had been so insistent on Merlin getting out. Merlin had seen a side of Arthur that no one was supposed to know about.

"Thank you, Gwen," he said with a smile as he finished handing her clothes. "I promise, I won't tell anyone, not even Gaius."

Gwen offered him a smile of her own, and the two servants stood up at the same time. Merlin scratched the back of his neck sheepishly.

"If there is anything else that I can help you with, Merlin, just let me know, all right?" She looked at him sweetly, holding the clothes basket against her body so that she didn't drop it again. "It was really nice, actually, to be able to talk about this with someone that isn't Morgana. Not that I would talk about it with her, but she is the only one that knows about it besides us and the prince."

Merlin nodded, knowing that he couldn't really talk about this with anyone else. This was something that he would have to figure out on his own. Maybe the dragon in the dungeon would have some answers, but Merlin didn't want to deal with his riddles unless he had to. "Of course. I'll see you later then, Gwen." Then he turned tail, knowing the next person to talk to.

"What do you know about nightmares that let you see into the future?" Subtle, Merlin, really subtle.

Gaius raised an eyebrow at him, which Merlin had noticed that the elderly man did quite a lot. His surprise had been so great that he had stopped shoveling the stew into his mouth, so the spoon was hovering in the air supported only by Gaius's hand.

"May I ask if there is a reason that you want to know?" Gaius replied, staring down his new ward.

Merlin immediately looked down at his own bowl, which was filled with a strange gruel that reminded him of what his mother cooked. Admittedly, this tasted better, though not by much. He used it as a distraction to not meet Gaius's piercing stare. "There is no reason. I was just sort of curious, that's all."

While suspicious, Gaius finally relented. "The art of fortune-telling is a rare gift innate in a few select individuals. This power cannot be learned, but seers, as the people with the gift of prophecy are called, can hone their powers over time so that it becomes less of a burden. In most people, it starts as flashes or short dreams. As their powers grow, these visions may become more vivid and disturbing in nature."

Merlin didn't like the sound of that. Over time? Did Arthur have that kind of time? He had seen first hand what kind of a burden this power could be. It did not matter to Merlin that he had barely known Arthur for a week. The connection between them was too great. There was some kind of pull drawing Merlin and Arthur together, a bond without name, and Merlin knew that somehow he would stop at nothing to make Arthur's problem just disappear.

"How long would it take, do you think?" It was an innocent enough question, but Merlin had a feeling that Gaius was still suspicious, if the look the man was giving him was anything to judge by. There was something about it that made Merlin want to come clean and tell his new guardian everything, but it had already been made clear to him that if Arthur wanted Gaius to know about him, he would have gone to him for the sleeping drafts himself.

"Well, depending on the amount of power each seer has, it could take years for them to be able to control what they see. Why, Taliesin was known to have been one of the greatest and most powerful seers in history, but it still would have taken him at least decades to tame that raw power." Gaius frowned as he studied the boy in front of him. "Do you understand that even talking about the seers is dangerous? The power to see into the future has long been connected with sorcery, and Uther had many seers put to death at the start of the Great Purge."

Magic. Of course. The dragon had said as much, though Merlin didn't know if the word of a great big scaly beast that didn't let you sleep was at all that reliable. Nevertheless, he had to play innocent. Gaius may have known that he had magic, but there was little reason for him to know that Arthur had it as well.

"We don't have to talk about it anymore, then," Merlin said with one last nod, though he had wished that he had found out more. However, Gaius was being too careful and already skeptical of Merlin's sudden interest in the subject of seers. Merlin would have to be more discreet in the future.

Merlin turned back down to his gruel, which was far less appealing than before. He stirred around a few chunks without sticking them into his mouth, though his mind was elsewhere. It could take Arthur years before he could control his dreams. Was Merlin supposed to act as his servant for all of this time when he could be helping him? Merlin hardly knew the limits of his own magic, but he wasn't going to give up just yet on Arthur. This prince, whoever he was, was in need of aid, and Merlin was the only one who could offer him any assistance.

Merlin still didn't have a key to Arthur's chambers, but that didn't really matter. After all, he still had magic. He silently approached the heavy door and hesitated before whispering the spell. There was an almost inaudible click, and he slipped inside.

It was dark, just as it had been that other night when he wandered in on the prince's nightmares. He could almost sense the torment radiating off of the prince. In the dark, it was hard to see his face, but Merlin had no doubt that it was twisted into the same look of helplessness that he had witnessed the night before.

Merlin's heart constricted, but there was only one thing that he could do. If he could not speed up the process of Arthur's magic's development, then all he could do was disobey Arthur's orders. He was going to be there for him whether the ungrateful prince liked it or not.

He drew up a chair from Arthur's table and set it beside the prince's bed. He sat down in it, sinking into the soft cushions that only nobility could afford. Merlin ignored this comfort, though, as he looked at the struggling form in the bed.

"It's all right, Arthur," Merlin said gently with a smile, stroking back a few sweaty golden locks. "It's just a dream. It's just a dream."

He made no effort to wake Arthur, but the slow back and forth movement between his fingers and the prince's hair seemed to calm him. The mutterings stopped, though the prince occasionally jerked from fear of (or for) something, and Merlin would have to whisper more soothing words of encouragement.

No matter how much his eyelids drooped, or how tired Merlin got, he stayed by the prince's side. And so, when the prince woke up that morning to Merlin lost in sleep of his own, he somehow understood. He wasn't going to get rid of Merlin that easily… and he didn't really want to.

Chapter Text

Over the course of the next few months, every night was the same. Late at night, when Merlin's chores were done and Gaius had finally gone to sleep, he would slip out of their chambers and make his way to Arthur's. There had been plenty of grumbles and threats of Merlin being sacked at first, yet Merlin continued to come. Eventually, Arthur grew to accept it. There were some nights where Merlin never left Arthur's chambers to start with. Night after night he continued to comfort the prince, allowing him the luxury of a peaceful night's rest where he could.

Sometimes, though, Merlin's presence was not enough. There were still nights where Arthur would thrash about in his bed, and Merlin would have to restrain him to keep him from hurting himself. He wanted to tell Arthur the truth about his nightmares, but he was also afraid of how Arthur would react. No matter how frightened Arthur was, that may not stop him from going to the king if he suspected that Merlin had magic. What if he thought that it was Merlin's magic that was behind his condition, never mind the fact that he had had the nightmares long before Merlin came here?

Merlin and Arthur occasionally talked about the dreams, but Merlin could never get many details from the older boy. When he asked, Arthur's eyes would shadow over, and he would be in a sour mood for the rest of the day. The only times that he did talk to him were when the dreams were about a seemingly harmless thing, like Morgana swinging a sword in a perfect arc or Gwen watching as another man sparred against Arthur in the training field. Arthur was careful to never tell Merlin any dreams that involved the servant himself, which came as both a relief and a concern.

Merlin wished that Arthur would tell him everything, but it was clear to him that the prince did not trust Merlin yet. There were times where he would watch Merlin when he thought that the servant was not looking, but he would deny it whenever Merlin brought it up. There was always that haunted look in his eyes, the pain of the knowledge that burdened him so. There was the helplessness that Arthur felt as he went to sleep every night knowing that he would only suffer through nightmares that he could tell no one about.

Merlin hated it.

However, tonight, he decided that there was something that he hated even more, for tonight he was wearing the most atrocious of outfits. Atop his head was a great feathered hat, which blocked his vision and made everyone laugh at him. Even Gwen was snickering, though, when the beautiful servant from Bayard's court looked in his direction, Merlin pulled the ridiculous hat off of his head in an effort to save face.

He was going to kill Arthur for this.

He shouldn't have been surprised that Arthur had been having a laugh at his expense, but Merlin still did not like it. Why couldn't he have just worn his normal clothes to the feast like the other servants? The official ceremonial servant robes, yeah right. No one else was dressed like a feathered jester. The next chance he got, he was going to throw this feathery abomination into a fire and spread its ashes across the Five Kingdoms so that it could never be recreated. He didn't even know where Arthur found such an object to begin with, but he hated the prat for it.

If he had been anyone else, he probably wouldn't even be able to get back at the prince, either, but one remarkable thing was that somehow, against all odds, the two had formed a bond. Merlin knew that magic was heavily part of the reason behind it, but there was something else that even destiny couldn't control. Merlin truly cared about Arthur, and he knew Arthur cared about him. Merlin could probably come up with the most humiliating revenge ever, and Arthur would probably just send him into the stocks for a week as opposed to having him sent into the dungeons like he would anyone else, and that was only if Arthur decided to do something about it.

"She's pretty, isn't she?" Gwen commented, startling Merlin out of his thoughts. Merlin looked at her as she then added, an embarrassed look in her eye, "For a handmaiden, I mean."

Merlin had talked to Cara earlier that day, and he had been shocked. Even Morgana's beauty couldn't quite match the girl he had stumbled into during the preparations for the feast. He saw that Arthur was settling down into his seat; surely the signing of the treaty wouldn't take much longer.

"She's pretty for a princess, let alone a handmaiden." Merlin whispered back, awestruck as he looked again at Cara. She didn't look that much older than himself, either. He made himself a note to talk to her later.

Gwen hummed, suddenly choosing to look away from Merlin. He turned back to her, about to ask what it was that he had said, but then she was walking away from him as the rest of the people broke into applause. Merlin's attention turned to the two kings that were shaking hands.

Lord Bayard surveyed the rest of the guests, and silence fell. "People of Camelot, for a great many years we have been mortal enemies, and the blood of our men stains the ground from the walls of Camelot to the gates of Mercia." At this, he gestured across the crowd towards the veterans of war and the squires that had yet to be knighted. "And though we remember those who have died, we must not allow any more to join them."

At this, one of his servants, not Cara, offered a box to him, which he took. The king held two ornate chalices, and Merlin could only imagine how valuable these gifts could be. Surely they would be worth enough to feed the entire village of Ealdor for a year - and probably more!

"As a symbol of our goodwill, and of our newfound friendship, I present these ceremonial goblets to you, Uther, and to your son, Arthur, in the hope that our friendship may last." While Uther continued to smile at his new ally with the presentation of the two gifts, Merlin noticed that Arthur looked disinterested and bored. Merlin had to fill his goblet a few times during the feast, but it was not he that filled the two chalices with the wine. It was one of Bayard's servants, and when she finished her job, she stepped back into the crowd.

Merlin looked around, trying to find Cara, even just to smile at her. This was an occasion to be celebrated, indeed, but there was a feeling that there was something wrong. He couldn't place it, however, but Cara was nowhere to be seen. Gwen had taken her place by Morgana's side, and the appropriate thing for Merlin to do would be to go stand by Arthur's side.

He cast one last disdainful look at the dreaded hat before wordlessly moving towards Arthur. The prince noticed him move to his side and glanced at him for a brief second before continuing to pretend that he was listening to Bayard's speech. Of course Arthur wasn't. Merlin had little doubt that all Arthur wanted to do was drink more wine. His eyes were already drooping, and Merlin could have sworn that he had seen Arthur yawn. His hope was that all of this drinking would be enough to offer Arthur a restful night's sleep that night, and maybe Merlin could get some good night's sleep as well.

Gods, was Bayard still talking? Maybe Merlin would have to join Arthur in sleeping early that night. He didn't understand why he could talk for so long. Even Merlin didn't prattle on this much, and he was sure that his new friend would agree with him on that. It was just inhumanly possible to talk for this long, but at least the pace was picking up. Uther was picking up his goblet, and Arthur eagerly reached for his own… again.

"And may the differences from our past remain here." Merlin was sure that Bayard's words had been very inspiring, very poetic. It was poetic enough to make him want to fall asleep. The king indicated Uther. "To your health, Uther."

At this, everyone in the court stood up. Merlin had to stifle a laugh every time Arthur raised the goblet to his lips, ready to take a drink, but then Bayard would continue to speak, and Arthur would lose his chance.

"Arthur. The Lady Morgana. The people of Camelot." Morgana had not received any gifts from Bayard, Merlin didn't think. The wine she was going to drink for the toast was to be served in one of the nicest goblets Camelot had to offer, but it was nothing compared to the riches Bayard had brought.

"And to fallen warriors on both sides," Uther chimed in. He inclined his goblet before turning it to his own lips, and everyone else followed.

It all happened too fast. The second the goblet touched Arthur's lips, Merlin knew what was wrong. He couldn't describe it, but those few seconds before Arthur collapsed, those few seconds where everything seemed fine, were agonizing. He was the first to reach Arthur's body, and at once he was pulling his blond head into his own lap. Arthur's mouth wasn't frothing, though he was starting to convulse as the poison entered his system.

The hall rang with the sounds of swords being drawn by both sides. Merlin could hear the orders being screamed out from king to their men. There was some clashing of swords, yet he couldn't discern the battle going on now. The only thing that mattered to him was that Arthur had been poisoned, and Merlin couldn't protect him from that.

Merlin ran his fingers through the blond hair and held him close as though that would do anything. He was not aware that the battle had stopped until someone else joined him at Arthur's side. It was Uther, whose face was twisted with pain and hatred unlike what Merlin had ever seen, even at the executions of sorcerers. What had just occurred was a greater evil than sorcery, and he was sure that even Uther could agree with him on that. No one was allowed to touch Arthur and get away with it.

"Give him to me, boy," Uther growled. It was clear that he was struggling to keep it together, and Merlin was too terrified to refuse. By some miracle Arthur continued to breathe when Merlin passed his unconscious form to the prince's father, who at once ran his gloved fingers through his son's hair, holding him as though it was the only thing keeping him from harm.

Merlin risked a look at the rest of the people in the hall. A few knights were treating minor injuries off to the side, but it seemed that there had been no further bloodshed. Arthur was the only casualty. Merlin stole a glance, then, to the enemy king. He was down on his knees with Sir Leon's sword pointed at his throat. His face had turned white, and he was staring at Arthur's unmoving body with shock.

"My son…" Merlin thought that he heard Uther whisper, and his heart broke at the pure emotion that the king was showing now. This was so unlike the king as well, but, unlike with Arthur, he couldn't just comfort him. Uther's face hardened, and he stared deeply into Bayard's eyes. "If he dies from this, you will rest assured that will have the pleasure of killing you myself."

If Bayard had responded to this, Merlin did not hear it, for Gaius was hissing into his ear to pick up the chalice. The metal was cool, but Merlin held it like a lifeline as he followed the physician and the king, who was bearing his son close to his chest, out of the hall. Even as they climbed the flights of stairs and rushed through empty halls, Uther never stopped to rest once.

"Ah." Gaius's finger was over a page in one of his books. King Uther and his son's manservant (what was his name?) were sitting on either side of Arthur, and another servant, Morgana's, was pressing a wet cloth to his son's forehead, murmuring something so quietly he couldn't hear. He wanted to do something to help, but there was nothing that the king could do without getting in the way, surely. His eyes were wide with fear, something that he thought that he would never admit to. He noticed that the boy's eyes were the same.

"What is it, physician?" Uther asked. He had taken off his crown and his gloves, which were in a careless pile on the bench beside where Arthur had been laid to rest.

"The petal comes from the mortaeus flower," Gaius explained as he held up the book for both of them to see. Uther looked at the yellow flower, trying to memorize what it looked like even though it would not be him that would ride out to find the cure. As much as he desperately wanted to save his son, his shoulder would keep him from riding out… And Camelot would need a king during the time of war. Gaius squinted down at the pages again before adding, "It says here that someone poisoned by the Mortaeus can only be saved by a potion made from the leaf of the very same flower. It can only be found in the caves deep beneath the Forest of Balor. The flower grows on the roots of the Mortaeus tree."

Since Uther could not do anything to help his son, he was holding one of Arthur's clammy hands as though that would keep him here. He stopped looking at Gaius's book, only at the steadily paling form of Arthur. "How long does he have?"

Gaius's face betrayed no emotion, even for the young prince. That was something that Uther could not do. "Four days, five, perhaps, but not for much longer. Eventually…" He looked down at his patient, who looked anything but peaceful. "Eventually he will die."

Uther's shoulders tensed, and he didn't look up again. "Then we will find the cure. Guards!"

Sir Leon, who had been stationed outside the door since Bayard and his men had been restrained and taken into the dungeons, immediately answered the king's call. "Yes, Sire?"

Uther prepared to stand, but he could not feel his legs. He ultimately stayed in his seat so as to remain at Arthur's side. "Ready the knights. You will ride to the Caves of Balor immediately."

The boy's abnormally large ears perked up, and, out of the corner of the king's grey eyes, he could see the servant turning from his master to the knight. Whatever the look was for, the king did not know. He could not understand.

Whatever it was, it made Leon hesitate in answering Uther's order. "Of course, Sire." The knight probably bowed, and then the door was shut again.

He bowed his head, horribly reminded of Ygraine's death. How much his son looked like her, and now he, too, was fading fast. Uther couldn't lose him, not his only son.

"Is there anything that you could do?" Uther choked, and thankfully no one commented on how his voice broke at the words as he squeezed his son's hands. His eyes felt wet, but he did not care as he stared up at Gaius. Surely he would know something, an alternate cure, at least. Something that would keep Arthur alive.

His old friend shook his head. "I'm sorry, My Lord. There is little more that I can do for him without the flower."

Uther nodded in resignation. "Leave us." He stared down again into Arthur's ashen face. His eyes, blue like his mother's, were squeezed shut, and he was making a face as he tossed and turned in the bed. It must just be the poison.

"Of course, Sire." Gaius raised an eyebrow at the boy, and he reluctantly left the prince's side. As for the serving girl, she gathered up the bucket, mumbling something about getting more water, before she left the room as well.

Uther was alone with his son. For the first time, he felt a sob rising in his throat, and he made no effort to silence it. There was no one else to hear him, only his son, the one thing that he had that he could not lose.

"They will find the cure, Arthur," he murmured, reaching again for Arthur's hair. The candles shone down into the hair, which was greasy from the feverous sweat. "You're going to be alright, just hold on for us. Camelot needs her prince… I need my son."

There was no way that Arthur could have heard.

"I have to go with them." It was just Merlin and Gaius in the corridor; even the guards had left now to prepare for the trip to the Caves.

The old man shook his head at his ward, sighing. "No Merlin. You are just a boy and have no experience on the battlefield. It could be dangerous."

"I can't just sit here, Gaius!" Merlin pleaded. As much as Arthur got on his nerves, he knew that he couldn't lose the man so quickly. There had to be something that he could do for Arthur. It was his destiny to protect the man, and for him to die so soon after meeting him could not be allowed to happen.

The old man sighed. "You don't have to, Merlin. Just help me tend to the prince. The knights will ride back in a few days' time with the cure, and he will get better. There is no reason for you to go along on this journey."

Merlin squeezed his eyes shut. Something still felt wrong to him about all of this. He still did not know what it was, but Bayard poisoning Arthur did not make any sense. Why would he come all the way to Camelot under the pretence of a treaty to just kill Arthur? What did he have to gain from Arthur's death?

"There has to be more that I can do," he pleaded one last time. As he did, he wiggled his fingers, knowing that speaking openly about his magic could mean his death.

"Merlin!" Gaius chastised harshly. There was no one else in the hallway with them, but, as always, Gaius was being careful. It was probably because Merlin had almost been caught using magic to cure Gwen's father last month, but, by some "miracle," Arthur was able to deflect the blame away from him. Gaius had been grateful for Arthur's intervention, saying that Merlin would have been dead for his stupidity if Arthur hadn't stepped in.

"It's Arthur, Gaius," Merlin protested one last time, looking at Gaius. "What if the knights do not return in time? Are we supposed to just let him die?"

Gaius hesitated in answering, and Merlin knew that it would kill Gaius almost as it would him if they had let Arthur die. "There are medicines that I can prepare to ease his suffering, but that is all I can do. We have to believe in the knights."

Merlin huffed and turned away, knowing that Gaius felt as though he was doing the right thing by protecting Merlin… but that wasn't Merlin's priority. There was something about Arthur, and he wasn't afraid to admit it to himself. Between keeping his secret and protecting Arthur, Merlin already knew which one he would choose.

Without saying anything to his guardian, he stomped off, ready to risk everything to save Arthur.

Everything tasted fine at first. A newfound friendship, a lasting peace, the kind of hope that would keep the kingdom going. When they toasted to everything gained and lost, there had been nothing wrong. It was just wine in the goblet, finely aged and fit for any royal's lips. Though, Arthur would have to say that the chalice was the more magnificent of the two with the beautiful gems and precious metals.

The wine was poisoned.

It started as an itch in his throat, and Arthur reached for it. He knew. The itch turned painful, and he felt his body collapse in front of everyone, the chalice rolling away from him. Arthur couldn't see anything, but he felt someone's hands around him. Merlin's, probably. If the poison didn't hurt so much, perhaps he'd feel safe. He always felt safe with Merlin around.

This bed was really not that comfortable. Whose bed was this? It wasn't his. Gods, was this Merlin's? If it was, he was going to throw him into the stocks for a week for subjecting him to this.

There were voices in the background, but he couldn't make them out. He tried to, though. He wanted to listen to Gaius and Merlin and Gwen one last time if he was going to die on this godforsaken cot.


Everything was on fire. Arthur was on fire, but it wasn't him. Everything felt so hot to him, he couldn't bear it. Everything hurt. Was this what death felt like? He never thought that he would die like this. He didn't want to die. He tried to breathe, but his throat choked and clogged, and he couldn't. He was dying. He was dying.

"Sire, please allow me to tend to him." The voice was soft and warm, welcoming to his ears, and it penetrated through his worst nightmare like the voice of an angel. Arthur tried to latch onto the words, her sweet sweet words. Where everything else was agony, she was welcome to his dying heart.

"Has Gaius found the answer yet?" He knew that voice too, but it was different. There was too much emotion, too much distress, to belong to his father. No, this was a hallucination. It had to be. Maybe his father found out about the dreams somehow, and this was Arthur's due reward. He recoiled away from the snake, but a hand was being pressed to his hand.

"He is looking right now, Sire."

There was a silence that perhaps only lasted for a few moments, but for him, they were an eternity. These precious seconds being wasted now may be the last seconds of life left for him. He was dying. Maybe there was something else that was going on out there that he couldn't see. The hand left his forehead, untethering him from the world around him until a wet cloth was pressed to his brow.

When she spoke, her words were sweet, and he tried to cling to them, his last hope for survival. In his fevered mind, Arthur could still listen to the words that he always longed to hear from her. "You're not going to die, Arthur. I'm telling you. Because I know that one day you will be best king Camelot has ever known. It's what keeps me going. You are going to live to be the man I've seen inside you, Arthur. I can see a Camelot that is fair and just. I can see a king that the people will love and be proud to call their sovereign. For the love of Camelot, you have to live."


Arthur tried to reach out and to let her know that he was listening to her, that he was trying to live for her and for Merlin and for the rest of Camelot, but he couldn't, and soon enough, his conscious mind drifted back into the flames.

Someone was snoring. He could hear the heavy breathing. Did this mean that he was not dead yet? Arthur tried to move, but everything still hurt. No, he was still dying. His throat was parched and on fire. He tried to open his eyes to see who was holding his wrist, but he couldn't do that, either.

"You're going to be alright, Arthur, I promise." Why was that voice familiar? Oh, it was Merlin's. What was Merlin doing here? He shouldn't be here. He shouldn't be here when Arthur was dying. He should be somewhere else, somewhere safe. Certainly not here. Certainly not where the fires burned hot and threatened to consume Arthur alive.

Maybe more was said after that, but then Arthur drifted off once more.

Chapter Text

Merlin gathered up a handful of stones and hurled them at the cavern walls with as much force as he could muster. The sound of the rocks clattering into the abyss echoed through the dragon's prison, surely enough to wake the annoying oversized flying lizard from its nap.

"Will you just answer me?!" Merlin yelled into the dark as he reached far behind his head and shot his hand forward to release the stone in yet another poorly aimed throw. This time, though, the rock did not bounce off of a dark and jagged wall but off of a gleaming set of golden scales. Merlin gulped and took a few steps back as the dragon actually flew into view, and he dropped the rest of the pebbles.

"What is it, young warlock?" the Great Dragon asked impatiently as he peered down at the much smaller servant before him, who managed to not shrink himself out of existence.

Merlin straightened his back, willing himself to be brave and commandeering over this great winged beast, despite the fact that he was only here to ask it for yet another favor. "Arthur's been poisoned by Lord Bayard and could die. I need a way to save him."

To his surprise, the dragon chortled. "Do you really think that Bayard had anything to do with this?" the dragon asked between laughs. Merlin didn't know what was funny, only that the dragon was trying his best to annoy him. Gods, Merlin hated dragons.

"Do you think that this is funny? He could die! Is that what you want?" Merlin glared at the dragon, feeling as his heart rate picked up despite his facade of bravery. Arthur could die if the cure wasn't brought to him, and a slow and painful death as well. If Merlin had known that the chalice had been poisoned, he would have stepped in himself to drink the poison to save his prince from this fate.

The dragon slowly stemmed his laughter, but there were still a few chuckles here and there. "But of course I do not. It is not her destiny to kill the young Pendragon."

Merlin scrunched his eyebrows at the dragon. "Who are you talking about? Who's trying to kill Arthur, if not Bayard?"

"The sorceress Nimueh," the dragon declared as he stretched out his great wings. By doing so, he blew back some cooling air at the warlock, who nearly fell backward from the sudden wind.

"Right, of course, the great sorceress that I definitely know," Merlin said with sarcasm that he could not help using. "I'm sorry, who is Nimueh? Why would she want Arthur dead?"

The dragon sighed, and an unreadable look passed over his dragony face (as if Merlin could ever hope to read the giant creature, anyway). "Nimueh is one of the last of the High Priestesses, an ancient order of magic users who have dedicated their lives to the practice of the Old Religion." Now there was definite anger in the dragon's face, and, if Merlin didn't know any better, he'd say that smoke was rising from his flaring nostrils. "After the fall of the Old Religion, Nimueh took refuge in the last sanctuary for magic and declared revenge against Camelot."

"Then why did she go after Arthur? He's not the one that started the Great Purge? Why not Uther?" It didn't make any sense why Nimueh would blame Arthur. Just because he followed his father's orders, that didn't mean that he was entirely at fault. Uther was to blame, not the prince.

The dragon hummed, but he didn't answer his question. Either he didn't know, or he wasn't going to tell Merlin. Great, not like Merlin hated being left in the dark or anything. "Do you know what kind of poison she used on him?"

Merlin figured that this was more important than the witch's reasons to kill Arthur, anyway, but he would weedle the answer out of him one day. "Gaius called it the mortaeus flower. There's a cure in these caves, but the knights wouldn't let me go with them." Of course Merlin had tried to talk to them. After leaving Gaius, he went straight to Sir Leon, who gently told him that he had to stay in Camelot and help Gaius care for his patient.

The dragon yawned as though he were now uninterested. "If there is a cure, then why are you coming to me?"

"What if the knights don't make it back? What if this is my destiny? If I'm supposed to protect Arthur, shouldn't it be in my power to help him?" This couldn't be how Arthur died, Merlin wouldn't allow it, and the dragon seemed to agree with him.

The Great Dragon peered down at the young warlock, but his debate went unspoken. They locked eyes, and Merlin stared back with hope shining in his eyes. Please, help me. 

"The only cure is the leaves from the mortaeus flower, though there is a spell to remove the poison from the body." As Merlin eagerly opened his mouth to thank the dragon, the creature cut him off. "But, I should warn you, it comes at a price."

Merlin wasn't the least bit concerned. "Look, whatever price it is, I'll gladly pay it-"

"It isn't as easy as that. It will not be your price to pay, but Arthur's." Silence fell between the two, a nasty, uncomfortable silence as Merlin pondered what the dragon was trying to tell him.

"Then tell me." The servant's voice was low, but, if there was a chance for Arthur, he had to take it, even if the prince wouldn't forgive him for it afterwards. He didn't come to Camelot to become friends with the Prince of Camelot.

The Great Dragon shifted on the rock structure that he had been settled on and studied Merlin. Merlin had no ulterior motives, but that did not keep him from feeling nervous, like the dragon would accuse him of hiding something that would keep him from deciding to help Arthur.

"The mortaeus flower is a deadly poison, and, if Nimueh was indeed the one to poison him, the poison was likely prepared using magic. To counteract her magic would take a great deal of power." The dragon paused, and Merlin braced himself for yet another riddle. Instead, he got the closest to a straight answer that he would ever get from the dragon. "As powerful as you are, you lack the training to perform this feat alone. You will have to draw from the young Pendragon's own magic to preserve your strength enough to complete the spell lest you overexert yourself, and all of it would be for nothing."

As terrible as that sounded, Merlin couldn't see what the price would actually be. He was already prepared to use magic on the prince, and this was likely magic beyond creating a poultice and hiding it underneath Arthur's pillow like what he had done with Gwen's father. "What will happen to him?"

The dragon's voice had a touch of warning to it. "By using this spell and drawing from his magic, you will have to draw out the magic and bring it out into the open. Once it is released, it will not go back to being dormant. Any semblance of control that Arthur possesses will be lost, and it will be in your hands to help him control his powers, whatever they may be. Do you understand?"

Things were already bad enough with the nightmares. Merlin went every night to comfort Arthur without Gaius's knowledge, and the knowledge that Arthur unwittingly possessed magic made Merlin more sympathetic to the prince's plight. However, he couldn't actually do much with his magic yet. It was only released in visions that plagued him while he rested, and no one else suspected that there was magic at work.

Only Merlin knew the truth.

Only Merlin could help him.

"Tell me then." I'm sorry, Arthur. "What is the spell?"

When Uther found the circular rash on Arthur's arm, his heart fluttered and then stopped.

"Gaius, what is this?" he spoke, though his voice was inaudible over the feverish murmurs of his son. He couldn't make out the words that he was saying, but he didn't care enough to really listen. Well, of course he cared, but it was clear what the priorities were.

His old friend moved swiftly to Arthur's side from the potion he had been working on at the table. Gaius took Arthur's lifeless arm into his hands and stared at it in disbelief. "That can't be right. The rash is not supposed to appear until the final stage."

The book on mortaeus flower was lying open on the table, and Uther watched the physician turn the page while his breath stopped in his throat. He didn't want to fear the worst, but, from the look that passed over Gaius's face, he knew that it wasn't good.

"Physician, tell me," Uther ordered without the command that he reserved for the throne room. The situation was far too dire.

"It says here that "once a rash appears, death will follow in two days."" Gaius continued examining the book with his magnifying glass, but the stricken king wasn't having it.

"You said that he had four days!" he barked accusingly, not acknowledging how his hand tightened around his son's wrist like it was the only lifeline that he had. Which it may as well be. Arthur and Morgana were the two people most precious to him in the world. To lose either of them would destroy the king, break him beyond repair.

Gaius wouldn't meet his eyes. "Something's increased the flower's potency." His fingers traced along the pages as he continued reading the book. "It warns that "the effect of the Mortaeus will be more rapid if an enchantment is used during the flower's preparation.""

That did not settle right with Uther. Of all of the things he knew Bayard to be, a sorcerer was not one of them. Mercia had been one of the first kingdoms to follow him in banning magic, preceded only by Amata. Why would he turn to magic now in an effort to start a war with Camelot?

"Who did this, then?" he spoke icily, turning his eyes on his rapidly weakening son. Arthur's skin had taken a pale grey hue now, and his hair was dark with sweat and grime that made him look so unlike the handsome prince that was his son, the one that resembled so closely his mother.

Out of the corner of his eye, Uther noticed that Gaius had stopped moving. "It can't have been. She wouldn't dare come here, unless…" His voice trailed off, and Uther's heart filled with dread.

There was only one sorceress this powerful.

"Nimueh," he spoke, though not with the normal level of venom that he used just for her. This time, the venom was much more deadly. No, he would not let her touch his son. She will not take him away from him like how she took his precious Ygraine. "What can you do for him?"

There was an uncomfortably long silence, which was only interrupted by the sound of Arthur's labored breathing. The murmuring had stopped, but Arthur's fitful sleep continued. Uther felt something touch the backs of his eyelids, but he pretended not to notice. No man is worth your tears. That's what he always told his son, wasn't it?

But Arthur was worth every single one.

"I can make him comfortable." Gaius's voice was slow, resigned. "There is nothing else I can do without the leaves of the mortaeus flower, and we can wait for the Knights to return with the cure."

"No, there has to be something." Uther's hand was stripped of his dark leather gloves, and he ran his fingers through Arthur's damp hair. He, too, felt resigned, but resigned to something more. "I cannot watch him die."

No, he could not. Not his son. Not the only piece of Ygraine that he had in the world. Not his Arthur.

He heard Gaius's creaky footsteps as he moved to stand beside the king. An old hand rested on Uther's shoulder, which he did not push away. "I wish that there was something that I could do."

"No, you do not understand." How could Gaius understand? He didn't know what it was like to have a son, to have a child that was your whole world, to have someone that you would do anything to protect. "I cannot lose him. No matter what happens, he cannot die." He cannot die, not to magic. Not to Nimueh. Not to anything.

"I will do everything I can, Sire." But it wouldn't be enough, by the gods Uther knew that it wouldn't be enough. His heart drummed in his chest quickly, beating twice for every weakened heartbeat of Arthur.

"No Gaius." Arthur. He would do this for Arthur. "Whatever it takes. Whatever…" Uther took a deep breath, calming himself as his brain reeked of traitorous thoughts. "I don't care. You must save him."

"If I knew a way…"

Uther had to cut him off. No excuses. No ifs or buts. Gaius had to save him. Saving Arthur was the most important thing to him now, even more important than maintaining the laws of his kingdom. "You're not understanding me, Gaius," Uther hissed. "Cure him. I don't care what remedy you use." He turned his eyes from his dying son to indicate the books that lined the walls. All of those books, sweet, precious knowledge preserved on worn pages. Information that should have been lost but he allowed Gaius to keep in order to keep one last defense against the evils of magic. "In all these books there must be something. Something…" The king hesitated. Uther, the father in him, did not. "Something in the Old Religion?"

If he could see Gaius's face he knew what it would entail. In a low whisper, he heard the aghast question, "Are you suggesting…"

A knife plunged through his chest, or it was like it did with the rush of cold that ripped through him. "Sorcery, yes." By Uther's laws he should be condemned. Magic was a great evil, capable of corrupting the purest of hearts. However, he could not lose his son, his only son. The law be damned.

He'd just have to pray that Arthur was strong enough to escape the enthrall of magic.

"Sire…" There was much caution in Gaius's voice, as Uther expected for there to be. "I know how much he means to you, but surely…" Gaius stopped. "Surely you remember the last time you used magic to your own ends."

Anger flared up within the king, overcoming the mountain of grief that had overtaken his stony heart, and he whirled on Gaius with enough fury to arouse an army. "You will not speak of it," he growled warningly at the physician.

Gaius looked apologetic as he bowed his head. "Forgive me, Sire, but I only mean to warn you of the destructive nature of magic. For a life to be given one must be taken, you knew this when you had me go to Nimueh for an heir."

Uther had heard this talk before, and deep deep deep within him, Uther knew it to be true. "It was not supposed to be hers." Of that much Uther was certain. A criminal, an unnamed peasant, even one of his knights, just not Ygraine. "If there's a price for this, then it will be paid. Save. Him."

"And what will I be risking, Sire? He was already born of magic, now you're suggesting for me to use it to save his life? Magic has been outlawed for over twenty years because you didn't understand what you were getting yourself into! Who will be the next price to pay for your selfishness?" Perhaps it was stress that was causing Gaius to raise his voice.

"Enough!" Uther bellowed over the sounds of Arthur's whimpering. "I understand now. Save my son, or I will find someone that will."

There was a long silence that followed as Gaius's face turned to stone. "As you wish, Sire."

Neither of them noticed the scuffling of feet behind the door as Merlin darted around the corner to avoid being seen.

Neither of them noticed the fluttering of eyelashes from the poisoned prince lying in the cot.

Merlin only left the alcove when Uther finally stomped past him, his stony eyes alight with pain and determination. He knew what he had to do and had resolved himself to it, but he didn't expect that Uther would be so willing to let it be used… He didn't expect for Uther to be so open to magic in the past, either. The news of how Arthur was born shook him, and Merlin wondered if he should tell the prince. Then again, he didn't know how Arthur would take it on top of Kilgharrah's warning.

Merlin would not be able to take back what he was about to do.

Gaius was unusually silent when he entered the chambers. Merlin stiffened, unsure of how to proceed, but it seemed that Gaius didn't know that he had eavesdropped because the old man would not meet his ward's eyes. "I'm going to assume that you went looking for the spell even though I told you not to?"

Merlin would have lied to him if he didn't know about the things that Uther had said. "Of course. Did you think that I was just going to abandon him?" Like Merlin would have ever done that. At first he had tried to catch Sir Leon and the Knights before they left Camelot, but one of the guards had been tasked with keeping him inside of the castle until the group left for the Caves of Balor. Merlin had sat with Arthur for a while, and then he sought the Great Dragon's help.

Gaius shook his head, looking grave (probably because of the king's threat). "No, I didn't think that you would. The king is gone. Do what you have to do."

Merlin didn't need to be told twice. He moved to Arthur's bedside and touched his hands to Arthur's chest, just as the dragon told him to do. He had never tried a healing spell before, but, somehow, the dragon's spell had its own power, and it resonated well with Merlin even if he didn't know why. "Ic þe þurhhæle þin licsare mid þam sundorcræftas þære ealdaþ æ!"

His eyes flashed gold, and he felt as though the power ran through his veins into Arthur's body. He could feel the dark magic that had been used to poison Arthur, and Merlin struggled against it as it attempted to consume him and his magic. Merlin might have had the power, but power was not enough when it came to training, as the sorceress seemed to have many years of experience over him. Merlin's face twisted, but he held his own to save his dying friend.

Something resonated through him, and another power joined his soul brother in battling the magic, even if it was an unconscious help that its owner wouldn't remember doing. Together, the poison was pushed to nothing, leaving only a weakened body and a panting servant who tore his hands from his master's body and checked desperately to see if his friend was still breathing.

Then Arthur's eyes shot open, blazing with a pure golden fire.

Chapter Text

The first thing Merlin did was make sure that his body was in the way so that Gaius couldn't see. It wasn't time for the physician to know about Arthur, and the last thing Merlin needed was to try answering questions he didn't have answers to. Things would be bad enough when Arthur came to his senses.

"Hey hey hey hey," he said quickly, smiling at the prince gently while his eyes widened and turned back to blue, using the same voice he did when comforting Arthur after a particularly bad nightmare. "It's me. It's Merlin. You're all right now."

"Merlin?" Arthur grunted, and it was pretty obvious that he was trying to throw Merlin off of him. Merlin respected his prince's desire and backed away, glad that his eyes had returned to normal before Gaius could see.

"Yep, it's just me." Arthur seemed all right to him… For now, anyway. Merlin scooted a stool over to the bed, much like how he did every night in the prince's chambers. "How are you feeling?"

Arthur snorted, and, despite how awful Arthur still looked, it made Merlin feel better tremendously. "You idiot, I was just poisoned, how do you think that I feel?"

"Probably like a prat," Merlin chimed in. He leaned forward some to rub Arthur's messy hair. If the prince had been up to his full strength, he probably would have caught Merlin's wrist and wrapped him into a headlock almost immediately. Instead Arthur's fingers locked around Merlin's other wrist, and Merlin took the hint to let go.


Merlin had almost forgotten that Gaius had been there, and he jumped when his voice cut through his thoughts. "Gaius, erm…" Gaius didn't know about Arthur. Hell, he probably didn't know that Merlin often went to stay by Arthur's bedside at night and just assumed that he was capable of waking himself every morning.

"I'll go get the king." Merlin could read the look on Gaius's face only because he knew what the king had asked of him. "He'll want to see Arthur."

Merlin looked again at Arthur, whose eyes were as wide as they often were after a particularly traumatic nightmare. "I'll stay with him," he said quietly, moving his hand to Arthur's shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze.

Neither of the boys said anything until they heard the door open and close again. Merlin hesitated a little longer in case there were guards outside, but it was Arthur who broke the silence first. His voice was still weak from the poison, which was lucky in case anyone tried to eavesdrop.

"My father," Arthur rasped, interrupting himself with a stream of coughs as he tried to move.

"Easy, Arthur," Merlin chastised softly. "What did you see?"

The question was asked so easily that Merlin might as well have been asking after the weather, but it was a question that he often asked Arthur every morning to show the prince that he was there for him. On most mornings the prince would glare at him and say nothing. However, Arthur's anger was directed towards someone else, and Merlin has a suspicion of who.

"He used magic," Arthur hissed. His fury did not match the weakened state of his body, so it was almost comical to watch if not for the seriousness of the matter. "All my life he preached its evil, but he has used it himself!"

"Arthur, calm down." Merlin indicated his head towards the door, but Arthur didn't care.

"I don't care if they hear! They have a right to know that their king is a hypocrite, and a liar!" As Arthur's voice rose, the contents on the table started to rumble, like there was an earthquake in just this room.

Merlin gasped as he watched a potion roll off of the table. Out of reflex his magic reacted to catch the potion, and it hovered in the air before he realized what he had done. He released the spell and pulled himself away from Arthur, knowing that he had blown it. This was surely the worst moment for Arthur to find out about him, so why wasn't the prince yelling at him? Or for the guards?

Only Arthur was more preoccupied with himself. His golden eyes faded back to blue again, and the prince gasped for air. His eyes were transfixed on the potion, but he didn't seem to care. "What… What was that?"

"Arthur…" Merlin didn't know how to answer him, but Arthur continued without prompting.

"That was magic." Arthur had already been pale from almost dying, but he would have paled now if he could. "Did I… Did I just do that?"

Merlin had lived with the rush of power through his veins all of his life, and magic was as natural to him as his blood and his heartbeat. Not Arthur. No, Arthur never did anything like this before. It was then that Merlin realized that Arthur was talking about himself. Merlin had ended the spell, and yet the potion was hovering midair before it was sent crashing to the ground with a startled gasp from Arthur.

Arthur Pendragon had just performed magic.

Merlin winced, which was enough to set Arthur off. The prince recoiled back, and, at that same moment, a jar shattered. Merlin's jaw hung open before he looked at Arthur again. He didn't forget the dragon's warning, but it made better sense now when he actually thought about what was going on. Arthur was using magic, and he couldn't control it.

"Arthur…" His voice was quieter now, more soothing, and he tried to calm himself so that he could calm Arthur too. If there was one thing Merlin remembered from his childhood, it was that emotions set his powers off, particularly fear or excitement. Arthur certainly had reason to be afraid now. At any moment someone could walk in, which wasn't a comforting thought.

"You're afraid of me," Arthur said cautiously. Nevertheless, the prince was trying to calm his erratic breathing like he advised his younger knights on the training field.

"I am not." Because Merlin wasn't afraid of him. He never could be. "You didn't choose this." Merlin took a dry cloth to dab up the sweat from Arthur, hoping that such a mundane task would calm him enough by the time Uther got there.

It only half-worked. "Did you?" Arthur accused. He didn't sound angry or surprised, even, so Merlin gave him a strange look to make sure that he had heard him correctly. Arthur returned the look with a twitch of his eyebrows, so Merlin shook his head.

"I was born with it." Merlin set the cloth back down, glad that Arthur wasn't trying to kill him for the truth. Yet.

Arthur hummed, and he stopped making an effort to meet Merlin's eyes. "Did… did my father do this to me?" The magic had been a part of Arthur for his entire life, but Merlin knew now that the prince had been born of this magic. Could it have been… No, Merlin couldn't think like that. Surely the magic used to create Arthur didn't stay with him all his life, lying dormant until Merlin had been forced to draw from that untapped power.

"I was the one to heal you, even with knowing the risks." The dragon had told him what would happen, but Merlin had to save him. He didn't even regret doing so because it meant that Arthur was alive. Whatever magic he possessed, Merlin knew that he could help Arthur through it.

"My father wanted magic to be used on me," Arthur reminded tiredly. Any moment now, they would be interrupted. Uther would drop everything just to see his son.

"He did." Merlin stiffened, feeling some remorse for forcing this onto Arthur when they could have waited for the knights to return with the cure. "I was going to heal you anyway, though, even if Gaius tried to stop me."

Arthur made a point of looking away, which was hard enough to do from his position of lying down. "I know, Merlin. I know about everything."

Merlin's eyes widened, but really he shouldn't have been surprised. He knew about Arthur's nightmares, but in the three months that he had worked for the prince, he had seen no sign that Arthur actually knew about him. It was both a blessing and a curse, a blessing in that there was one less person he had to lie to, and a curse in that Merlin felt that he had to lie at all.

"Why didn't you tell me that you knew?" Merlin asked him as he folded his hands together. He swallowed uncomfortably, knowing that they didn't have much more time to speak. Once Uther got here, he would be asked to leave, and he would have to oblige.

The blond shrugged weakly. "My… dreams. They always showed so much about… everything, I guess. Including your magic. At first… I didn't think that you would believe me. You hardly even knew me, and I didn't want to scare you."

Merlin remembered the way that Arthur had looked at him when they first met and nodded. "You're not going to get rid of me that easily, you know," he answered, but Arthur's smile faded once more, and the prince grew sad.

"Just… take care of yourself, would you?" Arthur urged him. His hand wrapped around Merlin's bony wrist once again, and he didn't let go. "Just because… I know… That doesn't mean that everyone else can. If it comes down to it, you have to keep yourself safe, all right?" His grip tightened, tight enough to bruise. "Promise me."

Footsteps sounded in the hall, getting louder and louder as the king made his presence known. Merlin didn't know what had gotten into Arthur, but he nodded. "I promise," he said breathlessly.

But he wouldn't keep it. Between keeping Arthur and his secret safe, Merlin would do whatever it took to make sure that Arthur came out of it alive, even if it meant risking his own life instead.

It took Arthur two weeks to fully recover. Merlin spent as much time as he could at Arthur's side, but they could hardly speak with the king around. Uther had tried many times to send Merlin away, but it was Arthur's command that made him stay. If Arthur didn't want him to leave, then he wouldn't. Likely it was because Arthur didn't trust himself alone around King Uther yet. The awakening of his powers left him unpredictable and prone to lashing out. It didn't help that Arthur was angry with his father for the lies, and only Merlin was able to keep him calm. All it took was one look from him, and then the prince would fall silent, albeit with an added glare towards his servant.

They were out on the training field now, the first time Arthur has held a sword since the poisoning. Merlin was in the clunky training armor that he always hated so that Arthur could test his full strength, and Arthur was wielding one of the dullest swords from the armory so that Merlin wasn't hurt too badly. Arthur's training was being overseen by Sir Leon, who had just returned from escorting Lord Bayard to the border. Tensions between Camelot and Mercia had grown when Arthur had been poisoned, but once Arthur was recovered ties eased once again. Both sides knew that Bayard was not to blame, so a full pardon was issued.

Arthur swung his sword in a circular motion before charging at Merlin once again. It took Merlin too long to raise his own sword to block the attack, and the blade hit him on the chest. Merlin fell backward into the grass, dropping his sword as soon as he hit the ground. Arthur stood over him and stuck the tip of his sword into the dirt and rested both hands on the pommel.

"Are you comfortable down there, Merlin?" the prince mocked. Since he wasn't extending a hand to help Merlin stand, the servant had to help himself up, a feat accompanied by many grumbles about how Arthur was just an unfair dollopheaded prat.

"It is very comfortable and you should try it sometime. I think that you'd like it." Merlin brushed the dirt off of his hands onto Arthur's trousers, which earned him a shove and a singular laugh.

"I'm still not convinced that you know what a training session means," Arthur scoffed, shaking his head at Merlin's ineptitude. "Honestly, the knight recruits that I have now look like seasoned warriors compared to you."

"Lucky them," Merlin grumbled. He didn't bother picking up the sword and only looked in Sir Leon's direction. Thankfully, it was just them on the training field, and Leon was too far away to overhear. "How are things with your father?"

Arthur noticeably stiffened, his mouth set in a tighter line. "Nothing's changed."

Of course things hadn't. Merlin and Arthur had both heard what had been said, and he touched a hand to Arthur's arm before the prince pulled it away. Although Arthur wasn't looking at him anymore, the servant saw fit to speak. "I never knew my father. My mother never told me anything about him…" Merlin wasn't sure where he was going with that comment at first, or how it would help his prince, but after his voice trailed off, it regained strength. "You don't know how lucky you are to have a father that cares for you. I probably would have given anything to have gotten to know mine."

Arthur stilled with his sword only halfway pulled from the ground. "Lucky?" he repeated with a sound that sounded almost like a wolf's growl. "He doesn't care about me, Merlin. All he cares about is his precious heir. He had no problem with giving up my mother's life just to have me." Arthur yanked the sword from the dirt with such force that the blade would have splintered if it had been made from wood. "I'm not lucky, Merlin. My mother is dead, and my father isn't my father at all."

When the prince started stalking away from the training field, Merlin jogged right behind him to catch up. "He cares, Arthur. Why else would he have used…" Merlin cast a warning eye towards the knight that was nearby, watching, and Arthur inclined his head to show his understanding. Nonetheless, the anger had flared up in his eyes, and the prince would not back down now.

"He used magic before to have an heir, so of course he would use it again to keep the one he's got." With that, Arthur huffed and left the courtyard with Merlin following like the loyal servant and friend that he was behind him.

Merlin waited even longer to offer his suggestion to the prince. It was now a month since the day Arthur had been poisoned by the vile witch Nimueh, a name Merlin had only put together by listening in on Uther and Gaius. Things were mostly back to normal, if not for the way that Arthur was avoiding Uther's presence as though the king were carrying the plague.

All it took was one comment, and Arthur accepted the proposition gladly. That was why the two were crouched in the shadows, waiting for their chance. Merlin could have used magic to distract the guards, but then Arthur reminded him that the guards' shift would change soon.

"If you want answers, I know someone that will give them to you?"


"Follow me. It's better that I show you."

Arthur didn't like the uneasy feeling he got when he was led down into the dungeons in the middle of the night. It was an awful feeling because he had grown up with stories of how his father had trapped the last dragon in the caves beneath the castle many years ago, and being burned to a crisp by an angry dragon was not how he planned on dying.

Yet Merlin insisted, claiming that the beast had all of the answers Arthur needed. Despite the dreams he had night after night, he never saw the dragon. He didn't understand why. If he was so powerful (or was supposed to be powerful, but everyone knew that Merlin was an idiot who didn't know what he was saying), why couldn't he see the dragon? Maybe the dragon's magic was too powerful to be seen by Arthur's seeing abilities, though that meant that Arthur had no idea what to expect.

He tried not to flinch as the dice rolled across the table once again. Was this really how the knights of Camelot acted while they were on duty? Well, he supposed that they were bored, but it would have been easy enough for him to sneak past them with no distractions whatsoever. Though probably not with Merlin. He'd likely trip and get caught if it were just him.

Then the dice went flying off the table onto the floor. The two guards looked at each other, whereas Arthur looked at Merlin. Merlin looked at him, acting like an innocent child as his eyes turned gold again, and the dice rolled further down the corridor.

Arthur had the decency to wait until they were walking down the dimly lit passage to smack Merlin in the back of the head.

"Ow!" The hand that was not holding the only torch they had rubbed the black hair on Merlin's head. "What was that for?" He rubbed the spot until the sharp pain faded into a stubborn ache, and he continued to glare over his shoulder at Arthur.

"I told you to wait until the guards were relieved," Arthur countered. He was in no hurry to see the dragon, so why was Merlin walking at such a fast pace?

"Yeah, and you are not the one with a dragon yelling into your ear," Merlin shot back. At Arthur's raised eyebrows, Merlin added a hasty explanation. "Well, it's more like he's yelling into my head. I don't know how he does it."

"Great, that's just great." If the dragon ever decided to wake Arthur up from his precious sleep, he'd probably slay the beast himself so that he could have at least one more hour of rest. Merlin would either yell at him or help him, depending on the idiotic warlock's mood.

And, to think, all of this lay beneath their feet. Arthur was a naturally skilled tracker and could keep track of how long it was taking to get to the Great Dragon, yet this expanse of tunnels must have taken years to make. How long has this cavern been beneath the castle, complete with dusted passages that led to the greatest prize of the Great Purge? As a child, Arthur had wondered why his father had spared the creature instead of killing it with the others, and now it seemed that it took more work just to keep it alive. He was just amazed that no one had ever been eaten alive if they were late in delivering the dragon's food.

Once, when Arthur was a child, Arthur had told his father that he wanted to face the dragon. When this kingdom became his, it would be his choice of what to do to the dragon. With a brave hero's face, he declared his intention of fighting the dragon and saving Camelot from the beast's wrath. One day, Arthur had said. One day he'd be a hero. Instead of laughing, or even giving him a smile, Uther forbade his son from going to see the dragon.

Now Arthur wondered if Uther thought that he would grow sympathetic to the dragon's plight. He certainly had without ever meeting the great beast beneath the castle. For over twenty years it was rotting away in its own permanent tomb with just the dust and mice to keep it company.

Maybe death would have been merciful, but since when has Uther ever been kind?

Arthur looked at the sorcerer walking in front of him, and he was quite amazed that Merlin had not tripped and fallen to his death yet. Just as he was about to comment about that, Merlin stopped moving completely. Arthur was able to stop himself just in time from plowing into the skinnier servant, which would have undoubtedly sent them both falling into the dark abyss below.

"Is this the place?" Arthur whispered. He wished that he had taken his sword with him, but Merlin had insisted that Arthur leave it behind. Well, this was the last time Arthur was ever going to listen to his no good servant for sure. He moved to Merlin's left to inspect the seemingly empty cave. "I don't really see a dragon."

"Just wait." And Arthur took this as his cue to fall silent. So much for not listening to Merlin anymore. There was a heavy flapping of wings that beat down against the air, and suddenly the prince felt smaller than ever when he faced the golden beast that adorned every knight's red cloaks. The prince could not decide whether he was affronted or relieved when the dragon turned his attention to Merlin, but both of those turned to worry as he moved to stand between the two… just in case.

Arthur never knew that dragons chuckled until he heard the roaring sound of a great lizard chortling from amusement. "You don't need to protect him from me, future king. I am not a threat to him."

Arthur stared down (rather, stared up at) the dragon and kept his face as stoic as possible so that Merlin wouldn't see, wouldn't suspect. Arthur was the prince, and Merlin was just a servant. He could not just reveal to all the lengths he would go to protect his friend (yes, friend, because that was what they had become in the last few months). Even if Merlin had some sort of inclination of Arthur's true feelings, it could never hope to match the truth. The only thing that it could match were the lengths Arthur knew Merlin would go for him, and that was what he was afraid of.

"No," he conceded. "You're not." And the way he ended the phrase was final, absolute. There would be no further discussion on who the real threat was in case Merlin got any ideas.

The dragon nodded in satisfaction and looked over Arthur at the dark haired man clambering out from behind him (it had probably been too much to hope that Merlin would have just gotten the hint to stay out of the way, anyway). "Young Warlock, was there a reason for bringing the young Pendragon to me?"

Arthur wrinkled his nose and stayed silent while Merlin answered him stiffly, "He wasn't just born with magic. He was born of it."

The Great Dragon yawned dramatically, straightening his long golden neck and pointing his snout towards the stalactites hanging from the cavernous ceiling. Arthur got the impression that the bloody dragon already knew, which the beast immediately confirmed. "Yes."

While Arthur was only mildly annoyed, he could practically see Merlin shaking with anger. "You knew." Wordlessly, Arthur reached out and placed a hand on Merlin's shoulder to keep him from doing something stupid like attacking the dragon. On the inside, Arthur was surprised that he wasn't as angry with the dragon over the secret, though he hadn't been the one the dragon was confiding in for months, either.

"It makes no difference," the dragon deadpanned, unfazed by the accusation in Merlin's voice. The servant opened his mouth to speak again, but the dragon cut him off immediately. "It is not why Arthur has magic."

Arthur breathed out and met Merlin's eyes. Over the past month while he stewed over what he learned of his father, Arthur blamed Uther for his actions that resulted in his birth. Magic was used to conceive him, so it made sense to him that the magic just never left him. An everlasting mark of his unnatural birth. But if that was not why he had this magic, then why did he have this curse?

"If it wasn't because of my birth, then why do I have magic?" Arthur finally asked as he forced himself to stare squarely into the dragon's eyes… Well, he was only able to look at one eye as the beast was far more massive than him, but Arthur did not cower as the dragon looked back at him.

And this was the part where the dragon would become confusing, Arthur knew. When he glanced at Merlin and the face that he was making, he knew that they weren't going to get a straight answer. That was one of Merlin's many complaints when they talked of magic and dragons in the weeks since Arthur woke up. The prince doubted that Merlin would have even taken him to meet the Great Dragon in the first place had Arthur not been agonizing over and over again over the details of his birth. That had been his purpose for coming down here: to find out the connection between his birth and his magic. Instead, there was nothing… according to the great manipulative lizard and his riddles.

"Your destiny and the young warlock's have been entwined long before your birth, and together the two of you would bring a golden age for magic and unite the land of Albion. Years ago, destiny was skewed and reforged like a broken sword in fire," the dragon answered with the sound echoing off the walls of the cave. "What was once prophesied was changed and may not come to pass in the ways once foreseen. It was a dark magic that changed your destiny, and yours too, young warlock." The dragon was speaking to them both now. "While you still remain the Once and Future King, Pendragon, you also possess the power to do great evil and to wreak destruction on the land. How you choose to build Albion is up to you, and you alone."

Arthur didn't feel evil. All he felt was a love towards his people, and he couldn't imagine one day hurting them because of a power he could not yet control. He looked at Merlin, and Arthur knew that he wasn't alone in this. "If I… change, what would become of Merlin?" His friend's power was far greater than his from what Arthur had seen in his dreams. He had the power to ravage Camelot until nothing remained but ash… if even that.

It was spoken with no malice and no sympathy. "If you go down that path, then he will be the one that will have to kill you."

From behind him, there was a single gasp, and Arthur's own mouth opened, but no sound came out. If he was honest with himself, there was some comfort in the knowledge that someone would be able to stop him should he turn evil, but it was not the ideal option, either.

The dragon then continued, "There are many futures that lay ahead of the two of you. Not all of them result in Albion's blooming. It is wrought with many paths, some darker than others. Either you will bring about Albion's prosperity or her destruction."

Arthur's heart pounded inside of his chest, and he shook his head. Why? Why would anyone do this to him, or to anyone? Why did the fate of the kingdom have to rest on his shoulders, anyway? "I will never turn against Camelot," Arthur vowed determinedly, and he always meant his word. If he had a choice, then he would choose the kingdom's prosperity immediately and without hesitation.

"For the sake of Albion, I hope that what you say is true." The dragon lifted its wings high above his neck. "Trust in each other. Keeping secrets from the other may be your undoing." His wings flapped, and the dragon flew out of sight, leaving the two boys alone on the dimly lit ledge.

Chapter Text

"Concentrate. Forbærnan."

At the sound of the spell, a small flame flickered to life in Merlin's hands. Arthur stared at it, hypnotized by its beauty and at the fear he felt at them possibly being caught, however unlikely it may be. The rest of the castle was asleep save for them, and they were sitting cross legged on the floor in front of each other.

Arthur stared down at his hands, which were callused from so many years of battle. "Forbearnan." To his dismay, not even a spark crept to life, and his hands remained empty and lifeless. He looked over at Merlin with frustration. "Are you sure that that is the right spell, or are you just trying to make me look like an idiot?"

Merlin's eyes flashed gold again, and a soft breeze blew through the room to put out the flame. "In my experience, you don't need any help to look like an idiot, my lord." He offered Arthur a cheeky smile. "Just keep practicing, Arthur. You'll eventually get it, and then you can heat up your own bath water."

Arthur swatted at him, but Merlin was already standing up. "Where are you going?" Arthur asked, affronted. It only felt like they just started.

"Gaius is sending me to pick herbs in the forest tomorrow, and I couldn't get out of it. I'll have George come to wake you." Arthur must have tensed up because Merlin then added, "Or I can send Gwen to wake you up first, and then George can handle your meals. Just be nice to Gwen, okay? Don't throw anything at her."

Arthur huffed at him. "What gives you the idea that I will throw anything at her?" He could trust Guinevere to be discreet, at least. She was one of the now three people who knew about Arthur's nightmares, so if he couldn't have Merlin come wake him in the morning, then he would take her. George may not be known for his castle gossip, but Arthur was uncomfortable with the idea of another servant knowing about his nightmares, especially now that he knew that magic was involved.

Merlin chuckled. "You're always throwing things at me," he protested.

"That's because you deserve it," Arthur shot back, not batting an eye. He picked himself off of the floor and traveled to the screen to undress. Maybe it would be a good idea for him to sleep with a shirt tonight… "Merlin?"

"Yes Sire?" came a muffled reply.

"Be careful tomorrow."

"Aren't I always, Sire?" He could practically hear the cheeky grin from behind the screen, but unfortunately he didn't have anything to throw at him from back here.

If Arthur had the power, he would have knighted the man himself. He wanted to overlook the First Code of Camelot for Lancelot because he had all of the makings of a great knight, but it would only be a matter of time before his father found out. Faking a seal of nobility was completely stupid despite what his idiot of a manservant seemed to think. How many times did he have to drill that into Merlin's brain before his servant shut up?

Well, there was nothing in the Knight's Code that forbade Arthur from sparring against Lancelot. At dawn the two would meet, long before any of the other knights came to the training field. Even Merlin didn't complain (much), probably because he knew that this was the closest that his new friend would come to being a knight. Often Merlin came from the antechambers to wake Arthur if he wasn't awake already, and Arthur would be dressed quickly before he went to join Lancelot.

When the knights came, the should-be-knight went back to sweeping the stables. As far as anyone knew, he was just another new servant, and his face was quickly forgotten. He stayed with Merlin and Gaius in their chambers since he had saved Merlin's life from the creature, though often Merlin would offer his own bed and sleep in the antechambers to Arthur's room. It was becoming more common now for Merlin to not return to his own chambers at night as Arthur's nightmares intensified. Merlin was trying to find a way to stop the nightmares, but nothing was working. It was a wonder that no one had yet noticed how tired Arthur was in the mornings or how restless he was during patrols. There was a reason why he always volunteered to take first watch, and there were very few that he would trust with second.

And yet, as Arthur beat his sword against Lancelot's, he wondered if the man suspected. He seemed brighter than many of the recruits he had to train, and he could use a man like Lancelot in Camelot's ranks. He didn't question Merlin when he crept back late at night after dealing with one of Arthur's episodes, or so he claimed. He didn't confront Merlin, and, even if he was getting the wrong idea, Arthur knew that Lancelot wasn't going to tell his father.

Now, if only he would stop spending so much time with Guinevere.

Arthur didn't know why that bothered him at first, and he probably wouldn't have found out if it hadn't been for Merlin's irritating prattle. While Merlin leaned against the wall and got paid for watching a cloth magically clean the floors because he was too lazy to do it himself, he mentioned that Lancelot spoke of Gwen all of the time.

"It's not going to be long before he admits that he has feelings for her-"

"Stop, Merlin."

It was unfair of Arthur to be jealous. Nothing could ever happen between them whereas Lancelot and Guinevere were free to love each other as they pleased. Arthur hardly spent the same amount of time around the maidservant as Lancelot did, though often he found himself staring as she passed through the corridors with Morgana. Anyone who noticed probably thought that he was looking at Morgana, but the reality was that Arthur was pining after a serving girl. It hurt more than anyone could know.

But even with that, there was still something between them.

Sometimes if Morgana was unavailable, Arthur would talk to Gwen instead. She spent much of her time in the castle taking care of servant tasks, but she always took the time to listen. She was very patient with him and didn't laugh at his nightmares. If Arthur could have been friends with a servant, he would have been friends with her, but now he wondered if there was something more to it. He couldn't have feelings for a servant, what would his father say? Did Arthur even care about what his father had to say anymore?

Whatever the case, nothing could ever happen between them. If they got too close and the king found out, she would be the one to blame. Arthur's magic would be blamed on her, and she'd be sent to the pyre. It was bad enough having Merlin by his side, though the idiot would never leave even if it was the safest thing for him.

"Sire," Merlin hissed. Arthur stopped abruptly, almost earning a lash from Lancelot's sword. However, the man was too noble to hit Arthur while his guard was down, something he both respected and hated. If this was the battlefield, the enemy wouldn't hesitate to cut you down.

"Back to the stables, Lancelot," Arthur mumbled, sticking his sword into the dirt. Thankfully, the first one down to the training field was Sir Leon, who only watched Lancelot go with mild interest before waiting there in silence for the rest of the knights to arrive. Arthur felt Merlin's eyes behind him, and he knew what the servant was thinking. Lancelot should have been given the same training as the rest of the knights. The man deserved it.

Maybe when I'm king. When Arthur became king, it would be okay to knight commoners and to even be friends with them… and maybe, just maybe, it would be okay for him to love them, too.

He came so close to bumping her in the hall, and he nearly crushed the bouquet of wildflowers that she was holding.

"Are those for Morgana?" Arthur asked, not unkindly. Sometimes he envied Gwen and Morgana's friendship. His surrogate sister wasn't afraid to be friends with her servants, something that he could never admit to when it came to Merlin or Gwen.

"No, they are from, erm…" Gwen blushed and looked down, a smile blooming across her face like flowers during the spring. "Actually, they are from Lancelot. He gave them to me."

Arthur was smiling at her, but it didn't match his eyes. It was too forced, too… unhappy, though he pretended otherwise for her sake. "So he did," he answered dumbly. He couldn't think of any encouraging words for her, though he was trying desperately to think of something. "So you like them, then. Flowers." Of course she liked flowers. She was a girl - all girls liked flowers! How could Arthur forget the fact of the earth? Merlin was a girl, and he liked flowers. By that logic, Gwen would like flowers too (as if his manner of thinking made any sense).

She laughed freely. "Well, they are nice. I think that it's really sweet of him, actually." She seemed to be completely unaware of Arthur's reaction to the flowers. "And it's nice of you, too, to be training with him. He really appreciates it."

"Did Lancelot say that?" He hadn't bothered telling Morgana or Gwen about his daily sparring sessions with Lancelot, but it made sense that he told her. She had been the one to furnish a sword for him when he needed something to practice with.

"All of the time." She brushed her dark curls out of the way of her face so that she could look at Arthur better, and he found himself looking straight into her eyes and just looking into them… he realized that he wanted to make her happy like that, too. "Thank you, Arthur, for giving him a chance."

Not sire. Not my lord. No, she said his name, but she was walking down the hall before he could say something to her… not that he was going to. Arthur shook his head and walked in the opposite direction. He wasn't going to say anything at all.

It was shortly after Lancelot's arrival in Camelot that the reported sighting of the birdlike creature revealed that it was heading south towards Camelot. Gaius called it a griffin, a fearsome eagle with the body of a lion that had a taste for human flesh. Arthur griped to Merlin about Lancelot not being able to serve, but there was nothing that they could do.

Well, maybe if he let me use my magic… The prince claimed that they would have gotten caught, and Lancelot would have gotten into so much trouble for impersonating a noble. For the bravest knight in the land, Arthur certainly didn't know how to take any risks. The prat.

Merlin was on the scene when the griffin attacked Arthur's group of knights, watching from closeby in case he needed to protect Arthur. He knew that the swords would do nothing to the creature, but still the griffin flew away unscathed, and now Uther wanted to send the knights back after it. Under the cover of night. Without any magic. For a hypocritical king, Uther certainly picked the worst times to be hypocritical.

Now Merlin had to act in secret. He tried in vain to enchant Arthur's weapon before his men left to face the creature, and now he was still hopelessly working on enchanting the dagger.

"Bregdan anweald gafeluc!" Merlin screamed at the useless piece of steel. He tried standing in so many positions, and he said the spell with every inflection on the tongue, but nothing worked. The dagger remained as it was, just an ordinary blade.

"Bregdan anweald gafeluc!" This time he said it with more feeling, and… nothing happened. He groaned, feeling more and more panicked with each failure because this was Arthur's life on the line, never mind Camelot's.

He felt his mentor beside him. "Don't worry, Merlin," Gaius comforted with a hand on his ward's shoulder. "I know you're trying."

Merlin looked at the dagger as though expecting something to happen. Something had to happen. Arthur's life was depending on him once again. "And I'm failing," he cut in anxiously. "And if Arthur dies because I'm not good enough…"

Merlin never got the chance to finish because Gaius was hissing his name to shut him up. The door swung open, and Gwen ran into the room all out of breath. She looked to Gaius and Merlin. Her mouth formed shapeless words where there was no voice, but then she regained her speaking ability.

"Merlin," his friend panted. Terror shone across her face, nothing like what he was used to from his first friend. "Lancelot's running out to kill the griffin!"

Merlin's chest felt stone cold, and he looked at her dumbly. "He's what?" As Gwen shrugged at him helplessly, he jumped to his feet and sprinted out of the chambers, leaving the dagger behind on the floor.

"You did it, Lancelot," Merlin whispered to his friend behind the door. On the opposite side of it, Arthur was arguing with his father about knighting Lancelot in thanks for him saving his life. The prince probably knew that it was Merlin's spell that made Lancelot's spear glow the fiery blue, but they hadn't discussed it yet. "You killed it."

Lancelot frowned as he examined the Pendragon furnishings on the walls. As he looked at the bold golden dragon, he answered back, "But I didn't kill the griffin. You did."

Merlin's eyes widened, and he looked around to see if anyone had overheard. Thankfully, they were standing far enough away from the guards, who barely spared them a second glance.

He tried to laugh it off, but it was a hollow laugh. There was no humor in it, nothing to show that he found it funny. "That's ridiculous." I didn't carry the spear. I didn't ride the horse. I didn't wear the armor of a knight.

"Bregdan anweald," the should-be-knight repeated, to Merlin's astonishment. "I heard you. I saw you." Merlin's heart pounded harder. He could hardly breathe. This was it, he was going to be turned in for magic. He was ready to plead for his life, but then Lancelot continued, smiling this time. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me."

He looked like he was going to continue, but Merlin stopped him, all the while letting out a breath of relief. "Arthur knows, too."

Lancelot paused, looking to the door again. "If he knows, then why is he arguing with his father now? I cannot take the credit for something that I didn't do."

"And I can't take the credit, either. Uther would only have me killed." Merlin was stunned. He didn't know Lancelot for that long, but he considered the man to be his friend. He wanted Lancelot to become a knight, and he knew that his friend wanted that too. Even Arthur wanted it, and now they had an opportunity to give Lancelot the shot that he deserved. They couldn't waste it. Lancelot couldn't throw away this chance!

Lancelot looked uncomfortable now, as though the armor that Gwen had been making for him was weighing him down now. "But it's a lie," he tried again. "It's against everything the knights stand for."

"You're already going to be lying about me, right?" Merlin took Lancelot's silence as an answer. "Through that door, Arthur and the king are arguing about you. Don't throw this chance away, Lancelot. You have as much right to be a knight as any man. I know it."

The would-be-knight hesitated. "I don't like this, Merlin."

The warlock sighed exasperatedly. It was hard sometimes to not take credit for the things that he did, but it wasn't why he did them. Camelot was his home, and Arthur was his friend. If he couldn't take the credit for his actions because he used magic, then he would gladly offer credit to someone else. Usually it went to Arthur, but today, it would go to Lancelot.

"You don't have to pretend with everyone. Arthur knows the truth, and he wouldn't treat you differently for knowing. If he was king, he would have you knighted in a heartbeat, noble or not." When Merlin inevitably explained things to Arthur later, he would make sure that the prince knew of Lancelot's bravery, whether he was actually the one to kill the griffin or was only the man to wield the magical spear.

"I don't want to lie to Guinevere." And there it was. The needle in the haystack. Merlin looked at Lancelot then, and he understood. Lancelot wanted to prove himself to her more than he wanted to prove himself to everyone else. He wouldn't get that chance by just sweeping out the stables every day. He needed something better.

The words that came from his lips were not his own. "Then tell her the truth if you want. I trust her." And, in all honesty, Merlin did. Gwen was the first friend that he made in Camelot. If she turned him in to Uther, then she wasn't the friend that he thought she was, but she wouldn't do that. Even if she was scared, she wouldn't sit and watch Merlin die.

Lancelot looked reluctant, but then the set of ornate doors opened, and the guards beckoned Lancelot inside so that the king and the prince could decide his fate.

There was no feast to accompany Lancelot's knighthood. It seemed that Uther was very against the idea of it happening at all, but Arthur was stubborn to the last and wouldn't settle for anything less. The ceremony itself was a very private matter, and the king tersely knighted the man before calling for the hall to be emptied. All of the lords and ladies went home, and the mutterings were great with astonishment that a mere commoner was now being knighted. Even if he did save the prince's life.

The real celebrations took place in Gwen's house down in the Lower Town. Arthur smuggled some of his father's finest wine from its stores (it wouldn't be missed for a long time), and he escorted his servant and the Court Physician past the guards of the citadel, who didn't ask him where he was going or why he was carrying wine. They weren't paid enough to do that.

When Arthur got there, he saw that there were very few in attendance for this. Gwen was there, of course, and she was smiling shyly at Lancelot from across the table. Beside her was Morgana, who was smirking at Arthur playfully (which he chose to ignore). Of all of his knights, only one made attendance, though Sir Leon was looking mildly uncomfortable until Arthur showed up.

When they toasted Sir Lancelot's new knighthood, Merlin's smile was the brightest of them all, even trumping Gwen's.

Arthur didn't expect to see Gaius drinking, but, to the physician's credit, he laughed at Merlin's awful jokes since his servant had gotten inebriated off of a single drink. No wonder Arthur never took Merlin to the tavern. He was awful at holding his mead, but thank the gods he wasn't spouting every secret he knew to the rest of the company here. Lancelot was also drinking his fair share, though he was doing a better job at holding it in than Merlin was. Even Leon tentatively poured himself a drink after watching the rest of their fun, and soon Morgana was downing her own glass of wine.

Gwen wasn't drinking, though. She didn't seem bothered by her intoxicated friends, but the glass of wine that Arthur had poured for her remained untouched. She was watching Merlin silently, and it didn't take much for Arthur to put things together. Somehow, she knew about Merlin, but she was taking it better than he would have thought.

"He's probably not capable of hurting any of us, mostly because he's a huge idiot," Arthur said to her, startling Gwen. He was getting tipsy, but he still had enough of his senses to reassure her. He doubted that there was anything that would make him lose sense while he was around Gwen, except for her incomparable beauty (gods, did he really just think that?).

Gwen looked at him, her eyes wide. "Are you saying that you know?" she asked him carefully. Her carefulness was understandable, of course.

Arthur nodded, briefly glancing at Merlin, who was laughing wildly at Lancelot's joke. "I always have. I've seen it." Not only has he seen it first hand, but he's seen it in his dreams. Arthur felt the sudden urge to come clean to Guinevere as well, to tell her that the dreams he had been having since he was a boy were caused by magic. He wanted to tell her everything and bare his heart in a way he had only dared with Merlin.

But Arthur couldn't. He knew that he couldn't because he was a prince, and she was just a servant. Nothing could ever happen between the two of them, no matter how badly he wanted to be with her. She most likely didn't feel the same for him, anyway.

"I've always been taught to fear… it." She wisely refrained from saying the tabooed word. "But he's also… Merlin. He saved my life when I was accused of being a witch." She laughed forcefully, and Arthur could tell that they were remembering the same thing. "The guards said that he was in love with me and tried to throw himself onto the pyre in my stead."

Arthur knew very well that Merlin didn't have feelings for Gwen. If he did, he'd be hanging from Arthur's windows by his ankles by now if Arthur had say over it. "And I stopped him, if you recall. He was being an idiot. My father was going to have him killed." Arthur's smile faded. Every day it became harder to refer to that man as his father.

Gwen laughed airily, but it was too quiet to attract the attention of their friends. "You will be a great king someday, Arthur. A greater king than your father could ever hope to be." She was referring to how willing he was to spare Merlin, but there was more to it, and Arthur's face broke out into a more playful smile.

"Isn't that what you said when I was poisoned?" he teased. "You never lost faith."

Was it just him, or was she blushing? Gwen was certainly bowing her head, clearly too embarrassed to look at Arthur. "I was just talking," she mumbled.

Arthur's mind had been in a haze for most of it, but he remembered some things, like the things Gaius and his father talked about, and Gwen tending to his fever, and waking up to magic being used on him. Gwen had muttered something to him while Gaius searched for a cure. He heard her. "Tell me again what you said?" he egged on. Arthur really did want to know if Gwen would admit to it.

"I don't remember," was her answer. Her voice was still just as quiet as she crossed her arms in front of her. There was no place to escape to since this was her house, but now she was looking around as if looking for one.

"Yes you do," Arthur pestered, still grinning with amusement. "Come on, something about "the man that I am inside?""

"No, I never said that," Gwen squeaked. She rose to her feet, gathering her skirts in her hands. "I need to see to Lady Morgana and make sure she gets back to the castle safely."

"Guinevere…" Never mind that it was a viable excuse. It was still just an excuse for her to leave.

"Sire," she said to him, curtseying, even. She moved to the rest of the group, and Arthur could see her talking to Morgana in an effort to keep up with appearances. However, she seemed to give up too quickly, and now Gwen was sitting beside Morgana. For the rest of the night, she didn't even look at Arthur.

Maybe there was hope for him after all.

Arthur opened the doors slowly. His head pounded with a headache, but he knew that Gaius made a foul-tasting remedy for hangovers. The prince would much prefer drinking this than suffering a headache for the rest of the day.

"Gaius? Merlin?" No answer. Gaius was probably out doing his rounds, and Merlin was doing…. Merlin things. He walked in, figuring that the bottles were labeled. Surely pocketing one wouldn't hurt. Everything was a cluttered mess (Merlin's fault), but there were a few potions on the table. He recognized the boggish color of one of them and walked towards it when he stepped on something.

Arthur looked down, and there was a dagger on the floor. It was very plain and very worn, certainly not his. What was it doing on the floor? He picked it up… and then dropped it again when it was enveloped by a blue flame.

Chapter Text

When Arthur regained his bearings, he approached the fallen dagger again. The blue flames dissipated, and it went back to being a normal dagger once more. Still, the prince was afraid to touch it. For all of Merlin's and the dragon's talk, he hadn't really seen much of his own magic after initially waking up from being poisoned. He had tried, and Merlin had tried to teach him, but the lessons had poor results. He couldn't even light a candle properly.

Arthur took a piece of cloth that was lying in the clutter on Gaius's workbench and used it to pick up the dagger. It was remarkably cool to the touch, even through the rough fabric that would have offered little protection if the dagger had indeed been warm. At least it wasn't alight with fire again. He wondered what he should do with it - what if one of his father's men came in here and found the dagger and arrested Gaius or Merlin for sorcery?

Arthur grimaced through his hangover-induced headache before he left the physician's chambers. There was one place where he could take this dagger where it would catch no one's suspicion, but first he would need to pay a visit to his chambers, and hopefully Merlin hadn't made a mess of it again and called it "spring cleaning." Arthur has had enough of that excuse to last him for at least three lifetimes.

Arthur wondered what Merlin's excuse for the dagger was going to be. He would probably claim that it was for something really important, which, in fairness, it probably was. Arthur had seen the blue flames around newly knighted Sir Lancelot's spear when they faced the griffon, and while he and Merlin hadn't talked yet, they were certainly going to. He doubted that Lancelot was a sorcerer… Well, Lancelot could have magic and Arthur didn't know it, but he didn't really seem like the sorcerer type. Not that Merlin looked like a sorcerer to anyone who didn't know about his secret, and not that Arthur was an expert on what the sorcerer type looked like…

Maybe he was wrong, and Lancelot really was a sorcerer. It wouldn't be the first time that he trusted someone who had magic.

Whatever the case, Arthur would like to get to the bottom of this mess, and he needed to ask about the dagger. He was pretty sure that most daggers didn't magically catch on fire when unwitting princes picked them up off of the floor where they had been haphazardly discarded. He was also going to have a serious conversation with Merlin about leaving a mess everywhere as well. He certainly shouldn't leave unsheathed weapons lying around. Knowing how clumsy the warlock was, Merlin would probably meet his untimely end to a misplaced sword because he couldn't clean up after himself properly.

Merlin couldn't be blamed for laying in Arthur's bed while the prince's armor polished itself. He had to admit that it was a very comfortable bed. No wonder Arthur never wanted to wake up in the morning. He leaned back into the pillows propped up against the headboard and resumed his studies of his spellbook. He wondered if there were any spells that could turn Arthur into a toad so that he had something to threaten him with the next time that Arthur annoyed him - which happened quite often.

The door opened, and Merlin startled. The sword and armor clattered to the ground so loudly that surely the entire castle would have heard, though instead of a sword being pointed towards him, he got a disapproving look from Arthur.

"Really? Is this what I've been paying you to do all of this time? Can't you be bothered to do it yourself?"

Merlin snorted and kicked one foot on top of the other, making himself even more comfortable. "You have never had a problem with the way I clean your things before," he pointed out.

Arthur rolled his eyes at him and tried to conceal amusement that was plain as day to him. "Merlin, I have always had a problem with your work ethic. This just proves how lazy you are."

"I'm not as lazy as you." Merlin felt the corners of his mouth upturn into a grin. Nothing felt better than bantering with Arthur, and now that Arthur knew about his magic, it just made things so much easier. Sooner or later, he would have to tell Gaius that Arthur knew about him, but he wasn't going to do that just yet. He needed to come up with an excuse about why Arthur knew about him that wasn't 'Oh by the way Arthur has magic too.'"

"I am not the one sleeping in bed, which, by the way, that's my bed. Get out of it." Merlin watched Arthur set something wrapped in cloth down on the table, and then the prince was leaping forward and tackling the servant to pull him out of bed. Merlin held onto the bed sheets for dear life, but unfortunately they were not fastened to the bed and slid off easily. All right, perhaps Arthur had a point when he said that Merlin was awful at making beds, but Merlin wasn't going to admit to aloud.

They were both on the floor with Merlin swamped in blankets that were really really soft (why couldn't he get sheets like these? This wasn't fair!), and Arthur wasn't buried by the blanket mound but his hand was wrapped around Merlin's ankle. Soon enough the prince let go, and Merlin ended up laughing at the expression on Arthur's face, and then Arthur was laughing, and they were both laughing at something that Merlin couldn't remember the reason for if not for the blankety mess that was everywhere.

Arthur then looked at whatever he had set on the table, and then he sobered. He shoved Merlin down before he could get up and used the momentum to stand up himself, and he approached the table. Merlin watched as his prince unraveled the cloth from a dagger. Wasn't that the same dagger that Gaius used to prepare his potions? Merlin had tried enchanting it, though it did not work as well as he would have liked.

"What is that for?" Merlin asked dumbly, and since Arthur wasn't there to hold him back, he proceeded to free himself from his blanket prison.

Arthur sighed and kept the cloth wrapped around the handle so that he couldn't touch it. "I was hoping that you could tell me. I found this in Gaius's chambers. Don't tell me that you were using magic in there." At Merlin's silence, he then snapped, "Merlin!"

"I'm sorry!" Merlin had been able to free one hand to raise in surrender, and he worked on untwisting his other hand from its clothy confines. "Gaius said that magic was the only way to stop the griffin."

"And you mean to tell me that the griffin was in your chambers?"

Merlin had gotten himself free finally, and he punched Arthur. Unfortunately it was a weak punch and didn't even faze Arthur, who just looked at him with that disturbed look that he sometimes got whenever he was too confused at whatever Merlin said or did.

"I had to practice the spell to kill the griffin on something. Why does it matter? The griffin is dead." Officially Lancelot had been the one to kill the griffin, and King Uther had begrudgingly knighted the man (like he deserved). Merlin had assumed that Arthur would have figured that part out on his own, but maybe he was overestimating Arthur's thinking capabilities. Well, he didn't want him to hurt himself. Perhaps he should explain, but explain slow enough so that Arthur could understand. "I killed the griffin, remember."

Arthur rolled his eyes at him. "Then explain this." Merlin watched the cloth sink to the floor, but his attention was immediately drawn back to Arthur's hand. The blade started glowing blue, but Arthur frowned at it expectantly. "Last time it caught on fire."

"Let me see that." Ignoring Arthur's protests about how he was the one who gave orders around here and not Merlin, Merlin snatched the weapon back from Arthur. He felt the vibrations of power in the blade, but it did not so much as flicker with light. "It's probably worn off, whatever it was," Merlin explained with a small frown. He couldn't get the dagger to catch fire when he was spending hours practicing the spell, and it took him several times before Lancelot's spear caught fire. How…

"It's magic, Merlin. Did I do something to this?"

Merlin felt the last traces of magic fade away from the dagger, and he shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. The spell wouldn't work for me."

Arthur's reaction was to be expected. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration and whirled around away from him. "Of course it didn't," Merlin heard the words muttered under the prince's breath.

"What do you want me to say? I know just as much as you do."

Arthur let go of his face and looked at Merlin. Just looked at him. Oh no. Merlin knew that look. That was the look of Arthur thinking, and that usually meant that he was thinking up of something stupid. Most of the plans that Arthur came up with were stupid, so Merlin had every right to fear them.

"What are you thinking of?" he asked cautiously. Merlin received no response, and instead he watched Arthur march over to the unorganized pile of keys hanging close to his bed. Merlin knew what each key was for and expressed surprise at the one that Arthur chose. "The Vaults? What are you going down there for?"

"The Vaults…" Ah! So Arthur speaks! "Is where my father stores all of the magical artifacts that he didn't destroy. Maybe there are some books down there that I can use." Merlin didn't understand what Arthur wanted to figure out. The blade caught on fire, so what? It did the same for Lancelot after Merlin caught the spell, at the cost of his secret. Afterwards, he and Lancelot went to tell Gwen what happened, too, so that there would be no secrets kept between Lancelot and Gwen.

Merlin swallowed down his misgivings. He had already known that he wasn't going to like the idea. "Then I'm coming with you," he said warily, but he straightened out his back and did his best to not look cowed. Whatever Arthur was looking for, they would do it together.

That was why he was surprised when Arthur shook his head. "No, I need to do this on my own. It is one thing for me to be down there, but my father would get suspicious if I bring you along. If I find anything, I'll tell you, but I'm ordering to take the rest of the day off. Go help Guinevere with what she needs doing, or see if Gaius needs anything." The unspoken 'I'll see you tonight' passed between them like a chilling breeze, and it had the effect of it as his shoulders shuddered at the thought. Arthur's nightmares had not exactly gotten better after the poisoning, and in some ways, they had only gotten worse.

Merlin was ready to argue, though he could see the logical part of what Arthur was saying. Uther was more likely to take Arthur's excuses if he went in there alone. It wasn't as though Arthur could take any knights with him… well, any knights that King Uther would approve of. Lancelot could be trusted, but Uther was clearly unhappy with being forced to knight the man even if he deserved it, all because Lancelot hadn't been born a noble. However, some of the best people Merlin knew weren't born noble, and he could hear his best friend from home's rants on the subject. It brought a small smile to his face.

"Be careful, then, and remember what the dragon said. No secrets." And yet every night there were things that Arthur kept from him, details that disturbed Arthur so but he refused to tell Merlin. It frustrated Merlin so much because Arthur should trust him with these things. They were the same. They both had magic, and Merlin wouldn't judge him for the visions. Why couldn't Arthur take the hint that Merlin wouldn't laugh at whatever he saw?

Arthur snorted dryly. "Fine, I will make sure to tell you everything until your ears fall off because I mean it when I say that I will tell you everything. Lock the door when you leave."

The prince then marched out of his chambers, and Merlin made to clean up the chambers. Yes Arthur had given him a "day off," but he knew Arthur's temper. He would be in such a foul mood if he returned to messy chambers…

Arthur looked at the guards standing at the Vaults and held up the key ring. "I need to do an inventory check for the king. There are reports of a sorcerer in the area, and he might try to break into the Vaults." The last part was not a lie, actually. There were several reports of a renegade sorcerer who would not stop until King Uther was dead by the name of Tauren, so if word made it back to his father, Arthur could use the same excuse.

Luckily the guards did not try to talk back, and they moved out of the way. Those were the perks of being the king's son. He could have almost anyone arrested if he wanted to, and he could go virtually anywhere without being questioned. After all, who would suspect the prince of Camelot of treason? If anyone were to accuse it of him, then they would be the ones arrested.

He was a master of staying calm and collected, so Arthur kept his composure as he turned the key to the Vaults. He made sure to shut the door behind him, but he did not lock it in case he needed to leave quickly. One of the guards had been kind enough to pass him the torch off the wall as he was let in, so he used it to be able to see.

Arthur longed to be able to look over the various texts, but then that would be suspicious. He flipped through a few books, and if his eyes lingered over a few phrases, he was sure that the guards would keep their mouths shut if they valued their jobs.

There was nothing in the books, nothing about blue fires or magic activating under his touch. Merlin was probably right in thinking that this was a waste of time, though Arthur wasn't going to admit it. He had to find something, or else what was the point of coming down here in the first place? Maybe there was something in the books, or maybe there was an artifact that had some important clues, or something.

He passed by a small box with a broken part of a spiral with mild interest before he moved to a different part of the room. With his inventory excuse, there was no reason for him to rush, though everything he was writing onto his parchment were notes for him. If his father asked for a copy, he might have a slight problem. At least Arthur was the one who had to deal with all of the paperwork while his father sat on the throne listening to everyone's grievances and doing nothing about them.

Arthur would be lying if he said that he couldn't wait to be king. That would be a lot of weight on his shoulders, even if he wouldn't be alone. When he was king, he knew that he would have Merlin's guidance, and perhaps by his other side he would have a queen every bit as good and as kind and as beautiful as Guinevere (not that such a thing was possible but he could dream about good things, too).

There was something wrapped in cloth, and Arthur reached out to pull back the cloth. The firelight reflected on its surface, and, against his better judgement, he reached out to touch it…

Nothing happened, but there was a pull on his soul that made the prince feel uneasy. He let go of the Crystal, feeling the unease of something wrong about this place. He knew little about the Crystal of Neahtid, but his father spoke of how many sorcerers died to protect this stone, and the man didn't know what it was capable of.

Unfortunately, Arthur was just as clueless regarding magic as his father was, and he didn't know what the stone could do, either. However, there was that feeling that he couldn't leave the crystal here. With a glance towards the door, he slipped the crystal under his jacket. He did his best to conceal the bulge with his arm, and as much as he longed to make a hasty retreat, he could not do so without making the guards suspicious.

"I am sorry about the intrusion," he said politely as he walked out of the Vaults. It was very awkward trying to lock the door behind him when he was trying to hide a crystal under his clothes, but Arthur still managed to do it in no time at all. Maybe Merlin would be proud of him when he told him of his lying skills. Arthur did not like the lying, but he was going to have to get used to it if he wanted to keep his crown and Merlin's head on his shoulders.

"Do you know what this is?" Arthur asked quietly as he set the crystal down on the table. Merlin reached out to touch the crystal, but then he yanked his hand away from it as though it had been burned. Arthur's eyes widened with concern, and by the gods he hoped that his friend wasn't hurt. Maybe the crystal was dangerous after all, and it should have stayed in the Vaults where he had found it. "Merlin!" he hissed in his panic, but the boy didn't appear to be hurt.

He watched with trepidation as Merlin, like an idiot, reached out to touch the thing that had just tried to attack him moments ago. Merlin's pale fingers twitched as if to pull away from the crystal again, but Merlin was staring intently into the crystal's surface for several moments, before he let go with another gasp.

"Merlin!" Arthur said again, and he couldn't be bothered if he called out too loud for the late night. No one barged inside, so at least there wasn't a passing patrol of guards who might have otherwise heard.

"I saw a woman in the crystal." Merlin looked a little ill, and he wrapped the crystal in cloth while making sure that he didn't touch it with his bare fingers. "She was speaking to someone, but I couldn't hear what she was saying."

Arthur couldn't think of anyone that Merlin might be talking about. "A woman? Who?"

The servant shrugged at him in answer. "I'm not sure, but…" Merlin was staring off into the distance, and Arthur wished that he could read minds so he could tell what Merlin was thinking. "She looked familiar, somehow."

"What do you mean by that?" The first women to come to mind for Arthur were Morgana and Guinevere, but Merlin would have said if it was one of them.

"I'm not sure. She just… did." Merlin procured the crystal back towards Arthur, but Arthur shook his head. "Hide it. Did you finish loosening that floorboard in the antechamber?" Merlin nodded at him in answer. "Hide it there. My father may not notice that it's gone for a while, but I do not want to tip anything off to him."

Here they were, prince and sorcerer, breaking the laws of Camelot by having magic. However, that idea wasn't as unappealing as it once may have sounded to him.

Chapter Text

She was holding him beneath the water. He tried in vain to swim back up, but she was too strong. Why was she too strong? She was just a girl. Oh, right, she had magic. Wait, he had magic too. Foolishly Arthur opened his mouth to utter a spell to throw her right off of him, and the enchanted lake water flooded into his mouth. His vision blurred, but he never stopped struggling. If magic wouldn't beat her, then his might would. Nothing worked. He couldn't breathe, everything was getting darker… darker…

Arthur's eyes shot open. It was not yet light enough outside for Arthur to be able to see around the room, even if he had the curtains drawn back. He reached for his throat, but it no longer felt like he was drowning. He could breathe, and breathe he did. He took several unsteady breaths before he called out, "Merlin?"

He waited. Merlin always came when he called, the one reassurance he had that things were all right. In the beginning he didn't want anything to do with Merlin, but now he sought the servant's words of comfort because it meant that Arthur wasn't being lied to. His patience was rewarded, and the doors gently crept open. Merlin was still in his off-white sleep shirt, though he had his boots and jacket to keep him warm in the fireless room.

Merlin's face was a facade of calmness as he approached the bed and sat on the chair conveniently set up next to it. "Arthur," Merlin said patiently, and, although Arthur would never admit to it, he was impressed by Merlin's ability to deal with him while he was like this. A part of him still balked at his vulnerability (what future king was still scared of nightmares), yet all of this felt right. If Arthur had to be vulnerable around someone, he'd rather that it be Merlin because, despite their constant day-time banter, Merlin never teased him about this. He never treated Arthur like he was some invalid for the things that were wrong with him.

His breathing calmed, and his stomach settled. He looked at the servant helplessly before shuttering his heap of emotions behind a stony expression. Merlin didn't say another word to him, and, clasping Arthur's shoulder one last time, he crept back towards the door. He left through the main door, where he would sneak down the halls to go back to his real bed before Gaius noticed. It was a wonder how Gaius hadn't noticed yet, or, if he did, why didn't he confront Merlin about it. Usually Arthur didn't think about it, though, because his mind was thinking about other things.

This was the first time he had seen this girl in his dreams, but it felt so real. It was real, or, at least, it was going to be. He couldn't tell how far into his future this would be. There were still some dreams of Arthur's that hadn't come to pass, thankfully, and likely wouldn't for a long time.

Before the prince knew that he had magic, he had thought of himself to be cursed, that there was someone haunting him and taunting him by showing him these things. Of course he now knew that what he saw each night was indeed the truth. That was what made these nightmares even more terrifying.

The dream didn't come to pass until two days later, when he almost forgot about it. Almost. Until he saw her in the woods. From a smiling figure who helped a damsel in distress to a shell-shocked boy he turned when she lowered her hood. Light brown curls rippled down her back, and she was smiling at him. He let go of her arm and stumbled back, trying to process what he was seeing.

It was her, the girl who tried to kill him in his dream.

"No… thanks to you," she answered his question with his smile. He let out a small gasp and stepped backward once again. The woman seemed unperturbed. "I'm Sophia. This is my father." The old man behind her inclined his head and seemed to be putting all of his weight on the jeweled staff. Nothing appeared wrong with them. The two had the appearance of a pair of visiting nobles, but Arthur knew what he had seen.

He felt Merlin come up from behind him after his friend finished yelling at the retreating bandits. Arthur would have made fun of him for his ridiculous taunting, but he was speechless. Just… speechless. The woman… He looked at Merlin with wide eyes, but he was looking at Sophia in the same idiotic way he did with any pretty woman. Didn't Ealdor just not have any girls except for Merlin or something?

Arthur coughed when he realized that silence wouldn't get him anywhere. He'd fill Merlin in later, but he didn't dare do anything while Sophia was in earshot. She could be dangerous to a pair of untrained sorcerers, even with Merlin's incredible power. If she was able to hold him under the water for as long as she did in the dream, what else was she capable of?

"Arthur Pendragon…" He did not take her hand and kiss it like he would with any fair maiden he just rescued. "At your service."

"Make sure you put her in a decent room." Arthur's voice was reluctant and far away. He was staring at the wall, finding it impossible to not think about Sophia. He wasn't attracted to her, even if she was beautiful. How could he be attracted to someone who was going to kill him? How could he be attracted to someone who wasn't…

He stopped himself before he continued with his treasonous thoughts.

"The one next door's empty." Merlin was smiling. Of course the idiot was smiling. Arthur had probably never seen Merlin when he wasn't smiling before, which always grated on his nerves but now made him even more nervous… Not nervous. Arthur wasn't scared of death. He's never been afraid to die in service to the kingdom.

"No!" Arthur responded violently, startling his servant when he whipped around to look him in the face. "Put her as far from me as you can."

Merlin's eyes were wide before he started laughing nervously. "I'm sure that your intentions toward her are honorable. You aren't fooling me, Sire."

Arthur frowned, and oh so badly he wanted to keep it to himself. He always kept his dreams from Merlin, even if it drove his servant insane with worry. Then he sighed. He would trust Merlin, at least with this. "I saw her in my dream two nights ago. She was going to kill me."

Of course that was the thing to wipe Merlin's self-satisfied smirk off of his face. The servant gasped and nearly dropped the jug in his hands. "Are… Are you sure, Arthur?" Perhaps Merlin was shocked that Arthur was actually talking to him about his dreams.

"I could never forget that face." Soldiers on the battlefield were predictable, but there was something about what should have been a helpless girl drowning him that sounded so nonideal. Arthur hated the feeling of being helpless, and, in that dream, that was all what he was. "She can't stay in Camelot, but my father won't see sense."

"Hmm." Merlin appeared to be deep in thought. Before he hurt himself by thinking too much, he came up with a solution. "I could follow them around and find out what she is up to?" A very undesirable solution, might Arthur add.

"No." He didn't care how harsh his voice came out. "It's too dangerous, even for you."

And then Merlin was looking him in the eyes again, filled with such determination and loyalty that only Merlin could possess. "I'll be careful. I promise."

And somehow, despite Arthur's misgivings and overall distrust in Merlin when it came to his own safety, he couldn't find the words to forbid Merlin from seeing her because his servant was already marching out the door, eager to do anything that would save Arthur's life. Probably what stopped Arthur was knowing that even if he said something, Merlin would have done it anyway.

Merlin didn't need a pick to open the lock. When he was alone in the hall, he used magic on the door before he entered Aulfric and Sophia's room. They carried nothing with them when he and Arthur encountered the pair in the woods, nothing except those staffs. The secret had to be in one of the staves, then, though he didn't know how he was going to get his hands on them.

He saw his chance, however, when Aulfric left his room earlier without the staff. Merlin only needed to look at it enough so that he could look in Gaius's books later and report his findings to Arthur. Sure enough, it was leaning against the wall by the window. Merlin approached it carefully and took in as many details as he could. He didn't recognize the wood in the staff immediately, nor did he recognize the glasslike blue stone set in its center. He could tell that it was old. Very old.

He stared into his own reflection, noticing how cloudy the stone was. Then another's reflection was shown on its surface, and he turned around to find Aulfric looming over him with blood red eyes.

"Can I help you, boy?" the man bellowed, snatching the staff from Merlin's hands. His eyes returned to their natural color, and Merlin considered that it had been a trick of the light, then he dismissed that thought.

His mouth hung agape, but he was always terrible with lying, especially when it came to lying on the spot. He always got so nervous, so it was a wonder that there were few people that knew of his magic. "Sorry, I was, erm…" He scratched the back of his neck and panicked when Aulfric raised his staff. "Wait, please! My master… He wanted me to… check on both of you."

Aulfric didn't seem at all convinced and grabbed Merlin by the collar of his shirt. Surely he wasn't human from the strength the elderly lord possessed now. "Your master is the prince, is he not?" When Merlin gulped, Aulfric's grip slackened but not enough to allow Merlin to escape. "It's alright. I believe you."

Merlin didn't believe him for a second, and his eyes widened hopelessly. "Ar-" Aulfric's fist connected to his windpipe, cutting off his voice.

"Don't talk. Now you're going to wait with me for my daughter to come. To check on her."

Merlin did not like the sound of that, and frankly he should have used magic to escape. He wouldn't need his voice to use it, but then, as if on cue, the door opened. Perhaps Aulfric had called to Sophia with his mind, if that was even possible, and she came inside, looking very agitated. Merlin felt some triumph at the idea that Arthur was continuing to refute her advances. It was a very short-lived victory because she exchanged a look with her father; a silent conversation that only they could hear.

Merlin's heart continued pounding, and he tried to break free from Aulfric. However, before he even had the chance to use magic to throw the powerful magical beings away from him, Sophia was taking his chin into her hands.

"Well, if I cannot lure Arthur to Avalon myself," she purred like a feral cat, forcing Merlin to look into her striking eyes, "perhaps he'll come for you, instead."

The last thing Merlin saw was her eyes turning red.

When Merlin did not return, Arthur started to grow anxious. He began to pace the room, and every sudden sound from the courtyard below, from gusts of wind to a guard bellowing orders, would turn his insides to lead. More than once Arthur would think that he saw Sophia making off with his manservant's cold dead body, but instead it was a farmer carrying his grain through the gates.

When Merlin still did not return, and it was growing dark, Arthur grew worried. He looked around his chambers for his sword, and he took the weapon, testing its balance. He did not know who Lady Sophia really was, but it hardly mattered when he was going to kill her. If she so much as laid one finger on Merlin, he would make her wish that she had never been born.

By some miracle, the doors opened, and in walked his very late manservant with Arthur's supper. Merlin looked flustered, but he was grinning from ear to ear as he set the food down onto Arthur's desk. He didn't even pay attention to Arthur's questioning looks or his swords - it was as though Merlin had no cares in the world except for whatever had him smiling.

"Sorry that I'm late, Sire," Merlin replied respectfully, and Arthur instantly grew suspicious. He wouldn't draw his weapon on his friend, but something was clearly going on. His behavior was off, and Arthur watched him carefully.

"What did you learn about Lord Aulfric and Lady Sophia?" he asked evenly as he reached for his wine glass.

Merlin's smile turned to one of adoration. "Well, you'll be pleased to know that your fears are unfounded," he said in his own bumbling idiot way. "I found no evidence that the Lady Sophia means you any harm."

Arthur blinked at him. Merlin never dismissed his concerns so callously, and he wouldn't have given up on finding any evidence proving Sophia's guilt when it was Arthur's life on the line. The prince set the wine back down onto the table, untouched. He no longer had the desire to drink anything, or to eat, for that matter. Merlin rolled his eyes but said nothing else.

"Perhaps she or her father are hiding it, and, because you are an idiot, you found nothing. What about their staffs? Surely they don't carry those around all of the time." Arthur pressed two fingers to the bridge of his nose. Honestly, did he have to do all of the thinking for the two of them? Sometimes, on occasion, Merlin might come out with something that was almost wise, and now he was acting like the stupid idiot that Arthur already knew him to be.

"And stop smiling," he ordered at once when Merlin still continued grinning. Merlin had returned to collect the still full goblet, but even underneath that flash of frustration when Arthur hadn't touched the wine, he was still grinning like an idiot.

"Sorry, sire," Merlin said cheerfully for someone who was trying to absolve another person of her guilt. "I'm just thinking about Lady Sophia. She's actually really nice, you know. She didn't understand why you didn't want to spend the day with her."

"I wonder why," Arthur muttered under his breath, and it was as though Merlin had forgotten Arthur's nightmares. The prince narrowed his eyes at Merlin, and alarm bells kept ringing in his head. Something was wrong with Merlin. He was never like this. Well, he was always an idiot, but not like this. What was the most discreet way of asking Merlin what was wrong with him? "I was busy. Surely you told her that."

Merlin huffed and cleared away the rest of Arthur's meal even though he wasn't finished with that part yet. Great, now he was going to be tired as well as hungry. "No, actually. We did talk about how much of a dollophead you are, though."

Arthur snorted dryly, but at least Merlin regained enough of his senses to insult him, and the prince had never been happier to be insulted in his life. And yet this still didn't make sense. Why was Merlin fraternizing with the enemy? Surely he trusted Arthur's word and judgement, and those things were coming from the dream he had before Sophia came to Camelot.

It didn't matter. Sophia hadn't killed his servant, and Merlin could remain as the Court Idiot that was in his employ. He was still alive...

Though it might not remain that way for long. Arthur pushed himself past the guards, demanding an audience alone with his father as the executioner was brought forward, and never once did Merlin look frightened that his kissing of Lady Sophia in broad daylight may result in his beheading.

"Father, this is insane," he argued as he stood by Merlin's side. Silently he was berating the idiot for getting enchanted in the first place because obviously he was not of his right mind. Of course not. "Merlin is many things, but I don't think that he meant any harm in his actions. He was just being the clumsy idiot that he is when he bumped into her."

Arthur knew that it wasn't an accident when Merlin was seen kissing her cheek in the courtyard, but he needed to convince his father that it was so that he had time to deal with Sophia on his own. Uther didn't seem to buy it, but he turned to Lord Aulfric who in turn looked at him, and Arthur stared back at the lord, trying to appear exasperated with his servant and not at all suspicious of the man's daughter.

The king sighed and buried his face in his hands. "I don't have time for this," he grumbled. "Lord Aulfric, what do you make of these allegations that this boy made advances on your daughter?"

And Aulfric looked at not the king but at Arthur, the ghost of a sinister grin leering back at the prince. In a single word, he could condemn his unconcerned servant to a cruel death.

"Perhaps I was mistaken," Aulfric said loudly, and he didn't look away from Arthur. "If the boy apologizes for his actions now, all can be forgiven."

"Merlin, apologize," Arthur ordered firmly, and he marched over to where Merlin was being held and grabbed ahold of his arm. No one stopped him. "I'll handle this."

"Why should I apologize?" Merlin asked, and that same dopey lovestruck smile was on his face again. Arthur wanted to slap that look away. Maybe it would make him feel better about Merlin's current predicament. However, Arthur did settle with cuffing him on the back of the head, and he refrained from smiling when Merlin yelped. At least he's not completely out of his mind.

Arthur would deal with whatever was going on with Merlin later, but right now he had to make sure that the idiot still kept his head on his shoulders. "Because if you don't, Merlin, I will skin you alive and make everyone watch." His threat was so quiet that only Merlin could hear him, and he was not at all being serious. Normally Merlin would have taken the hint and would have come up with the snarkiest response to Arthur's empty threat.

"But I love her," Merlin protested loudly, and Arthur's eyes widened. He nearly let go, but he felt everyone's eyes on him, including his father's. He wouldn't let Uther take Merlin from him, and he would get to the bottom of this enchantment (because it had to be) if it was the last thing he ever did.

Arthur manhandled Merlin a little too forcibly. "I will deal with him," he promised his father, and he only looked at him for a few seconds before looking at the floor. He didn't care that he was being cold with the king; Uther deserved it for lying to him for all of his life. "He's been drinking at the tavern again." Arthur knew that Merlin almost never went to the tavern, though there was no need to tell his father that.

Merlin tried to pull himself free from Arthur's grasp, but the prince didn't let go. "I am not drunk," Merlin insisted, but, thankfully, almost no one in the room seemed to buy it. Arthur risked another look at his father, who looked more irritated than angry now. He then glanced at Aulfric, and the lord was giving him another peculiar look that sent chills down Arthur's spine.

Uther sat on the throne again with a loud sigh. "Get him out of my sight," he said finally, and he waved Arthur and Merlin towards the door. Arthur did not hesitate to escape. The farther away his servant was from the visiting lords and his father, the better.

Arthur paraded Merlin through the halls without care for the curious stares aimed in his direction. Soon enough, people would hear of what Merlin had or had not done. Rumors spread quickly in the castle. Arthur did not even let go of Merlin until they were standing in the corridor that led to Gaius's chambers. Once he had released him, he felt a little satisfaction at watching Merlin rub his arm where Arthur had been holding him in a vice like grip. He deserved it for being an idiot. Arthur crossed his arms and stared him down, looking for any signs that this was his Merlin.

"Well, aren't you going to explain yourself?" he demanded pompously, and Arthur even made sure to use his "prat voice," as Merlin had dubbed it. Maybe it would make something of the real Merlin rise up to the bait.

Merlin glared at him, but, to Arthur's dismay, the glare was not for Arthur's prattish remark. "I love her, Arthur. Surely you of all people understand."

Arthur froze up because he didn't understand because this wasn't true love. Love came from knowing someone, someone who was good and kind and the right person for you. He started thinking of another girl who was fairer than Sophia in both looks and heart, and he looked at Merlin to try and reason with the enchanted side of him. Oh, if only he knew more about how to use his magic. "You don't love her, Merlin. She's enchanted you." Yes, nicely put, Arthur.

"I'm not enchanted." Merlin gave Arthur a dark look that radiated anger.

"Stop looking angry. That look doesn't suit you." Arthur actually laughed at the look on Merlin's face. He hardly looked fearsome, though that was mostly because he knew that Merlin would never hurt him, even if he could.

That was why he was surprised by a force picking him up half a meter from the ground. "I'll show you angry. You won't stop us from being together, Arthur Pendragon." His best friend's eyes turned red, and Arthur was thrown into the wall. His vision turned black.

Chapter Text

Arthur had woken up too late, and now he was sprinting through the forest completely unarmed. Why? Because Aulfric and Sophia had disappeared, and so had Merlin. He knew that this was likely a trap, and he didn't care. He didn't know what Sophia wanted from him, but he wasn't going to let them have Merlin. Arthur should have stopped to grab a sword, or to tell a knight whom he could trust, such as Sir Lancelot or Sir Leon. He didn't. All he was concerned with was finding Merlin.

He didn't know where he was going, but his feet carried him down a path, the same path he had followed in his dreams. There were flashes of trees in his peripheral vision like a broken branch being carried by a patch of leaves or a small bird setting flight. He remembered these images, as small as they were. Arthur knew that his dreams were to blame for his paranoia, and they were the closest thing he had to a way to find Merlin.

With the silent grace of a born hunter, Arthur slowed down as the trees started to thin out. He knew that this wasn't the edge of the forest. He had grown up hunting in these woods, though he had never happened upon this clearing before, and there were no maps that included this lake. The White Mountains loomed in the distance, and the trees were close enough to be reflected in the water. It was beautiful, untouched by man. The prince stopped at the shore and touched the water, which was cool to his touch.

This was wrong. He shouldn't be able to see this, though he had in his dream. Maybe that was why he could see it now. Arthur knew that it was there, though he shouldn't have known. Why had he stopped in this place? The invisible guide in him had told him to stop, and now that voice was silent. Arthur was alone…

No, that was a lie. Arthur was being watched. He could feel the hairs prickling on the back of his neck. "Hello?" he called out foolishly. There was no answer, just the water lapping at his hand, gently pushing him away. He didn't expect a response, and he stood up again, though he kept his feet planted in the water.

It felt like something had grabbed him because then Arthur couldn't move. He tried to leave the lake, and instead there were three people emerging from the forest. Lady Sophia no longer played the part of a frightened damsel in distress. Her light brown hair was askew from running all night, though she smiled with sickening delight as she looked at her prey.

"Look, father, he decided to show up after all. I knew that he would come after his Merlin."

Merlin. "Merlin!" Arthur looked at his friend, though there was no recognition in his eyes. The servant's gaze was glazed over. He was clearly still under the enchantment, and, unfortunately, Arthur was unable to break it on his own. He still knew nothing when it came to his magic because it never really worked for him unless he wanted to blow his room up. If he tried to save Merlin, he would probably accidentally kill him, instead. "Let him go, Sophia."

Sophia pretended to consider the offer, but then she reached for Merlin's hand and squeezed it, relishing Arthur's sharp intake of breath because for a moment there, he thought that she would harm his servant. Perhaps Sophia still would, but until Merlin was out of line of fire, Arthur couldn't even attempt to kill the sorceress with his bare hands (as he would certainly try if he was allowed to move).

"Tell me, why would I do that?" Sophia then asked, and to anyone else it would appear that her smile was sweet and innocent like the same act she played when he unwittingly rescued her in the forest. "I will admit, Merlin wasn't my first choice when I was brought to the city, but you rebuffed my advances. You treated me as though I was nothing."

Arthur wasn't falling for it. He knew who she was. "I know who you are," Arthur argued. Even if he hadn't known, Arthur wouldn't have pursued her. His heart belonged to another, no matter how much he pushed those feelings away whenever he was close to Guinevere. He was lucky that Sophia hadn't taken notice of either her or Morgana, so he only needed to take care of Merlin.

"Do you?" Sophia gave him a scrutinizing look with the faintest amount of amusement in her eyes. "I don't think that you do, Arthur Pendragon, even if you think that you do."

What in the hell was that supposed to mean? Arthur was frustrated with her cryptic answer. "I know that you are going to kill me. Merlin's not the one you want, is he?" Arthur challenged, and it seemed that he was correct. It was something that only he could give to her, not his servant. If it was gold, why would Sophia go through the trouble of bringing Arthur here of all places? Where even was this place? The nearest large body of water to Camelot was leagues away, and yet here was a virtually undiscovered lake at the edge of the Darkling Woods.

Sophia's cat-like gaze held him for several moments as she regarded him with disgust. "No, he is not. Merlin is many things, but a prince is not one of them." She dropped Merlin's hand, which didn't even faze the boy. "I need a prince."

"What do you want from me?" Arthur would have taken a defensive stance then, but his feet were locked in the water and the mud, and he was unable to free himself from whichever spell Sophia had placed onto him.

Sophia took a step closer. "Immortality," she purred, and it filled Arthur with a sickening sense of dread. No one was immortal, which was one of the many lessons that he drilled into his knights day after day, battle after battle. Every day could be your last. No one could live forever.

"And you think that I can give that to you?" Arthur asked her, narrowing his eyes at her with the deadliest glare he had ever used. If he could, he would kill Sophia right now, but her magic had quite literally stopped him in his tracks.

"Well, you can't, but the sidhe can't deny me what is rightfully mine and my father's if I give you to them."

"I'm not going with you." Both sets of eyes turned to Aulfric who was holding his staff. Of course the staff was magic. Arthur should have never let Merlin near the two visitors to Camelot. Only Merlin remained oblivious to Aulfric's announcement, and he remained unfazed as Sophia wrenched her small hand from his at once.

"I don't understand," Sophia told her father, and she sounded near to tears, and yet Arthur couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for the girl who would be his killer. "You're coming too."

Aulfric looked regretful and had eyes only for his daughter. If Arthur could get free, he could just take Merlin and run… "This was never meant for me. Only one of us can pass through."

"But… I only wanted this so we could both return to Avalon."

Avalon? What was Avalon? It was nowhere on his maps, and Arthur had never heard of it. Anything related to the Old Religion had been forgotten after the Great Purge. Few remained who remembered its lore and days of glory, and of course Arthur had never been taught. Well, if he were to die this day, he would never find out what Avalon was. He could deduce that it was a place…

The lake. The cool water's waves were more forceful now, and yet they were gentle as they pushed past him. He could not move, but the lake's waves were lapping at the three sorcerers' feet who were on dry land. It was as though the lake was trying to tell him something. It dawned on him then, but it was too late for him to do anything about this. He couldn't escape on his own, and now Sophia was standing in front of him, looking upset but determined.

"Goodbye, Arthur Pendragon," she hissed, and she pulled him further into the water. He tried to struggle, but he couldn't move. He couldn't fight back against her. He tried, but all he could muster were small squirms that were not enough to force Sophia to let go of him. She stared him in the eyes, and then she pushed him down, sending Arthur into the watery depths of the Lake of Avalon.

Arthur could just see Sophia's face as it became distorted from the water. Of course he knew how to swim, but his body was not obeying him. What was the spell Merlin had taught him, the one spell Merlin insisted on teaching Arthur in case of an emergency? Water flooded his mouth as he opened it. He tried one last time to get free, but his vision grew darker… darker…


The voice was quiet, and if Merlin took time to understand it, he would realize that it was a female's. Who was Emrys? Who was he hearing? None of this made any sense, what…

Emrys. It's time to wake up, Emrys.

Merlin was awake, and his name was Merlin, always has been. Terribly confused, he tried to open his eyes, but when he looked out, it was as though a piece of red film were covering everything in his line of vision. Merlin couldn't focus, and it was too much to look out through those red eyes, so he closed them again.

Emrys, you must wake up. You must save him.

Save him? Save who? Who needed saving? Merlin looked out again, and it was less red now, closer to a faded pink. He still couldn't see clearly, and he scrunched up his face as he tried to figure this world out. No one seemed to notice that he was there, or, if they did, they simply didn't care.

Emrys, you have to save Arthur. Save Arthur, Emrys, or Albion would be lost.

Arthur. Albion. Arthur! His vision grew clearer, and Merlin could see the man standing beside him. Aulfric paid him no mind. The old man was chanting to the heavens with his staff powerful and blue, great and terrible. In the water, he could see Sophia, but what... Why… No, where was Arthur? Where was his destiny?

Save him, Emrys. For the sake of all that is good, save him.

Merlin could move. He could curl his fingers and move his legs, which were like stiff logs beneath him. He backed away unnoticed, and that's when Merlin saw Sophia's staff lying beside the tree. He picked it up and looked at Aulfric. Something in Merlin's gut told him to use the staff, and he did. A power like none other than he had felt before rushed through him, disintegrating Aulfric to ash. Merlin heard a scream, and without blinking he did the same to Sophia. This rush of power ended, and he dropped the staff.

Where was Arthur?

Merlin waded into the lake. "Arthur!" he called out despite knowing that the prince wouldn't hear him from the watery depths. Merlin panicked and tried to go where he had seen Sophia standing. "Arthur!" He submerged his head, but the water was too dark to see through clearly. However, he could see a shape not far away, and Merlin swam with the strength of a thousand men. How long had Arthur been underwater for? What if he was too late? He took Arthur under the arms and forced him to the surface, coughing. Both men were drenched, but Merlin didn't care as he held Arthur's body close to him.

Thank you, Emrys. Now my debt has been repaid.

The presence in the back of Merlin's mind faded away, and he pulled Arthur ashore. Only there could he check to see if Arthur was breathing. At first, Merlin was too frantic to tell for sure, but there it was, a gentle pulse that told Merlin once and for all that Arthur was still alive.

When Arthur awoke, he was nestled up comfortably in his own bed. Beside him, sitting on the same stool he often found his manservant slumbering in, was Merlin. Merlin was giving Arthur the same goofy smile he had grown used to in the last six months. Had it really been that long? Arthur returned the smile, but it was more tired, more subdued. He had, after all, almost drowned in that lake.

"What happened?" Arthur asked. His throat was hoarse, and he coughed to clear his voice. He couldn't have been unconscious for more than a day, and Merlin didn't seem too awfully worried. Merlin's idiotic cheer was back, perhaps mixed with some relief that Arthur had woken up. The prince sat up in bed and was surprised to find Gaius in his chambers as well. All right, it made sense to have the Court Physician to be in the room to look after Arthur, but the older man would make talking to Merlin more difficult. Gaius knew about Merlin, but not about Arthur. No one else but Merlin knew.

Merlin laughed and slouched forward. "You behaved like a prat, that's what happened." Merlin cast a sideways glance at Gaius, and Arthur understood.

"Gaius, could I have a moment alone with Merlin?" Great job, Arthur Pendragon. Judging by Gaius's raised eyebrow of doom, Arthur had no doubts that Gaius was suspicious of his request.

"Of course, sire. I'll be in the hall." Gaius extended his look to Merlin, who was sheepishly trying to melt into the floor but being largely unsuccessful. The physician left all of the vials he had been fouling on the table, but Arthur hoped that he wouldn't come back into the room prematurely. Arthur needed to demand the truth from Merlin in peace.

"What happened, Merlin?" Arthur repeated his question, but this time his voice was softer and more serious.

Merlin looked away uncomfortably. "Well, I followed Aulfric like I said that I would." Merlin was looking towards the window, and Arthur was looking there too because his servant was looking there. "I was looking at Aulfric's staff, and he caught me. Sophia joined us, and her eyes - she wasn't human. They can't have been! Her eyes flashed red, and after that…" Merlin's eyes widened. "What was I thinking?!"

Arthur snorted at Merlin's foolishness, and since Merlin was clearly okay now, he was allowed to partake in his mirth. "Believe me, that was what I was wondering about myself. You declared your love for her in front of the entire court."

Merlin's face grew more horrified at that, and he buried his face in his hands. "Well, I certainly don't feel that way anymore. The rest of it feels like a blur. I remember…" Merlin hesitated and dared another glance at Arthur. "She said that you rebuffed her feelings, that your heart belonged to another…" Arthur's breath stilled, but Merlin continued like he hadn't said anything jarring. "Obviously the only person you care about is yourself, but she did not know that. Anyway, she went to me for comfort. Sophia suggested that we elope, and I agreed."

Arthur nodded along, a frown growing on his face as Merlin recounted his part of the story. "She told me that she wanted to use me to gain immortality. There is this place, they talked about this place called Avalon. That was where she wanted to go." Arthur paused and tried to remember what had happened before he blacked out. "I think that Avalon was the lake."

Merlin rubbed some dust from his eyes before looking at Arthur. "That's where Sophia was drowning you, and I was just standing there and letting it happen." Merlin looked guilty as he said this, but Arthur weakly touched his arm. His servant was not to blame for the sorceress's actions. He was going to express this, but then Merlin continued, "There was a woman's voice in my head. She was the one who woke me from my enchantment."

Arthur had been too busy drowning to hear any woman nearby. "Was it Sophia?" Arthur guessed, though that answer wouldn't make sense because Sophia wasn't going to end her enchantment on Merlin so that he could save the day - again.

Merlin shook his head. "No, I… I didn't recognize her. She said something about a debt being repaid, and she called me Emrys."

"What does that mean?"

Merlin shrugged. "I have no idea. I can ask Gaius to look into it. He'd probably know more than I do."

Gaius probably knew everything there was to know, so Arthur had no doubts that the physician would have this answer as well. "Be careful. He is already suspicious enough as it is."

Arthur didn't know why neither of them had told Gaius that he had magic yet. Merlin trusted his uncle dearly, and Arthur had known the man for all of his life. He wasn't sure how Gaius would take his magic, though. Arthur doubted that he would turn him in to his father, but that didn't mean that Gaius would not lie to him about his magic as he "lied" to Morgana. All of Morgana's "symptoms" should have pointed to some bigger picture. Arthur could only see it because the nightmares were his, though Gaius often waved off Merlin's shared concerns and claimed that there was no magic at work at all.

All right, Morgana didn't have magic, but Arthur did. He knew that Merlin had been discreetly asking Gaius for advice when it came to nightmares that foresaw the future, but Gaius would get a worried expression on his face that told Merlin a different answer than what the physician said aloud. Arthur and Merlin both agreed that he was hiding something, though Gaius thought that he was hiding it, whatever it was, from Morgana. There would come a day when they would have to tell Gaius the truth, and Arthur honestly did not know what to expect.

"He still thinks that you don't know about me. I'm sure that I can think of something, Arthur." Arthur didn't know how Merlin planned to ask Gaius what Emrys meant, but he nodded anyway as he sank back into his pillow.

"Remind me to send you to the stocks when I get out of bed," Arthur mumbled as he looked at the bright red canopy above his bed. It was day time, so he couldn't go to sleep. He didn't even want to after the last few nights and their nightmares that foretold his "death" - thank the gods those were over with now.

Merlin spluttered. "Why? It's not my fault that I got enchanted!" The seriousness of the moment was forgotten, and the two returned to their good-natured banter. Gaius could even walk back in, and they wouldn't have to freeze up and pretend that they weren't discussing something treasonous like magic.

"You still behaved like an idiot in front of my father," Arthur said with glee. He'd have to see about being the one to throw the first tomato - he had great aim.

"Still not my fault!" Merlin argued indignantly, and he stood up so quickly that the stool toppled over.

"He'll expect me to punish you. Would you prefer being beheaded?" Arthur wouldn't do that, and he knew that Merlin knew that he wouldn't, either.

Merlin glared at him. "You prat! I should have left you to drown!"

Arthur laughed heartily and folded his arms beneath his head. "You wouldn't have done that," he singsonged, and he was ready to spout destiny nonsense at his friend.

Merlin's glare disappeared, and he was back to smiling. "No," Merlin relented, and there was a proud gleam in his eye. "I wouldn't have."

Chapter Text

Arthur could see it all through his window as he watched the castle guards run through the crowds of people. He stared at them, already knowing who they were chasing. With any luck, the sorcerer would escape on their own, but luck wasn't always on their side. Arthur already knew that. He turned away, feeling the urge to vomit. Merlin wanted him to keep his head down so that Uther had no reason to suspect him, but it was hard to live with himself when Arthur knew that he used to hunt these sorcerers himself. He had never hated magic like his father did, and yet he would participate in these hunts to make his father proud. Now he had magic, too.

Arthur knew that he wasn't going to try to make his father proud anymore. It was hard to keep his mouth shut when he knew that the laws were wrong, when he knew that next time it could be him running from the guards or tied to the pyre. Arthur was not sure if his father would do that to him, but it was hard to remember sometimes that this man was of his own blood and was supposed to care for him. His father had always been so disappointed in him, and the only reason he allowed for magic to be used to save his life was so that he could have an heir to the throne. What would Uther Pendragon do if he knew that Arthur was the very thing that he despised?

There was the sound of running coming from the hall, and Arthur pulled out his sword to hold out at the intruder as the door flew open. It was Merlin… Well, it was Merlin and a very pale, sickly looking child in a cloak who looked like he was about to pass out.

"Merlin!" Arthur hissed, but all of his cutting remarks were silenced by the pleading look on his servant's face. Arthur nodded and opened the door to the servant's antechamber, knowing that the door that led to the hall would be locked. "In there, quickly." Arthur practically had to push his friend and the boy into the room before there were more steps in the hall. He raised a very convincing eyebrow at the guards as they entered his chambers with hardly a knock.

"My lord," one of the guards greeted, and each of them bowed slightly. "Have you seen anyone come running this way?"

Arthur shook his head, willing himself to be calm. Oh Merlin what have you gotten yourself into? "I'm sorry, I have not. Tell me, who are you searching for?"

"A druid boy, sire. I injured him with my sword, but I believe that he may have an accomplice." The guard did not even look guilty as he shared the news with the prince. "We have already found the boy's companion, and some guards are taking him to the dungeons as we speak."

Arthur's face turned stony as he nodded. "Good. See to it that no harm comes to him until I have the chance to speak to him myself."

"Yes my lord." The guards bowed again, and they left his chambers.

Arthur held his breath. One… two… No, he couldn't scream Merlin's name, that would be too suspicious. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to remember what he had done to deserve this. Of course Merlin would find some new way to get into trouble. Why was he so surprised? He opened the door to the antechambers to find Merlin hovering over the child who had since fallen unconscious.

"What happened?" the prince asked urgently, keeping his distance. He wasn't great with the healing arts and would be of no use here.

"One of the guards found him," Merlin answered with gritted teeth. He had lifted the blood-soaked sleeve of the nameless boy to examine the wound, though Arthur knew that Merlin was just as lost as he was in what they were supposed to do to tend to the injury. "Could you bring me some water? I need to clean this."

Instead of retorting back that it wasn't Arthur's job to bring his servant water, he nodded and went back into the main chambers for the pitcher of water left from that day's lunch. It was still half-way full, though he hoped that it would be enough.

"Here," he said as he thrust the jug at Merlin. Almost immediately, Merlin had taken off his neckerchief and was dousing it in the clear liquid. Arthur watched from behind in case if there was something else that he would be needed for. After what felt like forever with no more words spoken between the two of them, he spoke again. "My father will be expecting me to head the search for this boy."

Merlin stiffened, but he didn't look up from his patient. His hand stilled over the wound before continuing to clean up the blood. It seemed that the wound had stopped bleeding, though their troubles were far from over. "I know," Merlin answered gruffly.

Arthur stayed quiet for another moment. "I'm not going to tell him, of course, but he can't stay here." The guards would search every room in the castle. With luck, they wouldn't go into Arthur's room because why would he ever harbor a druid, but this was dangerous. If Merlin was caught, he would be executed alongside the druid boy he was helping.

"I can't move him. Not in this state." Merlin wrung out the bloodied cloth into an abandoned chamber pot that had been left in the room.

"Maybe you ought to tell Gaius," Arthur suggested. He doubted that Gaius would turn Merlin in to the king. "He knows more about this than you do."

Merlin shook his head as he pulled the shirt over the child's head. "He'll never approve." Merlin frowned at the wound before standing up. "I need to go get some bandages. Gaius should be doing his rounds, so he won't get suspicious."

Arthur nodded along at first before raising a hand to stop him. "Wait. Grab one of my shirts and change into that. You're covered in blood." Arthur didn't turn back around to see if Merlin had heeded that piece of advice as he looked over the druid boy.

Come to think of it, the boy reminded Arthur a bit of Merlin. They were both on the smaller side, and his hair was just as dark as Merlin's. Arthur hadn't seen his eyes yet, but he imagined that they were the same blue as Merlin's. It was almost as though he already knew the child, but the boy hardly appeared in his dreams but for a few terrifying moments.

A terrified child whose eyes burned with anger. A shaking hand wrapped tightly around a jeweled dagger. Tears that fell of guilt and grief.

Yes, Arthur knew this boy, but much like with Merlin, he did not really know who he was or who he would become.

Once again, Uther noticed how Arthur averted his eyes when he spoke to his king. It had been bothering him for months ever since his son was poisoned, though he never addressed the odd behavior. At first he deemed Arthur's aloofness to be a part of his recovery, but as time went on, Uther realized that Arthur was angry at him for something. He couldn't imagine what for, though, but Arthur became awfully quiet around the subject of magic. Was it possible that he knew what saved his life, and he was angry at Uther for using it on him? Only he and Gaius knew the truth, but Arthur might have noticed in his unconscious state.

"And we've searched all of the houses in the Lower Town. There's a chance that he may not be in the city." Arthur was continuing to not look at his father, and he was noticeably twitching. Uther narrowed his eyes on his son, but he could not call him out, certainly not in front of the other nobles. What would they say if they discovered the lengths Uther would go to to protect his son? They would question the laws that protected this kingdom, and while Uther would turn a blind eye for his children, he could not do the same for the rest of Camelot. Magic was dangerous and could corrupt even the purest of hearts.

Certainly Arthur suspected what Uther had done. Why else would he be so angry? If their roles had been reversed, if Arthur had been the one to illegally employ the use of magic to save Uther, the king would have been angry. He could understand Arthur's reasons for being so, and while he didn't regret what he had done, he resolved to make things up with his only son.

"Keep looking, then," Uther said stonily as he tried to force Arthur to look at him. "There are sentries at every wall. He couldn't have gotten out of the city without being seen. I want this boy found!"

"Yes, sire." There was that look again, and Arthur bowed respectfully before turning tail and heading towards the door.

It didn't matter if the boy was just a child. Uther had already announced the older Druid's impending execution in hopes of drawing the boy out, but someone was harboring the boy and keeping him hidden from Arthur's knights. Uther would not rest until the threat was dealt with. There was only one matter more important than the dangers posed by the druid boy, however, which was why Uther raised a hand to stop Arthur from leaving with the rest of his knights.

"Arthur, wait a minute. I wish to speak to you in private." Uther watched carefully as Arthur's shoulders tensed, then he watched as his son slowly turned around. His expression was unreadable, betraying no signs of anger or resentment.

"Yes, father?" Arthur said politely to him. The doors to the throne room shut, and the guards stationed at the doors had resumed their positions outside of the doors. It was just the two Pendragons in the room, the king and his heir. Arthur was not yet of age, though he was getting close. Because of Uther's pleas for magical intervention, Arthur would get to live to see another birthday.

Another anniversary of her death.

"You haven't been speaking to me much in these last few months," Uther stated calmly. The crown was heavy atop his head, and his gloved hands gripped the richly carved arms of his golden throne. He stared Arthur down, and he wasn't blind to the way Arthur shifted uncomfortably.

"I'm sorry, Sire," Arthur replied. It didn't appear that the prince was going to deny the accusation, and Uther ignored the way his heart stung at the realization. There were only two people left in this world whom he cared about. One of them could never know the extent of how he cared for her. The other was standing in front of him, and the distance that laid between them grew more each day. If Uther didn't say something now, he could lose the trust and respect he had always commanded of his son.

The king cleared his throat. He very rarely betrayed any emotion around anyone, especially his son. However, he couldn't alienate Arthur. One day Arthur would be the one sitting upon this throne, and he would need to know what it meant to be king. Instead of speaking, however, the cough from his throat hung in the air, and Uther stared silently into the blue eyes of his son, of his late wife. Arthur had always looked so much like her, and this was one of those rare occasions where Uther wondered how Ygraine would have taken the Great Purge. She had been such good friends with N- with that cursed witch, the witch who had killed her. He was nearly confident that Ygraine would have supported him whole-heartedly.

Yet there was still that tingling doubt. Uther wasn't foolish enough to think that no one followed his orders blindly. Even Arthur, the only man whom Uther could truly trust, occasionally questioned Uther. The king welcomed his son's counsel, though he would have preferred it if Arthur didn't express doubts for the laws against sorcery.

Perhaps Uther's fears for that were unfounded, however, because Arthur was now angry at its use to save his life. The only people who would have known of his request was himself and Gaius. Gaius wouldn't have told Arthur, so it was only natural that his son had overheard something, or he had felt the effects of magic lingering on his soul. The very thought made Uther feel sick, and he resolved to find a cure to save Arthur from this last curse.

"You are my son and heir," Uther started, but his throat once again felt dry. Arthur shifted from one leg to the other, but there was a flash of something in his eyes. Anger. Spite. Not hatred, but still a zealous fury that could burst into a hearty flame.

Arthur's look pierced Uther like glass, and the words that tumbled from his mouth were equally as sharp. "And you are the king, my lord." Uther could tell that Arthur was restraining himself from saying anything to the king that may anger him, for which Uther was glad of. They needed to be on the same side, the side against magic. While they both hated it, Arthur was resenting him for using it to heal him, even if it was the only way. If they had waited… well, the knights had ridden back quickly with the flower, though it would have been too late according to Gaius's accounts.

Uther sighed. He had to say it, or else he would never get to. "I would do anything to protect this kingdom, and that includes protecting you, Camelot's prince." You are my son. The most emotional part of his response, the part where his throat would have choked around saying the words out of desperation to protect his only son, went unsaid. Although he was trying to speak to Arthur as a father, he was also the king of Camelot. He had a part to play, a silence to uphold. Surely Arthur would understand.

"Yes, Sire," Arthur replied stiffly, and somehow the edge of his voice had grown sharper like a double-edged sword. One wrong word, one wrong move, and that figurative sword would cut Uther's heart, and he would lose his son forever. "I am your heir, but I am not yet the Crown Prince. I still have a month."

Yes, there was one month before Arthur's twenty-first birthday. How could Uther forget? What sort of father would forget the anniversary of his son's birth? He hadn't always put the most effort into being a good father, but Uther knew that he cared for Arthur more than anything. Surely Arthur knew how much he cared. And yet there was a touch of venom as he spat out the word "heir" like it was a disease. Uther knew that he ought to feel guilty, and yet he felt nothing of the sort.

"And if you die, I would be left without an heir. This kingdom cannot lose you. You are worth too much to me and to everyone." Didn't Arthur see what this was about, what he was trying to say? Uther would not lose his son, the only connection he had to his beloved wife. She would want him to protect their son. No matter how strained their relationship had become, he wouldn't lose his son to magic.

"What is this about? I have heard this stuff before." Uther had never let Arthur forget who he was: the prince, the heir to the throne. However, there was more to what King Uther was trying to say than Arthur seemed to realize. Why didn't Arthur get it? Had Uther really failed as a father that much? Surely his son knew how much he meant to the kingdom, to him.

Uther almost rose from the throne. He almost reached to put a passive hand on Arthur's shoulder to comfort him and to show him that he did care. He almost explained his actions and begged for forgiveness.

But Ygraine's eyes were looking back at him, and he remained silent.

Arthur deflated and seemed to take that silence as a dismissal because he was bowing once more in submission before leaving the throne room, leaving Uther alone with the ghosts of his past and the heavy guilt and sorrow that remained deep in his stone cold heart.

Arthur waited with bated breath and watched Merlin flip through a spellbook. He had his eyes trained on the door, but no one would dare enter his chambers without knocking except for his father, and if that were to happen, well… They would cross that bridge when they got to it. Arthur would try to distract his father while Merlin would shut the antechamber doors with magic, and no one would be the wiser.

So far, however, their luck was in their favor. No one had come in, giving Merlin all of the peace to try some of these spells in an attempt to heal the Druid boy's wounds. However, none of these attempts had been very successful thus far.

"Gestepe hole!" There was an exhale of frustration as Merlin flipped through the book again and tried to find another spell since that one had not worked. "Þurhhæle!"

And yet, nothing happened. Merlin groaned and resumed flipping through the ancient book. From what Arthur had gathered, the book had belonged to Gaius before the Great Purge, and then he passed it along to Merlin when he came along. Arthur had looked at the book a few times, but none of the spells worked for him. He couldn't do the same things that Merlin could do without breaking a sweat. Granted, Merlin was the more powerful sorcerer, but what point was there to Arthur's magic if he was unable to do more with it? Maybe, if things weren't so serious, he would have let out a vindictive laugh at Merlin finally having trouble with a spell, perhaps accompanied by a simple, "Don't worry, you'll get it eventually."

Instead, Arthur folded his hands together. "Merlin, you're going to have to try something else. This isn't working."

Merlin huffed and shot the prince a glare, though Arthur felt little heat coming from the gaze. "Maybe you should have a go at it," he shot back. "Let's see how the great Prince Arthur fairs against healing spells."

Arthur sighed and shut the door so that there was one extra barrier between him and the door. "Don't be ridiculous, Merlin. If you can't do this, then how am I going to be able to? We still need to come up with a plan to get him and the other Druid out of Camelot, and we can't do that if he dies."

"I'm not dragging Gaius into this." Merlin crossed his arms stubbornly. Why did Arthur and Merlin's stubbornness have to be matched? This was completely ridiculous!

"Then you're going to have to treat him yourself," Arthur emphasized slowly like he was speaking to a child. Well, Merlin had the mind of a child, so he was going to count him as one. Besides, Merlin was younger than him by three years. Arthur clearly knew better just by those three extra years of experience. "Just keep him alive until I get back. There are some things that I have to take care of."

He was at the head of the search for the Druid boy, and the only two rooms in the castle that have not yet been searched were his own and his father's. Perhaps the Druid boy was safe here for now, but Arthur knew that they had to get him out of the city, and the Druid in the dungeons, too. Uther will not stay his execution forever, and Arthur had only barely managed to convince him to keep the Druid alive to draw the boy out. Perhaps the Druid would hold the answers he needed…

Merlin had finally escaped Gaius's chambers, the physician's rants about anatomy still ringing in his ears. He had managed to hide fresh bandages and herbs under his jacket, but he couldn't grab any more without attracting Gaius's attention again. Who knows, maybe his next lesson would be a boring history on the use of herbs to treat harmless ailments. Maybe the herbs wouldn't kill him, but Merlin was sure he would die of boredom before Gaius finished talking. If he was lucky-

"Hello Merlin." So he wouldn't be lucky today. He faced Lady Morgana and smiled hesitantly at her. He didn't know her that well, but she had been a great help with the afanc a few months ago. She was really nice and a good friend of Arthur and Gwen's. And she was pretty, though Arthur would skin him alive if he ever heard him say it.

"My lady," he greeted, followed by a hasty bow so he wouldn't be caught staring. "How are you?" Act casual, act casual, don't act like you are hiding something.

Morgana laughed at him, but she wasn't acting unkind. "There is no need to bow, Merlin. I thought that we were friends." They were? Arthur was his friend and Merlin could never get the prince to admit it. The lady sighed, and to Merlin's dismay, she began to walk alongside him. "Well, I could do without all of the increased security around the castle."

Merlin clenched his jaw as she gave him a new reason to be nervous around her. "They are still searching for the Druid boy, I believe." He wasn't as good at keeping his cool as Arthur was. He was a terrible liar. When he lied he started to get all sweaty and nervous and speak too quickly.

"I don't know why they are bothering. He is long gone, and I don't think that he's that dangerous." Merlin had seen her sympathies towards magic before, though now he looked around in case the wrong guard was listening in. However, no one in the halls so much as looked at them.

Merlin's nerves began to overcome him. "You should be careful. The king might think that you were harboring the Druid." Of course, Merlin knew that she was not. That boy hadn't so much as woken up since he fell unconscious in Arthur's chambers the day before.

Morgana smiled. "So what if I was? Uther wouldn't do anything to me." She seemed so confident, and yet Merlin still worried for Arthur's sake. He could be risking his life, and, if not that, his crown. He shouldn't have brought the boy to him. "Whoever is harboring him, however, is very brave. They are taking a huge risk in defying the king."

Merlin felt her eyes on him. Did she suspect him? Was she going to tell the king? He started to feel ill. He didn't know if he would make it to Arthur's chambers alive. Say something. Anything. Get yourself out of this mess.

"Arthur's hiding him in his chambers." Wrong answer! Wrong answer!

Merlin was so terrified that he just damned his best friend, but Morgana just laughed at him. "As if he would. He's more loyal to Uther than any of us. Still, that was a good joke, Merlin. I can see why he still keeps you around. You're funnier than he gives you credit for." Merlin didn't know if he should be offended or not, but at least she didn't believe him. Merlin had to be more careful. It wasn't just his secret on the line but Arthur's as well. He still felt his heart thumping in his chest with the close call. Why did he have to be such a terrible liar?

Merlin looked forward; they were almost to Arthur's chambers. Now he just needed to get rid of her. There was a crack in his voice when he started speaking, though he grew more confident with the words that followed. "I need to tend to Arthur. It was good to see you, my lady." He bowed again at her. It wasn't deep, but it was respectful.

As he took the door handle, he heard her behind him, "If I didn't know any better, I would say that you were trying to get rid of me. It so happens that I am here to see Arthur, too."

Merlin's heart fluttered. The Druid was hidden in the antechamber, but still he was concerned. "His room is a mess, my lady," he excused quickly, and by the gods he hoped that she would believe him. "Come back later."

Morgana rolled her eyes. "I've seen his room before, and I know how useless he is with organizing his things. He'll make a mess of it no matter what you do." The lady rapped on the door lightly before opening it slowly. "Arthur?"

Merlin looked around quickly. The prince was not in their immediate vicinity, but that meant that he was either in the antechambers tending to the boy or "hunting" for him somewhere in the city. "I don't think that he's here, Morgana," Merlin said slowly, but he felt better. Hopefully she will leave, and he could use the hours of anatomy lessons Gaius had given him to take care of the Druid. "I'll tell him you stopped by."

The lady looked a little peeved, though it could have been Merlin's imagination. "Of course. Carry on with what you were doing, Merlin. I will see you later." She took one last look around the chambers, and then she left. Merlin quickly shut the door and locked it (since Arthur would have his keys with him if he wasn't here). Then he went into the servant's antechambers, which were much cleaner than Merlin had ever seen them. He had cleared all of the dust to reduce the chance of infection.

There was no sign of Arthur, but he saw the young boy in the mound of blankets. Merlin knelt down beside him and started dabbing the tincture he had put together before he left Gaius's chambers, praying to the gods that he wasn't too late to take care of the boy. He didn't want to drag Gaius into this, but at the rate this was going, he probably had to. His health was declining quickly, and it wasn't like Merlin was any good at healing spells.

Thank you, Emrys.

There was the name again. Merlin turned around sharply, but he and the Druid boy were alone. The boy was fluttering in and out of consciousness, so could the voice have come from him? It sounded like a young boy with the same voice that he called out to him in the courtyard, but the name caught Merlin off guard. What did that name mean? Gaius hadn't known after Merlin asked him, and he meant to go down to see the Great Dragon to see if he had any answers instead. Right now, however, he had other duties, and he resumed caring for the boy's injury as his strength failed him.

Arthur made his way to the dungeons. Only two knights were in attendance, and he nodded curtly at them both. He recognized them both as he knew all of the knights, but it was to his luck that they were the knights he was closest to. He knew that Sir Lancelot would be here (out of sight, out of mind with his father's reasoning), but it was a pleasant surprise to see Sir Leon here as well. It would make his task a lot easier.

"I will be just a few minutes," he said simply, and they let him pass with no questions asked. There was only one person in the cells, and Arthur looked at the Druid calmly. He didn't look like a threat, but no amount of reasoning could change his father's mind.

The man noticed him watching him and sat up. There was something in his gaze that pierced through Arthur's soul. Even if he wasn't a threat, Druids were weird. When Arthur was king, he should outlaw creepy stares like this. He felt like the Druid was reading his mind. Could they do that? He'd have to ask Merlin, but knowing him, Merlin would use that magic for all of the wrong reasons and try to peer into Arthur's own head. Maybe he shouldn't ask him.

"I wasn't aware that I would be getting any visitors," the Druid spoke dryly. To Arthur, his voice sounded parched, and he had the sneaking suspicion that he hadn't been fed since his arrest. Once he left, he would have to remember to send a servant with some food and water later.

Arthur trusted the knights stationed outside, but he kept his voice down so that they would not have to lie for him. What Arthur was about to do and say was risky, even for him. All this was still considered treason, and his father would be livid if he found out what Arthur was doing.

"My father doesn't know that I am here," he told the Druid. He looked into the cell and could only imagine how uncomfortable it was. The last time he had been down here was years ago for an offense he couldn't really remember. "I was hoping that I could keep it that way."

The Druid continued to give him this look that spoke of how much Druidic knowledge he held and how little Arthur could grasp of it. "The prince," he answered himself. He narrowed his eyes at him, and Arthur felt guilt for all of the things that he himself had done to the Druid's people. "And why, pray, would you come here to see me?" The Druid probably thought that Arthur was here to taunt him, and if he had been anything like his father, maybe Arthur would have. However, there was no honor in it, and there was definitely no honor in the execution of men who had done no wrong and were just in the wrong place in the wrong time.

"I just want to ask you a question, and no one can know that I asked you this." Arthur glanced over his shoulder, but the knights hadn't followed him past the entrance to the cells. "Where can I find the Druids?"

Already Arthur knew that he wasn't going to get an answer. Sure enough, the Druid was staring at him in suspicion. "Your knights have already asked this of me. I will not betray my people and watch them be slaughtered."

Arthur winced as he remembered a day years ago. It had never really left him, and it had surfaced in his nightmares long before that fateful day when he froze up during the raid on a Druid camp. Men, women, and children had been struck down where they stood, and he had been powerless to help. Arthur's first raid had never left him, and yet his father commended him for it. Arthur hated himself, and although most of his dreams were of the future, this was one of the few memories that still haunted him.

Arthur wilted under the Druid's gaze as he recounted that day. "I won't hurt them," he replied softly. Never again would Arthur strike another Druid down. All they sought for was peace, and someday, he would give it to them. "The boy that you brought into the city with you is alive." At this, the Druid gasped, though it was too quiet for anyone except for Arthur to hear. "But he's wounded. He needs to return to his people."

"Do you know where he is, then?" the Druid asked him, and he was still staring Arthur down. That was it: staring was going to be a crime punishable by death when Arthur became king.

"I do." Two could play at this game, and Arthur locked eyes with the Druid. "I could take you to him. I could break you both out of the city. There is a tunnel in the armory that will take the boy into the Lower Town, then I can come back here and take you both back to your people."

Arthur knew of all the secret entrances and exits into the castle. There was a series of almost abandoned siege tunnels below the castle, and he knew the path to get to them from the dungeons. If he planned the patrols just right, he could ensure that there was a blind spot where he could free the Druids without being caught. He reluctantly decided that he would need Merlin's help for some of this, though. Arthur certainly couldn't undertake this on his own, and Merlin knew more about magic than he did.

The Druid looked at him with more distrust. If Arthur had to guess, he was probably trying to judge him to see if he was the same as his father. Arthur was tempted to show himself, to perform a little magic to show that they weren't that much different. He struggled a lot with the spells that Merlin would show him, but at least he wasn't creating earthquakes anymore. If only there was a way that he could control his dreams, but perhaps the Druids would know.

"Why would you do that for us?" the Druid asked. "This could be a trap, and you want me to lead you to our camp so that you can destroy it."

Arthur didn't know how to convince him of his intentions. If he was the Druid, he wouldn't be able to trust himself either. So many people had died because of his father's guilt, and Arthur didn't want to see another head on the chopping block if there was anything he could do to help it. The Druids only came here to purchase supplies, not to plot to overthrow the kingdom.

Arthur took a step back from the bars of the cell. "I give you my word as a Knight of Camelot. I'll stay the execution for as long as I can, and I'll come back here to free you once the boy is well enough to travel."

There was a long silence, so Arthur wasn't sure if the Druid would reply. If words could not convince the Druid that he truly only wanted to help, then actions will. A plan formulated in his head, a plan involving sneaking around, manipulating patrols, and gathering supplies that the Druids desperately needed. It would take a few days, but he would give his father some excuse to keep the Druid alive for a few days longer.

Then the Druid spoke again, and his eyes were boring into his soul. "The word of a knight means nothing to me, Arthur Pendragon."

Arthur swallowed. "Then I give you my word as myself. I will return you to your people. You have nothing to fear from me." Then he hesitated, and Arthur's mouth opened to ask the Druid one more question, one question he never thought that he would ask a Druid before (though, he had never considered that he would ever talk to Druids unless he was killing them and there would hardly be any talking done). "What do you know about healing spells?"

There was no one in Arthur's chambers when he returned, not even Merlin. The only sign of life was the weakening boy wrapped in blankets in the antechamber. Arthur had never before dressed a wound, but after a day of watching Merlin do it, he took a pitcher of water and dunked a clean cloth into it. Years of stubbornness regarding his own injuries had taught Arthur how to undress a bandage, though he was careful not to aggravate the slash. How hard would it be to retie the bandage when he was done?

He could smell the signs of infection, and he wrinkled his nose. Whatever Merlin had done wasn't working. They needed a real physician such as Gaius. He wanted to respect Merlin's decision to keep him out of this, but they were running out of options. If they did not act soon, then the boy would probably die anyway.

Arthur started dabbing at the wound with the cloth, and for a long time, he just stared at the boy. If Merlin had been here, he would have had him do it.

"Why would you want to know?"

"I need to know because the child's injury has gotten infected, and he could die."

Merlin was a far cry better at magic than Arthur was, but after changing out the Druid's bandages, the servant had disappeared. Arthur wasn't sure where he had gone, and they would have to have a talk later to come up with a plan. However, there were pressing matters that had to be dealt with now, and right now, it was only Arthur and the Druid boy. At the very least, Merlin would not be there to make fun of him when he failed.

Arthur swallowed his pride and set aside the cloth. Placing both hands over the wound like he had watched Merlin done, he uttered the words that he had taken care to learn the pronunciation of so he could tell Merlin if he had been here, but… it wouldn't hurt to have a go, right?

"Ahlúttre þá séocnes. Þurhhæle bræd." Something passed through his bodies and came out through his hands, and a feeling Arthur had never really experienced without the panic of his nightmares fueling his magic in explosive spurts overcame him. He slowly moved his hands away from the wound when the moment had gone, and he looked down at the Druid boy, who was now watching him with those icy blue eyes that spoke of fear and anger.

Then a magical force shoved him away from the Druid boy. A young boy's voice rang from his head, and he tried to block out the accusatory cries by covering his ears with his hands. His attempt did not work, and he could hear the boy screaming at him in anger as he realized what had happened, that Arthur had magic and still killed people who were like him.

Why did you do it, Arthur? Why did you kill them?

The voice sounded so… lost, and Arthur felt something prick at the backs of his eyelids. He knew that he had killed so many people, including innocents, and he had seen this boy before in his dreams. He knew what the boy was speaking of, but he couldn't respond. Not only did he not know how to project his voice telepathically like Merlin could, but the Druid wouldn't give him the chance to respond anyway.

They were just like you, Arthur Pendragon! They were just like you!

Arthur moved to the doorway and looked back with shock and remorse. "I'm… I'm sorry," he apologized lamely, but saying sorry would not bring those Druids back. Saying sorry would not fix the wrongs he and his father had committed. Saying sorry would do nothing.

Just like you. Just like you. Just like you.

But they were not just like Arthur, were they? At least the Druids didn't kill their own.

Chapter Text

How was this the easy part of the job? Sneak the Druid boy out of Camelot, Merlin. You'll be fine, Merlin. Merlin, however, saved his grumbling and sneaked through the halls of the castle like Arthur had said. When planning the guards' patrols, Arthur had ensured a blind spot where Merlin would be able to free the boy under the cover of darkness by using a hidden siege tunnel to which only Arthur had the key. This key was in Merlin's hand now, and he would have to remember to lock the entrance behind him to maintain his cover.

He was surprised at Arthur, if he was being truthful. When he returned to Arthur's chambers with enough food for the three of them, he had found the prince pale-faced and pacing. Arthur explained that he had been able to heal the boy, though he told Merlin nothing else. It was like the worst of Arthur's nightmares. He kept the worst bits to himself and shut Merlin out, though Merlin could scarcely imagine what plagued Arthur's mind at all. Wasn't it a good thing that Arthur was starting to have more control over his magic?

Merlin was tense as he rounded every corner, but the boy who had called out to him and called him Emrys followed his every step obediently. So far, so good. All of the patrols just missed them, making it easy to sneak through the corridors to get to Arthur's secret tunnel, but Merlin could not calm down. If Arthur was caught, he would be arrested and reprimanded. If Merlin was caught, he would be killed on sight.

Merlin could not really complain, though. He knew the risks involved, and he still chose to go along with Arthur's plan anyway. If he was caught, he would tell the guards that he was acting alone and would not hold Arthur to any fault. The king was not going to find out that Arthur was acting against him from Merlin's own lips. This would be yet another secret that he would take with him to the gallows…

If he was caught, though Merlin had no intentions of being caught tonight. And so he slipped through the castle under the cover of night with the full moon shining through the castle windows and casting shadows everywhere for the warlock to hide in. If he heard so much as a footstep, he once again took cover until the servant passed or the knight returned to his room. There was not a peep from his young charge, who was dressed in a freshly cleaned cloak and a freshly mended shirt thanks to Merlin who wanted to make sure that the child was comfortable on his way back to the Druids.

Merlin was not the biggest fan of Arthur's plan, though he would not have been able to come up with a better one if he tried. With the Druid boy now fit for travel, Merlin would take him through the Lower Town and out of the city. With any luck, he would make it to their rendezvous point with the stashed supplies for "Arthur's hunt."" The plan was to tell the king that Arthur was tracking down a lead as to where the Druids were, and he was going alone so as not to draw more attention than necessary. When he returned, it would be to find that both Druids had escaped, or so it would appear.

As for Arthur, Merlin knew that by now the prince was distracting the guards long enough to rescue the elder Druid, and then they would take the abandoned siege tunnels through the burial vaults to get out of the city. They would meet at the grate where Merlin would use his magic to pull back the grate so they could make their escape. Merlin would stay in Camelot for a few days to lift suspicion, and Arthur would accompany the Druids back to their people.

However, first things first, they had to all survive this mess. Merlin had magic, but he did not want to use it on the guards of Camelot. That would be suicide, and he would be sent to the pyre without even a fair trial, knowing how Uther was. Arthur had made him promise to not use it too much around other people, and Merlin was going to abide by that promise unless there were no other viable options. If they ran into any guards, he would try non-magical methods to escape first, though what was also important was keeping his identity a secret to anyone who would recognize him. Though there would be no change there. All of his life he had to keep secrets, and aiding a Druid boy who was trying to escape Camelot wasn't the craziest thing Merlin had ever done.

He climbed the next stairwell, his hands on the boy's shoulders to steer him down the next corridor. He wondered how Arthur was doing.

Arthur covered his nose so that he didn't inhale the toxic fumes, and then he dropped the smoking poultice in front of the guards on duty. He ignored the coughs and covered his face until he had walked past them. They would not be unconscious forever (he could not kill his own men), but this should buy him time.

Only one of the cells was occupied, and he went to where the Druid was sitting peacefully. Was he meditating? Not for the first time, Arthur decided that Druids were strange in every way, and it had nothing to do with their magic. If Arthur hadn't been in such a hurry, he would have left the Druid like that for just a while longer to see if he would understand him any more. He'll just have to ask him about it later and see if the man could be any less cryptic than the Great Dragon. Surely no one could be more cryptic than that overgrown flying lizard.

The key made some noise as Arthur unlocked the cell door, which was the only thing that snapped the Druid from his meditating stupor. The man was looking at him in surprise. Arthur knew that the Druid had not believed his claims that he would rescue him, but he was eager to prove the Druid wrong. He was not like his father. His father was a hypocrite and a liar who used the Great Purge to place the blame for his mother's death somewhere else: in the magic that had given him a son in the first place, the magic that now resided in the prince and turned him into everything that Uther would have called evil if it was not him.

However, Arthur was not evil, and he was no longer going to do his father's dirty work for him.

"Come on," he said briskly, and he held the cell door wide. "We have little time to waste." He was afraid that the Druid would waste time by arguing, but the man had gotten over his shock and was standing up. Even in the dimming light, the man looked haggard, but once he was returned to the Druids, Arthur would make sure that he was properly taken care of.

"Why are you doing this?" the Druid asked in disbelief as he exited the cell, and Arthur left it wide open. There was no point in trying to close it after him if the guards would notice that their prisoner had escaped, anyway.

"I am not my father." Arthur lifted the hood of his cloak - well, the cloak that he had borrowed from Merlin. It was itchy and uncomfortable, and already Arthur knew that he wasn't giving it back to Merlin. No, if everything went well and they both survived this, Arthur was going to get Merlin a much nicer cloak that didn't feel like he had fleas and did not have tattered holes at the seams.

They left the dungeons with Arthur leading the way. He moved forward determinedly, feeling something at finally doing right. It was not the first time he had acted out against his father, though at least now he was doing something worthwhile. By the end of this night, two innocent lives would have been saved, though when he was king, the lives wouldn't need saving at all because the laws against magic would be abolished, and he and Merlin will be free.

Arthur stilled when he heard the footsteps of the guards and ushered the Druid to follow him into the shadows behind a statue. Moments later, the guards passed and were likely headed towards the dungeons. They needed to keep moving and put as much distance between the dungeons and them as possible. Once the guards reached the dungeons and saw the fate that had befallen the guards, the warning bells would start ringing. They were running out of time.

"This way," he ordered gruffly, and he pulled the Druid down another corridor. They were nearing the tunnel. They could make it.

The Druid had increasingly become more trusting of following Arthur's steps and obeyed without a speculative glance. They were in the siege tunnels now just as the warning bells started ringing, signalling the escape of a "dangerous" prisoner. Everyone in the castle would awake to the sound of the warning bells, including his father who would certainly be irate when he found out. Arthur reminded himself to warn Merlin to make himself scarce so that he didn't catch the bad end of his father's ire.

"Merlin," he hissed through the grate, but he had made it to the gateway first. There was no telling when his friend would decide to show up… or if. No, don't think like that. He mustn't get caught. Arthur could only begin to imagine the things his father would do to the servant if he was caught. "My servant is bringing the Druid boy with him when they can get out of the city. He is supposed to meet us here."

The Druid man was eyeing him curiously, breathing calmly despite their desperate escape. They had not exactly been running, though they had been moving at a pace that was faster than a walk. Contrary to what his servant claimed, Arthur was fighting fit and was in well enough shape to run without running out of breath, though he supposed that with being a Druid, the man was used to running, too.

"What is your name?" Arthur blurted out the question. He was keeping his voice down, though he did not hear any guards nearby. They were probably trying to gather their bearings before they hunted down the Druid and his accomplice.

The man was still watching him with that Druidic manner. Arthur wished that he would stop, though he did not know how to ask the Druid to stop looking at him with those soul-searching eyes and still be "nice." "Why do you want to know?" was his reply, and Arthur began to wonder if he had made the right decision in breaking out the Druid. Was this his only reward for his good deed? Maybe this was not worth it.

"Well, I cannot keep calling you "Druid," now can I?" Arthur responded. He did not know the Druid boy's name, either, but he was sure that the boy did not want to speak to him unless it was to yell at him again.

Apparently Druids understood amusement after all because the strange man's lips quirked into a bemused sort of smile, or, at least, that was what it looked like to Arthur. "My name is Cerdan," the man replied calmly.

Arthur nodded and wondered if that was the Druid's real name or if he just made one up. He supposed that it did not matter, though, because at least he had something to call the Druid. "Under better circumstances, I would have said that it was nice to meet you, Cerdan," Arthur responded grimly before he glanced around to see if Merlin was here yet. As usual, his servant was running late, though Arthur could hear the footsteps running overhead.

Merlin needed to hurry up and get here now.

Merlin could hear the warning bells ringing from the citadel as he fumbled with the key to open the armory door, and he cursed under his breath as the jangling made too much noise. Most of the guards would be searching close to the dungeons and the nearest exits. Where he was, he should be safe, but he was still on edge. He was putting everything on the line to help the Druid boy escape, and Gaius would undoubtedly have choice words for him when he returned.

"Are you going somewhere, Merlin," a familiar voice sang, and he froze like a deer caught in the path of a skilled hunter. He could try to talk his way out of this situation, but there was no use since he had the Druid boy right there with him. He slowly turned to face Morgana, the key still clenched in his fist tightly.

The moon was the only thing giving them light, but he knew that it was her, and she had come alone. He could see a bright red cloak thrown over her nightdress, and he averted his eyes so as to be proper. "What are you doing here, my lady?" he asked with a waver to his voice. He could feel the Druid boy freezing up in his hand, and let go of the boy and pushed him behind him. He would not let the Druid boy be arrested without a fight.

"I can ask you the same thing," she said dryly, but she was looking at the Druid boy. She did not seem at all angry, and he remembered their conversation the day before. He had no reason to trust her words then, and he could hardly trust her words now. At the end of the day, she was the king's loving ward, honor-bound to tell the man who was like a father to her the truth. "It's all right. I won't tell anyone that you are doing this, Merlin."

Merlin shifted uncomfortably. "It's… not what it looks like," Merlin murmured, but at least there were no guards coming for his head.

"Are you sure?" Even though it was dark, he could somehow tell that she was smiling at him. "I always knew that you were brave, and this just proves it. After yesterday, I had my suspicions, but I could not be sure." She fished something from the folds of her cloak and procured something from its depths. "I assume that you are taking him back to his people?"

"I'm not-" No, Merlin was doing no such thing. That was Arthur's job, not his unless he wanted to give the king an excuse to put his head on the chopping block.

Morgana ignored him and closed his fingers around the hilt of a very expensive feeling jeweled dagger. "You will need something to protect yourself in case the knights follow you. You are always getting into trouble, if you have noticed." Merlin felt his face burn but said nothing. He definitely was not going to use the dagger. "I would like to see it back. Make sure you come back to Camelot to give it back to me yourself."

Was she… trying to tell him something? Merlin tried to figure it out, but the best that he could come up with was that she was wanting him to come back to Camelot, but why? So she could turn him in to Uther without endangering the life of a child? So that she could tease him relentlessly as Arthur did? Or maybe… maybe he did have a friend in Morgana, but he just didn't see it.

"I'm not the one bringing the Druid boy to his people," he tried to tell her again. "I'm leaving him at a hidden entrance to the city, and then I am coming back and going to bed." Well, Merlin could probably try to sleep with the warning bells shaking the entire castle awake, though he would not be chasing after Arthur's nightmares for the next week. He hoped that his friend could cope without him for the time he would spend away from the castle, and he hoped that the Druids would be of some help to the prince.

Merlin had done all he could for Arthur's nightmares, but he knew nothing about seers. He and Arthur had discussed it before parting ways to break out their respective Druids. If anyone would know how to help Arthur, the Druids would know, and so Merlin made sure to gather as much supplies as he could for "Arthur's hunting trip" and left them with Gwen before the curfew. If it was more food than what one man needed for a week, no one questioned it. He didn't even tell Gwen what the supplies were for, though she probably suspected.

"And how is the boy going to find his way back to his people by himself?" Morgana asked suspiciously. The answer she was probably expecting was different from the one Merlin was going to give her, and he shrugged innocently.

"He won't be alone. Arthur's breaking the other Druid out of the dungeons as we speak, and I really need to go and join him." Merlin turned to face the lock again and unlocked it as fast as he could without revealing his magic. "I will tell you everything later, but I need to keep his pratliness from getting arrested."

The Druid boy did not look too happy when Merlin reminded him aloud that Arthur would be the one delivering him and his guardian to the Druids, though Merlin attributed that to being that Arthur was the Crown Prince of Camelot. He'll figure out that Arthur means him no harm, Merlin told himself as the hatch swung open. The musty smell of stale air made him cough, and he lifted the boy up to help him get into the small tunnel.

"Arthur?" She sounded suspicious, though unlike last time, she did not burst into tearful laughter. "You were actually being serious about Arthur helping the Druids?"

Once the boy was safe in the tunnel, Merlin climbed after him. Somehow he even managed to not twist his ankle climbing into the tunnel, and he glanced behind him with a solemn smile. "You should give Arthur more credit, my lady. He doesn't share the same hatred for the Druids that his father does." Or for magic, though Merlin did not know what Morgana's opinions on magic were. Maybe she was sympathetic towards the Druids but still thought that magic was all evil. She knew about Arthur's nightmares, but perhaps she just thought that they were nightmares, albeit with a tendency to predict the future.

"Then wish him luck for me," Morgana said, and there was something unreadable in her expression. Merlin wondered if this was what Morgana had wanted to talk to Arthur about when she followed him to Arthur's chambers days ago, though it was not his place to ask. If he was going to ask anyone, he was going to ask Arthur.

"Thank you," Merlin said with a smile, and he looked at her a bit embarrassed. "Could you close the door? I don't want anyone to see where I've gone."

Morgana laughed at him, and it was a friendly laugh. Maybe they were actually friends. Merlin was going to have to try getting to know her a bit better later on then. "Of course I can, Merlin. Go do your thing, and we can talk about this later."

There was no light in the tunnel, and once the hatch was shut, he and the Druid boy were engulfed in complete darkness. Merlin muttered a spell under his breath, and as a glowing blue orb materialized before them, they traveled down the tunnel to meet up with Arthur.

"Sorry that I'm late, Sire, Morgana really wanted to talk," Merlin rambled as he got the grate where Arthur was standing impatiently. Arthur sighed and motioned for Merlin to get on with it, and he repressed the urge to shake the boy's shoulders since he made no effort to even hide his magic as the metal grate was blown from its foundation. "She's not going to tell anyone, though."

"You still haven't mastered being subtle, have you, Merlin?" Arthur asked as he lowered his arms from where he was shielding his face. Cerdan gawked at Merlin, though the boy didn't look too surprised. Actually, he was hiding behind Merlin like he was some sort of human shield, though Merlin was too scrawny to be considered a proper shield in Arthur's opinion. Arthur tried to not feel too offended at the boy's behavior, though all he could hear were those childlike accusations that rang through his head when the Druid boy discovered that he had magic.

"You know, you could also thank me," Merlin said dryly before he set down two large bags stuffed with goods. "This should be enough to last you for a week, though please try to save most of it for the Druids. I couldn't get too much from the kitchens without arousing suspicion." In addition to the food, there should have been a few lengths of cloth courtesy of Gwen and some of Arthur's personal gold. The Druids should not have to want for anything for at least a while if they were careful with the money.

Cerdan looked at the bags and then at Arthur. "I do not understand," the man admitted, and Arthur swallowed. He knew that this was coming, though he had put it off because he did not know how well Cerdan would take this, nevermind the Druid boy who still had no name.

"I am going with you, if you would have me." Arthur bowed his head in a sign of humility. "I need to see the Druids about… something." Arthur could ask Cerdan, though he wanted to see how the Druids functioned as a group when they weren't running for their lives from Arthur's men. He just needed to see the people that were like him, and maybe… maybe he will finally understand why the son of Uther Pendragon was cursed with magic.

Chapter Text

The farther away that they got from Camelot, the easier it would be for Arthur to breathe. He had set out on his journey not long after Merlin had brought him the Druid boy, who was decidedly not talking at all. Cerdan made for better company, though he was not thrilled about Arthur going with them to their camp. Arthur did not know what finally changed Cerdan's mind, though Merlin probably had something to do with it. Apparently he commandeered some respect from the Druids, though neither of them knew what "Emrys" was supposed to mean.

Arthur felt defenseless going through the forest without his sword, even though the Druids were peaceful people who shouldn't attack him in accordance to their beliefs. However, Arthur could not shake the feeling that there might be some in the camp who would want him dead, so Merlin had given him the jeweled dagger that Morgana had brought. Despite the girlishness of the blade, it made Arthur feel better since he was not going into the camp completely unarmed, but it was not the same as having a proper weapon in his hand. Arthur just hoped that he would not need to use it.

His worst threat in these woods, however, would be the serkets. Their stings were almost always fatal, and he had seen what the serket stings could do to a man without armor to protect him. This dagger would be useless to those monstrous beasts, so he would have to rely on Cerdan's aid if they were attacked by one of those creatures. Most blades could not even pierce the armor-like shell that protected the serket.

Night slowly turned to day as they neared where he assumed the camp was. His father had been suspecting the area for some time, but they had never had any reason to go after the Druids, for which Arthur was glad. After this venture, though, he would advise the Druids to relocate somewhere safer for their own protection, regardless if they chose to help him or not.

So far Arthur had kept his magic to himself, but the Druid boy knew about him. It would not be long before Cerdan knew about him too. It was funny that Arthur feared the judgement of a man who scarcely knew him, but the shame and guilt that had plagued his mind for years since that fateful day when he raided the Druid camp had only grown since he discovered his own magic. Arthur did not need their judgement when he judged himself for his actions, and no amount of trying to make things right would ever absolve him of his guilt.

The three moved without making much noise despite the amount of broken branches and dried leaves lying on the forest floor. In Arthur's case, it was because he was a born and raised hunter, and he needed to practice stealth quite frequently to catch his prey by surprise. Arthur then grimly realized that the Druids needed to be stealthy to avoid catching the unwanted eye, another reminder of what he and his father had done to that peaceful people.

Once I am king, I will make things right with them. No more Druids will be persecuted under my rule.

That day was quite a long ways away, but it made Arthur feel a little bit better. He straightened his back and continued deeper into the wood, accompanied by Cerdan and the quiet Druid boy whose stare pierced through Arthur's back like a blade would.

The first thing Merlin did after sneaking into the castle was to go to bed, where he promptly passed out without even changing into his nightclothes. The next thing he did was to pass along the message that Arthur had gone on a hunting trip to follow a lead on the Druids to a passing guard so that he would not have to speak to King Uther directly. Everyone in the castle seemed to be on edge and cranky because of the warning bells ringing for hours on end. Some guards had pulled him aside for questioning, though Merlin felt much better once he learned that they were questioning everyone. They still had not found out who had freed the Druids, and who in their right mind would accuse Arthur, anyway?

The next week was going to be extra special. Since he did not have to be Arthur's busybody until the prince returned, Merlin was going to make the most of his vacation. He would still have to do a few things for Gaius, and he would probably help out Lancelot later, and he might make some time to help Gwen with her own duties… Hey, the point was that he could still do whatever he wanted. Merlin just liked helping his friends… though in Gaius's case, it was still a matter of him needing to do those things.

Merlin quickly rapped on Morgana's door with one of Gaius's sleeping drafts in his hand in case anyone had any questions about why he was on this side of the castle. He knew by now that the potions hardly helped Arthur get any proper sleep since his nightmares were magically induced, and since Arthur was here, Morgana did not even "need" the potions. However, it was a great excuse to go inside of her chambers so that they can talk.

The door was opened by Gwen, who managed a smile at him after she saw who it was. Things had been a little frosty between the two of them after she had learned of his magic, but Gwen was a very forgiving person. Soon enough, they had gone back to being friends again, and Merlin decided that he would tell Gwen about the night before if she wanted to know. She had held onto his supplies for him for Merlin to pick up after he made it into the Lower Town, though Arthur had been very adamant about Gwen not risking her life on this venture.

"Merlin? I- We were not expecting you…" Gwen looked at the procured vial before glancing behind her at presumably Morgana. Merlin caught a flash of helpless worry on her face before she had turned away. Before he could say anything, the door was opening wider, and Morgana was looking at him with one of those pretty smiles of hers.

"Why don't you come inside, Merlin?" she suggested, and both of the ladies moved inside. "We can talk in here." Merlin's ears burned bright red as he entered the lady's room at her invitation, though it was better than the two of them being alone in the same room.

After the door was closed and there was no danger of being seen or overheard, Merlin pocketed the useless potion. Merlin then started off by saying, "I told you last night that I was going to… well, that Arthur and I were going to free both of the Druids."

"I heard the bells," Morgana interrupted him, not unkindly. "I saw you with the Druid boy, and I presume that Arthur was responsible for the warning bells last night?"

Merlin nodded, having forgotten that Morgana would have deduced some things by herself, or Gwen would have told her something if Morgana had asked her. "Arthur thought that it would be safer for me to handle the Druid boy, and he made sure that all of the patrols would stay out of my path so that I could escape." Things in the Lower Town had gotten more complicated since he had been delayed by talking to Morgana, though he was able to use magic to distract what guards were in his way so they would both be able to escape.

"That was very brave of him to do that," Gwen spoke up, and there was a hint of a smile on her face with origins that Merlin could not exactly pinpoint. Odd. "Where is he now?"

"Arthur went with the Druids to their camp." Neither of the girls knew about Arthur's magic, right? Merlin certainly hadn't told them despite his awfulness at lying, and he didn't think that Arthur had said anything. Needing an excuse just for their sake, Merlin added with what he hoped was a convincing smile, "He wanted to make sure that they got back safe with the supplies that they came to Camelot for." Well, it wasn't entirely a lie, so he was sure that Gwen bought it.

Morgana, on the other hand, narrowed her eyes ever so slightly, briefly reminding Merlin of a snake. He'd have to be careful to remain on her good side. "Is that the only reason Arthur went with them, Merlin?" she interrogated. Merlin's palms started to feel sweaty under the scrutiny, and the lady seemed to notice because she dropped the accusatory look. "Alright, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but you can trust us, Merlin. We are your friends."

Merlin had always considered Gwen to be a friend, though being friends with Morgana was still very new to him. Even if they were friends, he had never made the habit of telling his friends his secrets. Arthur and Will knew the most about him, and then Lancelot and Gwen. "He is going to seek out help for his nightmares," Merlin admitted, refraining from mentioning the magic. It was up to Arthur if and when he was going to tell them about that particular secret. Merlin was probably one of the few people that did know about him.

Morgana did not look too surprised, and she smiled again at Merlin's words. "Good. He will need all of the help that he can get." Merlin sometimes underestimated how much she cared about Arthur. "If anyone knows what is happening to him, the Druids do." As Morgana said this, Merlin wondered if she did know, or if she suspected the magic. He didn't ask, though he hoped that what she was saying was true.

Arthur struggled to light a fire from the damp wood. If Merlin was here, he could certainly do it, but Arthur knew that he probably did magic when no one was looking. Since that boy had no sense of self preservation, Arthur dreaded the day when the wrong person found out about Merlin's magic because he did something stupid like light a fire with his magic.

'Why aren't you using it?' Arthur heard the Druid boy ask him snidely. He tried not to flinch and continued striking the flint and steel as though it would actually set the wood alight with a roaring blaze.

"I don't know how," Arthur answered him aloud, unable to respond in the same way the Druid boy had reached out to him. Cerdan had gone to look for more firewood, leaving just Arthur and Mordred. "Why don't you do it?"

"You'll just kill me for using magic," the boy spat. He talked? Arthur had been convinced that he was unable to since he had only communicated with him and Merlin through their minds.

Arthur stopped trying to start the fire and sat up in case the boy did decide to help. "If I wanted you dead, I would have told my father about you. I'm not going to kill you."

"You killed other Druids like me, and they were like you, too," the boy pointed out. The worst thing about this both was that he had this intense, creepy stare that Arthur quickly decided was worse than Cerdan's.

Arthur could still hear their screams. Although most of his nightmares were of things yet to pass, there were some things that never left him. He had never forgotten that first raid on a Druid camp he had led that fateful day. So many had died, and not just the men, but the women and the children too. There were so many bodies left by the men who had disobeyed Arthur's direct orders to spare those who did not fight back, but their blood was also on his hands. He should have done something to defend the Druids who had done nothing to Camelot but occasionally practice magic, but he had frozen during that moment and watched it all go down. It was something that he would never forgive himself for.

"If I could go back, I would," he said quietly. "There is nothing that I can do to erase the horrors of what happened that day, but I promise you that things will be different when I'm king."

The boy said nothing to that, neither with telepathy or actual words, and he didn't look like he believed Arthur. He stared at him with thinly veiled anger and scrutiny. Flames sprung to light in the hastily put together campfire without the boy uttering a single spell.

Nothing settled Uther's anger over the next few days since the cursed Druid escaped from the dungeons. He knew that he should have executed the Druid when he had the chance to, but Arthur had thought there would be some good in keeping the man alive long enough to draw the other Druid out. It had been a good plan, though it hadn't worked. Both Druids were loose in the city somewhere, and King Uther barked orders at his guards to check the Lower Town again. He did not know who their accomplice was, but as the days passed, his chance for finding the Druids slipped away from him.

It was the fourth day since the Druid's escape, and there was no sign of any Druids in the city. Begrudgingly Uther had to agree that they were probably long gone, though he stubbornly sent out patrols. When Arthur returned from his scouting mission, he would see what his son knew and work from there. Why spend time trying to find two Druids if there was a chance to eradicate an entire camp of them? The Druids were dangerous if kept alive, even that boy who would grow up to be just as bad as the rest of them were. He would like to find them and to end their pitiful existences, though as king he had to choose his battles carefully.

The Druid had not freed himself using magic. They had studied the locks which were undamaged, and they found the remnants of a poultice that had been used on the guards who had been in charge of watching over the cells that night. The guards had been questioned extensively, though they hadn't seen anyone before they started to smell the obnoxious fumes of the smoking poultice. The accomplice must have used a key or was a skilled locksmith, though there was nothing suggesting that they had used magic.

There were few keys to the cells which were only entrusted to a few. Uther had one set of keys, and Arthur had his own set. There were a few sets that circulated between the guards and the occasional knight in charge of watching the cells. Not that there were many who did since they had more important duties, though there was the occasional need for an extra man watching the cells.

Uther's mind wandered to the one knight he almost consistently placed on guard duty. Lancelot had come from no noble family, though even Uther had to admit that his actions had been brave for a commoner. He had taken the oath to uphold the laws of Camelot, though Uther took those words with a grain of salt. There wasn't an ounce of noble blood to be found in the man, so he could have been lying through his teeth because he didn't have the same honor that the Knights of Camelot possessed.

There was no proof, and King Uther knew where Lancelot had been that night. He had taken a look at Arthur's patrols, and Lancelot had been watching the northern battlements with Sir Leon. When the warning bells started ringing, he had run back to the dungeon to offer his services in recapturing the Druid. Begrudgingly even Uther had to admit that Lancelot could not have taken the boy, so he scratched his name off of the mental list of suspects that he had formulated.

For the briefest moment, he considered Morgana, his ward and his secret daughter. She didn't hide her distaste for Uther's executions and had tried to plead on the Druids' behalf after the man had been arrested and the boy was still missing. She very well had the motive to help the Druids, though not the means. She did not have a key, and he was sure that one of the guards would have seen her hanging around the dungeons. Not only that, but he didn't think that she would ever go against him like that. To Uther, that would be like if Arthur went against his orders. It was absurd.

There were a few others that Uther considered: servants, guards, knights… In the end it came down to how they would have done it. They had to be harboring the Druid boy and breaking the other Druid out of the castle at the same time… Unless… It dawned on Uther then that the Druids' accomplice could have an accomplice of his own or perhaps more of them. It made Uther's stomach churn at the thought of so many traitors in his midst, though this would mean that the Druids' conspiracy against him was a lot bigger than he initially thought.

Uther stared out over the battlements where he saw some guards questioning Arthur's servant. It was strange that he had not accompanied his master on this mission, though Arthur probably wanted to travel completely alone and unhampered. Not long after the interrogation began, the guards waved the boy through the gate, and Uther lost sight of him as he traveled down the path with an empty bag. The king then remembered that he worked for Gaius, so he was probably doing something for him. Gaius hadn't left the castle to gather herbs since the boy came to live with him.

Uther straightened his back and turned to return inside. If there was no sign of the Druids by the time Arthur returned from his trip, he would have no choice but to call off the search. The guards would be needed here to defend the city in case if there was an attack, and it wasn't as though the Druids had done him a grievous wrong that he would stop at nothing to avenge (like Nimueh when she killed his wife), though the next time he had one in his clutches, he would treat him or her as an example as to why Druids were not welcome in his Camelot.

Arthur was standing in the clearing across from several Druids who certainly weren't there before. Well, they probably had been watching them for some time while hidden in the shadows, though Arthur hadn't seen them. Cerdan hadn't warned him when the Druids were going to make themselves known, but one glance at him and Arthur determined that he wasn't at all surprised. Traitor. He should have said something so that Arthur wouldn't look like a fool.

At least he did not plan on talking like a fool. "I come in peace," he said firmly, and he held his two empty hands level to his head where they would be far away from the dagger that Morgana had given to Merlin and Merlin had given to him.

Some of the Druids looked wary, while others such as an elderly man with a kind smile, did not. He looked at the pair of Druids and gestured for them to come over. The boy wouldn't even look at Arthur as he joined his own kin on the other side of the clearing.

"We are forever indebted to you, Arthur Pendragon, for returning the Druids to us. We'll be sure to return them to their own people." There were a few different Druid camps rumored to be in close proximity to Camelot, though they were usually long gone by the time anyone could find them.

Arthur bowed his head in response to the Druid's lengthy thanks. "You must not let it be known that it was I who brought them to you," Arthur warned him, and surely that needed no explanation. If word ever got back to his father, not only would he be punished, but his father might take his anger out on anyone who could have helped Arthur, like Merlin.

The old man continued smiling at Arthur. "We will tell no one. You have my word." Arthur didn't doubt his word in the slightest. It didn't matter to him if the man was noble, peasant, or Druid. He seemed sincere, and he felt better knowing that he wouldn't tell anyone of consequence. However, they were turning to leave without him, and Arthur needed them to stay.

"Wait!" Cerdan hadn't even started moving, though the Druid boy was hiding himself with the other Druids as though he could forget why Arthur was here. The old Druid turned to face him, and Arthur swallowed his pride. "I want to come with you."

Strangely enough, the Druids did not really protest - not verbally, anyway. There were plenty of strange looks thrown across the clearing at each other, and Arthur could guarantee that they were doing that strange magic mindspeak that Mordred had used on him once.

Thinking quickly, Arthur then added, "I just want to understand you and the rest of the Druids. My father has caused you so much pain and suffering, and someday I want to change that." Arthur could not undo the past no matter how much he wished that he could. He breathed heavily as he awaited the Druids' verdict until finally the old man gestured for him to follow. Arthur stayed in the middle of the group where they would be able to keep their eyes on him, though he felt like the gaze of some of them was like piercing daggers as they traveled deeper into the forest.

"How much longer is Arthur supposed to be away for?" Lancelot asked Merlin as the two of them sharpened the swords in the armory. Neither of them were under any obligation to do so - Merlin had volunteered because he was bored out of his mind, and Lancelot had volunteered to help Merlin. Merlin wasn't even using magic to complete the task because he was thankful for something to do. He had left the castle a few times to gather herbs for Gaius, though he hadn't followed along because Arthur had wanted to do this alone.

"He's supposed to be gone for a week," Merlin answered, though concern grew in his voice. They were now on the sixth day, and he was worried that Arthur would not come back. What if the Druids did something to him, or what if something happened to him on the road back from the Druids, or what if Arthur just decided to never leave?

Lancelot seemed to sense his growing concern and offered him a small smile. "I'm sure that Arthur will be alright, Merlin, and besides, you know where to find him. He'll be back before you know it."

Still, Merlin could feel a funny feeling niggling under his skin, though he could not describe it. Maybe it was nothing, or maybe, just maybe, something bad was going to happen, and he was too far away to stop it.

The boy's shaking hand was wrapped tightly around Morgana's dagger, and he looked at Arthur with so much anger and fear. When he spoke, they were just cutting accusations that tore through Arthur like the knife that he was holding. Arthur stood still, watching the boy with the knife but doing nothing against him, only there were tears running down his face and guilt flooding his heart. His mouth was moving…

And so Arthur dreamed under the watchful eye of a few suspicious Druids who made no moves against him. They would not tell him in the morning of his nightmarish fits that he was having, nor would he wake and know what he had been trying to tell the Druid boy. He wouldn't know if the boy would listen to him before the dagger would inevitably make its way into Arthur's heart.

Chapter Text

Arthur was sitting in a tent with the Druid chieftain- Iseldir, as he learned. The other Druids had confiscated his dagger to be returned to him when he left, and although wary, he agreed. He knew that he could not be trusted by the Druids after everything he and his father had done, but here he was trying to make amends when he knew that his father would never try the same.

"Sometimes I see things when I'm dreaming," Arthur said softly. It was a struggle because he had never really admitted it to anyone before. He had gone to Morgana when he was young because he had no one else to run to. She told Gwen, and Merlin figured it out on his own without Arthur actually needing to say anything. "And these things sometimes come true."

The old man looked at him thoughtfully. "Sometimes the mind plays tricks on us, Arthur Pendragon. It does not always mean anything, even if you think that it does."

Arthur shook his head, trying to not feel offended that the man didn't immediately believe him, though why would he? Why would the son of Uther Pendragon have magic? "No, it is more than that. I see things before they even happen, and I…" Arthur folded his hands in his lap and looked down. "I have magic."

Never before did he admit to it, and it felt strange on his tongue to say it at all. He wished that he had brought Merlin with him so that he wouldn't feel so alone right now. Arthur didn't plan on telling most of the Druids about his magic, just the few that could help him… if they chose to. He glanced up again just in time to see Iseldir's eyes widening with shock before the Druid chieftain recomposed himself.

"You chose to practice magic?" the man guessed. He seemed a little surprised, so the Druid boy must not have spilled his secret… yet anyway.

"No, it chose me," he answered as calmly as he could. "It started with the nightmares, and I would take sleeping drafts to stop them, but they didn't work. Then the dreams became worse, and then…" Arthur paused. There was no need for the Druids to know that Merlin had magic, too. Even if they did, that was not Arthur's secret to tell. "I was poisoned, and I was saved using magic." Arthur stared at the canvas walls of the tent. "After that, I could use magic, but I couldn't control it. I tried to learn - there was someone who tried to help me - but the spells wouldn't work for me."

Maybe with time and practice Arthur would get better at using magic, but he was inexperienced and frightened. There was only so much that Merlin could do to help - he was naturally good at magic, and Arthur was not.

Iseldir looked at him, troubled. "You were never destined to have magic, Arthur Pendragon. I do not know how to help you without consulting with the other Druids. For now, you are welcome to stay here, and perhaps we can figure out what to do about your magic. Is there anything else that you can tell me about it? When you first started having these visions, perhaps?"

"I was almost ten years old," Arthur started, unaware that his mouth started moving. "I can still remember it."

Arthur fidgeted beside his father dressed too nicely for what felt like a boring occasion. His collar felt scratchy, so he shoved a finger between the itchy material and his neck in an effort to make himself feel more comfortable. His father noticed and gave him a stern look, though the prince was saved from a reprimand by the arrival of the party from Lord Gorlois's lands.

"My dreams started soon after Morgana became my father's ward."

Already Arthur could tell that she would become the most annoying person in his life. He wasn't impressed by the young girl in the slightest. She was taller than him by a few inches and had a haughty demeanor about her, even if it was masked by sadness. His father had tried to explain it to Arthur, though he didn't know why her father's death meant that she had to live here. He liked being an only child, though if he had to have a sibling, he would have picked a younger one, preferably a little brother that would hero worship him. He didn't want an older sister, and even if she was older than him by a few months, she would probably hold it above him like it was something to be proud of.

"The first few weeks after her arrival in Camelot was normal. She got settled, and soon my father found a girl from the Lower Town to act as Morgana's maid. She was very girly and annoying, but we got along. She could use a sword, so we would spar sometimes. Sometimes I would win, and sometimes she would beat me, but the first time that she ever disarmed me, everything changed."

His practice sword fell to the ground, and he stared in disbelief as the girl - a girl! - laughed and pointed her own weapon at his throat. "I win," she said with glee before holding out a hand to help him up. Arthur grumbled before taking it, and when their hands touched, he felt the oddest feeling pass through him. Judging by the look on her face, she felt it too.

"After that day, I started to have those dreams. They started out with little things - coincidences, I thought at first, but then as I got older, the dreams would get stronger."

Twelve years old now and having not had a restful night's rest in two years, Arthur finally acted, but who could he tell? Not his father who would be so disappointed in him for being weak. Not Gaius who reported directly to his father. Not his governess because Arthur was getting too old to have one. There was only one person he could tell, and he knocked on Morgana's door, still dressed in his bedclothes and holding a candle for light in the dark corridor.

"I sometimes felt better after telling Morgana about the dreams, and she then told her maid. It was nice talking to Guinevere, too, but the dreams only became worse from there."

He had seen so many Druids lying dead in what once was their camp. He had seen the terrified look on Odin's son's face that would have haunted his dreams even if he didn't see the future. He had seen Merlin's eyes blazing gold as he used another magic trick to save Camelot. All this, he would tell Morgana about. Sometimes she would believe him. Sometimes she didn't.

"My manservant found out about the dreams shortly after my father hired him for saving my life. Instead of running off, Merlin tried to help me, and he has spent many nights by my side instead of looking after himself."

The faces that Arthur did not know but would come to know showed up frequently in his dreams. The most prevalent was a boy a few years younger than he was with dark hair and blue eyes that were sometimes gold. There was also a small child who looked at him in anger with icy blue eyes, and there was a girl with dark hair, ragged clothes, and a warm smile as she accepted a bright red rose from an unseen lover. He had seen Odin's son weeks in advance, and still Arthur hadn't prepared for what was to come.

"I could not have kept this secret for long without any of them, but none of them really understand, not even Merlin. They don't see things like I do. Merlin says that I am a seer, but the dragon that my father imprisoned beneath the castle said something about destinies not being the same as they once were?" At that, Arthur shrugged. He hoped that this was enough for the Druid to work with to give him an answer - just any answer at this point he would be fine with.

"Seers have the gift of foresight," Iseldir said, watching Arthur for a reaction. The truth was that Arthur did not know too much about seers. "It is a rare gift, but with the proper training, it can be a useful tool, not just a hindrance. Let me speak to the other Druids, and we will try to find a way to help you. If you need anything, just ask."

Arthur did not want to bother the other Druids over anything trivial, but he nodded his thanks at the man. When he was left alone in the tent in the middle of a predominately magical community, he dropped his smile and resumed sitting on top of the cot. If there were any gods listening, he hoped that they would give him the answers that he so craved.

Gaius was giving Merlin that dreaded eyebrow, and Merlin flinched at the look. The searches for the Druids had been halted until further notice, and the security restrictions had been lifted. He was no longer being questioned when he left the city to pick herbs for Gaius, but Gaius never dropped his suspicions over him and the Druid boy. Merlin had been harboring the Druid boy, but he had gone through the extra effort of not involving Gaius when asked.

"Is there anything that you would like to tell me, Merlin?" Gaius repeated the question instead of dropping the matter like he had the previous times that he asked.

"No, not really," he said without batting an eye. He shoved away his barely touched plate in Gaius's direction. "Dinner was great, but I really must be going." Merlin pushed his hands down on the table to give himself the momentum to stand up.

"Merlin." Merlin sat down, his face sheepish at the tone that Gaius was using. Gaius realized this and his tone softened. "I am not upset with you. I just want the truth. Were you the one harboring the Druid boy."

Merlin nodded. "They were going to kill him, Gaius. I couldn't let that happen. I had some help, but before you ask, no, I will not tell you who was helping me." Merlin felt like Arthur should be the one to tell Gaius since he had already revealed him to Morgana. "We broke both of the Druids out of the city. They are long gone."

Gaius did not look completely satisfied. "And I suppose that Arthur's disappearance was purely coincidental?"

Merlin stayed silent, even biting down on his tongue so that he wouldn't slip up and say something that he shouldn't.

Gaius shook his head. "I hope that the two of you know what you are doing. Uther is already getting suspicious from the lack of word from Arthur. If he doesn't come back to Camelot soon, he will start sending out the Knights after him. I fear for anyone who gets in their way."

Merlin nodded with an ill feeling in his stomach. He knew where Arthur had gone, and the prat should be safe. Still, it would not hurt to ride out tomorrow and to bring him back.

"I'll think of something, Gaius. Don't worry about us." Except Merlin was worried for Arthur, even if he had no reason to be.

Arthur jolted awake and faced the eerily still night. Something was not right. Any recollection of what he had been dreaming about faded away instantly, and he reached for his sword only to remember that he was unarmed and defenseless in this camp. The only sounds were the night sounds outside and his heavy breathing, but Arthur was a seasoned warrior and could tell when something was off. Something was so wrong, and once his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see it.

He wasn't alone.

There was a small figure standing in the mouth of the tent, and Arthur did not have to be a genius to know that it was the Druid boy, the boy whose name he still did not know.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, his throat feeling dry and scratchy. Arthur steadied his breathing using the same breathing exercises Merlin had shown him before, and he looked at the child, all too aware that there was a dagger in his hand. His dagger. The dagger that Morgana had given to Merlin, and the dagger that Merlin had given to him.

"Why did you do it, Arthur? Why did you go after the Druids? We wanted to live in peace." The boy's voice wavered, mirroring the shaking of the hand holding the dagger. Arthur looked at it and did not think that the boy would do anything with it, but he had to play this safe.

"I was young, I was foolish, and I wanted to please my father. I never meant…"

Arthur had ridden out that day thinking that he could stop the vision somehow from coming true. He could save the Druids from slaughter. It had been the first time he tried using his curse, his gift, for something good. It hadn't been enough.

The rush of battle pulsed like a war drum. The Knights marched towards the site of the Druid camp. He could hear the children's laughter, oblivious to the danger nearby.

"Spare everyone you can," he ordered, his voice still sounding young and inexperienced. "The women, the children, everyone who does not fight back. We are pushing them back towards the border, is that understood?"

Some of the knights agreed with nods of respect, but some looked bored and disinterested. Arthur had trouble commanding the knights since he had only just been knighted himself, and none of them wanted to follow orders from a boy, even if he was their prince.

Then the screaming started. The knights who didn't listen to him started the attack prematurely, and before Arthur understood what was happening, they were surrounding the Druids who tried to flee.

"Stop!" he ordered. Only a few paid him any mind, but the majority kept chasing down the Druids… the men… the women… even the children. "Stop!" he repeated when he saw someone manhandling a young boy who turned to look at him with a look he could only describe as hatred. None of the Knights who were still attacking even looked at him that time, and Arthur was frozen in place, transfixed with horror as everyone's lives crumbled around him into blood and screams.

Arthur shook his head, and there was a wetness behind his eyes that no one could possibly see in the dark. "Please, just listen to me… Nothing can excuse what my father did… what did, but a day will come when the ban on magic will be lifted. The raids will stop. You'll be free, and so will all of the Druids, but revenge will not bring them back."

The Druid boy hadn't raised the dagger against him like Arthur thought that he would, but his anger had not abated. "Why did you go after them at all? They were just like you." It was an echo of the accusatory cry that sounded through his chambers, only there was no door for Arthur to escape through this time. He lifted an arm to his eyes to wipe away the tears that were blurring his vision.

"I… I wanted to prove myself to my father and to my men. When my father asked me to lead the raid, I said yes because I thought that I could prevent the carnage that I had seen in my dreams, but I wanted to show him that I was a capable warrior."

Two things had stuck with Arthur that day. The first was the screams that haunted his nightmares, and the second was the knowledge that his dreams were useless. He hadn't done anything that would change their outcome.

"When I am king, the Druid people will be treated with the respect that they deserve. I give you my word."

Arthur took a deep breath when the Druid boy started to walk in his direction, but there was a dull thump as something hit the ground. The dagger. The boy had dropped the dagger, and now that he was close enough, Arthur could see that the boy was crying too.

"I lost my mother in that raid," the boy said softly, and Arthur's heart clenched with guilt and understanding. "I don't think that I can ever forgive you…" Arthur nodded solemnly. "But I don't hate you." And to Arthur, that was enough.

Arthur held out his hands to hug the boy if he allowed it. "What is your name?" he asked gently.

The boy looked at his outstretched arms with wariness and kept his distance from the prince. Arthur slowly lowered them as the boy then answered, "My name is Mordred."

And there it was, the final piece in the puzzle. Something felt more complete to Arthur, who then nodded.

"Mordred, I promise that things will be different when I am king."

And then the boy - Mordred! - was walking towards him, and there was the hug that Arthur had been bracing himself for. He felt a weight be lifted from his chest after long last as he had finally shared this story, and it was as though the world was at peace once again.

Iseldir had sent a younger Druid to bring Arthur to bring him breakfast and to tell him where to meet the other Druids. Arthur asked him to bring him a bowl of water so that he could wash his face and freshen up, and while startled, the Druid quickly returned with what Arthur asked for. He washed away the traces that he had cried the night before, then he was ready to face them.

There were five Druids including Iseldir: three men and two women. The other four were the chieftains of neighboring Druid camps that had all come to talk with Iseldir about Arthur. He bowed his head humbly at them since he didn't know how else to act around the Druids. However, he knew that they deserved respect, and he would show it to them in the best way he knew how.

"It is nice of you to join us, Arthur Pendragon," Iseldir greeted with his smile warm and his hands crossed in front of him. "I trust that your stay so far has been comfortable?"

Arthur looked at the four Druids flanking Iseldir - two on either side, but he could not read their expressions well enough to know what they thought of him. He wondered if they all hated him for his role in the Druid raids and the enforcing of anti-magic laws.

"It has been. I appreciate your hospitality, and it is my hope that I can repay you someday." At that moment, Arthur decided that he would leave food, gold, and supplies for them whenever he could as thanks for his good will towards him.

"You do not need to thank us." This time, it was one of the male Druids - dark skin, bald, and relatively at ease even around him. "You rescued two Druids from my camp. We are indebted to you."

Arthur shook his head in dissent. "No, you aren't. I have wronged all of you in so many ways. It was the least I could do to make up for what I have done under my father's orders in the past."

The other Druids had varying degrees of surprise in their eyes at his statement, and there was a moment of silence as they started giving each other looks (perhaps they were conversing within their minds again, but Arthur would never know).

"Nonetheless…" It was Iseldir who first broke the silence. "We will still help you. We have talked it over before, and while we cannot be sure, we have an idea about what has happened to you to give you magic."

Arthur's eyes widened. While he had gone to the Druids for answers, he didn't know for sure if they could help him. "Tell me," he said, doing his best to make it sound like it wasn't an order or a demand.

A woman close to his father's age spoke up and held up a small tree branch with many leaves. "There is a ritual that can be performed by High Priestesses of the Old Religion that can sway someone's destiny, but the practice has been lost to time because of its dangers. Each leaf on this branch is a path to take, but someone has interfered." At this, she snapped a section of the branch off from the rest of it and was now holding a much smaller branch. "Someone has taken destiny into their own hands."

"To do so comes at a price," the balding Druid added. "To interfere with destiny, you must give up a part of yourself to fill the void left behind, and you must choose someone else to take on that burden. However, that person has to be connected to the destiny that they were trying to thwart."

Arthur's mind struggled to process this. "So someone gave magic to me intentionally?" he asked just to be sure that he wasn't misunderstanding this. Who could do such a thing? Why would they choose him?

"It seems that way, yes," Iseldir said gravely. "You spoke of a moment between yourself and your friend Morgana. We have it in good faith that it was her destiny and her magic that was given to you the moment the two of you first made physical content."

Arthur shook his head because she had been so young. Morgana couldn't have been a High Priestess! She couldn't have given him magic willingly, and if she did, she had been lying to him all this time, which he refused to believe. "Did Morgana do this to me?" he asked, doing his best to keep that note of vulnerability out of his voice.

To his luck, the third male Druid laughed gently. "No, of course she didn't. Someone else intervened in her name, though we cannot tell you what their reasons were for doing so."

Arthur frowned to himself and tried to think of the many things he had dreamt up in the past that had come true. There was something prickling in the back of his mind, but that memory evaded him. He couldn't figure out what it was supposed to mean for the life of him.

"I was told that my destiny is to bring about Albion," he began. He was certain that was the right word that the dragon used. "However, since I have magic, the way I fulfil this destiny is unclear."

This sparked curiosity in the Druids. "Albion, did you say?" an elderly woman asked. "Who told you of this?"

And so Arthur came clean. He told them about the Great Dragon chained up beneath Uther's castle. He told them what the Great Dragon said about his destiny and how his choices could affect it. He did his best to omit Merlin's role in it, but then Iseldir was giving him that questioning look.

"If you are the Once and Future King, then you will not be alone in this destiny. Have you already met Emrys?"

Emrys. He had heard that name before, but neither he nor Merlin knew what that name actually meant. "Who is Emrys?"

Iseldir smiled. "We will tell you."