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Witching Hour

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Morgana had a plan, a genius one. All this time she’d been going about her attacks the wrong way. All this time she had sought out Emrys’ identity so she could face him, but what if she didn’t have to?   

What if she could take out Emrys without a direct attack?  

He lived in Camelot, or around it; he had to be close to the city or his easy of aiding her brother would be impeded. Which meant she needed to take out all the potential candidates at once. She needed to remove all witches and warlocks in the vicinity of the city.  

She had the perfect spell.  

A simple curse, but effective, very similar to the curse her sister had used all those years ago.  

A sleeping spell.  

She would send all the born-magic users into a deep sleep; one they would not wake from until they wasted away to their deaths. How would Emrys stop her if he was not awake to do so?  

It was the perfect plan, but far harder than it sounded. The spell took a lot of energy to cast and would need an anchor, and finding that anchor was a mission of its own.  

In the end her searches led her to a large crystal of smoky quartz with a gold bracket as a stand at its base. Inside the bracket were small indents containing haematite and black tourmaline.  

It would hold the spell well, but it needed to be placed within Camelot, at its core, so it would have the maximum reach. She would also be unable to cast the spell herself without being affected by it, so she needed to find someone to do it for her. Once it was cast, she’d be safe from it with the right protection, but she could not do it alone.  

Finding someone willing to cast a spell in the heart of Camelot was harder than she’d thought.  

Eventually though, it all came together.  

She felt the ripple through her magic, and knew her plan was underway.  

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Leon joined Merlin as he headed for the gate. A few months before, while gathering Gaius’ usual herbs, Merlin had been attacked by bandits out in the forests. He'd been missing for three awful days before they’d found him curled in on himself in a cave, blood staining his clothes. The large gash on his leg had stopped him being able to get home and the Knights had restrained themselves from gathering him up and never letting him leave the citadel ever again.  

Merlin had brushed it off as a onetime thing, complaining more about the lost herbs and Arthur’s bad mood than his injuries or the attack itself. He'd protested that he was usually fine and that he was only gathering herbs so it wasn’t really dangerous.  

Their King hadn’t been persuaded , and ever since the attack Merlin was to be joined by one of the Knights.  

It wasn’t a duty any of them minded, in fact they all rather enjoyed it, because Merlin was like their little brother and no-one was going to complain about being able to spend more time with him than they already did.  

Leon was even taking the time to learn the looks and names of the herbs, so he could try to help when they were gathering them. He wasn’t always right, but he was improving, and he actually found himself really enjoying his new way of helping the Kingdom without fighting. For the first time he found himself understanding Merlin and Gauis ’ points of view in the pacifist's way of aiding the Kingdom being equal to the warrior’s way.  

“You know you don’t have to come with me, Leon.”  

“On the contrary, Merlin, I do have to. Not only because our King ordered it, but because you’re my friend. I don’t want to see you harmed.”  

“I was attacked once. Once!”  

“Once was one time to many, Merlin,” he waved to the guards as they passed through the gates, “besides, Arthur is rather unbearable without you there to reign him in.”  

Merlin snorted softly, “I’m sure he’s not that bad.”  

“When you were missing, those three days, he was a nightmare. ‘Where’s Merlin?’ ‘I need Merlin.’ ‘Where is he, Leon?’ He drove me mad.”  

“Oh please, I’m sure our Queen did well enough to keep him tamed.”  

“She was worrying too.”  

“I was fine.”  

Leon personally thought fine was an overstatement, given they’d found him huddled and shivering, with blood leaking slowly from a large gash in his leg, closer to death than any of them ever wanted to see, but he wasn’t willing to try to argue it again. It wasn’t worth it.  

“So, what are we looking for today?”  

“Yarrow, hazel, nettle root and leaves, feverfew, ragweed, rosehip, patchouli. We're running low on quite a few things.”  

“Well we have all day.”  

For hours Leon carried the herb baskets, following Merlin around as he sought out all the plants he needed for Gaius. He had to keep an eye out for bandits, of course he did, but for the most part they chatted idly and enjoyed the day. It was a good day for collecting herbs, the first good day Camelot had seen in a while. For almost a fortnight there had been heavy fog, rain or high winds plaguing the land. It had been almost dark, even in the height of the day.  

But the morning had been bright, with a warm sun and a clear sky. There were a few fluffy white clouds high in the sky, but nothing to impede their journey. Even the winds had calmed.  

The air fell still.  

“Leon...”  

He whipped around to see Merlin swaying slightly, one hand rubbing his eyes.  

A bright flash of light cut through the sky, followed by a loud crack like thunder.  

The sky was clear.  

The air was too still.  

Silent.  

Merlin took a single step towards him, and went tumbling to the mossy earth below him.  

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Arthur was having an ordinary day. He woke to his beautiful wife and queen, laughed with Merlin as he got ready for the day, then made his way down to the council chambers for the day's affairs. Merlin would not be joining him, instead collecting herbs with Sir Leon.   

There had been nothing out of the ordinary at all, until the storm started.  

He'd ignored it, of course, with nothing but a back-of-the-mind thought to Merlin and Leon caught out in it, but Camelot had been suffering a bout of bad weather, and the warm day they’d started with had been too good to be true.  

It had struck him as odd that there was no rain, but storms could carry for miles, so perhaps it was just far away. He turned his attention back to the tax reports.  

Until Sir Tristan had burst in, apologising for the interruption but stating they needed Gaius as a matter of urgency .  

Arthur ended the meeting there and then, the feeling in his gut no longer something he could ignore, and joined them on their way to Gaius’ chambers. A mother stood with her daughter unconscious in her arms.  

He hadn’t understood what was so urgent, until he saw a father with a teenage boy in a similar state, and two guards stretchering an old woman into the corridor. Following them were more people asking for help, brining family members.  

It was an epidemic .  

More and more people were coming forwards with friends or family members who had fallen and not woken up.  

Fallen when the lighting flashed and thunder peeled.  

It was no storm; it was a curse.  

Chapter Text

Never had Leon been more worried than when Merlin fell.  

His mind worked in overdrive, throwing information together to bring his conclusion.   

They'd been attacked. He'd let Merlin get hurt on his watch.  

He would have believed Merlin had fallen from exhaustion or illness, but it had coincided to well with the unnatural storm burst to be anything other than sorcery.   

He abandoned the herbs to drop to Merlin’s side, tossing his gloves aside to check the pulse on his friends neck, leaning in to feel the puffs of breath that signified the life still within him.   

“Merlin? Merlin, wake up.”  

If he woke, the panic would leave. If he woke then he would be ok. If he woke they could get back to within the safe walls of the citadel.  

He did not wake.  

He had to get Merlin back to the city, to Gaius. He has to get Merlin to help.  

Leon scooped up the herb baskets, knowing that they’re needed within the Kingdom, and then gathered Merlin within his arms.  

He would run to Camelot if it got Merlin safe.  

Merlin still did not wake.  

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Arthur was not overly worried as they set up one of the meetings halls as an infirmary. They would find the cure to this and recover from it, as they always did. His knights and family members brought up more and more victims, it had to be more than 50, but he was sure in his kingdoms ability to weather the attack.  

They would find the commonality the victims shared; they would get their cure.  

He was sure, until Leon entered the room with Merlin in his arms.  

Merlin.  

Suddenly he wondered if it was targeted, but why would they target Merlin, why not his Knights or his Queen. Was it that Merlin was the easiest to access? The one without guards. No, Merlin was always around them. He'd be hard to attack, surely. Why the other people as well?  

Was it coincidence, was Merlin just that unlucky?  

Leon looked sick in the realisation that Merlin wasn’t the only one hurt, but also relieved. It was an odd expression to see in a room like this, but Leon had probably had to carry Merlin up from the forests, having seen his friend collapse.  

How worried must Leon have been?  

Arthur had to watch as Gaius caught sight of his ward, struck down by the same ailment as the rest. Had to watch his eyes go wide and his face go pale.  

It was the same look he’d seen on his father when Morgana had been found unconscious at the base of the stairs all those years ago. The look on some of the Lords faces when their sons returned from patrols on stretchers, or not at all.  

It was a deeper look of hurt than the other parents in the hall, because they had the fear for their child, but unlike Gaius, they also had hope their children would be saved by the physician.  

Gaius was the physician, and he clearly had nothing yet.  

Not if the horrified look on his face was anything to go by.  

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“Sire, so far I’m afraid I have very little. Most of the victims are young or old, which is common for many diseases...”  

“Merlin is no child, nor is he old.”  

“That does not mean he would not be affected. Many illnesses that strike the young and old also affect those in between, its merely less frequent. People who are stressed or tired are often also weaker to ailments. Other than that, it seems to have caused unconsciousness, but there’s no outward sign of illness like blistering or rash other than a rise in temperature. It will take time to identify.”  

Is there no way to break this curse?”  

“I never said this was a curse, Sir Leon, there are many illnesses that render their victim's unconscious and cause fever.”  

“All at the same time, with a clap of thunder and a flash of light? This must be a curse Gaius. How can it be anything else?”  

“Leon is right, Gaius, and you know it.”  

“I’d hoped to have more for you than it’s a curse before I informed you sire. It appears to be a sleeping spell, but the origin and anchor are unknown. We can do very little. I have no way to break its hold on its victims, nor do I know how it chooses them.”  

“Anchor?”  

“Spells that affect large areas cannot be performed and held by a magic user. It drains their energy and damages them. It can kill them if they don’t know what they’re doing. Magic users who want to create curses like these use crystals as anchors, often with the curse repeated in runes on the sides. It may even be glowing, with a spell this powerful. Once broken, the curse will lift.”  

“Will it be in Camelot?”  

“Given its radius around the city, most likely.”  

“Leon, start a city-wide search, start in the lower town, find the anchor and break it. Gaius... inform me if anything changes.”  

With his order given, Arthur rose, and Leon and Gaius did the same.   

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When Gwaine returned from patrol with Percival and Elyan , he was expecting to spend some time with his friends. They'd joked that the three of them were going to drag Leon and Merlin drinking with them, among other things.   

They’d expected to return, report and relax.  

They hadn’t expected Gwen alone to greet them at the base of the stairs.  

“Oh, Elyan , I’m so glad you're ok. You're all alright.”  

“Gwen?” they dismounted, letting the stable hands take their horses, and Elyan embraced his sister, “Why would we not be alright?” 

“There’s been an attack...”  

Elyan was the first to process the news, asking, “Arthur?”  

“He’s fine, just worried.”  

“Merlin? Leon?”  

Gwaine had to know. He didn’t want to ask, but he had to know.  

“Leon’s fine, but Merlin... oh Gwaine he’s so pale and he won’t wake up.”  

Gwaine faltered at the news. Elyan pulled Gwen into another hug, and Percy’s hand fell onto his shoulder. It was Percival that finally broke the silence, asking the question they’d all began to think.  

“How?”  

“It’s magic. Almost 250 people just collapsed all at once. We haven't found the cure yet. None of them will wake.”  

250 people just collapsing. 250 people. They'd been besieged with armies with less people than that. And Merlin.  

Little brother Merlin.  

Why would anyone want to hurt Merlin?  

She led them to one of the smaller meeting rooms for their debrief, and they reported the inactivity on their route. Gwaine was itching for the meeting to be over so he could go to the infirmary and find Merlin, even if it was only to sit by him and hold his hand for a while. He knew Percival and Elyan would want to do the same, and that Leon had probably already had his turn.  

Just before they were dismissed, just before they would have been able to go to Merlin, Arthur arrived, grim faced, with Leon in tow.  

“You’re back,” Arthur said, a small smile on his face, probably for the first time since the attack had started, “and unharmed.”  

“Gwen said there was a curse, sire.”  

The smile slid off of Arthurs face.  

“We’ve so far had no luck finding the source or curing the sick. People have started arriving asking for help from the outer towns. The scouts say it’s gone as far as an hour's hard ride in any direction. We don’t know how it’s chosen its victims. No-one has fallen prey to it since.”  

“Small mercies.”  

Gwaine couldn’t help but agree with Percival. 250 people affected, or there about , one of whom was their close friend, but at least there weren’t more people being affected. The numbers weren’t growing.  

“Indeed. Gaius says we need to find some sort of anchor, but we haven’t managed to uncover it yet. You’ll all be up to joining the search, I'd assume.”  

“Yes sire.”  

“Of course.”  

“Absolutely, but can we see Merlin first.”  

He was family, they had to make sure he was ok, with their own eyes.  

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Percival hated places of sickness and the atmosphere of the whole room was foul. Beds filled with people, pale and unmoving. Loved ones watching over them. Healers flitting in between.  

Had there been sheets covering the figures on the bed, he would have thought it was a room of the dead post battle, for the pallor of the victims was that of the dead.   

Merlin was near one of the corners, in a bed against the wall. There was no family member holding his hand or placing the cooling cloth against his head or feeding him broth and water when it was needed. Rather, they’d found, the off-shift Knights had been taking turns. People like Kay and Galahad, who’d known Merlin for a long time as Arthurs most loyal friend, even if they’d never been close to him.  

It was heart-warming, in a heart-breaking way.  

Sir Brenneis was there when they arrived, replacing the cloth on Merlin’s head.  

He smiled sadly to them, allowing Gwaine to take his place.  

“I guess this isn’t the welcome back any of you expected.”  

“How is he?”  

“No different from the rest. Slight fever, but otherwise, he’s just sleeping.”  

There were Knights and guards lining the walls of the room, and they’d been by the doors. It was probably the most heavily guarded area of the castle, and Percival more than understood why. The room was filled with helpless people, mostly children and teenagers or the very elderly. If there was an attack, this was a room full of people, easy to kill.  

Merlin was one of the only people in the room above 20 and below 60. He was also the only one with no family, and the one the Knights were looking after. It was common knowledge that they cared for Merlin, but Percival supposed this was a stark representation of it. Knights taking turns to do the families jobs.  

Very few people were really looking at them, but there were a few glances at the Knights crowding around Merlin's bed.  

He turned his attention away from the rest of the room, and to his friend.   

Merlin looked as though he was sleeping and Percival wondered whether he’d ever feel comfortable seeing Merlin sleep again, because how would he know if his friend was going to wake, when they didn’t now.  

Out in the corridor, Arthur and Leon were waiting. There was nothing he could do in here except feel useless, so he brushed the back of his hand against Merlin's cheek, closed his eyes, prayed for someone to watch over his little brother, and left the room.   

He was going to find the person who did this. He was going to stop them.  

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They find the sorceress two days later. She's hidden in Morgana’s rooms, which had been abandoned after she’d left, but ended up both trapped by the guards and exhausted by the energy needed to cast the spell.  

The woman had several magical charms on her person, as well as a large staff and a book of spells. Gaius was studying it, in hopes of finding a non-magical cure for the curse, or a way to identify the anchor.   

It wasn’t the staff; they’d tried that already.  

The sorceress herself was not talking. She would not say what she had done or why, only that her mistress had bidden it done.  

It was not hard to guess who her mistress was.  

The sorceress only relayed two messages to them.  

One was generic, and the story all these vengeful magic users told.  

“Camelot will fall, we will destroy this city and return it to it’s rightful ruler. Death to Arthur Pendragon, long live the Queen.”  

The second was worse.  

“Kill me,” she’d said, “and the spell becomes permanent . Even if the anchor breaks, they’ll never wake.”  

A bluff, Arthur had wanted to call it, but Gaius had soon confirmed that there were spells in which these rules applied. If her sentence was passed, it may well seal the fates of her victims.  

So, she rotted in a cell under very strict guards, and Arthur hoped for a cure.  

Chapter Text

Arthur was barely surprised when the warning bells sounded.  

Barely surprised at all when the attack began.   

He, the Knights of the round table and his Queen were all chained and taken to the throne room. Morgana lounged in his throne.  

Where did she keep finding these armies?  

“Where is the boy? The serving boy? Merlin has foiled one to many of my plans to be allowed to just roam around. Go find him! And Sir Leon. Honestly, can’t you do anything right? I need them both captured or my plans may be down the drain.”  

That did surprise Arthur. Merlin? Stopping Morganas plans? Couldn't be. And yet. How many times did Merlin go missing during attacks? What if he wasn’t hiding? How many times had Merlin snuck out of the city? Why would Merlin put his life on the line like that?  

He knew why, Merlin was far too willing to die for others and far smarter than he seemed.  

“Merlin, you must be joking?”  

“No, dear brother. He's far better at interfering that you’re able to see. The whole year after I came back from my time with Morgause, he was sneaking around, stopping me at every turn. I'm sick of his interfering.”  

The minion scampered back into the room, evidently glad to have something to report. Arthur hoped it was to say Leon had escaped and Merlin was nowhere to be found, but his grin didn’t bode well.  

“Sir Leon is still missing, but Mistress, we found Merlin.”  

Her eyes lit up. His heart sank.  

“Where? Bring him to me.”  

“Ah... he’s in the lower hall. He's unconscious.”  

“Ohhhh, so that was his secret. That’s how he stopped me. Oh, that lying traitor. I bet he’s aligned with Emrys. Of course he is, that’s how Emrys knows to stop me, Merlin’s been helping him. How could I have missed that? How did you miss that brother? Your servant was a traitor, and you never knew it.”  

“Merlin is no traitor!”  

“You still don’t get it? You still don’t see? Arthur, my curse, the one plaguing the people in the hall below, it targets people born with magic. The ones who don’t choose it. The ones for whom it just appears one day. Merlin has magic, Arthur, he's had it this whole time. He's just like me.”  

And Arthurs world shattered.  

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After hours as a captive, Arthurs mind had worked through all of the information he had.   

And in conclusion, Merlin was not evil.  

Oh, he’d been hurt to hear what Morgana had said. Hurt to think Merlin was magical. To think he’d betrayed them.  

But Merlin had never betrayed him, not once. In all the years they’d known each other, through thick and thin, all the arguments and attacks and danger, Merlin had never once left his side.  

Worse, the magic made sense. Merlin put himself in danger all the time. He almost always survived unharmed or there about. What better explanation than that he had magic.  

But some things still made no sense. For all that Merlin believed in equality and the idea of people not being punished unjustly, he was scared of magic. Very scared of magic. He’d been attacked by it so many times, and he’d often flinched when the threat of it was mentioned.  

Did Merlin know he had magic?  

The thought was sobering. Morgana said people could be born with magic, and he’s heard rumours before that it could grow and lash out with their emotions. That they had no choice in it.  

What if Merlin had been born with it, and over the years it had been protecting him without him even knowing it? Had he considered it was magic? Was he scared?  

Did he fear turning out like Morgana?  

Would he turn out like Morgana?  

No, it was Merlin. His sister had always had a penchant to be violent, to fight for what she believed to be right. If she’d been led down this evil path, there had to be a reason. Merlin wouldn’t turn, not if he had his friends keeping him in the light, surely.  

And somehow his thoughts had trailed into the morals of it all.  

Because there was so much fear and hatred in his Kingdom.  

What if magic users weren’t turned evil by the magic, but by the fear of what people would do to them if they were found? What if they weren’t corrupted by the magic, but the hatred thrown towards them? Would he not want vengeance if someone killed Guinevere, or one of his Knights, or Merlin? Had he not wanted vengeance for his father? What gave non-magical people the right to seek out vengeance that the magical people weren’t allowed? Why shouldn’t someone who’s family had been killed be angry?  

Had it been a self-fulfilling curse the whole time?  

How many times had he called magic evil to Merlin’s face, oblivious to his friend's abilities? Did Merlin fear them? Fear himself?  

Did he sit up at night fearing what he was? Thinking himself some sort of monster?  

And if it was fear and hatred that drove them, no wonder his sister acted how she did now.  

She'd developed magic after a lifetime of hearing about how evil it was. She'd lived in the house of a man who hated magic above all else, and with a brother who led raids against it. She'd probably felt completely alone.  

Then someone like Morgause had come along, accepting her magic, and helping her to control it and who wouldn’t go with someone who could promise that?  

What reason would she have to stay loyal to Camelot?  

What reason did Merlin have?  

Maybe he had one that would make sense with the context of magic that would never occur to him. Maybe he’d always had magic, or had it for a long time. Those branches falling on patrols and mysterious life saving measures, the way Merlin always ran off before everything got better. Maybe he knew, and was protecting people.  

As for why... maybe because he was just a good person.  

He helped people because it was the right thing to do.  

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Leon was pressed against a wall, praying to anyone that listened that he would not be found.   

The attack had been swift and magically driven, and with their troops divided between helping Annis against an invasion, dealing with the chaos the sudden collapses had caused and disturbances in the north, they’d fallen painfully fast.   

Arthur, Gwen, Percival, Elyan, Gwaine and Gaius had been taken captive. Merlin lay dead to the world in the halls below. He was the only one left of the Round table.   

He had to gather reinforcements. He had to rescue his King and Queen. He had to stop Morgana. Leon was a practical man, and so he wasted no time in learning where the captive guards and Knights were. nor did he waste any time planning to work out the schedules of the patrols of their invaders. He planned his attack, his fight back, and set about to put it into action.  

It was quite by chance, at that point, that he stumbled across the glowing crystal.  

It was actually rather beautiful, but he stopped that train of thought sharply. This was the reason Merlin had collapsed. The reason he lay gaunt and pale and feverish on a bed in a hall filled with people in the same condition.  

It was a single crystal the size of his lower arm, with a golden hold embedded with other smaller crystals and it pulsed with a soft light.  

This was Morgana’s weapon. The tool she’d used to create chaos.  

Leon was not prone to impulsive actions, he preferred plans, calculated moves, knowing at least some of the risk before he made his choice. But Leon was also very protective of his friends and quick to anger when they were under threat.  

So, he picked the rock up, and threw it at the wall with all his strength.  

It shattered.  

Leon had just enough time to think ‘whoops’ before the pulse of energy threw him into the wall behind.  

Chapter Text

Morgana sprawled on the throne, waiting for her minions to return. 

And her glee was hard to contain when they did, striding through the open door with the boy uncomfortably dragging between them. 

Despite the shattered horror on her brothers face at the magic reveal, he looked appalled that Merlin was being treated in such a way. That he would be hauled across the rough stone floor.  

They all looked appalled, but only her brother would be able to voice it. She'd gaged the rest a long while beforehand. Her brother was fun to taunt, the rest were just annoying. 

Part of her really wanted to leave Merlin in Arthurs hands, let him burn the boy, but that would deprive her of the satisfaction of killing him.  

She really wanted to end his miserable life. 

They dumped him gracelessly on the floor and she drew herself up, ready to gloat. 

“Merlin, the loyal servant. But loyal to who? To Arthur, or to Emrys. Oh, I'd love to get the answers, but I can’t break the curse, or Emrys will awaken and I'd hate to have to fight him.” 

Merlin didn’t respond. Obviously.  

Her captive was far more vocal. 

“Morgana you’ve gone mad. Merlin is no traitor. He doesn’t know anyone called Emrys.” 

“Oh Arthur, if Merlin is so innocent, why did he collapse with the spell?” 

“You targeted him. This is some kind of trick.” 

“Even you don’t believe this. No, brother, the spell was set to cause all persons born with magic inside the city at the time to fall into a deep unending sleep. If he fell, he is guilty.” 

“Then he was born with it. Doesn’t mean he ever used it. Doesn't mean he’s guilty of treason. He's smart. He'd know better than to use it. He's not evil.” 

“But I am?” she hissed, “I suffered for years terrified when my magic emerged. I didn’t choose it any more than he would have, but I'm ‘evil’ and ‘a traitor’ and ‘a monster’. What makes us different, Arthur?” 

“Merlin’s never attacked us. He's always been loyal. Magic or not.” 

“I was loyal.” 

She was aware she was screaming now, but how could he dare to answer in such a calm tone. How could he dare to be so cruel? How could he accuse her and accept Merlin all at the same time? 

She spun away from her brother, knife in hand, and prepared to end the boy's life once and for ever. 

But his eyes were open. 

Her spell had been broken. 

“Welcome to the land of the living, Merlin.” 

Chapter Text

“Merlin’s never attacked us. He's always been loyal. Magic or not.” 

“I was loyal.”  

Oh god, was that Morgana? How had she captured him? The last thing he remembered was gathering herbs with Sir Leon. 

Why was he now awakening in the throne room? What had happened in-between. 

“Welcome to the land of the living, Merlin.” 

He drew himself up to a sitting position, taking in the room. 

Arthur, Gwen, Percival, Gwaine, Elyan and Gaius were tied up along one wall. There were guards with Morganas symbol all over them. Morgana was approaching with a knife...oh. 

“You know what, Merlin, I was going too just kill you. But now my curse has been broken, I guess I can get some information from you.” 

Ok, that gave him a chance to stall. 

“Where can I find Emrys?” 

“I’m sorry who?” 

“Oh, don’t play coy, Merlin. I know you work for him.” 

“No... doesn’t ring a bell.” 

“I know you have magic, Merlin. My curse affected you. And why would someone with magic come to Camelot and not attack, unless they’re here to protect people. Emrys protects the city, and Arthur. Seems to think Arthur is The Once and Future King. You always protect Arthur, always help Camelot. It stands to reason you’re working with Emrys. Explains how he knows as much as he does. You're a spy. His spy.” 

“Magic?" 

“My curse knocked you out Merlin. That means you’re born with magic. A warlock. Your secret it out. There's no point protecting them anymore. They'll kill you.” 

“Merlin,” he turned to see Arthur who locked eyes with him, “I don’t care if you have magic. Don't give her anything. Don't let her win.” 

“Aww, hear that Merlin. Arthur says he doesn’t care. I'll bet you money he gets you to try and win this fight then sends you to the pyre afterwards.” 

“I would never!” 

“Silence, brother. This is between me and Merlin. Your input is not needed. Now Merlin... Where? Is? EMRYS?” 

“Nowhere you’ll ever find him. He's not so stupid as to fall into any trap set by you.” 

The slap sent him to the floor, and the yells from his friends behind him echoed in his head, but whether they yelled for him or the window that shattered as his eyes glowed, he didn’t know. 

The curse had definitely imbalanced his magic. 

“Oh, Merlin, how little control you have. If the situation was different, I'd volunteer to teach you.” 

And Merlin laughed. 

“Teach me, Morgana, I don’t need you to teach me.” 

She flew backwards from his non-verbal striking spell, and he pulled himself to his feet. 

“Don’t tell me you consider that control, so you can push your magic in direction or another. That’s hardly going to save you. Has Emrys really taught you nothing about magic, Merlin? Has he really left you to stay here to defend Camelot with no knowledge to use to protect yourself? That’s sad.” 

She threw fire at him, and he summoned a shield. 

“Emrys did not send me here. I ally myself with him because we have the same goals, but it is only an alliance. I came to Camelot to become a physician. I stayed because these people became my friends.” 

“They’d kill you without hesitation. To them you’re a monster. They don’t care for you.” 

“But I care for them, Morgana. When I came here, I was sure the people would be soulless heartless monsters. My father had magic, and he was forced from us for it. My mother was forced from her home for it. My family have used the magic of our family line to protect people for generations, and I knew I could do the same, but I never intended to get close to anyone. And then I met Gwen, and she was kind and caring and everything I didn’t believe someone from Camelot could be. And I had to spend time with Arthur and his Knights, people who had been the monsters of my childhood, but they were just people, just like me.” 

“You stayed out of duty then?” 

“No, out of friendship, compassion. I never meant to make friends. Goddess when I was a child, we told stories of the Knights getting the red in their cloaks from the blood of the druid children they killed, but they were lies. Lies just like the lies the people of Camelot are told about people like us. I was born of magical blood, like my father before me. I was in a position to protect people, help people, and maybe one day prove that we’re not evil. No more evil than they are, anyway. I came out of duty. I stayed because I care about the people in this city. Whether Arthur is the Once and Future King or not, and I believe that he is, no-one should die for the sins of their parents, or the sins of their leaders.” 

“Like Arthur is better than Uther.” 

“How many people have burnt since Arthur became King? How many druid camps have been raided? Morgana he’s improving things. Slowly, surely, but he is. And the most danger to our people's chance of peace, it's you.” 

“How dare you... you little...” 

“No, you listen to me Morgana! Arthur was willing to let magic be free in Camelot if Dragoon healed his father, but you planted the amulet to kill him. Your thrice damned lust for vengeance cost our people their freedom that day. And it was not the first time or the last. You don’t fight for our people, you fight for yourself, and only yourself. That’s why I follow Emrys rather than you. That’s why the Druids choose Emrys over you. Why the Catha choose Emrys over you!” 

“Is that why Alator saved you? When I tried to get Emrys’ identity from Gaius. He saved you because you’re loyal to the same man he is.” 

“Alator wants what’s best for our people. Just like I do.” 

“Don’t worry Merlin, he’ll die along with Emrys and all your allies. You just won’t live to see it. Swilte Merlin.” 

“Scildan. Ic þé wiþdrífe.” 

Morgana flew back from him, stunned by the blatant use of verbal spells. 

While she lay stunned, he ran to his friends. 

“Abricaþ benda” 

Nothing happened except for the chains to shine. 

“Isen fæstnunga onlucan me!” 

This time they shattered. He paused, wanting to talk, wanting to explain or apologise or something, but Morgana was recovering behind him and he had to fight. 

 “I’m so sorry.” 

And then he spun around to face her. 

Arthur was in awe.  

He didn’t want to be, but Merlin was just impressive in his combat, even if it was magic.  

At first, he’d thought he was correct in his belief that Merlin had just developed it and that it was something Merlin could control to a degree, but not much. 

Then he’d started talking about Emrys and his family line, and Arthur had been floored. The idea that Merlin had a magical lineage. That Camelot had once had magical protectors.  

More than that, the idea that Merlin had once feared and hated them, that children told stories where the blood of children was used to dye their cloaks. How could Merlin have ever wanted to come to Camelot? How could Merlin stand him? 

And alliances with powerful sorcerers?  

Then Merlin started throwing spells, real spells, and the fight became much more impressive. He could see the powerful lineage Merlin had mentioned. He could see the wise side of his friend he joked about. 

With Morgana flat on her back, he wanted Merlin to finish her off, but the moron ran back to them to unlock their cuffs. The first spell failed, he wasn’t sure why, but the second one shattered them.  

He flinched when Merlin met his eyes, when he decided his final words to Arthur would be something as useless as, “I’m so sorry.” like sorry, for all the emotion within it, would explain anything. 

When he faced her, he looked every bit the hero. 

“Merlin, you can’t stall me forever.” 

“You can’t win this, Morgana, please end your attacks. It's only hurting people. There's nothing to gain.” 

“Oh, there’s so much to gain. So much you won’t see. Emrys isn’t coming, Merlin. No-one's coming to save you. You're going to die here, because you’re just a pawn. Emrys doesn’t care about you, Merlin, he isn’t coming. You should join me, we will be freed and under my reign, I might forgive your past transgressions. You're alone here, Merlin. The Knights will never accept you; Arthur will never accept you, Emrys uses you as an expendable tool.” 

Arthur would not have been surprised if Merlin had faltered here. Morgana’s point, however false, would have struck deep. He wasn’t sure about this Emrys, but he wasn’t about to let Merlin think he was alone here. 

His body was sore after hours of being tied up on the stone floor, but he pulled himself next to Merlin, standing tall as a king should, taking his sword from where it had fallen earlier. 

His Knights did the same, so they were standing flanking their friend. 

The show of support seemed to enrage Morgana, and he was glad for it. 

Her voice broke as she yelled, “You choose him? You abandoned me but you’ll support him? How could you?” 

“I would have likely supported you too Morgana. You were my sister, even before I knew it was in blood. I doubted my father's laws on magic so many times, you would have been the proof I needed to know magic wasn’t evil. I could have been your ally. You never gave me the chance.” 

“It’s too late for your lies now, brother. Ástrice.” 

“Scildan. Forþ fleoge!” 

The golden shield was brilliant and the second spell Merlin threw tossed her back. 

It was entirely in character, Arthur felt, that Merlin would be using spells that seemed to be non-fatal, but in a fight, he rather wished Merlin would use something more powerful than what appeared to simply be stunning spells. 

Maybe there was some Druid code not to kill in a duel. 

However, he didn’t have much time to think on it, as Morgana’s forces had recovered from their shock and were now approaching, weapons out. 

Their battle began now. 

Leon woke annoyed. It was a common enough occurrence, but this time it was accompanied by a splitting headache and the memory of an invasion.  

The crystal lay broken beside him. The curse was lifted.  

Hadn't he been planning to gather their forces and win the castle back. He decided that sounded like a good plan. 

It didn’t take long to get to the throne room, to see his King and friends facing Morgana and her forces, and decided it was time to make his move.  

It took even less time to get to the dungeons where all their soldiers were being held. There weren’t many of them, given how many of their troops had been out of the City before the attack, but it would be enough to retake the castle and from there the rest of the Kingdom. Not to mention the rest of the troops that had been in Annis’ kingdom were due to arrive back before sundown. 

So, he gathered his troops, and reclaimed the city. 

It was his job. 

In the end, he didn’t have all that much to do. Morgana fled after battling someone, although he didn’t yet know who, rumours said it was Merlin but that made no sense at all so he was going to wait for the official report instead. Many of Morgana’s troops had fled with her, and the rest had been rounded up by his own. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be an army under Morgana if they didn’t cause massive destruction as they fled. Leon set his men to work with re-building, spreading them over the more damaged lower town and less damaged upper levels. 

Fix the city, find his friends, take a nap. Maybe see Gaius about his head. 

He loved his job but sometimes... sometimes he needed a day off. 

Chapter Text

“So... magic?”  

“Magic.”  

The room that housed the Round Table had never before borne such an awkward silence. Leon, Elyan and Gaius were watching Arthur; Arthur, Gwen, Gwaine and Percival were watching Merlin and Merlin was avoiding the eyes of everyone.  

It had only been a few hours since the invading force had fled, but there were things that needed discussing.  

“Are you going to elaborate, Mer-lin, or am I going to have to guess some things based on what Morgana said and your responses to her, because I don’t trust her but you haven’t said anything else.”  

“I... she was right to say I was born like this. Just like she was. But whereas her magic revealed itself as visions, I don’t know how young she was when they started, mine was telekinesis at a few months old. I came to Camelot to become a physician, I stayed to help people, then I stayed because I had friends. I knew it was dangerous, I knew I was at risk, but if I could help people, if I could save people, I wasn’t going to step aside. I... there's a lot, so maybe if you asked questions rather than me talking, you’d find out what you wanted.”  

“Were you really so scared of my Knights?”  

“No, no, I've never feared your knights, not really. Your father's knights, though, they scared me. They scared everyone, magical or otherwise. They were monsters.”  

The overall reaction was far more muted than Merlin had expected, but not entirely free of protest. Merlin had somewhat expected a response, and if it was going to come from anyone, it would be Leon.  

“Monsters! Merlin, Uther ordered some awful things but isn’t monsters a little far?”  

“Try to see it from my point of view then, I... from the day I was born, I was sentenced to death, based on how I was born. I learnt hiding before I learnt walking and had to learn to lie as I learnt to talk. If not, someone would come along and burnt me to death. Not to mention, my family history, my family heritage, it was all stolen from me. I know next to nothing about my family line, beyond the basics. I only ever got to meet my father once and that was right before he was killed. I never got to know him because Uther's men forced him into a position where he and my mother had to run out of Camelot, then once they settled across the border, he kept hunting. Uther kept coming after my family until eventually he left to lead the Camelot Knights away. We thought he was dead. And instead of learning to be proud of my heritage, of the people before me, I lived in poverty, barely surviving each winter, knowing my people were being slaughtered and knowing there was nothing I could do but hide and hope I might survive.”  

Leon had no response, it seemed, and the whole room was soberly quiet.  

“Your father, who was he? And... what do you mean by heritage, you’re a peasant, aren’t you?”  

“I was raised one, Gwen, like you and Elyan, but if the Purge hadn’t happened, I'd have been... well, a Lord, I guess. Magic has noble families too, not that anyone would know it nowadays. My house is called Ambrosius Aurelianus Caledonensis. It was one of the most influential magical noble families, and now it might be the last. The Ambrosians have watched over Camelot since the Age of Bruta. My father before me, his father before him.”  

“My father betrayed yours, didn’t he? When he started the purge?”  

“He betrayed many. My father, Nimueh, Gaius. Magic users he’d used to get where he was. I'm certain there are more. Only Nimueh went on the offensive and decided to try for revenge. My father, Arthur, was Balinor, who I'd assume you remember.”  

“Balinor! The Dragonlord? Oh Merlin, I'm... I'm so sorry.”  

“It’s not your fault, and it was a long time ago now. Besides, I never knew him.”  

“Who was Nimueh?”  

“She attacked us a few years ago, I think, but I don’t know what happened to her.”  

“Leon’s right, Gwaine, to say that she was a witch who attacked Camelot, but she was also a high priestess and Camelot’s Court Sorcerer. I killed her in battle years ago.”  

They spent hours discussing everything there was to discuss, from Merlin’s numerous adventures to the issues with the laws and everything in-between. Their long-term enemies, Morgana’s plans and past endeavours, the years since Merlin had come to their city, all of it came pouring out over the evening.   

It wasn’t completely calm, in fact, Merlin had been yelled at a few times, and likewise he’d yelled a few times. Especially over the topic of his father and Dragons which he’d been foolish to hope would have been left to what it was. It was something he’d never thought he would really do seeing as a lifetime of magic meant a lifetime of calm, or at least as much calm as he could manage.  

It was a long night, and a difficult one, but he managed.  

The most difficult conversation had come almost as a surprise, because with how everything had been going, Merlin had really thought they’d forgotten it. He hadn't felt the need to mention it after all.  

“So, can you tell us who Emrys is, or is that a big secret?”  

“Who’s Emrys?”  

“I don’t know but Morgana hates them and Merlin works for them.”  

“Emrys is supposed to be the protector of the Once and Future King, you. A powerful magic user born with their skills.”  

Merlin blinked. Arthurs question had caught him off guard, as had Leon’s confusion, because he’d forgotten Leon hadn’t been in the room with them, but Percival explaining who Emrys was, that had truly thrown him.  

“Merlin?”  

“Percival is right, according to Druid myth and prophecy, Emrys is the guardian of the Once and Future King and all of Albion.”  

“It’s Dragoon, isn’t it?”  

“Ehhhh.”  

He hadn’t mentioned Dragoon, it hadn’t come up, not he was wondering what he should do. Did he lie about being both, and let them believe Dragoon/Emrys was another person, some mysterious sorcerer who was also protecting Camelot, or did he tell them it was him?  

The truth was best, given everything else was going onto the table, but knowing put them in danger. Morgana wanted to know who Emrys was, and she’d torture and kill his friends to know it, not to mention it would make it easier for people to work it out and for Morgana to find out.  

“Yes, it’s Dragoon.”  

Thank the Goddess for Gaius.  

“Didn’t he attack us?”  

“No, he helped us against Morgana. That love potion you were supposed to be under, it was a ruse by Morgana after a vision in which she saw Gwen as Queen. He took the fall, knowing he’d be able to escape.”  

“You helped, didn’t you Mer-lin? That’s why I found you in that corridor.”  

Merlin rubbed the back of his neck and grinned.  

“Emrys,” Gaius continued, “has helped us countless times, and has aided Merlin more than once. Merlin and I are both aware of his identity, but Morgana is desperate for it and it isn’t our information to share. Dragoon, Emrys, the third alter ego very few people know, they are a powerful person. Morgana cannot gain any edge. She cannot know.”  

“So, you can’t tell us.” Gwaine concluded, “Don’t worry about it, we understand. I think Morgana knowing would be worse.”  

So, Merlin mused, Gaius believed it was better not to tell. So be it.  

“I don’t trust him,” Elyan muttered, drawing all their attention none the less.  

“We fought him once, and he didn’t even hurt us, and he saved Gwen, so...”  

“No Leon, I mean... it something Morgana said. She said Merlin was on his own, that Emrys wasn’t coming. And he didn’t. I just... what reason do we really have to trust him. He could leave us alone, leave Merlin when he needs help...”  

“He won’t, Elyan. Morgana saying I was a pawn to him, it's not... entirely untrue, but its the same way any knight could be considered a pawn to their king. I'm not expendable, no-one is, but there may be a day wherein my death gives others a better chance at life and I get that. I'm fine with it. But I'm also strong, and I have skill and control. Emrys knows I can hold my own. Arthur would be willing to divert troops away from Leon and trust that Leon could handle himself, its similar.”  

“I think once we get out heads around you actually being able to defend yourself, we’ll get a little les protective, Merlin, but until then, we reserve the right to be concerned.”  

“Of course, m’lady.”  

"Merlin...”  

“You’ve been the Queen to me long before anyone else knew it, save perhaps Morgana and Emrys, but Emrys knew who all us would become before we came here.”  

“That’s... something we’re going to talk about when it isn’t the middle of the night.”  

Chapter Text

Six months down the road, and everything was different in Camelot. 

For one, Magic was free. 

Not perhaps, completely free and as wild and untamed as nature itself, but it could be practiced once again. 

Crimes punished as crimes, not as magic. 

It was beautiful, and Arthur would never have managed it, if not for Merlin, his new Court Sorcerer. 

They made an impressive court, with Gwen to his left and Merlin to his right, his best Knights and advisors flanking them. 

Camelot became powerful, with strong alliances growing in every direction. Without the ban on magic, Morgana lost much of her following, and with more kingdoms declaring Arthur High King, outsiders were beginning to think twice before attacking. 

Albion was forming and it was beautiful. 

But he knew some days Merlin got the feeling the darkness wasn’t done yet. The days when the winds whimpered and the animals skittered. The days where he wore the face that said he’d woken from an unusual dream with a sinking feeling settled in his stomach, although he’d tell you he was fine when asked. 

And those were the days Arthur expected visitors from towns with mysterious issues, the days he expected patrols to return with grave news, or worse not return at all. The days Merlin was on edge were the days Arthur was on edge.  

And even if by those evenings Merlin looked better, it weighed on Arthur. 

He knew there were threats Merlin helped with that he never heard of. He knew Emrys was asking for Merlin's help with uniting the Druid communities and dealing with the threats to them. He knew there were days Merlin forgot he could ask for help; forgot he wasn’t alone in his fight to protect Camelot anymore. 

He knew Morgana was still out there. 

They had peace, they had allies, they were closer than ever to equality for people with magic and working continuously to improve it.  

They had peace... 

But some days Merlin would stand on the parapets watching for some unknown threat and Arthur was filled with the sinking feeling it wouldn’t last.