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To stay or to go, that is the question

Chapter Text

"Merlin!"

Groaning, Merlin ran out into the courtyard to see all the knights saddled and ready to leave. It was early in the morning, the sun only just having risen, but he had been awake far longer than any of the knights, or his king. Patrol was going to go ahead regardless of how tired he was, so sucking in a deep breath, he swung himself onto his horse and prepared for a long, cold day.

The sky was bright and clear for now, but dark grey clouds loomed in the distance promising a miserable day. The knights didn't seem to care though, used to being out in all.kinds of weather.

"Seriously Merlin, we could die of old age waiting for you to be ready." Arthur teased as he watched Merlin fit his bag onto his horses sadle.

Merlin rolled his eyes in response, and stifled a yawn. "Come on then, sire. Let's get going."

***********************************************************

They spent the entire day on their horses, trudging through Camelot territory inspecting the border, and looking for trouble. Autumn was in full swing, and with that came the awful weather. Just as they stopped for lunch, the heavens had opened, soaking them all to the bone. Teeth chattering, Merlin often found himself dreaming of a roaring fire, and his favourite food, a blanket thrown around his shoulders. Alas, they still had several hours before they were to begin heading back.

"Would you cheer up Merlin!" Arthur groaned, as Merlin complained about the cold for the fiftieth time in an hour.

"What's there to be cheery about?" Merlin challenged.

"It could be worse."

"How could it be worse?" Merlin whined.

"We could have brought gwaine." Leon pointed out from behind the pair.

"True." Merlin admitted, annoyance building within him. Gwaine had been kept behind suffering from a case of the sweating sickness that had been going around. Merlin envied him, and that was something he never thought he'd say. Gwaine was a great guy and a good friend, but goodness did he know how to talk!

"See, could have been..."

Whatever Arthur was about to say was cut off by a scream that echoed through the woods. It came from the east, a little way ahead of them. Kicking their horses into action, they hurried towards the sound.

What they found chilled Merlin to the bone (even more so than he already was). A young woman, who couldn't have been more than 20, although she looked very petit for her age, was surrounded by a gang of ten men. One man had pressed her up against a tree, his hands around her waist, the other men leering at her.

She tried to fight them off, but she was much too small to do anything to harm them. They merely laughed at her resistance.

"Get off me you pig!" She screamed, kneeing the man in the balls. He groaned, falling back, but another man grabbed her, groping her chest, and ripping her corset off her dress. Thankfully her undershirt remained in place, maintaining her decency, but it was one less layer protecting her now. Too vulnerable, that's all she could think about. She was too vulnerable. The rain soaked her clothes, threatening to become see through and reveal all anyway.

The men laughed again, as one of the man's hands started forcing its way under her skirts and up her leg.

Unable to bare watching anymore, Arthur drew his sword, jumping off his horse and charging forwards, throwing his cloak to the side.

Caught unaware, three bandits were struck down by various members of the Camelot patrol before they started putting up a fight. Arthur's main concern was the girl, but he was too preoccupied fighting the bandits to be able to get to her. Merlin on the other hand, managed to sneak around the outside. He did his best not to slip in the muddy ground.

The man who had been doing the groping the moment the Camelot knights had attacked, pulled the girl by the throat, and away from the battle, trying to take his prize as far away as possible. She clawed at his hands, but with him squeezing her airways, she was quickly running out of air. Black spots swam at the edges of her vision. She fought harder, aiming kicks at his groin and knees. But it did no good.

Suddenly, the hand holding her let her go. Coughing, she dropped to the floor, hand caressing the now bruised skin of her neck. Looking up, she saw a man, not much older than herself, in a scruffy blue shirt and red neckerchief, holding a large stick. It wasn't difficult to realise what had happened; he'd used the stick to knock the bandit out.

"Are you alright?" He asked, bending down.

She nodded, wary of this new man. He had saved her from the bandit, but what proof did she have that these men were any better than the last?

"I'm Merlin." He said, offering a hand out, and helping her to her feet. She stumbled slightly, black spots still swimming at the edges of her vision, and her body feeling more sluggish than normal. She had a feeling it was adrenaline keeping her going.

She didn't give him her name, she didn't want him to use it against her. She bent down, briefly, grabbing the bandits sword. At Merlin's puzzled look she shrugged, croaking out, "well, you don't have a weapon."

Merlin nodded, and then taking her hand, started leading her towards the horses. But a bandit intercepted them, sword raised in an attack.

She pushed Merlin out the way, blocking the man's blow. This only angered him, and he went for another attack, but she blocked that too. With a weapon in her hand she was able to take the man on far more easily than she could have unarmed. Slightness and speed were her weapons as much as the sword in her hands. Catching her attacker off guard, she managed to trip him, and sent the sword through his stomach.

He fell to the floor dead.

It had gone silent.

Looking up, she noticed all the other bandits dead or unconscious on the floor, the Camelot knights staring at her in shock. Not surprising really considering a tiny woman had just taken down a man twice her size in ten seconds flat.

"That was..."

"Who are you?" She demanded, raising her sword at the man who seemed to be the leader of the pack. But her voice came out croaking, her voice protesting against the abuse it had taken earlier. Her head swam from the adrenaline and the oxygen loss.

"I'm Arthur Pendragon, king of Camelot." Arthur said, approaching the young woman with his arm outstretched gently. With his clothes sodden, his hair plastered to his face by both sweat and the rain, he didn't look much like the mighty king he was meant to be.

The woman's face paled, and she could almost feel the tattoo on her shoulder burn through her. She had to get away from this man. Her grip on the sword faltered for a second. But she quickly regained her composure, straightening her back and holding the sword tighter. The Knights, trained by the king of Camelot himself, could see her wariness of them growing.

"I don't want to harm you. Just out the sword down." Arthur said.

"Please. We just want to make sure you're okay, and then you can be on your way." Merlin assured her, stepping up beside his master.

She nodded, putting the sword down. Even if she wanted to, she wouldn't be able to outrun these men, or fight them off.

"What's your name?" Merlin asked, approaching her slowly. He was scared to startle her again. She seemed flightly, like a deer.

"Kara." She replied.

He took the sword from her, and handed it to Arthur. "Are you hurt anywhere else Kara?"

She shook her head, wincing as her neck protested to the movement. Suddenly she began to feel very lightheaded. Swaying on her feet, she watched as the king of Camelot and his servant rushed forward to help her. But they weren't fast enough, and she blacked out as she hit the ground.

 

***********************************************************

 

"Merlin!" Arthur called, rushing for the young woman as she hit the ground. Merlin was at her side in an instant, checking her over.

Kara's face was flushed and warm, but her lips had the slightest hint of blue to them. Hovering his cheek above her mouth he monitored her breathing for a few seconds. Her breathing was normal, but her heart was slightly elevated.

"Merlin?"

"She'll be fine. The strangulation caused slight hypoxia, and the adrenaline didn't help. That's why she passed out?" Merlin answered. But since Kara was now breathing normally, her heart rate would soon return to normal levels and she would wake up and be fine.

"And for those of us who don't know what hypoxia means?" Percival asked.

"She wasn't getting enough air into her lungs. But her breathing is fine now. She should wake up soon." Merlin replied.

Elyan collected a cloak from where it had been abandoned on the ground earlier. It was damp with the rain, but would provide her with some of the decency she had lost when her dress had been ripped. He draped it over her chest, being careful not to jostle her too much.

Arthur looked around, staring despairingly at the lack of canopy above him. That's what he hates about autumn. The trees lost their leaves, providing them with less shelter on patrols. "we can't stay here. We need to get her somewhere dry."

"Where's dry around here?" Merlin questioned. They were essentially in the middle of nowhere.

"Camelot isn't more than an hour away?" Leon suggested.

Arthur frowned. He highly doubted Kara would be very appreciative if she woke up halfway to Camelot in the arms of some random knight, but they didn't really have much of an option.

"Camelot it is."

 

***********************************************************

 

"Arthur?" Gaius questioned as the king walked through his door, sodden to the bone and followed by a number of his equally sodden knights. "what's going on? Are you harmed?"

Percival entered then, an unconscious girl in his arms, wrapped in one of their cloaks. Immediately Gaius's mind snapped into motion. Whatever was wrong with her was only going to worsen with the cold and dampness. He needed to get her out of that dry before hypothermia began to set in.

"Place her on the bed. Merlin, light a fire."

As soon as Percival placed her on the bed, Gaius set about unwrapping her from the cold and wet blanket, and removing as much of her damp dress as he could without leaving her indecent. Then he wrapped her up in a warm thick blanket, checking her over just as Merlin had done.

Arthur felt his eyes getting drawn over to his manservant. He often forgot that he had relatively extensive medical knowledge. If he wanted to, he could easily become court physician once Gaius passed (although hopefully Gaius would be around for a long time to come). But Merlin was loyal to Arthur, and would never leave the king without a manservant. And Arthur could never push Merlin away.

"She's oxygen deprived, and on the edge of hypothermia, but once she warms up she should be perfectly all right." Gaius told the king after inspecting the girl for a few minutes.

Arthur nodded, relieved. He barely knew the girl, but after seeing her attacked, and then the way she could handle a sword, he had found himself getting drawn to her. His curiosity needed to know how someone like her had learnt to handle a sword as well as she could.

"Tell me when she wakes." Arthur ordered, before leaving the room and heading to his own chambers.

Gwaine stayed behind in Gaius's chamber, as did Merlin, but the rest of the knights followed Arthur's lead and left. It was only when Arthur arrived at his rooms that he felt a presence behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Leon following dutifully behind.

"What is it Leon?" Arthur asked, entering his chambers and dumping his sword and scabbard on the table.

Leon looked almost reluctant to speak. "Why are you doing this?"

Arthur frowned. "Doing what?"

"The girl. Why did you bring her back to Camelot with us. We don't know her, she doesn't know us, and she seemed very jumpy when we rescued her from those men."

Arthur shrugged. "I just wanted to make sure she was okay. Once she wakes, and Gaius gives the all clear, she is free to go on her way."

Leon nodded. "Okay, sire. I just wanted to make sure. I know you often have good intentions, but sometimes intentions can get swayed in even the purest of hearts."

Arthur smiled, clapping a hand on Leon's shoulder. "And I thank you for it. I would be a worse king if it weren't for my knights challenging my actions."

Leon nodded, and left the room. It was true. Ever since Arthur had become king, his knights, and Merlin especially, had always challenged his actions when they either didn't agree with Arthur's decision, or doubted his motives. Uther had never done that. His advisors had always been men who shared the same views as him, and the knights had been far less loyal to Uther than they are to Arthur.

When Merlin entered the room, he made a beeline for the fireplace, lighting the logs and filling the room with warm air.

"How's Kara?" Arthur asked, as Merlin began fiddling with the straps to Arthur's armour.

"She's warming up, and is out of danger now, but still hasn't woken up. But after the ordeal she suffered with those bandits, it's probably her brains self defence mechanism saying if she sleeps, she won't know the bad things that happened to her." Merlin shrugged. He'd seen it plenty of times before in women, children, and men who had suffered the same kind of abuse as Kara had. Their brains switched off and they became a shell of who they once we're. They'd bounce back, become themselves again, but only after seeking help.

Arthur nods, but his lips are pinched in worry. He hoped Kara would be alright.

"I just wanted to make sure you could get your armour off. Don't want you catching a chill." Merlin said.

Arthur shot his servant with a teasing smile. "Are you sure that's the only reason you wanted to get me undressed?"

Merlin blushed, but didn't deny it. They'd been together for a few months now, only discovering their feelings after Gwen had been banished. Arthur's heart had been so broken, that he became almost a shell of himself. Merlin had put him back together, and in doing so, they had come to realise the full extent of their feelings for one another.

"I'm sure we can think of other ways to keep me warm." Arthur said, nudging Merlin lightly.

Merlin blushed even further. "I'm sure we can, my Lord." He teased.

As soon as Arthur armour and chainmail came off, their mouths connected, and it became almost a race to see who could get the other ones clothing off first. They didn't even move to the bed, doing it right there on the rug next to the fire.

It was only as night fell that they moved to the bed, cuddling under the sheets until they both fell into a sound sleep.

Chapter Text

"Where the hell am I?"

He woke with a knife to his throat. It wasn't something he liked very much. Normally, it was the early morning light streaming in through his windows that he woke to, Cockerels crowing, birds chirping. After so many years his natural body clock had him waking at the same time every day, no matter how late he had stayed up with a patient, or advising the king. The light hadn't quite made its way through the windows, and the cold metal against his neck had shocked him awake.

Gaius looked up at the face of the young woman the knights had brought in yesterday. Her eyes were wide with panic, but every other part of her seemed calm. Her underdress had slipped down her arm revealing a tattoo on her shoulder. It was a druid symbol with a cross through it. Gaius knew what that meant, and also knew that she could react very badly to being told where she was.

"You're in Camelot. King Arthur brought you here to ensure your recovery. I am the court physician, Gaius."

The young woman seemed satisfied with that answer, and stepped back, taking the knife with her. She placed it on one of the workbenches nearby, close enough that she could grab it again should a threat arise.

"When am I allowed to leave?" She asked. If it hadn't been for the king bringing her to Camelot, she would have just left straight away, with or without permission. But she had the feeling the king would want to talk to her first.

"Arthur wants to see you, make sure you're okay, but then you should be free to go." Gaius told her, stifling a sudden yawn.

"Okay." She nodded and started wandering around. "Sorry for waking you. I freaked out a bit. It's not fun waking up somewhere unfamiliar."

"I understand." Gaius told her, remembering a night not too long ago when he had been kidnapped by Morgana. "No harm done, at least."

"Mind if I read some books?" She asked, pointing to the staircase and the bookshelves up high. "And, are there some clothes I can borrow?"

"Go ahead and read any books you want. My ward Merlin has some clothes he wouldn't mind you wearing, I'm sure." Gaius told her. He looked back out the window and decided there was no point going back to sleep as his body would wake him very soon. So he got up and started going about his normal morning routine.

Following gaius's gesture, Kara wandered up the stairs and into Merlin's room. It didn't take her very long to find a set of clean clothes she could wear, however, merlin was much taller than her, and all his clothes were too big for her.

Merlin hadn't come home last night, unsurprisingly. Gaius was the only other person who knew about Merlin and Arthur's new relationship, mainly because he had been the one to push Merlin into confessing his feelings.

Gaius dressed, prepared breakfast for himself and the young woman (who's name was Kara, he found out), and then set about preparing the various remedies and draughts needing to be delivered to members of the court and knights. His first job was to deliver medicine to gwaine, who was almost fully recovered from the sweating sickness.

"Why do you have all these books on magical animals and artefacts? Magic has been banned in Camelot for nearly 30 years?" Kara asked, from where she stood reading one of gaius's many books.

"It's my job to know about all types of illnesses and sicknesses, any injuries or maladies that could befall a citizen of Camelot, including ones of magical origin." Gaius answered.

Kara nodded. "Fair enough."

The door opened and Merlin slunk in, looking both rested and very pleased with himself.

"Ah, good morning Merlin. I trust you had a pleasant night?" Gaius asked, a seemingly innocent look on his face, but a twinkle in his eyes.

Merlin rolled his eyes, but was unable to fight the smile that formed on his face. "I came to collect Kara. Arthur wants to see her."

"Once I've seen him am I allowed to leave?" Kara asked, making herself visible to Merlin.

Merlin nodded, but then narrowed his eyes. "Are those my clothes?"

Kara spun on the spot, showing off the way she had styled the too big shirt and too long trousers. Somehow, she had made it work, and looked fairly decent. She would ideally need better fitting clothes, though. "What, don't you like it?"

Merlin rolled his eyes and laughed. "We can stop by the laundry and pick you up some clothes there. I'm sure the women there wouldn't mind."

Kara crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. "Really? They would have no problem with me stealing their clothes?"

"Borrowing." Merlin amended. "besides, I'm sure Arthur can lend you some money to replace that dress that was ruined. He has a lot of money."

"Why would the king of Camelot do anything for me?" Kara challenged, but Merlin could see fear in her eyes. Fear of being discovered, fear of being executed. Maybe Arthur was not his father, but he wasn't a friend of sorcerers.

"Because he offers help to all those in need." Merlin answered honestly and sincerely. "No matter their status."

"Unless they have magic." Kara countered.

Merlin had the decency to look sheepish at her comment. "yes. I'm working on that."

"yeah right. Arthur's never going to change his stance on magic." Kara laughed. "Come on. Let's go see him so I can get out of here."

Sighing, Merlin led the way to Arthur's chambers. Surprising Kara, Merlin didn't knock before he entered. Arthur was sat behind his desk, but didn't look up as Merlin entered, perhaps knowing that the only person who entered without knocking was his manservant.

"Arthur, I've brought Kara."

Again, Kara was surprised at the informality of which Merlin addressed his king. Surely that wasn't allowed?

Arthur looked up and smiled though, getting out of his chair and wandering towards Kara. "Yes, hello Kara. I trust you're feeling better?"

"Much better, thank you sire." Kara answered, clasping her hands behind her back. She felt very awkward making eye contact with the king.

"Please. Call me Arthur."

"....okay?"

Merlin laughed, and left Kara's side, going over to the bed and tucking in stray corners of the covers. He was used to seeing the confused expression on people's faces when Arthur told them to do away with the formalities.

"Where are you from? How did you end up being attacked by those men?" Arthur asked, pulling a chair out for her.

Kara sat down in it, timidly, confused with Arthur's actions. She had always been told Arthur, much like his father, was a tyrant. The Arthur stood before her, didn't seem much of a tyrant. "Well, I've just come of age, and felt I'd outgrown my little village, so I decided to leave and find my own place in the world. But those men ambushed me. Luckily, you were there before anything could happen."

"That's terrible." Arthur frowned. "I must send out some more patrols. Too many people are getting attacked by these thugs."

Kara nodded, feeling awkward.

"Tell me one thing. How come you know how to fight?"

Kara suddenly felt very defensive."What, do you have a problem with women fighting?"

"A problem? No! I think it's wonderful!" Arthur laughed. "I actually wish more women would learn to sword fight."

Kara's eyebrows hit the ceiling. "You do?"

"Yeah. I think the world would be a better place if more women took charge."

Merlin coughed. "Morgana."

Arthur glared daggers at his manservant. "Well, not like that."

Kara smiled, seeing the way the two interact. At first she had been shocked, confused at how relaxed they are, and feeling rather awkward. But now, she finds it quite endearing. The king of Camelot isn't as bad as the stories tell.

"So why don't you train more women?" Kara asked.

Arthur sighed. "as much as I'd like to, I think very few women would actually sign up for training, especially with the Knights. The Knights are kind, and considerate, on the whole, but they are still intimidating when coming at you with a sword."

"Pfft. Yeah right. I bet I could beat some of them no problem." Kara said, slouching back in her chair.

Arthur raised an eyebrow. "Really? Most of my Knights have been training for years."

"And you think I haven't?" Kara shrugged.

Merlin smiled at her, and nudged Arthur's shoulder. "It'll be a good test. Your Knights will have to fight women every now and then. Remember Isolde, Gwen? The men they fought were probably put off fighting a woman. And if Morgana ever comes at the knight, they can't let their feelings get the better of them."

Kara smiled and Arthur nodded.

"Okay. Well, I've got a training session later today. Come along, and we can see who's better."

Kara nodded. She was desperate to get out of Camelot, but she was also curious to know what the Knights of Camelot would do against her.

"Where did you learn to fight?" Merlin asked, sitting down opposite Kara.

Kara shrugged. "my village was always at risk of being raided at any time. I needed to learn to defend myself as soon as I was strong enough to hold a weapon. I was very good at throwing knives when I was younger, but I think I've probably lost most of my skill."

Arthur smiled. Kara could almost see the cogs turning in his head, as he thought up ways he could test her skill.

"Well, Merlin, I guess you should take Kara to find some more suitable clothes." Arthur ordered, getting up from his chair.

"Why me?"

"Because unless she suddenly knows how to get to the lower town, she's going to need a guide." Arthur said, holding Merlin by the shoulders and moving him towards the door.

"I don't have any money." Kara said, her face blushing as she revealed how little she had.

"That's fine. Merlin can pay." Arthur teased.

Merlin rolled his eyes, knowing Arthur would pay him back. And if he didn't, Merlin knew where the king kept his gold. "Come on Kara. Let's go shopping.

Chapter Text

"Is he always this showy-offy?"

Merlin sighed. "yeah."

Gwaine had deemed himself well enough to resume training sessions, and was standing in the middle of the field telling a story to the Knights with rather enthusiastic hand movements. He had even taken out his sword at one point, prancing around the field and fighting off imaginary foes. Merlin and Kara stood off to the side, watching in bewilderment. Percival was cheering gwaine on, with the odd cheer from Leon, but Elyan and Arthur were not impressed.

"Why does Arthur allow it?" Kara asked, crossing her arms across her chest. She wore a basic light blue tunic and some loose black trousers for this training session, but had also bought some dresses from the market.

"Because gwaine is… well, Gwaine's Gwaine. He's going to do it no matter what Arthur says." Merlin said. His head tilted sideways, as did Kara's, as they watched Gwaine slip in the mud and fall onto his back.

Arthur took that opportunity to draw the attention away from gwaine and towards himself. He got his Knights to focus on footwork drills. When all the Knights were exercising away, Arthur went over to Kara, and got her to start doing slightly more basic drills. Footwork was her weakest bit when it came to sword fighting.

Arthur drilled her for ages. She was hot and sweaty by the time he let her have a rest. She wandered over to Merlin and just collapsed on the ground next to him.

"I shouldn't have come. This is horrible."

Merlin laughed. "I hate to say it, but you'll get used to it."

Kara glared up at him. "who said I was sticking around. I just want to beat the Knights asses."

Merlin laughed again.

The Knights also took a break, taking the opportunity to have a swig of water, compare notes on footwork, sword handling, whatever else.

Arthur went over to Kara and Merlin. "well Kara, you surprised me. You are much better than I thought you would be."

"Really?" Kara asked, hope shining in her eyes. "so I'm just bad? Not terrible?"

"No," Arthur laughed. "you're good. So good in fact that I might set a little challenge between you and Gwaine. It would certainly annoy him."

Kara smiled at the prospect of annoying the annoying knight.

By the time the Knights had rested, and Kara had gotten her breath back, Arthur had finished talking gwaine into the challenge of fighting Kara. Gwaine was reluctant. He didn't want to hurt the girl who wasn't even wearing armour.

"Seriously Arthur! She's got no protection." Gwaine whined.

"Don't worry gwaine. I'm not thinking of having sex with you, just whipping you ass to the ground." Kara teased, taking her place opposite Gwaine.

"Kinky." Another knight pitched in, but quickly shut his mouth following a glare from Gwaine.

Gwaine sighed, realising he wasn't getting out of this, he had to fight Kara. He raised his sword and pointed it at Kara. She did the same with her own sword.

Catching her off guard, gwaine charged at her. He aimed high, but Kara blocked with ease. She blocked all of his following attacks, focussing mainly on her footwork for the time being. She needed to improve. She didn't need to beat Gwaine. It would be ideal if she did, but that wasn't the true aim.

Gwaine was getting frustrated at her lack of attack, and went at her more harshly, trying to get her to retaliate. Ducking under his arm and coming up behind him, gwaine swung wide, caught off guard. Kara saw an opening and struck him hard in the side, just enough to make him stumble backward. He stared at her, and she smiled back.

After that, Gwaine really went at the fight, doing everything, trying every move he could think of to try and hit Kara. He managed to land one blow, and only one, to the side of her hip. But it was a glancing blow and she barely felt it.

It was after that Kara began to fight back. And she went at it with ferocity. She was smaller than Gwaine, and far less skilled, but she was also fast. He would easily win in a strength competition, but this was about using your opponent's weaknesses against them.

She sidestepped Gwaine again, and he swung wide, over balancing. That's when Kara dropped to the ground and kicked Gwaine's legs out from under him. He landed flat on his back, and before he had a chance to move, she put the tip of her sword under his chin.

Panting hard, she smiled down at him. "I win."

"You cheated."

"How?"

"You kicked my feet."

"And if this was a true battle, would you really expect your opponent not to fight dirty?" Kara questioned.

Gwaine scowled, but took her hand when she offered it, and got to his feet.

Arthur came over, clapping. "That was great Kara!"

Kara smiled, and bowed her head, before leaving and going over to where Merlin stood, a beaming smile on his face. She handed over her borrowed sword and sat down on a bench, tired from the excursion. It was clear Gwaine was in a bad move after his defeat, but Kara didn't really care. If Gwaine hadn't been showing off, Arthur wouldn't have targeted him. 'Overconfidence can get you killed in battle, keep your ego in check.'

Strangely, a feeling of peace and sorrow overcame Kara as she realised her training session was coming to an end. She had promised to stay until Arthur had seen her fight. He had seen her fight. It was time to go, to leave Camelot and find somewhere else to.live.

Kara knew that Camelot was as good a.place as any to start her new life, but it was dangerous for her kind here, especially with a king who was so against magic. The knights were good people, Merlin and Arthur were nice. But who knew what would happen if they found out the truth about her?

Sighing, Kara got to her feet and began heading back inside the castle, leaving the knights, Arthur, and Merlin on the field, packing up. If she were a decent person she'd hang around and help, but then she would get coerced into staying in Camelot. If she wanted to leave, then she had to go now.

She was nearly back to Gaius's chamber when she felt someone running up behind her. She turned to see Percival. She fought a frown. The gentle giant seemed like a great guy, but they hadn't spoken, and she didn't know why he'd be there now.

"Kara, hey."

"Hey, Percival. What do you want?" Kara asked, shuffling her feet as she stared up at the tall knight.

"Gwaine wanted me to tell you that the reason you beat him is because he's been sick for the past week and so hadnt been training, and isn't at his top form." Percival said, his face straining as he tried to remember Gwaine's exact message.

Kara laughed. "yeah right. He's just embarrassed he was beaten by a girl."

Percival smiled. "that's what Arthur said!"

Kara's smile deepened.

"Anyway, we want you to come to some more of the training sessions. You're really good."

Kara frowned, and took a step back. 'Don't get attached, you need to leave this place.' she told herself.

"Why? I'm not a knight, and it's not like I could ever be a knight! Besides, I need to leave. I came here by mistake and I really need to get going if I want to try and find a new home in the near future." Kara babbled. She began to walk again in the direction of Gaius's chambers, hoping Percival would get the message and leave her alone.

"A few years ago, Arthur tore up the rulebook to allow commoners to become knights. Then he was going to marry a commoner." Percival started, placing a heavy hand on Kara's shoulder to get her to stop. He wasn't going to let her get away from her.

Kara sighed and shook her head.

"Don't you understand? Arthur would gladly rip up the rulebook a hundred times more for those he cares about, and if you want to become a knight, and prove yourself to be good enough, he would make you a knight." Percival was a quiet man. He didn't normally talk for this long unless it was something important. But Kara had gotten on really well with the knights, and fought well with a sword. She would be a good addition to the group.

Kara looked down at the ground, fighting the pain in her heart. She did want to stay. She didn't want to be a knight but she wouldn't mind training with the knights every now and then. But she couldn't stay. She had to move on, to a place where it was safer for her kind. "I can't stay in Camelot."

Percival sighed, realising he wasn't getting anywhere in this argument. "fine. But you'll be welcome back any time you'd like."

Kara turned and walked into Gaius's chambers without saying another word, fighting the tears threatening to overfill her eyes. It wasn't fair.

"Did you have a good time training, my dear?" Gaius asked, looking over briefly, but keeping the majority of his concentration focussed on the remedy he was making in front of him.

"Yeah, had a great time. Don't think gwaine would say the same though." Kara joked, pushing down her sadness. She wandered over to where Gaius was working, and immediately recognised the option from the smell. It was a common thing taken for extreme pain, to give the sufferer some relief.

"Where's that valerian root?" Gaius muttered, squinting as he looked across his table filled with many, many bottles. Kara easily spotted it before he did and handed it over.

"Ah, thank you." He said, putting a small piece of it into the potion.

Kara smiled and started heading to Merlin's room, where she had kept most of her stuff. But Gaius interrupted her before she could open the door.

"You don't need to hide what you are, you know?"

Kara stopped in her tracks. "the king is no friend to the druids."

"But he would not execute one. Especially not one like you."

"I am cursed. That gives him extra reason to want me dead."

"It is not a curse."

"Yes it is." Anger started flaring in Kara's veins.

"No, it isn't."

"How would you know!" Kara snapped, whirling around to look at Gaius. "you're not the one who had to grow up watching all your friends discovering their magic, playing with it, learning about it, controlling it, understanding it. You're not the one who got shunned by their own parents because I was nothing like the others! Something that they did not understand! Unmagic children are rare! Even the druids, peaceful, loving druids, they did not want me when I came of age because they thought I shouldn't exist!"

She took a breath. "I shouldn't exist."

She crumpled to the floor, head in her hands. She wasn't crying, but she knew she would be soon. These were the thoughts that had plagued her ever since she had been branded. These were the thoughts that kept her moving, that kept her from wanting to stay in Camelot, a place where she would be reminded of who she was every time magic was mentioned. She just wanted to leave. "I shouldn't exist."

Gaius settled on the floor next to her, not an easy thing to do for one as old as he. But he scooped Kara into a hug. "I know that's what you think, but it's not true. Unmagic druids are far more common than you think. It's the reason why druids test their own children for signs of magic, even if they are certain their child will be magical."

Kara started weeping silently, her tears staining the old man's tunic. She had never been held like this by anyone.

"Magic comes in different forms. There are empaths, healers, mindreaders, people who can control the elements themselves. Sometimes, the magic in a person is weak, sometimes it's strong." Gaius stroked Kara's hair. "Sometimes the magic itself is simply the ability to see it in others, and raise them up. To find the beauty in the natural world, to see the magic despite not feeling it. You aren't cursed, my dear, you were just born with a different form of magic."

Kara sniffled in gaius's chest. She had never thought about who she was before. Always seemed herself as different, bad, cursed. But maybe Gaius was right, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all?

"Arthur isn't like his father. He's much more accepting. If he found out you were an unmagic druid, he wouldn't care. You don't have to fear him." Gaius reassured her. "I know you want to leave here, so why not give it a try. Just for one week. It would be good to have a little help around the place."

Kara looked up at Gaius, her eyes red and blotchy. She nodded. "one week. If I don't like it, I leave."

Gaius smiled.

 

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The week passed way too quickly for Kara's liking. She stayed with Gaius and Merlin, sleeping on the floor for the majority of the time so as not to deprive Merlin of his bed. Training with the knights was long and arduous, but she enjoyed it, and quickly found herself improving. Despite previous fears, she had excelled at knife throwing.

But she spent most of her time working for Gaius, helping him make his remedies, running errands for him, cleaning that damned leech tank, collecting herbs and pots. She enjoyed it very much.

The whole week went smoothly, until the last day of her trial week. Whilst sparring with the knights, doing hand to hand combat and wearing a loose shirt, her shirt ripped. It was a small rip, and she just carried on, until the young knight she was sparring stopped.

Embarrassment flooded her cheeks, and she looked down, thinking she must have accidently exposed herself. She had, but not in the way she had thought.

Her druid tattoo was clearly on display for all the knights to see.

Face burning, she pulled her shirt up to cover her shoulder, but it was too late, everyone had seen, including Arthur. Everyone knew what the druid symbol looked like. It didn't matter that hers was altered slightly. She was still a druid by birth.

Kara looked to the king, who's face was pale, and mouth hung open in shock. She could read the look of betrayal and fear -mostly fear- in the king's eyes. This was not going to go well.

Before anyone had the chance to say anything, Kara sprinted off towards the city gates and towards the woods.

It wasn't going to be long before the king began his hunt for her.

Chapter Text

Time seemed to stand still. The blood rushed from Kara's face as she looked to Arthur. The knights stood completely still, Arthur silent. And then, Kara ran.

The knights were shocked, betrayal flashing through them. Was the reason she had been beating them in combat this whole time because she had magic? Arthur was feeling a similar betrayal. Had she worked her way into Camelot, set up being attacked, so that she could bring down Camelot with her magic and magical comrades?

But Merlin?

Merlin ran after Kara. She was a druid. So what? But she was also a special type of druid, one he had never seen before. Druids weren't dangerous and as 'king of the druids' it was his duty to protect her.

"Merlin!" Arthur's call brought Merlin to a halt. He turned to see his king give him an almost imperceptible shake of the head.

Let Kara run.

Don't go after her.

Sighing, Merlin trudged his way back to Arthur, the two of them then making their way inside and to Gaius. They said nothing the whole journey, too wrapped up in their own thoughts and feelings. Merlin felt guilt for abandoning Kara. Arthur felt guilt for endangering his people by letting Kara stay in Camelot. He also felt angry that he had fallen for her charm, befriended her. It was annoying he felt sad at her departure.

Entering Gaius's chambers, the old physician looked over at them. Realisation settled on his features as he saw the shock on theirs. "What can I do for you?"

"Kara's a druid." Arthur muttered.

"Yes." Gaius replied, not looking at his king. Gaius had done many shady things in his past, done many things he regretted, and still the king was shocked at his treasonous actions.

"You knew?" Arthur shouted, his voice echoing off the walls of the chamber. Merlin flinched from the amount of pain in the king's voice. He had been betrayed too many times lately.

"Yes." Gaius replied calmly.

"Why didn't you tell me! She has magic!" Arthur demanded. He stormed up to Gaius.

"No, she doesn't." Gaius told the king.

Merlin went over, frowning. "But she's a druid. We all saw the mark. How can she not have magic?"

Gaius sighed. He collapses onto one of his many benches. "It would be better if she told you this herself, she has more experience than I. But very rarely, a child can be born of two druids who has no magic themselves. They are called unmagic druids. They cannot read minds, feel emotions, cast spells, or detect magic in others. The magic in their bloodline ends with them. She is of no danger, sire."

Merlin took Arthur's hand in his own, turning to face him. "Arthur. We must find her."

Arthur looked at the floor.

"Find her?" Gaius questioned. "What's happened?"

Merlin explained what happened on the training field, emphasising the part where Kara ran off without explaining. She took no supplies, no blankets, no horses. She just ran.

Arthur turned away from Gaius and laid his head on Merlin's shoulder, relishing in the warmth and comfort, the support Merlin always gave him. "Why wouldn't she tell us?"

"Because you are not your father. But your laws are still not kind to her and other druids. And… she believed she was cursed. She probably believed if you found out you'd be twice as likely to execute her rather than if she'd been born with magic." Gaius explained, remembering Kara's breakdown the week before. Kara had very little belief in herself.

Arthur closed his eyes and buried his head further into the crook of Merlin's neck. He slipped his hands around Merlin's waist. The soft strokes of Merlin's hands up and down his back soothing him. He had feared Gaius would say exactly that. He had tried to be a fairer king, but the fear of magic was so deeply ingrained in him that he couldn't find it in him to lift those laws.

And now those laws were hurting those he cared for.

"You are not to blame Arthur." Merlin whispered quietly into Arthur's ear.

"What do I do?"

Merlin pulled Arthur away by the shoulders, and held his liver there. "First, we find her."

Arthur sighed. "Yes. But it's getting late. We head out at first light."

Merlin nodded. But he felt worry for Kara. She had proved herself more than capable of defending herself with a sword, but she hadn't taken one with her when she ran. And without magic, she was just a defenseless girl. Anything could happen to her out in the world filled with bandits and robbers and tyrants.

Arthur was taking the news badly, and even physical contact from Merlin wasn't purging those fears and doubts from his mind. He needed to take a walk. Alone.

Merlin watched him go. He had chores to do in Arthur's chambers but knew the king might hide out there for a while, and he didn't want to intrude. So he sat down on one of the benches.

"I didn't know there were unmagic druids?"

Gaius raised an eyebrow. "It's the whole reason there are people without magic today. It's a rare occurrence at birth that prevents the unmagic child from ever having magic children, even with a magical partner."

Merlin frowned. "I don't understand."

Gaius sighed. "Has your education failed you so badly?"

Merlin smiled, knowing Gaius wasn't being serious. "Do you mean, that long ago every person in the world had magic?"

Gaius nodded. "Yes. Magic is in everything around us, the wind, the trees, the ground, the water and the animals. It once resided in every human being too, until one day an unmagic druid was born. They then only had unmagic children. If the unmagic druid in the bloodline is far enough removed, an unmagic human can have a child with magic."

"Like my mother?" Merlin asked.

"Exactly. But there still needs to be one magical parent." Gaius added.

Merlin frowned, pondering over this new information. What would Uther have thought if he knew he was descended from druids? What would Arthur think? Maybe that was something that would help Arthur accept magic back into Camelot?

 

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Arthur had avoided all his duties for the rest of the day, deciding he'd rather wander around his castle grounds, the battlements, and then lounge in bed when that didn't help to clear his thoughts. That is exactly where he sat now, in his bed, trying not to think about the look of pure terror on Kara's face just before she'd run off.

A knock sounding from the door brought him out of his own mind. "Come in."

His uncle poked his head around the door before entering the room.

"Uncle. What can I do for you?" Arthur asked, pulling himself from his bed.

"Arthur, I was just coming to check up on you. You missed the council meeting." Agravaine had made it clear a while ago that he disapproved of Arthur shirking his kingly duties.

Arthur sat up in bed. "Sorry uncle. I had a lot on my mind."

Agravaine frowned, fighting the urge to reprimand Arthur. He had to remind himself that Arthur was an adult and the king. "Anything I can help with?"

Arthur sighed, shaking his head. "I don't think so. It's a personal issue."

"Is it regarding the girl?" Agravaine crossed his arms across his chest.

Annoyance flickered through Arthur. Why couldn't his uncle take a hint? This was personal, as in, he didn't want to talk to his uncle about it. "It doesn't matter. Like I said. It's personal."

"If I might…"

Arthur groaned. God, Agravaine really couldn't drop it.

"If I might. It's probably best she's gone. You've been distracted during her stay, neglecting your duties. And not to mention, letting her train with the Knights." Agravaine pointed out softly. He wanted to make Arthur doubt himself, not aggravate the king.

"What's wrong with letting her train. She's a good warrior. Maybe even a great one if she continues training." Arthur challenged, getting to his feet.

"Arthur. She challenged everything this kingdom stands for. Women cannot be Knights. Commoners cannot be queen's."

Anger flared in Arthur's eyes. "Never mention her!"

Agravaine took a step back from Arthur, hands raised in defense. "I meant no offence."

"You did not approve of Guinevere, and you were proved right. But not because she was a commoner. What is in people's hearts is more important than the status they were born with." Arthur got in his uncle's face. "I know in my heart, that Kara belongs here, in Camelot. We set off at first light to bring her back."

"Is that really wise? She's a girl who isn't of much overall importance to the kingdom."

"Don't you dare speak of her like that!"

Agravaine stared his nephew down. Maybe Arthur would be more difficult to sway than he thought. Despite his best efforts, Arthur was proving too loyal to his own beliefs.

A knock on the door, and Merlin stuck his head around the door. He didn't knock unless he knew Arthur's mental state was in a fragile state.

"Sorry, my lord. I didn't mean to interrupt."

"It's fine Merlin, come in." At the sight of his secret lover, Arthur immediately felt the anger dissipate from his body, but to an extent. His uncle caused the anger to fight back.

Merlin nodded, and started his chores in Arthur's room. First straightening the bed, and then going over to Arthur's desk and sorting through the papers, organising them into a few neat piles. He could feel Agravaine's eyes following him. Agravaine didn't like how open the king was with his servant, and despite their best efforts to hide their relationship, Agravaine could sense the sudden shift between the master and servant.

"Uncle. That was your cue to leave." Arthur snapped.

Agravaine nodded and left.

As soon as the door shut, Merlin was by Arthur's side. "Why was he here?"

"He was trying to persuade me not to go after Kara." Arthur sounded so defeated, Merlin couldn't help but slip his hand into Arthur's.

"Why are you so defensive of her? I thought you hated druids?" Merlin asked softly. "Not that I'm complaining. She's a good friend. She could be a great woman with the right tutorage."

"My tutorage?" Arthur raised an eyebrow as he turned to merlin.

Merlin nodded, a sheepish smile on his face. "Maybe?"

Arthur sighed, running a hand through his hair, causing it to stick up at odd angles. The smile fell from his face. "Maybe being a druid isn't so bad. You're constantly telling me they're peaceful people."

Merlin smiled. "so you're saying that her coming from a magical community doesn't matter to you anymore?"

Arthur nodded. "I'm not being a fool am I? What if she doesn't even want to come back?"

Merlin shook his head. "She ran because she was scared of your reaction. She won't run when she realises you don't want to hurt her."

Arthur collapsed into his bed. "I hope you're right."

Chapter Text

Time seemed to stand still. The blood rushed from Kara's face as she looked to Arthur. The knights stood completely still, Arthur silent. Kara could read the look of betrayal and fear - mostly fear- in the king's eyes. And then, Kara ran.

It was not going to be long before the king began his hunt for her.

She sprinted through the lower town, running past guards on duty who didn't understand why she was running. She was their friend. She had trained with them, the first female to do so since Morgana had been a child.

The king was going to kill her when he found her.

These Knights and guards and townspeople that she had called friends, were going to be calling for her blood when they found her.

As she entered the woods, the tears began to pool in her eyes. She had fought them as long as she could, but she couldn't any longer. Crossing the boundary into the woods was crossing the boundary into the next stage of her life. Camelot was just one more place she would never be able to return to. She was a druid. A cursed one. She wasn't welcome anywhere, not even with her own people.

Druids were kind, considerate. They helped those in need even when they were not druids. Even when they were Knights of Camelot, even when they would potentially kill the druids, the druids would help them. The only deal was, you left as soon as you didn't need them any more.

To the druids, Kara wasn't a druid. To normal non magic people, she wasn't one of them. She fit in nowhere. She was cast out of everywhere, the druid camps, and now Camelot. How many more places was she going to have to run from?

The look of fear on Arthur's face was seared onto her heart for the rest of her life. The pain she felt every tine she thought of him was what kept her running, feet pounding hard against the uneven ground. She dodged puddles, fallen branches, ditches and thorns. She ran further and harder than she had ever run before, tears streaming down her face the entire time. Even when it became difficult and painful to breathe, she did not slow down. The woodland became dark from the dense trees and canopy above her head.

Arthur had been her friend. Merlin and Gaius too.

She should have left a week ago. If she had, she wouldn't have fallen in love with the city. She wouldn't have fallen in love with the people. She wouldn't have fallen in love with the way of life they had there, that she would have nowhere else.

But she could never go back there.

She wasn't druid, she wasn't a citizen of anywhere. She belonged nowhere and to no-one and to nothing. She had no belongings, no money, no way of fending for herself.

But she could never go back there.

Merlin was the only one who hadn't looked at her with fear, just concern. He was too kind, too considerate. He was her friend. Someone she had turned to when lost in the city and its many endless corridors.

But she could never go back there.

Because she wasn't anything they'd ever want.

Because she was something they despised.

Because she was something they'd kill on sight.

Exhaustion hit her like a brick wall and she fell to her knees, panting hard. Her mouth was dry, her legs numb, her heart broken.

She let herself succumb to the darkness.

 

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Chapter Text

With the morning came the rain. Awoken by the large rain drops falling on her face, Kara sat up. Looking around her, she found she had passed out at the base of a large oak, a small river nearby. Her legs lay tangled in the leaves and fallen twigs, mud and dirt caked her skin.

What was she doing here?

Oh, right.

Memories flashed through her mind, of fighting a knight, the shocked looks on their faces, and running. Running so hard and so fast her legs still ached with the exertion.

Sighing, she sat up, scrubbing her face with her hand. Dried tear tracks rugged at her face. Rising to her feet on wobbly legs, Kara staggered over to the river with the intention of washing her face and getting herself a drink. She sorted out everything else she needed to, before it hit her.

She was homeless. Again.

Hanging her head, she fought the scream trying to rip itself free from her chest. She thought she had found her home in Camelot and the people there.

Guess she was wrong. Again.

Where was emrys? Wasn't he supposed to be the king of druids? Their protector? Why wasn't he protecting her? Maybe because she was cursed. She wasn't a true druid, doesn't deserve his protection.

Sterling herself for the journey ahead of her, she got to her feet and began the long trek to Camelot's borders. It would take her the better part of two days to make the journey to the border, and then who knew how far it was to the nearest village after that.

The walk was boring and long, made more difficult by her aching legs and growling belly. By noon, she hadn't eaten in nearly 36 hours. She needed to find food soon or hunger would make it too painful to carry on.

It was midafternoon when she heard the impending sound of doom

Horses. Lots of them. Headed in her direction.

Ignoring her aches and pains, she began to run once more, but it was no good. The horses soon caught up. Four managed to get in front of her, blocking her from continuing on, and others surrounded her at the sides and the back. A circle of horses around her.

She was beaten. She couldn't get out of this one.

Panting, she once again found herself on her knees. "I'm flattered. You didn't have to go to all this trouble."

10 riders, all for her.

No one answered her.

"Are you here to kill me? Or here to take me back to Camelot so I can be executed there?" She asked, begging her own voice not to betray her fear.

"I don't want to kill you."

Kara froze at that voice. "Arthur?"

Arthur slid off his horse and walked around in front of her. Strangely, he never went for his sword. Kara could see the anger in his eyes, but also the sadness. "Why are you still on your knees? Am I just your king?"

Kara closed her eyes and hung her head, feeling the pain in his voice stab her in the heart. "no. You were my friend."

"Are." She may have betrayed him, but she still considered him a friend even if he wanted her dead.

"Were." She admitted. You couldn't be friends with someone who wanted you dead.

"Are." Merlin seemingly appeared from nowhere as he crouched by Kara's side. "and we're not here to kill you."

Kara opened her eyes and looked at him pleadingly. 'Don't do this. Don't give me hope.'

Merlin turned to Arthur, as if to say 'back me up here!'

Arthur nodded. "We're here to take you back to Camelot. But not to kill you. To ask you some questions. After that, you're free to go if you'd like."

'I don't want to go.' "Why not ask me here?" Kara asked.

Arthur didn't answer, but Merlin did. "because Gaius would like to see you, say goodbye. And some of the court, and council members would like to hear what you have to say. But I promise, we won't execute you."

The small smile he gave her almost made Kara believe him. But she knew the real reason they wanted to take her back to camelot. They wanted to execute her.

Maybe she deserved it. For being cursed. For deceiving them for so long, for not telling them the truth, for not leaving when she had the chance a week ago.

Anyway, she would never truly fit in anywhere. Maybe it was for the best.

She nodded.

Merlin smiled, and Arthur's shoulders seemed to lose their tenseness. Merlin held out a hand to her, getting her to her feet. "Come on. You can have my horse."

"What about you?"

"I'll walk?"

Kara stared at him. Why are you being kind to the person you're about to execute? Are you really that cruel? Do you really hate me so much?

"We can share?" She suggested warily.

Merlin glanced over at Arthur briefly, but Arthur didn't seem to notice. But when merlin looked back at Kara, he was smiling, and nodded. "okay. That would be easier and quicker for the whole group."

Kara waited for Merlin to secure himself on the saddle, before climbing on behind him. She wrapped her arms around his slim waist to steady herself.

She fought the urge within herself to lean her head on Merlin's shoulder. But he smelt soft and gentle. Despite his wiry appearance, he had strong muscles beneath his shirt, sturdy shoulders. Kara had never looked at him like this before, never cared about what was beneath his worn shirt.

But as they began the journey back to Camelot, she found the gentle sway of the horse putting her back to sleep. She hadn't eaten in two days, and was exhausted from constantly being on the move. Kara found herself snuggling up against Merlin's back, head resting on Merlin's shoulder. She was quite a bit shorter than him, but was the perfect height to rest her head on his shoulder.

Strangely, curled up with the man who wanted her dead, Kara had never felt safer, never felt the resounding feeling of home, as strongly as she felt it in that moment.

Soon, Kara was fast asleep.

 

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Looking over at Merlin, Arthur couldn't help but smile at the scene that greeted him. Kara snuggled up against Merlin's back, fast asleep. She looked perfectly content just sleeping there.

Merlin caught his eye, and smiled at him. Kara looked so at ease sleeping there, almost as if she still trusted them.

Both Arthur and Merlin knew that Kara didn't believe them when they had told her they didn't want her dead. They knew she wasn't going to trust them for a long time to come. The two of them had spent the whole day talking, trying to overcome the feeling of betrayal, and trying to remind themselves that Kara hadn't told them not to deceive them, but because she was unsure of how they would react to knowing the truth about her. At no point during the week she had been in Camelot, had she made a single move to hurt anyone.

Well, okay, that wasn't strictly true, considering she had been fighting and training with the Knights. But outside of training, she hadn't made a move to hurt anyone.

But at some point during their talk, Arthur had come to accept what Kara was, and wanted her back in Camelot where he could look out for her. He didn't care that she was supposedly a druid. She didn't have magic, so she wasn't dangerous.

By the time they arrived back in Camelot, night had fallen, and the courtyard was lit by torches. Arthur slipped off his horse, gathering Kara into his arms before merlin got off the horse. They knew they should wake Kara, get her to eat and drink something, but she looked so peaceful, asleep in Arthur's arms that they let her keep sleeping as Arthur carried her all the way to gaius's chambers.

It was only as they were settling her in a cot that Kara opened her eyes.

Startled by the change in surroundings, Kara bolted upright, nearly hitting Arthur in the head with her own. "where am I?" She demanded.

"Back in Camelot, in gaius's chambers. You're safe."

Kara eyed the two men suspiciously. She didn't trust them.

But she wasn't in the dungeons. So maybe they were being truthful earlier. Maybe they really didn't want her dead.

"Do you want me to answer your questions now?" Kara asked, keeping all emotion from her voice. She didn't look at either of them, deciding it was less painful to keep her gaze fixed on the floor, the table leg, the blankets… just anything else, really.

"No." Arthur told her. "get some rest. You can answer them in the morning."

With that, Arthur bid goodnight to Kara and Merlin, and then turned and left. Merlin gave Kara some reheated stew that Gaius had left out and a drink before bidding her goodnight and retreating to his own room. Gaius was in the lower town, helping a woman birth a child who refused to turn, and so Kara was alone in the giant cavern as she curled up on her cot, and fell into a fitful sleep.

Chapter Text

The guards barely looked at her as they led her through the castle towards the courtyard. Metal chains chafed her wrists and ankles, clanking with every step.she took. Dresses in rags, she looked like a shadow of her former self. To think she had only left the druid village two weeks ago…

Any servants they passed averted their gaze. They knew what she was. A monster. They wanted nothing to do with her. They feared her, rightly so. She was cursed.

The Knights and the guards they passed retained their gaze with her, but the only thing she could see was anger in their features. She had gained their trust just to betray them. To lie to them. To cheat their trust.

Gwaine was waiting for her just by the entrance to the courtyard. He took the chains from the other guards and yanked her forwards, hard, causing her to trip and fall to the floor.

"Gwaine. I'm sorry!" She cried, looking up at him. He tugged at the chains, forcing her back to her feet, before leading her outside. Blood began to run out from under the wrist restraints, her skin having been rubbed from her body.

She didn't fight back as she was led down the steps, between the crowds, every eye averted. She was led up onto the pyre. Heart constricting in her chest, she looked around for others she recognised. Up on the balcony, she saw the king. His features hard and unforgiving. By his side stood merlin. His eyes were soft, jaw clenched, gaze averted but not from fear or betrayal. From sorrow. The only one in the whole kingdom who didn't want her dead.

The chains were replaced by rope, which hurt worse on her raw wrists. She was tied to a large wooden stake in the centre of the wooden platform, surrounded by dead logs and fallen branches, all of which was designed to ensure she burnt quickly.

"Under the laws of Camelot, you have been found guilty of sorcery. You are hereby sentenced to death by burning." Arthur's voice rang out across the courtyard. "any last words?"

"Please, please don't do this!" Tears sprang to her eyes, and despite her normally calm facade, she found herself begging. Her legs turned to jelly, buckling beneath her, the rope becoming the only thing holding her upright. "I'll do anything. Just please don't kill me!"

Arthur raised a hand, and then lowered it, the signal to the guards holding flaming torches. Within seconds, the pyre was alight, flames licking at her ankles. The heat was intense, searing her skin.

Blisters began to form where the flames touched her. Her skin melted before her very eyes. The pain became so incredible she steamed, fighting the ropes that bound her.

"Please!"

Nerve endings stopped working and the pain diminished for a second, only to come back fiercer than ever before moments later. Blisters popped, and skin melted. Hair singed and clothes burned away. Black skin began to replace arms and legs, bones becoming brittle.

Within seconds, death would consume her.

"PLEASE!"

 

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"Kara!"

Gasping, Kara sat bolt upright, fighting the arms that held her. The sheets she lay on were cold with sweat.

She would not die, she would not die.

Legs entangled in the bed sheets, she fell off the bed, scrabbling against the cold flagstones in an attempt to get away. She pushed over benches, hearing glass shatter, not noticing when the small shards slit her palms open.

"Kara, stop! You're safe!"

She would not die. She would NOT die.

"Kara it's me, it's merlin. You're okay!"

The voices were muffled, like they were underwater. Kara's back smashed up against a wall, and only then did her eyes focus on the sight in front of her.

Gaius was staring at her, eyes wide in shock and concern for the young woman. But Merlin was crouched right in front of her, arms outstretched but not quite touching. Between the two men, the room was in chaos, benches lying sideways, the tiny meticulously labelled bottles smashed and shattered. She could quite clearly see the path she had left behind.

"Merlin?"

Merlin smiled, seeing her eyes go from glassy and blown, to focussed. "yeah, it's me. You were having a bad dream."

"A dream?"

Merlin nodded. "Yes. Just a dream."

Kara looked down at her hands, stroking the smooth unharmed skin of her wrists. No sign there were ever any shackles. She pulled her trousers up to her knees and stared at her ankles. No burns.

"Just a dream."

She repeated it several.more times in her own head, trying to make herself realise she was safe. But it didn't sit right in her heart. She knew why she was here. Arthur wanted to question her. She was still in danger.

"Your hands are bleeding. Let me tend to them." Merlin Said calmly and softly, treating her like a deer not to be spooked.

Kara looked at him, and then down at her bloody palms and then nodded. Streaks of blood covered her arms and legs from where she had checked herself.

Merlin helped her to her feet, keeping an arm secure around her waist as he walked her back to the bed. When he sat her down, Gaius passed him all the equipment needed for him to tend to her hands.

Although there were lots of cuts across her palms, none were too big or too deep to require stitching. Merlin removed the glass with tweezers and then covered them in a strange substance. It smelt like honey.

"To keep out infection." Merlin told her, seeing her confused expression.

She nodded, saying nothing, which worried Merlin further. Kara was a talker. She was like him, she babbled on about nothing, teasing and flirting with guards, and annoying those she cared for. Being silent was a rarity and one he did not like.

He wrapped her hands in gauze and bandage, but held onto her wrist when she tried to turn away from him. "Kara, I know you don't want to trust me or anyone in Camelot right now. But I promise you, we're not going to hurt you. Especially me and Gaius. You will always be safe with the two of us, I swear on my life."

Kara looked to him. "Really?"

"Really."

Kara nodded, muttering something underneath her breath.

Merlin frowned. "what's was that?"

"In my dream. You didn't want to burn me. You were the only one."

Merlin scooped Kara into a hug, trying not to take it personally when she tensed momentarily in his arms. She soon relaxed. "No one wants to burn you. You haven't done anything wrong."

"I'm a druid. Whether or not I have magic, I am a druid. They aren't accepted here." Kara mumbled into Merlin's shoulder.

"Times have changed. Arthur isn't his father and lets the druids live in peace. He only arrests them if they come into the city, and then he banishes them, he doesn't kill them. Not a single sorcerer or druid or warlock has been killed simply for having magic since Arthur has come to power. They don't want to hurt you."

Kara sighed and nodded. People had told her this so many times over, again and again and again. But since they had discovered what she was every bad thing ever said against her was coming to the forefront of her mind. And in a kingdom where magic was punishable by death? It made her fears and her doubts even worse.

There came a knock at the door and sir Leon entered. "Arthur wants to see you both." He told Merlin and Kara.

Kara got to her feet, taking a deep breath. She allowed Merlin and Leon to guide her out the room and towards the council chamber. She had been past it a couple of times, but never been inside. Somehow she was disappointed with the simplicity of the rooms design. It wasn't grand and ornate. It was posh and told of status, but apart from the white stone and stain glass, there was nothing more to look at.

There was Arthur's chair though. It was a throne, except it didn't really look like one. The high backed wooden seat had intricate carvings near the top, the arm rests being carved into the shape of jewels, but it was still just a wooden seat. Arthur sat upon it, no crown on his head, no chainmail, just his usual white shirt and a leather jacket beneath his red cloak.

Around the room stood.members of the council, all of whom watched Kara with a wary gaze. She was something new, something not to be trusted. She was a druid, but not. Arthur had allowed her within the walls.of Camelot, so she was a trickster, except she helped maids and manservants, highborns and commoners alike. She was honest and kind.

She was something new.

Merlin and Leon took their places at the king's side, standing behind his throne. The other knights were scattered throughout the crowd, hidden in shadows. Kara could only just make out Percival hidden behind a pillar.

"Kara."

Kara turned back to face Arthur as he spoke. Suddenly she seemed to snap back to reality and remembered to curtsey. "Sire."

"Do you know why you're here?" Arthur holds no emotion in his face or his voice as he talks, shows no compassion to the woman he once called a friend.

Kara nodded. "Yes, sire."

"Do you understand that under the laws of Camelot it is illegal for a druid to enter the city."

"Yes, sire."

"So why did you come here?"

Kara raised her head. She was not here to be accused of false accusations. "I didn't come here. I was brought here. I passed by the border on my way into Odin's kingdom where I was attacked. I was brought to the city by your own actions."

"But I did not stop you from leaving."

"No, but you did befriend me, made it more difficult for me to want to leave."

"I befriended you?" Arthur asks, anger flashing in his eyes. "how am I to know it was not some ploy of yours to get close to me and kill me?"

Kara sighed. "not every druid has magic. Not every magic user is a druid. Not every magic user is evil. Not every magic user wants to kill you, sire. I simply wanted to make a new life for myself somewhere I was wanted. I was not wanted in the druid encampment."

"Why not?"

"Because I have no magic, sire."

Whispers broke out amongst the members of the court.

"But you are a druid?"

"Yes."

"Then how can you not have magic?"

"Very rarely, a child can be born to two druids who possess no magic at all. Druids will still protect them, as they do all those seeking refuge, but if the unmagic child decides to leave, they will not be stopped." Kara spoke out to the room. The whispers continued, but this time they seemed kinder, more compassionate. "The whole purpose of druids living is to understand magic, to control the magic, and to use it for good. We are not defined by our magic, but rather we define the magic within ourselves."

Kara pauses, looking to Merlin, who smiles at her and nods.

"I was not here for malicious intent. I simply wanted to find somewhere I was welcome. I thought I had found that. Seems I was wrong. And once you have learnt all you need from me I will leave Camelot, never to return if that is what you wish." Kara looked at the ground, not wanting to see the moment Arthur condemned her to death.

All anger in Arthur's body seemed to leave him as she spoke that last sentence. "I do not want you to leave."

Karas snapped her head up to face the king, frowning.

"And nor do I want to execute you."

The entire court had once again fallen silent and still. A druid who was going to be neither executed or banished? Kara frowned, but she noticed Merlin smiling. Something akin to pride shone within the manservant.

"My father's laws are outdated." Arthur spoke out. "and whilst I do not feel comfortable with the use of magic, I can no longer condemn it, not if it hurts those I care about."

Arthur got to his feet and walked towards Kara. "You said druids learn to understand and control their magic, their historical past. I want you to be my magical advisor, to aid me with decisions regarding magical people, and to teach me all you know."

Kara looked up at the king. Shock was the only emotion she could feel. The king wanted her as an advisor?

Arthur smiled softly. "this is the part where you accept my offer."

Kara stuttered and began to curtsey. "it would be an honour, my Lord."

Merlin's smile grew wider.

The silence from the courtiers thickened. This was unprecedented.

Leon was the first to start clapping, Merlin and Gaius soon following suit, then the rest of the knights. Older members of the court, who had been great supporters of Uther stayed silent, disliking this sudden and public change of regime.

Merlin could only look on in hope. Change was coming. And it was going to be good.

 

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"Do you think I did the right thing, today?"

Arthur sat perched on the edge of his bed, watching as Merlin tidied his room. Although he was confident in appointing Kara as his magical advisor, he was also very wary about the repercussions, both from within his court, and from the wider world. Magic hadn't been accepted in Camelot for over 25 years, since he was born. He had never known a world where magic could be practiced freely, and didn't know how he would govern it.

Seeing the conflict ammassing in Arthur's head, Merlin sat down beside him, taking Arthur's hand in his own. "Arthur, what you did today is the first step to making this kingdom free from persecution, and safer for all. That's all you've ever arrived for. You shouldn't doubt yourself."

Arthur raised Merlin's hands to his lips, kissing it gently. "thank you."

With little warning, Agravaine strolled through the doors, not even knocking. Anger was written all over his face.

Arthur jumped to his feet, striding towards his uncle. "how dare you enter without knocking. Have you forgotten I am your king?"

"Why did you not tell me about your plans to install the girl as a magical advisor?" Agravaine demanded.

"Because I am the king, as you seem to forget. I know my own mind and I make my own decisions. I know what's best for my kingdom, and it is this." Arthur snapped back, equally as fierce.

"But why? Magic is our enemy! It stole your mother, and your father!"

"I learned many years ago that it was Uther that killed my mother." Arthur interrupted his uncle. By his sides, his fists clenched and unclenched multiple times. He needed to control his emotions, get a clear head. He could not argue with his uncle based off emotions alone.

"What are you talking about?"

"My father wanted an heir so badly he consulted a sorceress to get what he wanted, but didn't listen to her council when she warned of what would happen. I cannot make that same mistake, and become prejudiced against my own people for a mistake I made!"

"You cannot allow magic back in Camelot!" Agravaine tried once more.

"Yes, I can." Arthur said simply. He hated how his uncle seemed to go against every decision he made recently, especially when regarding Kara. "Leave, or I will get the guards."

Huffing, Agravaine left.

But standing outside the door to Arthur's chambers, he thought about what needed to be done. If Morgana was going to rise to the throne of Camelot, Arthur needed to be hated and weak. This Kara, might make him the opposite. Plus, whatever was going on between Arthur and Merlin needed to end, soon.

Smiling, Agravaine began planning what to do.

Chapter Text

Standing in the middle of the large room made Kara feel uncomfortable. It was all for her and her alone, and was larger than any room or tent she had had before, and certainly larger than anything she'd had for herself without having to share. The bed was a large four post bed, and there was also an ornate oak chest, a large table, a screen and a fireplace. It was almost the size of Gaius's main chamber, and she didn't have to share it with another, or patients.

As an advisor to the king, she had been given private chambers all for herself, and frankly, it made her feel uncomfortable. Living with the druids, she had slept in a small tent, always moving around. Having something so large and so permanent was a foreign thing for Kara.

She was glad when Merlin knocked on the door and entered the room. It made her feel less stranded and alone.

"Getting used to it?" Merlin asked jokingly

Kara sighed. "I don't know if I'll ever get used to it." Sitting on the bed made her feel like she was sinking into a cloud. How could something be so soft and squishy?

Merlin laughed, sitting next to her. "I know the feeling." At Kara's confused look, he continued, "I didn't always live in Camelot. I used to live in a small village. My entire house was probably the size of the room, and I slept on the floor, because my mother's bed was only big enough for one person. When I came here, living with Gaius, having my own bed, it was such a novelty I thought I'd never get over. Now, sleeping on the floor feels foreign to me. You'll get there. It'll just take time."

Kara sighed, nodding. "at least I don't have a maid. I made a deal when I moved in, that I would do the chores around my room, so as not to inconvenience any maids. Besides, I've been helping out ever since I came here, I know what I'm doing."

Merlin patted her shoulder. "Gaius would love it if you still helped out. In fact, he'll be heading into town later, to collect his pots, and I'm sure you'd be welcome company."

"Don't you usually do that?"

Merlin shrugged. "not so much since Arthur became king, but also I'm going on patrol today, and won't be back till late. "

"Oh, okay. Have fun." Kara nodded, disheartened that she was going to be spending the day without one of the few people who still looked at her like normal. Most servants and maids were kind, but looked at her with fear. The townspeople varied, none of them knowing exactly what to do. And the knights were either very nice and normal, or cruel and refused to talk to her. She hoped it would change in time, but it did make her feel uneasy.

Merlin sighed, slipping an arm around her shoulders. He knew what she was going through, had seen the way people had looked at her with fear. "I'll be back before you know it."

Kara nodded, leaning her head onto his shoulder. "you'd better."

 

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"Gaius! Come help me!"

Both Kara and Gaius stopped dead in their tracks when they heard the midwife call for Gaius. Kara had strings of pots hanging around her neck as they walked through the lower town. Being around Gaius helped calm her, and the people were less hostile seeing the kind and all knowing physician treat her the same as always.

Gaius bundled off after the midwife, and Kara quickly followed. The midwife was a healer who lived in the lower town and worked with all the pregnant women in Camelot, from royals and nobles, to the poorest of the poor. She and Gaius were well acquainted, as both could diagnose and prevent pregnancies, and both could help out at births, and often called on each other if the birth was a difficult one.

Gaius entered the house of a woman who's husband had recently died. As Kara entered behind him, she could immediately see the problem. The woman was lying on her bed, an enormous amount of blood covering her sheets. The woman was bleeding out.

Gaius sighed. "What's happening?"

Everyone in the room knew that the woman would not be able to survive. All efforts went to keeping the children alive.

"She's having twins, but one is breech and refusing to move. The other may be dead. I need to cut her open."

Gaius sighed. This was a death sentence, but only magic could save the woman now, and since Merlin was away, there would be no saving her. "okay. Let's get to work."

Kara couldn't watch as Gaius and the midwife got to work, instead turning her back. Halfway through the procedure, one of the babies was removed and handed off to Kara to warm and look after while they tried to save the other. Unfortunately, the other twin had died, and it took everything in Kara to not become a sobbing mess on the floor.

When they finished, Gaius moved to Kara, and put a (thankfully cleaned) hand on her shoulder. "You need to take the child to a wet nurse, whilst we clean up here."

Kara sighed and nodded, not looking at the deceased woman on the bed, and she took the orphaned child, swaddled in blankets, towards the house of the nearest wetnurse.

On the way to the wetnurse, she saw Arthur and Merlin's horses passing through the town, followed by the other knights. She nearly smiled, knowing her friends were back.

Arthur must have spotted her, because just as she was about to knock on the door to the wetnurse house, she felt someone tap her on the shoulder.

Spinning around, Kara was greeted with a very confused Arthur. "what are you doing here?"

Kara gaped, for some reason feeling a little lost for words. The baby in her arms took that moment to squeal. Kara shushed it, and felt Arthur take a step closer, almost squishing the baby between the two of them.

"Who's baby is this?"

Kara hung her head as she started to cry. She had been fighting back tears the whole time she had been listening to Gaius and the midwife struggle to save the babies.

Arthur gathered Kara into his arms, realising what must have happened. "Hey, it'll be okay. They'll take care of it."

"The father had died a month ago, and…. there was so much blood, and the twin… it didn't make it… and she's so alone now." Kara sobbed. She wrapped an arm around Arthur's neck as she cried into his shoulder. She knew it was probably against the rules, but in her grief she didn't care.

Arthur rocked her side to side as she cried, trying to help her calm down. Strangely, he felt something stir within him that he had only ever felt when he was with Merlin, not even when he had proposed to Gwen. Panic greeted him. He was with Merlin, why was this happening?

Kara finally got her emotions under control enough to knock on the door and hand over the baby. The wetnurse was rightly startled when she opened the door to see the king of Camelot, and a sobbing maid, holding an orphaned baby, standing on her doorstep. She had simply curseyed, taken the baby and promised to take good care of her. Kara hadn't wanted to pass the baby over, but she knew it was for the best, and let herself be consoled by the king as they walked back to the palace.

Eventually, Arthur started talking about his day, and what they'd found on patrol. He'd talked about finding a shrine which Merlin had said was cursed.

"It is, from the sounds of it." Kara told the king as he dropped her off at her chambers. But she invited him in and they sat together at her table.

"How so?"

"Merlin probably mentioned that druids build those shrines to appease restless spirits." Arthur nodded at her suggestion. "Well, that's not completely true. Those shrines were built after Camelot patrols, mostly. Especially patrols that slaughtered women and children too. There are usually flags and scarfs surrounding it warning non druids not to enter."

Arthur sat quietly in his chair. "yes. That sounds right."

"I wouldn't worry though, so long as no one touched anything, everyone will be fine."

Arthur nodded. But he seemed to be thinking about something.

The natural lull in conversation told Kara it was probably time to head back to her own rooms, but she would stop by Gaius and Merlin, talk to them about it.

As she made her way to Gaius's chambers, she passed by several maids, who shied away from her, pressing themselves to the wall as if that would help. Trying not to take it personally, she just keeps walking, and enters the room. Merlin is sat on a bench opposite Gaius as they eat their dinner.

"The shrine?" Kara asks, knowing she won't need to explain anymore than that.

Merlin nods. "it must have been cursed. I can't get it out of my head."

"I've already talked to Arthur about it. The shrine was a place that druids make to appease restless spirits."

"Probably the result of others' decrees." Gaius adds. He has seen so much death at the hands of the old king. Death of uther’s own making, fuelled by his hatred of something that didn't need to be feared.

“You must never go back there merlin.” Kara spoke softly, thinking about the stories that shrine must hold. Merlin seemed to be so deeply affected by it, what must he have seen?

“Don't worry, I've no intention of going back there again.” Merlin laughed, but there was a look of sorrow in his eyes, mourning for those honoured at the shrine. Souls that would never find rest.

Gaius must have been giving merlin a look that only they understood, because merlin looked gaius deeply in the eye and spoke, “and this time I'm not lying to you.”

Kara laughed. “I didn't think you were.”

 

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“What's that in your hair?” Gwaine asked, as they stood around the following morning waiting for Arthur to hand out orders. After some negotiation and promises made to the knights, Kara had been allowed to start training with them again. Some of the younger knights were more wary of Kara, but the main 6 (Gwaine, Elyan, Percival, Leon, Arthur, and Merlin) were all perfectly fine with her presence. Elyan was still distrustful since she had lied about being a druid, but he didn't fear her.

“It's stew.” Merlin called, answering for Arthur since the king looked a bit sheepish and like he wanted the ground to swallow him whole.

“Why’ve you got stew in your hair?” Leon frowned.

“Because he was reading.” Merlin answered, like it was obvious. He wore a stupid grin on his face as he went about his jobs, setting up the training ground.

To those who didn't know the king, he looked his normal self as he listened to Merlin expose him. But to those who knew him, they could see the grimace on his face.

"Change of plans," Arthur called, causing Kara to roll her eyes and Merlin to pause in fear, "I think we'll try something different."

Kara watched as Arthur threw spare armour at his servant, and handed him a heavy shield. Then, the knights all lined up getting ready to attack Merlin. Kara couldn't but feel sorry for him, he was certainly going to feel it in his arms tomorrow.

But when they got around to Elyan, Kara could sense something was off. At first, as with most of the knights, he was cautious. Merlin wasn't trained to fight back, and the knights didn't want to hurt him, even if he was just a servant. But then Elyan struck him. It was a basic stroke, no finesse. It seemed to awake something in the knights, and he struck the shield repeatedly, getting harder every time. There was an anger in his eyes, his actions. Anger that hadn't been there before.

Merlin fell to the ground due to the sheer force Elyan was raining down upon him. Arthur called out for him to stop. But Elyan only stopped when Arthur physically made him.

"I think he's had enough."

Elyan dropped his sword and wandered off. As Arthur checked on Merlin, Kara watched Elyan leave. What was going on with him?