"Er, what is...that?"
Merlin felt duty bound to ask this, and the assembled guards, courtiers and royal advisers gathered around the dais stopped gossiping in whispers long enough to listen to the reply.
"I think that is quite evident," Regent Alenid sniffed haughtily. "It is a mirror."
"Yes, it does seem to be a mirror," Merlin agreed. "That does not explain why you called the crème de la crème of the kingdom here to see it revealed in such an auspicious manner." Merlin nodded towards the Regent's toady manservant, who had torn the velvet cover off the mirror minutes before with reverence and flourish.
"This is no ordinary mirror, Prince Merlin," Alenid explained, "It is a magic mirror! Behold! Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, come forth and speak to all!"
Everyone in the room sucked in a breath as a man's face appeared, ghostly opaque, in the glass. Merlin heard his own manservant, Will, let out a 'bloody hell' under his breath. Alenid looked ornately pleased at the stunned reactions.
"Speak your truths to us, Mirror!" he commanded.
"Well, I never!" the mirror huffed. "I have a name, you know! Also, I might mention for further reference that you used a very shoddy incantation earlier to summon me. I'm not even hanging on a wall, I'm propped up on a table. I came this once, but you best do it properly next time."
"Do you know to whom you are speaking?" Alenid demanded, looking outraged.
"I believe you are the second husband of the late Queen Hunith of Avalon, and are sitting as powerless figure head on the throne until our dear Prince Merlin is of age. That is you, isn't it, Merlin?"
Merlin stepped around his fuming step-father and addressed the mirror. "I am Prince Merlin. Did you know my mother?"
"Oh yes, I served your grandfather as court physician when your mother was a wee lass. I did not plan on becoming a magic mirror in my retirement, but these things happen sometimes. Do try to steer clear of love-stricken witches, my boy."
"Oh, I think I have that covered. Though I suppose that also follows for jilted warlocks, too, hmm? In that case, thank you for the advice. Might I ask your name?"
"It is Gaius, Prince Merlin," he replied respectfully, bowing his head.
Merlin turned to the rest of the room, only to find Alenid was near to an apoplectic brain hemorrhage. The rest of the court only smiled at their prince, not surprised that a magic mirror was now one of his acquaintances.
"Have Gaius installed in the physician's suite, would you? I'm sure we will all profit from your advice," he added charmingly to Gaius. Gaius nodded respectfully as two of the guards gingerly moved him out of the room.
"Well, that was exciting! Now, we all must once again don our Cloaks of Responsibility and see to the well-being of our dear Avalon!" Merlin enthused, pretending to fasten an imaginary cape around his neck like the rest of the court. Seeing that Alenid had not moved, Merlin fastened his Cloak of Responsibility for him, and clapped him on the shoulder. "Thank you for finding me a new friend!" Merlin added jovially, before turning to his advisers. "Come, let us see to the food stores! I talked to a cat earlier who saw some mice around the area..."
"Sire?" Trickler the manservant whispered to a frozen Alenid once the room had emptied. Alenid clenched his fist and gave a pained smile.
"Call the woodcutter to my suites, would you?"
Prince Merlin of Avalon was a stupendous sorcerer. Sometimes.
Merlin was able to undress, bathe and dress himself with a snap of his fingers. Sometimes. When Merlin was 13 years old and after finding that he effectively hog tied himself with trousers for the third time in a week, Queen Hunith had appointed Merlin's best friend Will as his manservant. Will did nothing more than assure Merlin did all of his dressing and bathing the normal way, lest Merlin accidentally transport himself into the sea (which only happened once).
So after getting ready for bed that night, and seeing Will out of his rooms and off to the tavern, Merlin had gone to sleep. He might have made the fire from his hearth fly around the room in the form of a Merlin for a while, but sleep came soon after. Alertness came much too quickly, though, as Merlin awoke to find himself in a forest clearing with a strange man.
Merlin felt his magic gathering up to attack, to escape, to... produce a field of daisies in multiple colors.
See, Merlin was a stupendous sorcerer. Sometimes. Not at the moment.
His abductor snorted gruffly, and lifted his lantern higher.
"Oh!" Merlin gasped. "Kilgharrah, what a surprise!"
Merlin had not spoken to the man much before. He had been sent from the neighboring kingdom of Camelot, where magic was outlawed. Hunith had petitioned hard for him to be released to them instead of executed, and won. King Uther, however, delivered him in iron cast chains on his wrists and ankles, which could not be removed by force or magic. It was to be a warning to other sorcerers in his kingdom, Merlin supposed, but it seemed rather contradictory to use magic chains when one is against all forms of magic.
Since coming to Avalon, Kilgharrah had earned his living as the castle's woodcutter, and everyone called him "The Dragon" for his ability to start roaring fires within minutes. He was the kingdom's darling during the winters.
"Oh," Merlin breathed in realization, "Are we out here to get firewood? I don't mind, of course, but I usually like to be conscious during my travels."
"No, Prince Merlin. You are out here because you are in grave danger!" Merlin thought he heard him scoff about stupid royalty.
"Yes. In danger...from?" Merlin questioned.
"Your step-father, Regent Alenid has ordered me to kill you," he replied.
"Oh! Are you going to?" Kilgharrah stared him down. "Right. Sorry."
"Alenid's manservant cast a ferociously abysmal spell on me, I was able to break it easily. However, you will no longer be safe in the castle until you turn 21 and can reclaim the throne. I brought you out here so you can flee to safety."
"Where exactly am I supposed to go? And I can't just...abandon the kingdom! I refuse to let Alenid abuse his power," Merlin exclaimed.
"No one listens to him anyway, I would not worry too much. You just need to keep a low profile for two more months, avoid his admittedly poorly-thought-out assassination attempts. On the subject of where to go, you should head through the forest here to Camelot. There you will find the power to reclaim your throne and unite all of the kingdoms! When the two sides of the coin meet, your true potential shall be revealed!"
Merlin blinked. "That...sounds like rubbish. Camelot has the unfortunate habit of setting fire to sorcerers like me!"
"It is your destiny, young warlock!" Kilgharrah countered.
"Well, my destiny can kiss my princely arse. I'll just wait it out in the forest until my birthday. Thank you for getting me out here and, you know, not murdering me."
"Wait!" Kilgharrah cried, but Merlin had already disappeared with a snap of his fingers.
Stupendous sorcerer, indeed.
Merlin appeared in what seemed to be the garden of a cottage at high noon. He blinked at the bright sunlight, confused because the trip had seemed like seconds, rather than hours. He reached down to brush off his legs, musing about his odd magic, when he realized that he had landed on a girl and was currently crushing the air out of her. Scrambling off, he held out his hand and got her upright.
"Are you all right, miss?" Merlin asked frantically.
"Oh! Of course! If I died every time I had a man on top of me, I'd be a very dead," she giggled. She looked at his clothing. "Why are you in your night shirt? Came ready for some action, did you?" Merlin looked down and realized that he was still dressed for bed, and only had woolly socks, instead of boots, on his feet. A smooth hand creeping under the hem of shirt shocked him out of reverie.
"HELP!" Merlin shrieked, and scooted quickly away from the young woman's hands. The blonde only tittered and kept her hands wandering.
Suddenly, there was a rushing of feet and a conglomeration of women were surrounding them. They all looked shocked.
"Dear Lords and Ladies, Vivian! Did you abduct another man? We discussed discretion, again, two days ago!" The speaker was a brunette with pale skin and purplish shadows under her eyes. Even scowling, she was breath-taking.
They were all pale and beautiful, with various different hair colors, except for one of them, who had smooth, dark skin but still as stunning as the others. Maybe Merlin had transferred himself into someone else's wet dream?
"He appeared here on his own! He seems a little shy, so I was helping him...come out of his shell. Wasn't I, little turtle?" Vivian pinched his cheek.
"I am horribly and irreversibly attracted to men. Strapping, golden skinned men. With large...hands," Merlin sputtered, blushing.
"Me, too! If we find one, we could share!" Vivian trilled, clapping her hands.
One of the women behind him grabbed his arm and got him to feet. Before he knew it he was sitting at a wooden table with a goblet of water sitting in front of him. The various women were also seated at the round table, as well as a boy with similarly pale skin and stunning good looks.
The woman who had scolded Vivian earlier turned to Merlin. "Welcome to the our home. I am Morgana. This is Gwen, Freya, Vivian, Nimueh, Morgause and Mordred," she motioned to each as she spoke their names. Gwen, the darker skinned girl, gave him a warm smile, as did Freya. Vivian licked her lips. Nimueh and Morgause gave him simple nods and Mordred just...stared.
"Its nice to meet all of you. I'm Prince Merlin," Merlin replied, remembering a beat later that he was supposed to be laying low, and pretending to be dead.
Everyone seemed to relax at that, though. Mordred even cracked a smile.
"What do we owe the honor, your highness?" Morgana asked.
"Oh, please just call me Merlin. It seems my step-father is trying to murder me, so I'm taking a short vacation," Merlin confessed, taking a sip of the water. It tasted like rain, and he felt rejuvenated instantly.
Nimueh snorted. "Playing into the evil step-parent stereotype, is he? How unoriginal."
"I was trying to find a safe place to stay for a few months, and accidentally transported myself here. Where is 'here', by the way?"
"Our cottage is in Avalon, just near the border of Camelot. We all hail from there," Freya started to explain, but stopped suddenly and stared at the floor.
Morgause snorted. "She means to say that we are all magic users, and had to flee lest Uther chopped off our pretty heads."
Merlin was starting to see that never having met with Uther was a good thing. "And Kilgharrah wanted me to go there!" He huffed to himself.
Morgana nodded. "We built the cottage here, so that when Uther finally is murdered- I mean, when he dies- we can go back to Camelot quickly. Prince Arthur is a friend to most of us, and he'll welcome us home."
"Well, it'll be Avalon's loss," Merlin told them kindly, his own magic recognizing the power they had together. "It is rather amazing you all found each other."
"Well, us DWARFFs have to stick together!" Vivian cried, hugging Freya to her side.
"Uh, dwarves?" Merlin repeated, slowly.
"No, silly! DWARFF stands for Dames with Attitude, Refinement and Fine Figures. Mordred is no dame, of course, but he's Morgana and Morgause's brother, so we count him anyway," Vivian gave him a fond smile, and Mordred scowled. "We'd induct you into the club, Merlin, but seven is our lucky number, and I think that one not-dame is enough, can't keep making exceptions, you see, and-"
"Merlin," Morgana cut Vivian off. "Would you care to stay with us until your birthday? We have an extra bed in Mordred's room."
Merlin gladly excepted.
Merlin's one doubt came when he was once again awoken in the middle of the night, so he could join them around a giant cauldron.
"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble," Nimueh chanted, everyone else echoing her.
It had turned out that all they did was make a powerful sparkling wine, which they all cheerfully imbibed the next night.
Merlin became good friends with Gwen and Freya, whose sweet natures helped relax his nerves about the future. Where ever Gwen went, Morgana followed, and her good advice and defiance to propriety made her a good friend, too. Though he stayed away from Vivian for obvious reasons, and Nimueh and Morgause because they quite frankly scared him, he was quite fond of them. And Mordred...
"Are you really the prince?"
Merlin, who had been intent on picking herbs, had jumped and fell into the pond. Mordred levitated him out and handed him a towel.
"Er, did you just talk into my mind?"
"I am the prince, really," Merlin replied.
"Can we get married?"
Merlin was appalled. "You're only 13 years old!"
Mordred shrugged again. "It would be okay in five years. I could wait. I have royal ambitions, and you are quite to my liking..."
Well, Merlin tried not to engage Mordred in conversation after that. None the less, he was like a creepy, perverted friend as well.
And Merlin found that while he was pants at doing magic for himself, he excelled at using it for others. The chores and gardening had been taken over by Merlin's magic, to wonderful result, so most of the days were spent drinking delicious wines with berries and cheese, and discussing magic. Merlin also introduced them to his ruling style.
"Why are we all gathered in the yard?" Gwen asked tentatively one morning shortly after Merlin had moved in.
"We are here," Merlin told everyone, "To do some morning stretches! It's important to be limber so you don't hurt yourself during the day. The entire castle would do this in the courtyard with me." Merlin motioned to flock of birds he had coerced into coming, and they sang a jaunty tune as Merlin led everyone through step aerobics. Needless to stay, the participation rate dropped by half after the first day.
Merlin also taught them about Cloaks of Responsibility, Scepters of Sincerity, and Crowns of Kindness.
"So we pretend to put on imaginary clothes?" Morgana asked sceptically.
Vivian was the only one who had grasped the concept right way, and was busy doing baton twirls with her imaginary scepter.
"You pretend to be wearing them so that the concepts stay with you all day. Just imagine they're real!"
Freya screwed her face up in concentration as everyone else looked apprehensive still. Suddenly, with a 'pop', Freya was decked out in a luxurious fur cloak and white gold accessories
"Oh, uh, actually, that's never happened before..." Merlin confessed.
"I want a bloody cloak!" Morgana cried.
"I want a crown!" Mordred echoed, speaking out loud for once.
Everyone, after that, took a better interest in Merlin's motivational techniques.
After a month and a half, though Merlin was not an official DWARFF, he felt like one anyway.
"I'm going to miss our little turtle when we go back to Camelot," Vivian pouted one night, when Merlin and Gwen had left to stroll around the forest. Everyone else frowned in agreement. Except Morgana.
"What are you smirking at?" Morgause asked her sister.
The Seer just smiled serenely. "Oh, I think it will all work out."
After a month and a half, though Alenid was officially King, he didn't feel like one.
"You! Go fetch me some food!"
"Oh, go stuff yourself!" Will replied, giving him a rude hand signal.
"Guards! Seize him!"
The guards rolled their eyes and didn't move.
Trickler sneezed, tripped over his feet, and ran head long into a wall.
King Alenid was not having much luck with anyone.
"Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who's best king of them all?"
Gaius appeared, eyebrow raised. "I do believe I am still not on wall."
The king huffed and thought for a moment.. "Fine. Mirror, Mirror, in a frame, for my troubles, who's to blame?"
"I believe you have a lot of unresolved mother issues."
"I meant with my subjects!"
"Do you yell at them like this? I can't see why their disobedience is surprising to you."
Alenid breathed slowly in and out, before speaking again. "I don't suppose you can tell me who left the hundred dead rodent carcasses scattered around my bed chamber's floor?"
"Oh, no, I do believe that was Merlin. To say correctly, that is, it was Merlin's army of furry and feathered friends. I think the cats were the main organizers. Prince Merlin used to leave cream out for them, maybe you should look into that."
What Alenid wanted to do was have the lot of them drowned, but he couldn't make the arrangements because every time he left the castle a hoard of small children followed him around, throwing rotten tomatoes. Maybe he would go today anyway, and have the children offed with the cats. Smiling, Alenid spied the nail he had installed on the wall, and lifted the mirror.
"There, now. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who's best ruler of them all?"
The Mirror blanched.
Alenid saw red.
"You were supposed to kill him!" Alenid shrieked, a while later, waving his arms around.
Kilgharrah chuckled merrily, and sighed. "Your manservant isn't much of a sorcerer. Prince Merlin is, however, so you might want to divert your murder plot to some one else. May I suggest King Uther?"
"Where is he?" Alenid asked, his voice pitched dangerously.
"I meant MERLIN!"
"Also in Camelot, to the best of my knowledge. Have fun working your magic there!" Kilgharrah roared, laughing all of the way out of the room.
"Trickler?" Alenid said conversationally. Trickler crept forward slowly.
"We have some work to do."
"Merlin, can we have a moment?" Morgana asked.
Merlin looked up from his book and nodded. Morgana sat down at the table, along with Morgause.
"We hate to do this to you on such short notice, but we are going to be away from home for a few days," Morgana explained.
"Where are you going?" Merlin asked.
"We finally found a cure for Vivian's curse," Morgana explained.
Merlin had found out that everyone, save Vivian, had been working on a counter spell for a powerful love spell for months. They had tried a cure before, but instead of being focused on one individual (Gwen had whispered that it was the Prince in Camelot), it lost all focus, and now Vivian fell in love with everyone she met. Merlin had tried every counter curse he knew when he arrived, but had been no help.
"We found a promising reference in an odd book about planets and gender. We are going to travel to the lake nearby, and with Venus being the ruling planet, everything should work this time. The problem is only women can work the spell, so you'll have to stay behind.
Merlin went pale. "You're leaving me alone with Mordred?"
Morgause looked thoughtful. "We had a stern conversation with him about being proper to royalty and about consensual romance. You should be okay."
This did not ease Merlin's worries at all, but after they saw the six women off the next day, Mordred had been perfectly fine, helping him tend the garden in peace. That was when everything else went strange.
"Merlin, did you see this apple?" Mordred asked, holding one up. Merlin set down his basket of apples and peered at it. One side was shiny red, the other half a deep green.
"I think it's a poison apple," Merlin remarked conversationally. Mordred nodded in agreement, and tossed it over the high garden wall. Merlin heard a squeal as it hit something, and smiled. "Let's start working on dinner."
Merlin had opened up the windows all around the house as usual, so that the birds that constantly followed him ("Not just birds, Merlin, I saw a boar trotting merrily beside you last week!") would stop flying into the glass panes. Today, they all gathered on the sills and sang up beat tunes as Merlin first worked on the stew for dinner, cutting up potatoes, lamb, carrots and apples, and then worked the pie dough for dessert. They stopped, however, when a shrill voice called from outside.
"Apples for sale! Perfect for pies!" a bad imitation of a woman's voice cried.
Merlin leaned out a window, careful not to spread flour everywhere. He took one look at the old crone and rolled his eyes. "Trickler, I can tell it's you. I'm not going to buy your apples, since I can see plain as day that they are all poisoned. Can't you just go back to the castle for one more week? It'll be my birthday then and I can take the throne back. I'll give you a nice early retirement package."
Trickler thought about it, and nodded. "I think I'd like that."
Merlin smiled. "Come inside and have some dinner before you head back, we're having stew."
So, it was when Merlin, Mordred and Trickler were all eating the stew that Merlin discovered that while Trickler's apples were disguised badly, that Alenid's weren't, and that was the last thought he had before everything went black.
"I hate to be a stick in the mud, but I don't see how this plan is going to help Merlin at all," Gwen told her friends days later. They were scattered along the side of a main road, waiting for a someone to pass by. "First of all, I think someone is going to take one look at the Merlin Box and rob us."
Everyone turned to look at the glass box (they all adamantly refused to use the word 'coffin') that was inlaid with gold and precious gems. Merlin lay pale and unmoving inside of it. It took all six girls and Mordred calling out directions to make it through the forest to the road, and they were exhausted.
"Gwen," Morgana said gently, "The box has purifying qualities. Merlin's not dead yet, and the box is keeping him that way. And if anyone tried to rob us, I think they'd be in for a big surprise. As for the rest of the plan, we have to find someone with more magic knowledge than us. The only place I know of with sorcerers is Merlin's court. "
It was not for trying that Merlin still slept. They had quickly discovered that a piece of the poisoned apple was lodged in Merlin's throat, allowing very little breathing, but also preventing most of the poison from being digested. All of their physical and magical methods failed to moved the apple piece even a bit. Desperate to revive Merlin before the poison slowly entering his body could kill him, they had abandoned the house, built the box and traveled for days.
Gwen cast a mournful look at Merlin before sinking to the ground, Morgana placing an arm around her shoulders.
They had waited for near two hours when a large entourage came upon them. Freya gasped when she saw the banners, but it was too late for them to hide. They could only stare, mouths agape, as Prince Arthur halted his group and vaulted off his horse.
"Morgana!" he cried, and pulled her into a fierce hug, which Morgana returned with equal fervor. When they finally broke apart, he greeted Gwen fondly, nodded to Freya, Nimueh and Morgause, but froze when he saw Vivian.
Vivian glared at him. "Oh, you wish you could be so lucky."
"Er-" Arthur stuttered.
"We cured Vivian about a week ago, she's back to her normal self. I believe that entailed hating you," Morgana murmured slyly. Arthur looked relieved.
"I've come to bring you all back home," Arthur announced. "I'm not sure whether you've heard the news yet, but Father has stepped down, and I am King now. And in my Camelot, you are all welcome."
Everyone cried in delight, and there was much hugging and girlish squealing. Morgana suddenly turned grave.
"Uther died? I'm sorry for your loss, Art-"
Arthur looked embarrassed. "Oh, he's alive. We just had a man to man talk and decided it was better if I were King, so he could enjoy his new wife."
"Wife!" Gwen gasped, "What is she like?"
"She's a troll," Arthur muttered. Morgana slapped his arm. "No, I mean she is a troll. There were all sorts of spells cast, and even though we have now gotten him to see she looks like a troll, he still doesn't care, claims it is true love. They kiss and its...revolting, actually. And no one believes him sound of mind anymore, so...I'm King now."
"Well," Morgause declared, "You came just in time. We seem to have a royal problem of our own." Everyone turned and looked at the glass box, which Arthur's entourage had been gaping at silently for minutes. Arthur blanched.
"Why are you carrying a corpse around?" He asked, wary.
Freya started crying, and Vivian tried to comfort her.
"This is Prince Merlin of Avalon, and he is not dead. He's just...mostly dead." Nimueh explained.
Arthur got the whole story out of them, and convinced them to let him have a try at removing the apple piece. "I know special techniques for healing, being on the battlefield a lot." Arthur bent over Merlin's head, studying him. Suddenly, he swooped down and sealed his lips over Merlin's. A minute later Arthur came up for air, and spit a piece of apple on the ground. Merlin spluttered and woke, gasping for air.
"Good lords!" the guards exclaimed.
"Merlin!" the women cried.
"Necrophilia!" Mordred shouted, looking disgusted.
"He wasn't dead, you little brat!" Arthur growled, looking flushed. "And there was nothing sexual about it, I just used suction to loosen the apple."
Arthur was ignored as everyone helped Merlin on his feet and explained to him what happened. He blinked stupidly at Arthur, but finally turned to Mordred. "What happened to Trickler?"
"He was ashamed at what happened, and promised to go back to the King and stall for time."
Merlin turned to Arthur. "Thank you for saving my life. It was a miracle that you came along," Merlin murmured, shyly.
Arthur looked perplexed. "Someone else would have gotten it out eventually."
Merlin gave Arthur a look that suggested Arthur didn't really understand what just happened, but finally turned to the rest of the group.
"So, anyone want to watch me get my throne back?"
It turned out that reclaiming the throne was a very easy thing to do, as Merlin was ushered into the throne room by very happy guards, and all of the court cheered as Alenid was turned into a mouse and left to fend for himself in the castle. Merlin would later inform the cats not to eat him, just make his life as hard as possible. Licking the cream off their whiskers, they'd agree.
The next night there is a huge feast in honor of the two new kings, and everyone is delightfully tipsy on the extra large batch of Nimueh's sparkling wine. Merlin lets Will run off after a girl, and spends the night serving himself and Arthur with his magic. He also has Gaius brought out to enjoy the night and relate his tale.
"...And Arthur lifted the lid and, well, you know..." Merlin shyly smiled at Arthur.
Gaius nodded knowingly. "Yes, I'm familiar with the poison and the spell placed on the apple to prevent it from dislodging. It is lucky that King Arthur found you."
"Well, it could have been anyone, really," Arthur admitted, feeling charitable because of the good food and wine, and the surprisingly nice company.
Merlin and Gaius looked at him strangely. Kilgharrah, whom Arthur had released from his chains with apology, laughed from down the table. "Young King Arthur, it was not any technique on your part that saved him. It was only true love's kiss that could remove the apple!"
Arthur turned to laugh at this with Merlin, but he was blushing and giving Arthur a smile that made his breath catch. "You knew?" Arthur asked, breathlessly.
Merlin sighed dreamily. "Your kiss woke me up in every way possible." Merlin took this time to whisper things in Arthur's ear, about how he was looking forward to undressing without magic now that Arthur was around, how he loved his eyes and found his brotherly affection for Morgana and Gwen touching, and that he remembers telling some one that his destiny could kiss his princely arse...
The two kings left the feast much too early, to the amusement of everyone. Except one.
"I wanted so to be a king," Mordred pouted from his position between Morgana and Morgause. They had all been talking of the future, amazed that there were so many possibilities now. Morgana petted Mordred's hair soothingly, but Morgause leaned over, smiling evilly.
"I do believe that Merlin and Arthur will need an heir, and I doubt they're going to attain one naturally," She confided, and everyone laughed. Mordred smiled widely.
"Prince Mordred...it would suffice for the time being..."
Merlin, who was straddling a very lovely, very bare torso, felt his magic give a twinge of worry, but ignored it for much better things.
When he is curled around Arthur later, looking as pleased as one of his cats with cream, Arthur noses behind his ear and whispers, "Stay with me?"
Merlin sighs and replies, "Forever. Happily."