A/N: Hey, sorry for the awfully long wait D: here we go!
Beta's by Caldera32
Days passed but Merlin's exhaustion did not. He was struggling to stay awake for more than an hour at a time, and Arthur could see it was getting him down.
"Is there anything we can do?" Arthur asked Gaius after they hit the fortnight mark, his fists clenched in frustration as he stared yet again at the servant's sleeping form.
Gaius sighed. "I told you, Arthur; it will take a while and we just have to be patient."
Arthur bit his lip. There was an idea he had been toying with, although he hadn't mentioned it to anyone yet – not even Gwen. "I was wondering..." he began, and Gaius looked wary.
"Well, it might be a good idea to invite his mother to stay for a while."
The physician looked shocked. "That's a good idea, Sire!" He said slowly, as though in disbelief that the prince could be so thoughtful.
"Yes, well." Arthur huffed, a little bit pleased with himself but a little bit indignant at Gaius' clear lack of faith in his ability to be nice. "I can provide a messenger, if you like, and a knight to escort her. If you get a letter to me by noon I'll sort out the arrangements."
The physician nodded, looking thoughtful as he wandered over to his desk to find some parchment.
Upon returning from the market, Hunith was surprised to find a knight and a page waiting with three horses outside her hut. Both were wearing the Pendragon livery.
The poor woman almost dropped her basket. Had something happened to Merlin? Had they found out about his magic?
The thought occurred to her that they might bring news of his execution, and then she really did drop the basket.
A small bundle of apples rolled out, coming to a stop at the feet of the knight as Hunith lifted one hand to her chest, terrified.
"Hey!" The knight bent down to pick up the fruit, brushing it off and placing it back in the basket. "It's okay! You're Merlin's mother, yeah? We have a message from Gaius. I'm Gwaine, by the way." He smiled, and a wave of relief washed over Hunith with such intensity she almost swayed on her feet.
She doubted the knight would be speaking to her in such a friendly manner if he had come to arrest her for harbouring a sorcerer.
She smiled back. "Sorry, you gave me a bit of a shock." She thanked Gwaine as he passed the refilled basket of apples over. She noticed a slight reluctance and chuckled. Was this the apple lover Merlin had told her about in his letters?
"Would you like to come in? You may have one, if you like." She nodded to the basket and the knight beamed at her as though Christmas had come early, selecting a green fruit with relish.
She offered one to the page, who politely declined and inquired as to where he might water the horses. Hunith gestured toward a field not far away and told him he could let them loose if he pleased – there was a lake and plenty of running space. She didn't miss the fact that there were three mounts.
The page retrieved a letter from the leather pouch at his side. "I was sent by Prince Arthur Pendragon, on behalf of the court physician Gaius, to present you with this message." He said, a hint of pride in his voice at being entrusted with the letter of such an important person. "You are to accompany us back. Everything is explained," he assured her, turning to guide his horse away. Gwaine offered Hunith another bright smile before following the boy, holding the reins of the two other horses in one hand and his half-eaten apple in the other.
The woman stared down at the letter in her hand. The outside had her name written on it in Gaius' hand, looking as though it had been scribbled very quickly.
Hunith entered the house and put her basket on the table before sitting down.
Worry began to rise again as she turned the page's words around in her head. There had been no mention of Merlin, which meant this letter was bound to be about him. She groaned softly as she broke the wax seal. What had that boy of hers gotten himself into this time?
It saddens me to tell you that Merlin endured a series of fits a fortnight ago and is having difficulty recovering. The boy is still suffering from exhaustion and having some lingering difficulty with speech, though you must not worry yourself – I assure you he is receiving the best of care and there will be no lasting damage. Prince Arthur suggested you come and stay for a while and I do believe a visit from his mother would lift the boy's spirits greatly. I am aware that by now you are probably concerned, as any mother would be, and so I will attempt to briefly explain the circumstances.
The attack was brought on by Merlin's failure to take his medicine, although he is not to blame, and lasted through the night and into mid-morning. The prince was with him the entire time. They were stuck alone in a cave and with no help or medicine available he dealt with the situation with great aptitude. I will not lie to you, Hunith; by the time I arrived Merlin had slipped into continuous convulsions and special aid was required to save him – but he was saved, and will recover fully. This is what we must focus our attention on now.
I will be able to explain a great deal more in person. I beg you to ride back with the carriers of this letter if you are able.
With kind regards,
Hunith sat beside her sleeping son, holding his limp hand.
She dreaded to think of how ill he must have been a fortnight ago if this was how he looked now. He did not know of her arrival yet – or even that she would be coming. She brushed a light hand across his cheek before leaning down to kiss her child on the forehead. She firmly suppressed the tears forming in her eyes. It would not do for him to wake up to see her crying.
The mother had declined Prince Arthur's offer of a guest chamber, generous as it was. She would be sleeping here in the main chamber with her son, taking Gaius' usual bed while he moved to Merlin's in the side room. She had been very touched by the prince's attitude toward Merlin. She knew they were close, but seeing the truth of it in Arthur's eyes as he gently clasped his friend's shoulder before leaving to continue his royal duties was extremely comforting.
Hunith's eyes flashed back to her son when she felt a little tremble in his hand. Gaius had warned her there was a risk of this happening – Merlin had been suffering around one fit a week as his power grew, and he hadn't had one now for several days.
She softly laid his hand back onto the bed as his entire arm began to shake, the seizure moving up into the shoulder and then stilling. Merlin continued to sleep, oblivious.
His mother sighed, shaking her head as she reclaimed his hand, stroking the back of it with her thumb. She remembered a time when she had been terrified by his seizures, but that had long past. They were a part of who her son was, just like his scruffy hair and eager blue eyes.
At first she hadn't realised anything was wrong. Fits were not uncommon in newborns. It was when he was three and still having them that Hunith became concerned. They had reduced as Merlin grew older, though, and she had presumed he was growing out of them – until his fateful seventh birthday.
When Merlin woke up he had been perky as ever, smiling broadly when he realised what day it was and positively bouncing in his seat as he waited for Hunith to bring his porridge to the table. That day it had raisins mixed in as a special birthday treat.
Hunith smiled at the memory. Some of that childish enthusiasm had remained in her son, despite the trials he'd faced over the years.
After the special breakfast she had given him a present. It wasn't much – just a small clay animal – but the boy had been delighted, grinning from ear to ear as he made it walk across the floor. At some point he had gotten bored of dragging it through the dirt and decided it could be a flying cow instead.
Hunith had been laughing as she watched the cow perform an impressive loop which required Merlin to switch hands part way through, when suddenly the boy had stopped. He had dropped the new toy, shards flying in all directions. She had been about to scold him when he'd let out an unnatural shrieking cry and tensed all over, eyes rolling back into his head.
She remembered the fear that had risen in her gut as she watched him fall, paralysed with shock.
His skull had hit the floor with a loud crack, making Hunith cry out and rush to her son's side.
This seizure wasn't like the others, when one limb had twitched or he had gazed into space for a while (sometimes accompanied by small incidents of accidental magic). It was horrific in a way that Hunith had never experienced before, watching helplessly as her son began to shake and then spasm, every muscle contracting and relaxing as his back arched so high she thought it was going to snap.
She remember crying and begging for help, and she remembered Will's mother holding her back when Merlin's little chest contracted and did not release. She sobbed as his face grew blue and his lips lost all colour, screaming at her friend to let her help him while little Will, having arrived with his mother to attend Merlin's birthday lunch, watched pale-faced from the doorway.
As soon as the convulsions stopped her son had started breathing again.
The village healer, whom Hunith had assisted on occasion, arrived soon after and stayed until Merlin regained consciousness. He had been sleepy and a little grumpy when he woke, in a way that his mother would have found adorable in any other circumstance but had been heartbreaking that day. After she'd put him to bed Hunith realised that the cow toy, previously broken into innumerable pieces, was whole again with an added glazed shine.
She had stayed up with him all night, terrified out of her wits that it would happen again.
It did; the following morning, the following evening, and twice the next day. He had also had smaller seizures, like the ones he'd had before.
By the end of the week Hunith, exhausted from tending him and watching as Merlin's illness continued, decided she would have to do something about it. The herbal tonic took a month to create and many more variations to perfect, and by then the people of the village had become wary. She had been cautious about letting him out of the hut before because of the occasional minor seizures and bursts of uncontrollable magic, and people had commented on the strange sounds that could sometimes be heard from Hunith's home or the eerie blue light that shone from the windows on moonless nights (Merlin wasn't too fond of the dark). Whispers of Hunith's son being possessed had begun to circulate. Which was why the mother, after succeeding in making a medicine that reduced the fits and incidents of accidental magic, encouraged Merlin to play outside with Will.
Present day Hunith's hold on her son's hand tightened as she thought of Will. The dear boy had been the best friend Merlin could have asked for; accepting his illness, and later his magic, with an ease that had truly surprised Hunith. They had grown close in their shared secrets to the point they became like brothers.
It was at that moment, as Hunith was choking up at the memory of her son's best friend, that Merlin cracked open his eyes.
He squinted up at her. "This isn't one of those seizures where I see things that aren't there, is it?"
Hunith chuckled. Merlin didn't get that sort often, but she knew he hated the ones that messed with his senses. "No, sweetheart." She assured him. "I'm here until you feel better. The prince thought you might like some company."
Her son dimpled up at her, expression filled with delight. Hunith couldn't help it; she reached forward and drew him into a bone-crushing hug.
"From now on," she told him sternly, "you are going to carry a vial of medicine around your neck. I never want to get a letter like that again."