A Pair of Protectors

Merlin was out alone in the forest gathering herbs. He was near the Valley of the Fallen Kings and so was hyper aware if his surroundings. He let his magic spread out to alert him of anyone approaching. Of course, that was the idea.

"Good morning, my lord." Merlin started at the voice right before him. He leapt to his feet, a small knife in one hand, magic tingling at his fingertips.

"Who are you?" he demanded. "And why did you address me as 'my lord'?"

"I am merely a messenger from my Duke," the small man said. "He would like to meet with you." Merlin slowly lowered his knife. Most people who meant him harm didn't tend to ask politely. All the same, "Who is this Duke?"

"Master Terence of Avalon. Son of the Great Enchanter himself." The man puffed up in pride.

"Avalon?" Merlin was intrigued to say the least.

"Indeed, my lord. He is the Duke of Avalon, though he spends a lot of time in one of the other mortal realms as well."

"When does he want to meet? I am the manservant to King Arthur so there would be some issues if I simply disappear without notice."

"He wishes to meet right away, though do not worry, time works differently between these two worlds. You will be back almost before you have left." He grinned.

"Intriguing." It was puzzling but Merlin grinned. "What is your name?"

"Robin, my lord."

"And I am Merlin. Lead the way Robin." He followed the grinning messenger to the Lake of Avalon. Merlin subtlety somberedsobered, remembering the friends he had laid to rest before. He stopped and looked questioningly at Robin. "How do I get to Avalon? I know this is a gateway but I have never passed through."

"For you, my lord, you only have to walk into the water and reach for it. You should be able to feel it with your magic." Merlin walked into the water, wondering how the knights were still clueless when so many individuals knew he had magic on sight. Although there was something different about Robin; even when he was talking to the messenger, Merlin's magic did not acknowledge his presence. He glanced briefly behind him and saw Robin disappear from sight. Definitely not human then. Returning his attention to the lake, Merlin sent his magic out and could immediately feel the other land.

With a grin, he closed his eyes and reached. When he could feel the magic of Avalon all around him, he opened his eyes. It was amazing. Before him was a spectacular castle. It looked to be the size of Camelot, including the lower town. People were bustling about and magic was everywhere. He didn't need the visual proof of the faeries, the blasts of light, or the glittering flowers to feel the rich hum of the power surrounding him.

"You are free to use your magic and dry off, my lord," Robin said from where he appeared beside him. Merlin let his eyes flash gold to leave him warm and dry.

"Does everyone here have magic?" Robin shook his head.

"No. But in order to cross the border you must have at least a little fae blood." Robin began walking across the drawbridge with Merlin trailing behind, still drinking in the sights.

"But I don't think I have any fae blood. Both of my parents are human."

"They may be human, but you are Emrys, my lord. That is more than enough reason to let you in." Merlin conceded that point. Kilgarrah had told him before that he, too, was a creature of magic. "Even if you weren't, you are a Dragonlord and that was an inheritance from the fae who first mastered the dragons." Merlin and Robin walked in silence until they reached a small room in the hallway upstairs. Assuming the castle was laid out similar to Camelot, Merlin figured this was a bedroom and thus a strange place to meet with someone for the first time. "Right through here." Robin walked in without knocking. "I've brought him, your grace."

"Robin, must I tell you again to stop calling me that?" A man just a few years older than Merlin stood up behind his desk.

"I'll stop calling you that when you can manipulate the gates on your own," Robin shot back, winked, and vanished.

"He hasn't stopped with all the titles since he found out I was royalty." Terence sighed as he walked to Merlin.

"How long ago was that?"

"Three years ago in my world. I didn't learn until then either. Quite a surprise."

"I know the feeling," Merlin muttered. Terence gave a small smile.

"Of course. You are Lord Emrys. But I'm guessing that's not what you prefer to be called."

"No. My name is Merlin." He stuck out his hand.

"And you must call me Terence." They shook hands and Terence gestured for Merlin to join him at the table. "Your are manservant to the king, is that correct?" Merlin nodded. "Then I know you haven't eaten."

"How?" Merlin raised an eyebrow as he snagged an apple; what Terence had said was true after all.

"In my world I am a squire to Sir Gawain. He's actually around here somewhere; he is very different from the Gwaine in your world."

"How many different worlds are there?"

"Hundreds upon hundreds. I don't understand it myself. Here in Avalon you can peek into the other worlds. It is easiest to see the worlds that are the closet to our own. Your world and mine practically overlap. Not always in a way that makes sense, mind you."

"How do you mean?" Terence thought for a minute.

"Well I will start with the similarities. We both live in Camelot wherein King Arthur is the Once and Future King with his Knights of the Round Table. He is married to Guinevere but in both worlds her heart has also been stolen by Lancelot. Sadly for my king, the betrayal was very real for us, no magic bracelets given by shades." Merlin was hard pressed to imagine any world in which Lance and Gwen actually betrayed Arthur.

"What are the other differences?"

"There are many other differences but the biggest mismatch is between people. I said my Gawaine does not act like your friend. He acts more like your Lancelot. Morgan Le Fay is also related to Arthur in my world, though she does not outright hate him. She plays both sides but does have some loyalty to me as Duke."

"Very different. Morgana wants to kill me, both as Merlin and as Emrys."

"I don't envy your destiny, my friend."

"Is there a Merlin in your world as well?" he asked after he finished his bread.

"Yes." Terence grinned. "He is not very much like you. He has magic and he advised Arthur, but he is old. Very old. He was the one to raise Arthur and train him to be king while he was growing up with Sir Ector, his uncle. In a way, he is like Gaius. The old wise man who has all the answers but still tells you to figure it out yourself." Merlin laughed. An excellent description of his mentor.

"So if I am not like him, who is my pair?" Merlin asked.

"Yours truly." Terence and Merlin grinned twin grins.

"I can almost feel a kinship with you. I suppose that explains it."

"Dual identities, fae blood, chosen to protect King Arthur,"

"And best friends with Gwaine," Merlin finished.

"That too." Terence stood and poured them both some wine. The warlock tried to protest, saying he didn't drink, but Terence insisted he at least try it. Merlin did have to concede that it was quite good. "What did you actually want to talk about? I suspect it wasn't just to talk about the differences in our worlds."

"No. I wanted to give you an invitation and a warning." He set his glass down and looked at Merlin seriously. "The warning first. The time is coming. The time you have both hoped for and feared; nothing will be the same after that. Be brave and be wary."

"Thank you," Merlin replied in a similar tone, goose bumps running up his back. For the past two months he had felt the magic of the world building with something like anticipation. If the time of Albion was near, that more than explained why. "And the invitation?"

"I would like to invite you to come to Avalon whenever you need her solace or her vibrancy. It is unnecessary really. Robin tells me the gates obey your will, which is more than I can say, and I think you know the gatekeeper, but even if you didn't-"

"Please," Merlin interrupted when Terence became flustered. "I accept your kind offer."

"I have an official invitation written up here somewhere." He returned to his desk and rummaged in the drawers. "Aha!" He walked back and handed Merlin a small scroll. "Think of it as a free pass to go anywhere and explore everything. Many will recognize you as Lord Emrys, but in case they don't you will have this."

"Thank you." Merlin tucked it in his pocket and also stood. "I should be getting back now, but I look forward to seeing you again."

"I am not always here as I have my own duties in my world, but if you need to speak with me, search out Robin and he can contact me."

"Likewise if you need me again, send Robin or he can get in touch with Kilgarrah. Just ignore him if he insists he is not a messenger pigeon." They shared another smile and the Duke escorted the warlock back to the gate. Merlin loved seeing the people who greeted their lord and was glad to see Terence knew them all by name. At the edge of the drawbridge, they said a last farewell and Merlin walked back into his world, picturing the exact location and time he had left.

Years later, Merlin remembered his invitation to Avalon and frantically transported to the other world, hoping to find Arthur there. What he found did not immediately cheer him up. Terence had lost both his Gawaine and his Arthur as well. Together they comforted each other and when Merlin left, he left with a promise to return and visit often.