Disclaimer: I own nothing, all rights belong to their respective owners.
I've been rewatching the first series. I couldn't help but note how Arthur never says magic is evil at the start, only that it isn't permitted. So naturally I had to explore that a little.
Hope you enjoy.
Arthur stared into the depths of his cup, swirling the wine distractedly. Merlin was chattering away as per usual, but Arthur had long since drowned him out. His thoughts were firmly on the events of the afternoon and the sorcerer he had helped capture. Not a sorcerer. A druid.
Arthur knew it was no coincidence this was the second to be captured in Camelot within a few months. Security was tighter since the boy - Mordred – had escaped. But it also revealed the druids were getting bolder, seeking supplies in a place they had previously avoided. Arthur didn't know if they were the threat his father had warned him against or whether Uther's iron-grip wasn't enough to deny them their freedom.
But he couldn't forget the look in the man's eyes. He had been on his knees, surrounded by guards and nobles aiming hatred and weapons alike at him. Helpless and vulnerable. And yet… Yet he had looked at Arthur with pity in his eyes when the prince had taken his seat next to his father. He didn't fear for himself, but felt sorry for Arthur.
Arthur didn't understand it. But he was determined to.
"Thank you, Merlin, that will be all."
The silence indicated he had said the wrong thing. Merlin did stop talking, but he rounded the table with a suspicious look on his face.
"What did you just say?"
"You heard. Go home." Arthur put his goblet down and pushed his chair back. The sun had set and he knew the guards would let him speak to the prisoner if Arthur asked. The man was scheduled to die at dawn and as long as they maintained their watch, no harm could come of Arthur talking to him. But Arthur knew he wouldn't be granted any true privacy – the guards would stay close. His father might have never suspected him about Mordred, but the guards were keeping a close on everyone, regardless of who they might be."
"Are you feeling alright?" Merlin pressed. "You said thank you."
"A mistake," Arthur said curtly. He stood, moving across his room and turning his back on Merlin. He hoped it would be enough for the servant to understand a dismissal when he saw one.
"Arthur… is this about the man?"
"Damnit, Merlin, what do I have to do to get rid of you?" Arthur snapped. His shoulders were tense and his neck rigid. He was going to feel this in the morning. But Merlin didn't answer and the slamming of the door made Arthur look around. Merlin had left. Arthur sighed, running a hand over his eyes. He hadn't meant to upset his servant. The few months they had had together had revealed Merlin to be a trusted friend even if he was a lousy servant. But Arthur would make it up to him the next day. When his mind was clear.
He stalked across his room, sliding his sword through his belt and placing a dagger on the other side. He was going to see a criminal, after all. Arthur knew he had to be careful. That look of pity could have been a trap, a bait to lure him in. Deep down though, he knew that was his father talking, not him.
He checked the corridor was clear before striding out. He was the Prince of Camelot, he was permitted to roam where he pleased. But Arthur would rather questions were avoided and word did not reach his father about what he was doing. He knew full well what the king would say about his behaviour and the guards would be instructed not to admit him. With any luck though, he would be able to get the answers he sought without anyone being any the wiser.
He was in luck. It was too late for servants to still be milling around, but too early for the guards to be patrolling the corridors diligently. Arthur moved swiftly but quietly, resting his hand on the pommel of his sword when he reached the dungeons. The guards snapped to attention.
"At ease," Arthur said. "I'm here to see the prisoner."
"You heard me. Keys." Arthur held out his hand expectantly. He had learnt long ago to appear confident even when his heart was thudding nervously in his chest. The guards glanced at each other before one unhooked the keys from his belt and handed them to the prince with a small bow of his head.
"As you were," Arthur said. He moved into the dimly lit corridor and tried not to shiver at the cool temperature. Inserting the key into the lock, he saw that both guards were standing to attention at the end of the corridor, prepared to react if Arthur should call for them. He knew they wouldn't relax until he left again and pushed the matter from his mind. Turning the key, he entered the cell.
The druid was sitting cross-legged on the floor, his hands resting on his legs with his palms facing upwards. He looked completely at ease for a man condemned to die and he only smiled softly when he opened his eyes at the door slamming shut behind Arthur.
"I wondered if you might come, Arthur Pendragon."
Arthur didn't say anything. He crossed the cell and leant against the wall. He kept a tight grip on the keys as he stared at the prisoner. After a moment, he shook his head softly.
"Why did you look at me like that in the throne room?"
"My expression merely reflected my thoughts and feelings."
"You looked as if you pitied me. I'm the prince of Camelot and you are a prisoner sentenced to die. You are the one to be pitied."
"If you truly believe that, then you are more lost than even I realised."
"What does that mean?" Arthur cried. He forced himself to breathe deeply, to control himself. Showing the prisoner his weaknesses wouldn't help matters.
"Your father is blinded by hatred. He has taught you that all magic is evil, correct?"
Arthur nodded sharply. He didn't trust his voice. The man didn't move from his relaxed position on the floor.
"And do you believe that?"
"I-," Arthur froze. It was instinct to say yes, that he would listen and obey every thought the king wished him to follow. But he couldn't. He had never believed magic was evil; he had never witnessed it. Until a few months ago when Lady Helen had tried to kill him, he had never seen proper magic. All he knew was that it wasn't permitted and it was his duty to uphold the laws of Camelot.
For the first time, the druid twitched.
"You can speak your mind freely to me, Arthur Pendragon. I am a condemned man, am I not?"
"You are," Arthur said. He relaxed a little. "Magic is against the law."
"Does that make it evil?"
"Why else would it be outlawed?"
"Hatred and ignorance are bigger killers than magic," the man said evenly. "Do not follow your father's teachings blindly, Prince Arthur."
"Be mindful how you speak of the king, druid."
The man held up his hands. "I meant no offence. What does your heart tell you about magic?"
"It doesn't matter." Arthur shifted uncomfortably. Despite him being a prince and the druid being a prisoner, he couldn't shake the feeling it was the other man who was in control of this situation rather than him.
"Fine," Arthur snapped. "I don't know. Is that what you want me to say? I've seen it be used to kill. I've seen hundreds suffer because of a curse, of poison, of creatures no one can fight. But I've also seen men steal, cheat and murder. Evil cannot be in one thing alone, but in the hearts of men."
The druid relaxed. A soft smile twisted his expression into one of warmth and understanding.
"The road ahead of you will be plagued with troubles – some magical and some not. Hold on to those feelings and you will make a great king."
Arthur knew he should reprimand him. Talk of Arthur becoming king bordered on treason while his father still lived. But he couldn't find it in himself. He had come down here for answers about the pitying look and now he had them. The man believed he couldn't think for himself.
But the druid was wrong. Arthur's own thoughts were wrong; the naïve notions of a boy rather than a man. Magic was evil. His father wouldn't have banned it if what he told his son wasn't true.
He couldn't help feeling like he was attempting to convince himself of that fact though.
"I know you don't deserve to die for picking up supplies," Arthur said quietly. "I can get you out of here…"
"No, you cannot. It is too late for me, my time has come. The consequences should you try might be a catalyst to turn you against magic."
Arthur had no idea what that was supposed to mean. He didn't ask. But he knew the conversation was over. He moved to the cell door, inserting the key and twisting it again. He stepped out, one hand resting on the door.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"I am not," the man replied. "You have proven that it is worth it. Goodbye, Arthur Pendragon. Do not forget our talk."
Not knowing what else to say, Arthur shut and locked the door. He handed the keys back and moved as if in a trance back to his chambers. The conversation replayed itself over and over in his mind. Arthur shook himself as he shut the door behind him, leaning back on it.
It didn't matter what a druid said. All that mattered was upholding the law. If his father said that magic was evil, then that was all Arthur needed to know.
But he knew it wasn't true. Morgana had risked everything for Mordred. He had just been an innocent child and his father had been prepared to execute him. It had been his father's hatred - not Mordred's status of a druid - that had been the evil there. Arthur had known that all along – he had tried to persuade the man not to execute Mordred and when that hadn't worked, it hadn't taken much persuasion on Morgana's part for Arthur to agree to her plan to break Mordred out.
It wasn't just Morgana. Arthur knew she would stop at nothing when she had an idea in her mind. She would have freed Mordred regardless of the potential threat of magic. But the words Lancelot's had uttered – or rather, not uttered – also played on Arthur's mind. He had confided to Lancelot about the griffin only being killed with magic. Lancelot had never voiced an opinion on the matter: he had deferred to Arthur. It was as if he didn't mind one way or another if it was a creature of magic, only whether it could be destroyed or not. But he hadn't wanted to say that, knowing the reaction of uttering such words while in Camelot's dungeons.
Unbuckling his sword, Arthur threw it down on the table and flopped backwards onto his bed. One hand came up to cover his eyes and he groaned. He had wanted answers and now he felt more confused than before. Freeing Mordred had been the right thing to do, regardless of the power the boy could potentially possess. His actions had done nothing to warrant being arrested, let alone killed.
Rubbing the hand over his eyes, Arthur tried to ignore the headache throbbing behind his eyes. He knew he had no choice but to uphold the law. If Camelot's First Knight and Prince didn't support it, then what chance had the kingdom? It would fall into chaos if Arthur was seen to disobey his father on this matter.
But the druid's words were ringing in his ears. Arthur wasn't going to be his father's puppet, there to execute whoever was rumoured to possess any sort of power. He would judge each situation on the actions that had taken place. If he didn't feel his father's reaction would fit the crime, then Arthur vowed to become clumsy in his pursuits and to allow the odd individual to escape providing they were no threat to the rest of his people.
Arthur felt better for deciding. He had known – deep down – that his father was driven by hatred rather than justice. Arthur was not going to make the same mistakes. He didn't yet know what he truly thought about magic. But it wasn't permitted and that was the important thing. He would have to be careful… but he was determined to learn.
His mind felt clearer as Arthur sat back up again. He stood and crossed the room, splashing his face with cold water before turning to his table. Merlin hadn't cleared the remains of a dinner Arthur had barely touched before leaving the room. Suddenly ravenous, Arthur sat and began pulling the food towards him.
He would make it up to Merlin how he had behaved. Tomorrow was going to be a new day and Arthur was determined to look at it through different eyes.