A/N: So, this story begins during the episode in season 5, with the Disir. To me, that was one of the biggest pivotal moments in the whole show. So this fiction is based on the idea that Arthur does accept magic back into Camelot. Everything up until this point is as it was in the show, and most of this first chapter will be exactly as it was in the show. The beginning part will be italicized (everything that actually happened in the show, as it happened), once the font goes back to regular, that's where I started tweaking the story. And for this first chapter, it really is just tweaking. You'll notice that most of the phrases sound very similar to the original. Some are word for word.
Of course, that means that all the episodes after that never happen (in this fic, anyway). Morgana never locks Gwen in the Dark Tower, Merlin never meets Finna and never hears the prophecy of Arthur's death at Camlann, Kara never comes into the story, Mordred never betrays Merlin to Morgana, there is no battle at Camlann, Arthur never dies, Morgana never dies. At least, that's the plan for right now. It will probably change. I will pull bits and pieces from those last episodes of the show and incorporate them in. There will be a reveal in here somewhere, but it won't be the same as it was in the show. I was never satisfied with that reveal. So I'm going to do it differently.
I will tell you now that I plan on doing a sequel to this one, eventually. I haven't really planned it out (and really, I'm still planning this one out-it's in the very beginning stages), but I do have a general idea for a sequel. Hope you all enjoy this! And sorry for the super long author's note.
Oh, and obviously I don't own any part of Merlin. I wish. The BBC owns him and all the characters of the show. I only own the few OCs that will be introduced, later on. I'll let you know which ones are mine. The rest belong to the BBC.
PROLOGUE: Decision (365 days)
Arthur and Merlin stood just outside the cave. With a sigh, Arthur took the sword from his belt and laid it down on a leaf-covered boulder. He caught Merlin's satisfied look. "I'm not totally insensitive, Merlin. I can see that some people feel this is a sacred place," he said, even as he started walking toward the cave. "I'm even prepared to admit that you're right sometimes. Obviously, I'll deny ever saying that."
Merlin wouldn't have expected anything else. "Obviously," he replied, following his king.
They stopped in front of the three robed women, the Disir. "Arthur Pendragon," one of them said.
"King of Camelot."
"We have been expecting you."
Arthur knelt before them. "My men and I behaved with arrogance and stupidity," he admitted to them. Merlin knew how hard it was for him to admit that. "We dishonored this place and insulted your faith. I humbly beg your forgiveness."
When none of the women responded, Arthur continued, "One amongst us, Sir Mordred, may yet pay the ultimate price. I'll come here to petition you for his life."
"Why should we help you?"
"I ask not for myself, but for a young man whose only crime was to sacrifice himself for his king."
"The future holds much pain and suffering for you, Arthur Pendragon. For you and your people."
"If you wish to save all you hold dear."
"If you wish to save your kingdom."
"Embrace the Old Religion."
"Learn from her ways."
"Bow to the goddess."
Arthur looked down. Merlin knew what he was going to say before he said it. "You know I can't do that." Even though he'd expected them, those words saddened him. If only Arthur could see the good that magic could do.
"Consider carefully. You have until dawn."
Merlin returned to their camp, his arms full of wood. Arthur sat on the ground, staring up at the night sky. "How did you know this place was sacred?" he asked.
"That's obvious," Merlin replied, setting down the kindling he'd gathered.
"Pretend it isn't."
Merlin thought for a moment before he answered. "Everything here…So full of life. Every tree, every leaf, every insect." Arthur was watching him curiously. He continued, smiling slightly. "It's as if the world is vibrating. As if everything is much more than itself."
"You feel all that?"
"Don't you?" How could anyone not feel it?
Arthur shook his head.
If the situation hadn't been so serious, Merlin would have insulted the thickness of Arthur's head, but instead he looked at the fire before getting to his feet. He sat across from Arthur. "What will you do?" he asked.
Arthur sighed, shifting. "I don't know." He shook his head slightly. "My heart says do anything I can to save Mordred. But I've seen what misery unfettered sorcery brings. Before my father outlawed magic, Camelot was almost destroyed by sorcery. In my own time, Morgana's used it for nothing but evil."
Merlin watched his king, waiting for him to say more. "What would you do?" Arthur asked suddenly, taking Merlin by surprise. "In my place?"
"Me? I'm just a lackey, maker of beds."
"Lackeys can be wise."
Merlin looked at the fire again. He knew that this decision was a monumental one. And he didn't want to be responsible for making that choice. He wasn't the king. It wasn't his choice to make. So he said nothing.
"It's not like you to be silent."
"The kingdom's future is at stake." And for more reasons than Arthur would ever know. If they brought back magic, Mordred would live. Kilgharrah claimed that Mordred was destined to play a part in Arthur's death. But the Disir stated that embracing the Old Religion would save the kingdom.
"And a man's life."
Merlin did not want Mordred to survive, not if it meant Arthur's death. But this was his chance to fulfill part of his destiny, to bring magic back to Camelot. "You must do what is best for Camelot, what will make Camelot a just and fair kingdom for all."
Arthur frowned. "What are you saying? That I make magic legal once again?" Arthur sat up, his gaze intense on Merlin. "If I bring back magic to save Mordred, all my father's work will be for nothing. Sorcery will once more reign in Camelot. Is that what you'd want?"
Merlin's breathing quickened. Arthur normally brushed aside Merlin's opinions, but the way he was watching him now…Merlin knew that whatever he said would make a difference in this situation. The king was actually going to listen to his opinion.
"Perhaps my father was wrong," Arthur continued. "Perhaps the old ways aren't as evil as we thought."
Merlin was never going to get this chance again. Arthur was willing to try to see the good in magic. There would be more opportunities to stop Mordred. There would never be another opportunity like this to undo some of Uther's cruelty. There would never be another chance to bring magic back.
"So what should we do? Accept magic? Or let Mordred die?"
Merlin took a deep breath, trying to think of how he would phrase it. "You can't let one of your own die."
Arthur sat back. "But can I afford to have magic running wild once again? I've seen so much evil at the hands of sorcerers."
"Not all sorcerers are evil."
"I've never met a sorcerer with good intentions."
Merlin gave his master a sardonic look. "Of course you haven't. Any sorcerer with good intentions isn't going to want to break the law. Those who conspire against you, whether they use magic or not, have no regard for laws. Sorcerers have been hunted down and killed for a skill that they possess. Some of those sorcerers have lashed out and caused harm, but only in retaliation."
"That doesn't make it right," Arthur argued.
"No, it doesn't. Neither is it right to kill someone for using magic to heal. And most sorcerers don't feel the need for retaliation. Most of them just want to practice magic in peace, and most of them practice magic for good and not evil. Most sorcerers no longer practice magic at all, because they respect the law, such as Gaius."
Arthur scrubbed his face with his hand. "How would I keep sorcerers from using magic to destroy the kingdom? There would have to be some kind of system to keep people from using it for evil. I can't fight magic."
Merlin looked at his hands, his heart beating wildly. He thought about revealing his own magic to Arthur, but…Somehow, he knew his friend wasn't quite ready for that. He was just barely beginning to accept magic in general. He probably wouldn't take too kindly to finding out that Merlin had been lying to him for several years.
"How can I keep my kingdom safe from people abusing magic?"
Merlin sighed. "I'm not sure, but Gaius may have an idea. I am positive that it can be done. It may take time, but it can be done."
"And you believe that magic may not be inherently evil?"
The servant shook his head. "I know it's not," he said quietly, hoping that Arthur wouldn't ask him how he knew that.
Arthur sighed thoughtfully, crossing his arms behind his head. He didn't say anything else.
They entered the cave again. Arthur almost seemed…nervous. Merlin wasn't sure what answer he planned to give the Disir. They hadn't spoken again since the night before, and Arthur had given no indication on what choice he was going to make.
"You have returned," one of the robed women said.
"Is your decision made?"
"It is," Arthur answered. "I will do as you ask, but I must be careful about how I do it. Many people have abused magic in the past, and my people fear it. I must make sure that abuse doesn't happen again. I ask that you give me time to prepare my kingdom for the return of the old ways." Merlin breathed a sigh of relief. He couldn't believe it. Magic was going to be legal again.
Silence filled the cave for several heartbeats. "You must swear on your life, Arthur Pendragon."
"You have one year to bring magic back to your kingdom."
"If you fail to do so, you forfeit your own life."
After a brief moment of hesitation, Arthur nodded. "I agree to your terms. I swear on my own life that magic will once again be made legal in Camelot, no later than one year from now."
The three women bowed their heads in his direction. "And your kingdom will be safe for it."
Arthur got to his feet and started to leave. He paused, looking back at the Disir. "And Mordred? Will you heal him?"
"It is already done."
"And so long as you keep your word, you will live a long and prosperous life."
Merlin's brow furrowed. All he wanted was to make sure that Arthur had a long and prosperous life, but so many things seemed to be against that.
"There is one who can help you prepare your kingdom for the return of magic."
Arthur turned so he was fully facing the women again. "There is? Who?"
"He is the greatest sorcerer to walk this earth."
Merlin shifted his feet. He felt like the women were looking directly at him, though he couldn't see the exact direction of their gazes, not in the dim light of the cave and not with them wearing those low hoods.
"He is a friend of Camelot. He has been protecting your kingdom for many years now."
"You have met him, and you have falsely accused him."
Merlin narrowed his eyes. What were they trying to do?
"When you meet him again, you would do well to let him explain what truly happened."
Arthur shook his head impatiently. "Who is he? Where do I find him? I would appreciate any help that I can get with this task. It's not going to be simple to bring magic back to my kingdom."
The Disir seemed to find Arthur's questions amusing. "You do not find him."
"He will find you."
"His name is Emrys, but he goes by a different name."
"He is hidden in plain sight, disguised."
"What other name?" Arthur demanded. "Do I know him? How is he disguised?"
Merlin tensed. Was his biggest secret about to be revealed? After all he had done to keep it hidden, and Arthur was going to find out from three robed women?
"Farewell, Arthur Pendragon," the Disir said together.
"Go in peace. And do not fear the druid."
"His destiny was tied to this very decision. Had the answer been different, he would have played his part."
"Now, he is no longer tied to that destiny." This time, Merlin could tell that they were looking directly at him. Were they talking about Mordred?
"What druid-" Arthur broke off when they found themselves standing outside the cave. Arthur sighed, yanking his sword out of the ground. He began walking, toward their camp, where they'd tied the horses. "We should get going. It's a long ride back to Camelot. I'm assuming our one year begins today."
"We'll need to talk to Gaius as soon as we return," Arthur continued. "Perhaps he will have some ideas on how to peacefully bring magic back. And perhaps, if we're lucky, we'll meet this mysterious Emrys along the way."
"Perhaps," Merlin muttered, still in a bit of shock. What did the Disir mean? It had sounded like they said that Mordred was no longer destined to kill Arthur. How could that be? How could a person's destiny change so suddenly? He knew that destiny was different than fate. No one could escape their fate. But destiny...a destiny could be ignored. He supposed it made since, then, that a destiny could also be changed.
He was deep in thought, and almost didn't notice Arthur's sideways glance. "Did I do the right thing? Or have I just doomed my kingdom?"
Merlin looked at him in surprise. "I think that you made the right choice, Arthur. Magic can be used for good, I'm sure of it. It just needs the chance."
"I hope you're right, Merlin."
I know a year seems like a long time. I haven't quite figured out exactly how long it will take. But they probably won't need an entire year. But they've got it if they need it.
I'm not sure how often updates on this one will be. I'm currently working on another Merlin fanfic (which some of you may be following). Normally, I try not to do two fics at one time, but I can't get either one out of my head, so you get both. I'll try to be somewhat regular with the updates on both of them.