Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin. Never have, never will, so this disclaimer applies to the entire fic. Please don't sue me.
Chapter I: Blessed
The other travelers hadn't looked at him twice. They had seen him, of course, but their gazes had slid past him and his companion and their horses, silently dismissing him as irrelevant to their own lives.
They could not have been more wrong.
That wandering traveler was no ordinary farmboy, no typical servant or guildsman or soldier. He was one of the most important men alive, a legend come to life. For in that land of myth and time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rested upon that young man's shoulders. His name… Merlin.
Now, though, that young man had left those travelers and their roads behind. He was making his way through the woods, following a sense that he couldn't quite explain, a feeling that something important lay ahead. He knew, of course, what that something was—he had made this journey for a reason, after all—but he had never actually seen it and was not quite sure where it was.
Then he crested a hill, and his unasked questions were answered.
The valley before him was shrouded in mist, thick and heavy and everywhere, rising from the lake in its center to obscure a broken ruin of a city. A few of the valley's buildings rose high enough to peek out of the fog, but they were few and far between. Seen from this vantage point, the Isle of the Blessed was almost entirely hidden.
"Will we be able to see once we're there?" Merlin asked.
His tutor and traveling companion, the druid Blaise, smiled slightly. "Of course. You cannot see particularly far, but no one would have lived there if the mists hid everything."
"People lived there?" Merlin echoed, surprised. His mount, a placid bay gelding, began the descent. Blaise's mare followed, prompting Merlin to twist around in his saddle. "I thought that the High Priestesses only went there for festivals. Beltane, Samhain, things like that."
"Oh, no. The Isle had a town once: guildsmen and innkeepers, servants and students. It even had its own ruling house, though Uther wiped it out during the Slaughter." He sighed. "They were dragonlords and ruled over an important center of the Old Religion. He would never have let them live."
Merlin shivered slightly. The day was warm, but remembering what had happened to his father's people never failed to send a chill up his spine. "I suppose not."
They had reached a flat area. Blaise pulled his mare to a stop. Merlin frowned, raised a brow in question. "Why are we stopping?"
"Do you recall your decision about who would be attending the summit?"
"Oh." Merlin flushed a little. "Right."
His eyes flashed gold.
Merlin Caledonensis would not be attending the summit. There were too many people, too many possibilities of his secret being exposed to someone who would, accidentally or not, let slip that Arthur's manservant was secretly a powerful warlock leading a magical resistance movement.
Fortunately, he had a disguise already prepared.
"Emrys" shared Merlin's height and build, but that was where the similarities ended. The illusion had a heart-shaped face, dark blond hair, much smaller ears, and uncanny yellow-gold eyes. He was very blatantly a practitioner of magic, with a triskel on his deep blue cloak and a gem-tipped staff in his hand. He was the one who would be attending the first-ever gathering of the children of magic.
Technically, he would be leading it, but he tried not to think about that.
Mere minutes after donning his illusory disguise, Merlin and Blaise ran across two travelers in peasants' garb. The newcomers took one look at Emrys, then the tension drained from their bodies.
"You're here for the summit as well?" the man asked.
The woman poked her companion in the ribcage. "Please, forgive my husband's lack of manners. His name is Cagan, and I am Cordelia. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Merlin beamed at her. "The pleasure's all mine, goodwife. My friend is Blaise, and I'm Emrys."
Their reaction would have been comical if it wasn't so mortifying. Their eyes widened to enormous proportions as the rest of their bodies froze. Then Cordelia was dropping into a curtsey and her husband was bowing low, hat falling off, leaving Merlin with his arm outstretched and no one to shake his hand.
His face was burning, and his ears probably looked like they were on fire. "Please get up," he begged. "I'm not—I'm not someone you need to bow to. I'm just Emrys—just me."
Blaise shook his head. Merlin got the impression that his mentor was trying not to laugh.
Cordelia and Cagan rose to their feet. They were still looking at Merlin with rather more awe than he was comfortable with, but at least they weren't bowing anymore. In the hope that distracting his new companions would keep them from genuflecting again, Merlin asked, "So, where are you from?"
They were from a port town in Gedref, a place on the coast inhabited primarily by fishermen and traders, with a great many innkeepers to accommodate the sailors who passed through. Cagan was a fisherman, Cordelia a seamstress and selkie. They had four children, three girls and a boy, whom they had left in the custody of Cagan's brother. The two oldest had already manifested as selkies, and they worried that the younger two would as well.
"My brother knows about Cordelia, of course," Cagan explained, "and he knows what to do if the little ones develop their gifts while we're gone, but we still worry."
"I've been learning scrying," Merlin said slowly. "It isn't my strongest ability, but if you wanted, I could occasionally check up on them while you're here."
Husband and wife exchanged glances, clearly torn between parental concern and an unwillingness to bother the Great and Important Emrys with their personal problems.
"We will think about it," Cordelia finally said. "Thank you."
By now, they had reached the edge of the lake. "There should be a boat around here somewhere," Blaise muttered.
"It's probably bringing other visitors to the island," Cagan suggested. "Do you know how many people are coming?"
Merlin and Blaise glanced at each other. "I have no idea," the younger spellbinder confessed. "Do you know, Blaise?"
The older man frowned, clearly mulling it over. "There ought to be representatives from most druid tribes, so that is at least two hundred from my people alone. Probably more—most tribes will probably send more than one representative. Then the Catha are sending a delegation, as are the Vates and perhaps even the Bendrui. That's probably another ten or twelve people. But I suspect that most attendees will be unaffiliated spellbinders and sympathizers who heard about the meeting and chose to attend it themselves." He shrugged. "Perhaps a thousand guests? Likely less than two thousand, but certainly several hundred."
Merlin suddenly didn't feel very good. Two thousand people was… two thousand was a lot of people. "Oh."
"You'll do fine," Blaise promised, his eyes softening. "You're very good at talking."
"Than—hey." Merlin glared.
"I think I see a boat," Cagan announced, squinting into the fog.
Merlin followed the other man's gaze. Sure enough, a dark shape was moving across the lake. He couldn't tell how far away it was or its size, but it certainly seemed boat-shaped.
"Is that the boat?" asked a new voice. Merlin and his companions turned around to see a group of six wearing druidic robes. The leader, a woman with long graying hair, was looking in the boat's general direction with her head tilted and a frown on her mouth.
"It is," Cordelia said, "but I don't think it's large enough for all of it." She withdrew a brown sealskin from her traveling pack. "Cagan, dear, everything you packed is waterproof, right?"
"You don't have to take the baggage."
"I know, but that boat will be crowded enough without our things. Let me bring it over, Cagan."
"A selkie?" one of the druids asked.
"Yes." Cordelia donned her sealskin. Her form seemed to melt and blur, and a moment later, a dark brown seal stood in her place.
Cagan knelt to wrap his bag around her shoulders. "Thank you. I'll meet you at the dock."
Cordelia bobbed her head in agreement before entering the water.
"You're a lucky man," Blaise said.
Cagan grinned. "I know."
Soon they had boarded the small ferry, and Merlin found himself silently thanking Cordelia for swimming across the lake. It was crowded enough without her; if she had been present, Merlin would have had to levitate someone or make the overworked ferryman take another trip (though he probably had to take another trip anyways, since they were far from the last arrivals).
The boat glided across the water, sliding through the mists towards a series of pale shapes that only gradually became more distinct. The lake beneath them was dark and smooth as obsidian, rippling only a little as the boat ghosted through it. Sounds felt muffled, somehow, and also vaguely disrespectful. Merlin said nothing at all until they reached a rickety wooden dock—fresh wood, he noted, not yet smoothed by time—and climbed onto the low, damp ground of the Isle of the Blessed. Even then he spoke more quietly than usual when he asked, "Are the mists magical, Blaise?"
"Yes," the older man replied. "They were a defense system meant to confound invaders, but after Camelot sacked the citadel, there was no one left to remove the spell. Nimueh could have, I suppose, but she opted not to, and the magic… changed… over time."
"Yes," Merlin whispered, drawing his cloak a little tighter. "I can feel it."
It was like he was being watched by a thousand thousand unseen eyes, their owners speaking in whispers just beyond his range of hearing. The tendrils of fog that had brushed against him on the boat had felt almost like fingers, reaching, grasping, probing, touching. The mists didn't feel hostile, per se, but they were… very, very old, and powerful, and not necessarily friendly.
"I don't," Blaise said quietly. He looked a little worried. "Do you think you'll be all right?"
"Yes. It's just—very heavy here." He grimaced. "That didn't make any sense."
"It made perfect sense. Come. Let's go further inland, get you away from the mists."
Merlin liked that idea. "Let's."
After a quick consultation with the druid on ferry-greeting duty, they followed his directions to the heart of the citadel. Not for the first time, Merlin was superbly grateful that Iseldir's tribe had opted to come early and set things up.
The site of the meeting was the castle/temple complex, two buildings connected by a narrow processional hall that curved around the base of a hill. The temple was mostly ruined, its pillars knocked down, its statues and art defiled, but the castle was in much better condition. The attendees were to sleep there; they would hold the meetings on the gently sloping hill that rose behind the buildings.
Merlin's room was roughly the size of his chamber back in Camelot. He deposited his things on the cot before leaving to explore. Blaise, who was placed in the room next to his, joined him.
There were a lot of people on the Isle of the Blessed: men, women, even the occasional child. And was that a troll lurking by the stables? Merlin had never seen one, but Gaius had told him about them and that squat, wrinkled creature certainly matched the physician's descriptions.
It was so strange to see people using magic out in the open. They weren't making a blatant display of it, but over there were two druid women discussing incantations for healing, and a minute later Merlin noticed a man spell away a stain on his trousers. Acting on impulse, the warlock summoned his globe of light. No one batted an eye.
This is what they were all here for. This is what he wanted for Camelot, for Essetir, for all the kingdoms of Albion. This was freedom.
"It's still day," Blaise pointed out, but his eyes were soft.
"I know," Merlin acknowledged, banishing the pulsing globe. "I just thought…." But here he trailed off, embarrassed.
Blaise understood. "It's rather odd to see magic practiced outside of a druid camp," he confessed. "It has been a very long time since anyone could do so safely."
"Yes. Much too—"
Every head turned in the direction of the voice, Merlin and Blaise's included. A druid boy was running towards them, dark-haired and bright-eyed, with a teal cloak around his shoulders and a brilliant smile.
"Mordred!" Merlin laughed, scooping the younger warlock up in a hug. "How have you been?"
"As well as can be expected," the boy answered. "You?"
"Keeping the prat alive."
"You're quite good at that," stated a third voice.
The would-be knight nodded, grinning ear to ear. Merlin grabbed him in a hug too. "I missed you," he said.
"And I you," Lancelot agreed, backing out of his friend's embrace. "It's one of the reasons I'm here."
Blaise coughed. "Perhaps we could continue the reunions elsewhere?"
That was when Merlin realized they'd attracted an audience. Virtually everyone within earshot was watching, whispering commentary to one another. Merlin couldn't make out everything they were saying, but he heard his druid name several times.
"Let's," Merlin muttered, flushing scarlet. Was everyone going to react like this?
"Iseldir wants to speak with you anyways," Mordred declared. "It's not urgent, but we could talk on the way there, maybe?"
"Good plan," Merlin said. He gestured with a broad sweep of his arm. "Lead the way."
The three friends chatted as they walked along, exchanging brief summaries of what they had done these past few months. Mordred claimed that he hadn't really done much, just learned more magic and done a bit of traveling with his clan. They had mostly stayed in the Darkling Woods, occasionally ascending the White Mountains if Uther's knights were being particularly diligent. Lancelot's tale was a bit more eventful: he'd worked as a guard for a trio of Frankish merchants whose original protector had eloped with a girl from Nemeth. He'd fought some bandits, had a minor run-in with a serket, and wintered in Colchester, where his Frankish employers had helped him get a job on the city watch.
"I've never been there," Mordred said softly. "It's too crowded to be safe. Is it really as big as they say?"
"It is," Lancelot confirmed, "but it used to be bigger, long ago when the Romans were here. Parts of the city were completely abandoned." He shook his head in mild disbelief.
"That might not be so unusual," Merlin pointed out, indicating the abandoned ruin of a city around them.
Lancelot nodded. "Still, it's sad."
Mordred bobbed his head in agreement.
"What about you, Me—Emrys?" Lancelot asked. "What have you been doing?"
By now, Merlin could see Iseldir at the end of the street, so he opted to give the quick version of the story. "I met my long-lost father, talked Kilgharrah into making a magic sword and staff, took Arthur's place in a duel to the death against a wraith, stole a bunch of magical artifacts from Uther's treasure vault, poisoned some bandits who were raiding Ealdor, killed a Questing Beast, blew up an evil sorceress, and smuggled a unicorn into Camelot to save Arthur's life. I think that's all the highlights."
"You think?" Lancelot muttered, incredulous.
"Emrys," Iseldir called, inclining his head in greeting. "If you have the time, I'd like to discuss the plans for tomorrow."
"I'll fill you in later," Merlin promised his friends. "Or you could ask Blaise. Right, Blaise? Thanks. But let's meet up after the speeches tomorrow."
"We'll see you then," Lancelot agreed. Mordred nodded, and the two walked away.
Organizing the plans for the next day didn't take half as long as Merlin had expected. Essentially, Emrys would open the day by explaining the general strategy they were using to remind people of magic's potential for good. He would explain his rationale, his goals, his plans. Then they would open the floor to discussion so that anyone and everyone could say their part. Leaders would go first, of course, since they had a duty to represent their peoples, but everyone would have the opportunity to contribute.
If he'd known things would go so quickly, he'd have asked Lancelot and Mordred to stay. Perhaps he could find them before evening truly fell.
That didn't work. Mighty warlock or not, Merlin was still a fallible human being who could (and did) get lost. By the time he arrived back at his chamber, all he wanted to do was collapse into bed.
Then he saw who was waiting for him and his exhaustion was gone.
"Mother!" Beaming, Merlin swept her up in his arms. "Father!" he added as Balinor joined the hug. "I didn't think you'd get here until tomorrow."
"Neither did we, yet here we are." Balinor grinned. "And we didn't even have to ask Kilgharrah for help."
Merlin sniffed. "A dragon is not a horse," he declared.
His parents laughed.
"So how have you been?" their son demanded. He remembered something then, something that made him frown in worry. "You mentioned in your last letter that you had something to tell me. Is everything all right?"
His parents smiled—not grinning, smiling with a soft and beautiful joy that made their entire beings light up. Merlin smiled back, relieved. He'd been worried.
"Merlin," Hunith said, "I'm with child. You're going to be a brother."
Alternate chapter title: "Wherein the Mighty Warlock Emrys Deals with the Downsides of Celebrity (Though at Least Paparazzi Hasn't Been Invented Yet)"
Confession time: This is all I have done. I'd wanted to get at least 2-3 chapters before today, but, well, I had a lot of long term papers to complete, and though they're less fun than this, they kind of take priority. But I did, technically, manage to get this up on May 5. It's still before midnight in my time zone. That counts, right?
I will eventually make a cover for this fic too. Eventually. It's on my to-do list.
Next update: May 26. The meeting begins, characters old and new appear, and something stirs beneath Camelot.