Chapter XI: The Tomb
"Your sister?" Gaius exclaimed, eyes going wide.
"So she says," Morgana sighed. "Gaius, you knew my mother. Is it true?"
"I…." The physician looked away. Reluctantly, he confessed, "Your mother did bear another daughter, that much is true, and she gave the girl to the priestesses of the Isle of the Blessed. Whether Morgause is that child, though, I cannot tell you."
"Did my father know?"
"As I said, my lady," Gaius sighed, "I simply don't know."
"Perhaps someone at Tintagel could tell you?" Gwen suggested. She had been remarkably quiet since Merlin and Morgana returned from the city, more interested in listening to Merlin's (often garbled and badly organized) explanations than asking extra questions or letting on how she felt about all this new information. Morgana would have to talk with her about that later, once the immediate conversation was over and her poor overwhelmed friend had had a bit more time to adjust.
"Tintagel is far away," Morgana lamented.
"I could bring you," Merlin volunteered. "I'd have to scry it first, but I could bring you."
"You don't have to," Gaius said. "The king has decreed that Arthur will be escorting Morgana to Tintagel in three days' time."
Morgana perked up at that, then frowned in suspicion. "Why?"
"I suspect that he simply wants you away from Sigan," Gaius answered, shrugging.
"And Merlin," Gwen piped up. "Well, Emrys, at least."
Merlin looked immensely amused at that.
"And did Uther decree how long I was to stay?" Morgana asked.
"I don't believe he did," Gaius admitted. "He likely expects you and Arthur to stay there until Camelot is safer."
Merlin's amusement faded. "But if I'm at Tintagel with Arthur… gods, this sounds conceited, but who else stands a chance against him?"
"Not Uther," said Gaius, as concerned as his ward (though for slightly different reasons, Morgana would guess). "Not anyone else in Camelot."
"…I might need to talk with Alator," Merlin muttered. "Do you think he'd come if I asked him to?"
"I think that Alator will do whatever the mighty Lord Emrys suggests," Morgana replied.
Merlin scowled at her. "I'm not a lord."
"Oh?" she replied. "You didn't complain when Morgause used the title."
"I was trying to get rid of her," Merlin pointed out, but there were two bright spots of red on his face.
"How did you get rid of her?" Gwen asked.
"Honestly, I sort of just showed up and asked her what she was doing in Camelot. She said that she was checking up on her sister and making sure that Morgana chose the right side, that she had no idea Morgana was already aware of her magic and the conspiracy. I asked Morgana if she wanted Morgause to keep following her. Morgana said no, of course, so I told Morgause to leave."
Gwen's shoulders slumped in relief. "Oh, that's wonderful. Part of me was worried that I'd sent you into battle, though of course I was trying very hard to not think about that." Her grin was sheepish.
"You did the smartest thing you could," Gaius assured her. He glanced at Morgana. "Both of you did, and things didn't escalate any further. We should count ourselves lucky and perhaps make plans in case something like this happens again."
"I don't think it's Morgause who is the main problem, though," Merlin pointed out. All of his earlier amusement was gone, leaving him somber and serious. "Right now, at least, she's not trying to kill anybody. Sigan is. So I think we should focus on him."
"Yes," Gaius agreed, "we ought to focus on Sigan, but it's still a good idea to spend some time thinking about how to handle Morgause."
Merlin nodded. "Any suggestions, anyone?"
"You could teach me how to talk with my mind," Morgana replied. She didn't particularly like the idea of having to call for help, but it would be a long time before she could handle a powerful and experienced priestess like Morgause on her own.
"That shouldn't take too long," Merlin assured her. "I could maybe teach you later today, and then we could practice on the road to Tintagel." He cocked his head, considering. "It would probably be best for me if we could do that after we make plans for Sigan, because I need to contact Alator and do some spirit walking. Does that work for you?"
"I don't have anything I can't postpone," Morgana answered.
"Excuse me," said Gwen, "but what's spirit walking and why do you need to do it?"
"Spirit walking is basically when my mind goes out of my body. If I'm spirit walking, I should be able to see if someone is possessed by Sigan."
"Right," the maid muttered, clearly filing that away for further contemplation. "So you're going to try to find Sigan before we leave."
"But what will you do if you find him?"
"…Sleep spell, probably."
Gwen's brow crinkled. "But he's a spirit. Do… sleep spells even work on spirits?"
This statement did very little to assure Gwen, who was looking more dubious by the minute. "But he can detach himself from his host body, right? What if he possesses you?"
"There's also a chance that I could find his anchor—the object he enchanted that preserves the magic he needs to be a spirit," Merlin explained, noting his friend's expression of befuddlement.
"Merlin, do you even know what this anchor looks like?"
"Gaius and I are pretty certain it's some kind of jewel from Sigan's tomb."
Poor Gwen looked even more confused. "But I thought you didn't know where it was?"
"I don't," Merlin answered, almost as confused as Gwen.
"Well, you just said that you think it's a gem from Sigan's tomb. Have you looked there?"
"The magic doesn't require the anchor to stay in one place," Merlin explained, but there was a thoughtful glint in his eyes.
"Did you check his tomb?" Morgana asked slowly.
Merlin shook his head. "No. I always assumed he'd taken the anchor with him."
"He probably did, if the anchor really can be moved," Gwen said.
"But what if he didn't?" asked Morgana, a bit more quickly now. "What if he thought that it was too much of a risk to carry around the anchor and left it hiding in plain sight in his tomb?"
"Do you think he could have, Gaius?" Merlin wondered.
"It's possible," the physician stated. "The tomb is full of booby traps, and it would be extremely difficult to locate one jewel in a room filled with them."
"I'll look," Merlin said, rising to his feet. "Just let me grab Beothaich and I'll—"
"You should spirit walk there first," Gaius interjected. "I don't want you running afoul of Sigan's traps."
"Merlin, if you need to do this, my next lesson can wait," Morgana told him. Camelot was a lot more important than she was.
The warlock hesitated. "Tonight, then?"
He smiled. "I'm looking forward to it."
Morgana smiled back. "So am I."
There was something in Cornelius Sigan's tomb.
Merlin had figured that he would find one of two things in the burial chamber: absolutely nothing or the spirit himself. He found neither, but he didn't think his visit was entirely fruitless. There was something there, something hidden beneath decayed clothing and yellowed bone, something full of magic. Merlin was fairly certain that it wasn't the anchor for Sigan's immortality spell, but it had definitely been created by the man.
The only problem was that he would have to retrieve it, whatever it was, in person. That meant sneaking past the guards (not much of a problem. Donald hadn't been captain long enough to make a dent in their laziness), working his way through gods-knew-how-many booby traps, and moving the remnants of Sigan's corpse to see what it hid. Merlin wasn't particularly squeamish—he was the physician's apprentice, after all—but he wasn't particularly comfortable doing this, as he was fairly certain that it counted as grave robbing.
Honestly, though, he was most worried about the booby traps.
That night, after Morgana had gotten the hang of telepathic conversation, Merlin crept through the citadel down to the caves. Slowly and carefully, he padded into Sigan's burial chamber, every sense straining for a hint of something wrong. While the tomb's discoverers and Cedric had probably set off most if not all of the traps, it was better to be safe than sorry. For all he knew, the traps could somehow reset themselves mechanically. It was hardly likely, but neither was Sigan's success in basically coming back from the dead. He needed to be cautious.
This uncharacteristic hesitation may or may not have been a result of the long lecture that Gaius had given him that afternoon. Merlin honestly wasn't sure.
No traps were triggered as Merlin approached the sarcophagus, nor did anything happen when he lifted it off its pedestal with magic.
There on the pedestal lay an ancient book, the pages curled and yellowed at their edges, the binding faded with age. It was hardly an inspiring sight, especially next to the gold and jewels that filled the rest of the tomb, but Merlin had no doubt that this was the most valuable treasure in the room.
It was Cornelius Sigan's grimoire.
Arthur, Leon, and Geoffrey were led from the dungeons to the throne room when the sun was less than a finger's width above the eastern horizon. Uther sat upon his throne, flanked by a pair of guards. Aside from them and the dungeon guards (and Merlin, who looked about as sleepy as Arthur felt but nonetheless followed his master in), the usually busy chamber was almost empty. Arthur didn't know how he felt about that. Did the emptiness mean that his father wanted to do something the public would disapprove of, or was he simply trying to keep a scandal involving the royal family away from the public eye? Uneasy, he glanced at Geoffrey. The old man was pale and shaking.
"Arthur," the king said, cold as the northern wastes. "You have been seen consorting with a sorcerer." He leaned forward. (Arthur bit his tongue. Mentioning that Emrys was technically a warlock wouldn't do anyone any good.) "Explain."
The prince stood as tall and straight as he could. Somehow, his voice was steady as he replied, "Sir Leon and I led a contingent of guards to investigate why the warning bells were ringing. On our way to the east gate, we encountered Cornelius Sigan and six knight-like creatures in iron masks. Emrys appeared shortly after we arrived."
This was all completely true. It was just incomplete, that was all. Being incomplete wasn't the same as being dishonest, and anyways, his father preferred it when courtiers (and defendants, which he tried not to think about) got straight to the point. Really, he was doing Uther a favor by leaving out the completely irrelevant details of how Emrys had been in contact with him even before he'd met up with Leon.
Maybe, if Arthur told himself that enough times, he'd actually come to believe it.
But now came the tricky part.
"When he appeared," Arthur continued blithely, "my sword burst into flames that helped destroy one of the Knights of Medhir. However, he couldn't enchant the guards' blades because Sigan immediately attacked him."
That was not true, not true at all, and there was no way for Arthur to pretend otherwise. Worse, it was a flimsy lie. If the king had spoken to any of the guards… if the guards hadn't been distracted by the battle… hell, if Leon so much as opened his mouth, he would be exposed, and then he'd have to answer quite a few uncomfortable questions. Plus he'd still be considered 'enchanted' and remain locked in the dungeons for the rest of his life.
The king's grip tightened on the arms of his throne. "And what became of this sword?" he demanded.
Arthur went rigid. He hadn't expected that question, hadn't prepared a response, and how his mind was completely blank.
It was Merlin of all people who saved him; Merlin, who Arthur knew feared Uther. "Prince Arthur commanded me to destroy it, sire. He told me yesterday when I went down with his lunch that he couldn't in good conscience use a sword tainted with the evils of magic, so I was to do whatever I had to to destroy it." He looked up through his lashes, his eyes all blue and innocent like he wasn't telling a bald-faced lie to a man who could have him executed. "I gave it to my friend Gwen. Her father's a blacksmith, and he melted it down at his forge." Merlin gave an affected shudder. "It screamed when it melted, sire. It was awful."
"I'm certain it was," Uther muttered, relaxing.
Arthur wanted to goggle at Merlin and demand to know how the hell he'd gotten so good at lying, but that would give it away. Instead, he gave his best princely nod and said, in his best princely voice, "Excellent. Well done, Merlin—for once."
Amusement flickered in Merlin's blue eyes. "Thank you, sire."
"What happened after the sorcerer appeared?" Uther demanded, returning to the matter at hand.
"We allowed Emrys to battle the other warlock," Arthur replied, relieved to be back on his mental script. "I'm afraid we didn't have much choice in the matter, as we were occupied with the other Knights of Medhir. If Sir Leon had not realized that the Knights' own swords could be used against them, I fear we would all have died. His quick thinking saved Camelot."
"So the knights were destroyed. Continue."
"Sigan and Emrys had been fighting. I don't know the details of what they were doing, but when the knights were destroyed, Sigan commented on Emrys's power and disappeared. A few moments later, Sir Geoffrey stumbled out of the shadows, completely free from possession. We didn't know that, though, so Emrys knocked him out."
Uther's hands tightened around the arms of his throne. "You spoke with him."
"…I spoke with him," Arthur had to admit. "I felt that my first priority was determining whether the man who has explicitly vowed to destroy Camelot was gone, and consulting Emrys seemed like the most efficient way to do that."
Uther stood. "Your first priority is the eradication of magic!"
"And my first priority in that was making certain that the more dangerous magic user was gone," Arthur hastened to explain. "Sigan is—"
"Sigan was not there. This so-called Emrys was. Why did you not bring me his head?"
Arthur bit his tongue.
"And you, Leon!" the king raged, turning to glare at his knight. "Why did you not move to destroy the sorcerer?"
Leon flushed slightly, mumbled, "I was uncertain how to proceed."
"Uncertain?" Uther repeated, incredulous. "You are a knight of Camelot! It is your duty to kill sorcerers!" He loomed above them, his eyes aflame. "Give me one reason that I should not have you executed for treason."
Silence, ringing and total. Arthur was aware that his jaw had dropped, that he was gawking at his king and father like he'd never seen the man before in his life. Maybe he hadn't. Maybe he hadn't wanted to.
"Because Sir Leon's quick thinking with the Knights of Medhir saved your son's life."
Every eye in the room turned to Merlin, who cringed away when Uther's gaze settled on him. "Well, it did," the servant mumbled, his cheeks reddening.
Arthur didn't know if he wanted to hit the boy or hug him, which was not an uncommon experience around Merlin.
"A fair point," Uther admitted slowly, "but I was asking your betters. Go to the stocks."
"…Yes, King Uther," Merlin mumbled, backing away. He didn't bow, a faux pas that made Arthur sigh with exasperation. Idiot or not, Merlin really should have learned the protocol by now.
"Because you saved my son's life, and because you have until this point been an exemplary knight, I will spare you," Uther proclaimed.
Leon sagged in relief. "Thank you, sire," he said, bowing low.
"Don't thank me yet. You are hereby relieved from your position as First Knight of Camelot."
Leon nodded. The relief had not faded from his face.
"As for you, Arthur…. You are my son and my heir, and the victim of enchantment. You will escort Lady Morgana to Tintagel."
"Tintagel?" Arthur echoed, surprised. It wasn't like Morgana to run from a fight.
"She will go to Tintagel," Uther repeated in the tone of someone who has already argued through the subject with someone very stubborn. "She does not wish to go, but I am her guardian and her king. You will escort her to Tintagel."
"Yes, Father." Arthur bowed. He felt like a coward, but what else could he do?
"Sir Geoffrey of Monmouth, step forward."
Visibly trembling, the old man did as he was bade. "Sire."
"How did you come to be possessed?"
"I'm not quite certain, my king," Geoffrey confessed. "I was in the weapons vault after you commanded me to see what the sorcerer had taken. I remember seeing a blue mist. Then, suddenly, I couldn't control my body."
The king fixed the old knight with the full force of his stare. Geoffrey gulped, blanched. He was afraid for his life, just like Leon had been afraid for his life, just like Merlin had been afraid for his life. Was everyone this afraid of his father?
"…Because you were an unwilling victim, I acknowledge that you had no part in Sigan's evils. You are simply another example of why anyone can fall prey to the evils of magic." Uther's gaze flitted to his son before returning to Geoffrey's face. "You may keep your position here at court."
"Thank you, sire," Geoffrey replied, his relief palpable.
"Sir Leon, Sir Geoffrey, you are dismissed. Arthur, to me."
"Yes, Father?" the prince asked once he was close enough.
In a low voice, the king stated, "There is a chance that this so-called Emrys will follow you to Tintagel. Once you arrive at the castle, have it searched top to bottom for signs of sorcery. If you find him, don't bother with a trial. Kill him on the spot."
It was treason to disobey a direct order from the king, but Arthur knew even as his father spoke that he wouldn't do it. Emrys was the only one who could defeat Sigan; killing him would doom Camelot.
But his father would never listen to reason, not when magic was concerned, so he simply nodded. "I will do my best."
Alternate Chapter Title: "Wherein Merlin and Arthur Tell Many Lies, But Merlin is a Better Liar than Arthur"
Next up: December 23. It'll probably be more preparations for going to Tintagel. There's a couple things that still need to get done.
(No time for a long AN because I need to stop procrastinating on my term papers. Sorry.)