Hi! Just started watching this series on NBC. I believe I've seen five episodes so far. I also believe the whole series aired in the UK a while back, so there may be folks out there who know the story beyond what I know. I had to invent some stuff that hasn't exactly come to light, but that's okay because this isn't real! Hooray!
Arthur sat with his hands clasped between his knees, staring at a point on the floor just behind the ankles of one of the guards. The corner of a stone tile had chipped off, and the jagged edge had caught and held his attention.
Beside him, the king was speaking. Arthur wasn't listening. He couldn't. There were too many thoughts running through his head. More accurately, there were three thoughts, each as fervent as the next, all grappling for attention.
One of these thoughts was that today he had come so close to death he had actually seen the gates of Heaven open before him and his mother descend in a shower of blinding white light, a radiant smile on her perfect face.
Another was that, in a few moments, he would be joining her, since his father was really truly going to murder him.
The last thought was so absurd that Arthur kept trying to shut it out, but in doing so, he was thinking about it, and so tricked himself into allowing it to surface. The thought was actually the topic of discussion in the room in which he was sitting (but for all the attention he was paying, they might have switched by now to a casual conversation concerning the state of this year's turnip crop).
Merlin was a wizard.
How could Arthur believe it? He knew Merlin. The boy was an idiot. And Arthur knew what it took to study magic. Merlin was just not up to the task.
So what happened today? In his addled state of mind, he couldn't be entirely sure that he was sitting here, now, alive, but he was at least mostly sure. And if he was sitting here alive, then he hadn't died earlier. And if he hadn't died earlier, Merlin must be a wizard. Which was impossible. So he must be dead.
Perhaps this was Heaven? Perhaps the rest of the court had died with him, and Camelot had been recreated in order to accommodate them all, and that was why Arthur thought he was sitting beside his father at the head of a room full of people.
Merlin was a wizard.
Merlin had saved his life.
Arthur let his eyes trail along the floor to where two guards flanked a boy kneeling before the king. Arthur didn't dare meet Merlin's eyes. He knew what he would find there. Merlin would expect Arthur to do something, to say something, to leap valiantly to his defense. And Arthur, of course, wouldn't be able to, and he would tell Merlin that, with his eyes, and Merlin would lose all hope, all faith in his prince, his friend, and he would submit to defeat and Arthur would feel like less than dirt, less than a scrap of paper burned to ash and crushed beneath the heel of an outlaw before scattering with the wind.
It was easier not to look.
Merlin was a wizard.
And he was going to be killed for it.
The sentencing was drawing to a close. Arthur could tell from the heightened tension, as if everyone in the room were holding his breath. For a moment, Arthur's mind went blank as a snowdrift, and his father's words were able to seep in.
"For the use of magic, decreed illegal by law, I hereby sentence you, Merlin, to death at dawn by beheading."
There was a collective exhale through the room. Someone sobbed—Gwenevere, Arthur guessed. Morgana's lady-in-waiting.
"Take him away," said Uther.
Arthur shut his eyes. The reality of the situation was finally sinking in. He wasn't dead, but Merlin was. Merlin, to whom Arthur owed his own life. It wasn't the first time this decree against magic had steered Uther into passing what could be interpreted as questionable judgment. Hopefully, though—and Arthur straightened imperceptibly in his throne—it would be the last.
This law had to go, and Arthur would see it abolished once and for all. He would face his father, and he would not stand down until his fight had been won. Merlin had to be released. Wizards all over the kingdom had to be pardoned. It had to be done, and Arthur was the only one who could do it.
Merlin and the guards were long gone. Uther disbanded the court. He rose from his throne and dismissed all but one burly bodyguard (it was foolishness for a royal to leave himself unprotected even for five minutes). When the room was empty, he turned to his son, who was still sitting unmoving as a statue.
Uther's voice was deep and strong, vibrant with anger, and it roused the boy from his stupor. "Arthur."
Arthur blinked a few times. Everyone had gone. He looked up at his father, then got to his feet.
"Have I gone completely out of my head," said Uther, "or did I expressly forbid you from leaving the castle today? Not only did you leave—you had the gall to venture into the very place I warned you about not two days ago. Did you not think about what might happen? Did you not consider the possibility that perhaps some danger might—"
But Arthur waved his hand. "Yes, Father, I did consider all that," he said quickly. "And I deliberately disobeyed you, and it was disrespectful, and you would have me horsewhipped if you thought it might get through my thick skull and make me understand how dangerous it is to ride off on my own with only a manservant to keep me company."
Uther's jaw swung for a moment.
"Father, we have more important things to discuss at this moment."
"More important!" Uther drew himself to his full height, a good head above his son. "More important. More important than disobedience to your king?" He said this hoping to shock his son into submission as the boy realized exactly what kind of crime had been committed here.
But Arthur only shook his head. "No, sir, that's exactly what I want to talk about. This foolish law that insists all magic is evil and must never be used, whatever the circumstances."
Uther's face went red. "Now you listen to me," he snarled. "I'll have none of this from you. Not now. Magic is evil, as are those who work it." He paused. "And you knew, didn't you! You knew about that servant, even before he was revealed!"
"I suspected, yes."
"And you rode off anyway, with none but a criminal to keep you company."
"He isn't a criminal, Father."
"He broke the law!"
"A law that is only in place because a stubborn king cannot let go of his past grudges."
In four brisk strides, Uther crossed the space between them. Arthur squinted and turned his head slightly, anticipating a slap. But Uther had only words.
"How dare you judge me, Arthur Pendragon! You, who have no knowledge of what has come to pass. Magic is an evil, a sin, and it must be vanquished! Even if you will dispute this, you cannot argue that there is a law against the use of magic, which that servant of yours has broken!"
"Father, listen to yourself," said Arthur, raising his chin to stare defiantly into Uther's eyes. "Murder is against the law, but if murder is committed in protection of one or one's family, the murder will be pardoned! Will you deny that this is so? Why should it be different with magic?"
"Because magic can never be used for good."
"He saved my life!"
"This is the only way I can control it!" For a moment, Uther's eyes flashed with an uncertainty, a wild fear that was strange in such normally hard, unswerving eyes. "If a few innocent must suffer so that the guilty may be repressed, then so be it!"
"Those are the words of Herod."
"Don't quote scripture at me!"
"And those who wish to do magic for evil will do it whether it is legal or not," said Arthur. "How many evildoers have you imprisoned so far? How much good has this law done? Merlin held off as long as he could. Your guards arrived a minute too late. He had no other choice. I was dead, Father. I was in Heaven. I saw Mother."
"Don't you dare," said Uther, and he pointed a shaking finger at his son. "Don't you dare..."
"If it weren't for Merlin, I wouldn't be alive. If it weren't for magic, I would be speaking with Mother right now."
"If it weren't for magic, your mother would still be here."
Arthur forced himself to fall silent. He knew this was why magic had been outlawed—this decade-old grudge against the woman who killed his mother.
"Nimueh is one person, Father," he said in a low voice. "And your law has done nothing to keep her at bay. We saw her work not a month ago."
"It has slowed her efforts."
"It has done nothing." Arthur threw back his shoulders. "Nothing but take the lives of good people, people with homes and families, just like Mother had."
"Hold your tongue, Arthur, you go too far—"
"You wish for revenge on Nimueh, but you take revenge on Camelot!"
"Hold your tongue, I say!"
"It is a weak king who allows his judgment to be obscured by the actions of one evil woman! A weak and a cowardly king!"
The back of Uther's fist caught Arthur squarely in the ear, sending a shockwave through his skull that rattled his brain. Arthur staggered backward and put a hand to his head.
"And it is an insolent son," said Uther, seething, "who will lay such vile and ignorant condemnations upon his father."
Arthur's ear was buzzing low like the drone of a hornet. "I am not ignorant. What you are doing is wrong, and I only want it set right."
"Get out," said Uther. "Out of my sight. I do not wish to see you again until you have purged your mind of this foul temperament."
Arthur took a deep breath. He had one last plea. "Release Merlin," he said softly.
"I said leave me."
"This instant, Arthur, or you'll get more than a slap!"
"A life for a life, Father. He saved mine. I owe it to him."
"To your chambers."
Arthur moved toward the door. "You are proud," he said. "But you will be respected if you let Merlin go. It takes a strong man to admit when he has been in error." He bowed. "Good day, sire."
He slipped out the door and leaned against it in the corridor. He hadn't changed his father's mind. He was sure of it. What kind of bullheaded man had inherited the throne? Arthur set his jaw. If his father wouldn't see reason, there was only one remaining course of action. He turned to the left, in the opposite direction of his chambers, and took the stairs downward three at a time. Uther would predict his son's actions and perhaps instruct the guards not to let him through. Arthur would just have to get there first.
He was panting when he finally descended into the dungeons. The guards sprang to attention as their prince sprinted past. Arthur scanned the cells until he found the one he sought. A skinny boy in a dirt-smudged tunic was huddled in the corner. Arthur swept the keys from their peg on the wall and unlocked Merlin's cell with a trembling hand.
Merlin was on his feet in a moment. "I'm freed?" he asked, incredulous, hopeful.
"Not exactly." Arthur was grim. He flung open the door, and Merlin stepped out. "The king doesn't know, and he wouldn't allow it if he did. You will have to run. You must hide, and stay hidden."
Merlin's eyes were wide. "You would release me against the will of your father?"
"Merlin. You saved my life. The least I can do for you is to return the favor. I'm only sorry it isn't under more favorable circumstances."
Merlin's face broke into a characteristic dopey grin. "Your highness," he said, bowing his head. "Thank you. A hundred times."
Merlin turned to go, but Arthur stopped him. "Not that way," he said. He pointed toward the sprawling depths of the dungeon. "Take your first left. Past the third cell. There's a loose stone. It should be wide enough to admit you."
Merlin nodded. "We will meet again, Prince Arthur."
Arthur put his hands on the boy's shoulders. "This law will be abolished. The king will see reason. He has to. Camelot is faced with more terrible enemies every day. Magic may be our only hope."
Merlin nodded. "Let Gaius know I'm okay," he said.
"He'll find out. When you don't turn up for your beheading tomorrow."
Merlin gave a choked laugh. "I supposed he will. Thank you, Arthur. I will never forget this."
"Thank you, Merlin."
The two lingered for only a moment longer, and then they turned and hurried on their separate ways. Merlin's words stuck with Arthur. We will meet again. It was unlikely, but then again... Merlin was a wizard. Might it be that his part in Arthur's life had not yet been played in full?
Somehow, Arthur felt it to be true.