First, I watched the show. Then, I started reading fic. Then, I joined fan communities. And then, one night before bed, this idea came into my head and I just had to write it. This is the result.
Many thanks to my lovely betas, persiflage_1 and sashataakheru LJ. The title is from Julius Caesar, and was suggested to me by persiflage_1, who is not just a brilliant beta, but a walking Shakespeare compendium!
This fic was originally posted at my LiveJournal, bewarethespork.
DISCLAIMER: These are not the copyright holders you are looking for.
Men at sometime are masters of their fate
Once upon a time (so the stories go), there was a powerful wizard who aged backwards, so that he remembered the future and forgot the past. He wove his magic through time and through space, pulling threads of what was and what would be into patterns that others would glimpse and call destiny. One day, one of those threads - a young man with hair like spun gold and eyes as blue as a summer sky and a heart as pure as a unicorn's - pulled a sword from a stone in the courtyard of a crumbling cathedral and in so doing, sealed himself to a destiny he could not see. When, half-amazed and half-disbelieving, that young man raised that sword above his head and those around him fell to their knees and cried all hail the once and future king - words that reverberated through time and space even though none of those assembled knew their true meaning - only the wizard saw the heavy mantle of fate settling around the young man's shoulders.
There are a thousand million universes, and in each one of those, the story changes. This is not the story of the destiny the wizard wove out of strands of premonition and possibility; perhaps the time, the place, the people, are the same, but they have been rearranged, pulled out of place just a little, just enough. Nevertheless, destiny is destiny, in this or any other world, spoken through a wizard's lips or by a dragon's tongue, and it recognises the stuff of which it is woven.
This is the story of a world where destiny tried to fulfil itself and nearly succeeded.
But more importantly, it is the story of how people survived, even though a destiny they could not see tried to pull them apart.
There is a kingdom where magic runs in the air and the soil and the very rocks. If you know the trick of it, you can put your palm to the earth and feel it, a steady, thrumming pulse, and you will know in a way that goes beyond intellect that this land is alive. It is neither good nor evil, though when channelled through human nature, that most erratic of filters, it can be twisted into either.
There is a king who sees the evil that magic can bring and who after that day can never see the good again. Because he loves his kingdom, and because he is human, and because he is scared, he burns the magic out of his kingdom, and sees progress in the flames. He looks out upon a land that bears the weight of shackles he has forged from cold purpose and tells his people that this is safety, this is peace, and because he is the King, his people believe him.
Beneath the King's feet, the last dragon feels the threads of destiny humming discordantly. He looks inside himself and sees the future the destiny reveals to him, and willingly gives himself to it, that those threads might sing in harmony once more.
Deep beneath them all, the land holds its breath and waits.
In a tiny village in a different kingdom, a baby is born.
Alone in his dungeon, the dragon is the only one that feels the world quake.
At the age of thirteen, the Lady Morgana shoots bolt upright in bed, her breathing ragged in her chest and her clothes drenched in cold sweat.
The court physician gives her another sleeping draught, stronger than the last, and it almost works, for a little while. But it is not enough - it will never be enough - to drive away the memory of what she has witnessed.
At the age of thirteen, the Lady Morgana has seen the future, and it is greater and more terrible than she can bear.
When Merlin Emrys first sets foot on the worn stones of Camelot, he is thinking about how he is tired and a bit hungry and about how he would very much appreciate the luxury of a warm place to sleep. And because he is so exhausted, he fails to notice that the earth is shifting beneath his patched and dusty boots.
The dragon feels it, and for a moment, he struggles against his chains, screaming triumph into the darkness, because destiny has arrived and he can hear the humming of the threads as they weave themselves into place.
Gaius feels it, a tremor in his bones that he dismisses as old age. He brews himself foxglove tea for the fluttering in his heart and thinks no more of it.
Lady Morgana dozes off at her table and is shaken awake by a vision of a future that is at once so bright it almost blinds her, and so dark that she fears for a moment that the blindness is real.
Arthur is drilling his knights and therefore doesn't notice the frisson of energy that passes through him, lost in the rush of blood and adrenaline and the hoarse bark of his voice over the clashing of steel on steel. He feels unnaturally alive afterwards, and puts it down to the exercise.
Later, Merlin's eyes flash gold as he saves Gaius' life, and nobody notices that the land pulses with him, its heartbeat resonating through the land for the first time in what is maybe forever and maybe no time at all.
It is a beginning and an end. The dragon feels the beginning, like the breath of life, and is suddenly, savagely glad.
Uther alone feels the end, like a coldness encircling his heart, but he does not know it for what it is. He orders a servant to close his window against the chill and thinks about it no more.
There are no villains; there are only humans. Uther sees only black and white and thinks it is right that the world should be this way. Had he seen the shades of grey, perhaps this story would have a different end.
As it is, he never sees the shades of grey, and so destiny simply weaves him out.
In a dark forest, by the light of a crescent moon, Prince Arthur releases a young druid boy back to his people and does not hear the screams of destiny as, all unknowing, he pulls the threads apart. He makes his way back to Camelot with the tatters of what should have been trailing behind him, and from them he begins to weave his own destiny.
One day, he will stare once again into the druid boy's eyes and finally hear the warning voice of destiny in his ear, but it will be too little, too late.
There are no heroes; there are only humans. Arthur sees black and white as two ends of a spectrum and thinks it is right that the world should be this way. Had he ignored the shades of grey, perhaps this story would have a different end.
Every worldview has its consequences. One day, Arthur will fall, and his passing will reverberate up and down the threads. But because he cannot be woven out, he will be taken instead, kept out of time until destiny requires him once more.
Destiny is determined. Its future will come to pass. And somewhere, some time, it does. But this is no longer the place or the time.
The dragon feels the threads reweaving themselves, and wonders what it means.
At Gedref, Arthur makes a choice - to protect his people, no matter what the cost. But it is also a choice to protect Merlin no matter what the cost, and it is with the weight of this choice that the world quakes again.
Anhora feels it and does not know what it means, but he looks upon the pair of young men before him with a newfound awe.
Merlin feels it, and looks upon his prince with new eyes. For one single, shining moment, he can see the future they will build together, and it is so bright and so beautiful that he thinks his heart will break.
Arthur, under the spell of the sleeping draught, feels nothing, but he sees that shining future in his dreams.
None of them sees what comes after, that terrible, tragic ending.
Perhaps that is for the best.
Merlin would have given his life to save Arthur from the bite of the questing beast. The old religion will not allow that particular sacrifice, but the fact that Merlin would so willingly have given it sends tremors back up and down the threads. On another world, in another time, there is a powerful wizard who weaves potential and possibility into patterns that others may glimpse and call destiny, and when he feels the tremors of fate falling into place, he pauses his work for a moment and smiles.
A life saved demands a life taken. Merlin takes the life of Nimueh, and the universe screams, because this is not how the balance should have been restored. The dragon hears the dissonant thrumming of the threads and adds his own voice, an anguished cry into the darkness, but it is too late for Nimueh, too late for destiny.
There are no villains; there are only humans. Nimueh sees the world as the old religion made it, feels the power to mirror life and death in her hands, in her heart, and thinks it is good that the world should be this way. Had she exercised her powers differently, perhaps this story would have a different end.
Destiny needs Nimueh, but Merlin and Arthur have long since begun creating their own destiny, weaving new patterns from old threads. And because Nimueh seeks to fulfil a destiny that even she cannot see but that she can feel in her very bones, and because this destiny is not the same as the one that Arthur and Merlin are creating, they simply weave her out.
One day, Arthur wakes up and sees what his manservant has been hiding from him for years. Merlin places himself at his prince's mercy, and Arthur surprises them both by swearing - on his life, on his father's life, on his kingdom's - that this is one secret that he will take to his grave.
This time, both of them feel the tremors their words have caused. They hold each other tightly and wait for this feeling to pass, each feeling the hammering of the other's heart against their chests. When the feeling has finally subsided, they break apart and look into each other's eyes.
Merlin sees a king who will bring this land to life again, uniting the disparate kingdoms into a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. He sees the man Arthur will be inside the man he already is, and the sight makes his heart beat faster and his breath catch in his throat. For the first time, he thinks he can feel the destiny that ties them together, and the knowledge is at once greater and more terrible than anything he has ever felt before.
Arthur sees the man who will make him into that king. He can feel a strange humming in his veins and realises it is Merlin's magic, and he had not realised until he felt that strange, inhuman pulse how incomplete he was before. He cannot see or feel their destiny in the way that Merlin can, but what he does feel is enough.
Beneath their feet, the dragon feels the threads being woven into a new pattern, one that he does not recognise, and wonders about this new future, and if there is a place in it for him.
Uther passes quietly, slipping away one night, his life extinguished between one laboured breath and the next.
This time, everyone feels the earth quaking as the land breathes for the first time in years.
They bury Uther beside his beloved wife. There are tears in Gaius' eyes, in those of the assembled knights, even in those of the Lady Morgana, who had seen this day coming but have never thought she would be able to cry for a man who had brought so much pain to so many people.
Arthur stands before his father's grave and does not weep. Beside him stands Merlin, his eyes burning gold, one hand clasping one of Arthur's, silently lending the prince his strength.
One week later, Camelot witnesses the crowning of Arthur Pendragon. All unbidden come the words all hail the once and future king, words that have reverberated through time and space, though none of those assembled know their true meaning.
Arthur swears to protect and serve his kingdom, and Merlin thinks every word sounds like a new beginning.
Every story ends. On another world, the wizard who wove destiny lies in eternal sleep, his king beside him, and for the first time, the threads of destiny are still around them.
This is not that story. On this world, Merlin and Arthur have woven their own destiny. Neither of them can see where it will lead them, or where it will end. But as they look out upon Arthur's kingdom - their kingdom, held together with Arthur's blood and Merlin's magic - they can see where their story starts.
Far above them, the dragon soars through the skies and listens to the threads of this new destiny singing in harmony at last.