Title:Conversations with a sorceress
Characters:Nimueh, Hunith, Merlin, Arthur
Spoilers:Not really since it's AU. Takes place after Episode 10 and before Episode 13
Summary:Nimueh has an agenda and it will take all her persuasive powers with Merlin to make them a reality. But Merlin is proving a little stubborn…. And then Arthur shows up. A finding-out story.
Notes:for an initial challenge in which Nimueh (a powerful sorceress and a primary villain in the first season) and Hunith (Merlin's mother) must have an argument. And Merlin had to poke his head into it and of course, where Merlin goes, Arthur has to follow.
Disclaimer: I don't own the tv show, Merlin, or its concepts. I'm writing for fun.
Many thanks to gogo_didi for the beta!
The evening sky was beginning to slide into dusk, the faint glow of the moon rising just over the hills and a single star dogging behind it like a devoted servant. An apt description, Nimueh thought, for Merlin and Uther's boorish fool of a son. The peasant and his Prince.
Naïve little Merlin. Using the power of the Old Religion without the slightest knowledge of what he had and what he could be. Elemental, powerful, raw and yet all he could do was hide his true self from Uther's cruel vengeance and use his considerable talents to keep that idiot Prince of his out of trouble. What a waste.
But that was about to change.
As she walked through the village, satisfied that she was on the proper path, that her determination to bring magic back into its rightful place in the world would end in triumph, she let herself enjoy the quiet of falling night.
It wasn't often that she could relax and just feel the music of earth and sky. Here, trees whispering in the wind and the soft grunts of pigs hunting for scraps were the only sounds: no harsh jangle of armour and sword-steel, no pleas for a mercy that would never come, no crackle of cooking meat, no screams of agony while Camelot's butcher, Uther Pendragon, watched Nimueh's friends burn alive.
Instead there was the whispered scent of herbs on the wind and the sharp smell of pig offal. She smiled at the earthy reminder. Peasants indeed but she couldn't really fault them for it. At least here, the people were honest.
She could see how a boy without magic might easily live his life among these simple folk, ignorant of the greater world but happy enough to remain.
But a child of magic would be all but wasted here. Of course, Merlin was wasted in Camelot, too, but soon he would be a part of something grander, something to shake the world to its core.
Her destination was a small stone house near the edge of Ealdor. Simple linens hung out to dry; there was a smattering of greenery in front and a thin line of smoke above the house that spoke of activity within. Merlin's home and the place where his true destiny was about to begin.
Nimueh gathered her velvet cloak in tight and raised a hand to knock on the rough-hewn door.
Someone inside must have heard her coming. The door opened abruptly and a worn, tired-looking older woman peered out. Homespun kirtle, a kerchief wrapped around her head, a smear of dirt on her cheek, she seemed curiously unafraid of the stranger at her door.
Poor fool. How little she knew of the world and her place in it.
The woman straightened, brushed at her face with reddened hands, and then as she looked at Nimueh, took in her fine clothes and regal bearing, she said quickly, "My lady? I… do you need help? Are you lost?"
Nimueh shook her head, smiled her most disarming smile. "No, although I thank you for your concern. You are Hunith, are you not? Merlin's mother?"
Blinking back surprise, Hunith stuttered, "Yes… I… do you know Merlin?" She leaned out further into the evening gloom, glancing around at the dirt tracks and pig sties and the poverty, obviously looking for someone, and said eagerly, "Is he here?"
Nimueh's smile grew wider, more gracious, as if she were a lady about to bestow a precious treasure on someone who had no idea of the price. This would be easier than she thought. "May I talk with you, Hunith? I have news of him, recent news. For your ears alone."
"Of course, my lady. Come in." Hunith stepped back, and ushered her in with a wave of her hand. "I haven't heard from Merlin in some time. News would be most welcome."
The inside of the hovel was large, surprisingly so but the rest was poor comfort. A dirt floor sorely in need of rushes, stone walls with meagre chinking to keep out the cold, a solid enough door but the window coverings were gone. The faded cloth hung next to the platform bed would likely give Hunith privacy and to cut down on drafts; there was a fire pit of glowing coals in the middle of the floor and a covered pot sitting precariously to one side. Nimueh watched as smoke rose through a hole in the thatched ceiling.
Hunith was living in squalor while her son lived in a castle. It did not speak well of the boy. At the very least, he should have conjured up a grander home or money enough for his mother to live on. Not this.
It was almost humbling to watch Hunith bustle about, trying to create a space worthy of a lady amongst the ashes of poverty but Nimueh had bigger issues. Sitting down on the small bench, letting her cloak of velvet and fur settle around her, she smiled at Merlin's mother and patted the space beside her. "Come, Hunith, sit here."
Nimueh sent her a smile and it was enough to pull the woman down onto the bench. She could almost admire Hunith's simple dignity and the obvious love she had for her son.
For a moment, she toyed with the idea of abandoning her plan and leaving this woman to her foolish hopes, toyed with finding another way to capture Merlin and persuade him to join her in the quest to bring magic back to Camelot.
But she discarded that thought almost immediately. Merlin could be stubborn beyond imagining and he had a natural raw talent. Inexperience might prove a problem for lesser men but his instinctive use of magic and innate selflessness would drive him protect the people he loved, even at the cost of his own future - especially for his mother - and that was a weakness Nimueh could not afford to ignore.
Ignoring the small pang of pity deep in her breast, Nimueh said simply, "Merlin is well at the moment but I fear for his safety."
The woman looked at her with alarm. "Is he alright? He… he didn't…." And she stuttered to a stop, clearly trying not to ask about Merlin's secret.
Shrugging, Nimueh gave her a slight smile. "No, no one knows about his gift, not yet."
For a moment, there was shocked silence.
"Gift? I don't know what you are talking about." Hunith seemed to be struggling to keep her face blank, to appear as if she had no idea of what Nimueh was saying.
She could almost pity her. Almost.
"Come now, let us not pretend. We both know that Merlin is talented."
Growing more and more agitated, her hands fisted in her kirtle, her eyes black with distress, Hunith looked worried, hunted. "I…."
A lesser woman might have enjoyed the growing fear but Nimueh only said lightly, "He has quite a gift for sorcery."
"You have no right to spread such lies." Hunith's voice was shrill, filling the hut with panic. "Merlin doesn't know anything about sorcery or gifts or anything else like that." She stood abruptly, and gestured toward the door. "Get out."
"Hunith, I know the truth." She paused a moment, looking at Merlin's mother with studied indifference; the woman was protective enough but it was irrelevant. "Surely you must see that Merlin shouldn't be hiding, practicing sorcery behind closed doors, waiting for the axe to fall with the first slip of a tongue. His gifts are special, unique and we…."
Standing up and letting the whispered fall of her cloak add to the dramatic tension in the air, she shrugged, then flicked her fingertips in the air, leaving a slight trail of spell-light between them. "We want Merlin to join us."
Trapped, Hunith could only stand there, blinking furiously. Hardly above a whisper, she said softly, "We?"
"With Merlin's help, we will be able to stop the destruction, stop Uther from killing hundreds more in Camelot and bring peace and magic back into the world." As Nimueh took a step toward her, the older woman stumbled back, trying to keep the distance between them. As if Hunith had any say in the matter. "But we need to get Merlin away from there first. He is in grave danger. You must see this."
"No, I don't even know who you are." Shaking her head, Hunith refused to be drawn in. "Why should I believe anything you say?"
"Because I am like him. We are both… gifted and there is much I can teach him." Nimueh smiled, sharp and sure. "If he lives."
The woman paled, looking as if she'd been struck. "He's safe in Camelot."
"Safe? With a paranoid dictator who murders innocents without a single ounce of remorse?" She could feel her hatred of the man bleeding through and for a moment, she savoured the feeling.
Hunith's mouth flattened, her face peasant-stubborn. "He's a good king."
"He's a monster!" Nimueh hissed out and then taking a deep breath, she said more gently, "And yet you sent Merlin into a snake-pit, away from everything he'd ever known."
She nodded toward the open window, the moonlight streaming through it, softening the lines of stone and poverty. There was a hint of rosemary in the evening breeze. So plain a life for those of the soil, so straightforward and warm, the people of Ealdor relying on each other for support and comfort - and yet Hunith had sent away her only son.
Shaking her head, Nimueh asked, "Did you think it too dangerous here? That simple minds and pig-farmer suspicions would be his end? How foolish you are."
Taking a step closer, Nimueh watched Hunith's anxious face, knew that she needed to unsettle the woman enough into mistakes. "Merlin is poised on the knife-edge of destruction. One word, one whisper in the wind, and Uther Pendragon will tear him apart."
"No, I don't believe you. Gaius would…."
"Gaius… Gaius?" Her laughter was scalded amusement, bitterness and memory and loss burning her throat. "Gaius watched while people screamed, watched the flames eating into their skin, watched while women and children and old men died, their heads rolling, their life-blood pouring onto the straw below." The sharp shards of grief sliced into her heart, made her cruel. "Gaius? He'd sooner save his own neck than Merlin's."
"You're wrong. He'd never…."
"Never is such an overused word, don't you think?" Nimueh said simply, almost as if she were discussing the weather or how often the pigs got loose, not talking about death and the loss of everything and everyone she'd ever loved. "Gaius helped Uther hunt down my family, kill the ones I loved without a single breath of remorse. Do you really think it would be any different with Merlin?"
"I don't believe you." Desperation in the set of her mouth and the white-knuckled hands.
"It doesn't matter if you believe Gaius capable or not. I have but to send word and Merlin will be Uther's next victim, that boyish head you love so well rolling in the dirt." She didn't think it was possible for the woman to grow paler but Hunith ghosted into moon-white, seemingly frozen with apprehension. "Can you take the chance? Will you?"
"Prince Arthur will protect him," she insisted.
Nimueh tried not to laugh at the absurdity of it all. "Arthur? Oh my dear Hunith, Arthur will kill him without a moment's thought. He is, after all, Uther's son." She straightened, stared at her with steadfast eyes, voice flat with certainty. "Arthur stood by and watched young and old, mothers and sons be burned, watched peace-loving Druids as their heads were cut off. Did nothing to stop it. What makes you think the Prince of Camelot would do anything to save the life of a mere servant?"
"It's not like that. He's an honourable man," she whispered.
Nimueh shrugged, conceding the point. "Perhaps. But are you willing to bet Merlin's life on it?"
"You…." Hunith stood there, all peasant-stubborn ferocity. "I won't let you hurt my boy!"
"Then do as I ask." Nimueh tried not to gloat, instead settled into satisfaction. This trembling old woman, so fierce, so determined to protect her son. "Tell him to come home and I'll not inform Uther about his magic." She stepped closer, her voice soft. "And then Merlin and I will have a talk about his future."
Halting, unsure, her face lined in misery, Hunith said, "He'll never agree to it."
"I think he will." Avoiding the shaft of moonlight that was cutting a trail across the dirt floor, she glanced out the window.
There, above her head was the faithful Dog Star forever chasing the oblivious moon. Watching it, her eyes hidden in shadow, her mouth curved in triumph, she murmured, "Just tell him that Nimueh is waiting for him."