Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin.
Sequel to "While You Slept"
Warning: COMPLETELY AU.
Should be a three-or-fourshot
Merlin's head jerked up from where he was doing the mending, eyes wide. His mother, thanks to her apprenticeship with a man named Gaius in Camelot when she was a young woman, was Ealdor's midwife and the only thing close to a physician the small village could boast of. And due to this Merlin had grown up doing most of the housework while his mother tended to the sick and the pregnant.
His ability to cook and clean and mend clothes had earned him enough ribbing from Will to last him a lifetime (his best friend assuring him he'd make some woman or man a good wife some day), and yet Merlin took great pride in his quality of work and the fact that this was one of the few things he could do without his magic and not end up looking like a fool.
Plus, mending the torn garments helped soothe him. It was a good distraction, and lately he needed good distractions. Lately, the face of the mysterious Arthur didn't allow Merlin to fully concentrate on anything, and he'd been more of a klutz than usual.
Honestly, he was more than a little frustrated with himself. It'd been near eight months since he'd found the mysterious, wounded man, and had nursed him back to health as best as he could until Arthur's comrades---whomever they'd been---had found them and taken the blonde away with them.
Up to this day Merlin wondered whatever befell Arthur.
"I said," Will closed the door behind him rapidly, going to the window and peering out cautiously. "That the bloody prince of Camelot is in the village!" He closed the curtains. "And while he and his escort are being secretive as to why they're here, it looks like they're looking for someone."
Merlin tensed immediately, gaze going to his bedroom.
Will followed his gaze and frowned. "It wouldn't make sense, not after six months, but that is my worry as well."
Getting up, Merlin went to his small room and gazed down upon the boy sleeping on the bedroll, curled up around Merlin's old bear. The boy as pale as midnight, with hair like ebony and eyes like blue fire had been yet another creature Merlin had stumbled upon while walking through the forest, after having saved Arthur.
The boy had been starved, weak, and feverish.
Apparently the boy-child was a druid's apprentice, and his master had been killed by bandits, the boy having rushed off before the attack and left wandering the forest for days until Merlin had stumbled upon him.
The young warlock had rushed the boy to his home, and after feeding him and forcing water down his weak throat, Merlin had watched the boy recover.
The villagers, used to magic amongst them due to Merlin, had been a little war of the child Mordred, but had grown fond of the small boy who shadowed Merlin faithfully. Most of the women were quite taken with the child, and spoilt him when they thought Hunith wasn't looking, giving him extra portions of food or delicacies at the small festivals the village would hold.
"Mordred." Merlin bent to his knees and shook the small child awake.
Mordred opened his eyes slowly, sleepily, mouth pouted, tired. "Merlin?" The five year old sat up, rubbing a fist in his eye, yawning.
"Mordred, remember what we talked about when you first came here?" Merlin asked, his blue eyes meeting the child's. "About what to do when there were strangers here?"
Mordred's eyes widened, all sleep gone immediately, as he nodded.
"Well, there're some people from Camelot here, and they mustn't know about you or me." Merlin informed the child. "So we're going to play that game. The whole village is, until the people leave, okay?"
Mordred nodded, and then raised his arms expectantly.
Grinning at the utterly possessive child, Merlin hooked his arms around the small body and lifted him up, resting his light weight on his hip as he walked out of the room to where Will was peeking through the curtains at whatever was going on outside.
Mordred was silent, as he usually was, leaning his head against Merlin's chest, against his heartbeat.
Merlin smiled and pressed a kiss to the top of the child's head.
When the warlock had first set his eyes on the child he'd felt a deep connection, similar to the one he'd felt when he'd taken care of Arthur, and yet different. With Mordred Merlin felt parental protectiveness, and during the six months the child had been under his care Merlin had grown to love him with all his heart.
"I see him, the bloody prince." Will hissed, making a face at the prince, whoever he may be. "Some woman just arrived on horseback with some personal guards and what's probably her lady in waiting. The prince didn't seem to be expecting her to show up. They're arguing as we speak." He made a little appreciative sound. "And quite spectacularly, I must say."
"What the prince of Camelot doing in Ealdor of all places?" Merlin wondered, sitting back down, Mordred curled on his lap, still somewhat asleep, and picked up the mending. He knew that they were in a dangerous situation, but still, it wasn't as if the prince was going to be coming to this specific house looking for the child.
If that was what the prince was truly after.
Anyway, Ealdor wasn't a part of Camelot, so even if word of a druid and apprentice had reached their ears they didn't have the authority to do anything.
Telling himself this, Merlin took in a deep breath and resumed with the mending, leaving Will to spy on the royals outside of their home.
True as always, the repeated actions of the mending calmed him, and it must have transmitted to Mordred, because the child sunk into sleep, clutching at Merlin's shirt and snoring softly.
"They're still arguing!" Half an hour later, Will was nothing more than amused as he openly stared at the royals outside as they argued about god knew what. "I think I like this woman---noble or not. Anyone who can handle a prince like that is a god in my mind."
Snorting in amusement at that, Merlin shook his head. He could understand Will's resentment when it came to nobility, but sometimes it could be quite annoying, or amusing, it varied on the context. "So, how's it going with Libya?"
Tearing his gaze from the window, Will closed the curtains and turned to Merlin once more, grinning sheepishly, even managing a little blush. He'd been sweet on farmer Gareth's daughter since the both of them could walk, and only lately had the girl started to realize he existed and allowed him to court her. "She kissed me last night, when we snuck out to see the stars together."
Merlin grinned, happy for his friend. "Don't do anything to have her father run you through with his pitchfork for."
Will shivered. "He does like that pitchfork to a disturbing degree, doesn't he?"
The brunet returned to the window and then jumped backwards. "Your mother's bloody leading him this way!"
Merlin dropped his mending and shot up, surprisingly enough not waking the slumbering Mordred with the swift movement. "What is she thinking?"
"I don't know, mate." Will looked frantic as well. "Let's go out the back way!"
Merlin nodded, and both males hurried out of the back, slowing their pace and trying to remain inconspicuous once they were outside. The last thing they wanted to do was to draw attention to themselves.
Shifting Mordred's weight slightly in his arm so that the child's cheek rested against his shoulder, Merlin tried to calm himself, tried to remember that he didn't only have to think about the safety of his village or his mother, or even himself. He had Mordred he needed to look after as well.
"I'm thinking we go to the little hidden lagoon out in the forest." Will decided in a hushed voice, looking around them suspiciously. "Take some food, make it look like we were just having a picnic of sorts. By the time we return the blasted nobles will have gone off."
Merlin was liking the sound of this plan.
That way he and Mordred could be out of the village and---.
He turned and stopped in shock at the fierce beauty of the woman stalking towards them, determination deep within her sharp blue eyes. By her side was a pretty dark skinned girl who wore a plainer, yellow dress.
His heart plummeted to his stomach.
This could only be the lady noble Will had told him of.
The woman in the flowing robes stopped in front of him, her gaze narrowed and on him, looking him up and down, before she suddenly smiled, and it was beautiful. "You're Merlin."
Merlin's eyes widened in shock.
How had she known his name?
Her grin was amused as she turned to the woman to her side. "He's going to be so infuriated that I found him first!"
The darker woman just smiled and shook her head, amused.
The noble woman then returned her attention to Merlin. "I'm the Lady Morgana, Ward of King Uther of Camelot, and this is my handmaiden, Gwen." Her grin was that of a conspirator. "I have wanted to meet you for a long time, Merlin."
Confused, wondering how this woman knew of him and why she would want to meet him of all people, Merlin offered her a weak smile. "It is an honor, milady." He hesitated for a moment before motioning to Will, who was eyeing Morgana and Gwen in a way Merlin was sure Libya wouldn't appreciate. "This is my best friend, Will."
Will nodded his head.
The ladies smiled.
Morgana's gaze rested on Mordred, looking amused. "He didn't know you had a brother." She turned to Gwen and grinned. "I am rapidly beating him once more, the incompetent brat. By the time he finds us I will know more about Merlin than he does. This is such fun! I cannot wait to see the expression on his face. It will turn puce, I know it will!"
"Milady…" Gwen's voice was an exasperated warning yet tinged with laughter.
The girls shared a tender smile.
Will and Merlin were surprised at this. They'd heard about the near master/dog relationship nobles and their servants had, so it was amazing to see the genuine affection between these females.
"What is your brother's name?" Morgana returned her attention Merlin.
"He's not my brother." Merlin held Mordred against his rapidly beating heart. This was it, now or never. "This is my son, Mordred."
The smiles slipped from both Morgana and Gwen's faces and they shared an indescribable look before Morgana turned to Merlin. "You---you're married?"
"You look so young to have a child!" Gwen gasped, before blushing. "Not that I'm saying you shouldn't have had him! He's a beautiful boy! And you two look a lot alike! Not that I'm saying you're beautiful because that's a feminine term! Not that I'm saying your son look feminine! I---I meant---I didn't mean---It's just that---!" She then paused and bit her bottom lip, looking genuinely troubled.
As did Morgana.
It was beginning to bother Merlin.
"Yes, well, the passion of youth." Will stepped in, placing an arm around Merlin's shoulders and grinning at the women. "Now if you excuse us, ladies. I have a fair maiden I need to visit and Merlin and Mordred have somewhere they need to be."
The two women shared near panicked looks as Merlin and Will began to walk away, Will dropping his arm from around his friend's shoulder.
"Oh dear." Gwen whispered.
"I don't know whether to be amused by this unlikely turn of events or horrified." Morgana whispered back.
Merlin, wondering exactly what they were referring to, shook his head and turned the corner, only to come face to face with the last person he would have expected.
His eyes widened as he stared upon the handsome face of the man whose life he'd saved and whom he'd tended to eight months ago. Merlin had never thought he'd ever see the man again, and now, now here he was in front of him, his expression of impatience and irritation melting from his face.
"Merlin." He smiled, drawing himself up taller somehow, back straight, sword hanging from the belt around his narrow hips. He wore chainmail and the symbol of Camelot.
Merlin's stomach dropped as he realized that Arthur must be a part of the knights of Camelot. That made sense, why he was here all of a sudden. He must have come here escorting and protecting the prince.
"A-A-Arthur." Merlin stammered, holding Mordred closer. "It's a surprise to see you again. I---you're looking well, healthy."
Gwen was wrong.
'Beautiful' could be used to describe a man. Handsome was too rough a description for Arthur's looks, but beauty, beauty described it perfectly. And now that he didn't have the swelling and cuts and bruises and discoloration in his skin due to the blow he'd received, Arthur was the most beautiful thing Merlin had ever seen.
Even Morgana took a second place compared to him.
Will went tense at Merlin's side. "You bloody know him?"
Turning to his friend and nodding, wondering why Will looked like he was about to either throw a fit or keel over. "We met one day…" he paused, wondering how to put this. "In the forest, some months back."
"Why didn't I hear of this?" Will's eyes narrowed as he looked from a confused and nervous Merlin to a now fully annoyed Arthur.
"I didn't realize that he had to report everything to you." Arthur announced rather acidly.
"Well, now you know, Your Highness." Will placed his hands on his hips defiantly, spitting the title out as if it were a curse.
Merlin suddenly went tense in horror as his eyes widened and he knew that he must look like he was about to faint. "Highness?" He looked back and forth between a surprised Will and a blank-faced Arthur. "You're the prince of Camelot?"
"You mean you didn't bloody know?" Will looked like he would like nothing better than to slap him up the back of his head. "I thought you said you'd met him!"
"I just knew his name." Merlin rushed on, turning his horrified expression on his best friend. "I only learnt his name!"
Appeased now that he understood better the situation, Will just sighed and shook his head, arms folding over his chest. "Just figures you'd go out into the forest, meet a bloody prince, and not even realize it!"
Arthur glared at Will. "Show some respect for a prince, peasant."
Merlin's eyes widened in shock at the words.
Will sneered. "You're not my prince. Don't owe you bloody anything."
Arthur's hand twitched close to his sword.
Oh gods! Merlin realized that he was in a dangerous situation between two men who seemed easily angered and who would like nothing more than to clobber each other. Will he could understand, since the boy hated most nobles on sight, but what had gotten Arthur so riled up as to be close to calling Will out to a duel?
Mordred groaned, waking in his arms. The young boy pulled away slightly and rubbed his eyes, yawning, before leaning his cheek against Merlin's shoulder and turning his bright blue gaze on Will and Arthur with a petulant little pout, obviously displeased with both of them for having woken him from his rest.
Arthur's gaze rested on Mordred contemplatively, apparently forgetting about Will and his disrespect. Arthur's lip tilted slightly at the side. "Your little brother is the spitting image of you, Merlin." His blue gaze went form Mordred to Merlin and back. "You have the same exact coloring."
Now more than ever Merlin was glad for the cover story the whole village knew of. If Mordred was the child Merlin and some random girl who'd run away to the big city to start a new life working in the castle, and if everyone collaborated with that story, then it would be impossible for him to be charged and executed as the druid's boy. Mordred had been too young to receive the druid tattoos for his initiation, and that helped them hide him better.
At first the village had thought that they should make Hunith be the pretend mother, but they'd quickly discarded that idea. Mordred was a timid, silent child, and while everyone had fallen in love with him, and were protective, the only person he openly adored was Merlin. It was painfully obvious how the child only completely trusted his rescuer, and clung to him silently, possessively.
It only made sense to make Merlin the pretend-father if they'd wanted it to be believable.
"Arthur!" Morgana appeared by their side, face calm and yet her eyes were nervous.
Gwen was by her side, biting on her bottom lip, looking from Merlin to Mordred to Arthur and back repeatedly.
"Morgana." Arthur growled. "I thought I told you and Gwen to return to the castle." He looked only just able to keep a rein on his temper. "It is not safe for two young women to---."
"Oh posh," Morgana announced, going to Merlin's side and surprising him by linking her arm around his. "I was just having a nice conversation with Merlin and I do enjoy the place, don't you, Gwen?"
"I do." Gwen nodded.
Arthur's eyes narrowed harshly on Morgana's hold on Merlin. "You two have conversed before?"
"Right over there." Morgana motioned to where she'd been speaking with Merlin before. "I recognized him immediately and introduced myself. He's such a nice young fellow."
Mordred pouted at Morgana's hold on Merlin, but still eyed her curiously.
Morgana, sensing the gaze, turned her head and met that gaze, smiling at the child.
Mordred hid his face half in Merlin's shirt, yet kept sending everyone suspicious and outright curious expressions.
"Sire," a man came towards them and stopped, smiling at Merlin. "Young Merlin, how art thou doing?"
Merlin turned towards the knight, barely recognizing him in chainmail and sans the bruises and cuts and dried blood.
"I never introduced myself last time we met." The knight smiled friendly. "I am Sir Galahad, head knight to Prince Arthur."
Merlin smiled at him.
He'd genuinely liked the older man.
"It is good to see you well." Merlin smiled. "This is my friend, Will, and my son, Mordred." He missed the look of horror that crossed Arthur's face at those last four words, but he did notice the shock on Sir Galahad's.
The knight then got control over his emotions and smiled, nodding before turning to Arthur. "Milord, there is something I need for you to see."
Arthur turned and stormed away on what would seem like shaky legs.
Merlin watched him go, worried, wondering if maybe all of the injuries hadn't healed completely.
If this was the case he felt guilty, because it meant he'd been a poor physician and despite his best efforts the prince's wounds hadn't been tended to well enough.
Morgana let go of him and with a smile she walked away with Gwen after Arthur, both girls whispering low and rapidly to each other.
"Well," Will watched them go. "That has to be the worst part, right? Everything will be fine now?" He scratched his head. "I mean, they must have already bought whatever provisions, or gotten whatever it is that made them go out of their way and come through Ealdor, right?"
Merlin held Mordred closer.
The boy gave a contented sigh and hid his face in Merlin's neck.
"I mean," Will continued on. "They should leave any minute now, right?"
Merlin didn't answer, just stared off in the direction the nobles from Camelot had left.
He knew that they were a danger to him and Mordred, but he couldn't help feeling so cold as once again Arthur walked out of his life.
Morgana hesitated, looking at Arthur as he tended to his horse, his movements jerky, vicious. She sighed and looked at the knights and the others, who were all giving the prince a wide berth, completely terrified and smart enough to know that no one sane approached Arthur whenever he was in his fits.
And this was a royal fit to top all fits.
Growling, realizing that they were all waiting for her to do something, Morgana took in a deep breath and went toward the man she loved as a brother. "You know, I've been asking around as subtly as I can, and it looks as if Merlin doesn't have a wife."
She'd gotten straight to the point because that was her best option if she didn't want Arthur cutting her off mid-sentence and commanding some knight to forcefully take her and Gwen back to Camelot.
When Arthur was missing after his trip to King Cendred's kingdom, Morgana had dreamt of all the horrible things that'd happened to him, but she'd also dreamt of Merlin, and of how he'd taken care of Arthur, and that was the only thing that'd kept Morgana sane during the days of Arthur's disappearance.
She owed her brother's life to Merlin, and Arthur had obviously become smitten with his rescuer, so when Camelot's invasion of Mercia (as retribution for Bayard's attack on Arthur) proved successful and Bayard finally swore fealty, and Morgana had overheard some of the knights talking about Arthur planning to go to Ealdor to find his savior----she'd known she had to come too.
"He…doesn't?" Arthur kept his back to her, but his voice cracked slightly.
"No." Morgana sighed. Her brother was like a child when it came to Merlin. He'd been half in love with the younger man during his days of unconsciousness and he'd fallen further for some reason while in Camelot.
She knew Arthur's plan, also knew it was a front for what he truly wanted but didn't dare say out loud.
And she wanted to be here to support him and make sure he got what he wanted---what he needed to be happy.
And anyway, it wouldn't be coercion. She'd seen the way Merlin had looked at Arthur.
There was a definite attraction there, even if the peasant didn't exactly realize what he felt.
"What happened to the mother?" Arthur asked, still keeping his voice low.
"It took a while for me to wheedle this information out for you, you know, so be appreciative." Morgana menaced him sisterly. "These people are very protective of Merlin, they care for him dearly. But the few people I got to speak told me that after having Mordred the girl in question left Ealdor and went to King Cendred's court to work in the castle. She left the baby Mordred for Merlin to raise, and no one has heard of her since."
Arthur turned on his heel, eyes furious. "She abandoned them?"
Morgana nodded, having felt angered as well when she'd heard the story.
While Arthur was furious with the village girl for abandoning child and Merlin, he wasn't that dangerously furious anymore, even seemed contemplative.
Those who'd ventured with them from Camelot recognized this and sighed in relief from where they so hadn't been spying.
"This might still work." Arthur finally announced, looking up at Morgana and smiled. "Thank you."
Morgana smiled tenderly back.
This was why she'd come along even if he'd told her not to.
Her silly boy needed all the help he could get.
And what were sisters for anyway?