Title: The Heart of Magic
Author: Alice I
Betas: The Lady Isis, Katherine Moonhawk, with invaluable feed back from Oughtaknowbetter, Serialgal, dHALL and a special thanks to Shihan Randy Crudup for his input on the sword & staff fighting and stance lessons.
Disclaimers: Story based on the BBC TV series Merlin and what ever rights they have in association with the story or characters stand. Me? I own nothing, just check my bank account which ranges from zero to nothing on any given day.
Rating: No swearing, No sex, No slash, some action sequences and the violence that goes with men fighting with broadswords. Oh and one dead horse too.
Spoilers: The story takes place after the episode Excalibur and before the episode The Moment of Truth so spoilers for anything up to and including Excalibur.
Summary: Something sinister has happened in Camelot and by all appearances, it looks like Merlin is at the heart of it. The young warlock must battle through a mysterious ailment and profound malaise to find an answer that lies beyond magic.

1 - To my Numb3rs readers - see A/N below
2 - Merlin is depicted in this story as the nephew of Gaius. I read an interview with Richard Wilson posted here:
http: // www. lastbroadcast. co. uk/ tv /v / 6073 -richard-wilson-merlin-interview. html.
In the interview, Wilson states that his sister, Hunith, sent him her son to look after, making Merlin Gaius' nephew. I find it odd that this was never mentioned in the actual series but why would the actor who plays Gaius say this unless it were true? To read the article copy and paste the above address minus the spaces into your browser.
3 - I will not hold this story hostage to reviews, but it is very nice to get honest feedback from the readers. Please take a few moments of your time to tell me what you liked and what you didn't like about this story.
4 - To any and all Merlin fans - We have started a Merlin fic challenge on the writer's forum Calling All Authors. (link can be found from my profile page) Please stop by and jump in. The forum needs more Merlin fans to balance out the NCIS, Numb3rs and Supernatural fans! It would also be a great way to infuse the fandom with some new Merlin stories.

The Heart of Magic

Chapter One

Stunningly deep azure blue eyes, that for all their beauty were as cold as ice, stared up into his. Perfectly shaped ruby red lips turned up at the corners into a cruel smile as searing pain shot through his body like lightening. Terrified panic engulfed him as he fell to the ground, knowing that his life had come to an abrupt end at the hands of evil. His destiny unfulfilled; his life was cut down before he had a chance to make it meaningful. In a futile attempt to escape his tormentor he rolled to his side and as his vision narrowed he saw her hiding behind the door; a witness to his last moments in this world. Her eyes reflected the same terror that pulsed through his veins even as his life ebbed away. If she was discovered, she would surly die with him. He tried to shout but, no sound passed from lungs that had ceased to draw breath. Unwilling to accept defeat, his lips still formed the warning. "Run!"

As darkness encroached, he prayed that she had understood and taken advantage of the distraction his death would give her to escape. At least then his life would not have ended in vain. Before that very hope had passed through his mind, his entire being was ripped asunder in a flash of molten agony.

Merlin woke with a scream on his lips and sat up in bed, panting as he clawed at his chest trying to find purchase on something not seen or felt. Early morning light flooded his room through the open window, his short black hair plastered against his forehead, his breathing quick and shallow, and his eyes darted back and forth not understanding where he was or what was happening to him.

Merlin's panicked voice startled Gaius awake, causing him to fall out of bed and land hard on the stone floor. The old man rolled and gained his feet far more quickly than someone his age should have been able to, and he rushed up to Merlin's room, slamming open the door. Merlin was still groping at his chest, stark terror radiating from his blue eyes as he stumbled out of bed.

"Merlin! What is it? What's wrong?" Gaius cried as he crossed the room to the young man. He bent down and tried to help his apprentice up off the floor, but when he took hold of Merlin's hand, Gaius was shocked at how cold his skin was and noted with a practiced eye that the boy was extremely pale and covered in a clammy sweat. Gaius pulled him to his feet and guided him over to the bed. "Merlin, sit down and breathe for a moment." He commanded, gently but firmly.

Merlin looked around, seemingly recognizing his surroundings for the first time. He frowned as if slightly puzzled. "This is my room."

"Yes, Merlin, it is. You came in last night and went straight to bed. You didn't even eat any dinner. I assumed, at the time, that it was due to fatigue, but now it seems you may be ill." Gaius said, as he rubbed his back that was now sore from impacting the stone floor with such force.

Startled, Merlin looked at Gaius. "You saw me then? Did I look... alright?"

Gaius was becoming more concerned, but hid it behind frustration; not a difficult accomplishment as he arched his back to try and relieve the muscle cramp that had begun there. "Yes, Merlin, of course I saw you. You looked worn out. It isn't easy doing your work without the benefit of magic, but it is necessary in order to keep you safe. It may have seemed harsh to you, for me to forbid you to use any kind of magic for a week, but I'm just glad you are heeding my instructions for once. I nearly had a heart attack when you told me that Uther had almost caught you."

Merlin once again ran his hand over his chest then looked off through the open window. "It was just a dream then," he mumbled under his breath, halfway between relieved and frustrated.

Gaius frowned at Merlin, not quite hearing what he had said. "Merlin," Gaius held up his fingers and ticked off each symptom as he listed them. "your hands are like ice, your shirt is wet with sweat, and you seem to be having chest discomfort! Are you sure you are feeling alright?"

Anxiously, Gaius tried to place a hand on Merlin's forehead to check his temperature, but the young man leaned away from his touch, and Gaius decided not to pursue the action, dropping his hand.

"I'm fine - just had a rough night, that's all, and I'm not really awake yet." Merlin tried to smile sheepishly, but all he could form was a nervous grimace and at Gaius' doubtful look he continued. "Seriously, Gaius. Look." he said, pointing up at the window. "See the window was open all night. That must be why my hands are cold and why I had trouble sleeping."

Merlin realized on some level that his argument was wholly unconvincing considering that the nights had been almost a warm as the days over the last couple of weeks. The unconvinced look Gaius cast in his direction was proof enough of that.

"Well you need to get dressed then, and don't forget to eat some breakfast before you go out this morning. You had no dinner last night and I'll not allow you to leave before eating a proper meal."

"I will," Merlin quickly agreed. He knew Gaius just wanted to help, and only had his best interests at heart; he just wanted a few minutes alone to gather his thoughts. Gaius got up to leave still eying the young man with concern. Merlin caught his look and tried to grin nonchalantly. "I'm fine, Gaius, really."

Sighing in resignation, Gaius left; closing the door behind him.

Alone again, Merlin reached up with his fingers to tenderly rub his throbbing temples, trying to think. He couldn't believe how vivid his dream had been. In truth, nightmare would have been a far more accurate description. He could clearly remember the pain, even now as the last visages of deep sleep left him.

"It was so real." he whispered to himself, compulsively checking his chest again even though he knew he would find no sign of a mark. He shook his head and instantly regretted it as his world spun on its axis. The wave of dizziness passed quickly but it left him feeling queasy and certainly in no mood to eat.

The young warlock took his time getting dressed, feeling incredibly weak and wondering if perhaps Gaius was right in his assumption that he was coming down with something, however the last thing he wanted was to have to sit around all day in Gaius' chambers with nothing to do and unable to use any magic. He wouldn't break his promise to Gaius, but he was regretting agreeing to it in the first place. He was determined to go about his duties today regardless of how he felt.

When Merlin stepped down into the common room of Gaius' chambers he was greeted with a hot bowl of broth and a large chunk of bread.

"Sit, eat." the physician ordered gently.

Merlin looked uncertainly at the food but realized that he would never be able to get on with his day unless he humored his uncle. Gaius had commented on occasion about how slender Merlin was and the young man was in no mood to give his uncle more fodder for that argument. He had only gotten a few spoonfuls down when there was an urgent knocking at the door. Merlin immediately made to rise up and answer it when Gaius held up a hand. "Oh no you don't. I'll get the door, you finish your breakfast."

One of the castle guards, clad in silver chain mail and a red tunic, stood at the door looking a little pale himself. For a moment Gaius wondered if everyone was going to look like that today.

"Your presence is required immediately."

Merlin could see Gaius' back stiffen as he instantly went on alert and began gathering his basic supplies. "Is something wrong with the King or the Prince?"

The guard looked distressed that the court physician was taking time to gather supplies and bobbed uncertainly from foot to foot. He shrugged causing his chain mail to clink noisily as he replied. "I was sent to fetch you immediately by the King."

The court physician nodded his understanding and stuffed his things into the shoulder sack that Merlin used to gather herbs for him. He turned to look at Merlin sitting at the table and was once again struck by his faint pallor. "You finish that before you go anywhere." Gaius admonished before he left with the guard.

Merlin did his best to drink the broth and actually managed to finish about half of it. The bread was completely out of the question but he didn't want Gaius to give him a lecture about it so he wrapped it in a cheese cloth and stuffed it into one of his pockets for later if he got hungry.

When he stood up to leave he was struck again with a dizzy spell, but milder than the one in his room. He knew that he really was not very well that morning, but he refused to succumb to whatever it was and left to make his way to Arthur's chambers. The Prince's bed was a mess as usual, there were dishes and discarded food scattered across the table as usual, and Arthur was nowhere to be seen. He had, however, left a message for Merlin to take both sets of his armor from the armory to the training field and set up the targets for bow practice. Merlin sighed deeply knowing that this was bound to be a very difficult task given how tired and occasionally dizzy he felt, especially considering the fact that he couldn't use magic to help him accomplish the feat. There was no point in bemoaning how dreadful his day was bound to turn out, even if he did indulge himself in some outraged muttering. Instead he simply began the task of cleaning up Arthur's chambers - which seemed, if it was possible, even more chaotic than they usually did at this time in the morning. Once finished he could get down to the armory as soon as possible, all the while wishing that he had listened to Gaius and never gotten out of bed that morning.

Gaius had been called to the stables by the King due to a gruesome discovery made by the Lady Morgana. When he arrived with the guard sent to fetch him, Morgana was sitting down on a nearby stool looking as pale as Merlin had that morning. Distracted, Gaius began to worry that some virus or sickness may be sweeping through Camelot while simultaneously praying that was not the case.

The Lady was dressed in riding slacks with her long black hair tied up in a loose bun at the nape of her slender neck. Gwen, who always seemed to withstand the short hot summer days with more grace than commoner or gentry alike, stood by her lady's side, offering her a cup of water. Morgana looked terribly upset and sought out Gaius' eyes as soon as he came into view, but the court physician was called to the scene of the lady's distress by the King before he could tend to Morgana herself.

Standing just outside the doors to the royal stables, Uther, Arthur and several guards stood around a large pool of liquid which lay dark and sinister on the flagstones. Gaius became alarmed as he drew closer and realized that what stained the ground was blood. A lot of it.

"What has happened here?" he asked as he glanced in concern over his shoulder at Morgana.

Uther, dressed in full royal grab despite the oppressive heat of the last two weeks, stepped forward. "We were rather hoping you might be able to tell us. Morgana found this when she approached the stables this morning. The guards heard her scream and came running just as the poor girl fainted from shock."

"Where is the body of the person who was murdered here?" Gaius wanted to know.

Arthur, dressed only in his light red tunic and tan slacks, had been carefully stepping around the blood pool. His flaxen hair already hanging limply down his forehead in the early morning heat, still spoke in a voice that commanded authority for one so young. "That is the problem, Gaius. There doesn't seem to be a body. Could a person lose this much blood and walk away? I see no indication that someone was dragged off, there are no scuff marks..." he broke off and bent low, looking at something just under the opened door. "What is that?" the prince asked of no one in particular as he knelt down and reached behind the door. Gingerly, he pulled out a large whitish colored object that was covered in dried blood.

Gaius immediately stepped over to Arthur to get a closer look. "Let me see that."

He took the elongated curved object carefully from the prince. It was roughly cylindrical except for a definite curve down its length. The thicker end had an indentation in the center with three distinct lumps surrounding the indentation. The other end looked to have been sheered off as if broken. Gaius suddenly looked very concerned. "This looks like... "

"A tooth." Uther finished grimly.

Arthur scoffed at this assumption. "What animal has a tooth that size?"

Uther looked up at the sky then instructed the guards to count all of the horses to be sure none were missing. "Perhaps there is a reason there is no body to be found." He announced, his tone firm and morbid.

Arthur looked aghast and also scanned the sky. "That cannot be. There are no more..."

After a few moments the guards who had entered the stables to check on the livestock stepped back into the light of the morning sun. "All of the horses are accounted for, my Lord."

"If this is not the blood of a horse then what or whom is it from?" Uther asked, clearly expecting an answer as his mood became darker by the second.

Gaius looked at the tooth he held. A bloodstain on the ivory surface showed the distinct outline of someone's fingers. "What ever this thing is, my Lord, it was wielded by a human hand. Look here - you can see the outline of two fingers." Both Uther and Arthur leaned in closer to see what Gaius was talking about and they too saw the impression of two slender fingers that were very clearly human. "Judging by the size, it was held by someone small. A small man or possibly a woman."

He wrapped the object up to put in his robes, then knelt down to examine the blood on the ground. "This blood could have come from a person, but they wouldn't live long with a wound that bled this profusely. It is possible that a large man could sustain this amount of damage and walk away but he would be dead by day's end without medical attention."

Arthur didn't look convinced as he stepped back from the pool to gain a clearer picture of the surrounding area. "If someone were to have walked away with such a grievous injury there would be evidence of that, a trail of blood, but clearly there is none. Whoever this blood is from must have been carried away, and carried away with care so as to ensure not one more drop was split."

Uther was inclined to agree with Arthur on this. Gaius frowned shaking his head at the terrible evidence of violence then glanced over to the Lady Morgana before lowering his voice. "As you say we are probably looking for a body, but there is still a possibility that the wound was bandaged long enough to walk away without leaving a trail. I suggest you search for anyone who is injured. Even if their wounds were bandaged and hidden from view, losing this much blood would leave signs. If the person was already dead then that must mean the body is here in the city for there would be no way to move the dead out of the city gates during the night past the guards."

Arthur's head snapped up at that comment and turned to the guards standing close by. "Go to the gates and be sure that all carts are checked. In this heat it shouldn't take long for a dead body to make it's presence known."

Uther was thankful that there wasn't evidence that pointed to a dragon flying around Camelot killing livestock or harming his people, but he was deeply disturbed that an apparent murder had occurred within his city walls and more troubling, in front of the royal stables. If a murderer could get this close to the royal household, commit a murder and dispose of the body without a sign, the person responsible could strike again. "We will declare a curfew until we find out what has happened here. Gaius, you said that someone so grievously injured would show signs; what sort of signs?"

"This person would be pale, weak and cold to the touch." As soon as the words left his mouth Gaius thought of Merlin.


A/N - To my Numb3rs readers - School is now back in session, and with this story done I resolve to spend the rest of my writing time finishing my last Numb3rs story, 'Methods of Intolerance'. I apologize for the long delay. Merlin quite literally hijacked my muse and refused to surrender it until I had written this little tale.