Uther is weighted by his decision to burn those healing Druids – magic has no lines, and neither will his campaign, but that doesn't make him feel any better – as he opens the door to his chambers.
And he stops dead in his tracks.
"What are you doing here?" he hisses at the sorceress standing above Arthur, hand already on the sword on his hip.
"What do you think?" she says, voice holding none of the warmth of the girl he once knew, as a small basket fills with all of Arthur's clothing, and blankets, and a few small toys, as well. "I thought you were going to keep to tradition? Give him his own room from birth? Shame, Uther."
The coldness in her voice, mixed with rage and ire and irony, it scares him, coming from her of all people.
"What are you planning?" he growls, again, stepping into the room, step by careful step.
"He is the last link to Igraine I have," she says. "I brought him into this world, and he pushed Igraine out – I feel…he should come with me. Right now, he can still be magically inclined. How's that? The son of the Destroyer of Magic apprenticed to the most powerful sorceress in Albion-"
"Don't you dare," he says, unsheathing his sword, now.
"Tell me, Uther, why do you keep him here? Surely you would want to be a proper king, and have him with a nursemaid?" she asks, with a smirk, as the impossibly small basket shuts, the room suddenly half empty as all of Arthur's things are gone.
"I wish to keep my son close," he says.
"Oh, don't give me that."
"Fine," he says, coldly. "I wish to keep the last true connection to Igraine I have left close to me as much as possible."
That stops her.
"Of course," she says, slowly, slyly, making him think of snakes and scorpions and other sneaky, poisonous creatures best not to contend with. "Only yourself, eh?"
"And Camelot," Uther says. "Arthur deservse Camelot, and Camelot deserves Arthur. Leave now and I-"
"Will do nothing, which is exactly the problem," she says. She is still wearing the dress she was wearing when he threw her out, almost a month ago, and for all the typical marks of a life without shelter would be, she might as well have left yesterday, clean and pristine as she is. "Tell me, those healing Druids, what did they do?"
"Consort with magic-"
"Like you?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
"It was a mistake – and one I plan to shelter my people from making, themselves, however unintentionally it might become." He cocks his head to study her with narrowed eyes. "Why are you taking my son away from me?"
"You tried to take away the last piece of the love of my life away from me," the blasted witch says. "I am simply returning the favor. Learn the pain of losing a loved one in such a brutal way."
His eyes narrow in horror, and rage.
"You think I don't know what it is to lose a love?" he yells, storming towards her, grabbing his arm and pressing the blade against her neck as he yells, "Thanks to you, I know exactly how that feels! It is all I can feel, lately!"
"That would explain a lot," she hisses. "If all you can feel is rage and pain and grief – I would be doing everyone a favor in taking Arthur away from you!"
He presses the blade into the flesh of her neck, a thin red line appearing from it.
"Don't. You. Dare. Leave Camelot, you vile thing, and never darken her lands again!"
Beside him, Arthur floats.
His eyes widen in shock, now, but he keeps his gaze on her as beside him, his sleeping son floats up, out of the bassinet, into the air, and to the ceiling, hovering just a hand's length away from it.
"Kill me now, and he will either die from the fall, or end up so injured and deformed that you will have to kill him, anyway," she says. "At least with me, he will live."
His chest labors as he breathes in terror and fury. "You…you wouldn't…"
She jerks her head to the smoke outside. "Grief makes people do strange, strange things, Uther Pendragon. You of all people should know this."
He swallows, and lets go of her arm, his heart shattering at the smug look on her face as she backs away from him.
With a bizarre sigh from her, Arthur floats right back into her arms.
"Don't worry, my little prince," she coos to the baby in her arms, for a moment looking like the girl she was the day after Igraine's funeral, sweet and kind and loving, and maybe somewhere deep down, when she had Arthur in her arms, this last piece of Igraine in her arms, she still was.
"Nimueh…" he says, finally saying, thinking, her name. "You cannot…you cannot take him from Camelot…if not from me, then-"
"Camelot will have him back, one day," she says. "Maybe. She doesn't need Arthur – I know about succession."
"Then you know the wars it can cause!"
"Camelot is already at war – what is one more?" her smirk grows cruel. "Let us see you fashion a kingdom out of that, Uther Pendragon."
She turns down to Arthur, again. "Where shall we go first, my prince? We have the whole world before us, away from this wretched kingdom and your hateful father…"
If…If…If she took him away…Uther knew he would never see his son again.
No…no. He has already lost his wife, his friend, and his lover in them both. He would not lose his son, too – his only family left.
"NO!" he screamed, sword rising, and he aimed just underneath his son as he raged forward.
Nimueh hadn't seen that coming, and when the red faded from Uther's vision, he realized he hadn't either.
Nimueh stares at the sword protruding from her stomach, and the blood spurting forth from it, for a moment, before she starts to fall off his sword, the angle of the sword enabling such, as Uther leaves it in her and reaches for Arthur, pulling the still-sleeping babe into his arms.
She lands on the bed, gasping, before she reaches down with shaking hands and clutches the blade just above her skin, and with a darkening of her eyes and a look of agonized focus, the blade slips out, over the corner, and clatters to the floor.
Uther pulls his son close to his body, tight, relieved that his son hadn't even woken, let alone been harmed, and not giving a damn how unarmed this leaves him.
He turns to his once-friend, once-lover, and says, "I will protect my son. Not the prince of Camelot, not the future king – but my son."
She stares at him, her hands glowing slightly, before her blood is seeping back into her wound, the skin repairing, even the cloth stitching back into its proper dress-shape.
Nimueh stands before him, fully repaired in body, and absolutely shattered in heart and splintering in mind.
"Uther's son is protected," she says, coldly, her body seeming to fade into the very air around her. "Is Igraine's?"
And with that, the last vestige of his once-best-friend vanishes into the air and magic around him.
He pulls the infant tight to his body as he walks slowly over to the door, opens it, and yells, "Guard – find a page and get a chambermaid in here! There is blood to clean up!"
The guard nods, before his eyes widen when he sees Uther's chambers, and says, "Your highness, is everything-"
"Yes, yes," he says. "A sorceress, she's gone, but her blood is not. I need my entire bedding changed to sleep here, tonight."
"Right away, sire," the guard says, leaving as he calls for a castle page.
That night, Uther sleeps clutching his baby, his son, his Arthur, close to him all night, and sleeps with fear in his heart and determination in his soul, all of it fuelled by the little infant in his arms.
Camelot would have her king.
And Uther would have his wife's soul and heart in his arms, in Arthur.
"The battle is over," Lionel said as he kneeled before Uther.
Morgana had been wrong. And right.
Powys hadn't expected the size of Uther's forces. They were willing to surrender.
What Morgana hadn't seen was that Mercia would offer their help – and Powys would take it.
Thankfully, however, he wasn't hurt at all, and Arthur quite mildly, and there were few casualties on all sides.
"Prince Arthur is rounding up the knights to get a full recount of the battle," Lionel continued.
"And the treaty talks?" he asked.
"Not until this evening, sire – Bayard needs a bit more time to sort through his army."
"Very well – tell the men to rest and recuperate, but be on guard tonight, just in case this is some ploy on Bayard's part."
Gawain nodded as Uther headed towards the command tent, walking in to see Arthur, Lucan, Kay, and the few other injured knights being tended to by Elaine and Merlin.
"Just bandage it up and let me go," Arthur snapped at Merlin.
"I have to put on the poultice!" Merlin snapped right back, Elaine and the other knights looking on the debacle, amused. "Otherwise you'll get an infection-"
"I have men to attend to-"
"Do you want to attend to them with one leg?"
"I have both legs!"
"If the wound gets infected, you'll have to chop the damn thing off!"
Arthur growled, but nodded in consent, and Merlin immediately kneeled before Arthur to apply the paste. He looked frustrated by something which didn't appear to have to do with Arthur, himself.
Come to think of it, so did Arthur.
"Father," Arthur said in greeting upon noticing Uther. "I'm sorry to not be out there-"
"Don't be," Uther said, cutting him off as a squire came to help him out of his armor, joining the carefully laid out sets of the other present knights' armors. "I would prefer you taking a few minutes longer in here than to lose your leg."
Merlin smirked and some of the knights snorted as Arthur blushed, slightly, but otherwise said, "Yes, Father. According to Bedivere, we lost only one knight and twelve foot soldiers."
"Let us count our blessings that these are the only casualties we have," Uther said, taking the cup of water Elaine offered as he said, "Rest easy – by sunset, I want a full guard ready, again, in case Bayard is lulling us into false peace."
"Yes, sire," the knights all nodded, including Arthur, as Merlin finished off applying the various pastes, still looking vaguely annoyed – which was strange, considering Arthur was actually sitting still for it – as he started wrapping the bandages. Even Arthur looked annoyed at the other knights, though he hid it very well. If Uther hadn't been looking for it, from Merlin, he wouldn't have found it.
Hilariously enough, this time, nothing in particular triggered his realization. As he left, mind turning over Merlin's method of treatment, he pondered how it might work with magic, and realized that was it – with others around, Merlin could not use magic.
It seemed Arthur had become accustomed to magic. Hm, he hoped Merlin was willing to learn more advanced healing spells, as the more Arthur got used to them, Uther knew Arthur would become more and more reckless-
He almost froze on the spot when he realized what he thought. He hoped Merlin would learn more.
Directing the soldiers and knights with only half a mind on it, Uther felt his mind start to resemble the battlefield at the realization that he knew full well about Merlin's magic, and was never going to touch him.
He knew he would see nothing but Arthur's blood in his eyes if he so much as tried.
Lord knew even thinking about it, right now, made him see Igraine's.
Uther is caught somewhere between shock and expectation when the candles flicker out around him, and he turns to see her beside him.
And just like always, she is wearing the dress he sent her away in, looking like it just happened yesterday, while he has aged years and years beyond his time with his duty as king.
"I should've known," he says, and really, he should have. Tristan? Nimueh would harness his rage and grief against the royal family, against him. The dead man's sorrow is palpable, and still was to this today – he can almost feel the Black Knight.
"It is more than I had hoped for, Uther. Soon Arthur will be slain, and you will have sent him to his death."
When did she become so articulate?
And when did her hatred of Uther eclipse her love of Igraine, manifesting in Arthur?
"Haven't you tired of revenge?" he asks, genuinely wondering so.
"Haven't you?" Wincing, he refuses to acknowledge that she might have a point. "You began this war when you threw me from the court and slaughtered all of my kind."
"You brought it on yourselves – you practiced evil," he says, because it was evil. He has seen its corruptive forces, seen what it can do to a kingdom when powered by greed and rage. And when is it not? Anyone with power always craves more.
Except, he can control a high-minded knight, or a slithering nobleman. But he cannot contain, truly control, a warlock like he needs to.
He cannot allow that in his kingdom.
And Nimueh knows this all too well.
"I was your friend, Uther, you welcomed me, here!" she cries out, sorrow and indignation evident in her voice.
"You betrayed that friendship." She threatened to kill Gaius, tried to kill Uther, and paved the way to kill Igraine. She was no friend, not of the Pendragon family.
"I did as you asked." He never asked for their deaths. "I used the magic you so despised to give your barren wife the son you craved."
And the harsh tone in her voice, of Igraine, is so unlike her, that he can't bear to hear Igraine spoken like that, and he can't bear to hear Nimueh speak of her like that.
"Don't. Ever speak of her in that way! She was my heart. My soul. And you took her from me."
She doesn't flinch, doesn't shy away.
She doesn't respond at all.
The magic has taken over her, he is sure of it.
"She died giving birth to your son," she says, sounding almost desperate. "It was not my choice. That is the law of magic. To create a life, there had to be a death. The balance in the world had to be repaid."
He is starting to get sick of that word.
And people are born and people die every day – why did one life matter so much to the Old Religion? 'A price,' she had said, but why? Someone is already paying it, why must he?
"You knew it would kill her."
He still remembers those words of death and life pouring out of his wife's lips, remembers the guilt he felt when he was almost willing to kill Gaius for Arthur, remembers telling Nimueh, in the end, to forget about the entire thing, remembers the joy of finding out about Igraine's pregnancy, only to have that ripped away when Nimueh said it was her doing.
His best friend killed the love of his life.
That is what he remembers.
"No. You're wrong," she says, with startling and typical conviction in her voice. "If I had foreseen her death, and the terrible retribution you would seek, I would never have granted your wish."
Would she have?
He wonders what he would have done if he had seen what would happen.
"I wish you hadn't." And there – he hates himself for it, how he often wishes to not have wasted Igraine's life on Arthur's, and hates how that comes out in his thoughts, but there it is. He never was particularly good at hiding things from Nimueh, no matter how often he still did manage it.
"You wish you didn't have a son?"
He cannot and will not answer.
He has no answer, and he hates it.
She smirks, a look that had once been so foreign on her face now looking so at home on it, it rips his heart and guts to shreds with one glance.
"Well, your wish will come true, tomorrow."
And she says that with such surety and conviction, like she used to when promising to learn a complicated spell or help Igraine with her stitching or even just when she promised she would wear a courtier's dress without cocking anything up…
And she always succeeded.
It cannot and will not happen.
"I will not let you take him," he says, remembering the night she tried to take Arthur from him, steal the baby away in the night.
He meant it then and means it now.
Her gaze no longer wavers at him, and it never truly did, for she had always looked royalty in the eye, despite her serving status and Igraine's royal one.
"I have watched so many people I love die at your hands, Uther Pendragon. Now it is your turn."
When she vanishes, he hates himself for having left Arthur so defenseless against magic, and for the way he misses her presence by his side.
"Gaius?" he called out into the physician's chambers - just to make sure.
No response. Good.
He knocked on Merlin's door, a moment, before shoving it open – also empty. Excellent.
At first, he simply opted to set his note down on the center of his pillow - considering how much of a mess the rest of his bed was, that was least likely place he would miss it – and leave, but then, just before he left...he remembered all of Gaius's books. Well, it helped he could see them, but still.
Specifically, he remembered wandering in here many a time to find Nimueh reading, her lips moving as she mouthed out the sounds to herself, her reading a little less sure than the warlock which currently resided in these rooms.
Turning sharply on his heel, keeping a careful ear out for footsteps down the hall - trained from years of avoiding his wife in this very room - he started searching.
He started with the cupboard, to quickly find just a few piles of rags and clothes stuffed in there - honestly, armed with magic, why can't he keep his own damn rooms clean? - and quickly set about the rest of the room. Under the bed, at first, was most promising, but he didn't find anything, at first...until considering that the boy might already know concealing spells and glamours.
Then he tapped the floorboard - hollow underneath. Either the boy was truly clever in avoiding using glamours, or he was truly an idiot for using a bloody floorboard.
And really, it was just sad and pathetic that he's wound his mind so tight around this entire matter that Merlin can either be the world's biggest idiot or a veritable genius, and that there might not even be a difference, with him.
He shook his head as he lazily kicked aside a few more piles of laundry, some of it the boy's, some of it Arthur's, and some of it Gaius's - if he weren't certain that Gaius knew of Merlin's magic, he would worry about the man attempting to run Merlin ragged on purpose - finding mostly a few medical books and parchments underneath. These, he was more careful about placing back where he found them. Some were random notes on political situations - in Arthur and Merlin's handwriting, so apparently, Arthur was trying to teach Merlin about politics, and who knows, maybe the boy could be useful to Arthur in more ways than magic, one day - and some notes on herbs and their properties Gaius was trying to teach him. There was one book on Roman war tactics, in Latin - how well did Merlin know the language, now? He'd have to test the boy - and a few more books on medical science.
It was practically behind the bedpost that he found a magic book. Near as he could tell, from the way it was hidden, the boy was in a rush this morning...and had also apparently grown complacent with his magic over time. He smirked at the letter on the bed, knowing that would change very, very soon.
His eyes widened, though, as he opened the book and realized...it was Nimueh's favorite book. While it certainly covered far from every spell, it had the widest range of random spells. A little bit of everything.
There were little slips of parchment here and there, notes from Merlin. In some of the blank pages in the back, he could see additions from the boy, himself - his knowledge of the Old Tongue apparently let him start to create his own spells, already, despite having far from mastered the art…abomination…art, of magic, himself.
He knew Nimueh had given Gaius the book for safekeeping – and he allowed Gaius this one last relic, to keep Gaius sane and to have a last resort source of information if necessary – but to know that Merlin now had it…
Shutting the book, he ran his hands down the familiar spine, and even while he was assaulted with a particularly bizarre memory of being hit with the book while he was drunk and Nimueh was in a fit, all he could feel was that Arthur was safe.
Nimueh had kept her lover's son safe, after all.
Merlin frowns as he sees the small, folded letter on his bed, and his eyebrows shoot up – probably too much time with Gaius – when he sees that it's actually addressed to him.
He casts a quick spell to detect for any poisons or curses, and finding none, picks it up and unfolds it.
His eyes widen with every word he reads.
You need not concern yourself with my identity. I know you are a warlock. And I do truly believe that magic is a corruptive force which Camelot deserves to be free of.
However, I have seen you protecting Arthur with your life. You also seem to hold his heart in your hand, and yet you do nothing but treasure it.
I have heard, and said, that to know the heart of one sorcerer is to know them all. But a single heart can have many pieces to it, shattered and when whole, both.
The part of a sorcerer's heart that dictates your actions, your loyalty, and your protection of the Prince, is small, indeed, and rare. But it is strong, and powerful, especially when it has a focus, as you do, in the Prince of Camelot.
I hope that this is the only piece of a sorcerer's heart that you possess. You are powerful, this much is evident. You have so much potential, and especially so much potential to choose the dark path, to kill the king, and place Arthur on the throne, as your puppet. You have immense and easy capability of taking over Camelot by taking over her heart.
And yet, all you do is protect Arthur, and cherish the prince as if he were part of your own mind, soul, and body, and you simply bide your time until he is king to let your true self and powers be known.
Continue to do so, and you will remain under the eye of the law. If you reveal yourself, I will offer no help, anonymously or otherwise. Your discretion is on your own head.
I am watching you closely. And if you whisper one word of this to anyone – including Arthur, or Gaius, or anyone else who already knows of your magic – then it will also be on your head, and you will find yourself on the executioners block before you can blink.
And believe me, I will know if you do.
"Oh, shit," he says, collapsing onto his bed.
Merlin stares at the letter in shock until he hears the door opening, and quickly shoves it under his pillow as Gaius comes in.
"Merlin?" Gaius says, seeing the slightly panicked look on Merlin's face. "Are you all right?"
And believe me, I will know if you do.
"Er…just Arthur being a prat," Merlin says, and Gaius rolls his eyes and leaves, and Merlin breathes a sigh of relief, shutting his door, turning back to his pillow, and the letter underneath it, a speculative look in his eye as he pulls it out, and set to studying the handwriting itself, trying to find if he can recognize who it belonged to.
As yet another council meeting ended, and Arthur told Merlin, "Make sure my bath is drawn when I get back from training," and left, Uther called out to the boy, "You – seeing as you actually have an useful skill, put it to use – organize these parchments."
"Yes, sire," Merlin said, a slightly resigned tone for the addition to his chore load in his eyes, even though Uther, himself, was starting to sort some of the papers, as well.
Then again, he doubted anyone would be truly surprised at him acting like this. He did have his occasional bouts of paranoia concerning these papers.
Not like anyone blamed him, after the mis-sorted grain line debacle from five years ago.
Once the rest of the council members had left (at least appropriately folding and rolling up the papers and closing the ledgers before leaving, most likely because they saw Uther, himself, going through them), Uther and Merlin worked in fair, efficient silence. The boy was still slightly jumpy around him, but for the most part seemed happy to just focus single mindedly on the task before him.
If Uther hadn't known…
"There," Uther said, vaguely pointing to his general area around his seat as he moved up the row of seats to separate crop accounts from army finances. "Deal with those."
As Merlin neared, Uther quietly pushed the papers in the servant's direction and pretended to busy himself with wine, while looking over the summary of the meeting, of the kingdom's money and its paths, as Merlin skimmed through his papers to sort through the mess.
Once he heard total silence, not even the sound of shuffling papers, he looked up.
As he drank the wine, he smirked as the blood drained out of his manservant's face while reading Uther's notes. Probably recognizing the handwriting right about now.
The idiot still managed to at least try and push some papers together, halfheartedly, before he stopped and looked up shakily as Uther started leaving, considering his ultimate goal done. Merlin opened his mouth, then closed it, and Uther turned on his heel and headed out.
Uther paused at the door, and turned around. "I meant every word I said, Merlin Emrys. And if any harm should befall my son, I will hold you responsible. And I advise more caution in your secrecy – if anyone else catches you, I will put you to death."
As the servant's eyes widened and his jaw dropped, he said simply, "And I also meant every word I said about mentioning this to anyone. Your discretion is on your head. This conversation, this entire debacle, never happened."
"…sire?" he asked, his brain finally catching up. Bloody hell, and this boy was a powerful sorcerer? It was moments like these that made him realize why it was Merlin was able to fool them all for so long: even without the acting, the boy really was an idiot. An occasionally intelligent (never smart), and very powerful idiot, but an idiot nonetheless.
"I once told you to look after him," he said. "I meant it."
He left the chambers swiftly, leaving absence and the oppressive silence of an immense council hall to do the work of intimidation for him, and when he got his chambers, he smiled to himself at a job well done, knowing his son was protected by Merlin, and Merlin was now at least guarded in his caution.
All in all – he may have finally gotten something with magic right.
"You know," Nimueh said, slyly, as she and Uther hid from Igraine, again, in Gaius's spare chamber, and he finished telling her his plan to change the outcome of Mercia's war with Powys without ever actually entering the war, itself. "You are one manipulative bastard."
He grinned. "Why, thank you, milady."
"I'm not a lady," she huffed. "And, you're welcome…I think."
They looked each other in the eyes with blank faces, before they broke out grinning.
"I really do hope we never change," Nimueh said, before she suddenly held out her hand, palm up, and he took it, almost like a knight would a lady, but not quite – something far more powerful on both their parts.
"I swear to be your friend until the day I die," she said, softly.
"And I so swear the same to you," he said.
A tight squeeze, and they let go, as he asked, "Was that bound by magic?"
She shook her head, and said simply, "Hope."
Thurhhaele – heal, imperative singular
Dunnath – be invisible, imperative plural
Frícath ac me – dance for me, imperative singular
Setlath – rest, imperative plural
Ich ágiefe ae min thée – I give my life to you, present simple
Update: All these spells are in Old English, which is the language they use for the spells on the show. Because of all the interest in it, there is now a link on my profile (under "My Links", it's the very first one - "Old English") which goes to a post on my LiveJournal which explains Old English, explains the language, and has links to the best websites and translators for Old English, and also has some bonus stuff on runes and charms specifically for Merlin writers. :D
Title from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act IV, Scene 1:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
A/N:Thank you for reading. This is the last installment, so please review!