Rating: M (for safety)
Camelot: a slightly altered reality
His heartbeat raced as he shuffled down the long corridor, gripping tightly to his mother's hand to anchor himself to the person whom he loved most. Her reassuring smile temporarily soothed his fluttering tummy and he responded to her gentle squeeze with the easing of his death grip. He was thankful for his mother's presence in this place which seemed so intimidating to so fragile and small a boy.
It was strange, shiny and worlds apart from Ealdor, the village up until recently he had called home. Even at such a young age Merlin had grasped from his mother's whispered words to the "doctor man" that they wouldn't ever be going back. He loved the older man who had provided them with a place to stay but still wished that they were only visiting his "Uncle Gas". Merlin scrunched up his nose as he wondered again why the grown ups laughed whenever he said his beloved Uncle's name.
Adults were silly. He and Will had agreed solemnly on this the previous month and it had been confirmed when he had been told by his mother that they would be leaving Ealdor. He had cried softly, quietly, not wanting his mother to hear him.
He wasn't a baby anymore; he was eight years old and the man of the house.
It was easy to forget those brave thoughts now that they were actually here, in Camelot, the biggest and scariest place in the world. The boisterous, fun loving Will had cried at the thought of his best friend leaving and Merlin had tried to hold in his own sobs as he had listened to his mother tell Will that he could always visit and that Camelot was an exciting, fun place to live.
For now, the almost constant ache for his old home and friends had subsided and uncertainty ruled as Merlin felt increasingly anxious of what awaited him through the vast wooden doors at the end of this seemingly endless corridor. As long as he had his mother he told himself then everything should be okay.
"Welcome, I'm Miss Dupree, you must be Hunith and where is...?"
Peeking around the skirts of his mother was hardly brave behaviour and the thought of Will shaking his head in disapproval brought his chin jutting up and also faintly apprehensive blue eyes.
The smiling eyes which met and held his were warm and Merlin instantly relaxed as this woman had eyes like his mother, they danced and her smile lit them up.
His mother had always told him to watch a person's eyes to see to their heart. For some reason this had stuck in his head and whenever he was introduced to someone new he found himself gazing searchingly into their eyes to see what story they told. On one occasion he had heard Uncle Gas asking why he was staring so intently at his neighbour's cow and had laughed heartily when Merlin had responded "To see into the cow's heart." He had thought he had heard him mutter something like "Clever Hunith" but it hadn't been something to linger on as Merlin heartily agreed that his mother was extremely clever.
Deciding to like this woman he held out a pale, fragile hand, open and palm upwards in offering.
Her delighted laugh echoed around the room and the hand which received his own enveloped it warmly and Merlin couldn't help differentiating between this ladies soft, smooth grip as compared to his mother's rougher one. Feeling as if this thought was somehow a betrayal Merlin swiftly pulled away and slipped his hand into his mother's nearest one that lay by her skirts.
He continued to smile shyly though to show that he still liked this new person in his life.
The two adults now began to talk amongst themselves as Merlin darted quick glances around the room with Miss Dupree partially blocking his view. He could make out scattered toys and could see a couple of other children playing tig but that was all.
The kiss which was pressed to the top of his head brought his attention back to his mother in fright as he heard her say that she had to go to assist with delivering potions. Peering into his wide frightened eyes she promised that she would be back in time for lunch and that today he only had to remain for the morning.
The sound of the door slamming shut behind her seemed so final to Merlin and he suddenly couldn't prevent the long suppressed tears from falling down over his soft cheeks.
"She'll be back before you know it love and meanwhile why don't you come with me and I can get you a drink and find something for you to do that you enjoy."
Miss Dupree had knelt in front of him, taken his hands and was softly attempting to calm the sobbing infant who shook so helplessly.
Listening to her soothing voice was working and Merlin's breaths were coming now in a more regular pattern and he had ceased to cry. His face was flushed now as he remembered where he was.
"I would never make such a spectacle of myself."
The disgusted tone, despite the fact that he didn't understand fully the word spectacle-wasn't that what Gas used when he was reading, made Merlin's lip tremble once more as he could still understand when someone was being unkind. Merlin was used to hearing people muttering behind his back and had soon realised that even if you didn't understand what they were saying you could tell a lot by their tone of voice or expression.
He still couldn't make out clearly the other people in the room or the owner of that voice as he was standing behind Miss Dupree hidden from sight.
"Arthur Pendragon, I have spoken to you about your behaviour already today. Merlin is new and you especially should be trying to make him believe that Camelot is a wonderful place to live."
She had her back to him but Merlin could tell by how she was holding herself stiffly that Miss Dupree wasn't pleased with this boy Arthur's comments. She moved to get a drink for Merlin revealing the room to his mortified eyes. Several children, both girls and boys, sat dotted around the room either playing or talking among themselves. Desks sat in one half of the room awaiting the beginning of class.
He instantly found his gaze caught by that of another boy who looked to be slightly older than him. His icy blue eyes seemed to be studying Merlin carefully as if to judge his worth. For some reason it was dreadfully important that he make a good impression and Merlin unconsciously found himself straightening his back and looking directly across at him. The boy was sturdily built and reminded Merlin slightly of Will in that respect although in no way did he resemble him in other ways. There was only one way to describe him and that was haughty. Will on the other hand was down to earth and mischievous.
He wondered who the boy with the blonde, almost golden, hair was that he felt that he had the right to look down his nose at someone he didn't even know.
Then Merlin had his answer and wondered why he hadn't realised sooner.
"Arthur you can give this to Merlin as a peace offering."
Merlin watched the boy break eye contact, produce one final sneering glare before marching over to bring the goblet back to him.
"Here." It was thrust into Merlin's chest and he hastily caught hold of it before it fell.
Watching the boy march off he couldn't help what happened next. Maybe it was because he felt so alone, or because he missed Ealdor, or just maybe it was simply because he felt hurt by the other boy's comment.
"Prat." As soon as the word slipped past his lips he regretted it. There was truth in it but he didn't want to cause any upset for his mother.
The boy froze then turned to stare disbelievingly before racing over to push Merlin to the ground. He yelped and tried to stand up but found himself held down by the stronger boy. His eyes narrowed and then suddenly Arthur was falling over a stray toy train that had materialised beside his feet.
Miss Dupree came storming over.
"Boys, what is going on over here? Arthur this is no way for the future King to behave."
He gulped as Arthur glowered and stomped over to where a crowd of boys stood, also glaring at Merlin.
"Are you okay, want to tell me about it?" Her gentle smile encouraged him to open up but Merlin decided that it would only make things worse so he bit his lip and looked down before stumbling over to an unoccupied corner to take hold of a jigsaw on which he could focus his attention.
He tried to ignore the stabbing looks that were being directed at him the entire time.
"I hope that he's getting on okay, it is his first day today."
Gaius paused in the middle of the creation of one of his potions to study the worried expression on his dear friend's face.
"Hunith he'll be fine. You did the right thing bringing him here and together we'll manage to conceal his abilities and also provide him with support to learn to control them."
Her sigh was long suffering as Hunith recalled the many times where Merlin had come close to revealing his true self to the villagers of Ealdor. It was true that Camelot was a more populated place and it was less likely that Merlin would be the focus of all eyes. She couldn't help it, she still felt nervous.
He was her only child.
She supposed that it was a mother's job to be anxious.
Merlin had started his first lessons at the private school located within Camelot Castle and he couldn't have been given a more advantageous start to his life here.
Still she fretted and wondered how he would co exist with the sons and daughters of noblemen. After all, it was only down to Gaius's relationship with King Uther that he had been accepted at all.