A/N: Hey I'll bet you all thought I'd forgotten about this story or given up on it. Well one of my new years resolutions is to get my WIPs done! I have a compleated Primeval story I can't really post until I finish at least one of my WIPs.
I would like to thank Expecto Kiwiland for jumping in to beta the final chapters of this story. Thanks for reading and I hope the wait was worth it.
Square Peg Round Hole
Grigor set a jogging pace for himself that amounted to a slow cantor for the horses. He felt the strong need to put a good distance between himself and the bandits they had fought, even though he knew none of the men were in any condition to follow them. By the time he drew close to the ridge that separated him from the small camp of knights, Grigor was panting hard and needed to stop to catch his breath. There were still a few hours left before sunrise, and with luck they should be able to complete their mission.
Grigor tied the horses off to a low hanging branch in a small clearing before moving off to climb a short hill that overlooked a sheltered glade where Prince Arthur and his men slept. Peering over the ridge he looked down at the camp. The fire that burned was barely more than embers casting so little light that he couldn't make out which sleeping figure was the Prince. The guard on duty was slowly pacing the parameter of the camp, clearly alert to any sound. Grigor's heart sank. He knew that he would not be able to get past the watchful eyes of the guard without being seen or heard. He considered creating a diversion, but quickly dismissed the idea. Any sort of diversion would wake the rest of the knights. From a tactical standpoint there was no option. The sleeping figures were not positioned in a way that they could be easily identified from a distance, the sentry was awake a vigilant, the forest was quiet in the pre-dawn dark. There was not even the crackle of the campfire to cover the sounds of approaching footsteps.
As Grigor sat quietly trying to figure out how he was going to make this work, Eryl squatted down beside him looking down at the encampment as well. The ancient druid had made no sound and appeared to just suddenly be there as if by magic, though the young apprentice knew better. Grigor was still stunned at how his master could creep up so silently, but what took him by surprise was the nearly inaudible voice of his master. "It seems the Gods are smiling on us."
Grigor turned a confused face to the ancient druid. How could there be hope in this situation? Eryl only smiled and stared down; his eyes following the guard circling the parameter. Grigor turned his attention back to the scene below and as the guard turned to begin his slow trek back toward the east end of the camp the moonlight illuminated his features. The guard was Prince Arthur.
Hope blossomed in the young man; this made things much less complicated as the young man began in his mind to form a new plan to get Arthur away from the camp. Before Grigor could come up with a solid idea the Prince stopped and began peering intently at the thick wooded terrain on the far end of the ridge where he and Eryl lay conceled.
Looking back he saw Eryl sitting cross-legged with eyes closed as a softly spoken incantation caused a small globe of blue light to form in the druid's hand. Turning back to the scene below, Grigor saw that the Prince had carefully begun to move toward the ridge. Chancing detection, the young man stood up trying to see what had attracted Prince Arthur's attention. An identical glowing orb as that of the one in Eryl's hand bobbed gently through the forest leading the Prince directly toward them.
Grigor sat back down more than a little stunned. The idea was ingenius and not something he would have thought of himself. The young man briefly wondered why the Crowned Prince of Camelot would wander after the softly glowing orb without first waking one of the others, but he had little time to consider the matter as he caught sight of a faint blue glow coming around the hill, moving closer to their position. Eryl remained sitting with eyes closed seemingly deep in concentration, so Grigor quickly withdrew the sealed parchment that the Secret Keeper had given him and stood in front of his master shielding him from the approaching knight. Grigor bowed his head and held the message out as footsteps approached his position. He could clearly hear the Prince carefully making his way through the densely covered ground, and then the footsteps stopped. He heard a sword sliding free of its scabbard and the young man tensed. The last thing he wanted to do was to fight the Prince, but he would protect Eryl at any cost.
Arthur was glad for his turn at keeping watch. He needed some time alone with his thoughts which were churning with conflict. The past week had given Arthur almost too much to think about. He knew what was right, what was just, and he knew the laws of Camelot, laws that he had willingly broken. These were the very same laws that he had openly sworn to up-hold. This is not the first time that the young Prince had felt the law was wrong, but where was he to draw the line? Arthur believed in the laws of Camelot, for the most part. He felt that his father was a good King and a strong leader, yet his hatred of anything magical was a subject that had caused an increasingly strained tension between them.
The experiences he had recently been through with Merlin and the people in the druid settlement had forever changed Arthur's view of magic, and yet it wasn't so easy to just let go of the fear and mistrust of it that had been drilled into him since birth. He had no doubts at all that the people living in that camp were good honest folks who only wished to live in peace. He knew this to be true deep in his heart despite the ruse of trying to kill him that the elders had employed in order to get Merlin, Emrys he mentally corrected himself, to wake from his prolonged slumber.
Finding out that Merlin had magic had nearly undone Arthur completely. Merlin was the one person that he had always trusted and yet he had just found out that the boy had lied to him from the very beginning.
A lie of necessity.
Merlin could not tell him the truth. Arthur had to be honest with himself, if Merlin had told him the truth he was pretty sure he would have turned him over to his father, so why was he so unwilling to do so now?
Because it's wrong.
Merlin had only ever served both Arthur and Camelot. He had risked his very life to save Arthur on many occasions. He was willing to die for Arthur, and had used his magic as a force for good and justice. There was no evil in Merlin, so why should he be executed for being born with magic. That isn't his fault; he didn't choose magic, or decide to study it. The druids had told Arthur that magic was simply a part of Merlin.
He is your friend.
Arthur thought he was beginning to come to terms with his preconceptions of magic and his experiences with it when matters became more complicated. One of his scouts thought that they had seen the sorceress Morgouse making her way toward Cendred's castle. Leon had not been positive that the rider, whom he had only seen from the back, was indeed the sorceress, but the chain-mail clad rider had the slight build of a woman and long flowing blonde hair just like Morgause. That served to churn up uncomfortable memories for the young Prince as well as give him reason to feel great concern. Magic, no matter if used for good or evil, was dangerous. There was no doubt in Arthur's mind that Morgause was evil and sought to bring Camelot down. She had tricked him into nearly killing his own father and if it hadn't been for Merlin...
Arthur let his thoughts stop mid-stream. After that encounter with Morgause, Arthur was blinded by rage toward his own father. It was Merlin who stopped him from killing the King; a man who would have Merlin executed without hesitation if he knew what the boy was capable of. Merlin's argument had reinforced to Arthur that anyone who used magic was evil. He remembered saying as much to his servant and thanking him for his input. How must that have made him feel, being a user of magic himself? Merlin had spoken against Morgause so that Arthur would not commit patricide in his state of rage, but at what cost to himself?
How many times has Merlin suffered on my behalf?
Arthur couldn't help but think about all of the times his servant had quietly intervened, ending up protecting him from other users of magic; evil users of magic? He was once again struck by how difficult life must be for Merlin; forced to keep his true nature a secret while protecting a kingdom that openly persecutes men and women like him. Arthur couldn't comprehend why someone like Merlin had even come to Camelot in the first place. The druids told him that Merlin's destiny was linked with his own and that they were both part of some ancient prophecy.
Could gangling, clumsy, ridiculous, Merlin have such a strong sense of duty? Arthur smiled to himself knowing the answer to that question already. His servant had proven his loyalty time and time again. That's one thing that Arthur would never question about Merlin, but that still left him with the question of what to do about all of this. Arthur would not turn Merlin over to the King, but he was the Crowned Prince of Camelot and he was knowingly harboring a user of magic. Arthur was guilty of treason no matter how he looked at it. He had sworn an oath to up hold the laws of Camelot, and yet he was breaking the one law that was the most important to his father. The trouble lay in finding a way to reconcile the law with what he knew to be right. It was enough to make his head ache.
I wish I had never found out about Merlin.
Arthur's thoughts were interrupted as something moving through the trees caught his attention. He could just make out a faint blue glow that stirred vaguely familiar feelings in him. He carefully approached the tree line getting closer to something just beyond sight and he felt a small flutter in his stomach. The object of his scrutiny always seemed to be just behind the trunk of a tree, but as he drew closer it would move remaining just beyond his vision behind another tree or the body of a bush. He moved forward until he was at the tree-line and suddenly his quarry came into full view. Arthur stopped moving and stood there; his mouth hanging open as he stared wide eyed at the sight before him.
Memories flooded his mind as he looked upon a floating blue orb that just hung there as if inviting him to follow it. Arthur thought briefly of waking the others, but dismissed the idea quickly. This was magic at work, but for good or ill? The only other time he had seen this was when he went to forests of Balor to retrieve the Mortius flower. This same kind of light came to him then, deep in the caves, and guided him to safety. Glancing back at his sleeping men, Arthur nodded to himself and turned back to the orb as it began to move carefully through the trees.
The light bobbed gently through the forest following the natural contour of the ridge of land surrounding their camp. As he climbed the ridge following it Arthur began to feel an odd sense of urgency. There was nothing pursuing him as there had been the last time he had encountered this same kind of light, but that sense of gnawing immediacy grew none-the-less. He was nearing the top of the ridge that overlooked the small cove where the knights had made camp when Arthur saw two cloaked figures ahead in the night. Immediately he was on alert and withdrew his sword, but as he drew closer to the figures he slowed in confusion. The light from the orb softly illuminated the two. One of the cloaked figures stood in front of the second in what Arthur perceived as a protective gesture and held his hand out as though presenting something, though Arthur couldn't make out what it was. There didn't seem to be any threat in the man's stance; rather he bowed his head submissively. The light of the orb faded as the thing dissipated into thin air leaving only the moonlight in its wake.
"Who are you?"
The young man looked up. Arthur could now clearly see his face and he knew that this man, barely more than a boy, was here for a purpose.
"Sire, we come bearing a message."
Arthur took a step closer to the young man who he assumed was a druid. "Did you create that light? I've seen it before, in the caves within the forests of Balor. Did you send the light then?"
Curiosity flashed across the young druid's face at Arthur's words and he looked ready to ask about this startling revelation. Instead he looked at the object in his hand squaring his shoulders. "This message is for you, Prince Arthur of Camelot."
Arthur made no move to take the proffered note. He instead looked beyond the young man at the frail old druid sitting cross-legged behind him, then he looked around at the surrounding terrain. Keeping his sword out and at the ready Arthur moved off to the side of the druids and forward until he was able to see over the rise of the embankment. Looking down at his own sleeping men the Prince tensed and turned back to the druids in a clearly defensive stance now holding his sword with two hands.
"You were spying on us. Did Cendred send you? What kind of trick is this?"
The young man kept his hand extended but bowed his head while moving to his left in order to block Arthur's direct line to the old one still sitting quite serenely on the embankment. This young druid was trying to show deference to Arthur with the head bow, but he was also clearly interested in protecting the old one.
"We were sent by your court physician, Gaius."
That was the last thing Arthur ever expected to hear and it caught him completely off guard. "Gaius?" Arthur couldn't fathom why Gaius would be sending him a message at this time, sent in this manner, by druids. His confusion suddenly changed to concern.
Something must have happened.
His concern became alarm as he realized that what ever it was must have to do with Merlin. The boy, his friend, was very ill when he left. He may have taken a turn for the worst. He stepped forward quickly and snatched the note from the young man's hand feeling his gut tighten. He tore open the parchment thankful for the bright moon that allowed him to read.
I have received grave news that concerns Merlin. I truly fear for his life and I have come to know that you alone can save him from a brutal death. I know that this makes no sense, but please know that I trust the source of this information without reservation. As you have trusted me all of your life, I ask you to trust in me now.
The young man who bears this message will guide you to his master who will explain what must be done to save Merlin. No one can know where you have gone or why. It is imperative that you tell no one of this.
Arthur, Merlin is as a son to me. I humbly beg your assistance in this matter.
As Arthur read he felt a chill seep over him and raise the hairs on the back of his neck. He looked up at the young druid man standing before him and again at the old one sitting behind him.
"Why would Gaius send you rather than one of the royal couriers, or guards? You are druids, are you not? How did he even contact you?"
Arthur expected the young man to speak so he was taken aback when a voice that was both ancient and vital sounded from everywhere, yet was not loud enough to wake the knights sleeping below. The volume of it was scarcely more than a softly spoken word, but it came from every direction, unsettling Arthur.
"The question that you must ask yourself, young Pendragon, is do you believe the missive?"
Arthur stood still for a moment as he pondered the question. He did believe the note. He knew Gaius' hand very well, but what was more important, the chill running down his spine upon reading the note's contents told him it was true. He sheathed his sword and folded the note carefully sticking it in his pocket.
He stepped forward to come closer to the old druid sitting on the ground, but the young man still blocked his way. "I trust Gaius with my life. I will hear what you have to say."
The old druid rose so gracefully from the ground that Arthur wondered how someone of such an age could move so easily. "Come with me young Pendragon. Grigor keep watch over the knights."
Before Arthur could voice his feelings about this young man taking over watch, the old druid moved away from the edge of the embankment, down a slope toward a small clearing where two horses were tied to a low branch of a tree.
"What is your name?" Arthur asked as they sat down on the grass of the clearing.
"I am known as Eryl."
The moon shown brightly on the clearing making it easy for Arthur to see the druid's features. Old was an inadequate word to describe Eryl. Ancient would have been a better descriptor. Arthur didn't believe he had ever seen a face so old. Thin white hair hung down around Eryl's face in wispy tendrils. The lines of age carved so deeply in the skin as to hide any distinguishing feature, but the eyes showed a vitality that seemed in complete contrast to the frailty of the body.
Arthur found himself wondering if Eryl were a man or a woman. The druid's neck was as deeply wrinkled as the rest of the face and the Prince could not make out an Adam's apple, though a feature like that could easily be hidden within the many folds, and there were no whiskers on Eryl's face. The voice was rusty with great age and could easily have belonged to either a man or a woman. Still Arthur's musings would have to wait. He wanted to know what danger threatened his friend.
"Gaius wrote that Merlin was in mortal peril and would die a brutal death. At whose hands?"
"Are you aware that you both are part of an ancient prophecy?"
"I recently spent some time with a druid community and was told of this prophecy. They didn't tell me specifically what the details of the prophecy were, but that Merlin's fate and my own were intertwined." Arthur looked closely at the druid before him. Perhaps this one would tell him the details. "What do you know of the prophecy?"
"I know everything about the prophecy. It was my own ancestor who saw it hundreds of years ago. I have seen many things, Arthur Pendragon. Of all the druid people, I have the sight, the ability to see the past and the future with the most clarity. You were not meant to know any of this, not yet. What was told to you has put everything in peril. The entire future of Albion is now threatened."
Arthur felt an inexplicable pang of regret, but shook it off. "They made me promise to never share with Merlin what happened. He remembers nothing of the time we spent in the Druid settelment. He must go on hiding his true nature from me and I can never let him know that I found out about his magic. They said he was special and his coming had been foretold long ago. I still find that all so hard to believe. I mean seriously Merlin? But then I saw what he could do, even delirious with fever and out of his mind. He called for rain and the sky opened up. That is a power that no human being should have. It is the power of God himself."
"This occult display of power frightened you." Eryl's statement held no guile, it was simply an observation.
"No man is meant to wield such power. That kind of power will corrupt the soul."
"Has your servant's soul been corrupted by this power that he was born with?"
Arthur didn't want to be put on the defensive. "No, not at all, but..." Every instinct told him that this kind of power was dangerous. He stood up abruptly and began pacing. "Merlin is not corrupt. He hasn't an evil bone in his body, but to have the power to command nature itself? Doesn't that frighten you, even a little?"
"Fear is a decision we make based on our experiences. Emrys..." Eryl paused for a moment before continuing, "Merlin, is a creature of nature. I do not fear him any more than I fear the thunder. I choose to believe in his destiny, a destiny that I myself have foreseen. That is what we must talk about Arthur Pendragon. The prophecy has been broken, your destiny and Merlin's have been changed. I have seen it and the markings are clear. If all remains as it is now, within the next year Merlin will die a brutal death."