Princes of Camelot
Merlin was tired. It was his own fault he knew. He had snuck out after everyone had gone to sleep; a task made more difficult with his mother there. She always seemed to have an almost preternatural ability to know when he was up to something. It was uncanny really, and unsettling. His friends growing up in Ealdor had the same problem with their mothers, so he figured it was a mom thing.
He'd like to think he had gotten a little better at this sort of thing since coming to Camelot, but figured his insistence that she take his room while he slept on a small cot in the main room during her stay helped too. With a little distance and a door between them that had only left Gaius to worry about and Merlin had long practice sneaking past him. Plus the older man slept like a rock. He didn't think an explosion could wake Gaius once he was soundly asleep.
So, without bumping into anything, knocking something over, or otherwise making a racket, Merlin had made it out of the court physician's chambers and went to meet Morgana, as he had at least a couple nights a week since the Witchfinder incident.
Several days afterwards he had simply gone to deliver the latest sleeping draught that Gaius had made for her, but had been shocked when she had opened the door. Morgana's eyes had been red and puffy, like she had recently been crying. She hadn't realized how troubled she looked; Merlin doubted she would have opened the door if she had.
Guilt struck Merlin in that moment, and he kicked himself for not coming to her sooner. Never mind the knife that had been held to her throat at the end of it, how scared she must have felt when a Witchfinder was called to Camelot as she was only just beginning to discover her own talent for magic. He remembered the look on her face as the Witchfinder declared he had found the source of the magic mere moments before he named him. The memory had been brushed aside in the struggle to save Gaius' life, but standing there had brought it to the forefront of his mind.
Even before then there were signs her shell was cracking and Merlin remembered his shame at realizing he had always been too caught up in the crisis of the moment to do anything about it. Morgana had been becoming progressively more withdrawn for months now, keeping up appearances but still a shadow of her former self. The fact that she had started to treat Gwen more and more like the servant she was rather than the friend she had long since become was a warning sign unto itself.
And she never smiled anymore. Oh, she smiled that fake smile of hers that had the men of the court wrapped around her finger, but that's all it was: fake. Her real smile, the one that lit up her face and shone in her eyes, Merlin hadn't been able to remember the last time he had seen that.
Morgana had always seemed so strong; none of the troubles they had faced ever seemed to have any lasting effect on her, but he should have known better. Even the strongest stone will crack from the pressure after enough time. She had this huge burden that she could never speak of or share with anyone, lest her life and theirs be put in danger. There was no one to share the weight of the burden but him and he hadn't been there.
It had been difficult that first night, so he had started things off. He didn't tell her about his magic, he wasn't ready for that, but he did tell her things he had never told anyone. He told her how magic, while frowned upon, wasn't outlawed in the kingdom he was born. He told her how he believed magic was a gift to be used for the benefit of others. He told her how he trusted her and believed in her.
And the next night she had opened up to him in return. Confiding in him her concerns and fears. And her hope that one-day she wouldn't have to hide what she is in her own home.
Those nights, like many to follow, they talked late into the evening, or early into the morning depending on how you wanted to look at it. Like last night… this morning. Whatever.
Merlin yawned deeply as he walked through the castle corridors. He could only imagine what his mother would think if she found out about his late night visits to Morgana's chambers. She already thought he was taken with her after finding his drawings. It didn't mean anything; he just liked to draw and rarely had the free time or the materials to do it. So what if Morgana happened to be the subject in a lot of them when he actually did find the time? It didn't mean anything. Really.
Oh, he knew she had been mostly teasing him, but he saw a note of approval in her eyes as well. Merlin paused mid-step and shivered at the thought of his mother playing matchmaker. He shook his head clear and continued walking. After the… incident with the baker's daughter he didn't think she'd try that again. Certainly not with a king's ward… He hoped.
Then again, his mother had been acting strangely since… well, whatever it was that happened before he got home yesterday. Merlin had no clue what that could be, but it was obvious something had happened and nobody had seemed to be willing to talk about it. Though, from the curious looks Gaius had been throwing her, he didn't know much more than Merlin did.
Then he had to sit through one of the most awkward and quiet family dinners since his last before coming to Camelot. When his mother had announce her walk he had jumped at the opportunity, both to spend time with her and to perhaps get some answers. He still couldn't figure out how he ended up doing the dishes instead.
Then the dishes were long done and Gaius ready to turn in for the night and his mother had still not returned. Merlin had just grabbed up his jacket to go look for her when she opened the door. She strode past him, not meeting his eyes as she made her way to his room saying she was tired.
It was strange. His mother rarely ever brushed him off like that. Now that he thought about it, the only time she had growing up were the times he had asked about his father.
"Merlin!" a voice called pulling him back into the moment. He stopped mid-stride as Arthur approached from another hallway. "You're actually early. I never thought I would see the day."
"I do work the occasional miracle, but I'm not early."
"When I lessened your workload so you could spend more time with your mother I didn't expect to see you here until midday." And Merlin had to admit it was considerate of Arthur to do that, especially since he hadn't known his mother was coming. He suspected he had Gwen to thank for that. Not that it made a difference this morning. His mother had been gone before he had even woken up.
The morning had only gotten stranger when a messenger had arrived with a summons before he had finished his breakfast. For a brief moment Merlin had the irrational fear that his magic had been discovered. Then the moment was over and logic return. If his magic had been discovered the King would hardly summon him to his rooms and there would have been knights rather than a messenger.
What was left of his breakfast was probably going cold by now. It wouldn't do to keep the King waiting after all. With that in mind Merlin started walking again as Arthur fell into step beside him.
"Now that you're here though; my bed needs changing, my clothes need washing, and my boots need cleaning."
Merlin just grinned at the Prince. "As much as I love to do your chores, can't."
He had been surprised to see Merlin wondering the castle this early.
When Gwen had told him Merlin's mother was coming for a visit for his birthday he hadn't needed much persuasion to lessen his manservant's duties for the week. Merlin got to see his mother so rarely he couldn't begrudge him what little time they did find together. He had wondered why Merlin hadn't told him himself. Arthur hadn't even known his birthday was coming up. He pushed the thought out of his mind quickly though.
Merlin was Merlin and he did strange things all the time.
Like that insolent grin he sometimes gave much like the one he had now that Arthur wanted so much to smack off his face… and wondered what was wrong when it wasn't there.
"What do you mean 'can't'?"
"I got a summons this morning," Merlin told him. "I'm to report to your father's chambers immediately, as soon as possible, right away, post haste, straight off, this insta–"
"What have I said about your prattle?"
"Do it often?"
"Yes, only I phrased it as don't."
"Ah, my mistake."
"I'm sure," Arthur said with a shake of his head. "Still," he continued. "It's odd."
"I been told my father is expecting me."
Merlin looked over at him and Arthur caught the question in his manservant's eye before he asked it. "Any idea why he wants me there too?"
"No." And that bothered Arthur. It wasn't that his father told him everything because he most certainly did not. What was odd about this was that he had requested Merlin's presence at all. His father rarely called for a particular servant and almost never in private. Even then it was only his personal servants and that was to be expected. Calling upon Arthur's manservant wasn't.
Arthur felt an unease he didn't show beyond the slight tensing of his shoulders. Something wasn't right here. He had the strangest feeling something major was happening and he didn't have a clue what it was. Or what it had to do with his manservant. Merlin's head had been on the proverbial chopping block a couple times already and Arthur felt the tension in his shoulders grow.
"Well, we're about to find out," Merlin tells him and goes to open the door to his father's chambers before catching himself and knocking instead. A muffled "enter" reaches their ears and Merlin opens the door only for both to be too caught off guard by what they see to actually follow the command.
Hunith sat in his father's favourite chair while his father stood beside it with a look on his face that took Arthur a moment to place. It was a serious expression, but not a 'the kingdom is in danger Arthur' serious. The last time he had seen that look on his father's face was when he brought home a dark haired little girl and said she would be staying with them for awhile.
Said dark haired little girl was now a dark haired young woman and sitting in a chair opposite Hunith. Arthur was comforted to note that she looked as confused as he and Merlin.
"Mother?" Merlin asked, confusion colouring his voice, before realizing he had completely ignored the king in his surprise and turned to Uther. "You summoned me, Sire?"
"Merlin, Arthur, come in," Uther told them with a wave towards another pair of chairs Merlin knew weren't normally in the room. For a moment Merlin thought he must have dozed off somewhere. Why would Uther place his name, a mere manservant he rarely called by name to begin with, in front of his own son's? Perhaps he had simply heard the King wrong; but a shared glance with Arthur told him that the prince had noticed as well and had just as little idea what was going on.
Nonetheless, Arthur started for the chairs and Merlin joined him after taking a moment to close the door behind them. The chair was plush and comfortably warmed by the nearby fire. It was certainly of a finer quality than anything they had in Gaius' chambers. Merlin could just imagine curling in front of the fire in a chair like this for hours with his magic book in his lap. He quickly pushed that daydream away. Even thoughts of magic in Uther's presence were dangerous. It was too much like tempting fate.
Morgana cast him a look full of questions and he subtly shook his head. He had no more answers then she did, but he hoped his look conveyed that he didn't think this had anything to do with her magic. A nod of her own told him she understood.
"I suppose you are wondering why I've called for the three of you," Uther said bringing Merlin's attention back to him. Four of you, Merlin corrected in his mind, and wondered why his mother wasn't in Uther's statement, or why she was there to begin with.
She hadn't said a word she he arrived, but nor had she taken her eyes off him either. There was so much in that one look. The mother's love and pride he always sees there was mixed with an anxious worry and something else he could not quite describe. Conflict perhaps? Like she wanted to speak, but could not quite find the words. It was a look that comforted him and unsettled him in equal measure while begging for understanding all at the same time.
He had never seen his mother like this before. What was going on here?
"You're probably wondering why Merlin is among you in particular." Uther continued and Merlin had to agree with that. It was odd enough for Uther to summon him, but to have him sitting amongst his son and ward as if he were more then just a servant was unheard of.
The King surprised him further when he let out a weary sigh and turned away from them to gaze into the fire. Merlin knew Uther would view that as a sign of indecisive weakness and would never show it in front of any but his closest confidantes. He looked like a man who wanted to say something that he thought would come much easier that it has. Looking closely Merlin saw the bags under Uther's eyes and the tired set of his features and the man before him suddenly looked so much older then his years.
Then the moment passed and Uther's face became a determined mask and he turned back to them. "You all deserve to know the truth and that's why you are here. It's..." Uther started only to pause and shake his head. "There is no easy way to say this so I will just come out with it. Merlin, I'm your father."
Merlin felt his throat go dry as his mouth worked with no words coming through his lips. There were no words for this. Whatever he had been expecting from Uther it wasn't this. He must still be asleep. It has to be a dream because only in a dream could something as surreal as this happen. In a dream. In a nightmare. He felt it had to be, but not even in his wildest imaginings could this possibility have ever occurred to him.
His wide eyes sought his mother's regretful gaze and he knew, more then any words from Uther Pendragon could instill, he knew. It was true. He, one born to be Albion's greatest warlock, was the son of a man who sought to destroy all magic. It was true and she had never told him.
Merlin had never felt so confused; so scared.
He had left Ealdor when people had begun to suspect his magic. Essetir may not ban magic like Camelot but it was still dangerous to possess. Any power that could potentially threaten King Cenred was dangerous to possess, whether you intended to use it against him or not. So his mother sent him away, lest stories of a boy surrounded by strange happenings reach the wrong ears. But he made it through, he ignored the looks and whispers and he moved on.
Camelot was a risk in itself, but it was easier to hide in a crowded city then a small village, and Gaius was here to help. All thoughts of blending in and avoiding Uther's notice were banished the moment he saved Arthurs life and became a servant in the royal household. Still he made the most of his new life and who would look for a sorcerer before Uther's very eyes?
Learning of his destiny from the Great Dragon had been a relief; to finally find out that there was a purpose to all his power. That relief quickly faded as the weight of uncertainty was replaced with the greater weight of a world upon his shoulders. A weight he was sometimes doubtful he could truly bare. He made it through those times by realizing he did not have to bare it alone, even if those who shared the weight did not always know.
Through it all he had endured. Through all the trials and risk and heartaches since arriving in Camelot. If nothing else he had always known himself and now that felt like it was being taken away. It felt like his world was coming apart and he didn't know how to pull it back together. If he didn't know this, what else didn't he know?
Merlin moved his mouth to speak, but still no words followed. What could he say to this? Words of acceptance? Words of denial? If he had even found the will to speak Merlin didn't know what he would say.
Arthur, however, had no such problem.
"You can't be serious."
Uther disagreed. Shaking his head he told him, "I'm completely serious." Uther took a step away from Hunith's chair, closer to them, to Merlin. "I know this is hard for you Merlin-"
"No," Merlin said in a soft but strong voice. "You have no idea."
He expected Uther to react to his interruption. He wanted it. Uther didn't like to be challenged in even a minor way, and being interrupted by anyone, certainly a servant, was enough to earn the king's ire. Instead Merlin watched as Uther visibly reigned himself in. "Merlin," he said in a slightly strained voice. "Now that we know you are my son," Merlin flinched at the word 'son'. "we must concentrate on what comes next."
"Nothing comes next," Merlin exclaimed. "I'm a servant, you're a king. That's all there is."
"Merlin-" Arthur started, reaching a hand for Merlin's shoulder before thinking better of it and putting it back in his lap.
"Nothing comes next!"
"Yes, I am the king." Uther's voice was surprisingly patient now; as if he was getting more control of himself the longer the conversation went on even as Merlin felt his slipping away. "But you are not just a servant. Not anymore. When Ygraine and I,"
Merlin felt Arthur stiffen next to him at the mention of his mother. Uther rarely spoke of her even to his son.
"Well, we had such a hard time conceiving a child that, despite what happened, Arthur was a blessing brought into my life." Uther turned to Morgana, a rare soft smile on his lips. "Years later another tragedy unexpectedly expanded our family and though I perhaps haven't shown it as well as I could, I have come to love Morgana as if she were my own daughter."
Then he turned back to him and Merlin didn't know what to do. The hard king he knew how to deal with, but not this stranger staring at him with pained eyes. "I never thought I would get the chance to be a father again so late in life."
"You are not my father." Merlin couldn't help but take a small measure of satisfaction from the small flinch that crossed the face of the powerful man before him. Yes, this would do. Merlin could feel all his hurt and anger, confusion and fear, boiling to the surface and reared back ready to unleash it all. Somehow he knew the king would let him and maybe the world would make sense again once he let it all out.
"He is." And just like that Merlin deflated. Two simple words from his mother and everything was suddenly made so much more real. He turned to her with betrayal in his eyes. "He is your father, Merlin."
"How?" The word slipped from his lips and Merlin didn't know what he was asking. How did this happen? How come you didn't tell me? How do I move on from here? How do I make sense out of my life now? All of these questions, none of them, Merlin wasn't sure, but his mother seemed to understand. She always did even when he didn't.
"Uther came to Ealdor under the guise of a simple traveller named Elric. I was young and fascinated by someone so different than anything I had ever known before." Merlin didn't miss the hardened look his mother sent Uther as she continued. "I suppose it's obvious why he was different now."
"It was a little more than a year after Arthur was born, after Ygraine died," Uther added in, and Merlin wasn't sure if he was simple continuing the story or trying to tell his side. "Between grieving for my wife, caring for my newborn son and the stress from running the kingdom and the purge at its full height, I... I was simply young and reaching my breaking point.
"I needed a break to clear my mind and regather my strength. Eventually Gaius managed to convince me to take a hunting trip to unwind and as far as anyone else knew I was taking a month long inspection of the borders and outer villages. Leaving the hunting party a few days into the trip was admittedly a spur of the moment and rash decision on my part.
"I remembered Gaius mentioning Ealdor in the past. It was far enough past the border I was unlikely to be recognized, but close enough I wasn't in too much unnecessary danger, particularly with my party camped just on the other side of the border." Uther turned towards Hunith. "That's when I met your mother. It was the first time I had been so drawn to a woman since Ygraine."
A long silence followed and Merlin didn't know what to say but knew his mother and the king were waiting for him to say something. He appreciated that Arthur and Morgana were waiting on him to respond, sure they had their own questions racing through their minds. Finally Merlin settled his eyes on his mother. "How long have you known?"
"You were three-" was all she got out before Merlin had enough, standing so quickly sent his chair tumbling over.
"Three!" he exclaimed. "Why did you never tell me? I had a right to know."
"I was trying to protect you." His mother looked heartbroken, her eyes imploring him to understand, but at that moment Merlin didn't care.
"No," Merlin told her, his voice softening and cracking as he turned glassy eyes towards the floor. "No, I had a right to know."
"Merlin," Uther said leaning forward. "Yes, I should have told your mother who I really was and considered the consequences of my actions. Yes, your mother should have told you the truth about who you are. We made mistakes, but it's time to move past them. You belong in this household, but not as a servant. It's time to come home, son."
That one simple word reverberated in Merlin's mind. Son. How could such a small word change his life forever. This couldn't be right. Him, Merlin, the most powerful warlock to ever live, was the son of a man who has dedicated his life to destroying his kind. Could fate really be so cruel?
Panic began welling up in him. He couldn't do this. He just couldn't. "I- I am just a servant." He told them before turning to the door. "I have work to do, Sire"
Merlin prided himself on being able to stand tall when faced with the impossible. Today he could do no more then flee.
Arthur could only sit there in shock as Merlin stormed off at a pace not quite fast enough to be a run but now slow enough to be considered a walk.
Merlin, bumbling, idiot, Merlin, perhaps the worst manservant in the history of servants, was his brother? Half brother, Arthur reminded himself. Obviously his good looks and charm came from his mother's side.
No wonder Merlin had left. Arthur's head was reeling from it all, he couldn't even begin to imagine how Merlin must be feeling. It had to be a hard to have your world changed so much; to go from servant to prince in mere moments.
He looked at the people still in the room. His father stared at the open door with a pensive look on his face, like he was trying to decide whether he should go after Merlin. Arthur prayed he would have enough sense to leave him be. A confrontation with their father was the last thing Merlin needed right now. Uther was still a king and even when he was trying to be conciliatory he expected to be obeyed, and Merlin had a tendency to ignore orders he did not like on the best of days.
This most certainly was not the best of days.
Arthur had a feeling that if his father backed Merlin into a corner right now they would be introduced to a side of the boy that wouldn't help the situation at all.
When his gaze fell to Hunith, Arthur was surprised to find her intense blue eyes already upon him. He was struck by how much like Merlin's those eyes were, from the colour down to the expression within. It was one he had seen many times before as Merlin came bursting into his chambers, somehow the first to know about some threat, his eyes pleading with Arthur to believe him and to understand. All at once Arthur knew what she was asking and gave a sharp nod of his head.
Arthur stood, catching the attention of the rest of the room. He looked to Morgana and inclined his head towards Uther and Hunith. And as he had with Hunith, she seemed to understand and looked from them to the door as if to say "Alright, I'll deal with these two."
Then for the first time since entering his chambers, Arthur met his father's eyes. There were so many questions going through his head that he honestly didn't know where to start. He just wanted an answer to all of them.
Now wasn't the time though. Now he had something more important to do. "Later," he assured his father and left the room.
He headed straight for the court physician's chambers and was halfway there before he realized that, like Merlin, he was moving faster than could be considered a walk. That didn't slow him any as he marched through the halls ignoring servant and courtier alike.
"Merlin!" Arthur called out as he swung the door open with such force it clattered against the wall with a loud bang.
Gaius jumped at the noise and looked up from whatever concoction he was working on, half of what he was pouring ending up on the table rather than the vial. Any other time Arthur might have felt a little guilty at the way the old man had to visibly calm himself, but he had other things on his mind at the moment.
"He's not here, Sire." But Arthur ignored him and marched to the back room Merlin slept in and threw the door open with a bang almost as loud as the first. Seeing nothing Arthur turned around. Gaius started to say something, but Arthur didn't catch any of it. He was already out the door before the physician could get more than a word out.
If Merlin wasn't there than Arthur had another idea. He started moving through the halls again, a purpose to his steps because if Merlin wasn't in his chambers Arthur somehow knew exactly where he would go.
Nobody tried to speak to him this time, only scurried out of his way. Arthur wasn't sure if there was something in his expression or the determination in his stride that did it, or if it was perhaps a combination of the two. He didn't care right now either. All that mattered was getting where he was going.
Soon enough Arthur stood in front of a door. This time he didn't rashly throw the door open. Instead he took a moment to prepare himself for what he would find on the other side. He took a few deep, steadying breaths and opened the door to his chambers.
It was then he realized he had been fooling himself. He wasn't prepared at all and merely hesitated in the open doorway.
There on the floor of his chambers was Merlin, his brother, a line of boots before him with brush in his hand and a boot resting in his lap, but unmoving. He simply stared straight ahead consumed by his own thoughts.
What was he supposed to say in a situation like this? Arthur didn't know. He didn't have a clue. All he knew for sure was that his newly found brother was hurting and he couldn't even bring himself to call his name.
Arthur couldn't help but think that if there situations were reversed that Merlin would know what to say, but Arthur had never been a man of words. He was a man of action.
So instead Arthur strode into the room and placed what he hoped was a comforting hand on Merlin's shoulder as he sat down on the floor next to him. Then he grabbed a boot and a brush and started scrubbing.