The noise in the Royal Hall, crowded with half the kingdom, was deafening. Guests and Courtiers dressed in their finest clothing and most impressive jewels filled the large room. Near the fireplace, a man was playing a lute halfheartedly; the sound almost drowned out underneath the boisterous talking of the people. Servants scurried around the mob, refilling cups and clearing the tables of dirty plates. They replaced the empty plates with fresh food, each platter piled high with juicy meats and sweet cakes. At the royal table sat three people, all dressed in their splendid ceremonial clothing. An older man and woman in the tall backed chairs leaned close together and kissed. The dark haired young man besides them made a sour face and looked away. The woman wore a white gown with a golden crown sitting atop her head. She was smiling happily out over the crowd, the older man looking lovingly at her. Next to him sat the younger man, who was doing his best to ignore the both of them.

The King had remarried in the spring, much to his son's displeasure. It wasn't that Prince Merlin disliked Lady Nimueh, it was that she made his skin crawl. Comments from the palace staff about how the Prince and new Queen looked like mother and son made him ill. Prince Merlin got his midnight dark hair and bright blue eyes from his real Mother, his birth Mother. Merlin sighed and felt his eyes burn as he thought about Queen Hunith. She had passed of a high fever barely a year ago and it still saddened Merlin to think of her.

The racket and press of people became too much and Merlin stood from the table, not looking at his Father and new stepmother. The dark haired prince slipped through a side door and out of the Royal Hall where the wedding celebrations were in full swing. He didn't look back to see the newly made Queen Nimueh scowl at him and lean over to whisper into the King's ear. Merlin snuck past some Courtiers, already deep into their cups, and out to the gardens. The dark blue royal robes he wore for the wedding were heavy and Merlin wished he could change as he walked across the lawn. The moon was full in the dark sky and Merlin smiled up at the white disk as he paused on the veranda. Somewhere nearby a nightingale sang, the sound sorrowful in the dark.

"My lord?"

Merlin looked up in surprise, a welcoming smile blooming across his face. "Gwen," he said in greeting to the young woman standing in front of him.

The maid curtsied before speaking. "Prince Merlin, I was concerned when you left the feast." She looked at Merlin with worry, knowing that the prince was not filled with joy at his Father remarrying.

Merlin sighed, still smiling softly, and sat on a stone bench. "Gwen, how many times must I ask you to just call me Merlin? None of that prince or lord stuff, okay?"

Gwen smiled, pushing back a loose curl. "What's wrong, Merlin? Don't you like your new stepmother?" The palace maid sat on the bench besides Merlin and place her hand on his arm in comfort.

Merlin made a face. "You know my thoughts about Nimueh, Gwen."

"Surely she's not all that bad. The King seems happier." Yes, the King did seem happier, almost deliriously so. It was a miracle since he had been in the depths of despair only a month ago. Many of the servants thought this very odd but Gwen always said that love could lift the heart of anyone, even their sad King. She tried not to let the gossip sway her opinion.

Merlin shivered, rubbing at his arms as he felt a sudden chill. "I don't know, Gwen. Something about Nimueh sets my teeth on edge and I don't trust her. I don't like her at all. Something is not right here." He looked away from his friend and sighed. "Maybe I'm just being childish but I wish Nimueh had never come to Avalon."

This feeling was cemented when Prince Merlin was forcibly dragged from his bed several nights later, during the dark of the moon. He screamed as he was pulled across the floor, kicking at the guards holding him by the wrists, and demanded to be released. Soft laugher followed this order and the prince looked up in horror. Merlin got just a glimpse of a smiling Nimueh before something sweet covered his mouth and nose and he fell into darkness.

*****

Notes: Merlin is pissed because I made him be the girl again. This is a fairy tale story set after The Canary Prince, a variant of Rapunzel. Thank you to the awesome mariana_oconnor for the beta read.