It was beautiful.
"Who's it from?" Merlin asked curiously. "Some royal ambassador? A secret admirer?"
"Merlin, if I knew, would I be standing here looking so confused?" Arthur asked pointedly.
An amber-colored crystal sat on the foot of his bed when they walked into his chambers. He'd never seen it before, and there was no note. It must be a gift of some sort, but from whom? It looked valuable. Who would give him such a gift without even telling him it was from them?
"Merlin, take the night off." Arthur said, after starring at the crystal for a while.
"What?" his servant responded, "why?"
"Are you complaining?" Arthur asked.
"Well, no…" In truth, Merlin was quite exhausted from their hunting trip. All he wanted to do was go collapse in bed and sleep the night away.
"Well then why are you still here?"
With a shrug, Merlin left.
Arthur hesitated, then picked up the strange looking crystal.
He felt his stomach jerk as if someone had pulled him suddenly to the side. The crystal fell from his hands and his head spun. He didn't know what was happening.
And suddenly Morgause was standing in front of him.
"Hello," she greeted, seeming not at all surprised to be suddenly in the prince's chambers.
"You!" Arthur drew his sword—which thankfully he hadn't taken off before picking up the crystal. It was then he realized that he wasn't in his rooms at all. He was in a cave. He had his sword at her throat in a mere moment.
"Tisk, tisk," she said, not appearing at all worried. "That won't do, not yet at least. We have to wait for our other guest first." With that she uttered a single word in some strange language he didn't recognize and Arthur fell into the awaiting darkness of unconsciousness before he could even register her words.
"Merlin, have you seen my jar of frog mucus?" Gaius asked when he walked through the door.
Merlin shuddered at the thought. "No," he answered. "Do I even want to know why you're looking for it? Or why you have it for that matter?"
"Frog mucus works very well in a number of pastes for wounds and such," he informed the boy matter-of-factly. "You're back earlier than I expected," he added.
"Arthur gave me the night off," Merlin said, his voice showing his confusion.
"Well that was nice of him. Any particular reason?"
Merlin shrugged. "There was a crystal on his bed when we got back. I think he wanted to find out who it was from."
"A crystal?" Gaius asked, frowning slightly. "And nothing to indicate who had left it"
He shook his head. "Nothing whatsoever." He paused when he noticed his mentor's frown. "What is it?" he asked.
"It may be nothing," Gaius answered. "Do you remember Sigan?"
"How could I forget?" Then his eyes widened in horror. "Don't tell me that's—"
"No, no, no," Gaius said hurriedly. "But a crystal was used to store his spirit. Well, crystals can be used to store a number of magical things."
"Such as spells?" Merlin asked worriedly.
"What did this crystal look like?"
"About the size of my first," Merlin said, making a fist as he said it. "It was amber-colored, and had lots of spiky-stem things," he described.
"Well it means nothing to me," Gaius admitted. Merlin didn't want to take any chances though. "Where are you going?" Gaius asked.
"To check on Arthur, where else?"
Merlin hurried to the prince's chambers once more, though he knew that if the crystal really was magical, it was already far too late to stop its power being released. But if it was magical, wouldn't Merlin have felt it?
His hurried pace turned into a run.
When he reached the room, Merlin paused outside, but he didn't feel anything magical on the other side of the door. He pushed the door open. "Arthur?" he called.
He wasn't there, but the crystal was, sitting on the floor next to the bed.
He reached for the crystal. When he drew nearer he could feel it, the faint pulse of magic. He knew it was a bad idea, but he touched it anyways.
Breathing a slight sigh of relief, he picked it up and studied it. He could feel the magic easily now, but could not determine what it had stored or what its purpose had been. And where was Arthur? Surely if the crystal's power had attacked him, he'd still be here somewhere.
There were only three possible explanations.
One, Arthur was completely fine and had just left the room. If that was the case, then Merlin would feel very stupid when he walked back in and Merlin was staring in concentration at the mysterious crystal.
Two, Arthur was not fine, and had left the room—wherever he had gone.
Three, Arthur had somehow been disintegrated, ceased to exist, or something else along those lines. None of that bode very well.
Since if the first was true, there wasn't anything to worry about, and if the third was true, there wasn't anything he could do, Merlin chose to focus on the second. The pulse the crystal gave off seemed to tug at him oddly. It wasn't just a pressure, it was meant to take him somewhere. A teleportation spell would have done the trick, but those were extremely temperamental spells. If you didn't get them exactly right, the teleporter could end up inside a wall or over a deep canyon. Then again, maybe that had been the plan all along.
He took the crystal and practically flew back to Gaius's chambers.
"I've got the crystal," Merlin said, bursting in. "You're right, there's something magical about it."
"Is Arthur all right?"
"No idea," Merlin said honestly. He refused to get all worked up though until he knew for certain. "I couldn't find him."
"This bodes ill."
"I think it's a teleportation spell."
"Do you know where it was meant to take him?" Gaius asked, sitting across from his mentee at the table.
Merlin shook his head. "There's a faint tug to it that I could probably follow, but who knows how far it leads? For all I know it could take months to get wherever it is."
"Where is the crystal now?"
Merlin removed it from his pocket and laid it on the table. Gaius simply gaped at him. "You touched it? Merlin how could you be so foolish!"
Merlin smiled sheepishly. "Well it didn't do anything. Maybe the spell got used up so it couldn't do anything to me."
Merlin plopped his chin on the table and continued to stare at the thing on eye level. "Revaltibani," he muttered. His eyes turned gold and the crystal pulsed again, but nothing else happened. Merlin frowned.
"What spell was that?"
"A revelation spell. It was supposed to…well, I don't know what it was supposed to do actually. The book said it would reveal a spell's true intent, but who knows how it would really do that? I mean would it make a picture or something?"
"More likely just transfer the information into that thick skull of yours."
"A spell can do that?" he asked, turning his eyes towards Gaius as far as they would go without moving his head.
"Merlin, you're the most powerful sorcerer in Camelot. By now you should have figured out: there's a spell for just about everything."
He returned to starring at the crystal. He had to find a way to go after Arthur. The longer it took…Merlin took a deep breath. Panicking was not going to help.
With a groan of frustration he got up and went to retrieve his spell book. Flipping to the page about teleportation spells, he sat down again.
Merlin shook his head. "Apparently the path a teleportation spell uses stays open for nearly a year," he commented. "I don't suppose you know how to actually use the path?"
"Don't be foolish, Merlin," Gaius said sternly. "For all you know that spell could have dropped Arthur over a gorge."
"I thought about that," Merlin admitted, eyes hardening. "But if not…"
Mentor and mentee starred at each other for a long moment. They both knew that if Arthur was still alive, there was a very strong possibility that that would not long be the case. "Teleportation is dangerous magic, Merlin."
Merlin nodded, then turned his eyes back to the book, reading the page again. Suddenly an idea struck him—an incredibly stupid idea, but an idea none-the-less. He swiped the crystal off the table again and hurried to the door.
"Where are you going?"
"I have an idea!"
"Merlin, come back here!" But Merlin was already out the door. "Don't do anything rash!" Gaius called after him.
Merlin purposefully ignored him. He knew just how stupid this was. If it didn't work—and he didn't really have the slightest reason to believe it would—a number of things could go horribly wrong.
Once in Arthur's room, he placed the crystal once more on the bed where they had first found it.
"Revaltibani," he repeated.
It pulsed loudly to Merlin's ear, and glowed. A shimmer in the air appeared before turning into an intense, narrow light that shot off through the wall—the direction Merlin had felt the tug. That was the teleportation path.
Almost immediately, the line began to fade.
Merlin took a deep breath, and laid both hands on the crystal.
"Revaltibani a telecinopa!"
Immediately he felt his stomach lurch as he hurtled over the land. A moment later he was in an entirely different location.
"I've been wondering when you would arrive," a familiar voice rang out. Merlin spun to face his opponent, head still slightly dizzy from the travel.
Morgause sat against the wall of the cave they were in, calmly watching Merlin. "I didn't realize you were a sorcerer at first," she admitted. "When I found out, well, you could imagine my shock."
"Don't you worry, he's safe for now. Shall we wake him up?" With a snap of her fingers, a small groan escaped from behind Merlin. He spun around again. Arthur was lying on the ground, stirring. A moment later he jumped to his feet, reaching for the sword he no longer had.
"Merlin?" he asked in a moment of distraction. Then refocused his attention on the sorceress. "Why have you brought me here?" Merlin must have touched the crystal and followed by accident, the clumsy fool that he was.
"You'd be a valuable asset to me," Morgaus answered simply
"Never!" Arthur and Merlin chorused.
"But you see, you may want to reconsider when you see what I have to offer you," Morgause said calmly.
"Nothing you can offer me will convince me to join you," he spat out, anger still fresh from her lie about his mother and father—though the "lie" had actually been the truth and he just didn't know it.
With a wave of her hand, the candles all around her lit, and Arthur's breath caught in his throat. If he had his sword, he would have cut her down where she stood.
But would he really have? He should, he knew, but a part of him didn't want to stop her. A small part of him wanted to see his mother again—and he knew that's what she was doing. Whether it was a trick or not, he couldn't suppress the desire. So he stood there, posed to jump forward and take her out, sword or no sword, but in complete indecision.
"Arthur what are you doing! Stop her!" Merlin shouted anxiously.
But he couldn't.
Morgause began to pace in a circle, mumbling that strange language that sent an unpleasant shiver down his spine. He still had time, why didn't he strike? Would he be strong enough to resist after seeing the face of his mother? Which was stronger, his loyalty to Camelot, or his desire to know his mother? A part of him didn't want to know, a part of him desperately cried to find out.
A shimmer in the air appeared and a shadowy figure of a woman began to take solidity. It was too late to stop this now; and he found that he didn't care.
The figure became solid—but something was wrong.
This was not his mother. The woman who stood before him now was young, with dark hair and eyes. He'd never seen her before.
"What are you trying to prove?" Arthur demanded. "Who is this?''
Merlin's voice was so full of anguish and longing that Arthur stared at him in shock. The pain on his face was obvious; one hand had unconsciously stretched out towards the woman.
"Merlin!" the girl said, smiling genuinely and rushing towards him. "I told you I'd see you again," she said, taking his hands in hers. Arthur could see the struggle going on inside his servant as he reached up and touched her face.
"Freya….I'm so sorry." And with that he looked down from her as a single sob escaped him. "I couldn't protect you…"
"No, Merlin," she insisted, watching him lovingly. She cupped his face in her own hands. "You did protect me. I was happy with you, in a way I hadn't been since I was cursed. You freed me. In more ways than one."
Arthur didn't know which was more shocking—realizing that Merlin was the "valuable asset" Morgause was trying to recruit and that he, Arthur, had merely been bait, or the broken look on his servant's face as he rested his forehead against the girl's.
"I love you, Merlin," Freya said. She stroked his cheek gently, and faded away.
"No! Freya!" Arthur's heart wrenched at the cry. He'd never seen Merlin so completely distraught.
"You can see her again, Merlin. Join me and I can raise her again for you whenever you wish."
Merlin shook his head violently. "She wouldn't want that…" he muttered to himself, but it was a weak, almost desperate defiance.
"Merlin, you can't," Arthur said softly, eyes wide at the thought of possibly loosing his friend to the sorceress's evil. But why did Morgause want him anyways? What good could he do for her plans? This was Merlin.
"She loves you," Morgause countered, circling around the boy with a knowing smile on her lips. "She'd give anything to be with you again."
Merlin shut his eyes and jammed his hands over his ears in a desperate attempt to drown her out. "No no no no no! She wouldn't want that!"
"Join me, and you can spend the rest of your life with her."
Merlin opened his eyes and stared at Morgause in utter despair.
"I'm sorry, Freya," he said softly.
The next thing Arthur knew, Morgause slammed into the wall for no apparent reason and Merlin stood with his fists clenched, breathing hard, and looking at the sorceress with absolute hatred.
"Jatigaf gristumbo articetra!" Merlin shouted. His eyes turned gold and he swung his hand forward. A rock twice the size of Arthur's head shot out from behind Merlin and swung forward, slamming into Morgause. Then another, then another. "Litafopra la tosianish!" Fire appeared in a circle around the newly revealed warlock. He swung both his hands forward towards Morgause and the fire rushed at her. A moment before she was engulfed, she let out a fearful cry, shouted some unrecognizable words, and vanished.
Merlin dropped to his knees and let himself be taken by his sobs, clenching his arms about himself.
Arthur stood in absolute shock, starring at his manservant's sobbing form. A day earlier, he'd have sat next to Merlin and slung his arm around the boy's shoulders and comforted him. But now… all he could do was stare.
He's your friend! Go and comfort him!
He's a sorcerer!
He's your friend and he needs your help!
He's a sorcerer!
"Merlin…" Arthur began, with no idea how to continue.
"Merlin, I can't just—"
"Don't, Arthur," Merlin lifted his eyes to the prince, tears streaming from them. "Not now. Please." And his sobs continued. Obediently, Arthur stood in silence.
Eventually, the sight of his friend crying stripped him of all fear of sorcery. This was Merlin, he wasn't evil, no matter what he could do. Silently, he followed his original instinct and sat next to the boy, slinging an arm around his shoulders.
Merlin jumped at the unexpected contact, but leaned into the comforting hold. A while later he was able to get control of himself and stood up, turning his back to Arthur and wiping his eyes.
The sorcery couldn't be ignored forever, but right now Arthur felt like there were more important questions to ask. "Who was she?"
Merlin gave a watery laugh. "The druid girl," he said, in a voice that suggested he was already in enough trouble, what was a bit more?
"The one who escaped the Bounty Hunter?"
Merlin nodded. "I helped her escape."
"She killed innocent people!"
"It wasn't her fault!" Merlin snapped, rounding on the prince. "You don't understand. She was cursed. She didn't have a choice. She couldn't stop herself from killing those people anymore than you could stop being a prince."
Arthur nodded slowly. "Why did you help her?"
"Because…because it could have been me in that cage."
He nodded again, beginning to understand. "And you fell in love with her?"
"Yes," he said softly. Another small tear streaked from his eye but he wiped it away impatiently.
"And I killed her," Arthur said, starring up at the ceiling in exasperation for his foolishness. "I'm sorry Merlin, I didn't know what she was to you."
Merlin shook his head. "It couldn't be helped. She'd have killed more people if you hadn't."
"That doesn't make it right."
Merlin didn't answer. Nothing about what had happened had been right—nothing could have been right. "Let's get out of here," he said instead, walking dejectedly towards the exit.
Arthur silently followed.
He wasn't sure where they were, but Merlin seemed to know where they were going, so he followed his servant. Outside there were huge stone pillars and an open sky. "Where are we?" he asked absent-mindedly, looking around at the unfamiliar scenery.
"The Isle of the Blessed," Merlin answered shortly.
Arthur's eyes widened, but he bit his tongue. Normally he'd have made some snide remark at being brought to a place full of such…magic. But that was hardly appropriate now, given what he now knew.
Arthur looked at him in confusion. "So what?"
"What are you going to do? About me."
Arthur hesitated but a moment. "Well I've been meaning to talk to you…"
Merlin's eyes narrowed but he didn't look at the prince. "Yes?"
"All this tardiness Merlin, it's really unacceptable. I mean really! Every morning you're late! You're just going to have to do better in the future."
Merlin stopped dead, but Arthur ignored him and kept walking, smiling to himself slightly.
He finally stopped and looked back at his friend, making sure Merlin saw him roll his eyes in exasperation. "Really, what did you think, Merlin? That I would hand you over to be executed? It takes too long to train a decent manservant. Think how long it would take to find a new one."
Merlin just starred at him, flabbergasted. He'd been sure he was dead.
"You're my friend, Merlin," Arthur said, dropping the charade. "You may be my servant, and I may be a prince, but I'm not about to watch your head go on the chopping block."
After another moment of silent staring, Merlin's face broke into a broad smile. It was such a welcome change after what had just happened, that Arthur couldn't help but think that smile alone was reason enough for the treason he was committing in keeping Merlin's secret.
Arthur turned and began walking again, Merlin jogged until he caught up and then fell into step. "So how'd you find me, anyways?" Arthur asked. He'd assumed Merlin had simply touched the crystal on accident, but he wasn't too sure anymore.
"Yes, I'm aware that it was probably magic," Arthur pointed out to edge him forward.
"I combined a revelation spell with a teleportation spell, and used the crystal as a catalyst." Merlin answered at last. "It let me follow the previous teleportation spell to where the crystal had taken you."
Merlin laughed at the understatement.
"And here I thought you had no talent…" Arthur commented nonchalantly, but the small bubble of unease inside him popped. If Merlin could figure something like that out, he could have killed Arthur ages ago. He really was a loyal servant. "Couldn't you…teleport us back or something?" He asked.
"Um…I wouldn't suggest it."
Arthur took that as a no.