A/N: So sorry this took forever to be uploaded! I had problems with my laptop which meant I had to wait for it to be repaired, then get all my Merlin clips back on it, then re-write everything. Thanks to everyone who has reviewed/added to their alerts, I really appreciate it.
The next day, Gaius informed Merlin that the king had called a meeting of the court, and as Arthur's manservant, he was required to attend, in case the prince was in need of something. Merlin knew there was only one reason for Uther to call a council meeting; to announce his ward's safe return.
Merlin spent the entire morning trying to convince himself to just get it over and done with, knowing the longer he waited, the more drawn-out and painful it would be. When he eventually gathered the courage to join Arthur (irritable at being kept waiting, though it was nothing Merlin wasn't used to), he'd even felt a little twinge of relief at the wait being over. He was going to have to face Morgana again; he couldn't't hide forever.
Uther was already there when they arrived, smiling broadly. He looked like a completely different person when he smiled; the stern king was gone momentarily, and a father stood in his place. "Lords and ladies of Camelot," he began. "Some of you, I am sure, know why we are gathered. Others may not be so certain. I will not keep you waiting - today we are gathered to welcome back my ward, the Lady Morgana, who returned to us at last." Uther looked to the doors, and the eyes of everyone in the room followed his gaze.
The guards flung open the doors, and in walked Morgana.
Merlin's heart had been dwelling somewhere in his stomach ever since he learned of Morgana's return, but when he saw her with his own eyes, it seemed to plummet into the region of his toes. Guilt and anxiety battled for supremacy and for a moment he felt physically sick. He was vaguely aware of the exclamations of the nobles, of Arthur grinning beside him. But they seemed slightly blurred, as though seen from a long distance.
Morgana was the only clear feature in a sea of haziness. She walked into the court, head held high, black hair tumbling down to her waist. When she reached Uther he embraced her, his joy obvious to behold. She turned to Arthur and inclined her head, then smiled out at the gathered lords and ladies.
"You will all join me in welcoming Lady Morgana back to us," said Uther warmly. "Tonight we shall have a feast. Tonight, Camelot shall celebrate, for my ward has returned to us!" Clapping rang out in the chamber and Morgana tilted her head gracefully.
"It's good to have you back," murmured Arthur, as the nobles dispersed.
Morgana regarded him with the same smile she had worn since she entered. Merlin looked anywhere but at her, trying to make himself as small as possible. He inched a little over so that Arthur was blocking him from Morgana's sight. "I am glad to be back," Morgana replied.
"How did Guinevere take the news of your return?" asked Arthur.
"Gwen was pleased," said Morgana calmly. "She is a good friend."
The words were oddly unemotional. Merlin tried to resist the urge but in the end he couldn't help himself; he glanced at Morgana. She was watching Uther, who was talking animatedly to Sir Leon. He used the opportunity to properly study her. She looked different, somehow; her features were the same, but the way she held herself, the expressions she wore, had changed. There was a disturbingly dead quality to her face which matched the lack of emotions when she spoke. Although, maybe he was just looking too deeply into it. She'd been through a lot, after all - and again, guilt rushed up inside him - and he could hardly expect her to return unchanged.
Then she looked directly at Merlin, and the belief that he had been clinging to - she was Morgana, that she had changed slightly but was still the same Morgana underneath it - shattered with the anxiety within him.
Her eyes were frightening. There was no life in them, none whatsoever - they could have belonged to a corpse. When he thought of Morgana, he thought of fire and passion and determination, but now… now there was nothing. The compassionate, strong-willed girl he'd known was nowhere to be found in those cold, grey-green eyes. Merlin shivered.
Morgana smiled, and that too was disturbing. She had precious little reason to smile at him, yet here she was, giving him the same vague smile she'd given everybody else. She turned her attention away from him, and Merlin felt something like shock piercing the confusion he was feeling. Was that it? He'd betrayed her - he'd poisoned her! The Morgana he'd known would have stormed in and confronted him, not just smiled absently at him as though he was just yet another person to re-acquaint herself with.
"Come on, Merlin." Arthur interrupted his troubled thoughts. "If we're to have a feast tonight, then I need you to polish the buttons on my best jacket. God knows it needs it…" Merlin followed Arthur, not listening to the list of jobs he was voicing, but nodding as though he understood whenever Arthur glanced at him.
Something was wrong with Morgana, that much was certain. She'd changed almost beyond recognition. Merlin sighed. He'd just have to wait for the feast to see her again, and maybe then he could gather some answers to the questions forming in his mind.