Arthur calmed down once Gwen was sleeping soundly. Emrys knew it would help him. It had been a terrible shock to Merlin but a horrendous one for Arthur. It had long since been the case that Guinevere held the keys to his heart, and Emrys (and Merlin) dreaded to see what would happen if anything had happened to her. Pandemonium, probably.
Now she was alive, safe and resting – now they could focus and be calm.
So they turned their attention to the witch.
"She doesn't have one specific name," Emrys told to the two younger men. "Not anymore, she is known by folk names and rumour."
Arthur scoffed. "That doesn't surprise me."
"What is her name?" Merlin asked, directly and to the point.
"Some would call her Macha Badb while others call her Cailleach," the older man explained. "There are some people that think she is the Cyhyraeth, the disembodied spirit that haunts the dying, the dead and the never-born. Never wears her own face, yet regardless of the face she is wearing her look has the power to freeze the blood and slaughter the soul..."
The younger men looked at each other, confused by his overdramatic description of this woman. They had never heard of an individual reviled as every monster the children in Albion grew up fearing. To Arthur this was all just superstitious fairytale nonsense.
"But you don't agree?" the prince asked, thinking he had the measure of Emrys. He wouldn't have played this woman up if he hadn't planned on knocking her off her pedestal and exposing her for what she really was (and as he had described her before) – an overhyped murderer.
Emrys looked at him and smiled. "No, I don't agree."
Merlin snorted back a chuckle too, making Emrys smile. He himself remembered how amusing he had found his own frankness back then. It would be the last laugh Merlin would have for a while now.
"These days I refer to her by the nickname she is given by rivals among 'The Sacred Order'," Emrys finished with an ironic smile. The two others leaned forward, expecting the name to be something shocking or unusual: "Lafoire."
Arthur wrinkled his nose. "That's not much of a name."
"She hates that name," Emrys replied. "That's why we use it; she would much prefer to be thought of as someone terrifying. 'Lafoire' just sounds like someone putting on a show."
"I'd say she's a little more dangerous than an egocentric drama-queen" Arthur mumbled, glancing at Gwen again.
"I agree," Emrys nodded. "Her rivals didn't – that's why she killed them."
"Just like that?" Merlin gasped.
Emrys looked at him, his expression dark. "Just like that. She would kill anyone without a second thought. Think of how viciously she attacked Gwen. She decided she would kill her, so she tried to do it."
It made Arthur sick inside.
"I know," Emrys nodded, seeing the prince's expression. "I have always thought the most frightening type of person is the sort that does things simply because they think it's a good idea."
He took a deep breath.
"The only thing that's worse is someone that kills or plots to kill chiefly for revenge or personal gain," the secretive man added.
Arthur knew Emrys was talking to him, about his earlier fury over what had happened to Gwen. He still wanted to see this witch suffer for what she had done to all those people although he had better control of his nerves and temper again now Guinevere was recovering. Yet had she died with the others he would have probably sought violent retribution.
"Revenge is the most worthless of causes," Arthur admitted guilty. "I know I lost my head before – but the people that have died deserve justice for what has happened."
"This 'Lafoire' has stolen the Crystal of Neahtid and the last person who stole the crystal was a lunatic..." he added slowly.
Yes she was, Merlin nodded silently.
"She has murdered innocent people and stolen a weapon affiliated with traitors to Camelot," Arthur concluded. "My father has ordered me to find this woman. He will take no more chances with renegade sorcerers."
Now Emrys nodded and looked to Merlin.
He was still silent, thinking of the last time when the crystal was stolen. When Arthur spoke of a lunatic he thought of Alvarr, in favour of not only killing Uther but slaughtering all who served him. But Merlin thought of Morgana, who had been bought into Alvarr's sweet-talking and had agreed to his drastic plans with little more than a faint 'Oh dear!'
He used to think Morgana had so much more sense.
Emrys sighed. "Alright, I understand that. Nonetheless I stand by what I said earlier – storming through the castle waving your sword will only get you killed faster."
"You think she's still in the castle?" Merlin jumped in. "She's already stolen the crystal."
"She's here," Emrys said, closing his eyes and nodding. "I know it – she could have left as soon as she stole the crystal but she didn't. She stuck around and attacked Gwen. She wants to get our attention..."
Arthur folded his arms and walked towards Emrys as if he were about to interrogate a prisoner rather than someone who had been helping him all this time. As he spoke he sounded both suspicious and curious. "You seem to know an awful lot about this witch."
Emrys took no notice of Arthur's standoffish behaviour.
"Let's just say we used to be on the same page," he replied firmly. "But we're not anymore."
"What page is that?"
There was a long silence.
Emrys pointed at Arthur, ready to squabble. "That is neither here or there. All that matters is that I get her back to where she came from. That is my job."
Arthur scowled. "I thought you were here to visit the family."
He nodded towards Merlin.
Emrys looked over his shoulder and rolled his eyes. "How did you ever put up with him?" he asked Merlin humorously.
"Leave Merlin out of this," Arthur snapped.
His face was inches away from Emrys's.
"That's very difficult to do," Emrys said with a tint of irony before adding, "He is my cousin after all."
Arthur stamped his heel on the floor and relaxed.
He had gone through a large range of feelings throughout the day and none more so than over the last hour. He knew he was still feeling anxious over Gwen, but there was also that strange feeling he felt towards Emrys. It automatically wanted to trust him yet all his common sense told him to be weary. Relative of Merlin's or not he was a stranger to him.
"Who are you, Emrys?" Arthur finally asked. "And why are you really here?"
Emrys managed to reply without glancing at Merlin this time. If he done so he would have seen him look very interested. Then again, he remembered being curious and still no closer to realising who he was.
"It's a long story and one I really don't have time to tell," the elder man said at last. "Right now, I have to track down Lafoire and get her back to where she came from. That is why I'm here. Like I said it's my job."
He said it in such a patronising tone that Arthur felt himself become annoyed again. As Emrys turned around, clearly on his way out the door to leave and look for Lafoire he followed him. "I didn't say you could leave."
"I don't have to listen to you," Emrys chuckled as he went. "You're not the king... yet. I wouldn't listen even then!"
Arthur grabbed Emrys's shoulder and spun him around. If anything the elder Merlin was just amused, and glanced in the direction of the younger Merlin to exchange a mutual understanding for their master's temper.
"If you are going to track down this witch then I am coming with you," Arthur told him.
"I don't need you," Emrys retorted, resting his hands on his hips. "You'd be better off staying here with Gwen. Merlin can come with me."
Merlin's eyes widened, "Me?"
Arthur was equally surprised, scoffing: "Merlin, what good would he do?"
The younger servant tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. The prince bit the inside of his cheek in frustration before letting out a puff of air.
"Sorry Merlin," he said slowly, before patting him on the shoulder and adding "But I'm still right."
Emrys smiled. "You'd be surprised how useful Merlin can be."
"So you have a lot of things you need carrying?" Arthur said sarcastically.
"Very funny," Emrys gritted through a smile. "Believe what you want I'm still finding Lafoire without you."
He walked back towards the bed where Gwen lay peacefully sleeping. Emrys smiled down at her before he looked at Arthur again.
"Someone has to stay with Gwen," he told the prince.
Merlin noticed Arthur slowly ebb back towards feeling worried again. He sighed, "I'll stay here and look after her."
Arthur spun around. "And what if the witch comes back?"
"So I'll..." the servant paused for a moment before noticing the display of weaponry lying standing at the side of the room, "I'll defend her with, you know, that lot over there."
His eyes widened. "'That lot over there'? You say things like that and I don't feel safe leaving you alone!"
"Fine," Emrys said, rubbing his hands together. "You two stay here and I'll go by myself. Goodbye, I'll bring the crystal back when I'm done."
Arthur grabbed his arm again. "You're not going without someone to keep an eye on you."
Emrys was starting to get annoyed.
"So you still don't trust me?" he said, irritated.
"You're a stranger," the prince observed. "Shifty, like you've got something to hide."
Emrys smiled faintly. "I'm an open book."
A strange echo coursed through Arthur and Merlin like a sense of déjà vu.
"Arthur," Emrys said after another, short pause. "I don't particularly care if you don't trust me because if I were watching me, I wouldn't know whether or not I could trust me either" and he looked to Merlin at that moment before turning back to Arthur. "I'd forgotten just how awkward you could be at this age—"
"What are you talking about?" Arthur interrupted.
"So I'm sorry for this," Emrys finished, and turned away slightly.
The prince tilted his head, "Sorry for what?"
Suddenly before either of the two younger men knew what had happened Emrys spun around again, focusing his palm directly at Arthur's face. He had little time to look surprised or bewildered as the elder warlock shouted "...cysgu nawr!" forcefully. Immediately Arthur stiffened up, his face froze and his eyes crossed as if he had been knocked over the head. Then he fell backwards onto the bed, collapsing like a sack of spuds beside Gwen.
Emrys sighed. "Wow, it's been nearly ten years since I last had to do that."
Merlin rushed to his side: Arthur's was out like a light.
"Y-you just..." he spluttered as his elder self strode calmly towards the door. "You just... knocked him out."
"Yep," Emrys said, uncaring.
"You knocked him out," the servant said again, adding: "with magic?"
Emrys jeered, "Oh please—like you didn't suspect I was a sorcerer."
He opened the main door to Arthur's chambers before suddenly stopping, turning back and outstretching his arm across the room to point at the small door near Arthur's bed. He whispered "...drws selio!" and the room was filled with a large click as the door locked firm. Emrys then proceeded to go out the main door again.
He turned to Merlin, "Aren't you coming?"
Merlin looked at him. He wanted to – something inside him told him that he should. It was that gut feeling that kicked in whenever he was around someone magical. Usually it ordered him to trust or bond with the person it was indicating but after being duped by Nimueh, charmed by a troll in disguise and being forced to kill Morgana he had decided not to trust it anymore.
He looked back to Arthur. "Will they be alright?"
"Of course," Emrys said reassuringly, coming back into the room. "You can clearly see they're just asleep. Arthur will be up again in half an hour, although he won't be best pleased because I intend to lock him in here."
Merlin's eyes widened. "Is that really necessary?"
"It's the safest place for him," Emrys told him. "Besides he'll be waking up next to Gwen and be trapped in a room with her for the rest of the day. He'll think he's still dreaming."
"I don't know if I should—"
"Alright," Emrys said, turning around to finally leave. "But just do you know I'm locking you in too."
As if that were some terrible threat, he immediately rushed out the room. He looked Emrys in the eye one last time before edging past him to get out into the hallway. Once they were both out Emrys closed Arthur's bedroom door and said "...drws selio!" again. The loud click echoed down the corridor.
Emrys smiled and looked to Merlin.
"Now, let's go and find Lady Congenial."
He strode off down the passageway but Merlin stayed still. It took Emrys a second to remember that Merlin wasn't following him yet, so he turned around to face him.
"Come on, then."
Merlin looked at him. "You do realise that Uther will have you executed if he finds out you too have magic. It won't matter to him that you're using it to stop Lafoire."
"Uther Pendragon is the least of my worries," Emrys replied, completely undisturbed by what Merlin had told him. He had no reason to be as he had lived all his youth in fear of Uther. That was not going to change now he was older. "Now, come on – are you with me or not?"
Merlin did not linger another moment, and quickly picked up the pace to walk side by side, shoulder to shoulder, neck to neck and step to step with Emrys.
There was still something about this man but he just couldn't put his finger on it.
The evening drew in as Gaius sat at his table, studying the two sidhe wands.
He had made a study of the aos sidhe after what had happened two years ago with those two banished sidhe. Despite being a fairy race they were a vicious people with powerful magic. It was quite possible that Emrys (and maybe the mysterious witch too) were both of the same species as young Sophia had been. The viciousness of the sorceress was very much like the sidhe, who killed mortal creatures for fun although death among their own kind was strictly forbidden.
Yet that theory did not add up.
For one thing neither Emrys nor the witch had targeted Arthur, who would still be considered a great prize for the immortal beings of Avalon, but instead the witch had targeted five men, two women and two children. Furthermore the witch had killed the five guards while stealing the Crystal of Neahtid, a pointless object to a sidhe. The Crystal was supposed to possess the power of past, present and future: three concepts that the sidhe did not understand. The sidhe were children to the immortal gods and thus did not live in the present but in eternity.
He traced the writing of ancient scripture of the staff. It was exactly the same as Merlin's.
"Sidhe staffs are carved individually," he whispered to himself. "There must be a difference somewhere..."
Gaius then looked back to the book he was reading. He had decided to look up the old druidic legends of the sidhe, Avalon, the Otherworld and even the Caves of Neahtid in an attempt to better understand the motivations of the witch (and now Emrys).
It puzzled him that he was more focused on finding out who Emrys might be than he was on discovering who the witch might be.
He turned the page of his book and finally found the passage he was looking for. He leaned over keenly and read it to himself.
It said: "There have been some prophecies stretching back over hundreds of years linking Avalon and the Caves that lie in the valley of Neahtid at Tor. Eyewitnesses speak of a blinding light illuminating from the Caves similar to that seen by people nearing death. Some claim also to have entered the light and walked along the fields of plenty in Avalon while still living. It was thought by these people that the Caves not only held the secret of the past and the future, but the ability to travel to and from them..."
The passage was illustrated by a picture of what these eyewitness reports claimed to have seen after walking into the light. The illustration was in black and white and clearly did not capture the colour of what was described: "I felt as though I were walking on air not earth. The colours were bright: green, white, yellow and blue like a variety of glittering jewels. The servants of Danu surrounded me before I walked out of the light again, and found myself on mortal earth... years into the future. With that I grew older within seconds, as if the world had past me by..."
He turned the page again. This was all very interesting but it took him no closer to figuring out who Emrys was. Nonetheless his gut feeling told him that the likeness between the staffs was not a coincidence.
"The only individuals capable of controlling the power of time and of mortality belongs to legend," Gaius went on, now reading aloud. "Emrys, also known as Ildánach-Macnia, is said to have walked between the realms of the Otherworld freely and simply, for he possessed the power of the aos sidhe in his rod..."
Beside it there was another picture of a cloaked young man holding a sidhe staff as a young woman, cloaked and blindfolded, grips his hand as they face on a band on sidhe and another cloaked figure – an old woman – to whom the young man holds out his hand. The caption read: "Emrys leads Macha Badb and Bébinn Chinn Óir through the Otherworld for the final time."
Gaius looked down at the staff again. Obviously Emrys was not the Emrys as Emrys was just a legend... but it would explain how a young man who was older yet very similar to Merlin could walk into Camelot carrying an identical staff.
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in!" he called, looking up from his book.
Sir Leon opened the door. "The king wishes to speak with you."
"Yes, I'll come immediately."
The knight turned around to leave and Gaius immediately placed Emrys's sidhe staff back against the wall before turning towards Merlin's room to put the sidhe staff away. He placed it back below the floor boards and left the room immediately.
As he entered the main room again he was startled to see Sir Leon had returned.
"You made me jump!" the old man gasped. "Was there anything else?"
"No, it's just..." Leon said, looking down at the book Gaius had been reading. "Isn't that the legend of Emrys?"
"Yes," Gaius replied, walking towards the door. Leon followed. "I was trying to do some background reading... on the Caves of Neahtid, where the crystal originally came from."
"He was trapped in a tower of crystal, wasn't he?" Leon asked. "Or maybe it was a cave...?"
"Was he?" Gaius said, having never heard that version before. He had only ever heard the version where he was trapped by his wife in a tree or a lake or a tower. He thought he had heard the story of a cave before, though. "There are lots of versions I think."
Merlin followed Emrys as he stalked the dimly lit corridors of the castle. There was very little said between the two of them since they had left Arthur and Gwen locked in Arthur's chambers. It had mainly past in silence as Emrys strode around before stopping, listening and then walking on. Occasionally he would mutter "I know you're here" so quietly that Merlin wondered if had really said it.
Maybe he hadn't?
Maybe it was all in his mind?
In fact that was what Emrys was trying to do: seek out Lafoire with his mind. It had always been one of his gifts to hear the voices of people from a great distance or to read the minds of other people. Merlin had this ability too but Emrys had years of experience to help him use it for accurately and practically.
"Are you sure she's still in Camelot?" Merlin finally asked.
Emrys looked up. "I can sense her presence. It's fresh and recent – so she has definitely come this way."
The younger warlock looked up at the flickering walls of the castle.
"You can feel it too, can't you?" the elder warlock said.
Merlin's head snapped around to look at him. "Why would I sense it?"
Emrys tilted his head. "We always know our own, don't we? You have magic there's no denying it, it bleeds right off you."
The younger man was bewildered by Emrys's frankness at talking about magic. A guard could walk around the corner at any moment and hear them. He wasn't to know that Emrys remembered that no one had been listening.
Merlin leaned closer. "Even if you're right (and I'm not saying you are), what do you mean it bleeds off me? And how do you know I 'feel it' too?"
Emrys chuckled. "You know that tingly feeling in your stomach, the one that feels like being in love? That's what I'm talking about. You feel it too?"
"I suppose," Merlin said, placing his hand on his stomach. He could feel it. "You're saying that's Lafoire?"
"Yep," Emrys said, before he stopped suddenly and looked away. "She's definitely close by..."
He ran off down the corridor and Merlin quickly followed. They finally stopped near one end of the cloisters, when Emrys stood looking out into the courtyard. He smelt, tasted and sensed the air.
"She definitely hasn't left," he announced. "She'd definitely still here."
There was a long pause as he continued to listen out for her. There were faint murmurs in his head but they were all other people within the castle. It was difficult even for an expert to pick out Lafoire specific voice or thoughts, especially since she was in disguise. Fortunately her inner voice always sounded the same.
"Emrys," Merlin said suddenly.
His concentration was interrupted.
"Yes?" He was almost annoyed that he was talking to him at this time, even though he knew it was going to happen. "You have a question?"
"Before in Arthur's chambers," Merlin said, "you said that your job was to find this witch and take her back to where she came from."
"So," the servant finished, "you intend to take her alive?"
Emrys paused. "She's more trouble to me dead than alive."
"But after all those people she killed..."
"It's like Arthur said – revenge is the most worthless of causes," Emrys said simply, before chuckling. "Funny, that's one of the smartest things he's ever come up with. It's almost as good as Gwen's choices saying."
"Yeah," Merlin chuckled back. "Um, what choices thing do you mean?"
Emrys stopped and thought. Oops, sorry not yet!
"Just... something I heard her say," he replied. "It was very good. Anyway, I have to concentrate now. Lafoire could come around the corner and surprise us at any moment."
"So do you think she'll be in Mavis's form or Joan's form?" he asked.
"Neither," Emrys replied. "She doesn't know it's just you and me looking for her – two people who would have worked the secret behind her magic trick – so I'd say she'll probably be one of Mavis's daughters."
The young warlock closed his eyes. It chilled him to think that a child killed the previous night would now act as the disguise for the witch that murdered her.
"So in order to take a person's form," Merlin sniffed. "You have to kill them?"
"If you just want their bodies, yes" Emrys replied distractedly, seeming not to notice Merlin's saddened tone. Truth was he didn't have time to reminisce any more about how he felt all those years ago when he saw these events for the first time. "However if you need not only their appearance but their memories, thoughts and feelings you have to steal their essence... and they need to be alive for that."
"Why couldn't she have done that?"
"Because Lafoire just needed hosts," Emrys explained. "She needed several good disguises not one brilliant disguise. It takes a lot of magic to steal one person's essence; you need to put them into a byw marwolaeth and even then you can't always tell the difference between that person's actual memories and their vivid musings. It has led to some very awkward misunderstands."
Merlin smiled. "You certainly know a lot about magic."
"Remember it well," Emrys advised him. "You never know someday you might have to explain the laws of drych marw to a daft nineteen-year-old."
Suddenly the conversation was killed by a youthful cry of "...fflam oer!" and a cold blue flame shooting in their direction. Emrys had sensed it coming and ducked down quickly as the blast hit the wall, leaving a smoky stain on the white walls.
Both men looked down the cloisters to see a young girl run from the scene.
Emrys jumped to his feet and hurried after her. "I'm sorry Merlin!" he cried back, "I got distracted – that is Lafoire."
He was through the smoke and after her before Merlin could get going. The young warlock tried his best to follow the frantic sound of footsteps as they disappeared down the corridor towards the vaults. What was she doing still in the castle? Had Emrys been right? Had she been waiting for him?
Emrys followed her down a narrow corridor.
"Lafoire!" he called to her, "You must want to take else why would you still be here?"
The younger girl turned around and cried, "...rhewi!" and once again he ducked.
Quickly he extended his arm to cry back a mutual "...rhewi!"
She also ducked it and ran off. He thought it amazing she managed to keep going: her clothes were far too big for the form she had taken. Part of him wished he had a younger form he could slip into. No, he wasn't old but he imagined his younger self could have caught Lafoire by now.
Their chase eventually took them down towards the dungeons, close by the entrance to the dark caves.
Lafoire leapt down two stairs at a time, looking up every down and then to see if Emrys was coming. Eventually he appeared on the stairs.
"...llosgi chi!" she shouted.
With that a real burning flame leaped up, but Emrys quelled it immediately with a loud "...oeri!"
The false little girl saw this, noticed the doors at the bottom of the stairs and rushed to open them.
Emrys saw this and without uttering a word, used his most powerful asset – his natural gift – to lock the door. His mind was the powerful asset he had for all his magic spells. It was certainly too more for the likes of Lafoire to handle.
She rushed to unlock the doors; she fussed with the lock but it was sealed shut. She placed her hand at the lock and shouted "...datglo!" but the only effect was the ineffective sound of panging metal from inside the lock.
She bit her lip and looked behind her as Emrys as he slowly walked down the stairs behind her. She tried another spell "...clo ar agor!" but still nothing.
Emrys was at the bottom of the stairs. She tried another spell, now frantically calling "...agored!"
She heard him stop eight feet behind her.
"There you are!" he said in a falsely cheerfully voice.
Lafoire rolled her eyes, stood up straight and turned to face him. The expression on Emrys's face infuriated her; he almost looked sorry for her inability to open the lock, like he had expected better from her. Like a teacher staring down a student.
She smiled ironically. "Emrys, fancy a chat?"
"How like you to trivialise the situation once you're cornered," Emrys responded, his tone now cool.
"Me!" Lafoire scoffed in return. "I'd have thought that was one of your flashy habits. The way your mouth runs all the time is like a babbling brook: full of cheap wit and useless nonsense."
"I would hardly to tell my greatest enemy useful nonsense," Emrys chuckled.
"And so it begins."
Although she was wearing little Anwen's face he could see Lafoire beneath the innocent exterior. She had the same dark expression she wore when (on rare occasion) she looked at him through her own eyes. The fact that these expressions were appearing on a child's face made it all the more disturbing.
She looked him up and down. "What do you want Merlin?"
"You know what I want," he said plainly, and she scoffed again. "Give me the crystal. I will return it, let Arthur tell Uther that the sorceress is dead and we will return to our time together."
"And then what? We kiss and live happily ever after?" she asked sarcastically.
Emrys's expression was neutral.
"And then no one else here gets hurt."
"What makes you think I'll just hand over the crystal like that?" she retorted.
"Of course," the warlock said dramatically, slapping his forehead before waving his hand towards Lafoire in a very patronising way. "I haven't asked you how or why you came here, so indulge me."
She shrugged. "Isn't it obvious? I came to claim the crystal."
"No you didn't," he said, shaking his head and smiling. "You can't even unlock that deadlocked door so there is no way you opened the cave on purpose."
Lafoire looked sheepish.
"It was..." she began, before she looked down and muttered, "It was already open when I got there."
"Ha, I knew it!"
"But" she said firmly. "I don't know who or what did open it. I sensed that it was powerful magic..." Emrys made a mysterious smile. She scowled. "Who opened it?"
"I don't know," he said with a shrug. "We may never know. The magic inside it is so powerful it probably opened itself. It was sealed many years ago to hold the greatest sorcerer that would ever live... maybe it couldn't contain all that power any longer and burst open like Sir Bors's flies at Yuletide..."
"Like I said," Lafoire interrupted. "Your mouth is running!"
Emrys tilted his head. "Why did you go to the caves in the first place?"
"I'd read the legends," she explained. "I wanted to see inside for myself."
"You were hoping to find out the secret of Neahtid?" the wiser Merlin concluded. Lafoire scowled at him which indicated that he was right. "I suppose that gang you belong to still hope that Mordred will control the Otherworld?"
"What makes you think that?"
The door at the top of the stairs slowly opened and young Merlin crept in, unnoticed by the other two.
"The Sacred Order exists to control the Otherworld," Emrys replied sarcastically. "Mordred only uses you and the others to get what he wants. He is an unscrupulous man."
Lafoire looked as if one of her veins was about to burst.
"Mordred is dedicated to the Order's cause," she told him firmly. "One day he will control the crystal and the Caves of Neahtid will shine because he makes them, not because of a magic overspill!"
"You keep telling yourselves that," Emrys scoffed. "Show me the crystal."
Lafoire hissed, reached into her cloak oversized cloak and brought out the crystal. She viciously pulled the crystal out of the velvet pocket she had kept it in and held it. It looked large in her small hands.
Emrys looked at it. "Did you try to use it?"
"You know I do not have the power to wield the crystal," Lafoire pouted.
He held out his hand. "Give it to me."
"Please give it to me and we'll go."
Lafoire looked at the crystal before smiling wickedly.
"Nah," she replied proudly. "I'll think I'll hold on to it for now, until I can get a bigger concession out of you."
"Regardless of what we agree here you will give me that crystal," Emrys told her with certainty. "I know because I myself returned that crystal to Arthur – and Uther Pendragon sealed it in an unknown place, known only to a few. You can't take the crystal."
"The future is not set in stone," Lafoire said.
"No, but you can't influence the things you have no personal control of," Emrys snapped back. "The future is built on choices, not hindsight. That crystal does not belong in our time – you can't physically take it."
"Like I couldn't physically hurt Gwen?" she retorted spitefully.
Emrys sneered. "Gwen is still alive... your spur of the moment decision resulted in nothing but a much outranged and passionately driven Arthur. If you had killed her you'd have turned him into the second Uther Pendragon, you moron!"
Behind them Merlin made his way slowly down the stairs until the two sorcerers were in sight. He then crouched down to watch the confrontation, not sure what to do next.
"It wasn't me that made this mess," Lafoire suddenly said accusingly. "Those five guards – you knew they would be killed but you did nothing to stop me."
Emrys looked away guiltily. He stopped. He turned his head slightly to his right as he sensed the presence of himself behind him. It silenced him immediately and he looked straight at Lafoire.
"I'm just as incapable of changing the way things happened as you are," he said softly. "I can't deny that I don't feel guilty, unlike you.
"You're not getting me this way."
"Neither are you," Emrys snapped back. He took a step forward and Lafoire instinctively stepped back against the door. "You've forgotten what it's like to see your own face in the mirror."
She watched him through lowered eyelashes. "Don't pretend after all these years you haven't changed, that you haven't come colder."
"Oh it has!" Emrys agreed. "I still think about all the things I have done. I," he paused for a second, "I even remember your face. Back when you had a real face, before you cannibalised it and started to steal the skin of innocent people to hide the ugliness of your cruelty."
"You made me," the child's face said firmly.
The moment she said those words a pang went through the young Merlin's chest. It felt as if those words were addressing him.
Emrys was undisturbed. "No, you made yourself."
Her large child's eyes stared at him, as if not understanding.
"You were gone before I finished you off," he told her plainly. "If you think you can lay all the blame at my door you deceive yourself. I am guilty but I cannot take credit for the creation of 'Lafoire'. That honour goes to one woman and one woman alone."
There was a moment's pause.
Lafoire smiled childishly.
"Oh well," she said, unbothered. "It was worth a try. Although the least you could do was call me by my real name."
Emrys nodded and held out his hand. "Give me the crystal."
"Oh I forgot!" she said amusedly. "He doesn't know, does he? Very well in that case I order you to let me go or else your 'cousin' gets toasted."
Before Emrys could reply Lafoire turned sharply to look at the stairs where young Merlin standing. Without a thought she shouted "...fflam oer!" and the same blue flame from before shot from her hand towards him. Emrys immediately raised his hand and shouted "...amddiffyn!" protecting the younger Merlin as he rushed down the stairs to avoid the attack.
He reached the bottom and stood at Emrys's side.
Lafoire laughed. "I'd almost forgotten how thin and fresh you are" she remarked to Merlin. She then turned to Emrys, "The boy has not quite yet become the man, has he?"
Merlin scowled at her.
"You are barely a match for me on your own," Emrys said as if to remind Lafoire. "With Merlin to help me we could finish you off..."
Lafoire laughed again. "I like having the odds against me."
The young Merlin held out his hand. "Give the crystal to me; I'll return it to Arthur and, as far as I'm concerned, you can go."
"How considerate," she said. "And what does the great 'Emrys' have to say for the situation? Will you let me go if I give him the crystal?"
Emrys glanced at her side ways.
He sighed. "If you give Merlin the crystal and leave with me now..."
"Yes?" Lafoire asked, waiting to hear what her treat would be.
"I promise I will give you... a portion of my magic."
To Merlin this didn't seem like much of a bargain but then he saw the expression on Lafoire's face. She seemed both pleased and smug, like she had achieved something brilliant. Her grin was too grown up for a child's face.
"Oh Emrys!" she laughed sardonically. "It seems that Merlin doesn't have a clue what a loss you are making."
Merlin looked up. "Is it such a loss?"
"It makes her more powerful," Emrys said bluntly. "But it's worth it to get that crystal back and hidden so that neither the renegades of today nor the Sacred Order of tomorrow can take it."
The young warlock had become used to listening to Emrys's riddles but he was curious by them constantly mentioning 'The Sacred Order'. He imagined it must be some cult... nonetheless his blood chilled the moment they had mentioned Mordred. It seemed that druid boy got everywhere, teamed up and got taken in by all the wrong people.
He should have known any renegade would want the crystal for him.
"Yes," Emrys finally said. "It is worth it."
Lafoire sighed and brought out the crystal again. She admired the way the torch lights shone off its surface and just for a second imagined if she could see the future in the crystal. Not that she needed it, having the gift of foresight. It would be a great thrill to wield the crystal, though. However it was not to be – the prophecy said only 'Emrys' and Mordred had the power.
"It is our usual concession charge," she joked, taking the crystal from the pouch and throwing it to Merlin. He caught it awkwardly. "He takes some of my magic and I take some of his... I'll never overcome him alone but I don't need to," she said mockingly, "I have a whole gang of warlocks and witches on my side... what does he have?"
Emrys ignored her.
"Take that crystal immediately to Arthur, he will take it to Uther" he ordered Merlin.
Merlin looked down at the crystal; it still gave him the creeps even now. He dared not look at it after what happened last time.
"I'll tell you what he has," she said spitefully. "A po-faced idiotic blonde that doesn't know the tip of a magic wand. Frightening."
Merlin raised lowered his eyes. What was she talking about?"
Lafoire grinned and held out her hand for Emrys.
"Come on then!" she said like an actual child, "Gimme!"
"Not yet," Emrys said, grabbing her hand quickly.
He was in the midst of finishing a sentence but Merlin did not catch the end as, the moment he took hold of her hand, Emrys and Lafoire disappeared in an instant, literally vanished into thin air. Merlin had never seen a transportation spell like that. It usually took a few seconds to whip up a transport spell but one moment they were there, the next minute they were gone. Like ghosts.
"Emrys?" Merlin called, knowing that his friend was now long gone for a warlock. Yet he called again as he slowly walked up the stairs, "Emrys!"
Then a strange sadness fell over him.
Emrys was gone and he hadn't got to say goodbye.
"The search for the sorceress has been unsuccessful, sire" Sir Leon confessed reluctantly before the king and the court. "Furthermore it seems Prince Arthur has not... checked in for the last few hours. We assume he is still searching."
Uther's face was full of typical thunder.
"Perhaps," he said worriedly, before his voice slowly rose higher and higher into infuriated growls. "Or perhaps that witch has caught up with him. This is a woman that stole the Crystal of Neahtid, killed five guards and has slaughtered children without a thought and you left Arthur alone."
The knights all looked down sheepishly.
Gaius scowled about the room, not blaming the knights but Uther for overworking them. A quarter were searching the town, another quarter were trying to find the sorceress and the rest were being slaughtered themselves, day in day out, trying to find Morgana.
"There are not enough men, sire" Leon finally.
Uther responded by throwing his goblet right against the door. "Morons!" he screamed bitterly. "I am surrounded by fools!"
Gaius took a deep breath and stepped forward. "My lord—"
However he was interrupted as the main door came open. Everyone turned and surprise filled the air as Arthur strode into the audience room, followed behind by Merlin. Their eyes immediately fell on the object Arthur held in his hands.
He stopped in front of his father and held it out to him. It was the Crystal of Neahtid.
Uther took it from his son's hands. His demure immediately became relaxed and calm, almost embarrassed by his reaction seconds before. The magical object was heavy and real in the king's hands. He down at his son who stared back at him, unblinking.
"Is the sorceress dead?" he asked.
"She won't be stealing it again," Arthur simply said.
And Arthur looked back at Merlin.
It had been difficult having to explain to Arthur and Gwen what had happened with Emrys and Lafoire when he returned to Arthur's chambers to finally let them out. Naturally his master had been annoyed at being locked in his bedroom, although strangely enough he had little memory of how it had happened. He certainly didn't remember Emrys using magic on him, which was probably a good thing.
On the other hand Gwen still couldn't get over the likeness between Emrys and Merlin. Yet just like with Arthur while it was something she had noticed she had no reason to suspect the truth. At least no more than Merlin himself did.
In the end Merlin had told Arthur more or less the truth: that Emrys had caught up with Lafoire, recaptured her and asked him to deliver the crystal to him.
"Unfortunately he left very abruptly," Merlin had explained quickly. "He was sorry not to be able to say goodbye to both of you."
"It's just as well," Arthur said, looking at the crystal. "I'm convinced he did something to me back there, Merlin. I don't know what it was but if I ever remember and see him, I'll bloody kill him."
Merlin and Gwen had both smiled.
"We had best get the crystal back to my father," Arthur said, holding it up and walking out the door. The two servants nodded and looked to each other.
Merlin smiled. "Are you feeling alright now?"
"Me," Gwen asked modestly. "I'm fine... in fact I feel better than I did before. Not that I want to repeat the incident! Being strangled by a psychopathic walking corpse isn't exactly an experience I want to relive."
Merlin could still see the bruise marks across her neck. It was amazing that she had survived that assault.
"Did you ever find our Emrys's real name?" Gwen asked.
"No," Merlin shook his head. "I doubt I'll ever find out now."
Just as Emrys had said he would Uther Pendragon's first thought was to hide the Crystal of Neahtid somewhere only he and a select few would know about. Merlin was not one of those few. So, for many years afterward the incident with Lafoire the crystal would be lost, buried and forgotten. It would not be until Merlin rose to a significant position in Camelot that he would finally find out where it was kept.
"It's a pity," Merlin had said to Gaius later on that night as they ate dinner. "I never found out who Emrys really was."
Gaius nodded slowly. He suspected that he knew who Emrys had been really, but part of him was glad that Merlin didn't know. It would offer up too many questions if Merlin were to know that Emrys had been him, years from the future. They were questions best left unanswered.
"It's probably for the best," the old man told his charge, and glanced across the room to look at the empty space where the second sidhe staff had been. "I suspect you will meet him again."
Everyone was dismissed from the court as the crisis was over.
Outside the chambers Gwen was waiting for either Arthur or Merlin to emerge. Her friend walked straight home with Gaius, and since she didn't particularly want him she didn't bother him. A part of her felt she should talk to Gaius about her potential future. After everything that had happened today she genuinely wondered if she could take carrying out even the smallest of errands for him.
Seeing those dead children and then looking into the cold murderous eyes of their killer as she tried to chock the life out of her too... stunned her.
Surviving the incident made her feel strangely strong despite looking very dishevelled – but she couldn't take another moment staring at dead and sick people and trying not to become emotionally involved. Maybe one day she could do it, but not now. She still needed time.
Arthur was one of the last to come out. He had done it on purpose, knowing (or rather hoping) that Gwen would be waiting for him and so they wouldn't be seen by any busybody servants or gossiping nobility.
He slowly stepped out of the large room and caught sight of her, smiling at him. It sent that old familiar vibe through him that drew him over to her like a magnet. She too stepped forward, getting a jolt of electricity through her arteries too.
"So was everything alright?" Gwen asked.
Arthur nodded. "I handed the crystal back, no problem. My father intends to lock it away somewhere more secure. He won't take any more chances."
"I'm not surprised after today," Gwen sighed solemnly.
She reached up to touch the tender skin where Lafoire had throttled her. It wasn't until she looked in some polished armour in Arthur's chambers she realised just how obvious the bruises were. They worried her: people would likely notice and ask where she got them from. Then again they probably wouldn't. They'd notice them and but never ask her, instead making up a story of how she got them.
"I still have chills thinking about that witch," she confessed after a moment.
Arthur said nothing, and instead gently reached up to stroke the ugly fingerprint marks along her collar and throat.
Gwen twitched under his touch but felt relaxed. She liked it especially because until his touch the skin felt soft and ticklish again rather than marked or sore. She liked it even more because it was a familiar gesture, a rare moment where she could allow Arthur to touch her in an intimate way and not feel like she was making a mistake.
He swallowed. "When I saw you laying there on the floor I thought that I'd lost you."
"For a moment there I thought I'd lost me," she said, trying to make a joke. It seemed to have the opposite effect of what she wanted. She dared to stroke his cheek with her hand. "Merlin told me how... upset you were."
"I felt like I'd let you down," Arthur blurted out. "If anything had happened to you..."
"But it didn't," she said firmly. "I'm fine."
"I couldn't bear it," he finished promptly.
Arthur nearly jerked forward to kiss her but stopped himself.
"Do you forgive me?" he suddenly asked.
Gwen tilted her head and smiled. "For what? You have nothing to apologise for."
Her thumb delicately brushed his cheekbones.
"Besides," she said, finally thinking of something that she hoped would make him smile. "How many maidservants can boast to sleeping next to the prince on his nice big bed and soft pillows."
Arthur both smiled and blushed. It had always been a dream (or ambition) of his that one day Gwen would grace his bedroom, just not through the circumstances it had happened today. There was a moment when the two of them had come around from Emrys's sleeping enchantment and thought the whole thing might be a dream... but they quickly realised they were still the prince and the servant girl.
"My intentions were honourable," Arthur joked back. "Although that said under different circumstances they would have been dishonourable with the best intentions."
Gwen gave him a coy smile.
"Well," she said after a moment. "That's something to think about."
It hurt to say that because, as Arthur had once said, it was all talk. Chatter and wishful thinking... for now. But they could play the game this evening because they were grateful the other one had come out of this bizarre day unharmed. Ultimately they were both glad to have taken their minds off today's horrible thing.
After they had disappeared from the younger Merlin's presence Emrys transported himself and the witch back to Gaius's chambers to pick up his sidhe staff. He had almost forgotten he was ever carrying and only remembered as he was fighting Lafoire and wished he had carried it with him.
But that would have given the game away, surely.
He picked up his sidhe wand.
Lafoire laughed. "Still carrying that old ting around, are you?"
"It comes in handy," he replied plainly, returning to her side. "Nothing compares with the magic of the sidhe, especially since we have to walk through the Otherworld realm to get back to our time."
"Maybe I should have bargained for that instead of some of your magic."
"Sorry, you can't go back on a bargain" he said.
Emrys began to enchant a mysterious red band around Lafoire's wrist. It was to keep her from running off while they were in the Otherworld. It was a deadly and frightening place for someone who had not made a study of it. He glanced at the open books on the legends of Emrys and Macha lying open on the table.
"Besides I wouldn't give you the sidhe wand for anything," he finished quickly.
Lafoire noticed the books on the table too.
"Did you see Gaius?" she asked.
"Did you give him a hug?"
Emrys swallowed. "No, he wouldn't want to hug a complete stranger."
"Pity," Lafoire scoffed. "He'd have probably been pleased to have seen out 'well' you turned out."
She looked back to the books and a tsk sound puffed from her lips. "Those legends about us certainly are pathetic. The least those damned myths and prophecies could have done was get our names right."
"Some of them did," Emrys muttered. "It was the druids that gave us names like Emrys and Macha."
Lafoire looked at the picture: "Emrys leads Macha Badb and Bébinn Chinn Óir through the Otherworld for the final time."
"I wonder if it will happen," she muttered to herself. "Is the enchanted band really necessary?"
"I'm not having you run off," he said firmly. It was only then he noticed she was still in Anwen's face on. "You could at least drop that disturbing disguise, Lafoire."
She scoffed again. "You could at least call me by my real name. I don't mind being Macha Badb or the Cyhyraeth, but I hate the name Lafoire. It is meaningless. Not all of us have the lofty title of 'Emrys' you know, Merlin."
"My apologise Morgana," 'Emrys' said through his falsely-smiling teeth. His voice tinted with bitterness. "Now, take off that face!"
He then yanked out and the amulet containing the hair of the four murdered women and girls from her pendant and threw it to the floor. Morgana screeched angrily and gave Merlin a vicious look as her face slowly began to melt back into its form.
The amulet then smashed onto the floor, immediately revealing the witch's true identity. Not that it would have mattered if Arthur, Gwen or Merlin had seen her for they would probably have barely recognised her. After years of using black magic to steal other people's appearances it truly had brutalised her real face – it was deathly grey and looked as if it barely covered the clearly visible veins and arteries stretching all over her face, neck and arms. It was like looking at death itself.
It almost made Merlin feel sad, to see that one of her greatest assets (Her beauty) was long since lost and forgotten. She was just a ghost inhabiting other people's faces now... but Morgana had long since stopped caring.
"It's a long time since I've seen your face," Merlin croaked. "It's not quite as bad as I thought it would be."
"Never mind that!" Morgana growled back, frustrated that one of her amulets had been destroyed. At least she had others at home. She held out her hand, "Give me what you promised me!"
"You'll get it," Merlin promised, holding his sidhe staff between them. "There's just one more thing I have to ask before we go."
She groaned. "What now?"
"Why did you kill those children?"
"Ceri and Anwen," he elaborated. "Mavis's two children."
"Should the name Mavis mean something to me?"
Merlin took a frustrated breath. "The woman that Joan was living with."
"Oh," Morgana's eyes widened in realisation. "Well, after killing their mother it seemed like the most merciful thing to do."
"Then why did you kill their mother?"
"I didn't know she was a mother when I killed her," Morgana said frankly, not defensively. It probably wouldn't have made a difference even if she had known but she was telling the truth when she said she didn't know at the time. "The busybody moron interrupted me after I killed the old woman."
"What exactly happened?"
"I killed Joan for her form," Morgana explained. "Then the mother came out, calling for her. She caught me. I quickly silenced her the same way I did with Gwen before, backed her into the house and then killed her too. Then I noticed the children; I thought it was the best thing."
"They were children, Morgana!"
"I covered their faces," she replied. "Isn't that enough?"
"You still stole their forms."
"I wasn't going to let them go to waste. I didn't use the little one."
"They were children," Merlin snarled again. "They had their whole lives ahead of them."
"Oh really?" she said, and tried to fold her arms but Merlin's bond at her wrist yanked her arms straight again. "Would you have wanted to be eight years old and growing up an orphan in Uther Pendragon's Camelot? I think not."
"They still could have lived," Merlin said quietly. "It was wrong to kill them."
"Merlin" she said with a wobble of her head. "We both know that if I hadn't killed those children the chances are they'd have died from some other catastrophe. If not one I created then one you created."
There was a long silence as Merlin decided not to reply.
She tilted her head. "No showy retaliation."
"No," he said simply, holding the wand between them. "You're right."
That threw Morgana more than anything Merlin had said that day. "So? I answered your question now give me what you owe me!"
"Hold on to the sidhe wand" he ordered her.
She made no attempt to take it.
He rolled her eyes. "It will take a while for me to transfer knowledge from myself to you, so we might as well do it on the way home."
"You make it sound like an outing!"
"I promise you'll have your precious magical knowledge by the time we get home."
Merlin grasped her bound wrist with his free hand and clasped it again the staff.
"You never asked me about the red capes," Morgana pointed out, raising the issue of her murder victims again.
"I know why you killed them," he replied simply. "Besides I thought we'd agreed to stop counting red capes, seeing as Camelot gets through so many of them."
He then gave her a cheeky smile, one she had not seen since... well, many years since before he was that young man he was now in this time. It unnerved her more than his scowl had.
"Don't worry," he told her. "You won't feel a thing."
And just like that they disappeared once again.