This story follows on from 'The Scheme of Things' and 'Hard Choices'. Brief reference to 'The Crystal Cave', more of where this story is set in series 3 will be revealed in good time. Hope you like the story!
"Father please!" Arthur struggled against the soldiers dragging him back. It was taking four of them, which might have amused him, on any other occasion. Arthur stared at Uther, whose face remained impassive, but his eyes as he stared at Arthur told a different story. Arthur heard the sound of a heavy door being opened behind him and he flinched, keeping his eyes on Uther.
"I know I lied to you, but Merlin is… he's a good person."
"He is a sorcerer," Uther said flatly. "And you knew."
Arthur was dragged into the darkness of the room behind. Uther keeping pace as he followed them. The two guards standing behind the king stayed by the door, flanking the entrance carefully. Two of the guards holding Arthur took a firm grip of his arms, pulling them behind his back. They pinned him between them. Arthur stopped struggling. There was nothing he could do physically; he had to try being the voice of reason.
"Not straight away, I got to know Merlin before I found out what he was. He doesn't abuse his power; he only uses it when he has to."
"But he does use it, the use of magic is forbidden in this kingdom, surely you are aware of that?"
"I am, but the law in actual fact, can be interpreted to a degree that the abuse of magic is outlawed, not the basic use of it. You seem to have forgotten that!"
Arthur recoiled as Uther stepped forward, moving back into the soldiers, who swiftly wrapped the thick metal shackles around his wrists. Arthur gasped as he felt it, icy cold against the warmth of his skin, as he realised not only was he being locked up in the dungeon, he was being restrained like a common criminal. Then again, Uther was never above such methods. He had done the same to Morgana once, a deed that had shocked Arthur to the core. It was one of the small little kernels in his mind that had settled there, slowly growing as he started to doubt a few things his father said. Merlin had become a strong lynchpin of that.
Uther stepped forward, Arthur stopped backing up, he was hemmed in by the guards, who were desperately trying to restrain him, while staying deaf to the conversation and ignore the fact that they were locking up the Crown Prince.
"You seem to be taking a rather strong interest in the law," Uther snarled. Arthur steeled himself and met his father's gaze.
"Yes, I have. And Merlin has done nothing wrong. He doesn't abuse his powers, he hardly ever uses it, except in extreme circumstances, and more importantly, he uses his powers to protect me and this kingdom."
"Leave us!" Uther snapped at the guards around him as soon as they had secured Arthur. They ran without hesitation. Normally they would never leave the king alone with a prisoner but this prisoner was his son. Arthur watched them go feeling inclined to point out the discrepancy of their retreat to Uther. He easily stopped himself as Uther stepped forward, so he was directly in front of him. Arthur swayed back, but kept his feet still.
A moment later he rocked sideways, falling to the floor, seeing stars as Uther's hand connected with his face. Arthur stayed down for a moment, gasping with shock, his left cheek stinging violently, and heat rushing to his skin. He controlled the urge to bring up a hand and press the now bruising skin to test if any deeper damage had been done. Instead he slowly started to rise, only to be felled by another hard blow, just by his ear, making it ring and his head spin further. He went down again, shaking his head and looking at his father's boots. Swallowing down the bile rising in his throat, Arthur tried again, slowly getting up. This time he wasn't stopped and he faced his father, still trying not to react to the blows, keeping his hands by his sides and concentrating on not squinting his eye where it was starting to sting and fill with tears.
"You cannot be trusted; because of this your integrity is compromised. Merlin will burn at dawn tomorrow and you'll stand trial for this."
"What?" Arthur forgot all about controlling his eye watering as he stared at Uther in shock. "You can't do that!"
"I am the king! It is all I can do to save you from execution. The sorcerer will die, and you will yield to my judgement! You may be the heir to the throne, but you are not above the law of this land!"
"Well, then shouldn't I die with Merlin," Arthur snapped. "You kill anyone who so much as passes a sorcerer in the street. You are irrational when it comes to your judgment on such matters. I wonder sometimes, if what that image of my mother said is true. The Great Purge very interestingly coincides with my birth."
This time, as Arthur was slapped again, he recoiled with the blow, bracing himself to stay standing. Licking at the corner of his mouth he tasted blood and slowly looked up at his father. His eyes were burning into him, Arthur met the gaze calmly.
"Please, listen to me. Merlin hasn't done anything, he is loyal to me, he's saved my life. He had no reason to at the beginning. And he's saved your life too."
Uther regarded him coldly, staring at him as if he was nothing but a stranger, someone that Uther didn't even know. It was slow progress as Uther turned and started to walk away from him.
"Father, listen to me," Arthur said, hope sparking as he saw the merest hint of hesitation in Uther. "Please, Merlin isn't a threat, just don't hurt him, put me on trial, fine, do that, I don't care; but keep him alive, let him; let us explain."
Uther stepped further forward to the door. Arthur lurched forward, pulled up short by the chains, yanking his shoulders painfully, and he staggered back as he jerked his body.
"I am begging you! Please father, just listen to me! Listen to me!"
As he yelled, his voice getting louder and louder, it was to no avail. Uther didn't hesitate, he swept out of the dungeon and the door shut behind him, leaving Arthur alone in the sparse room. There was only a thin bed of straw on the floor, and a drainage hole in the corner. Arthur looked up, at the barred windows far above his head. He could hear the sounds coming from the courtyard, painfully familiar sounds as the pyre was built, the one that would no doubt burn Merlin in the morning. Arthur's eyes filled again, as he stood there, lifting his arms to look at the shackles around them, and the chains that secured him to the wall. He dropped his arms down by his sides and his breath hitched heavily as he looked around, the consequences of his actions pressing down upon him.
"This is not good," he commented to himself.
Merlin knew there was no way Uther was taking any chances with him. Too many people had escaped from the dungeon. They had help, there was always someone. It didn't always end well for the escapees but they got a chance. Merlin had got out before, which was probably why all the precautions had been taken.
He was bound and gagged again. Why did people keep assuming that could hold him? It did a little, he couldn't incant, but he didn't need the hand gestures to really send his power. They just helped him focus, so he didn't end up accidentally doing something he shouldn't; in the view of people who shouldn't see it.
The ropes around his wrists and ankles were tight, his shoulders starting to ache, and the material in his mouth tasted a little unpleasant. But even if he started to get himself out of his bonds, there was nothing he could do. There wasn't just a guard outside the door, two were in the cell with him, swords drawn, and very alert, their eyes resting on him intently. They tensed at every little move he made and as he tried to stretch his legs out one of them had jabbed the point of his sword into Merlin's thigh. He couldn't move an inch without them seeing it.
Two more guards were outside, swords also drawn, standing very much to attention. Not a single one of them was going to snooze on duty. Uther's orders carried weight. He would not be left unattended for a moment. There would be no chance of thinking up anything to salvage the situation. Merlin couldn't even begin to cover it all. Uther knew about him, as simple as that, and he also knew that Arthur knew about him. That was the worst thing. He had ended up putting Arthur in danger. Arthur knowing about him could not become public knowledge. That would be a disaster. Uther would hopefully never let that happen. Merlin hoped Arthur was all right. They had been dragged away separately. Merlin first as Uther had stormed into Arthur's chambers, but he had ordered Arthur restrained as well, four guards literally pinning him down on his bed, while they had bound and gagged Merlin and dragged him out.
Merlin had reacted passively when Arthur had found out about him, and even when the knights had taken action. He couldn't this time; he was desperately trying to think of something he could do. Ideas were evading him at the moment. He couldn't escape the cell, so he couldn't get to Arthur. Merlin assured himself that Uther would not hurt his son. But the king would not take the knowledge lightly. Arthur knew he was a sorcerer and chose not to tell anyone. That would affect Uther deeply.
What worried Merlin was what Arthur would attempt, to try and help him. He had sometimes said to Merlin that he was trying to prevent him from becoming like so many of the sorcerers they had encountered. But Arthur had taken on a responsibility for Merlin's safety, and would no doubt try to aid him. Arthur could end up making it even worse for himself, and Merlin couldn't let that happen.
The looked up at the sound of movement. It was hard to see around the guards stood in front of him, but looking across the floor Merlin saw two sets of boots walking in. He recognised two more guards and he presumed there was going to be a change of shift. Merlin wasn't sure how long he had been here, but he assumed no one was going to get tired on duty. Then he blinked as another set of boots followed, curtained by familiar fur-lined robes. Merlin's heart fluttered and he sat up straighter. The two guards stepped towards him and one that was standing outside unlocked the door for Uther.
Sheathing their swords the two men grabbed him, taking an arm each and dragging him forward, roughly shoving him on his knees in front of Uther. Merlin winced as his kneecaps slammed against the hard stone. He kept his head down, staring at Uther's boots, but then the soldier on his right gave him no choice in the matter, he grabbed Merlin by the hair and pulled his head up. Merlin gazed up into Uther's icy eyes, and shivered at the hatred burning in them.
Uther said nothing for a moment, and Merlin couldn't say anything. They just gazed at each other, the same thought slowly stirring in both of their minds, even though they didn't entirely register it. If they warred over Arthur, they wondered who would win.
With a curt nod from Uther the guard took the hint and pulled the gag from Merlin's mouth. He worked his jaw a little, rubbing his tongue around his dry mouth, and he waited. Merlin wasn't going to say anything until he was spoken to. Uther continued to regard him coldly. Merlin didn't let his eyes rove, although it was tempting. Meeting Uther's gaze that burnt and froze him at the same time was a difficult thing to do.
"How long have you been performing magic?" Uther asked him flatly.
Merlin blinked, "I don't perform, it's just part of me."
Uther's jaw set and Merlin became very conscious of the king's fists clenched tightly as his sides.
"You have been using magic, an act which is against the laws of this kingdom, and is punishable by death."
"I haven't done anything to hurt anyone," Merlin told him calmly.
"You have compromised this entire kingdom and corrupted its heir. How are other people expected to uphold, and obey, the law when the Crown Prince believes himself to be above it?"
Merlin privately admitted that perhaps Uther had a bit of a point there. He wasn't about to say that though.
"It's not as simple as that," Merlin said softly. Uther snarled and Merlin could see that it was taking every ounce of effort for the king not to attack him, and probably kill him then and there. Merlin swallowed dryly and waited, not wanting to antagonise Uther further.
"By the laws of this land, you are sentenced to death; you'll be burnt at the stake, at dawn."
Merlin looked up at him with resignation. There was no way Uther could be reasoned with on that. But Merlin had other concerns.
"Just don't take this out on Arthur, don't blame him for what he did."
Uther had almost turned away but he looked back, there was something of hope flickering within the anger. He regarded Merlin carefully, a slight smirk starting to develop.
"Are you saying Arthur was not entirely in control of his decision?"
Merlin blinked, he could give Arthur an out from the situation. It was unspoken in the words Uther used.
"Did you enchant him?" Uther made it clearer, stepping back to loom over Merlin.
Merlin's mind ran with the possibilities of what he could say. He could say that, it would get Arthur off the hook, but Arthur would deny it. There was a possibility it could make Arthur's position worse, when he refused to back down, and he was stubborn enough to do that. Now he had come to terms with Merlin's powers Arthur had been aware of the precarious position it put them in.
Merlin didn't even get any words out. He had hesitated just a little too long as he thought it through, and he saw the expression on Uther's face harden as the truth really hit him. Arthur had made the decision himself, willingly accepting Merlin's powers, and it was there for Uther to see. He spun on his heel and stalked out of the cell, ordering the guards to maintain their positions and make sure Merlin was watched at all times. Merlin gasped as the material was pulled back into his mouth and he was hurled back onto the cold stone floor of the cell. The door slammed and the guards moved back into position. Merlin's eyes filled with tears, and he swallowed heavily, his chest tensing with pain at the hopelessness of the situation.
All he could hope was that Arthur would be all right. His mind didn't even want to contemplate what might happen to Gaius.
Gaius knew something bad had happened. Two guards had turned up at his door and informed him that he was not to leave his chambers. They had demanded a key to the door, left the room and locked him in. Gaius didn't doubt they were outside, but no amount of knocking or talking would get them to explain what was happening.
He sat at the table, just waiting. For a while he had moved around the room, tidying a little, making the potions he needed to give out that day and then, for want of something else to do had gone up the stairs to Merlin's room to straighten up. As he stood in the doorway he knew there was only one thing that could have caused the situation. Gaius closed his eyes, backing out of the room and closing the door behind him. He stumbled down the steps and sat down, tears glistening at the corner of his eyes.
That one word echoed around Gaius' head as he sat there, and there he remained until the key turned in the lock and the door opened. Two guards came in, and Gaius stood up as Uther followed them.
For a moment Uther didn't acknowledge him, instead he looked at the guards and nodded at the far door.
"Search that room, pull it apart if you have to."
Gaius blinked, and waited. Uther turned to look at him.
"You knew, I suppose."
"Knew what, Sire? What is…"
Uther cut him off, roaring at him, making the guards behind him, at the door, jump a little. "Arthur knew, so you must have known! About Merlin!"
Gaius recoiled. Uther stepped forward to follow him.
"Had you been teaching him? You vowed to me you would never use magic again! That was how you survived the Great Purge."
Gaius flinched, and shook his head. "No, Sire, I taught him nothing."
It was in fact true. Merlin had natural talent, and he experimented now and again, although he was careful with it, most of the time. Uther moved closer.
"And how do you expect me to believe that?"
"It is true, Sire," Gaius said.
"You knew he was practicing magic," Uther said steadily. He didn't bother to make it a question. The facts were plain enough for him to see.
"He does not practice magic," Gaius said. "He is a creature of magic. Merlin cannot avoid what he is, and what he was born with. All he could do was put it to use, and he did so to protect Arthur, and this kingdom."
Uther looked at Gaius. They stared at each other, neither one of them speaking. Both of them jumped at the sound of breaking furniture and wood splinting. Gaius' eyes darted in the direction of the sound, Uther gasped and stepped back, spinning on his heel to go towards Merlin's room. He was almost there when one of the soldiers appeared.
He held the staff Merlin had taken from the sidhe in one hand, and the magic book in the other. Uther eyed both, and opted to take the book, letting it fall open, and flipping through the pages randomly. Eventually he turned away, hurling the book across the room. It crashed into a cabinet, splinting the rickety wooden door, which smashed the glass jars inside. Gaius flinched as various different liquids started to drip onto the floor. Little puddles of different coloured liquids formed, running together, making new colours.
"That book was yours," Uther announced flatly.
"I gave it to him, Sire."
"You colluded with a sorcerer," Uther snarled.
"Merlin is like a son to me, you do whatever it takes to protect, and help, your children."
No one but Uther and Gaius understood that. After the conversation they had had over Morgana. Uther's face twisted with fury and he crossed the room in the blink of an eye, grabbing Gaius' robe. Gaius didn't see the fist coming but the solders all stared in shock as Uther slammed Gaius to the ground. He lay on the floor senseless. Uther stood over him for a moment, fists clenched and the men behind him watched, none of them daring to move an inch.
"Merlin will be burnt at dawn," Uther snarled callously. He turned and stormed out of the room, informing the guards that the physician was not to leave the room. Gaius lay on the floor, gasping for breath, hardly comprehending what had just happened. Very slowly he started to pull himself up, staggering a little. The guards didn't move to help him as he sat down heavily and put his head into his hands. Instead they slunk out of the room, closing it quietly behind them and turning the key in the lock.
All Gaius was left with was the steady, rhythmic drip from the cabinet in the corner of the room.