Primogeniture, Ch. 6 - Small Steps
A/N: I basically went on hiatus and lived under a rock for the last few weeks, from AP's to prom to finals, to my 18th birthday two weeks ago (yay, now everything I've been doing for over the last half-decade is actually legal...except for some of the intoxicating measures, but no one cares about those), to my graduation last week (holy shit I'm a college student now! o.O). I doubt many of you are all that interested so I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say I was busy, busy, busy with RL! But, now that's all over with! And now I have summer to look forward to! Which isn't much because I'll probably end up working, anyway, but still. It's the thought the counts. :P
Anyway, I'm going to slowly ease back into posting and updating fics at my regular rate, so this will hopefully get my started.
Arthur woke up slowly to the odd feel of a warm, heavy weight on his chest, before he looked down and spied Merlin's mop of messy, black hair.
He smiled, now remembering - Merlin had been sleeping here for almost a week now. He laid his head back for a moment to enjoy the feeling of Merlin against him, oddly quiet, peaceful save for his occasional somnial fidgeting.
Eventually, though, he had to get up, and did so, waking up Merlin in the process.
"Huh?" he slurred out sleepily.
"It's morning," Arthur said. "Breakfast."
Still half-asleep, Merlin nodded, getting up and getting dressed, before pattering off to grab breakfast.
Arthur got dressed, somewhat, and was shifting through the reports of the grain tax bounty when Merlin came back, platter in hand.
"What's this I'm hearing about Morgana going off?" Merlin asked curiously as he set down the platter of food.
"Every year, she goes on a pilgrimage to her father's grave," Arthur said absently.
"...but she already went," Merlin said.
"Yes, but this is a specific anniversary for her," Arthur said. "We, on the other hand, have a hunt to attend to with the Baron Jonathon."
Merlin sighed. "Of course we do."
Arthur smiled at Merlin's pout, and went back to his reports while Merlin started gathering the gear. Breakfast could wait.
Arthur had been riding on the satisfaction of a fairly good hunt when a messenger boy found them in the forest.
He and his party were back at the castle instantly, where Uther immediately sent them off again, this time with Madog and a few more knights.
They slowed when they reached the scene of devastation on the road.
His throat tightened at the sight of several good knights, good friends, dead on the road. But, they were knights - and well prepared for this. Right now, he had bigger problems.
He and Madog led the search, but it was Merlin who cried out, "Over here!" waving the ransom note.
It's while they were looking at it that they heard the underbrush moving off in the distance.
All of them were immediately on guard, fully expecting one of the bandits to come through.
So they were all rather understandably surprised when instead, Morgana, in her petticoats and a sword in hand, appeared instead.
The entire contingent of knights soldiers all sighed in relief upon seeing her...except Merlin and Arthur.
"Gwen?" he asked hoarsely as she neared.
She looked about ready to cry as she shook her head.
He and Merlin shared a look. Just one look.
"I would've thought Morgana would want to come with us," Merlin said as they rode out of Camelot that very night.
"She does," Arthur said. "But Father will be furious with us both if she goes right back into Hengist's clutches. This way, I'm just being 'reckless' rather than 'too attached' or 'rash', and likely just acting on Morgana's request, as far as he's concerned."
"...right," Merlin said. "Is he going to send anyone after us when he finds out we're gone?"
"He might," Arthur said. "I don't know. Maybe Madog and a few guards. Or some knights. But at this point, I think he won't risk toomuch on me."
Merlin remembered Uther walking out to fight the Black Knight and promptly disagreed.
"Lancelot! What are you doing here?"
"Saving Guinevere, you?"
Merlin fought the urge to roll his eyes, instead shepherding the other three into the tunnel after the wildren was released. He only planned on closing it off to let them escape, but when Hengist climbed into the cage...
Both Lancelot and Arthur shouted in worry and warning, "Merlin!" when he did magic, before looking at each other in surprise.
"He can explain later!" Gwen cried out, before Merlin was pushing all of them forward as Hengist was eaten alive.
Merlin blasted right through the grate, then welded it right back on before they ran.
It was only when they were nearly half a mile from the fortress did they stop completely, catching their breath while leaning desperately against the nearest solid surface.
"So...Merlin..." Arthur said, he and Lancelot the quickest to catch their breaths. "Care to explain...?"
"Griffin," Merlin said simply.
"I saw him enchanting my lance when I charged the griffin," Lancelot added in, before looking to Merlin. "So you finally told him?"
"I'm glad," Lancelot said, nodding.
"Are we moving any further?" Gwen asked, ever practical, pushing herself up.
"A few more miles, at least, before we stop and rest for the night," Arthur said.
And so they moved. They found the horses and went another five or six miles before Arthur and Lance decided they would be safe. Merlin had a fire and camp going in moments, and he and Arthur sat together comfortably while Gwen and Lance talked in hushed tones.
For a while, it was sweet. By nightfall, it was tense.
By morning, Lancelot was leaving.
"I cannot go to Camelot," Lancelot said, when Merlin ran to catch up with him. "I know I am not welcome, yet. With what you and Gwen described of all the trouble happening, lately..." He shook his head. "Princes Madog and Arthur have enough to widen the chasm between them. I will not be another issue to be dumped in the middle to split apart the lieges of Camelot."
Merlin shook his head ruefully. "You're even worse of a noble prat than Arthur, you know."
"...thank you?" Lancelot asked in sad humor.
Merlin took a deep breath, looking back to see Gwen and Arthur both looking somewhat mournfully in their direction.
"You may not necessarily be welcome in the knighthood just yet, but Camelot will embrace you," Merlin said, quietly, turning back to Lancelot. "Don't be a stranger? You are Arthur's first knight and Gwen's first true love. They're going to miss you."
"And you?" Lancelot asked.
"Well, I would've thought as my friend, missing you would be obvious..." Merlin said, trying desperately to lighten this up. This was all too much happening at once.
Lancelot smiled, a little less sad, this time. "I...I will try. Not to be a stranger. Until then - goodbye."
Merlin smiled. "You too."
And then he was gone, and he, and Gwen, and Arthur were headed back to Camelot.
Morgana and Gwen hugged fiercely upon reunion. Madog rolled his eyes and Uther stormed at Arthur once again running off like this, and Merlin prepared Arthur a hot bath and good night in as a thank you for saving Gwen.
"She's our friend, this needs no thanks," Arthur said, before slipping into the bath with a relieved sigh. Merlin smiled fondly and went about fixing up the room.
"You can use the bath after me," Arthur said. "I don't mind."
Merlin laughed. "Sure...but you should know, I already used it when you're not here, anyway." Perks of being the magical servant to the prince.
Arthur rolled his eyes before his shoulders rose out of the tub as he turned to look at Merlin.
"How come Lancelot knew before I did? About your magic?" Arthur asked.
"Because he found me out by accident, but you, I told," Merlin said simply, understanding Arthur's insecurities by now.
Arthur, apparently comforted by that, turned back around and settled into the tub. Merlin fought the urge to grin and pet his hair like a cat, and went back to organizing the room.
The Lady Catrina seemed nice enough. Drop dead tired, but nice. She understandably went through hard times after her house was raided, and having made her way across the kingdom with no belongings and a single seal and servant, he could see why she would be a little out of sorts.
But then came the fun part.
"I think father might intend to court her," Arthur said, somewhat puzzled, right after dinner with the family and Catrina. The three siblings had made their excuses to leave early - well, Morgana had, then Arthur, and Madog had to grudgingly follow - and now they were all in Morgana's room.
"I can't believe he would do that!" Madog shouted, pacing around in circles.
Madog's servant, Gregory, appeared in the doorway with the warmed leftovers, and Merlin and Gwen set out Morgana's table for three, before taking smaller plates of food for themselves and retreating to sitting on the edge of Morgana's bed, eating quietly and watching the royal trio, spectators to the fantastic royal family's argument.
"I'm glad," Morgana said, somewhat haughtily. "Uther needs someone."
"I just find the whole thing sudden," Arthur said.
"He's lonely," Morgana said, making Arthur looked speculatively at his dinner.
"He's betraying Mother's memory!" Madog shouted. That seemed to hit Arthur, too.
"He is not!" Morgana said, exasperated. "Moving on from Ygraine does not mean forgetting her! It just means he is learning to be human again. This could be a good thing-"
"How? How can this possiblybe a good thing?" Madog shouted. "Camelot has done just fine without a queen so far, I don't see why she needs one now!"
"Camelot has done fine without a queen, but how fine has Father been without a wife?" Arthur offered.
And so the three went.
"I wonder what would happen," Gwen mused quietly to the two boys on either side of her. "What would happen if we were to give them all sticks and lock them in an empty room, together."
He and Gregory snorted at the thought. It really was amusing to see them arguing over Uther's lovelife.
Merlin really shouldn't have been surprised when that Lady turned out to be an imposter.
Or that Uther married her. And named heir to the throne.
The part he really hadn'tbeen expecting was that she was a troll.
...and she'd seemed so nice, too.
Merlin burst into the wedding only to see it finish, the music and celebrations too loud for anyone to notice his entrance, or that he was a mess from the night under the castle.
Arthur was blank, stiff as a board, still thinking it was just an enchantment of a sorceress, not knowing it was a troll. Morgana, whom Merlin had already told, looked almost nauseous as Uther kissed Catrina in matrimony. Madog was trembling with fury, eyes locked on the old crown of Ygraine's on Catrina's head.
This entire thing was a mess.
Merlin was pondering what to do about this whole thing while making Arthur's bed when Arthur ran in, Madog a step behind him.
"You have to leave Camelot, now," Arthur said, tugging the bedclothes out of Merlin's hands.
"Queen Catrinahas accused you of stealing her family seal," Madog sneered. All their heads snapped up at the distant sound of footsteps, and Madog briskly said, "Get him out of here, I'll head them off."
He ran out.
"...I thought he hated me," Merlin said, as he and Arthur slipped into the antechamber.
"He doesn't hate you, he just doesn't like you - and either way, he hates Catrina more," Arthur said simply, before pushing Merlin out the servant's entrance and to safety.
The next few days were a blur of shock. Catrina being named heir to the throne wasn't really all that surprising to Arthur - she was queen, now, no matter how much Madog raged about it.
Father's treatment of the people, though, with Catrina at his side, it was...it was...
"Reprehensible," Madog spat, pacing. Arthur took it as a sign that they could actually agree on this.
He wasn't all that disappointed when he and Madog were disinherited from the crown. He was never going to be king, anyway. Madog, on the other hand...
"...I am hisheir!" Madog said, horrified, sitting on a bench. "Why would he...he can't...he can't take this away! Catrina will destroy the people if she becomes the sole ruler!"
He was furious and confused and Arthur could, for once, empathize with his brother, understand the feeling of abandonment from their father. (Now Madog knew what it was like.)
Then Merlin and Morgana told him the queen was a troll enchanting his father to bend to her will. ("A...troll? That seems a little...oh, you mean an actualtroll?") They had told Arthur, who in turn told Madog, who went back to Gaius to confirm it.
"It all makes sense now!" Madog cried out. This time, he, Arthur, and Morgana were in Gaius's chambers, while Merlin and Gaius were flipping through the books.
"Have you any idea how to fix this, to end the enchantment?" Arthur asked. "Once we break father free, he will annul the marriage and have the troll executed, and everything will go back to normal."
"Troll magic is powerful magic," Gaius said. "At this point, external influence will not be the force to break Uther free. It will have to be his own emotional drive overpowering the spell."
"Tears of remorse," Merlin said. From what Arthur had heard before Magog had stormed in, he'd gotten that cure from the bloody dragon.
"You're joking, right?" Madog said, incredulous.
Gaius and Merlin shook their heads.
"We have something that might work," Gaius said, addressing all four of them. "A potion that will make the drinker look dead. If we give it to Prince Madog, convincing Uther that his actions have led his son to suicide...the potion itself is dangerous, but so long as the antidote is administered quickly enough when Uther is free of the enchantment, it should have no lasting damage."
"That would work," Arthur said.
"...no," Madog said.
"It should be Arthur."
Arthur stared at his brother in shock. "Why me? You-"
"I am Father's prince," Madog said. "But you...you are his son. His emotions concerning you..."
"Are what?" Arthur demanded.
"I am his pride," Madog said, and before Arthur could add you don't have to remind me, he said, "But you are the one he loves."
Arthur stared at him like he was crazy. Because he wascrazy. Father didn't-
"...he's right," Morgana said, looking at Arthur imploringly. "Uther may not always treat you right, but he ultimately holds more personal affection for you, if not pride."
Arthur shook his head - they had it all wrong. "Father will feel the loss far more acutely if it's Madog-"
"He had far more pride in me than you," Madog said bluntly. "But far more love in you than me. And if he is to cry tears of remorse...it has to be you."
"He has a point, sire," Gaius said. "These tears of remorse won't come from losing a valuable heir, but a beloved son."
Even Merlin, who almost hated the king at times for how he treated Arthur, was agreeing.
This was...he would be risking the entire kingdom to be doing thing. All of them were risking the entire kingdom with this plot.
They all knew what Arthur did some nights, with some nobles - they all saw how Uther spoke to Arthur, how the king looked at him...what were they seeing, to believe so strongly that Father loved Arthur the most, to stake all of Camelot on it?
Arthur sighed. Either way, it appeared it was up to him.
"Fine - I'll do it."
Merlin stood nervously outside the door, watching Uther hold Arthur in his arms, cradling him in a way Merlin had only seen after the Questing Beast.
"Is it broken, yet?"
Merlin nearly jumped when he heard the crown prince's hissing by his ear, but shook his head, instead. "Almost. Jonas...?"
"Dealt with," Madog said. "And Morgana has Catrina stalled..."
"What, sire?" Merlin asked, nervously. Did something go wrong?
Madog shook his head. "Her troll form. Even with the magic, I can't understand how the king could still remain attracted to that when she was at least trying for proper! I just saw her in manure."
"Magic and love are powerful things, sire," Merlin said, turning back to focus on Uther. "When the two are mixed together..."
"If I never needed a solid reason to believe the king was doing the right thing in keeping magic out of Camelot, that was it!"
Merlin nodded absently. Uther was murmuring to Arthur.
"I am so sorry, my son," Merlin heard. "Please, I never meant for this to happen...I never...you cannot leave me, Arthur...please, wake up...please...I love you, Arthur, I know I do not say it but I do, please, wake up...just wake up..."
Merlin could feel tension radiating from Madog behind him.
"...he loves you too, sire," Merlin murmured quietly.
Madog snapped to face him, narrowing his eyes. "Don't be so presuming, Merlin."
"I'm not presuming," Merlin said firmly, defiantly.
(However abusive and wretched a king and father Uther is, he doeslove his sons, somewhere, buried deep in his heart...no matter how much Merlin didn't want to admit it, it was true.)
"There!" Madog hissed, and Merlin turned to face the king. Uther was crying, quietly begging Arthur to wake up.
With that, Merlin burst with, and when Uther looked up, Merlin knelt down by Arthur's prone form, antidote in hand, just as Catrina burst in.
...no matter how horrifying this entire debacle was, the hilarious look on Uther's face at the sight of his wife would forever be absolutely pricelessin memory.
Madog ran forward when Uther was frozen in disgusted shock as the troll charged, sensing her impending doom now that the spell was broken.
"...wh...what..." Arthur blinked awake, before jumping and scrambling back at the sight of his brother and the troll in his room.
He grabbed a sword off the table where Merlin had left it, and within moments of the troll fighting the two brothers, Uther joined in the fray.
Just a moment later, the troll was dead.
"God, I can't believe I ever even touchedthat thing! The things I did-"
"-if you don't mind, Father, we'd rather not know. It was disconcerting enough waking up to see a troll in my bedroom."
"And I was there when she was changing shape! Let us just forget her. Agreed?"
"...how many nights did you spend sharing a bed with a troll?"
As the Pendragon men left dinner and Uther and Arthur headed off in separate directions, Merlin found himself in the distinctly unnerving position of Madog looking at him shrewdly in the corridor.
Madog saw Merlin noticing him, and visibly composed himself back into the Crown Prince Merlin knew, rather than the destitute eldest son he'd been for the last week or so.
"Thank you," he said, stiffly. "I am well aware that without your help...Arthur and I would still have a troll for a step-mother."
Merlin nodded. "Right, well..."
Madog was still staring at him.
"...sire?" Merlin ventured. "Is there anything you want from me?"
The prince shook his head slowly. "No, I...I just find you odd, Merlin."
"...everyone finds me odd, sire," Merlin said, opting to smile. Smiling worked. "Odd, but charming. I'm just an odd, charming person."
"And yet..." Madog said, stepping closer almost menacingly. Merlin tried to keep the smile up, and mostly succeeded. "I always feel as if there is something...shifty, about you...like you've got something to hide..."
Merlin, for a brief moment, had to fight down the urge to just turn on his heel and run in the other direction, away from a certain execution that would come of Madog not only discovering that he did have something to hide, but just what it was.
Instead, he pushed his smile back up completely and said, "I'm an open book!"
"I don't believe that for a second," Madog said, shaking his head and turning away. "But thank you, nonetheless...now, go, look after Arthur or whatever it is you do."
And then he walked off.
For a moment, Merlin's face fell as he pondered the odd exchange, before quickly shaking his own head as he walked in the other direction.
The Pendragon family really was insane!
Things were great for a while after the troll incident.
Uther, apparently still shaken from the sight of Arthur dead, didn't lend him out to any nobles for ages, even though it cost him chests of gold and small tracts of land at one point. Arthur felt guilty, but Merlin felt elated.
It didn't last, and when a tiny, heirless earldom was up for grabs, Arthur went.
Sometimes, Merlin really wanted to let his magic loose on Uther.
Watching Arthur walk away, to a night of pain and humiliation, right now was one of those times.
Merlin had a hot bath ready and waiting in Arthur's room the day after, the softest linens laid out on the bed, and a small feast of lunch and a large pitcher of wine - and an additional wineskin waiting - just in case.
When the door opened and Arthur strode in, he was still in the persona of the Prince, but as soon as the door was closed, he sagged, leaning into Merlin's embrace for a moment, before turning and letting Merlin tug off his clothing.
He felt an irrational surge of jealousy at the sight of another man's come on Arthur's hip. It was stupid, and the last thing Arthur needed, but Merlin couldn't help the urge to go and rip the come's owner limb from limb. He could do that. It wasn't exactly a difficult spell to do that and so much more-
But Arthur needed him here, and all of Merlin's violent urges were swept away by focusing on Arthur, here, vulnerable, and waiting for Merlin to help him into the bath.
"Thank you," Arthur said quietly.
"No need," Merlin said, bringing the platter and a chair over to sit by the tub, the platter levitating of its own accord as Merlin leaned back so he was by Arthur. A fork floated up, and Arthur pushed himself up in the tub to take it and eat. And Merlin, knowing how Arthur found the absolute, over coddling servitude he'd sometimes gotten from other servants before he came along rather annoying, grabbed another fork and helped himself to some, as well, putting Arthur at ease by having little fork battles with Merlin over particular strips of meat or hunks of bread.
After a while, Arthur paused.
"Merlin...would you...would you like to..." he paused. "Use the bath?"
"Don't I always?" Merlin asked, before plopping another grape in his mouth.
"I mean...with me," Arthur said, keeping his eyes focused on the meat speared on his fork. "Not any...justa bath..but I've heard that...it's cramped but...sometimes, company..."
"Are...a-are you sure?" Merlin asked, stunned. Arthur had so much to face before intimacy came easy for him, and this, this-
"Yes," Arthur said. "I would like to think of these waters as washing every memory of that bastard off my body, and I would prefer to replace it with you...however platonic it would need to be."
Merlin nodded, pushing himself up, and shedding all his clothes instantly with the flick of his finger.
"Home come you never do that with me?" Arthur asked, a little of the banter seeping back into his voice.
"It's still a little hard with others," Merlin said, leaning against the edge of the tub. "Besides...I like undressing you with my own two hands."
Arthur smiled, and pushed himself back into the tub, slightly, and Merlin carefully clambered into the tub. It took some careful maneuvering on both their parts, but eventually, the two boys were laying side by side in the tub. The platter of food was levitating before them, and Merlin levitated a grape off the platter and into Arthur's mouth, who took it and leaned his head back, eyes shutting contentedly as he relaxed into Merlin's care.
Magicking over the washcloth, Merlin proceeded to gently scrub every horrible memory of the night off of Arthur, before rubbing his own hands over him - just rubbing, nothing more. Just replacing the memory of the other man's hands with his own. Merlin wasn't going to deny his own wants, but he wasn't going to take them out on an unwilling Arthur. And from the fact Arthur's cock remained soft the whole time, however much he may be enjoying the treatment, it wasn't like that, at all.
Merlin tried not to feel two guilty at his own hard cock as he rubbed Arthur down in the bath, but he felt like it was violating Arthur's trust...Arthur trusted him, and here Merlin was...
...he ignored, keeping his hips away from Arthur. He'd deal with it another time.
When they were out of the tub, dry, dressed, and in bed, Merlin pulled Arthur close to him, kissed him firmly, and said, "Is there anything of that damnable bastard left?"
Arthur smiled. "No. Just you."
Merlin kissed him again, before spelling out all the candles, and pulling the covers over them for sleep.
"So, any plans for Beltane?" Merlin asked conversationally as he and Morgana headed back towards Camelot from where they'd been practicing magic out in the forest.
"I'm supposed to attend the feast, but many nobles can leave early, then go down to the city festivals. Much more fun."
Merlin laughed. "I'm trying to convince Arthur to do that, right now! I'm planning to play around with some of the fires a bit."
At Morgana's incredulous stare, he hastily added, "Nothing magic! I just know how to make flames burn in different colors. Science and everything. No smokeshifting or anything like that."
"Smoke shifting?" She asked, as they came to a loggers' clearing.
Merlin nodded, rounding the fires in the middle of the clearing. "Like...turning smoke into shapes and stuff."
"Can you show me?" She asked.
Merlin looked around and didn't see anyone around immediately, and they were fairly far off from Camelot, anyway.
He concentrated on the smoke coming out of the one of the fires, and a moment later, Morgana was quietly chuckling beside him as he turned the smoke into-
"A pony, Merlin?" She asked.
"...I've been doing it since I was little," Merlin said, with a playful pout, as he let the smoke pony dissipate.
Morgana laughed. "You-"
Their heads snapped up as they heard the sound of someone running through the trees, and a moment later, a frantic woman came into the clearing.
"Did you see that?" she asked, hysterical. "The smoke, it came alive! Did you see it?"
He and Morgana shared the briefest of looks, but before they could say no and try to convince the woman she'd only imagined it, she was already gone.
This did not bode well.
"Send for the witchfinder!"
Merlin and Morgana were studiously not looking at each other to hide their panic, and Arthur was tense as the guards sent out for the witchfinder to be found.
Once Court was dismissed, Arthur turned to his father and said, "Father - I am of the opinion that this is a false alarm."
"She said the smoke came alive, in case you haven't noticed," Madog bit out.
"I did," Arthur said. "But - she was also a touch hysterical. And it was a breezy day - I am merely suggesting that perhaps some smoke and wind collided, and her hysterics caused her to jump to some conclusions."
Uther nodded. "I understand. However, the possibility that this might be a real threat cannot be ignored, and should be investigated. We have had too much magic about as of late, anyway. I hope that you are right, and this is merely a false panic. But we cannot take the chance."
Arthur nodded stiffly, and after a few more formal words, left the hall.
In Gaius's chambers, Morgana was nervously sipping at some drink Gaius had given her, Gaius himself was pacing, and Merlin was doing something behind one of the bookshelves on the balcony, murmuring spells to himself as he worked.
"I couldn't talk him out of it," Arthur said.
"I didn't think you would," Gaius said. "Merlin is hiding the magic book."
"And the Sidhe staff?" Arthur asked.
"Unless someone actively uses magic with it," Morgana said. "It looks like a normal walking stick, remember?"
"I'll just say I won it in some tavern bet or something if I'm asked," Merlin called out.
Arthur nodded. "I couldn't talk him out of the witchfinder completely, but I have at least managed to put seeds of doubt of that woman's word and credibility in his mind. I believe if we can just make sure the witchfinder can get nothing for long enough, Father will dismiss him in the belief that I had been right."
"Good," Gaius said, before turning to Morgana, and Merlin as he came down the step-ladder. "In the mean time, you two must cease magic completely, starting from now and not ending until the witchfinder has left Camelot, understand?"
Neither of them seemed to look forward to it, but they both nodded.
"And next time," Arthur said. "Try to remember to not be stupid enough to do magic in public. Really, is it that hard to restrain yourself?"
"Is it that hard to restrain yourself from working with your sword every single chance you get?" Morgana bit harshly, clutching her drink tight between white knuckles. "Magic is who we are, Arthur! We can't just turn it on and off on a whim...we need to use it! I'd rather give up breathingthan give up magic!"
"It does get unbearable to go too long without," Merlin agreed, taking a drink from Gaius as well. Arthur'd seen Gaius prepare it very secretively, and wondered if the sorcerers' calm was through sheer mental strength or if it had a little bit of potions' help to boost it up.
"Then keep it behind locked doors," Arthur said. "Let's just hope this passes quickly."
Unsurprisingly, it didn't.
"You are aware that magic was performed in the vicinity of Camelot?"
"Oh, no, there's no denying it, a horse conjured from smoke!"
"Are you aware the woman named you and the Lady Morgana as witnesses?"
"But...we didn't see anything, though!"
"Yes, and I wonder how that could be...what were you even doing out in the middle of the forest with the king's ward?"
"I was collecting herbs, and she was talking a walk. When we ran into each other, we decided to finish our jaunts in the forest together, that's all."
"Hm...I must ask, are you sure you two didn't see anything?"
"Just...just smoke...no horses or anything."
"And yet...tell me - how is it possible for you to have seen one thing...and the witness to have seen another?"
"I...I dunno. But...I'm just telling you what we saw. That's all."
"Hm...unless it was you who performed the magic...or perhaps the Lady?"
"Can you prove it?"
"That will be all."
Later, Merlin and Gwen were sitting at the table in his room, quietly folding their masters' laundry while Arthur paced about the room, when Morgana came in from her own questioning.
"Well?" Arthur asked. "How did it go?"
She sighed. "I...well, I think. I smudged the right parts of the story and reiterated other parts-"
"What do you mean smudged up?" Merlin asked.
Morgana gave Arthur an apologetic look, before looking back at Merlin. "I may have left him with the impression you and I are having an affair."
"What?" Merlin shouted. "Why would you-"
"This is a good thing, Merlin!" Arthur snapped. It was obvious he didn't like the idea, but he didn't resent either of them for the situation. "Better he think you two were off in the forest dallying in romance than off to practice magic together."
"...what if he tells the king?"
"Then he will lecture me on proper behavior for Ladies and threaten you with castration should anything untoward happen to me, and then he will leave us to our own devices," Morgana said. "That is always been his way."
Merlin breathed out a slow sigh. Right. This would work. They would just...keep low. He would have to act along with Morgana's new 'affair' story if he ran into the witchfinder again, and that would be that.
When Gwen and Morgana departed, and Arthur stood staring into the flames, Merlin came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Arthur. "I'm sorry," Merlin said. "But weknow it's a ruse, and that's all that matters."
Arthur sighed and nodded, turning to lean his forehead against Merlin's.
"I'm okay," Arthur said. "I know this is just to save your and Morgana's lives."
"Though really, Merlin, making a pony out of smoke in the middle of the loggers' forest...!"
And then Merlin laughed.
"This is...everything will be fine, Arthur," Merlin said. "Everything will be fine."
"You're a liar!" Merlin shouted, storming forward-
-and Arthur was dragging him back.
"Let me deal with this," Arthur shouted back over his shoulder, before dragging Merlin into the hallway, then several corridors, all the while with Arthur ignoring his demands to let him the fuck go!
"Merlin," Arthur said lowly. "You will not get anything done by attacking Aredian except getting yourself landed in a cell, yourself, where you'll be useless to help him!"
"I..." Merlin's chest heaved and something tightened inside of it, and Arthur was holding him close when the tears finally fell. "I can't let Gaius die...especially not because of me..."
"Shh..." Arthur murmured, and Merlin felt a soft kiss on his forehead. "It's okay...we'll figure something out..."
Merlin nodded, into Arthur's shoulder, before suddenly, he pulled away as he heard footsteps coming down the corridor.
"Come on," Arthur said, pulling Merlin with him towards the dungeons. "Let's sort this out, shall we?"
"So the witness accounts were just hallucinations?"
"Yes - and someone planted the amulet, because it's not mine, not Morgana's, and not Gaius's. Probably Aredian."
"I hate him. I want him dead."
"But killing him won't do any good, Merlin, you know that."
"I know...I have a better idea."
That night, Merlin crept out of Aredian's room successfully, returning to Gaius's wrecked chambers in a rush, getting there at the same time as Morgana.
"Well?" Arthur asked inside. He was pacing around, while Gwen was trying to clean up out of nervousness.
"I've planted the belladonna and amulets," Merlin said.
"Just a few, correct?" Arthur said. "You didn't go over the top?"
"A cauldron's worth of the belladonna drops in multiple vials, a dozen amulets," Merlin said, before turning to Morgana. "How are things on your end?"
"Amulet in my room, and I 'bought' some belladonna drops which are now sitting on Arthur's table," Morgana said to him. "And we put an amulet in yours, as well."
"Now we wait," Arthur said.
"There's no way we can act now?" Gwen asked.
Arthur shook his head. "Everyone justwent to bed. Our best bet is to wait until morning. I take the drops and ask Madog why he left a hallucination causing dye in my room. Morgana shows up, says it's eye drops she was recommended by the three witnesses, then asks why Madog left the evidence of Gaius's sorcery in her room."
And while Madog was even more of an ass than Arthur, he at least cared about honesty and justice, and would take all this to Uther.
"So let's go to bed, and take care of this in the morning," Arthur said.
They all shared a look.
"...let's pretendto go to bed," he amended.
They all agreed, and left.
"...the witchfinder gave me the drops."
"Did he say what they were for?" Uther asked.
"No...only that if I did not sell them, he would have me burned at the stake."
Uther turned to Aredian. "And how do you answer these accusations?"
"They're absurd!" he cried out. "All lies, I assure you."
"Then you won't mind if we search your rooms," Arthur said coldly.
"Arthur," Uther said warningly, as Madog looked at him in sharp confusion. "You are immensely stretching your authority on this!"
"Father," Madog said, turning back to face the king. "I concur with him. A quick search should reveal the truth...if Arthur is wrong, then we will find nothing, and everything proceeds. If we find something, he's right."
"I assure you, you will find nothing," Aredian said.
"Sorcerer!" Uther shouted when Aredian puked up a toad, belladonna bottles and false amulets littering the floor around him.
Aredian acted quickly, wrapping his arms around Morgana, and knife to her throat.
Merlin panicked, trying to think of something to do, as Madog, Arthur, and Uther surrounded Aredian, trying to find a way to get Morgana without hurting her, when Morgana shut her eyes.
A moment later, the knife grew hot, glowing hot, and Aredian was screaming, backing away from Morgana.
"Witch!" he cried out in agony.
Merlin stared, eyes wide, at Uther, because what it-
"You're really going to try that?" Morgana asked incredulously, confidently, smirking ever-so-slightly, indicating the evidence around him. "Now?"
He screamed and launched himself towards her, only to have Madog step in the way and pull him back. Aredian stepped on the still-hot knife and stumbled back. He made one more desperate launch towards Morgana, who strongly pushed him back, causing him to stumble over his chest of belongings...
...and out the window.
There was a moment of silence after the crunchy thud of his body hitting the floor, before Morgana huffed and turned to Uther.
"You have to get Gaius out of the dungeons!" she pleaded, and out of relief, Uther couldn't agree more.
"Don't you think the toad was a little over the top?"
"It worked, didn't it?"
"...have I told you how much of an idiot you are?"
"About half a dozen times today."
"Only? Well I'll say it again: you're an idiot."
"If you say so."
"...though it was funny."
"Sunscín," Merlin murmured at the parchment. It wavered and simmered, and became vaguely reflective, but otherwise remained normal parchment. He gave it to Morgana.
"Béo sunscín," she tried. The paper turned completely reflective, the front looking like an actual mirror - except that it still bent and wavered like parchment.
He and Morgana laughed as she started playing with some lights on its surface, create illusions of what it reflected, and together they simply reveled in their magic, denied of it as they had been for so long.
"Congratulations," Arthur said dryly to Merlin. "You've successfully given her a way to be even more vain than she already was."
"It seems like a nice spell," Gwen said congenially, from where she and Arthur were standing at the table, polishing blades together and doing some minor repairs.
Arthur rolled his eyes and turned back to the blade in Gwen's hands, the two bonding in their fussing over blades.
Merlin petulantly turned back to the mirror, and Morgana raised an amused eyebrow at his expression.
He did the mature thing and stuck his tongue out at her before taking the mirror and saying, "Ongéanfére thesylfum." And then he was holding just regular parchment again.
"I'm just willing to try out anything," Morgana said, relaxing as she sat back a little on the bear skin rug where she and Merlin were seated by the floor. "It was so terrifying to do magic with Aredian here!"
Merlin shrugged. "Not much more than usual, really..."
She sighed. "But still, it's one thing to have Uther on his constant warpath and Madog acting as his constant lapdop, but an actual witchhunter?"
Merlin shook his head. "It's not like it's much better now, anyway...I don't know about you, but fear doesn't go away for me so easily."
"I know," she said. "Just..."
"...I grew up with the fear," Merlin said, fairly nonchalant. "It's all the same to me, really."
Morgana nodded. "I'm..." She paused. "Well...I was always a little...nervous, that so many things I'd dreamed would come to pass...but I was never quite afraid...especially since I started actually practicingmagic."
"...well, I was doing magic since I was an infant," Merlin said. "I'm not actually sure how my mother managed. But she made sure I always knew how to hide my magic."
"Even in Cendred's kingdom?"
Merlin nodded. "We were on the border - at one point, we were in Camelot, though that was a long time ago. And even if Cendred didn't hate magic, he didn't trust it. For a young boy to turn up who can do magic so easily, well...it was dangerous. Always. So..."
She nodded. "I think I will have to get used to the fear."
"That's the spirit," Merlin said dryly. "So...mirror-paper?"
She laughed. "How you put up with this so easily is beyond me Merlin, truly."
"You shouldn't have to."
Both sorcerers jumped at the deep voice, and turned to see Arthur staring at his blade with a look of distress on his voice.
"You shouldn't have to," Arthur repeated. "Live in constant fear just for being who you are."
"And what about you?" Merlin challenged, turning in his seat to face Arthur. "You're in constant danger as prince of Camelot! How is it any better? We all have the sword of Damocles "
"I'm not in constant danger from my king!" Arthur cried out.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Danger is danger regardless of where it comes from, Arthur."
Arthur's jaw hardened in stubborn determination.
"You know," Gwen said. "I sometimes find it odd...you three are all so powerful, and yet you are so restrained. I have nothing, and yet...I think I'm the freest of us all."
Arthur sighed, defeated, and Merlin and Morgana shared a dry smile.
"No magic, no rank, and no power," Merlin said. "And you have our envy."
Life could be odd like that.
With a grim silence descending over the room, they all returned to their work in muted tones.
Such was Camelot - built on secrets and lies, a kingdom where power got you more pain and death than anything else.
Sunscín - "Mirror" (noun, singular nominative)
Béo sunscín - "Be a mirror"
Ongéanfére thesylfum - "Return to yourself"
Please review - let me know what you think, and don't hold back! (And while some of you have this very weird habit of apologizing for long reviews, don't! I absolutely love long reviews, so if you feel like writing one, don't hold back! Good or bad or anything else, I would love to hear it.