It was one of the greatest gifts in the world, Merlin decided, to be able to share your secrets with good friends. It was an even greater gift to be able to share with your friends a really momentously huge secret and have them accept it and move on in a heartbeat as though nothing had changed. It was rare too, for so many people, when admitted into a clandestine fact, found it fractured their friendships. It was only human after all. People seldom welcome change, and when something – or someone – that they have looked upon every day proves to be other than it appears, then the damage can sometimes be irreparable.
But Gwaine, on hearing of Merlin's really momentously huge secret (that he had magic), had carried on as though Merlin had told him his favourite colour was purple. It never came up in conversation, never prompted probing questions, and seemed to alter nothing about the way Gwaine treated him.
It was, in fact, rather nice.
And Merlin knew he wasn't faking. He knew, because Gwen was. On the surface, their friendship seemed the same, and she spoke to him the same way she always had done, smiling when she passed him in the corridors or saw him in Arthur's chambers. But something was missing. It was something in her eyes, something about the way she would look at him when she thought his gaze was elsewhere. It was something that said she didn't trust him any more.
Merlin was more grateful than he could say for what Gwen had done for him; for the way she'd defied Arthur, taken on the dragon, and even entered his nightmares to bring him back to reality. But whatever she'd done, there was a part of him that would give anything to have their relationship back the way it had been before. Before Alvarr. Before the cave. Before he knew everything that was to come.
But it was a big thing, his secret. And it wasn't like he could blame Gwen for treating him differently. It was one of the reasons why he feared to tell anyone else, particularly Arthur. Not that he'd tell Arthur at the moment anyway. The prince regent had enough on his plate.
Uther Pendragon after all wasn't dead.
There were some who wished him that way. Still more who assumed he was, given that he was rarely seen in public these days, and all orders for the running of the kingdom were coming from his son. But he was still clinging on to some semblance of life and closeted in his chambers from dawn until dusk, making only occasional forays into the rest of the castle.
Arthur was coping – well enough – with his father's condition and with the additional responsibilities it had dropped in his lap. He was the crowned prince and had been raised with the certainty that one day his father would no longer be there, leaving him in command of his not inconsiderable kingdom. He'd accepted the fact that being in charge meant that not everyone was going to like you. He'd faced with gusto the challenge of ordering Camelot, protecting her borders, negotiating with her neighbours, leading her army and facing her enemies. He'd even learnt to ignore the things that were said, in not too hushed voices, about his new knights who were of less than noble birth; the servant who had once worked clearing stables and who was now sitting on his council table; and the maid who not so long ago was serving the traitorous Lady Morgana, and who many now gossiped was sharing his bed.
He ignored these whispers, but he still heard them.
Merlin for his part had learnt to deal with his new position in court. The way people were treating him (like he wasn't worthy of his position) actually bothered him much less than it did Arthur. He'd been a servant for years, after all, and a peasant before that. And although he'd had those rather tempestuous teenage years where he'd considered his magic more than enough of an excuse to think himself better than those around him, living with Gaius had quickly dulled those feelings to a background hum, and then faded them to nothing. He knew his destiny and found himself content with what fate had handed him so far, and was happy to just let things happen at their own pace.
It was another one of the reasons why he liked Gwaine's reaction to his magic. It grounded him and reminded him that, while he wasn't what other people might consider normal, he was still Merlin, still the person he'd always been.
Or as close to it as he could be.
There was no denying that being captured by Alvarr, and the events that followed, had shaken him. The sorcerer's blatant cruelty and self-interest, the ease with which he had over-powered Merlin, and the speed with which his actions had forever altered the young warlock's life had all left their mark. But the true legacy of his experience was the visions he had been forced to endure.
Following his restoration by Gwen, Lancelot and Gwain, Merlin had spent weeks recovering, and during that time, Gaius had tried to help him deal with those things that were now indelibly imprinted on his brain. Time heals all wounds they say, and slowly as the autumn weeks turned to winter, and then the warmer days that followed frost, promised spring, the vivid nature of what he had seen began to fade. Not forgotten, but the memory of his friends' deaths, the pain of watching brief human lives burn bright and then fade into darkness, no longer tormented his every waking moment. Eventually they tormented him not at all. Soon he had to actively work to recollect what he had seen, concentrating as you would to remember a poem. It was all still in his mind, but caged and under control.
It comforted him, and while he knew that the key moments in his life and in Arthur's life would always remain stark in his memory, the fear of it didn't need to rule him. In fact, he felt as though his life was almost – almost – returning to normal.
Apart from anything, despite the gossip and the backbiting, his confidence had been raised by his new position. He learnt how to use his knowledge of the future, not with the careless honesty that he had first displayed, but with subtlety and caution. That had come about through necessity, and followed more than one incident early on when his overly-astute council had raised eyebrows and comments from the nay-sayers in court. There had even been whispers about him being in league with their enemies, or even possessing less than natural powers.
After that, he'd become far more careful, helped by the fact that the details of the visions were becoming more and more like a hazy view on a summers day, rather than the sharp relief of a frosty morning.
He wondered later if this was the reason he hadn't seen it coming, the terrible events of that summer. There were times he wondered what would have happened if he'd only been strong enough to keep the future vivid in his mind rather than packing it away as he had done, like an embarrassing relative you don't want to talk about.
Would he have been able to warn them?
But then, it was never supposed to happen like it did. Out of sequence, the dragon had called it, whatever that meant. And in any case, the visions did their part, forcibly invading his life once more as Arthur's rule as regent entered its ninth month. It had been the moment when everything began to change.
To be continued in Broken Hearts…