The Wisdom of an Old Man
Arthur paused with his hand lifted to the old wooden doors. They hadn't changed throughout his life and he honestly couldn't count how many times he had been through them for one reason or another. But never before had he simply looked at them and, right now, staring at a piece of old wood felt like a much easier option compared to what he had planned.
There was a slight crack near the old latch; probably the result of one-too-many a door slam and for all he knew, the cause could have been him in one of his less-controlled moments. A little above eye-level, a knot in the wood looked remarkably like a dragon – the Pendragon crest…
…In the top corner a different knot looked like a shield.
…Oh and in the bottom corner was what appeared to be an upside-down flower.
After a moment of internal silence the young prince almost scoffed aloud at himself. An upside-down flower? Really? Arthur had faced down dragons, afancs and griffins; questing beasts, gargoyles and wyverns. He had stared death in the face regularly for years, despite any fear and doubt he may have harboured. He had been prepared to lay down his life without a thought for the good of his Kingdom, the People and those that he loved.
If he had done all that, then why was just knocking on this door turning out to be one of the hardest things he had yet done?
Though that was the entire point, wasn't it? It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.
He was standing here, outside Gaius' chambers, to find out the truth. To find out exactly how many of those magical encounters – and many others besides, for he had no doubt there were more – had been successful by his own design and how many had actually been the work of his manservant.
Merlin, the sorcerer.
Arthur had long since gotten over his initial feelings of anger and fear, and though the betrayal still lingered under his skin like a nettle-sting, he was prepared to listen. If the prince was right about even half of what he thought he was, then Merlin had been doing both himself and Camelot a great service these past three or four years. He owed the man his time and full attention, along with so much more.
He'd made sure his father didn't find out. He doubted the man would be able to process it – virtually everyone was a betrayer or a sorcerer to him now – but that was one voice they didn't need to deal with just now.
Merlin had been living on a knife's edge, dodging the threat of discovery and death to save him over and over again. Had he ever gotten any thanks or recognition for that? No. Had he ever let the fact that he knew the very people he was saving would turn on him, if they realised his method of doing so, stop him? No. And had he ever abused these abilities and allowed them to corrupt him as it had done so many others? No. All that just proved what a noble heart Merlin had. He had never requested a simple thank-you, or become bitter over receiving nothing for his efforts. That was the kind of man Merlin was; he didn't want glory or fame, all he wanted was for his friends to be happy and for the Kingdom to be peaceful. Those simple things were more than reward enough for him and Arthur admired the man for that more than he could ever say.
After the reveal of his magic, Arthur hadn't spoken to Merlin even once, despite the fact that it had been nearly a week now since that fateful battle. They had seen each other in passing a few times and at one point Arthur had even spied on his manservant from the safety of a bush as the warlock breathed life back into the ruined forests surrounding the castle. But it had never been the right time to talk and both of them seemed to be avoiding each other; both of them dreading the conversation that they knew they needed, but didn't want. Arthur knew he was positively dreading it; once this conversation was done, nothing would be the same and he had to admit that he was afraid. After such a radical shift in his view of magic, he had initially looked forward to things getting back to normal. But he had soon realised that things would never be normal again, at least not like they once were. One of the best things in his life was the easy camaraderie he shared with his manservant – no, he was kidding himself again, his friend. But he knew that the whole dynamic of their friendship was going to change. He felt sure they were still friends, but their relationship would never be the same again. How it was going to change, Arthur couldn't say, and he was reluctant to find out. So he kept putting the talk off, avoiding the warlock as he tried to pull out the courage to put things right.
However, much to Arthur's dismay, everyone else seemed to be avoiding Merlin as well.
Apart from the incident in the forest, during the few other times that the prince had caught a sight of Merlin, the warlock had been all on his own. Peasants, knights and nobility alike shunned him – none knew how to react to the young man who had saved their lives in such a powerful, extravagant and blatantly illegal way. Noone approached him about what he had done and noone offered to help him or asked for his help in turn. Arthur had the feeling that the whole of Camelot was holding its breath, waiting to see what he, the Crowned Prince and Regent, would do.
Even the other members of the Round Table had yet to speak to Merlin, though not for lack of trying in some cases. Percival, Leon and Elyan, once the shock faded, seemed relatively indifferent and were waiting on Arthur's decision; whatever the prince decided he felt sure he would have their support. Gwaine and Lancelot on the other hand had been actively trying – and failing – to seek the warlock out. Arthur couldn't help but notice that – despite the fact that they had pledged fealty to him and would die for him without a second thought – both of those knights' true loyalty was with Merlin, not him. They had effectively tricked Arthur into spying on Merlin those few days ago and he had no doubt that it was done so he could see the true nature of magic and the way that Merlin wielded it. He didn't hold it against them. How could he after all they had done for Camelot?
Guinevere hadn't spoken to Merlin either. She hadn't sought him out and according to her it appeared he hadn't approached her either. It was likely that the reason for this was less due to active avoidance and more due to the fact that, in the effort to rebuild, they had been working in completely different areas; Gwen inside with the wounded and Merlin clearing rubble in the lower town. Arthur had no idea about Gaius, and that was partly what he was here to find out.
Because, the problem was, Arthur didn't understand.
The quality which was most sought-after in knights was undying loyalty and Merlin possessed more of it than any knight – past or present – that Arthur had ever seen. But the man was a servant; though loyalty was expected of them, Merlin took it to a whole new level that had earned the respect of Arthur and the senior knights several times over.
However, therein lay the problem. Merlin wasn't a knight and he would never have the capacity to be one – he wasn't even born in Camelot, having been raised in Cenred's kingdom. Yet still, he had the heart of one and many had seen it and recognised it.
What Arthur didn't understand was why. What had he done to earn such loyalty from someone? Not to mention someone with magic?
All those years ago, Merlin had drunk from a chalice he knew to contain poison in order to protect his prince. If Merlin had magic back then – which Arthur suspected he did – he would surely have known that, despite their growing bond with each other, Arthur wouldn't have stopped his father from executing him. True, he would have shied away from the idea, but if he had been faced with irrefutable evidence, he would have accepted Merlin's fate.
Yet still, Merlin had been willing to just throw his life away for an arrogant young prince. Arthur wasn't exactly proud of the person he had been way back then. He had changed quite a lot since – yet another thing he had a feeling he had Merlin to thank for – and, looking back, he just couldn't find any reason for him to have been deserving of such loyalty.
It just didn't make any sense.
It was nearly ten minutes that he had been standing on Gaius' doorstep procrastinating now. Arthur's mind was going round in circles; these thoughts had been at war in his head for days now and it was about time he acted like the king he was going to become and swallowed his fears to get some answers.
Taking a deep breath, he finally managed to make himself knock, rapping sharply on the door before letting himself in.
The familiar smell of herbs, parchment, old leather and other various things Arthur associated with the physician was the first thing he noticed; it was something else that had never changed. The room was dark – dusk having long-since fallen – so it was lit by a multitude of candles, as well as a few Bunsens. The air was moist and humid, probably the result of days of brewing poultices and potions for the injured. The physician himself was stood behind his workbench, swirling a steaming flask filled with some sort of vibrant green liquid. Across the room and opposite Arthur was Merlin's room; the door was open and the prince could see from where he was stood that the warlock was not in it.
"Ah, Sire. I'll be with you in a minute."
Arthur turned his attention back to the old man as he placed the flask back onto a tripod and turned down the Bunsen's flame. Taking off his eye-glasses, he made his way around the bench to stand in front of Arthur, his hands clasped casually into his sleeves in front of him.
Gaius looked completely jaded. His clothes were a little rumpled and his hair was lank and greasy, his face was pale and his eyes were surrounded by dark bags. The opposing army had taken great pleasure in burning to the ground virtually all of the forests surrounding Camelot. As a result, Gaius had found himself growing short of herbs and unable to replace them. The apothecary and the lower town had been cleared of anything useful by Elyan and the physician had then found himself having to use all of his knowledge to find alternative remedies using the herbs he did have. Most of these were inferior to the usual ones and took much more time and effort to prepare. This was the reason why Gwen was in charge of the daily care of the injured, whilst Gaius was working round-the-clock in here. Their one saving grace was that any injuries were either fatal or minor; no people were in a critical condition, which was one thing less to worry about. There were lots of injured people and it was hard work, but Gaius knew what he was doing – he had probably even seen worse than this before.
"How can I help you my Lord? I am a little busy right now, though I do have plenty of potions to aid sleep if that is what you require?"
"No, no, I'm fine. I admit I haven't been sleeping well these past few nights, but then who has?"
When Arthur went quiet and said no more, Gaius merely raised an eyebrow in silent question.
Over the years, Arthur had learnt – with good reason – to both fear and respect 'The Eyebrow'. It was a look which Gaius had perfected and it had countless different meanings. It was a look that had been known to even intimidate the King at times and was never to be underestimated. This time, it was a query, asking Arthur to 'get on with it and tell me the real reason you are here.'
"I'm looking for Merlin; I really need to speak with him. Have you seen him?"
Arthur wasn't sure whether or not he had imagined the brief flicker of fear that flashed through the physician's eyes at that, but it was gone before he could be certain.
"I'm afraid not Sire. Though I have seen Merlin in passing a number of times, he hasn't slept in his bed since before the battle started. I know not what he has been doing, but he hasn't been in here at all to my knowledge."
Gaius' words caused Arthur more worry than he would care to admit. Merlin had always had some sort of priority complex, his repeated insistence that he had to protect Arthur notwithstanding. When he was worried about something, food and sleep were the first things to go and he would refuse to admit anything was wrong, getting himself into a furious downward spiral until he collapsed and it was forced out of him.
When Arthur didn't reply, Gaius spoke again.
"Is there anything else Sire?"
Arthur jolted back to himself; his mind had been wandering again. "No, that is all. If he returns here can you inform me at once? It's rather urgent."
Again the flicker of fear, but again it was gone too quickly for Arthur to be sure.
"I fear I may be too busy for that my Lord. Though, if he turns up here, I'll be sure to send him to you."
Arthur nodded in thanks, turning to make his way out of the door. Gaius walked back around the bench again, though Arthur could see him casting him furtive glances out of the corner of his eye. He wasn't sure what exactly caused him to stop but, suddenly, he couldn't keep it in anymore. He had to know.
"Why did he do it?"
Arthur was still facing the door, but he would have to have been deaf not to notice the slight trepidation in Gaius' voice. The prince had interrogated prisoners before; he knew all the signs of fear and of lying. Though on saying that, Merlin seemed to have been able to slip him lies all the time…
Discarding that thought before it could develop further, Arthur span round to face the physician. The old man had paused with his hand about to turn up the Bunsen, his eyes fixing the prince with a steady stare. The look spoke volumes and this time the physician allowed them to hide nothing. Gaius was worried – terrified even – over what Arthur may do to Merlin. The prince didn't think Gaius was lying about Merlin not having been in the room for days, but he knew the man wouldn't tell him more about his ward right now, not with these suspicions.
"I'm not going to turn him in Gaius… I couldn't. Nor would I even think of putting him to-"
Arthur couldn't finish. His worries about rebuilding the kingdom after the battle and everything that entailed weren't the only reason for his lack of sleep. Almost every time the prince shut his eyes he was plagued by images of fire; engulfing everything in its path and roaring through town and forest alike to the symphony of agonising screams. Screams that were familiar, even though he had never heard that particular voice ever make such a sound.
He was snapped out of his musing when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Meeting Gaius' eyes, he saw that the worry wasn't completely gone, though this time there was also a kind of fatherly concern and sympathy present in them. It was a look Arthur had always found himself craving but, as a prince, he generally refused to allow himself to accept.
The physician guided him to the table used for eating, pushing him into a chair before seating himself opposite and fixing his gaze on him. Arthur fidgeted before starting to speak, suddenly desperate to get Gaius to understand.
"I swear Gaius, I won't kill him. I can't! But I don't get it… why would he-? He's always been- …I don't understand!"
"Calm down Arthur."
Arthur quieted immediately. What was wrong with him? He had been babbling on like some kind of hormonal woman! He felt heat rise in his cheeks as they started to colour in his embarrassment, which Gaius correctly interpreted.
"There's no need to be embarrassed Sire. You have been under a lot of pressure these past few days; you're tired, you're worried and you're stressed. It is perfectly normal for you to experience such emotional backlash as this. You may have been taught differently, but you are a human being, not a statue. In fact, with the events of this particular battle, I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner."
Arthur's gaze came back up at that. Few people were able to be so forward with him without fear of repercussion. Gaius had virtually had a hand in raising Arthur and though he was always as polite as propriety demanded, he had never shied away from saying what needed to be said. He was right too; Arthur had always been taught that displaying your feelings displayed your weaknesses. It was a wise teaching to an extent and did have firm roots in truth, especially in the court or in a fight. However, recently he had learned – and again, he had a feeling Merlin had a major hand in this – that it was alright to show your feelings. Feelings of passion and courage inspired people to follow you, feelings of humility and love kept them there. He decided to settle for a compromise; not burying his feelings, but making sure to keep a hold of himself. Whether or not openly expressing his feelings was a good thing he had yet to fully decide and it would always be a difficult subject for him. But flying off the handle right now would do him no favours, nor would it particularly impress Gaius.
"Sorry Gaius," he said whilst rubbing at his temples wearily. "I'm sure I made absolutely no sense just then."
The physician nodded slightly, a twinkle appearing briefly in his eye.
"I decided almost immediately that I wasn't going to sentence Merlin to death or banish him. I could never have done it and that was without the fact that he single-handedly saved the kingdom the other day."
Arthur watched the man visibly relax, looking briefly at his hands before returning his gaze to him. The look Gaius was giving him now was… almost proud. He had always seen the physician as a father-figure of sorts and the look Gaius was giving him gave him a warm, tingly feeling inside. How he wished his father looked at him like that!
"I must say Arthur; it takes an incredible amount of maturity to have to face your morals. Growing up having something drilled into your mind as you have, then having to re-evaluate and make your own decision on it is hard. Not to mention the added difficulty of it being such a personal subject for you."
Here the physician sighed, looking suddenly a lot older.
"Your father had valid reasons for leading the Purge as he did and he brought peace in a time of chaos and sorrow. Magic was being abused by a great many people and the situation was getting out of control. However, you know as well as I do that Uther started to take it more and more personally; fear became hate, hate became an obsession. This obsession has become his downfall. Your father made a great many enemies in his vendetta against magic and it was no accident that Camelot has been on the receiving end of so many magical attacks. Revenge is never-ending and it takes a brave and wise person to say 'no' to it."
A truer statement there was not and Arthur had long been aware of the almost compulsive hate his father displayed as soon as the subject of magic was raised. There were never any second chances, there was no leniency. Magic was punishable by death, that's all there had ever been to it with his father.
However, one thing intrigued Arthur about what Gaius had said, and it was a conclusion the prince had only recently come to himself.
"So you don't believe magic is evil then?"
"Magic is no more evil than a sword. It is a tool to be used, nothing more."
Arthur nodded, he now thought the same. What he had seen Merlin doing for that butterfly and the trees hadn't been evil. A unicorn wasn't evil either, nor was the healing magic he had heard of. The physician continued:
"I am sure you are aware that I once practiced magic?"
This wasn't news to Arthur, so he merely nodded his head.
"I was never powerful. I found even the simplest spells difficult and touching magic at all is a bit hit-and-miss for me now. But I have knowledge; something I am more than willing to pass on."
Though Arthur had guessed as much, Gaius was as good as admitting that he had always known about Merlin's magic, that he had in fact been nurturing it. This went a long way towards explaining just how Gaius and Merlin had always seemed to come up with some miracle-cure or another at the very last minute. Though again, Arthur had already guessed this much.
There was also something more subtle in what Gaius was saying. It was an offer; the physician was more than willing to answer the prince's questions.
"What does Merlin believe? About the magic?"
Gaius paused, before sighing and resting his arms on the table.
"Really, Merlin should be the one to tell you this, not me. And I'm warning you now that I will only tell you so much – this is his story to tell and I won't do it for him. However, to be frank, your avoidance of each other is getting rather ridiculous."
"You've noticed that?"
Again with the eyebrow, making Gaius' answer to that question a fairly obvious one. The man still possessed the ability to make Arthur feel like the eight-year-old who had just been caught playing with his father's sword and he felt his cheeks starting to colour again. Though, he had to admit, it was nice to have confirmation that he hadn't been imagining things and that Merlin really had been avoiding him too.
"Merlin believes that magic has a purpose: for the betterment of the environment and those who are suffering around you."
Despite things, Arthur wasn't surprised. Such an opinion definitely went with what he already knew – or thought he knew – of the warlock's beliefs.
"I am sad to say that he is fairly alone in that belief. Though I would like to agree with him, I think that it is more of an ideal than a true purpose. Merlin can tend to be a bit biased when it comes to magic."
"What do you mean?"
Again Gaius paused, his eyes seeming to be gazing far into the distance as he thought; Arthur got the feeling that the physician was deciding how much to actually tell him. Eventually, he seemed to come to a decision and locked his gaze back on Arthur's.
"How much do you know about Merlin's magic, Arthur?"
The prince thought it over for a moment before answering.
"It's powerful – I watched Merlin stop weapons of war with the smallest amount of effort. He blew up all of their catapults at the same time, he spoke no words and it was almost as if it were only a casual exercise to him."
Arthur paused, he had seen this of magic before; he already knew of the destruction it could reap. But what he was about to admit now was entirely new, and it was all because of what he had seen in Merlin.
"It's beautiful…" he said in no more than a whisper, though Gaius seemed to hear just fine, as he started to smile along with Arthur. "I followed him a few days ago. I watched him as he healed trees and banished the suffocating smog. I watched him scatter seeds afterwards so that the grass and flowers would grow back. I watched him pick up a crippled butterfly and heal it by doing no more than blowing on it willing it so.
"I've seen so much destruction wrought by magic, but Merlin turned it all onto its head. He didn't kill a single person when he used his magic to retaliate in that battle and he waited until there was no other hope left to do so. I would trust no other person to wield such power and I know no other man who is as loyal and noble as he is."
It felt good to acknowledge that aloud, almost as if he was clearing his head. Gaius was still smiling and he gave a brief chuckle.
"Merlin is certainly different and though his naïvety astounds me at times, it is that innocence – amongst other things – which makes him so special. You mentioned that Merlin used no words to cast his magic? That is unique to him; he can cast spells with a mere thought and the smallest amount of effort."
Here were the start of the answers Arthur sought and he mirrored Gaius' position, leaning forward almost eagerly. Maybe now he would be able to understand and then find the confidence to have this desperately-needed conversation with Merlin.
"How is that possible?"
"Merlin was born with magic."
Arthur was struck dumb. That wasn't quite what he had been expecting.
"That was my reaction as well. For most magic-users their abilities emerge as they age, some earlier than others. All must then work hard studying spells in order to develop their powers further. But Merlin was able to move objects telepathically before he could talk, or even crawl. With just a thought – and I saw him do this before he had ever read a spell on the first day he came here – he can slow down or speed up time for either a person or an object at his will. Never in recorded history has such a thing been reported, he is unique."
It was a staggering concept and raised huge implications in Arthur's mind. Merlin had been condemned to die from birth and he never had a choice in the matter. Merlin's was a special case, but from what Gaius was saying, magic developed in some people whether they wanted it to or not. It was not a choice for them, much like it had never been his choice to be a prince. Right now, the true injustice of his father's relentless persecution of magic was coming to light and Arthur wasn't quite sure what to make of it. But Gaius wasn't done.
"Magic is impersonal and open-ended; the craft itself isn't good or evil. But based on how it is used, it comes in two main forms. You are more than acquainted with the nature of the Black Magic which is used to inflict pain and destruction. But the other type, White Magic, generally includes all of the healing magics and the ones used to change and create. Unfortunately it is easier to destroy than to restore and it is easy to allow your own vanity to corrupt your use of it."
Arthur's mind drank up this new information as if it were water in a heat-wave. He had only just started to realise how complex magic was, though little had he realised exactly how complicated. He couldn't help but feel that, if people were educated on the uses of magic by wise people such as Gaius, they could have been encouraged to use it correctly. This could have prevented the need for the Purge and such a huge loss of innocent lives and the need for such fear and mindless revenge in the first place.
"Magic is not simple, nor is it easy to understand. Though many had told Uther as much – including me – his quest to rid the land of magic was doomed to failure from the start."
Again, this was something which became fairly obvious to Arthur quite some time ago. No matter what they did or how many people were executed, people seeking revenge or 'justice' always seemed to rise up from the shadows.
"While we categorise most magic into Black and White – even going so far as to call it 'good' and 'evil' or 'light' and 'dark' – it actually isn't as simple as that. There are many shades of grey in-between and both magic-types can be used by people of opposite moralities."
"Where does the magic come from? I know you've said that Merlin was born with it, but what do you mean by that?"
This was one of the reasons why it had been hard for Arthur to accept that Merlin had magic, never mind that he was so powerful. The prince had made it his mission in life to bulk Merlin up and get him to put on some weight; he was effectively a stick and it was… strange to think that such a man could have that much power inside of him, let alone have it as a child.
"Ah, and now you have come upon the real question, and something your father never accepted or understood.
"Magic is all around us, some have even gone so far as to call it 'The Fifth Element'. It exists in everything, connecting things together in intricate ways which we can clearly see, but that I don't think we will ever fully understand. It exists freely in nature and in this form it is known as raw magic, though it's also known as 'elemental magic' or 'natural magic'. Whilst in some places, such as the Isle of the Blessed or the Lake of Avalon, it is more concentrated, it is present everywhere and flows across the land in great rivers of energy, known as ley lines.
"People 'with magic' can call on this web of energy, changing the raw magic into a form that they can manipulate using spells, crystals, runes or other special objects. I am one such person, a sorcerer. As I said though, my ability to do so is greatly diminished and I was never all that powerful. However, even rarer than that, are those who have this raw magic inside themselves naturally, as well as being able to call on the energy surrounding them. These people are not sorcerers or sorceresses, they are the witches and warlocks and Merlin is such a person – it is for this reason that he is able to cast spells without speaking.
"The study and use of this raw energy – usually in the form of controlling the elements of earth, fire, water and air or mirroring the processes of life, death and time – is what is known as the Old Religion."
That made sense and answered some questions that Arthur had been pondering for a while. However, Gaius seemed to be deep in thought again and the prince had the suspicion that there was still much more to it.
He had heard the term 'Old Religion' mentioned a few times before in order to explain the source of a creature, so it was nice to finally know more about what that had meant; that they had been conjured from the ancient power that constantly flowed around them. Such a thought was nightmarish in its implications, especially if there was more to the subject. But the prince's view of his meek young manservant had long-since been shattered and if Arthur wanted to understand Merlin, understanding his magic was the first step. Understanding why he used it for the reasons he did would have to come directly from the man himself. He didn't think things could get much worse now and he had come for answers – he wanted full ones, no more secrets.
"You said Merlin was special, that he was born with the ability to use magic. What does that mean for his powers now?"
"It means that, on talent and power alone, Merlin is the single most powerful magic-user in all of Albion, maybe even beyond."
Arthur could find no response to that. Though what exactly could he say to a revelation such as that, and delivered so bluntly too?
"The sheer amount of raw power that Merlin has inside of him is unfathomable. When I said that a warlock can use the raw magic inside of them to cast spells, I meant only weaker spells; greater ones require additional energy from their surroundings. However, Merlin has so much that he can easily cast silent spells which many other magic-users would struggle to cast with words, never mind on pure instinct alone."
Gaius was troubled again, he was fidgeting.
"Many times in the beginning, the boy's sheer ability for magic scared me. Especially when I considered the idea that, with no purpose for his magic or proper guidance, his powers could have corrupted both himself and those around him. To Merlin, using magic is as natural as breathing; he can't just stop himself from using it and he has told me before that if he is faced with doing so, he may as well die. I have known his mother for a long time, and that was why she sent him to me when keeping his magic a secret became impossible in such a small village, despite Camelot being the hot-bed for anti-magic crusades.
"I have long-since learnt that my fears were without ground, though the reason for that is something Merlin should explain to you himself."
That was all well and good, but it didn't explain the fidgeting and Arthur felt a crawling sensation working its way up his spine.
"I still don't understand, Gaius. How does Merlin have such power?"
"I'll be honest Arthur, this isn't an easy concept to grasp – it makes understanding magic look easy. Merlin has more magic and wields it more easily than anyone ever recorded before him. He is an enigma.
"The Old Religion is the source of all magic; from it creatures such as unicorns, faeries and dragons are born and when they die, they are returned to it. They are kin, they are magic. I noticed long ago that the magic Merlin uses is raw magic, the magic of the Old Religion; he has the instinctive ability to use the Old Tongue, the language used to cast spells; and animals are attracted to him, ones of the Old Religion especially.
"Merlin lives and breathes magic. He is magic."
If Arthur's image of Merlin had been shattered before, Gaius was now grinding it into a fine dust.
"What do you mean?"
"I meant exactly what I said," here the physician stopped, sighing. "This is a conclusion that I have only recently come to myself, and I don't think that Merlin truly understands this about himself yet. Though I believe he has recently started to get an inkling.
"Merlin has a lot of magic and having that much should be impossible. What I have now come to believe is that the boy doesn't just have magic: he is magic. He is as much a creature of the Old Religion as a unicorn or a dragon is and it is the reason for his abilities."
Arthur's mind was spinning. While he had expected something outrageous, he was getting so much more than he had ever bargained for. He didn't think he ever could have come up with something on this sort of scale; he had never had that much of an imagination.
"So what are you saying? That Merlin isn't human?"
"Merlin is as human as you or I, yet at the same time he is not."
This was just too big for Arthur to understand, not right away at least.
"He is a question that has never been asked before Arthur, and it is my opinion that our Merlin is magic in human form. That is the reason why he has such immense powers and why they developed as they did. It is also the reason why he is so biased when it comes to magic: when he doubts magic, he doubts himself."
Finally, Gaius fell silent.
Arthur now knew exactly why Merlin had come to Camelot, why he had such amazing powers and he was pretty sure he also had an idea of why he had kept them a secret from him. However, the golden question still hadn't been answered.
Why did Merlin use his powers to protect Arthur?
Ever-astute, Gaius must have read something in his face, because he stood to make his way back to his workbench.
"The rest is Merlin's story to tell, Arthur. I have no right to reveal it."
Arthur watched as Gaius turned the Bunsen on again, using a long piece of thin wood to stir the contents of the flask. No more words were exchanged as the physician went back to work and the prince allowed all that he had learnt to settle in his mind, monumental as it was. By now, it was pitch black outside and the candles were half the height they had been when he first entered. It had to be approaching midnight, but Arthur knew that sleep would not come to him. Not now, with his mind so full. Other than the bubbling of liquid and the quiet breathing of the two men, things were silent. The People worked hard during the day, tumbling into their beds at night and causing Camelot to be as silent as the grave until morning light. It was the perfect time to think, the perfect time for uninterrupted conversations...
Eventually, Arthur stood. He didn't know how he knew, but he had the suspicion that a certain warlock – not a sorcerer, as he now knew – was having as much difficulty in sleeping as he himself was. This had gone on long enough. Both of them had always shied away from talking about feelings, it wasn't their relationship. However, if their relationship was going to change, then maybe this was one way that they could change it for the better? No more secrets, no more lies; it was an openness that sounded strangely appealing. Though he loved Guinevere for her support and honesty (among other things), Arthur needed a confidante and he was sure Merlin did too. The warlock insisted on protecting Arthur; what better way to repay that then to allow Arthur the opportunity to return the favour and for them to work out their demons together?
Resolved, Arthur made his way once again to those wooden doors that were so familiar, his head held high.
Arthur paused, looking at the physician with a raised eyebrow. "Yes Gaius?"
"I would have asked that you wait until morning, but I know that is not going to happen. However I do ask, once you are finished, that you send Merlin back here for some rest and then get some yourself. Lord knows how long that boy has gone without proper food or sleep and I can tell that you have been neglecting your own needs also. You may both be taller than me, but I have no qualms about knocking the pair of you out with my best sleeping draught and I have ways to make sure you take it."
For the first time in days a wide, genuine smile spread across Arthur's face. He had no doubt that – wise and experienced as he was – Gaius would find a way to follow through on his threats. The old man had always been there for Arthur, and now for Merlin too. Both of them owed the physician a lot and it was only now that Arthur understood just how much.
"Of course, I'll knock the idiot out myself if I have to."
"Indeed." Arthur turned away, but once more Gaius called out to him. "Oh and Sire, might I suggest the stables? I think your constant sending him there made the place start to rub off on him. He's probably hiding amongst the hay-bales somewhere or tucked away in the rafters."
Arthur felt a laugh bubble up inside of him. If Merlin wanted to hide it was the perfect place; considering how much the man moaned about being in there it was the last place that the Prince would have ever thought to look.
"And yet, they are still always a mess." The Prince replied in his usual, haughty tone of voice.
Both men shared a bemused smile before Arthur opened the door to let himself out. Just before he shut it again, he stuck his head back through the gap.
"Thank-you Gaius. For everything."
"The pleasure was mine Arthur. You can always come to me; you both can. Things will be right again, you'll see."
With one last smile Arthur closed the door, making his way down the stairs and into the main corridor. As he walked his footfalls echoed eerily in the silence, his stomach was doing flips and he could feel a cold sweat breaking out across his forehead. But he would not be swayed. Change was coming, and he was ready to embrace it.
Making his way down the stairs, Arthur took a deep breath before making his way across the moonlit courtyard, ready to face a certain warlock and then, to face his future.
And there you have it. I'm planning on writing one final part to the 'On the Wings of a Butterfly' series, the last one hopefully containing The Dreaded Conversation. But there will be a lot of angst in that one so I'd need to psyche myself up for it, as I have a terrible habit of writing things all in one go.
XD :D XD