Alaia Skyhawk: Ok, I've decided on a total re-shake of my update plans. I'm starting posting this early, with the intention of bringing this story up to the same point in the time-line as Whom History Won't Remember is. So that I can dual-post a very special episode/sub-ep, for BOTH of them at the same time. That is, same day, same time, two chapters will go up, one on each :D
Plus, after the massive response to the surprise update of A Question of Motives that I did last night (30 reviews in 16 hours! O.o) I figure I'll reward you guys for it hehehe.
Also, word of warning, I will be referencing places and people in this which are from Whom History Won't Remember, so if you haven't read it I highly recommend you do read it at least as far as chapter 27, although you may wish to follow it in tandem with this from the section called "Twenty Years". That 'episode' happens not long after the events of The Dragon's Call, at which point that fic runs alongside this one... Shedding new light and perspectives on some situations in the process (Including some moments of classic Merlin'esk humour, so don't miss out).
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin.
Most people wake up each morning worrying only about their jobs, but he wasn't one of them anymore. Four words from a dragon and Merlin now defends a kingdom where his power of magic is banned. Why? It is his destiny. ~Prequel to A Question of Motives~
Chapter 1: The Dragon's Call ~Part 1~
So this was it, his big adventure travelling to the great capital and city of Camelot. Home to a king who supposedly had brought peace and prosperity to his lands and those allied to him, ushering in an era of reason uncorrupted by evil. A king highly respected and admired, trusted for his wisdom and valued for his dedication to justice...
Or as Cenrid would put it, the king of the lands just the other side of the border, whose guts you hate and whose head you would like to see on a pike...
The young man, Merlin, resettled the straps of his pack. He didn't agree with either of the descriptions, what with having never met the King of Camelot. Not that he'd met King Cenrid either, but that wasn't the point. The issue was that, to be quite frank, he believed both kings to be stupid, clueless, and totally insane. So what if they had different options, why tax the people to the hilt to pay for fights and battles and other stupid moronic things which the people had no interest in? All the common-folk wanted to do was farm their crops or do their jobs, and get on with their lives without being harassed by idiots who wanted to maim each other with sharp pointy objects.
There were times, and he was sure there would be many more, when he wondered if he was the only one who realised these things...
Onwards he continued to walk, following the road while curious blue eyes gazed at his surroundings. The three-day walk had been a boring one, punctuated only by the time he'd passed the Ascetir Fortress, some fort belonging to the lord who was in charge of the trading town of Ulwin, and a good chunk of the lands around it. He'd heard good things about that lord, Hargren, or at least he sounded like he had more sense than the king he served.
A couple of the people from Ealdor had gone there to trade crops for tools and other things, and come back with stories about a town where all the people in it were full of awe and respect for their lord. Honest awe and respect, not the kind bought with offered gold or an offered fist to the face. It made a surprising change to hear about a noble who seemed to actually respect commoners, but he wasn't about to get his hopes up to hear about any more like him. Nobles like that were probably as rare as a blue moon, and you were just as unlikely to see them.
He might have kept musing along this rather entertaining line of thought, but just as he was possessed of an insatiable curiosity and need to learn about the world, he was also rather prone to being distracted by new objects of interest... at least when he had nothing of any real importance to think about. One such object had now come into view while he walked along idly, here where the broad band of encircling forests at the heart of Camelot gave way to the scattered groves and meadows that bordered the farming villages and city at the kingdom's core.
He had to admit it, the king of Camelot might be stupid, clueless, and totally insane, but he did know how to impress. And the city was certainly impressive. The castle and its towers dominated the landscape, visible even here on this ridge where he was still a few hours walk away from it. It was hard to pick out the city below it, due to the thinner and safer areas of woods surrounding it, but even so it was enough to make him stop and gawk.
Merlin shook himself out of his stupor, resuming his walk until he descended into a dip in the land and the city passed from view. Trudging along, one foot in front of the other, he was soon passing other travellers who were on their way out of the city in this waning afternoon light. They paid him little heed, nor did he spare them more than a glance. He needed to pick up his pace a bit, because he was expected to arrive today, and not after it got dark.
He reached the city gates close to dusk, a smile lighting the face below his tousled black hair, walking through the streets towards the impossible-to-miss castle. That was where he was headed, where his mother had told him to go, just as she'd told him several warnings... But things in Camelot couldn't be as bad for people like him as she said, could they?
He got his answer sooner than he would have wanted, entering the castle to find a crowd gathered around a wooden execution platform. The death knell of drums had already begun to sound, the unfortunate man being led towards his fate.
The smile faded from his face as he watched the scene, unable to tear his eyes away until a stern voice echoed across the courtyard that also served as the square where announcements were made to the people. Everyone turned to look to the source, a man wearing a crown stood high upon a balcony, and listening to those words the young man felt a tremor of fear rise inside him as he gulped nervously.
"Let this serve as a lesson to all. This man, Thomas James Colins, is judged guilty of conspiring to use enchantments and magic... And pursuant to the laws of Camelot, I, Uther Pendragon, have decreed that such practices are banned on penalty of death. I pride myself as a fair and just king, but for the crime of sorcery there is but one sentence I can pass."
All was silent but for the drums, the pounding beat punctuating the scene as Thomas was knelt down and his head placed on the block. Merlin was different though, his eyes flitting between the slowly rising arm of Uther, and a woman garbed in blue whom he'd spotted watching from a high window. He could see in her eyes her aversion to this scene, but even she could not look away completely until the axe came rushing down like the silent signal of the king's falling hand.
There were gasps of horror in the moment after the strike, the drums now silent, only the wind accompanying the king's voice.
"When I came to this land, this kingdom was mired in chaos. But with the people's help, magic was driven from the realm. So I declare a festival, to celebrate twenty years since the Great Dragon was captured, and Camelot freed from the evils of sorcery... Let the Celebrations begin."
He had seemed almost benevolent, standing there with a proud smile on his face, and the young man might actually have trusted in it had he not just witnessed 'someone like him' getting their head chopped off. Instead he felt only fear and revulsion, as he added to himself that Uther didn't look insane, and probably wasn't insane, but there was one thing he was... He was scary in his clear believe that destroying magic was right.
The crowd began to disburse, people returning to their business, but all was stopped by a female cry of horror and anguish. Everyone stood still, but for those who backed away from the woman in question, all eyes staring as she turned to look up at the king.
"There is only one evil in this land, and it is not magic... It is you! With your hatred, and ignorance!" She pointed to the execution platform, and the silent figure that lay on it. "You took my son!" Merlin glanced up at Uther, who actually seemed to have a hint of sympathy in his eyes, but that hint died with her next words. "But I promise you, before these celebrations are over you will share my tears. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth... A son for a son!"
Uther's order was immediate, the guards rushing towards the woman, but before they could reach her she grabbed the pendant she wore and shrieked words unlike any Merlin had ever heard before, vanishing into a blast of wind... disappearing without a trace.
Hushed and fearful murmurs arose after she was gone, everyone hurrying away while on the balcony the king stormed into the castle. Merlin too hurried away, asking a guard for directions at the first opportunity. Time to beat a strategic retreat, and avoid the scene where an obvious sorcerer had just made equally obvious threats of revenge.
"Where would I find Gaius, the Court Physician?"
The guard pointed to a nearby hallway, further enquiries to other guards or servants eventually taking him to a stairway where a plaque on the wall just inside it declared it did indeed lead to the chambers of the Court Physician. The young man followed those stairs upwards, ignoring the hallways that came off it until he reached a short passage at the top of this tower. When he got there he was confronted by a wooden door, which he opened tentatively seeing as it was already ajar.
The room inside was large, easily more than three times the size of his mother's cottage back home, his hesitant knock drifting faintly across it along with his quiet query.
There was no reply, the young man entering as his curiosity once again had his eyes examining every interesting thing in sight... and given the cluttered nature of the room and its tables, there were a lot of things. Bubbling flasks of liquids stood over burners, jars of various things, an assortment of strange artefacts and tools. Strolling past the tables, still looking around for signs of anyone, he was starting to wonder if he'd come to the right place when he spotted an elderly man matching his mother's description, stood on what was almost a small balcony high on the far wall.
Merlin cleared his throat to get the older man's attention, causing him to turn away from shelves stacked with books large and small. The movement overbalanced him, sending him backwards into the wooden rail of the balcony, the fragile barrier breaking under his weight. His startled yell reached the young man's ears, trigging what was for him an entirely instinctive response.
Blue eyes glimmered gold for a moment, the elderly man's fall slowing until was as if he and the pieces of broken rail were drifting downwards like feathers. Time had been changed, altered and slowed to a crawl, but it wouldn't last for long, and knowing this Merlin quickly searched for something to put beneath the falling man. He spotted the bed across the room, another glimmer of gold causing it to slide as if by its own will across the chamber and around the tables in the way. It then stopped right beneath him.
The slowing of time ended just after it came to a standstill, Gaius landing on the bed with a cry of surprise... before he looked at the young man who'd saved him and exclaimed.
"What did you just do? Tell me! If anyone had seen that."
Merlin backed up a step, at a loss for what to say as an excuse. Was this it? Had he gotten himself caught for using magic when he'd been in the city for less than an hour?
"I uh, I have no idea what happened. It was nothing to do with me. That... that..."
It was a lame excuse, he knew it, and so did the old man although he wasn't acting like he was about to call the guards.
Gaius frowned at him.
"I know what it was. I just want to know where you learnt how to do it." Merlin continued to stammer, Gaius slowly advancing towards him, pressing him with more questions. "So how is it you know magic?"
At Merlin's reply, the elder of the two of them regarded the other, unconvinced and ignoring the clearly fearful state of the young man in front of him.
"Where did you study? Answer me!"
At that shout Merlin began to stammer even more, shaking his head.
"I-I've never studied magic, or been taught."
"Are you lying to me, boy?"
Gaius advanced a step, glaring into the young warlock's eyes from point blank range as he answered.
"What do you want me to say?"
"I was born like this."
"That's impossible!" The old man glanced away for a moment, before looking back and frowning as something occured to him. "Who are you?"
For the moment the tense confrontation between them was halted, almost farcical in nature, before the young man unslung his bag to get something out of it.
"I uh, have this letter." He pulled it out of the bag, handing it over. "Here."
Gaius accepted it, but continued to frown.
"I don't have my glasses."
The young man told him, a tiny hint of a smile showing.
Gaius' eyes widened in recognition of the name, Merlin nodding.
Merlin's smile had widened now, Gaius having ceased to frown at him. Maybe this was going to be ok.
"But you're not meant to be here until Wednesday."
Merlin stopped still, looking confused.
"It is... Wednesday..."
"...Ah..." Gaius looked flustered for a moment, before turning to point to a door up a short flight of stairs at the back of the room. "Right then, you'd better put your bag in there."
Merlin started towards the stairs, before pausing and looking up at the broken railing above the two of them.
"You won't say anything about um..."
Gaius nodded, reassuring him.
"No." Merlin set off again, stopping when Gaius called out. "Although, Merlin... I should say, thank you."
Merlin nodded slightly in thanks, turning away and heading into the small room he'd been given, unaware of the strange look that Gaius directed at his retreating back. He was oblivious to the man's concerns and thoughts while he set down his bag, not seeing the changing expressions as the letter was opened and read. Instead he stepped up onto a low table set against one of the walls, placed to allow easy access to the room's small window. It was from there that he looked out across the city, the lights of lanterns gleaming in the darkness that had now come with the passing of sunset, his sense of wonder pushing aside the fears of a few minutes before.
Camelot really was an incredible place, for all its laws against magic, and for some strange reason it felt right that he be here.
The courtyard was silent in the darkness, the axe unmoving where it lay embedded into the top of the headman's block. What justice was there in executing a man for magic when he hadn't harmed anyone with it. Thomas Colins was well known in the lower town, a kind and honest man who worked hard to support his family. Now he was just another fallen victim, taken away to be cast into an unmarked grave far outside the city. His mother left to mourn his loss, and feel anger which she herself could empathise with.
Indeed, where was the justice in this?
She had ignored the sound of the nearby door opening, only now turning away from the window where she stood. Uther strode towards her, dressed in his feast finery, as if just over an hour ago he hadn't ordered a man's death.
Her voice was muted, the king looking puzzled as to why she stood in this shadowed hallway all alone.
"Why are you not joining us at the feast?"
She frowned, a hint of disbelief in her pale-blue eyes, a hint of disdain in her voice as she spoke. Did he really not know why?
"I just don't think chopping someone's head off is cause for celebration." She looked back to the window. "That poor mother..."
Uther started to frown, not liking this conversation.
"It was simple justice for what he'd done."
"To whom?" She stared at him, shaking her head. "He practised magic. He never hurt anyone. If you had bothered to learn about the people who look to you, then maybe you would know that. He was a good man, and a pillar of the community in the lower town. Everyone down there respected him."
Uther's voice went quiet, but that did nothing to mask the anger beneath it.
"You were not here twenty years ago, when 'pillars of the community' like him used magic to undermine the law and bring chaos and strife. You have no idea what it was like."
"How long are you going to keep punishing people for what happened then?"
Her disdain and disagreement was still clear in her tone, Uther scowling once again.
"Until they realise there is no room for magic in my kingdom. You will be with me when I greet Lady Helen."
Morgana went rigid at the order, her expression stubborn as he started to walk away.
"I told you I want no part of these..."
"I am your guardian!" He returned to her side, staring at her unflinchingly. "I expect you to do as I ask. If you show me no respect, then at least respect our finest singer."
This time he did not stop when he strode away, Morgana shouting out after him that which was obvious to her yet to which he seemed to be blind.
"You know the more brutal you are, the more enemies you'll create!" The door he had entered through did not slam behind him, but it did close with a definitive click of the latch. Shaking her head, Morgana once again went back to the window and looked out, murmuring quietly to herself. "You think this will fix things, drive magic away, but you're only going to cause those who have it to want to destroy us."
She sighed, turning and heading for her chambers, unaware of just how right she was... Unaware of the dying gasps of a fair singer far away... Or how soon her words would be proven.
Blue eyes snapped open at the strange call, a voice that echoed in his head and yet also seemed to come from beneath him somewhere. Merlin frowned around at the unfamiliar room, trying to place where he was until he remembered he was in Camelot. He quickly got up and started to get dressed, wondering what he would be doing today. He doubted Gaius would let him sit around doing nothing, which meant he would have to be doing something.
It was a few minutes later that he descended the handful of steps into the main chamber, the physician who was now his guardian glancing at him while he ladled watery porridge into a bowl.
"I got you water. You didn't wash last night."
Merlin looked a tiny bit bemused, watching as the old physician put the bowl down on the table.
"Help yourself to breakfast."
Gaius moved away from the table a step, watching as Merlin sat himself before the bowl and unenthusiastically eyed the contents. He then slowly reached towards the bucket on the end of the table, and gently pushed it off...
The moment it began to fall, Merlin noticing it, the young man jumped to his feat and reached out as if to grab it. He didn't need to though, for the moment he did it his eyes gleamed gold and the bucket and water's decent stopped... every glittering droplet frozen perfectly into a single moment of their fall.
Merlin looked at Gaius when the old man gasped, unable to find his voice, until a few seconds later the bucket resumed its fall and clattered to the floor along with a splatter of water.
Gaius was now staring at Merlin, trying to figure out what had just happened.
"How did you do that? Did you incant a spell in your mind?"
Merlin shook his head.
"I don't know any spells."
"Then what did you do? There must be something."
Merlin frowned a little, unable to explain it.
"...It just happens."
He turned and went to grab the nearby mop, coming back and starting to clear up the water, Gaius once again frowning in thought while he mused aloud.
"Well we'd better keep you out of trouble." He turned, picking up a vial and a herbal poultice from the table behind him. "You can help me until I find you some paid work. Here... Hollyhock and feverfew for Lady Percival, and this is for Sir Olwin. He's as blind as a weevil, so remind him not to take it all at once." Merlin began to pick up the two items, before Gaius held out a plate with a meat sandwich on it. "Here."
Merlin set the mop against the table, starting to smile as he picked up the thick slices of bread with their thin layer of filling.
Gaius smiled in return, indicating the door with a tilt of his head.
"Off you go." He took hold of the mop, starting to finish clearing the water before he called out after the young man. "And Merlin. I need hardly tell you that the practice of any form of enchantments will get you killed."
Merlin nodded in acceptance of the warning, before hurrying out the door to do the errands asked of him. Once he was gone, Gaius finished with the mop and set it aside, before reaching down to pick up the bucket and setting it on the table to stare at it. He'd seen it for himself yet he could scarce believe it. He had heard of powerful sorcerers in the past who were able to slow time for objects and people, but there had been only two, maybe three of them in over a thousand years. Not only that, but they only achieved the skill after decades of study, and it required an extremely difficult incantation. Many had claimed the ability, but in truth the vast majority of those were charlatans merely able to suspend an object or force a person to slow physically. But Merlin...
Yesterday he hadn't been sure, and had only had what was for him the sudden appearance of his bed beneath him to go by. For him it had seemed he hadn't slowed at all, yet for the bed to move to that position more time than was available would have been needed. Today this was his confirmation, a visible manifestation of time being frozen for the bucket and the water it had contained. Had it just been suspended it would have fallen straight down once released, and yet it had continued the path it would have taken if it had not been halted at all... And the boy had done it with nothing more than a silent twitch of a hand and a stare.
Never in all his years had he heard of someone like Merlin, a person possessed of magic so obviously ingrained and instinctive that it couldn't be defined by known standards. Yes there existed sorcerers with elemental affinities, the power to call on an element without incantations. There were others who, with much practice, could incant some simple spells in their heads instead of out loud. Merlin was neither, and that presented a problem. How to teach him to control something that you yourself do not understand?
Gaius sighed, unable to answer that. He would just have to trust his judgement as time went by, and pray he managed to keep the secret hidden for both their sakes.
Alaia Skyhawk: A few minor changes from the cannon duologue here, a few hints as to people and places from Whom History. It's the next part where I'll really start playing around with things, hee hee :D