A/N: Hello! This is something new for me, but I really wanted to write a story where Merlin is a girl. This chapter and the next one will cover the first two seasons of the show as if each season covers the events of a year. So, this chapter is Merlin's first year in Camelot. I tried really hard not to just rewrite the episodes, but I don't know how successful I was. Anyway, I hope you like it. Feel free to review to tell me what you think!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
All lives, no matter how small or seemingly worthless, are made up of moments. The year that Merlin turned eighteen, the year she moved to Camelot, was made up of moments that would change the course of history itself. Of course, she didn't know that when she was packing her few meager belongings into a bag.
"That's everything." she said as she hoisted the bag onto her back. Her mother smiled and took her hand as they walked to the edge of Ealdor, the only home Merlin had ever known.
"Be careful and have a safe journey." Hunith said as she embraced her only child. Merlin returned the embrace and inhaled the scent of her mother. It was a smell that never failed to calm her.
"I will. Take care, Mother." she said as she made herself pull away. Hunith cupped her cheek and ignored the way her eyes were filling with tears.
"Yes, and you do the same."
She pressed a kiss to Merlin's forehead and then stepped aside. Merlin walked into the forest and didn't look back. She had only gone half a mile before she heard a familiar voice call her name. She tried not to smile as she turned around.
"I thought you said you weren't going to see me off?" she called to the boy running after her. He caught up and then smiled as he tried to catch his breath.
"Well, I changed my mind."
"You always do, Will."
Will stepped forward and took her hand.
"I don't always, Merlin." he said meaningfully. Merlin blushed and tried to draw her hand away, but he wouldn't let her.
"Will, please, don't do this. I gave you my answer, and it hasn't changed. I'm going to Camelot."
Will growled and released her hand as if it had burned him.
"Why? This is your home! This is where the people who love you are! Why would you want to go so far away when everything you need is right here? I don't understand you, Merlin."
Merlin smiled softly at him.
"I know you don't, Will. There's plenty about myself that I don't even understand, and that's why I have to go. My mother was right when she said that Ealdor is just too small for me. I won't be happy if I stay."
"I could make you happy, Merlin. I could!" Will pleaded, but Merlin just shook her head. Will wasn't going to give up without a fight, so he pulled her flush against him and pressed his lips to hers. Merlin let him kiss her. When he pulled away and gently ran his fingers over her cheek he whispered, "Do you not care about me at all?"
Merlin gave him a teary smile.
"You know I do. You are my best friend and I love you, Will, but I can't stay here and be your wife. I'm not what you need."
"But you're what I want." Will pressed. Merlin drew his hand away from her face and pressed it to his chest.
"I wish I felt the same way about you, Will. You don't know how much I wish it. It would make things so much easier, but I can't make myself feel something that I don't. Please, don't be angry at me for wanting what's best for you."
Will shook his head and looked away from her.
"I was never angry at you." he mumbled.
Merlin laughed lightly.
"That's not the impression I got last night when you were yelling at me, telling me that I was stupid and was making the worst mistake of my life."
Will met her gaze again and gave a half-hearted smirk.
"I didn't mean any of it, Merlin. You know me; I don't think before I say things."
"Yes, I do know you, Will. I know that you're brave and loyal and true. I know that you will make a good husband and that your wife will be a very lucky woman. I know that one day you will thank me for turning down your proposal."
Will shook his head before he drew her into a tight embrace. Merlin clutched his tunic between her fists and drew him close.
"It won't be the same without you." he whispered into her ear.
"No, I don't suppose it will. Trees won't nearly crush people, smoke from the cook fire won't form the shapes of animals, and half the fencing around the pig pen won't mysteriously vanish."
Will laughed and hugged her tighter.
"Yeah, it'll be really boring."
Merlin stood in the embrace for a moment more before she finally pushed Will away.
"I'm sure you'll stir up enough trouble on your own to keep things interesting."
Will smiled and then sighed.
"I'm going to miss you, Merlin."
"I'll miss you too."
Will stepped away from her and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Just promise me that you'll be careful. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you."
They silently gazed at each other for a minute and then Merlin steeled herself. She gave Will one last smile and then turned to continue her journey. He didn't try and stop her and she walked away without another word.
So many things happened in such a short time when Merlin got to Camelot that she could barely believe it. She felt that she would never get used to the hustle and bustle of the city, much less learn how to not get horribly lost in the castle corridors. The days melded into each other and Merlin was just trying to keep up when the world came to a screeching halt one afternoon. She was taking a walk and enjoying the sunshine when she first saw him. He was laughing and showing off to a group of boys. At first Merlin just smiled, but then she saw that he was throwing daggers at a target that a terrified servant boy was holding. When the boy dropped the target and it rolled toward her, Merlin had had enough.
"Hey! You've had your fun, my friend, so stop it." she called. The boy that had caught her eye looked at her in astonishment and then made his way toward her. Merlin couldn't help but notice that the closer he got, the more attractive he was.
"Excuse me?" he asked when he was standing right in front of her.
"I said stop it." Merlin said as she stood a little straighter.
"No, I heard that. I was talking about you calling me 'friend.'"
Merlin smiled. So that's how he wanted to be, well fine.
"That was my mistake. I'd never have a friend who could be such an ass."
The people within earshot gasped and immediately went quiet. The blonde man just stared at her as if she had suddenly grown another head.
"I could have you thrown in the stocks for that." he finally forced out. Merlin laughed and made to walk away, but he grabbed her arm.
"Where do you think you're going?" he demanded.
"Away from you, obviously." Merlin said. Before she could stop herself or think about what she was doing, she raised her hand and slapped him. His draw dropped for a second and then he growled.
"Well if you're so anxious to get away, then how about I send you to the dungeon? Guards!"
"Who do you think you are, the king?"
He shoved her into the arms of two palace guards.
"No, I'm his son, Arthur." he said as she was dragged away.
Some time after Merlin first met the prince, she met the Great Dragon. He'd been calling her, and she finally answered his call just to prove to herself that she hadn't gone crazy. He told her of destiny and Arthur, but Merlin didn't really listen. She decided that there might be some truth to his words when the night of Lady Helen's performance came. Merlin watched helplessly as the magic swept over the room and everyone fell asleep. She tracked Lady Helen's movements as she made her way up the hall toward the high table and the slumbering prince. When Merlin saw the knife, a cold terror seized her. She was finding it hard to breathe and her heart was pounding so loudly in her chest she could hear it. Without even thinking about it she made the chandelier fall from the ceiling and tried not to wince as it crushed Lady Helen. Everyone immediately began to wake up and Merlin breathed a sigh of relief. Well, she did until she saw that Lady Helen, who was not really Lady Helen at all, managed to get up enough to throw her knife straight at the prince.
"No!" Merlin whispered frantically as she ran toward Arthur. Again, her magic acted without her conscious thought and time slowed down. When she got to Arthur, she grabbed his tunic and pulled him as hard as she could. They were falling, but Merlin didn't care as she watched the knife hit the back of Arthur's chair. It would have imbedded itself in his heart and instantly killed him, of that there was no doubt in Merlin's mind. Time resumed its normal pace as Merlin landed on the stone floor with Arthur on top of her. He looked down at her with wide eyes and Merlin was suddenly very aware of their intimate position. Every inch of the prince's body was pressed against hers and their faces were so close that their noses were touching. Arthur seemed to realize this too because he blushed and then rolled off of her and to his feet very quickly. Merlin was trying to right herself when the king extended his hand. She had no choice but to take it.
"You just saved my son's life!" he exclaimed.
"It…it was nothing, Sire."
King Uther shook his head.
"It most certainly is not. You shall be rewarded!"
Merlin blushed and shook her head.
"No, that's not necessary. Really."
Uther was having none of it.
"This merits something quite special. You'll be given a position in the royal household. You'll be Prince Arthur's personal servant."
Merlin felt faint, and Arthur spluttered indignantly, but Uther had made up his mind. It seemed she was going to be a part of the prince's life, just like the Dragon had said, whether or not she or Arthur liked it.
Time passed and Merlin got used to spending her days at Arthur's beck and call. He was just as arrogant and cocky as he was the first time she met him, but after a while Merlin began to notice things about him. When he was deep in thought he often pressed his hand to his mouth and gazed out his window. When he was trying to figure out something then he would pace. When he thought Merlin wasn't paying attention he would sigh and let his guard drop. Those were the times that Merlin got to see glimpses of Arthur, and not Prince Arthur. That was when Merlin could see just how stressful his duties were, and how hard he tried to keep up his image. Arthur also liked to pinch the bridge of his nose when he was annoyed, and more often than not he was annoyed about something Merlin had done.
"How is it that you are so naturally useless, Merlin?"
"It doesn't come naturally. I have to work quite hard at it, Sire."
That was something else Merlin had noticed. Arthur actually quite enjoyed the fact that she refused to bend to his will. They had a lot of banter between the two of them, and Merlin found herself trying to keep him going until he would finally just shake his head and smile. She liked his smile more than she cared to admit.
All in all, they were forming a kind of friendship. It wasn't like the friendship she had with Will, which was mostly based on the love of mischief and fun, and it wasn't like her friendship with Gwen, which was intimate and comfortable. Without Gwen, who had become like Merlin's sister, she didn't know how she would have survived her first weeks in Camelot. Even so, her friendship with Arthur was something dear to her. It was full of back-and-forth comments between them, small smiles, yelling, quiet moments, name-calling, and trust. At least, Merlin trusted Arthur. She liked to think that Arthur trusted her as well, but the first time it was actually proven was something Merlin would never forget.
"Valiant is using magic to beat his opponents." she said to Arthur. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow and shook his head.
"He wouldn't dare."
Merlin tried not to scream. She pulled out the snakehead that she'd just cut off.
"I saw the snakes on his shield come alive. I killed one of them so that I could show you."
Arthur stepped toward her and took the head from her hand. He gazed at it and twirled it between his hands.
"Come on, Arthur. Have you ever seen a snake like that in Camelot? He's using magic to win."
Arthur looked up at her with an expression that she couldn't read.
"I want you to swear to me that what you're telling me is true." he said quietly.
"I swear it's true."
Arthur nodded and then looked back at the head. After a moment he said, "Then I believe you."
Merlin smiled and warmth burst in her chest and spread throughout her body. Arthur believed her; he trusted her. Everything was going to be fine. Of course, it took a little more to make everything fine. The king didn't believe Arthur, the prince was furious and fired her, she spent a sleepless night learning a spell to make the snakes come alive, and then she nearly cried from joy when Arthur beat Valiant. At the feast that night she was still smiling when Arthur found her.
"Congratulations, Arthur. You fought bravely today." she said as Arthur settled on the wall next to her. He just nodded and continued to look over the other people in the room. After a moment he turned toward her.
"I owe you an apology, Merlin. It seems you were right."
"Yes, it does."
"Don't let it go to your head, Merlin. You're still the worst servant I've ever had."
Merlin turned toward him with a hopeful smile.
"Your servant? Didn't you fire me?"
"I'm rehiring you. My chambers are a mess, my laundry needs doing, my armor needs polishing, and my dogs need exercising."
"You're hopeless. How did you ever survive without me?"
Arthur shrugged but didn't reply. He stayed close to Merlin for the rest of the night, but she didn't mind.
Time continued to go by, filled with moments that had Merlin feeling terrified, or heartbroken, or helpless, like when Gwen was arrested for witchcraft when it was really Merlin who had used magic to cure her father, but there were also moments that made her feel strong and powerful and right, like when she got Arthur and Morgana to work with her to fight the beast causing the sickness and clear Gwen's name. When one of Bayard's servants told her that Bayard had poisoned Arthur's goblet, the only thing she felt was protectiveness. She grabbed the goblet from him before he could take a drink, and when Uther ordered her to drink from it she did so without hesitation. Merlin knew that all eyes were on her as she drained the cup, but the only one she paid attention to was Arthur. He was tense, as if he would like nothing more than to swat the goblet out of her hands. When she felt the poison burning her throat and making it nearly impossible to breathe, it was Arthur who got to her first. She heard Gwen's gasp, she heard Uther order Bayard to be seized, she heard Gaius say that he needed to see the goblet so he could determine what kind of poison it was laced with, but the last thing she heard before she fell into the darkness was Arthur whispering frantically in her ear, "Don't you dare die, Merlin. Don't even think about it."
After she woke up, cured from what had threatened to take her life, Gaius told her how Arthur had defied his father and gone to find the flower that would save her. He also told her that she had used magic to help him, though he had no idea how she knew he was in trouble. Merlin didn't remember any of it, but what she did remember was Arthur coming to see her. Gaius had left to go on his rounds and Merlin had dragged herself out to the main room to get something to eat. Her guardian had left a bowl of soup out for her, but by the time she made it to the table she was too weak to lift the spoon. That was when Arthur walked in.
"Still alive then?" he asked as he placed a hand on the back of her chair. His knuckles brushed the back of her neck and she shivered. He was so warm.
"Yeah. I hear I have you to thank for that." she said as she looked up at him. He smiled at her and then looked away.
"Well, it was nothing. A half-decent servant is hard to come by, and I didn't feel like finding another one."
Merlin smiled. To anyone else that statement would have sounded nonchalant, but Merlin could hear the worried undertone in it.
"Of course, Sire."
Arthur looked back at her and then frowned.
"Should you be out of bed yet? You look terrible."
Merlin nodded toward the bowl of soup.
"I was hungry."
Arthur nodded and said, "Then eat. Why are you just looking at it?"
Merlin blushed and ducked her head.
"I can't lift the spoon." she whispered. Arthur was silent, and Merlin was sure that he was thinking of something to say to tease her, but instead he just sat beside her and reached for the spoon. He ladled a bite of the soup into it and then held it up to Merlin's lips.
"Come on, open up. I can't have you starving to death after I went to all the trouble to bring back that damned flower."
Merlin was too shocked to do anything but what he said, but she winced when the soup hit her tongue.
"Hot." she said to Arthur's confused look. He gave her an apologetic smile and before he gave her the next bite he blew on it so that it wouldn't burn her. This continued until Merlin had finished the whole bowl. When she was done she said, "You didn't have to do that."
"I did if you didn't want to wait until Gaius got back."
Merlin just smiled.
"Well, thank you."
Arthur gave her a thoughtful look.
"I should be thanking you. Once again, you saved my life."
Merlin blushed, but Arthur stood up before she could say anything.
"Get some rest." he said before he walked out into the corridor. Merlin dragged herself back to her room and was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
Jealousy was not something that Merlin was particularly familiar with, but she knew it when she saw it. It was burning in Arthur's eyes when he found out that Lancelot was sleeping in Merlin's room. The man had come to Camelot to be a knight, and had saved Merlin from the griffin. She'd offered him a place to stay in gratitude. Arthur had given him a chance, and he'd earned his knighthood. At the feast celebrating his accomplishment Arthur asked him where he'd been staying. Lancelot had answered that Merlin had let him stay with her, and Arthur quickly excused himself. He caught Merlin's arm and dragged her into a secluded corner of the room.
"Is it true that Lancelot is sleeping in your room?" he demanded in a harsh whisper.
"Yes. He saved my life. It was the least I could do to offer him a bed."
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and ground out, "Did it have to be yours? Do you have no sense of propriety?"
Merlin took a step back.
"Of course I do!" she said indignantly.
"It doesn't seem like it when you offer to share your bed with a stranger."
"Arthur what are you talking about? I'm not sharing my bed with Lancelot. I gave him my room and I'm sleeping on the spare cot in the main chamber across from Gaius."
All the fight seemed to drain from Arthur and he just stared at Merlin. Everything came together at that moment and she burst into laughter. Arthur huffed and crossed his arms over his chest as she continued to laugh.
"I don't see what's so funny." he finally said. Merlin wiped her eyes and smiled.
"The fact that you thought that Lancelot and I were involved. Oh, Arthur, you're very sweet to try and protect about my virtue, but I promise you, you don't have to worry." she said as she laid her hand gently on his arm. Her smile only grew at the light blush that began to cover the prince's cheeks. He coughed and shook her hand off.
"Yes, well, I should get back. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning."
"Of course, Sire." Merlin said before Arthur walked away. She was still laughing about the whole thing late into the night.
Merlin was still shaken up over the Edwin debacle and the threat to Gaius' life when Arthur came back from hunting with two strangers in tow. Jealousy once again reared its ugly head in Camelot, but this time it was Merlin who was feeling it. She couldn't help it when she saw how much time Arthur was spending with Sophia, the girl he had rescued in the woods. When Arthur announced that he wished to marry her, Merlin had to remind herself how to breathe. She tried to pinch herself, thinking that it had to be a dream, but she quickly determined that it was a nightmare. When Arthur disappeared along with the two strangers, Merlin knew he was in trouble. She ran frantically through the forest praying that she'd get to him before something terrible happened. Merlin watched as he fell backwards into the water of the lake and her heart nearly stopped. She dealt with Sophia and her father and then rushed into the water.
"Arthur!" she kept calling as she tried to find him. It took far too long before she could get to him, and even longer before she could get him to shore. When she had him on the bank she leaned over him and pushed on his chest to get the water out of his lungs. He finally coughed it up and then began to breathe again. Merlin collapsed next to him and tried to slow her racing heart.
"Has anyone ever told you that you have this horrible habit of nearly getting yourself killed? It's a wonder you've managed to keep yourself alive so long." she gasped out as she stared up at the sky. Arthur, of course, didn't respond.
"I mean it! I've never met anyone more prone to getting themselves into life-threatening situations."
Merlin pushed herself up and looked at the prince. He was soaking wet and pale, but he was still the most beautiful man that Merlin had ever seen.
"You're such a prat." she whispered as she brushed his hair out of his face.
"I must be as big an idiot as you keep telling me though. If I wasn't there's no way I'd have let myself fall in love with you."
Merlin traced his lips and then snatched her hand back. She got up and then negotiated Arthur onto her back. It was a long, slow walk back to Camelot.
Months came and went, but life continued in Camelot. Arthur helped Merlin and Morgana save a druid boy named Mordred, which the Dragon was not happy about. He told Merlin to just let the boy die, but Merlin couldn't let a child go to the executioner. Some time after that Merlin learned that Arthur's uncle had been brought back from the dead to take his revenge, but a magic sword forged in the Dragon's breath solved that problem. It was hard to believe, but Merlin was getting used to all the weirdness that seemed to be attracted to Camelot and its royal family. Of course, it helped that she and Arthur were getting closer. He was starting to smile at her more, and she found herself checking on him even on her few and far between days off. Even with all the danger, Merlin was happy.
Merlin was getting water one autumn afternoon when she saw her mother walking though the marketplace. She set down her bucket and rushed to the woman, but stopped when she saw the dark bruise covering her eye. Merlin led her to Gaius' chamber and then Hunith told her what was happening in Ealdor. Merlin clenched her firsts and stormed out of the room. She threw open the door of Arthur's chamber and he dropped a cup in his surprise.
"I need you to arrange an audience with the king." she said. Arthur just looked at her as he picked up his cup.
"You'll clean that up later. Now, what's this about needing to see my father?"
"Some men are raiding my home and stealing their food. Their leader hurt my mother. I need you to arrange for her to see him so that she can ask for his help."
Arthur stopped and asked, "Your mother is here?"
Merlin was still shaking in rage and didn't have time for his questions.
"Yes! Now, will you arrange a meeting with the king or not?" she screamed. Arthur could only nod. He'd never seen Merlin like this.
"Thank you." Merlin said before she turned and left. The next day Hunith was granted her audience with Uther, but he would not help Ealdor. Merlin led her mother from the throne room and helped her prepare for the journey back. When Hunith saw her daughter packing her own bag, she decided not to say anything. She knew she couldn't convince Merlin to stay. Merlin told her how to get to the stables and then she went to find Arthur. He was up on one of the towers looking out over the city. Merlin walked over to him and stood at his side.
"I'm going back to Ealdor." she said without preamble.
"You understand?" she asked.
Arthur turned to look at her.
"I'd do exactly the same thing. I'm sorry about my father. If it were up to me we'd already be on our way there."
"I wish things were different. I wish Camelot could help people regardless of where they lived."
"When you're king, that will be true."
They were silent for a moment and Merlin felt her eyes grow hot as tears gathered. This was harder than she thought it would be.
"Well, it's been an honor serving you, Sire."
Arthur turned to face her with pain in his eyes.
"You'll be coming back?"
Merlin shook her head.
"She's my mother. I've got to look after her before anyone else."
She could tell that Arthur wanted to argue, but he didn't.
"Look after yourself too." he finally said.
Merlin smiled and then turned to leave before Arthur could see her cry. When she got down to the stables she was only a little surprised to see Gwen and Morgana standing with her mother. The four of them set out for Ealdor and Merlin had the distinct feeling that Arthur was watching them go.
In the end, Arthur ended up joining them. He caught up with them that night and Merlin was more than a little happy to see him. They made it to Ealdor in record time but not a moment too soon. The raiders were there, but Arthur drove them off. Merlin looked around at the terrified faces of the people she'd known all her life and knew that she'd never be able to thank Arthur for coming to help them. When her gaze landed on Will, she couldn't help but smile.
"Will." she breathed and then rushed toward him. He met her halfway and wrapped her in a tight embrace.
"Merlin! It's good to see you."
"I wish it was under better circumstances." she said into his neck. She pulled away, but was still standing in the circle of Will's arms when Arthur called her name.
"Who's that?" Will asked.
Merlin didn't get a chance to answer before Arthur called her again.
"I'll let him introduce himself." she said as she ran to catch up with Arthur. The rest of the day was spent deciding what they were going to do about the raiders. Once it was decided that they would fight, Arthur began training them on how to use weapons. Will thought everyone was crazy. He caught Merlin's arm the next day and pulled her away.
"Your prince is going to get us all killed. We're not fighters, Merlin. You know that." he said.
"I know, but Arthur is the best knight in Camelot. If anyone can teach us how to fight, it's him."
"You've got a lot of faith in him. Are you sure it's not misplaced?"
"I'm positive. I trust him, Will, with my life. You'd do well to do the same."
"I don't put my life in the hands of nobles." Will spat. Merlin immediately felt bad. She knew how Will felt about nobles. Ever since his father was killed in the service of one he's hated them with a passion.
"I know, Will, but Arthur isn't like other nobles. He's good and kind and trustworthy. He cares about people. He won't let us down."
Will shook his head in disbelief.
"For someone who hasn't even known this guy a year you sure speak highly of him. If I didn't know any better I'd think you were in love with him."
Merlin didn't respond and after a moment Will laughed.
"Oh come on, don't tell me you are. Seriously? You realize that you'll never be anything except the girl who picks up after him, don't you? He'll never feel that way about you, Merlin, so do yourself a favor and stop kidding yourself. It'll save you the heartbreak."
Merlin shook her head and clenched her fists.
"I knew you were a lot of things, Will, but I didn't know you were cruel." she whispered as she walked away from him. Merlin heard him kick over a barrel, but she didn't turn around.
The battle with the raiders came, and at first everything seemed to be going well. Merlin's friends and neighbors were fighting well in defense of their home, but Kanen's men were better trained. They eventually got the upper hand and Merlin had to use her magic to save them all. She thought she'd driven all the raiders away, but Kanen remained, and he challenged Arthur. Arthur easily overpowered him and dealt him a mortal blow. Just before he died he fired a crossbow at Arthur's back. Will pushed Arthur out of the way and fell as the arrow pierced his chest. Merlin screamed and rushed to his side. She and Arthur carried him into his home, but they both knew there was nothing they could do. Arthur left Merlin alone with her friend.
"I told you he would be the death of me." Will gasped out. Merlin shook her head and ignored the tears trailing down her cheeks.
"Don't. It's all right, Merlin. I was wrong about him. He does deserve your loyalty and trust. I'm sorry for doubting him."
Merlin ran her fingers through his hair.
"It's okay. It's not important right now."
"Yes it is. It is important, Merlin. I've watched him, and I've seen the way he looks at you; the way he has a smile he only gives to you. I was wrong. He loves you, Merlin."
Will shook his head.
"No. He does. That's why I couldn't let him die. You love him too, so it would have hurt you so much to have to watch him die."
Merlin choked out a sob and pressed her forehead to Will's.
"And you think it doesn't hurt me to watch you die? Arthur's not the only man I love, Will. I love you too."
"But not enough."
Merlin sat back so she could look him in the eyes. Will smiled at her.
"I wanted you to be my wife, but I guess your destiny is greater than that. Promise me that you'll be happy, Merlin. Promise me that you'll live a long life filled with laughter and love. Promise me that you'll never settle for less than you deserve."
Will was struggling to breathe and Merlin knew that he didn't have much time left. She clutched his hand and leaned over him.
"I promise." she said against his lips before she kissed him. He kissed her back and when Merlin pulled away she saw a single tear fall from his eye.
"I love you, Merlin."
Will smiled at her one last time and then closed his eyes. He never opened them again. When they lit his funeral pyre, Arthur was standing next to her. He didn't say anything, just let her grieve. After a while he walked away and most of the villagers went with him. Merlin stayed. She stayed until the sun had nearly set. Finally, her mother came to her and drew her into an embrace. When she pulled away she cupped her daughters cheek and gave her a sad smile.
"Will wouldn't want you to be sad."
"Will wanted a lot of things he didn't get." Merlin whispered.
Hunith pressed a kiss to Merlin's forehead and then said, "You should go back to Camelot."
Merlin tried to argue, but Hunith wouldn't let her.
"You belong there, at Arthur's side. I've seen how much he needs you, how much you need him. It wouldn't be right for you to stay." Hunith took Merlin's hand and led her back into the village. The next morning Merlin left with the others.
It seemed to Merlin like she'd just gotten back to Camelot when Arthur killed a unicorn and brought a plague to the city. At first he refused to acknowledge that it was his fault, but eventually he had no choice but to admit it. Merlin saw how much he was suffering because he had brought this upon his people, and it broke her heart. She sought out Anhora, keeper of the unicorns, to plead with him to let Arthur make it right. When Arthur sets off to do just that, Merlin follows him but is captured by Anhora. She sees Arthur again when he sits down at the table Anhora brought her to. The unicorn guardian tells the rules of the test, and Arthur sighs.
"There's got to be a way to figure this out." Merlin says but Arthur just shakes his head.
"It's simple; one of us has to die."
"Then we'll come up with a way to tell which cup has the poison and then I'll drink it."
"You'll drink it? I had no idea you were so keen to die for me."
"Trust me, I can hardly believe it myself."
After a few minutes they decide to pour all the liquid into one up and then drink it. Merlin tried to do it, but Arthur snatches the cup away from her.
"Arthur, no! You can't die; this isn't your destiny. Listen to me."
"You know me, Merlin. I never listen to you."
He downed the liquid in one gulp and Merlin felt her heart shatter in her chest when he fell. She screamed and fell to her knees over him.
"No! Arthur! Arthur, wake up! It's not supposed to be this way!" she screamed at Anhora, but he just shook his head.
"The prince is fine. He'll awaken in a few moments."
"But, the poison?"
"Was nothing but a sleeping potion. The point of this test was to determine what was truly in his heart. He has passed the test. The curse will be lifted."
Anhora disappeared just as Arthur was coming to. He groaned and then blinked up at Merlin.
"Don't tell me you followed me into death too!" he said.
Merlin laughed, she just couldn't help it.
"Don't flatter yourself, prat. You aren't dead. The poison was just a sleeping potion. You're fine."
Arthur took a few minutes to let that sink in, and then he nodded.
"Well, since I'm not dead, do you suppose you could get off me so that I can get up?" he asked. Merlin looked down to see that she was still straddling his waist. With a blush she quickly pushed herself away from him and he got up. They were back on the horses heading for Camelot before the silence between them was broken.
"Why did you do that? I should have been the one to drink it." Merlin said.
"No, you shouldn't have been."
"But you life is worth much more than mine. You're the prince, I'm just a servant."
Arthur turned in his saddle to level a hard glare at her.
"No one's life is worth any more than someone else's."
"No buts, Merlin. I don't want to hear any more about it."
"You're such a prat!" Merlin huffed.
"And you're an idiot, but I wasn't going to let anything happen to you." Arthur sighed. Merlin couldn't think of a single thing to say to that.
A few weeks later, Uther's men executed Gwen's father. Merlin tried to console the girl, but she was devastated. When Merlin learned that Morgana was plotting to kill Uther, she thought about letting it happen, but found she just couldn't. In the end, Morgana couldn't let Uther die either.
The year was coming to a close. Just when Merlin thought it would end with some peace, a magical creature began terrorizing the lands around the city. Arthur and his knights were sent out to kill it, and Merlin followed. Arthur had ordered her to stay in the city, but Gaius said that the beast could only be killed by magic, so Merlin went after them. She wasn't quick enough. Arthur was bitten and by the time they got back to Camelot, he was nearing Death's door.
"What have I told you about this habit of yours? You really ought to kick it." Merlin whispered as she placed a cool cloth on his forehead. Uther had been dragged from Arthur's bedside to get some rest, and Merlin was watching over the prince in his place.
"I guess you wouldn't be who you are if you had any sense of self-preservation, though. Either way, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to let you die. You have to become king, Arthur. You have to because you're going to be the greatest king Camelot has ever known. You're going to do so many wonderful things, and your people are going to adore you. They're going to love you almost as much as I do and they're going to be proud to call you their sovereign. I promise you I will make you better."
Merlin managed to keep her promise, though it wasn't easy. She offered her life to save Arthur's, but Nimueh was a trickster. She tried to take Hunith's life, but Merlin would not have that. She planned to go back and demand that Nimueh take her life, but Gaius beat her to it. When it was all said and done, it was Nimueh's life that was traded for Arthur's, but no one was very upset by that turn of events. When Merlin went to see the prince for the first time after everything had been settled he was still in bed.
"I was wondering when you'd show up. You did take your time." he said when he saw her slip through the door.
"I figured you'd have enough company that you wouldn't miss me." Merlin said in what she hoped was a teasing tone. Apparently, it didn't work.
"Is something the matter? You look terrible." Arthur said when Merlin reached his bedside.
"Why thank you, Sire, you look pretty awful yourself."
"Yes, well, I nearly died. What's your excuse."
Merlin felt the stress of the last few days bubble up inside her and she finally couldn't contain it anymore. Before she could stop herself she began to cry. Arthur was shocked into silence.
"That's my excuse. You nearly died, Arthur, and you don't seem to care! People were grieving for you. They gathered in the courtyard and had a candlelight vigil to say goodbye to you! I sat here and watched as he slipped farther and farther away, so excuse me if I look a bit frazzled!"
Merlin covered her face with her hands and collapsed into the chair that was still at Arthur's bedside. She sobbed and sobbed and couldn't do anything to stop herself. She heard the rustle of fabric and then she felt arms around her. On hand came to the back of her neck and pressed her face into a warm chest and another hand ran soothing circles over her back. Merlin moved her hands away from her face to fist into the soft fabric of Arthur's nightshirt.
"I'm alright, Merlin. I'm still here. I didn't die." he whispered. Merlin just continued to cry.
"You know, it's strange. I can't really remember anything after I was knocked out in the cave, but there's this vague notion I have that you were talking to me. You said I was going to be a great king or something like that."
Merlin had finally calmed down enough to speak and she said, "It couldn't have been me. I wouldn't inflate your ego like that."
"No, I suppose not. Are you going to be alright now?"
Merlin nodded and Arthur moved so that he was lying in bed again.
"I don't suppose you're going to let me forget this little episode?" Merlin asked hopefully. Arthur smirked.
"Not a chance."
"I didn't think so."
And that was how Merlin's first year in Camelot ended.