In which Merlin gets to tell more of the truth than usual and still lies through his teeth the entire time, and Arthur presumes to know far better than Merlin about, well, everything.
Warnings: allusions to minor character death, idiocy above and beyond the call of duty.
Disclaimer: Of course I own Merlin. Obviously. Arthur and Gwaine fan me with palm leaves, Sir Leon serenades me, and Merlin feeds me grapes while I recline luxuriously on silken pillows of utter delusion.
The Son of a Sorcerer
"… not debatable, Merlin!" the prince growled as he stormed into his chambers, his manservant a few steps behind him. "The man was caught using magic, he confessed, there's nothing to it!"
"His wife is with child!"
"And if it were her, she would have till the baby was born. That has nothing to do with the father!"
"So you'll just let the child grow up without ever knowing one of his parents? Isn't there enough of that going around?"
Arthur snapped his head around to glare death at Merlin. He wasn't sure if his servant was alluding to Arthur's mother, but for the sake of Merlin's continued health, he gave him the benefit of the doubt.
"Why is this so important to you, anyway?"
"I… it – " Merlin collapsed into Arthur's chair at the table, which the prince decided to let go for the moment. "Back in Ealdor, I knew people in this kind of situation. I – "
Arthur raised an eyebrow, unswayed.
"A couple years back, I found out a bit more about my father. He… he used magic, Arthur." Merlin looked up at him as if he was half-expecting to be escorted politely to the dungeons, or perhaps be skewered on the spot. To be fair, that was the reaction that had been drilled into Arthur since infancy, but this was Merlin.
"Your father… was a sorcerer," he said slowly, sinking into a chair opposite his servant.
Merlin nodded. "Er, yeah. Don't worry, it's not hereditary or anything," he said quickly as he fixed his gaze to the table. "But you can understand why it's not something I advertise to the general public. Anyway, he didn't use his magic for evil. He just… happened to use magic."
Arthur let out a long breath. There was no gentle way to say this, but his idiot manservant seemed to be conveniently ignoring the obvious. "Merlin, you're hardly making a case for 'nice' sorcerers. He abandoned you and your mother."
"No," Merlin said firmly, and for a moment Arthur thought he was just contradicting him to avoid the truth. "No, he didn't even know about me yet. I don't know if my mother knew yet." He sighed. "And he didn't abandon her. He'd run to Ealdor to escape the Purge, but it was still too close to the border, I guess. He got word that – that your father was after him, and he couldn't put my mother in danger. He had to leave."
For whatever reason, Arthur believed him. He had no reason to think that Merlin hadn't just filled in the details that made him feel better about growing up fatherless. The idea that there even could be such a thing as an innocent sorcerer went against everything Uther had ever taught Arthur. And still, he believed Merlin.
It was a horrible circle. Arthur never knew his mother because of magic. Merlin never knew his magic-using father because of Arthur's father. They were in the same bloody boat, each with good reasons to blame what the other mourned the loss of.
"Merlin, I know the situations are similar," Arthur admitted, "but you father does not clear the guilt of that man in court today."
"He used magic to keep his wife from falling from a barn loft, probably saving the baby and maybe her as well." Merlin met his eyes again, radiating a determination Arthur usually only got to see when he was about to do something dangerous and stupid and noble. "I know you've rarely encountered a sorcerer that wasn't trying to kill you, but they're out there – like my father, like Gaius, like my friend Will… like the dragonlord." Merlin's eyes flickered away on the last two, but Arthur paid it no mind. "They're just the ones with no reason to hunt you down and murder you." Merlin sighed through his nose. "I'm not saying clear the man. I'm just asking you to look into it a bit further, and if he tries to harm you, then let him die for a real crime."
Arthur looked away from his treason-speaking servant. "Even if he's done nothing but save his wife, there's still nothing I can do. My father has condemned him. At best, I can delay the execution."
"Do what you can, I guess, and maybe he'll find a way to escape," Merlin offered. "Camelot's dungeons aren't exactly renowned for their security."
Arthur snorted a laugh and clambered to his feet. "All right," he said. "I'll ask to question him further. That's all." For now.
At the door, Arthur halted and looked back at the sorcerer's son sitting at his table. "Merlin."
"Did you ever get to meet your father?"
Merlin didn't answer for a long moment. "No," he finally said, staring at his hands. "He died around the time that I found out about him."
Arthur nodded. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
Merlin gave him a half-smile, and Arthur departed to commit semi-treason for the sake of a servant.