A/N: Rewritten as of August 2, 2012. People kept telling me that I didn't know the difference between a legend and a prophecy, and I realized I really hadn't made my intentions clear in the story. Also rewrote the story to include both of my original endings.
I am aware this story is not yet perfect, and does have things I can improve on. Feel free to comment on them. But this is simply a better draft than the original so I felt I should at least update it.
Story: The Legends
Description: In which Merlin's secret is revealed in an unexpected way, Arthur learns the legends are true and a lot of things come to light. Oneshot.
Arthur had heard the stories.
When the prince was just a little boy, he'd spent more time than he'd care to admit in Gaius' work area. The first time Arthur had entered his chambers with curiosity, Gaius had been cautious. Arthur, after all, was the king's son. Gaius watched his words, except to tell Arthur not to disturb the things on the shelves or the table. Eventually, Arthur grew on him.
Over the years, Arthur visited the physician often, and each time Gaius would tell him a story from the days before the purge. Sometimes, he would even tell Arthur of the druid prophecies, disguising them as legends.
Arthur would never admit it, but it was the legends he looked forward to most. There was one in particular that stuck out to the prince: The legend of the druid Emrys. The man, Gaius had told him, was not a mere sorcerer, but a powerful warlock who waited even now to bring magic to the land, along with the once and future king of Albion.
Then there was the tale of Emrys and the Lady of the Lake. The two were lovers, one the most powerful warlock Albion had known, and the other, a beautiful sorceress who was saved by Emrys but bound to the lake for all of time.
Arthur knew that these stories bordered on treason, but he couldn't quell his curiosity, couldn't help but wonder if the people in the legends were real. One day Arthur stumbled upon a lake in the forest. There were whispers of an ancient power dancing in the air, so potent that Arthur knew it could only be the lake from the stories. Despite his caution at something so obviously magic, Arthur visited the lake often, for years, until he grew up. Princely duties and responsibilities took over, but he'd still managed to find the time once a year to sneak away and sit on the lake's banks in silence, and ponder whether the legends were true.
As Arthur watched the scene unfolding before him, he realized he finally had his answer, and he wasn't sure that he liked it.
Freya walked calmly along the surface of the water, her violet dress billowing in the wind. She reached the edge and stopped slowly before reaching out to touch Merlin's hand. He walked forward into the water and she allowed herself to sink from the surface until they were at eye level.
Merlin looked at her with tears of relief and wonder. "Freya." He said softly.
"Merlin." She whispered tenderly.
They embraced tightly, each afraid to let go. Freya reluctantly released Merlin before ruffling his hair playfully.
"You saved us, Freya. Thank you." Merlin said.
"It was my honor, Merlin."
"I've missed you." He said. "I…"
His eyes began to tear up. "Will I be able to see you again?"
She took his hands into her own.
"I will always be here, Merlin, but I cannot leave the water. Your magic saved me but it bound me to be the guardian of this lake."
Freya glanced at the warlock warmly. "Should you need me, anytime, look for me in the water, and I will answer your call."
Merlin's face wore a conflicted expression. He'd been so happy to see her again, but he hadn't considered, he couldn't have known…and now he was fighting off guilt - guilt that came with bittersweet knowledge that Freya was anchored to the lake forever, and he was responsible.
"I'm so sorry." He said sadly.
She ran her hand down his face. "You saved my life. And if being bound here is the price I must pay to see you again, I will gladly pay it."
Merlin's expression softened and Freya placed her head against his own. He pulled her in for a kiss and held her tightly.
Prince Arthur watched from the trees, trying to fend off the giant lump that was suddenly forming in his throat, before turning to head back to the castle.
It was in his chambers that Arthur decided to confront the alleged sorcerer.
"Merlin, you must stop seeing her." Arthur said.
Merlin nearly jumped out of his skin. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" He asked. "I thought you were training."
"Stop avoiding the topic, Merlin. You can't see her anymore."
Merlin felt his heart nearly stop. Arthur couldn't know. He couldn't. There was no way. "I don't know what you're talking about." He feigned ignorance.
"I'm hardly stupid, Merlin. I saw you last night, at the lake. She's the Lady of the Lake, isn't she?"
Merlin had to consciously remember to close his jaw. He tried to shake himself out of his daze. "H-how do you know that?" he stuttered.
"Gaius." Arthur admitted. "When I was a boy, he told me the stories about the Lady, and her lover, Emrys."
Oh no, no. This was not good. Merlin stepped backwards, dropping the boot he was polishing. "What are you going to do to me?" he asked cautiously.
Arthur rolled his eyes and raised his hand. Merlin poised himself ready to duck and run. And then Arthur cuffed him round the heart like he usually did.
"You idiot!" Arthur exclaimed. "She's in love with Emrys! She's just going to break your heart."
Merlin rubbed the back of his head while cautiously raising an eyebrow. "Wait, what?"
"I heard her. She said you saved her with your magic. Merlin, do I need to tell you how reckless that is? Are you trying to get yourself killed? Have you not seen enough executions?"
Merlin looked away confusedly before meeting Arthur's gaze again. "Eh, I'm not following."
"You learned magic to impress her!" Arthur nearly bellowed.
Merlin glanced warily at the door. "I did?"
"I don't know Merlin, why don't you tell me what was going through your mind? Oh wait, I know. A pretty sorceress, why not learn magic to save her and win her heart? Sound familiar?"
Merlin raised an eyebrow, half in disbelief that Arthur could construe things so magnificently, and half in terror that he was going to be burning at dawn.
Arthur suddenly turned around. "I can see that you're trying to think of a way to get out of this. Don't. I heard her say that your magic bound her to the lake, and you're not going to convince me otherwise."
A sudden dread cut through Arthur as he recognized part of that phrase.
…bound her to the lake…
Merlin tried to speak but Arthur cut him off. "Wait. You made the Lady of the Lake?"
"She said that, Merlin."
"Are you sure?" Merlin countered.
Arthur folded his arms.
"Right." Merlin said.
Arthur frowned. "That's just…I mean, what am I even meant to do with you?"
"You could, er, not hand me over to your father?" Merlin said with a cheeky grin.
"Merlin, you will stop with this magic nonsense. Forget about it. Never use it again. You will not see the Lady of the Lake any more. Is that clear?"
"Is that clear!?"
"You don't understand, Arthur!"
"No, Merlin, you don't understand! She loves Emrys."
There was that nagging feeling again. Arthur knew he was forgetting something, some piece from the legend, but he couldn't place it.
Merlin chuckled. "Arthur, just let me explain."
Arthur's eyes narrowed. "I don't see how this is at all funny, Merlin. My father will execute you for using magic, no matter your reason. I don't think you understand that. Magic will corrupt you."
"You can't forbid me from using magic, Arthur." Merlin said angrily.
"Watch me." He said, meeting Merlin's gaze.
Merlin glared. "My magic is as much a part of me as breathing. I can no more refrain from using it than I can from taking a breath. Turn me in, Arthur, if that's what you feel you must do. You have your duty and I have mine." He said, and left the room with a slam of the door.
Arthur sat with his head in his hands that night, pondering all Merlin had said. That feeling of dread from earlier was back in full force. What had he forgotten? Which part of the legends connected all this?
"Let me explain…" Merlin had said.
But he hadn't, had he? He'd chastised Merlin based on the assumption he was right, but was he really? Gaius hadn't told him the stories in years, and he'd forgotten bits here and there. Merlin, it seemed, had the answers, and now Arthur was hanging onto Merlin's words, dying to know what his servant was actually going to say.
"My magic is as much a part of me as breathing." Merlin's ghost whispered.
Arthur sighed. He wondered how that could be. He could hardly call breathing evil.
"Emrys is a warlock, Arthur. Do you know what a warlock is?" Gaius had asked him years ago.
Warlocks had instinctive use of magic. But he couldn't remember if they'd been evil. Gaius had been cautious not to paint them as either good or bad.
Was Merlin a warlock?
And then, Merlin's grin when Arthur had said the sorceress loved Emrys.
Your lady loves another man. Why are you happy? What do you know that I don't?
"You have your duty and I have mine." Merlin's words.
What duty? Arthur wondered.
The words haunted him; they haunted him all night and into the wee hours of the morning, until he heard the crack of his door...
"Rise and sh- Arthur?"
The prince looked ghastly, sitting slouched in a chair near the table, his eyes baring dark circles, his skin pale.
"Arthur, didn't you sleep?"
The prince blinked out of his daze for a minute before turning to Merlin. "You." He said.
Merlin straightened. "I wasn't sure if…" He looked down. "…if you wanted me here today, sire."
Arthur glanced at the warlock before bursting into laughter. Merlin crossed his arms, annoyed.
"What's so funny?"
"It's you." Arthur said. "It's always been you, hasn't it?"
"That's why you found my tirade so funny. You're him. You're Emrys. You're the one who loves the Lady of the Lake, and the one who waits to help the once and future king."
Merlin took a cautious step back. "Arthur? You're scaring me."
Arthur let his head tilt back to let out a giant, "Ha!"
"My servant." He said carefully. "Is the man in the legends I've been thinking about all these years. How the hell have you managed to stay so young?"
"What?" Merlin asked, even more confused.
"Is Hunith really your mother? Are you even from Ealdor?" Arthur asked.
"Of course she is! Do you think I could fake that? You've been to Ealdor with me, Arthur, what do you think? Where are you getting this from anyway?"
The prince didn't answer.
Merlin inched toward the door, looking ready to bolt. Arthur led his manservant back to the chair and pushed him into a sitting position.
Merlin was frightened. "Arthur…what's wrong with you?" He glanced around. "You're not going to kill me, are you? Because you should know I've been keeping you alive for the last…"
"Shut up." Arthur said, looking thoughtful. "You're a warlock."
Merlin looked surprised, but nodded.
"Your magic is instinctive. That's why you have to use it."
"I…how do you kn-"
"I said shut up."
Merlin sighed and stayed quiet.
"You saved the Lady of the Lake. You're Emrys. Emrys was the most powerful warlock in all of Albion."
Merlin gulped. "I…er…yes? Arthur, where's this going?"
"Right, shut up." Merlin repeated.
"And your duty is to protect the once and future king."
Merlin's expression turned to half relief, half worry at this. "Yes, Arthur, but…"
'Sit down, Merlin. I'm not done yet. Now, I can assume that you are using your magic to protect someone: that someone being the once and future king."
Merlin nodded reluctantly.
"Given that you're protecting this man, I'm presuming he must be in Camelot."
Merlin nodded again.
"So, essentially, you, who could demolish my kingdom without a thought, are here protecting the man who will, some day in the future, usurp my father's throne? Is that about right, Merlin?"
Merlin didn't respond.
"Do you realize how many different kinds of treason that is?" Arthur nearly yelled, the grin disappearing to reveal his true reaction. "How can I possibly trust you?"
Merlin sunk down just a little further in his seat. "You don't understand." He muttered with irritation.
"Merlin, you have betrayed me. If it were just magic…I might forgive that. But plotting to overthrow my father with this once and future king? What am I meant to think?"
"Arthur!" Merlin said, interrupting Arthur's tirade. "You're missing a few details, sire."
"Like what? What could I possibly be missing, Merlin? Tell me!"
"You're the once and future king, you prat!" Merlin exclaimed, standing up. "I've been protecting you! But if you still think that's ten kinds of treason, sire…"
Arthur did a double take. "What?" No. he couldn't be. He recalled Merlin saying he'd only ever used his magic to…keep Arthur alive.
They say the warlock Emrys still waits for the once and future king so that he may bring magic back to the land.
Arthur paled, and then promptly fainted.
"He's waking up, Merlin. You had better be quick."
Arthur could hear Gaius puttering about and felt the small dash of wind as Merlin attempted to head for the door. He quickly propped himself up on his elbow and pointed to the warlock.
"Not so fast, Merlin. I want words with you."
"Arthur!" Merlin squeaked.
Gaius rolled his eyes. "You suffered a rather harsh blow to the head, sire. You should rest."
"Rest? I just learned that my servant is the bloody warlock Emrys that you told me about as a boy, and that I'm apparently the once and future king. You told me these were legends. If that were true then how can Merlin be Emrys? How can I be the once and future king?"
Gaius sucked in a breath before making the decision to answer. "I am sorry to have deceived you, sire, but they are prophecies, not legends. To tell you otherwise would have made you suspicious."
Arthur turned his suspicious gaze to Merlin, but the warlock wasn't intimidated.
"I'm not answering any questions until you answer one of mine."
Arthur looked at him curiously.
"What are you going to do to me?"
Arthur wasn't sure of that answer himself. "I…well…"
"You said if it was just magic…you'd forgive me…sire." Merlin said. "And I have been protecting you."
"And for keeping important secrets from me, Merlin? Should I forgive you for that?"
Merlin looked away, the guilt showing in his features.
"Should I forgive you for using me to try and bring magic back?"
Merlin's eyes widened. "No! Arthur, that's not…I wasn't…"
Arthur glared. "I was your friend!"
The warlock looked up worriedly. "You still are."
The prince didn't look convinced.
Merlin sighed with resignation. "I didn't use you, Arthur. This destiny just happened. Did I hope magic would come back? Yes. But only because I didn't want to live in fear. I wanted to stop lying."
"I told you everything, Merlin. I trusted you."
"Your father hates magic." Merlin said softly. "I couldn't make you choose between him…and me. I wasn't even sure it would be a choice."
Merlin looked so dejected that Arthur felt his temper wither. He sighed.
"Of course it's a choice. My father's views are biased, Merlin. I've known that for awhile. Having magic doesn't erase your loyalty to me or your loyalty to Camelot. But you've lied to me for years, and that I can't forget."
"I am sorry, Arthur." Merlin said softly.
"Sire, I must confess I have a part in this." Gaius interjected. "Merlin has become like a son to me, and in my worry I have discouraged him from revealing his magic to you. If you will blame him for his actions, I fear you should also blame me."
Arthur glanced toward the physician, his mind racing. How many times had Merlin wanted to say something but Gaius discouraged him? Arthur wondered. Had fear of his father prevented Merlin from being entirely truthful? Clearly it had. Well, the fact remained that Merlin was the most loyal friend he'd ever had, and Arthur couldn't let that be ripped away from him because he was angry.
He glanced toward the warlock. Merlin was looking at Gaius. Both waited for a verdict.
"I think a week in the stocks will be penance." Arthur finally said. "Oh, and mucking out my stables for a month."
Merlin looked surprised before his expression changed to relieved and happy. Then, as Arthur expected, Merlin sent him a mock-murderous glare. Arthur wondered if he should be scared.
"You're not frightening you know."
The warlock frowned.
"I don't care if you can…turn me into a pretty princess. You're still going in the stocks."
Merlin grinned slyly at that. "That's not a bad idea, sire."
"Merlin, you try it and…"
"And…?" Merlin said cheekily. He glanced down at his hands idly before looked back to Arthur. "You'll find another good warlock to change you back? They are in such good supply these days."
"Merlin!" Gaius exclaimed with a frown.
"I'm not afraid of you."
Merlin sighed. "I don't even know the spell for that, Arthur. Honestly."
"Really?" Arthur asked with glee. "Gaius, I thought Emrys was meant to an all powerful…"
Gaius raised an eyebrow. "I fear Merlin's ego is large enough, sire, without being revered as the most powerful warlock in Albion. Besides…he has much to learn."
Merlin's face dropped. He knew Gaius was right. Instinctively, in battle, he could call on his vast reserves, but consciously controlling that amount of magic and bending it to his will, well, it was taxing.
"Not quite the Emrys from prophecy." He said. "Yet. Just like you're not quite the once and future king."
Arthur was silent for a moment before nodding in understanding. "So," He said. "When can I meet her?"
Merlin smirked. "Depends, sire."
"On whether I still have to muck out the stables."
Arthur suddenly pitched forward, stumbling toward the warlock in a playful attempt to harm him and Merlin took off down the steps, taking advantage of Arthur's confusion from his concussion. Arthur ran after him, catching up, and putting the raven haired boy in a headlock before running his knuckles through Merlin's hair with purpose.
"Mercy!" Merlin said.
"That'll teach you to lie to me, idiot." Arthur countered.
If anyone had told Gaius his charge would be Emrys and Camelot's prince, the once and future king, he'd never have believed them. But now, knowing who they were, Gaius could feel only worry and sadness as he watched from the doorway.
Arthur and Merlin would never change - Merlin always trusting and loyal, and Arthur always stubborn and determined - and Gaius knew it would be their downfall. Because there was an ending to the druidic prophecy - an ending so tragic he dared not think on it. He hoped their friendship would be enough.