Warnings: Violence and character death. So very many character deaths. Also asphyxiation, terminal illness, and mind-wipe.
Spoilers: Through 3x05, "The Crystal Cave"
Summary: Story prompt from Kink-Me Merlin. Thanks, Anon!
Set in the year after season 2, Uther must successfully get himself and his unaware son through the past two years. Every time either of them dies, Uther is sent back to the day of Thomas Collins' execution. I want Uther to discover Merlin's magic early on, and execute him many, many times, but eventually get so frustrated in trying (and failing) to take on Camelot's enemies himself that he eventually looks the other way just to get out of the time loop. Up to author whether he is ever grateful to Merlin, or just uses him to keep Arthur safe.
Chapter 1: Past is Prologue
A week since Morgana was taken, and each day is tighter with apprehension. Following the Great Dragon's vicious attack on Camelot the people are rebuilding, but all the king can think about is Morgana. He does not pray. He leaves that to those who have nothing useful to do.
He sends out wave after wave of search parties, in concentric circles, but they come back with nothing. Useless. He knows the kingdom better than anyone; he should be taking the lead.
And then he remembers. And he insists on going himself.
It is the cave behind the waterfall, where he found so many of them during the Great Purge. That was where Morgause would keep her, wasps always returned to the hive…. The men think him mad, but Uther doesn't care, he knows this place….
And there she is, all porcelain beauty laid out on a stone slab the high priestesses once used for their dark ceremonies. The witch Morgause standing over her, casting some kind of enchantment, looking up, surprised….
Too enraged to waste time drawing a weapon, Uther raises an armored fist and brings it crashing down into the sorceress's blonde locks….
Uther Pendragon woke up in his bed, in his chambers, in his castle.
What! was his first thought, followed immediately by How?
"Ethan!" he bellowed.
Ethan appeared in his midst with a pleasant, "Yes, sire?"
"Where is Morgause? Where is Morgana?"
"Your Highness, I believe I saw the Lady Morgana's servant Guinevere bringing breakfast to her chambers. My sincerest apologies, but I do not know anyone by the name of Morgause."
"The blond woman who murdered five knights and nearly killed Arthur some months ago."
The servant bowed low. "I beg your pardon for my foolishness, sire. I do not recall any such lady."
"She's no lady," Uther said under his breath. "Ethan, what is today?"
"Midsummer, Your Majesty."
Uther frowned. It was autumn, near winter. What reason would his most faithful servant have to lie like this? "Is there anything special about today?"
"For the morning's entertainment, a sorcerer shall be leaving his head in the courtyard."
"Thomas Collins, I believe."
Uther dressed absentmindedly. That name sounded familiar, and the dream he'd woken from seemed so real….
Ethan said, "We also prepare for tonight's festival celebrating the end of magic in Camelot. Lady Helen of Mora will be performing."
"Impossible. She was killed two years ago by a witch." Uther thought for a moment. Hadn't that witch been called Mary Collins? And hadn't she sworn revenge for the execution of her son?
The servant said nothing, but Uther could tell from the way he over-fluffed the pillows that he was searching for a way to respond.
"You may speak freely, Ethan."
"I am certain it is my mistake." Fluff, fluff, fluff. "But I was absolutely positive that tonight's entertainment is to be…" fluff, fluff-fluff, "Lady Helen of Mora."
Uther considered that.
"No, the mistake was mine," said Uther finally. "I had a vivid dream, and I believe it unsettled me a bit. Perhaps I'll visit Gaius after breakfast."
He had another visit first, though. Morgana was just finishing breakfast. Uther was nearly overcome with emotion at the sight of her, unharmed and safe inside the castle walls. He threw his arms around her, kissed her cheeks, and told her how he'd missed her.
"And why not, after all those hours asleep?" she said, sounding amused.
Most peculiar; she didn't seem to have any memory of being gone. He told her he'd slept poorly and was still feeling a little off.
"That makes two of us," Morgana sighed. "If you're going to see Gaius, why don't I walk with you?"
And so Uther was in exactly the right place to witness his court physician and old friend nearly fall to his death. But he was caught in mid-fall by….
"Merlin?" Uther meant to shout. He was so surprised, it came out as more of a mew. Arthur's idiot serving-boy, a wizard?
Merlin and Gaius turned to him, Gaius suspended in mid-air, and Merlin with that ridiculous look on his face. Uther knew that look. He knew that boy. And now he knew the boy's secret.
"This explains everything!"
Uther ordered Merlin beheaded along with Thomas and Mary Collins. Morgana objected, as naturally she would. Uther wanted to explain, but how could he? He tried to tell her that sometimes he might do distasteful things, but they were always in the best interests of Camelot. She didn't seem satisfied, but there was nothing he could do about that. She had to learn to trust him.
That evening, Gaius excused himself from the banquet. Uther knew it was a silent protest over Merlin, but he was too pleased with himself to care much. After twenty years of unbroken peace, all manner of curious and uncanny things had been unleashed upon his kingdom the very day Merlin arrived in Camelot. As far as Uther was concerned, he had put the lid firmly back atop Pandora's box.
Lady Helen performed at the banquet, and Uther thought he had never heard a sweeter sound. Yet…somehow…he could hardly…keep his eyes…open….
Uther Pendragon woke up in his bed, in his chambers, in his castle. Ethan was whistling softly as he went about his duties. Uther knew the song.
God save our gracious king
Long live our noble king
God save the king.
Send him victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the king.
"Begging Your Majesty's pardon," said Ethan, bowing low and sounding slightly ruffled.
Uther smiled. "No need. It's a fine morning, isn't it?"
"Quite, sire. A lovely day for a festival."
"Again? Are you asking for a holiday?"
"I must be mistaken, sire. Is today not the day Camelot celebrates twenty years without magic?"
Ethan had made one mistake. He had gotten within arm's reach of his master. Uther grabbed him by the collar and yanked him close so they were eye-to-eye.
"Are you toying with me, Ethan?" he said, voice dangerously low.
"Of course not, sire! I would never presume!"
Ethan's eyes were wide and, Uther thought, innocent. He let go, still stewing, and ordered Ethan to get out and find a calendar to study.
After dressing hastily, Uther went to see Gaius.
"I feel…unsettled," said Uther, pacing back and forth on the small clear patch of Gaius's floor.
"Is that so?" said Gaius mildly. "Perhaps a tea of chamomile and…let's see…valerian. To banish evil."
While Gaius brewed the tea, Uther asked about the date. Gaius, too, thought it was Midsummer and that Lady Helen of Mora would be performing later that night.
Pace, pace, pace, turn. What did it mean? Pace, pace, pace.
"You must be Gaius!"
Uther turned and -
In a flash, Uther had the boy against the wall, one gloved fist at his throat.
"How are you doing this?"
"Making this day repeat!"
Merlin gave him a look. Uther knew that look. It was the same one he had given his own father, when the king had begun speaking of things no one else could see. The beginning of the madness that eventually consumed him.
Uther called for the guards and ordered Merlin executed for sorcery.
Gaius did not attend the banquet. Uther had no choice, although he was hardly in the mood, and he had the oddest feeling he'd forgotten something important.
Lady Helen sang, and Uther felt an enchanted sleep fall over him like a warm blanket. His last thought was a curse.
Uther Pendragon woke up in his bed, in his chambers, in his castle. Ethan was whistling softly as he went about his duties. Uther threw the nearest object at hand at him, wishing it were something heavier than a pillow.
"Must you persist with that ghoulish death-rattle!"
"Begging Your Majesty's pardon," said Ethan, bowing low.
Uther glared at him, but he seemed unruffled. That was one of the things that made him Uther's favorite amongst his personal attendants.
"Are you looking forward to the festival tonight?"
"And will you attend Thomas Collins' execution?"
"I observe the extermination of sorcerers whenever possible, sire."
More's the pity you can't remember the three times you've already seen this one, thought Uther.
At least there was nothing wrong with Ethan. Come to think of it, there were few people in the world Uther trusted more. Among the servants, absolutely none.
Thoughts churning and settling on nothing in particular, Uther went to see Morgana. He had nearly forgotten her last time. Again she seemed surprised by his sudden affection, but not displeased. And again, Uther was in just the right place to see Merlin catch Gaius' fall. This time, he decided to try something new.
"Gaius, you are one of my oldest and best friends," said Uther. "I owe you my life many times over. I will spare the boy if you wish."
"Please, sire. He is my nephew." Gaius was staring at the floor, but Uther could tell he was quite upset.
"Is he? Why did you never mention this before?"
Gaius continued to avert his eyes deferentially, but he couldn't help blinking in surprise. "It would not have been…apropos…before anyone had ever met him."
Of course it wouldn't. Uther wanted to sigh, but restrained himself. "Merlin, I hereby banish you from Camelot. Do not cross my borders again, or I shall have you executed immediately."
The boy looked affronted, but he didn't need to be told twice.
This time, Uther remembered to inform his guards to look for Mary Collins and have her beheaded alongside her son.
This time would be different.
Lady Helen - the real Lady Helen - performed at the banquet. Uther was so anxious that each song would be his last that he couldn't enjoy it at all. Still, he wasn't dead at the end of the night, and that was always a good start.