We're actually not sure if our minds are working properly right now. So don't be angry with us. This fic is the result of talking about a completely different idea and realizing something horrifying. We went back and rewatched "The Nightmare Begins" which we're convinced backs us up. We're quite angry with Merlin right now. Again, we remind you that we might be a little irrational. (Seriously, it has been a rough summer. And the problems haven't gotten better. They've-kind of-passed, but it hasn't gotten better.)
Anyway... Yes, we did tag this as fantasy. We weren't sure which genre this belonged in. We almost tagged this as crime just to see how everyone would react.
Disclaimer: You're still reading these? I though we established that we don't own "Merlin."
Enjoy! (And don't harm either us or Merlin over this incident.)
"There's some confusion as to how that was broken." Arthur was bent over and indicating a torn out grate. "By the looks of these scorch marks—"
"There is no confusion," Uther corrected matter-of-factly. He stood, "It was magic. The same magic that was used to start the fire in Morgana's chambers. Where does the trail lead?"
Arthur repressed any sign of exasperation. Of course his father had to jump to the conclusion of magic. "The Forest of Ascetir," he said, looking behind himself at the trail.
"We've all suspected that the druids have hidden there."
"The trail will lead us straight to them." 'Them' was a good, ambiguous word. Arthur could subtly express his skepticism without getting into an argument. Yes, this trail would lead to whoever did this. However, Arthur didn't believe the blame belonged to a druid. This was just like how he disagreed with the theory that a sorcerer snuck into Morgana's room and set it alight. The facts didn't add.
"Take no prisoners. It's time we rid ourselves of these," Uther paused as though the next word filled his mouth with bile, "druids once and for all." With that, he tromped away.
Magic. Yes, Arthur knew magic existed. And he knew it was evil. He would be a fool if he didn't believe either fact. Yet, Arthur wasn't convinced that magic was the culprit behind every adversity in the kingdom. Yes, his father had every right to despise magic. Its corruptions were evident. However, Arthur couldn't help but think his father was paranoid. The cause not being immediately evident, doesn't automatically make it magic. In fact, magic usually had nothing to do with illness, disease, war, famine, and other such things. Why couldn't there also be a mundane explanation for this busted grate?
But, of course, Uther would never listen to such reasonings. That was why Arthur hadn't mentioned what the guards said about the fire in the dungeons. Apparently, some of the torches suddenly exploded in size. The king, of course, would have immediately attributed this instance to magic. Arthur, however, was inclined to believe that the guards had had too much to drink. They were probably exaggerating some sort of accident or unexpected gust of wind. Arthur would discipline the knights to stop drinking on duty.
"Where's Merlin?" Arthur asked Gaius.
The old man jumped, "Um... He's... um... He's not well."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "He's still upset about Morgana isn't he?" Merlin, that stupid, love-struck idiot.
"We all are," Gaius answered diplomatically.
"Tell him to stop pining, pull himself together, and get back to work."
Merlin trekked across a wide-open plain. Occasionally, he dug his heel into the dirt.
He had been leaving all possible indications of his path. Back in the forest, he had broken branches and disturbed as much foliage as possible. He even stepped in mud on purpose a few times. Merlin was that determined his trail would be unmistakeable. Arthur would be able to follow this trail blind and without the help of dogs.
Merlin did, however, hope that none of these precautions would be necessary. He hoped that Morgana would come home without being dragged by Arthur. But, as Merlin had told Gaius, he knew exactly what Morgana was going through. Merlin knew exactly how scared Morgana was. He knew exactly how reluctant Morgana would be to leave a group of people that accepted her for who she was, a group that she wasn't forced to do any pretending for. Merlin understood.
That was why Merlin was indirectly leading Arthur to the druid encampment. Morgana won't want to leave. And Merlin honestly couldn't blame her. However, dozens of lives were at stake. She needed to return to Camelot.
Hopefully, she would return without a fight. If she agreed to return immediately, then Arthur wouldn't need to find the druid encampment. Or even know it exists. Merlin already had a cover story ready for Morgana to use when she met Arthur on the way back. (Merlin would travel near, but not with, her. He still couldn't think of a good enough excuse for himself to be out here.)
By now, Arthur had certainly found the destroyed grate, the beginning of the trail. The exploded gate wouldn't go unnoticed. Especially considering how Merlin distracted the prison guards. That burst of fire doubtlessly led to an investigation of the dungeons. (And those poor men probably were probably terrified of ever going near a torch again.)
Arthur poked the remains of a fire. It was a recent fire that hadn't burned for very long. The fire had been abandoned in a hurry. However, no attempts had been made to hide the evidence.
Arthur stood and ordered his men to "Keep moving." They needed to get this over with.
If it wasn't for the king's orders, Arthur would have turned back long before now. He didn't believe this trail belonged to any druid or druid-friend on his way to a druid encampment. This person was making absolutely no attempt to cover his tracks. He was probably an some regular, unconcerned traveler. Arthur corrected himself. A regular, unconcerned, and clumsy traveler. It took a special talent—a talent that Arthur had thought only Merlin possessed—to create this distinct of a trail without the help of horses or a fellow traveler. Honestly, if it wasn't for the large stretches of plains, Arthur wouldn't have even needed to bring the dogs at all.
Merlin found the druid encampment. In a stealth that many thought him incapable of, he snuck about. He slipped from behind tent to tent, until he found the one Morgana was in. Merlin sat and listened. She was talking with one of the druids.
"What would you like to know?" He asked.
"Why I can see the future in my dreams," she whimpered. "Why I'm able to start fires with my mind."
"People who are able to do this are few and far between. You have a gift."
"Is it magic?"
"Of a kind, yes. But it will be many years before you are able to understand it fully, let alone use it," he explained. "This isn't something to be afraid of."
"It is if you have Uther as your guardian," Morgana retorted. "If he found out, he'd have me killed."
"But if he did..."
"We won't let that happen. You're safe here. You shouldn't be scared of Uther. You should pity him."
"Pity him? Why?"
"Because he's a broken man, consumed by fear. His hatred of magic has driven goodness from his heart."
"I've always been told that magic is evil. That it corrupts your soul."
"Uther told you this. Just because he decrees it, doesn't make it so. In time you will learn that magic isn't a dark art that must be shrouded in secrecy. It can be a force for good."
Merlin didn't know who Morgana was talking to, but he was grateful. He almost wished he didn't need to bring her back to Camelot. The druids were already doing worlds of good for her.
Arthur saw smoke in the distance. Enough smoke to be from an encampment of sorts.
He swallowed. "Remember the king's orders," he said firmly, "No prisoners."
Arthur put on all the facade of strength he needed to lead the men. But under all of that, he felt sick.
Merlin waited until he was certain the druid was gone and not coming back for a while. Then he pulled open the tent flaps.
Morgana had been lying down with the top of her head facing Merlin. She gasped and jumped up upon hearing someone enter.
"Merlin," she gasped. "What are you doing here?"
"I've come to take you back to Camelot," Merlin answered simply.
"Then I'm afraid you've had a waste of journey. I'm never going back." Morgana shook her head.
"You have to," Merlin pleaded.
"Why? You're the one who said I should seek out the druids."
"I never realized what the repercussions would be."
"The king thinks you've been kidnapped. He won't stop until you're found. Dozens of people, he's going to execute them all."
"If I return, the same fate awaits me."
"Uther doesn't need to know about this. I won't tell a soul," Merlin promised.
Morgana didn't say anything for a minute. Merlin watched the emotions rage through her. She shook.
After a moment she came to her decision. "I'm sorry. I'm never going back. These are my people. They're like me... I don't feel so alone here. Do you understand?"
"Better than anyone."
Merlin looked at her steadily. He understood perfectly. That's why—even though Merlin hated to—he created a path for Arthur to follow. Merlin had hoped to find it unnecessary.
Time wasn't up though. Arthur wouldn't be here for a while. Merlin would wait a moment, but he wasn't going to give up on coaxing Morgana to return. He didn't want to be forced to let the prince find this encampment.
Suddenly, a man burst into the tent.
"Morgana, we must go," he said. "Who are you?" He stared at Merlin searchingly.
Merlin lifted his arms and opened his mouth uselessly. Neither a good excuse or lie was forming.
"I-i-it's alright. He's a friend," Morgana explained quickly. "What's wrong?"
"Arthur and his men are coming."
Merlin's jaw dropped. Arthur was here? Already?
"Your friend has led him straight to us," the druid snarled accusatorily.
Merlin didn't bother denying that. It was true. And it wasn't even an accident.
Merlin followed Morgana and the druid out of the tent. People were rushing about in panic. Some were grabbing the belongings they could carry. Others were simply running and screaming.
Merlin stopped. Amongst the confusion, he saw a face he had never wanted to see again. The look Mordred gave as he stood there gave Merlin chills.
Hello, Emrys, Mordred's voice rang in Merlin's head.
Merlin ran through the twisting trench. Behind him was Mordred and the druid who was helping Morgana run. The sound of barking dogs echoed, constantly reminding them that they were being hunted.
Merlin looked back to see Morgana halting and grabbing the rock wall. He turned around and ran back to her.
"We've got to keep moving," the druid urged.
"My leg," Morgana protested. "It's too painful."
Morgana couldn't run. They would be caught any moment. Merlin could only think of one option.
"I'll try to create a diversion," he said.
"No, Merlin, you can't!" Morgana exclaimed.
"You carry on. It's my fault they're here." More so than you realize. "Go! Go!"
"I'll never forget this," Morgana promised.
The druid pulled her away by both her hands. "Come!" He insisted.
Merlin waited for Morgana, Mordred, and the other druid to be out of sight. The warlock looked forward and backward as an extra precaution. No one would see him.
He stretched his hand out behind him.
"Bene læg gesweorc."
A mist appeared, rolling down the trench. Merlin pulled his arm in close to his body as he turned around. He stretched his arm out again, 'pushing' the vapor down the tunnel.
It came out of no where. A strange mist rolled through. It curled around Arthur, making it almost impossible for him to see where he was going. He stopped. He couldn't very well track down someone in this fog.
Suddenly, he saw a figure run on the ledge above him.
"There!" Arthur shouted.
Within a moment, one of Arthur's men loaded and shot a bolt. It missed.
Arthur raced after the figure. But whoever it was got away. Arthur was forced to halt at a ledge with a sheer drop.
"We have the Lady Morgana," a knight below announced.
Merlin dropped and curled into a ditch. He watched as Arthur and a group of knights lept over him. Merlin stood the minute the last man ran out of sight. Then he ran the opposite direction.
Everything had gone wrong. Merlin had expected that this force might—and even probably—be needed to get Morgana home. But it wasn't supposed to be the only option. Curse Arthur and his competence.
Arthur rode back to Camelot with Morgana sitting in front of him on the horse. The journey passed quietly. She didn't want to talk about the kidnapping. Arthur had tried that conversation a few times for the sake of providing comfort and better protection. But talking about the incident seemed to only make her more upset. After many evasive and close-ended answers, Arthur finally gave up. This may been one of the quietest times with Morgana that Arthur had ever experienced.
When Arthur and Morgana rode into the Camelot courtyard, Uther rushed to greet them. He pulled Morgana off the horse and hugged her close.
"I was so, so worried about you," he whispered.
"You were right," Arthur reported. "It was the druids. They kidnapped her."
Arthur's father was right this time. Paranoia did occasionally provide the answers to these situations.
Merlin knocked. A minute later the door opened.
"Merlin," Morgana said.
"My lady," Merlin greeted.
Morgana widened the opening, admitting Merlin entrance. She closed the door as he stepped inside. For a long moment they both stood quiet.
Merlin broke the silence, "I wanted to check you were okay."
Merlin didn't think she sounded entirely honest. He wasn't sure how to respond though. The silence settled even heavier this time.
"What was said at the woods—" Morgana began.
"You can trust me, Morgana," Merlin quickly reassured her. "I won't tell anyone."
Morgana smiled in relief. "Thank you, Merlin. I know now who I really am, and it isn't something to be scared of. Maybe one day people will come to see magic as a force for good."
Merlin smiled, and Morgana smiled back. But she only smiled for a moment before staring at the floor. She didn't look abashed, just a little uncomfortable and shaken.
"Um..." Morgana looked back up as Merlin searched for the right words. "It's good to have you back," he said. There wasn't much else he could say.
Morgana smiled and nodded, "Thank you, Merlin."
Merlin drew in a breath and looked at the door. It was a silent request to leave. There wasn't much else he could do or say. He wanted to apologize, but he couldn't think of an appropriate way to do so. What could he say? I'm sorry. I purposefully led Arthur to the encampment because I anticipated your reaction to leaving. Can you forgive me? No, Merlin wasn't going to give her an excellent reason to distrust him right when she most needs the comfort of trust.
Seeing Merlin's desire to leave, Morgana opened the door.
"Sleep well," she said as Merlin left.
Merlin didn't answer. He only turned his head and forced a smile in acknowledgment.
Arthur's arms were folded. He was leaning against a pillar that supported a spiral staircase. Just up these stairs was the Lady Morgana's chambers. Merlin would be returning from there any minute from now.
Arthur's idiot manservant must have no idea the mess he was getting himself into. Pursuing Morgana could get Merlin killed. People of different ranks never associated with each other. That's how things were. And if Merlin was lucky enough to not executed, he would still have to deal with the pain. Loving someone you can't have is painful. Arthur knew from experience.
Finally, Merlin descended the steps.
"This has to stop," Arthur stated.
Merlin turned around. Arthur unfolded his arms and walked toward his manservant.
"The king would have your head if he found out," Arthur continued. "There is no point denying it."
"Denying what?" Merlin asked. Of course, he was still playing stupid.
"Your affections for the Lady Morgana."
Merlin scoffed. "Right," he said and began walking away.
Arthur followed the few steps Merlin took.
"Take a bit of advice from someone who..." Arthur paused and put his hand on Merlin's shoulder. He wasn't going to say anything about Guinevere. "Knows about women."
"Well, if such a person existed, I would," Merlin jibed.
"Stick to girls that are more..." Arthur looked down as though the floor would give him the best advice. "How should I put it? On your level," he said, looking back up at Merlin.
"She can't be your friend," Arthur said somberly as he gazed at nothing in particular, "let alone anything else."
"Yeah, I know."
Arthur turned his eyes back to Merlin. He patted his servant's shoulder.
Arthur pointed at Merlin. "Can't hide anything from me, Merlin."
As Arthur walked off he heard Merlin snicker.
Then Merlin muttered, "Wouldn't dream of it."
Thank you for taking the time to read our ridiculousness. Hopefully you are not too angry with us. We came up with this because we realized that, mere episodes later in "Beauty and the Beast Part 2", Merlin creates a fake trail. (No, we don't think Gaius did that.) Seriously, if Merlin can lead a false trail and then backtrack (without getting caught), we're certain he could have gotten to the encampment without being followed. And besides, what was the point of "sneaking" through the dungeons and blowing out the grate? Really.
Please review, even if it is to vent.