Magic in the Air
"...so do you have those herbs Gaius ordered?" the young man inquired. The older man to whom he was speaking had a rounded stomach, a scruffy chin, ragged clothes, and a white (now somewhat brown) apron. The young man himself was not finely dressed; indeed his clothes showed him to be a peasant himself, but they were in better repair than most. This was because he served as personal assistant to Gaius, the court physician, and personal servant to the Prince of Camelot, Arthur Pendragon.
"Aye, that we do, that we do Merlin," the older man responded gruffly with several curt nods. "Just give me a moment..." his voice drifted off as he turned and entered his shop.
Merlin took the opportunity to simply look around the marketplace, the center of town- all the people, all the noise, the smells, but most impressively: the look of things. Even the lower city of Camelot was grand, and the view of the palace from the market awed many a traveler from distant lands, much the same way that Merlin himself had felt when he had first appeared in Camelot.
Merlin observed the area around him with a lopsided grin and narrowed eyes, squinting in the effort to block some of the sun's rays. Down on Merlin's right, he spotted a couple of boys fooling around: chasing one another, tackling each other, running in and out amongst people's feet, causing trouble. Merlin shook his head in appreciative disapproval. Appreciative because he felt that one day these young ruffians would grow to be just like Arthur, and disapproval because he felt that one day they would grow to be just like Arthur.
He watched their progress as they wove in and out of obstacles in the street. He began to turn away, only to pause as he witnessed the next events.
A young woman stood on the side of the marketplace, offering flowers to passerby for naught but a small price. She held her collection of flowers in a basket woven of sticks, held in the crook of her right elbow. Her hair was dirty blonde, tied back, and Merlin imagined her complexion would be pale had her face not been smudged with dirt. She was not quite petite, but smaller than the average girl. Her face was rounded and delicate, and she looked unhealthily thin; although it was hard for Merlin to be sure underneath her baggy dress.
The girl noticed the two boys dodging to and fro, but scarcely had she seemed to process this fact than the boys (tackling one another) tumbled into her, knocking her basket to the ground. Merlin saw the flowers scatter and the glint of money mixed in the bunch.
Without a thought, Merlin rushed over to her side and knelt down beside her, gathering the flowers like she was already doing. She paused only to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, collecting the flowers in a calm hurry. No tears escaped her eyes; her face betrayed no frantic feelings.
As he helped, Merlin frequently glanced at her, and he did not believe she was as calm as she looked. This was her lifestyle and her money. She obviously did not earn much as it was, and to lose a day's work and wage- well who knows how that might affect her. Yet she showed not a trace of any such conflict, and simply picked up the flowers and coins one by one.
When the task was finished, Merlin stood quickly and offered down a hand to aid the flower girl. Her head turned sharply towards the offered hand and she warily placed her own hand in his. Hauling her to her feet, Merlin said with an apologetic smile,
"Ah, I'm... I'm sorry about that," as he gestured in the direction in which the boys had fled. His companion gave a slight smile.
"Well they aren't your boys, are they?" she said as more of a statement of fact than a question. Merlin laughed and quickly held out his hand in formal introduction, as if it were an afterthought. Regardless, he looked entirely friendly and sincere, and Andrea found his slightly awkward manner to be rather charming.
"I'm Merlin by the way." Hesitantly, still shy of this new stranger, the girl stretched out her hand and grasped Merlin's in a shake.
"Andrea... that's a beautiful name," he commented. Andrea blushed at the compliment because she felt that Merlin said so not to be polite or to flirt with her, but simply to tell her his honest opinion. Not that anyone would have a reason to flirt with me, Andrea reminded herself.
"Thank you... Merlin. I like yours as well; it's very unique."
"Yeah, it is at that. There's my mother for you." Andrea smiled and began to open her mouth when-
"'Ay! Boy; Merlin! I've got those herbs for ya!" the shopkeeper called out. Merlin turned with a start and shifted a bit, his air becoming a bit awkward.
"Well I... I should probably go. Gaius is expecting me," explained Merlin. As he turned to go, Andrea impulsively reached out and merely touched Merlin's arm. He turned back around instantly, almost seeming as if he wanted a reason to stay.
"Wait!" she implored him, "Take this." From her basket she selected a daisy, worn down and trampled. She held up the dying flower, and Merlin reached to take it, but he stopped as he saw the flower begin to change. The flower was reverting back to its former state: the flower straightened back up, regained its health and sturdy stem, and the petals took on a vibrant yellow shine. Merlin quickly looked up into Andrea's eyes and saw her focusing on the flower, and her normally dark brown eyes had what looked like gray storm clouds take their place. Soon, the flower was restored and Andrea's eyes regained their natural color.
Andrea smiled brightly and handed the surprised Merlin the magicked daisy.
"My thanks, good sir," she said with a gleam of friendly teasing in her eye.
Merlin slowly took the flower and turned to go. He seemed to pause, and turned back quickly.
"Wait here for a moment," he whispered. Andrea's brow wrinkled in confusion but showed her obedience by stepping back and remaining silent. Merlin rushed back to the shop and hurriedly exchanged money for the herbs. Practically jogging, he came back to Andrea's side.
"Come on," he said, grabbing her hand and walking off through the market.
"Wha-" Andrea stuttered in surprise as she was pulled along. Soon she matched his pace and walked beside him, but she decided not to let go of his hand. Merlin seemed to notice this and he simply gave her a surprised smile.
Soon they reached a room that was labeled as belonging to the court physician. Merlin pushed the door open and stepped inside.
"Gaius!" he called out. Andrea instinctively stepped slightly behind him, but continued to hold his hand.
"Yes Merlin, what is it?" came a voice from the other end of the room. Andrea edged around Merlin and saw an older man, with shoulder-length white hair, and an aging face.
"Merlin! Who is this?" exclaimed Gaius as he spotted the ragged girl.
"Gaius, this is Andrea. Andrea, Gaius," Merlin introduced. Andrea gave a meek nod in response to Gaius's nod of greeting.
"Well what is she doing here? Are you sick?" he asked Andrea kindly, who only shook her head.
"No, she's a friend Gaius. I'm just going to take her up to my room; I want to show her a few things." Gaius raised his brows in warning. Merlin gave a nervous chuckle.
"I'm not going to do anything Gaius, honest." Gaius seemed to accept this and allowed the two to go past into Merlin's room.
"Why am I here?" the girl asked.
"Well, we couldn't talk about it out on the street. It's because I saw what you did. Using magic like that. It's risky! You can't just go around using magic in front of people; Uthur will have you killed!"
"Well I hardly thought that someone who took the time to help someone like me was going to be the sort to turn me over to the King," said Andrea sassily. Merlin gave her a gentle, reprimanding look.
"Still. You need to be more cautious."
"What would you know about it? Besides, I am careful. I haven't been caught have I? If I used my magic I could be making a decent living. But I don't and look where I am."
"I know plenty about it," Merlin defended himself. Andrea's eyes lit up in realization.
"Don't tell me- you have magic too, don't you?" Merlin cocked his head ever so slightly and gave the slightest of grins (the kind that says 'Now wait a second, you've got this all wrong') and let out a sound that sounded like the release of breath, like a soft 'huh'.
"No no, no of course not-"
"You do! Don't pretend Merlin, I can tell," she interrupted excitedly. "There's no reason to hide it- what do you think I'm going to do, report you?" Merlin seemed to be having a mental battle with himself. He let out a sigh and stared into Andrea's eyes with a smile.
"Alright, you win. I do have magic." Merlin watched her reaction carefully, and found himself laughing at her huge grin and bright eyes. She looked like an excited little kid.
"Tell me about it! Please!" she exclaimed, completely enthralled. Merlin laughed and he and Andrea stayed in his bedroom for quite a while as Merlin demonstrated small magics, showed her his book of magic, and told her of his destiny.
The next day, Merlin took Andrea to work with him, as he refused to let her go back to sleeping on the streets as she'd revealed she did.
"You're late, Merlin," said an attractive young man as Merlin and Andrea entered.
"Sorry Arthur, I had to fetch a few things for Gaius," Merlin said as he began straightening the bedclothes.
"Yes, alright, just-" said Arthur, looking up. He gave a start when he saw Andrea and she automatically flinched and withdrew.
"Merlin," he said authoritatively.
"Uh, yes?" Merlin perked up, widening his eyes and tilting his head expectantly. Andrea couldn't help but to chuckle at his expression of innocence.
"Who is she?" Merlin cocked his head towards Andrea, mouth slightly opened, before turning back to Arthur. His eyes crinkled as he gave Arthur that smile that says 'About that: I think you'll find this funny...'
"Merlin..." Arthur said in warning, his eyebrows up and waiting expectantly for a response.
"Uhhh... this is Andrea. She's... the niece, of a friend, of... Gaius'," Merlin invented.
"And what's she doing here?" demanded Arthur.
"Well, you know, she's staying around for a while and I didn't want to leave her home alone. She won't be a bother, don't worry Arthur," reassured Merlin. Arthur looked Andrea up and down.
"Fine. But if she gets in the way of your already shabby work she'll have to go."
"Oh of course, Arthur. Good thing my 'shabby work' can't get much worse then, hmm?" Merlin said.
"Exactly." Arthur smiled mockingly and clapped Merlin on the back as he left the room.
"Well he's buckets of fun I see," commented Andrea.
"Oh yeah... Arthur's great fun," responded Merlin sarcastically. "About as fun as boar hunting. Works me night and day, and do I get one word of thanks? No. And yet I'm destined to protect him." Merlin became a bit more serious. "He's actually a good guy- he'll make a great king. He's just a bit... rough around the edges."
"Well... Arthur's lucky to have someone as loyal as you around. You're a wonderful guy Merlin," said Andrea shyly. Merlin smiled and paused in the midst of doing his chores. When he realized this, he gave a start, let out a small laugh and returned to his work.
"Let me help you with that," Andrea insisted, and she hurriedly joined Merlin in doing his chores. Merlin put down the boot he'd been cleaning and simply looked at her with his lopsided grin. This girl just continued to surprise him in pleasing ways.
Looking up from the boot she had begun to clean herself, Andrea spotted him looking and blushed, refocusing her attention downwards. Merlin gave a laugh at her behavior and the two finished the work together.
"You look really nice with your face all washed up by the way," complimented Merlin, for she had indeed taken a bath that morning. Merlin loved how that now the dirt was gone, he could clearly see each time her cheeks turned pink, as they were doing now. Merlin merely shook his head with a smile, and resumed work.
Merlin and Andrea did not leave each other's side for the next week and a half. Andrea became acquainted with the palace, and Arthur, and the servants. And in particular, Merlin himself. She learned about his past, about his adventures with Arthur. She found herself constantly amused by this quirky and witty, but gentle boy. The touch of his hand brought a flutter to her stomach, and she treasured every moment she spent with him. Merlin felt the same for Andrea. She told her how her parents had both died in the epidemic when Nimueh had poisoned the waters in Camelot, and how she'd been living alone with very little ever since. Andrea explained her powers- they were not great, but she was gifted in particular with nature.
Soon Andrea no longer stuck to Merlin's side completely and she truly became a part of castle life: she became friends with Morgana's maid Gwen, Arthur became used to her presence (and even teased Merlin about his feelings for her in the times Andrea was not around), and Gaius taught her how to mix herbs and create potions.
One day, Arthur ordered Merlin to deliver a bouquet of daisies to Gwen. When Merlin happily asked Arthur what prompted him to that display of affection, Arthur simply replied,
"It's a nice day, Merlin," with all his usual sass. But his sass couldn't cover up the smile of someone in love. Merlin hurried off to deliver the flowers with a huge grin, which only grew bigger when he saw Gwen's tender reception of the gift. Upon seeing this sweet romance, Merlin came to a sudden realization, and he was entirely overwhelmed.
Without further ado Merlin rushed out of Gwen's house and ran all the way to his home. When he burst through the door, Gaius and Andrea were looking through a book and brewing up an antidote together. Andrea looked up and gasped.
"Merlin, whatever's wrong?" Gaius asked.
"Are you all right?" Andrea added concernedly, rushing over to Merlin's side.
"I love you," Merlin told her matter-of-factly, eyes wide, staring deep into her eyes. He took her hands in his own. "I love you and I had to tell you." Gaius gave a knowing smile and simply left the room. Merlin had the pleasure of seeing Andrea flush a bright pink.
"I... love you too." Merlin reached out his hand and brushed his thumb against her cheek, lightly holding the back of her head. Slowly he leaned down in close and kissed her.
The stars shone in the dark, night sky like a million lanterns- or at least Andrea perceived them that way as she lay next to Merlin in a grassy field. The two lay side by side, hands entwined.
"Have you ever been in love before?" Merlin asked Andrea.
"No. Not before you," she responded with a smile. "Have you?" A melancholy look came upon Merlin's features.
"Once. Her name was Freya."
"Will you tell me about her?" requested Andrea quietly.
"She had magic as well, only, it was a kind much more difficult to hide," reminisced Merlin bitterly.
"How so?" Andrea asked carefully, unsure of the ground upon which she tread.
"She was a bastet. At the stroke of midnight she phased into a black, winged, furred demon. She killed by nature and so they locked her up in a pen. That's where I found her. Beaten down, dirty, ragged clothes. I helped her hide and I visited her as much as I could. She brought comfort to me and I... I did the same for her. I showed her some tricks and I made her understand that she was loved."
"What happened?" Andrea hardly dared to utter the question.
"She died," concluded Merlin. "I couldn't save her." The pain and emotion showed through in his voice, and face. "I couldn't save her..." Merlin whispered again, as he sat up. This time tears made their slow descent down his cheeks. Sitting up, Andrea brushed the hair back from his face, and drew Merlin in close to her. Merlin's face was buried in Andrea's shoulder and chest as she held him close to her for comfort. Merlin's arms wrapped around Andrea to rest on her back. Soon the tears stopped coming and Merlin drew back from Andrea.
"I loved her. I did, truly. But some things are just not meant to be... That doesn't bother you, does it? You know that I love you now- so much that I don't think I can bear to be without you, or to lose you the way I lost her. The time we've spent together... please don't leave me Andrea. Don't ever leave me."
"Don't worry," Andrea spoke in a hushed voice, "I'll always be a part of you, if nothing else. I truly love you Merlin." Leaning in close, the lovers exchanged a soft, passionate kiss.