Sorry! I don't like responding to reviewers on my fics, but seeing as I cannot pm and seeing as it'll drive me nuts if I don't respond... this's a must:
To Kunal (if you are still reading): LOL. Yes, the ending sentence was very trite...and corny and cheesy and horribly cliche, but it was wide open, and I couldn't resist. :P I have to say (sorry if I sound defensive), but Hunith was not praying for Merlin to cry; she was praying for him to live. The crying was just to signify that he was alive. Also, I considered writing 'Mother' each time when Merlin spoke, but it felt very strange to me. Too formal. I wanted to draw something different from the Merlin-Hunith relationship, change it up a bit, so I used 'Mum' as well. 'Hon' was a bit of a slip-up...though Hunith calls Merlin 'sweetheart' at one point in 1x10, doesn't she? Or am I horribly mistaken? :P And I thank you for your other comment on my "psychological attempts" (for lack of better term). I needed that. I agree that there have been some bumpy bits because of that (the one you pointed out is the most obvious one that I noticed), and I think my organization has just as much to do with it. I'll work to smooth things out in my future stories. Can't say that I succeeded in this bit. ;)
To a fan: Thank you for stickin' with me for so long! :D And thank you for the review.
AN: This is LONG. Wow. It's definitely not my best work, and the pacing is just all over the place, but that's because I tried something a little different. I try for a bit of Arthur-sided bromance at the beginning (warning: not the best), the 2 tales are told in flashbacks, and there are some interruptions from the main crew in between. In all honesty, they really aren't that funny—they're actually rather ridiculous—but I hope they tickle at least a little bit because I tried my best to amuse.
There are probably HUGE mistakes here. For one, I don't know the region surrounding Ealdor at all. It's all very vague. Also, I mention baby teeth. I don't know about other kids, but I didn't lose my last baby tooth until I was a sophomore in high school (weird, right?), so if Merlin (at age eight) seems to old to lose teeth, that's my ignorance. Speaking of which, if Merlin's age in that first story seems off, let me know. I can't judge kids too well. Then, of course, I kept catching myself making horrible spelling and grammar mistakes, so I probably missed a ton.
It is simply amazing, Arthur repeated to himself for what seemed like the hundredth time.
He wished he had the power to simply pause time—just for a moment—so that he could have to chance to let that story, the story of Hunith's son and his namesake, sink in, so that he could have the chance to think it over. It had inspired so many reactions out of him, he didn't know which to grab on to and hold.
The pain in Hunith's voice was so fresh as she spoke, and as he imagined the memory cutting into her, he saw the very same knife turning on him and twisting in his heart. Her words invoked a fear in him. What would have happened if Merlin had indeed died that day? If Destiny suddenly decided that he wasn't the one? Where would he be? Where would Camelot be? It scared him to think of what might have been if Merlin had never stumbled into his life. In fact, it was nearly unthinkable. Arthur couldn't imagine a life without the loyal young man, and he came to the realization that alongside Gwen, Merlin was the most important thing in his life. If he were to die, Arthur didn't know what he'd do.
Then there was the warlock's connection to the hawk. That was just as inspirational as it was strange. It seemed as though that hawk was more than just a mere coincidence and a sign. No, it was a reflection of what Merlin would be and a projection of who he was. The only thing that Merlin and the hawk didn't share was grace in movement…though, if Arthur was truthful, there was something graceful about the way Merlin held himself whilst performing magic, so even there—they were one in the same.
And just when I thought his story couldn't get any more incredible, Arthur joked to himself, shaking his head. After the revelation of Merlin's magic, after the tales of all that he had been through as his servant, it was hard to imagine anything touching him like that—so powerfully—again. Of course, he was wrong.
So you can imagine that Arthur was grateful when, after that particular story from Hunith, the atmosphere lightened considerably as the stories themselves became lighter and more cheerful.
As she shared stories of Merlin's youth, they found themselves sharing ones of their own. It seemed as though everyone had had a face as bright as a tomato at one point or another, but it never lasted long because the one embarrassed ended up laughing just as hard as everyone else.
But, of course, Merlin just seemed to have more of those stories than any of them. And they all were strange, to say the least.
Hunith told them about all the times as a baby he would try to pull spoons and cooking utensils away with magic as she cooked and how sometimes she would have to struggle to keep guests from noticing him summoning and levitating miscellaneous items around the house. She told them about the fright she had the first time she saw him playing around with fire dancing on his palm and about the time she saw him unintentionally heal a bird's wing (Merlin himself had the most trouble believing that particular story as he had only just begun to finally understand healing magic). She told them about the time she once found him perched on the boughs of the old tree outside their village, making icicles form from the slow, dripping water falling from the branches and halting the snowfall around him…and then she described following horror as he laughed in delight upon seeing her and slipped into the rushing and freezing cold waters of the stream beneath its branches.
She told them about his blissful smile as he showed her every new trick he taught himself and then his unhappy frown, resigned sigh, and confused eyes as she reminded him to be careful—sometimes a bit more forcefully than she intended. After he had done wrong or when she was upset, she told them about how he would try to apologize by creating beautiful things for her. Every time was different because he could never recreate them intentionally. Once, it was a ball of multicolored flames; another, a flower made of light and water, and then a small stone shined to resemble a mirror.
She told them about his close-calls, and though she shuddered with the remnants of fear, she found herself grinning all the while.
She spun tales of the mischievous, sunny, smiling, and bright-eyed boy, who never stood still, who never stopped chatting, who always saw things in a different light, also who was always searching for answers to an eternal supply of questions.
It was only natural that even then, alongside his cheekiness and strong-willed nature, these questions and insatiable curiosity only landed Merlin into some deep trouble.
And there was one such question—or rather, questions—that had, at first, been utterly harmless, but had led to a hell of an amusing story.
There was a clamor of horses snorting and stomping and men calling from the sides of the dusty road, but Hunith was so engrossed in her task that she didn't hear or mind the noise. Ignoring the sting from the coarse soap, she scrubbed at the floor of their hut dutifully, only pausing to brush some untamable locks from her eyes and to check on Merlin every once in awhile, but she hadn't done so for a few minutes now. She had been scrubbing at the same spot as her mind flew somewhere far away and as an unfocused distance appeared in her eyes.
While daydreaming, she didn't notice her little blue-eyed boy, who had been playing silently at the squat old table, immediately and clumsily scramble up to the window to see what was going on.
His sharp and energized exclamation of "Mother!" snapped Hunith from her reverie, and her eyes shot to Merlin. He was bouncing on the tips of his toes—he was only just tall enough to see outside—and his head of unmanageable, tousled raven hair was tilted in fascination. "I think they're traders!" he cried from the window, turning briefly to her, his elfin features alight with his impish grin, which had a gap or two from lost baby teeth.
As always, his smile warmed her, and it made her forget her worries and adopt a smile of her own. She made a small noise of discomfort as she raised herself from the hard floor and as she pushed the scratchy sleeves of her dress further away from her soapy hands and forearms.
Over the shaggy head of her son, she peeked out the window and saw a small group of foreigners, judging by their clothing, chatting with a few of the men of Ealdor. Their horses were still saddled—they obviously had no intention of staying long—and they tossed their heads and jostled their harnesses restlessly. Up the road, she spied a larger group of caravans, livestock, dogs, and men, women, and children alike.
"They're just passing through," Hunith mused to Merlin. "There isn't much for them here." She studied the men for a moment longer, watching the men barter a little before the traders headed on. "I assume they're heading south—to Camelot."
Instantly, Hunith almost regretted mentioning the nearby kingdom. Despite her reluctance to think about the city and what future its influence might bring, she couldn't help but smile at the look on her son's face. Merlin's multifaceted blue eyes widened to the size of saucers, glazing with childish and obsessive dreams, and he was so excited by the name that he nearly fell. He only managed to keep his balance by clinging to the window sill. "Camelot!" he chirped in awe, eyeing the traders with a new look. It was an intelligent look, a look that an eight-year-old child had no business having, a look of both analytical and creative intuition and curiosity.
Hunith ruffled his hair, which usually would have had him squirming away from her, and muttered, "Yes, Camelot."
"One day, I'll go there," Merlin declared determinately, his strange eyes, which looked too old for his age, locked on the traders. "Just like them."
There was a fierce conviction in his voice made Hunith shiver with a mixture of fear and nervousness. She knew that, ever since she told him about her first visit to Camelot to visit her half-brother Gaius, her son had nursed dreams of visiting the magnificent citadel. It scared her to think that he was so fascinated with the anti-magic land, and it scared her to think what would happen if he ever did follow his dreams to its high, sturdy walls.
She had tried to explain to him why he couldn't go there without degrading his self-worth—she didn't want him to think that having magic was a fault; she wanted him to be proud of who and what he was—but when she made the excuse that Uther was a ruthless, unkind king, her little son countered with a challenging gleam in his eye, "Is he worse than Cenred? Does he try to care?"
She had frozen. His question was asked innocently, but it was also asked rhetorically. It unnerved her. It proved that Merlin knew, or had at least observed and guessed, exactly how cruel their king was and how bad off those living under his rule were. And it was true. Uther might be ruthless in the persecution of magic, but he was trying to keep his people happy and safe. What had Cenred done? He stole from the people, destroyed the land with war and famine, and had thrown a majority of his subjects into poverty. He cared for no one but himself, and up in his palace at the heart of his kingdom, he stuffed himself and spoiled himself lavishly with riches while Uther…he suffered and tried.
Yet, he still would kill her son without as much as a thought.
It caused her a dilemma. Though magic was not punishable by death in Cendred's kingdom, it was extremely frowned upon and feared, and being so near Camelot, Hunith could hardly allow Merlin to use his magic in front of an audience. Uther was well known to terminate magic in lands beyond his own. But no matter how much she tried to keep his secret safe, and no matter how much he began to understand the need for secrecy, they both could not deny that his magic was not only a part of him: it was him, and he needed to learn. One day, she suspected that he would need guidance that she could not give. He would need to find a true purpose for his gifts because Hunith knew, deep in her heart of hearts, that this life was not meant for Merlin.
There was something at work that she couldn't possibly hope to stand against, but she fought anyway, pushing aside all of those instinctual thoughts of the future from her mind. For the moment, all she could do was hope that he grew out of his dreams to visit the city but at the same time hope that he didn't grow up too fast.
"Oh, Mum, look!" Merlin laughed musically. Absolutely thrilled, he pointed to a man whose profile had just been revealed as one of the townsfolk moved out of the way. It was obvious as to what Merlin was referring to. The wide-nosed foreigner had a strange—completely and utterly bizarre beard. It was thick, dark, glossy, and long (it hung to his sternum) and it was severely trimmed and shaped into a spearhead-like style, ending with a perfect, luscious inward curl.
In all truth, the man looked utterly ridiculous with the thing.
Fighting hysterical giggles, Hunith gently took Merlin's arm and said, "You shouldn't point, Merlin. It's rude."
Merlin lowered the arm obediently and grinned mischievously at her. "You want to laugh," he pointed out. "It's funny, isn't it? Admit it."
The mother bit her lip and said reasonably, "I admit it, but that doesn't mean that we should laugh. It could be a part of their custom."
He acknowledged her admonishment with a guilty smile, but he pouted cleverly, "But none of the others have that—erm—beard-style. The man's just asking to be laughed at!"
Hunith took another peek at the man, her chest beginning to shake with silent mirth, and suddenly, the two of them snorted simultaneously, and the loud laughter erupted through the dam of self-control like an angry flooding river.
When the giggles finally subsided, Merlin wiped his eyes with his knuckles, and he suddenly asked enthusiastically, "Why would he grow it like that?"
She wiped her hands and bent over to pick up the bucket of soapy water. "I can't hope to understand why men do anything, Merlin," Hunith joked, rolling her eyes.
Merlin grew uncharacteristically silent. She knew that this silence only occurred when he was thinking over something laboriously. Sure enough, a furrow of concentration appeared between his eyebrows, and he watched the men again with a new interest. "Matthew has a beard," he stated randomly.
Slightly concerned, Hunith adopted a patient look, said she said slowly, "Yes. He does."
"But then Will's father doesn't."
"No," she agreed confusedly.
He hummed to himself, tapping his long fingers on the windowsill and falling onto a stool at the base of the window. "How do beards grow?" Merlin suddenly blurted. "I mean, why does the hair only stay on the chin and lip and grow downward? Why doesn't it grow and spread across the neck and shoulders instead? You know, hair does the same in a way, doesn't it?" He hardly paused in his rambling as he reached to his head and fingered at the fluffy mop of raven locks. "It grows up from the head and then falls down, and it recedes sometimes when you're old, but it never spreads past the hairline…. It's almost as though it's walled off…but by what?"
It was an incredibly passionate rant. Only Merlin would think to question something as normal as a beard and make it seem odd and complex.
Hunith stared at her straight-faced, serious son before beginning to laugh again, and she was unable to stop. Merlin jolted in surprise at the volume and abruptness of his mother's laughter, causing the rickety stool he was on to topple and spill him to the floor. She knew he wasn't injured when he just sighed exasperatedly at his clumsiness, and that made her laugh even harder.
"I'm fine," Merlin muttered sarcastically, picking his wiry body up from the floor with no less grace than his plummet from the stool. "Don't worry about me."
"Merlin, dear," Hunith said, giggles still escaping. With a broad grin on her face, she chided, "We both know that there has been worse."
He grinned sheepishly, recalling some of his more unfortunate falls, but it faded quickly in annoyance. "This stupid balance disability seems to be getting worse," he muttered under his breath.
"I think it's endearing," Hunith said, drawing her son into a hug and kissing his head.
Of course, being a big, independent eight-year old, Merlin enjoyed the warmth of her hug for a moment before he began to protest halfheartedly. To no avail, obviously, as Hunith kept her embrace tight and allowed for no escape.
"Tell me. Why the sudden obsession with beards?" Hunith asked, a smile in her voice.
Merlin scowled. She always liked it when he scowled—it didn't fit his face, and it amused her to see her cheerful boy try to remain angry or annoyed at someone or some injustice for long. It was never real—his anger—and she hoped it remained that way. "Not an obsession," he denied vehemently.
She chuckled. "No, of course not. Your uncle Gaius would certainly be proud. He always had a fascination with the human body, but I don't think he ever wondered about beards."
"I was just wondering why men do grow beards; that's all," Merlin said, a bit defensive.
Amused, Hunith asked, "Do you not want to grow a beard when you're older? Is that why you ask?"
"No! No, I mean, I actually think I do," he responded enthusiastically. "When I'm old…very old. It'll be white then, and it'll look like a soft blanket of snow across my chest."
Hunith raised her eyebrow. Most conversations she had with Merlin were strange (to bystanders, witnesses, or participants of those conversations, it was beyond strange), but this was the strangest by far. She didn't know how to comment to Merlin's…idea, and she knew it was probably just a passing fancy of a child that would be forgotten within the next day. Of course, she wouldn't take Merlin's stubbornness into account. So instead of commenting, she asked him, "Well, why don't you tell me why men decide to wear beards?"
As he formulated his thoughts, Merlin pursed his lips, eyes twinkling. "You know," he began slowly, "I don't know about others, but for me—paired with a staff and cloak—I would look like a wizard. One that people would look up to…one day." He smiled. "And one that people can still laugh with…or at."
Whatever answer she had been expecting, she had not expected that. Her eyes prickled, losing their mirth, and she squeezed her son again. "What does it matter what a warlock looks like," she said as she stroked his hair, "when it is his heart and actions that are judged for merit?"
Merlin gazed at her solemnly with his deep eyes that seemed to read her mind, listening to the wisdom. Unbeknownst to her, he was adopting it as another code to live by, but she could tell he took those words well and beyond the heart.
"That's if I can ever use it, of course," Merlin stated logically. "Or find out how to use it right." He sighed. "My magic."
"You will," Hunith whispered in a voice portraying a strong confidence that she didn't have and hiding resigned hopelessness. "One day."
He rolled his eyes and groaned impatiently. "I'll have my beard by then!" Merlin joked, his smile not reaching his eyes.
Hunith barked a laugh and poked his stomach, her own stomach squirming a little at the reminder of how many directions her mind was being pulled when it concerned Merlin's future. Even so, she exclaimed truthfully, "I certainly hope not!"
Merlin swatted at her hand playfully but didn't respond, and his eyes swung back to the window restlessly.
She patted him on the back, understanding. "Go on, then, dear. Go find Will. Perhaps he'll be able to tell you more about beards than I." This caused Merlin to chuckle in embarrassment and shake his head. "Just don't wander far, and don't bother or go near the traders. They'll be gone soon."
Merlin brightened and grinned widely and lopsidedly, and as he scampered out, he cried a cheery good-bye over his shoulder.
Hunith chortled to herself and prepared her laundry to take to the stream. As she walked out of the cottage, basket in hand, she froze and cursed herself. A few of the traders, who were arguing with Matthew on the price of a goat, gave her a strange look, but she ignored them.
How could she have forgotten? Will and his father had just left that morning to visit relatives in Cendred's capital. Fleetingly, she worried about Merlin, but she could trust he wouldn't get into too much trouble and would find something to do to keep him busy.
Of course, she was wrong.
She washed their dirty clothes quickly and effortlessly. In no time at all, she was on the winding path back to the quiet village, which, when she returned, was no longer so quiet.
Curious to the commotion, Hunith slowed her pace. There was a small group of shouting men, all babbling nonsense. Well, one man in particular…
"I was jest min'ing me own business, ya know. Chattin' with these fellas here, and all a'sudden—" He pointed to his face. Just under his wide, fearful eyes, on the flesh of his cheek, was a small patch of dark ginger hair. (1) Hunith's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
He was interrupted by a villager named Gregory, a rather dimwitted, broad young man, who boomed excitedly, "It just started as a shadow, it did! And it began to grow! Just like that!"
Hunith hesitated a moment longer, just to see if they would ever think that magic was the cause, and when they just continued to laugh at the pleased, smug look on the foreigner's face at the attention and supposed "talent," she decided that they would not and that she did not need to stay a moment longer. She was grateful that the group was compromised of men who had more brawn than brain.
But she knew the truth, and she needed to find her son.
With a sigh, Hunith stepped into the house and was surprised to see Merlin waiting for her inside. He fiddled nervously at his neckerchief, and once she entered, he instantly muttered, avoiding her eyes, "I didn't mean it to happen."
"I know," Hunith said softly. She had a lecture pre-prepared, but, she couldn't bring herself to start yelling at his foolishness. She saw how it tormented him, and in fact, she was proud of him. For the first time, he confronted her about his mistake. Usually when he used magic accidentally in public, he immaturely took off to the forest or to some lonely area for hours…to avoid his mother's stern but supportive words and her fearful eyes.
"They—they haven't guessed have they?" Merlin whispered, wincing.
Hunith shook her head. "No. We have to be thankful that there are some very unobservant people in this world. No harm done," she said, placing the laundry down. "But Merlin…what in the world are we going to do with you? What were you thinking?"
"No, I think that you were thinking too much," Hunith disagreed. "And about beards of all things!"
Merlin blushed. "I just wanted to learn how they worked. I didn't expect that to happen!"
For the third time that day, Hunith began to laugh so hard tears fell down her face.
"You can't be serious!" Arthur gasped breathlessly between laughs. "I recall a certain sorcerer telling me that I should never allow him to grow a beard. So much for that."
Merlin shot Arthur a pained look. "Mother was right. I grew out of it."
"Really?" Arthur looked doubtful. "Because your spell transformed you into your eighty-year-old-self. And Dragoon, if I recall correctly, had quite a beard…And he's you about sixty years from now. Why do I have the feeling you're going to grow one anyway?"
"It was annoying!" Merlin defended himself loudly above the Knights' laughter. "It got it the way."
"Even though it was soft like snow?" Arthur asked innocently, enjoying the heat of Merlin's annoyed glare.
"You know, Arthur, I remember a certain sorcerer telling me that every mysterious old man needs a staff to—what was it you said, Merlin?—complete them?" Gaius added, a merciless grin on his face.
The Court Sorcerer threw Gaius a fearsome 'I'm-going-to-get-you-for-that' look as Hunith sniggered and Arthur nearly fell over off his chair.
"No wonder you like that blue cloak so much, mate," Gwaine snickered. "The three necessities to being a good-looking, respectable sorcerer right there!" he announced. "A cloak, a staff, and a beard!"
"I was eight," Merlin groaned. "What nonsense were you spouting when you were eight, Gwaine?"
"Not all of it was nonsense," Lancelot said thoughtfully. "Even then, you were rather wise, Merlin."
Arthur couldn't help but agree. It brought him back to the symbolism of the hawk. Merlin certainly saw the world through an extraordinarily different perspective.
"Wise but incredibly odd," Leon muttered.
"But Merlin's always been a little odd," Elyan said.
"A little?" Arthur scoffed.
"I am right here," Merlin huffed. Percival nearly choked on his sausage at his tone.
"Don't mind them," Gwen said to Merlin kindly, "You know that they're just pulling your beard."
Merlin's mouth fell open at Gwen's cunning pun, and the room exploded with hilarity. Their amusement was addicting, and before long, he was right with them.
"Well, I suppose I should be glad Will wasn't there that day," Merlin confessed when the Knights' were able to breath steadily again. "He probably would have had to learn to shave prematurely."
Curiosity invoked, Arthur said, "You haven't spoken a lot about Will. Neither of you have." His gaze switched from Merlin to Hunith.
"He was—" Merlin smirked. "—an interesting friend. Rebellious to the extreme, a daredevil, always looking for trouble…well, he had no problems finding it because it usually ended up finding us. Or more likely: me. After his father died, those traits only became worse. Well, not worse. I should say they intensified.
"He was fiercely opinionated and wasn't afraid to speak his mind. He was sometimes a little insensitive because of it, but overall, he was a loyal friend. He stuck up for me and stuck with me, too. Even 'til the end."
Merlin's eyes grew misty as he recalled how Will, after saving Arthur's life and on his deathbed, had taken the blame for the windstorm that Merlin himself had conjured.
"You don't like to talk about him," Gwen guessed kindly.
Merlin shrugged. "I was never really given a chance to, so I wouldn't know. I think I'd like to. He deserves that."
"He does," Arthur agreed. "So tell me: how did he learn of your magic, Merlin?"
"I'd actually like to hear this myself," Hunith admitted, settling herself more comfortably into her chair.
"You don't know?" Percival asked, stunned.
Hunith grinned sheepishly. "I think I was more concerned with scolding Merlin about keeping his secret than learning what led to it being revealed."
Merlin chuckled nervously, "Well, about that…"
His mother's eyes locked on his face, reading it intensely. "Please tell me you're joking." Merlin's idiotic grin didn't change, and she groaned, "I'm not going to like this."
"Nope, not really."
Merlin couldn't remember a winter in his fifteen years of life being this cold. Supplies were getting low, and the village was struggling to keep itself fed and warm. A one year old died the previous week. They could not continue for long.
Despite the horrors of the winter, he had never seen Ealdor so beautiful. It had finally stopped snowing early that morning, and a thick and sparkling blanket of white covered the ground. It was unmarred by human or animal touch and looked as pristine as a new, fresh linen bed-sheet. Each tree branch had a long line of icicles dangling from the dark wood and even piles of snow, outlining each tree in an angelic aura of white crystal. The adorned tree branches rose majestically into the pearly grey sky, trembling slightly in the bitter wind (2).
He shivered violently, trying to retain all the heat he could from his coarse coat. Beside him, his mother shook even more violently, despite the fact that Merlin had wrapped her in all the blankets and old shawls he could find, and she coughed pitifully, tossing and turning in bed. Murmuring soothing words, he stroked her forehead with a warm rag and attempted to fuel the little fire in the hearth with magic.
It spluttered higher, but Merlin saw that it wouldn't last them for long. They had run out of wood, and when there was no wood, there was no fire—well, no steady fire.
Multiple times, Merlin had considered calling up his own fire to burn without wood. But, he knew no spells, and it was more than probable he'd loose control and burn the house down. And then there was his mother he had to tend to… He, unfortunately and frustratingly, couldn't concentrate on both.
He didn't like the thought of having to leave her, but he really had no choice. Besides, he wouldn't be long, he knew. No one would be out; there'd be no one to see him. Magic was really quite wonderful when there was no one to see it and consequentially fear it…and him.
He sighed and painfully stood, shoving some too-small mittens onto his hands and shoving his still icy fingers under his armpits. At the door to the cottage, he briefly paused, staring at the hatchet that had been placed not very prudently or safely near the door.
"Nah," he said to himself. "I won't need it."
Bracing and tensing himself for the onslaught of cold from outside, Merlin pushed open the door and sauntered out into the snowy wonderland. At first, he hesitated, lungs stinging from the frigid air and nose-hairs freezing. He hated to ruin the even, perfect layer, but soon enough, he was trudging through it gleefully. It may have been cold and wet, but it was snow. And no matter how miserable he was sure to be in a few minutes, he couldn't help but love it all.
Unsurprisingly, it took a lot more effort to trek to the small wooded area near Ealdor, but it turned Merlin was wrong; the exhilaration at the new snowfall had not yet left him. He did not feel so cold yet—even with the cold snow melting into his boots and thick woolen socks—but the moment he stopped moving, he was certain he would be.
He paused before the small forest, eyes searching through the blinding white for a small sapling he could cut down with magic.
"Your lips are turning blue, you know," a sudden snuffling voice sounded behind him.
Merlin jumped in surprise and turned to see Will, who smirked at him, the tip of his nose pink with the cold.
"What're you doing out here?" Merlin asked.
"I would ask you the same," Will said, quirking an eyebrow.
"Getting wood," Merlin grunted, beginning to now feel the freezing cold. He shifted his weight restlessly.
Will brandished his hatchet. "Same." Suddenly he frowned at Merlin's hands, which were still hidden up his armpits. "Wait…where's yours? Didn't you bring an axe?"
"What? Why would I?" Merlin asked, completely confused. At Will's incredulous look, he realized what he had just said, and he stuttered, trying to play the idiot, "Ooooh…sorry. Um…I forgot it."
Will looked somewhat suspicious, but then he just laughed. "Merlin, you can be an idiot, you know that? You're lucky I'm here. C'mon then."
He started to push through the stiff branches, taking care not to bonk his head or slip on ice. Merlin sighed and followed silently.
"How's your mum?" Will asked concernedly.
"She's a little better, actually," Merlin said happily. "But not so well that I can leave her alone for long."
"Frankly, Merlin, I don't know how you have the patience to nurse her," he said with amazement. "I hope she does get better soon, for both your sakes." He surveyed the dark circles under Merlin's eyes. "It looks like you haven't had a proper sleep in goodness knows how long. I'm surprised that you haven't gotten sick yourself!"
Merlin hid a satisfied smile; his magic often protected him from sicknesses, but he shuddered with horror to think of the hell he'd be in if he did fall sick with his mother still bedridden. He wished he knew how to use magic to heal! Now that would be useful.
Suddenly, Will stopped and hacked at a suitable sized sapling. It was cut down easily, but Will looked at it with a curled lip. "This is going to take ages, and we'll only need to come back out for more within a day. If only we could fell one of those beauties."
Merlin followed his point and saw him staring at a small group of beautiful old oak trees. Old Man Simmons' oak trees. The trees bordered the crazy old man's property, and Merlin knew he cared for those trees just as he did his garden throughout the spring and summer months. And if you valued your head, you did not, under any circumstances, disturb his garden.
The oaks weren't huge, but they were decently sized, with trunks nearly the same circumference and area of a small wagon wheel. And they were, undoubtedly, off-limits…or they'd have to face the wrath of Old Man Simmons.
But, of course, that never stopped them.
"How d'you suppose you could fell one of those?" Merlin asked sarcastically. "By calling an ogre to help you?"
"Of course not," Will snapped. "Magic."
Merlin froze, eyes wide as panic gripped his chest, but Will did not notice. He strolled ahead to one of the wide oak trees.
After a tense moment and deep calming breaths, Merlin approached warily. "Magic?" he repeated a little hoarsely.
Will laughed and dropped the sapling he was dragging and the axe he was carrying. "No need to sound so scared, Merlin."
He had always wanted to tell Will; he trusted him, and he hated lying to him. Often he wondered why he held back. His mother hadn't wanted him to tell Will when they were younger because Will had never been able to think before he spoke. He could hardly hold a secret if his life depended on it. But now…things were different. Will would hardly think of doing such a thing now. His father's death matured him.
Even so, Merlin's heart faltered and then inevitably began to race. His fears and thoughts flashed through his mind so quickly that it began to trip over itself and somersault. Did Will know? Was that confirmation? Or was Will just fooling around, like usual?
Seconds later though, he found his worries were wasted as Will began to chant nonsense words softly under his breath, hand extended melodramatically.
Will smirked and chanted his nonsense faster and louder, a maniacal grin on his face, and he began to dance around the tree, wiggling his fingers, thrusting his hands, and prancing about like a drunken deer.
Not so mature, then.
For a moment, Merlin stood staring, but his friend looked so utterly absurd and crazy that laughter bubbled from him. Once he started laughing, he couldn't stop. He weakly leaned against another big oak and doubled over, his breath fogging in the air in front of him as he struggled to catch his breath.
Bolstered by Merlin's reaction, Will stopped his frolicking and stopped before the tree. He lowered the pitch of his voice and declared, "I am William of Ealdor, the mighty sorcerer!"
His chanting and wiggling fingers continued, his antics growing more and more obnoxious. Merlin watched his foolish friend, and a wide, diabolical grin spread across his face.
It really was just too tempting. Far too tempting. Every ingrained survival instinct screamed at him not to; everything his mother taught him prodded weakly at his subconscious, but he merely swatted them away like a bothersome fly. It was one trick. One little laugh. Was that so wrong? No, not really. Did he think about the consequences? Not in the slightest. Was his secret really worth risking for a simple prank? Yes. At the moment, he was stupid enough to believe so.
The magic almost acted of its own accord.
Will yelped at the sudden flare of fire among the branches, and he stumbled and tumbled backward into the snow, staring as the fire leaped and swung around the branches like an acrobat before fizzling to nothing.
Merlin was laughing at Will's face and his fall when Will rounded on him, picking himself up from the snow. Merlin could still feel the lingering magic at his fingertips, and judging by the way Will's eyes widened…
In his quest for entertainment, in his anticipation for the joke, this part had slipped his mind. What the hell had he been thinking? The irrefutable monster of fear returned, and it overcame his mind before he could quell it. The smile slipped right from his face as surely as he would on a treacherous patch of ice.
"What was that?" Will demanded sharply.
"Wh—what are you talking about?" Merlin asked, quaking. He hoped that his weak bluff would work and the nervous stutter would appear to be because of the cold and not because of the sudden fear coursing through him.
He hated feeling such fear. It shouldn't be necessary, he knew. It wasn't right. It wasn't right that he had to hide his talents or fear who—what—he was… but this was his friend. And if he called him so, why was he so afraid?
"There—there was a fire…It suddenly appeared. It moved as if it were alive. That was magic!" Will exclaimed, eyes narrowing. "And I'm sure as hell I didn't do it."
"And you think I did?" Merlin countered, thinking up a sensible retort for once. However, it was weak, and his voice was too soft to be defensive, and of course, Will caught on.
"I saw them, Merlin! Your eyes were glowing."
By the determined, stubborn look on Will's face, there was nothing Merlin could do to convince him, and defeated, he lowered his eyes, waiting for the consequences of his stupid idea to stab him in the gut.
The silence was interminable to Merlin, but finally, Will broke it, "You—you're not going to deny it?"
Merlin's eyes flashed to Will's, and he did not lower them again. "No."
Will exhaled heavily. No longer met with stubborn resistance, Will's face slackened with disbelief. "You are the strangest person I have ever met, Merlin."
Merlin swallowed convulsively, amazed. "What? That—that's…you're not—I mean…"
Will suddenly broke into a fit of chuckles. "You really had me there, didn't you?" He beamed widely. "That was brilliant, Merlin! How long have you been able to do that?"
"Brilliant?" Merlin breathed."You're not scared?"
"Why would I be?"
"Oh, I don't know," Merlin shrugged sarcastically. "Perhaps you might be because magic is inadvertently evil, and all who have it are evil, and everything concerning it is evil."
Will blinked and started laughing again. "You? Evil? Merlin, only a fool would see you as evil. Magic or no. So tell me," he said eagerly. "how long have you been able to do it? You didn't speak at all, did you? I thought sorcerers needed spells."
"Not me," Merlin mumbled modestly. "Mum tells me I was born with it."
"Is that even possible?"
"…You're kidding? You've been hiding it this whole time?"
Merlin just nodded. He could hear the accusations ringing in his ears already. He lied. He spurned Will's trust. He devalued his loyalty. He couldn't be trusted. "As best as I could."
Will gave him a questioning look, and he continued, "Sometimes, it…things just happen. I have gotten loads better with controlling it, but I hardly know enough to keep a full reign on it. I can manipulate things with my mind and control them well enough, but then there are just things that happen…instinctually."
"What was that there?" Will pointed to the tree.
"I did that on purpose. I thought it'd be funny; I must be tired to think that I would get away with it," Merlin stated darkly. "Only Mother knew. Fifteen years is a long time…to tell you the truth, I was terrified out of my mind a moment ago."
He felt Will's cold hand on his shoulder, and he jumped. "Hey," he said softly. "I'm your friend. I understand why you and your mum wouldn't want anyone to know. And I understand why you didn't tell me. It stings, I admit, but I would rather have my best friend alive and secretive than….dead."
"Nice, blunt way to put it," Merlin joked weakly.
Will gave him a sympathetic look. "How can you live that way?"
"It's all I've known."
"But don't you ever wish you could…?"
"Of course!" Merlin cried, suddenly animated. "I hate hiding; I just want to live in a world where I can scream 'I have magic' and have no one care. I don't want to be afraid. I don't know why I have it, and I sure as hell don't know what to use it for. But I want to learn it…learn how to use it right. To do something good with it. But there's Uther and Cenred, and about a million other people…They fear me just as much as I fear them." He barked a laugh. "It's an unlikely dream."
"If anyone can make it happen, you can, Merlin. I have no doubt."
Merlin relaxed at the confidence in Will's voice, and slowly, he began to smile. "Thank you, Will."
"No, thank you. You were the one who saved my life." Merlin winced at the memory of a cruelly laughing Samuel, standing over a bloodied Will with a fist raised. That had been about two years ago. "No ordinary rock-fall, I'm guessing?"
Merlin flushed, and Will smiled, seeing the truth in his eyes. "You're a brave one, Merlin. I'll guard your magic—your secret—with my life; I promise." He paused, studying Merlin. "You don't mind me talking to you about it?" He grinned slyly. "Perhaps messing around a bit with it?"
"No! No, of course not! It feels nice, having you know," Merlin exclaimed. "Just…not in front of my mother. She'll have a fit if she found out you knew."
"You're not going to tell her?"
"I'd rather not at all, if I can avoid it. But I will have to eventually. She's extremely protective...not that that's a bad thing, of course…" Suddenly frantic, his eyes swiveled to find the sun, which was hard to see behind the layer of gray clouds. "I have to get back to her!"
"She's protective?" Will teased.
"I'll deal with the wood," Merlin said in answer.
His eyes began to swirl with gold—much to Will's fascination—but the older boy stopped him with a firm grip on his upper arm. "Wait. I have a better idea." He pointed to Old Man Simmons' oak trees again.
Merlin paled. "I—I can't."
"Sure you can! Think about it, Merlin. Sure, we'll get the old loon a bit mad, but if you fell a tree that big, we can easily come back here and have firewood for weeks if we keep it to ourselves, days if we share with everyone."
"I try not to hurt people, Will. I try really hard—that's one of my main motivators for working on controlling it—but magic is dangerous. I'm dangerous. Look what happened to Sam!"
"There's no one around, Merlin. Just…push it away from Old Man Simmons' place. It won't hurt anyone," Will said logically. "You're worrying over nothing. And I want to see if you can do it."
He was right. Merlin couldn't deny it, and arguing wasn't keeping his mother warm… Then, of course, there was the challenge in Will's voice paired with the chance to prove himself and practice his magic….
"Just—just stand back, please," Merlin ordered, submitting.
"Don't have a lot of faith in your abilities, do you?"
"Not really, but here goes."
Merlin focused his magic, calling it up from wherever it sprung and flowed in his veins, and slowly, he pushed at the tree.
The tree's upper branches stirred, but its solid foundation did not so much as tremble. Merlin frowned and pushed harder and harder—the magic growing with an exhilarating intensity—at the stubborn tree until it began to make popping and crackling sounds. The oak began to tip, bending horribly, and a few birds that had landed there for shelter squawked indignantly and flew away. Finally, with one last push, the trunk snapped, and it all came crashing down.
Merlin released his hold on the magic and grinned at his success while Will whooped and punched the air victoriously, and both boys rushed to their prize.
Their victory was short-lived, however, as an old, cranky, raucous voice shouted, "You nearly flattened me, you imbeciles! Flattened like a fried toad on a concrete courtyard on a hot summer's day and run over by all them wagons and horses! When I'm done with you idiots, you'll be worse off than those toads!" A crooked old man with a slight hunchback and uneven eyes suddenly came into their vision beyond the tree's uppermost branches, and he shook his knotted walking staff into the air angrily. "You'll regret the day you were born, boys! Thinking you can flatten me with one of my oaks! BAH!"
Will and Merlin exchanged a look. Without saying a word, Merlin severed enough wood off the tree for him and Will while Will chopped some as well. Then, they did what any normal teenage boys would do when facing a senile, insane old man. They dashed, cackling their heads off.
Sure, they were going to be in major trouble sooner or later…once Hunith learned the truth, but at the moment, it was just hilarious.
When they broke free of the forest, they slowed, panting.
"Nice one, Merlin," Will complimented. He shook his head. "Fried toads? Where did that come from?"
"I thought it was a rather ingenious metaphor."
Will raised an eyebrow. "Old Man Simmons…ingenious? You're mad, Merlin!"
"Takes one madman to know another."
Will snorted. "Your magic has obviously addled with your brain," he teased.
Merlin rolled his eyes, beaming.
"You should know, Merlin… I still have questions for you."
"I'll answer them."
"I know; I just wanted to say—that was incredible, what you did back there."
Merlin sighed. "There's no point if I can't use it for something more. And there's no point to even say what I am and what I can do when I'm hated for simply being me"
Will was silent, and suddenly he chuckled, "You can say it to me."
A few simple words. He had never said them to another soul, and when he said them on that frigid day—the day that he stupidly revealed his secret for the first time—it had felt like a breath of fresh air after spending an entire day in the stables. Saying them together for the first time wasn't going to satisfy him or free him entirely, but it loosened the lock.
"I'm a warlock. I have magic."
Watching Hunith throughout Merlin's story had been nearly as entertaining as the story itself. She alternated between aggravation, anger, and amusement at random intervals. She seemed to accept the fact that there was really nothing she could do about it now, but she also looked about ready to give him a tongue-lashing.
"You really are an idiot, aren't you, Merlin?" Arthur asked when he was done. "I'm really doubting my decision to make you Court Sorcerer."
"Yes, he is," Hunith agreed.
"Glad to see whose side you're on, Mother."
AN: (1) Mentioned very, very briefly in SMN
(2) All snow scenes/details a small sentimental tribute to my past life in Illinois. :)
Not too fond of that Will reveal, but I could always write another one if I ever had a fancy to. :P As always, thank you so very much for reading, and thanks for attempting to swallow my "humor."
This fic is done with, and I'm unsure when another will be up. I'm going home for the holidays, :D and I may not get around to writing anytime soon, so happy holidays to you all, and enjoy that season finale. (LOOKS AMAZING, doesn't it?)