Now, this is an absolute epic of a story. I can't believe its so long, to be honest, but there we go. Prompted by HaylieblueTW, Smiley Face Ace and I don't think there's anyone else, but I'm having trouble keeping track of stuff. Again, warnings for season five but I believe you American's have seen this episode.
Enjoy, I only read through once so I could update quickly, so apologies for mistakes.
The Dark Tower - Merlin was taken as well as Gwen
It had all happened so quickly... So quickly. Now, as she stumbled brokenly behind Morgana's horse, Gwen could feel tears forming in her eyes. Why? There was fear, crawling and twisting in her gut. Her brother could be dead... She had seen the snakes. She had watched her friends fall as the horse's panicked.
She would have stayed and helped. But before she could even think, somebody had grabbed her horse's reins, and dragged the steed and the queen away at a gallop. It had been a blur. A blur of shock, screams of pain, and blinding fear.
And then, before she could even process her rescue, they had fallen into the true trap.
Merlin had been the one to save her from the snakes. Merlin who had the presence of mind to get her away. Then he had turned to look at her with his crazy smile.
It had frozen on his face, and shattered to the floor as he looked over her shoulder.
His mouth opened in a scream of warning, but it was cut swiftly short. He slumped down on the horse, and then dropped to the ground with a thump. The horse whinnied, and bolted, almost crushing him in the process.
Gwen had turned, and caught sight of a dark menacing figure she knew all too well, before it all went black.
Now she was stumbling behind their capturer. Merlin was beside her, his mouth set in a hard, determined line. She knew Merlin. And that face meant he was plotting.
Looking at his familiar face, comforting in its determination calmed her wildly beating heart, and dried the forming tears of panic. Merlin would save them both. He always did. He would save them.
The land was dry and arid, stretching into the distance. It was like no place she'd ever seen. Devoid of life. And when she lifted her aching head up, in front of Morgana's rigid back, was a tower.
It circled into the sky, a bold and evil mark on the landscape. She shivered just looking at it.
Merlin had not once looked from the ground in his thought, instead staring fixedly at his boots. Gwen's throat felt too tight and dry to talk, and she certainly did not want Morgana hearing any exchanges.
What was her plan? Why did she need them? Obviously it was yet another attempt to dethrone and kill Arthur. And she knew that however stupid and idiotic chasing after them was, Arthur would do it. Morgana knew him. And she knew who were closest to him.
She glanced again at Merlin. He was close to Arthur. Closer than anyone, perhaps. Yet he was only a servant. Not that that seemed strange or inappropriate. She had been a servant too, afterall. The two people Arthur could trust most, were servants. There was a tinge of irony to that.
What would Uther think?
But Morgana's plan. She had known that she was visiting her father's grave. She had known where to ambush them. And she had known who to take. But all this planning, to what end?
Gwen attempted to stop her rambling thoughts, and truly think. Morgana wanted to kill Arthur. So she had captured them, and would make Arthur come and get them.
But why did she need both of them?
It was clear that she had wanted both the servant and the queen. Otherwise she would have killed one of them immediately. It would have served to infuriate Arthur to a point of madness, and make him even more susceptible to traps.
And Morgana would know that. So why?
As Gwen wondered what was going through Morgana's mind, and tried to keep her own from the peril she and Arthur would soon be in, they drew closer and closer to the dark tower.
Morgana didn't speak, or move throughout the entire. It was an endless tramp, with no reprieve. Gwen stumbled and sweated in her long dress. And all the time, the tower grew nearer.
Merlin glanced at her, his eyes dull. He smiled, a barely noticeable twitch of his cracked lips, but Gwen felt calmer, knowing she was not alone. Not alone.
Morgana dismounted from her horse at the foot of the tower. It's shadow was like a black rift on the surrounding ground, menacing and ominous. The wind wailed, a close imitation of actual, terrified screams.
Instinctively she stepped closer to Merlin as Morgana turned her cold eye on them.
"Welcome to the Dark Tower. I do hope you'll enjoy your stay." she sneered, flicking a wrist and opening the door.
Hinges snarled and groaned, and eventually it creaked open.
"In." she snapped, shoving Merlin through the door.
He stumbled through, closely followed by Gwen. Morgana followed them, urging them up the stairs with sharp words and shoves.
Up and up they spiralled, Gwen tripping frequently on her dress. Her hands were already a mess of scratches, bruises and blood. She supposed she should be grateful Morgana untied her hands. But as they smarted with pain, it was hard to feel grateful for anything.
Up and up and up they went, cobwebs speared across the route, clinging to the walls and then draping over their clothes. Dust rose in clouds from Merlin's feet, flying into her face, making her eyes water.
It was dark, cold, and constricted. The place felt dead. Empty of life, devoid of empathy.
Gwen's legs ached from the relentless climb. The building hadn't seemed that tall when they had arrived.
At last, Morgana snarled for them to stop. She brushed past Gwen, and opened the door Merlin was eyeing apprehensively.
It swung open.
The room it led to was dark. The queen was unsure whether she wanted to know what was inside. Shivers ran down her back, making her suddenly feel cold.
Morgana turned, giving her lazily evil smile to Merlin. He glared at her, their eyes clashing for a moment.
"Do step inside." Morgana crooned.
Hesitantly, Gwen stepped inside, Merlin crowding behind her. The room was almost completely dark. A few grimy windows let in light, but the corners remaining in deep shadow.
The door snapped shut with a thudding boom. Both prisoners jumped, Merlin quickly stepping to the slab of oak, and desperately rattling the handle.
"Locked." he said.
Gwen nodded, taking a few deep breaths. They stared at each other.
An eerie, pain stricken scream broke the silence. A pitiable howl of hatred and fear.
Gwen closed her eyes, the calmness of a few moments ago evaporating.
Arthur spurred his horse forward. It had been less than a day since they found the horses. A day since the knights had stumbled in, defeated, maimed, and unburdened of their precious charge.
Gaius had confirmed his fears.
She had taken Guinevere. And Merlin.
Search parties had been despatched immediately, Arthur and his knights returning to the scene of the ambush.
Not far from there they found the two horses, tied to a tree. But there was no sign of his queen. It was clear no camp had been made.
The tracks leading away were clear to spot. Hoof prints, and perhaps two sets of footprints. At least Arthur was desperately hoping it was two sets of footprints.
They had made good speed, Arthur pressing his men harder than he ever had before. Morgana would not win this battle. She would not take his queen and his friend.
That night, with the light they so badly needed fading, he was forced to call a halt. His mood was preoccupied and brisk, and the knights wisely stayed well clear of him.
Then the dream. Percival and Leon.
It confirmed his fears that Morgana was involved. But that only sparked his worry into crushing fear. Why had she taken them? Why did she have to play these games?
He knew why. Morgana played her games, because that way the stakes were higher than Arthur ever thought possible.
If he lost the game... Then he lost everything.
Please let them be alright.
So that morning, they rode at the same flying pace towards the dark tower. Morgana had used magic to infect the minds of his knights, and lead him to where Gwen and Merlin were kept.
Please, just let them survive one more time.
Gwen huddled beside Merlin. The cold was seeping through her dress, and the previous scorching hot had faded to freezing cold.
She kept her eyes tightly screwed shut, pressing against the pillar they were leaning against. After the ghostly screams had faded, she had walked straight into something slimy, hanging in the room.
Once her screams had died down, Merlin had haltingly described what the thing was.
The fear in his voice scared her more than the sudden shock of walking into something.
"Their mandrake roots. They... worm their way into your soul, give you hallucinations, show you your worst fears. They turn you into the very image of terror."
Merlin himself had his hands pressed over his ears, and was staring glassily at the wall. Shivers rattled his whole body.
Gwen could feel her heart sitting in the back of her mouth, as she tried to hardly breath, listening. For what she did not know what she was waiting for. Something. Anything. The steady dripping of the roots made her shudder. It was like blood, dripping out of an oozing wound.
And the screams. They themselves made her want to curl up in a ball and sob. They were so tortured, so miserable. And yet they were angry, full of hate and vengeance.
She jumped as she heard footsteps. Slowly, purposefully approaching. Step by step.
She glanced at Merlin, but he hadn't moved from his position.
A flicker of movement caught her eye, and her head whipped round.
Nothing was there.
A sharp, hysterical peel of laughter ricocheted through the air. Gwen felt a whimper slip through her lips, as another ghostly phantom of movement passed in her peripheral vision.
Something was in the room, with them.
The footsteps she had momentarily forgotten about started again. The screams echoed about the room. Gwen found herself shakily standing up. She would not cower in a corner.
She recognised that voice, so well she almost collapsed in relief. Turning she saw her brother watching her. His face was impassive, and there was a strange brightness around him.
She wanted to tell herself it was him, but something made her step away. There was somebody talking to her rapidly, but it was merely a murmuring distraction as her eyes locked with Elyan's.
"You're safe now, Gwen." he said rigidly.
Gwen felt a smile spread across her face. Safe... That was what she wanted.
She stepped towards him.
Immediately his face cracked in a twisted look of loathing, a mocking bout of laughter escaped his lips.
"You're nothing but a stupid serving wench. You don't deserve to be queen."
The laughter rang about the room. Gwen felt her knees give way, striking the floor, while she swallowed down a sob.
"Our father must be dissapointed." Elyan sneered, stepping closer.
A few tears slipped from her eyes, but she angrily dashed them away. More of the demented laughter screeched, and something darted across the room. When she looked back to where her brother was, he was gone.
Merlin was shaking her shoulder, repeating her name over and over again. She looked at him, his serious eyes, and kind face, and burst into tears.
He kept on talking, hugging her tightly.
Merlin had no idea how long they had been trapped. Gwen's snuffling sobs had long since died away, and she was curled up beside him, head resting on his lap.
Morgana's twisted plan was already working. His friend had given in to the images, and they had begun to worm into her sanity.
The sorcerer was struggling to know what he should do. Morgana had some purpose for driving them both to the edge. He did not particularly want to find out what that reason was.
But the only way to escape was with magic. Merlin glanced at Gwen. From the terror and despair of earlier, she actually looked peaceful.
Another screams ripped the air, and he winced. The lost souls of the dead were close in this forsaken place. Their tortured screams went straight to his heart, and made his magic restless.
And the visions hadn't even started yet. Some part of him was hoping that he wouldn't be affected by the mandrake. But he felt it was a futile hope.
What would he see?
Gwen's gibbering explanation had only revealed to him it had been Elyan. A few soothing words and a little magic had calmed her enough for her to sleep.
We need to get out of here.
Another howl. Merlin fixed his gaze on Gwen. Focus on her. Don't think about anything else.
Where was Morgana? Was it her plan to let them go mad in this place? No, she had another purpose. Surely... When she comes back, do not let her get to you.
Merlin's head whipped up, to meet the gaze of the speaker. Arthur..?
It's the hallucinations. Don't listen to him. He's not real. He immediately tried, looking back down at Gwen again.
"You have betrayed me, Merlin." said Arthur, deep and sonorous voice.
Merlin swallowed. Don't look up. He's not real.
"I was your friend, and you betrayed me. I thought I was your friend." he continued.
Merlin couldn't ignore that. He couldn't listen to Arthur's voice crack and break. Hesitantly, he looked up at the king. It's not him. He's not real. He thought, though the words were beginning to lose their meaning.
"Arthur..." he whispered, watching the vision.
Arthur's face - and how could it look so like him when it wasn't? - transformed from a look of regret into one of loathing.
"You're nothing but a filthy piecing of liar. You betrayed me. I will burn you. I will make sure you die in agony." he snarled, drawing a sword from his hip.
"No, Arthur. I didn't mean it, I would never-" he heard himself beginning.
He quickly cut off his words, screwing his eyes shut. He's not real. He's not real. Not. Real.
There was silence. Please let him be gone.
"I hate you."
Something inside him broke and died at those words.
"No, please!" he said, looking back up the apparition.
"You are a sorcerer. You're evil, and I thought I trusted you. I thought you were loyal to me." Arthur spat, advancing with his sword raised.
"No. I would never... Arthur, please." Merlin tried.
Suddenly he had been pushed to the ground, and somebody slapped his face.
"Merlin! Please, stop." Gwen said, shaking his shoulders violently.
He stared up at her, mouth slightly open in confusion. The queen looked down at him, her eyes bright with tears and fear.
"He wasn't real. He didn't mean that." he said aloud, to assure himself of the potency of the words.
Merlin was chanting quietly to himself under his breath, the same words he'd uttered after she'd managed to wake him from his vision.
The pure terror on his face as he'd conversed with the illusion had distracted her from her own worry. It also set fire to a burning curiosity. What had he seen?
It was silent again, the screams had stopped. Gwen mentally counted in her head, refusing to be distracted. Merlin rocked on his heels, eyes closed, muttering.
"What did you see?" she blurted.
Merlin's huge blue eyes opened, and he stared at her. He looked almost physically in pain.
"Arthur." he muttered, closing his eyes again.
What did he say? She wondered. It suddenly struck her as strange that Arthur could say something that would bring Merlin to such pure panic.
She didn't ask him though. He had been subtle enough not to quiz her on her own... illusion, and it was clearly a delicate matter.
Gwen felt tears brimming in her eyes as she surveyed their situation. It was desperate.
Arthur would be coming... She half hoped he was, because anything was better than staying here with the mandrake roots. But if Arthur died, trying to save her...
No. No that would not happen. Surely he wouldn't be so stupid as to come?
She knew the answer, though it scared her.
Arthur slowed his horse to a walk. The obstacle he had been waiting for was here. The impenetrable forest. It would have to penetrable if he was going to save Gwen and Merlin.
"Come on!" he urged his knights.
Soon they were hacking away at the clinging vines. Arthur was glad of the work, it took his mind of what could be happening to Merlin and Gwen.
They've suffered worse. He told himself, though a tiny voice in his head said he didn't know that what they were suffering was trivial.
They could be dead.
They continued throughout the whole day. Though the knights didn't say anything, he caught them exchanging looks occasionally. He knew what they were thinking. That they were making precious little progress. Certainly not enough to save Merlin and Guinevere.
Arthur's nagging, straggling thoughts secretly agreed.
At last night fell. They had made little distance. There was every chance they were going round in circles. Everything seemed to be the opposite. The right direction was the wrong one, and vica versa.
You're never going to save them at this rate.
The next morning, Percival and Leon exchanged looks.
"We had a dream again." said Leon, sounding annoyed.
"Oh?" Arthur asked hopefully.
Morgana wanted him to find Gwen and Merlin. It was a trap, but fear for his own life did not even occur to the king as being something he should worry about.
"We need to go this way." said Percival.
And so they went that way.
Merlin fought desperately to keep his thoughts focused on anything except the mandrakes. The momentary peace from his first vision had gone, and now he could feel his sanity drifting away.
Gwen with curled on the floor about five paces from him, sobbing quietly, her hands over her ears. He wanted to go to her, but a dragging, cumbersome fear held him down.
If he moved... then the visions could return...
And then, with a dying feeling inside, he heard a dark bout of laughter.
"Finally I have you."
Despite himself, he looked up from the determined scrutiny of the floor. Mordred was standing in the middle of the room, Arthur pressed against a pillar, hands raised. A sword was pointed at his chest.
"Mordred, please." the king said.
The druid shook his head, a look of gleeful delight forming a manic smile.
"For too long you have ruled my people cruelly. Now you will reckon with your wrongs."
"No!" Merlin screamed, as Mordred plunged the sword into Arthur's chest.
The king's gaze turned dully onto Merlin, his mouth open, eyes staring.
"Merlin... please." he groaned.
Mordred drew his sword from the body, with a noise Merlin would never forget. Arthur thudded to the ground, his fingers twitching, before falling still and lifeless.
His words sparked Merlin into life. Something in the back of his head was screaming that it was not real. But he couldn't ignore Arthur's dying plea. Arthur's cry for help as he was ruthlessly murdered.
He rushed to the king's side, crouching down. Blood welled up, pouring everything. Arthur's face was pale and marble life. Dead.
"Try and save him if you want, Emrys. It's too late. You're precious ruler is dead. You have failed your destiny." Mordred crowd above him, his face triumphant.
Arthur groaned, raising his head a fraction to meet Merlin's eyes.
"Goodbye, Merlin." he whispered.
Then his eyes closed, and his head dropped.
Tears blurred his vision, dropping onto the body of his fallen friend. He reached out a hand to touch Arthur's hand.
For a split second he could imagine his fingertips touched flesh. Then the vision was gone, and he was left kneeling in the dark tower, tears flooding down his face.
"No." he murmured softly, the words thick and choked. "I will not let that happen. I will not!"
He turned to see Gwen huddled in a corner, her own face wet and blotchy.
He crawled over to her, taking her hand. It was real, warm and there.
"What happened?" she asked, blinking away stray tears from her round brown eyes.
Merlin paused. Despite the desperate nature of their situation, he couldn't let Gwen know he had magic.
"Arthur again... He... died." said Merlin slowly.
I failed my destiny.
"Oh..." Gwen said watching him closely. "Do you think about that a lot?"
Merlin swallowed, averting his gaze.
She smiled sadly, brushed a few of his tears from his cheek.
"He will be fine." she said.
Merlin didn't reply. He had seen Mordred succeed. Morgana win. Albion perish. It was just like the old dying man had predicted. Just as he had seen it in his worst nightmares.
He closed his eyes as a spirit let loose a stray howl of sadness. Maybe Arthur was already approaching his death. And there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.
Gwen found herself lying on the floor after the most recent mandrake attack. Her hands shook violently as she brushed a strand of hair from her face.
Arthur, mocking her, claiming he did not love her. Her father, saying she was not his child, that she was a disgrace.
It was becoming real. She could not hold on. Merlin could not help, he was too wrapped up in his own living nightmare. And every time she looked at him, she was afraid he would stand up, tower of her, and say more evil things.
She didn't trust him.
Gwen felt hungry, but fear had numbed that, made it unimportant. Her clothes were now scruffy and dusty.
She cried quietly, eyes open. She didn't want to close them. The shadows she occasionally saw were drawing closer, and getting more daring. Sparks of malevolent laughter made her scream. All she wanted to was to leave that place, never go there again.
She clenched her teeth, biting her lip so hard she tasted blood. She didn't care.
"No, no, no." she whispered, staring straight ahead.
"Guinevere, are you alright?" said Gwaine.
His voice was so kind and comforting. Why couldn't he be real? Why couldn't he be real?
"Please, my lady, let me help you."
"No. You are no real. You are not real. Leave me alone. Just leave me alone." she murmured.
A pair of boost entered her vision.
"Gwen. Guinevere. Look at me." said Gwaine soothingly.
She looked at him. Tears sprung to her eyes upon seeing his face. As soon as she met his eyes, his expression turned into a sneer.
"You betrayed my king. You are nothing but a servant." he snarled.
Gwen buried her head in her arms, and tried not to listen.
She had no idea no much later it was that she regained a little more control. Gwaine was more. The whole assortment of them was gone.
But suddenly, she didn't feel whole. She felt defeated, alone.
She didn't move when she heard footsteps approaching, just sat, hunched and shivering. Morgana appeared, her ghostly pale face was set in an expression of mild interest.
"Well, well, well, how are we doing?" she asked.
Gwen stared at her. She refused to even blink, desperate not to lose sight of her only connection to the real world. Perhaps while Morgana was around, the mandrake roots didn't work.
Merlin's heartbroken moans would disprove that.
"Getting on well with my little friends?" the sorceress asked, stroking the nearest mandrake fondly.
Gwen didn't respond. Morgana approached, ignoring the way the fallen queen backed away when she knelt down.
"Dear dear." she crooned, reaching out a slender hand and cupping Gwen's cheek.
It took all her willpower not to flinch away, but at the same time, she was relieved to have some contact. She stared into Morgana's eyes, vaguely surprised she was not repulsed.
Morgana had killed thousands, for no reason. Morgana wanted to kill her husband, her friends. And yet that all seemed hazy and inconsequential as she stared into Morgana's eyes. They were so pretty... They used to be such friends... Why had Morgana turned so sour?
"It could be like that again." said Morgana softly, a true note of longing in her voice.
It was as if she had read her thoughts. Gwen considered it for a split second. It was long enough for her to feel terrified the thought had even entered her mind, and also long enough for Morgana to see that hesitation.
"No." she said shakily.
"I know you could see it. A world with no more hatred. Do you really think Arthur is right in his hatred against magic," Morgana leaned closer. "I could change that."
Gwen didn't answer, there was somebody standing behind the sorceress. She couldn't tell if he was an apparition or not.
"Get away from her, Morgana." Merlins said steadily.
The sudden lose of Morgana's warm hand was like a blow, and she felt lost without it. Morgana whipped round to face Merlin. His face was broken and crumpled, but somehow there was an authority to him. Gwen had seen it before, and yet never been able to describe it.
Merlin was soon sweet and good natured, and yet he was a formidable enemy.
Morgana cast an appraising eye over him.
"You can't stop me, Merlin. You are nothing." she said haughtily.
Merlin said nothing, watching her closely. This seemed to offend Morgana more than any answer. She drew herself up, lips curling.
"You have seen your deepest fears," she said, leaning forward. "I wonder what you saw?"
Merlin drew back.
"Camelot in ruin? Arthur slain? Your friends imprisoned and tortured? Dear me, it looks as if your fear are my dreams." she sneered, and swept from the room.
Merlin dropped to the ground, watching the door swing shut.
"What does she want?" he asked aloud, his eyes straying back to Gwen.
She shook her head.
"Do you really see those things?" she asked.
Merlin was only a servant. She would have assumed his greatest fears would be nothing so grand as the destruction of the world he lived in. In a way, it made her own hallucinations of her nearest and dearest mocking her seem... inadequate.
"Yes." said Merlins shortly.
"I will never understand you." she said quietly.
Merlin shot her a quick and furtive glance. He looked almost afraid at her words.
He didn't try to stop the tears which trickled down his face.
Let it end. Just let it end.
He had seen Arthur die in more ways imaginable, and it was his fault. Always his fault. His destiny was in pieces, his friend lying dead. He stared at the newest vision.
Arthur was already gone, lying. His dying words... Words of betrayal. You should have saved me. You should have been in time.
Morgana was standing over his lifeless body. Not the real Morgana. Or was it? Maybe this was the real Arthur. Maybe all the others had been real. She was taunting him.
He felt too defeated to answer.
He had seen the knights wiped out by Aithusa, his dragon. He had seen Gaius strangled with Morgana's magic. Gwen stabbed through the heart by an assassin. And Arthur... Always he would return. And always his magic could not save him.
Because he'd not real.
Merlin didn't believe that any more. He would never be able to believed his magic was enough to save his friend, not when he'd failed countless times.
The journey through the impenetrable forest had taken less than half a day with Leon and Percival's strange premonitions. Before long they were standing on the edge of the forest, a vast swathe of desecrated land before them.
The dark tower stood in the centre.
For a few seconds, Arthur looked at it. In there, Merlin and Gwen were held captive.
Dead or alive...
There was no time to waste.
"Come on!" he shouted, starting forward.
With half hearted groans, the knights set off behind him. With every step, they were getting closer to the tower. Closer to Morgana.
Just hold on.
Gwen awoke from her light sleep with a start. There was somebody moving around. She quickly sat up, keeping her jumpy breath as quiet as she could. Merlin was sprawled on the floor, his eyes wide open and unmovingly staring at one spot.
What does he see?
The door of their prison rattled, then opened. Sharp steps approached. Gwen felt sharp fear spike in her chest.
She couldn't cope with another illusion... She just couldn't.
Morgana appeared, she disdainfully glanced at Merlin, then stepped through his line of sight and crouched before Gwen.
"He's wrong you know. I'm not evil." she said quietly.
Sincerely? Gwen couldn't tell.
"Why are you doing this?" Gwen asked scratchily.
"This?" Morgana waved her arms, taking in the room, Merlin and the mandrakes.
Gwen looked at Merlin. How could Morgana claim to be on the side of goodness when she had caused that looked of terror on her friend's face? But at the same time she was torn. Morgana was being so kind... so kind.
"I had to." Morgana said.
Gwen barely heard her.
Suddenly the sorceress stiffened, and she spun round to face the door. A hiss escaped her lips, and she stamped her foot.
With quick precise movements, she grabbed Gwen by the hair, and dragged her up, ignoring the screams of pain.
A snap of her fingers had Merlin hoisted into the air, and she quickly dragged her two prisoners behind her. They ascended the stairs, passed two rooms, and finally to the top.
Gwen struggled as best she could, but Morgana's grip on her hair was vice like. Merlin appeared to be waking from a dream, or rather a nightmare, his face still holding that misery it had when he'd watched the mandrake roots conjurings.
Morgana shoved them into a room, slamming the door shut with a flick of her wrist. She was ruffled and nervous. Something had gone wrong.
But instead of the elation Gwen knew she should feel, she just felt confusion.
Another spell hit her like a blast of wind, freezing her on the spot. Merlin fared the same fate, and they stood before the sorceress, unable to move. Merlin regained control of his tongue.
"Why are you doing this? What purpose can it serve?"
Morgana tossed her hair over one shoulder.
"You could never hope to understand, the suffering I've been through." she said, stepping close to Merlin, so close their noses almost touched.
"Couldn't I?" he asked.
She snarled, spinning away, and quickly returning.
"You will suffer, Merlin, when you see your nightmare's come true today."
The servant paled immediately, and fell quiet.
"Now, I think its time we played a game."
Finally, they had reached the foot of the tower. Arthur wasn't sure whether to be relieved or not. Who knew what he would find inside.
His knights forced the door open. It was surprisingly easy. No enchantments.
Cold doubt suddenly seized his mind. What if Morgana had already despatched Merlin and Guinevere? Now she was going to complete the trio with his head.
No, don't think that. They have to be alive. He thought desperately.
He raced up the spiral staircase, the heavy footfalls of his knights close behind him. Up and up it went, an endless row of stone steps.
Even as he scrambled up, Arthur instinctively took note of the fact that the cobwebs had recently been disturbed, and then dust was freshly settled.
At least one person had been up here.
Gwen waited, barely breathing in the complete and utter silence. Merlin was squirming against the bonds, but she knew that it was useless. Merlin looked as if he knew it too. They were struck, literally unable to move, unable to save Arthur.
Morgana had disappeared round a corner, but she would be waiting.
We have to stop her! Gwen thought. It was all she could think. She could not let Arthur die. She would rather die a thousand tortured ends than let him die on her account. But no plan came to mind.
Merlin looked at her. The spell hadn't been a complete paralysis.
"Can you move at all?" he asked.
She tried wiggling her fingers. There were locked, as was everything below her neck.
"No." she whispered.
Merlin gritted his teeth. He looked like a man weighing up two choices. But from the pain on his face, it looked like he had been given the choice to chop of his left leg, or right. From his face, Gwen could give up hope. For while he may have thought of a way out of the mess, it was not without casualties.
But she trusted him. Trusted him with Arthur's life. Though the fact was rarely acknowledged, Merlin was responsible for Arthur being alive.
Please do it again.
Suddenly, thunderous footsteps echoed faintly in the distance, coming closer and closer with every second. Merlin licked his lips, his eyes fixed on the closed door.
It suddenly jerked open, and Arthur appeared, his knights crowded behind him.
"No, Arthur!" Merlin shouted as the king made a step towards them.
Too late. Too late.
An explosion rattled the tower, throwing the knights back. The door whipped shut leaving Arthur standing, pressed against the oak.
A low chuckle echoed through the room, and Morgana slunk from behind a pillar, one hand lazily lifted as she surveyed the king.
"Arthur, how very predictable." she murmured,
Arthur drew his sword in a flurry of scraping metal, pointing it at the sorceress. His eyes flicked briefly to Gwen and Merlin, taking in their lack of movement.
"Let them go." he said slowly.
Morgana tipped her head, and took a few steps forward.
"No. You're here on my terms. And you shall be leaving on my terms. Or not."
She smiled. The knights were hammering at the door, shouting, but the solid oak didn't budge.
"They'll be too late." she said dispassionately.
She stepped over to Merlin, peering into his face, and then drifting over to Gwen. She turned slowly back to Arthur.
"Now, Arthur," she said. "I'm giving you a choice. Never let it be said that I am ruthless."
She drew a small dagger from her belt, twirling it between her fingers.
"One of them can live. The other must die. It's your choice."
Gwen closed her eyes. Of course. Morgana had to rub wounds of her victory with salt. She had found a way to ensure no one would ever forget this meeting.
Why can't she just kill us all and have done with it? She wondered angrily.
But Morgana wanted to truly defeat her enemies, not just win.
"No, I won't choose." Arthur said.
His voice was laced with disgust and fear.
"Oh, well if you want to play it that way... I'll just kill both of them. Your little trip has been in vain, Arthur dear."
She placed her blade against Merlin's neck, glancing slyly at Arthur.
"Arthur, pick me." Merlin said steadily.
Gwen gasped, a painful and rough sound. How could he... How could Merlin offer that?
"No, Arthur don't-" she said.
Arthur face was grey. Morgana's knife pressed into Merlin's throat, drawing a line of blood in the pale flesh. He did not flinch, or look away from Arthur.
"Morgana, wait. Let- let me think." he said shakily.
The knife was withdrawing, and Morgana carefully wiped the blade on her dress. She stood, twirling the knife. A grim smile of triumph was draped on her face, her cold grey eyes sparkling with a icy joy.
Arthur laid his sword on the ground, then stepped forward.
"I'll take their place. Let them go, and kill me. That's what you want, isn't it? That's what you really want."
"No!" Merlin shouted.
"I thought you would never offer, brother dearest. But nobility and chivalry demands it, hmm? How could the great knight and king stand by and murder his subjects?"
"Arthur, no, please no. Don't. Let me die, I'll take your place." Merlin shouted, his voice high and panicky.
The attack on the door of the knights grew more frenzied at Merlin's words. Gwen just stared at her husband. She didn't know what to think, what to say, what to do.
"I'm sorry Merlin." said Arthur.
Morgana pressed the knife against his throat, fiddling with the grip.
"I shall so enjoy this." she said.
Arthur swallowed, glancing briefly up as if hoping for divine intervention.
"Guinevere, I love you. Look after Camelot." he said.
She wanted to respond in some way, but her throat had ceased up, and tears dripped from her eyes. Morgana drew the knife away, and looked the king in the eye.
"Goodbye Arthur Pendragon."
Gwen wanted to close her eyes, look away as Morgana drew the knife down in a sweeping arc. But she couldn't. She couldn't look away as Arthur was killed, even if it was going to haunt her for her whole life.
Then the whole room exploded in a flurry of falling stones, sparks of fire and pained screams.
He had waited far too long. And as he saw Arthur's eyes meet his, he knew it that instant it could not be the last time.
So he let the spell that had been on the tip of his tongue fly into the air. He let his magic swell and explode. Morgana's scream ripped the air just as loudly as the sound of collapsing stone. The room literally tore itself apart. Morgana and Arthur were blasted into the wall.
He felt the invisible bonds Morgana had used to tie him up fall away, and he was running towards Arthur before the dust and rubble had fallen.
The knights had attacked the door again, and with the enchantment holding it shut gone, they piled into the room, coughing and spluttering as the dust swirled about.
He tried not to think about what had happened. It was worth it, and thousand times worth it. Even if... if the mandrake root's first hallucination was about to come true. At least the other nightmare was banished.
Arthur was lying on the ground, bloodied and bruised, but as his eye flickered open, relief swept over Merlin. He was not dead.
"Wha- what happened?" he demanded between coughs, attempting to struggle up.
Merlin pushed the stones that had fallen onto his chest away.
"I-I don't know..." he said.
Arthur looked ready to argue, but the knights were swarming about, helping their king up, brushing him down, laughing and joking.
Merlin glanced at Morgana's lifeless body, but couldn't bring himself to check if she was alive. Tearing his gaze away, he looked up.
Arthur had enfolded Gwen in a tight. Over his shoulder she was staring at him.
Merlin's heart sunk. She knew... How long would it be before she told Arthur? How long would it be before Arthur banished, burnt or destroyed him?
With that deflated feeling of utter defeat, he averted his gaze, ignoring Gwaine's hearty congratulations that he had survived another attack from the bloodthirsty witch.
"Where is she?" asked Arthur, apparently remembering about Morgana.
Merlin pointed to her prone body. Arthur surveyed it.
"Shall we make sure?" asked Leon.
"No. Leave her, if she isn't already dead then she must be badly wounded." said Arthur.
The knights nodded, not questioning their king in his decision to leave his biggest enemy.
They trooped out of the castle, the knights gleeful about their victory.
Merlin could feel Gwen's eyes on the back of his head. He ignored it as best he could, steering clear of her. When Arthur gave him a few awkward words of thanks for keeping Gwen safe, he only felt a stab of guilt.
Would Arthur feel the same when he knew?
The journey back to Camelot was peaceful. Gwen spent the entire time thinking. After Arthur's concerned questioning, she put it down to nerves.
But that was not her problem. In fact the mental torture of Morgana seemed tiny and insignificant compared to what she'd seen.
She felt so stupid not to have realised it. Betrayed that Merlin had never trusted her. She understood, of course, he couldn't have told her. She would have liked to think the two of them were close enough though.
Who else knew?
Not Arthur, obviously. The knights... She didn't think any of them knew either. The playful ribbing they indulged in with Merlin showed no sign they knew what he was.
Gaius probably knew. It would be hard to hide it from him. Gwen blinked in surprise, realising that Gaius was harbouring a sorcerer. It seemed such a strange thought.
She glanced discreetly at Merlin. He knew she knew. That much was evident from his careful avoidance of her, and his pale unhappy face.
As she pondered her knew knowledge of Merlin, she realised just how obvious it really was. How many times had he saved Arthur, Camelot, all his friends? Countless times, yet he always managed it without any show or flash. Things just seemed to sort themselves out when he was around.
He would disappear, and then when he returned, all was solved, and Arthur criticized him for being coward.
She wanted to talk to him about it, but it was too risky. Not only did Merlin have the look of a caged animal about him, but anybody could hear them talking. No, she would wait until they reached Camelot before she approached him.
She would have to though, one way or another.
There was a lingering thought in her mind, that Merlin was evil, as magic was evil. That she should tell Arthur and let him deal with it.
But no, never that. Merlin was her friend. Merlin was loyal to Camelot, and Camelot alone. She would not betray his secret.
When they finally reached Camelot, and the city had settled back into its normal routine, she cornered Merlin when he was cleaning out the stables.
Only when he'd avoided her, did she realise how much his friendship meant.
"Hello, Merlin." she said softly.
He looked up sharply, anxiously.
"Gwen." he said evenly.
"I know, Merlin. About the magic. But I'm not going to tell anyone." she said gently.
A huge weight seemed to lift from his shoulders, and he gave a slow smile.
"It must be hard..?"
"Yes... Yes, having to lie... They don't really know who I am." Merlin said, still stumbling over his words, and blinking at her.
Gwen nodded, and they both stared at eachother for a few seconds.
"Come here." she said, opening her arms.
As Merlin stepped over to meet her embrace, she heard between his breath, a softly whispered "thank you."
Whew... I can tell you that was a monster to write. Hope you enjoyed. The next chapter, I'm thinking about having something from Morgana's POV, or possibly something based on the last very last episode. If any suggestions catch my fancy, I'll use 'em. Keep them coming in!