Title: Rarely Pure, Never Simple
Summary: The moment of truth takes Merlin by surprise, but can he gather the courage to say it?
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin, BBC and Shine do, nor do I own much of the dialogue in this story. Lines will not be marked, but if your recognize anything, it comes from season 1, episode 10, The Moment of Truth.
A/N: I've always loved this episode,and I wanted to go more in depth on some of the scenes. As I got going, however, I couldn't narrow it down. The entire episode just had to be done. Therefore, the monster that would not stop, is this episode novalization. It is as close to canon as I can get, non slash, missing scenes, introspection, character studies, and pre and post ep story. Enjoy! It is finished, and will be going up in it's entirety in the next couple of weeks.
"Truth is rarely pure, and never simple." Mark Twain
Two days ago, Hunith thought, angrily stuffing raw potatoes into a sack, two days ago, our village was safe.
Two days ago, Matthew, their village leader, had been accosted by raiders on the way back from visiting his wife's family in the neighbouring village, Brigid and their young son in tow. A man and his group of thugs stopped him, and demanded payment on pain of his family's life. They realized he was a village leader, the short time though it had been since his father Matthias had died, and decided that his due should come from the whole of the village.
Hunith was seething when Matthew told them that half their food stores would be required when the bandits came back. Matthew was sure that it would be enough to appease them, and though it would be a lean winter, and a meagre planting when the time came, they would survive for another year. It was the best situation.
Hunith hissed as she threw another tuber into the bag, not caring if it bruised against the rough-hewn wooden table; the raiders certainly deserved to have mushy vegetables.
"Best situation..." She muttered, anger colouring her voice. She wasn't sure the raiders were as honourable as they said they were; she didn't think they would follow this agreement with Matthew, no matter what they promised. Nothing good could come of this.
She fumed for a few more minutes, long enough to gather the rest of the required vegetables from around her small home, and then hung her head, leaning on the table. She was being too hard. Truly, she did not know what else Matthew could have done. Those terrible men would have killed Matthew, Brigid, and their son Matthias if he refused to make the deal. It was the least the village could do, if it meant that their friends survived.
Hunith sighed, and made her way outside, leaving the bag on the table. Matthew hadn't been sure when the raiders would arrive, and the people who weren't gathering half their food, were milling around, not sure what to do next. At least it was a lovely day, the kind that made village life seem idyllic. She leaned against the wall of her home, and watched as people lingered in the main square, half-heartedly attempting to carry on with their daily lives through the tension of waiting. The only ones who managed were the children; playing freely as ever.
She remembered the days, not too long ago, when it was her own son playing in the square. But that was years ago, and Merlin was a young man now. Merlin had been at Camelot for a few months now, and from his letters, seemed quite settled. Gaius had taken him in like his own child, much as he had for her, years ago. He worked as manservant to the prince. She felt her heart swell with pride, as it did whenever she thought of her boy, though a part constricted with worry when he thought of the danger to her son in such a place as Camelot. But she had lived with worry for near twenty years. There was no place for it now.
Hunith shook her head, taking one last look at the town. She then ducked back inside, reaching for her head wrap, and binding her still thick hair up into it. It gave her hands something to do for a few minutes. After that, she bit her lip, nerves growing thin as she glanced out the doorway another time. Matthew had said the bandits were coming today, but no one knew exactly when. It made one's stomach knot up, that was for sure.
Then there came the sounds of screams from the outer edges of the village, and Hunith felt as if the string of nerves within her had snapped, sending an icy bucket of rage down her chest. Running out the door, she looked towards the sounds. The raiders had arrived.
Their leader was an ugly looking man; scarred and mangy, with a twisted beard, and a rough fur cloak. His kohl lined eyes swept over the people, most of who had huddled together in front of their houses; meekly guarding their possessions in the only way most knew how. It did nothing to stop the ruffians.
Men ran about, kicking in doors, and tearing through people's homes like pigs rooting for truffles. Some villagers were dragged out, by the arm, or by the hair, while the thugs searched.
Then the leaders called out from atop his high horse.
The search gained more frenzy, and Hunith frowned, glaring at the raiders. Matthew was dragged out of his home, holding baskets of vegetables. The two men who'd found him threw him to his knees, spilling the food at the feet of the leader's horse.
"It's harvest time!" He crowed, and Hunith felt a wave of disgust at his obvious glee. His men pawed through the things they had pulled from the houses, showing distaste at the pickings. One handed a couple of sacks to the leader, Kanen, Hunith remembered Matthew had said. Kanen looked at it all, face twisted in overblown disgust.
"What's this?" Matthew was on the ground still, trying to gather what had fallen, but he looked up at Kanen's words. "Where's the rest of it?"
"I only kept back what we need to survive." Matthew said firmly, and Hunith felt some of her earlier anger at him ease at his bravery. Kanen was unmoved.
"Survive?" He questioned, like it was unheard of. "I'll be back in one week, farmer, and I want to see all of it."
Hunith felt the rage flare up again, not at Matthew, who still knelt on the ground, but at Kanen, that horrible man.
"You can't take our food!" Hunith said, her voice rough with emotion and determination. She came forwards. "Our children will starve!" She thought of the little Kalyn, who helped her with her herb garden, of the little boys who played in front of her home. They'd die without adequate food in the cold winter months. "I won't let you do this!"
Hunith dove for the bags tied to Kanen's saddle, trying the tear them off, and take them back for the village. "You're not taking any of it!"
The sudden smack to her face sent her reeling to the ground. Her neighbour, the gentle Ethan shouted out her name as she fell. Hunith wanted to rise, tell him she was fine, not to worry, but her head spun. Then the sound of a crossbow release made her breath stop. The world froze, only to begin spinning again wildly as a short grunt sounded. She raised her head in time to see Ethan fall, an arrow in his chest.
Kanen leaned down, glaring at Matthew. "I will give you a week. Don't you dare disappoint me." He turned to Hunith then, who was still on the ground, her eyes filled with tears and a hand pressed to her swelling cheek. "I'll see you later, sweetheart." He leered down at her, before kicking his horse forwards. His men followed until their village was empty of invaders.
Matthew watched them go, before leaning down to help Hunith to her feet. She realized that she still hadn't taken her hand away from her face when Matthew touched her upraised wrist.
"Are you alright?" Hunith didn't answer, her eyes going past him to the figure of Ethan, lying on the ground.
"Oh, Ethan..." She moaned, brow creasing in sorrow. Ethan's wife, Luned, was kneeling beside her husband. Her hand was pressed to her mouth, much like Hunith's was to her cheek. Hunith lowered it, and took a shaky step forwards. Matthew pulled her back.
"Hunith, there's nothing you can do."
Hunith shook her head. "I have to..." It was her duty. She had trained in Camelot under Gaius the physician. She was the one that the villagers brought their sick children to, who fixed sprained ankles and gashed hands. An arrow, she choked on the thought, an arrow couldn't be that different.
But it was. Matthew didn't let go of her arm, and it was a good thing he didn't. Hunith, peering forwards, saw Ethan's lifeless eyes, never to see his young wife again, staring at the sky. Then her knees gave out until she was only held up by Matthew's arms, crouched on the ground. Not crying, but only just.
The village, aside from her small exchange with Matthew was silent, everyone reeling in shock. Luned looked like she wasn't breathing, fingers of the hand not pressed to her mouth were frantically pushing back Ethan's unruly fringe, over and over.
Then a voice piped up. "Well, that went well." A young man said bitterly. William, son of Wilbur, was Merlin's best friend, but with Hunith and the rest of the villagers, he had a more tumultuous relationship, even before his father's death turned him into the bitterly sarcastic person he was now. His words broke Luned's fragile calm, and the shaking hand could no longer hold back her wails of pain. Matthew's wife, Brigid ran to her, enfolding her in her arms, and beginning to lead her away. Two men, Ethan's brothers Puck and Daley, covered Ethan's body with one of their long coats, then picked him up and bore him towards his home. The rest of the people began to mutter, and most were unsavoury things directed towards Will.
Hunith took a deep breath. She was still on the ground, but when Matthew saw her calming herself, he helped her rise. Then he turned to the people, a tortured look on his face.
"I'm so sorry. This should never have happened." His words were rough, and Hunith remembered that Matthew and Ethan had been close friends. "It's my fault and mine alone."
"No." Hunith felt as surprised as Matthew looked at her words, at her denial. Only an hour ago she was cursing Matthew for a coward, but now she could not blame him. "The fault is no one's but Kanen's."
The crowd around her murmured in agreement.
"But, what do we do?" Conall, the village blacksmith asked, echoing the thoughts of them all. Matthew swallowed, and looked around.
"I'm open to suggestions." He said, twisting his mouth. Hunith stepped forwards.
"We cannot allow them to take our food." She simply said, and most nodded along. Will, she noticed, stay silent and still.
"But what can we do?" Someone asked, and debate began, with too many words for Hunith to keep straight who said what.
"We have to fight!"
"With what? Rakes?"
"This isn't lawful, they can't do this."
"We need help."
"The other villages are just as bad off as we are."
Then a whisper started. "The King."
"The King can help us."
Hunith listened, but didn't interject much, as the village's actions were decided. Someone would go to King Cenred, and plead for protection.
"I'll go." A deep, quiet voice spoke, and the crowd, still standing in the square, parted to reveal Puck. He'd returned from bearing his brother's body to rest without their notice. He wore a determined frown, which was odd to see on so gentle a giant. He was the one who'd make daisy crowns for the young girls in the spring; setting them on their heads with such pomp it was as if they were queens in court.
Matthew looked up at him gratefully; glad there had been a decision. "Alright. That's settled then."
"But who says they'll help us?" The bitter voice injected again, and Will folded his arms, determined to bring down the hopeful mood that had taken hold with the presentation of a plan. "They're nobles: rich and mighty, with more important things to worry about than the likes of us."
Matthew frowned, flustered. "We can only hope they will."
Will snorted. "Oh, cause hope's always helped us in the past, has it?" He stalked off, and Hunith was glad he was gone.
Matthew tried to regain control over the impromptu meeting. "We must try." He reiterated, and it was enough. "Puck, can you be ready within the hour?"
Puck nodded and moved away. The rest of the crowd dispersed as well, and Hunith was left in the street to make her way slowly to her little cottage. She gingerly touched her aching cheek, feeling the deep bruise beginning there. She should put something on it, or it truly would be a sight to behold.
Puck would be back in three days hence if he left immediately, for the road was long to Cenred's palace. If he returned with soldiers, it could take even longer. When, she corrected in her mind. Cenred would help them, they were his subjects. She sighed, rubbing her brow; Will's pessimism was getting to her.
Putting that thought out of her mind, she busied herself in preparing a poultice for her cheek, and then some calming tea for Luned. She knew what it was to lose the one you love. Though her own love was alive, somewhere, she never expected to see him again when he left. She'd grieved just as Luned was grieving now. Hunith would help Luned, and be there for her, she vowed.
She wouldn't let those terrible raiders hurt her friend any more than they had already. She would not allow them to destroy the village with their selfishness, and cruelty. This was her life here, and she'd fight for it with anything she had. This was also a promise, and one of life or death.
Four days later, and the village was in a state of tension so great that even the children didn't talk as they played; not understanding, but knowing the need to be quiet and still. Matthew paced outside his home. Puck's remaining brother Daley had taken to chopping firewood, so much that then winter came no one in the village would freeze, even if there wasn't food to cook on the warm fires. Hunith ground herbs to dust, and made poultices for wounds as if she were preparing for battle. Perhaps she was.
Finally, a tall figure was seen on the road into town. Hope flared when the townsfolk realized it was Puck, returned from Cenred's palace. It died just as quickly as it became apparent that he walked alone.
"No soldiers?" Matthew gasped, despair leaking into his tone. He stood at Hunith's side, a line of welcoming villagers waiting for news. It wasn't good. Will, from the back of the group, chuckled darkly, muttering.
"What did I tell you?"
In the end, Puck could not convince Cenred that their town was worth a few soldiers. No help came, and the spirit of the town sank to a new low. Hunith looked around at the faces of fear and hopelessness, and grit her teeth.
"Well," She started, stepping out to face her friends and neighbours with her hands on her hips. "We've appealed to one king. Why not try another?"
Mathew frowned, and everyone else looked at her in confusion.
"You mean...Uther?" Matthew said.
"Why not? Camelot is closer than Cenred's palace is anyway, I can make it there tomorrow. Merlin is there, servant to the crown prince. Surely he could at least get me an audience."
Will cut in. "Uther's not going to be any different than Cenred, Hunith. There's no hope."
"There is always hope!" She snapped, losing her patience with the boy. Matthew, however, looked thoughtful, and Hunith turned her attention to him.
"Hunith's right. We must take the chance." Matthew said. Hunith broke into a smile, before turning away, hurrying home to pack.
She estimated her journey time as she rolled up a few blankets, and tucked away a few things to eat. She could be to the city as early as tomorrow morning, if she hurried and left soon.
There was an old and gentle mare in the fields behind her home, one that she shared with a few others on the road. They divided the costs of upkeep, and all used her various tasks and pleasure rides. She was a sweet thing, and Hunith would be glad of her company on the road.
"Come of then, Latha," She murmured, rubbing the horse's nose. She nickered as Hunith busied herself with saddling her, and securing her small pack. Then she mounted, and with one last look at the town, set off.
The journey was an easy one this time of year. The roads were clear, and safe, especially once one entered Uther's lands. For all his policies on magic, he did run his kingdom well, and Hunith had never heard of undue problems with bandits or other unsavoury characters on the main roads. His knights were legendary and their patrols regular.
Camelot was much closer to Ealdor than their own King was. Esctia was large, and Cenred turned his concerns to other things than his border towns. For most of the village, people knew more friends and loved ones in Camelot than their own king's lands, herself included. Her son resided there, and she had many old friends from when she herself lived there. Merlin wrote to her often of his life, his friends and his work, namely Prince Arthur. He seemed to have struck up a genuine friendship with the prince. It was unheard of for master and servant to be friends, but that was her Merlin, always doing things his own way.
This was a benefit in being the one to deliver the message to King Uther; she'd get to see her son again, and her old teacher. A happy smile filled her face for a moment. Thought circumstances weren't the best, it would be good to see him.
Hunith camped once it got too dark to see the road, and after a few hours sleep, set off again before dawn the next morning. She was anxious to be there, for it was only two days hence that Kanen's men would return. She felt the time limit twist inside her like a pulsing knife.
As the sun rose fully, she ascended a rise and saw the great city, Camelot standing in all its glory. It really was magnificent, even for all the atrocities that went on there. She felt a wave of relief in seeing it. She was so very close.
She gained entrance, and stabled her horse for a coin in the lower town. Then, luggage in hand, Hunith set off to find her son.