A/N When I said this fic started just before series 4, I meant it literally. See how much set up for 4.01 you can spot in this chapter. ;)
Chapter 15: Merlin & Dragoon
He was back home. The magic was still strong and the visions thankfully now slightly muted after the time spent teaching his other self. The time of day and the weather looked the same as when he'd left, and he was still carrying his herb bag and the extra satchel full of new books.
"Hello, Merlin, did you have a good trip?"
"Dragoon!" he growled, turning sharply and striding quickly over to the old man, his arm raised ready to attack. "Why? Why did you have to put me through that?" He threw a silent spell at him.
"Like that's going to work on me," the old man sneered, waving an arm at him as if he was swatting a fly and causing Merlin's magic to suddenly disappear. With another growl, the young man aimed a second pushing spell towards his older self, only to have it countered by a stronger one coming in the opposite direction. The two spells hit each other but neither man moved. "Look, you really do need to calm down," Dragoon said, having the cheek to yawn as he continued to hold his spell constantly against Merlin's. It was now as if there were two walls each pushing against the other. The only difference being that the old man didn't look as if he was even trying, whereas the younger was beginning to struggle, sweat starting to collect on his brow.
"Why, Dragoon?" Merlin asked. "Morgana ... Freya ... the visions. Have you any idea how much all of that hurt?"
"Actually, I tend to look back on the whole experience as a nice little holiday," Dragoon countered.
"A … holiday ...?" Merlin's shock at the comment caused him to drop his spell, resulting in Dragoon stumbling forwards and him falling, fairly gently on his backside.
"Yes," the old man continued. "I had very little work to do, only had to save Arthur's life once, read numerous very interesting books, met and kissed my beloved Freya again and lost my innocence to the girl of my dreams. I remember it fondly, Merlin and so I'm quite sure, in time, you will too."
The young man groaned and sat up, putting his head in his hands. "But, that vision of Morgana, Dragoon. How can that be a good thing? How will she and Merlin cope?"
"It complicates their lives a little, I admit, but ... it was also pretty inevitable. Destiny, as you guessed, needed to be put back on track in that world and that, apparently, was the way to do it."
"I don't understand. Nothing like that ever happened here."
"No, but let's just say it helped to correct something that was wrong - filled a gap that should never have existed."
"You know what happens now? You followed their story after I left?" Merlin asked.
"Yes, and you will be able to start doing that very soon."
"The spell is in one of the new books you brought back. All you need for it to work is something that comes from that world; the book itself, the bag you brought them back in, even your new neckerchief." Dragoon grinned at him and Merlin glared, a hand going back up to his neck.
"So, now what?"
"In that world, magic has returned, the curse is broken and their lives will now continue on a different route but heading for roughly the same destination as yours. As I said, you'll be able to start viewing their world fairly soon, and eventually keep your promise to Gwen and Arthur and visit them again."
"Really?" he replied, excitedly.
"You'll have to work out how to do that by yourself though, and it will be a number of years before you acquire the ability, I'm afraid."
"Oh, I see." He sighed.
"As for you, now, in this Camelot," Dragoon continued. "Things will just progress as if you'd never been away which, as far as everyone else here is concerned, you haven't. You left this morning to pick herbs for Gaius and you'll return this afternoon just in time for the meeting in the council chambers."
"The one that Arthur's only just arranged."
"So, you'd better be on your way because you know he'll blame you for not knowing about it, anyway, don't you?"
"Oh, and you should probably cast that spell on your herbs before you go, or Gaius will wonder why they're all over a week old."
"Only try not to put quite so much effort into it this time, will you? Morgana was terribly confused when that daisy you gave her never died."
"What? I didn't think that I'd have that much power over there so, I sort of gave it everything I'd got," the young man responded with a wince.
"Which meant you really did give it everything - emotionally as well as physically." Merlin sighed at the comment and the old man tipped his head, contemplating his younger self. "Yes, they were good nights, weren't they? Shame things won't be quite the same with this world's Morgana."
"What do you mean, not 'quite' the same?" Merlin asked suspiciously.
"You'll find out," said Dragoon winking at him, "but, for now, here's the one plant you didn't manage to find before I whisked you off there, and then you really had better be going and get yourself settled back into your Camelot."
"Thanks," Merlin said reluctantly, taking the herb and putting it back in his bag. He then carefully cast the spell to revitalise the plants he already had, hoisted both bags onto his back and turned towards Camelot.
"Oh and, Merlin ..." The old man called out to him.
"You'll probably want to tighten that neckerchief of yours before you go back. I can only imagine how much teasing you'll get from Arthur and the knights if they see all those interesting marks!"
"Where have you been?" Arthur demanded of Merlin as he walked down the corridor towards the physician's chambers.
"Out picking herbs. Gaius did say that he told you."
"Well, never mind that. Our scouts have come back with interesting news and I've called a meeting."
"Well, perhaps I should just ..."
"Gaius is there too, so you might as well come with me now."
"Oh, alright then." He reluctantly followed the Prince into the council chambers, rather nervous about walking around Camelot with a bag of magic books on his shoulder. He instinctively walked over to Gaius as he entered and tried to look inconspicuous.
"Are you alright, Merlin?" the old man asked.
"I don't know you just look ..."
"As if something has happened."
"How did you know?" Merlin hissed.
"Well, apart from the fact that something 'happens' to you almost every day, you have this look that is now rather familiar to me."
"Well, actually, you're right, but I'll tell you about it when we get back."
"Anything I need to worry about?"
"Thank you for coming at short notice," the Prince announced, getting the Hall's attention. "We have been receiving reports on the activity of the sorceresses Morgause and Morgana ..." Hasty, nervous whispers broke out all around the hall. "Yes, thank you," Arthur continued quickly attempting to regaining everyone's attention. "There is news of them using powerful magic, asking questions, and seeking out various ancient manuscripts and artefacts. Now we have news of a very recent sighting and so I intend to send out a small party this afternoon in an effort to track them down."
"Would you like me to go?" Agravaine asked.
"No, that's alright, Uncle, Sir Leon can lead this expedition." Arthur turned to the tall knight. "Could you choose ... three knights to accompany you and set out as soon as possible?"
"Of course, Sire," the tall man said with a bow.
"I need not remind all of you to be on the look out," Arthur continued. "After the takeover last year we cannot afford to take any chances. If you see any signs of magic being used, or suspect anyone of consorting with sorcerers, please report it. The King's law on this still holds more than ever and we must continue to be vigilant. Merlin raised his eyes to the ceiling and got a nudge and a glare from Gaius as a result.
"Where are you going now, Merlin?" Arthur called out after him as he started to make his way out of the hall.
"Well, back with Gaius, you know ... now I've collected all these herbs for him, I have to ..."
"But I have chores for you too. We need to start making preparations for the Feast of Samhain and there are a number of things that ..."
"But … it's just ... Gaius asked ..." Merlin started to explain, still determined to hide the incriminating books he was carrying as quickly as possible.
"No, I understand, but there are a couple of things I needed you to organise. My shirt for one."
"Your ... shirt?"
"Yes, I really need a new one for the feast. Guinevere was going to make it for me but ..."
"I understand, Sire," Merlin responded seriously. "Your best one did seem a little tight the last time you wore it and seeing how much food there'll be there …" He gave the Prince a cheeky grin.
"Merlin, will you stop making all these snide comments about my waistline. The old one is not too small, it's just a little worn."
"Of course, Sire," Merlin answered with a knowing grin.
"Anyway, as I was saying," Arthur continued, glaring at his servant for his obvious teasing. "Guinevere was going to do it, but she's been so busy looking after Father that she didn't have the time, and so she recommended someone else - the cook's daughter who ..."
"The cook has a daughter? That woman is actually someone's mother?" Merlin asked, horrified.
"What has that nice lady ever done to you?"
"Nice? Have you been down to the kitchens lately?"
"Not for a while, no, but Audrey was always very kind to me when I was younger."
"Figures," Merlin grumbled.
"Anyway, I want you to take these measurements down to her to pass onto her daughter and see if you can confirm that it will be ready in time for the feast?" Merlin took the letter and nodded.
"Alright. Then can I go and see Gaius?"
"Of course, but I want you to come along to training this afternoon."
"This afternoon? What happened to this morning?"
"My servant was absent," Arthur replied blandly.
"Honestly, you can't do anything for yourself, can you?"
"Don't be rude, Merlin, I'm the Prince - that's what I have a servant for."
"A servant, yes. Just the one," Merlin commented. "Have you never thought that perhaps you should employ a couple more? Spread the workload out a little?"
"What a ridiculous idea," the Prince commented. "I'll see you later, Merlin. Try not to be late."
"Are you making this up?" Gaius asked, fixing Merlin with his most stern, disbelieving look.
"How could I make up something like that? I got sent to an alternative Camelot and spent a week and a half there working out how to bring magic back."
"How did you get there?"
"An older version of me sent me back," he attempted to explain. "I went into the castle, ended up as Arthur's servant again, then I met Morgana and Uther and you and ... Merlin and ..."
"You met yourself?"
"A bit of a strange experience that," the young man commented.
"And Morgana? How was she?"
"In what way?"
"Well, it was five years ago so she was more like the Morgana then. Although not really like that Morgana now I come to think about it."
"Merlin, what aren't you telling me?"
"Nothing you need to know," he replied pulling a face. "Oh, but you will be interested in this ..." and he grabbed his bag and opened it up. "You see, magic disappeared there but it wasn't banned, which meant the books weren't destroyed they were just hidden and ... honestly, I couldn't resist."
"I don't know, it seems to me to be cheating somehow?" Gaius replied, picking up the nearest book and flicking through it enthusiastically.
"Do you know, that's exactly what the other you said."
"You probably should tell me more about this later."
"Yes, I suppose so," Merlin replied with a wince, wondering if there was any way to go into details about his time away, without mentioning the curse and its ramifications. It was hard enough talking about that sort of thing with the other Gaius who simply accepted all of that. He really wasn't sure he fancied explaining his role as Morgana's Night Servant to this physician.
"What are you going to do with those books?" Gaius asked then.
"Oh, I've got enough room for them next door. My hideaway's getting quite well developed now."
"Anyway, I'd better be getting back to Arthur." Merlin gave an exaggerated sigh. "Honestly, his alternative self was so much more easy going than this version."
"Where were you this morning?" Gwaine complained as Merlin staggered onto the training ground, weighed down by Arthur's armour as usual.
"Out collecting herbs for Gaius. Why?"
"Just wondered." The knight studied him closely. "You're looking well today, Merlin."
"Yes, not as pale as usual, rather more ... rested. Oh look, here comes the Princess now, we'd better look lively."
The training session was much the same as usual. Merlin mostly watched, sometimes passing a weapon, and a couple of times holding a target. He did his best to concentrate but found it especially hard today, his mind constantly wandering as he day-dreamed about his times with Morgana and tried his best not to think about the four visions he'd experienced in the cave.
Especially that last one.
As he was packing up the equipment, Merlin was aware of a hasty conversation between Arthur and the three key knights that had remained behind and, still feeling rather tired, he automatically ambled over when the Prince called to him.
"Yes, Sire?" he asked.
"Gwaine was just saying how well you were looking this afternoon?"
"Ah ..." Merlin looked at the other knights' faces and felt suddenly very nervous.
"Where did you say you were this morning?" Arthur asked pointedly.
"P-picking herbs, I told you ..."
"And yesterday morning when you turned up late?"
"Ah ..?" Merlin tried hard to remember what he'd been doing almost two weeks ago. "It was just … I think I had a bit of a late night and ..."
"You don't seem very certain," Arthur said with a grin and, before Merlin could do anything about it, Gwaine pounced on him from his left and quickly pulled off his neckerchief.
"Told you!" Gwaine crowed triumphantly and Merlin suddenly flushed, realising his neck was now completely exposed. Arthur and the knights all stared in disbelief.
"Well, you see, it's like this ..." he began.
"Oh, there's no need to explain," Gwaine continued with a broad grin. "I know exactly what those marks are, I just want to know who the artist was?"
"And when you had the time?" Arthur asked.
"And when you plan to introduce us?" Lancelot said.
"She must be thin," Percival commented with a grin, moving in a bit closer. "It seems as if she was very hungry."
"Well, she certainly liked the taste of our Merlin," Gwaine agreed.
"Has Gaius checked her over?" Arthur continued. "I think he needs to make sure that she's not had any serious bumps to the head recently, or perhaps get her some eye glasses?"
"They really are a very impressive set of marks," Gwaine continued. "Honestly, how could you keep something like this from us?"
"Look, I don't know why you think I'm going to tell you anything if you keep on at me like this," Merlin complained.
"He's quite right," said Lancelot. "Give the man a break."
"Thank you. Now, can I have my neckerchief back, please? Gaius needs my assistance again this afternoon."
"Fine, but don't think you're going to get away with it that easily," Arthur said as he was handed it back.
"We'll be expecting to hear all the juicy details, later," Gwaine called out as Merlin made his hasty escape, leaving four very intrigued young men behind to wonder exactly what he'd been getting up to.
He had been kept busy all afternoon and evening and that was generally enough to distract him from the visions. They were, in the words of the other Merlin, just an annoying fly buzzing in the corner of the room, and neither that, nor the memories of Morgana or Freya really bothered him at all.
However the night time was another matter entirely. Here, in the dark and quiet solitude of his own chambers, the four visions played over and over in his head; both the emotions and images that he'd been consciously aware of at the time, along with more detailed information, conversations and emotions that became more obvious as he started to drift off to sleep.
The first vision of Morgana was definitely from this world. Although he had been tied up by the other Morgana, that had not only been a rather more pleasant scenario, but he could look in the eyes of this one as she glared at him, and know instantly which version he was facing. This was his future, his near future he guessed, and he knew enough about these visions to understand that this would come true and that there was probably nothing he could do to prevent himself from being tied up, captured and, apparently, tortured.
At least the second one was considerably more pleasant, even if it was from the other world. Not only would that have been fairly obvious from the fact that he'd known that Gwen was expecting a baby when he'd left, but also from the way Uther was reacting to the situation. This was not the unstable King that was currently being nursed in his chambers, and Merlin could not imagine that proud and relaxed look on this Uther's face if Gwen was to ever present him with a grandchild.
Merlin's instinct said the third was from his world but, to be honest, he was confused about that in all sorts of ways. In it Lancelot and Gwen were kissing and Arthur was charging at the knight with a sword, furious at the scene in front of him.
Merlin knew that Lancelot loved Gwen and that she had feelings for him too. At least, he knew that she used to have strong feelings for him but, after last year, he was fairly convinced that she had made her decision and that she had chosen Arthur just as the Prince has chosen her. What he was seeing in this vision made absolutely no sense to him, and he could not understand how loyal Lancelot would initiate a kiss in the first place, let alone why Gwen would co-operate. However, it made no more sense for the other world, either. He may not have met that Lancelot, but he knew enough about the various alternative personalities there to guess that he wouldn't be that different from his friend here. It was a worry and perhaps indicated that Gwen's feelings for Lancelot were stronger than she'd let on.
Merlin dwelt on these three visions for as long as he could; knowing that sleep was evading him and being highly reluctant to face the fourth. That was probably a mistake, as it seemed to be waiting for him as soon as he started to fall asleep.
Merlin was entering Morgana's chambers. He would have known it was the other Merlin even if he hadn't been wearing the very distinctive new Band on his left arm. The young man was carrying a small vial in one hand and, as he entered, Morgana turned her head to give him a brief smile, her face pale and her gaze distant. The look the pair exchanged was full of emotion, but it was much the same look as he used to give this world's Morgana four years ago; affection, friendship and concern - nothing more. It seemed the Band he wore was simply for appearance and Merlin instinctively knew, just by witnessing this silent exchange, that the boy had not taken on full Night Servant duties to Morgana.
As he fell asleep, Merlin's conscious mind inevitably gave up the fight and the vision repeated with far more detail than he'd experienced so far.
"My lady?" he replied, walking in to notice that Morgana had turned her attention back out of the window, her back to him.
"Good evening, Merlin." Her voice was very quiet, and did not hold its usual strength.
"I have a potion here from Gaius, Morgana. He though it might help with your nightmares."
"Let us hope so." Still she didn't move or turn around and Merlin shifted uncomfortably for a while.
"Is there anything else you need? Any other medicine that you might require for your comfort?" He shook his head and winced. "I-I just mean ... I was wondering. How are you feeling, my lady?"
She started to turned towards him then, her face pale, and gave him an affectionate smile that didn't quite reach her bright green eyes.
"Thank you for your concern, Merlin," she replied, her hands gently caressing her very swollen belly. "I do believe that we are both quite well."
A/N Yes, I know, sorry!
If you prefer, you can pretend it ended with the training ground scene – lol!
This was always supposed to be an adventure that Merlin had between series 3 & 4 and so sorry to those of you who'd hoped that his acts in the other world would change things here, but I really didn't fancy working another AU. It was originally going to be sexy, funny and fluffy but ... obviously my muse had other ideas!
So, I set things up here ready for Merlin to start 4.01 and tried to fill in a couple of gaps in the process. For example: Why was Arthur's shirt in the kitchens?
However, this is not the end for the other universe. If you visit my updated PP you can see the ideas I currently have for the sequel currenly titled 'An Unexpected Vision', along with a To Do list with the ideas that are currently floating around for my other fics, plus my general writing diary which will give you an update of my progress.
Thanks for your wonderful support on this one.