Chapter Eleven: The Life Which Never Lived
Disclaimer: I own one person in this chapter. One. Uno. Sorta.
Then, with a melody
Stronger and statelier,
Led me at length
To the city and palace
Of Arthur the king;
Touch'd at the golden
Cross of the churches,
Flash'd on the Tournament,
Flicker'd and bicker'd
From helmet to helmet,
And last on the forehead
Of Arthur the blameless
Rested The Gleam.
-"The Gleam", Tennyson
"Mordred, stop this!" I shout. I am in pain, I am angry, I am terrified- "Take the stone and turn it over and it will all be over. For God's sake, it's killing the both of us!"
"I can fix it," Mordred says. "I can fix everything once I've killed him."
The snarl tears from my lips, "You stay away from Arthur!"
"Not Arthur." Something has cleared in his eyes- blue peeking through. "But the life that has never lived."
"The Queen and her child will never been touched by the likes of you, Mordred."
"Oh, no?" The muscles on either side of his mouth twitch strangely; a discord within his biology. Rotten magic with a sense of humor possessing his failing body.
"I foresee," he whispers to the empty court.
It ripples, it shivers through the black that's swallowing the outdoor sun. Even without magic, I know that enchantment laces the words. I pray, begging Gaius and my mother that it will fail. That Gwen will not suddenly reappear. That it is impossible, even for Emrys, to drag a being from the Otherworld.
For a moment, nothing happens.
And then, wielding a familiar sword and covered in ash, Felix bursts through the main doors.
"Felix?" I groan, still twitching under Mordred-Emrys' foot. "Run, get out of here, you little idiot!"
Even in the dim of the throne room, I can see a rakish grin sweep across his young face. "Cor, Merlin, why would I do that? The violence is just about to start."
"Upstart," Mordred murmurs. "Come to rescue your darling master, have you?"
Felix marches with his sword until he's at the base of the steps that ascend to the throne. He stands with all the pride of his age, with his growing shoulders thrown back and his sharpening chin lifted. He almost looks like a knight, and my heart aches with dread for him. The sudden and terrible thought fills me: he might not live to see it.
"I have come to rescue my darling master," Felix agrees. "Now, would you like to do this like gentlemen, or would you rather that I beat you into a bloody pulp? 'Cause I've got to say, I'm looking forward to it."
The darkness shivers.
The foot resting on my heart shifts ever so slightly, and a dose of youth enters into Mordred-Emrys' voice, "Ether?"
Ether? I wonder. My vision wavers, gathering Felix's young face and twisting it into a younger- "Arthur?"
There is blue peeking through- in both Felix's and Mordred's eyes. I can see the cold sea in Mordreds, and the summer sky in Felix's. But only for a moment.
"It is you, isn't it?" Mordred-Emrys says. "And what's more, you're late. Typical."
"You want to talk typical? Look at you: bit off more than you can chew, huh Mor-Mor?"
"I flipped the Stone before you. I have what you want."
"Something I need, anyway," Felix agrees. "Let Merlin go. I'll find a way to fix you, you have my word."
Mordred is looking at him strangely. Emrys is looking at him strangely.
"It was you," Mordred-Emrys says. "It was you all along."
I cry out- I swear I can feel talons ripping into my heart, digging under my ribs, but my hands find nothing but darkened air and the whispering smoke of Mordred-Emrys' boot.
"A trade," Felix shouts. I think it draws Mordred's gaze away from me for a moment, because the talons grow faint. "I propose a trade. I give you what you want, you give me what I want. We leave Camelot out of the equation. Fair's fair."
Mordred breathes out. Something rides the breath.
"No, no..." he murmurs, removing himself from me.
I grab at his leg as he steps towards Felix, and am rewarded with a kick to the face. I go blind, gasping, grasping at air to do something, anything...
His voice is evil, evil I cannot bear to hear it; I crawl towards it, I have to make it.
Ether who is Ether run Felix run
"You ran from me," Mordred whispers. "You ran to me. You stand against me now and forever. I FORSEE-"
Something buffets me like wind but far hotter than wind and Mordred's voice rises again. Emrys grows louder by the second:
"Forsworn and forbearn and forsaken entirely. Little Ether. Little prince. Little faydragon."
Nonsense. All nonsense.
"The Life Which Never Lived."
"No!" I think I scream it, but then Felix is leaping up the steps, sword high over his head, and there is such a blazing ferocity in his dark eyes, that I am struck with an undeniable deja-vu.
Then the weight vanishes altogether from my chest. Felix lands heavily beside me, his sword barely missing my exposed middle. He wheels on his heels to face the open room, but does not stand from his spot over me. One hand, is placed above my heart.
"Don't move," he says seriously.
There is a heavy silence. If Mordred is there, he does not attack. And Felix doesn't move from above me. The pain in my heart begins to drain, and I roll my head to stare around me, but see nothing. A blackness other than Mordred-Emrys' magic is still covering my eyes.
His hand twists over my heart. A jolt- like electricity, like lightning, like singing fire- jumps into my chest and begins to thrum my heart to its rhythm. Trembling takes up my limbs and I try to move away from it.
"Stop. It's all right, Merlin. It's not what you're used to, but it's all right."
"I can't see."
"Just give it a moment to work. Fae magic affects everyone a little differently."
"What are you- what is-"
But even as I speak, the rhythm pressing my heart along begins to slow, or else my own heart is speeding up, until the two are perfectly matched. They pound in tandem against my ribs. I let out a shaking breath, only to draw in another.
Felix sighs. "There, see? Good as new. Almost. You can open up your eyes now, Merlin. Mordred is gone."
Is he? I crack open one eye, then the other. The bright white light of the room almost overwhelms me, and I have to shut them again, grateful for Felix's hand over my heart when the throne room doors explode in again and I can hear the heavy steps of boots, the deeply frightened call of, "Merlin!"
"Here, Your Majesty," Felix replies above me.
A second pair of hands descend on me, roughly tugging until I'm sitting up, then crushed against a cold metal surface.
"He's alive, Sire."
There is no reply. I can't hear his heart or feel his breathing through the armor. But his hands are twitchy on my back.
"Merlin, speak," Felix commands. "The King needs to hear you speak."
"Demanding prat," I mutter.
A gust of breath whistles by my ear, and suddenly those twitching hands are pulling me closer than ever, pressing my face into a warm neck, fingers buried in my hair, a sound like choking laughs.
My eyes fly open. I watch Felix's sad young face beyond a powerful shoulder, and something trickles into my mind.
"I'm here, Merlin. I've got you. I've got you."
Felix sits beyond us and watches. Across his lap, Excalibur lies still and calm, practically vibrating under his hand. He offers me a half-smile when our eyes meet.
"I'm sorry," I say.
"Merlin?" Arthur wonders. I find myself slumping more heavily against my King's shoulder.
Because whether I already had, or whether I one day would, I can be the only reason why Arthur's son and heir is sitting so calmly beside us.
Soft lips pressed against mine. A fire tickling my heart. A single, lily-soft hand stroking my cheek.
"That had better be you, Morgana," I mutter as I come to my senses.
She laughs, and I shield my eyes as I open them to squint at her. Morgana, all cat-eyes and white teeth, leans over my bedside with her long hair tumbling around us, that single streak of white like a split of lightning. My hand comes up before I can stop it and brushes lightly through it.
"Did I ever apologize for that?" I ask.
"I don't remember; I like it, anyway." She smiles conspiratorially down at me. "Just who did you think I was, just now?"
"I dunno. Arthur seemed fairly... distraught earlier."
At that, her mane and head whip back and she lets out a solid, belly-full laugh. "Oh, Merlin! I'm sure Arthur adores you plenty, but never in a million years could he ever, ever be that affectionate with you."
"Of course he adores me," I say. "I'm adorable."
The lack of hair surrounding me suddenly allows me to see where I am residing- a castle room above ground, clearly, with an open window to a blue sky and birds. The room has a single bed, which I'm taking up, a dresser with a large mirror, several dresses of several colors pitched over furniture and trunks. The Knights of Sable-helm sits propped open on the desk: Morgana's quarters, then.
"He's been awfully affectionate lately," I say, looking around. "But then, everyone seems to be a lot more cuddly around me now that I'm dying."
Morgana rolls her eyes and stands and makes her way over to her vanity table to primp. She fusses at her hair, curling it around her fingers and adding some strange potions. "Don't be so dramatic, you buffoon."
"Ooh. Buffoon. See, you haven't even insulted me as much as you usually would!"
With a flick of her finger, a pillow from the other side of the bed shoots into the air and begins to pummel me in the face.
"Ow! Ah! Stoppit! Gerroff!"
"Please," Morgana drawls. "Tell me how affectionate I am now."
"Methinks-ow-the lady doth- pleh!-protest too- OUCH!"
A knock sounds at the door while I spit out a wad of goose feathers and pick the down from my teeth.
Morgana, suddenly and entirely prim, rises to answer it.
"Um," Felix says, taking in the sight of me covered in feathers and stepping minutely backwards. "I hope this isn't a bad time?"
"Darling!" Morgana smiles and opens her arms to him. The gesture is so unfamiliar with her character, that I can only gape when Felix closes the door and goes to embrace her. She gives him a kiss on his temple and pulls away to smile again at his face, stroking bangs out of his eyes, taking his chin in both of her hands as she absorbs the sight of him. "You did beautifully. I'm so very proud of you."
Felix grins, gently pulls her hands off of his person and kisses one of her hands.
"I completely forgot," I say dully, "that this would make you his aunt."
"Did you tell him?" she asks of Felix, who shakes his head.
"No. I think he figured it out. In the throne room when Fa- When the King came in."
"You were wielding Excalibur," I remember. "It didn't burn you up to hold it."
Felix blinks, "That's what you enchanted it to do?"
"I couldn't have just anybody running around and stealing it," I retort. "So either all the spells I've ever cast are falling apart with my magic, or you're Arthur's heir." I pause to squint at him. "But I've got to say, the two of you look almost nothing alike. I mean, some of your expressions are similar, but..."
"Sidhe glamour," Morgana explains.
Felix grins rakishly. "A partial Sidhe glamour, actually. I asked for a favour before I started working here."
"From you," Felix says. "You're the one who sent me here."
"Sent you where?" I ask stupidly.
"Here. To this time. Well," Felix amends, "To three years ago, approximately."
Morgana takes mercy on me.
"Ether, darling," she says, laying a hand on Felix's shoulder. "You may have to start from the beginning."
"Which beginning?" he asks wryly.
"How about you begin with your name?" I say. "Which are you: Ether or Felix?"
"Ah, brilliant," he laughs. "Though that isn't quite the beginning..."
This chapter was pretty mawkish and short, but that's because it dropped a doozy of a plot point. Next chapter is an all-italics, throwback from Felix's delightful POV. Stay tuned. It's already half-finished and will save many of you the headache of trying to puzzle out everything on your own.
Love you guys and continue having a totally rad summer/winter/whatever else based on your global position.