Morgana bolted upright in bed. She blinked a few times, acclimating her eyes to the darkness of her room. She breathed in and out, concentrating on remembering all the details before they slipped away.
Arthur. Arthur was drowning and some woman was standing over him, smiling and watching.
It wasn't like a regular nightmare; it was clearer. A few times in Ealdor, the same thing happened. She'd envisioned events prior to their unfolding… They were minor psychic episodes. But this felt different; before she'd seen only through murky water and this was sharper than even the swords Prince Arthur and his knights fought with. It seemed to be the same sort of dream though – one that always foretold doom.
Morgana ran a hand through her hair before habitually braiding back and beginning to dress for the day. Despite the early hour, she felt too unsettled to fall back to sleep and watched the sun rise from her window before making her way out of the physician's chambers.
"We have a royal visitor," Gwen announced after greeting her at their daily rendezvous point near the well.
"Really?" Morgana glanced back at the majestic castle.
"The knights saved a girl and her father from bandits. I'm sure it's a very heroic tale that you'll hear from Merlin before long."
"Heroic on his or Arthur's part?"
"Lancelot's, actually," Gwen said.
"Well… I'd better go get the spare chambers prepared," Morgana waved to Gwen and returned the castle to greet the new arrivals.
Merlin found her mid-way to the throne room. "You'll never believe what happened—"
"You and Arthur and Lancelot rescued a girl in the woods?"
"Yeah… Did Gwen already—?"
"Oh, well, her name is Lady Sophia Tir-Mor. She and her father are both staying here."
"I'll go get the spare chambers ready, then. Merlin," she bobbed in a curtsey before sprinting off to the guest chambers.
She'd just finished making the bed when a young woman entered. Morgana's eyes widened in horror when she recognized her from her dream… This was the woman that killed Arthur.
"Are you Lady Sophia?" Morgana asked, recovering herself and masking her fear as best as she could.
"Yes. And these are my chambers?"
Morgana nodded wordlessly.
"They'll do, thank you. And you are—?"
"I'm Morgana, the personal attendant of royal visitors. For as long as you're a guest of Camelot, I'm at your disposal."
"Thank you, then. That'll be all."
Morgana curtseyed and backed out of the room. As soon as she closed the door behind her, she ran full-speed towards the physician's chambers, heart pounding in her chest.
Just as she rounded a corner, she slammed into Merlin, sending them both crashing to the floor.
"Making a habit of this, are we?" Merlin asked, pulling her to her feet after righting himself. "Morgana? What's wrong? Another vengeful witch in Camelot bent on killing Arthur?"
"Lady Sophia can't stay here," Morgana blurted.
"Why not?" Merlin narrowed his eyes.
"She just… can't."
"You can trust me, Morgana. You know that, right?"
"I need to find Gaius."
"Why are you scared of her?"
Morgana closed her eyes, "I can't explain."
"Morgana? Please, just trust me. What's going on?"
"I had a nightmare," Morgana said finally.
"Arthur drowned. There was this… this woman standing over him. And she was— She's—" Morgana broke off, not wanting to
"The woman in your dream was Lady Sophia?"
Morgana hesitated and Merlin nodded slowly.
"You don't have to be afraid to tell me this sort of thing," he said. "You can trust me."
"Please don't tell anyone. It's probably nothing. Just a nightmare."
"But you know it isn't," Merlin pressed. He gently put a hand on her shoulder and when she didn't answer, he continued, "Morgana, it's alright. I'm not going to tell anyone if you're—"
"If I'm what?"
It was Merlin's turn not to respond.
"I have to go," Morgana said. "My lord."
She dipped her head before rushing off towards the direction the call had come from.
Morgana collapsed on her bed near midnight, exhausted by Lady Sophia's many requests and errands. She pulled a thin blanket on top of her, not bothering to change into her nightgown. In a matter of minutes, she was completely asleep.
The following day passed quickly. Lady Sophia explained that she and Arthur were leaving for the afternoon, which made Morgana instantly suspicious.
"Are you sure you don't want me to accompany you?" Morgana asked.
"No, I'll be quite alright."
Morgana nodded politely. "Where are you going?"
"Down by the river, I hope."
Arthur... drowning. A chill ran up Morgana's spine. "Are you sure you want to go down that way? The river's high this time of the year. Someone could fall in."
"I don't need your advice," Sophia snapped. "You're excused, Morgana."
Morgana offered her the formality of a curtsey, internally making plans to track down Merlin immediately. At this time of the day, he'd likely be in the main town. She raced off in the general direction, formulating how exactly she was going to explain to Merlin what was going on and why Sophia frightened her.
At last, she arrived in the center of town, and began asking around until someone pointed her in the right direction. He sat on top of a barrel, surrounding by a small group of children. As Morgana approached, she could hear him retelling an epic story of Arthur and the knights while his listeners were utterly enraptured.
Morgana waited, nearly as drawn in by Merlin's tale as the children. As Merlin finished up his story, the group dispersed, smiling up at Morgana.
"You need to stop," Morgana teased lightly.
"Everyone loves you. The people… They think better of you than of Arthur."
"That's a bit of an exaggeration. They love Arthur. He's their future king. I'm just 'the king's ward' until otherwise noted. Still, when you have almost unlimited free time and you're forbidden from being a knight…" he shrugged. "I'm not Arthur. I'll never be king or have a title. But, I think the people should know that being a member of the court doesn't make me any different from them. I'm still human."
Morgana couldn't take her eyes off Merlin, amazed. This boy had been raised to believe he was better than everyone else or had some divine privilege. Yet somehow he managed to lower himself and get on the same level as his people. He didn't think less of them, he really truly cared. It was remarkable…
Merlin shifted uncomfortably, "So you didn't come all this way to complement me, I presume?"
Morgana lowered her gaze. "No. I didn't. I— Sophia wants to take Arthur down to the river when they go outside today and I haven't the faintest idea of what I should do. If she kills Arthur, and I could've stopped it, I'll never forgive myself."
"You can't do anything by yourself."
"I have to try."
"You can't do anything by yourself," Merlin repeated. "We'll both follow Arthur today."
"Morgana!" Gwen's voice carried over the square as the maid bounded over. "Sir Aulfric is looking for you."
"I'll watch them," Merlin assured Morgana when she sent him a concerned look. "Don't worry."
"Thank you," Morgana said, turning and heading back up the castle.
Sir Aulfric ordered her to do menial tasks that even Arthur didn't have his servants do for him. Regardless, Morgana performed them all flawlessly and without complaint, though her mind was on Arthur and Merlin all the while.
Merlin found himself incapable of watching Arthur and Sophia as well. Uther suddenly took it upon himself to berate Merlin for socializing with the peasants and ignoring his duties as host to Lady Sophia while Arthur was out working with his men.
"Sorry, what?" Merlin stared at Uther. "Arthur's with Lady Sophia."
"His servant told me otherwise."
"Arthur can scare his servants to tell you whatever he wants them to," Merlin said. "They're lying."
"Are you certain?"
"Yes," Merlin said insistently. "I was just going to get him when you ordered me here."
"Well, then I apologize, Merlin. However, you are still ignoring your duties."
"Which are what, exactly?" Merlin asked. "You've never been very specific…"
"Get out," Uther snapped, though there was the faintest hint of amusement in his voice.
Merlin grinned and rushed out of the throne room, calling over his shoulder. "I'll get Arthur!" He skidded around a corner and stopped at the sight of Lady Sophia.
"What are you doing here?" Merlin asked. "Where's Arthur?"
"He's out with his men. And I don't appreciate your tone; I'm a guest of the king."
"You're lying," Merlin said.
"If you harm Arthur in any way, I will kill you."
"You can't threaten me."
"I'm not threatening you, I'm informing."
Sophia's eyes widened, not in fear but in surprise. "You know, many people think you're innocent. You're loved by your people. But look at you, threatening a girl."
Merlin glared. Sophia turned to go, only for Merlin to catch her by the arm, tone darkening, "I've warned you. Anything that happens after this is your own fault."
"We shall see," she jerked out of his grip, storming away from him.
"Merlin! There you are," Arthur clapped him on the shoulder jovially. "How are you?"
"Been better, why? How are you?"
"Phenomenal," Arthur said. "Sophia is… amazing. Merlin, I can't even begin to describe her to you..."
"So,would you say it was love at first sight then? Or more of a slowly forming attachment?" Merlin was already calculating how difficult it would be to break a spell on a charmed object versus a full-blown enchantment.
"I don't know," Arthur shrugged, his tone sounding dazed. "But I've been thinking, you should really find yourself someone."
"The royal ladies of Camelot see me all as their annoying younger brother," Merlin dodged Arthur's attempt at matchmaking— internally shuddering at the memories of Arthur's past endeavors in that area— and persisted in the subject of Sophia. "So why do you like her so much?"
"She's beautiful," Arthur said.
"Besides that. Even you're not that shallow." Enchanted or otherwise.
"I don't know, Merlin... Why do you spend so much time with Morgana?"
"No, we're not doing this again," Merlin shook his head exasperatedly and turned away, deciding to do a little investigating on his own. Mid-way to the guest rooms, he found Lancelot.
"Can I borrow you for a moment?" Merlin asked.
"Of course," he fell into step beside Merlin. "What is it?"
"Something's wrong with Arthur and I need you to play lookout for me."
"What- Merlin, please tell me what you're doing won't get us into trouble."
"Well, it depends on what Uther thinks of an invasion of the privacy of his guests."
"I need your help, Lancelot."
Lancelot sighed. "Alright."
"Thank you," Merlin grinned.
Lancelot stood outside the door to the guest chambers as Merlin snuck into the room.
"You're going to get caught," Lancelot warned.
"You sound just like Morgana," Merlin muttered, turning about the room slowly, scanning the general area for anything suspicious. Nothing stuck out, and he moved further into the room, opening up a cupboard and methodically going through the contents. Merlin tilted his head at something poking out from underneath the bed. He knelt down, pulling out the object. To any other person, it would've been simply a walking stick, albeit a very fancy one. However, any well-versed magician would know better; the staff was an item of magic, that much was certain.
The symbols at the top left Merlin confused. He couldn't recall seeing them before, but he imagined Gaius had a book somewhere that would explain them. Merlin slipped a piece of paper from his pocket, casting a furtive glance in Lancelot's direction before magically copying them. He compared the copied symbols to the original, pleased that they were the same. He tucked the paper back into his pocket, turning to replace the staff underneath the bed.
"Sir Aulfric," Lancelot's voice carried into the room. "Could you spare a moment of your time?"
"What do you need?" Aulfric asked impatiently.
Merlin slid the staff under the bed, then got to his feet, whirling around in search of a place to hide. Lancelot was hastily making up a story outside, but Merlin could tell from Aulfric's tone that he had seconds... Not that it mattered, seeing as there didn't seem to be any place to hide anyway. In desperation, he rushed to the window, throwing it open and looking down. It was at least a fifty foot drop, but if he was careful, he could use magic to help him scale down the wall.
"What on earth are you doing in here?"
So much for that idea... Merlin turned around. "I was just... opening the window. Letting some fresh air in."
Aulfric glared at him. "Why was your friend stalling me?"
"What friend? Lancelot? He's hardly a friend; more of an acquaintance actually."
"Don't play games with me, boy."
"Who's playing?" Merlin backed out of the room carefully, keeping his eyes on Aulfric until he reached the corridor, at which point he bolted down the hallway.
Merlin slowed, turning back to Lancelot. "Yes?"
"What did you find?"
"Nothing," Merlin lied.
Lancelot stared at him in disbelief. "Really?"
"Yeah. There's nothing suspicious about them."
"But you were so sure."
"Well, turns out I am wrong from time to time... Listen, I really need to speak with Gaius. Thank you for your help, though."
Lancelot shook his head and turned away. Merlin raced down to the physician's chambers, digging through Gaius' books in search of matching symbols. He flipped through pages upon pages of different books, frowning at similar symbols. Several hours later, he finally found an exact match. The language was Ogham, generally used by Sidhe. Merlin had never encountered one before, but he knew enough to know that Sidhe generally didn't wander around Cameot. Usually, they were confined to Avalon. He opened another book, flipping to a chapter on Sidhe and scanning the page for what he needed. Banishment rituals... Banishment pardons... Of course. To be pardoned, they required the heart of a prince. Arthur.
Merlin cursed under his breath.
"Not good, I take it?" Gwen called into the room, a basket of herbs in her arms.
Merlin glanced up at her. "Not really."
"Anything I can help with?"
"Is that all you're going to say?"
Gwen set the basket down beside Merlin's books and settled into the seat across from him. "You do this all the time, you know. You shut us out. Lancelot was just telling me how you asked for his help, then left him in the dark the moment you found what you were looking for. You need to stop locking us out, Merlin. We're not idiots, we can handle the truth sometimes."
"No. If you knew what was happening, it'd only put you in danger. Gwen, you- You're my best friend. If anything happened to you because of me, I couldn't live with myself."
"Merlin, I've known you for a long time. By now I know you have your secrets and that's fine. I respect you, I'm not going to pry. But if there's ever anything I can do to help, you have to let me. No matter what. You don't need to protect me. Just tell me what's going on and let me help. Promise me that."
"I can't," Merlin snatched up his books. "I won't."
Gwen stared at him, angry tears forming in her eyes.
"What were you here for in the first place?" Merlin asked.
"Dropping off Gaius' herbs," Gwen said coldly.
"I'll tell him you were here," Merlin gestured toward the door.
"My lord," Gwen bobbing in a forced curtsy.
Morgana finished her duties late into the night again. She made her way back to her room, stopping only to ask one of the maids if she'd seen Arthur since this afternoon (she had; he was fine). At last, she made it to her room and flopped onto her bed, again falling asleep immediately. Nightmares plagued her into the early morning hours. Finally giving upon a sleep, she got up and made her way through the castle. She wasn't aware of where she was going until she was knocking on Merlin's door.
He opened the door, blinking the sleep out of his eyes, "Morgana?"
"It happened again," Morgana said, panicked.
Merlin glanced around in the corridor before opening his door wider. "Come on in."
Morgana followed Merlin into his chambers, wringing her hands and shifting in place. Merlin gestured for her to sit in the rocking chair while he perched at the foot of his bed.
"So what happened?"
"The same as before," Morgana said. "I was dreaming. Arthur was drowning and that awful woman was standing over him, just watching."
"So you think it's premonitions?"
"I didn't say that," Morgana said quickly.
"It's alright. You're my friend. I don't care if you're a seer. To be honest, I wouldn't care if you're a sorceress."
"I just…" Merlin paused for a moment, seeming to choose his words carefully. "I don't agree with Uther's decisions on magic. I don't think magic is something you choose."
Morgana's eyes widened. What was he saying? Merlin. Magic. Merlin didn't care about magic. He might even keep her secret…
"But anyways… If your visions are right — and yes, they are visions — then we need to look after Arthur. I'll stay with him as much as I can, and you can stick to Lady Sophia. The fact that you're waiting on her comes in handy. Just make sure that one of us is with Sophia and Arthur at all times."
Morgana nodded solemnly.
"But if we're really going to make this a habit, we need a crest. I mean seriously, we're going to look ridiculous, running about, saving Arthur's life with no official symbol or motto or something."
Morgana cleared her throat to bring back his attention, "Merlin?"
"Right…" Merlin blushed a little and steered himself back on topic. "Anyway, I'll keep to Arthur as much as I can. I won't let Lady Sophia do anything to him."
"It's our duty to protect the future king, is it not? I hold on to the hope that Arthur will be a better king than his father."
"You've always surprised me with how vocal you are against Uther."
"It's only around you, Gaius, and Gwen. I'd never dream of talking like this in front of Arthur."
"Why me? You've known Gwen and Gaius for years, I'm just—"
"Just what?" Merlin rose to his feet, looking down at her with an amused expression. "You're my friend. And as far as 'just' goes. You're also a seer; I've always had my suspicions that there was more to you and now this confirms it. Is there anything else I should I know about you?"
His tone was light, but Morgana could see the invitation. Tell him. Tell him! A small part of her said; the part that was sick and tired of hiding. A more sensible part told her that this was a trick; that Merlin was the king's ward, and if she told him, she'd be burnt at the stake by the 'morrow.
"Morgana, do you have magic?" Merlin asked.
Morgana looked up at him, considering for a very long moment how she wanted to answer. Yes. No. I can't tell you.
She opened her mouth, ready to speak, finally coming up with an answer—
Merlin swayed from where he stood, staggering backwards and grabbing one of the bedposts for support.
"Merlin?" Morgana was on her feet in a matter of seconds, hand resting on his shoulder tentatively. "Merlin, what's wrong?"
"Dunno," Merlin gasped, grabbing at his head with one hand, still clutching at the post with the other, "Gaius… Get Gai—"
His grip on the post slipped and he collapsed forward into Morgana's arms.
"Merlin!" Morgana shook him. "Merlin!"
His eyes were closed; he could've been sleeping. Morgana reached up to his neck, feeling for a pulse. There – it was faint, but his heart was still beating. She carefully laid Merlin on the floor, staggering to her feet and rushing back towards the physician's chambers.
"Gaius!" she shouted, shaking the old man awake.
"Morgana, what's wrong?" Gaius slowly got his feet, blinking at her in confusion. "What on earth are you doing up at this hour? Where were you?"
"Gaius, it's Merlin," Morgana said, voice shaking. "He just… He collapsed."
"What were you doing with Merlin in the middle of the night?"
"I had a nightmare, I didn't know who else to turn to. I'm sorry, but you have to help him."
"Of course I will. Come with me, I'll need your help."
Morgana followed him back to Merlin's chambers standing behind as close as she could and watching Gaius work methodically.
"Is he going to be alright?"
"I don't know…" Gaius shook his head. "I can't say what it is just yet… He just collapsed, you said?"
"Yes," Morgana breathed, trying not cry.
"Don't tell anyone you two were in here alone. We'll tell them we found him this way in the morning, understood?"
Morgana nodded. "I understand."
"Alright," Gaius nodded. "Go back to sleep; I'll stay with him until morning. You still have Lady Sophia to attend to."
Morgana turned, realizing that any attempt she made to stop Lady Sophia from killing Arthur would be alone. She was the sole person who could stop it.
The entire city went into frenzy when they heard Merlin was on his deathbed in his chambers. Morgana tensed every time she heard everyone mention the possibility Merlin would die. Uther himself refused to leave his ward's side until Gaius insisted otherwise. Then, when Arthur requested Uther's presence in the throne room, Morgana felt uneasy for some reason as she followed behind him.
"Arthur," Uther snapped as soon as he entered the throne room. "I assume you have a good reason for not visiting Merlin yet?"
"I request this audience, Father, to discuss a matter of great importance," Arthur said, ignoring Uther's outburst completely. "It cannot have excepted your attention that I and Lady Sophia Tir-Mor have grown very close."
"Arthur, I don't care," Uther snarled.
"We're in love. Which is why I come before you today to ask your permission to marry."
Uther laughed weakly. "This is some attempt at a joke, Arthur. I understand we all need it now, but really, go visit your foster brother."
"No… I'm going to marry her."
"But you only met two days ago," Uther continued to laugh weakly. Morgana felt a brief flash of pity for the man, who was coming so close to losing someone who might as well be his son.
"We're in love."
"Arthur, Merlin is ill. Now is not the time to discuss this."
"Why should Merlin's illness prevent me from being with my true love?"
"True love?" Uther stared at Arthur. "I had no idea that you were such a romantic."
"I'm going to marry her. I don't care what you think."
"I thought you'd come to ask my permission."
"Out of courtesy, nothing more," Arthur said. He seized Sophia's hand and turned to leave.
"You're forgetting who I am," Uther snapped, raising his hand. "Guards, arrest Sophia and Aulfric Tir-Mor."
"What are you doing?" Arthur cried. "You can't do this!"
"Yes I can," Uther glared down at him. "And unless you show me some respect, I will."
Arthur took a step back, dipping his head. "Very well. Release them, they're to be gone from Camelot by this time tomorrow."
Morgana followed Arthur back to his chambers, sticking to the shadows and watching him distantly. At last, she stopped outside his door, watching him rush about the room.
"What are you doing?" Morgana asked when she realized he was packing.
"I must be with Sophia."
"You're mad," Morgana said coldly. "Completely mad. Or enchanted. Whatever it is, this isn't going to end well."
Arthur shook his head. "Sophia and I…"
"Arthur, she's going to kill you," Morgana grabbed his arm and spun him around to face her. "Please don't do this."
"Why would she? We're in love."
"I don't know, but you have to trust me. Arthur, please. I've known you for months now; you've known her for a few days."
"Merlin is ill," Morgana hissed. "Merlin is sick and he might be dying. At least wait until he either gets better or…"
"Yes you can," Morgana shouted. "Arthur, I know you. You can't do this. I'm not going to stand by and watch you die!"
"Is this how you let your servants talk to you?" Sophia's voice carried across the room.
"No," Morgana glared at her. "What did you do to Merlin?"
"I didn't," she said.
"Whatever the case, Arthur," she turned back to the prince. "You can't listen to her. She's controlling you, this isn't you. You'd care that Merlin was hurt, I know you."
"We can elope together. Get away from this place, these people," Sophia smiled, taking Arthur's other arm.
"No. I won't let you," Morgana snapped. "Arthur, if you go with her, you will die. Don't you see? I wouldn't make this up!"
"I see everything," Arthur turned to her, his eyes glowing red.
"They have enchanted you," Morgana stared at him. "Oh, Arthur, I'm so sorry."
Morgana backed away from Arthur and Sophia, turning to the exit, only to run into Aulfric, holding his staff in front of him. Morgana turned back to Arthur, "Arthur, please."
Aulfric lifted his staff, pointing it at Morgana and sending her flying into the wall. The back of her head smacked against the stone wall and she fell unconscious.
She woke disoriented.
"Gaius," Morgana sat up, head aching.
"Morgana, I expected that Merlin would—" Gaius stopped. "Never mind, but you're needed. You have to stop them from killing Arthur. Go after Aulfric and Sophia; stop them at whatever cost."
Morgana nodded, getting to her feet. "Where are they?"
"The lake, just outside of Camelot. You've been there, I'm sure. It's beautiful, the Lake of Avalon?"
Morgana frowned. "I'll try to find it."
Gaius shook his head. "Go."
Morgana got to her feet and ran out of the palace shakily. She ran into the forest, spotting the lake in the distance. Aulfric was chanting words and Arthur was sinking into the lake at the hand of Lady Sophia.
Morgana shot forward, racing towards them, hand outstretched, summoning every bit of magic she had in her. The staff flew out of Aulfric's hand and into Morgana's. It felt strange in her hands, but she pointed it at Aulfric and sent a beam of whatever magic the staff possessed at him. He exploded in a shower of sparks when the beam it him. Sophia whirled around, screaming for her father, but she was unable to defend herself; the magic hit her and she suffered the same fate as her father.
Morgana dropped the staff and rushed out into the water, swimming out to find Arthur. She struggled as she got into deeper water, looking around in desperation. At last, she spotted a faint gleam of armor, and dove down. Don't be dead. Don't be dead, you stupid prat of prince. You can't have died on me. Morgana seized his arm and dragged him upwards. She hit the surface gasping for air, struggling under Arthur's size and weight for a moment before she began to swim back to shore. He was fine; he was alive.
"So… as I understand it, you saved my life."
Morgana shrugged, "It was nothing, sire. I was only doing my duty."
"I don't believe that. You went to great lengths to save me. Thank you."
Morgana dipped her head. "My lord."
"Oh, and Morgana?"
"Yes, my lord?"
"Don't make a habit of this 'saving my life' stuff. Being saved by a girl once is awkward. Twice is humiliating. A third time, and I—"
"… How bad is Merlin?" Arthur asked after a moment.
"Gaius doesn't know," Morgana said. "He just won't wake, no matter what he tries."
"Prince Arthur," a mousy-looking page scurried over to them. "The king requests your presence at once. There's someone here who says he can cure Merlin."
"Who is he?"
"I'm not sure, my lord. I believe he said his name was Edwin Muirden."