Merlin had not expected to be faced with such a beauty this early in the day. In fact, he hadn't expected to be faced with a beauty at all - no, that sounded off. He just wasn't used to seeing someone this beautiful. That was it.
He had only been in the woods alone because Gaius sent him to find some roots he never heard of and with his memory as his only tool. Thankfully, the roots he had to find were very…colorful and hard to miss. He had just finished collecting them when she appeared like a wisp of smoke - he knew she had appeared without seeing her because of the scent. It overwhelmed him; the smell of pine needles and smoke, with just a dash of lavender. It made him dizzy and it was so tantalizing. He just wanted to inhale that scent forever. However, his bliss was short lived when he heard a rumble before him. Finally managing to peel his eyes away from his basket of whatever-they-were-called roots, his eyes met hers.
And he stopped breathing.
He didn't need to sense her magic to know she wasn't human. Her skin was dark, a creamy brown that he had never seen before. Her eyes were a stunning bright teal color and full of dark thick lashes that rested upon her high cheekbones every time she blinked. Her lips were soft and full, her hair tremulous and dark. It fell in smoky curls along her waist, flowing toward the ground along with her long white gown. For a moment, Merlin could only stare. He might have drooled a little as well, but he couldn't be sure - the next moment her scent wafted over him again as she stepped closer. He noticed she wore no shoes.
"Emrys," she whispered in a beautiful voice. He couldn't reply; he stuck to watching her in astonished silence. She took another step and her scent grew thicker. "You've wandered into my domain."
He licked his dry lips. He was struck with a horrible thirst.
"I -" he stopped, his throat dry and cracked. His voice was raspy and rough and he was very embarrassed by it, his blush reaching his ears as he coughed. He had no clue why smelling her made him so thirsty. It felt like he hadn't had a drink in days. It didn't help that he still sat on the ground clutching his basket, unable to stand. His knees felt oddly weak. As if sensing his dilemma the woman kneeled before him with a gentle smile.
"I apologize. My scent tends to make men incredibly…desperate. In more ways than one. Here." She shifted, waving her hand. To Merlin's surprise a tendril of water rose from her fingertips, moving like a snake before Merlin's lips. "Drink. This water is pure and clean. Some call it holy." She smiled as if she had made a joke. "To humans, it is like drinking heaven itself. To sorcerer's it's merely an energy source for their magic. Call it a gift from me."
Merlin was very confused but he was thirsty. Much more thirsty than confused, so he opened his mouth and drank greedily. The water moved smoothly against his lips then collapsed down his throat. It tasted heavenly - did water always taste this good? Well, this mysterious woman had called it holy.
Once he was content the woman released her hold on whatever magic she used, and the water was gone. "Emryss, I'm glad you've wandered into my kingdom."
Merlin, thirst now quenched and strength returned ten fold, snapped to attention. She had called him by that name and she wasn't human - however, he felt no danger. She seemed admiring more than threatening. Merlin knew it was ridiculous but she seemed to be shining, like one would when meeting somebody famous, somebody they respected and desired to become. It made no sense but she gave off that impression, despite her regal looks.
"Kingdom?" he echoed, relieved to find that his voice sounded normal.
"Yes. I am the Queen of the Forest Faeries," she replied in that soft voice of hers. She stood, smiling when Merlin followed on unsteady knees. He adjusted the basket and his knees hardened; his stance was successfully steadied. The weakness he had felt was gone, replaced by a surge of electricity - raw, untamed magical power. He felt incredible. Was it the water she had given him - ?
"Who are you?" Merlin asked to distract himself from his wandering thoughts.
"Have I not replied?" she inquired with a bemused smile. "I am Queen Rieuan. I protect this forest. However, my Kingdom begins in the deepest depths and I cannot leave them. So, regrettably, I have not been able to seek you out personally."
Merlin didn't reply. He didn't know how to at this point.
The faerie continued; "I understand that you protect Arthur Pendragon. He has a great destiny, one that will affect my people greatly." Merlin watched as she swept back, her hair moving like waves along her shoulders. "I've decided to pledge my allegiance to you, Emrys."
Merlin watched in shock as this grand creature - more beautiful than any living being he'd set his eyes upon - knelt before him and bowed her head. Her hair fell forward and brushed the ground, hiding her face. He saw her lashes shut beneath the tendrils of hair, however, and flutter open before she lifted her head to gaze up at him.
"Emryss. I, Rieuan of the forest, pledge my loyalty to you. My people and I will help you fight for peace in Camelot and all four kingdoms." Merlin didn't know what to say but managed to murmur "please, stand," which she did. Oddly enough she didn't look dirty at all. "I can only hope I can be useful to you."
Merlin managed to find his voice again. "Yes. I…thank you."
She smiled and his heart jumped. "As a token of our loyalty, I'd like to give you a gift." Merlin was about to insist she not, but she was already waving towards the trees. Confused, he followed her arm and saw movement within the shadows. After a moment a young boy tottered out - just as beautiful but very young. His skin was a lighter shade of brown as the Queen's but equally striking. His rusty orange hair complimented his golden eyes; they were flecked with bright blue and seemed to spin as he rushed forward cradling something in his hands.
"This is my son, Teian," she introduced gently, hand sweeping along the boy's head. He grinned, eyes sparkling and holding the same odd look of admiration Rieuan's had moments ago. "Will you accept our gift?"
Merlin nodded numbly.
"Go on," she cooed softly. The boy shifted and opened his hands, revealing a beautiful flower. It was open wide, its petals a beautiful powdery teal color with darker tips. Inside were strings of gold-white powdery seeds, seeming to sway like smoke just like Rieuan's hair. The flower was just as beautiful as these faeries who had just pledged themselves to him.
"Oh," Merlin said unintelligently. The boy's smile widened and he stepped closer. Merlin slowly showed the boy his palms, watching as the boy - Teian, if he remembered correctly - place the flower into his hands very carefully. Merlin felt a tingle run down his arms but it passed, and the boy returned to his mother's side to clutch her dress tightly and peek at Merlin from behind her.
The Queen shook her head. "No, thank you, Emrys. Your future will save many lives, not just the forest's people nor the magic-users. Your destiny is greater than you first imagined it to be."
"I get that a lot," he couldn't resist mumbling, grimacing when he realized what he had said. Something about this woman made it hard to talk at all, much less say what he's thinking. The Queen just smiled again and gently touched her son's back - the orange-haired faerie shifted at the touch and glanced longingly at Merlin.
"If you ever need our aid whisper my name to the trees."
"The trees?" he echoed in confusion.
"Yes. When one of my people dies they become one with the earth. The flowers you admire, the trees you climb, the grass you stomp on - those are all my people." Merlin felt as if he should apologize - you know, for stomping on her people. Instead he just furrowed his brow, having never heard of these people before and wondering why. They were so…so…magical. "When you utter my name they will inform me. I will return to your side and aide you as you wish. I am at your command."
This was really embarrassing.
He watched her bow again before she turned, hand gripping her son's tightly. "Remember, Emrys. Do not hesitate to call upon me."
Then she was gone.
After letting what had just happened soak in Merlin put the flower in the basket atop the roots, digesting her words and what he saw as she made his way back to the castle. Once he reached Gaius' chambers and gave him the roots he carefully put the flower on the table, studying it and admiring its elegance once more. He would have believed what he had experienced to be an illusion or dream if not for this flower. Recalling the Queen's words about her people becoming "one with the earth" upon death, he wondered if this was perhaps one of her people as well. Somehow the thought irked him.
"Merlin," Gaius' astonished voice pulled him from his thoughts, "where did you get that flower?"
Merlin turned to see Gaius. He had apparently ceased organizing the roots to approach the table and stare the flower, then Merlin, who stared back with a half smile. "Uh, well, someone called the Queen of Forest Faeries offered her allegiance to me and gave it to me."
Gaius's expression of astonishment didn't shift.
"What is it?" Merlin asked. This seemed to pull Gaius out of it. He perked up and cleared his throat, shuffling closer as he too admired the soft petals and stunning colors.
"It's called a Cleoradara. I've seen it in one of my books…wait a moment." Merlin watched as Gaius rushed across the room to shuffle through his collection of books, mumbling to himself as he did so. After a while of this Gaius ceased his mumbles and smiled, tugging a rather thin-looking book from a tight spot on his shelf. He carried to the table and set it down, rifling through the pages until he stopped on a page with an image that looked a lot like the flower perched beside the book.
"Here," Gaius said as he scanned the text. "It says here that they only grow near a Forest Faerie Kingdom and are only visible when plucked by a Faerie. Their scent reaches its holder only in their sleep, and induces dreams of that being's deepest and darkest desires. Things they don't even know dwell within them."
Merlin sighed. "Gold would have been fine, too."
"It's a rare plant, Merlin," Gaius chided as he shut the book and glanced at the flower again. "Take good care of it. They don't die easily but unlike most flowers they cannot be seeded. Be careful."
Merlin shot Gaius a reassuring grin. "Aren't I always?"
Gaius stared blankly. "That's why I'm concerned." The older man chuckled at Merlin's indignant "hey!" as he walked away to continue sorting through the roots.
Merlin didn't think the flower would last long if this kept up. He doubted that, along with Arthur ordering him to do every little thing during all hours of the day, he had time to take care of such a rare flower. In fact he had considered asking Gwen to help him but then decided against it - who knew how that would end up? It was magical…though from what Gaius told him it only affected people in their sleep, so maybe Gwen could help.
Even so Merlin didn't approach her at first. He didn't like the thought of being called out by a plant so he kept the flower on the food table when he slept that night - thankfully it worked and he had no horrible dreams revealing some hidden desire. On the second day of his possession of the Cleoradara he finally approached Gwen with his request.
"Oh," she said curiously at the suggestion, "what are you caring for?"
Merlin shifted anxiously. "Well - it was a gift. It's supposedly a rare flower and I'm no good with caring for things, not with how hard Arthur makes me work, I just don't have time. I mean really what does the bloak think I do all day? Wait for him to bark another order? I have a life too, my whole world doesn't revolve around whether he wants me to polish his armor or fetch him a snack -"
"Merlin," Gwen cut in with a smile, "I understand. Leave it to me. If you'd like, I can care for it. It seems you're much more busy than I." He hesitated but relaxed when she added soothingly, "Don't worry, I'll take good care of your gift."
Merlin was relieved and, after their work was done, Gwen met him at his quarters as arranged. After saying hello to Gaius she followed Merlin to his room, where he had moved the flower that morning before setting off to get Arthur his breakfast ready. "Oh!" Gwen gasped when Merlin scooped the flower up and showed it to her. "Oh, Merlin, it's beautiful! I've never seen such a flower before…who gave this to you?"
Merlin licked his lips. "A…friend. Listen, I have to draw Arthur's bath, so just…can you take care of it for me?"
She nodded and accepted the flower, cradling it in her palms like a mother would with her baby. "Of course. I promised you, didn't I?" she reassured Merlin with a smile that eased any worries he may have had. Really, after gaining a pledge of loyalty from someone like the Queen of Faeries Merlin didn't want to mess up and let her gift to him shrivel up and fall apart. If anybody could care for a flower, it was Gwen.
So with this in mind, Merlin left the flower in Gwen's capable hands. He had some hot water to draw for a certain spoiled prat.