Disclaimer: 'Merlin' does not belong to me. Written for fun only.
Warning: Spoilers up to season 2. There's going to be angst and whump, so be warned. Some mild swearing.
Rated: A very high T
Beta work: By Starsky's Strut
Category: Drama, friendship, bromance. No slash.
Setting: This story takes place during the gap in between series two and three. Set immediately after 'The Last Dragon Lord'.
Summery: When Uther takes measures to root out the culprit he thinks is bent on destroying Camelot, Merlin is in trouble.
Author's notes: Although I have written stories in other fandoms, this is my first venue in the amazing world of 'Merlin'. There's friendship in all my stories but also angst and whump. I don't do slash. Also, since I'm non-native English I double and triple check my grammar. All chapters are beta read by my good friend Strut. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
If I can't use my magic, what have I got?
If I can't use my magic, I might as well die.
-A Merlin story-
Rain pelted down, turning the battlements of Camelot into bleak grey stone walls. Not even the cleansing waters drenching ground to mud could disperse the sharp tang of fire lingering in the air. Merlin trailed after Arthur, doing his best to keep his footing on the rubble strewn path flanking Camelot's western fortifications. In an attempt to keep the scrolls dry beneath his flimsy red-brown jacket, he clutched them against his blue shirt.
He'd always been drawn to the written word. Especially books. With their leather bindings soft to the touch, holding such secrets within. Almost like magic. His mother had never been able to afford them, but every once in a while she'd bring him one. Those childhood days, all those years ago, when she had returned from the market and had offered him these little treasures were filled with delight. The days after alight with wonder as after chores he'd lost himself in tales and stories of another world, of castles and princes, heroes and villains, monsters and evil sorceresses. Even then, the latter had made him feel sad and confused up to the point where he'd thought he was cursed.
Growing both fearful and angry, Merlin had lashed out with his magic once in a while, which always ended in tears of remorse. His mother, while making sure no one had noticed, kept telling him he was special. He hadn't really believed it, until she'd given him that one book. He didn't know where she'd got it and if he asked, she would just smile and not say anything. No matter that they didn't live in Uther's Kingdom where these books were banned, they were still close enough to the border to make them very hard to come by. He never knew the title, the cover and first page had been missing, presumably to hide the books true topic: the adventures of a good man with magic as he travelled through Camelot, before the great purge . His mother had told him not all sorcery was bad, that he was special, but it wasn't until that book that he'd began to believe in himself again. He'd treasured the stories, reading at least a few pages every night before falling asleep.
The scrolls he currently carried, on the other hand, were cumbersome things. Resembling the rolling pins he'd seen Elliot the kitchen boy use, one or two you could easily handle, five on the other hand were a whole other matter, especially when the heavens did their best to wash the carefully rolled up parchments from his hands. In front of him, Arthur shot a teasing look over his shoulder.
"Come on, Merlin, quit dawdling!"
"I'm not dawdling!" Merlin glared at him. "Have you ever tried to make your way over men-sized boulders while holding on to these 'things? I assume you want them dry when you get there, Sire."
Blue eyes narrowed with impatience and a hint of concern, before Arthur apparently managed to draw upon his never ending supply of overbearing arrogance and walked up to him. "Dry and safe, Merlin." He raised his finger in warning. "These are the only plans we have outlining this side of the Citadel. We are going to need them if we want to repair these walls. So do not stumble, like you're prone to do!"
"Then you better slow down," Merlin snapped without thought. "The wall's not going to repair itself overnight, I'm sure the overseer can wait for a few minutes longer for his precious plans to arrive!"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "You want to be thrown in the stocks?"
Normally quite adept in reflecting Arthur's jibes -there was no malice in the prince's tired eyes- Merlin felt a sliver of dismay settle on his face. "You would really do that to me?" He straightened. Guilt clenched his stomach as he took in the devastation around him, the fear on people's faces, the losses they had sustained. If he hadn't released the dragon, none of this would have happened. He was wet, had not slept properly in days, and on top of that had just saved Arthur's life again last night without him knowing any of the grief he carried. As much as he tried to push the sadness away, he couldn't dispel all of his exhaustion, couldn't keep the pain, having watched his father die yesterday so shortly after they'd just met, from his face. "In this weather. After what we've been through."
Arthur withdrew from him, actually looking taken aback by the sting in his voice. "Thinking about it."
Merlin didn't care.
Obviously realizing the empty threat didn't work, Arthur mellowed. "Look, Merlin, I know that you are tired. We all are, after what happened."
"Yeah," he felt some of his tension drain away."
Pale faced, wet blond bangs sticking to his forehead, his armour dented and dull, Arthur looked as worn out as Merlin felt. "Just… try to keep up."
Merlin nodded, and proceeded to follow Arthur along the destroyed battlements. The rain had slowed to a drizzle still intent on soaking him to the bone. He surveyed the wall. What Arthur had been afraid of had happened overnight. Parts of the upper western wall had collapsed, leaving spiked parts of the battlements standing like ragged peaks of a cliff face, the foot of the wall they skirted was covered in tons of heavy debris. Houses lining the wall collapsed, costing at least half a dozen more lives. This site of the Citadel had taken the brunt of Killghara's attack. The sky seemed to share his sorrow as it melted with their surroundings and did its best to convey the seeming hopelessness of their task. They would rebuild though. Merlin had that much faith. They'd repair the wall, and make it better than before.
At the far side of the destroyed wall, the debris field levelled out until they reached the western road leading into the Citadel. Since the road was blocked, Arthur had his knights redirecting all those heading into the castle toward the southern entrance, which -due to all the debris- took at least twice as long as opposed to the obstacle course Merlin had just been forced to take. Noticing their prince, the people gave them a wide birth, some of them lowering their heads as a token of respect, grateful he'd slain the dragon. Already tales were spun, stories told that would one day be put to script in one of those books Merlin so loved. They wouldn't tell about the decisions he'd made, though, or of the guilt borne pain tearing him up inside as close to losing consciousness, he'd been forced to poison Morgana, knowing that if he wouldn't, Arthur would die and Camelot would fall. Part of him hoped she was safe, while another part of him hoped they'd never find her again. Only in the past few days had hard reality hit him that his destiny to protect Arthur would cost him much more than he could ever have imagined. He doubted if he'd ever be able to enjoy the wonders of a good book, of life again. It was worth it though, to keep Arthur safe. Deep in thought, his foot suddenly sank away in a water logged pothole. Flailing to keep his balance, he tripped over an exposed tree root and launched himself forward, landing face first in the mud. Pain hit where his skin grazed sharp stone, and the air got knocked out of him. For a second he lay breathless.
Arthur's voice brought him to his senses. He didn't sound too happy.
"You clumsy idiot!"
It was then he realized he didn't hold the scrolls anymore. He lifted his head, carefully, afraid of what he might find.
Arthur's expression battled between anger and hopelessness. "Look at them! We'll never be able to dry them out!" Following his gaze, Merlin found the scrolls lying scattered across the muddy road in front of him. Three of them covered in wet earth, while the other two had landed in one of the path's many potholes. Arthur lifted them from their watery basin, drops dripping off of exposed rolls of parchment. "They're ruined!"
At Arthur's somewhat high-pitched voice, a warning he'd reached the end of his patience, which he really should pay attention to, Merlin hoisted himself up on sore hands to stay on his knees and stare at his handy work. "I can fix them," he tried.
"Fix them?" Arthur trotted over to him, scrolls clenched in white fists. "I should have you locked up in the dungeons for a week for this!"
"I…" He knew Arthur would never back up his threat. Well, maybe when he'd just arrived at Camelot two years ago, but not now. He stared at him, at a loss of what to say until suddenly he'd had enough. "Fine," he stated, brushing off his breeches. "I'll just sit here then." Despite Arthur then extending a hand to lift him up, exhaustion put him on the defence. "It's not like I tripped on purpose. Wait. Maybe I fell because I'm so tired I don't know where I'm going anymore!"
Arthur raised an eyebrow, then hardened his voice. "You better hope these plans are still intact enough for the overseer to make something of it."
Covered in mud, Merlin glared at him.
"You want me to discipline him, My lord?" A woman shorter, heavier, and twice their age, had moved in to watch Merlin more closely. Wearing a faded dark cape, she had a round face with reddened cheeks, features he would have described as pleasant, if it weren't for the steel grey eyes boring into him. Something felt off. Her gaze too intense. Warily, he stepped back.
Arthur shook his head in obvious bewilderment. "Who," he demanded, "are you?"
Wrenching her attention away from Merlin, the woman turned to face Arthur. "I am the Lady Mathylda, Sire. The King felt he was in need of my services and has sent for me. I've only just arrived and am here to oversee your household staff. I know I am not officially in your service yet, but understand that insolent behaviour like this cannot be overlooked. The boy has to learn his place. I'll take him back with me to the palace now, if my lord agrees?"
Arthur blinked. There was a short silence.
Merlin could only guess what was going through his mind. Up until a few days ago, Camelot's household staff was overseen by Morgana. Now that she was gone, Uther needed someone to replace her. He could have asked Gwen, Merlin brooded, thinking of his friend. I'm sure she would have done a great job. She wasn't of high birth though, so he wasn't too surprised that Uther had decided to bring in someone from noble upbringing.
"No," Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose. "That's not necessary."
Merlin kept quiet and eyed Mathylda with suspicion, though was careful not to let it show on his face.
"As you wish, sire."
"If it is at my father's request that you are here, then I am grateful and bid you welcome to Camelot. Guard!" Arthur ordered one of his men guarding the ruined houses littering the town. "Don't be alarmed, my Lady. I merely wish you a safe escort back to the citadel. As you can see we are suffering from the aftermath of battle. The streets are not safe."
She nodded at a heavy man standing with a laden cart off to the side, his robes resembling those of the court's genealogist, Geoffrey. "I have my cousin Tagan to keep me company, Sire, but will gladly accept your offer."
Merlin stared after her as the small group disappeared in the drizzle. "Do you know her?"
"I have heard of her," Arthur began, "I think she's related to my uncle, Aggravaine. She's not noble enough to own land, but she is entitled to run a household. She looks very competent." He took a deep breath, a teasing smile entering his voice. "You better watch your step, Merlin. She'll have your hide if you slack in your duties!"
Merlin went to pick up the scrolls, taking the wet ones from Arthur's hands. "What? And you'll let her?"
"I will if you don't get those plans dried out," Arthur teased, then laughed at the indignant look Merlin shot him. "Oh come on! I'm sure she won't give you that much trouble."
Maybe not, but Merlin couldn't shake the feeling that she'd been searching for something as she'd studied him. He shivered with cold, deciding to put her out of his mind. For one because he didn't have the energy to ponder over this anymore, and for another because she couldn't possibly make him feel worse than he did now.
To be continued (TBC)...
A/N: These first few chapters are mainly me trying to get a handle on the characters and setting, while at the same time, laying down plot foundations. I found both Merlin and Arthur a challenge to write. Merlin because he has this subservient position, has to act like it, but at the same time is strong at heart and goes his own way. It's a challenge to write characters that act differently from who they are and to still maintain the depths of their characters. I hope I got the balance right. My compliments to all you excellent writers out there. However, I know everyone has their own take on these characters -in this fandom, opinions seem to be even more widespread than usual- as do I. Please take this into account. Feedback will be much appreciated.