Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin.
A/N: THIS IS NOT A NEW, CONTINUING-THE-STORY CHAPTER. So need to read this at all, really. I'm sorry if your were hopeful. This is simply a completely different take on chapter 2 (with the exception of the first few sentences), which, seven months later, I like better than the original.
Merlin started out by staring at the sky. Then he scratched his head, realized his hair was wet, and quickly mumbled a drying spell. His dark locks fluffed out like a dandelion, but he didn't seem to notice. The warlock was already concentrating on a new project – growing a small flower garden between the blanket he was propped up on and a brooding Arthur.
Finally the king couldn't take it anymore. "Merlin," he said in a dangerously low voice. "What are you doing?"
Merlin paused, looked up from the daffodil he was in the middle of growing, and glared at Arthur. "I'm thinking!" he asserted.
"Merlin," Arthur said with a tight smile, "I know thinking isn't your strongest point, but really... Can't you think a little faster?" he hissed.
"Prat," Merlin muttered, putting the finishing touches on his flowers.
"Those are lovely," Gwen said, humoring him.
Merlin smiled up at her. "Aren't they? I learned how to make them all when I was trying to conjure strawberries."
Elyan considered the arrangement. "I didn't know that roses came in orange," he said. Arthur sent his knight a glare. Don't encourage him, it said.
Merlin's smile widened. "They don't," he said smugly.
"You'll be a hit with the ladies," Gwaine congratulated.
"Not that he needs that anymore," Elyan pointed out.
Gwaine nudged him. "Mate, it doesn't matter if your married or not. To be in one woman's favor is good and fine. But to have all of them on your side... better than an army." He sent Guinevere a grin.
Merlin leaned back and admired his work. "If it'll get Cook to stop badgering me..." he said.
"Merlin, are you still stealing food on off-hours, even after I told you not to?" Arthur asked, forgetting that he was supposed to be the one keeping everyone on topic.
Arthur slugged him lightly in the shoulder.
Immediately upon touching Merlin, Arthur's entire arm had been wrapped in vines covered with pink blooms.
"Whoops! Sorry," Merlin said, not looking sorry at all.
Arthur drilled his fingers on the blanket, giving his court sorcerer a death glare that would frighten away most grown men.
Merlin decided to ignore him.
"I'm not really sure where to start," he admitted, picking at the blanket. "It really is a long story."
"What about when you met her?" Gwen suggested.
Merlin shifted nervously. "I'm not sure this is such a good idea."
"Why?" Arthur asked abruptly, in the middle of pulling off one of the vines.
Another burst of flowers sprouted around the campsite.
Merlin flushed. "Erm... because of that, I suppose," he said with a weak smile. "I'm in a good mood now. But Freya's story isn't really a nice one – bad things happened to her. If I get angry at all..."
Gwaine held up his hands. "No need to go further, Merlin. I'm all for flowers. In fact I'm wild about them. No thunder and lightening please."
Merlin grinned and shrugged. "Normally after I travel to Avalon, I go straight to sleep by the lake..."
"So why didn't you, Merlin?" Arthur asked, pulling off the last of the pink flowers off his arm.
"Because I didn't want you to worry," Merlin said, looking at Arthur with his clear blue eyes.
"Aw, we're touched," Gwaine said with a grin. "Bit late though, princess here was practically ready to call in the army."
Merlin looked over at Arthur. "You were worried?" he asked, sounding more hopeful than he usually would.
Arthur shifted his position. "Of course," he said, clearing his throat. "You didn't really tell us what you were doing and you looked nervous."
Gwen's eyes widened as she thought of something. "Were you nervous because you were about to propose?" she asked, slightly enthralled by the idea.
Merlin laughed. He said honestly, "I wish. Actually I was going to try and draw up a treaty with some of the fairykind. The marriage was more last-minute – it was actually part of the treaty."
Arthur frowned at this.
"So you got married just because of a treaty?" the king asked, sounding troubled.
Merlin quickly shook his head. "No! No! Well... yes, I suppose. I probably wouldn't have thought of it until later, if it weren't for the treaty," he admitted.
Arthur threw his head back and guffawed. "Seriously Merlin?" he asked, once he was done laughing. "You've been in love with this girl for five years and you hadn't thought to marry her?"
"It was complicated!" Merlin protested.
"How complicated could it get?" Arthur asked, shaking his head.
"Well, until a year ago I thought she was dead," Merlin quipped. That stopped Arthur's chuckles.
Everyone raised their eyebrows.
"Wait... what?" it was Gwaine that had spoken. "How can a lake goddess die?"
Merlin tilted his head and considered. "Well, she's more of a high priestess than a goddess, even if I do practically worship the ground she walks on." His words slowed as he finished his statement; he'd probably begun to think of a more pertinent topic. As he gazed dreamily into the distance, all of the flowers shuddered and grew several inches.
Guinevere let out a contented sigh. Arthur felt slightly worried. There was no way Merlin was going to out-do him in being romantic.
"That doesn't explain anything," the king snapped, before Merlin could continue with any of the mushy stuff.
"My point," the warlock emphasized, sending Arthur a look, "is that Freya wasn't always attached to the Lake of Avalon. When I met her, she was just a druid girl. Normal – kind of – like everyone else."
"So she's not an elf, or fairy, or something?" Elyan asked.
Merlin looked at the knight. "Whatever gave you that impression?"
Gwen admitted, "I kind of thought so too. I mean, you were going on about Avalon..."
Merlin smiled crookedly. "Ah, sorry. I keep forgetting that you have absolutely no idea who she is."
"Why didn't you mention her?" Arthur asked. This was the question he really wanted answered. "I mean, magic's been legal for two years... I thought you'd told me everything." He tried to keep the hurt out of his voice, but Merlin recognized it instantly.
Merlin looked down guiltily. "It was too personal. It was one of the few things that really didn't have to do with you and... well, I guess my heart wasn't completely healed yet."
Arthur considered his friend, his expression softening.
Merlin looked back up at the king. "And when I found out she was alive... remember that week when I kept bugging everyone by singing and humming all over the place?"
"That's what that was about?" Arthur exclaimed, suddenly realizing there was a bunch of happenstances that Freya's existence explained. Those nights Merlin would sneak out into the woods, for instance. Arthur had tried to have his knights follow the warlock, but he'd always lose them within ten minutes of walking.
Merlin gave a smile smile. "Yeah. You have no idea how happy that made me."
Arthur looked over at Guinevere. "I think I may have an idea," he said lightly.
Merlin sent his friend a full smile this time. "I suppose you would," he said happily.
"So why didn't you tell us then?" Arthur asked, breaking his gaze away from Guinevere.
"Erm..." Merlin looked desperate. "Awkward topic. Might make me go into 'lightning mode'."
"Now probably wouldn't be a good time to ask how she died, then, huh?" Gwaine joked.
A shadow passed over the camp.
"Gwaine," Elyan hissed as he punched the knight in the shoulder.
Merlin blinked rapidly and, once again, the sun was allowed to shine through. "Sorry," he quickly said.
"Well Merlin," Arthur began, trying to lighten the tension, "you're not getting out of this forever. But what do you want to do now?"
"Do?" Merlin repeated, puzzled.
"Yes, Merlin," Arthur said slowly. "What would you like to do? Sleep? Finish you flower garden? Eat?"
Merlin straightened. "Eating sounds marvelous," he admitted. "I'm not allowed to eat any of the food from Avalon – not unless I want to stay there forever."
"And I forbid you for even thinking about abandoning us," Arthur ordered.
"What?" Merlin asked, bemused.
"If that's where your wife lives, you might get tempted," Arthur pointed out.
Merlin assured, "I spend plenty of time with her, don't even worry about it."
"You're sneakier than we give you credit for," Gwaine said approvingly.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "I used my magic in front of all of you for years and you didn't ever notice. Of course I'm sneaky," he retorted. "Either that or you're all oblivious idiots," he amended after a second.
Arthur sniffed. "I resent that."
"So, what do you want to eat?" Guinevere questioned, changing the subject, a slight smile decorating her face. "I'm afraid we really don't have much, just a little soup."
Merlin held up his hand. "No thank you. As hungry as I am, I really would like something besides cold stew that probably tastes horrible."
"Hey! I made it," Gwaine complained.
Arthur raised his eyebrows. "All the more reason to not have any. Fair point, Merlin."
"But we really don't have anything else," Gwen said, sounding distressed.
Merlin grinned. "I think I can get us something from the palace kitchens," he said loudly, wiggling his fingers. "Since I've got magic and all."
"Really?" they all asked together.
"Then why didn't you do that on all our hunting trips?" Arthur questioned.
"I did," Merlin said, looking innocent as ever. "For me. I just thought that you liked the whole outdoor, camping experience... Hey!"
Arthur had pounced on him and now held him in a headlock.
O o O
An hour later the king and queen sat beside each other on the log, watching the renewed campfire, courtesy of Merlin. Gwaine and Elyan were mock-battling, bored from the inactivity of sitting. Dishes from the royal kitchens were discarded by the bags.
Guinevere played with one of the flowers Arthur had picked for her.
"Arthur," she whispered softly, glancing at Merlin as smiled in his sleep. "What do you think he's kept from us?"
Arthur sighed. "A lot. And not just about Freya," he said, an edge to his voice.
"But why?" Gwen asked, sounding pained. "Doesn't he trust us?"
Her husband threw a stick into the fire. "I don't think its a matter of trust anymore. It's just... he's Emrys."
"And what has that got to do with anything?" Guinevere asked harshly.
Arthur placed one of his hands on top of hers. "He's a leader, Guinevere, just like I am. There aren't many times when I get to see it, but he is – and probably more so. And when you're a leader, sometimes you learn secrets aren't yours to tell."
Guinevere slumped in defeat.
"Do you think Freya will help him?" she finally asked.
"She'd better," Arthur said firmly. "No one deserves it more than Merlin."
Merlin rolled over so that they wouldn't see the mixture of expressions that crossed his face.
He felt guilty, keeping secrets from them, but he couldn't bring himself to feel that it had been a wrong decision. Perhaps it was simply leftover from the habitual secrecy that he'd lived with for the first thirty years of his life, or maybe Arthur was right. Maybe now that he was Emrys, instead of simple Merlin, his life was no longer his own. Not that it had ever been his own, he mused, but now it was even less so.
Merlin exhaled a long, relaxing breath and decided that one day he would disappear from the world and escape its cascade of worries. Maybe he could live in Avalon with Freya. He smiled at the thought.
Thoughts of a brown-haired girl filled his mind, and Merlin drifted into the land of sleep.
O o O
Merlin woke afresh and complete undiluted of Avalonian magic.
Gwaine saw the warlock struggle to sit and practically pounced on him. "Merlin, mate!" he cried happily.
"What time is it?" Merlin asked, rubbing his eyes. His bedhead only emphasized the disoriented look on his face.
"Morning," Gwaine replied. "Everyone else is out walking – got bored you know? But I volunteered to stay behind and watch you."
"Any breakfast left?" Merlin asked.
"Any chance you could magic something up again?" Gwaine asked hopefully.
Merlin gave the knight a look. "That's the real reason you stayed behind, isn't it?" he asked with amusement.
Gwaine tried to look offended. "Of course not! What sort of friend do you take me for?"
"Right, so I'll only magic up one plate then, shall I?" Merlin asked slyly.
Gwaine pouted. "You're killing me, mate..."
Merlin laughed and proceeded to bring up two plates of bread and cheese from the kitchens.
"I knew there was a reason we were friends!" Gwaine declared, taking his plate from the amused warlock with a look of practiced gratitude.
"Sure, Gwaine," Merlin answered easily, a relaxed smile on his face.
Twenty minutes later, the campsite was re-filled with Camelot's leaders, all happy to see Merlin back to his regular self.
"So, Merlin," Arthur said, chewing on his own bread. (He'd caught sight of Gwaine's plate and had immediately demanded that they be let in on the apparent feast. If Gwen hadn't been there, Merlin probably would have drawn out their suffering and teased them a little.)
"Are you ready to tell us about Freya?" the king finished. His tone was lighthearted, but he was sincere in his question. He didn't want Merlin to feel that he had to talk until he was ready.
Merlin nodded slowly.
"Yes," he said, shifting his position on the log, he was fiddling with a daisy from his flower garden.
Everyone quickly focused in on the warlock as he began his story. Merlin was hesitant at first, but just like when he'd told Arthur in detail about several of his exploits as Arthur's servant, he began to be more animated.
"And you lot thought I was cross-dressing!" Merlin said, singling out Gwen and Arthur with a glare.
Gwen said with a giggle, "I didn't really think you were cross-dressing..."
"I did!" Arthur volunteered, smiling smugly.
"I could put you in a dress," Merlin shot back.
"Digressing!" Elyan pointed out. He wanted Merlin to finish the story.
Merlin looked sheepish as he cleared his throat. "Erm... right."
He was remarkably calm when he related Freya's death, and he was proud of himself for it. It had been hard enough back then, but now that he knew her so well... he wasn't sure if he'd be able to bear losing her again.
On the other hand, something he found slightly funny, was the fact that Arthur couldn't seem to remember the bastet that had "plagued" Camelot all those years ago. It was unsurprising really – compared to the other major magical attacks against Camelot, Freya's role (while unfortunate) had been relatively unnoticeable.
"You are really horrible at cheering people up," Merlin accused.
"I didn't know someone had just died!" Arthur defended, sounding guilty. "And I don't even remember when this happened!"
"Just as well. You would have been horrible at it even if you had known," Merlin said decisively.
Arthur glared at the rest of his knights as they nodded in sympathetic agreement.
The rest of the story went relatively smoothly, even when he related the time when she'd given him Excalibur to use against Morguase's undead army. It wasn't until Merlin started going over last year that Arthur began to look skeptical.
"I can't believe you never said a word!" he said for the millionth time, a scowl permanently etched onto his face.
"It was private!" Merlin defended, folding his arms. "Besides, I didn't even know if it was going to work out. I didn't want to get your hopes up!"
Arthur's scowl only deepened. He and Guinevere had been trying for the past year to get Merlin married off to several of the noblewomen in the court – one who'd actually been secretly practicing small magic during Uther's reign. It had been a practically perfect match in their eyes.
"We'll discuss this later," Arthur promised.
"We'll see," Merlin sniffed, then continued on with his story.
Finally he finished.
No one had any questions, except Guinevere, who looked strangely eager.
"So Merlin, when can we meet her?"