Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin
A Camelot Courtship
Christmas left the land, the air becoming bright and crisp, and the mood of Camelot took a greater turn for the better. Arthur and Gwen were ruling well and fairly, there had been no major threats to the kingdom and all was going well. Morgana was becoming more accepted into society, and her friendship with Gwen had resumed, and the two of them were going on as if nothing had happened. People no longer shirked her in the corridors, and even Elyan and Leon, the two knights most hostile to her, were treating her with the respect her position demanded. As a result, the mood of Camelot was generally upbeat.
Following the events of the Christmas ball, and also in part due to Arthur's own marriage, the surrounding kingdoms had all been requesting permission to send suitors to Camelot to seek Morgana's hand in marriage. Being the sister of the king, and as such the princess of Camelot, she too was expected to marry for political gain, as Arthur had been meant to do with Mithian. Reports of Morgana attending the ball had filtered out from Camelot, and many young male nobles were eager to see the former 'Wicked Witch of Camelot' themselves and make her their wife. As a result, lords were sending their credentials to Camelot to have Arthur read over to see which lord would best suit being married to his sister. Camelot was as such abuzz with rumour and gossip, all speculating as to who would win the hand of Morgana.
However, two people within the city were rather opposed to the ongoing courtships. Morgana was one of them.
The last two suitors had been handsome, charming, funny and had even been willing to overlook the whole witch thing, but Morgana had declined them. It wasn't as if she didn't want to spend her life with someone, she did, just like anyone would. However, she wanted to choose for herself who she wanted to be with, not have the person chosen for her. And there was only one person on her mind, ever since Christmas. The first person in Camelot to actually bother to treat her with kindness, to encourage her to stop locking herself away from everyone and face her detractors with her head held high, the kind, sweet, innocent person who also happened to be quite good looking, the one who's kisses had set her imagination off every night with the sort of dream she preferred rather than her dangerous old premonitions, the one person in Camelot, if not the world she could never have, not truly.
The other person disenchanted with the continuing courtship was Merlin. The last two suitors for Morgana had instantly earned his dislike. He just couldn't see Morgana with either of them. At least that's what he kept telling himself. The truth was, that ever since the two of them had rekindled their friendship, his heart had been yearning for something more with her. The beautiful Morgana, who he had always had strong feelings for, ever since he had first arrived in Camelot. The one who he had accompanied to the ball, and ever since his mind had been wandering on to her, the strong, proud, alluring, mystical, beautiful woman she had become since her return to Camelot. He was in love with her. A small part of him had always been, unable to act on it for so many different reasons. And now, here he was again, his burning love for her reawakened, and as before, he was unable to do anything about it, for so many reasons.
And yet, despite what the two of them truly felt, how they both felt about one another, the courtships continued.
Merlin was valiantly trying to force Arthur's fifth suit of armour into the closet. What he needed five different suits of armour for, god only knew. To Merlin, all he needed was one set of armour for actually fighting in, and the one Gwen had given him for Christmas would more than do for the ceremonial one, so why he wanted his old ceremonial armour he had no idea. On top of that was the first suit of armour he had ever worn, so why he wanted to keep that was also beyond him, and the other suit of armour had been a gift from Agravaine when he had first arrived in Camelot, which he said he was keeping because it acted as a reminder not to trust people who are meant to love him (in other words a reminder of why he should listen to Merlin). However, aside from trying to shut the closet door, his mind was on the long, sun filled afternoon he had spent with Arthur, Gwen and Morgana the day before. The four of them had gone on a tour of the small towns around Camelot, to check on all the people, and they had all enjoyed each other's company, just as they had used to do, all those years ago, when the four of them had been firm friends running around under Uther's nose. It had been fun, the four of them being together once again, the four friends they had become. Gwen and Morgana were chatting away as if nothing had ever happened between them, and Arthur and Merlin were the same as ever, playfully arguing and insulting one another. But it was only since they had returned that Merlin's spirits had taken a nosedive, and he had been in high dudgeon.
Firstly, for the first time ever since Morgana had come back, it had dawned on him that out of the four friends, he was the only one who wasn't of the nobility. And with marriage on the cards for Morgana, and Arthur and Gwen both royalty and happily married, it occurred to him that eventually he would probably be left behind. Morgana would get married off to some far away noble, and with Arthur and Gwen together, it would inevitably mean that he would be the one who would be the least out of the lot of them, the one who would be sidelined. If Morgana was away, and as his duties as king increased along with his power, what use would Arthur have for Merlin as time went on? He knew, on some level, that Arthur wouldn't leave him behind but he couldn't help but feel that eventually he would be the one who would be cast aside and that primal fear was doing something to his spirits, making him seem down and miserable.
And then there was Morgana herself. He didn't want her to go off and marry some noble from a far off land, when he could never see her. Ever since her return, and more so since Christmas, he had been spending more and more time among her company, laughing at her jokes, relaxing with her, abusing Arthur behind his back, just enjoying being with her more and more. But the suitors continued to come, and though Merlin knew there was no future in it for either of them, there was too much standing in their way, and he did want her to be happy, he didn't want her to marry any of them. He just couldn't see her with the self absorbed lords who were coming to court her, and couldn't bear the thought that she wouldn't be in Camelot once she got married. They had lost her once, he didn't want to lose her again, especially considering how strong his feelings for her were becoming, spending his days imagining being only hers...
"Are you even listening to me Merlin?" Arthur asked from his desk, and Merlin gave a start and turned to look at his friend, but rather the expression of annoyance he had expected, Arthur's face was a mask of concern in the evening lit room.
"Sorry, what?" he asked, his hand still clutched on the closet door.
"Are you ok? Ever since we got back yesterday you've been acting weird." Arthur said, his eyes narrowed in concern, but Merlin gave a half hearted shrug.
"I'm fine. What were you saying?" he asked, and after giving him a lingering look, Arthur looked down at the letter he was reading.
"A Lord Madvedor is coming tomorrow to offer his courtship to Morgana." He said, but his last few words were drowned out by a loud clattering and a yelp from the closet.
Arthur looked up and had to suppress a laugh as he saw an arm sticking up from beneath the five suits of armour that had just fallen out of the closet on top of his poor servant.
"Oh Merlin." He moaned in amusement, and taking the arm pulled Merlin out from under the pile, revealing his servant, who had a helmet stuck on his head.
After helping him out of his predicament, determinedly keeping a straight face, Arthur raised an eyebrow at Merlin, who began shoving the armour back into the closet.
"Another one?" he demanded, shoving the helmets onto the shelf.
Arthur sent him an odd look.
"Well yes. What, are you implying that because of what she used to be, she should never get married?" he asked, and Merlin scowled angrily.
"Of course not. But it hasn't been that long since the last one, couldn't she have a bit of a break first?" Merlin asked defensively, and Arthur cocked his head at his friend.
"Merlin, you do know I'm the king right? And as she's my sister, she's a princess." He began.
"Yeah, I noticed." Merlin mumbled angrily, his fears preying on the side of his brain.
"Well I can hardly get old and grey and still have an unmarried sister could I? Marriage is very important, both to show the other kingdoms she has reformed and also to improve Camelot's standing." He explained patiently.
"I get that but it just seems..." Merlin began, looking distasteful, and Arthur thought he understood.
"Oh, you don't like the idea of arranged marriages? Well I do sort of agree with you," he admitted, earning him a look of shock from Merlin, which he promptly ignored, "but Morgana did agree to it, and I won't let her marry anyone who won't treat her well, but you know as well as I do that she's more than capable of looking after herself. But by princess standards she's quite old not to be married and even though I don't really like it, we need to let her be courted, both for her own sake and for the kingdom. How are we meant to let her know she's really accepted if we don't try to make her everything a princess is meant to be?" he asked, and Merlin turned away from him.
"I get that. But still..." he began, wanting to voice what was really going on inside his heart and head but not daring to.
"Besides, it's really thanks to you that anyone is even considering making her their wife. If you hadn't taken her to the ball during Christmas, no one would even be considering courting her for marriage, so really it's all thanks to you!" Arthur said brightly, trying to cheer his friend up.
But far from the look of cheering him up as he had expected, he instead got a grimace from Merlin, his eyes downcast and looking miserable.
"I know all that." He retorted, slamming the closet door shut before anything else fell out and proceeding to strip the bed as if it had done him a great wrong.
Now, many, including Merlin, have said that Arthur is an insensitive idiot. However, all the years with Merlin had let him understand his moods, and as he was usually always so cheerful any deviation from that automatically put him on guard, and he had become particularly alert to when he was upset. The first time he had truly seen that mood, he was ashamed to admit it had been him who had caused it, not believing Merlin's warnings about Cedric, who had proceeded, with Arthur's help, to force Merlin out of his job before revealing himself to be a sorcerer. The second time was after his major falling out with Gaius. Another time had been just after the incident with the lamia, the sheer mention of which still made Arthur's blood boil. And he could tell now that something was once more bothering Merlin.
Thinking back, Merlin had been in an odd mood since the four of them had come back from their tour of the outlying villages. Were the four of them had been together, just like old times. That's what was bothering him. He was worried about Morgana getting married; it meant that the four of them wouldn't be together anymore. Typically sweet and naive of him, trying to keep all of them together, trying desperately to keep everyone he liked in one place. But sweet though it was, he did have to face facts that they all had their own paths to follow, they could hardly all stay together until they were all old and grey. It did suck, but that was the truth of it. And he did sympathise, he would rather keep the four of them together too, but the realities of being a king and a royal were more important sadly. But no wonder Merlin was feeling down, he was so happy to have the four of them back together that he didn't want them all to get split up again. And being Merlin he probably hadn't wanted to admit to himself that they would all get split apart again.
"Hey, Merlin, you do know-?" Arthur began gently, and Merlin glowered at him angrily.
"I know. I know. There's no need to rub it in." Merlin snapped angrily, but with a little bit of sadness in his voice, and with that, he turned, determinedly avoiding Arthur's gaze, bundling the bedclothes in his arms and left the room, slamming the door shut behind him.
Arthur sat back in his chair, taken aback. It wasn't Merlin's abrupt departure, after all he let Merlin away with murder, no one else would let their servant talk to him the way he did. No, it was how angry and down Merlin seemed, he had never reacted like that before. So what was bothering him so much?
The door opened to reveal his wife, fresh from visiting the people in the city and helping out with the poor. She came in, taking off her gloves and cloak, then turned to look at Arthur, an expectant look on her face.
"Alright, Merlin just went past and he looked really miserable. What did you do this time?" she asked, and he rolled his eyes.
"Why does everyone always assume it's something I've done?" he asked, and she shot him a patient look, which he grumbled in response to.
"Alright, fine, it usually is me who's upset him, but this time it isn't I swear! I don't know, he's been weird ever since we got back a few days ago." He said, his eyes on the door where his servant had vanished.
"Yeah he has been a bit weird hasn't he? What do you reckon's up with him?" she asked, though she had a shrewd suspicion she knew something of what was bothering Merlin.
"I reckon it's just because he likes having the four of us all together again, you know, how we used to be. The four of us against everything else. I'm not targeted for assassination as far as we know, you aren't, you know, in exile," he said sheepishly, but she didn't seem to notice, "he's not helping clean up my messes and Morgana isn't trying to kill us all, so he's actually the happiest he's been in a while. And now he's got used to us all being together again I think he's just sad that the four of us will eventually all split up."
Gwen looked at him in surprise, and he smiled inwardly. He was occasionally capable of a clever thought, and of actually understanding Merlin.
"Hmm, I hadn't thought of that. You might be right actually. I mean, it wasn't so bad before because I was a servant too. But now, you're king, I'm queen and Morgana's a princess. Maybe he's afraid of being left behind, left out." She theorised, her face a beautiful look of concern.
Arthur looked at her in surprise, a slightly sick feeling rising in his stomach.
"Why would he think that? He must know by now that if I haven't already gotten rid of him, I actually do like having him around and wouldn't do that to him...right?" he asked, unable to figure out the look she had on her face.
"It might not be his fault." She said softly, and now the sick feeling was getting worse, and he could feel anger boiling within him, as he felt he knew where she was going with this.
"What do you mean?" he asked, his fist clenching.
"Well, I still don't think he's really gotten over the lamia incident. All the hurtful stuff they said to him and did to him, I think it still plays on his mind a lot. I mean, he forgave them and everything, but I think it still bothers him, you know, being a servant, who by all rights most of them would never admit to being friends with. Maybe he's scared that one day you'll just freeze him out, just like the servant he thinks he is, someone unimportant." She said, her tone gentle, making sure her husband knew that she was in no way implying that to be true.
Arthur thought about it. The lamia incident. Merlin had been miserable for days afterward, not teasing him or even retaliating when Arthur baited him, and it had begun to worry him immensely, especially when every time a knight, who had blissfully forgotten, went past he always darted to Arthur's other side so he wouldn't have to talk to them. It had taken him days to find out what had truly happened out there, and when Gwen, not Merlin, had told him everything the knights had done, he'd been beside himself with fury. He'd been furious with the knights for days, and had warned them that the next time any of them so much as pulled a hair from Merlin's head their lives would be forfeit. And it did still make sense that he was dealing with that. He didn't appear to be, but according to Gaius (who Arthur had asked in secret afterwards) Merlin had always thought that he was worth nothing, and people who were meant to be his friends telling him he was couldn't have helped. But even so, afraid if he was that all the nobles he knew, which admittedly were basically everyone now aside from Gaius, that still didn't quite explain it.
"Well, I'll just have to go and talk to him then." He said, getting to his feet, but Gwen then took his arm, her face pensive.
"It might not just be him being afraid that we're going to forget about him." She said, a small smile playing on her lips.
"What else would it be?" Arthur asked suspiciously.
"Well, it might be to do with Morgana." She said, smiling suggestively, but being married as she was to Arthur, her husband didn't get the reference.
"I know he doesn't approve of people coming to court her." He said dismissively, and Gwen suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, but only with difficulty.
"Sort of right. He doesn't approve of anyone coming to court her." She hinted, but Arthur just looked at her as if she were mad.
"Oh for heaven's sake! Isn't it obvious? He doesn't want anyone to court her because he's in love with her!" she shouted in exasperation.
Arthur at first looked at her as if she were insane. And then, as he began to think about it, it did begin to make sense. Ever since Christmas, Merlin and Morgana had both been in incredibly good moods, in fact Merlin's was so good it was slightly annoying at times. It was like he was on euphoria ever since Christmas, and come to think of it, when he hadn't been arguing with Arthur during the last few weeks, he had been spending his time with Morgana. Indeed, he actually saw more of her than even Arthur did, and he saw her nearly every day.
"No, he would tell me...wouldn't he?" he asked, but he had never had any experience of this before.
True he had always teased Merlin for fancying Morgana but now he apparently did love her, at least according to Gwen and realistically she would probably know better than he would anyway. He had attended the ball with her, and they had kissed, but Morgana and he had both claimed that that was as friends. Looking back on it, he'd been stupid to listen to them.
Gwen looked at him kindly but patiently, as though she were helping a child with their studies.
"Well firstly, like we think is still bugging him, he's just a servant. Half of the nobles at court went crazy when you married me, marrying outside your class boundary, so he probably thinks Morgana wouldn't be interested in him. He'll also be worried she would just see him as the same boy who always had a crush on her rather than what he is now, but that's just silly if you ask me. Morgana is also your sister, so he'd be afraid of asking you or saying anything to you because of how you might react, he'd be afraid of damaging his friendship with you, he loves you too much to do that. And sweetie, realising that someone is in love with someone is actually technically the best friends job." She said sheepishly, and that just made Arthur feel worse.
Great. His best friend was in love with his sister, and he'd been clueless. What was more, Merlin was also scared that one day all his friends would just up and abandon him. That needed fixed, and quickly. How could he be so blind?
"Alright, I'm away to find Merlin. You could slip into something more comfortable for when I get back." He said in a husky voice, and she smiled slightly.
"It all depends on the manner of your return." She whispered seductively, kissing him deeply, while shoving him towards the door.
Arrows spattered into the ground around him as he dashed through the darkened, misty forest. His hair long and curled, hanging down to his shoulders, his bright blue eyes squinting through the night, clad in dirty robes, tall and gangly but still well built, Mordred dashed down a slope, splashing into a small, shallow estuary, and laid in wait, waiting for his pursuers to come closer, so he could finish them.
The bandits had been chasing him for ages, seeking to sell him into slavery most likely. But now, the hunters were about to become the hunted.
The group came into view, eight of them, and Mordred grinned, his teeth flashing in the dim forest. Years had passed since he had needed the help of the treacherous Emrys and his friends. Now he was more than capable of looking after himself. Feeling the magic, his eyes flashed amber, and he struck.
The first slaver was yanked into the tree by a branch, snapping his neck as he was hauled upwards. As the others turned, roots leapt from the ground, wrapped around another and dragged him beneath the earth with a muffled scream. Another root then darted through the chest of another slaver, before a young tree bent itself in half and crushed two more into the ground. The remaining three were now screaming with terror, running for the estuary Mordred had hidden himself in. Allowing himself a cruel smile, he sprang out of the estuary, a feral grin on his face, and several stones from the riverbed bored through the skull of another slaver. The last two drew swords and ran at him, but he was more than confident of his ability to stop them.
Gesturing with his hand, a serpent made of water sprang from the river, going into one slaver's mouth and nose, and with a gargle, he fell, and that left Mordred alone with the last of the slavers. Hissing in glee, he waved his hands, and the swords of each dead slaver burst from their sheaths and sliced the last slaver to ribbons with a cry of pain and terror, blood soaking the leaf covered ground.
Mordred stood panting, pleased with his work. His powers were growing every day, that much was clear. However, he had to find a use for his powers, and he had to do so quickly. For the last few years, he had been constantly on the run, ever since Merlin's betrayal of him. Filled with hatred, resentment and abandonment, Mordred had initially sought Morgana, seeking the one who had been so kind to him when he had been hiding from Uther. Milling about from place to place, he had once caught up with her and her sister, Morgause, but the elder witch had warded him off with her powers, and he hadn't been able to contact Morgana. Ever since then, and the death of her sister, he had been trying all the harder to find her so as to avenge himself on Uther, Arthur and Merlin. However, all this time later, he had still had not found her, but he had learnt of the death of Uther and Morgause. While the two had gotten what they had deserved, Arthur and Merlin were still out there, and filled with raging hatred for Emrys, his spinelessness, his cowardice and his betrayal, he had dedicated himself to taking everything he held dear, and that included his precious King Arthur. And he would not stop until he had his revenge on the coward and left him with nothing, as he had with Mordred.
After stripping the dead of anything useful, the teenager looked around the dark forest, a chill in the back of his mind. Like a dark cave you yearned to explore but dared not to. Looking around the misty clearing, he saw folds of mist roll away from a specific road.
Mordred hadn't survived for so long on his own by being stupid. Since he had last left Camelot, he had had to rely on only himself to survive, and his magic. Why had this path opened before him? Looking at it suspiciously, fearing a trap, he began to edge away from it when a voice entered into his mind. It was not a brutal intrusion, but not a gentle one either, like something large trying to fit into an opening too small for it.
"Do not shirk away. This way lies your destiny, your revenge, and your victory."
The voice was strange. Soft and melodic, like a womans, but also deep and snarling, like some great beasts. However, he felt with some degree of certainty, perhaps stemming from magic, that this was what he was supposed to do. Smiling sinisterly, feeling that soon he would crush Merlin and Arthur beneath his boot, he headed in the direction of the road.
It was the marketplace, and Merlin was heading back towards the castle, his arms filled with items for Gaius. Suddenly, Merlin doubled over, the victim of a fist to the stomach, the items falling from his hands. Invisible hands and feet continued to pound into him, ignoring his cries of pain, and then a dagger, silver and wicked, lanced into his gut. A weakened, feeble and bloodied Merlin gasped, holding his hand to the wound as his life bled out of him...Cries of sorrow and dismay as Merlin was found, long dead...a howling Gwen shivering beside a funeral pyre while Arthur looked on at the flames in heartbroken horror, a mad fire glinting in his eyes...and Merlin's body consumed by flames...Camelot ablaze with dark fire, a burnt out, ruined husk, and Arthur and Gwen's body, butchered in the tombs, right beside the one bearing Merlin, all the while a black knight and a red robed woman laughing evilly while a dark shadow eclipsed the two of them...
"NO!" Morgana gasped, sitting bolt upright, her breath heavy.
Looking around her tower room, she quickly began to get her breathing back under control. As her breathing went back to normal, she flicked a finger at the torches, lighting the room up as she climbed out of her chair, where she had fallen asleep knitting. To her surprise, the blanket she had started knitting for Gaius was complete, neatly rolled up on the floor, and her needles were still clacking away in thin air. Picking the blanket up, she set it around her shoulders against the chill of her room, frowning out of the window.
It had been so long since she had had a dream like that, a prophetic one involving the death of someone she cared about. In fact, it hadn't been since she had left Camelot with Morgause that she had last had such a dream, back when she still cared for everyone other than Uther. And now, here she was again, and because of her ongoing reformation and her deepening love and care for Merlin, Arthur, Gwen, Gaius and the knights, once more she was beset with these nighttime visions. But that one had been different. Never before had she had one about Merlin.
Ones about Arthur, check, like the one when he was drowned by that lady Sophia. Ones about Gwen, good and bad depending on what side she was on at the time, she'd had. But Merlin was a new one on her. And that was not the sort of dream she would like to be having about Merlin. No she'd rather have dreams where he was alive, with her...
Shaking her head to get it away from the very interesting place it had taken her, she pondered why she was suddenly having dreams about Merlin. Well, some dreams of him she'd been having ever since Christmas, and she didn't mind them at all. However, the dreams foretelling his death were new. And problem was, she was worried. She knew how much the leadership of Camelot cared about and depended on Merlin. She, Arthur, Gwen, the majority of the knights, most of them would be devastated if something happened to Merlin. But was her dream an actual vision of the future, or just an indicator of things to come?
With this distasteful thought on her mind, she left her room, seeking to clear her head out on the battlements. Now that she thought of it, all her dreams had been darker lately, involving death and destruction. And while a few months ago, Camelot dying a fiery death would have appealed to her, now it didn't in the slightest. Morgause had used her, she knew that now. She had used her to exact revenge on Uther, and as Merlin said she had allowed herself to become bitter and vengeful, not noticing or believing that unlike Uther, he, Arthur and Gwen did like her and would do so no matter what. Morgause, the feeling of abandonment by her friends, and Merlin's much regretted betrayal when he had poisoned her had turned her against Camelot and her friends, made her bitter and eager for power. But Arthur, showing a length of care and compassion their father never would have shown, pardoned her, freeing her from her belief that all of them would gladly have her killed, and her entire outlook had begun to change. And after everything Merlin had done for her at Christmas, she also had her friendship with Gwen back, their attempts to kill each other aside, suitors were coming for her, and there was also of course Merlin.
No wonder her dreams were so dark. She had a hell of a lot more to lose now she was back with the ones who she loved, rather than when she had lived alone in her shack plotting in the dark.
As she stepped out onto the battlements, deciding to go by Gaius' room and deliver his blanket, and with a bit of luck, see Merlin, she was surprised to see him already standing at the overlook, his face troubled. Smiling, she sidled alongside him, leaning on her wrists as the two of them looked out over Camelot.
"Couldn't sleep?" he asked softly, turning his head to study her.
"Vision." She said in distaste, and Merlin turned to face her fully, his eyes narrowed in worry.
Right there was one of the reasons she was so fond of Merlin. During her childhood and before her betrayal, any mention of her visions had freaked Arthur out, frightened Gwen, had made Gaius clam up, and of course carried a risk of execution with it with Uther. Merlin on the other hand had always been the one who would seek her out, try to cheer her up, check she wasn't freaking out, and above all make sure she was alright, and would do so unflinchingly.
"I thought they had stopped?" he asked worriedly, his eyes full of concern as he stooped his head to look right into her own eyes, taking in the bracelet Morgause had given her to ward off the visions.
"Well they had, at least while I was with Morgause or on the run. Basically when I had nothing to care about aside from myself." She said, and he looked at her with sympathy.
"What was it about?" he asked after a minute, during which time Morgana had been wondering just when he felt the way she had, and she had to suppress a rueful smile.
"It was you." She said, eyeing him from the corner of her eye.
The blush that appeared on his cheeks was really quite sweet. Deciding to tease him a little later, she kept her silence, while he asked in a mock-casual voice,
"You were dreaming about me?"
"Nothing good though." She said regretfully, and he looked at her, his face a mask of concern for her, but also looking slightly put out.
"What was it?" he asked after a minute.
Morgana sighed, and pulled the blanket further around herself, and then felt Merlin's arm wrap around her shoulders, tentatively at first, further insulating her against the cold. Sidling up to him so he didn't have to strain himself, she pursed her lips and began to tell him.
"Fire, death, you getting killed, Gwen and Arthur being devastated and then being killed, and two people, a black knight and a woman in red, neither of whom I recognise while Camelot burned around them."
Merlin looked down at her, his kind face overwhelmingly filled with concern and sympathy for her, and she smiled a little and raised an eyebrow.
"Is this where you tell me it's probably nothing?" she asked, and he snorted and shook his head.
"No, because we both know that's not true. But, don't worry about it. We've averted your visions before haven't we? We can do it again." He said, though she could hear a little flicker of fear in his voice.
"True." She admitted, after all it had been him who had averted the one when Arthur was drowning.
They stood together on the rampart, his arm around her shoulders, gently, not trying anything like most men in her experience (and after a couple of years on the run she'd had a bit, like that perv Agravaine, and Helios' had tried to get a little too friendly at times too), he was just there, being there for her. However, she so wished he would do something, something for her to react to. While she did value him very highly as a friend, her heart yearned for something more. A few more minutes passed, the two of them looking out at the dark city, feeling warm beside Merlin, safe, comforted, and then she looked up at him, his eyes set in the distance.
"What's wrong Merlin? Has Arthur annoyed you again?" she asked softly, but he shook his head.
"No, it's not him. It's just me being stupid." He said sadly.
She looked up at him, seeing the grim set to his mouth and eyes and her heart panged for him. Merlin yearned to tell her how he felt about her. But he couldn't do that. She was Arthur's sister, and he didn't want to get in the way of her getting married to whatever noble caught her fancy. Better they remained friends. And besides, how could he tell her how he felt when his best friend was her brother? How would he react to the news that Merlin was in love with Morgana? He could envisage Uther's reaction to such news, he just hoped that Arthur would take it slightly better if he found out. Better for all of them if they remained friends, even if he did want something more.
"I'm going in Merlin, I'll see you later." She said after a while, and acting on impulse, kissed his cheek.
He gave her a small grin, and she turned away from him, heading back inside. Merlin fought down the impulse to blurt out that he loved her, instead settling to say something else as he watched her head inside.
"Morgana?" he asked softly.
"Yes Merlin?" she asked, her long black hair glinting in the moonlight as she turned to face him.
"Enjoy meeting your suitor tomorrow." He said quietly, his voice not betraying the disdain and resentment for the situation he felt, his smile not quite reaching his eyes.
"Hmm. I'll try." She said regretfully, giving him a slightly sad smile and, wishing he was the one courting her tomorrow, and with a last longing look that he didn't notice, she headed inside to deliver the blanket to Gaius.
Merlin looked out over the overlook, down at the dark city below. His mood recently had been bad, he knew that. Part of it was that he was afraid that his friends wouldn't want to basically be friends with him anymore. It was an irrational fear, with very little basis in reality (lamia and Arthur's insults aside) but he couldn't overcome it. He didn't know what was wrong with him. Maybe he just didn't react well to change, and the thought of all of his closest friends going off and doing their own thing was quite a considerable change, and maybe he was just reacting badly to that. All his life in Ealdor, people who had been friends with him were few and far between, not wanting to be associated with the freak with magical powers. Will had been one of the few who had actually taken the risk in order to become his friend. And here he had Arthur, Gwen, Morgana, the knights, all of whom were his friends. So why was he suddenly afraid of losing them all of a sudden? The only thing he could think of that might turn them against him was finding out about his magic. Either that or they would just drift off...
Shaking his head, he cursed himself for his stupidity. He knew these people, his friends. They wouldn't let him just vanish into the ether while went off to do their own thing. But the question still remained, why was he feeling like this?
Maybe it was because of how he felt about Morgana, his feelings which were getting stronger by the day for the witch. And the thought of yet another suitor coming to court her, when he was here, feeling as he was, it was driving him insane. And unlike most if not all of the suitors, he actually understood her, understood what had driven her towards evil, and understood her powers. Who else could say that about her? Grunting in annoyance with everything, with the situation, himself, his mood, and everything else he could figure out how to curse, he stood there, feeling further depressed and angry as he looked out at the overhang. And then, to make his mood even worse, he suddenly remembered Gaius had wanted him to clean the floors and his leech tank. Bitterly swearing, his temper close to bursting, he was about to head inside when Arthur suddenly came out onto the battlements and stood beside him, looking out over the city with his friend.
Merlin stood there in mutinous silence. He really needed to go and do his chores for Gaius if he intended to get any sleep tonight, but with Arthur there he didn't want to risk walking out on him twice in one day.
"What's wrong Merlin?" Arthur asked gently, a tone which surprised Merlin.
He looked at his friend, his best friend, and rather seeing annoyance of reluctance, or resentment (which he'd have seen had Gwen made him come), he just saw genuine compassion and concern for his friend.
Merlin sighed and went back to looking out over the city.
"I don't know. I'm sorry I've been such a drag the last few days." He said quietly, and Arthur cocked his head at him.
"Is it to do with Morgana?" he asked hesitantly, and Merlin looked at him in surprise.
"How do you know about that?" he asked, put out, and Arthur gave him a rueful smile.
"The perils of having a wife smarter than you are. And don't you dare tell her I said that." He warned, and Merlin laughed a little.
"Ok, I won't. Well, yeah, partly, it's about, you know, Morgana." He admitted, realising he was talking about his feelings for the others sister.
"You love her don't you?" Arthur asked suddenly and Merlin thought about denying it, then decided against it, nodding slightly.
"Yeah. I do." He said, sending a fearful look at Arthur, and stepping away from him a little.
"Oh Merlin, why didn't you tell me?" Arthur demanded in annoyance, further confusing Merlin.
Why wasn't Arthur yelling at him, or laughing mockingly at him, saying it could and would never happen? It just didn't add up.
"I don't know. You've got enough to worry about without worrying about your lovesick best friend who has the hots for your sister. And besides, its not exactly what you say to her brother is it? 'Oh by the way I'm in love with your sister'." Merlin said sadly, and Arthur looked at him with an odd expression on his face.
"Well that wasn't very bright of you was it? After all, who do you know who fell in love with a girl by all rights they could never really have? Oh yeah that would be me." He said, and the absurdity of the situation suddenly hit Merlin and he burst out laughing, joined a second later by Arthur.
"I never thought I'd see the day when you would tell me off for being an idiot and actually be right to do it." Merlin admitted with a snigger, and Arthur grinned.
"Me neither. But seriously, why didn't you tell me? Did you think I'd be mad or something?" he asked, and Merlin shrugged.
"Well partly. She is your sister after all. And it's pathetic. I know I could never be with her, so why bother you with it?" he asked softly, his voice low and dejected.
Arthur looked at his friend, feeling a strange sensation in his throat, and he reached out a hand and turned Merlin around to face him.
"Merlin...I'm your best friend right?" he asked, and Merlin nodded without hesitation.
"I know there's been times I've not listened to you. You know, with Cedric, Morgana, Gwen, Agravaine, and I should have done, look at the messes I got into because I didn't listen to you. But this is different from all those times. You aren't telling me something I'll stick my head into the sand to avoid facing the truth about Merlin. You're telling me something that is affecting you, is important to you. And I won't say I won't tease you, because I probably will, but I also want to help you Merlin, or at least try to make it a little easier for you. And considering everything that happened between me and Gwen, don't you think you might feel a little better if you talk to someone who knows what you're dealing with? If you want to strop and moan about it, fine, I'll listen. If you want to rage about it I'll listen. Merlin, you're my best friend. And I know how much being in love with someone you can't have sucks. So if you want to talk, I'll listen. Provided you do it while you're doing the jobs I give you." He finished with a slight grin, and Merlin smiled.
"Thanks." He said, and he meant it.
"You're welcome." And the two went back to staring out at the city.
"I can't help it. I know I can't do anything about it, but still..." Merlin said, and Arthur looked at him sympathetically.
Merlin really had fallen for Morgana hard this time. But just like it had once been with him and Gwen, there was nothing Merlin could do about his feelings, even if Morgana did reciprocate. She was a princess, he was a servant. He was the king's best friend, she was his sister. The nobles of court would all be opposed to it, so would a few of Merlin's friends. But question was, would he be opposed to it himself? If it came to it, would he allow his best friend and his sister to be together? Did he even want to find out? Part of him was screaming objections from all corners of his brain, but then Merlin had always been there for him and his problems with Gwen. So would he truly be opposed to making his best friend happy?
While Arthur pondered this, he saw the depressed expression on Merlin's face, an expression that had been on his face all too recently lately. Merlin was meant to be happy, cheerful, not verging on depression. Something about Merlin's depression just didn't sit well with him. One he hated seeing his friend so down, but he also found it highly unnatural. Even when Merlin was in the worst of spirits he was never usually this down in the dumps.
"It'll get better Merlin. I promise it will." Arthur said and Merlin gave him a feeble grin, which made Arthur knit his brows together in annoyance.
"What else is bothering you? And don't say nothing, because I know something is." He said, and he was rewarded by the nervous and self condemning look on Merlin's face.
"It's just, well you and Gwen are married now, Morgana is going to get married to some noble who doesn't live near here, and well, I know it's stupid but..."
Arthur arched an eyebrow.
"But you're worried about being left behind, that we won't want you around anymore?" he asked, going with what Gwen had said and trusting his (slightly, not that he'd admit it) more observant wife was right.
"Well...yeah." Merlin admitted with a sigh.
Arthur gave a small smile, resolving not to mention to Gwen that she was right and looked at Merlin.
"Hey. Merlin, we've been friends for about five years. Just because Gwen and I are married now doesn't mean we're going to go and forget about you. None of us are. You're stuck with us until we're all old and grey, understand?" he asked firmly but gently, and Merlin smiled and nodded.
"I know that, I just can't shake the feeling that it'll happen." He said softly, and Arthur looked right into his eyes.
"Well it won't. I won't ever force you away. Ok?" he said firmly, and Merlin nodded meekly, smiling a little bit.
"Thanks Arthur." He said gratefully, and he smiled.
"Come on you, let's get you home before you become any more morbid." He said teasingly and the two friends headed inside.
Gaius was awake, looking ever so slightly grumpy when the king and Merlin entered the room.
"Ah Merlin. I see you finally remembered that I wanted you to clean the floors and mop out my leech tank." Gaius said with a grim smile and Merlin groaned and slouched off up to his room.
"Gaius, maybe give him a bit of a break? He's depressed as it is." Arthur whispered to the physician, and Gaius frowned.
"Have you noticed that too? I thought at first it was because he was getting over his feelings for the lady Morgana, but now I'm not so sure, he isn't usually like this. Well he is when he has to clean the leech tank, but not all day." Gaius said, as Merlin came back down the stairs, looking confused.
"Gaius, what's this?" he asked, indicating the small necklace with a rune on it, which seemed to say fear.
"That's what I was wondering. I found it under your pillow earlier when I was cleaning. I take it it isn't yours?" he asked, and Merlin shook his head.
"Fear..." Arthur muttered, a suspicion growing in his mind, along with his temper.
"Arthur?" Merlin asked, cocking his head a little.
Arthur then took it from him, and threw it into the open fire place, where it crackled and burned, then turned back to look at Merlin. And, as Arthur had begun to suspect, a black sort of shroud suddenly left his friend, and Merlin's face brightened considerably, as did his entire demeanour, which made he and Gaius exchange significant glances.
"Feel better?" he asked, and Merlin smiled, not one of his hesitant smiles like from up on the roof but his usual smile, which certainly improved Arthur's mood.
"Yeah actually! Hang on, someone put an enchantment on me!" he moaned, and he sounded so frustrated and wronged by this that Arthur had to suppress a snigger in order to keep his face the same mask of worry that Gaius' was.
"Apparently so Merlin but who?" he asked grimly.
"Morgana?" Arthur ventured hesitantly, earning him a filthy look from Merlin, which he had to admit he deserved. But if news that Merlin had been enchanted to believe all his friends would abandon him, most people would probably look to Morgana as the main culprit first.
"No. It wouldn't be." Merlin said stoutly.
"You sure you're not-" Arthur began, hating himself, but Merlin cut him off.
"Yes I'm sure. First off, what would she have to gain from it? She lives here now, so she could cause a hell of a lot more damage if she just used a spell to trip me down the stairs. Secondly, if you found out it was her who enchanted me, you'd probably banish her or kill her. Thirdly, she has no reason to. And fourthly, why enchant me just to feel miserable? She's already proved that she can be a hell of a lot more effective if I was enchanted to hurt you. It just seems petty, to make me feel miserable." He reasoned, and he did have to admit he had a point.
"Well, who else could it be? Who else could have gotten into your chambers?" Arthur asked Gaius, who shrugged.
"I don't know sire. I suppose anyone could have gotten in but what Merlin says is true. It seems a rather foolish waste of time when another enchantment could have caused a lot more havoc than just making Merlin depressed."
Arthur frowned. Something wasn't right. But, Merlin, while maybe a little down inside, was basically back to his usual cheery self, and for the moment that's all that mattered. Anything else was tomorrow's problem.
"Alright. We'll look into it, but let's keep it quiet. I'll only tell the knights. Night Gaius." He said, turning to leave, and Gaius bowed.
"Arthur?" Merlin spoke up and he turned to look at his friend.
"Thanks." He said, with his usual smile, and Arthur grinned.
"Night Merlin." H said, and left the room, leaving Merlin and Gaius to talk about who may have put the enchantment on Merlin.
She watched in the mirror as Arthur, having destroyed the enchantment on Merlin, strolled off, leaving Merlin and Gaius alone, who immediately began to talk.
"Curse you Arthur Pendragon!" she hissed in vexation, allowing the mirror to return to normal as she strolled to the throne set into the wall, anger simmering in her at the thought that she may have made a mistake with her spy.
"I take it that means that your plan is not going accordingly?" a deep, harsh voice asked, and she looked into shadows to where the voice lay, coiled.
She scowled, annoyance coming out of her. After all, it was mostly a test of her spy, which she supposed if she was merciful, he had passed. It wasn't his fault Arthur and Merlin were so damned co-dependent on each other.
"It wasn't a particularly sophisticated plan to begin with." She responded after a minute in which she calmed down, and he made a questioning noise in his throat.
"It actually seems unworthy of you."
She laughed slightly, reclining in the stone throne as she heard him shuffling around in the shadows.
"I agree, it was unworthy of me. However, we are playing the long game here. There was a reason for this plan, both to begin to sow mistrust within their ranks and also to check the capabilities and commitment of our spy. And despite Arthur destroying the enchantment, the seeds are still planted within Merlin's mind, a suspicion that when the time comes, Arthur will abandon him. And that will leave Camelot ripe for the pruning." She gloated, visions of that long awaited and delayed day filing her mind's eye.
"You risk pushing him closer to the traitor." He warned darkly, and she smiled, her white teeth flashing in the gloom of their lair.
"I know. But that will hardly bother us. After all, I have a plan to deal with the traitor." She promised smugly, and he gave a deep booming laugh, and she could hear his body moving in the shadows as he did so.
"Good. The flux of destiny and magic are giving us the opening we need. Their weakness will allow us to exploit it to our own ends, and then utilise that to bring about the fall of Camelot, the once and future king and his pet warlock. When will the boy arrive? I seek to avenge myself on the Pendragon line."
She snorted derisively at his bloodlust, crossing her legs on her throne. For one so old, he really could do with learning patience.
"Who doesn't? The boy is on his way now. I was thinking of sending a few wyvern to see how he fairs against them." She told him, and she could virtually hear his eyebrow rising questioningly.
"Really? Wasn't his disposal of the slavers enough proof of his power?"
She glared at the shadows, breath hissing between her teeth.
"Ordinarily, it would be. But these aren't just any people we are trying to destroy. This is the once and future king, his pet warlock Emrys, the traitor, and the knights of Camelot, who are the best in the land. We need to know exactly what the child is capable of if we are to use him against Arthur and Merlin." She explained, and he did have to admit, she had a point.
"But even if he survives my pets attack, how will he be able to match Arthur and Merlin in combat? He's just a boy, and there's only so much we can do to help him."
She smiled, getting up from her throne and heading to the altar in the middle of the courtyard, drawing on her reserves of strength. It was time for the Old Religion to do a favour for its most loyal servant.
"I will need your help. The Old Religion does not like to give anything away for free, even now." She said, standing by the altar.
He growled in annoyance, and positioned himself to better help her, allowing her to drain on his vast reserves of magic that surpassed even hers, which alone were outmatched by only Merlin, and perhaps Morgana.
Magic was in flux. The kilter of destiny, the set paths for everything in existence, all were in chaos, due to Morgana's unexpected capture, and ever since then, her inexplicable return to good and all that entailed. No strong evil was left to oppose the creation of Albion, and its creators, Arthur and Merlin, throwing the balance of the world into anarchy, no dark to oppose the two strongest lights in existence. With the set path now up in the air, and all that was meant to be predestined now in doubt, magic was out of control, the Old Religion and hence magic itself were in chaos, trying to make up for the deficit, and as such it was out of control. And so, her erstwhile ally had returned to the land, seeking answers, coming across the chaotic state of magic, known to none at the time. And with his magic to anchor itself to, here at the birthplace of all magic, she, for unknown reasons, had returned to life without having to trade a life for it, showing the chaotic state of magic and of the Old Religion, which for reasons unknown had deemed her the one fit to return to balance out magic, sorting out the balance of the world. And as the world was still unbalanced and was getting more so by the day, it only made sense that they utilised that, in order to bring back the natural order of things. After all, there would soon be more than enough deaths to compensate for those she would resurrect in her desire to destroy Camelot, Arthur and Merlin.
She began to chant, her eyes fixed on the heavens, storm clouds rolling overhead. Wind swept through the ruins, and rain began to plummet, as a chill settled on the area. Magic poured into her from all directions, from below her, from around her, from her ally, and from the sky, adding to her own more than considerable power. Feeling the power of the Old Religion surging through her, growing by the second, she began the incantation, her hands placed above the altar, the lightning sending jagged forks down around the two of them. Magic was already unbalanced, what was tipping the balance a little more going to do? Besides, even if the Callieach responded to what she was doing, between the two of them they should be able to bind her...but that was a plan for another day.
She finished her incantation, and a flash of lightning struck down from the sky, illuminating the entire courtyard, earning a growl from her companion. And as the light faded, a skeleton appeared first, then it was clad in muscle and tissue, then skin, then hair, then clothes, and finally, life breathed out of him once more.
She stood back, her long dress billowing around her as she smiled at her creation. He sat up, beholding himself in awe, then looked around at his surroundings. And when he saw her companion, he bolted off the altar, reaching valiantly for a sword that wasn't there.
"Calm. You are returned to life. Take a moment to get used to it." She said sweetly, sitting back on her throne, while her companion stomped back into the shadows.
"How is this possible?" he asked in awe, striding past the alcove where her companion laired and kneeling at her feet.
"Actually its all thanks to two people: your former employer Morgana, and your killer, Merlin." She said with a sinister smile.
His eyes widened as his memory of his death returned.
"Merlin! The boy, he's Emrys! The one who Morgana is afraid of! I must warn her." He said, and there came a deep, guttural, booming laugh from the alcove.
"I think not puny human. You now work with us. Morgana has been taken in by her brother, pardoned for her actions. She is now within Camelot, and becomes even less dedicated to taking the throne and killing her brother by the minute. And we already know of the boy's true identity."
He looked around at them, his face slack with shock.
"However, you are in luck. Because she and Merlin are no longer on the established path, magic is in chaos, hence my return. And now, I will destroy Camelot once and for all, and your dear nephew along with it." She promised, and he smiled.
"If that is your wish, I shall endeavour to help you my lady, as thanks for my resurrection. What do you propose?" he asked, eyeing her appreciatively.
"A partnership between us. Firstly, I want you to tell me everything you know about Arthur, his knights, his queen and most importantly Merlin and Gaius, I have a score to settle with them. Everything, no matter how small must be told. And then, when our guest arrives, your help will be invaluable. The boy will need to understand his enemies if we are to use him to destroy our foes. And that is where you will truly earn your keep." She said smugly, and he bowed.
"As my lady wishes. What of the lady Morgana?" he asked curiously, and not for the first time she wondered about what their relationship had entailed.
"She will be dealt with in due time. Do not fret over her. Your loyalty to her is over. She is now loyal to another," she said, though didn't tell him that it was his killer, "and yours is up for grabs. I assume resurrecting you is a sufficient means of procuring your loyalty?" she asked and he bowed deeply.
"It is indeed my lady." He said, offering his hand to her, and she extended her own, allowing him to rise it to his lips and kiss it.
"Good. Now, tell me everything you know about Arthur Pendragon." She commanded, and he smiled indulgently.
"As my lady commands." Agravaine said smugly and began to talk to his new found allies.
This is the sequel to A Camelot Christmas, apologies it took so long. But here we are, and as this was originally a one shot you're getting the entire story at once, as I thought 77 pages long was a bit extreme.
So, schemes are afoot? What has happened with magic? Who are the mysterious people on the Isle of the Blessed? Who is the spy in Camelot? What will Morgana's suitor be like?
Time will tell!
Please read and review!