A/N: This is a post-reveal fic and also my very first fanfiction ever. Maybe it reeks to high heaven. Maybe it doesn't. You decide.
Also, this story alternates between the near past and the present, the past in italics.
Disclaimer: I totally own Merlin. That's why I'm writing fanfiction for it.
"I lost both my parents to magic. I'm going to avenge them, Merlin. I'll not make the mistake of trusting a sorcerer again."
"They're evil, don't you forget that."
"No man is worth your tears."
They couldn't kill him.
He was first sentenced to burning at the stake, the most feared punishment for his crimes. The flames died as they touched his skin. Yet the warlock didn't flee, didn't attack. He let the guards snatch him again, chaining his wrists pointlessly.
Everyone wondered why he didn't free himself when his death by decapitation was announced. The sorcerer sat silently in his dungeon cell until he was lead to the executioner's block. He seemed as surprised as the people gathered to watch when the blade of the undertaker's ax bounced harmlessly off his neck. The king cursed loudly, while his knights looked on in sickened silence. He drew his own sword, pushing the executioner from his place. The warlock bowed his dark head before his king.
"You have to believe, Arthur. You are destined to be Albion's greatest king... Have faith."
"I'll be happy to be your servant until the day I die."
The king screamed unintelligibly at his former servant, who looked up questioningly at his former master.
The king seemed to be saying "traitor," "trust," and "friend" amongst his cries of rage. As his tirade grew louder, the gathered crowd felt as if they were intruding on something deeply personal. One by one, they melted away until only the king, his court, and his loyal magician were left.
The king's hand cracked across the young man's prominent cheekbone. Merlin kept his head down as the guards dragged him away on the king's orders.
"Lock him in the darkest dungeon cell," he commanded with a pointed glare. "He cannot be trusted."
The warlock seemed disappointed in Arthur as he disappeared into the darkness of the castle. The king couldn't bring himself to move until the group was out of sight.
Dragon fire rained down around Arthur and his valiant knights perched on the battlements. Merlin stood by Arthur's side. The prince saw something in his eyes that he couldn't identify.
"I'm sorry you're having to do this."
Arthur notched a flaming arrow to his crossbow.
"Why? You're not to blame."
"Arthur..." the queen began, a comforting hand rested on this shoulder. The king sat on his bed, not only sinking into the sheets, but also into his helpless despair.
"...Not now, Guinevere. Can't we just... sit here?"
She nodded, sitting beside him. She wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders, gently rubbing circles as he buried his face in his hands.
The king was broken. How he hated himself, how he hated his father, how he hated the terrible Merlin! He let the boy weave himself into his heart like a poisonous ivy, and all the while the warlock was laughing at him, the stupid prince who couldn't see the magic dangling in front of his nose! He had defended him, swore the boy was loyal to him and that he didn't practice magic, all lies. He valued his opinion, even called him a friend. Arthur wondered how he could ever be so naive and blind.
Gwen pretended not to notice the tear tracks on her husband's face.
"Arthur, we need to talk. About Merlin."
The king turned to her with a rebuke on his lips but she dove into it anyway.
"You can't keep trying to kill Merlin. Who knows if you even can kill him, but he's not a threat! Banish him or lock him up, but don't kill him!"
She took the silent man's hands, pleading with her eyes for her former friend's life.
"Gwen... He is a sorcerer. It is treachery for you to talk like that. "
"Arthur, please, show mercy. He was your friend!"
"He lied to me!"
She stopped rubbing his shoulder, but Arthur continued in his blind fury.
"It's the law, Gwen! I can't make an exception for a servant," he yelled, throwing his arms to the air in frustration.
He pulled back as his wife winced.
"I believed you were better than this. I thought someday you were going to be a great king. I thought you would sooner die than let your best friend be killed!"
Arthur was left alone as his slighted wife stormed from the room. He buried his face in his bed, hoping to drown.
The witch sneered.
"Still not a very good fighter, are we now, Arthur?"
She spat his name upon him as he scrambled backward, avoiding the tip of her blade. He felt a solid wall behind his back, but the proud king refused to let his fear show. He instead gazed defiantly at his former friend, his half sister.
"Why don't you just kill me, Morgana?"
"Oh, I will," she purred. "But I want to have fun with you first. How I've waited for this day!"
The tip of her sword teased his throat.
"Morgana, back off," echoed a small voice through the broken courtyard.
Both king and witch turned to the servant who would have seemed untouched by the chaos around him except for the gleam of righteous fury in his glassy eyes. He bore Arthur's castoff sword in his right hand.
"I said, back off, witch," he threatened, twirling his sword like Arthur did sometimes.
"What are you doing, Merlin? Get out of here!"
The cell where they took Merlin was as dark and as filthy as he had expected. The guards threw him in more roughly than necessary, and with them left the light. Merlin had not anticipated that he would have survived being burned or beheaded, even if by mere fate. He wondered what his next execution would be and if destiny would once again intervene in his sentence, the force he reckoned had prevented his previous two.
He did not summon any magic in the cell. He did not create light or unlock the door or break his shackles or call the dragon. He waited in maddening silence instead, wondering if the king-no, his friend-would ever forgive him for his secrets and lies. He wondered if Arthur would ever understand that it was never for himself he did what he did. He wondered if Arthur could ever sort the truth from the lies that Morgana so effectively spun. Albion may never be united.
"I always thought that silence would be a blessing with you, but I find it just as irritating. You're a riddle, Merlin."
"Yes, but I've got to quite like you."
"Now I realize you're not as big a fool as you look."
"Yeah. I feel the same. Now that I realize you're not as arrogant as you sound."
Merlin grew aware of a dim light growing brighter as it approached his cell. Was it time for his execution already?
Instead of the guards, the queen herself marched briskly down the dungeon corridors bearing a plate of bread and meat and cheese. She let herself in Merlin's cell with a key nicked from Arthur's bedside dresser. Merlin allowed himself a smile.
"Gwen," he greeted her. She traded smiles, but it did not reach her eyes that could not reach him.
"You look terrible, Merlin," she tutted, swinging a bucket he was too busy admiring the food to see. She pulled a cloth from her pocket as she offered him the platter, which he gratefully accepted. As he savored the fresh food, she dabbed at a mark on his face where Arthur had slapped him. She still kept herself from looking directly into his eyes.
"You're not supposed to be here, Gwen."
"I'm the queen, Merlin. There's not much they can do to stop me."
Besides beheading, but neither of them mentioned that now.
Merlin cleared his throat, dreading. "Aren't you afraid of me? Don't you... hate me?" he choked. "I'm a monster, Gwen. Why are you helping me?"
"Because I care about you. And Arthur cares about you too, whether he can admit it right now or not. You might be a warlock, Merlin, but you're not a monster. You're a good man and I know you use your abilities for good."
The warlock ate the last bites of the meal in silence while the queen watched in equal quiet.
"Thank you for your kind words, my lady."
Morgana poked Arthur in the chest and he fell silent.
"Well...Look what we have here. The king's faithful servant come to play? No. I know who you are," she grinned savagely, not unlike a hyena upon finding fresh dead meat.
"You are my worst enemy. You are there every time and you always mess up everything."
Merlin shook his head.
"There's still time for forgiveness, Morgana. Leave now and I'll spare you."
"How do you plan to do that?"
Arthur wondered the same thing.
"I'll think of something."
Morgana's eyes glazed over. What was it, fear, that brought the fog?
"Wait. I know who you are."
"You did what?"
The king's outrage was unmatched in any of the five kingdoms.
"You were starving him, my lord."
Arthur was silenced by his fury, gagging on the words he wished to scream at his defiant wife.
"I promise he will be fed as long as you promise me you will not contact him again."
There was no use arguing with Arthur.
"Yes, my lord."
"You are Emrys. It all makes sense now."
Who? wondered Arthur. What was she talking about?
"The most powerful sorcerer in the history of the world the lowly manservant of the prince? Even I did not see this coming," she snarled with a hint if irony. A half smile graced her face that was not at all pleasant.
Arthur's head was spinning. Merlin, a sorcerer? Morgana's really lost it now.
"Why should I leave when you're going to just kill him yourself...? Like you killed his father?"
Merlin's eyes widened in surprise.
"That was an accident."
The king paced in the council room.
"Perhaps he could be banished," suggested one knight. Arthur shook his head. Too risky. He needed to know where the warlock was.
"We could poison him or starve him," offered another. Arthur remembered the poisoned chalice. Not again. He couldn't do that to Merlin again, whispered the rebellious part of his mind, the part that was screaming in agony as the flames reached for the magician's skin, the blade came down on his neck, and as he languished in the castle's dungeons. He hated that part of him, that part that told him Merlin was his friend. Kings don't have friends, especially not ones who were sorcerers.
Out loud he said, "That would not be honorable. Anything else?"
An older member of the council motioned for King Arthur's attention. He nodded, and the councilman launched hesitantly into his story.
"I've heard stories of a certain kind of metal alloy that can chain anything. Once it traps something, the being can only escape under the rarest of circumstances. Even this Emrys-" Arthur winced at the name"-would be trapped and unable to use his magic to harm Camelot."
"Where would we put him, if this metal exists?"
"How about the caves below the castle where the Great Dragon was once kept?"
"You let Arthur believe his father would live, then you murdered him."
"That was your doing, Morgana."
"That's what you'd like Arthur to think, wouldn't you? You've been lying to him ever since he first met you."
"Merlin?" he whispered in disbelief. It did seem like the man always knew more than he said, but was Morgana telling the truth?
"I'm sorry, sire," Merlin said, his eyes wet. He turned to the witch.
"Morgana, once last warning. Get away."
"You are a Dragonlord, too. You're the one that released the dragon, and you let Arthur believe he killed it. You have conspired with the Druids. You knew about my magic and the treachery of Agravaine and you didn't tell anyone. You laugh at Arthur every time someone accuses you of sorcery because he always so blindly defends you, not knowing what you really are."
Arthur felt like someone had pulled his heart out. He looked at his treacherous servant, like steel under Morgana's piercing gaze. "You are worse than me," she said with pure loathing and a glance at the shell shocked king.
"I'm sorry for this, Morgana."
His eyes flashed gold and the witch was unable to stop herself from flying backward or her sword from flying into the warlock's empty left hand. Merlin uttered ancient foreign words under his breath, and with another flash of gold, the swords lit up with an unearthly light. He strode over to Morgana, every bit the powerful sorcerer she claimed and not a bit like the bumbling servant Arthur trusted.
"Leave, Morgana. Never return to Camelot. Next time I will kill you."
Arthur saw Morgana's eyes fill with fear as a whirlwind of magic carried her away, but he missed the smirk of vengeance that was meant for Merlin.
The first time Arthur visited Merlin in the caverns, Merlin did not speak at all.
Arthur didn't know if the warlock was listening, but he talked to him all the same. The question burned in his mouth, and the silence was unbearable.
"Why did you do it, Merlin?"
"Why'd you have to be a sorcerer and ruin everything?"
He nearly throttled the idiot. Still, Merlin remained unnaturally quiet.
"Fine," snapped the king. "Rot for all I care."
As he turned away, Arthur didn't see the tears running down Merlin's cheeks making trails in the dust that covered him.
"He will never trust you now, Emrys."
Her voice echoed in Merlin's head like the dragon and Mordred's had, and Merlin knew he was doomed.
Arthur watched this Emrys pace slowly toward him, glowing swords in hand. His eyes were filled with something unreadable.
"The once and future king," he mumbled.
Arthur swore to himself never to visit Merlin again. It was best he focused on his duties as king instead of the wayward servant.
However, when Camelot was once again threatened by a force of dark magic, the king was at a loss for what to do.
Even Gaius had no idea how to fight the monsters, many-legged centipede-like creatures whose shells could not be pierced by any sword or other weapon. The elderly physician, with backing from the queen, humbly suggested asking Merlin for advice. The king bristled, but he did not outright reject the idea, to Gaius and Gwen's relief.
When he visited the warlock, he was waiting for him. In the few months of his captivity, Merlin had managed to grow a thick, black beard. His clothes stuck to his bones more than ever, and his pale skin appeared especially pallid under the layer of dirt and dust he wore. His chains were gathered around him as he sat perched on a rock like the fierce bird of prey he was named for, with a white dragon the size of a horse curled around him. It seemed content to lay its head in the warlock's lap.
"This is Aithusa. He is my... ward of sorts."
Arthur didn't comment on the supposedly extinct dragon.
"Camelot is under attack, Merlin."
"People are dying."
"'No man is worth dying for.' Remember that, my lord?"
"Merlin, I... Is this about the Dragonlord then? Did I offend you so badly you turned to sorcery?"
Merlin's eyes filled with hurt and sadness, with a pinch of what Arthur recognized as pity. For a man that held such a huge secret, Merlin really was an open book.
"Hit them with fire."
"Simultaneously hit the monsters on their underbelly with fire and something that pierces. Try flaming arrows or lances."
"Thank you," Arthur said, out of habit more than anything.
Arthur prepared himself for a mortal blow, for the traitor to turn him to dust.
With a loud crash that shattered the silence the twin swords lost their fire and fell to the ground. Merlin's whole body shook and he collapsed at Arthur's feet.
By that time several knights began to collect in the courtyard now that the fighting had ended with Morgana's disappearance.
"Guards!" the king managed to shout.
They scurried over to him, the blood on their scarlet cloaks barely visible.
"Sire, are you alright?" one said with alarm.
Another, Gwaine, actually, reached down toward Merlin.
"Stay away from him," the king barked. "He is a sorcerer and a traitor. He meant to kill me."
The knights looked at him in disbelief.
"Princess, surely you can't be serious," Gwaine spluttered.
The swords on the ground flashed as Merlin stirred, causing the five knights to jump and Arthur to look even grimmer.
"Take him to the dungeon. Send Gaius to tend to him after everyone else. I need to decide what his punishment will be."
"So... Did you vanquish the beasts, my lord?"
"Yes, thanks to you."
Arthur didn't know what he was saying or why he was here again. The white dragon was conspicuously absent this time.
"Arthur, I need you to listen to me."
The king hesitated.
"I didn't choose to be a sorcerer."
"How can that be? Of course you did."
"From the moment I opened my eyes, I could do magic. I've never needed spells like other magicians. Magic is a part of me. You need to understand that, Arthur."
"I'm tired of your lies, Merlin."
The king walked out of the caverns leaving Merlin looking resigned.
The king tossed and turned in bed that night, considering Merlin's words, weighing them against Morgana's accusations. He needed to know the truth. He felt guilty about everything. Careful not to wake the sleeping Guinevere, Arthur pulled on clothes, throwing a long cloak and hood over his head. The guards at the entrance of the catacombs jumped at his silent and sudden appearance, but with a little urging promised their liege their silence about his late night visit.
Arthur walked quickly toward the cave, descending the now familiar staircase.
"I hope I did not wake you," he apologized to the half-awake warlock. Merlin shook his hand in a forgiving manner, with jingling chains.
"Have you been thinking about what I said?"
Arthur nodded. The words came slowly as he continued to roll them around in his head.
"Hypothetically, let's say that what you told me was true and let's say you aren't aiming to kill me. Why would you come to Camelot, the one place your kind are hated the most?"
"I came to Camelot to come under Gaius' protection. He helped me keep my powers in check and harness my abilities. I didn't really know the extent of the hatred of magic that was here until my arrival where the sorcerer was executed."
"If we say that hypothetically all of that is true, why did you stay? Why did you become my servant if you are 'the most powerful sorcerer' there ever was?"
Arthur lifted an eyebrow but he let the sorcerer continue.
"I thought you were just an arrogant toe rag, but he told me of a destiny. A destiny that we both share. He called you the Once and Future King, destined to unite the land of Albion and bring magic back to the land. But you could only achieve your destiny with my help. I believed in that destiny, and I still believe you will be a great king one day. If that means I have to follow you on your stupid hunting trips, protect your royal backside without recognition or thanks, or get chained up like any other magical beast, so be it. As long as it helps you become the king you were meant to be, and magic could return to the land to live in peace and harmony with all people, I'd be willing to die, experience the most painful of tortures, and bear the deepest of secrets. "
A/N: And that's all I got so far. I've got ideas for the next bit though, and I've got a sort of end planned. Hope you liked it! Please review!