I'll be calling the people of Nemeth, Nemithians. Although it sounds terrible considering the princess is called Mithian but Nemethians sounds even worse.
Not everyone will like this chapter because it's written in a new character's POV. It's a tiny bit like Doctor Who's 'blink' episode.
Will of the Dead
Mithian and Morgana were discussing clothing, more specifically dresses, but Mithian wasn't as interested as Morgana was. The Princess of Nemeth was bored to tears and would rather go hunting to get her blood pumping.
There was a loud bang and Arthur's manservant burst into the room with a huge smile on his face.
"Merlin-" Morgana intended to reprimand him, mainly because of Mithian's presence, but he interrupted her.
"He's asking her!"
Morgana jumped to her feet. "Come on." The Lady of Camelot smiled at Mithian who had no idea what they were going on about.
"Where are we going?" Mithian asked confused.
"Not far." Morgana replied as they hurried after Merlin.
Mithian didn't mind their unladylike behaviour. Here and there, she was unladylike in her own way. Hunting for sport wasn't exactly a woman's pastime but she like to indulge in the hunt from time to time. Her father didn't mind but neither did he encourage it. The Princess thought that a bit of danger made people stronger as long as it wasn't oppression or any of that.
Their run grew to a halt before one a door and Morgana put a finger on her lips as a gesture to stay quiet.
"Wait for it..." Merlin whispered with a sly smile.
Mere moments passed and something collided with the door. Morgana raised her eyebrows in indecisiveness. It wasn't extremely loud but it was enough to raise questions about what they were doing, fighting or loving? Giggling erupted from the other side and the door opened.
Gwen's voice could be heard coming from the other side. "It will come as quite a shock for Morgana."
Arthur, who still had his hand on the door handle, was about to reply when his eye fell upon the eavesdroppers.
"Not by the look of things." He said dryly.
Gwen walked over and also noticed Merlin, Morgana and Mithian.
"Ah." Gwen bit the inside of her cheek.
"Merlin, go muck out the stables."
"Yes, Sire." Merlin almost laughed and left.
The King had apparently forgotten the stable had almost been burned down to the ground. The little stunt he pulled would go unpunished after all. Unless he'd notice afterwards, then he'd be in the stocks again.
Arthur decided that this awkwardness had to make room for something else.
"Princess Mithian. May I introduce to you my fiancée, Guinevere."
"Isn't she..." Mithian stammered.
"She was my maid, yes." Morgana smiled, not at all bothered as Mithian thought she would be.
"It's bold, very bold." Mithian admired the King for choosing love.
In some circles it would be an outrage if nobility married common folk. Arthur was more than that, he was royalty. His father wasn't likely to approve his choice.
"How long have you... courted?" The Princess asked out of curiosity but it seemed more of a test for the King's fiancée whom she was looking at.
"Little over a year now." Gwen sighed in pre-marital bliss.
The future Queen turned to her husband-to-be whose face seemed a forecast for bad weather. Arthur
"I approve." Mithian sneakily passed her judgement on the deal between her and Arthur.
Meanwhile in one of the few still standing taverns sat a Knight. Sir Geraint. He wasn't wearing his uniform at the time but most of the Knights of Camelot recognized him easily. The men from Nemeth who helped with the reconstructions did not. The reason that Sir Geraint was not wearing the colours was quite simple, he fancied a gal that didn't fancy the armour. She wasn't there though. What if the dragon killed her? It was a most depressing thought. On the other hand, perhaps she didn't like a crowd. He stayed longer than usual to drown his sorrows. Taking hold of another tankard of ale he yawned. It would be the last one for the day. If they caught him back at the barracks there would be hell to pay. He'd have to sneak back in like a child. The Knight almost giggled at the juvenile thought and sat down at one of the, now many, empty tables. Some of Nemeth's men were still there. They didn't sleep in the barracks but at their small encampment just outside the city.
"-we kill the King."
Geraint froze at the whisper of the two soldiers behind him. They planned to kill the King? Was it just the two of them at their separate table or was the whole of Nemeth's forces involved? The Knight's hand was shaking as the blood rushed through his veins. He wanted to act but he was drunk and out of uniform. He got up and with one last look at Nemeth's men he left the tavern. First thing he did was walk into an alleyway and put his fingers down his throat. Uncomfortable as it was, it cleared his head a bit.
Drunk and no uniform. No one would believe him and if the roles were reversed, he wouldn't believe it either. Proof, he needed proof. There would have to be a plan, hopefully a written plan. He just had to take it from one of them. A chance was staring him right in the face the moment the two miscreants left the tavern.
From the darkness he stalked them, still trying to find a way to figure out how to get the plans. When they went into a dark, narrow street, he went for it. He moved close to one of them and unsheathed his opponent's sword from behind. The other armed soldier took out his sword, like any soldier would, but Geraint didn't wear armour and struck without preamble. Death followed for one, then the other. He had killed them on instinct. Geraint's hand was shaking even more violently now and dropped the sword to investigate the bodies.
Looking over his shoulder he saw a shadow slip away. He grabbed the sword and went after it but lost it after several moments. Someone saw him. He went back to the bodies for a final inspection and much to his frustration he found nothing. Geraint disposed of the bodies by throwing them into the sewers and then hurried back to the barracks before he was missed.
The new day dawned at the sound of the bells of the city's criers. People gathered in the citadel courtyard and then the announcement was made, the King was getting married. Sir Geraint smiled at the cheering crowd. The people needed a bit of good news and it would do them well to see one of their own on the throne. His smiled disappeared when he saw some soldiers from Nemeth on the other side of the courtyard. The Knight waited patiently but nothing happened.
After the King's reasonably brief appearance Geraint walked the castle halls in hopes of clearing his mind. The bodies hadn't been found yet, that could be a good thing. No one had stepped forward about it which was definitely a good thing. Maybe the person that saw him didn't see him all that well or maybe realised it was done for the good of the Kingdom and hid the bodies. No, that was a bit-
"Everything alright, Sir Knight?"
Geraint was pulled from his thoughts by the Lady Morgana.
"Yes, milady." He replied.
"You seem a bit bothered." She voiced her thoughts.
Was it that obvious?
"Rumours, whispers. Nothing you need concern yourself with." The last thing the Knight wanted to do was rile up the Lady of Camelot but she did not take 'no' for an answer.
"Nonetheless, you should share your worries with someone. A fellow Knight or perhaps the King's advisor would listen?"
Geraint nodded. That wasn't a bad idea only he'd have to withhold what happened after he left the tavern. He showed her the smallest of smiles but it was genuine.
"Yes, that would be a good idea. Thank you, milady."
Morgana seemed pleased with herself and Geraint set off for Agravaine's chambers.
"Milord." Geraint greeted him as he stepped through the open door.
"Geraint, was it?" He asked as he motioned him to sit.
Agravaine clasped his hands and waited for the Knight to begin.
"I've heard whispers that our guests my attempt to kill the King." He began.
"Where did you hear these rumours?"
Geraint swallowed nervously. This would be where Agravaine would undoubtedly cut in.
"In the tavern-" CUT
"A Knight of Camelot should know better than to listen to idle gossip." Agravaine scolded him.
Geraint clenched his teeth and continued. "I heard them say it. We kill the King, that's what they said."
Agravaine nodded and seemed to consider his allegations towards the troops from Nemeth.
"I will tell some of the men to keep an eye out."
Geraint nodded and was glad that at least someone had listened.
Then, on his way out, he could hear Agravaine mutter "Twit."
"-And behind my back he calls me a twit!" Geraint vented towards Leon as he came down with his blade again.
Sir Leon deflected his blow and used the opening in his guard to push him back with his free hand.
"Investigate on your own." He advised his fellow Knight.
Geraint sheathed his sword, signalling the end of their spar, and took a deep breath.
"When do we ever have time for that?" He panted.
"I could cover for you for the rest of the day." Sir Leon kindly offered.
Geraint cracked a smile. "Seriously?"
"You're obsessing. Get it out your system." His fellow Knight told him.
"I owe you one."
He didn't know where to begin but, dressed in his civvies, decided to start at the market in the lower town. It was a bit of an awkward start for him but things wouldn't just smack him in the face and tell him where to go. The busy crowd even made him wonder if the witness was there. The very same thought also made him somewhat anxious.
"You seem a lost." The voice made him jump.
As Geraint looked at the owner of the voice he couldn't help but smile. She had long black hair, brown eyes and a small, slight distinctive nose bridge. The girl he fancied, the one that didn't like the armour, was alive and even noticing him.
"Didn't mean to startle you." She apologized sweetly.
"Haven't seen anything strange lately, have you?"
The girl cocked her head and replied "Let's see. Dragon attack, half the city is in ashes, the colours of Nemeth are everywhere and the King announced his engagement to a commoner."
"Right. Perhaps Guinevere is a witch." He joked but she was not amused.
"That's not funny." She replied. Sorcery was no joke and she had a secret she needed to keep.
"Sorry." And then he realized this was an opportunity to get acquainted with her. "Where are my manners? I am Geraint."
"It's only fair that such a beautiful woman has such a beautiful name" He tried to be charming but she wasn't that easy.
"Flattery will get you nowhere." She replied flatly.
He might have botched up his chances with her but at least he knew her name. In time, he would try again.
"-as good as dead." He heard someone say.
An alarmed Geraint quickly mumbled an apology to Freya before running into the crowd but soon he felt lost and ended his search.
With the market being a dead end, the next stop was the tavern. It was after all the place where he first heard of the plot. It was no surprise that The Rising Sun was absolutely packed. It was one of a mere few that still existed. Geraint noticed Merlin, the King's manservant, sharing an ale with a bearded, dark haired bloke who was known to be a troublemaker. What was his name again? Gwaine, Gawaine, something like that? His problem was women, drink and authority. In one word, his problem was having fun. Sir Geraint spent the whole night in The Rising Sun, staying as sober as possible, but there wasn't a word of betrayal.
Merlin woke with a slight hangover. The day was... Saturday or Sunday? Whichever it was, his first duty of the day was helping Gaius with his patients. One of the patients he had seen the day before.
"Merlin?" Geraint asked.
"How can I help you?"
"I've been a bit... on edge lately."
"Could you be a bit more specific?" Asked Merlin as he looked through the shelves.
"Can you keep a secret?" Asked Geraint.
The physician's apprentice sat down as he suspected it would be a long and embarrassing tale.
"I overheard two of Nemeth's men conspire to murder the king."
Merlin's undivided attention was now on Geraint.
"When? Where?" Asked Merlin.
"At the tavern, two days ago."
"And they weren't drunk? Were you drunk?" Merlin didn't want to be on high alert if there was no reason to be.
"Intoxicated but not drunk. The trouble is I don't have any evidence. All I have is whispers and shadows. You know what that's like. You've saved his skin more than once."
Merlin definitely did. Knight Valiant, the poisoned chalice, no one believed him then.
"Thanks for the warning. What about the blokes who said it, do you know where they are?" Asked Merlin.
"I've tried looking for them but they're nowhere to be seen."
"I've got nothing to go on but I'll definitely keep an eye out." Said Merlin.
Geraint nodded and with a quick 'thanks', he was gone.
Merlin knew he had heard it before, 'whispers and shadows', but didn't dwell on it. Later that morning, Freya paid a visit to the Physician's chambers.
"Your reading must be improving." Merlin remarked as Freya entered.
"You're not here for another one of Gaius' books?"
"I am. Geoffrey said it's might be a good exercise to find difficult words and Gaius' books are full of them." She replied.
Freya noticed Merlin was reading a book on magic. Was Arthur's life at stake again?
"Anything interesting going on?" She asked.
Merlin smiled at how observant she was.
"Sir Geraint was here earlier. He told me men from Nemeth were plotting to kill Arthur."
"You think they'll use magic?"
"He said it was all 'whispers and shadows' but I know that phrase from somewhere, whispers and shadows. Does it mean anything to you?"
"Can't say it does."
A little something occurred to her. Sir Geraint? The man she met in the streets the other say?
"Geraint. Short blond hair, bit of a chin, slightly longish forehead?" She asked.
"Sounds like him."
"I talked with him at the market yesterday. He was looking for something and I tried helping him but he suddenly ran off."
Merlin frowned. Something was definitely off.
Geraint did not sleep well through the following night. He felt like Merlin had not taken him very seriously, questioning him like that. "I've got nothing to go on" Merlin was not from Camelot, why would someone like him care about the King of Camelot? Yes, he had saved Arthur before but he was such a klutz that he probably did it by accident.
The Knight's mind went back to the tavern he had visited the night before. That troublemaker the King's manservant had spoken with, could he have been part of the issue? They two were extreme opposites which raised the question of how they first met. Geraint got suspicious of the two. What if Merlin only saved Arthur because he was still of use to Mithian and now that Arthur had decided to marry Guinevere, she would never be able to become queen of both Camelot and Nemeth. He got out of bed, refusing to sleep, because he had a kingdom to protect and serve.
Dawn barely reached the towers of the citadel when Freya carefully opened the door to Morgana's chambers. She had intended to wake Morgana now that Gwen was no longer her maidservant but instead found her bed to be made already. It was when she had fully opened the door that she saw Merlin standing by the window and, by the sound of it, with his arms around Morgana. Feeling a bit cheeky, Freya closed the door with more noise than necessary, causing the two lovers to jump away from each other.
"By the goddess, Freya. Will you please not do that?" Asked Morgana.
"I could've been anyone considering you don't actually have a servant anymore." Replied Freya.
Being the clever cookie he was, Merlin already got the point.
"Are you applying?" He asked.
"Taking on anyone else would mean you'd have to stop snogging." Said Freya.
"And I won't have to hide my magic." Added Morgana.
Merlin frowned, "You do realize you don't have to convince me, don't you?"
"Then it's settled. Freya is my new servant." Said Morgana.
"Speaking of which, I have to get back to Arthur."
With another watering hole restored, The Rising Sun was a lot less crowded than other nights. It allowed Sir Geraint to feel just a little bit more at ease. His heart felt a little bit lighter when he saw Freya sitting at the bar. At this point he regretted wearing his armour and decided that he would leave her alone in case she was still offended by the joke he made before. Geraint sat down at the other end of the bar and surveyed the room. Merlin was speaking with the rogue again and all the knight could think of were the plots he didn't know of.
Merlin got up from his chair and walked over to the bar to make some conversation with Freya.
"So how was your first day?" He asked.
"It's very interesting to hear how she had you running errands."
"Gods. She's telling you everything, isn't she?" Moaned Merlin.
Freya laughed out loud. "I think it's cute. She has a nightmare and you get her to talk about her good dreams instead."
Before her voice was silent, a shape threw Merlin to the ground and from her field of view and it was immediately followed by another shape. When everything finally came into focus, Merlin was slowly getting up from the ground, Sir Geraint was being held against the wall and a fourth participant, who received a bump in the kerfuffle, was striding towards them. Freya pulled Merlin back while the remaining three came to blows. The brawl grew larger with every passing second but the city guard arrived before they were able to tear the place apart completely. Although Merlin and Freya were not arrested, they were still asked to come along to identify the instigator.
Merlin was glad that Sir Leon took over the investigation and Freya even more so. The former druid girl dreaded to be near anything that represented a cell. The King's manservant did not remember much about how the brawl began. For him it was when someone dived into him. The only thing he could remember was that his assailant was wearing armour. According to Freya, Geraint was the only one wearing armour and that would have made him the aggressor. There was a lot of preferential treatment between knights and guards but it seemed that today was different.
In the cell at the end of the corridor was Sir Geraint and the nearby guards did not seem too pleased with him. When his eyes fell on Merlin, he jumped up and grabbed the bars of his cell as if he was going to squeeze himself through it.
"He's a traitor, conspiring with that vagabond!" He shouted.
Neither Merlin nor Freya understood why he was lying but he sounded very desperate. Sir Leon took the two servants to another room and began asking questions. Merlin answered all of them truthfully and even told him of the morning when Geraint expressed his concerns towards Arthur's safety. Have known the manservant for some time, Sir Leon did not even bother with Geraint's accusations.
"Your friend, Gwaine. What's his story?" Asked Leon.
"He's a traveller for as far as I know. His description of Essetir is on the mark and none from Nemeth dispute his claims concerning their Kingdom. Geraint's claim that he's a spy is rubbish. He's not exactly kept his head down, has he?" Merlin joked.
"But how do you know him?"
"Arthur once told me to muck out the stables and I found him sleeping in the hay."
"And that makes you friends?"
"I let him sleep off his hangover and he bought me ale a few days later. We talked a bit and since then we meet up every once in a while."
Sir Leon nodded gently but as relief washed over Merlin, the knight turned his attention to a nervous Freya.
"How do you know Sir Geraint?"
"I met him at the market a few days ago."
"Have you ever seen him before?"
"Not that I recall."
"He's had an eye on you for some time. I find it hard to believe you've only just met." Said Leon.
"I avoid men like him." Freya's truthful answer wasn't a very clever one.
"Like what?" Leon inquired.
Freya was silent, scared out of her mind. To tell him she was avoiding knights was a bad idea in every case. Saying it out of context it would make it an insult and that would not help her at all.
Freya's silence spoke volumes to Merlin and he decided to speak for her. "Leon. You were her captors. Let it rest, for goodness sake."
The Knight's guilt coloured his face as he realised his mistake. "You can go." He replied.
As they left, the warlock held Freya's hand in an attempt to reassure her that she would be alright. After walking Freya home, Merlin decided that Sir Geraint's behaviour was beyond reason and feared that magic might actually have something to do with it.
"Gaius, does whispers and shadows mean anything to you?" He asked once he got home.
"Where have you been? You mustn't disappear without telling me anything, it worries me when you do that."
"I lost track of time. Now please, does whispers and shadows mean anything to you?"
Much to his annoyance, Merlin was ignoring everything he just said. Knowing he wasn't going to win on that front, Gaius let it rest for the moment.
"It can mean a lot of things. It may describe black magic, a noxious gas but it also applies to a plethora of legends. Where did you hear the phrase?"
"One of the Knights is hearing things that aren't there. Could it be a curse or an enchanted trinket of sorts?"
"Possibly, but when taking recent events into account it might also be a creature."
"I don't follow." Said Merlin.
"Tristan de Bois was human but dark sorcery turned him into a wraith. Something similar has happened and I think I know what it is."
Gaius took the bestiary from one of the shelves and quickly found what he was looking for.
"Here it is. The Deathly Echo. Deathly Echoes are restless spirits of those who died because of the mutual hate and the dishonour of others. Deathly Echoes manipulate the senses of the people they haunt. These may be whispers, shadows, reflections and illusions. Because those without magic have less resistance to Deathly Echoes, they may also suffer from changes in personality. They are brought into existence through hate, death and dishonour"
"Does it say how to stop it?" Asked Merlin.
"Let's see... Yes. Deathly Echoes will only rest when justice has been served in their eyes. This may range from confessing to a priest to death by execution."
That did not bode well for Sir Geraint.
"Right... Why did no druid ever haunt Uther?" Merlin wondered.
"Uther did not break any of his own laws when he began the purge. There was no dishonour in that."
"So what do we do now? Sir Geraint is a danger to himself and others."
"We have to start with him confessing his crime."
Merlin went to Freya's home early in the morning since she would be serving as Morgana's handmaiden for the better part of the day. Unfortunately she wasn't as cooperative as he had hoped she would be.
"I'm not going back there. Last time, you said they would only ask a few questions and we ended up being interrogated."
"I was wrong, I'm sorry, but they would never imprison you. I'll never let that happen." He replied.
There was nothing she could counter with. Their entire friendship began with him and Morgana rescuing her.
Merlin saw her silence as doubts and he pressed on, "If he is released and the Deathly Echo is still with him, he might harm someone innocent. He doesn't trust me, he called me a traitor, but he fancies you which means he's more likely to listen to you."
Freya took a deep breath. As much as she hated the prison, she could not bear the thought of someone dying because she was too scared to try.
It took a while for Merlin to explain to Geraint what a Deathly Echo was but an example worked wonders. Sort of.
"I've not changed and I know what I heard." Although he could follow orders as a Knight, Merlin was not his superior.
It was Freya's cue to try and push some sense into that thick skull of his, "Geraint. The Deathly Echo changed you. You came to Merlin, to warn him, and over the course of a night you decided he was a traitor. You even assaulted him."
"He wasn't taking me seriously." Replied the Knight but she could see the flaw in his reasoning.
"He's here, is he not?" Freya countered.
This was the point where Geraint began to doubt himself and Freya kept talking, "I know you don't trust Merlin but I do trust him and so does Arthur. If you say you've done nothing wrong, we'll let you be. If you have forsaken your honour in any way, things will only get worse. You'll see enemies where there are friends."
Although Merlin had been paying a lot of attention to Geraint, he couldn't help but notice Freya's behaviour. There were no signs that she had been nervous at all. The warlock silently wondered what had given her such confidence.
Then Geraint confessed, "At the edge of the market, there was a home owned by the Lennart family. We've been at odds ever since our house has been recognized as nobility and we did not stand up for them. I used to bully their son because I was nobility and they weren't. I was there when they were attacked by the dragon and the roof collapsed. The old man was trapped and his son went after him. He was shouting at me for help but I did nothing. Although I was honour-bound to save them, all I could think about was how angry my father would be if I saved them. Then the building collapsed completely and both father and son died."
The guilt was clear on his face. This was, as he said, where he had forsaken his pledge to protect the people of Camelot. Merlin sympathised with the man who seemed to be close to tears. Unlike Merlin, Freya didn't believe he was about to cry. She thought he should be relieved that the truth was out when in reality he was even more nervous than before.
"That isn't everything, is it?" She asked, much to Merlin's surprise.
"No." Geraint almost whispered, "I killed two men and threw them in the sewers. Nemithian soldiers."
What Geraint did not see was the black fog that emitted from him like water vapour. The Deathly Echo was leaving.
"I'll tell Arthur about the Deathly Echo and try to appeal to his good nature." Said Merlin.
Geraint could only nod absentmindedly. He had a lot to worry about.
Outside, in the courtyard of the citadel and in the light of the sun, Freya sighed and shuddered.
"I feel disgusting."
"But you held yourself very well in there." Merlin complimented her.
"I've heard a lot of lies and half-truths, I've seen men use secrets against each other and betray each other for next to nothing. I saw him keep a secret and I abused it. It makes me feel like one of them and it disgusts me." Freya stormed off towards her home and Merlin let her because he didn't know how to react.
Whether or not the Deathly Echo existed did not matter. Sir Leon had men search the sewers and the two dead soldiers were found. Sir Geraint had to stand trial regardless of what the magical creature. It was through the respect of his peers that he was allowed to approach the King and kneel before him without being restrained. His judge was King Arthur Pendragon, a man who had proven to be a fair King during his reign so far.
"Sir Geraint. You are here to stand trial for murdering two soldiers and the death of two citizens as a result of neglecting your duties. I've been told there were special circumstances, about the Deathly Echo. Because the soldiers were Nemithian, Princess Mithian has chosen a punishment for the crime and I have accepted her demands. Despite the knowledge that a curse had fallen upon, I cannot ignore that you acted beyond your brief and killed two men. I also cannot ignore that you let two innocent people die just because you didn't like them. You are stripped of your title as Knight and banished from Camelot and Nemeth on pain of death. I hope you will be able to find your place elsewhere."
Sir Geraint would not die for his actions but he would never see Camelot again. His life here was over and all that was left was to begin again.
The next chapter will be more progressive than this one.