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Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin.
. … .
Merlin knew full well the consequences of being tried for sorcery in Camelot; indeed, he knew better than most, having seen Uther retake some of the extreme measures used during the Great Purge in light of the increasing magical attacks on the kingdom. The simple knowledge he had was this: if you are arrested for sorcery, you die soon after. Of course, as Gaius often reminded him, Merlin seemed to be the exception to most every rule. Sometimes this oddity even rubbed off on his friends, he exuded so much of it.
But even Merlin had not imagined anything of this particular sort being the result of a (or rather, another) trip to the dungeons on account of sorcery.
During the first accusation, Merlin was in such a panic that he learned no more than how to fall (rather predictably) through a cell door in a way that did not at all resemble a person of power. The guards made note of this.
During the second trip, Merlin learned the patterns of the watch and patrols, and the layout of the halls.
This came in very handy during his fourth trip, when he decided to leave for a few hours during the night to get a snack and some shut-eye in his own room, and was consequently well-rested and cheery (for a person who supposedly spent the night in Camelot's dungeons, mind you) the next morning when he was (again, predictably) released. The guards also made note of his happy, boyish attitude.
By the fifth trip to the dungeons, he knew each of the guards by name, and they were well acquainted with his, and they had some nice chats amongst themselves. And, though they'd never admit it outside their circle, they looked forward to the next time he was tried; he really was excellent company for the guards on the later shifts—especially for the newer guards who weren't always as alert as they ought to be. This, too, was noted by the watchmen; doubly so, actually.
It was the combined notes of these several trips to the dungeons that perhaps made the comment by the newest guard, Vance, so unexpected.
The sixth (though perhaps it was the seventh?) time Merlin was led down to the dungeons (although "led" mightn't be quite the right word; the guards basically just let him pick a cell these days… and usually they remembered to lock it) the newest guard, stationed by the entrance to the dungeons, gave him a look of absolute disgust, and spit at him,
The guards actually stopped and stared for a moment.
And then they burst out laughing.
"Merlin's not a sorcerer!" cried Greg. "Did you not see him nearly fall on his face just now? He's far to clumsy to be a magician of any sort!"
"Aye, lad! And he's too caring, too. Don't be a fool, Vance!" acceded another guard.
Vance, meanwhile, began to sputter.
"What? I, a fool? This man was just convicted of sorcery! He's set to be burned the day after tomorrow!"
Merlin was the only one who tensed even slightly at that.
"He was accused, numbskull! It's much different than convicted. No, Merlin will be out of here in the morning." He stated before continuing casually, "What do you say to a game of dice, Merlin?"
"Or should we say, sorcerer?" Faolen, the second guard, said laughingly.
(Perhaps they did "forget" to lock the cell door a little more than previously implied.)
Merlin shook his head in incredulity as his two friends snickered. "Don't worry about it," he said as the youngest guard continued to look on in wonder, "You're new here; you'll catch the drift of things before long."
And the three continued on—not even trying to make it look like a serious arrest anymore—leaving poor Vance nearly gaping in their wake. He had no idea that he'd just started something that would save the "sorcerer's" life one day.
The next morning Merlin was indeed released, with a few "sorcerer" quips from another friend of his, one who had replaced Faolen in the earliest hours of the morning, though not til after the latter had informed him of Vance's laughable slip. The newest guard would certainly be hearing as much of the incident as Merlin would, though Merlin's treatment would be far longer lasting. Not that he knew it then.
The following day, Merlin had passed by a fellow servant on his way back to the kitchens, sporting a new bump on his head—regards from Prince Prat—when the young boy suddenly turned about and cried out, "Hey, 'sorcerer'!"
Needless to say, Merlin nearly hit the ceiling—and the ceilings are very high in that part of the palace.
"Greg told me about the incident in the dungeons last night," the lad said with a wink for explanation. Then he continued (Merlin listening with a slightly less panicked expression) "I'm just glad to hear you've been pardoned again. Castle wouldn't be the same without you, Merlin."
Merlin smiled. It was good to be appreciated, even if the majority of the things he did worth actually being appreciated were left unknown. Still, he hoped that the "sorcerer" comments didn't keep coming up.
He was terribly disappointed.
Looking back, Merlin felt proud that his poor heart had lasted through that week.
The next was slightly better. Though the comment had morphed into a nickname of sorts (likely the most dangerous nickname in the five kingdoms, too) and though the idea had spread among the staff, Merlin had grown slightly more used to the idea of being openly known as "Sorcerer," though it was only in jest.
The third week brought a temporarily terrifying situation, though.
"Merlin, Merlin!" a small voice called after him.
The young girl was only six years old (and very proud of that age, she was.) She came to work some days with her mother, a fine young woman in her late twenties, who worked among the kitchen staff. In this placement, it's no wonder the girl heard of the new nickname Merlin had been gifted—very unwillingly, it should be added, but that's often how nicknames are—and it was also no surprise when she decided to call out to him with it when he heard her not, calling after him from behind as he walked towards the nobles wing.
It was also no great wonder, given Merlin's ridiculous luck, that "Sorcerer!" would be called out to him the exact moment following that which admitted King Uther to the same hall.
The fright was indeed only temporary, though; the girl was too young to be investigated (at least not immediately) and for Merlin it only meant another mandatory guys-night with the castle guards.
Vance joined in the card game this time.
It was some months later when the foreshadowed event occurred.
Arthur (and Merlin—but that goes without saying) was out on patrol with three of the knights—Gwaine, Owain, and Percival—and a handful of the guards. The joke had been passed among all of them by now—with the warning not to shout it in Uther's hearing. Ever. Again.
The group road along in relative silence... save for the occasional "prat" and "idiot" comments, tavern stories, and, of course, angry war cries.
Bandits had appeared.
And absolutely no one was surprised.
The warriors of Camelot fought valiantly against the criminals of the woods and roads, and found themselves victorious within minutes.
It was to this scene that a lone walker came upon them.
He said nothing, allowing for the moment of relief to pass amongst them, watching absentmindedly as they returned to their horses; their backs, save one, were all turned to the woods now.
Which is why, reader, only three people saw what happened next. They were: the powerful and attacking warlock, the gaping and shocked bystander, and the archer with the crossbow, who was painfully reintroduced to the nature of tree bark… some thirty yards from where he was standing (and aiming from) previously.
It was following this that a strangled cry very nearly broke the idle chatter; but as Merlin's eyes, still fading to their original, cobalt blue from the brilliant gold they'd shined but a moment ago, Gwaine's call echoed to both their ears.
"Come on, 'Almighty Sorcerer!' I'd like to make it back to Camelot before my favorite tavern closes," he cried, ignoring the only slightly scolding look from the commanding prince. He got a little more of a kick from his friend's nickname than many of the others did. This may or may not have had to do with his knowledge of the irony of the situation.
The bystander stared on incredulity. They knew they had a sorcerer in their midst? A practicianer of the dark arts? No, he knew he did not buy into such exaggerations, he thought as he shook his head a little.
Still, the man's mind continued as he watched the sorcerer mount his horse and ride up side-by-side with the king's son, still, the laws are getting harder to keep track of every day.
The man sighed and shook his head once more as he walked back the way he came; in turning, only barely missing the bright smile growing on the warlock's face.
So, Merlin thought, it would seem that my rather frequent trips to the dungeon have brought me some good after all; other than the good friends. I don't think I could've talked my way out of that one… a smile worked its way back onto his face, though, as they rode on, banishing the melancholy thoughts. And it would seem that for all the saving I do, Uther's actually managed to save me this time. The smile broke into a wide, impish grin.
Uther had saved a sorcerer.
I wonder, what would he have to say about that, and his grin grew.
. … .
Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope you enjoyed it! Please feel free to drop a review with ideas/comments/criticisms.
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PS- There's also four more Merlin one-shots on my profile, if you're looking to read some more! ("Dragoon's Story," "Another Day," "Not To Blame," and "Silver Pennies") Hope you enjoy!