"A Fresh Perspective"
Summary: De-aged!Merlin, Caring!Arthur, Caring!Knights, Reveal!Fic. If that doesn't say it all, Merlin is turned into a child by ex-druids bent on raising "Emrys" to be their weapon to free magic. (Plot is actually just an excuse to write Merlin as a kid fluff.) SPOILERS for S4. Set during S4, after episode #whatever, when Elyan is ...
Rating: K for mild swearing, Morgana being mean(briefly), and Merlin being scared(a lot). Mentions Merlin getting hurt, but not graphic and he gets better quickly!
Word count: Approx. 37,000 so far.
Disclaimer: I don't own BBC's Merlin. I'm just playing with their characters and world. I have no beta: any and all mistakes are my own. Also, I am not a medievalist and I know, like the show, there are many inaccuracies in this. However, I feel, as the creators of the show obviously did, that something one hundred percent historically accurate, while informative, would also be rather dull story-wise, so I've opted on the side of entertainment every time. That said, enjoy!
Distressing events are not usually portended by a foul weather anomaly or earthquake any more than a particularly momentous occasion will be marked by birds singing and the spontaneous eruption of rainbows and songs from angelic beings. Unfortunately.
And since this is not (usually) the case, Hunith did not have the slightest inkling that this day would be any different than the ones before.
Up with the dawn, she'd already fed the chickens and her goat, tended to the garden sprouts thrusting their green heads toward the summer sun. Her house was relatively clean—it had been years since she'd had Merlin underfoot to so drastically alter that state—and her laundry was scrubbed and ready to be hung out to dry. The weather had been particularly fine the past few weeks, not too hot or cold, and just enough rain to paint the world green, but not soak it. As Hunith lifted the first dress to hang, she couldn't help but admire the serenity and wish that wherever he was at the moment, Merlin could have a little taste of it as well.
If wishes were horses…well, that wouldn't have helped Merlin out much either. It wasn't a horse he was in need of, but the opportunity to get off one. Five bloody hours of hunting without a rest—Arthur was a tyrant! Merlin groaned and shifted in his saddle, trying to give his posterior a break.
"Stop being such a girl, Merlin," Arthur snapped.
From his position in the lead, he wouldn't see the glare and rude gesture Merlin flashed his way as he said, "It's not as if I have all that padding like you, sire. My arse gets sore."
Instead of continuing their customary banter, Arthur drew his horse up and flashed a hand signal that might have been "shut-up", "halt" or "left-turn". Merlin hadn't paid much attention when Arthur tried to drill hand signals into him one day after going a few rounds as Arthur's practice dummy.
Merlin didn't need the hand signal to tell him something was wrong. He reined in his mare, stroked her neck reassuringly, and extended his senses—magical and mundane—to investigate what had put his king on alert enough to ignore the jab about his weight. There didn't seem to be any magical threat lurking in the vicinity, but the forest had become unnaturally quiet. About an hour ago, the other knights, Gwaine and Elyan, Percival and Leon, had split off in pairs to flush out the hart they'd been trailing. It wouldn't be this silent if Gwaine were approaching, and Leon would have respectfully announced his presence.
A faint whistle and a whisper of wind preceded three arrows that thudded into the ground around the feet of Arthur's horse. A credit to his skill, the prince stayed seated while the horse reared, then regained control of the beast as he drew his sword and shouted, "Take cover, Merlin!"
The warlock ignored his master's order and immediately found the archers tucked into the boughs overhead. A whispered word and the bows flew from their grasps, knocking them from their perches at the same time. As they fell, another man emerged from the trees brandishing a sword. Confident Arthur could hold his own against a single, unhorsed assailant, Merlin scanned for further threats. Only he expected those threats to be directed at Arthur, which might have been why he was caught off-guard by the multiple hands that suddenly seized him from behind and hauled him roughly to the ground. Three men, who each outweighed the skinny warlock by a good fifty pounds, sat on his arms and legs, holding him down while a fourth forced a foul concoction into his mouth, holding his nose and jaws tight until he swallowed.
"Please, don't struggle, Emrys. It'll be over soon."
Panicked, Merlin lashed out with magic, throwing all four men off, but the damage was done. Whatever they'd given him sparked a wildfire of searing pain that quickly consumed his entire body. He screamed and thrashed. Vaguely, he registered the men returning.
"Don't fight it, Emrys," one of them whispered. "We're only trying to help you."
Hands seized Merlin, every touch like knives thrust beneath his flaming skin. His final thought as he succumbed to the pain was of his friend and master.
"Arthur!" he cried just before sliding into blissful, pain-free unconsciousness.
Arthur had found it a brilliant stroke of luck that those archers managed to fall out of the tree. Honestly, the odds of all three fumbling their holds like that were pretty low, but then stranger things had happened. Then this loon, with no armor and sword skills rivaling Merlin's for Worst Ever, burst out of the forest and proceeded to dance around just out of Arthur's reach almost as if he were trying to distract . . . .
Merlin's screams drew Arthur around so fast his neck twinged. His manservant lay on the ground, screaming and writhing in pain with no apparent injuries. Four more bandits, dressed in similar tunics and breeches to his own inept attacker's, scrambled toward the downed servant. Merlin flinched violently from their touch, but they didn't seem concerned with hurting him so much as restraining him. The fact that they were more intent on Merlin than the king registered with an appropriate amount of surprise, but Arthur pushed it to the back of his mind for later consideration.
With a final cry of "Arthur," Merlin fell still and silent. For a heart-stopping second, Arthur feared the boy was dead, but he refused to believe it. Throwing himself from his horse with the agility and grace of Camelot's greatest knight, Arthur charged the men. They would pay dearly for laying a hand on what was his to protect.
Hunith had just sat down for her evening meal when something banged against her door hard enough to rattle the shelves. When it struck her door again, she started, a hand grasping for the knife lying on the cheese plate. Her weapon clutched to her chest, she rose and ventured on silent feet to the window. It was dark outside, but even in the dim moonlight she could see the glitter of mail on the man's chest and the line of a sword at his hip. He held a bundle of something in both arms, using his foot to pound at her door. There was something familiar about the silhouette of his profile, and then his hair glimmered gold briefly in the night light and it clicked.
Sucking in a sharp breath, Hunith ran to the door and threw it open. "King Arthur?"
He turned his head as if checking for observers before ducking through the door. "Hunith, I apologize for dropping in unannounced, and I would not have done so if the issue weren't dire."
Arthur fidgeted, something more in character for her son than the young king, and his gaze darted all around the room, as if trying to light on anything but her. A chill settled around Hunith's heart as her gaze was drawn to the unmoving bundle in Arthur's arms: something—or someone—wrapped in his red cloak.
Unable to voice her fears she simply said, "Merlin?"
Arthur jumped and his gaze darted briefly to his burden. Wordlessly and with surprising gentleness, he laid it down on Hunith's cot.
Hunith stiffened, half-expecting to see Merlin's black hair and pale face. But her son, although too thin, was tall. He certainly wouldn't have been able to be that completely folded into King Arthur's cloak. Slowly, Arthur unwrapped the bundle to reveal the pale figure of a tiny, sleeping child with raven hair and ears she would have recognized anywhere. Merlin wore his usual tunic, which was now so overly large it would have slipped right off his slender shoulders if he stood.
Dropping to her knees, Hunith stroked her hand over the boy's forehead, smoothing his dark hair from his face. "Oh, my dear boy," she whispered, fishing one of his tiny hands from the folds of fabric and pressing it to her cheek. She looked up at Arthur, who seemed to take that as a request for an explanation.
The king sighed and passed his hand over his eyes. "We were in the forest not far from the border, when these men attacked. While one of their group distracted me, the rest ambushed Merlin."
Here his expression tightened, and his lips narrowed to a thin line. "I don't know why they seemed so interested in Merlin. I didn't see what they did, but his screams alerted me to their attack. There wasn't an injury, but he was in pain. He passed out while I killed the men. In the time it took to make sure no one else lingered, he . . . ."
Arthur swept a hand to indicate Merlin's tiny form.
"Has he regained consciousness, sire? Since this . . . happened." Hunith asked, fearful for her son's health if he hadn't and fearful for his life if he had. Merlin at the age of four, what he appeared to be now, had a surplus of magic and almost no control. If he'd woken up and performed an accidental feat of magic in front of Uther's son . . . .
Arthur shook his head, then started to pace. Hunith almost wilted in relief.
"Ealdor was closer than Camelot and given his apparent, er, age, I thought it best to come to you first. If he retains none of his adult memories, then he will need a familiar face."
Hunith settled Merlin's hand on his chest, marveling once again at how tiny her son was, and touched Arthur's shoulder. "Thank you, sire, for considering his safety and comfort. You must be tired and hungry. I know it's not much, but please, have something to eat."
"My knights . . . we were separated. They will wonder."
She tucked Merlin back into the cloak, smoothed his hair again, and ushered Arthur to the table, forcing him to sit. "They will have to wait 'til morning."
Somewhat dazed, he complied without fuss. After a minute, he stirred and said, "The horses. I had to leave them outside and—"
"I'll tend to the horses, sire. You eat. Then I'll fix you a pallet." As she slipped outside, she whispered, "Why must these things always happen to you, my boy?"
Sunlight poured through a crack in the window, striking Arthur across the eyes. For a moment, he forgot he wasn't in his oversized bed with Merlin chirping annoyingly at him to rise and shine as he threw back the curtains. His back and neck ached, his skin felt tight with dried sweat and dirt, and he was chilled—clearly it was Merlin's fault.
Groaning, he reluctantly cracked his eyelids to express his usual displeasure at his servant. A pair of wide-open blue eyes set in a tiny, fey face gazed back at him with intense, but guarded fear. Then the previous day's events came back to Arthur, and he bolted upright, wincing as his stiff back and shoulders resisted the movement.
Merlin had shifted to the far corner of the cot, his knees drawn tightly to his chest by arms so slight Arthur had seen twigs in less danger of snapping. With his face all but buried in his arms, Merlin searched Arthur's as if for some sign as to whether he were friend or foe.
With a comparable amount of fear (Arthur had never been very good with kids), he put on what he hoped was a gentle smile. "Good morning, Merlin. How are you feeling?"
At the mention of his name, the boy started visibly and his gaze darted around the house, but whatever he sought he clearly didn't find. His demeanor grew more defensive and he shrank even tighter into himself.
"Who are you?" he finally demanded in a voice so familiar and strange at the same time it made Arthur's heart ache.
"My name is Arthur, Merlin. I'm a friend." He hesitated. Merlin wouldn't believe he was Merlin's friend, so he quickly amended it to, "A friend of your mother."
Merlin's eyes narrowed. "Where am I? My mum?"
That surprised Arthur. Hadn't Merlin grown up here? "This is your mum's house. She's . . . ." Unsure of where Hunith was, Arthur fell silent.
Merlin shook his head. "Different."
Arthur blinked. "What, your house?"
"Different!" the boy repeated fervently. He extended a stubby index finger toward the far corner that was occupied by several woven baskets that had probably held that past winter's food stores. "Mum sleeps there." His hand shifted to the back wall, where Hunith had left Arthur's possessions last night. "My place."
Heat rushed to Arthur's face. Of course the house had changed over the last seventeen-odd years and Merlin's young mind would find it disconcerting to say the least. Thankfully, Hunith bustled through the door, carrying a pail of fresh goat milk and some eggs.
"Mum?" Merlin exclaimed, his relief almost palpable.
Hunith set her burdens on the table and rushed to her son's side. Arthur stood and relinquished his place.
"Yes, my dear?" She sank onto the edge of the cot and reached for him.
But Merlin fell back, eyeing her with open distrust. Her flash of hurt quickly became a reassuring smile.
"Different." Merlin declared in a trembling voice that sent a stab of pain through Arthur's chest. Large, wet tears gathered in the troughs of Merlin's eyes. "Everything is wrong!"
Finally, something inside the boy broke. He buried his head in his arms and sobbed, bony shoulders shaking with each cry.
Hunith turned. "Sire, if you could give us a moment alone?"
Oh thank God! Arthur thought, trying to pretend he wasn't running for the door. His arms were meant to wield swords not console distraught children, although with as much of a girl as grown Merlin was, he should have been somewhat practiced at it.
He'd no sooner set foot out the door, when Hunith shouted, "No, Merlin, wait!"
Turning, Arthur found the cot empty and a devastated Hunith reaching toward the door. Damn, he hadn't even seen Merlin pass. However, the boy's bare feet left a clear trail in the dirt path, headed toward the edge of the village and the forest beyond. No sign of Merlin, though.
"Fast little guy," Arthur groused. "Don't worry, Hunith, we'll find him."
Waking that morning had not been a pleasant experience. While Merlin slept, someone had upset his world, like an overturned box of apples, leaving him wobbling on unstable, unfamiliar ground. It might not have been a big change—after all, he still recognized most of the apples—they were just all wrong. And worse, his only companion at the moment was this strange blonde man, whose long, muscular limbs were sprawled in such a way that Merlin would have to climb over him to escape.
When the man woke, he seemed nice enough, almost familiar, though Merlin had never laid eyes on him before; but then he'd tried to make Merlin believe that this different world was right. But it wasn't. Merlin could feel it. It was one of the special things he could do, but couldn't tell anyone about.
And then, when his mother (but not his mother) came, it was too much. He couldn't fight his tears any longer. The magic slipped out. He hadn't meant to, but it happened sometimes when he was upset. Time slowed, and Merlin slipped awkwardly off the cot, adjusted the too-large tunic as best he could, and ran. He cried so hard he didn't notice when time returned to normal.
A deep, smoldering burn began to build inside Merlin's chest, humming and thrumming in time with his racing heart. The forest closed in around him, snagging at his arms and legs and tearing his bare feet, and still he ran. Eventually, the tunic worked its way back down around his ankles and Merlin tripped. He tried to break his fall and earned two scraped palms, bloodied knees and a face full of grass. That hurt!
Suddenly, that power inside came charging up his throat and burst from his mouth like a clap of thunder in a series of words he didn't recognize. Once they were said an odd sense of calm descended.
Sniffling, Merlin pushed to his hands and knees and rolled back onto his heels. He had fallen in a large, grassy clearing, dotted with the pretty wildflowers his mum liked to keep in a vase on the table. He flipped his palms up to inspect the damage. Raw and stinging scrapes rimmed with green stains and dusted in dirt covered the heels of both hands. His knees matched, and he'd torn a hole in his clothes. Merlin scowled. If they had been the right size, he wouldn't have fallen.
Presently, the thump of massive wings approached. Merlin glanced up as a shadow fell over him. A great gold dragon dropped gracefully into the clearing. It folded its wings against its sides and lowered its head to look at him. Merlin forgot his injuries, and his jaw dropped in wonder. He should have been afraid of a thing that large with so many sharp teeth, but he just couldn't manage. This creature felt familiar somehow.
Merlin grinned and waved. "You're a big dragon!"
The dragon snorted and something like laughter rumbled in its chest. "Yes, I am, young warlock."
"I'm Merlin." Merlin chirped proudly, thrilled that this dragon wanted to talk to him. He would have to tell Will later. Will bragged about talking to the traveling performers who'd passed through earlier that year, making fun of Merlin for hiding behind his mum's skirt. But Will had never talked to a dragon.
"I'm four," he added as an afterthought. He didn't want the dragon to think he was a baby and fly away again.
"Which, I suppose, is part of the reason for your recent distress. What else troubles you, little one, for you to call me thus?"
Merlin wiped his nose on the too-big sleeve and looked down at his toes. "S'not the same. Everything is wrong." He hesitated a bit, but thought the dragon would probably disapprove of lying more than admitting a weakness. "I got scared and I ran. Then I fell down."
He showed the dragon his scraped hands.
"Then I met you." Merlin smiled again and looked at the dragon through his eyelashes. "You are new, but you . . . I like you."
The dragon sighed and lowered his bulk fully to the ground. Merlin took it as an invitation and scrambled over to pet his snout.
"Only you, Merlin, could get yourself into a situation such as this," the dragon muttered, but Merlin paid him no mind. The odd texture of the dragon's scales beneath his splayed fingers fascinated him.
Nuzzling him to stand a short distance away, the dragon said, "Of course things are not the same, young warlock, for magic is at work here. But that does not mean you need fear your home or your mother or the young Pendragon."
Merlin perked up at the mention of another dragon.
"The man who was with you this morning," the dragon clarified. "Arthur Pendragon."
"I think I like him okay. He's new, like you, not . . . scary." Merlin turned his attention back to his hurting hands. He fought the stinging in his eyes, not wanting his new friend to see him cry."But my mum . . . is magic why she's different now?"
The dragon's expression softened as much as was possible for a beast with fangs and scales. "Is it your mother who has changed, or merely her outward appearance?"
"She's still my mum," Merlin confessed sullenly. "But her hair and face are wrong."
"Her appearance may have altered," the dragon said, "but you know her love for you is strong, unaffected by time, distance or magic, young warlock. And you will need both her and the young Pendragon to make the world right again."
Merlin nodded, unable to look the dragon in the eye.
"Now." The dragon lifted to its feet. "Let me see to your wounds, little one, and then I must take my leave. Your mother searches for you."
Smiling weakly, Merlin lifted his hands and face to the dragon. It opened its mouth—Merlin could see way down into its throat—and breathed a golden mist over him. Instantly, the stinging subsided as each scrape, cut and bruise healed. Merlin giggled at the tingling sensation that traveled from his toes to the top of his head.
"Stay safe, young warlock," the dragon said as it launched itself into the air.
Delighted by the lack of pain, Merlin ran a few quick circles around the clearing and then decided to pick some flowers for his mum.