"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!
Final word count: Approx. 60,000
Disclaimer: I don't own BBC's Merlin. I'm just playing with their characters and world.
A/N: Well, this has finally come to an end. Hopefully, it will be a satisfactory one to you all. And you should know that without Dominatrice, I'd still be struggling with this. She's continued to be a valued ear to share ideas with and even co-wrote some of the final scene! Thanks to her and to you all for your continued support and patience. You've been awesome readers and I'm honored you've decided to follow this through to the end with me. Hugs for you all!
Camelot's dungeons were many things, but comfortable was not one of them. The manacles around Irina's wrists chafed, and a chill from the bare stone had sunk down to the bone causing a lingering ache. Irina didn't care, though. Comfort was the last thing on her mind now that everything she'd ever held dear was gone. An innocent child, their one hope for a brighter future, had been lost while in her care, and the king's brief visit had only served to make her loss more painful. Long before the cell began to lighten with the rising sun, her tears had run dry, leaving her eyes puffy, itchy and aching.
At least she wouldn't have to wait long before she joined Emrys and her fellows beyond the veil. The young Pendragon certainly wouldn't put her execution off another day—like father like son where magic was involved.
The sound of footsteps approached, and a servant, accompanied by a guard, delivered a breakfast of bread and water. Irina didn't bother acknowledging the food or the men. Even had it been brought from the king's table, it would have tasted like ash in her mouth; and her appetite had all but vanished. She half wished they'd come for her and be done with it already.
It was well into the morning when Leon finished his duties and managed a bit of free time. He took his responsibilities as the king's first knight seriously, but it did mean that he missed out on a great deal. He couldn't help but feel a bit saddened to hear the other knights go on about things they'd done with Merlin while he'd been gone on the king's errand. Instead of getting to drop in on Merlin first thing that morning to ease his worry about the lad's health, he'd had to see to the knights' schedules and the prisoner so he could report to a king who'd been so distracted Leon could have said that Morgana and the sorceress were having a naked pillow fight in the dungeons and Arthur would have merely grunted in acknowledgement and motioned for Leon to leave.
When he pushed open the door to the physician's chamber, he half expected to see Gaius, Merlin, Hunith and his fellow knights sitting down to a hearty meal without him. He couldn't help the wry smile that escaped when he saw the messy remnants on Gaius's table. Apparently, the meal had long since come and gone. Hunith, the room's only occupant, looked up as he entered. She paused in her sweeping and smiled.
Leon couldn't help but smile back; clearly this was where Merlin had inherited the infectious expression. "Is Merlin?"
She dipped her head toward the warlock's room. "He's in his room. You just missed the others."
Nodding, Leon ascended the stairs and gently pushed Merlin's door open. The man sat on his bed facing a small table. A mountain of clutter had been shifted to one side of the table to make room for a toy horse and crudely carved dragon figure. Merlin ran a finger over one then the other, seemingly lost in thought. It wasn't until the frantic beating of his heart slowed that Leon realized he'd been so anxious.
Merlin looked the picture of health, so clearly he'd escaped the ordeal no worse for the wear. At least physically.
The knight jumped at the unexpected sound. He hadn't thought Merlin was aware of his presence. "Merlin. You look well. I was worried after what the sorceress said about the dragon that you'd been injured."
The warlock flashed him a bemused smile. "Kilgharrah wouldn't hurt me. Although I wouldn't want to be nearby when he discovers the full extent of my artistic attempts. Kin or not, that unicorn might have crossed a line."
Leon fumbled at the bag slung over his shoulder, not quite comfortable—no matter how much Merlin insisted the creature was good—at the casual mention of a beast that had tried to roast him the last time they'd met. He handed the bag to Merlin, who looked at with open confusion before flipping it open and pulling out the tunic, neckerchief and breeches inside. Those blue eyes widened comically, making the young man resemble the child he'd been for the past few days.
"A replacement for what you lost when you were attacked," Leon self-consciously explained.
Long pale fingers caressed the fabric, not fine by any stretch of the imagination, but of a better quality than the usual servants' salary could afford. Merlin blinked rapidly and huffed a gasping laugh. "Thank goodness it's not more food! I don't why everyone seems to believe I've forgotten how to feed myself."
It was hard not to laugh. "Yes, clearly a man of your girth has never skipped a meal."
Merlin rolled his eyes, but didn't seem to be particularly offended. "Seriously, thank you. But you have to let me pay you back. This is too much."
Leon lifted a hand to forestall the protests. "Think of it as a thank you. For all the times you've saved mine, Arthur's, probably all of our lives and we didn't know it. I know it's not much, but I knew you wouldn't let me do more. At least not yet."
Merlin shook his head, his eyes shining. "No, Leon, this is more than enough. More than I ever dreamed. So much more than you can imagine. Thank you."
Leon got the distinct impression that he wasn't talking about just the clothing anymore. Neither of them batted an eye when Leon put an arm around Merlin's shoulder and squeezed. If the only reward the man wanted for his service was friendship, well, who was Leon to deny him?
Sometime around midday the guards returned. Irina didn't fight as she was roughly hauled to her feet and a set of portable manacles exchanged for the set that attached her to the wall.
Irina ignored everything as she was marched up from the dungeons to the throne room. The thought of sitting through a mockery of a trial put a bitter grin on her face. As if there were any other possible outcome of the proceedings. The massive chamber was surprisingly empty—not the public spectacle she'd witnessed during Uther's reign. A small group of knights and nobles stood on either side as she was led toward the dais. The king himself sat on his throne, his head propped on his hand as he watched her approach with an unreadable expression.
Although she'd seen him last night, by the light of day he looked shockingly young (not much older than Emrys would have been) and fair-headed, but the crown sat well on him. Everything about him screamed leadership and strength, and Irina found it difficult not to admire him for it.
To his right and slightly behind stood a tall, skinny servant with black hair. He kept his hands politely behind his back and kept his head down in a submissive posture. Irina couldn't pull her gaze off him, though. There was something familiar in the sharp angles of his face and those ears.
The servant glanced up, catching the eye of a white-haired man in the audience. Irina gasped. Emrys. He was taller, back to his proper age, but she would recognize him anywhere. Relief robbed her legs of strength, and she would have fallen if the guards didn't have a hold of her. Alive, Emrys was alive!
Emrys dropped his gaze again and stood there, a hunched and cowed proper servant behind his king, like so much furniture to be used without thought or consideration. The single most powerful magic wielder playing dogsbody to a man who wasn't worthy to lick his boots! Irina's blood boiled and she didn't realize she'd reached for her magic until she slammed up against an immense barrier of power, cutting her off from her own.
Shocked, she looked up to see Emrys's dazzling blue eyes locked on her, a slight scowl twisting his lips. The intensity of his gaze left her breathless and trembling. It was one thing to know the stories, to have seen it used against others, but to feel that awesome strength turned on her defied understanding. One thing was clear, though. She wouldn't have been standing there instead of being a greasy burn on the stones if Emrys did not will it so.
And then that gaze shifted ever so slightly from her to the king and the warlock dipped his head, almost imperceptibly. The king turned his attention back to Irina as she was forced to her knees. Something stirred in the back of her mind at the sight, a nagging thought on the verge of realization. She could feel it growing and pressing in her mind, but couldn't quite determine it yet.
"Irina, you have been accused of sorcery and of an association to the group that recently made an attempt on my life." The king's voice echoed through the hall, but she was still reeling over the fact that he'd used her name instead of calling her 'Sorceress'. "Do you deny these accusations?"
"I . . . no."
"And do you deny that the aim of your scheme was the acceptance of magic in this kingdom and to end the persecution against your kind?"
A murmur coursed through the audience. Irina sputtered for a minute. Where were the angry accusations of sorcery and wickedness? "I, um, no. That was our hope. Is our hope."
"So, despite the fact that I am not my father, you feel you could find no other means to open discussion on the issue. That the only way for this truce to happen is to kill me?"
"I . . . ." She looked to Emrys as an anchor for her confusion.
"You will face me," the king barked with such authority Irina couldn't help but obey. "And you will answer me."
"I, yes. You hate and fear magic, like your father before you."
"I hate and fear the misuse of magic, and therein lies the difference between my father and I. You want for me to accept magic, yet you only show me the evil it can do. You say you want peace, to throw off Uther's oppression, yet you employ his very same methods of death and destruction to reach your ends."
Here the king paused and looked to his servant, to Emrys, who watched him with the hint of an approving smile playing about his lips and a gleam of pride in his eyes.
"As a very wise man pointed out, you cannot usher in an era of peace on a platter of vengeance. And as king, the responsibility falls to me to be the example. Irina, you have been accused of sorcery and conspiracy of treason and do not deny either allegation. The penalty for these crimes is death. However, your involvement was not against me personally and the injured party in this case has interceded on your behalf. You are hereby banished from these lands with your magic bound for a year and a day. If you return at the end of that time and plead your case, I will consider revising your sentence."
If she hadn't already been on her knees, Irina would have collapsed. Clearly, many in the audience were just as shocked as murmuring erupted through the room. She glanced back at the king and Emrys upon the dais, the former still sprawled regally on his throne and the latter standing innocuously at his right hand. The warlock smiled down at her, his expression knowing and patient.
Suddenly, the thought that had been trying to form in the back of her mind ignited. She wasn't staring at a tyrant and his pitiful servant, but a king of legend and his prophesied advisor. Emrys hadn't forgotten his destiny, or denied it, he was living it. He was right where he was supposed to be, guiding and directing the Once and Future King toward their future—not with awesome feats of magic, but with the gentleness of his heart and bond of friendship he'd formed with the king.
How had they not seen it? How had they confused Emrys's humility and self-sacrifice for cowardice and weakness?
Do you still think me a failure? Emrys projected directly into her mind.
Irina flushed, ashamed. Uther Pendragon's son had just spared the life of a sorceress out of respect for the wisdom of his servant. No, Emrys, we were wrong. I'm sorry. How can you forgive me for what I did to you, for almost destroying this?
To her further amazement, Emrys looked visibly shocked by her question as he replied, How could I not? The kindness faded, and a cold hardness crept over his features. Although if you ever try to harm Camelot or Arthur again, I will not be so lenient.
Tears flowed freely down Irina's cheeks, but she didn't care. She would never forget the mercy shown to her this day. There would be others like her, embittered and seeking revenge, but for the first time she had a sense of true hope. The future was standing right in front of her—Magic and Might, Emrys and the Once and Future King, Merlin and Arthur—and it had never looked so promising.
"Well, that's one sorceress taken care of," Arthur said, dropping heavily into the chair at the table in his chambers, while Merlin returned the more ornamental portions of his outfit back to his wardrobe. "Are you certain her magic is bound?"
Merlin's exasperated huff was muffled but still audible. He wandered over to stand beside the table and crossed his arms. "I thought you said where magic was concerned there was very little I couldn't do?"
"Hmmm," Arthur feigned thoughtfulness. "That doesn't sound like me."
Merlin snorted and went to retrieve Arthur's jacket. Arthur groaned as he pushed to his feet and let Merlin help him into it. Then he and Merlin left for the council chambers. "This is the part I dread."
"Hmm," Merlin quipped, "I thought you loved being the center of attention and telling everyone else what to do?"
Unable to dredge up the spirit to verbally spar, Arthur just shrugged. "I hardly find discussing how to battle treachery from both my uncle and my half sister an enjoyable task."
Arthur pushed open the door to find his most trusted knights, Gwaine, Leon, Percival and Elyan, already gathered around a table where various maps of Camelot, the castle and the siege tunnels were spread out. He joined them, acutely aware of Merlin taking up an unobtrusive position off to one side, though his gaze avidly took in every detail of the maps. Arthur continued to observe Merlin while his men hashed out a detailed plan for defending the city. He could almost see the warlock's mental wheels turning, no doubt preparing his own defense strategies. For years the man had been forced to lurk around the sidelines, trying to mend the gaps in their plans instead of working with them to develop ideas that integrated the best military and magical tactics.
"What do you think, Merlin?" Arthur blurted suddenly, smirking at how Merlin jumped nearly a foot in the air at being addressed.
The warlock glanced at each of the knights, then the king before hesitantly joining them at the table. His brow furrowed and he indicated a few places on the map with his slender index finger. "I don't know much about mercenary armies, but I do know magic. Morgana will likely be their only major player, and she doesn't know about me. Well, me-me. She knows there's a sorcerer named Emrys who's been countering her at every turn, but well, that doesn't really matter. I can probably take her if came down to a one-on-one showdown, but although I've got the brute force, she's had actual training and I'd prefer not to take my chances just yet."
Merlin ran a hand through his hair, caught up in his own explanations with the same excitement he'd put into planning out their game of knights and horses. Arthur noticed the other knights stifling amused grins at seeing their friend so animated again.
Oblivious to this, Merlin continued, "I can put wards here and here and—oh! I can do one around the city to let me know if anything or anyone magical enters. Oh, I know! Like we did to Irina, I can set up something to suppress Morgana's magic temporarily if she enters the city. Yes, yes . . . ." He trailed off, chewing at his lower lip as he considered. He nodded as if satisfied with whatever it was he decided on. "I might even be able to try something against the regular soldiers as well. Not stop them outright, but maybe, I dunno, make them scared, mess up their focus. Only I'd have to make it not affect our men. And we definitely need to get you your sword."
Arthur glanced down at the sword on his hip.
Merlin looked up then, his eyes shining the way they had when he was telling the story about the hawk castle with broad, sweeping gestures with his skinny arms, and shook his head. He wasn't that far gone, but he was bouncing excitedly on his toes with an impish grin on his face.
"It's a long story with a dragon, a lake and stone with a sword in it."
"Huh, there it is. A stone. With an actual sword sticking out of it." Looking thoroughly shocked, Gwaine studied the rock in the center of the clearing Merlin had led them to. "Now normally I'd say you have a good head on your shoulders, mate, but I'd love to get a taste of what you were drinking when you thought this would be the perfect hiding spot for a powerful weapon. I mean, anyone walking by could take the thing."
Percival, Arthur, Elyan and even Leon snickered loudly at that. Merlin looked offended for a moment before his expression turned sly. "If you think it's so simple, let's see you take it then, Sir Gwaine."
The other knights cheered.
"I believe Merlin has issued you a challenge," Arthur said. "Go on, then. Let's see you take it."
"Piece of cake." Gwaine pulled off his gauntlets and stepped up to the stone. He spit on his palms and rubbed them together, then curled his right hand around the hilt. Straining and grunting and eventually swearing, Gwaine finally collapsed at the base of the stone. "I give up."
The others jeered loudly, and Elyan stepped up. "Okay. I'll give it a go myself. I've worked the forge most of my life. I think I have a bit more upper body strength than you."
Slightly winded, Gwaine stood and made room for Elyan. By now it was like a game, each of the men jeering as the other took his turn, all the while Merlin watched with a rather smug grin. When even Percival, red-faced and gasping, admitted defeat, Merlin stepped up, touching the hilt of the sword affectionately.
"I told you this sword is special. Meant only for the Once and Future King. Only Arthur can free it from the stone."
"Well, Sire, go ahead," Gwaine teased. "Let's see this Once and Future King in action."
And suddenly, the game wasn't so fun anymore. Arthur looked at the sword, inundated with doubt. It wasn't that he didn't trust Merlin, but the idea of being destined to be the greatest king who would unite all of Albion seemed so farfetched. After all, he was the king who'd been ignorant of his own servant's magic for years, who let his half-sister and his uncle manipulate him for months before being forced to see their betrayal. He'd nearly destroyed his kingdom in war with Annis almost before they'd had a chance to put the crown on his head. Was he really worthy of such an amazing weapon?
Merlin sidled up and spoke low enough only Arthur would hear. "That is your sword, Arthur. It can only be drawn by the true king. You and you alone are worthy to wield it. And I know you're ready. Believe in yourself, Arthur. Your friends do. Your people do. I do."
Arthur stepped forward, heart pounding more fiercely than it had since he was a young man taking part in his first tournament. The hilt felt firm and right beneath his hand, as if it really had been made for him. He took a few deep breaths, then pulled. For a horrifying moment, it stuck like it wasn't going to budge; then, smooth as butter, it glided out of the rock. The hiss of metal and a resounding ring filled the air as it slipped free and he held it aloft, admiring the sword's beauty.
Without Gwen and Elyan's father, Merlin, a dragon and somehow Merlin's dead love, this magnificent blade wouldn't exist. In a way, it was made up of a part of each of them.
His gaze drifted to his most trusted knights and his best friend/warlock/advisor, and it dawned on him that being the Once and Future King wasn't about what he would do, but what they would achieve together. That he, like his sword, was made great by the quality of people who believed in him.
"Long live the king!" Leon suddenly shouted. Everyone else took up the cry.
Arthur brandished the sword, struggling for kingly, eloquent words to commemorate the moment, some pithy quote for the history books. He inhaled deeply and opened his mouth, when an earth-shaking roar filled the air.
Birds in the surrounding trees burst forth in a mad flurry of wings and feathers. The knights reached instinctively for their weapons and turned as one to look at the warlock. Merlin flinched, a look on his face that could only be described as a strange mix of glee and alarm, and searched the skies.
Noticing everybody's questioning looks, Merlin self-consciously rubbed the back of his neck and flashed a sheepish grin. "Yep, I think that unicorn definitely crossed a line."
He fidgeted and scanned the clearing. "Um, I think . . . it's not . . . ."
Another enraged roar filtered down from the sky, closer than the first, and Merlin gave the surrounding space a reassessing look.
"Um, yeah. I—" Merlin spluttered, then abruptly turned and bolted from the clearing like a frightened hare.
Arthur gaped at the vanishing back of his servant. He exchanged a confused look with his knights. "What was—?"
A dragon-shaped shadow passed overhead, moving swiftly in the direction Merlin had fled. They stared, dumbfounded, until a resounding crash and a distinctly Merlin yelp spurred them into action.
"You don't think the dragon would hurt Merlin, do you?" Elyan asked as they ran through the forest.
Merlin certainly didn't think so, but Arthur wasn't as sure. A short while later, they came across a steep drop and the very clear trail of broken branches where someone had recently tumbled down it. After carefully descending, Arthur found himself facing a comical sight. He fell back into the trees and crouched down, motioning for his men to do the same.
The forest opened onto a small lake, and none other than the great dragon crouched on the grassy shore. A very petulant-looking Merlin, with twigs and leaves sticking out of his messy black hair and clinging to his clothes, sat between the dragon's forelegs, receiving a severe tongue-lashing from the massive beast.
Merlin plucked at the grass and didn't meet its gaze. "But I was four. I didn't mean—"
"I will not have my hide marred by such a thing, no matter how innocently conceived or well-intended it was."
"Fine," Merlin said sullenly and pushed to his feet, sending a small avalanche of debris tumbling from his tunic. He untied his neckerchief, dipped it in the water and walked over to the dragon's ars—flank. An ugly, stick-figure unicorn adorned the golden scales. The warlock smiled, choked back a laugh and began to scrub.
Arthur smiled too and turned to his knights. "Go fetch the horses, then you four go on back to Camelot. I'll wait with our mounts for Merlin to finish his punishment."
The knights obeyed, Gwaine reluctantly so, and left Arthur with the two horses. Half an hour later, the dragon took to the skies, and Merlin trudged back toward the forest, mournfully examining his now filthy neckerchief. The warlock struggled up the incline, and when he got close enough, Arthur offered him a hand.
Merlin started, obviously not aware he'd been followed. "Arthur!" His eyes narrowed as he took the king's hand. "Were you worried about me?"
Arthur hauled him up. "Of course not. I'd just hate to have gone to all the effort of restoring you only have you consumed by an irate dragon."
Merlin crossed his arms mulishly and gave Arthur his usual glare. "Don't be ridiculous, Arthur. Kilgharrah wouldn't eat me."
"Quite right," agreed Arthur amiably, swinging up onto his horse. "You'd no doubt give him chronic indigestion."
Grinning to himself at his own witty rejoinder, Arthur tapped his horse's flanks and started off through the trees. Behind him Merlin huffed and struggled onto his own steed. Arthur breathed deeply and his hand closed unconsciously around the hilt of Excalibur. Morgana may be strong, but they were prepared. They had a plan—not to mention a damn powerful warlock and the best and bravest knights in the land. All would be well.
After a few moments, the familiar sounds of Merlin's grumbling caught up with him as the slender man trotted his mount up to just alongside.
Arthur smirked softly, feeling utterly content. "Idiot."