Chapter 21: An Unending Cycle
Emrys soon felt better and moved to the main room. He reluctantly explained to Merlin and Gaius how ill he'd been in the other world and had to endure the inevitable fussing from both physicians as a result.
It wasn't long before he started to get a steady stream of visitors, the very first of which was Morgana who literally barged past Gaius in her haste to get to Emrys, hurriedly pulling her husband down into a bruising kiss and then slapping him firmly across the cheek.
"Oh, will you stop doing that!" he responded automatically, even though it had been very many years since such an incident had last happened.
"Where have you been and what were you doing?" she demanded.
"I was ill, sorry. Too ill to transport and then..."
"...and then, still sick, you decided to rush off on some fool's errand to rescue Arthur again?" she accused.
"Well, it was rather more complicated than that."
"Morgana, it really wasn't his fault, you see..."
"Shut up, Merlin," she replied automatically and Emrys found himself grinning at her response. "Oh no, Emrys, you don't get to give me that cute little smile of yours and expect me to instantly forgive you."
"What? I didn't do anything, I told you. I've been ill."
She frowned, as if trying to decide whether or not he was being deceptive. "You do look rather pale – even for you," she conceded eventually before turning to Gaius. "Is he going to be alright?"
"He'll be fine. He's just going to have to be a little bit stricter about his travels between the two worlds. All this jumping back and forth has not been good for his health."
She turned to Emrys. "You won't be able to visit as often?"
"From what I can tell, spending a week here is about the comfortable limit. After that I really need to spend at least a week at home before returning."
"Well then, that is what you will do," she decided. "I'm sure we can all survive a week without you." Her tone was imperious but her eyes were soft and perhaps just a little moist. She moved forwards to give him another kiss and he grabbed the back of her head, forcing her into something rather more passionate than she had originally intended.
"I doubt it'll do you any good to get too excited," she said with a grin when they parted.
"Well, I was thinking that a night in your chambers might be just the thing I need to recover," he replied suggestively.
"Huh, you're not really that ill after all, are you?"
"Actually, seriously, I do think he should spend at least one more night here," Merlin interrupted. "Just to be on the safe side."
"Spoilsport," Emrys complained as Merlin grinned wickedly at him.
A little later, the boys came over to visit him and, during their conversation, Amr said that Kara had mentioned in passing that she had visited.
"Merlin never got around to telling me about her," Emrys explained, "but I'm surprised that you haven't mentioned her before now, Mordred."
"She's only a girl and she's only six," his son replied in a bored voice. "She's really not that important."
"She thinks you're important though, Mordred," Amr teased. "I think she really likes you."
Emrys was torn between amusement and sadness at their expressions. Mordred and Kara may well be related in this world but he couldn't help feeling that they would grow close all the same. As brother and sister – very much like Arthur and Morgana perhaps, and he had felt a strange dread deep inside when he'd first heard the child's name. The girl who's death had ultimately turned Mordred again him and Arthur in his world. Would something similar play out here in ten years time? Was there any way to prevent it?
When everyone had reassured themselves that Emrys was well, he and Merlin sat down at the main table in the physician's chambers whilst Gaius slept, tired from the stresses of the last couple of days. If the old man's fate was the same here then he had less than a year to live and, as the two warlocks sat down to discuss their lives in greater detail, Emrys hoped that Merlin wouldn't ask that particular question, even though he felt he could now talk about his other losses in his world. In fact, talking to Merlin about such things seemed very much easier than confessing all to Morgana although, seeing he was basically talking to himself, perhaps that wasn't especially surprising.
"What happened here?" Emrys asked the younger man. "It seems that some of the events were similar to what occurred just before my Camlann but … not all of them obviously."
"Morgause found out about my magic," Merlin explained. "I have no idea how, but what I saw in the crystal seemed to suggest it had something to do with that time when Gwen was under her control." He looked up at Emrys. "Did that happen for you too?"
"Basically, but that was Morgana's role. In my world Morgause died four years ago and Morgana took her place. You stopped that fate when you persuaded Morgana to stay here."
"We stopped it," Merlin reminded him.
"So, Morgause sent this slug thing to drain my magic," the younger man continued, "and I was forced to go to the Crystal Cave for a cure, just as she planned to send an army out to attack Camelot. Arthur found out and sent his own army to meet hers."
"And she trapped you in the cave where you encountered Balinor who guided you?" Emrys guessed.
"Yes, and I'm sorry for what I said to you before. I understand far more now."
"I know. What happened when you left the cave?"
"I rushed to Arthur's aid to find our army loosing badly, so I used all my new found power to turn the tide but, when I reached him, he seemed so badly injured that I quickly decided to confess everything. Gaius found us and tried to explain to the king but, in the end, he needed to go back to Camelot and I needed to start healing Arthur before it was too late. It took a while to cure him and even longer to return home and, in the process, we came to an understanding or rather … he came to understand me." Merlin smiled broadly and Emrys returned it with a weaker one of his own.
"I'm pleased for you. I'm pleased you get this time with him."
"And I have you to thank for it, don't I? Without you, I could not have fulfilled my destiny."
"Don't thank me yet, Merlin. You gained your magic late, and everything else is happening late. I believe it's less that you're avoiding all my heartaches and more that you're delaying most of them for some time in the future."
"We can make it work, Emrys. Together you and I can change Mordred's fate, I'm sure of it."
"So was I when I first learnt of the prophecy, but I'm afraid that it's possible that your daughter's going to be dragged into all of this too. I think something will happen that will turn Arthur against her and that, in turn will test Mordred's loyalties to the limit."
"No," Merlin disagreed. "Things will be different now, you'll see. Arthur's still a bit shocked by the magic revelation but he'll come around. Sorcery has never had quite the same negative connotations here as it did in your world anyway, so we have a much better chance of making things work. We'll build an Albion full of magic and hope, and you can join us on the journey. The six of us and Mordred, Kara and Amr. You'll see."
"Well, I hope so. I'm just pleased to be able to come here and spend time with Arthur and Morgana in this world, even if my recent illness proves I might have to limit myself to slightly shorter visits in the future."
"Well, perhaps we can work on that problem together and perhaps you can teach me what you've learnt. I'd love to come and visit your world sometime too. I'd really like to see it." The younger warlock suddenly laughed. "Oh, that reminds me. Amongst all the serious visions I encountered in the cave, there was one that was a little … different."
"Different? In what way?"
"I saw you casting this especially complicated spell and managed to remember it. I was even able to come back here and look it up. See?" Merlin opened a nearby, unfamiliar book and handed it over, turning it so that Emrys could read the place he'd marked. The older warlock glanced at the page briefly before looking back up with a look of total shock on his face.
"When?" he asked simply.
"You're sure? I thought it would be years before I had to get involved with this?"
"Well, you know what the visions are like? You get a rough idea of time even when you get bombarded with so many at once. I know that vision of Arthur isn't due for about ten years and I know this one is imminent. No exact date, but no more than a month or two at the most, I'd say."
Emrys turned away from Merlin's wicked grin and stared in disbelief at the spell in front of him. So simple. So obvious.
"Destiny hates me," he decided, dropping his head onto the table, with a groan.
Merlin had been right. Emrys had tried to deny it, tried to prove him wrong but the time was definitely now. Oh well, he'd spent his whole life lying to just about everyone he knew, he might as well add himself to that list.
Of course he hesitated, of course he delayed, but deep down he knew it was inevitable. Everything was. He'd learnt that lesson five years ago. Merlin was likely to learn it in another ten.
Emrys changed clothes, picked up his back full of supplies, walked to the flower filled meadow and cast the spell that changed him into an old man. Then he settled down on a rock with the crystal and thought hard about that fateful day ten years ago when he'd been picking herbs for Gaius. Then he focused on the crystal and transported himself back in time.
There in front of him was a lad that looked even younger than the Merlin from the alternative universe. The boy's blue eyes widened as he too recognised the man in front of him.
"Dragoon? "But, you can't be him … I mean, he's me. You're me and I'm … here and so you can't be..." He shook his head. "Sorry, who are you?"
Emrys found it worryingly easy to remember all of his lines "Hello, Merlin. I'm Merlin. How are you?"
And he really wasn't lying when he said he was from the future. It was just that he was only ten years ahead of this Merlin, not fifty.
"I have a job for you," Emrys stated.
"A... job." Merlin looked at him very suspiciously. "I'm not going to like it much, am I?"
"Oh, I don't know. I expect like most jobs it'll have it's good points and it bad points."
"Do you not remember the jobs I have now?" Merlin asked and Emrys laughed, suddenly finding himself relishing his new odd role.
"I've been exploring the full extend of my powers and finding out all sorts of interesting things about the nature of Time and the universe itself," Emrys intoned trying hard to remain serious. Well, it was the truth, as was one of his next lines about exploring other universes. At first he was sure he'd have to make it all up but, almost every thing he was telling the young Merlin was true. Since talking to his father and leaving that cave, there seemed to be no limit to what he had been able to achieve.
"There's a big problem with the magic in this one Camelot and, as it's so close to our universe, it's threatening to overspill into our world which is obviously not good news at all. So, I need you to go there and fix it."
"Rrright and... why can't their Merlin do it?"
"The changes in that world are such that their Merlin will not be able to develop his skills to the point that you have. Which means that he cannot bring magic back to their Camelot as he was destined to. No matter what secrets I tell him, not matter what spells I might teach him, he could not achieve this on his own."
"But I could?"
"Perhaps not entirely on your own, but you do have the resources needed to succeed, yes. The 'you' at this point in time is just young enough to be able to take his place, just experienced enough to be able to achieve the task, and not yet cynical enough to do anything totally stupid once you're there."
"That last bit does not sound reassuring."
"Next year won't be easy. It'll change you," Emrys said. 'And the next year, and the year after that.'
"Last year didn't change me enough?" the young man asked incredulously.
"Yes, it changed you just enough for this job, didn't I already say that?"
That really was a bit mean but, then again, it was what he had already said. What he had heard himself say when he was standing on the other side of this discussion. He internally groaned at the strange paradox.
"I think you've spent too much time with Kilgharrah," Merlin countered in a slightly sulky tone.
Another friend he had lost. "Almost certainly," he sighed. "Are you ready?"
"No, wait... you need to tell me more than that," the young man argued.
Emrys held a hand up ready, his mind thinking over the spell. It wasn't that hard, really. He knew the universe, he knew the timing, he didn't even need to look into the crystal currently in his pocket in order to make this work.
"The only thing you need to know, is that when your task has been completed, you will instantly return to this place and this point in time, so that you will not be missed by anyone here," he continued to explain. He wouldn't even need to wait a week. In fact, that would make it much harder. Just as soon as he'd sent this Merlin to the other Camelot, he would use the crystal to find the exact moment that the younger Emrys and Merlin were sitting around the camp-fire and bring him back almost immediately.
Which reminded him. "Oh, and you'll have to call yourself 'Emrys' whilst you there – just to save confusion."
"What? But I really don't think that's..."
"Don't worry – they won't get the significance of that name there, trust me." It was now or never, he started to chant the long spell that would ensure that it was young Merlin that got sent to the other Camelot and not him.
"Wait … you can't just … You have to tell me..." There was a flash of golden light and the younger Merlin disappeared.
Ready to start the story all over again.
A/N: Thank you all for joining me on this AU journey and for all your lovely reviews. It's been a blast.
Also, thank you for voting on my poll and for your lovely PM comments about my ideas. The clear winner is my Mergana story, "All Their Secrets", the time line of which I've already started. For a while the second place fic was the one inspired by my Welsh holiday (Probable title, "The Tricoloured Dragon") and so I started detailed notes, made some very good progress and started to get quite excited about it. Now I've noticed that the post Camlann fic has just pushed it back down to third place!
To be honest, I fairly confident that all four of these will get written eventually but thanks for the numerous comments saying you didn't mind and were looking forward to anything I wrote. That made me smile :D
I've opened up the poll results now so that you can also see the results but I plan to keep it open for a while yet. I'll update my ideas and progress in my PP diary and so you can visit that at any time to see how I'm getting on.