Disclaimer: Merlin the show is not mine. The characters of Merlin, Arthur, Gwaine, Ragnell, Gromer, and company are all public domain, however, as is the story being retold, and I will happily claim and torture and squash and cuddle them to my heart's content. So there.
Well, here we are, as promised, a return to the reconciliation/Merlinization of the original legends. A proper story this time, one I promised at the very beginning: Secrets Strike III: The Wedding of Sir Gawaine and Dame Rangelle. Not sure how quick this will be updated, as it is still for the most part in progress and while I've got all the plot points fixed, I'm still playing with format and debating about including a Reconciliation chapter at the end. Meh. We'll see.
"There's a phrase rattling about in my head just now…"
"Really Merlin? Because there's one in mine, too."
"I wonder what it could be."
"Four words, four very familiar words…"
"Mine's only three."
"Let's see…I told you so! That's it! OW! What'd you kick me for?"
Arthur smirked at his Court Magician. "My phrase was 'shut up, Merlin. I decided my foot could say it better."
The warlock rubbed his leg where the bound king had kicked him and looked for the millionth time at their surroundings. "Your foot isn't very eloquent, and it doesn't change the fact that I told you this was a bad idea and you didn't listen."
Some things never changed. "I was too listening," Arthur said, rubbing the ropes around his wrists against the bone bars of their cage in an attempt to loosen his bonds. "I just chose to go that way anyway. You said you needed to go to the Valley of the Fallen Kings."
Merlin sighed, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing the bridge of his nose—for some reason, their hooded captor had not tied him up. "I said I needed to examine the Valley of the Fallen Kings, with a team of specialized sorcerers, a batch of protection and anti-curse charms, and Freya. Running blindly into the Valley of the Fallen Kings while being chased by a pack of wyverns is not exactly what I had in mind. Ow, would you stop doing that?"
"Maybe if you'd shut up the first time," Arthur said, rolling his eyes and leaning his head against the back of the cage. "Why don't you try breaking us out again?"
The warlock shook his head. "It won't work."
"Because the bones absorb magic," Arthur said before he could, then peered a little more closely into his best friend's face. "Are you all right, by the way? You look a bit pale."
A shrug of his shoulders did nothing to calm the king. "I'm fine. Hanging from the ceiling in a witchtrap just isn't exactly my first choice of holding cell, that's all. Turn around and I'll see if I can't try to undo those ropes."
"Because it worked so well the other six times," Arthur muttered, but he scooted around until his back was facing Merlin. He heard his friend sighing and a rustle of cloth as he moved closer. Then came the shadow-feeling of hands almost but not quite touching his. Then the feeling of heavy, weighted, clumsy hands fumbling over the ropes around his wrists. Arthur frowned, alarm bells going off in his head.
As ridiculous and disturbing as it sounded, he knew Merlin's hands better than did Merlin himself. It had only been six months, after all, since the man became Arthur's Magician instead of his manservant, a position he'd held for nearly a decade. All that time he'd helped Arthur dress and undress, put on and take off armor, adjust cloaks, smooth wrinkles, comb hair, and shave. When Arthur was injured, Merlin was always the very first to know and start bandaging, and when Arthur was discouraged, it was Merlin's hands on his shoulders. Merlin's hands were more familiar-feeling than his own—he only knew Gwen's better. And this was not fine-Merlin's hands pulling at his wrists. Fine-Merlin was deft, light-fingered, and quick from always catching things he dropped. Fine-Merlin had tried to untie the ropes for what seemed like hours when they'd first woken up in the cage. These leaden, awkward fingers belonged to dead-on-his-feet-Merlin.
"You're not fine," he said quietly. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?"
"No," said an unfamiliar voice from outside the cage, making them both jump and flee for the other side of the cage. "He's just a creature of magic." The man stepped from the shadows and walked toward them. He wasn't tall, but he wasn't short, and had broad shoulders and huge brown eyes. He had light brown hair, sleeked back somehow, but not greasy looking. His face was round, but looked…pointed, somehow, too. Probably the chin. He smiled at them, a manic and unnerving smile. "The cage absorbs magic and he is magic, Arthur Pendragon."
Arthur recovered quickly at that, growling softly and opening his mouth to say something insulting. Merlin's leg brushed against his back as he did—the king had fallen sort of sideways when they'd startled. "I'm fine, Arthur," the warlock breathed, the words reaching his friend's ears only. "Truly."
He wasn't sure if that was the absolute truth, but it satisfied him for now. He struggled to sit back up as best he could with his hands tied behind his back. "Who are you?" he demanded in his very best "your majesty" voice. "What do you want?"
The man pursed his lips, then shrugged. "I haven't really decided yet. I'll probably kill you, I think. Depends on if I'm angry enough or not."
The king glanced at his magician, making a face. "Angry about what, exactly?"
"You taking over my lands," he said, staring evenly at them.
"This valley." He gestured around the broken down home, hidden in who knew what way, since the Camelot men had been unconscious when they were brought here. It belonged to our family before the Purge, and it's belonged to me ever since the Apple Queen's ascension. I don't care who you are or how powerful you are. You can't just swoop in and expect to own it."
Arthur was thoroughly confused now. The Valley of the Fallen Kings hadn't belonged to anyone, as it turned out—Uther and Carleon used to spat over it every once in a while, because the documents regarding its ownership had been either lost or confused for generations. When it turned out the whole valley was just a masterless patch of land, Queen Annis had graciously retracted her claim as a thank you for helping Carleon through the harsh winter. Which is why Merlin wanted to go to the Valley, to figure out if the land was really cursed.
And then Merlin began to laugh. "It's elf ground," he said, his voice a thick with humor and stronger than it had been before. "That makes so much sense. Elf ground, defending itself against trespassers all this time. You're an elf. If I concentrate I can smell the smoke."
That's when Arthur realized that, being that close to Merlin with his magic being sucked away, he'd been smelling smoke and cut apples since he woke up. Maybe it was his own magic the warlock smelled. He took a deep breath to be sure. Beyond Merlin's own light, cheerful, autumn-y scent there was something…darker. A strong, heavy smoke, like a house on fire. Ah. And that meant elf?
The elf laughed with Merlin. "Very good, Emrys. Yes, I am an elf. My name is Gromer Somer Jour."
"Well that's unfortunate," Arthur muttered, shooting a playful look behind him.
"I don't see why," said Gromer Somer Jour, inciting a giggle from the Once and Future King. "The point is that this valley is elf ground, and the Jours will not give it up without a fight."
Arthur scoffed. "It'd be a quick fight. We've got Lord Emrys and Lady Freya Vivienne on our side."
Gromer Somer Jour's lips twitched into a malicious smirk. "Yes, and you can see what a challenge it was for me to incapacitate Lord Emrys and hide him from the Lake Lady's vengeance."
The king went pale, suddenly realizing his danger. He nudged Merlin with his elbow. "Got any bright ideas, Lord Emrys?"
Merlin nudged him back. "So, Gromer," he called. "How long can you stay in a room with a witchtrap? The restraints meant to keep the absorption in the circle carved on the bottom, but they're not foolproof. It's paradox-magic, building something to block enchantments, and there's always a loophole."
"It's my trap, Emrys," Gromer Somer Jour snapped, eyes flashing. "I think I know where the weaknesses are, and I assure you, you can't get at them."
"These things were meant for mundies to use," he went on, leaning on Arthur a bit. "And this one's a bit shoddy on top of that. It's sucking you dry, almost as much as it is me. What are you going to do about that?"
The elfman's face twisted into a snarl and he rushed several steps closer before getting control of himself again. Arthur was glad—for a minute, he'd looked less like a human and more like a monster. "I told you. I'm going to put up a fight." He picked a long pole up from an extremely messy, lopsided desk and approached the cage. He undid the lock with the pole and tipped it down. The large door snapped open and the Camelot men (Arthur shouting in surprise) tumbled out and fell three feet to the floor, landing in a small pile.
The king rolled away from his magician, but rolled back fairly quickly as Merlin began gasping for breath and clutching his chest. "Merlin!" he cried scooting closer and cursing the elf and the ropes that still bound him.
"—Fine—" the warlock choked. "—Out—of the trap—good—in a—minute—"
"He'll be fine," Gromer Somer Jour said with a bored yawn. "He just needs a good night's sleep. You, on the other hand, are going to need more than that."
He surprised the king, striking his ribs with the staff and knocking the wind out of him. He pulled Arthur from the floor by the collar of his shirt and began mumbling an incantation. Merlin tried choking out a spell, any spell, to distract the elf, but he was too drained, his magic too scattered. Arthur shivered as the spell hit him, feeling like he'd been dunked in a river in the dead of winter.
"What was that?" he asked as he was dropped back onto the floor, his knees weak.
The elf smiled again. "I told you I was putting up a fight. It can't be your kind of fight because I'd have no chance, and it can't be my kind of fight, because you have no magic. This is a compromise." He knelt down beside the king, fighting his bonds, and the warlock struggling to stay awake. "I've just cursed you, Arthur Pendragon, King of Albion. Your task is to find the answer to a question and return to me to answer it within two months' time. If you do, you win, the land is yours, and I will leave. If you don't return, or if the answer is wrong, the curse will kill you."
"You miserable—" but before Arthur could finish the colorful curse forming in his head, the house, elf, and cage began to dissolve around them. Within seconds they were lying on the grass in the Valley of the Fallen Kings, staring up at the twilight sky, the sounds of the knights calling for them nearby.
"Two months, King Arthur," a ghostly voice whispered in his ear. He coughed, suddenly feeling a little tight of breath.
"Merlin?" he called, voice hoarse.
A second of silence, then: "…yeah?"
"You hear that?"
"You all right?"
"I will be." The warlock groaned and clambered to his feet, swaying dangerously before helping the still-bound king to stand as well. "Let's go find someone with a knife and more than half a working brain."
End of chapter one! Let me know what you think! Drop me a line, let me know if you like it so far (or not, which I'm perfectly happy to get, too). Or leave me some recommendations or lines/gags you'd like to see (seriously, I've used those lines before). It doesn't take long. Plus it makes me feel insanely good, and I'm having a bad week.