This is the companion to my first ever story, Reforged. It's intended to give additional detail, depth, and Morgana's viewpoint to that story. While I hope that it stands on its own. I believe that reading Reforged first will enhance the experience of Sublimation. At least that's my hope. Please enjoy and let me know what you think!
edit: I posted this without knowing anything about formatting or chapters. Sorry! I didn't know! If you'd like the full story broken into chapters rather than this massive oneshot, then I highly recommend reading "Reforged and Sublimated" from my profile. Thanks!
Hatred feels as if it burns hotly. That's the great lie of all evil. All darkness. Hatred is cold. So terribly cold that it burns everything it touches. Hatred feels as if it burns hotly. But what it really does is numb its victims so that they can't tell they're freezing. Hatred feels as if it burns hotly. But if it consumes you. If you turn completely to ice, you'll shatter.
She awoke with a gasp, unsure of where she was. Fire radiating from the knife wound in her back. She slowly sat up with a hiss of pain. What had happened? Looking around, it slowly came back to her. Remembering, she groaned and let her head fall back. She had been so close! She had finally had her moment. Her triumph had been at hand. Arthur. He had been in her grasp. Why had she not just killed him right away when she'd had her chance to do so? How did that man continue to survive? Nothing she did would grant her the victory she so richly deserved. Arthur always won, in the end. It made no sense! Time and again her carefully laid plans crashed down around her. Morgana. Last Priestess of the Triple Goddess. How did Arthur continue to best her? Her! With all of the power at her command she could never seem to defeat her dear brother. At least this time she knew exactly how he had escaped.
Mordred. She had been betrayed again. It should have surprised her; being nearly killed by the young man she considered a son of sorts. Their reunion had been such a wonderful surprise. She had felt almost warm for the first time in years. But now she felt only numb. Of course he had betrayed her. Everyone she loved betrayed her. She was completely alone, as she had always been. As she would always be.
Hearing the sound of movement further down the tunnel, Morgana tensed and prepared to defend herself. Holding a hand in front of her, she idly noted that it was shaking. How strange. Focused on the dark tunnel ahead, she ran through all of the ways she could defend herself. Played out a myriad of scenarios in her quick mind so that she would be prepared for whatever was coming. Finally, she could just make out a shape in the shadows. Big. What could possibly be that big? The shadow grew larger, and larger, until Morgana could finally see who was coming.
With a sob of relief she dropped her hand. "Aithusa! Oh my darling! You're alive! Come here, sweet! Yes come to me, my wonderful Aithusa." Nuzzling the small dragon's head against her chest, Morgana felt her conviction return. They had to go. She needed to find out what had happened. Using the bedraggled dragon to help her stand, the two slowly exited the tunnel and entered the caves where her slaves were searching for the key. But instead of her slaves and their Saxon overseers, she saw only chaos. Shrinking into the shadows and casting a hurried cloaking illusion over both herself and the dragon, Morgana watched the scene in front of her with dread.
The slaves were revolting. They were swarming over the Saxons and slaughtering them as they tried to run. Cowards. She could hear the sounds of men dying throughout the caves and knew that once again, her plans were completely ruined. Arthur. Somehow this was his fault. Arthur and those damned knights of his must have freed the slaves and given them weapons. He would pay for this as well, Morgana vowed. She would see to that, personally. But first, she needed to get Aithusa to safety.
Maintaining the cloaking illusion through strength of will alone, Morgana and her dragon furtively crept through the caves, giving wide berth to the battles that were taking place. Ignoring the death rattles of men that lay scattered throughout the caves, their throats hacked open. They were of no use to her now. Following the sounds of battle at a safe distance, she made her way to the mouth of the cave. Staying in the protection of the shadows, she patiently waited until the last of the slaves had escaped. Their dirty figures racing across the snowy expanse of the frozen land. She would need to remain hidden until they were far enough away to no longer see her behind them. And oh it hurt to even think that. She was too weak to fight. Too weak to best even these pathetic excuses for men. But she couldn't be reckless now. Aithusa needed her. Morgana would do whatever it took to protect her precious dragon.
Looking down at the poor, weak dragon Morgana felt a fresh sting of guilt. They had both suffered so much. Morgana considered trying yet again to make the dragon leave her. To be free. She had tried so many times before. But nothing could make Aithusa go away. Threats, begging, anger, nothing worked. For some reason the dragon stayed by her side. And it had brought the miraculous creature nothing but pain and misery. Why was it that the one being in her life that had the best reasons to run away from Morgana was the only one that never did?
Determining that it wouldn't be safe to venture into the frozen land until morning, Morgana and Aithusa made camp at the mouth of the cave. Hunger made Morgana's stomach claw at her backbone, but fear kept her from trying to reenter the keep. There may be escaped slaves there and she was loath to encounter them in her weakened state. And poor Aithusa. The dragon's ribs were clearly visible through her white hide. Skin that had formerly glowed from the magic within her was dull now. As she cuddled up against the dragon and fell into a troubled sleep, she prayed to the Triple Goddess for guidance. For some sign of what she could do to protect her precious Aithusa.
The vision came to Morgana in her dreams, as they so often did. Aithusa lay by a fireplace in a humble cottage, taking up most of the small room. Her stomach distended from eating a large meal and her ribs no longer threatening to tear through her snow colored hide. A woman in a simple peasant's dress walked over to the dragon and knelt beside her, gently stroking her head with obvious affection. The woman stayed there for a long while, petting the dragon and showering her with love and praise. In time the contented Aithusa drifted off to a peaceful sleep. Even after the dragon was gently snoring, the woman continued to pet her gently and whisper kind, encouraging words. Eventually, the woman stood and her face was revealed. Morgana knew this face. She had met this woman before. Her name was Hunith. And she was the mother of one of the people Morgana loathed most in this world. Arthur's devoted lackey, Merlin.
The next morning, Morgana awoke and knew what she needed to do. Knew where she needed to go. And absolutely did not want to take even one step in that direction. Ealdor was so terribly far away, and she would have to travel through Camelot to get there. The very thought froze her breath in her lungs with fear. She was in no shape to fight Camelot's might. But as Aithusa woke up beside her and nuzzled her head into Morgana's chest, she drooped in defeat. This vision was a gift from the Triple Goddess. A reminder that Morgana couldn't think only of herself. She had to ensure the safety and survival of Aithusa. Sighing in defeat, Morgana roused the dragon and the two ventured out into the frozen wasteland. She told herself often that she would do anything for Aithusa. It was time to prove it.
The icy wind mercilessly drove the freezing rain through her heavy clothes, stinging like nettles. Each step was agony, but she kept moving. They had been traveling for days, through the endless expanse of ice. It had seemed that it would never end, but now they were nearing the end. With the change, the snow had turned to freezing rain and Morgana was colder now than she had been in days. She could no longer feel her toes. That should have bothered her. For that matter she couldn't feel her fingers either. She was a gifted healer and knew what that meant. But Morgana had long since stopped caring about her own health. The knife wound in her back would tear open often, releasing a fresh trickle of blood to freeze her cloak and dress to her skin. She wasn't going to last much longer and she knew it. There was only one reason she didn't drop to her knees right there and welcome the sweet endless sleep of death. She looked over her shoulder to Aithusa.
"We can make it, darling. It's not going to be easy, but we'll make it. You're going to like her. She is the kindest person I've ever known. Well, the second kindest, but the first is out of the question. Don't worry, my sweet, I know she'll take good care of you."
Each step was a step closer to salvation. Once she was assured of her sweet Aithusa's care, she could finally leave this cruel world behind.
That night they found meager shelter in the straggling pine trees that braved the edge of the frozen north. Too weak to hunt, Aithusa lay down and listlessly watched Morgana struggle to collect wood with hands that would no longer work. The sorceress was barely was able to whisper the incantation to start the fire. Their first in many days. She had caught a small, stringy rabbit that was foolish enough to cross their path. Giving most of it to the dragon who needed it far more than she, Morgana ate only a few small bites. Eating even that small amount brought her hunger roaring back and reminded her how weak she had gotten. It was still so cold. The icy wind threatened to extinguish their small fire and the meager warmth it offered.
"Aithusa you're all I have left." Morgana brokenly told the dragon. " If it weren't for you I'd be completely alone." Tears froze as they fall from her eyes, but Morgana couldn't feel them anymore. Couldn't feel anything anymore.
At times like these, Aithusa wished more than anything that she could talk to the sorceress. Tell her that everything was going to be okay. That they were going to survive this. But she couldn't. And so she made do with non-verbal communication as if she were a dumb beast. Snuggling against Morgana's frighteningly thin form, the dragon offered what heat she had. Morgana wasn't going to live much longer if something drastic didn't happen. When the sorceress finally fell asleep, Aithusa reached deep into the magical center of her being, finding the last of her power. Morgana had a great destiny, but she would never survive without Aithusa's help right now. With the last of her magical reserves, Aithusa breathed healing fire over the sleeping form of the sorceress. She didn't have enough power to heal the festering wound in her back, to her dismay, but she had just enough to cure the frostbite on Morgana's hands and feet. Exhausted from the effort, Aithusa fell asleep, and dreamed of the first time she had met Morgana.
Finally free from the egg that had held her within it for a thousand years, Aithusa had reveled in her freedom, so full of magic and power that nothing seemed impossible. Racing through the woods she had come across the sorceress lying on the forest floor, near death. Aithusa had seen the silver threads of her life and her great destiny fading. Snarled in the cold black hatred and evil which had invaded her soul. Rushing to her aid, Aithusa had healed the damage to Morgana's physical body. But once healed, she could still see the miasma of hatred eating away at the bright spirit of the sorceress. She had decided right there that she would be the guardian of that bright destiny. The keeper of the small flame of goodness which still remained deep within Morgana's heart. If she could prevent the hatred and evil from extinguishing that flame, there was still hope for Morgana to regain her true self and play her part in the future of this land.
That task had proven nearly impossible. Hate begat hate. And the path on which the sorceress walked was one of hatred and betrayal. Humans, for all their power, life, and tenacity, never learned that hatred was the manifestation of evil, and that by giving into it they became the agent of evil here in this plane.
And so Aithusa stayed with Morgana. Never leaving her side for three years. And she had grown to love this woman. She was brilliant and powerful and deep inside, such a brightly shining good soul that Aithusa marveled that the darkness could have ever taken hold within her. But the price had been terrible. Without the life and magic of her kind, Aithusa was trapped in her juvenile form. Unable to mature to adulthood. Unable to talk. Unable to replenish her magic. She was slowly dying. She had maybe a year left. Less if she starved, which seemed like a distinct possibility. But it was far too late to leave now. She was too weak. And the flame of goodness in Morgana's heart was so terribly small and fragile. Aithusa knew that her presence was the only thing preventing the sorceress from turning completely to ice.
The next morning, Morgana awoke and could feel her hands and feet. Flexing them in awe, she turned to tell Aithusa the good news, wincing at the pain of her back wound reopening, but she didn't spare a thought for herself. Because when she looked at the dragon she could immediately tell how she had been healed. Aithusa was so weak she couldn't stand. Alternating between tears and anger, Morgana berated the dragon for wasting her precious strength on someone so undeserving as herself. Raged against her for staying with her for so long. Eventually spent, Morgana went into the woods and found a large stag, straying past the line of spring which was claiming the southern lands. Killing the majestic creature without remorse, Morgana dragged it back to Aithusa and fed her precious dragon the entire animal. Small bite by small bite. "Stay with me, darling. Please don't leave me alone. I couldn't bear the thought of being alone. That's right dear. Every bite. We'll get you strong and healthy again. That's why we're going south. There's someone who can help you."
They had finally arrived in Ealdor. The trip had taken far longer than it should have, as they'd had to hide and avoid the many knights patrolling the forests of Camelot. But Morgana had made it. But was it the right thing to do? She could feel the poison in her blood as the festering wound in her back slowly ate her from within. Right or wrong, she had no choice. She had to trust the vision that the Triple Goddess had sent.
Approaching the door to Hunith's small cottage, Morgana was again wracked with indecision. Was this a trap? How could she trust Merlin's mother? She had once thought she could trust the son but had clearly been proven wrong there. His was but one of so many betrayals she shouldn't have even remembered it. But she did. She had thought they were friends, maybe more. Had felt such a strong connection to him from the first time they met. But he had tried to kill her instead of trusting her. Still, he wasn't here and this was his mother, not him. Children were often not like their parents. Standing at the door she reached out to knock several times but pulled her hand back at the last second, trapped by fear.
Aithusa took matters into her own hands, as it were, and head-butted the door.
Morgana gasped in shock at Aithusa's actions and shot the dragon a stern look as well as a command to hide herself. What had the dragon been thinking? Still trying to decide if she should hide as well, the door to the cottage opened and there was Hunith. Such a simple woman but her blue eyes, so like her son's, shone with kindness. Morgana physically reeled at the sight. She had almost forgotten what kindness looked like.
"Who's there? Oh hello, can I be of some assist—Lady Morgana? Is that you, my dear?" Hunith asked inquiringly. Politely ignoring Morgana's wild and ragged attire and appearance. "Why it is you, isn't it! What a wonderful surprise! What brings you all the way to Ealdor, dear girl?"
The unquestioning kindness was almost her undoing. Unable to face such a warm spirit, Morgana nearly turned on her heel and ran away. But she didn't have the strength to run. And she wasn't here for herself. She was here for Aithusa. She just had to get Hunith to agree to care for Aithusa and she could go die in peace. Soon. So soon. But to beg help from Merlin's mother? Morgana bitterly swallowed her considerable pride and did what was best for Aithusa.
"Hunith. Yes. You must be surprised to see me here like this. I. I would not be here at all but I find that I need help and it seems that you are the only one that can help me."
"Of course, child! Just tell me what you need."
"Don't." She put a hand out. "Just. Don't. Don't answer until you know what I'm asking. I want to ask you to care for someone for me. Someone who is very dear to me but is very ill. Someone I can no longer care for. She, she is very special. So very precious. Her." Here Morgana gathered up her courage and continued shakily. "Her name is Aithusa and she is. Hunith you must promise not to be scared. She is gentle and please don't be afraid. She is. She is." But the words wouldn't come.
Aithusa poked her head around the corner and Hunith could see her for the first time. Morgana groaned. Dammit, dragon! She hadn't had time to properly warn the peasant who would no doubt begin to scream any second!
"A dragon..." Hunith breathed in awe. Eyes wide and wondering. Morgana could remember having the same reaction when she had first seen the magical creature. "Oh the poor dear! A young dragon! And a white one! Oh my! Well hello pretty girl! I'm Hunith and I'm so very honored to meet you!" Here Hunith paused, her eyes crinkling in concern. "But look at you, you're skin and bones! Something tells me you've had quite a series of adventures, haven't you? Yes and I can see they haven't all been pleasant. Yes come in come in! Would you like a nice fat rabbit? I have one cooking right now. Come on! We'll get you settled in no time!"
While Aithusa was gently ushered through the doorway to enter the house, Morgana fell to her knees with relief. Thank the Triple Goddess! Why or how a simple peasant woman would so easily agree to care for a dragon. It was beyond comprehension. It could be nothing other than the mother aspect of the Triple Goddess looking over her child, Morgana. Shaking with relief and weak from blood poisoning, Morgana slowly got to her feet and turned to go. She could finally leave this cruel world!
"Young lady I don't recall dismissing you. You march your butt inside this minute. Do I make myself clear?" Hunith appeared in the doorway and scolded Morgana, her hands on her hips.
Slowly, Morgana turned around. Half due to weakness, half to pure shock. What had this woman just said to her? Why was she talking to her? Could she please just go die already? "Hunith I thank you for agreeing to care for Aithusa. But I am leaving now. Goodbye."
Nothing got past Hunith's sharp eye. She was a mother and had lived on her own in a remote village for a very long time. She knew illness and pain when she saw it. She had a pretty good guess what Morgana was up to, too. "I don't think so. Get in here." Hunith pointed inside like she had with Merlin when he'd been obstinate as a teenager.
Pulling herself to her full height, Morgana leveled her haughtiest and most fierce glare on the woman in the doorway. "I don't think you know who you're talking to. I am Morgana Pendragon. Last High Priestess of the Old Religion and the Triple Goddess. I am a powerful sorceress and a gifted seer. I am wanted dead on sight in Camelot. And I will no be talke-"
"Oh phbbt!" Hunith made a disgusted and dismissive sound. Interrupting Morgana's tirade. "Child I've been a follower of the Triple Goddess since before you were born. You think to scare me with talk of the old ways? I am the old ways! Oh, and this isn't Camelot, dear. This is Essetir. And I don't know if you've been keeping up with these things, but King Lot is hardly a friend of Camelot. Arthur is a sweet boy, but his reach hardly extends to here. Now I don't know what is going on here and honestly I don't care. You once came to Ealdor's defense when we desperately needed help and I remember you were a good friend to my boy. Now you can either come inside and have something to eat or. Or. Or I won't take care of Aithusa!"
"You wouldn't turn her out! You saw yourself how she needs help!" Morgana was certain the woman was lying. But her face could have been carved in stone for all the emotion she was displaying, and she didn't appear to be wavering one bit. Furious, Morgana raised a hand, preparing to blast the woman aside in her anger and frustration.
Aithusa stuck her head out of the door and looked up at Hunith. Hunith absent-mindedly reached down and scratched the dragon right behind her ears, causing Aithusa's eyes to close in ecstasy and a rumbling purr to thrum to life. Never once taking her obviously unconcerned gaze off of Morgana. Shocked deep to her core. Morgana dropped her hand and watched Hunith casually enthralling the dragon at her side. Taking a step closer she looked back at Hunith.
Hunith fixed her with a stare the brooked no argument. "If you don't stop acting like a child then I will treat you like one and put you over my knee, girl. Now stop your tantrum and get inside. The stew is getting cold."
Morgana couldn't believe what she was hearing. This woman was treating her like she was her mother. Morgana was no child! She opened her mouth to tell her exactly that. But Hunith looked deep into her eyes. And her blue eyes were filled with such compassion. Such kindness. Such unconditional acceptance of not just Aithusa, but her as well. Morgana found herself nodding at the woman.
"For Aithusa. I should teach you how to care for her." Morgana not-at-all-gracefully agreed. Telling herself she would leave as soon as she ate whatever it was that smelled so delicious in the cottage.
After her third bowl of the fantastic stew, Morgana couldn't manage another bite. Though she very much would have liked one. While she ate, she had told Hunith everything she had learned about caring for dragons. She had expected the woman to pay rapt attention, not nod absent-mindedly in agreement. But no matter. Putting the bowl on the table she moved to go. But before she could Hunith stopped her. Again.
"Dear could you go in the back room and bring me the chickweed and comfrey?" Morgana agreed, ok this one last thing. After all she owed this woman a debt. And upon retrieving the items, tried once again to leave. "Oh! And that basin of hot water from the fire?" And finally, "Excellent. Now sit your butt down and let me see that back of yours.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me, girl. You think I don't know what someone looks like when they've got a wound that healed badly? Now let me take a look." Here she stopped and looked consolingly at Morgana. "Let me do this for you, please."
It was the "please" that did her in. Morgana sat on the bench and tried to take off her cloak, but the blood had stuck it firmly to her back. She cried out from the pain, tears stinging her eyes. Hunith put a comforting hand on her shoulder and gently, used the hot water and a rag to clean the wound enough to remove the cloak. Once that was done she continued until she could open Morgana's ragged gown in the back, finally exposing the knife wound. Hunith sucked in her breath at the sight. The ugly red lines radiating from the badly healing wound and the yellow sickness oozing from the site told her what she needed to know. Gently, Hunith pressed against the wound, wincing at Morgana's tense little cries of pain. "I know, dear. I know. I'm so sorry but this has to be done. The wound has poisoned the blood and I have to clean all of the sickness away before I can treat the blood. I'm so sorry." She continued the soothing cadence as she cleaned the wound until fresh blood flowed from it again.
Morgana couldn't breathe. The pain! She had known the wound was healing badly. Could feel the poison seeping into her blood. Weakening her. That's what the chickweed and comfrey were for, she realized. It was a remedy she herself had used to cure blood poisoning. Morgana began crying fresh tears. No from the pain this time. But from something strangely close to relief, to joy. Hunith was taking care of her! She hadn't had someone do something kind for her in so very long. She couldn't remember the last time, in fact. Maybe back in Camelot. Before everything had changed. Tearing strips off of her own apron, Hunith made a compress of the healing herbs and tied it around Morgana's shockingly thin torso, holding the poultice in place.
Finally she declared her work complete and stepped back. Seeing Morgana's hunched form. Her formerly fine gown hanging from her thin body in shreds nearly made Hunith cry again. The poor dear had been through so very much. With a word for Morgana to stay seated and rest herself, Hunith started a kettle for tea and went into her small chambers. There she pulled her finest gown from the chest at the foot of her bed. It wasn't good enough for the Lady sitting at her table, but it was the best she had.
Gently she helped Morgana to her feet and brought her sit by the fire. Hunith efficiently refilled the basin with hot water form the kettle, grabbed a fresh cloth and some of the precious rose soap Gwen had given her the last time she'd visited Camelot, and poured Morgana some tea. While the Priestess slowly sipped at the hot beverage, tears streaming from her face, Hunith gently bathed the girl, cleaning away more than just dirt. Cleaning away a small part of the darkness that wrapped around her heart.
Clean at last and dressed in the borrowed gown, Morgana let Hunith lead her to the small bed chamber and into the simple bed. Morgana was asleep nearly before her head hit the pillow. She would stay one night. In the morning she could leave.
Returning to the main room in the cottage, Hunith sat with Aithusa and scratched the dragon behind her ears. "I don't suppose you can talk yet?" She asked, flooring the dragon. What could this woman possibly know about dragons? Hunith laughed softly at the magical creature lying in front of the fire. "I'll take that as a no. Well then I can tell you a little story. Once upon a time, oh nearly thirty years ago now, I was just a young thing. A dear family friend came here and with him he had a young man. It wasn't dissimilar from how you two just came to me, actually. The young man's name was Balinor. And he was magnificent. And Aithusa, here's the part that matters to you. Balinor was a Dragonlord." Aithusa jerked up her head at that. Making Hunith giggle. "I thought that might interest you! Yes he was. He was fire and magic and passion. And I fell deeply in love with him. He told me all about dragons, you see. Taught me everything he knew, which was quite a bit!" Hunith's eyes dimmed a bit, recalling that time. "We could have been so very happy. But Uther found out where Balinor was hiding and so, my love had to leave. I didn't learn until after he was gone that he had given me the greatest of gifts. My precious son, Merlin. Aithusa, have you ever met Balinor?" Hunith looked hopefully at the young dragon. Sadly, Aithusa shook her head. "Ah, then you must have met my Merlin, then. It must have been he who hatched you." Aithusa nodded her head, hating the way Hunith's eyes filled with tears. "That means my dearest Balinor is gone. And he never knew about his son." Openly crying now, Hunith walked over to a pallet in the corner and, curling up, she cried herself to sleep.
Today was her fifth here in Hunith's small cottage. Yesterday she hadn't thought about dying. Hadn't made any effort to leave. Yesterday she had also found out Hunith had been letting her sleep in the woman's only bed. Morgana wouldn't be letting that happen again. The pallet on the floor would be her bed this evening. The wound in her back was healing well under Hunith's tender care. Morgana had been surprised to find the woman knew as much about healing as she did. While she wasn't priestess trained, she did have considerable knowledge compared to the average peasant. When asked about it, Hunith laughed softly. "Merlin was forever getting scraped and bruised and cut as a child. I learned everything I know out of necessity! At times I thought he was intentionally hurting himself just to test me!" Hunith smiled gently at Morgana. "His childhood wasn't easy. We didn't have much, as you can see. But my Merlin brought me so much joy. So much pride. A mother couldn't ask for a better son."
Morgana scoffed internally at that. If he was such a good son why was Hunith living in a small cottage in a backwater village like Ealdor while he lived in the castle at Camelot? Some of what she was thinking must have shown on her face. Because Hunith gave her a gently reprimanding look before going on. "He stopped asking me to move to Camelot with him about four or five years ago. For the first several years he lived there he sent a letter every month when the courier arrived with his pay, asking me to please move to Camelot and live with him there. But a boy has to leave his mother in order to become a man. I know that. And I like my life here. I like Ealdor. I'm happy here."
Morgana was stuck on something she had said. "His pay?"
Hunith sighed. "Yes his pay. I stopped asking him not to send it around the time he stopped asking me to move to Camelot. Nothing I did would prevent him from sending nearly every copper to me. I told him. I don't need it! What need could I have for so much money? I live a simple life!" Hunith looked at Morgana conspiratorially, with a pixie grin. "I will admit it's nice not to have to work at the tavern anymore. But I save as much of it as I can for him. If he ever needs it I want to be able to help him out. Besides, it's his money. He earned it."
"So you have that money hidden here at the house? Aren't you worried it will be stolen?"
"Well dear, you're the first person I've ever told. So no. I have no concerns about it being stolen." And Hunith reached out to gently pat Morgana's small hand with her own. "I trust you."
Aithusa had been watching the exchange with interest. Hunith was perfect. She wished that she'd known about this woman years ago! Morgana needed a mother. And here was a mother who needed a daughter. This was the healing that Morgana had desperately needed for years. With every act of kindness. Every expression of trust, Morgana's spirit shown a little bit brighter. The ice that encased her heart thawed a little more, the fire in her grew a little stronger. There was so much damage to undo. But this was progress and Aithusa was grateful. Grateful too, for the bounty of food the simple woman seemed to conjure from thin air. She and Morgana were going to get fat at the rate Hunith was feeding them! Speaking of food. Aithusa hadn't eaten in a few hours and her stomach was making angry noises. Crossing over to Hunith, she put her head on the woman's knee and gave her best poor-me eyes. Laughing in her wise way, Hunith patted her head and went to get her bow and quiver from beside the door. Turning she asked Morgana, "Would you like to come with me, dear? I think that wound of your has healed enough, and a walk in the fresh air will do you some good." Morgana complied and the two women left together, talking softly.
"Please let me help with the hunting, Hunith. I can save you some arrows by using my magic, I think." Morgana said with a small smile. Thinking that here was a small way she could repay the woman who had shown her and Aithusa so much kindness.
"Oh thank you, my dear! Merlin always offered to-" Hunith coughed to cover her near mistake "help with the hunting when he was at home. It will be nice to have company again. Of course he had such a hard time killing anything, even to eat. Such a kind-hearted boy."
Morgana thought back to the day that kind-hearted boy had poisoned her. Yes. Such a sweet boy, she thought sarcastically. But that wasn't Hunith's fault. It would be cruel to dispel the kind woman's delusions about her son. And to be fair, Merlin had not only apologized, but he had explained why he had done it. And while she hadn't really forgiven him, she did understand why he did it. So Morgana kept quiet and merely nodded to show she was listening.
Morgana had been with Hunith for two weeks when a knock came at the door. The fear immediately returned and Morgana began to panic. Hunith quieted her with a look and pushed her towards the bedroom. Thank goodness Aithusa was in the woods, hunting! Morgana could hear Hunith talking softly with whomever had arrived. She invited the person in but from the sounds of things, they declined. They left quickly thereafter and Hunith opened the door. "Dear, it was a courier from Camelot with Merlin's pay. He comes every month. And look! A letter from Merlin! Let's read it, shall we!"
Morgana was hardly enthusiastic but she had to admit that she was curious. Following Hunith into the main room, she took a seat by the fire and Hunith read the letter out loud.
I hope that this letter finds you happy and healthy and enjoying what looks to be a beautiful spring. Enclosed you'll find most of my pay for this month. Sadly, Arthur has complained again that I've outgrown my clothes so I had to get new ones. I hope that this doesn't mean that you will be going without, for I can't bear the thought! Things in Camelot are much as they ever are. We had a scare this month and had to rescue two of the Knights. My friends Gwaine and Percival. I'm sure you remember them from your last visit. Though I feared for his safety, Arthur insisted on rescuing them and looking back, I can see that he was completely right. The kingdom would not have been the same without our friends and I'm so grateful they're home safe. We've lost friends before and Camelot is truly more empty without their presence. We also have a new Knight. His name is Mordred and while I'm not sure about him just yet, he saved Arthur's life and has so far proven loyal and true. I knew him briefly as a small boy and find it hard to reconcile the child I knew then with the young man I see now. How time flies! It's coming on ten years that I've lived in Camelot. Can you believe it? Overall I'm very happy. With spring comes more training with Arthur and the knights, so I'll be busier than ever. But I continue to work with Gaius in the evenings after my duties to Arthur are complete. And after Gaius goes to bed I continue with my own studies. Gaius sends his love. He threatened to retire again this evening, leaving me to be the court physician. Can you imagine? I can't see Arthur agreeing to that. He still doesn't realize that I've been studying under the best physician in the five kingdoms for nearly ten years and am actually quite capable. He doesn't realize a lot of things, of course. And that's for the best, as I'm sure you'll agree. Gwen sends her love and asks me to tell you that it was lovely to see you over the Yule Holiday. I agree! She wants to extend the offer (again) for you to come live here with us in Camelot. I know. I know. I tried telling her it was no use to ask you, but she insisted and as my Queen commands, so I do. She and Arthur are so happy together. It's wonderful to see. And before you ask, no I don't have anyone special in my life. When would I find time to court anyone?
I love you, Mother. As always, if you need anything at all just let me know and I'll do everything in my power to see that you get it.
Your loving son,
Hunith was quietly crying as she finished reading the letter. Morgana could see how much she missed Merlin. See how staying away from him so that he could be independent was terribly hard on her. Unable to see the kind woman sad, Morgana got up and hugged Hunith tight. Holding her while she cried with pride and with the pain of missing her son. While some of the letter made no sense to Morgana, she had to admit that Merlin appeared to be a very dutiful and loving son. And the coldness within her receded a small bit more. The flame within her shone just a little bit brighter.
She had been with Hunith for nearly a month. Morgana could hardly believe it. She rarely thought of leaving anymore. She was content. For the first time since she left Camelot, she felt like she had a real home. The days had settled into a harmonious routine. Morgana's back was completely healed now and she spent much of her days in the woods, collecting herbs and edible plants she found while Hunith tended the vegetables in her garden. Aithusa spent more and more time wandering the woods. Initially Morgana had feared for her safety but it was clear that the only danger the dragon was in was that of eating too much! In the evenings Morgana and Hunith would talk of their day over a simple but delicious dinner. She and Hunith had become friends. And what unexpected friends they were! Hunith was as nonchalant about Morgana's sorcery as she was about Aithusa. She would even ask Morgana to do things with magic. Things she hadn't ever considered, oddly. Such as removing the soot from the chimney with a focused wind spell. When Morgana would comment on it, Hunith would blush and tell her that if it was a bother not to worry about it and apologize for asking.
Hunith gathered the dishes and started cleaning up dinner. Morgana worked with her, cleaning and scrubbing with no thought to how strange the scene would have appeared to anyone from Morgana's past who had seen them. Working in easy companionship, Hunith glanced at Morgana through her eyelashes. Maybe it was time.
"Morgana, I'd like to know what brought you here. Please don't misunderstand. I'm so terribly happy to have you with me." Hunith put an arm around Morgana's shoulder and gave her a quick hug. "But I feel like it would be good for you to get it all out. Keeping bad things bottled up inside of us prevents them from ever being able to leave and we can never heal. Would you trust me with your story?"
Morgana stood very still. She was very fond of Hunith. More than grateful for the woman opening her home to Aithusa and her, she cared a great deal for the woman. And what she said had the ring of truth. Looking into the main room and seeing Aithusa gently sleeping by the fire, safe and regaining strength, she agreed. And so she told her everything. From the dreams that gave her nightmares as a young woman to the discovery of her magic. Told her about turning to Merlin and how he helped her understand that magic wasn't bad. She wasn't bad. It was the law in Camelot that was bad and wrong. Hunith tensed a bit at that. "That's all he said to you? Nothing else?" she had asked. Seeming somehow both relieved and disappointed when Morgana nodded in assent. Continuing on, she told her about Merlin smuggling her to the Druids in hopes that they could help her with her gift. About what a disaster that had turned out to be. Told her about meeting Morgause. How Morgause was the one that had trained her as a Priestess. How her sister had shown her that Camelot should be punished and taken by force so that magic users would no longer have to live in fear. Told her about returning to Camelot and exacting her revenge on Uther, finally. Told her about finally taking Camelot and the throne, only to have Arthur defeat her immortal army, somehow. Told her about everything. The pain, the betrayals, her constantly foiled plans to bring magic back into Camelot. Told her about her meeting Aithusa. Their imprisonment. Her search for Arthur's bane. Everything. She got it all out. Throughout the long recitation, Hunith never made a judgement or said anything negative. She just kept repeating over and over that "You poor child. You've been through so much. I can see that this has hurt you so deeply. It's time to let it go." Over and over. When Morgana finally got to the day they'd arrived at Hunith's cottage, the woman said only. "Thank you so much for telling me, trusting me with your incredible story. Morgana. I met you only briefly when you and Merlin were still so young, but I could see then what I can still see now. You are a good person. I see the way you care for Aithusa. If you were truly so lost you wouldn't have any room in your heart for love. Nobody is truly lost if they can still love. Remember that, dear."
In the following weeks Hunith would often repeat that. "You're a good person, dear. When you forget to hide it, it shines from you. You've been wronged. And your goal was noble. But two wrongs don't make a right. Revenge is never the answer. Revenge starts a circle of despair. This life is precious. Those we love are precious. Be loyal to those you love."
Morgana had initially balked at the sentiment. Telling Hunith that she had nobody left to be loyal to. Hunith had just pointed at Aithusa. Blushing, Morgana had insisted that she had no humans left to be loyal to. Hunith had come close to her and cupped Morgana's face in her hands. "The Morgana I first met was surrounded by friends and it was evident that you all loved and were completely loyal to each other."
Morgana pulled away. "Well this Morgana doesn't."
"My dear child. Don't you think that means the old you had it right?"
Spring gave way to summer. The weeks and months blending together in a happy fog. Hunith would often tell Morgana tales of young Merlin. Of his great kindness and quick wit. His dry and endearing sense of humor. How he was always such a gentleman. The mischief he and his friend Will had gotten up to. She would constantly sings his praises. In return, Morgana would tell Hunith stories of her time in Camelot with Merlin, Gwen and Arthur. The adventures they had shared, the friendships that had been so strong. Hunith loved hearing those stories. Loved hearing about how Morgana and Gwen had been so close. Almost sisters. Morgana wasn't in the least bit surprised the Hunith and Gwen were so fond of each other. It was easy to see why the two women would bond. They both had pure hearts. Unlike Morgana, who was rotten and beyond redemption.
Or perhaps she wasn't so far gone. Distanced from her quest for revenge she could see that while her cause was noble, her methods had been flawed, wrong. Evil. That was why she never succeeded. Arthur was in the right. But if Morgana could recognize that fact. If she could see past the hurt and betrayal, perhaps redemption wasn't completely our of her reach. The ice around her heart was begrudgingly melting, revealing the bright spirit within.
Summer was coming to a close. Morgana had been living with Hunith for nearly six months and for the first time in many years, truly had a home. Aithusa was slowly improving. In fact, the dragon was so big that she barely could squeeze into the doorway, and had been sleeping in the stables for the past few weeks. They were a family. Morgana no longer thought about Camelot, or revenge. She lived a simple life, hut a happy one.
A knock at the door brought a questioning look from Morgana. Hunith merely shrugged and answered it. She was well liked by the villagers and it wasn't unusual for her to have guests. Unconcerned, Morgana continued sorting and gathering bunches of herbs to dry in the pantry. When Hunith returned she had a strange look on her face.
"Dear girl, I have a visitor. I believe that he has had a very hard time of it, lately. I don't know how long he will be visiting but I'd like to ask you to please treat him gently. Could you do that for me?"
"Of course! After everything you've done for me how could I refuse such a simple request?" Morgana hugged Hunith tightly. "I owe you so much. Thank you."
Hunith had tears in her eyes. "Sweet girl let me finish these herbs. Would you do me a favor and clean out the ashes in the fireplace? I find that these old knees start to hurt if I try it, these days."
And so Morgana was kneeling at the fireplace when Hunith's visitor entered.
"Here, let me help you with that" he said, crossing the room and coming to stand next to her.
Morgana nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard him speak. Oh yes, the visitor. The man came over and stood next to her. She could see fine boots and pants covering long legs. A noble? As she continued looking up there was an expanse of well-muscled chest. Goodness, Hunith's guest was very masculine! She stood up fully to get a better look at the man...
The blood drained from both Merlin's and Morgana's faces. In unison they croaked out shocked whispers, "You!"
"What are you doing here?" Merlin and Morgana said in unison. Backing away from each other the two eyed each other warily. Circling like fighters in the ring.
"Why are you in my mother's home? What have you done to her? If you even think of hurting her I will not hesitate to end you." Merlin threatened.
"Don't you think to threaten me, Merlin. I hold powers you cannot begin to comprehend." Morgana retorted tartly. Staring intently at him. She could hardly recognize him , save for those intense blue eyes. He had a short beard now. And his hair was longer. And his clothes were so finely made! What ones he was wearing at least. It was indecent to go around exposing that much manly chest. Wow he really had-
"Answer the question! Why are you here? What is your scheme? Don't you even think of harming my mother." Merlin growled.
What had he asked? Oh yes. "Hurt her? Merlin you are spectacularly arrogant for a servant! Do you think you matter? I'm not here for you, or Arthur, or Camelot. I'm here for...reasons of my own!" She finished lamely. Ugh why was she having a hard time yelling at him. She should be terrifying him until he ran away!
"Get out. Now." Merlin ordered in a low growl, pointing at the door.
"I've been living here for months, you worthless nobody! This is my home now and I'll not have a visitor tell me what to do in my own home! Hunith and I are happy here. Leave us alone! Go back to Camelot and lick my brother's boots!" Morgana sneered.
At this Merlin stood quite still and spoke with quiet force. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving until you are so far away from here that my mother can't remember what you even look like."
Morgana screeched in frustration. "Just who do you think you are? Why are you even here? Hunith tells me you haven't been to visit in years! Or is that why you're here? Are you here to drag me back to Camelot like a prize for your precious King? How did you know I was here?"
"My reasons, like yours, are my own. The difference is I belong here. You do not."
"Belong here? Look at yourself. I scarcely recognized you! What happened to you?"
"I don't have to answer to y-"
"Children! That is enough!" Both Merlin and Morgana started at Hunith's sharp command. "This is my home and I will tell you both the rules right now! Merlin, Morgana lives here with me." Holding up her hand to stop his protest before it could start, she shot him a pointed look before continuing, "I don't care what your objections are, young man! You don't get to make this decision, I do!" At this Morgana gave Merlin a small, vicious smile of victory. Hunith then turned sharply to Morgana. "And as for you, young lady! Merlin is my son! He is welcome in this home anytime he wants and for as long as he wants! Now both of you. Either you both get along like the adults I know you are, or you can both get out! Do I make myself clear?"
Merlin and Morgana blushed from embarrassment and silently nodded their agreement, still staring daggers at one another.
Hunith just managed to leave the room in a flurry of skirts and feigned indignation before Merlin and Morgana could see her small smile.
"For what's worth, you should know that I have no intention of harming Hunith in any way. I'm very grateful for her kindness and I would defend her with my life." Morgana offered quietly.
"I'm not here to try to capture you and take you to Camelot. My. My life there is over. You don't have to worry about that." Merlin begrudgingly said in return.
This stunned Morgana. Merlin was no longer in Arthur's employ? There was a story there. And Morgana would learn the truth of it, she promised herself. In the meantime, she felt better about his presence at Hunith's cottage. Perhaps this was not the catastrophe she feared.
Morgana warily watched Merlin gather up all of his things and bring them into the house. This presented a bit of a problem. Morgana was sleeping on his pallet, leaving nowhere for him in the small cottage. Merlin turned around, saying something about not wanting to share a roof with her and preferring his horses anyway. Horses? Oh no! The stables were where Aithusa was sleeping! Morgana argued that she should be the one to sleep there. This was his pallet, technically. Right? But Merlin was as stubborn as always. Desperate to think of a way to stop him that didn't involved hurting Hunith's son she was nearly in tears. Hunith came out, saw what was going on, and insisted that it would be okay. That Merlin wouldn't hurt Aithusa even if he did see her. Which he may not. Morgana could only hope Hunith was right.
The next morning, Morgana ran over to the stables as soon as she saw Merlin leave to go do whatever it is that he was going to do. She entered the small building and called softly for Aithusa but didn't get an answer. There were two horses, happily eating hay. One was a gorgeous white mare that reminded Morgana of her own mare, back in Camelot. There were packs and riches strewn about the stables. Where had Merlin gotten all of these things? She knew he hadn't bought them because his pay came here every month. Another mystery to the suddenly unfathomable Merlin. But where was Aithusa? There wasn't any sign of a fight. So maybe Aithusa had realized the stables weren't safe and stayed away last night? But she had to know for certain.
Apprehensively, Morgana approached Merlin. He was chopping wood behind the cottage. He looked sad. Whatever had happened in Camelot had clearly affected him deeply. He looked up and saw her, but didn't even acknowledge her presence. He just kept chopping the wood. His large, powerful shoulders flexing in the early morning sunlight with every swing of the axe. When had Merlin gotten so...handsome? It wasn't just the muscles, though those were really quite fantastic. She could appreciate the figure he cut, chopping wood without a shirt. It wasn't the new beard either. Though it suited him, somehow. No, it was something in the way he moved. The way he held himself. He had confidence now. He had never been like this when they were younger. Morgana shook her head to stop those thoughts and looked away. Aithusa. Find out about the dragon. If she'd come to the stables Merlin would have done something, right? She would have known? She needed to know. But how to ask without giving away her secret?
"How did you sleep?" She asked hesitantly.
"Fine." He answered curtly.
Oh this wasn't getting her anywhere. She had to know if he'd seen Aithusa! "So nothing interrupted your sleep then? That's good"
"Nope. Slept like a lazy noble. And yourself, my lady? How did you sleep in my bed?" The casually asked question put immediate and uncomfortably graphic thoughts into Morgana's mind. Merlin started to bow but sputtering and nearly dropping the axe, he quickly righted himself, giving her an embarrassed look.
Naughty boy! Even if he clearly hadn't meant the words the way they had come out, he obviously had realized the implication. No reason to let on that the thought hadn't been exactly repugnant. Sneering at him she retorted, "Merlin you surprise me! And here Hunith has been singing your praises for months! Telling me what a kind soul you are, and what a gentleman!" This seemed to embarrass the man more, because he blushed all the way down to that nice chest of his. Laughing at his discomfort reminded her that once she had enjoyed teasing him like this. A lifetime ago. But she couldn't focus on that. Aithusa. Putting aside her pride, she asked again, "If..if you saw anything last night. Please, I must know."
Merlin put down the axe with a sigh and looked into her eyes. "Morgana, your dragon is safe. I made her as comfortable as I could. You should know. I. I would never harm her. I know that she is rare and precious."
Morgana nearly fell down in relief and surprise. Just like Hunith, Merlin didn't seem to be worried about Aithusa's presence. These simple people surprised her with their easy acceptance. She was, however, shocked that like with Hunith, Aithusa hadn't attacked Merlin. But he had just told her that she- Wait. She? How had he known Aithusa was female?
"She? What makes you think the dragon is a she?" Morgana asked shrewdly.
Merlin gave her an unreadable look before answering, "Oh was I right about that? I don't know, I guess she just looked like a girl?"
She didn't believe that for a moment. Hunith must have told him. And so Morgana nodded at him and went back inside the cottage, passing Hunith on her way out.
Hunith went up to Merlin and just hugged him. Hugged him for a long time. "I missed you," she said simply. "I'm glad you're here. For whatever reason you came."
"Mother, she is...very different from the last time I saw her. What are Morgana and Aithusa doing here? What is going on here?" He asked with obvious puzzlement.
And so Hunith told him about the early spring evening when Morgana and her dragon had arrived. Told him about the terrible wounds, both physical and emotional that Morgana had sustained. Told him about the patience, and love, and healing that she had lavished on both the dragon and the woman. And with obvious affection and pride, told him how Morgana was starting to bloom again. Like a rose that had lain dormant over a terribly long and cold winter. Somberly, she told him that Aithusa, while unable to speak, had indicated that Merlin had been the one to hatch her. Tears falling from her eyes, she told him that meant that his father had died. And how sorry she was that now Merlin would never know Balinor.
Sitting down, Merlin took Hunith's hand and gently, hesitantly told her about meeting Balinor. About telling him who he was. He told her about how his father had never forgotten her. How he loved her but was afraid that finding her again would put her in danger. How he had learned that he was a Dragonlord. Crying, he said, "Mother I'm so sorry I never told you. I didn't even know how to begin. I didn't want to make you sad. I can't stand it when you cry. But I do have something for you. Come with me." and he led her into the stables. Rummaging through the most battered of his packs, he pulled out a small wooden dragon statue. "He carved this for me the day before he died saving my life. I. I want you to have it. To remember that he never stopped loving you. And that before he died, he told me he was proud of the son you'd raised."
The two stood there in the stable for a long time. Holding one another and mourning Balinor.
The next day, Hunith went hunting and Merlin asked to join her. Because he was going, Morgana remained behind. She had salves to make anyway and wanted to spend the day with Aithusa.
While they were hunting, Merlin and Hunith had a frank conversation about his magic. "I know you didn't tell her. But I want to thank you for keeping my secret, anyway. While you may trust her, believe me, I have ample reason not to."
"Have you ever trusted her? That girl told me everything. She's been here for months now. I know how when you helped her with her gift that you didn't tell her about your own. I know that you didn't trust her to sacrifice herself for Arthur. It seems that both of you have deeply hurt the other. Don't make her the villain in your little play, son. I love you but I know that you can be very single-minded when you have a goal. And Arthur has been that focus for a long time. Is it so far-fetched to think that you contributed to her fate?"
Merlin stopped short, his shoulders slumping and his head dropping. When he turned back to Hunith there were tears in his eyes. "Mother please don't lecture me about that time. I have nightmares every night about that day. I know I had the perfect opportunity to share this with her. To let her know she wasn't alone. But I was too scared to trust her. And look what happened. Mother I am well aware that I'm no innocent. I have blood on my hands the same as her. But my cause is just."
"Wasn't hers?" Hunith asked softly. "She wanted a Camelot where all magic users are free to be themselves. That seems to be a fine and noble goal to me."
"You talk as thought she's changed, as if she's no longer pursuing her revenge. But I saw her just this past winter and she tried to kill me. Tried to kill Arthur. If Mordred hadn't saved us. Well I don't know what would have happened."
"Merlin," she put a hand on his arm, " I know about that, too. I mended that knife wound in her back the first night she was here. It nearly killed her. I've seen her heal in both body and spirit. I see the woman she really is. It nearly glows from her sometimes. She's been so terribly wronged that it twisted her. And I think that sister of hers shares much of the blame for who she turned into. Morgause changed her. Powerful as they are, those Priestesses didn't understand that hate begets hate. But even the most smallest and most fragile flame will grow if given patience, fuel, and air. You must trust me. She is becoming the Morgana you once knew, again. Trusting her with your secret may be the best thing you ever do. But you'll never know if you don't open up yourself, too." Hunith touched a hand to her son's face. "My dear boy, I see you hurting. I know you've struggled as well. Don't deny healing and mending to another when you yourself so clearly need it."
Merlin was floored. Why did sons never realize how wise their mothers were until they had grown? He had much to think on.
Back at the cottage, Morgana and Hunith were working together, finishing the burn salves. Morgana kept a wary eye on Merlin as he sat and watched them work. He seemed pensive. What was going on in that head of his?
Suddenly he blurted out, "Mother, I'd like to fix up the stables, if that would suit you. If I'm going to be staying there I'd like to make the building rain proof. What do you think?"
"Oh I think that's a wonderful idea, son! Morgana, isn't that a great idea?"
Planning on staying long-term, was he? Hmm. Or did he just want to keep an eye on her? Morgana still didn't trust his motives. Why had he shown up here out of the blue? She didn't believe that story about no longer being Arthur's manservant for one minute. She knew the two men were completely devoted to each other. No there was something else going on. There had to be. Calling on years of court etiquette training, she flashed a big smile and agreed that it sounded absolutely wonderful! Hunith seemed happy at that. But the look on his face told Morgana that Merlin didn't fall for her feigned enthusiasm one bit. Damn that man! She really wished she could read his mind.
The following morning, Aithusa accompanied the Dragonlord into the woods. He was supposed to be keeping an eye on her. But really, he wanted her to help him with his project. "I don't want to use magic for this," he had told her the evening before while they bedded down in the stables. "It's too dangerous. Morgana may be able to sense it in the wood, and I still don't trust her." Aithusa had thrown him a disgusted look. Oh if only she could talk! She would tell him exactly how wrong he was! But she was trapped in her mind. So she made do with shooting a thin spurt of flame at him in annoyance and pointedly ignoring him as she went to sleep. Now that they were out in the forest, she understood what he had meant by her help. That man meant to use her as a beast of burden to drag trees back to the cottage! Of all the nerve! She would have refused right then and there, but the clever man had flushed out a large stag and slain it for her, offering it as payment for her help. That stag had been delicious, too.
The constant sound of sawing was slowly driving Morgana insane. Not because of the sound itself. No. Because she had made the mistake of walking out to the yard to bring Merlin a pitcher of water earlier. She had been trying to be nice! To repay him for keeping an eye on Aithusa in the woods yesterday! But then she had seen him hard at work cutting the large trees into planks. Sweat dripping off of his surprisingly powerful body. Muscles glistening in the morning sun. It had been a mesmerizing sight. She had stared at him, awestruck, for nearly twenty minutes before he noticed her there, startling her and prompting her to bring him the water. Now, safely back inside, she could see him clearly in her mind. Every time she heard that sawing. She couldn't focus on anything else. Damn that man. Was it warm in here?
He was watching them again. It seemed all Merlin did was watch her when she and Hunith worked in the evenings. Twin feelings of irritation that he so clearly didn't trust her and an odd fluttering in her stomach at being the recipient of the intense stares warred within Morgana. If he hadn't been doing backbreaking work all day, and really did deserve to rest, she would shoo him out the door with instructions to make himself useful. As it was she couldn't come up with an excuse to get rid of him, so she settled for ignoring him. Focusing on working with Hunith, Morgana was unaware of the picture the two of them made together. Heads bowed in concentration on the balms they were making. They worked in perfect concert. The practice of longs months evident. More than this, the genuine affection that Morgana and Hunith had for each other was blatantly obvious. And it was causing Merlin to rethink everything he thought he knew about the sorceress.
Morgana could never have guessed when she was younger that she would so thoroughly enjoy washing laundry. Even thinking it now made her grin. How Gwen would laugh if she could see her now! Yet this was one of Morgana's favorite chores. She and Aithusa gathered up all of the dirty clothes and went into the secluded garden, by the well. There, Morgana would use her powers to fill a large cauldron, that was in truth bigger than Morgana herself, with water from the well. Aithusa would gently heat the water with her dragon fire. They made a great team. This week she was also washing Merlin's clothes. And what had he done to his fine silk shirts? That idiot! Morgana wanted to weep for the poor tunics he had casually thrown into the hamper. How did a man get a wardrobe finer than a King's and treat it like sackcloth? She must remember to instruct him on the proper care for these things later. For now, Morgana gently cleaned every inch of his fine clothing until it was as good as new. Not for Merlin of course. But because such fine cloth deserved to be well cared for. In time, she had finished all of the washing and hung everything on the line to dry in the cool breeze and early autumn sun. Peering at the wash water, Morgana reached all the way in to feel around and make certain she hadn't missed anything in the soapy water, her toes coming off the ground as she balanced on the edge of the large cauldron. And for reasons Morgana would never understand, Aithusa pushed her into the cauldron!
Morgana's indignant scream brought Merlin running around the side of the house. Before him, was the Lady Morgana Pendragon, High Priestess of the Triple Goddess, trying vainly to escape a large cauldron of dirty wash water, laughing and mock-yelling at the dragon rolling on the ground in obvious glee. Completely waterlogged and bedraggled, and trying hard to contain her laughter, Morgana saw Merlin come around the corner. Saw him come to a dead stop and stare at her. Instead of being embarrassed that he was witnessing her humiliation, Morgana merely called to him. "Merlin! Come help me out of here, would you? Aithusa is a terrible monster and should be ashamed of herself!"
Merlin stood quite still for a long moment before approaching Morgana and reaching in to help her out of the cauldron. She was completely soaked, her thin dress clinging to her body and revealing far more than it concealed. Shivering in the cool breeze, Morgana looked up at Merlin through the hair sticking to her face. He was staring at her. Something close to awe on his face. Morgana blushed in embarrassment. Certain she looked a fright. Unaware that she looked like a seductive river sprite, born from the most private late night dreams of men. Unaware of the strong effect she was having on her former friend.
Merlin and Morgana would often sit together by the fire, talking after Hunith had retired to her chamber. Initially their conversations had been so hesitant, so wary. But over time they had relaxed with one another and their talks were more substantive. One evening, Merlin handed Morgana her cup of tea and looked at her with unusual intensity. "I'd like to talk about something. I want to. I want to apologize to you for something." His eyes pierced her, pulled at something deep within her. Nodding, she mutely agreed. Unable to break the contact with his deep blue eyes. "We've been terrible to each other. I know that. So terrible that I honestly can't believe that we're here together right now. It's like that happened to completely different people. But it wasn't. Morgana there is so much blood and betrayal between us. But, I think I'm ready to let that go. I can see that's not who you are anymore. And I also think. I think that's not who I am anymore, either. What happened to me in Camelot. Well I won't go into that. But it showed me that I wasn't complete. I needed to change. It makes me see that we both had to grow and heal. But that doesn't erase the past. I want to talk about the Knights of Medhir." Morgana opened her mouth to stop him. He had explained this to her before, when she had returned to Camelot. There was no need to have this conversation. But he stopped her with a finger to her lips. "Please, I need to do this." Nodding, Morgana agreed. "That day, the sleeping sickness. I thought that the only way to stop the Knights was to kill the source of the spell. You. I gambled with your life that Morgause would call off the attack to save you. Morgana. I was wrong. So terribly wrong. I should have trusted you. I should have told you. But I didn't have the courage to ask you if you knew. If you willingly had taken part. I was scared of the answer. So I. I. I did what I did. I felt like I had to choose the whole kingdom or you and I chose the whole kingdom. Morgana I should not have done that. I should have chosen you. I know I don't deserve it. But I'm asking for your forgiveness."
Morgana tried to put herself in Merlin's position. To think what she would have done in his place. Haltingly, she began. "I didn't know. I didn't know Morgause had made me the focus of the spell. I didn't know anything about magic at the time. All I knew was that she was going to defeat Uther. Something I wanted so desperately. I didn't realize the implications. What that would really mean. What her plan really entailed. I'd like to think that if I had that I would never have agreed. But I don't honestly know if I can say I wouldn't have. I was so angry. So full of hatred. Merlin, I want to think that if I knew what the stakes were that I would have willingly sacrificed myself for the greater good. I want to think that about myself. But I don't know if I was ready then, to accept that there are some things that are more important than one person's senseless vengeance. I think. I think that you were right." Morgana took Merlin's hands in her. "Merlin I forgive you. You were right. Had you acted any differently than you did, I don't know that Camelot would still stand today. And I finally see that Camelot has to stand. I may not like the ban on magic. But I have seen the types of men that would take Arthur's place. And they do not love the people, the land. They only love power."
Merlin's shoulders dropped the tension they'd been holding. On a relieved exhale he said, "Thank you. Thank you so much. I won't keep you any longer. It's late. Morgana, have a good night. And. Thank you again."
It took both of the sorcerers a long time to fall asleep that night. Maybe they really were different people now..
Morgana had taken Merlin's white mare out hunting early that morning. She had been pleasantly surprised when he offered her the use of the beautiful horse at breakfast. She had been even more surprised when he offered her the use of his luxurious cloak to ward off the chilly air. The dense brown wool cloak was lined in the softest fur imaginable. It was perfectly warm without being too hot. And it smelled like Merlin. Like bayberry and that indefinable essence of him. Unconsciously she had snuggled deeper into the heavy folds of the cloak. Thanking him sincerely before heading out. She had a pleasant day, getting to know the spirited mare's temperament and obtaining a rather large brace of pheasants. It had been a successful hunt and Morgana was in high spirits as she returned to the cottage. Coming over the hill, she could see Merlin hard at work, sawing wood for the stables.
Looking up, Merlin saw Morgana coming over the hill, leaving the woods and returning to the house. The sun shone down on her. Her perfect face and long black hair framed by the fur trim of his cloak. Roses bloomed in her ivory cheeks. Victory and joy in her flashing green eyes. She looked like a forest goddess, The Maiden Huntress. And she took his breath away. So distracted was he by her radiance, that he didn't look at what he was doing, and cut a long, deep gash in his left arm with the saw.
Merlin was cursing loudly. How unlike him, she thought. Something must be wrong. Leaping from the mare, Morgana ran to him, the cloak billowing behind her. "Merlin what is it? What's happened? Is it Hunith?" With a grimace, he shook his head. Taking his hand off of his arm Morgana sucked in her breath when she saw the long, angry cut, freely bleeding on the ground. Immediately she reached out and inspected the wound. "I'm going to need to take care of this right away. I'll need hot water, some strong thread, and a needle." Pulling him into the house, she sat him down by the fire and went to gather what she needed.
"Morgana, get the brandywine from the pantry as well. Put the needle in the fire and then dip it in the wine before you sew the wound closed. It will prevent blood poisoning." Merlin said through clenched teeth. Adding, "and could you please use a fire spell to get the water to a good boil quickly? I don't think it's wise to wait any longer than absolutely necessary to take care of this but the water must be boiled before we use it to clean the wound." Hissing in pain he didn't see her impressed look. Nodding absent-mindedly, Morgana did as he asked, quickly grabbing willow bark and several other things from her stock of herbs. Returning to where Merlin sat, she gently took his left arm and cradled it in her lap as she tended to his wound.
"This is going to hurt, I'm afraid. But it's necessary." she told him after the wound was completely clean and she prepared to sew the angry gash.
"Not if you numb the site with clove oil first, do you have any?" Merlin asked. Shaking her head, Morgana admitted she did not. "Can you use your magic, then?" He asked. Morgana had not considered that, but couldn't see a reason not. So with a whispered word and a flash of golden eyes, she eased his pain, and sewed the wound closed, adding a healing spell to prevent a scar. When she was finished, he didn't pull his hand away, and she continued to gently stroke up and down his arm, murmuring soothing words.
Still not moving his arm from her lap, Merlin looked at Morgana. "Thank you," he said, his eyes sincere. "I could not have taken care of this half so well as you did. You are a gifted healer, Morgana." They were sitting so close, their faces were mere inches away from each other.
"You have impressive knowledge yourself. Gaius has taught you well. I've never used alcohol to clean a wound. But it seems to have been very effective.
"Using your magic was very effective as well. Boiling the water would have taken too long without it. And thank you for easing the pain before you stitched it closed. I appreciate the kindness."
"I'm surprised you asked. I didn't think you would want me to use magic on you. Considering our history..." She trailed off and looked away from Merlin. Remembering the time she had tried to make Merlin her assassin. Ashamed at the memories.
Using his good hand, Merlin cupped her cheek and urged her to look at him. "Morgana. I forgive you. I'm not scared of your power. Magic isn't evil or wrong. You aren't evil or wrong. You were just...lost. We aren't those people anymore, remember?"
Morgana was drowning in his deep blue eyes. Lost. Yes, she had been lost. But if she wasn't lost anymore. Did that mean she was found? By Merlin? What did that mean? Blinking and breaking the eye contact, Morgana brusquely sat up. "Keep that clean, and no working on the stables until it's healed." Then she left, wanting to take a walk and clear her head.
Merlin sat there for quite some time trying to decide if something was happening between them or if he just wanted there to be.
Unseen by either sorcerer, Hunith smiled with satisfaction.
"Morgana, dear, with Merlin's arm hurt could you please help him with the stables? I know it's so much to ask but I don't know if he will be able to get it done with that arm still hurting him so much." Hunith trailed off, her voice dripping with concern.
Surprised, Morgana looked up from the burn cream she was mixing. "I...don't see why not. I will see what I can do to help as soon as I'm finished here."
"Oh no, dear, let me. I think I can manage it. You've been a fantastic teacher." And she fixed Morgana with a beautiful smile.
Nodding, Morgana left the cottage and went in search of Merlin. She found him in the woods behind the house, with Aithusa. Working with her on her flight. The poor dragon had been so malnourished that her wing muscled hadn't developed as they should have. But with months of food and love, she was growing stronger by the day. Morgana watched them for a time. Enjoying the sight of the tall man and white dragon working together. Hearing the words of encouragement and praise that he lavished on the dragon. This was a good man. She approached the two with a smile on her face. "If you'd like, Merlin, maybe I can help you with fixing up the stables while your arm heals?"
Merlin considered that for a moment before nodding. "Yes, I think the you could actually be a big help." And they worked closely for the rest of the day. The work was hard, but they made a good team. What's more, they were actually enjoying themselves. When Hunith came out to call them to dinner, they realized with some surprise that the sun had nearly set. Where had the time gone?
Working on the stables together took most of their time in the following days. And during those days, Merlin and Morgana forged a new friendship. They could never go back to the time when they had first met. But this was good. More than good. They genuinely liked each other. Morgana found herself smiling when she got up in the mornings, eager to spend the day working at Merlin's side. And she could tell he was enjoying it, as well. They would often tease each other, making jokes, trying to make the other laugh. There were times, however, when something would make Merlin seem so sad that it nearly broke Morgana's heart. She could always tell when it happened. The light in his eyes would dim and he would become quiet. Pensive. And because she didn't think he was ready to talk about it, and didn't want to upset their delicate balance by pushing him too far, she simply offered what comfort she could. With a gentle touch or a sympathetic smile.
As work progressed on the stables, Merlin caught Morgana up on everyone back home. In Camelot. As happy as they were here with Hunith, they both knew that Camelot would always be their home. They both could admit that they missed it. He told her about Gaius, how the patient physician was constantly threatening to retire to make Merlin the court physician. Told her about the Knights. Not just Leon, but Elyan, Gwaine, and Percival as well. Told her about Lancelot and his noble sacrifice. Told her about Gwen and Arthur, their wedding, the coronation, their deep love.
"I miss them, you know. Arthur and Gwen. I can't believe it's true, but there you have it. Arthur was such a pest as a child! What a brat he was! But there's goodness to him. Nobility. Maybe that's what drew him to Gwen. Merlin, there's nobody save your own mother who is as good and kind and strong as Gwen. I regret that I wasn't there to share that day with them. When Gwen was my servant, we only cared about those titles in public, when we had to. In private we were just Morgana and Gwen. Friends. Sisters, really." Tears got caught in her long black eyelashes. "I wish Gwen were here now. Wish I could tell her how wrong I was. How sorry I am."
Merlin reached up and brushed away her tears. Tears of his own threatening to fall from his eyes. "You and Arthur have that in common, you know. When we are...were, in public it was always 'My Lord' and 'Yes, Sire' but when it was just the two of us those trappings fell aside and we were just friends. Brothers. But Arthur never let anyone else see that."
Morgana couldn't help but laugh at that, earning a sharp look from Merlin. "No no I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing at the thought that you two thought you were hiding your friendship from everyone. Merlin, I left Camelot a long time ago but even still, I have to tell you that everybody knew how close you were. Gwen and I would laugh about it. Leon and the knights would comment on it. Some even thought you had a very different kind of relationship, if you catch my meaning." Merlin sputtered out a denial, causing Morgana to laugh even harder. "I know it wasn't true! But you have to admit. You spent every single hour of every single day together. There was bound to be talk..." She trailed off, taking pity on Merlin before he got apoplexy. "Merlin you're the first true friend that my brother ever had. His friends before he met you. They were hangers-on. They didn't care about the real Arthur. Didn't know his faults and strengths. I don't know what happened between you. And I know Hunith asks you every day so I won't add my voice to the chorus. But Merlin, I know that you miss him. I can see it in your eyes when you're reminded of him. But believe me when I tell you that I know he misses you, too. Don't give up hope. You'll reconcile. Just have faith."
Hunith would often watch the two sorcerers as they worked. Sitting with Aithusa, she would share her thoughts with the silent dragon. "Do you see it, dear? Do you see what's happening over there? I'll tell you what it is. That is two people falling in love. I just know it. Look at the way they keep touching. How they look at each other constantly. I remember being that way with Balinor. They just need a little push."
Aithusa could see more than even Hunith. Looking over at the two sorcerers, Aithusa could see that the darkness and evil had lost their battle for Morgana. Freed from their icy grasp, the fire of her spirit was flaring high. Shining brightly. What's more, the dragon could see the threads of her destiny reaching out towards Merlin. The silver tendrils caressing and entwining with the shining golden threads of his own great destiny. They were the sun and the moon. One the light of life, bold, masculine, raw power. The other a light to guide men in the darkness, more subtle, changing, mysterious, feminine. But their destinies had not yet completely merged, there was still a chance that they would fail. Aithusa agreed with Hunith. Maybe they just needed a push.
Merlin's arm had healed and the stables were fit for habitation. But Merlin had evidently enjoyed the task because he offered to add another room to the cottage. Merlin was talking quietly with Morgana that evening, after Hunith had retired. He had explained exactly what he wanted to do and how for the new room that would be Morgana's chambers.
"...so as you can see, this is really the best spot for the new addition. I can use the existing walls for two of the sides, saving time and materials. I'm going to make the walls and floor out of solid hardwood. It should keep you warm this winter but maybe we can add a fireplace if you think you'll get cold. We can decide that later. I'll start with cutting logs and framing the room."
"That would be...thank you. I would like that." He seemed so capable. Not at all the unsure young man she'd known before, even with the sadness that hung over him like a dark cloud. "How do you know how to do this? I can't believe Arthur had you overseeing construction." She asked with skepticism.
Merlin laughed loudly before quickly stifling his mirth and shooting a guilty look at Hunith's chamber door. "I have no idea what I'm doing." He admitted with a big grin. "But it won't be terribly difficult. I'm afraid I won't be able to make you anything like what you had in Camelot. It will be a simple room in a simple cottage. But I think. I think you'll like it," he said. "At least I hope you will." He added shyly.
Morgana gave a small smile in return. When he had first mentioned adding the room, she had assumed he meant to occupy it himself. But Hunith was right. Merlin was, in this way at least, a gentleman.
Dinner was Morgana's favorite time of day. They had settled into a routine of sorts, with Merlin working on the room addition while Hunith and Morgana preserved food for the long winter to come. She missed spending every day with Merlin and looked forward to the evenings when they were all together. They had become an odd little family, in a way.
Not that everything was smooth. Hunith still asked Merlin every day what had happened in Camelot to make him leave. He still wouldn't tell her. Something terrible must have happened to him. Morgana wanted to comfort him but knew he would tell them when he was ready to and not a minute sooner.
"I'm going into the capitol to get some supplies for the winter." Hunith announced it as if she were asking Morgana to pass the bread.
Merlin and Morgana shared a startled look. Hunith was leaving?
"You're going to Camelot?" Morgana asked in surprise.
At this Hunith laughed. "No dear, we're in Essetir, remember? We do have our own capitol, you know."
"Would you like for me to come with you, Mother? I would be happy to accompany you." Merlin offered.
"No dear, I need the two of you here. There are many preparations for winter yet to be made. That room needs to be finished before the first snowfall if you're going to avoid spending the winter in the stable! I trust you won't burn the place down or kill each other while I'm gone?"
Morgana and Merlin shared a small smile. They had the same thought. A mere month ago that would have been a serious question, not asked in the gentle teasing manner it was now.
"We'll behave, Hunith. We promise." Morgana smiled at the kind woman with genuine fondness.
Reaching across the table to take Hunith's hand, Merlin repeated the pledge. "We'll take care of everything. But I do insist you take the horses. You will travel faster and be able to carry more. In fact, I insist you take some of that gold you keep refusing to accept from me. Why barter away things we ourselves will need this winter?"
Morgana immediately added to the chorus. "Merlin is right, there are things we need but we don't have much to spare in return. We go through an alarming amount of food now that your bottomless stomach of a son is living here."
Merlin laughed and said, "Hey now! I work off all of that food! Are you calling me fat?" At this he attempted to pinch extra skin from his firm side. "There's no spare flesh here!" Morgana looked with keen interest and appreciation. No argument from her.
Hunith caught the appreciative look Morgana flashed at Merlin. Smiling inwardly she nearly started singing in happiness. She knew what she'd sensed between the two sorcerers all those years ago had been real. Now to get the two of them to open up enough to see it for themselves!
"Fine. If only to stop the two of you from pestering me so! Which horse should I ride, son?"
"Erm, the brown one I think would be better. I've had him for years. The white one is a new addition."
"She is absolutely beautiful," Hunith remarked. "Where did you get her?"
"She was a gift from a very wise and kind woman I met before I came here." Merlin admitted, opening up about the events leading to his arrival for the first time.
"The same woman who is responsible for the extravagant riches now littering the stable? Those fancy clothes you wear?" Morgana asked, perhaps a bit more sharply than she had intended.
"Yes," Merlin said somberly. "She and her people were very kind to me when I needed it most. I've very grateful to them and I hope to someday repay their unbelievable generosity and hospitality."
"You're a good man, Merlin. I know you'll do just that." Hunith touched Merlin's shoulder as she got up from the table. "Now if you two will clean up, please, I think I should get a good night's rest if I'm to head out a first light."
While they were cleaning up, Morgana looked at Merlin from under her lashes. What had he done to earn such riches from this strange woman and her people? There was another story to discover here.
The next morning they waved Hunith on her way. When she had gone out of view, Morgana and Merlin looked at each other. Now what?
"While she's gone, you should stay in my mother's bed. It has to be more comfortable than that pallet, as I recall." Merlin offered.
"I'll agree to that. But only if you come in from the stables. There's no reason to sleep out there while a perfectly good rock-hard-incredibly-uncomfortable pallet is here just waiting for you." Morgana teased.
The two shared a smile. They were actually going to be okay while Hunith was gone. Morgana was wondering what to do for the day when Merlin asked her, "Morgana. While my mother's gone. Will. Will you tell me what happened? I'd like to know. And I'm finally ready to listen, if you'll agree"
Morgana thought about the request. It seemed so simple. But was she ready to tell him? Looking into his deep blue eyes she saw none of the wariness and anger that she'd seen the first night he'd come here. Surprising even herself, she agreed. "I will. But it's a very long story so we should go inside and sit down. And in return I insist that you tell me your story as well."
"...and so they kept us, chained in that terrible pit for nearly two years. We lived on the rats that fell in with us and on the scraps those monsters would throw down to us when they remembered about us. If it hadn't been for my poor, sweet Aithusa. Well I don't think I would be here today." Morgana looked down at her clasped hands before continuing. "We kept each other alive." Looking back up at an attentive Merlin, she continued, "You already know about what came next. In a rage, I tried to find the Diamair. I thought that if I could find Arthur's bane I could take Camelot and finally make it safe for magic users. For my kind. But of course you stopped that. Well Mordred really." Morgana paused, thinking. "I didn't expect a betrayal from him. But he was right, you know. I was out of control and needed to be stopped." Sighing, she went on. "All I could think of after that was keeping Aithusa alive. I had nowhere to turn. Then Hunith's face came to me in a dream and I knew that this was the one place I would be able to keep Aithusa safe." Morgana chuckled softly. "I had planned to beg for your mother to take care of Aithusa so that I could die in peace. But your mother surprised me. She not only didn't blink at the fact that I showed up with a dragon, but she opened her home to be and insisted that I stay. I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for Hunith. Merlin, your mother is an extraordinary woman. You're so very lucky to have her." Morgana trailed off. Exhausted from reliving the horrors, she slumped in her chair. Hoping telling him everything hadn't been a mistake. He hadn't interrupted her at all while she was talking. Just getting her the occasional cup of tea or something to eat as she spent hours telling him everything. It felt really good to get it out. But at the same time, reliving those memories had been very difficult. Morgana hoped telling him everything didn't change things between them.
Merlin interrupted her train of thought by coming over to Morgana and picking her up. Cradling her against his chest. Morgana initially stiffened in surprise. What was he doing? But Morgana quickly realized that he was...comforting her. She relaxed and began softly crying into Merlin's shoulder. Kissing her forehead he whispered angrily, "Morgana, tell me who these men were and I will hunt down and kill every last one of them right now." This made Morgana cry even harder. Here was what she had needed for those long, terrible years! A true friend. Loyalty. And to get it from Merlin of all people! It was too much to bear! Merlin sat down, gently holding Morgana and simply comforted her as she cried. Cried for the hatred, the loss, the pain, the fear, for everything. She eventually cried herself to sleep in his arms.
"Where are we going?" Morgana asked. She didn't know if she could take any more surprises this morning. When she woke up, she'd found that Merlin had put her to bed and lit a fire to keep her warm. Then she saw him asleep in the bedside chair. Clearly he had been there all night. If only she had known earlier that she could trust him, that he would fight to protect her, that he would stand by her side. How much pain could have been avoided?
"We're nearly there. Listen. Morgana. This is going to be a bit of a shock. But because you trusted me with your story and with Aithusa, I trust you with my secret, as well."
Secret? What could he possibly be talking about? Oh, their bargain from yesterday! Finally she would learn why he left Camelot! Well he could have told her that back at home. Why had they been trudging through the woods all morning? She would never understand the man.
They entered a large clearing in the woods. They'd been walking for hours and Aithusa was tired. Morgana was glad to sit down as well. Merlin looked. Well actually he didn't look tired, he just looked nervous.
"Merlin, whatever it is that you have to show me. I trust you. I hope you know that you can trust me as well. But what does this field have to do with you leaving Camelot?"
"Everything." He said simply. At that Merlin walked into the middle of the clearing. With one last lingering look at Morgana, he turned his head to the skies.
"O drakon, e mala soi ftengometh tesd'hup anankes! Erkheo"
Morgana nearly fainted. What had Merlin just done? His voice had changed completely. It felt like magic! "Merlin! What is going on here! I don't understand!"
He turned to her, a small smile playing at his expressive mouth. "Morgana there's someone that you need to meet. Aithusa already knows him." At this Aithusa ran into the field and huddled up against Merlin's side.
Morgana stared in shock. Shaking violently she walked across to stand on the other side of Aithusa. Something momentous was happening. More momentous than Merlin casually accepting the presence of a dragon!
In a few minutes, a small dot appeared in the sky. As she watched it grew larger and larger until she could just make out its shape it was...a dragon!
"Merlin we have to run! There's a dragon coming!" Grabbing his hand she tried to drag him into the relative safety of the woods, but he resisted. "Morgana," he said gently, "that is who we're here to see."
Morgana stared at Merlin like he'd sprouted another head. This couldn't possibly be what it looked like. Merlin...and a dragon?
Clinging to Merlin in fear, Morgana watched the great dragon land. Aithusa ran up to the dragon as soon as he landed. When the giant dragon saw the smaller one he let out a roar of shock and grief.
"Warlock!" The giant dragon howled. "What has happened to her! How could you let this happen?" He demanded.
Wait. Warlock? She was a sorceress, a Priestess, but no warlock. Opening her mouth to respond, she was cut off by Merlin.
"Kilgharrah. Aithusa has endured unbelievable suffering. She can't speak to me. Please, is there anything you can do?"
Merlin. The dragon had just referred to Merlin as Warlock. And Merlin had answered. After shouting some sort of spell into the sky and a giant dragon arriving. Was it hard to breathe? Why was the sun so bright all of the sudden? Was it getting cold?
"Oh little one. You have suffered so greatly. I am so sorry that I was not here for you in this time. And that you've been with that witch this whole time. I only hope she hasn't poisoned your mind," Kilgharrah sent telepathically to Aithusa.
Shooting the elder dragon a disgusted look, Aithusa replied. "You look but you don't see everything. Look at her Kilgharrah. Look at the threads of her destiny. Can you even see them? They shine brightly like the light of the full moon. Or are you unable to see subtle fates, instead only able to see the burning sunlight of those like Merlin and Arthur? This woman has a vital part to play in the future of Albion. It is only with her love, her power as the last High Priestess of the Triple Goddess that Arthur will be able to rest on Avalon, waiting through the ages until this land needs him again. You're completely focused on reuniting Albion, and it is so very important. But that was never going to be the end of Arthur's story. Nor Merlin's nor Morgana's. You failed this woman, Kilgharrah. You saw only the dark times in her future, and never beyond them, to the other side of the storm. Well I see her destiny, spread before her in a rich tapestry. I saw it from the moment I found her, nearly dead. Saw how terribly alone she was. How the hatred and evil had come into her heart. But they didn't have her completely. Even then there was the smallest spark of her spirit remaining. I knew that I would not leave her. I would stay, the guardian to that small flame. No matter the cost."
"How can I know that the witch hasn't poisoned your mind? Your heart? Look at you, so weak, so terribly abused. This is the result of bonding to that witch! How can you not see that this is evil? Wrong?" Kilgharrah angrily replied.
"Look into her heart, Kilgharrah! Look and tell me what you see. I'll tell you what I see. It's love. It's always love. Love has freed her of the evil and darkness that nearly took her from the world before her destiny could play out. Merlin and Morgana are destined to be together. They share a love so strong, forged in such ice and heat that nothing can sever it." Aithusa passionately defended Morgana.
And so Kilgharrah looked over at Morgana and Merlin. Locked in a tight embrace and speaking earnestly to each other. Finally, Merlin was telling Morgana about his magic. From the looks of it, Morgana was very very happy to learn the truth. And for the first time he truly saw. He saw the silver threads of Morgana's fate braiding together with Merlin's shining golden destiny. Saw that together, they were more powerful. Stronger than they ever had been alone. Looked into Morgana's heart and saw her spirit burning brightly. Blazing with the light of her goodness. Her love. Saw that far from the ice of hatred, her blood near boiled with heat. He finally understood, then, that he had been wrong about Morgana from the start. And that by not seeing her for who she truly was, and turning Merlin's heart against her, he had very nearly doomed all of Albion.
Kilgharrah hung his head in shame. "You are right, little one. Your gifts are different than mine. I couldn't see. Females are ever more in tune with the heart. I was wrong about the witch. No. The Priestess. I had seen that they were two sides to the same coin, but I was so wrong about why. I am very proud of you. You have preserved a vital part of Albion's destiny. We are, all denizens of this land, deeply indebted to you. And now let me start making this up to you." Looking back at the two humans, Kilgharrah said aloud, "If you two are quite done realizing you're two sides of the same coin? Which, Warlock, you should recall I told you years ago, though under somewhat different circumstances. I do believe that I can help my dear Aithusa."
The humans turned to them immediately, amazed smiles on their faces and their hands firmly clasped.
Kilgharrah nuzzled the smaller dragon with obvious affection. "Dear Aithusa, let me do what I can to help you." Aithusa nodded and braced herself. And with that Kilgharrah breathed fire on the white dragon, completely engulfing her in the blaze.
The fire was so bright Merlin and Morgana had to shield their eyes. When it finally ended they squinted at the two dragons, desperate to see a change in the young dragon. And a change there was. It was...remarkable! She looked. Larger somehow. Healthier!
"My friend you've done it! Aithusa you look beautiful!" Merlin crowed happily!
Morgana ran right up to Aithusa and hugged the young dragon. Crying with joy. Unable to even speak, so overcome was she with emotion.
Aithusa leaned into Morgana's embrace for long minutes. Eventually she turned to Merlin and in a small, musical voice said her first words. "Dragonlord. Last of your kind, the man who gave me my name. I thank you." She bowed her head prettily in his direction and turned to address the great dragon. "Kilgharrah, my kin, I thank you for your healing. I feel as though I have emerged from a cave into the summer sunshine. You have my eternal gratitude." Finally turning to Morgana, the white dragon nuzzled her again for long moments before speaking. "Morgana, my sister. My Mother. I love you. You kept me alive when I would otherwise have died. When I first saw you, lying in the forest, nearly dead, I saw the threads of your life and knew that you could not die before you had completed the work you were put here to do. Even with the pain we have both endured. I love you. And I know that now, with the Dragonlord, you can finally return to the path on which your future lies."
Morgana was crying, great wracking sobs that tore through her small frame. "Aithusa! I love you so much!" and she was hugging the small dragon again. Completely absorbed in the magical moment that she barely heard Kilgharrah tell Merlin that Aithusa could have died if he hadn't come. She looked up a the great dragon, shocked and grateful. "I too, must give you my thanks, master dragon. The debt I owe you is far too large to ever repay. But if there is anything I can do you need simply name it and it shall be done."
Kilgharrah looked at Morgana with his shrewd, ancient golden gaze. "Priestess, I ask only one thing. I need to teach Aithusa. She needs to come to our ancient homeland and learn about our kind. Learn about her powers. She is tightly bonded to you and thus it would take either a command from Merlin, or your blessing for her to come with me. Will you give your blessing?"
Morgana rocked back on her heels. Aithusa leave? "Is this what you want, my darling?" she asked the white dragon.
"I need to go. You need time with your mate and I need time with mine." She said simply.
Morgana and Merlin looked at each other. Mate? No no. Friends, certainly. But. No that was ridiculous.
Ignoring that comment she replied. "Will you ever come back?" Morgana asked, holding back her tears.
"Of course! I would not leave you forever! Besides, Merlin needs only call and we will come immediately. Every time. We cannot refuse the call of a Dragonlord."
"Someone needs to explain this Dragonlord business to me. But. If you want to go of course you have my blessing. Oh my darling, I will miss you!" Morgana again hugged the young dragon. But she eventually let go and went to stand by Merlin again. Taking his hand she and Merlin waved goodbye as the two dragons took to the skies and flew away.
Morgana was crying. Not just because of Aithusa leaving, although that made her so terribly sad. But also because she was so happy to lean of Merlin's true nature. Learning about Merlin's magic. So much had made sense, at last. And it all fit. Why she had been drawn to the young man when he first came to Camelot. Why Arthur seemed to have more lives than a cat. Why nothing she had ever done could prevent Arthur from ruling Camelot. It had always been Merlin. Hiding in plain sight. A warlock masquerading as a servant. How could she have been so blind? Morgana's life since the day her powers had manifested had gone in a terrible direction but it had led her to this moment. She was ready to leave that life behind. Ready to find herself again. And it had been Merlin, always Merlin that was central to that life. She could see that now. She cried for the young woman she had once been, who had never been alone but had never known. She cried for the lost years with Merlin, Gwen, and Arthur. For the estrangement that need never have happened. Merlin didn't leave her side while she got it all out. Finally and forever saying goodbye to the past. Finally opening the door to the future. And to the man who would be so central to that future.
The days that followed were like a dream. Free from the years of lies and secrets, Merlin and Morgana desperately made up for lost time. "Merlin how were you able to keep this a secret? Now that I know, I can't believe I ever couldn't tell. Your power is so strong that you fairly vibrate with it. It's so apparent. How could Arthur honestly not have known? How did you masquerade as a servant?"
Merlin laughed. "It wasn't a masquerade! I really worked as his manservant! I certainly used my powers when I could, but serving him was still backbreaking work!" Sobering up, he continued. "I worked very hard to keep it a secret. Arthur has a great destiny. He is to unite the lands of Albion and lead us all into a golden age. My job is to keep him safe and ensure that he fulfils that destiny. And that meant staying close by his side. I did what I had to." He said modestly.
Morgana gently touched his face, looking up at the man. "That can't have been easy for you. You must have felt so alone."
Nodding, he replied. "It's been hard, yes. Every day I left before Gaius woke up and worked for Arthur all day. Keeping close to his side and protecting him. When he retired for the evening I would go back to Gaius and work with him in the evenings. I'm still his apprentice, after all. Then once Gaius retired to bed I would study magic on my own. I'll tell you, Morgana. I've actually had more rest since my exile than I had in years."
"Tell me what happened. Please"
"It was our own fault. Arthur and I were horsing around, training and we went back to Gaius's chambers for muscle salves. We crashed into the room like children. We didn't know that Gaius was up on a tall ladder. We knocked over a shelf and his ladder toppled. He was falling. Morgana, he would have died. I didn't think. Didn't react. I just saved him. And Arthur nearly killed me on the spot."
For love. Merlin had revealed himself after nearly ten years of secrecy for love. Of course he had. Morgana knew him now. Knew that yes that is exactly the sort of man he was. "You saved his life. I know how much Gaius means to you. You did the right thing."
Merlin sage a small laugh. "I know. I don't regret the act, thought I do regret the audience. Gwen and Arthur were both there. They both saw. Arthur could have killed me. Well he could have tried. But he didn't. He had be arrested instead. I sat in the dungeon for several days, waiting for word that I was to be executed. But something else happened instead. He gave me. Well essentially it was a trial. But Morgana, the Knights. They all stood up for me. To a man they did. Mordred even tried to give me a way to feign that I hadn't known about my magic. But I knew the time for lies was over. And so I told Arthur the truth. About protecting him for all these year. About always having magic. Being born with it. Instead of execution he exiled me. In a way I'm grateful. Lies are so heavy. They weigh us down so terribly. So I left Camelot. And I went in search of a seer who could help me find a way to continue to protect Arthur even if I couldn't be in Camelot."
"The woman who gave you the gifts?" Morgana asked astutely.
Merlin nodded in agreement. "Yes, Vadoma. She leads an incredible tribe. I thought they were Druids but they are from much, much farther away. They are an amazing people. I think you would like them, actually. When I met with her she told me that Albion is incomplete, Camelot is incomplete. And that I myself am incomplete. She bade me to reforge myself in order to move forward. Reminded me of those I love that were lost to me. Told me that those parts of me were missing. That's how I came here to Ealdor. This was the only place left where someone I loved was still available to me. And imagine my surprise when along with my Mother, I found you here!" Merlin held Morgana's hands and continued. "She was so right. Without you in my life I wasn't a whole man. It's our friendships that make us strong and without you I was weakened. I'm grateful that we've had the chance to find one another again, Morgana. I missed you terribly."
"I missed you, too. I thought that leaving Camelot would make me stronger, and my power has grown. But Merlin, it weakened me. Weakened my defenses against evil, against darkness. Without those I loved I didn't have the strength to resist. I became a monster. I see that now. So we came to Ealdor. Merlin, your mother, she is the most amazing woman. She healed my wounds, gave me love, acceptance, a home. But then you were back and I thought it was all over. That I would have to fight again. But instead. Well here we are, aren't we. And I feel like I've remembered who I am supposed to be. My petty revenge against Camelot. How childish and stupid I was. You can't correct a wrong with another wrong. That isn't the way. I know now. I know that the way to restore magic to Camelot is through love."
Putting their powers to good use, they finished the addition to the cottage in just a few days. Talking and getting to know each other again. Finally honest with each other. Merlin and Morgana desperately tried to make up for lost time, telling each other of nearly every detail they'd missed in each other's lives, teaching each other everything they knew about magic. They comforted one another over their losses. Cheered each other's victories. It was idyllic and perfect.
Their combined powers were frighteningly strong and they were able to grow new furniture from young saplings in a matter of hours. They completely refurnished the entire house. Relishing in the ability to freely use their magic and to test their limits. Looking with satisfaction at the now completed cottage. Morgana looked around and thought that something was still missing. "Merlin it's so bare. So barren. How about those panels you have in the stables. Since you're moving into the house could we use those to decorate in here?"
Merlin readily agreed and the two lugged in all of his packs. He hadn't really examined their contents and didn't know what he would find. Inside there were luxurious silk wall panels, draperies, and blankets. Fine silver dishes and platters. Riches to make a King blush with their decadence. Morgana and Merlin both found it to be perfectly appropriate for Hunith to have a home fit for a queen and used everything they found.
While Morgana was hanging drapes in her new chambers, Merlin called to her from the front room. Entering the room she saw he was holding up several silk dresses. "I think these look perfect for you," he said shyly. "If you want them."
Morgana squealed and hugged him when she saw the fine silk. "Oh Merlin! They're beautiful!" He was so generous! Looking up at him, Morgana thought again how amazing this man was.
"Their beauty pales in comparison to yours." Merlin said softly, looking at her with his deep blue eyes. Eyes that pulled at her. Drawing her into their depths, making her feel as if she were floating in an endless sea. Whispering now, he continued. "Morgana Pendragon, I've fallen in love with you."
Morgana looked at the man he was, deep inside to the very heart of him. She belonged here. Belonged in his strong arms. Not because she needed a man. But because this was the one person who made her feel complete. She had been missing her other half. They fit together perfectly. On a sigh she said, "Merlin. My darling, wonderful, amazing Merlin. You haven't fallen alone. I love you."
His eyes closing, Merlin leaned in and gently touched his lips to hers. Morgana's entire body came alive. She closed her eyes and held him more tightly, pressing her lips firmly against his. With that, it was as if a fire had ignited within them. An inferno that rushed through them both, burning away the past, leaving only this moment. The two sorcerers crashed against each other, their lips clinging, their bodies molding together. A lifeline in a sea of raw need. There were no words. There was no need for them. There was only this moment, this fire, this passion, this love. Tearing desperately at each other's clothes, they tumbled into the new chamber, fell onto the bed they had created with their combined magic only hours before.
"You two are the most grossly irresponsible, thoughtless, empty-headed people in all the kingdoms combined! What were you thinking? Did you think that you could just do a month's worth of work in a week and nobody would notice? Are you trying to get me run out of my own home? Are you trying to get yourselves caught? Do you have a death wish?" Hunith was on a tear. Arriving home, she had seen the miraculous changes and had come completely unhinged. She had been yelling at Merlin and Morgana for nearly an hour.
The two sorcerers had tried to defend themselves but were no match for a mother that was angry at and scared for her children. They had ended up numbly staring at the floor, waiting for the storm to pass.
Hunith was nearing the end of her energy. Fear and anger had given her strength, but looking at the two miserable young people in her home was making her determination waver. She knew they had been trying to do something nice for her. But this was too much! What if they'd been caught? The very thought made her chest hurt.
Tears streaming from her eyes, Morgana cried out. "We're so sorry! Please don't be angry! Please! We're so very sorry!"
Hunith looked at them both. Unable to keep up her anger, she rushed across the room, gathering them both up into a fierce hug. "Promise me you'll never do something so careless again! Swear to me!"
After getting solemn vows from both of the sorcerers that they would be more careful in the future. Hunith had relented. I accept your promise. Now tell me all about what happened while I was gone.
And so they did. But they didn't tell her everything. Some things were just for them.
After Hunith had finally gone to bed, Morgana lay in her new bed, in her new chamber. Restless. Waiting. Nervous. Would Merlin come to her? After their declarations and days of passion before Hunith had come home she knew she shouldn't have any doubts. But still she wondered.
The door opened silently and there he was, grinning at Morgana. Her heart raced and she flashed him an answering grin. "I couldn't get to sleep." she whispered.
"Me neither." he whispered in return. Sitting next to her, he kissed her softly. "I love you, Morgana. I don't think I'll ever tire of telling you. Or showing you." Then gently he eased her back on to the bed and with reverence and care he demonstrated just how much he loved her indeed.
Near dawn, Morgana awoke with a scream.
"No! Stay away from Camelot! You cannot avenge a wrong with another wrong! You will destroy everything! Stay away!"
"Shh darling shh, what is it? What have you seen?" Merlin anxiously tried to calm Morgana but she was beyond consolation.
Grasping desperately at Merlin, Morgana told him what she'd seen, "Merlin. There are a group of former Druids. Ruadan was one of them. Their anger at what Uther and Camelot did to their people. It has twisted them, changed them into monsters." With a laugh of self-mockery she continued, "I should know. Were it not for Aithusa, your mother, and you then I would still be like them. Oh Merlin, they are determined to get revenge on Camelot by killing everyone in the entire kingdom, starting with Arthur. I have seen that they are planning an attack on the castle in just a few days, on the night of the equinox! Merlin they will be using powerful magic. Camelot will not stand a chance!"
Merlin didn't pause, didn't hesitate, didn't question her. "Then we have no choice. We're going home." Merlin vowed. "Mother!" he yelled, "Morgana and I are leaving at first light to go save Camelot!"
Hunith appeared in the doorway a moment later. "Take care of each other. Go save your friends, dears. Oh, and while you're in my home and not married, Merlin you will stay outof Morgana's room, which is very nice, by the way, dear. Am I clear?" And with that she turned around and went back to bed, managing to keep the grin off of her face until she had shut the door to her room. They were going to have the prettiest babies. She just knew it.
The following morning, with the horses loaded and with tearful goodbyes completed, Merlin and Morgana turned down the road and began the journey back to Camelot.
Morgana looked at Merlin with frank appreciation. He was so tall on his fine horse, his brown cloak arrayed behind him. His beard made him look distinguished. His power pulsed around him. The total effect was devastating. Morgana looked down at the beautiful cloak Hunith had brought her back from the capitol. Nearly the twin to Merlin's save that it was a the color of rich cream. They made a fine couple as they started down the road and began the long journey back to Camelot.
They discussed their plan. They would arrive in Camelot in disguise. Posing as simple travelers. They would immediately seek out Gaius. They trusted the former sorcerer to take their dire warnings to Arthur. Once Gaius had informed Arthur of the danger coming to Camelot. They would leave, seeking out the renegade druids and doing whatever it took to prevent the attack from taking place. The best war was one that was never fought. They only hoped that together, they would be able to prevent the tragedy from playing out. But even their urgent mission couldn't dampen their enjoyment of the journey. Still flush with the thrill of their love, their blood singing with joy from being together.
Making camp the first night, they sought out a secluded glade where they would be safe from any of Lot's patrols. So close to the border of Camelot, they knew that the King had knights in the woods. Working in perfect concert, they shared a simple meal and set wards around the edge of their campsite. Anyone looking at the glade would see only a fallen copse of trees. Inhospitable but not threatening. Neither light, nor sound would leave the perimeter they set. And safe inside the protection, Merlin and Morgana were free to explore one another. Revel in the ancient embrace of love.
Afterward they lay, warm and replete. Merlin stood and pulled Morgana to her feet. Kneeling before her, he took her hands in his. With a flash of golden eyes, he summoned a host of small, twinkling lights to surround them. Looking up at Morgana, he said, "Morgana Pendragon, you are the light of my life. You are the other part of my spirit. You complete me. We go into danger. But I know that with you by my side there is nothing in this world that we can't face. I think about my life. All the years remaining. And I can't imagine a future without you by my side always. Will you do me the honor of standing by my side for all time? Will you be my partner for this life and the next? Will you marry me?"
Morgana couldn't stop the tears from falling from her green eyes. For a long moment she stood there. Imagining that future. Imaging growing old with this man. Imagining the children and laughter. The tears and comfort. Seeing that they were joined for all eternity. And she saw, with wonder, that she could actually see their spirits joined. Tightly braided together with threads of silver and gold. Binding them together with their powerful love. So awestruck was she as the sight that she didn't realize she hadn't answered Merlin's proposal.
"Erm, I know that there are parts of marriage that are anything but romantic. And I know that we face an uncertain future. I understand if you don't want to-"
She cut off his ridiculous stammering with a hot kiss. "Yes, Merlin. Yes I will marry you. I will stand by your side as your partner in this life and the next. I would like nothing more than to stand proudly with you for all eternity. Yes!"
On their third day they had entered Camelot and were bedding down for the night when they heard the sounds of a group of men near them in the forest. Wary, they investigated the group and found it was the Knights of Camelot! Was this good news or bad? Unsure of how to approach the seasoned warriors, Merlin dithered for several minutes. "Morgana, we need to warn the knights of the danger to Camelot but we could both be executed for merely being in Camelot. I trust the Knights. They are my brother, but their loyalty to Arthur is absolute and I don't know what has been happening in Camelot since I left. What should we do? Camelot will need those men to help in her defense if we fail to prevent the attack, so no matter what we need to get them to head back to Camelot. But how do we approach them?"
Morgana listened to him for a few moments. Really he could be so thick headed! With a flash of her eyes and a whispered word she dropped wards around their camp. With that done she gave him a sarcastic look before she turned towards where the knights were camped yelled "A warlock! It's a warlock! Somebody help me! Please help me!" Then she sat down and waited, grinning at Merlin proudly. Merlin groaned loudly and joined her. Morgana rested her head on his shoulder. "Oh stop, my love. If they try to hurt us we can easily disarm them without hurting them. This is just faster!"
They didn't have to wait long. With Leon in the lead, the group of knights crashed into the clearing. Their jaws dropped when the saw Merlin and Morgana sitting on the ground together, clearly not in any danger from each other or anyone else, grinning up at them.
As one the knights pointed their swords at the sorcerers. "Merlin, is that. Is that you? You look completely different! I almost didn't recognize you! Are you harmed? Has she hurt you?" Gwaine asked in a rush.
Merlin immediately sprung to Morgana's defense. "No! Put down your weapons! Morgana is not our enemy! Please you must listen to me!"
"Merlin how can we trust that she has not bespelled you?" Elyan asked warily.
Stepping forward, Mordred peered intently at the two sorcerers. "Something is different about her," he said. "The...wrongness that surrounded her when I last saw her. It's...gone. Morgana. Is it..are you back? Are you yourself again?" Hopefully he took a step towards the seer.
Mordred! Gone was the young boy she had first met. Gone was the furtive young man she had seen this past winter. Here was a strong, handsome young man who was coming into his own. "Mordred. Look at you. A Knight of Camelot. It suits you." Tucking herself into Merlin's side, she continued. "I am myself again, thanks to Merlin."
Gwaine and Leon looked skeptical. Percival had no such reservations. Striding to where Merlin and Morgana were standing he engulfed the two in a massive hug. "Good." was all he said.
Later, around the campfire, Merlin and Morgana told their tale. Most of their tale. Ending with her premonition and the urgency with which they had to get back to Camelot.
"We have no time to waste. We must get back to Camelot and warn Arthur." Merlin finished, addressing the group.
"We will return at first light. You're coming with us, I presume?" Leon asked, receiving nods of agreement from Morgana and Merlin. "Good. We will present this to Arthur. Merlin, the past few months since your exile. They have, changed Arthur. Changed Camelot. But I believe that Arthur is very nearly himself again. I strongly feel that he will see reason."
"I hope you're right, my friend." Merlin replied. "For all our sakes."
While Merlin and the elite knights discussed strategy, Morgana and Mordred spoke quietly. "I'm not mad. Mordred, you were right to stop me from killing Arthur. It would have been a catastrophe if he had been killed before achieving his destiny. A united Albion is the most noble of goals and I was standing in the way. You did the right thing. Really I should thank you. If you hadn't acted. Well it's unthinkable."
"I'm just glad that you and Emrys have found one another again." Mordred replied.
The blood drained from Morgana's face. Emrys? Emrys was...Merlin? "Merlin!" she yelled, panicking. "Merlin is this true? Are you Emrys? It can't be. I was told Emrys was my destiny and my destruction!" She was beginning to babble incoherently. Running over to Morgana, Merlin took her into his arms and stopped her hysterics by kissed her passionately, garnering very interested looks from the knights. Breaking the kiss, he stared into her green eyes for a long moment before speaking. "That is just the name the Druids have for me. I am still Merlin. I am still the same man I have always been. Morgana you know me. Better than anyone you know me. By whatever name I'm called I am still the same person. Please tell me that you know this."
"My destiny and my destruction." She whispered. "Yes I see it now. Destined to destroy who I had become. Yes." At this she laughed softly, resting her forehead against Merlin's. "I wasted so much time fearing you, fearing Emrys. What I should have been doing was running towards you, not away." Softly kissing Merlin, she hugged him tightly. "Never again will I fear my fate. I have a part to play in bringing about a glorious future. This isn't something to be scared of, it's something to celebrate." A beautiful smile lit up her face, urging its twin to shine from Merlin's.
"Mordred, why did you call him Emrys?" Percival asked. Percival the perceptive. The man didn't often speak, but when he did it was often with a wisdom that astounded.
"Because he's a Druid, of course," said Leon.
At the shocked faces surrounding him, Leon could only laugh. "I have been leading the knights of Camelot for over ten years. Do you really think that I didn't know who he was? I remember when he first came to Camelot, as a small boy. I was there! I knew who he was when he saved Arthur's life and became a knight. I didn't feel that it needed to be mentioned." Walking over to a stunned Mordred, Leon clasped his shoulder. "Mordred you have proven yourself loyal to Arthur and to Camelot. You have proven to be a warrior and a brother to us all. That's all I need in a fellow knight. I don't care about anything else. You don't have to hide who you are. Nobody in Camelot should have to hide who they are."
"Let us hope that when Arthur finds out that he feels the same," said Merlin, solemnly.
"What can you see?" Leon asked Morgana, as she scryed into a large crystal. A difficult task while riding a horse, made more difficult by the endless questions from the knights.
"It is as I foresaw. The army is being led by former druids. This will not be a simple battle. I fear what this day will bring." Praying to the Triple Goddess for patience as the knights pestered her repeatedly. As if she wouldn't tell them the second she saw something that mattered. Really these men were little better than boys. The only one that was giving her any peace was Mordred, who understood better than any of the rest of them that scrying was difficult and exhausting work.
"Then there is no time to lose." Gwaine stated. "We are almost to the castle. We will get there in time. If only there were a way to let Arthur know we're on our way! If only there were allies we could reach in time!"
Merlin pulled his horse to a full stop and yelled, "Stop! Stop the horses! Stop!" Not waiting to see if his companions had heard him, Merlin leapt from his horse and ran down the road a fair distance. Lifting his head to the sky.
Morgana realized instantly what Merlin was going to do. Turning to the knights she told them in a voice that brooked no argument. "Merlin is calling on dragons to aid us. You will not interfere. You will not try to stop him. And you will absolutelynot attack the dragons! Do I make myself clear? Don't even consider it!" The knights nodded in cowed awe at the fierce sorceress, very glad that she was now on their side.
Kilgharrah and Aithusa arrived, landing heavily on the road. Morgana and Aithusa ran straight to each other. Talking over each other and reveling in each other's presence.
"Darling look at you! You look amazing! You're so big! Are you happy? What have you been doing? I've missed you! I'm so glad to see you!" Morgana couldn't stop the torrent of words for her friend.
"Morgana! I am so very happy. And I see that you are as well! You and the Dragonlord have truly found each other at last. I can see. It is wonderful! What is going on? Why has the Dragonlord called us?"
"There is terrible danger headed to Camelot. Renegade druids plan to attack using magic. We must stop them!"
"Warlock, we shall do as you command. Aithusa, come along!" Kilgharrah interrupted their hurried conversation with the order.
With one last nuzzle for Morgana, the young dragon took to the air with her mate, winging towards the Forest of Ander.
"Let us hope I was not too late in calling for their aid," Merlin said as he mounted his horse, not noticing the amazed stares of the knights.
From their vantage point, Morgana and her companions could see the attacking army making their way through the city. They hadn't made it in time. The attack had begun and nearly the entire invading army was sweeping through the city streets. So be it. The invaders would soon find themselves caught between the mighty King Arthur leading his army in the front and Camelot's biggest surprise from behind. At Morgana's questioning look, Merlin nodded and the two sorcerers left their companions and calmly walked out into the street, their hooded robes billowing behind them as they strode into sight. Spotted by the enemy, mercenaries ran at them, blades drawn. With one last glance at each other, the lovers held out their hands, speaking as one,
A mighty whirlwind swept aside the enemy fighters. Throwing them into buildings with deadly force. Citizens of Camelot who had hidden in their homes, peered furtively into the street to find out what was happening. Fear took their breath as they saw two mighty sorcerers killing wave after wave of invaders. Who could this be?
Leon and the knight roared as they joined the battle, "For the love of Camelot!" The fighting was fierce and bloody, but they were slowly making headway in their charge to reach Arthur on the front lines. Would they reach their King in time?
Morgana and her companions could see that there were magical fires hitting the castle walls, but surrounded by seemingly endless waves of invading attackers, they were unable to do anything but defend themselves and slowly make their way to the front lines of the battle.
At some point Merlin and Morgana had gotten separated. Each fully capable of killing their attackers, she nonetheless searched for her beloved. Where had he gotten off to? Finally she saw him, embracing two bronze skinned women in silk dresses. Ahh the dragons must have succeeded in their quest. She had much to thank these women for. But now was not the time. "Merlin you must introduce me to your friends when we've finished here. But for now, darling, could you give me a hand?" Morgana called over her shoulder as she lashed the invaders with blades of wind.
Blushing, Merlin ran to her side. Vadoma and Purah following. Mordred sheathed his sword and joined in the circle. Together, the five sorcerers were able to make great gains. With the knights defending them from behind, no enemies could reach the sorcerers working to defend Camelot. Soon they could see the front lines. Arthur! There to the right! They were almost there!
Morgana could feel the power before the spell was completed. Just past Arthur, a druid stood, balefully glaring at the valiant King. The malevolence in his eyes was clear even from Morgana's vantage. This was their enemy.
With a great yell, the renegade druid ran towards the Arthur, arms outstretched, and shouted, 'Eorðe, lyft, fyr, wæter, hiersumaþ me. Eorðe ac stanas hiersumaþ me. Ic can stanas tobrytan. Hiersumaþ me!'
The ground under Arthur's feet began to collapse into a great sinkhole, pulling knights and invaders alike into the ground. Morgana worked desperately to save those men who fell. Stretching her limits to levitate so many men at once. Beside her, Mordred and the two women did the same.
Leaping across the increasing chasm, Arthur rushed towards the former druid. Sword outstretched. But before Arthur could reach the man, Merlin ran between his friend and the enemy. With a wordless scream and a flash of golden eyes, Merlin held his hand out and the renegade druid simply exploded into a vast fountain of blood.
Seeing this, the invading forces began to retreat, no longer having anything that kept them in the battle. The army of Camelot chasing down stragglers and cheering the great victory..
Panting, Merlin turned towards Arthur.
Arthur faced Merlin, his sword still drawn.
Gwen, covered in blood, appeared at her husband's side just as Morgana reached Merlin's. The two women stared intently at one another, at the ready in case the other made a move. Ready to defend the men they loved. Time stretched as Morgana and Gwen faced off. Neither wanting to attack but neither trusting the other.
Arthur finally broke the stalemate by saying, "What have you done with yourself, Merlin? Look at you! You look like some sort of wild Druid King! Did they not shave wherever it is that you went off to?"
The tension broken, Merlin and Arthur embraced, grinning and slapping each other on the back. Both apologizing to the other and talking over one another. Mutually forgiven, they couldn't stop smiling at each other.
Morgana didn't stop staring at Gwen. Ready to act if the reunion between Arthur and Merlin was a ploy. Ready to act, even if she hated the very thought of hurting her former friend. She was interrupted by the arrival of Leon and the Knights. Smiling and hugging her, they crowded around, congratulating her on her amazing defense of Camelot. Morgana couldn't stop the amazed smile from shining from her face. They had done it! They had saved Camelot.
Gwen took a small step forward. Leaving the Knights, Morgana looked at Gwen. Hesitant, she walked over to the Queen, careful to keep clear of her bloody blade. How could she even begin to say this? There was so much. "Gwen. I'm. Merlin has shown me the truth. I was. I was not myself. But, because of him, I am back in my right mind. He has healed me. There are no real words that could make any apology I give adequate. But will you please let me try?"
Gwen looked around. For a long moment Morgana was unsure what the Queen would do. Looking back at Morgana, Gwen dropped her sword and pulled her into a fierce embrace. "Welcome home."
"...and so, people of Camelot! Not only because of our great victory here today, but because it is the right and honorable thing to do. From this moment forward until the end of days, Camelot welcomes and cherishes all of her people, whether they have magic or not. The ban on sorcery is officially lifted! Forever!"
The crowd gathered in the courtyard went wild. Which didn't surprise anyone one bit. Holding his hands up for silence, Arthur continued. "With the ban over, it is my great pleasure to announce the appointment of two new advisers to the crown. Lady Morgana Pendragon has graciously accepted the post of Court Seer. Without her gifts, we would not have had warning about the invading army and our allies, the Atzinganoi and the Dragons, would not have made it to Camelot in time to help repel the attack! Morgana, Aithusa, Vadoma, and Purah curtsied to the crowd which was roaring its approval. When they were again silent, Arthur concluded. "The final appointment is one I should have made years ago. Merlin has accepted the post of Court Warlock. In this role he will continue to watch over and guard Camelot against any enemies foolish enough to challenge us!
The celebration lasted long into the night.
"Are you nervous?" Gwen asked Morgana, helping the sorceress with her hair. Just like those long ago days when she had been Morgana's servant, rather than her Queen. Regardless of her station, Gwen was an absolute sorceress with hair.
"I thought I would be. But I'm just so happy. It feels like at any minute I'm going to wake up and find this was all just a lovely dream. But it's real. I'm home. And today I'm marrying the most wonderful man in the world."
"Second most wonderful," Gwen corrected pertly. The two women shared a smile in the mirror. "I'm so glad you're home. So glad you're back. I missed you desperately." Tears were welling up in her kind brown eyes.
Crying, the two women embraced. "You know, Morgana. I regret that we were estranged during my wedding to Arthur. We so often said that we should have been born sisters. I wish you had been here for the day we finally were."
"I've realized something in the past few months, Gwen. Love makes a family, not blood. We didn't need any marriages to make us sisters. We always have been. Now, we must stop this crying!" She said, dashing the tears from her green eyes. "I'll not have Merlin think I'm anything but gloriously happy to become his wife!"
Gaius took Morgana's arm and they entered the long throne room. It seemed that the entire kingdom was here. Morgana could see Hunith sitting by the knights. She was crying and they were awkwardly trying to comfort her. Gwen and Arthur stood at the end of the aisle, serving as witnesses and smiling back at her. Geoffrey of Monmouth stood, prepared to perform the ceremony. And there, looking at her with love and the promise of forever shining in his blue eyes, was Merlin. He was so tall and proud. So handsome. He wore his power openly, proudly, like armor, and he shined with it. Morgana nearly floated down the aisle to him. Today they began their forever.
It was a week after Merlin and Morgana's wedding. They had returned from their trip to The Isle of the Blessed and now it was time for their first council meeting. The round table. It was finally complete. Morgana felt as if she had found her true place in the world.
Arthur smiled as he looked around the table at his family. "I think it's time to stop pretending this land is five kingdoms. It's time for Albion to be reunited, reforged. Who's with me?"