Along a Sea Unknown
Notes: Written for the 2011 Girl Saves Boy ficathon on LiveJournal. The title comes from Sara Hammond Palfrey's poem King Arthur in Avalon. The story was written before the airing of Season Four, and thus is quite AU.
After lifting the sword from the bottom of the lake and entrusting it to Merlin, Freya thought her work, her part in the story, would be done. When she did not cross over to the shores of Avalon, however, she realized that she was still needed. She wasn't exactly unhappy about it, though. Staying gave her the possibility of seeing more of the world, and of seeing Merlin again.
Freya began to explore beyond the shores of the lake, and indeed could go wherever there was some kind of water source, something she in which she delighted. The water had always been the source of her happiness, from the lake of her childhood to the one that now housed her soul. To glide along the water in the streams or even the underground rivers was a true joy.
Of course, her explorations gave her access to much knowledge. She was able to explore Camelot, for instance, and saw all that went on there. She watched the king's slow, excruciating mental decline, watched the prince grow further and further into the man he was meant to be. Most importantly, she watched Merlin, saw his growing loneliness as he struggled in secret to protect Arthur and the kingdom from the king's daughter and her sister-priestess. The prince had no idea of Merlin's true worth, and although the old physician assured Merlin that one day Arthur would see and understand him for who he really was, the secrecy wore Merlin down the longer he kept the secret of his magic from his friends. Even having one of the knights, Lancelot, know the truth did not help much, especially given Lancelot's frequent absences from the city as he traveled on the prince's business.
Freya watched over Merlin as best she could, and longed to reach out to him, but there were limits to her power. She was forbidden to interfere unless it directly affected the Lake and Avalon. The sword that had rested within her depths had been coated with deep magic, and was a foreign body, thus allowing her to remove it and return it to Merlin. All she could do now, though, was watch him and hope that, somehow, he might sense her presence and know that he wasn't alone.
She saw other things as well in the course of her travels. She saw Morgana and Morgause and their constant plots to kill Arthur and claim the throne of Camelot for themselves. It was both infuriating and disheartening to see the depths to which the sisters had fallen. Morgause had long betrayed the tenets she had sworn to uphold as a priestess of the Old Religion, and Morgana's madness and vindictive hatred against those she had once loved dearly was heartbreaking. Still, there was nothing she could do but watch.
Until things changed.
There were times when Freya was forced to retreat from her explorations of Albion and return to the waters that were her ultimate home. The lake rejuvenated her, gave her a sense of peace that she could find nowhere else, and restored the energy she expended in her travels. As a result, Freya didn't learn of the sisters' latest plan until they approached her shores.
It was the Sidhe who alerted her to their presence. The Sidhe hadn't taken well to Freya's arrival when she'd first been appointed as the lake's new Lady. For centuries the post had been left vacant, allowing the Sidhe a sense of true autonomy. At first, Freya had been content to let them go on as they had before, permitting them the freedom they had enjoyed before her arrival. However, when the Sidhe plot to place one of their own in Camelot within a prospective bride of Arthur's resulted in the deaths of two of their kind, Freya had been forced to rein them in. She refused to see Merlin punished for the deaths of two of the Sidhe, as their plot had been without sanction and Merlin had acted within his purview of protecting the Once and Future King. They hadn't been pleased, but with her exercising her power as the Lady, they had no choice but to accept it and cease their attempts to bring harm to Arthur. Ultimately, they had returned to their core purpose, being the watchers and gatekeepers to Avalon.
Morgana and Morgause appeared on the shores of the lake, and Freya paid close attention to them. They were alone, but had brought several supplies with them. Riding on the waves that lapped onto the shores, Freya listened to the sisters. They didn't discuss their plan at length, but Freya did know that this was yet again another attempt to assassinate Arthur. She longed to interfere, but yet again, she was restrained by the limits of her authority. Only if they sought to involve Avalon could she intercede.
Morgana did not remain by the lake long, vanishing into the forest and leaving her sister behind. Freya watched Morgause as often as she could, and set the Sidhe to watching her as well. Their presence was often distracting unless they cloaked themselves, which they did, so they were not noticed by the fallen priestess.
Freya could sense the magic around Morgause, noticed how it felt twisted and wrong, like pieces of a broken mirror that had been clumsily put back together. Her face was scarred, and even drooped a little on the right, much like Freya's grandfather's face had when he had suffered a convulsion that eventually ended his life. Freya then shifted her attention to the supplies that the sisters had brought with them. A ritual blade, sharpened to a razor's edge, lay wrapped in a red ceremonial cloth. Several vials of different potions were also present, as well as an old, decaying book that reeked of a magic all on its own, but one that was familiar. The magic felt similar to Freya's own, the kind she wielded as the Lady.
The magic was that of Avalon.
Indeed, Lady. The tome is a relic from a time when it was simple to pass between Avalon and the rest of the world, before we withdrew the isle beyond the reach of mortals. The false priestess is resourceful to find such a thing.
The Voice was perhaps the most peculiar part of Freya's life. She didn't know exactly who the Voice was, and believed that it had something to do with Avalon. Perhaps it was even Avalon itself; she didn't know.
Should I take it? Freya asked. Such knowledge should hardly be in the hands of the sisters. They could do a great deal of harm.
No. Unless they seek to harm the isle or the lake, it is not our place to interfere.
So, that was that. With nothing else she could do, Freya continued to watch and wait. Her patience paid off soon enough, when Morgana returned. She wasn't alone either. Freya watched, horrified, as the witch used magic to drag both Merlin and Arthur along behind her. No…
Merlin was unconscious, but Arthur was still awake. "Morgana! Stop this!" he shouted.
She ignored her brother, instead approaching the waiting Morgause. She smirked. "Ready, sister?"
Morgause smiled. "Indeed. We have the two perfect sacrifices here to bring Avalon back to the wider world – the Prince Regent of Camelot and his most faithful servant. Theywill suit the ritual perfectly."
Freya blinked. What were they referring to?
They wish for Avalon to return, to be the center of Albion once more. This cannot be. When Avalon was separated from the rest of the world, it was a decision from which there was no going back.
But the ritual…
It will fail, and the backlash will kill both Emrys and the Once and Future King.
Morgana levitated both Merlin and Arthur closer to the shores of the lake, and then grasped the ritual blade after her sister held out to her in a manner that appeared rather ritualistic to Freya's eyes. "Draw their blood, sister," Morgause instructed, "let it run into the water. Their blood and Merlin's magic will open the gates between here and Avalon."
Blood… Freya shrank back. No!
This must not be, Lady. The blood of Emrys must not be spilled here, nor that of the Once and Future King. Stop them!
Freya didn't hesitate. Calling to the Sidhe, she bid them rise up from the depths of the lake. Distract the sisters, she ordered. Do not let the prince and Emrys be harmed!
The Sidhe received her command with good grace, and they emerged from the water and flew toward Morgana and Morgause.
"What the devil?!" Morgana shouted as the Sidhe surrounded her, diving down toward her head and slowly driving her back away from the two men.
"Sidhe!" Morgause supplied as they rounded on her as well. "The gatekeepers to Avalon!"
"Why are they doing this?" the witch demanded.
It was then that Freya chose to make her presence known. Taking on a solid form, she rose up from the lake. The water cascaded down her hair, shoulders, and arms, forming the folds of a filmy blue dress, one even finer than the gown Merlin had dressed her in after her death. "Because I instructed them to," Freya informed the sisters as they whirled toward her, having heard the sounds of her arrival.
"Who are you?" Morgana challenged, glaring and swatting at the Sidhe as though they were irritating bugs. Morgause said nothing, but was eyeing her warily. Freya wondered if the priestess might have an inkling of who she was.
"I am the Lady of the Lake," she informed them. "I command the defenses of this lake and the gateway to Avalon." Freya held Morgana's gaze.
"Why do you hinder us?" the other woman asked her, a furious expression on her face. "We seek to set you and all the others in Avalon free, to return them to the world that should rightfully belong to them and all others like them —"
"You seek to harness the power of Avalon for yourself." Freya cut her off. "Your ambition to rule Camelot is well known, daughter of Uther, even though you know that that truly isn't your destiny." She turned to Morgause. "You are foolish, priestess, to attempt such a thing. You were taught from a child why Avalon left the wider world, and know it cannot return."
The priestess' expression was slowly transforming into one of anger, which only increased her resemblance to her half-sibling. "Morgana is Uther Pendragon's firstborn, his natural-born child. Arthur was conceived of magic on a woman who could not bear children," Morgause shouted. "He shouldn't even exist! By rights, Morgana should be Queen!"
Freya sighed. She had heard the sisters rant on this subject more than once when she'd encountered them on her travels. "Arthur would not exist if it was not the will of the gods, priestess," she said as gently as she knew how. "No matter what spells Nimueh cast on Ygraine, if Arthur was truly not meant to live, he would not be here."
A strangled, enraged cry erupted from Morgana's lips. Her green eyes had a distinct, crazed expression in them. "How many of our kind has Arthur murdered?!" she roared. "He's continued Uther's slaughter and the Old Religion wants him to rule?!"
Freya stared at her. "You held the throne of Camelot for an entire week," she said. "What did you do to make life better for those who had been persecuted?" she asked simply. "How did you prove that you would be a better ruler than Arthur?"
Morgana opened her mouth to respond, but made not a sound. She blinked in confusion, clearly thinking for the response that was needed, but still she remained mute. Freya nodded. "You see? You spent that entire week tormenting Uther and terrorizing the people. In no way did you repeal the laws against magic or make it safe for others with magic to practice openly."
The sisters stood there, gaping at her incredulously. Freya stared back at them. "You've done nothing to convince anyone that you'd be a better choice for a sovereign."
"I am," Morgana murmured, "I am a better choice! I am Uther's firstborn!"
Freya didn't have a chance to say anything further before the witch exploded into action. Ignoring the flitting Sidhe, Morgana whirled toward the two bound men. Merlin was still unconscious, but Arthur had been watching the entire exchange. His blue eyes, already wide, widened still further as she rushed toward him. The ritual knife, which had been held limply in her hand, now came up, held in a tight, determined grip. Morgana raised it high, ready to bring it down to cleave into Arthur's chest —
Freya reacted. A single, harsh syllable flew past her lips and the lake began to roll ominously. The waves began to crash higher and higher on the beach, quickly reaching Morgana. They smashed into her and caused her to stagger, which put a bit of distance between her and Arthur and Merlin.
Pursing her lips, Freya took a step in Morgana's direction, only to suddenly find Morgause thrusting herself into her path. Her palm stretched out and her dark eyes narrowed, she hissed, "You will not touch her, Lady!"
The magic that streamed toward Freya was as twisted and broken as its mistress. She could feel the energy writhing and thrashing even before it slammed into her. Had she been mortal, it would have been a death blow. As it was, Freya still felt the pain of the hit, and she staggered, but she didn't fall.
She attacks the Lady.
Freya stood up and faced Morgause again, the wind that had blown up in the wake of Morgana's attempt to kill Arthur and Merlin going still. She didn't know if Morgause had heard the voice, but Freya nonetheless could make out the sorceress' shock as they continued to face one another.
She seeks to do that which we have told her cannot and must not be done.
Freya shivered. She had never felt so uneasy in the wake of the Voice.
Bring them to us, Lady. Clearly these two are in need of proper instruction. Their time of acting as spoiled children is over.
Swallowing hard, Freya bowed her head briefly. As you will it.
Raising her hands, she called out to the water. It was already churning violently, but at her word, it grew even worse. By that point, the sisters were slowly becoming aware that they might be at a disadvantage in facing Avalon's gatekeeper and were beginning to back away, but it was too late. Holding out a hand toward them, Freya clenched her fist, and the two women stopped in their backtracking.
"What are you doing?" Morgana demanded as she struggled to move.
Freya gazed at her solemnly. Avalon wishes to speak to you.
Then, ignoring the widening of the witch's eyes, Freya thrust her arm toward the lake. The water, which had gathered around the sisters' calves, began to recede, but it also dragged the two subdued women as well. Freya watched, forcing herself to remain impassive, as Morgana and Morgause's struggles grew increasingly frantic and fearful. It availed them nothing, though, as they were pulled further and further into the lake.
Morgana's terrified cry echoed across the water just before her head disappeared beneath the surface.
With the submersion of the sisters, the winds stopped and the waters began to calm and recede. The Sidhe, who had been floating about, waiting for further orders, began to drift away. One stopped before her. Do you require us further, Lady? he asked.
Freya shook her head. No. You may return to the lake. I will deal with Emrys and the Once and Future King.
He nodded to her and followed his brethren. Soon enough, the area was dim, lacking light save for the sun that was rapidly setting behind the distant mountains. Pressing her lips together, Freya glanced about. She was a creature of water, the antithesis of fire, but perhaps she could summon a small one just for the duration of calming the frantic prince. Narrowing her eyes, she held out her hand, remembering how Merlin had once called up a fire to keep her warm.
The end result was rather poor in comparison to Merlin's previous efforts, but it would do for the moment. Satisfied that the fire wouldn't die, Freya turned to Arthur. He and Merlin had been lowered to the ground in the wake of Morgana's departure, but the prince had not attempted to leave. Instead, he sat beside Merlin, his eyes darting back and forth between the two of them.
"You're magic," he murmured. His gaze switched to Merlin. "So is he. He lied to me."
"What choice did he have, Arthur Pendragon?" Freya asked him softly as she stepped closer to him. "Our kind has been hunted like wild beasts. I was locked in a cage and left to rot in the rain. Merlin has watched dozens upon dozens be thrown onto the pyres or fall beneath the axe and sword simply for being able to do magic. Can you blame him for wishing to avoid that fate while still performing his purpose in life?"
"Purpose? What purpose?" he demanded, his tone bitter. "To get close to me? To take down Camelot from within?"
Freya glared at him, her gaze sharp. "Do you really believe that?" she growled. It wasn't difficult to recall all that Merlin had endured, all that he had suffered for this man's sake. If Arthur actually thought Merlin sought only to destroy him and Camelot after so many years of faithful service, Freya thought she might just pummel him with her bare hands. Spoiled, ungrateful little…
Arthur held her gaze for a moment, defiant, but then seemed to deflate. His shoulders sinking, he sighed. "No," he finally said, his voice much more calm. He looked away from her and towards the lake. "But it's hard not to see the cruelty and wickedness of magic. My sister just tried to kill me in some magical ritual, and you just used… some kind of magic to kill her and Morgause."
Freya shook her head. "I didn't kill them," she told him. "I sent them to Avalon," she clarified when he looked at her strangely. "I have my orders to follow, too. Those who command me wished that the sisters be brought to Avalon, and so I did." Arthur nodded, but she kept going. "Also, magic is neither cruel nor wicked, Arthur Pendragon," she scolded. "It simply is."
He blinked, surprised by her abrupt tone, and she turned her gaze to Merlin. He was still insensible, even after Morgana had been taken far out of reach. Reaching out, she stroked his face gently as she maneuvered him enough to have his head rest in her lap. The magic that had knocked him out was fading, she noticed as she studied him. The sisters had used a powerful spell on him. It was probably a wonder Morgana had even been able to make it back with the two men in tow.
"So often, all I ever see is the destruction magic can cause," Arthur suddenly said, causing Freya to look up at him. His eyes were on Merlin. "But then I remember that it brought a unicorn back to life, it saved a village about to be overrun by bandits…" He trailed off.
She nodded. "It allowed a simple, cursed girl to become the Lady of the Lake," she added quietly, brushing her fingers through Merlin's hair. "I have watched over him all this time," she said. "He serves you not just because you are the future king, but because he believes in you, thinks that you are a good, worthy man."
It was a truth that was simply spoken, and yet infinitely more complex in practice.
"Then why didn't he tell me?" Arthur asked. "Does he really think I'd send him to the block?" He looked genuinely distressed at the thought.
Freya sighed. This was really a conversation that the two men should be having, not her and Arthur. Merlin needed to stand up for himself on his own. Reaching out with her magic, she poked his conscious gently. Wake up, Merlin. You and your prince have much to talk about.
She felt his inner being twitch at her summons, and begin to move towards waking more quickly. Satisfied, Freya returned her attention to Arthur. "You and Merlin should speak of this, Your Highness," she told him. "It is a conversation that is long overdue, I think. Just remember," she added, "he has only ever sought to serve and protect you. Please, do not condemn him."
Eyeing her curiously, Arthur nodded slowly. "I shall do my best, Lady."
She beamed at him. "Good." Carefully, Freya moved to extricate herself from beneath Merlin, leaving him to rest again on the ground. As he settled down, Merlin shifted and mumbled under his breath. Stroking his cheek one last time, Freya leaned down and kissed his forehead briefly. "It's all right, Merlin," she said softly, "all will be well. Wake up."
As Freya pushed herself to her feet, Merlin's eyelids began to flutter and his blue eyes appeared. He stared up at her, still a little dazed. "F… Freya?" he murmured.
She smiled. "I must go now, Merlin," she told him. "But your prince is here with you, and the two of you have much to discuss."
Freya nodded. "Yes, Merlin. Arthur." She began to walk backwards toward the lake. "Until we meet again, my dearest."
The water welcomed her as much as she welcomed its soothing touch on her skin. She was waist-deep into it when Arthur suddenly called out to her. "Wait!"
She should just keep going – she had said more than enough to both of them – but something in the prince's eyes made her pause anyway. "Yes?"
He was helping Merlin sit up, but his eyes were glued to her. "Will the sisters come back?"
Freya didn't answer. She didn't really know what it was that Avalon had in mind for Morgana and Morgause. The Voice had only said that the time for them to act like spoiled children was done. Beyond that, she knew nothing.
The Once and Future King will see the sisters one more time, when the days of Camelot are done. They will come to escort him on the next stage of his journey.
Notes: Thank you for reading! Please review! :)