The Love That Binds Us- part one
Category: (Canon AU)
Rating/Warnings: T +
Basic Summary – In a time of great peril, fate reunites Mithian with old friends and enemies. This is the two part sequel to The Princess's Champion.
Special thanks to Captain Ozone for editing.:kiss:
One autumn evening, Mithian entered the banquet hall to find Rodor with a dish full of roasted pheasant and various vegetables sitting beside him untouched. His lips were drawn in a thin, grim line as he blankly gazed out the window.
"Oh, Father," she said sadly, taking a seat next to him and gently placing her smooth, youthful hand on top of his wrinkled one. "I know you and Carlus were good friends. And you must know that you did everything you could to save him. No one can fault you for that. You were his truest friend."
"No," he answered in a voice barely above a whisper. "I was also his king, and I should never have allowed him to join the knights traveling to the outlining villages. But he wanted to tend to a knight's ailing aunt. I knew there bandits still lurking in the area. Now I have made his wife a widow and your dear friend, Eilise, fatherless. This kingdom has lost more than a court physician. He was my advisor, and his wisdom and guidance led Nemeth through many a dark day. I owe him my life, my kingdom's longstanding peace and prosperity, and so much more."
Mithian rose from her chair and turned toward him, pulling her father into her arms. "I have spoken with Eilise. She doesn't blame you. No one does," she confessed, eyes glistening with unshed tears. "There wasn't any possible way that you could have known that this would happen. Please eat; you will become ill if you don't."
She returned to her seat and then started to eat. Sorrow made the food taste like clay on her tongue, but she forced an encouraging smile as she watched her father lightly pick at his plate with mild interest.
"The gods have blessed me with a wonderful daughter," he stated. "You have been gifted with the same wisdom and strength as your mother. I wish you could have known her. I know without a doubt that she would be proud of you for becoming such an outstanding young woman."
She smiled at him sadly, "I wish so as well. I can just barely remember what it felt like to be held in her arms before she became ill. But you and I still make a good team, don't we?"
"The very best, dear heart," he agreed, reaching out to caress her cheek.
Later in the evening, Mithian entered her chambers and dismissed the maid, preferring to have some quiet time alone. She slipped out of her ivory, gold floral embroidered dress and then put on a flowing white nightgown. Then she walked toward her vanity and opened the drawer, rummaging through silk scarves and lacy shawls until she found a pile of tiny parchments. She grabbed one from on top of the pile then climbed into bed, settling comfortably against a small cluster of pillows. Her dark eyes quickly scanned the little letter that she had read countless times before. She admired Merlin's surprisingly elegant penmanship and poetic writing. However, I love you or I miss you written numerous times throughout their exchanges was not enough to cure her heartache. Yet she would still rush to her window sill whenever she saw a small gray bird perched there with a tiny scroll attached to its leg.
Unfortunately, it had been several months since Mithian had heard from him. The absence of his letters filled her with a fretful restlessness. Was he well? Perhaps he had given up on her and found someone else? The very thought brought a cruel, ugly jealously to the surface which threatened to ensnare her heart in its vice like grip. She felt the prickle of warm, angry tears forming in her eyes at the betrayal. The princess cast the letter aside as she lay down. The day's exhausting events had drained her physically and emotionally. Her eye lids drooped, and she allowed herself to succumb to sweet slumber. That night she dreamed of bright, ocean blue eyes and a gentle smile.
A few months later, Mithian and Eilise traveled to the marketplace. They weaved through the crowds taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling atmosphere. The dominant scents of herbs, sweet perfumes and spices wafted through the air to assault their senses. The very air surrounding them seemed to hum with energy. This organized chaos was a welcome distraction. And so the young women enjoyed the glimmer along with the clamor as everything from eggs to bangles was set on display. Their escorts were not far behind when they stopped by a stall that sold a wide array of scarves, shawls and jewelry.
"Oh, this is lovely," Eilise exclaimed as she lifted up a white shawl decorated with flowers. "Mother will love this."
"I'm she'll look beautiful in it," her friend answered absently, looking down as she toyed with a scarf `s fringe.
"You didn't even look," she said with mild exasperation, brushing bright red hair away from her pale, freckled cheeks. "You've been quite distracted lately. What's troubling you?"
"It's nothing, really," the princess said, faking a smile.
"Come now, we have been friends since childhood, and I know when you are lying," she stated, giving her a pointed look. "Do you want me to guess? Because you know I won't stop until I get it right."
"I'm fine," the brunette replied, taking the shawl from her. "This trip was meant to be a pleasant escape, remember? Now let's buy the shawl for your mother."
"I know, and I thank you for it," she said sincerely. "But you have always been there for me. How I cannot do the same for you?"
Mithian placed an arm around her shoulder, "This outing was meant to bring a bit of joy. You owe me nothing in return."
As the two friends headed back to meet their escorts by a quilt loaded stall, Mithian bumped into a cloaked figure, causing the traveler to drop his herb bundle.
"I'm so sorry," she cried, kneeling down to pick it up. "It seems my thoughts are in the clouds today."
Her eyes widened in surprise when she looked up at the stranger. All their surroundings became a soundless blur of motion. For her only he existed, with bated breath and thudding heart as she gazed at him. All her love and longing reflected in a single glance.
"Merlin," she said hoarsely as she stood up, releasing the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Eilise stood by in bewilderment as she watched them and the two armed escorts frowned in disapproval. The torrent of questions died on her lips when she noticed his skin's unhealthy pallor and his slightly glazed, red rimmed eyes. Her hand trembled as reached out to caress his cheek, feeling the rough shadowing of a beard and an alarming heat under the soft skin of her palm.
"Mithian, I..." he began, thoughts too muddled and disjointed to continue.
"You're burning with fever," she cried. "You must come with us."
Before Merlin could utter a word, one of the escorts stepped forward.
"Forgive me, your highness, but I must advise against this," the young man said sternly. "I know your heart is soft toward the less fortunate, but I can't allow this. We can't save every hapless vagabond you find roaming the streets. "
"He isn't a vagabond," she snapped. "He is a servant from Camelot, King Arthur's manservant to be exact. And it's our duty to aid a friend and fellow ally."
Then she gave a startled cry when she noticed Merlin sway and reached out to steady him.
The young man glanced back toward his older companion and he nodded in conformation while Eilise stood nearby, feeling worried, confused, and self conscious due to the nosy shoppers that stopped to stare.
"Forgive my error, milady," he said, walking toward Merlin and allowing him to lean against him for support. As the little group headed out of the marketplace, Mithian ignored the stares and whispers. She couldn't bring herself to care about the spectacle they made in the center of the marketplace amongst prying eyes and gossiping tongues.
"You will explain this to me later," Eilise whispered the order while walking beside her.
"I will," Mithian answered gravely, watching the escorts as they walked ahead, helping Merlin along as they whispered to one another. "As soon I make sense of it all."
Mithian paid no heed to the surprised or curious expressions of the surrounding servants in the corridor when she ordered for Merlin to be taken to one of the guest chambers, and the young escort placing the sickly raven haired young man on the bed knew better than to question the princess's commands again.
"Shall I send for a servant to assist you, milady?" the young man asked.
"Yes," she answered hurriedly, standing beside Eilise as they gazed worriedly at Merlin's limp form. "Have one of the maid's bring water, and Carlus' medicine bag."
Then he bowed respectfully and excited the chambers, leaving with his older companion when he entered the hallway.
Mithian unfastened Merlin's dark cloak and then brushed his sweat soaked locks away from his forehead. She sat down beside him, holding his hand while his eyes fluttered shut and he muttered incoherently. The princess bit her lip and her brows furrowed as she watched him.
"You love him?" Eilise stated, sitting beside her and then placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Yes," she confessed, finding reassurance in her friend's caring green eyes.
"He'll be alright because you have a court physician's daughter with you," the red-head said kindly.
Once the maid entered with the supplies, the two women quickly set to work. Mithian placed a damp cloth against his hot, sweaty brow while Eilise sat by the fireplace grinding herbs into a small wooden bowl, and after she poured warm water into it, she began to mix the substance into a broth.
"Here, he must drink this,"she said, offering her the bowl.
Mithian thanked her as she accepted it and cradled her lover's dark head in one hand, tipping the little bowl to his lips with the other. He coughed and sputtered when the warm broth traveled down his throat, causing a bit to wet his chin. Then he settled down, drifting into a restless slumber.
"You don't have to stay," she said as Eilise took the empty bowl from her and placed it on the table. "I'll watch over him."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, thank you for everything."
"You'd make an excellent physician," Mithian added as she watched her walk toward the door.
"If I wasn't a woman," she answered with a wistful sigh before exiting the chambers.
Time dragged on as she watched Merlin sleep, her mind still ensnared in a tangle of questions. Then there was a knock at the door, and she rose from the bedside to answer.
"Milady, the king requested for you to dine with him in his chambers," a young servant girl said, curtsying.
The princess looked back toward her lover's sleeping form, and the girl followed her gaze.
"Shall I keep watch until you return?" she asked with a smile.
Mithian nodded absently, her dark eyes transfixed on the raven haired young man, turning over in bed while muttering.
When she entered her father's chambers, the sight and smells of chicken and other vittles covering the dishes proved to less than appetizing when her mind and heart was with Merlin. But she sat down across from him and began to eat. She felt his gaze as she swallowed a sip of wine before setting the goblet back down on the table.
"My castle is buzzing with gossip," Rodor said. "It seems that King Arthur's manservant decided to pay an unexpected visit and without the accompaniment of his master."
His daughter stared blankly at her plate before lifting her head and meeting his gaze. "I am at a loss as well," she admitted. "He just turned up in the market place this afternoon when I was shopping with Eilise. But he is unwell and resting in one of the guest chambers."
"I see," he said, leaning back in his chair as he gazed at her thoughtfully. "Merlin is welcome to stay for as long as he needs. I'm certain; you'll make sure that he is tended to."
"Yes," she answered, noticing an unspoken question in her father's gaze. "What is it?"
"I know you still have feelings for him," he began. "Young love can lead to rash actions, and perhaps…"
"What are you saying?" she interrupted. "Please don't tell me that you think he left Camelot behind for me? Merlin is far too wise and loyal to his king to leave his side even for the sake of love. And I could never ask such a thing."
"I hadn't meant to cause offense, dear heart."
"Whatever his reasons maybe, I don't want his presence to cause you grief," Rodor said sternly. "I won't take kindly to finding you heartbroken again."
"I think both our hearts were broken the day we parted," Mithian said, fighting back tears. "And now that he's here, I don't know what to make of it."
"Well, let us hope for his speedy recovery so he may return to his king," he replied, reaching out to take her hand. "And give your heart a chance to mend. You are young Mithian, and you shall find love again."
She nodded numbly in response, no longer caring that their supper was cold.
After dinner Mithian returned to Merlin's chambers, not surprised but a bit disheartened to discover that her love was still asleep. She sat down beside him, reaching out to touch his brow. Her slender fingers stroked his warm skin. As time passed and the crackling flames in the fire place began to die, she started to doze. Then she yawned and crawled onto the bed lying next to him before drifting off to sleep.
A few days later when his strength began to return, she entered the chambers with breakfast. She smiled at him as she placed the tray on a small table beside his bed, and he smiled in return. Mithian handed him a plate filled with various fruit, bread, and cheese. After thanking her, he began to scoop some berries from his plate.
"Slow down," she said, laughing while he gobbled up a fistful of berries. "You'll get hiccups."
"You sound like Gaius," he said around a mouthful. Then his expression darkened slightly at the mention of his mentor. He stared down at his plate momentarily lost in thought.
Nagging questions plagued her every thought since the moment he reentered her life, but she hadn't wanted to press him for answerers until he was well. She put her apple aside, leaning forward to cup his chin in her hand. Her dark eyes captured his gaze.
"What happened, Merlin?" she asked sadly. "When you stopped answering my letters, I was beyond worried. And I feared you gave your heart to another."
"I'm sorry that I made you worry," he said sincerely, "but I promised I would remain loyal to you, and I could never break that vow."
"I know," she replied as he leaned into her touch, kissing her palm. "But what brought you to Nemeth? Did something happen back home?"
He looked away momentarily, remembering the dark day. She called his name, tearing him away from painful memories before he could drown in his loss. Then he turned and faced her.
"Gwaine and I were heading back from the tavern, of all places," he said. His eyes were distant and tear-filled, and his tone was laced with sorrow and a bit of bitterness.
"Gwaine had a bit too much to drink that night, and I wanted to make sure he reached his chambers in one piece. He tripped as we were walking down the spiraled stairs. I had to do something or he would have fallen headlong onto the stone floor. So I slowed time to save him. And then Arthur stepped out of the shadows. He saw everything."
"And then he banished you?" she said softly with sad eyes. She brought his hand to her lips, placing gentle kisses against his knuckles.
Merlin looked down, his lips quivering slightly before he nodded, "After that I traveled from place to place, making camp in the forests until I came here."
"I'm so sorry," she said. "But you are welcome here, I'm sure I can find a place for you. Our kingdom has different views about magic. You would be safe to use your gifts without fear of persecution. "
He was torn between an overwhelming sense of relief and stifling despair toward his failed destiny when he answered, "Don't be. You've done so much for me and I'm grateful. It would feel strange to use magic openly. I've gotten so used to hiding who I really am."
Yet fragile hope blossomed between them, and they could plainly see it mirrored in each others eyes. And then she said, "Well, from this moment on you won't have to worry about ever hiding again. You shall have the freedom and respect that you so rightfully deserve. There is one thing that troubled me. Why didn't you come to the palace straight away? Surely you must know that I would have helped you."
"Before I had very little to offer you," he admitted. "But now, I have nothing at all."
"That was incredibly foolish," she chided, ignoring the way her heart beat quickened upon hearing his words. "Who knows what would have happened to you out in the forest all alone? Your wellbeing is far more valuable to me. And I don't care about riches or fine houses. I would gladly live in a hovel for all the difference it would make."
"Don't jest, Mithian," he said solemnly. There was an edge to his voice and a hint of hurt pride.
"I'm not," she answered softly. "I've missed you terribly."
"And I, you," he said. "What happens now?"
"What would you like to have happen?" she countered, smiling. She found his expression of bewilderment endearing and saddening as he shrugged. "You may have everything you desire."
"Not everything," he replied with a meaningful glance.
"No," she agreed. "But I shall be yours. Until that day, however, duty calls, and I wed for the sake of the throne."
Silence lapsed between them and then there was a knock at the door.
"Enter," Mithian called out. They were equally surprised when King Rodor walked into the chambers.
"Ah, I thought I would find you here," her father said, briefly glancing at his daughter and then turned toward Merlin.
He straightened up and set his plate aside, meeting the king's gaze. And Mithian hovered by his bedside protectively.
"Hello, Merlin," he said "It's unfortunate that we are unable to meet on better terms. Fate seems to delight in causing turmoil and using it to intertwine our paths. How are you feeling?"
"Much better," he replied. "Thank you, Sire. And I have Mithian to thank for that. "
Rodor noted the warm smiles the youths exchanged. "Yes," he agreed, sitting in a chair near by. "I'm glad to hear it. "
"Merlin has come to seek sanctuary," Mithian explained. "Camelot's laws are not kind to those with magic."
Rodor's eyes widened slightly and his mouth was agape. He studied the raven haired young man in a way that made him want to squirm under his intense gaze. "I always thought you were different. There's something about you that I can't define. Perhaps it's the calm fierceness you showed in battle. I can't say for certain."
"I was hoping he could find work in the palace," she added.
"Yes, of course," he said thoughtfully, returning his attention to Merlin. "You were a worthy apprentice to Gaius. I'm sure you learned a great deal while under his tutelage. And I would be honored to have you in my service. Nemeth can't seem to find a steady court physician since the passing of my dear friend, Carlus."
He briefly glanced from Rodor to Mithian in wonderment, "Thank you, Sire."
"Thank you, Father," she said, beaming.
A few days later, Mithian entered Carlus` old quarters with Merlin following closely behind her. She guided him through the spacious workroom and toward the bedchamber. The wooden door opened with a creak and then they stepped inside.
"I hope everything is to your liking," she said.
"It's fine, more than fine," he answered in an awestruck tone, glancing at the large cupboard in the corner then turned his attention to the bed against the wall by the window. "Everything is three times the size of what I owed back home."
Then he smiled at Mithian`s laughter. They reentered the workspace and sat down on a wooden bench. She noticed a sad wistfulness in his expression.
"What is it?" she asked, placing her hand on top of his as they sat side by side. "Are you homesick?"
"A bit," he confessed, watching the empty vials set on the table across from them glisten in the afternoon sunlight, pouring from the window above. "It feels strange to have all this space to myself."
"Well, soon this place will be filled with patients," she said, smiling. "Then you will wish for a moment alone. And you will never truly be alone since I had hoped you might dine with me in my chambers in the evenings."
He smiled, caressing her cheek with his index finger, "That sounds like a brilliant idea."
"Yes, I thought so too," she teased.
"I have one as well," he said, moving closer.
Her eyes fluttered when she felt his breath against her face, "Really?"
"Yeah, I …." he began.
"Merlin?" she breathed.
"Yes?" he whispered.
"Just kiss me."
They were so lost in the moment that neither of them heard the palace seamstress enter with her kit to have Merlin fitted and measured for his new clothes. She gasped, dropping her equipment when she saw the princess with her arms around King Arthur's former manservant, whom she was kissing quite passionately. Mithian and Merlin pulled apart upon hearing someone cough.
Mithian nearly laughed when Merlin sprang from the bench, almost tripping over his own feet.
"Sorry," she said, gathering her skirt as she rose from the bench. "I suppose I should leave you to your work."
The elderly seamstress bowed respectfully as the princess headed toward the door, leaving her blushing lover behind.
"Will you dine with me tonight?" she asked, lingering in the threshold while gazing at Merlin expectantly.
"Sure," he said, still looking a bit flustered.
Then Mithian smiled as she shut the door and laughed while walking through the corridor.
Later in the evening, Mithian quickly glanced at herself in the mirror one last time before taking a seat. The red, velvet fitted dress she wore complimented her pale skin and dark long hair very nicely. She patiently waited for Merlin in the candlelit room, gazing at the dishes of roast duck, various vittles and pudding with little interest. When he, clad in simple homespun clothing, entered her chambers, he looked starkly out of place amongst all the finery. Not that the princess cared or noticed such things.
"You look lovely," he said with a smile, sitting across from her.
"Thank you, and you look dashing as always in your neckerchiefs," she quipped.
He scoffed playfully before he took a sip of wine from his goblet.
"How did you fair with the seamstress?" she asked, slicing her portion of roast duck. "I feared you would faint when she walked in on us.
"Well, it was a bit awkward," he replied and turned his attention toward his own.
"Yes, I suppose it was."
"I noticed you were entirely unrepentant."
"I wasn't aware that kissing was a cause for repentance," she said with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "The seamstress has known me since childhood anyway."
"So she knows all your tricks then?" he said while raising an eyebrow. "How many hapless boys have you led away for a kiss?"
"Only two," she admitted, grinning. "There was a young squire I fancied when I was a girl."
"And who was the other?"
"It's you, of course."
They laughed with merriment shining in their eyes and good food settling in their bellies.
"I have something for you," she said, raising from the table to pick up a small, neatly wrapped package that was set on a stool near the fireplace.
"You've done so much for me already," he exclaimed. "More than I could ever repay."
"Nonsense. Isn't this what lovers do when they are courting?" she commented, handing him the package before returning to her seat.
"Thank you," he said, unwrapping the simple brown paper to reveal a blue, silken neckerchief.
"Do you like it?" she asked. "I know you are rather fond of them."
"It's wonderful", he answered sincerely, looking away momentarily.
"What is it?"
"Can we what?"
"Court, I mean," he clarified. "How could your father approve of me when I'm…"
The princess leaned forward, putting a finger against his lips, "Because he knows I love you, and you are our court physician now. Surely that should be enough."
Then he gently pushed her hand away.
"I suppose," he said thoughtfully, running his fingers over the silk. "But I wish there was something I could give you."
"You gave me your heart," she said.
Days later, Mithian entered Merlin's quarters to find her father sitting on a bench. His left arm was raised, and he wiggled his fingers experimentally while the young court physician cleaned his work space.
"Remarkable," Rodor exclaimed in awe. "It almost feels as if I were a young man again. Although I doubt you have a spell for that."
"I'm afraid not, my lord," he answered with a smile.
Both men turned to face the princess as she approached them. She was pleased to see that Merlin finally agreed to wear his physician robes instead of his old clothes for once.
"I've seen to all the arrangements, Father," she said, sitting beside him.
"Ah, good," he said.
"Arrangements?" Merlin inquired.
"Yes, I was planning to formally present you to the people as our new court physician tonight at the banquet," he explained, rising from the bench. "There's nothing to be nervous about. Those you have tended to thus far have spoken very highly of you."
He gave Merlin a light slap on the back before departing, "I must be off. I have another meeting to attend."
"Good bye, sire."
"Good bye," Mithian called out. "I'll review the council papers and have them prepared by tomorrow."
"What would I do without you?" he said. "Your skills rival any diplomat."
"You taught me well."
He chuckled and waved then shut the door.
"It's good to see that the two of you are getting along," she said, walking toward Merlin to kiss his cheek. "He's grown quite fond of you. Has he granted you permission to court me yet?"
"No," he replied, sighing good-naturedly. "When I started to talk about you, he completely took over the conversation, and I could hardly get a word in after that."
"Father loves to talk," she stated, smiling.
"So I see," he quipped. "I'll ask him tonight."
In the evening, Eilise walked to the banquet hall with Mithian .
"In the years we have known each other I have rarely seen you express such worry toward anything," Eilise said. "Your Merlin must be very special."
"He is," she said softly.
"I'm glad for you," her friend replied. "I have only spoken to him a few times but he seems lovely."
When the two young women entered the room, King Rodor looked grim as he held a small parchment, and Merlin appeared troubled as he stood near by. Mithian`s heart sank, and she felt her hopes shatter all around her.