Merlin, or the sorcerer known as Emrys, watched as the prisoner guards advanced. He looked at the boy who was bound and being held between two grumbling knights. A lot of them were disgruntled at the "punishment" that had been agreed to by the King. He didn't blame them. Any man who had betrayed the kingdom the way Mordred had done would certainly deserve death. However, the circumstances here were complicated. The men couldn't understand Arthur's compassion to not only a traitor, but a traitor who practiced sorcery. What the men hadn't known, was that Arthur felt he had failed Mordred, and the fact that sorcery was involved made the situation even that more delicate. What Arthur hadn't known or realized, was that Merlin also partially blamed himself as well, for driving Mordred away and into Morgana's clutches.
They had discussed and debated for almost 2 hours, but it had felt longer. As a misguided boy, Mordred wasn't much of a threat and most of the group Arthur had assembled, thought banishment preferable to death. Although, there were a couple in the group who had been adamant that executing the boy was the only option. Merlin, as Emrys, had been adamant the other way, going as far as to threaten taking Mordred away himself if death was the final decision. Arthur had had to work hard to bring everyone back to amiable terms after that. Arthur knew that a lot of his knights and others still did not trust the old sorcerer, and deep down Arthur still wasn't willing to completely trust him yet either. However as the old sorcerer, Merlin had gained some leverage over the young King and everyone else when he saved their collective backsides.
The problem, even with banishment, was the fact that Mordred was a sorcerer, who had knowingly and willingly conspired with enemies of Camelot, namely Morgana. There was the possibility that, even unwillingly, he could be used again by their enemies. Merlin personally would have preferred not to let the boy out of his sight, but he could not risk bringing him back to Camelot. And of course, Merlin couldn't abandon Arthur. Then Gaius had suggested something that had silenced the room. The Druids. Mordred had been raised by them, and maybe his fate should be decided by them.
That wasn't received too well by most of the room, but it had got Merlin thinking, and had led, to what he thought, was a brilliant decision. Arthur had perked up when Gaius and 'Emrys' had presented him with what they thought was the best solution.
As he looked at the boy now, the hatred that had filled him a few hours ago was gone, but he still had a nagging in the back of his head. Mordred had opened his thoughts and mind to Merlin. When he spoke, Merlin knew that his words were sincere.
Despite the fact that his life was being spared, the boy looked miserable. Merlin sent a comforting thought towards Mordred, and the boy looked at him, then bowed his head.
'Thank you for compassion, my lord. I promise I will not fail your trust again.'
Merlin snorted, he couldn't help himself, then immediately regretted it when he saw the wounded look on Mordred's face. 'I am sorry, but it will take some time for me to trust you.'
Mordred simply nodded in acknowledgment. Merlin once again saw the young boy that Mordred had been when he had first become a knight of Camelot.
It would be a day before Iseldir would arrive to retrieve Mordred, and Merlin was grateful that the Druid leader had agreed to take him, and give him another chance. Iseldir's presence in the camp would also be an opportunity to re-address Camelot's relationship with the magic users. Merlin hoped it would be a first step towards true peace between Camelot and those who practiced magic. Merlin's spirit lifted as he watched Mordred and the guards walk away.
As he turned, his good mood was crushed by the sight of Percival walking towards him purposefully. His demeanor was stiff and menacing. Merlin pretended to not see him and walked sharply to his left. However Percival matched and intercepted him. Merlin gave him his best grumpy old man "hmph" and tried once more to get around the large knight.
"The King," Percival stressed. "Would like a word."
"Well I'm rather busy. Another time, perhaps."
"No." Percival said sternly and drew his sword. "Now."
Merlin silently cursed his 80yr old body. There was no way that he could avoid and escape the knight, unless he used magic on him, and considering the current situation and tensions, Merlin knew that would be unwise. Merlin glared at the knight, showing his disdain, but Percival's expression never wavered.
Arthur paced in the tent. Gwaine had come back from the medical tent without Merlin. Said that Gaius had sent him to gather more supplies. Where Arthur was frustrated and annoyed before, Merlin's absence made him angry. He wanted answers, and it seemed like the universe was determined to keep him in the dark. So he sent Percival out to find the old sorcerer. He wanted Gaius there as well, but since apparently Merlin was gone, and Gwen was in the tent with them, Arthur didn't feel right taking Gaius away from his duties when there were so many still in need of medical attention. But he would need to talk to Gaius eventually.
His ears were suddenly assailed by a familiar grumbling, that surprisingly brightened his mood. The presence of the sorcerer himself, didn't make Arthur happy, it was the fact that he obviously was unhappy about being summoned, but yet he complied with the King's demand. Arthur stood up straight and tried to mask his amusement as the old man flung the curtain aside and entered the room.
Emrys walked awkwardly towards Arthur and stopped in the middle of the room, glaring at the King. Percival and Gwaine stood by the door and Leon moved just off to the left of the Arthur. All the knights were on edge around the sorcerer. While it seemed that Arthur had become more comfortable, the three of them remained wary. After about 30 seconds of silence, Emrys's patience wore out.
"Well?" He demanded, leaning on his staff.
Arthur moved back to the makeshift throne and sat down next to Guinevere. "I think the time has come for you to explain yourself."
"And why would you think that?"
"Let us not pretend anymore shall we? We all know you have been hiding out in Camelot, you said so yourself." The old man moved to speak but Arthur held up a hand and continued. "We also have reason to believe that Merlin and Gaius have been helping you, somehow. We know about the Crystal cave. Mordred said that Morgana had trapped you there, and Gwaine told me that he took and left Merlin there."
There was silence from the sorcerer, so Arthur continued. "I had wondered at why, why my most trusted servant, and friend would leave me. After all we'd been through, all the battles and dangers, that he would abandon me, and Camelot in it's greatest time of need." A sad and pained expression formed on the old sorcerer's face, almost one of guilt, and Arthur noted it. Confirming to himself that his assumptions were correct.
"Now, again when his assistance is highly needed in the medical tent, he is gone. And Gaius is covering for him. So tell me. What errand did you send him off on and how did you gain his loyalty?"
The two stared at each other. There was determination and anger in Arthur's eyes. Amusement, with a hint of guilt and tiredness in the Sorcerer's.
"So you think you have it all figured out do you?" Before Arthur could reply he continued. "Well you are wrong." The old man began to pace slightly, and didn't look at the king as he spoke. "You are right about one thing however." With that he looked to Arthur. "I have been in Camelot, for years, protecting it, and you."
"Why? And how did you recruit Gaius and Merlin?"
Emrys shook his head. "Do you remember the first time we met?"
Arthur's anger returned at the memory. "Yes. You were try to cast a love spell on me and Guinevere was almost executed because of your little trick."
Emrys snorted. "No you dollop-head, Gwen wasn't executed because of my "little trick," as you call it."
"What do you mean?"
"You caught me "planting" a second poultice." He put one hand on his hip. "Do you really think, you could have caught me if I hadn't wanted you to?"
Arthur stammered, but Emrys continued. "Morgana planted the first poultice, then led Uther to your secret little rendezvous in the woods, in order to frame Guinevere."
Any protest died on Arthur's lips. At the time the idea that Morgana would have been responsible would have been unthinkable, but now, knowing what they did, sadly it made sense.
"Your father needed a sorcerer to blame, for your affections towards Gwen. So I gave him one."
"You let yourself be captured and almost executed just to save me?" Guinevere spoke up timidly.
The old man turned to face her and his expression softened. "Of course, my lady." He dropped his head bowing slightly. Guinevere's eyes met Arthur's and he grabbed her hand. He looked back at the old man. "Well, it would seem that we owe you an even bigger debt of gratititude."
"Think nothing of it." He met their eyes. "I would do anything to save my friends."
Everyone in the room was speechless and didn't know how to respond. It was awkward thinking that he considered them friends, when they obviously didn't know each other.
"So back to my original question? Which obviously you do remember. You said that I looked familiar. Do you remember that?" Arthur nodded. It wasn't just that first time, even now there was something he couldn't quite put his finger on.
"So you're saying that we know each other, but you've been disguising yourself as someone else." This was a thought that had occurred to Arthur earlier. A disguise was the only plausible way the old man could have remained hidden from him.
"Actually," he sighed heavily. "This is the disguise. For years I was able to watch protect you and Camelot without being seen, but that incident required me to create this persona."
Arthur stared hard trying to see the familiar among the white hair and wrinkles. He didn't notice that Gwaine, intrqued by the dialouge had moved around to face the old man. The movement caught the sorcerer's attention and he gave the knight a goofy grin. It took him a second, but suddenly all the pieces fit together, and he was completely stunned at the answer that swirled in his brain. 'No' he thought. 'It can't be.'
The knight's realization and disbelief must have been evident on his face because Emrys chuckled. He looked at Arthur with a more serious expression.
"Enough games," Arthur said sternly.
The old man bowed his head. "Yes of course, you're right. You cannot imagine how painful it has been for me, keeping this secret from you. I only pray that you can understand."
He reached into his robes and pulled out a vile. Arthur made to move, but the old man quickly swallowed the potion. Arthur watched in fearful anticipation as his physical appearance began to change. As the visage of an old man disappeared and another took shape, Arthur found himself filled with conflicting emotions.
He didn't know what to think or say as he met a pair of very familiar eyes.
Well folks, that's all she wrote, or will write. I know, I know..."How can I leave it there!" But this story was never really about Merlin revealing himself. It was always supposed to be short, and I feel that's a good place to leave it. I'm leaving the next part up to the imagination. Thanks for all your wonderful comments and reviews.