A/N: Thank you for your wonderful support on this and all of my stories xxx I promise that the next one won't have anywhere near as much angst! :(
Chapter 20: No More Secrets
(Set before and during Series 5)
Merlin emerged from the concealed cave entrance and increased his pace – head down, determined not to look back. Willing himself to keep walking and to not turn around. Not to be tempted to extend the experience of the past few days or dwell on the guilty joy of the time he'd spent with Morgana.
During that last week, she had almost been the same as the girl he'd first fallen for. A little more withdrawn perhaps, a little less vibrant, but content nonetheless, in a way Merlin had not seen for very many years.
But, if he loved her, he needed to let her go. He knew that she would only be truly happy once she was far away from Camelot and its painful memories and, despite her initial reluctance, Merlin found that he did believe her when she promised she would start anew. Especially when she was able to recall that time, years before, when she had decided to make a fresh start and seek out the druids for herself.
Merlin had left the effigy behind, still under her bed, but had not renewed the enchantment before he'd departed for Camelot. That meant that it was continuing to absorb Morgana's magic at the moment but that its influence would soon start to fade - especially if she decided to move away from it. Perhaps she wouldn't even realise her abilities had returned for a while and perhaps that might give her the extra peace she so desperately needed.
Yes, he decided with a sigh, he had to let her go – had to forget about her and get on with his own life, just as she needed to get on with hers. And he should feel happy about that because, despite the deception and the lies over his relationship with Morgana, it could well be the one thing that ultimately saved her. Not only that but, if she really did leave Camelot as she had promised, then Arthur and Gwen could continue their reign without her interference and, if they didn't have to constantly battle Morgana, they could focus on other matters; making life better for the citizens, forming alliances with their neighbours. Simply running a peaceful and prosperous kingdom.
And maybe, if Arthur wasn't being constantly reminded about the evils that magic could wrought, then the king would have the opportunity to become more open about the practice. Merlin was confident that Arthur would not be sending out parties after the druids just for the sake of it, or execute a random citizen who had been caught using magic to heal a sick relative as Uther had done. He may not be ready to lift the ban quite yet, but the young sorcerer was fairly certain that, as long as those with magic didn't openly attack him, Arthur would not go purposefully looking for a fight.
As he made his way back home, Merlin decided not to call Aithusa to him at this time. The little dragon had not been happy about the orders she'd received recently and probably needed some time to come to terms with the fact that he had that sort of power over her. He felt no urgent need to summon Kilgharrah either – all that would do was provoke questions that he was not yet prepared to answer.
No, it was best if he simply went back to his life as Merlin – the king's clumsy, useless servant – and distance himself even further from everything to do with his magic. If Morgana wasn't attacking, if things were peaceful and quiet here from now on, then there would be no need anyway. He was long over the childish desire to risk his cover for the sake of a few moments of light-hearted fun. No, he would continue to study in secret, of course – continue to hone his skill in case it was suddenly needed but, other than that, he would put it all to one side – Morgana and his magic.
All his secrets.
It was Merlin's turn for the dreams now.
His nights had never been as bad as Morgana's, of course, but that didn't mean to say that he hadn't occasionally been troubled by nightmares and strange visions during his young life. Now he found that he often woke in the night, sweating and fearful, with a desperate, inexplicable urge to light a candle. Usually he would conjure a large ball of light instead – a small sun in his room.
For some reason, it always made him think of Aithusa.
His chambers were the only place Merlin allowed himself to use magic now and he had not only improved his current hiding places but had created numerous new spells to protect his space and his precious secret. When practising he would put a seal on the entrance to his room which meant no one could enter or even peek through the gaps in the door. When he had to leave he'd put a special concealment charm on the space which meant that Arthur himself could come and search every inch of the chambers but still wouldn't find anything incriminating.
So, Merlin was no longer fearful of his gift or of discovery and wasn't scared for his life either, knowing he could easily escape if captured. No, the only reason he kept his magic a secret now was for Arthur's sake. Yes, he could tell his friend exactly who and what he was, but he absolutely could not risk the possibility of being banished or having to run away. He could not protect Arthur if he wasn't here.
He still thought of Morgana often, and usually those memories were pleasant, especially when he allowed himself the rare luxury of fully recalling their passionate times together in the privacy of his own bed at night but, other than that, Merlin found that he was able to put her to the back of his mind for most of the time – simply hoping she was well and quite determined not to use his powers to seek her out in any way.
And, it seemed that she had kept her promise too. Four years had passed and there was no word of her and, even better, no significant attacks on Arthur or Camelot. Most sorcerers had had a grudge against Uther not his son, and so thankfully, everything was quiet. All of which meant that Merlin barely stepped out of Camelot nowadays, unless it was to collect herbs or go hunting with Arthur. He used this 'spare' time to increase his medical studies, more than aware that Gaius would not be able to continue his role as a physician forever and that there was no-one else qualified enough to take over. In those few peaceful years, Merlin committed himself heart and soul to Camelot. Not just to Arthur but also to Gwen, to the knights, Gaius and the health of the whole community. Morgana and the dragons were now part of his past, he felt. No need to risk their lives on a selfish whim in order to discover how they were faring.
Merlin supposed it was inevitable that peace would not last. Almost five years after he had left Morgana, news of disturbances in the north started to emerge - although reports were initially sketchy. Arthur had formed a number of alliances in recent years and many of those new friends were getting nervous about the reports of Saxons on the move. Merlin noticed Arthur suddenly become more animated, an unusual excitement erupting deep inside the man, despite his serious countenance. The warlock realised with a strange dread that, whilst he had been savouring this wonderful time of peace, Arthur had seemed less well equipped to deal with it. It was something that he had not been fully aware of until now – until Arthur was suddenly required to revert back to what he was born to be; the king who was also a knight.
"We know Gwaine and his men crossed the pass, here, at Isulfor," Elyan said during a privy council meeting. "But beyond that, there was no trace. The trail went cold." Gwen's brother was here with the King and Queen, Gaius and Leon, whilst Merlin stood by the door – still playing his part as a servant here – despite Arthur seeking his advice more and more as the years progressed.
"What of this story that the fortress of Ismere has been occupied once more?" the king asked.
"I heard many rumours, Sire. All of them had one name in common..." A sudden, strange dread gripped Merlin, even before Elyan had uttered the next word. "Morgana."
The world spun, and he could hear the blood beating through his veins, pounding loudly in his ears. He didn't want to believe it, part of him couldn't believe it.
She had promised. She had said she would not make trouble for Arthur if he did not attack sorcerers and … he hadn't. Merlin could look back on the last five years and say with absolute certainty that the king hadn't once caused harm to a sorcerer unless some other crime had been committed. Well, not unless you counted the various objects that he still tended to hurl at his servant from time to time.
"Why, Morgana? Why did you break your promise to me?"
Merlin had no idea why he had not recognised her when she was disguised as Hilda. Perhaps the years of peace had made him lose his touch. Perhaps he'd been too effective at trying to block all thoughts of the Morgana he'd once known from his head and his heart but, whatever the reason, he had not been aware of that pull he'd always seemed to have experienced when he'd been around her before – he hadn't even sensed her magic. Was she now so powerful that she could somehow stay disguised as he so often did? Or was it something else.
As Merlin saw Mithian's message on the stone by the river, all his recent concerns had become suddenly obvious and, when he was attacked by Morgana, he began to understand something else. As she came forward, hand outstretched - strangling him - he realised that there was no hesitation, no doubt at all. Previously they had both often paused when attacking the other, as if there had been some strange restraint holding them back – their emotions getting in the way perhaps?
There was none of that doubt here though. She wanted to kill him and as he began to lose consciousness, Merlin began to suspect that the reason he hadn't sensed Morgana's presence before was that she wasn't really there any more. He felt such a cold dread at that thought, that he was almost relieved when darkness overcame him.
There were a few other brief encounters with his former lover during that year and each meeting just confirmed Merlin's previous impression. Morgana had now completely lost her mind. He had seen hints of that madness in the past, of course, but their time together by the lake had appeared to have cured most of her malady. As Gaius had often said, treating the mind was generally far harder than treating the body, but Merlin's recent studies had confirmed that Morgana had been getting better.
So, what had happened to Morgana after he had left her? Because something must have, he was certain. This was not the same woman he had made love to five years ago, it wasn't even the same sorceress he'd fought with in the years before that. Now each time, Morgana saw him, she went for the kill – instantly - as if all her focus was on his death. Try as he might, Merlin could not see what he had done in recent years to have deserved that amount of focused hate.
He could not afford to be sentimental about this. About her. He could not afford to be distracted by anyone. This was all about Arthur and his destiny. He was sworn to protect the king and he would do everything – anything - to achieve that and, during the next few weeks, that was exactly what Merlin did, even putting Arthur's destiny before his beloved magic.
There would be time to worry about Morgana later, but at the moment he had to deal with Mordred. For now it was only Arthur and Camelot that mattered to him. Nothing else.
Not any more.
And, anyway, what sort of magic did Merlin want returned to this land? Not Morgana's type, certainly, and most definitely not the Disirs'. He would have had respect for those old women in the past, but for them to ask Arthur to submit to their version of the goddess? He suddenly recalled Sigan's words then, 'He will bow before you' and Merlin shuddered at the memory. He had not wished for that nine years ago and didn't believe that anyone should demand it of Arthur now.
Magic should not be the slave of kings, but neither should kings be the slaves of magic. Even in hindsight, even knowing that his decision had caused Mordred to live, part of Merlin felt relieved that Camelot had not been subjected to that sort of future – that sort of magic. How could Albion truly be at peace if ruled by such a cruel mistress?
And truly, honestly, had he any choice? Was not this fate foretold? Wasn't Camlann always destined to happen?
The power Merlin now wielded was like nothing he'd ever felt before. The crystal visions were now subject to his will rather than the other way around. He could see anything he wanted, every time, every future and he thought, perhaps, he could see one last way out of this.
When he arrived at Camlaan as the old man – Emrys now, not Dragoon, he realised - Arthur was most definitely alive but Morgana was attacking hard. Merlin had recently feared her power had risen to match his but, no longer - not after his time in the Crystal Cave. He rained down lightening on the enemy, thwarted Aithusa's attack and threw Morgana from where she stood, preventing her further attack on the king. He was sure he'd seen Mordred fall too and, after all of that, Arthur was able to rally his troops, pushing them forward, now quite certain of victory whilst Merlin hurriedly made his way down himself, desperate to ensure that all was well.
He walked the field of Camlann – strewn with bodies – searching, fearing – a strange dread in his heart despite their apparent victory.
And then he saw her, lying where he had thrown her off the cliff, still alive, holding a hand out to him, the madness temporarily gone from her eyes.
"Help me, Emrys, please."
"Is this really what you wanted, Morgana?" he asked, his voice quavering.
"I want revenge on all who harmed me. On you." She knew who he was now, of course, but still she addressed him as Emrys.
"What happened to you, Morgana? I don't understand." For the first time ever, he spoke to her in his mind – Merlin to the lady Morgana – whilst Emrys and the sorceress Morgana continued to exchange threats out loud.
"You know very well what happened, Merlin. Seeing it was you that sealed my fate."
"I don't understand."
"You ran to Arthur, who ran to Sarrum. Why could you not just leave me be?"
"What happened?" His thought was suddenly more gentle.
She shook her head then, the madness returning to her eyes and he felt her shut him out of his mind. "Do not play the innocent with me, Emrys. I know you told them where I was, I know you told them I was weakened. Two long years I suffered because of you. Two long years in a dark pit, trapped with Aithusa."
"Nothing but darkness, and hunger and pain. All because you could not keep your promises."
"I told no-one, Morgana. You should know by now how good I am at keeping secrets."
She laughed bitterly at that. "It is of little importance. I have given Mordred the means to kill Arthur as well as protecting him from your attack earlier. Perhaps I can no longer kill you, Emrys but I can achieve the next best thing. I can kill my brother and take my throne back."
"Arthur!" Merlin cried, and he turned away from her quickly, fear gripping him, continuing his search for his king.
Perhaps it all was fated. When he'd tried to bring about Mordred's death he had failed. When he'd tried to help Morgana he had failed. Even when he tried to save Arthur he had failed.
Or, had he?
One more chance. One more journey in order to save his king, his brother, his friend. And a chance, at long last to tell the man his biggest secret. One burden released, at least.
But time was running out and Morgana had not yet given up. Again she attacked and this time there were no choices left to him, and no time for distraction or sentimentality to get in the way.
"What a joy it is to see you, Arthur," she said, having thrown Merlin to one side yet again. "Look at you, not so tall and mighty now. You may have won the battle, but you've lost the war. You're going to die by Mordred's hand. But don't worry, my dear brother, I won't let you die alone. I will stay and watch over you, until the wolves gorge on your carcass and bath in your blood."
Merlin stood slowly behind her, drawing Arthur's sword quietly, knowing what he had to do but still wanting to find a way out.
"No, the time for all this blood shed is over. I blame myself for what you've become … but this has to end." At the same time, Merlin spoke to her in his mind, "Please, Morgana – one last chance. Help me to save him."
"I am a High Priestess. No mortal blade can kill me." - "Arthur is dead to me, as are you. The Merlin I loved died with me in the council chambers seven years ago."
And in many ways she was correct, he realised with sudden clarity, and she was certainly lost to him even more than he was to her. There was now far less of his Morgana within this body than there had been of Gwen when she had been recently enchanted, and seeing the madness in her eyes actually made it all the easier to plunge Arthur's sword into her belly – a mercy, in so many ways. A release.
"This is no mortal blade. Like yours, it was forged in a dragon's breath." And, just as before in those council chambers, Merlin held her as she died and she clung on to him as desperately as she had before. There was surprise on her face as she sunk to the ground but also, he felt, a certain amount of relief.
"I always loved you, Morgana. I'm sorry I could not save you."
"My doom in this life," she replied, her thought no more than a whisper. "But my destiny in the next."
"Then I shall see you there," he said as the light faded from her eyes. "Rest in peace, my lady, my love, my kin."