Guinevere did not take kindly to his suggestion that she retire to her chambers.
"I'm rather used to being up early, Arthur," she reminded him. "In case you've forgotten, I was once a lowly serving girl."
"You were never lowly," Arthur said immediately. "Not to me, anyway."
That got a smile from Gwen. "I was, once," she countered, "and you know that as well as I." Her expression stiffened, and she added, "Now, don't try changing the subject again."
Arthur sighed and slumped in his throne. The guards stood their posts outside the heavy wooden doors, and he was alone with Guinevere. He didn't need to put on any show for her. He had never needed to, though that's not to say he hadn't before he'd realized she could see right through him.
Gwen sat in her own throne and took his hand. "What are you going to do?" she asked quietly.
Arthur pulled a face. "I think," he answered at length, "that if you'll not go back to bed, I'll have Merlin straighten it."
"You know very well what I mean," Gwen said shortly. "What are you going to do about the boy?"
He didn't know. He was fairly certain she knew that, too. The boy was a Druid. He had, in all likelihood, used magic to get as far into the citadel as he had. He was a sorcerer, and he should be executed for it.
"I don't know," Arthur responded.
"He's just a child."
"You're not your father."
"You can't have him killed."
Arthur squeezed his eyes shut. "It's the law."
"You're the king."
Arthur looked over at his clever wife and smiled. "And you're my queen."
"And I'm not about to let you try changing the subject again. He's a child. He's no threat."
No, he wasn't. Not yet, anyway.
"You're a good man, Arthur," Gwen said earnestly, "and the Druids are a peaceful people. You've said so yourself in the past. They've no direct quarrel with you, even if they are not entirely happy with how you rule. Your opposing views of magic are no reason not to show compassion. There's strength in it. You'll show that you are willing to acknowledge the fact that there are good people out there and that you won't let your differences blind you to that knowledge."
Arthur knew what Guinevere did not say: You would show them that you are not Uther. You would show them that you are the man I know you to be.
She was right, of course. But the law was the law. He couldn't change it, not right now, and he couldn't ignore it without good reason. But a child was a child, and he was not going to take the child's life.
Besides, the boy was confused and, undoubtedly, misled. If this Emrys he sought was indeed a sorcerer like Arthur suspected him to be, there was certainly no reason for him to be in the heart of Camelot. Something like that would not have gone unnoticed. He may not be privy to idle gossip within the castle walls, but Gwen was still good friends with some servants, and she heard more than he what the people chattered on about behind his back.
And if Morgana believed that this Emrys had saved him before and would, if he were in danger, try to do so again, then if he were within the walls of the citadel—even living among the people in the lower town that surrounded it—he must have been there for some time. Arthur, for his part, highly doubted that a sorcerer could go unmarked for so long, particularly if he had ever gotten close enough to the king to practice magic to save his life.
That was a rather unnerving thought, really. He appreciated that someone would save his life, even if it had to be by magic, but he wasn't keen on the idea of a sorcerer being able to get close enough to him to be able to do so. What if his intentions were not entirely noble? What if he was waiting for the right moment to abuse his position and set things in his favour?
Arthur dearly hoped that notion was a ridiculous one. He knew that Gaius had once practiced sorcery. He'd turned from it in accordance to Camelot's laws, of course, but Arthur could not picture Gaius ever committing truly evil acts with magic. He was Gaius.
Of course, by that consequence, Arthur would have never thought that Morgana would ever turn out the way she had, either. They'd been friends, once, but that time had long since passed.
Arthur's brow furrowed as he realized something. He had knowingly brought a sorcerer within the castle walls before. The old man who had, he'd believed, killed his father. He'd never hunted him down for it, but he'd never forgotten it, either. Gaius had later informed him that the sorcerer had done all he could, that Uther Pendragon had been too close to death for even magic to bring back, and Arthur, trusting in Gaius's words, had accepted the fact. But he still hadn't forgiven the sorcerer, however unfair that might seem to be.
He also did not particularly trust that old man, especially since he had, in Uther's time, admitted to sorcery and almost burned for it, though now that Arthur thought about it, the old man had done him a favour. Guinevere had certainly not bewitched him as she'd been accused. They'd simply fallen in love.
So why would he bother with the show of hiding magic poultices—?
Arthur sat up abruptly, eyes widening in realization.
Gwen smiled at him. "Have you decided?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I need to talk to Gaius," he said. Gaius would know. Gaius knew, well, nearly everything of this sort, and he was the one who had directed Arthur to the old man in the first place. Arthur couldn't remember now what the old man had called himself when he'd first been caught and sentenced to death for sorcery, but he was absolutely certain the name had been made up on the spot.
Perhaps the old man had done more for him than pretend to enchant him and Gwen. Perhaps he had not failed to save Arthur as he had failed to save Uther. Perhaps this man was the Emrys Morgana had alluded to, the sorcerer the Druid boy sought.
It still didn't explain why the boy thought Emrys could be found in the castle, of all places, but perhaps he had simply formed that notion after hearing, though a grapevine that Arthur was not privy to, that Emrys had saved Camelot's king.
It was a possibility, at any rate, and one Arthur was not willing to ignore.
The boy shivered in his cell, wrapping his cloak—his father's cloak, he forced himself to admit—tighter around himself. The court physician had been kind to him, had gone so far as to offer him something to calm his nerves, but the remedy sat untouched by the cell door. The boy hadn't dared drink it. He still felt too ill to drink anything.
He'd been caught.
He wasn't meant to be caught.
He hadn't even been able to pass the note to Emrys. He couldn't now, even if he'd wanted to. He'd lost it in the scuffle, when he'd been trying to evade the guards and more men had caught him by surprise. He'd never thought he'd part with it, even if someone were trying to pry it from his fingers, but…. He'd lost it. Dropped it, more likely than not. He'd promised his mother he would deliver it, but he'd failed.
He wasn't sure he could remember to tell Emrys everything, but he had to try.
That was his only comfort, really. Emrys was here. Emrys would help him. He'd promised.
So why wasn't he coming? Why wasn't he even answering? He'd answered before.
The boy huddled in one corner, arms wrapped tightly around his knees. He hadn't known, entirely, why his family had been sent here. They were the only ones who had come, breaking off from the others for this very purpose. He remembered hearing his parents speak in low voices, heads bent close together, lips moving only enough to murmur words he couldn't make out. He'd caught glimpses of furious, betrayed looks, looks that always changed immediately to sorrow whenever they noticed his gaze, looks that always changed again to smiles that were too bright to be truly genuine.
He suspected they had gone because of his father's position and, moreover, because the Elders had decreed it. The Once and Future King was on Camelot's throne, and the time of Once was now, and, slowly, what had been foretold was coming to pass. But though it was a time of tentative peace, all the kingdoms of the land were not yet united. And, more importantly, magic was still not accepted.
His people were still hunted.
That's what he'd thought it had been, at first, when he'd woken to the screams. But they had not been set upon by the king's men, for all that they were in Camelot. It had been others. They do it for greed, his mother had whispered. You mustn't let them catch you.
He'd known what that meant: if he were caught, he would not be spared.
He didn't understand that, either. He didn't understand how people could be driven to do such things by greed. He didn't understand greed itself. He certainly hadn't had the time to try to understand it then, in the midst of seeing it at work, so he'd done as his mother had asked: he'd taken his sister, and they'd run, and they'd hidden.
They hadn't hidden together, not finding a suitable place for the two of them, so they'd split up, keeping near enough that they would, if they'd dared to look, be able to see the hiding place of the other. He'd thought their escape had gone unmarked by the greed-driven men; his father had been defending his family, distracting them. His mother….
He hadn't known, exactly, what his mother had been doing after she'd sent them off. He couldn't see, and he hadn't risked lifting his head to look. He'd just listened, taking comfort in his father's strong voice and waiting to hear his mother quietly tell him it was safe, that he could return.
But then he'd heard…. Then it had all….
Keep quiet, his mother had ordered sternly, even as he could hear her screaming his father's name. So he had. Even as he'd heard her wails dissolve into choking tears. Even as he'd heard the voices of their attackers—the ones who remained standing, at least—murmuring about unthinkable things. Even as he'd heard his sister's breath hitch in her throat, despite their mother's warning. Even as he'd realized he hadn't been the only one to hear it.
The boy squeezed his eyes shut, but he could not block out what he'd heard, nor the pieces of what he'd seen.
His mother had asked only this one thing of him, in the end. To get Emrys. They needed his help. He hadn't wanted to leave her, not as she was, even knowing he himself could do little for her, but she'd found the strength to write the note and press it into his hand. Tell Emrys, she'd said. He'll help us.
But he'd failed. Emrys had promised his help, but it would come too late.
The boy's shoulders hunched, and he cried.
Sir Leon held his torch high, letting it cast its light in a dim circle around him. Arthur had not commanded any of them to do it, but he had been able to read the expression on the king's face as he'd looked at the Druid boy in the throne room as easily as the next person. Answers were needed. This was one way that they might get them.
It had been easy enough to find out where the boy had been captured, but that never had been the trouble. The trouble was that he was currently on a self-instructed search for clues to ease the king's mind, and he had absolutely no idea if he would find anything. It wasn't so much that he thought he might miss it, whatever it may be, but that he hadn't quite managed to convince himself that he was likely to find something in the first place.
Of course, he hadn't convinced himself that he wasn't likely to find anything, and that was why he was now searching for something, anything, that might give them some answers.
Like the king, Leon had never heard of anyone called Emrys, and he had no idea why the boy would search for him here. He had even less idea why the Druid boy would risk his life to find the man when he was clearly searching in places where he might never find what he was looking for. Of course, that wasn't far off what Leon himself was now doing, but this search, at least, was a simple thing that posed no risk to him. The boy had been looking in a place where he knew he was not welcome.
It suggested, though Leon was not entirely comfortable with the idea, that the boy was confident he would find Emrys here. The unsettling part of that concept was, again, that Leon had never heard of Emrys, and he had thought, until now, that he could name everyone who worked within the castle's walls. The number was great, certainly, but he had been here a long time, and though he was from a noble family, he had no trouble associating with those who were not.
Besides, he liked knowing the people who surrounded him. It had made it easier to trust them, in the beginning, and now it gave him all the more reason to fight fiercely for them. For them, for the king, and for the rest of Camelot.
But a knight's work did not always involve battles, and a friend was not above doing what someone else did not have the time for.
"You find anything yet?" Gwaine called.
"We've hardly started looking, haven't we?" Percival countered.
Leon smiled. All the knights who were out here now had come out of friendship, not duty. Granted, the fact that they were all very much awake after the warning bell had rung tended to help matters, but even those who were due to ride out on patrol had felt helping the king, even in what was quite possibly a fruitless search, was better than catching a few more minutes of sleep.
Besides, the boy's presence had unsettled all of them, and multiple sets of eyes ensured that anything that could be spotted would be found.
"Hold up," Leon called not a quarter hour later. "I might have something here." He'd first thought that it was a scrap of parchment but very quickly saw that it wasn't parchment at all but rather a piece of bark—birch, if he wasn't mistaken.
"It's a note," Percival observed from over Leon's shoulder.
Gwaine took it and squinted at it. "Bloody awful handwriting if you ask me. I can't make sense of this."
"You can't make sense of anything," Elyan teased, "unless you've been at the ale first."
"Regardless," Leon said, taking the note back, "it may well be of importance." He pointed at one word that was legible in the scrawl. Emrys. "I'll inform the king."
"Your theory may well be right, sire," Gaius said carefully in the tone he always used with Arthur when things of this nature came up, "but I'm afraid I cannot say for certain." Arthur had told him of his suspicions that the name Merlin had first given himself as the older sorcerer was false and Gaius saw no need to deny it. Merlin had already told him that Morgana believed his older self to be Emrys. If Arthur began drawing the same conclusions, it could well be beneficial to them in the future.
It might save Merlin some hours of explaining, at the very least.
Arthur gave him a sceptical look. "You're telling me you knew where he lived and you don't know his name?"
A smile twitched at the corners of Gaius's lips, for he knew both, far better than Arthur believed him to, but he held it back. Now was not the time. "Indeed. I can only relay what I am told."
"It's just a name, Gaius," Arthur complained. "Half the castle would recognize his face if he showed it here again; what's so important about his name? His true name?"
Gaius allowed the smile to show itself this time. "For some, names hold power. You have made use of anonymity in the past yourself. A name may be recognized where the face is not, and a name can be unwittingly passed along in idle chatter to ill-receiving ears."
Arthur frowned. "Are you just protecting him again? Gaius, I admire your loyalty, but this is not the time."
"I can assure you, sire, that I have not heard from the lips of the aged man himself that he is called Emrys." Merlin had told him that he was called Emrys with quite younger lips than that.
Arthur's frown deepened. "Have you heard it from others, then?"
"I find it best not to put too much stock into speculation bred by gossip," Gaius replied slowly. Knowing Arthur would not be satisfied with this answer, he continued, "However, I do believe that the Druids have foretold of a powerful sorcerer by that name."
"A powerful sorcerer," Arthur repeated flatly. "And the boy was looking for him here?"
"He is spoken of with reverence, sire," Gaius said quietly. "It is believed that Emrys will bring about the time of Albion. He will unite the powers of the Old World and the New. He is said to be the greatest sorcerer who has ever lived."
Arthur snorted. "And he's in Camelot, where sorcery is outlawed."
"The boy believes so."
Something in Gaius's tone seemed to have unsettled Arthur. "And do you?" he asked at length.
"It is certainly possible," Gaius conceded, "particularly if Emrys is who you believe him to be."
There was a beat of silence, then, "But I went back to that cabin, Gaius, after Father—" Arthur broke off, then continued, quietly, "I don't think he lives there."
"He may very well not live there now," Gaius pointed out. "It would have been unwise for him to remain in that place when he was unable to fulfill your request if he feared that you might seek him out again, particularly if he suspected you sought vengeance. If you'll allow me to say so, sire, I am heartened that you did not." It meant a number of things, from the fact that Arthur trusted Gaius's words and his skilled eye as a physician to the possibility that Arthur may be realizing that not all magic is ill-used, for all that it could not solve all of one's problems.
Arthur looked at him for a moment, and then said, "I think Morgana fears him."
Gaius's eyebrows rose in surprise; he was not aware that Arthur knew enough to draw any connection between Emrys and Morgana. This news certainly explained how Arthur had made the leap from the name Emrys to that of the sorcerer he'd asked to cure his father.
"The last time I saw her," Arthur continued, "she said that even Emrys could not save me. She thinks he's saved me before."
"You have had many close calls, sire."
Arthur swallowed. "I know. And you…you even told me that there were people looking out for me. That you hoped the day would come when I would see just how much some people do for me. Is this what you meant, Gaius?"
It was, but it wouldn't do for him to admit that so plainly. Before he could come up with the proper response, however, there was a knock at the door and Sir Leon looked in. "Forgive me for interrupting you, my lord, Gaius," he said, looking to each in turn, "but this note was found in the courtyard."
Arthur took the proffered note and frowned at it for a moment, walking closer to the candlelight to see it better as Sir Leon took his leave. "I could write better if I were riding on the back of a horse," he complained. But he didn't surrender the note or ask for Gaius's opinion on any of the more illegible words, and after a few long moments of careful studying, he announced, "I'm going to go see the boy."
"If I may suggest, sire," Gaius called as Arthur stormed towards the door, "take Merlin with you."
Arthur paused in the doorway. "Whatever for?" he asked, looking as bewildered as he sounded.
The answer Gaius gave was not the whole truth, but it was a suitable answer nonetheless: "Because he is a sight less intimidating than you and any of your knights are. It would be best not to overwhelm the poor boy." In a slightly quieter voice, he added, "And I daresay Merlin has no more wish to see this situation have an unpleasant outcome than you."
The expression on Arthur's face hardened. "No," he agreed. "I doubt anyone does." And then he was gone.
A/N: Yes, yes, I remember that Merlin gave the name Dragoon the Great, but I think it's possible that Arthur does not remember. It's been a few years, after all. Besides, Merlin needs a counter argument.