Summary: Can a warlock as powerful as Emrys have only one magical parent? Hunith deliberately breaks open her meager magic abilities to save her son from the flames, and Camelot is changed.
Warnings: unbeta'd; implied torture
AN: This is just a little thought I had, that morphed into a monster.
Set early season two.
"You will be careful," Gaius asks, lines deep in his face.
"Of course I will." Hunith flashes that mischievous smile Gaius remembers on a young girl. She snatches the detailed drawing of the dungeons Gaius has made for her and moves to leave.
Gaius touches her shoulder. "You are brave to defy the king."
Hunith's face softens and Gaius can see how terrified she truly is. "I am determined," she says, "for my son." She kisses his papery cheek. "And we have defied the king before, so this is old hat." Balinor.
Gaius can't help the gnawing worry, but he forces a fond look onto his face. "What does that even mean?"
"'Old hat'?" she says over her shoulder, closing the door quietly. "I have no idea." A flash of white teeth, and she's gone.
Hunith holds her breath and throws the green stones around the corner. The stones break with a light tinkling on the stone ground at the feet of the guards. Contained in the little devils is an unscented, colorless gas of magical make that will knock out a full-grown man for nearly five hours.
She presses her headscarf over her face to prevent inadvertently allowing trace gases in. Hunith waits until she heard the sound of heavy, armored bodies hitting the ground, and strides around the corner.
I will need to thank that druid, Hunith thinks with gratitude. Those stones truly work.
Gaius had provided the dungeon's information and layout to her, where the guards were, when they shifted. The guard had just been changed and so the new shift would not be here for nearly three hours yet. Third watch.
"I wish I was young again, Hunith," Gaius had said, carefully folding the scrap of paper where he had drawn a map of the dungeon. He had sighed heavily, the aged lines in face sinking deeper. "I wish I could help more than this. And I wish everything had not happened as it has."
Hunith had kissed his cheek. "You will do more good in Camelot than with us."
"Tell him I will miss him. And not to do anything foolish, although he already has, brave boy."
The clink of a weapon around the corner shoots terror through her heart. She isn't cut out for this. She's a farm-woman, for goodness' sake. Her hands tremble on her scarf and her only weapons are stored in her apron front.
But she only has one son. And even if she had ten, she would still come for him.
There should be two more guards at the entrance of the dungeons, she reviews in her head. Perhaps a few more outside Merlin's cell. I have enough stones.
Sucking in a breath, she tosses another stone around the corner. The resulting choked cry makes her smile grimly.
Hunith had found a letter crammed in her door frame. The edges were sodden from damp and the ink was runny from haste. It was signed by Gaius, and it dragged Hunith's night terrors in broad daylight.
Merlin had been arrested for sorcery for saving the life of the Pendragon prince. He would burn in a week's time. First he would be pressed for other traitors in the caste household.
The letter had ripped in Hunith's hands.
She did not blame Gaius; the old man was likely under suspicion already for merely living with a sorcerer and could not act. But the Pendragon boy? The other side of the coin? The prince whose life had been saved? Where was that dark-haired girl, and the blacksmith's daughter?
Perhaps she was being unfair. It was, frankly, irrelevant whether these declared friends who had ridden out to save Merlin's village (yet could not save him from their own caste) saved him or not.
Because she would.
Her son is quiet and limp, and in the dim light through the bars Hunith cannot see the extent of his injuries, only that he has them. Torture. Hunith is not a violent woman, but at the moment she would butcher Uther like a pig, in the style of a farm-woman.
"Merlin, my boy," she whispers. He stirs at her voice.
"Mother," he breathes.
Hunith had learned only three spells from the druids before rushing to Camelot.
"Onlúcan." The lock breaks, and she rushes over to him, crouching on the stained straw.
"Come now, my boy, I'm here and I'll save you. I'm so proud of you. So proud." Her fingers touch his fevered face gently, curl his hair. Merlin's been drugged; his eyes cannot focus. That answers why he has not escaped before now. She picks him up and carries him out. He is larger than her, but she is strong.
The second spell is more difficult. Invisibility. It takes a lot out of her, but they can't be seen save for their shadows, which stretch out behind them like a damning arrow. They pass by unnoticed, but when they barely exit the courtyard—the alarm bells clang.
Guards rush about the streets. It's hard not to be bumped into. But no one notices their shadows, and Hunith hurries on, breath coming in little horse-like pants.
One man stops.
He is blond. His eyes are red-rimmed and he stares at the shadow—a vague image of a person, carrying another. His eyes drift up, and though he can't possibly know it, meet hers.
The prince, Hunith recognizes. The shadow shows her extending her hand.
The prince sees the motion and seems to take it as a pleading gesture. His eyes widen and his mouth opens as he takes a step forward. Her third and final spell is a last resort.
The prince collapses.
Her extended hand had been a threat. She had given the prince one chance; now was not the time for another. She does not risk her son's life on a gamble. Merlin murmurs on her shoulder.
When they are far away and the stars are bright and a druid hums low words over the wounds on her son's legs and feet, Hunith holds Merlin gently. Since a fire cannot be lit, no smoke mars the sky and stars, and the night's cold will have them sleep closer together.
It is late night when her son finally breathes out. Hunith shushes nonsense into his ear as he cries almost silently, breathlessly.
"They did not come," he sobs weakly. "They never came."
There is nothing she can do but murmur into his hair, promises and consolations. You are brave. You saved their lives. They didn't come, but I will. I will always come. I will always be here.
In the morning, they thank the druids and leave. Merlin's magic has healed his legs, and his face is strong. Her son will survive.
They find Balinor. He is everything they could ever hope for.
"Merlin," Morgana whispers. "I am so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"
Her lips are bright red and her cloak is fine. She will not find such luxuries out here. But she must know that.
"Yes," Merlin answers.
Uther's rage is terrible. Scores and scores are convicted of sorcery and sent to the dungeons, but the executions haven't begun yet. They will be mass executions, burnings and hangings and axes and whatever will satisfy the mad king's blood lust. The disappearance of the lady Morgana had been the final straw.
"This is my fault."
"You know it isn't."
"He's a tyrant. He deserves death! How long have you, and all magic-users, lived in fear?" She says all, but Merlin knows she really means him. The thought is at once warming and chilling: Morgana's friends are her world. "How many innocents have been slaughtered, children dead and parents mourning? We would be cowards to let this go on!"
Merlin can't let that pass. He points around the camp. "All of these druids, would you call them cowards? They took the king's ward in. And I, am I a coward? I spent a fair few years serving in the 'tyrant's' household."
"No, of course not. But Merlin—"
"We're trying to find a better way. I served Arthur because I believed he would be a better king than his father." He blinks once, hard. His judgement might have been skewed by their friendship. But that's the past. "The druids know that if you fight fire with fire, the whole forest burns. If we continue the bloody cycle of violence, nothing will change, and more will die."
"There are times, Merlin, when you sound almost wise. And I believe I might agree with you if scores of innocents weren't about to die!"
Merlin's sudden grin startles her.
"They're not going to die. Let's test my father's lessons, shall we?"
Prince Arthur had had a massive, loud, drawn-out argument with his father; it was public knowledge, and it might not have been rumor only that the prince had been locked in the dungeons a fair few nights. The point of conflict was obvious.
Nevertheless, the executions were to continue, and Arthur was to watch.
He is never more happy to a sorcerous, treasonous, magical mass rescue in his life, even if (especially if) it is by two sorcerous, treasonous, magical former friends.
Not a soul is lost that day, not even Camelot's guards.
Each time an execution is set, the victim is mysteriously saved in the nick of time. At the perceived loss of power, Uther rages in frustration and makes poor judgement, alienating other monarchies. Without Merlin there, Uther dies in an assassination orchestrated by one of the neighboring kingdoms. Merlin nearly returns to Camelot then, but he remembers cold nights in a cell and the pain permanently marked on his legs, and to his shame, he cannot. He sends a short letter, instead.
They meet friends again; Lancelot at Merlin's encouragement goes and becomes a knight in Arthur's court. The stigmas are changing. Morgause tries to sway Morgana, but trust trumps blood every time, and the end result is tragic. A pyre for her half-sister, who had tried to take the warrior's way and attack the camp. Merlin and Morgana are never sure which one of them killed her, and never wish to find out—Morgana told him, frankly, that she did not know if their friendship could survive either option, and obscurity was best. Despite it all, Morgana had loved her.
The druids become united under Emrys. They feel safe for the first time in many years. Good magic, nature's gift, thrives, and Camelot flowers and grows lush all across the land, because Magic is happy.
Arthur grows into a great king, able to make his own decisions and not mimic the actions of others. Executions are few and far between, and more and more often, the condemned are guilty of horrid crimes and do not have to be rescued. Treaties are built on trust and benefit, not fear. Taxes bend to the people's prosperity. And finally, Arthur marries a kind serving girl. That news makes Merlin dance around giddily, swinging Morgana around a campfire. The druids believe it is time, but more importantly, Emrys thinks it is time.
The druidic envoy sends word. The king grants the audience.
The two leaders meet in the throne room. Morgana's face is devoid of the powders and colors of a noblewoman and her clothes are plain, but her hair is cleanly braided, and she exudes as much calm dignity as the Queen of Camelot, who wears every splendor and beauty of the court, but still glows with a soft smile. There are tears in both of their eyes (although Morgana will deny it for years) because this day is finally, finally here.
See what can grow from pain: so much good, born from sorrow. The scars on Merlin's feet will never fade, but neither will the worry lines crowning Arthur's brow. Those lines and guilt in them have shaped and pushed Arthur into the king he is today; they are his crown.
"Merlin." Arthur's eyes have always been expressive, the only emotional feature on his face. His eyes are old now, grieving and tired. "I—"
"I know," Merlin says.
And in the background, Hunith smiles in pride as she holds Balinor's hand.
AN: And once Merlin calms down Kilgharrah in the dungeon and Balinor sets him free with sincerest apologies and a bro fist bump, everyone is happy.
Hope you enjoyed reading this; it's just a little muse. If you have a story you'd like me to review (provided it is appropriate for small children), please tell me! It's a great way for me to find great new fics.