The headache that followed his little get away on dragon-back soon settled in when Kilgharrah left him in a clearing near the Valley of the Fallen Kings. The freedom he could imagine was clearly far from him. He could stare at it, understand it, recognize it – the way he could his very own image in a mirror. But try as he might, that free self of that mirror – he couldn't touch. Warlock or not, there were limits.

A thin crust of fluffy ice made protests as his feet tread along the path that would lead him to his hideaway. He did not bother wiping his footprints. He was aware that Arthur had left him to Gwaine and even though Gwaine had said that Arthur wanted him back – yes, he was aware enough at the time to understand that – he was determined to see this mission through.

Arthur's needs were important to him and there was nothing greater than being close to his friends and family, but it was crucial that the wheels of freedom should begin to turn. Without that, tomorrow wouldn't be worth living. As an immortal, he would have to watch everyone he ever loved's descendants live in a world of unfair limitations and attempt to bring small amounts of relief to their suffering.

One thing was for certain, if Morganna had her way – life wouldn't be worth living.

She'd fallen so hard for the old religion, which was now nearly dead, that she would want to bring it back and it's customs. She would deny hope and the future...There was a small branch laying on the side of the path, Merlin picked it up to use as a walking stick. The ground was getting slicker and walking up inclines was getting difficult.

Merlin sighed.

The path ahead was so clear and Morganna couldn't see it.

When wanting to live for tomorrow she wanted to walk backwards. That was not the best way to reach a destination. Sure it was good to know where you'd come from, but that is what memories were for! That's what history was for! If progress was bad, Geoffrey wouldn't have a position. There would be no need to record yesterdays.

The Old Religion made a mistake, or rather a high priestess did. Nimueh got herself involved in the court of King Uther and made some huge mistakes. Of course her interference would spurn resentment. Even if Arthur's mother had lived, the priestess did not see that man is so proud and so paranoid – showcasing that much control over the natural world – would set off a blaze of retribution.

Even Merlin could see it happening.

Oh Arthur might think that he knows what he wants, but Merlin was done arguing about the details of day to day life. Someone else can pick out his jackets and boots. Someone other than Merlin, who doesn't have to live two lives and do over a hundred jobs, can pump up that ego. Someone else can do his manservant job, easily.

Now that his secret was out, it didn't matter that Arthur's response was to make magic legal again. That was great for sorcerers, but what was the use if their magic was sputtering out and tainted as a result of the purge? It wasn't really all that – and it wasn't enough. Arthur still had the potential to witness magic and rebuke it. His heart was in the right place, but he was like a child trying to force an issue in order to get his own way. It wouldn't do, once the motivation had been fulfilled – years of anti magic education and tutelage would rear up and history would repeat.

Inside of Arthur, there was still a tiny little Uther balking at magic.

Being legal was not enough for magic to progress, there had to be a change. The old religion really did have to die. It wasn't until Merlin spent days and days peering into the crystals did he actually begin to understand this. In truth, he wasn't sure how he was going to do it yet. He did have a shadow of a plan to follow, but it was faint. The truth that had illuminated the reality was still dim and taking shape. He needed time to study and think.

His boot caught a stone on the path, it was hidden by the snow. Merlin nearly tripped and his eyes watered from his jarred toes. The pain in his head felt a bit more stabby. It was like having a pissed off mini Arthur in his head pounding away at the walls of his skull with a tiny little Excalibur in hand. Merlin took a spare neckerchief from his jacket pocket. It was wet and full of ice crystals, his pockets hadn't dried out from his earlier submersion in the lake. Still it was better than nothing, Merlin shook it out and then wiped his face with the extra coldness. His face was hot from the effort of walking in the slowly deepening snow, or even maybe from a fever – though he doubted it.

Riding in damp clothes on dragon-back in this weather wasn't really recommended, but it sure had felt nice – and Merlin rarely got ill. He wasn't convinced that exposure to cold could make the body ill. He and Gaius had discussed the possibility. Merlin's position was that any stress on the body could encourage illness, but Gaius had other ideas. He was the physician of note and he was good at his job. It just didn't fully make sense to Merlin. The humors of the body and all that... something seemed off.

Merlin smiled gently into the inky black of the familiar forest as a solution to his tomorrows came to him as if it fluttered down on the icy flakes that had inspired his mind to wander to his friend, mentor, and father-figure. He leaned on his walking stick, flakes of snow swirling elegantly around his body and sticking to his clothing and hair. He took a deep breath of clean crisp winter – it felt refreshing.

"It's not perfect... " Merlin said to himself, his voice gentle as if he were speaking to a newborn, "but it might be just enough so it can carry the hope of every tomorrow to the end of time."

Aggravaine half dragged half carried the burden of the gagged and bound woman in his arms into the shabby lair of his mistress. There was no fire lit. In this weather, Morganna was risking freezing to death in her sleep!

He dropped her, she was just a burden to be discarded on the filthy floor. As was his custom lately and lit a candle. It sputtered into life, the wan heat fluttering into the coldness of the room like a dying bird in a spurt of desperation. He strode to the hearth. He worked quickly, while talking to the woman he was sure was laying in a heap of listlessness on a shabby hay stuffed mattress, "I know that you weren't expecting me, but I just had to check on you. I brought you food. I'll make you a stew. I know I'm not that great of a cook, but I know enough to get by. Believe it or not, I've done the whole camping thing."

He laughed awkwardly as he began his usual acts of care, he was impatient to give Morganna her gift. He wanted to savor it. He wanted her fed and warm before he gave her … his present. His self consciousness growing as he wondered if this would work. He wanted to please her.

This woman, even in a broken state, was still the only person on this earth who ever made him feel this nervous. He wanted to please her, amuse her, and even her scolding him was preferable to the silence he was getting now. It was disconcerting.

How he yearned for her to speak. She had a voice that was womanly and yet – her voice could be flute like, but dip into savory tones. Unlike all the other women he'd ever known, she used that voice. He had even met queens and there was more hesitation and self doubt behind their words that disgusted him. With Morganna, there was none of that hesitation – and yet, here she was mentally wounded from her battle with the warlock.

Aggravaine couldn't imagine what Merlin had done to her, but he would never forgive him. He would pay. He would suffer as no other man would suffer, was what the druid writings claimed and his suffering would come from Aggravaine's hand. Death wasn't enough for the boy - he would personally make sure that the warlock would curse his birth.

Shorter than planned.