Disclaimer : I own nothing of Merlin... Inspiration comes from Tennyson's version of the King Arthur legends as well as numerous other versions of the Arthur stories. Spellings of names (except in direct quotations) taken from the BBC website as this is based on Merlin rather than any other legends.
Author's Note : I recently met Eoin Macken (Gwaine) at Wales Comic Con 2013 (big cheers if you were there, I'm still on a high!), which inspired me to write a little more for Gwaine... and then I started some research, which led me to more... so here goes nothing!
"And one, a fellow-monk among the rest,
Ambrosius, loved him much beyond the rest...
...To answer that which came: and as they sat
Beneath a world-old yew-tree, darkening half
The cloisters, on a gustful April morn
That puffed the swaying branches into smoke
Above them, ere the summer when he died
The monk questioned Percivale:" - Tennyson
The friar was sat upon a small bench that rested in the hollowed trunk of a giant yew tree, which cast a shadow over half of the small monastery. It was ages old, that tree, far older than the friar himself who was not old, but by no means young. Even in that which would be his final year, the quiet friar seemed out of place in that small garden. Tall and broad, though he bent over when he walked, his spine damaged from years of battle drill and so many old wounds, his eyes ever alert to potential dangers that may surround him. Battle scars ravaged him, but none showed on his wrinkled face. He rarely spoke, though when he did others listened because they knew he had once been one of Arthur's greatest knights. He was popular among the other friars because where his tongue spoke little, his ears would listen. The friar almost never offered advice or consolation, other than a large hand that would come to rest upon the shoulder and give a firm yet gentle squeeze. The silent comfort was that of one soldier to another.
That morning was breezy, stirring the branches above the friar, though he was sheltered in the nook of the trunk. The blossoms drifted like smoke upon the wind, whirling in the air. He was clearly lost in thought, in time even, his eyes distant and not looking at all at what his gaze rested upon. It was then that a dear friend, Ambrosius, came upon him in the garden.
"You're always so lost in thought these days. What are you thinking of, Brother?" The term was spoken with fondness, for these two had been friends for many years.
"Memories of long ago, my old friend." Percival answered. He rose from his seat to greet his colleague and friend, a groan of pain involuntarily escaping him as his back and knees creaked. "What else do I have left? They say I will not see next winter through."
"They are wrong, Percival." Ambrosius responded automatically, with a gentleness that belied his words, gesturing for Percival to sit once more. "You are the biggest and strongest of us all, even now. Besides, they don't reckon on your stubbornness!"
"You're a fool, Ambrosius, but I thank you." Percival returned to his seat. The other friar folded his legs beneath himself and sat cross-legged on the cold ground. "The older I get, the more I find myself missing the honour and glories of the old days. Yet I can't seem to remember much glory if I'm honest. Honour yes, we were all honourable. Arthur expected it of us, inspired it in us, all of us. But glory was hard to find in the dark days of Morgana's siege."
"Will you tell me of those days, Percival? Tell me of Arthur and the Round Table, the truth of Uther's reign and Arthur's mighty Camelot?"
Percival looked at his friend through narrowed eyes, wondering if his Brother wanted to hear the truth or the bard's versions. Of how Arthur rode into battle upon a great white charger, never wavering nor faltering, the sword Excalibur blazing in the sunlight. How the Round Table knights were always wearing shining plate armour and never half-rusting chain mail... but as usual Ambrosius seemed content to listen to the narrator, and though Percival was not known for his story-telling, he decided that he would try to tell things the way they had been and not the way they should have been.
"I warn you now; I was not in Camelot for the whole of Arthur's story. I can only tell you what I have pieced together from what others have told me. I will tell you all I know, and leave nothing out. Ask what you will and remember you cannot believe the bards and minstrels for they were paid more often than not to create the stories of Arthur. We did not defeat the wildren with swords aflame – we smothered ourselves with those disgusting Gaia berries to hide our scents. We wore little to no plate; half the time our chain mail was damp and rusting. We were Arthur's truest knights, those of us that sat about the Round Table, and we loved our King. That, at least, the minstrels tell true."
And so, on that blustery April morning, enveloped by that great world-old yew tree, Percival began to tell the story of Arthur and of Camelot. Yet, strangely, the story didn't begin with the young Prince, nor with the story of Arthur's birth which many suspected had magic involved. It began with the coming of a young boy, a boy whose destiny was entwined with Arthur's, to ensure that Arthur became the Once and Future King.
"In a land of myth and time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy. His name? Merlin..."