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Title: "Tragic and Doomed"
Category: Het (Canon)
Characters/Pairings: too many characters to be mentioned, Uther/Ygraine, Uther/Nimueh, Gaius/Alice, Balinor/Hunith, Merlin/Gwen, Merlin/Morgana, Merlin/Freya, Lancelot/Gwen, Arthur/Gwen, Owain/Morgana, Mordred/Kara, Leon/Mithian
Rating/Warnings: T for canon deaths
Summary: Camelot was a place for tragic and doomed loves alike.
Thanks to Realta Cuardach for beta-ing this. This is my very belated Christmas present for MadameMorganLeFay.
I'm open to prompts, so if you have a request, just tell me. I'll try to answer to everyone, as long as it doesn't involves slash or is M-rated.
Chapter 6: Tragic and Doomed
Camelot was a place for tragic and doomed loves alike. For doomed feelings which were never meant to blossom, for tragic relationships that came to an untimely end –in Camelot, there was an endless cycle of pain and heartache.
It had begun with a powerful and beautiful sorceress, a High Priestess of the Old Religion, Nimueh, who had fallen in love with King Uther. The royal, though, had only eyes for one woman – his wife Ygraine, the joy of his days and the best thing of his life.
As (bad) luck would have it, Queen Ygraine found out that she was barren. Her entire body shook with sobs and the windows of her chambers rattled at the sound of her high-pitched wails when she realized she would never be able to bless her kingdom with a heir, to feel the tiny kicks of a baby in her swollen womb, to see her husband's happy, watery smile as he looked down at their child.
Uther wanted Ygraine to be as happy and joyful as she had once been – he couldn't watch her waste away like that – and desperately tried to cheer her up with flowers, kisses and smiles. But it wasn't enough.
It was the hardest decision of his life, to ask for Nimueh's help behind his wife's shoulders – but Ygraine's bright smile in the moment the Court Physician had told her she was expecting were worth all the lies he could say.
Nimueh, who loved the king more than anyone else, hadn't been able to refuse Uther's request of an heir. Those begging green eyes could make her do anything – even bring her to her knees – and that was her downfall.
A child with hair bright as the sun was born, and for a moment – a brief shining moment – the life of the Pendragon family was perfec.
But it didn't last. The balance of life and death had to be restored, and the queen left the world with a whisper of her son's name, her bloodless lips curled into an accepting smile even as the light in her eyes dulled.
Her death brought unbearable grief over the whole land of Camelot, and to no one more than the king – he not only missed her, but he felt guilty, too.
Uther Pendragon would eventually blame Nimueh – his actions would break her heart – and afterwards he would accuse every sorcerer of being evil, but a part of him never forgot that the only one who truly deserved to be blamed was him, and no one else.
And thus the Great Purge began.
The Druids went into hiding, and every sorcerer with an ounce of common sense left Camelot.
A man called Gaius, the much-respected Court Physician, was forced to smuggle his betrothed out of the town with the hopeless promise that everything would, one day, turn back as it was before.
The woman, Alice, knew he would be staying in Camelot out of loyalty to the king and to help as many sorcerers as he could (without being caught). She had subconsciously realized that he wouldn't leave Uther's side, not even for her, but she still believed – or wanted to – that they would soon be reunited. They wouldn't see each other for more than twenty years, and even then they wouldn't be able to be together.
An era ended when magic left Camelot for good, and a new era began.
The children born after the queen's death were brought up in fear of magic, their parents sending them to sleep with whispered stories of evil magicians and bad dragons bringing destruction to the land, and then being defeated by the courageous and golden-hearted knights of Camelot.
For the young prince, Arthur, life was no different. It was all a cycle of thinking about fighting magic, being the future king, becoming a knight, and again fighting magic.
It was in his youngest days, when he was barely three years old, that – unknowingly to him – the other side of his coin was born.
His birth was the result of another ill-fated relationship, the one between a fugitive dragonlord and a lionhearted peasant woman.
They had barely a few months together, but it was enough for their lives to become intertwined forever, and they swore to never love another.
The dragonlord, Balinor, was forced to leave the place he had begun to call home and his love with no more than a shared kiss and a few tears. It would be years before he learned that he had also left a child who would grow up without a father.
Merlin was born in the coldest night of the year, according to his mother. She said it wouldn't stop snowing.
The woman had also told him how, just moments after he was born, a bird had crashed into the glass of the only window in their house, shattering it to millions of pieces and landing on the floor with a thud. It was a merlin. The animal had raised its head and had looked straight at her with those orange eyes that seemed to pierce her soul.
The falcon had vanished in less than a blink. She had looked down at her newborn baby and almost screamed when she had noticed his glowing eyes. She named him Merlin.
Hunith's and Balinor's baby was unique, one of a kind. He was unlike any other child – his body was so full of pure and raw magic that it would sometimes escape his control, scaring his mother half to death when it did.
It was after one especially powerful burst of magic that she chose to send him to Camelot and that was where Merlin met his destiny, Arthur.
It was the same once again, that endless cycle beginning with hope and ending with death, and it had all just begun.
The books that would, centuries later, recount the stories of all the brave men who fought under the mighty crest of Camelot wouldn't mention a lot of particulars.
Like Guinevere's love for Merlin – it was a child's crush, really, but it left an unforgettable sign on her that even she did not fully realize. Merlin was the first boy that had made her heart beat faster, and she would never forget how perfect his lips felt on hers, even though he was unconscious and sweaty (and the smile he gave her when he woke up – she would have kissed him a thousand times more, if that was the price to pay for those perfect grins). Afterwards, she tried to forget about the kiss, but she couldn't keep her cheeks from reddening whenever Morgana teased her about Merlin.
And no bard would ever mention the Lady Morgana's love for the young Sir Owain. She had forseen his death in one of her nightmares, and she had hoped with all her heart that Arthur would stop him, but the boy was too honorable to retire from a match, and she had been forced to see him fall on the battlefield, bleeding out on the ground (the red piece of fabric she had told Gwen to give him flew away with the wind, as if to mock the naivety of her crush). She never allowed herself to fall for another knight.
Just like Morgana's attentions would fall upon a gangly and sweet manservant, Guinevere would soon get distracted by an attractive dark stranger who wanted to become a knight.
Guinevere's and Lancelot's relationship would be the subject of many legends in the years following Camelot's demise, but none would ever get close to the truth. No one would realize the strength of Lancelot's love, or how noble and selfless he was – he had chosen to step down and let Arthur have her, not knowing how much his choice would hurt her.
Prince Arthur was probably the only man in Camelot who loved only one woman and who would never love another. Being a royal, in his youngest years he had been a spoilt, arrogant brat who chased after women just to brag about his conquests to his friends. Then Merlin arrived, and he began to change.
Guinevere saw him grow into someone that would, one day, become a great king, and had found herself falling in love with him day by day. The prince and the servant had to overcome many obstacles, but they managed to get married and to finally be together – even if their happiness lasted only a few years.
Arthur's death brought the kingdom to its knees. Guinevere managed to rule over Camelot for a few decades – trying to hold the Pendragon legacy high – but as soon as she died, the kingdom did, too.
The queen had been completely heartbroken and there wasn't a night she hadn't spent weeping for her lost love, burying her face in the soft sheets of a bed that had become too big for her.
Merlin had been there every step of the way and had witnessed Arthur's and Guinevere's ever-growing love with a broken smile on his face, knowing he would never have the chance to be as happy as they were.
The greatest sorcerer to ever walk on earth was born to love. He, unlike his king, loved many and loved them so much – he loved them with every fiber of his being, intensely, and for a while, even a few moments, his whole world centered around them.
Merlin had loved Gwen, in a way. He probably never even realized it, but there would always be a fluttery feeling in his stomach when he saw her, and he would always blame it on hunger.
But he did realize that he loved Morgana. It had happened in a few days, really, when she had come to him begging to help her. From the beginning, he had wanted so much to tell her all his secrets but he couldn't, he just couldn't. Her eyes had been so trusting and full of joy when he had tried to help, and when she came back, she thanked him for what he had done (he was a good friend, she had said, but he really had done nothing – at least not what he should have done). They smiled at each other in her chambers, and afterwards, all he could think was that he had never met someone as breathtaking as she was.
Then Freya came into his life, and from the moment their eyes met through the bars of the cage, he knew he would never be the same.
For the first time he had found someone to whom he could relate, someone who could understand him, someone with whom he could be himself. There was some kind of connection between them, one he had felt from the moment he had touched her hands to free her from the manacles (their meeting had been woven in the pattern of their destinies since the dawn of time).
Freya was broken; what she had been through had reduced her to a shadow of what she used to be, and Merlin could only imagine how amazing the real Freya had once been. At first, her eyes were sad and her smiles a bit tight, but with time she began to open up. When he got the chance to see a wide smile full of joy that lit up her features, he realized that no one, not even Morgana, could ever compare to her in his eyes.
Merlin saw the beauty in Freya when no one else did, when not even Freya herself knew just how special she was. That was the kind of person he was – he would fall for someone and he would give them his whole heart, all the love he could manage.
That was why when Freya died, it felt like he too was only a couple of steps away from the grave. The pain of losing her was like nothing he had ever felt before. His heart had been ripped straight out of his chest and had burned in the boat along with Freya's body.
He found comfort in his magic, then, and – without realizing it – he began to get farther and farther away from Morgana, who needed someone to rely upon. At the end, the beautiful witch would put her trust in her sister (or, as she would find out later, half-sister), Morgause.
Everything spiraled down quickly from that moment, and soon Merlin found himself with tears in his eyes and trying not to look down at a Morgana who was desperately gasping for breath because he had poisoned her. She was dying, and it was his fault and his alone.
He lost her; Morgause took her away from him, in more ways than one.
Merlin was made to love and so he did, with his whole heart and sometimes more, but it wasn't enough – Destiny's love for him was stronger than anything, stronger than his love for those wonderful women, and so Destiny kept winning.
Maybe if Merlin had been able to admit his feelings for Morgana he would have told her of his magic and she wouldn't have turned against Camelot. But the time for second thoughts was past.
He tried to convince himself he had never loved her, that she had never even existed. It worked for a while, but then she returned and everything went to hell because there was no other way – they could only be enemies.
Although Merlin would never know it, Morgana never stopped loving him. Oh, she did hate him, she hated him so much – but she loved him too.
She tried to show it to him in her own twisted way, attempting to bring him on her side in the fight against Arthur. Morgana didn't know how to love as Merlin did, therefore everything she did only pushed him away. But it was, undoubtedly, love – intense and painful and violent and strong and beautiful.
She had spared him even when he had been at her mercy – resorting to tying him up and planting a snake in his neck instead. It was irrational and so out of character for someone who wanted to play the cold-hearted witch – but she hadn't been able to do it. She couldn't kill him.
Harm him – yes. Make him suffer – oh yes, a thousand times. But she couldn't kill him. Morgana wouldn't even admit it to herself, but there was a part of her who knew that she would never be able to watch him as he exhaled his last breath. He was the light to her darkness, the love to her hate. They completed each other and were perfectly balanced – one couldn't live without the other, despite how reluctant they were to admit it.
Maybe if Merlin had known of Morgana's feelings, things would have been different – he would have tried harder to save her or he would have followed her in exile. Maybe he wouldn't have killed her and maybe she wouldn't have helped Mordred kill Arthur. But he realized – once again – that there was no use in crying over spilled milk.
Their lives would still become legends, even if the secret glances and the hidden smiles never became the subject of ballads.
In the course of history, men would forget about many of the people who lived in Camelot and about many of those who loved in Camelot.
They would never mention how Mordred – the man destined to kill Arthur – was a Druid, and how he had fallen in love with a childhood friend, whose death pushed him into a bottomless pit of hatred.
They would never talk about Princess Mithian of Nemeth, who had fallen in love with Sir Leon of Camelot after King Arthur's death. And they would never say how, just a couple of months before their wedding, Sir Leon had perished due to a deadly illness because a certain sorcerer wasn't there to protect Camelot anymore.
What can be said for sure is that Camelot wasn't destroyed by hate, thirst for power, wars, or magic.
The once glorious kingdom was brought to its knees by love, the only thing stronger than hatred and greed and sorcery.
It had been an endless circle of pain and heartache – for all those people doomed to never be able to be happy, and for all those who grasped happiness only for a short amount of time, enough for it to become addicting, before losing it all too quickly.
It wasn't Fate, it wasn't Destiny, and it wasn't even Death. It was love, and love is painful and love hurts, and no weapon can win against it.
Maybe if the people of Camelot had actually followed what their hearts said and not what their minds did, they wouldn't have all been condemned to continuous suffering.
But there is no use in wishful thinking, now, is there?
He wanted to ask her what sound a heart made when it broke from pleasure, when just the sight of someone filled you the way food, blood, and air never could, when you felt as if you'd been born for only one moment and this, for whatever reason, was it.
-Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island