A/N: Hello! This story is a prequel to my fic 'Ancient Relics'. A lot of you asked for this, plus a sequel, and I just had to oblige. I haven't finalised a plot for a sequel yet other than a few rough ideas, so I thought I would begin with the prequel, since I already know how this story will end. I've written a lot of chapters already so I can post them regularly, and continue working on this fic and the eventual sequel.
For those of you who have not read Ancient Relics, I think you still might be able to enjoy this story. AR was written before Series 5, so the ending in my head was slightly different than in the show. All you need to know is that the Battle of Camlan stuff happened when Arthur was a lot older and after he had long since accepted magic, and Merlin was trapped in the Crystal Cave the entire time, forced to watch it. Then, when Morgana came back to boast, he overpowered her and trapped there instead. Kinda similar to the show I suppose since I obviously drew on the same legends they did. After Arthur died, the Old Religion declined and faded from the world, leaving Merlin the only still able to use it to its full power. Now he's immortal, and waiting for the Old Religion to return to the world.
I've tried to make this fic as historically accurate as possible; I'm a History student at university and specialising in the early British Medieval period (well, Scottish Medieval actually, but close enough) but obviously, the show itself wasn't very accurate (tomatoes in Dark Ages Britain? Come on!) However, I don't want to bog it down with too much explanation, so, if you want more info, just send me a PM :)
Now, on with the story!
Aching joints, headaches, hangover cures and farming injuries … those were all he had to occupy his time with these days. An endless stream of coughing children and wheezing old men begging him for remedies. He helped them of course, he couldn't turn them away, but still he couldn't help but think of a time long since past.
Had he once been the Court Sorcerer of Camelot? Had he once really been one of the most powerful men in the kingdom, sitting at the right hand of King Arthur himself? There were days when he thought all of that must just have been a dream.
Merlin Emrys, the one who was supposed to lead the lands of Albion into a new era. Now the Once and Future King was dead by Merlin's neglect, and the lands over which he had ruled were now fallen into darkness. Magic was once again something to be feared.
It pained him more than he could say. After all the hard work he and Arthur had done over all those years to make Camelot a place of tolerance and peace, all for nothing. Arthur's death had shook the kingdom down to its very core, and magic became oppressed once more.
Queen Guinevere and the remaining Knights of the Round Table had attempted to keep the peace as best as they could, but it did not last. They grew old, and they died, and without an heir to the kingdom, Camelot had fallen into ruin.
Merlin had watched it all happen. He stayed the same, never ageing, watching as each of his friends withered away. Guinevere had begged him with her dying breath to look after the kingdom, to never give up in keeping magic alive and welcomed. He had failed her. Barely a century later, and the former lands of Albion were ruled by ruthless warlords, and magic was a crime punishable by death.
Sorcerers went underground, and the Old Religion faded. Now they used strips of wood to cast spells, a weak form of magic that Merlin regarded with contempt. Was this what his people had been reduced to? Why had he allowed this to happen?
He was only one man. He hadn't been able to stop the flow of time.
The lands changed dramatically, and soon there was little left of the world of Merlin's youth.
He had lingered on, watching it all. Was this his punishment for failing to protect Arthur? To remain here until the world itself ended, doomed to live the lives of many men whilst unable to grow old and die as well? It was a cruel fate, but one that he deserved.
He had to survive, however painful such an existence would be. One day, magic would return. He had to have faith in that. One day, he could redeem himself, make up for the mistakes of his past. He could reverse the evil that Morgana had done to this realm.
But how much longer would he have to wait? Already three hundred years had passed since Arthur's death, and his name had already passed into legend. How much longer would he continue in this meaningless existence until he would be needed again?
Merlin looked up, jerked out of him ruminations with a jolt. Standing in the doorway of his home was one of the villagers. He had a blood-stained rag bound around his arm.
"What did you do this time, Beorn?" Merlin asked with a gentle sigh, lifting himself up from his chair before the fire.
"Dropped a scythe," Beorn grunted. "Can you help?"
Merlin nodded, and fixed a small smile on his face. "Of course. Come over here into the light."
"Thank you, Emrys."
Emrys. The name of his true self, the name uttered in the legends of the Druids. No one really knew about those any more, none of them associated it with him. Muggles were blissfully unaware of the history of magic. It was much easier to hide among them than other wizards.
Merlin moved over to a small table by the window where he did his work. His home was small, with only two rooms, a bedroom, and one where almost everything else was. Rather like his old home in Camelot, this room served as a kitchen, living area and workshop. It was cramped, but it served his needs.
A physician's work suited him best. Physicians were always welcome in villages, no one questioned him living alone and the money was good- there was never a shortage of ailments to deal with, however repetitive a life it was. He wouldn't live here past fifteen years anyway. He'd learned over the centuries that fifteen years was the longest amount of time he could go without people noticing his eternal youth and getting suspicious. Using an Ageing Spell everyday was just too tiresome.
Beorn extended his arm, and Merlin carefully unwrapped the crude bandages. Merlin examined the injury.
"You're lucky, this isn't too deep."
He gently washed the wound and bound it tightly with clean rags. He reached up to one of his many shelves and brought down a small bottle.
"Here," he said, giving it to him. "Bathe the wound in a solution of this every night and change the dressings. Come and see me in a week to check on it. Don't use that arm in the meantime."
Beorn scowled. "But I need to get the harvest in."
"Then I suggest you either hire some village boys to help or learn to use your other hand," said Merlin firmly. "If that wound gets infected or you aggravate it further you may lose the arm."
This wasn't entirely true, but Merlin was sick of the man's stubbornness. This was the fourth injury in a month; Beorn seemed to be collecting scars on purpose. Merlin often wondered whether he had some sort of wager with another man in the tavern.
Beorn grudgingly nodded, and put the bottle in his pocket. He reached into a small pouch at his belt. "Will this cover it?"
Merlin took the proffered coins and nodded. "Until next time, then."
Beorn grunted and stomped over to the door again and into the street without a word. Merlin moved back to his chair by the fire and sighed. It wasn't exactly thrilling work, but at least he was managing to survive.
He examined the coins in his hand. He could have healed Beorn's arm with one spell, without even leaving a scar if he had so wanted. But if he had … well, he'd soon find himself tied to a stake.
Had people really forgotten the good that magic could do? Had everything really been in vain?
Would life be more fulfilling if he lived and worked with other wizards? He often considered it, but always rejected the idea. There was too much of a risk that they'd find out who he was, even normal magic couldn't explain away his immortality. And besides, seeing the pathetic magic that people in the modern day had been reduced to using with their sticks would only pain him; would only remind him of what had been.
Merlin rarely used magic these days, at least, magic more powerful than what it took to light a candle or clean his home. It was too risky, and he feared that one day his magic would just fade away from underuse. He had a wand, bought about a century ago in some attempt to understand the craze for these sticks, but still he'd been baffled. He used it when in company with other wizards, but he detested it. He'd used scales from Aithusa and Kilgharrah in making it, but even that hadn't enhanced its power too much. They'd laughed at him for trying to fit in with modern wizards, saying all he had to do was wait until the right moment in the future. They drove him to the brink of insanity with these stupid riddles, and he didn't see them often.
He missed it so badly he wanted to burst. To be able to use magic. Not this silly replacement wizards had found now. To be able to use it openly and without fear.
But he lived in a village full of Muggles. They wouldn't exactly welcome him with open arms. Most of them were friendly enough, but they were all united in their distrust of magic. There were no sympathisers here.
Or so he thought.
There was one aspect of this village that still intrigued him. It was a fairly average town by Muggle standards. A collection of ramshackle houses and shops surrounding one main street, with farmland on one side and a great stretch of boggy fen on the other. But there was a hill at the head of the town, about three miles away but seeming closer due to its size. Upon that hill was a magnificent castle where the owners of the estate lived and to whom the villagers paid their tax.
It was a family of wizards.
This alone had been one of the things that had attracted Merlin to settling here. Openly using magic was frowned upon in most parts of the country, but here, there seemed to be some form of symbiotic relationship between the wizards and the Muggles.
The Muggles didn't like magic, but they didn't openly speak out against their landlords. They seemed happy enough to just ignore the fact that the family was magical as long as they stayed far enough away and provided for them when needed.
The wizards, the Slytherin family, seemed just as happy to exist peacefully alongside their traditional enemies, just so long as they paid their taxes on time.
It was something he hadn't observed anywhere else in Britain, at least since Arthur's day. He wondered how long it could possibly last. Muggle authorities everywhere were ordering people to rise up against witchcraft and put an end to their evil. The village priest had been spouting off about this for ages now, but no one really paid him much attention other than a few drunken grumblings in the tavern. The situation suited them, and none were in a rush to change it.
Merlin stood up and moved over to the door to his home. He stepped out into the village main street and let his eyes be drawn to the massive castle on the hill. It was heavily defensible, with steep sides and impenetrable earthen embankments. The only way to gain access was by a small winding road that led up to a flat clearing at the top where the massive gates barred entry. But apart from this, there was little to defend it, no foot soldiers or guards of any kind, save a few servants.
He frowned as he looked at it. Something about it drew him in. There was something here, something he hadn't felt in a long time. Was this finally the Old Religion instructing him to come forwards once more? Was there more to this family than meets the eye?
They seemed pretty average. One old widowed matriarch lived there, ancient and bow-backed, only occasionally making an appearance in the village. Her equally as aged sister-in-law lived with her, along with her nephew and his daughter. There were many castle servants, and Merlin saw them sometimes in the village. He was always kind to them, knowing full well what it was like to be at the beck and call of spoiled aristocrats. He didn't know the family at all, but he still felt drawn to them.
Perhaps it was the son that drew his attention? Salazar Slytherin had lived with his mother in the castle, having taken possession of the estate when his father died five years ago. But several months ago, just as Merlin had arrived in the village he had suddenly upped and left with an old childhood friend of his and gone off 'travelling', the villagers said. Many felt abandoned by their landlord, and wondered why he had left his responsibilities and duties to his aged mother and his aunt and cousin, both of whom were apparently severely lacking in sense.
They wanted to know where he had gone off to. Off to wreak havoc with his devilry, was what the priest said, and others wondered whether he wasn't off killing Muggles for not accepting magic.
All Merlin knew for certain was that there was something curious about him and that it would have to be examined further.
Then again, perhaps he was clutching at straws. The past three centuries had been full of guilt, grief and above all, monotony as he waited for the return of the Old Religion. Was he just creating mysterious situations in order to relieve his boredom?
It made sense, but somehow, he didn't think so.
He shook his head and once more ducked into his rather dark and dingy house. What was it about the Slytherin family that had drawn him here? Would he ever find out?
"Emrys! Emrys! Hurry!"
Merlin was jerked awake by the sound of someone pounding heavily on his door, almost knocking it off its hinges.
"Who's there?" He called, leaping out of bed, pulling a cloak around his night clothes and moving towards the front door cautiously. "What do you want?"
"It's my daughter! Please Emrys, she's sick! Come and help!"
"I'll be there shortly," said Merlin, resigning himself to a night without sleep. An occupational hazard of this job was that desperate people often hounded him all hours of the day and night to cure their illnesses. It was likely the girl had nothing more than a slight cold, but he should check anyway.
He hurriedly moved over to his worktop and filled a leather satchel with potions, herbs and other supplies. He splashed some water on his face in an attempt to waken himself a little more. He went over to the door, unbolted it and stepped out into the night.
What greeted him there was the sight of Aelbert, the village smith, his eyes wide and terrified. Merlin immediately tensed up; how bad was the child?
"Please," Aelbert begged, "come quickly."
Merlin nodded and followed him quickly through the night. Aelbert was a strong and proud man who absolutely doted on his daughter. Something bad indeed must have happened if he could be reduced to a frightened wreck like this.
They hurried across the street and entered into the smith's workshop, dark and silent, a curious contrast from the raging fire and deafening sounds of the daylight. Aelbert led him up a narrow staircase at the back and pushed through a door at the top.
The entire family lived in this one room, barely larger than the smithy beneath it. One half was filled with tables and chairs and a generous fireplace, and the other, where Aelbert was leading him had several straw mattresses gathered on the floor.
Merlin hurried forwards when he saw what was before him. Aelbert's wife, Mertha was kneeling beside the smallest mattress, her face white and tear-stained. She was clutching the hand of the small girl who was lying in the bed, but who seemed oblivious to her mother's presence.
She looked bad, Merlin thought as he knelt down beside her. She was lying unmoving, her entire body drenched in sweat. He placed a hand on her brow and found a high fever. She was shivering.
"How long has she been like this?" he asked the mother as he examined her.
"Not long," said Mertha, her voice hushed. "She was fine all afternoon, until about the evening when she said she had a headache and her muscles were sore. She was vomiting and we thought it was because of something she'd eaten, so we sent her to bed early. I came to check on her half an hour ago and she was like this."
Merlin nodded, concentrating on the girl's face. "It seems like it's a severe case of influenza," he said, though something seemed strange to him. "But I'm not entirely sure. I can try and bring down her fever and ease the pain, but I'll need to remain close by until I'm certain. There's something strange about this."
"Will she recover?" the father asked desperately, kneeling down beside her as well.
"I'll be able to determine that as soon as I've observed her over time," Merlin said gently. "It may just be what I think it is, but I need to be sure. Let me attend to her. I'll do everything in my power."
The parents nodded and looked so lost that Merlin felt the defences he'd put up around his heart weaken. But he had to focus, he had to be professional. It was another occupational hazard of being a physician; sometimes, there was just nothing that could be done.
He sat by the girl all night, trying to keep her cool and observing her until the light of the dawn began to creep in through the windows. There was no change, and when the girl finally woke she was confused and disoriented.
"I need to get some more water," Merlin announced standing up.
"I'll come with you," said the father immediately, apparently desperate for something to do.
Merlin nodded, and he took hold of a bucket and they made their way out into the street and towards the well in the centre of the village. The occupants of the houses they passed were finally beginning to stir.
Merlin attached the bucket to the rope and began to haul up the water. He cast a sideways glance at Aelbert.
"How did she get this disease?"
"I don't know," he answered, looking off into space. "She hasn't been sick at all. She never gets sick."
"She's had no contact with anyone who was ill?" Merlin asked, pressing for details.
The father frowned. "No. She hasn't left the village in over a week."
"Where did she go the last time she left?"
"She came with me to the market in Jerrow," answered Aelbert, frowning again. "But she was fine."
Merlin sighed and leaned against the well. "She may have come into contact with something over there that hasn't shown itself until now."
He looked around at the rapidly populating marketplace. "Take this back to her, and try to keep her as cool as possible. Feed her some broth, and infuse it with the potion I gave to you. I need a couple of days to observe. If she hasn't recovered within that time then I'm afraid it will be something far more serious than influenza."
Aelbert nodded, and appeared to be putting on a brave face. "You haven't failed this village yet, Emrys."
And with that, he made his way back to the smithy carrying the water. Merlin watched him go, his heart heavy.
After a few moments he made his way back to his own home. He felt like he was carrying a great weight, such was his exhaustion. He collapsed on to his bed, determined to get at least a few hours rest. There was nothing he could do for the girl at the moment. Time would tell.
"She's not getting any better is she?" Aelbert asked anxiously from beside his daughter's bedside. "You said the fever should have gone down by now, but it hasn't. What's wrong with her? What's wrong with Deira?"
"I don't know," Merlin said, honestly puzzled. He'd been with the girl almost constantly for the last two days, yet she showed no sign of improving; none of his potions were having the slightest effect. It made no sense; these potions had been made by him in the privacy of his own home; they were infused with magic. He'd used them countless times before on fevers like this, why did it not work now?
"I'll try," Merlin said, looking down at the poor girl's face, which was contorted and feverish.
He examined her again, trying to ignore the small pained sounds she made as he touched her aching limbs. Then, something made him stop dead.
"What is it?" Aelbert asked, as he noticed Merlin's expression.
"Her mouth," Merlin murmured. "There's a rash."
Small red spots had now erupted on her tongue and inside her mouth. A chill went through him as he looked closely.
Aelbert also leaned in. "What's causing it?"
But Merlin was clueless.
Within a day, the spots had developed into sores that filled her mouth and made breathing difficult. They began to break open and Merlin feared further infection.
In addition to this, the rash seemed to be spreading across her entire body, with great lesions appearing on her face and neck. No treatment seemed to be able to prevent their spread.
One blessing however, was that the fever seemed to have broken. The young girl, Deira, was now more responsive and in less pain. Her parents seemed to think the worst was over. But Merlin wasn't so sure.
"Why are you so worried?" Aelbert asked him. "The fever is gone!"
"But the rash remains," said Merlin gravely. "I do not know what effect it will have on her."
"So she'll have a few scars-"
"I fear it will be much worse than that," Merlin interrupted. He turned and headed straight back to his home. He had to figure this out.
He wasn't sure what was making him like this. Deira seemed to be feeling much better, but still, a great horror seemed to be clutching hold of his heart and refusing to let go. There was much worse to come, and Merlin was afraid.
He searched through his many books, searching for some mention of this strange disease, but found none. His sense of foreboding increased.
The third day after the appearance of the rash and it had changed to form large bumps on her limbs, by the fourth, they had become pustular. Once again, the fever returned with a vehemence, and suddenly the child was in a state of constant pain.
The pustules were sharply raised, and hard to the touch, like there was a small object under the skin. The fever remained high, and Merlin's fear increased.
He tried everything he could, tried every treatment he had available, sometimes enhanced with magic, but nothing seemed to work.
The pustules began to scab over and Merlin hoped for a brief while that they might yet emerge from this, but the scabs broke open and Deira seemed to be getting worse rather than better.
"Why is this happening to her?" Mertha had asked, sobbing into the arm of her husband as Deira steadily got worse and worse. "She's only a child!"
Merlin wished he knew the answer.
It was soon the second week of the illness, and the girl was still in a great deal of pain.
Merlin was sitting by her beside while her parents got some rest down in the smithy below. He was exhausted. He'd been staying here almost every night. Never since Camelot had he seen such an awful disease. Could it be magical?
But why then did his magic have no effect on it?
He listened for the sounds of Aelbert and Mertha, and satisfied they were still below, he crept closer to Deira and placed a palm on her fiery brow.
He closed his eyes, and summoned as much magic as he could from within him, feeling his old instincts reawaken.
"Hālian se mǣdencild. Hālian hiere innan."
The magic flowed from him in a great torrent and into the child's tiny body, a golden glow surrounding her, but nothing changed. She didn't even stir.
Merlin cursed and fell back, clutching his head in his hands. Why was nothing working?
He stood up and began to pace around the small room, breathing heavily. Why was he so useless? He was the most powerful sorcerer in all of history! Why was he so helpless against a simple Muggle disease?
What would Gaius do now, Merlin thought miserably. Would he be able to help?
Merlin took his place by the bed again. He had to think of something. He couldn't let this poor child die, not the way he'd let it happen to Arthur …
He stood up suddenly, a new fire within him. There must have been something he missed in all his books. There had to be something.
He cast one last look back at the sleeping child. She wasn't going to last much longer like this. He was her last hope.
He turned away and crept over to the staircase that led to the room below. He made his way down as silently as he could, but stopped suddenly when he heard voices coming from the smithy.
"-please, Aelbert. She's going to die!"
"I won't ask them for help, Mertha. I don't want anything to do with them."
"But they could help!"
"I don't want that sort of help."
"Do you care so little about your own daughter?"
"Do not say that!" Aelbert said, his voice angry and dripping with emotion. "If Deira dies, then a whole part of me will die with her. But I will not go to them for help, do not ask me to. I would rather she die surrounded by her family than allow her to be corrupted by them."
"I don't want her to die at all," Mertha pleaded. "And if they bring her back to us, I won't care how they did it. Please."
"They're unholy," Aelbert said firmly. "I won't allow them to touch her. If this is what God wants, then so be it. He wouldn't want us to turn to their sort. This is our test."
"I don't care!" wailed Mertha. "Nothing the Slytherins could do would be more evil than us sitting by and letting our daughter die."
So this was it, Merlin thought, Mertha wanted to use magic to save her child. He almost smiled. It was remarkable what the love of a child could do to a parent. Even the ones who hated magic, like Uther and Mertha, would resort to it to save their child.
He doubted the Slytherin's could help; Wand-Wielders were much weaker than himself. No, only he could do it. He had to find some sort of spell, one he hadn't tried yet. Deira would be saved by magic, but her parents need know nothing about it.
He emerged into the smithy and immediately Aelbert and Metha leapt up from their places by the fire, their faces fearful.
"No," said Merlin, "but I need to go back for more supplies. You should go to her, I fear she's getting worse."
Fat tears spilled from Mertha's eyes and she immediately ran to her daughter. Aelbert paled and moved closer to Merlin, fixing his eyes on Merlin's.
"She isn't going to get better is she?" Alebert asked, staring at Merlin. "Tell me the truth, Emrys. Is there something more that you can do for her, or should I send for the priest?"
Merlin wanted to tell him everything would be fine, that Deira would get better, but he couldn't. He'd seen too much death and destruction over the centuries to have any sort of faith.
"Do what you feel you need to," said Merlin, hearing his own grief in his voice. "I'm afraid anything else I can do will not be enough. Go to her."
Aelbert seemed to crumple at his words, but he nodded. Merlin didn't stay around, he needed to stay strong if there was going to be any hope left.
He ran to his home and pulled open the door so violently it creaked in protest. He darted inside, and lit several lamps with a flash of his eyes, not caring who saw him. He pulled book after book down from the shelves and flipped through them, desperate for some inspired revelation. He tossed them aside, leaving great piles of discarded books on the floor. Nothing.
He went to a dark corner at the back and pulled aside the threadbare rug that was there. Underneath was a loose stone which he soon pulled aside. Underneath lay his most prized possessions; all that remained from his life in Camelot. He seized his old spellbook and sat in a heap on the floor leafing through it in vain. He had practically memorised this book as a youth, he knew there was nothing in it that could help, but this didn't stop him hoping desperately for something to suddenly appear. Anything.
He sat there long into the night, feeling utterly wretched. That poor child was going to die unless he did something.
Dawn began to break and Merlin leapt into action. He couldn't sit here feeling sorry for himself. He was going to go to her and sit and use every single spell he could think of, irrespective of who saw him until she got better. He couldn't watch her die.
He ran out into the street with a new sense of purpose but stopped dead when he looked towards the smithy.
Mertha was standing before the doors to the smithy. She was staring into space, her hands by her side. She seemed as if she was about to collapse at any moment. Her eyes were dead.
Merlin knew what had happened.
He felt a searing pain in his chest as he looked at the lost expression on the woman's face. He had failed.
He stepped forward cautiously, though not knowing what exactly he would say to her, how could he say anything? How do you comfort a woman who has lost her only child?
Mertha turned to face him, but she didn't seem to recognise him.
"My daughter is dead," she said, her voice weak from crying. "She's dead …"
"I am so sorry …" he said, unable to say anything else. He felt the grief inside of him rise up, though it was nothing to what this poor woman must be feeling.
Suddenly, Mertha's composure broke. Tears spilled from her eyes and she gave great heaving sobs.
"She's dead! She's dead! My baby girl …"
She seemed to collapse and Merlin leapt forward to catch her. She fell into his arms and clutched at his shirt, weeping heavily, unable to support herself. "She's dead …"
Merlin didn't know what to do. How could he do anything?
He was saved from responding by the opening of the smithy door. The village priest, the rather portly Father Callan emerged, his head held proudly with an expression of sickening righteousness on it. He placed a hand on Mertha's shoulder and gently drew him over to her and away from Merlin.
"There now, my child," he said in a falsely soothing voice, "she is with God now. Do not despair."
He cast Merlin an uninterested look, and turned with Mertha and began to guide her gently towards the village church. "Come now, and we shall go together to pray for her soul."
Merlin tried not to sniff with disapproval at this. What sort of a man was he? He hadn't given a damn while the child was lying sick, but now she was dead he was suddenly the ultimate authority on the matter? Callan had never liked him, but Merlin didn't like him either. It may be that he was one of the only ones in the village not to attend church. Callan did not care much for those that did not believe. Merlin had been born a pagan, he wasn't about to convert now to please some fat old man who lacked any common decency.
He waited until both of them were out of sight before heading back into the smithy and gently heading up the stairs. Was it only now that he was sensing the stench of death that permeated the residence? The entire world seemed to be dimmed in shadow, a hushed silence was over the village like the heavens themselves were grieving.
He made his way into the room at the top of the house and found Aelbert there kneeling by the bed in which his daughter lay, her hands crossed over her chest, her face finally at peace. Merlin bowed his head in respect. She had only been seven years old.
Aelbert glanced up when he heard Merlin's approach. His face was covered with tears, but he seemed oddly calm.
"The world will be a duller place without her," he observed flatly. "Her laugh used to fill this house, her smiles could brighten even the darkest of days. Now those smiles will cheer me no longer."
"She is at peace now," Merlin said, unable to come up with anything better. "She is suffering no longer."
Aelbert smiled ruefully. "No, it is only her parents now who are gifted that fate. I am glad at least that it is over."
He bowed his head over his daughter's motionless form, and seemed to be trying to compose himself.
"Your wife needs you," Merlin said gently. "You must both find your strength now in each other."
Aelbert nodded, and raised his head.
"They say it is worse for the mother," he said quietly. "To have carried life within you safe for so long, only to have this cruel world tear it away when there is nothing you can do to stop it. But none ever mention the pain of a father."
He stood up and looked down at Deira, more tears spilling down his cheeks. "She was our miracle," he said, his voice intense. "Many years we tried for a child, and then she came along just when we had given up hope. What sort of God would grant our prayers so joyously and then rip her away from us so cruelly?"
He wiped his face and turned away from her. He came over to Merlin and made to go past him and go down the stairs. He stopped and placed a hand on Merlin's shoulders, forcing him to look at him.
"Thank you, Emrys," he said, the tears welling up once more. "Thank you for what you tried to do."
And with that, he left. Merlin stood in the room for several moments, watching the bed as though expecting the girl to suddenly rise from it.
He moved over to beside her and knelt down, looking at her scarred face. He pulled the blanket up and over the face, concealing her ailment from view.
"Rest in peace now, Deira," he said softly. "You can come to no harm now."
The rest of the day Merlin spent in silent contemplation in his home, trying to dispel his feelings of guilt and grief so as to not go insane. Could he have done more? Should he have waited so long before trying magic?
Aelbert and Mertha had remained in the church all day and not emerged. Merlin wanted to go to them, to just be there for them even if no comforting words could be found, but he knew he would not be welcome. Grieving parents needed time to grieve, finding solace for their sorrow in whatever way they could, and besides, Father Callan would not be pleased to see him. He wouldn't want Merlin inside of his church; he seemed to think it a great crime if Merlin so much as walked past it, as though the church would suddenly turn pagan just from his presence.
He felt strangely at odds; the last few days had been filled with so many hectic rushings around and rummaging through books looking for answers that were now pointless. What was he to do now?
Was it his fault? Was there some spell he had missed because he'd spent so long out of practice?
Memories of Arthur came flooding back. That had been his fault as well … he hadn't got there in time …
A knocking on the door brought him out of his thoughts. He sighed heavily, and feeling like the old man he was, he stood up from his chair and crossed to the door. He opened it to find a young boy standing there, looking around nervously. He started in surprise. The boy bit his lip.
"Are you the healer, Emrys?"
"I am," Merlin answered, confused. "Who wants to know?"
The boy glanced up the street. "The Lady Cassandra would like to see you."
"Lady Cassandra?" Merlin repeated, amazed. "Cassandra Slytherin?"
The boy nodded vigourously. "She wants to see you straight away."
Merlin looked up the street, allowing his eyes to drift up to the distant shape of the castle.
"Well, I cannot keep the Lady waiting can I?"
A/N: So what do you think of my first chapter? Please review and let me know!
Historical note: The illness the girl had was smallpox, which was what I established in AR. It was almost unheard of in this part of the world in the tenth century, and this explains Merlin's confusion and inability to help until it was too late. It wasn't given the name smallpox until the fifteenth century, to distinguish it from the Great Pox (syphilis) and until then was called 'the pox' or 'the red plague.' I've tried to be as accurate as I could to the symptoms, but it's probably not right, so I apologise to any medical students out there!