It came like an omen through the streets of his kingdom, though frightfully beautiful in its make.
Lifted towering above the heads of his knights, a monstrously large, glass coffin was marched in from the lower town and right to the entrance square of the citadel. And off the clear, precisely-crafted edgings, it did glint the fading remnants of the sun's light.
King Arthur awaited the returning party, eyebrows drawn and with a hand to his sword belt and hip.
He strode down the outside stairs, crimson-coloured cape billowing out in his hurry. Ignored the polite, respectful greeting and nod from Sir Leon. There was a man trapped inside the coffin, or rather by the looks of it, deep asleep.
(Which was a fanciful thought, King Arthur considered with mounting dread. The man's chest did not rise, or fall, and his muscles did not twitch to any rough movement.)
The man lay so perfectly still where he was, composed with legs straight together and hands clasped over his stomach. The mop of his dark, coarse hair, black like the ironwork of King Arthur's window-frame. His long lashes contrasted so greatly with the pallor of his flesh, softness to his prominent bones in his cheeks.
King Arthur doubted, for however briefly, in his first assumption that the man trapped within was dead.
(How could he be with lips so wet and red?)
A terrible shudder overcame him, prickling his skin, filling him with a lonely, sumptuous want. Like a poisonous feeling sinfully tugged at his lower gut. But he revealed it to no-one in his company, unsheathing Excalibur and half-circling his men carrying their prize, however burdensome and strange a prize it was to bring back to Camelot.
They sweat copiously beneath their armor, having it drip down their foreheads, breathing heavily and doing all they could to avoid his eye.
His men seemed on edge for some matter not acknowledged.
King Arthur knew he would see it be so, but gathered those questions for the debriefing. He raised his sword above him, expressionless, and tapped the glass siding of the coffin, testing its strength and give. (And wondered in private if the noise might startle the sleeping man to perhaps open his eyes.)
The glass was shockingly thick for its deceptive, ethereal appearance. And with no mutter of grievance from the citadel's newest guest.
"Who is he?"
Sir Leon cleared this throat, gravely.
"A sorcerer, my lord."
King Arthur's eyes finally tore from the coffin, widening.
Sorcerer? A real one?
"During our return, we discovered a camp of Druids within Camelot's borders. All men, about seven. Most were severely ill, and six of the Druids were felled immediately." Sir Leon sent a tentatively apologetic look as King Arthur's temper became apparent in his voice.
"For harboring a sorcerer?" he asked, now turning to the rest of his men, and his voice barking in its growing fury. "Or for wishing to force my hand against an act of treason? This is no small matter, I'm afraid. I have already granted the Druid people safe passage through these lands and the promise that no harm would come to them for that reason alone." King Arthur narrowed his eyes at the bone-weary and nervous group. "Hear my words well," he said. "This shall be investigated."
"There is more, sire—"
He rounded on Sir Leon who did not shrink under his king's glare, but merely looked back upon it with wholehearted acceptance. "And what makes you absolutely certain that this man inside is a sorcerer, of all ridiculous things?" King Arthur demanded. "Has he woken at all to attest to any proof?"
"No, sire. He has not. The last Druid of the band of seven had confessed his reasons for harboring the sorcerer, before… being put to death. He and his men believed the glass was layered with enchantments, very powerful ones. They were attempting to protect the sorcerer, and given the task to keep him from waking."
The point of King Arthur's sword slid with a metallic rasp against the gold, mazing pattern etched into the transparent, heavy glass.
And the man with dark, dark eyelashes inside did not even stir, much to King Arthur's chagrin. Useless.
"And what is the translation of this writing?" he asked.
"They call him 'Emrys', my lord. And the writing is a prophecy of sorts, or so the Druid explained. It spoke of a great and awful power that would consume all, with bloodshed and chaos, if Emrys were to walk the earth freely." Sir Leon said, the severity of his words undeniable, along with his heedful frown, "The seven Druids were sent out by their own to make a treacherous and long journey. To seal him away from others who would dare rouse him. They feared the sorcerer, sire. That much was clear."
A conflict of emotions rose within King Arthur (outright indignation and the barest tremors of a cold horror that his knights would slaughter those innocent, if that had been the case; continued, exhilarated fascination of the presence of the magnificent, sun-gleaming coffin and its occupant; uneasiness at Leon's words).
Though it seemed to be an incredibly superstitious, and foolish, journey—the Druids must have imagined their reasons to be beneficial.
He had never heard of those peaceful and kind people, however, willing to turn anyone away in need. Or perhaps the sorcerer had been tricked, which made less sense. It went against accustomed Druid behavior to act in such a way.
How strange indeed this day was becoming. And somehow, he did not expect it to fare better at nightfall.
"If Gaius discovers he is dead, make sure there is a proper burial for him," King Arthur said to his first-in-command, Excalibur tucked in his sword-belt. "For the daybreak."
Attending the feast did nothing to ease his troubled mind, nor did Guinevere's warm, loving hold on his arm.
The men suspected guilty from the returning company could only hold his gaze for a few seconds, before either drowning themselves in the wine or finding means to escape the so-called "celebration" without labeling themselves skittish… which they did poorly. Sir Pellinore and Sir Bedivere among the lot.
He retired sooner than expected of him, patting the concerned hand of his wife's squeezing his forearm. King Arthur grabbed a torch and headed for the vaults, to an emptied, stone antechamber. Inside, the coffin had been placed on a slab, under dull firelight. The same light cast shadows across the serene, ashen features of the slumbering man.
Or so he hoped was.
"How is he, Gaius?" King Arthur approached the court physician examining the solid nature of the glass. Solid and unmarked, lacking any spots of mud or dirt. Or wear.
Gaius shook his head, eyes grimly lowered on the coffin and about as relieved in that observation as his king.
"I'm afraid there isn't a way to examine the body," he said. "Unless… sorcery was used to open it."
"And there are no possible means of breaking the glass? What about Sir Percival?"
King Arthur suspected that if anyone in Camelot could use the strength, the strapping knight could. "I'm afraid not, sire. The enchantments were far too strong for him," Gaius answered. An exasperated groan muffled into King Arthur's bare hands, as he ground them over his eyelids, taking time to stare down at the accursed object.
At its prisoner—he was sure by now that no-one would go willingly into such a horrendous, magical contraption.
Blue eyes traced over him.
The man hardly looked man, now that King Arthur got a fair assessment of him. Perhaps in his early twenties, if at all aged. It was laughable, at least to King Arthur: a sorcerer with a boyish mouth, and rather unsightly ears. No wrinkles to be seen or pockmarks or grey hairs sprouting from his face. All visible signs Uther warned him of.
He didn't expect to find rotting, filthy teeth in that mouth, or yellow eyes, or a bloodshot red.
"I will not condemn this man—sorcerer—to being buried alive, Gaius, or to remain here if he is trapped." The king mumbled, combing his hair back, "Is there really no way to free him?"
Another grim head-shake.
"Not that I can find," Gaius said. "It would require more time to deliberate a course of action." His old, veined hand pressed open, Gaius' fingers uncurled to the top of the glass coffin, right above the sorcerer's (unbeating) heart. Something in the air below the castle smelled mildewy. Suffocating and rotten.
A taste like the grease from his meal, slimy and ugly, coated King Arthur's throat.
"We don't stop until we find a way to release him," he said numbly, dismissing the physician without looking up.
The guards outside the antechamber shuffled little, not causing much of a disturbance, and the king was mildly thankful for it, skimming his fingertips over cool, humming glass.
"…Who the devil are you?"
The Lady Morgana, his younger sister, began experiencing nightmares.
Her maidservant wrung her hands under the cautious but gentle attention of her king, eyes unable to settle on a particular crack of the wall. In the audience hall, she recounted bits and pieces of Lady Morgana's babbling. Her frail voice agitated, nearing tears, only steadied when King Arthur's palms rubbed tiny circles to her shoulders.
There had been images like dragon's fire, blood saturating the ground and creating puddles, townspeople running in panic. The streets flooded with murky water. The clouds swirled a dusky purple amongst a bitter, grey morning sky. The Queen in a dungeon, eyes lifeless, with the folds of her luxuriantly adorned, sapphire dress littered with straw.
And yellow eyes, piercing out from the veil of darkness, shimmering with colour so alive and tainted with hatred that it had sucked the very breath from her Mistress' chest.
No more than dreams, he reassured her.
By the third day, King Arthur had no doubts that Camelot was aware of the sorcerer being kept hidden within the wall of their very fortress.
The rumors sparked upheaval and worries. But he needed to reassure himself to believing the sooner the man could be freed, the sooner King Arthur could get his answers. All of them, and ease the minds of his beloved subjects.
A list was scraped together of missing persons, first within his own kingdom, and then beyond his lands, past the White Mountains. It dated back several weeks, and then as long as several years. A widow, from Lot's kingdom, offered a near-perfect matching description of the sleeping man. "Her missing son is Merlin."
King Arthur frowned pensively over the Round Table, dark-gloved fingers steepled under his chin.
"What happened to 'Emrys'?"
Sir Elyan shrugged, not looking up from the parchment. "It appears to be a title from the Druids," he explained, softly.
"Does Hunith come?"
"It is too arduous a journey for her. She claims she will wait for a report from your Majesty."
It sounded like a name from an extraordinary world, perhaps far too-heady and far too-distant for King Arthur to grasp firmly onto.
"Then we will not keep her waiting."
It neared a full six days since the nightmares tormented Lady Morgana, keeping her from a good night's rest.
More images racing against her. Creatures like flame-eyed wyvern screeching overhead, beating their thin, fleshy wings. A horde of griffins tearing apart meat from human bone. Stings from cockatrice, embedding deep and latching on. Beetles and spiders crawling across her face.
Even Gaius cannot successfully produce a remedy against this.
The circles under her eyes bruised darker, with each passing day, but she kept grinning, remarking wittingly in their sibling rivalry. And for her courage, King Arthur was reassured.
He saw less of Guinevere than he liked, missed her touch, missed her kind and affectionate smile.
Wanted to hold the memory of her warm, sweet kiss to his lips. King Arthur watched with visible resignation as she departed the kingdom, blowing a kiss timidly over her shoulder, and headed out for Queen Annis' lands for the negotiation treaties. He trusted his own queen in good faith, in her ability to persuade.
("Will you not wait for me, my love?")
A terrible shudder overcame him, prickling his skin.
("I will do what I can.")
He started dreaming, and perhaps it was out of the silent throb of loneliness, as his blond head rested upon a fluffed pillow.
Of the burnished green shroudings of trees, of the rhythmic, oscillating sensation of horse-riding. Of his not-so-unsightly companion, with his tattered, grey-blue neckerchief and black, wiry hair. He jolted upright, nudged awake by the amiable shove of King Arthur's hand.
"Mmph… dollop-head," murmured like a single, throaty noise from those wet, red lips.
It echoed back to the king, as the real world shifted him out of the lingering filaments. But they were hardly considered nightmares.
The court physician slumped over an oak chair, bleeding from his ears. Sir Lancelot and Sir Gwaine, both men of true valor and bravery, with their inners feasted on by the crows.
And a faceless woman, with dark waves of ornate, braided hair, crumpled upon the stairs leading to the royal castle.
Fragmented and twisted visions from Lady Morgana's endless nightmares.
During her hysterical awakening, on a cloudless mid-night, King Arthur visited her bedchambers, summoned with some urgency. She had been pleading for him, to the guards, to her maid. Working herself into a quaking, sobbing frenzy. Eventually, it slowed and she muttered curses into her gowned knees. About the glass coffin. About the warlock.
"Send it away. Please." Her eyes were pale gems in the dimness. The green of her irises so faded. "Arthur, I'm… I'm begging you…"
"You must understand that I can't," he whispered to her, ordering everyone else outside the door, holding Lady Morgana's hand to his. "I would not give up on this man."
Her knuckles tightened. Her eyes hollow. Perspiration slickened to her face.
"Arthur, you must beware," she whispered, voice raspy. "You've allowed the seeds of destruction to be sown. Emrys is your destiny now… and he will also be our doom." Before he could get a chance to address her warning, to scold her for petrifying him to his core, Lady Morgana fainted onto her side, head cradled by her brother's hand.
If warlocks or sorcerers existed, many of them would not be found within Camelot's reach.
King Arthur had not heard of their stories, legend or not, since the Great Purge. Magic no longer existed.
Or so the previous King Uther prided himself on helping achieve.
The closest people to the wonders of magic were the Druids, and to his knowledge, were not currently in practice of sorcery. It spoke of no certainty, however; they were a secretive race of people by nature.
("Merlin," Arthur sighed, dragging his manservant up on his feet by the scruff of his jacket. "Is there anything you're actually capable of doing?")
Even if he had gained the advantage of tracking down another Druid camp, the answers to be won remained sealed, untouchable.
(A grinning leer. "Putting up with you.")
"I order you, on your feet."
King Arthur's hands, toughened by swords and crossbows and maces, gripping the surface of the marble slab. Only inches away from pressing to the glass of the magical coffin, if he wished for such an indulgence. If his hands could press to the unmoving, pale body, could heat it, will it to reanimate.
"Did you not hear me, warlock? I gave you an order. I am your master, your king."
He didn't expect a response, and scoffed anyway, upper lip curled. "Have you always been this insolent?" King Arthur said with mild disdain, eyes rolling, "The worst servant that ever set foot on soil, I imagine; and you're lousy about this magic rubbish as well if you can't free yourself, Merlin."
No indignant sputter of protest. No quick-witted tease, accompanied by a toothy, sunny smile.
His kingdom, and every mortared brick along with it, for that smile.
"You've done it?"
The astonishment tasted palpable, like slick, thick saliva to the surface of his tongue.
"It was not easy, sire," Gaius said, his face ashen. More ashen than his charge. His knees quivered under his own weight, wishing for relief of a nearby chair.
The tabletops of Gaius' chambers were heaped on with books, papers within crumbled and deposited open with looping, scribbled lines of undecipherable text and eerie symbols. And it didn't matter what it took, because through the entrance of the very back-room, King Arthur saw him there. The man.
Swathed in thin, ragged blankets and always unconscious to their voices.
It had been a fortnight since his knights discovered the coffin and paraded it down Camelot's streets, bringing it to him.
Him. Merlin belonged to him.
And he would have the sorcerer—warlock—right there, force him to open his eyes, lick apart raw, blood-red lips, memorize and consume every dead cell, every inch of him.
King Arthur fisted his trembling hands, sucking in a deep breath.
"This man has passed, hasn't he," he announced, somber.
"His skin is very cold. I'm using hawthorn to stimulate blood flow. There was a heartbeat I detected, but it was very faint," Gaius said, his own hands trembling, but not from hunger. "His breathing is shallow and irregular. If sorcery isn't what is keeping him alive, I fear the possibility of him not lasting the night, powerful sorcerer or not."
He wanted to asked Gaius—how did you?—but at the same moment, did not.
It didn't matter.
"Thank you, Gaius."
There were no more dreams.
His blood simmered a fire's hearth. Hotter than the gates to Hell.
Like the king was spellbound, he arrived to the same back-room, masked in evening. Gaius appeared to have taken rest in a chair, very quiet in his labored breathing, and did not notice his chambers being intruded upon. He would let the old man rest, as Gaius sorely needed it for all of his hard work. King Arthur shut the door behind him, eyeing the warlock.
He had forgotten the abandonment of sweetness, holding a warm, affectionate gaze to his. Her bright, smiling eyes, under pale brown eyelids he would kiss goodnight.
Days and days since his queen's last messenger galloped home.
"Are you doing this?" King Arthur murmured down to the sleeping figure. A sleek-soft leather glove brushed Merlin's cheek, dreamily. "What is it you need from me?" No answer, never an answer to comfort his thoughts, and he was exhausted from having to wait patiently, endlessly for the answers.
Hotter and hotter, clawing at his gut. The heat spurred him on as blankets were thrown carelessly to stone-floor, as King Arthur's forehead sank to press against another forehead warmed from contact. He ground against him, with every inch, removing clothing. Removing barriers.
Their thighs wet and tacking with oil, from a bottle on the desk. His lips clamped together against muffled groans, as more heat found the king, pulling at him, opening for him like a woman's maidenhood. He kissed and bit the lips below to swell, to draw a trickle of crimson against skin, as he surged with thrusts to the body against his.
Erasing the pallor of it, and King Arthur was not sure if warmth between them was his cause alone.
A low, whining gasp, but not his.
Merlin woke underneath him, mouth slack in pleasure, clear blue eyes lidded. He tightened his muscles around his king, slowly, slowly releasing tension within. He lifted his hands to greedily snatch another kiss, bumping their noses, Merlin's thumbs stroking lines of pure heat to King Arthur's face.
"All of you," he replied, smiling admiringly, leaking of his seed. A fleeting glimpse of white to evening's darkness.
"I knew you'd come, Arthur."
With a sweep of a hand, Camelot fell.
The throne-room blocked out the angered, terrified screams of the lower town. Their chants of betrayal. Like the wrath of the old Religion.
How the wind and sky roared dusky purple and grey.
Every time he closed his eyes, King Arthur saw Lady Morgana with her neck broken on the white steps. Hair spilled out like a puddle of dark blood. His knights, forever loyal, rammed themselves bodily against the barricade of the heavy, double throne-room doors. They yelled in a panic for him, breaking his heart.
"Can you make it stop?"
Questions built upon questions, and forever insolent, Merlin shushed him, carding his fingers through blond locks.
Seated upon the king's right side, on the wood-arm of the throne, and leaning ever closer, the great and awful Emrys of prophecy calmly examined the magically sealed doors and then its prisoner.
Blue eyes shimmering yellow-gold.
"It's a new world, my lord. I'll be here, like I always am, protecting you."
BBC Merlin is not mine. Holy shit, I've been wanting to write/share a Fairytale-AU for this show forever ago. NOW IT'S BEEN EDITED AND READY FOR VIEWING. No, it wasn't meant to end happy. But they have each other, right? Right? Feh. Basically took Merlin canon/Snow White themes/Sleeping Beauty themes and combined it. I really, REALLY hope you enjoyed reading. It took me a long time to get it to where I wanted, and I'd love to hear any reactions/comments. If you are a fan of Dark!Merlin… -whispers- call meeeeeeee.
"Arthur/Merlin, true love's kiss - Merlin is enchanted/put into a deep sleep and Arthur is the one to break the spell."