From Mortal Humanity,
The last war fought between the Mortals and the Druids was the Second Great Purge. Prince Mallory led the armies of his father, King Geoffrey, against the first truly unified Druid state since the last significant prophecy. It was this unification of the formerly separate magic states that prompted the mortals to strike. Since the peace, the Druids reformed their kingdom, again under the Dragonlord dynasty.
Arthur stood before the king, surrounded by the knights. They were just as stunned as he was. What would they do, Arthur wondered, if Uther decided he was a traitor? How many would follow the order? He was so numb from what had happened on screen that he almost didn't care.
"Did you know?"
Arthur said, "No."
Uther's eyes were wild. "Are you lying to me?"
"I didn't even know he was Druid, Father." Arthur thought of the photos of Merlin and the Druid Queen. Leon was standing somewhere to the left of him, his presence like a source of heat in the room. Arthur did not look at him. He felt like radio static sounds.
"Your sister is missing," Uther said. "And your servant has turned out to be king of our enemy. I don't like coincidences." He looked at Leon. "Bring Gaius here. In chains, if you must. Somehow, Emrys got past our anti-magic detection systems. He had help." He glanced back at Arthur. "You may not leave this castle. Sir Leon, escort him to his chambers. Dismissed."
It was a long and silent walk, and Arthur could not have spoken even if he had wanted to. Leon opened the door for him. "My lord," he said.
Arthur went to step inside, but Leon touched his arm. "My lord," he repeated, softer, "I'll not say anything."
Arthur gave a brief nod and the knight left. He stood for a long time alone in his chambers after the door was closed behind him, unable to think of anything. It was like he was stuck, replaying the moment where Emrys flipped back his hood and revealed himself to be
Had it been a lie the whole time?
Arthur thought of everything he had ever said to Merlin about Emrys. Not all who use magic are as evil as their prince. We'll make the coward come into the light. I'd know that snake of a prince anywhere. I do not ally myself with demons.
He pulled out his cell phone and scrolled to Merlin's name. There were only a few text messages sent between them, as Merlin hadn't been very good at it (the reason, now, was obvious). He wanted to call him. To talk. To say his name.
Merlin had found out his father was dead on the tarmac in front of King Uther, after spending three days in the Anglican kingdom. Merlin hadn't gotten to say goodbye.
Arthur wandered over to his bed, still staring at his phone. Every time the screen darkened he tapped it to keep it light. What if his father checked his phone? He would know he'd sent texts to Merlin—to Emrys—after the coronation. He finally tossed it onto his pillow and wished Morgana were there to talk to.
"You knew," Gwen whispered. There was a broken glass on the floor beside her. She held a napkin to her bleeding fingers and kept her eyes on the TV screen, even though Merlin's image had long since been replaced by newscasters. "You had to have known."
"I did," Gaius replied simply.
Her gaze shifted with such sharpness that Gaius almost jumped. "You're a traitor," she said, louder.
Gwen said, "Where is the Lady Morgana?"
Gaius paused. "I don't know," he replied.
She leapt to her feet. "You liar!" Gaius remained seated. "You've kidnapped her," Gwen continued. "You and Merlin—Emrys—whoever he is!"
"I swear it," Gaius said. "I hid Merlin and I protected him, but I did nothing to the Lady Morgana."
Gwen looked ready to scream. Gaius glanced at the table to make sure there was nothing she could throw at him. She said, "Why are you still here? Why didn't you leave!?"
Gaius paused a moment, waiting for Gwen to become less volatile. She simmered down a few degrees, but the blood in her veins was still pumping. Gaius could see it welling at the cut she had opened on her right hand.
"I'm still here," Gaius said carefully, "because I have faith in peace."
Gwen said, "They'll come for you."
"They're probably on their way right now."
Gwen stared, her eyes nearly bugging out of her head. She screamed through her teeth and twisted her stinging fingers and knocked over a chair. Finally she sat back down. The anger seemed to have left her in a rush. "Peace," she scoffed, but it was half-hearted.
"It will come," Gaius replied. "And not something tense and unseemly like there was between Uther and Balinor. There will be true peace. With Merlin and Arthur."
Gwen did not meet his eyes. Her fingers had stopped bleeding. "I can help you," she said quietly.
"It won't matter," Gaius replied. "The guards are already on their way, they—."
"Not to escape," she said. "Peace."
Gaius's next thought got lost on its way out. He was silent. Then, "You don't have to do that."
"I'm not interested in watching two good friends become enemies," Gwen said, finally turning to look at him. "I can help."
Gaius hesitated. "You should go then," he said. "You don't want to be caught with me."
Gwen pulled out her cell phone. "I'll take care of that."
Morgause picked broken glass out of Morgana's cheek in front of the dirty bathroom mirror. Tens of bottles and even more glasses had shattered the moment Merlin's face appeared on the TV screen, and the bartender was almost certain he had seen Morgana's eyes turn gold when it happened.
Morgana didn't care. She was numb. Even the bottle shards in her cheek were little more than cold. Merlin was Emrys. Merlin. Her friend. Her… something more.
She thought of the kiss they had shared on the balcony and her stomach swooped so badly she doubled over. He had confessed so many secrets. So she had thought.
Suddenly she had a vision, of Merlin, with henna on his forehead and his staff glowing a deep, bloody red. She was wounded. He was coming for her.
Morgause pulled the last bit of glass from her cheek and Morgana was back staring at her own reflection, white-knuckled and sweating. "What did you see?" her sister asked.
Morgana was silent. Her face in the mirror was very pale, with bright red blood on her left cheek. The cuts stung. Her eyes were blue as they had ever been.
Morgause dabbed the cuts with something before covering them with a bandage she seemed to pull out of midair. "We'll work on your control," she assured her. "And your visions will get clearer as well."
She looked at her sister. "Did you know?" she whispered.
"No one knew," snapped Morgause. "But now everyone does. Emrys is a traitor, Morgana. He abandoned his people to go to Camelot and live amongst mortals."
Morgana blinked. Her reflection blinked back. "He said the dragon was his fault. That he caused it to attack."
Morgause was so quiet Morgana wondered if she'd even heard her, until she murmured, "He said that?"
"He did. On the balcony." She realized that Merlin had come to that room to hold his father's vigil.
Morgause threw the gauze she was holding at the wall. "He's a monster!" she cried. "He's everything Mum knew he would be! He'll be the fall of the Druids, he'll lead us to the gallows!" She huffed, then placed her hands on her sister's shoulders. "If Emrys wants to start a war, let's make sure he gets what he wants."
King Emrys of the Druids lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling. Instead of moving into the old king's chambers, the palace staff had redecorated and expanded his room. The curtains were heavy and purple, the carpets a dark blue, and the ceiling painted to change with the night and day.
The few things that had made this place truly his—few though they were—had been removed. He found himself once again thinking of Arthur's chambers in Camelot, with its football posters and photos of friends. The palace staff had removed what little he had garnered by means of self-expression and replaced them with more scholarly, kingly items like a telescope and maps. He thought longingly of his guitar, back in Camelot with Gaius.
It was probably for the best. Merlin had played guitar. Emrys was a king. Emrys had musicians to play for him.
Soon he would have to get out of bed and stand before his father's mages and the nobles and announce dismissals and appointments for his own reign. The only real plan he had was to put Freya in charge of, well, everything. He didn't think there was any need to dismiss any of Balinor's mages, at least not right away. Oh, and he should discuss a political treaty with the Anglican Kingdom. After seeing the coronation broadcast, Uther was probably mobilizing troops. It would be good to have an official ally.
Thinking of Uther made Merlin think of Arthur. God he missed him. He really, truly missed him. How did Arthur feel after seeing his face beneath the hood? Did he think back to their hunt for Nimueh? To that first chase in the forest, nearly a year ago? Or did he think of Merlin, of their banter and friendship, of the promise to teach Arthur guitar and the teasing about Gwen?
He probably thought it had all been a ruse, Merlin thought bitterly. Thought him a liar. And he was a liar.
Merlin was a liar.
There was almost certainly going to be war. He had no idea how to prevent it. Hell, he had caused it.
Was Emrys a liar too?
There was a knock at the door.
He got up and almost pulled his hood up. But his king's robes had no hood. He glanced at himself in the mirror—the henna markings drawn by the high priestess were starting to flake off. The stain would stay for many weeks. His king's robes were black and gold-trimmed, with bright gold symbols embroidered on the sleeves and breast.
He opened the door, and there stood one of his old servants. "Seigneur," he said with a bow. "They're ready for you."
Merlin nodded. He glanced behind him, toward his crown, which sat on its pillow beside the mirror. It was spindly and gold, with gems of obsidian and diamond. He recalled the weight of it from when the priestess had placed it upon his head. He left without it.
King Emrys walked to his father's study. The king's study. There was a long table, and bookshelves all around. It looked a lot like King Uther's study, he realized, except instead of a television there was a Druid écouteur, a sort of magic radio, and several quills and parchments that wrote on their own instead of a computer.
The room had many windows, but night had fallen, and the candles were lit. The Druid council was seated around the table, and rose to their feet upon his entrance. "Seigneur," they said in near unison.
Merlin felt naked without his hood. He stepped to his place at the table's throne, but did not sit. He waved a hand, and the mages were seated. There was silence as they waited for him to speak.
Merlin knew these mages. He had sat in on many of his father's council meetings. First, there was the High Priestess, Adele, who had crowned him king that morning. Instead of her ceremonial mask, she wore an airy, black veil that stopped at her nose.
Lord Julien, of House Normande, sat further down, looking over-dressed in his forest-green cape and gold jewelry. His house was one that had occasionally married into the royal family, and they had been rather… insulted that Balinor had married a mortal woman. Lord Julien had taken over as head of his house after the death of his mother, Lady Elisabeth. He was tall, gangly, and with enough beard to make him almost look his age. He wore glasses modified to be in Druid fashion. He was a powerful mage by blood, and talented by nature.
Next to him was a mage from America, Gail Madison, without title. She wore a suit. Merlin had always found her a bit unsettling. He was fairly certain she and Lord Julien were seeing each other.
Directly across from Merlin was Ser Sigeweard, captain of the Druid knights. He trained the battle mages and planned many of the winning battle strategies during the Second Great Purge. He had served Balinor's father, and held much respect in the Druid Kingdom and beyond. His skin was covered in dark black runes tattooed by either the priestesses or himself. He had a jagged scar from a dragon's claw, because "only the dragons could touch him." As a child, Merlin had found him terrifying. Now, seeing the old chevalier fix him with marble-blue eyes bulging under a protruding forehead, Merlin felt the same.
Beside him was Lady Godiva, a monstrously beautiful woman that had been, Merlin had been told, the favorite to wed King Balinor. She wore robes of silver and spikes of dark metal in her hair. She propped her chin up on her hand, and on every finger she wore a large, glittering ring. One would have thought her vain, but Merlin knew each stone enhanced magical ability. She was the only other person in the room to be given a staff by the priestesses.
Then there was Ser Cenric. He was the most well-traveled of the council. He and Ser Howldred had been closer than brothers, and two of the strongest mages in the kingdom. His eyes were dark, as was his skin. He shaved his head every morning with the jewel-encrusted knife that Howldred had gifted him.
And, finally, at Merlin's right, sat Freya. Bless Freya, may she be ever prosperous. His only tether in the tumultuous world of politics. She met his eyes, and Merlin's nerves eased.
"Bonsoir," he greeted. These meetings always took place in French. "I look to you, my friends, to guide me."
"We look to you, our king, to lead us," they replied.
Merlin took a deep breath. "I've only just become king," he said, "and you on my father's council served him well. I hope that you will continue to do so for me. Especially in the times ahead." He paused a moment.
A moment too long. "Seigneur," said Lord Julien. "What happened in the mortal kingdom? Is it true you spent the last year living in King Uther's castle?" He leaned forward. "As a servant?"
Merlin's shaky confidence crumbled. The other mages leaned in. "Y-yes," he said.
Their reactions were not good. Ser Sigeweard said, "A king that has served the enemy. I thought I'd die before I'd see the day."
"It will appear that your loyalties are divided, Emrys, seigneur," said Godiva. She might have been a little amused.
"His loyalties are not divided," Freya snapped. "He is our king!"
Adele was noticeably silent.
"Uther wants war," said Gail. "Will he go to war with Uther?" She looked at Merlin. "Will you?"
"He will," Cenric rumbled. "He is Balinor's son."
"And that mortal's," Julien sneered.
"How dare you!?" cried Freya.
"Stop!" Merlin said. He could feel the foundations on which he stood starting to quake and shift. "How dare you speak of the queen dowager like that? King Balinor's ashes have barely cooled and you speak of his wife as if she were vulgar!" He fumed, but he was scared. "Another word against my mother and I will have you off my council. Is that understood?"
The room was silent. Merlin dropped into his seat. This was bad. His heart was pounding in his ears, but he had to remain calm. His own council, against him. "I will speak on my time in the mortal kingdom. And if you still question my loyalty, I will step down."
He waited. They remained silent.
He said, "I went to spy."
Freya's expression changed. Merlin ignored it in favor of looking in the spaces between councilmembers.
"King Balinor sent me to learn all I could from the mortals. I got very lucky, and earned a position in the royal household, directly serving their crown prince."
Merlin paused again. It was still quiet, but their eyes were fixed on him, as was every jewel on Lady Godiva's hand. His blood was running hot with his lies.
"I learned," he said, stronger now, "that King Uther is an evil man. I watched him let my father die for his twisted and backwards morals. I do not want a war but he has pushed us to it. He pushed Balinor to send me, his own son, into the heart of the enemy as a spy.
"But Arthur," he continued, "is not like his father. He does not want war. He does not see everything other than mortal as unnatural and dangerous. With him, we can achieve peace."
For a moment, the room remained quiet. Then Lady Godiva shifted. "I see," she said. "I understand." She looked around the room. "He is loyal."
The tension seemed to break. Freya's whole posture relaxed. Cenric nodded. Sigeweard sniffed and looked at the parchment in front of him. Gail glanced at Julien. Julien scowled. The priestess Adele remained silent.
Merlin felt the weight lift from his shoulders. "Thank you. Now. Uther is almost certainly going to declare war. We need to be prepared."