A/N: Sorry about the long wait on this story. The writing flow has been somewhat sporadic for me of late, which is really annoying! However I've now definitely found my muse to continue with this story and as I go on a five week holiday break come Friday I'll have plenty of time to write! Yay! That's the good news. Now I just hope the writing flow remains consistent :)
I'm not sure who is still following this story so let me know if you are still enjoying it. It'll put my mind at ease and after this chapter I'm most anxious to see people's reactions.
That said. Enjoy!
Gwen gazed out the tiny airplane window to the ground below. England. She was home. Finally. The last six months had been kind of awful. She had witnessed far too many horrible injuries. Sights she knew would always stay with her. She made good friends with another girl, also a medic, and that had helped with the loneliness. But it didn't quite make up for all the people she could no longer see.
Uther Pendragon. She tried not to allow herself to grow bitter towards the man, but she was. He had sent her to Camp Bastion. He had threatened her to stay away from Arthur. He had even threatened Arthur. His own son! Just like in the last lifetime, would they never be free to be together until Uther was dead? If only fate would be kind enough to deal him a massive heart attack or something similar.
It was tortuous too. Knowing, remembering and unable to be with him. Letters were a poor substitute. The last week had been better because they could at least chat on Skype. She could finally see him with her own eyes. His eyes reflected his emotions that the letters couldn't. And as much as she might be able to see him, she still couldn't touch him. How much she wanted to. It was hard seeing the same longing in his eyes.
"It won't always be like this," he'd reassure her.
She wanted to believe him, but … for how much longer would it be exactly like this?
They skirted around that problem. It obviously upset him as much as it did her. They talked about other trivial stuff. He'd mutter about how annoying Gwaine was. Or they would chat about Merlin. She would note the affection in his voice towards him. Lucky Arthur. Least he did have Merlin and wasn't all alone. She remembered the days she had Merlin, and then would quickly stifle the jealousy soon as it raised its ugly head. She had had many years with Merlin. He'd been a best friend and father to her son. She would have been so lost without him, his wisdom and sound counsel. Now it was Arthur's turn to be with him. She didn't resent it.
Once she was off that plane and inside the airport, Merlin's face was the first she sought. Her eyes scanned the many faces off people waiting for loved ones to arrive. Where was Merlin? Her desperation grew. Had he forgotten? Feeling for her mobile phone in her pocket as her anxiety mounted, her eyes finally met his bright blue ones across the room. Hurrying towards him she silently chided herself not to get too emotional. But he was such a sight for sore eyes that the tears came anyway. She couldn't even begin to explain her sudden joy.
She flung herself into his waiting arms.
"Whoa steady on their Gwen," he laughed.
She pulled back to look at him, hastily brushing the tears away. Last time she'd seen him he had been thin to the point of being really gaunt, but now he looked so well.
"Look at you," she gushed, "You look healthy, normal."
He grinned in a bemused way. "Ah thanks Gwen, so do you?"
"No I don't," she dismissed, "I have dark rings and bags under my eyes."
She saw the concern in his eyes.
"Nothing that a few good night's sleep won't fix," she continued, looping her arm through his. "Let's go home."
They retrieved her luggage and walked towards his car. She still had her arm linked through his. It felt so good to be with her again. In many ways she had a way of making his feel complete more so than anyone. He had, after all, shared thirty odd years with her in that other lifetime.
"You have to tell me everything Merlin because I know Arthur's hasn't," she chatted along the way, "he will only tell me the things he thinks I want to hear or should hear."
Arthur had already given him strict orders not to tell Gwen about a number of things.
"He's been alright," he slowly replied, "better the last week."
"What do you mean better?" she queried.
Oh shit. He couldn't mention the drinking side of it, Arthur would kill him. Then there was the list of other things he wasn't allowed to discuss, so what in the hell could he mention? Suddenly it came to mind.
"He's on a diet, I mean he's been better with it this week."
Amusement crossed her face, she raised an eyebrow. "Arthur's on a diet?"
He nodded. "He carried on like he didn't care for months. Then he suddenly realised that you would be going on R&R soon and now he's all freaked out about it."
She smiled and shook her head. "So apart from that what are you not telling me Merlin?"
Damn, he'd forgotten how astute she was at reading him. He had many hours with her too, hours were she could grill him about Arthur.
He was in for a long night. Only not as long as he thought. She was in bed by 8.00pm and slept for the next twelve hours. The poor girl had looked exhausted. It determined his resolve to make sure she would never be going back to Camp Bastion.
Gwen woke the next morning to the most tantalising aroma of sizzling bacon and toast. That would be Merlin making her breakfast, as he always had when he shared house with her. Seemed ages ago now, god how she had missed this. The memories of her small home, the comfort of familiar surroundings and old friends. The last six months a blurred dream, least she wanted it to be. However, the reality was that she had two weeks at home and then she would have to go back to that place; hell. That thought alone made her despair. But she wouldn't think about it now. She was going to enjoy her time at home.
Merlin glanced over his shoulder and smiled at her when she entered the kitchen.
"I miss having you make me breakfast," she sighed, sitting down on a chair. "Do you make Arthur breakfast too?"
He shook his head, an easy smile on his face as he buttered the toast. "Nah, believe it or not but he does it himself."
Gwen briefly recalled the first time she'd met Arthur in this life. The house maid had been sick and he had to get his own breakfast. He hadn't been happy.
"You don't know how to boil an egg and make toast?" How Morgana loved to tease him.
"That's what house maids are for," he'd scoffed.
She couldn't believe his arrogance then! 'Are you for real?' she had exclaimed
"Guess I am," he muttered, frowning at her.
"You can't even butter toast?" she continued, shaking her head in disbelief.
In those days she couldn't stand him. Funny how that went, not that it lasted. It wasn't long before they were both head over heels in love with each other.
"What are you smiling at?" Merlin asked.
She shook her head. "Was just remembering something. How useless Arthur was when I first met him."
"In which life time?" he smirked, placing the bacon from the frying pan on to the toast.
"Both," she laughed.
"Yeah, he was," Merlin laughed in reply, "but to be fair to him he has improved a lot."
She watched as he scooped the eggs with the spatula and put them on two sets of plates. He turned in her direction, that familiar mischievous glint in his eyes.
"He can now dress himself," he pointed out, "bath himself even."
Gwen couldn't help giggling at that.
Merlin's grin widened. "He even makes his own bed."
"I am impressed."
He tilted his head to the side. "I'm not sure if he's figured out how to fold clothes and put them away yet."
Picking up the plates he walked the small space to the table.
"And I still make dinner, otherwise I'm sure Gwaine and Arthur would live on pizza," he continued.
"Oh god pizza," she groaned, and gazed dreamily at him, "I've forgotten what it tastes like."
Merlin handed her a plate with eggs and bacon on toast.
"I think I'll get Elyan to buy it for dinner tonight," she murmured.
Grabbing two forks and knives from the drawer, he joined her at the table,
"Thanks for the breakfast," she smiled, "you can't believe how much I've missed you and this."
He shot her a warm quick smile. "I've missed you too Gwen, and you're a lot neater than Gwaine and Arthur."
They shared an amused glance before resuming eating. Her eyes rested on his face. He really did look healthy now, his face had filled out some.
His eyes met hers, a puzzled frown denting his forehead. "What?"
"You look good, handsome even."
A sudden shyness stole over his face. Gwen couldn't believe that after having lived this long that he could still be shy when given a compliment. It was oddly touching to know he hadn't changed too much.
"Found anymore grey hairs?"
"The odd one, don't you think I'm a bit young to be turning grey yet?"
He really did look put out about it too before a thoughtful expression crossed his face. "I'm not even really sure what age I am?"
"On closer inspection I'd almost say maybe 25, though initially you look younger."
"On my latest fake birth certificate I'm at 23," he paused as a thought took hold.
His eyes sought hers. "I guess it'll be my last ever birth certificate."
She lowered her fork. It must be so weird for him to have lived that way, falsifying documents to hide what he was.
"Are you glad?" she softly asked.
He nodded, and smiled with real genuine joy. "Of course."
Merlin peered out the window. It didn't surprise him that Uther would have Gwen followed. He just didn't get how the man could be so against Arthur being with Gwen? He was clearly demented.
"That car has been parked across the street since we arrived home yesterday," he said out loud. "There are people still in it too."
Gwen was suddenly beside him, peeking through the curtains.
"I don't believe it," she gasped. "Uther has positioned a car across the street from my house!"
Her angry gaze met his. "He has people watching me!"
Turning abruptly she began pacing the small living room in agitation, muttering under her breath, "I don't believe it, that man is insufferable."
"Don't worry Gwen," he began. "I have the perfect plan to get you with Arthur for a couple of days."
They didn't want to make it too suspicious, even though Gwen so badly wanted to see Arthur, Merlin thought it a good idea to wait a couple of days. On Wednesday afternoon, she and Elyan would book into a hotel. Merlin would disguise himself as an old man. Arrive at the hotel, disguise Gwen, though he wasn't sure as what yet, smuggle her out and then drive her to the cottage.
"But the car would still be watching the hotel?"
"I can distract them a bit when we leave, and with me as an old man and you …." his voice broke off there as a thought took hold.
"What?" she frowned.
A slow smile crossed his face. "I can make you an old woman too."
She blinked, stunned and surprised. "You can do that?"
He nodded. "Yeah."
She still looked dazed, then grabbed him by the arm. "You'll make me young again when we reach the cottage?"
"Yeah of course."
A brief smile flittered across her face before a serious look took hold. She pointed a finger at him. "You must not let Arthur see me old."
Merlin smiled at her. "Don't worry, he'll be at work. In fact he won't even know you'll be there. I want it to be a surprise."
Arthur had debated whether or not to tell Merlin about Emma, maybe he should surprise him? And now that he thought more about it he didn't even know what history they had together? Only that she was his granddaughter, and Merlin obviously had some feelings for her.
When he greeted his Aunt Kateline at the breakfast table that morning, he asked about Emma, who was nowhere to be seen. He was curious about the girl.
"I'm afraid Emma is seldom up before midday."
Typical teenagers, Arthur mused.
"Morgana went through a phase like that," he spoke in reply.
She still did, right up until she joined the Army, then she had no choice but to get up early. There was hell to pay if he even dared thought of waking her up! He'd tip toe past her door even, just in case she heard his footfall.
"How old is she?" he asked.
"19 and a handful. You would have seen that last night."
"Yeah," he nodded.
Her attitude alone was enough to frighten away children and old ladies, even him! And it bothered him. She had been his granddaughter for god's sake, and maybe not now, but she would still have his and Guinevere's DNA … wouldn't she? It was all so mind boggling.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with that girl," Aunt Kateline sighed, lowering her cup to the table, "she is so angry all the time."
Arthur just nodded and listened, the more he knew the more he could tell Merlin.
"I know it is probably a stage of grief but I wish it would pass."
Kateline took a sip of her cup of tea, and sadly shook her head. "She's always been strong willed, rebellious at times too but now she's worse than ever," she sighed.
Don't worry Merlin will sort her out, he felt like telling her. At least he hoped. But what if he couldn't? What if Emma remembered the past? He briefly recalled how Gwen had been, how it had taken her a while to adjust to it. And he had no idea on what had transpired between Merlin and Emma in that past time.
Maybe it was about time he found out. Then he would know what they were in for if she did happen to remember.
Merlin gave the guys in the car, who were watching Gwen's house, a wave as he drove past. Uther truly was a piece of work. Poor Gwen. He rankled at the unfairness of it all. He couldn't help but mutter a spell, and a smile crossed his face as the front tyres of their car went flat.
Soon as he arrived back at the cottage he was confronted by Arthur. He'd barely stepped two feet in the front door.
"Were you waiting at the window for me?" he remarked.
Arthur scowled at him. "I thought you would have been back by now."
"I made Gwen breakfast."
"You don't make me breakfast," he accused.
Merlin smiled. "She's sweeter than you."
He snorted. "So, how was she?"
"Very happy to be home."
Arthur grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to a nearby sofa. "You have to tell me everything Merlin."
He inwardly groaned. The sooner he managed to get the two of them together the better. He felt very much like the meat in the sandwich here.
Arthur, of course, bombarded him with a number of questions which he attempted to answer. Then he told him how Uther had a car watching her house.
He swore loudly under his breath looking pissed off. "That bastard!" he muttered.
"I made the tyres flat as I left," he said.
That got a smile out of Arthur.
"Don't worry, you'll get to see Gwen without Uther finding out," he continued.
"I'm not worried," he quipped, "I know how sneaky you can be."
Yeah, Arthur was getting to know him all too well now.
"How was your weekend?" he asked him.
"Alright, considering," he replied.
Merlin noted the odd look on his face. As if he knew something he didn't. Then Arthur chatted about his Aunt, that she was completely different from his father, but his father was the same jerk as always, and no doubt was up to something. Why else had he decided to make amends with his sister after twenty years? However, Merlin had the impression that there was something Arthur was not telling him.
He didn't know quite how it happened, but somehow or another the conversation had steered around to Emma.
"You ever going to ring her Merlin?" Arthur asked.
He sighed and shook his head. "She was your granddaughter remember."
Arthur went quiet for a moment, and he glanced sideways at him, noting the thoughtful look on his face.
"So what was she like?" he asked at length.
Hadn't he asked this before? Why did he suddenly want to know again?
"Well she was kind, compassionate and strong willed," he replied.
Arthur was scrutinizing him carefully, further puzzling Merlin.
He frowned. "And what?"
"What else about her?"
He peered at him closely. "Why do you want to know for?"
Arthur shrugged nonchalantly. "It's a Sunday night and there's nothing interesting on the telly. Thought we might chat instead."
He grinned and Merlin had a bad feeling about this. Arthur wanted one of his past stories but why Emma? Or Emelyn as she was then.
"Were you in love with her?"
That question threw him for a sixer, his mouth dropped open and his eyes met Arthur's.
Arthur sighed and shook his head. "I can see clear as day that you were."
He swallowed. "Okay, I was."
"So what happened between you and her?"
He shut his eyes and shook his head. "She loved me, but she was young and I figured she would get over me," he sighed, his gaze resting on his clasped hands, "I couldn't stay anymore, watching people I love grow old and die. I had to leave …"
"You left her?!" Arthur exclaimed, a hint of accusation in his voice.
Merlin's frowned at him. "Arthur," he began exasperated, "what does it matter now?"
"You never saw her again?" he persisted.
Well yes. He had. But he debated whether to tell Arthur about it. He might not like what he had to say. He didn't like to recall those times either. It hurt too much, despite time and distance.
He took a deep resigned breath. For some strange reason Arthur was really persistent about it. He wasn't normally this adamant.
"I did see her again."
Not that he had planned to but fate had deemed it otherwise.
Arthur nudged him. "C'mon, spill the beans then."
Did the prat have any idea how he didn't like talking about his past? Normally he did but not tonight by the look of it. He would just give him the short and quick version of it all.
"It was 18 months later or thereabouts."
He had tried to forget her in that time, but not a day went pass when he wouldn't think of her. Torn between going back to the village to see her pretty smiling face once more, and or staying put. The cave was lonely without her. Even Aithusa mourned pitifully.
"You miss her don't you girl?"
He hadn't bothered aging himself up after he had taken her home. In that time his hair had grown wild and long. Days blurred into each other.
"Despite my vow of staying away I kind of caved in," he murmured to Arthur, "Figured I would go to the village, lay low and make sure everything was okay."
So much for that.
Alfred saw him. It had taken a moment for the young man to recognise him. No doubt he looked every bit the cave man. When he did instant relief crossed his face. 'Merlin. Thank god you're here.'
It also now meant he would have to face Emelyn.
"Only to find out that Emelyn had been caught by slave traders."
He remembered it well. The sudden fear that had gripped his heart. How he had shuddered to think what they would do to an attractive girl like her.
"When?" he got out in a hoarse voice.
"A year ago."
A whole year ago!
"I've been trying to find you."
He was still in shock. A year! Anything could have happened to her in that time!
"My mother is sick," Alfred continued. "I can't leave her … w-we need to get Emelyn back. Only you can help us Merlin."
"Of course. I'll go right away."
"What did you do?" Arthur suddenly asked.
Merlin had almost forgotten he was there.
"I promised Esme I would find her and bring her home."
Alfred had to stay to look after her. That was alright, he was determined to find her, no matter the cost. He had his magic and he was used to being alone, his conversation with Alfred the first he'd had in 18 months.
"It took a good month but I discovered that she had been taken to the Isle of Cyprus. It was a popular trading route for slavers at that time."
He glanced at Arthur to find his eyes riveted to his face.
"She would have fetched a good price being fair and quite beautiful."
He wasn't about to tell Arthur how angry he had been when he'd discovered that, knowing exactly what fate would await her there. Just the thought had sent him in a rage. To such an extent that he had also killed a good number of slave traders that day. The guilt of his actions had gnawed away at him once the anger abated.
Arthur nudged him. "Still in the present Merlin.'
He sighed. This is why he was never that keen to talk about his past, it was all too easy to get lost in it. But he would have to tell Arthur what happened to her, not that it mattered now, it really only mattered to him because he had lived it, those memories were his own.
"Once I reached the Isle of Cyprus it didn't take me long to learn her whereabouts."
He had initially felt relieved. She was alive. But then the thought of her being in a place that was nothing more than a fancy brothel …
"She was brought by a man called Balduk," he spoke, his face dead pan, "he owned what they called a house of pleasure."
Arthur took in a sharp breath alongside of him. "She became a whore!"
Merlin clenched and unclenched his hands. Swallowing back emotion, he said in a strained voice. "Not by choice."
"Of course not Merlin, just that …"
"That was the world then Arthur."
Arthur went silent. He was clearly taken aback. Blinking heavily before his eyes met with his. "But you found her?"
Merlin nodded. "In some ways it made it easier for me to see her in that place rather than if she had been part of a harem."
He could easily disguise himself as one of the locals, pay the money to be entertained for a night by one of Balduk's girls. But he dreaded as to what he might find, how much she would have changed.
A number of women were parading in front of him but none of them were Emelyn.
"Is this all you have?" he asked.
"There is another but she is unruly and difficult. Not as pleasing to the eye either."
"I want to see her."
A young woman was brought forward. Head bowed. Golden brown shoulder length curls framed her face. The guard roughly forced her face up causing Merlin to clench his fist. With no doubt it was Emelyn. Relief flooded him. Thank god. She was alive and neither did she look worse for wear for her ordeal.
"As you can see she isn't as plump as our other woman."
Overly fed, Merlin silently thought. But that was how eastern men liked their women here.
"She has a mind of her own."
Yes, she did. And thank god for that but this place. This is the last place she should be, deserved to be. He didn't even want to begin to imagine what had been done to her.
His eyes rested on her face. She was still beautiful. Even more so. Dressed in the right attire to make her sexually appealing. Her face had a healthy glow to her cheeks. But her eyes. There was no spark there, no warmth.
"She is a handful. There are plenty other willing women to please."
"No. I want this one," he spoke. "I like the difficult ones."
Her head shot up at the sound of his voice. Her eyes, at last, met with his. He saw the sudden shock there as recognition dawned.
Then she quickly lowered her eyes, her cheeks reddened. He could see the conflicting emotions cross her face. His heart went out to her. Oh Emelyn, what have they done to you?
"There you go again Merlin," Arthur exclaimed.
He blinked. "Sorry, but well it happens when I talk about the past."
"Tell me she was alright?"
Arthur was actually worried? It's not as if he knew her so why the sudden concern? It was baffling him.
"In health but mentally … she was shocked to see me."
And angry, he hadn't expected that.
"I'm sorry this has happened to you Emelyn."
She was pacing the room, her cheeks still red from her tirade. She never had been one shy of expressing her thoughts.
"But the worst is over now …"
She turned so suddenly towards him that he had to step back.
"The worst!" she yelled, "What would you know Merlin! I get taken from my home, forced to be with men against my will, my freedom has been stolen and what you would you know of that!"
Then she shoved him in the chest. "Just go away. Leave me! It didn't stop you last time," she hissed.
Her words, how much they hurt. Though he deserved them.
Turning abruptly she walked across the room to the window. Arms folded, she gazed down to the courtyard below.
He stood there rooted to the spot unsure of what to say or what to do next. She was angry, he understood that but couldn't she at least show some gratitude that he'd come to rescue her? His heart ached and he rubbed his chest.
Arthur nudged him, again, sighing. He glanced at him, half annoyed with the interruption.
"She wouldn't come willingly," he murmured.
And that he couldn't understand.
He simply stared at her in disbelief.
"I just said that I'm here to take you home and you don't want to come?"
She stalked past him, gave him a haughty look and sat down at the table.
"What have I to go home to Merlin?"
"Your family," he gasped. "You're mother doesn't have long …"
"What's to say she's not already dead?"
He could believe the coldness in her eyes or voice. She never used to be that way. How much this cursed place had changed her.
"Then what, I marry some village man, have his children and work and toil the land till old age claims me, and I become worthless. That is to be my life?"
He sadly shook his head. She was such a free thinker for this time, so different from other women, but in some ways it was also her undoing.
"And what is so much better here?"
She picked up a handful of grapes from the tray. "You ever see these before Merlin," she continued, placing one in her mouth. "They are called grapes."
He didn't get her point.
"The food is good here, like nothing I've ever seen or tasted."
She put another grape in her mouth.
"I have a comfortable bed, I'm waited on hand and foot. My time is spent doing as I please …"
"Except when a man pays for your time," he bluntly added.
Her face hardened. "It's easy enough to pretend to be elsewhere when he does the deed."
He flinched at her words. His heart thudded painfully in his chest.
"What about love?" he muttered in a hoarse voice.
She gave a bitter laugh. "Love is a made up word."
He frowned, not believing what she was saying.
"You loved me once Emelyn," he pointed out.
A brief sudden anger crossed her face, she jumped to her feet and approached him. He braced himself for her fury once again.
"That's right, I thought I loved you but you left me!"
"Hate me all you want Emelyn, but you can't seriously want to stay here … this place …" he muttered, his words breaking off there as emotion got the better of him.
He worked his jaw in frustration and his eyes met with hers. Noticing the sudden tears glistening on her eyelashes he fought the longing to hold her. Somehow knowing that wouldn't go down well. She was all, 'don't come anywhere near me, don't even think about touching me', now.
"I can't go home," she returned, eyes darkening.
Her face contorted in distress. "Don't you see Merlin, I can't go back to being what I was, I'm damaged, no man is going to want me."
He vehemently shook his head, wanting to protest her words. "You had no choice about that, it won't matter."
"It matters to me!" she shrieked, fiercely pointing at her chest, then the bitterness returned to her face. "I hate men," she spat, "I will always hate men and you included! The last thing I want is love."
She was just saying this to make him leave. She couldn't possibly hate that much … could she? But he could see it in her eyes now, and it shattered what little resolve he had left. Much as it hurt he had to convince her to leave. But how was he going to change her mind when she was so adamant? So full of bitterness.
Taking a deep breath he glanced at Arthur, who had nudged him yet again. "Is this going to take all night Merlin?"
The prat, he inwardly muttered.
"I turned her into a boy," he blurted out.
Arthur blinked in disbelief for a moment. "You disguised her as a boy?"
"No, I turned her into one."
It took a moment for it to sink in. "You what!?"
Merlin couldn't help the smile that crossed his face at Arthur's gobsmacked expression.
"It's the only way I could get her to leave."
Confusion flooded his face. "She wouldn't leave?"
"It's a long story," he sighed.
"How did she take being turned into a boy?"
He felt an amused smile twitch at the corners of his mouth, though at the time it was anything but humorous. "Not well."
She shot him a horrified look. "W-What have you …" she began, bringing a hand up to her throat.
"Y-You …" she stammered before rushing to the mirror on the wall.
Her eyes widening in complete shock. She staggered back from the mirror.
"You made me a boy?!"
He could see the accusation in her eyes. "Why?"
"Now you have no choice, you can hardly remain here," he paused, "a boy."
She angrily rounded on him. "You turn me back Merlin, this instant!"
He stepped back from her, him, god now he was confused.
"I demand it!"
How she ranted, and raved at him. "I'll never forgive you Merlin!"
But he wasn't about to relent. This was the only way he could get her to leave. She already hated him, not like he had anything more to lose. Surely she would see sense again, soon enough?
"But she got used to it. It made for a handy disguise and she was safe as a boy, especially with that long boat trip back to England," he said to Arthur.
She didn't have to worry about men touching her or trying to do anything untoward. It also gave her time to heal. She needed those months. She was good for her word too, glaring at him whenever he attempted to approach her. She had refused to talk to him, and for the first two weeks she didn't even say one word. He'd tried many times to get her to talk, eventually he gave up.
He had begun to wonder if she would ever talk to him again let alone forgive him. Surely she wouldn't hate him forever? Just that thought alone depressed him. How had it come to this? He thought he had done the right thing by leaving her, but if he'd stayed she wouldn't have been caught by the slave traders. Her integrity would still be intact. They wouldn't be on this rickety old boat with her a boy and hating him.
So lost in his thoughts he hadn't heard anyone approach.
"What are you whittling?"
He glanced up at her and was momentarily surprised. She had actually spoken to him.
He held up the piece of wood that was beginning to take shape for her to see.
A hint of a smile flickered at the corners of her mouth. "It's a dragon."
He nodded and then much to his astonishment she sat down on the bench next to him. He continued whittling and waited for her to speak, heart beating irregularly in his chest.
"I know now that I had completely over reacted that day … when you were there to bring me home," she began, then sighing, "I can't begin to explain how I felt."
He gazed down at the dragon in his hands, hope filled him. Did this mean she had forgiven him?
"I can see I left you little choice and you had to turn me into a boy, which is kind of clever of you even though I hate you for it."
The brief hope vanished. Okay, so she still hated him. "I'll turn you back into a girl when we are safely in England."
They both sat there in silence for a moment. The waves lapping against the side of the boat the only sound.
"It's not that bad being a boy," she eventually said, "I have this strength now, I don't think you men realise how much stronger you are than us."
He felt a smile turn up the corners of his mouth and chanced a look at her.
"It's also nice not be leered at by some man who you know just wants to fuck you."
He gasped, shocked by her choice of word.
"No need to look so horrified Merlin," she scoffed with a roll of her eyes, "I'm not innocent or pure anymore and I've heard the worst of language from the slave traders."
"Just hadn't expected you to know that word," he quickly mumbled and resumed whittling to distract himself. Her words bothered him, guess she had lost her innocence and it made him feel sad.
"Does that worry you?"
He should lie but he couldn't. "A little."
They lapsed into silence again. Had he hurt her feelings? What was she thinking? Should he ask or did he just wait for her to speak? Trying to come to terms with the changes in her wasn't easy. He was a fool to believe she could go back to being the sweet girl she'd once been, yet he still hoped that some of that girl wasn't completely lost.
The dragon was now finished and he carefully placed it in her hands, not wanting to freak her out. She was still skittish as a lamb when it came to anyone touching her.
"It'll comfort you."
He didn't miss the startled look on her face before she quickly masked it.
"Thank you," she murmured. "How is Aithusa?"
"She misses you."
Glancing sideways at him she gave him a brief smile. "I miss her."
He had to know one thing, had she forgiven him yet? He was about to ask when she pulled out a pair of scissors from her pocket.
He raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"You seriously need to trim your beard Merlin, and have you seen yourself in the mirror lately?"
He shook his head. "I don't have one."
"Well I do," she said and pulled a small oval mirror out of her coat pocket making him wonder what else she had stashed in them?
"You might have turned me into a boy Merlin, but I still think like a girl."
He blinked, she did? He wouldn't know, seeing as she hadn't spoken to him till now.
"Girls like their mirrors," she smiled, the first he had seen from her of late. "Even if my complexion has changed somewhat, I still think I make a handsome boy."
There was amusement dancing in her eyes. "Clearly you don't care for mirrors otherwise you wouldn't be looking so scraggly."
"And your hair," she continued, scrunching up her face, "it's kind of wild, and badly needs cutting, not to mention washing too."
She held up the scissors and grinned. "I'm going to cut it."
His frown intensified. "Why?"
Sighing, she rolled her eyes. "Because I'm bored to tears Merlin and there is nothing else to do around here."
"Is this why you are talking to me now?"
Her eyes lowered, a sheepish smile on her face. "It's really hard to stay mad at you for long."
Those words were like a godsend from heaven itself. Hope filled his heart.
"Then you have forgiven me?"
She sighed and shook her head. "I'm still working on that." But he could see by the expression on her face that she had made some progress there, and he couldn't help the smile that crossed his face.
"Oh shut up Merlin."
Then grabbing him by his coat she made him sit on the ground so she could cut his hair. There was no point in arguing with her. Right now he was just happy she had finally sought out his company. Maybe things between them would start to get better now? He could only hope.
Arthur clicked his fingers in front of his face, startling him.
"Ah, so now I have your attention," he drawled.
He scowled at him.
"So she didn't mind being a boy after all?"
"Well that explains some things," Arthur dryly remarked.
Merlin frowned at him. What did he mean by that comment?
Arthur just smiled in a secretive way. "Nothing."
He was hiding something from him.
"I take it that you managed to get her safely home?"
"Yes," he began, his frown intensifying, "and you know something don't you?"
"If you tell me what you have planned with Gwen then I'll tell you what I know about your Emma."
His curiosity was well and truly aroused now.
"You saw her?"
His eyes widened, how and why? Arthur folded his arms, a smug look on his face.
"Now that little surprise with Gwen you have planned?" he began.
"C'mon Arthur, it'll ruin it all if I tell you," he protested.
"Okay then, don't tell me."
Arthur abruptly stood up, glanced down at him. "Guess what I know about Emma can wait."
Merlin gritted his teeth as the prat walked off. He quickly stood up and followed him into the kitchen.
"Alright, alright, I have planned for Gwen to come here Wednesday afternoon."
Arthur spun around. "What!" he exclaimed, eyes widening, "Here?! Isn't that kind of crazy?"
He merely shrugged. "Here would be the last place Uther suspected."
Arthur didn't look convinced.
"Don't worry I have it all strategically planned and your father won't know."
He raised an eyebrow. "You going to turn her into a boy too?" he quipped.
"No," he grinned, "just an old woman."
The expression on his face was priceless.
"Gwen and me will just be two old people driving along," he continued.
The smile left his face. "Don't tell her I told you that, you're not supposed to know oh, and don't worry once she's safely inside the house I'll make her young again."
Arthur slowly shook his head, bemused. "You really are unbelievable sometimes Merlin."
He wasn't sure if that were a compliment or not. "Yeah but you get to see Gwen."
Arthur smiled, and patted his shoulder.
"So tell me did you make Emelyn a girl again?"
He nodded. "Of course, I don't think Esme would have taken it well if I'd returned her daughter to her as a boy."
Though after being a boy for a couple of months, Emelyn had grown used to it.
"I'll never have this freedom as a woman, as a young man I can travel, roam the world and not have responsibility," she told him.
Esme had just died a week ago. They were sitting at the kitchen table with steaming mugs of hot broth. Emelyn was lucky enough to spend a couple of days with her mother before she passed away. Merlin believed in his heart that Esme had only held out for so long to see Emelyn safely home. The gratitude on her face had touched him. Once again he had to watch someone he cared about grow old and die. The familiar ache returned to his heart, not that it ever really went away.
Emma looked every bit the young lady she really was now.
"You can't be a boy again."
She looked at him coolly. "Why not? And I don't have to worry about that monthly bleeding and the awful cramps as a result."
"You have no idea what it's like Merlin, and then I can stay with you, we can have lots of adventures and you won't be tempted to love me if I'm not a girl."
Her words sort of broke his heart. Would she really sacrifice being a woman to becoming a man just so she could stay with him?
"Emelyn," he began, his voice hoarse, "I-I can't let you do that."
"It's my life," she snorted angrily, "You can't tell me how to live it Merlin."
He reached across the table and took hold of her hand in his.
"Do you love me?" he asked.
Her lip trembled and she nodded. "Always."
He screwed his eyes shut. There was no way he could leave her again. But neither could he let her be a boy. That was a huge sacrifice. That was ….
"Emelyn is my cousin," Arthur spoke.
His eyes shot open. She was what?! His heart leapt into his throat.
"I saw her over the weekend at my father's house," Arthur continued.
"S-She's your cousin?" he stammered in disbelief, head spinning and ears ringing.
"Yep, strange world isn't it."
Merlin could hardly think for the blood rushing to his head. "How … how is she?"
Arthur rested a hand on his shoulder, a bemused smile on his face. "You'll find out next weekend."
The ringing in his ears intensified. "What do you mean?"
"I invited my aunt to stay, and as Emelyn is her granddaughter you'll get to meet her again."
It suddenly felt as if the ground beneath him had given way. He groped towards the nearby table for support. He would see her … he would see Emelyn. His stomach lurched and his pulse skipped a beat. It had been such a long time, so long ago. Would she ever remember him? But most of all … did he want her to?
Arthur had expected Merlin to be shocked but he hadn't expected this reaction. He had paled significantly. To the point that he was worried.
"Are you alright?" he asked him.
Merlin nodded. "Yeah, I just need to sit down."
Arthur watched him pull out a chair and sink down onto it. What exactly happened between him and Emelyn to cause such a reaction? Is that why he hadn't called her these last six months?
He really hadn't thought twice about asking her to stay but now … maybe he should have? And whatever did happen between them he wasn't about to ask. No doubt at some stage she would have died, and that would have been horrible for Merlin and shit. He ran a hand up the back of his neck, a pang of guilt slicing through him, he should never have asked Merlin about Emma to begin with.
He knew how Merlin had a tendency to get too caught up in his past memories when he started talking about them. He'd seen the shadow of pain often in his eyes and he didn't like it. It wasn't right that he had to suffer. And he'd just caused his own share of suffering to him that day.
"I can change those plans if you want me too," he quickly said, berating himself.
Merlin shook his head. "No, don't … I want to see her."
"Are you sure?"
He nodded. "Yeah."
Merlin was unusually quiet for the rest of the day, claiming he was tired by nine that night and retired to bed.
Arthur spent the rest of the day criticizing his actions. Feeling horribly disgruntled he phoned Gwen as soon as Merlin went to bed. He had to talk to her about it. He needed some reassurance from her.
"Hello," she spoke, her voice all sleepy.
"I'm sorry did I wake you?"
"No, it's alright, you know I would talk to you anytime."
Her words caused a sudden warmth to spread through him. He could scarcely believe that he would be seeing her in three days' time. Finally he could hold her again, be with her, touch her.
He told her everything about Merlin and Emma, how Emma was now his cousin. He had asked his Aunt and her to stay next weekend, had he done the right thing?
She listened in that quiet way of hers before telling him that Merlin was strong, and maybe it was for the best that he see Emma again. He was so terrified to love but he wasn't immortal anymore. He should and deserved to find love again.
After he had hung up he felt better about it. Merlin was strong, the bravest and strongest person he'd ever known. What he'd experienced in his lifetime … well Arthur doubted anyone else could have been through what Merlin had and remained sane.
The next morning Merlin was back to being his usual chirpy self as if the events of the previous night had never happened. But Arthur was still a bit worried despite Gwen's reassurances.
How would Merlin take it when he saw her again? Had he done the right thing?
Only time would tell he guessed. Either way Emma would be making a return in his life just like they had done. She was in a bad place, and he had the feeling that Merlin was just what she needed. Though as to how he knew that he really had no idea?
A/N: Now I am most anxious to see what people think!? I really enjoy writing Emma but I'm not sure if other people like reading her character? Feel free to say what you like, just please keep it constructive :) I really appreciate feedback and love reviews, as all of us writers do! It validates what we do and makes us feel all fuzzy and happy.
The word 'fuck' wasn't first recorded in writing till the 1500's, that's not to say it wasn't around earlier? It was really hard to find the appropriate word for the exchange of dialogue between Emma and Merlin that would have been used during that time period in history. I tried to do some research on it but it was really hard to find words from that time period as it was 'old English' then, and only 15% of our current day English is derived from old English. So in the end I just went with 'Fuck' as it was such an offensive word (hence Merlin's shock at her using it) in the past although it's almost become a common everyday word now and doesn't hold the same power. I love exploring language and how it's changed, how it reflects society at a given time in history. Yeah, I'm kind of nerdy like that :)
Now for some really good news! As I had intended for Arthur/Gwen's reunion in this chapter (only it ended up ridiculously long) I've already written it! So I have a really good start on the next chapter and have it all mapped out which means you guys won't have to wait long for it.
Thanks for reading!