Okay, now, before any of my OPM or MOEL readers send me bad vibes for starting another story, hear me out. This is actually, technically, a story for the 'Our Poor Merlin' collection (you don't have to have read that first, it's just a bunch of oneshots). It's just that it ended up getting long enough to be its own multi-chapter fic. I know, I know, I just can't keep them short enough. Ah well. Still though, this one should only be a few chapters long.
This story is for everyone who wanted someone from Merlin's past. I hope you enjoy :)
Merlin smirked from where he stood just behind Arthur, who let out a bone-deep sigh. The crowd was slowly dispersing, some muttering suspiciously but most looking at ease once more. Arthur had just finished delivering a speech to the lower town, assuring them that the rumours of raised taxes had been entirely false. He had almost had a riot on his hands, but Arthur had managed to quickly placate them, and Merlin couldn't help but feel a touch proud of his friend. Arthur really was a capable leader, as he'd always known he would be. If only Arthur believed it.
Arthur turned around and Merlin very quickly wiped the smile from his face. Arthur's face was a dark cloud, and Merlin certainly didn't envy whoever it was that had started the rumour. "Let's go," the king muttered, immediately beginning his march back to the castle. Merlin hurried to keep up.
"You did well, sire," Merlin said, falling into step beside him. "No revolts in the near future, then?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Let's not aim for one."
Merlin grinned and nodded and the two friends continued on in comfortable silence. It was busy and bustling around them, citizens of Camelot going about their daily routine, but all respectfully parted for the king.
They had just made it into the market square when a rough voice from behind called "Merlin! Merlin, is that you?"
Before anything else, Arthur noticed the way his manservant immediately froze, his body suddenly stiff and unmoving. With a wary curiosity he turned to see a large man with a very round face and shiny head grinning and walking in their direction. It took a lot longer for Merlin to turn around; he had barely moved by the time the older man reached them. Merlin's eyes sweeped once over the stranger before diverting to the ground.
"Fancy seeing you here, hey Merlin," the man said, clapping a strong hand on Merlin's shoulder. His knees almost buckled underneath him. "How've you been?"
"Fine, thank you," came the quiet response, and the manservant's whole demeanour was so very un-Merlin that Arthur almost wanted to draw his sword there and then. There was something very obviously wrong here, and he didn't like the dangerous glint to the larger man's eyes.
"Been keeping out of trouble, then?" he asked, his hand not leaving Merlin's shoulder. Merlin appeared to pale and shook his head quickly.
"No, no trouble."
There was a slight pause where Arthur could swear the man's grip tightened, but if Merlin was hurting, he was trying very hard to hide it. "You sure about that, boy?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Merlin replied; still no attitude, no cheek, no animation. Whatever this was, Arthur had to stop it, right now. He cleared his throat.
Seemingly noticing him for the first time, the man looked Arthur up and down. "Who's this, then?"
Merlin winced out of the corner of Arthur's eye and seemed hesitant to answer. Hiding his frown, Arthur replied, "I'm King Arthur. Merlin's my manservant. And you are..?" If the question sounded slightly threatening, it was completely by accident.
The man's eyes widened and he gave a hasty bow that didn't seem all that genuine. He then turned back to Merlin, who seemed to be trembling ever so slightly, his eyes still glued to the ground. "The king of Camelot, Merlin? My, what a... position you are in." Arthur really wasn't enjoying whatever big thing he was missing here. He especially wasn't enjoying the sudden conniving expression on the stranger's face.
"You didn't answer my question," he pointed out coldly.
"Ah, of course, my apologies sire," the man said with another little bow. "I am Daell, a humble visitor to your kingdom," he turned to Merlin again, "and I am this here boy's uncle."
Uncle? Arthur stared at Merlin. He had never mentioned an uncle. Arthur had always just assumed Hunith was Merlin's only family. And if this man, Daell, truly was who he said he was, why did Merlin seem so… terrified?
"Has he never mentioned me?" Daell asked cheerfully, "why, Merlin, how could you forget about your own uncle? I would have thought I'd be rather... memorable."
"What are you doing here?" Merlin asked quietly, and at least his voice seemed a little louder now. As if he was finding his bravery.
Daell smiled like a snake. "Came to see this here king of yours, actually. Wanted to report a sighting," he paused here and his eyes narrowed, but the smile stayed firmly in place, "of a sorcerer."
Arthur was too busy glaring at Daell to notice the way Merlin's body locked up, the fear now practically rolling off of him in waves. "A sorcerer?"
Daell nodded emphatically. "Oh yes, sire. Awful business, this sorcery stuff." He glanced at Merlin as he continued, "nothing but a stain to remove, really."
Arthur studied him suspiciously. He really did not like this man. But if what he said was true, he could hardly ignore it because of the way he kept looking at Merlin. But he did need to talk to Merlin first, and find out what the hell was wrong. "You will need to request an audience like everyone else, I'm afraid," Arthur said finally. "I apologise but I have much to do. It was nice to meet you." If, in this case, nice meant truly unsettling. "Come on, Merlin."
Merlin nodded and quickly made to follow, but Daell held out a hand to stop him. "We will have to catch up, Merlin. It has been far too long." The younger man didn't answer, only skirted around him and caught up to Arthur. Too lost in his own thoughts, he didn't seem to notice that Arthur kept one pace behind him, between him and Daell, until his uncle was well out of sight.
"So. Your uncle." Arthur had waited until they were back in his chambers before bringing it up. The trip was unnervingly quiet. "You've never mentioned one."
Merlin shrugged, looking anywhere but at Arthur and fidgeting restlessly. "We were never close."
"Oh yes, I can tell that," Arthur replied, deadpan. "Nice man."
Merlin quickly glanced at him, before looking away again; more specifically, looking at the door. "I guess."
As usual, it seemed, finding out what was wrong with his manservant would be no simple task. Honestly, getting a conversation out of Percival would be easier. Sighing internally, Arthur tried to make his voice at least a little bit gentle. "Anything I should know about him?"
Merlin wasn't even pretending to not be looking at the door now. "Nope, boring old uncle, sorry, have to go… do the laundry," he said, and with that he was gone. Arthur glanced at the basket of dirty laundry still at the end of his bed, and growled slightly. His friend was never going to make things easy. Heading out after his servant, Arthur found the nearest guard and requested Leon be sent to his chambers at once.
Merlin didn't make it far before his erratic breathing got the better of him. Finding the nearest set of stairs he leapt up them two at a time and didn't stop until he was outside, on the wall. There he collapsed, put his head between his knees, and tried to slow his stampeding heart.
Uncle Daell was here. Uncle Daell had found him. How, how had he found him? Why? Why couldn't Merlin just catch a break, just this once? Why did it have to be Uncle Daell?
His mother had never liked her brother. They were polar opposites, he dark and she light, and he had left Ealdor as soon as he was able, according to her. She hadn't heard from him for years, and the next time they met, Merlin had already been born, was in fact verging on his sixth birthday.
He remembered it quite clearly for such a long time ago. The way Uncle Daell had sneered at him, the way Hunith had pushed him out the door and told him to go play, even though the sun had long gone down. Merlin had been scared by the unknown man then. His fear was only to get worse.
Uncle Daell had ended up staying with them for a week, saying he just need some time to rest and get to know his nephew. Hunith had made it as difficult as possible, keeping them separate for any length of time, but it could not be avoided forever. Daell had ended up going looking for Merlin while he, unawares, had been using his magic to get a particularly hard to reach apple.
Daell had seen. Daell had not approved.
Merlin had been barely able to walk the next day. Hunith had tried kicking him out as soon as she'd seen the damage, but had received a black eye of her own for her troubles.
Daell had pulled Merlin out of bed and forced him onto a chair. Sat him down, given him a stern talking to, like a father would a child for starting a fight. Told him he was a freak, that he was awful, and that he should never use such a thing as wrong as magic. Told him that if he did, he would be punished again, and that Daell was only doing what was best for him. Was only looking out for him.
If it weren't for his mother, Merlin might have ended up believing him. Almost had.
Merlin had tried not to use it for the rest of the time Daell was there, but he kept thinking back to when he had tried to stop last time, and his skin would get itchy and he would remember his mother's face. So he would sneak off, run to the nearby forest, and use just a little bit to turn the leaves into shapes or to coax a butterfly into his hand. Just little things, harmless things, to stop the pain from coming back.
But Daell had caught him, again. And he had been angry.
And now Uncle Daell was here, in Camelot, in Merlin's home, and he didn't know what to do. Merlin's hands squeezed his head in frustration, and he could have sworn he felt the twinge of a very old, very painful injury in his left arm.
It was a while before he had calmed enough to leave the safety of the castle wall. He would have preferred to stay there longer, but Arthur would be expecting his dinner soon, and if Merlin was any later than usual it would just give him more reason to worry. Oh, he had seen the way Arthur had been looking at him before. But he couldn't exactly explain the problem to him.
Oh, it's just my uncle, he hates me because of my magic and beats me because of it, you think you could get rid of him? Thanks.
A humourless smile skipped across Merlin's lips as he descended the stairs. If only it could be that easy.
What am I going to do? He still had no idea. A small part of Merlin hoped maybe he could just wait him out; Uncle Daell didn't live here. He could just wait and avoid until the man had moved on. Except… he'd seen Merlin now. His favourite practice dummy. His most despised nephew. What if he decided to stay, to keep an eye on Merlin and make sure he wasn't up to his 'wicked ways'?
And then there was the matter of the sorcerer he was reporting. What if they were innocent, someone Daell was hanging up to dry because of who they were, just like Merlin? He couldn't just ignore it.
Merlin stopped dead. The deserted corridor was slowly darkening around him. What if the sorcerer… was Merlin? Was that who Daell had come to report? Decided to let someone else deal with the problem, after all this time? Merlin brought a hand to his chest, worried he was going to start hyperventilating again. Oh god, what could he do?
So deep in thought was he that he didn't notice the heavy footsteps coming up behind him until it was too late. A meaty hand grabbed him by the neckerchief and dragged the startled young man into a side corridor. Merlin found himself staring into the hungry eyes of his uncle and without any witnesses.
"There you are, boy," Uncle Daell hissed. "Up to no good as usual, hmm?"
Merlin quickly shook his head. "N- no, I haven't - "
Daell shook him roughly. "Don't you lie to me! I can smell it all over you. You wreak of magic." He spat the last word like poison from his mouth. "And right under King Arthur's nose, too. You're a conniving little bastard, aren't ya?"
"Uncle Daell - "
"Don't you dare call me that!" Daell growled. "I am not related to magical filth like you! You're lucky I don't hand you over right now!" Merlin remained silent because, really, he was lucky, and he had no idea why Daell hadn't done so. "I tell you what though, you little toerag. I catch one more whiff of the stuff from you and you'll be begging to be thrown at the king's feet. You got that?"
"You - " Merlin tried, and started again a bit louder, "You can't hurt me here. Arthur won't allow it." None of his friends would. He was sure of it.
This earned him a punch right across the jaw and Merlin fell to the ground with a yell of pain. Daell sneered from above him. "Oh really? You gonna tell on me, are you boy? And what are you going to say? That you're a victim? He'll want to know why, you realise that?" Merlin sagged further to the ground and Daell laughed. "You can't tell anybody, else I'll tell them exactly why. Don't you get it, Merlin?" Merlin hated the way he said his name. Like it was something vile. "You have no choice here. You stop your evil magic, or you get punished." Daell rolled his shoulders back. "It's only fair, after all." And with that he was gone, leaving Merlin on the cold stone ground.
The reference to Merlin trying to go without using magic as a kid is a tiny reference to the OPM collection, but really not too important for this story. Just know Merlin physically can't stop using magic for too long (in my headcanon).