She was afire with royalty. This was a queen among women. That was always Morgana’s unspoken power, Merlin mused as she raised her head defiantly. Petty princesses had come and gone, and Gwen was coming into her own and yet Morgana had but to raise her chin to show that all in the room were beneath her. Even Arthur felt it, the warlock realized, as he shifted in his seat at the sight of his half sister. Her eyes touched on Merlin and he stared at her, taking her all in as he always did. The pale green eyes shone with the depths of the rage she directed at them all. But there was something else there, too; a pain and fire that hadn’t been there before. She might have hated Uther, but now she radiated a depth of hatred beyond anything she’d ever directed at her father. He took a step towards her, wanting to be there for her and help her up, but Arthur stood up.
“What is this, Lord Sarram?”
“It’s a gift, Arthur. Between Kings as a token of peace. I offer you your broken enemy, the greatest gift ever given.” His solid body moved to her side and tilted her head to the side, showing off the runed iron collar. “It’s strange, but the Old Religion still shows it’s true form. See here the markings upon the collar. They contain a sorcerous power when it grows out of control, or as punishment. I’ve discovered a cache deep within the vaults of Amata’s fallen kings that have helped me greatly in my fight against this corruption of the natural order.” Arthur looked pale and grasped Gwen’s hand behind him. Merlin could see he was clearly nauseated by the Sarram, but bowed in acknowledgement of him nonetheless.
“A great gift, Lord Sarram.” He looked to Merlin, who felt his stomach tighten in anger at the weak fealty that Arthur was offering. This was not Camelot, he thought. This was not something that you gave in to. The mark of a true king was holding fast to his principles, not bending at every circumstance. That Arthur could make a treaty with this sadistic man was beyond Merlin’s grasp. It seemed a betrayal of everything the young king was, or what Merlin had thought of him.
“Gwaine, Percival, Leon, take Morgana below and secure her.” The three knights nodded and moved to the sides of the sorceress, who rose in silence and began to walk to the dungeons of her own accord. Merlin gave a soft smile as he realised it looked like they were escorting her from danger, by her bearing. Gwen watched her limp towards the door and looked to Merlin. She beckoned him to her side with a tilt of her head, Morgana’s regal power affecting even her, it seemed.
“Tend her, Merlin. Treat her wounds and speak to her. Show her kindness. Either we will show her that we are better than the Sarram, or she will see it for herself. Her crimes are of course unforgivable,” she added as Arthur turned and frowned. “But if we are to be the light that Camelot needs, then we need to be at the least better than… than…”
“My Lord, my Lady,” Merlin bowed low to them and then turned and left quietly behind the throne, heading to the kitchen, then back to his quarters for healing tonics and bandages.
“I’ll need light.” He stood silhouetted in the doorway for moments until the guard brought him a torch. Merlin looked at him then went to the guard station, gathering a half dozen candles himself and returning, taking the torch and shutting the door, closing himself and Morgana off from the rest of the world. A sconce in the wall held the torch while he took out his dagger. There was a whimper in the corner, an involuntary sound that Merlin took notice of but didn’t react to. He cut the candles in half and gouged out around the wick, revealing the taper and then put the dagger back out the door and closed it again. Unveiling the first of his two bags, Merlin lay the bag open and then lit two of his candles and used the first drippings of wax to secure them to the ground. Slowly, unthreateningly, he gathered the other candles and cleared the ground, repeating the process until the small, walled cave was filled with light. It was a hole in the ground, with a pile of straw for a bed and a bucket next to a small channel of water which ran along a wall. They were deep in the bedrock of the castle, with no window showing the sun outside. Merlin finally looked to Morgana, slumped against the wall and swamped in chains. Her mouth was stuffed with a dirty rag and old, dried blood caked her temple and ran down her neck to her chest and beneath the ragged black dress she wore. Morgana was watching him, resigned yet curious. Merlin always threw her concentration. There was something about him. And there always had been. He was so internal, that there was a library worth of thought behind his every action. His entire being was as though it were a studied reaction, keeping everything inside. He took a deep breath, but didn’t look away. Her stomach was twisting in pain as she smelled food, real food, but didn’t want to let on. Her regal expression returned, hiding the hurt, and Merlin nodded as if to himself. He moved back beyond and grabbed the other bag, bringing it to her and setting it down in front of her, then boldly grabbing her hands.
Morgana flinched and turned away, but his hands were gentle as they reached up to tilt her head, staring at the wound. To her surprise he grimaced in sympathy, covering it up by gently moving his hands up her arms, check her for broken bones. His ministrations ran into the minutes until she gave a strangled sob when he found the cut near her temple. He murmured gentle apologies then his fingertips moved to the rag at her mouth and threw it aside with disgust. He took a deep breath and then let it out slowly, clenching his fists beside him. For but a second she felt he was going to strike her, but then realised that his anger was directed at her. She shied away from him nonetheless. Merlin’s hands paused and then he emptied the bag, setting a plate before her and laying fresh baked bread, cheese slices and thick smoked ham upon it. She stared at him, her jaw clenching and her cheeks flaring with colour in the bright candlelight. Her eyes teared and he held the plate up to her, offering it to her silently. She took it and began to eat ravenously, as if the flavours had been long forgotten. Merlin worked as she ate, cleaning the dirt from her hands and tending to the cut on her temple, then refilling her plate when she emptied it with more of the same food, which she relished more for the second plate, though he had no idea where she’d put it, given how skinny she was. She chewed slower as he moved his hands from her arms to her knees, feeling down the legs and finding rough, bruised circlets around her ankles, where the Sarram had chained her. He lifted the hem of her skirt, then blushed and held up a germ tonic and cloth.
“Do you mind?” he asked, as if she were still the Lady Morgana, Ward of the King, and he nothing but a lowly servant. Morgana was still for a moment, and then moved her legs forward, tilting them to keep them closed but offering him her ankles. His hands moved around her ankles and checked her feet as well, then moved up to her knees, his face colouring slightly as he ran his hands over her dress. Wordlessly, Morgana shifted back further and looked again to the wall, away from him, and Merlin bowed his head in apology and his hands lifted off her. She shifted again as his touch left her, then frowned to herself and her arms crossed over her body, the chains pulling tighter over her and a single tear coming down from her closed eyes. He took the plate back and set a cup down, a large goblet so that she could drink from the running water. Then he pulled the last item out of his bag and placed them in the cup at her side.
“I have to go, Morgana. I’ll come back tomorrow and see how you’re feeling.” She didn’t respond until he had closed the door again, stepping on the forgotten dagger and silently cursing himself.
“Merlin…?” She still said his name the same way. The lilt to that voice was an echo in his mind, and had been for years. He wondered if it were a little magic in her, just to have her say his name and make him feel such things.
“Yes, My Lady?” She didn’t reply for a moment, and he looked through the bars on the door and found her, staring in wonder at the goblet, and its pile of fresh cherries. Tears fell down her cheeks and a small smile broke her controlled apathy and made his breath come much quicker as she stared at them, then picked one up and sniffed it delicately.
“Ealdor,” he answered, finding such pleasure in her simple smile. She frowned for a moment then tucked her chin to her chest and smiled, popping a cherry into her mouth and savouring the rush of flavour as it burst.
When she looked up at the door, he was gone.
He visited her every day, bringing her meals. Sometimes they were plain bread and cheese, other times watery stew; the standard prison fare. When he could, he would smuggle in true delicacies, and pass it off for things she had done for him, times she had convinced Arthur of the right course of action. Or as apologies. They passed the time with Merlin talking softly to her, making sure she understood he was no threat. She didn’t speak to him, but after a week, he brought her a plate of roasted lamb, still hot, covered in gravy and overflowing with roasted potatoes and fresh peas and carrots with two fresh, thick slices of bread. She stared at it for so long, trying to remember the last time she’d had such a royal meal. The tears came and Merlin was there, holding her as she collapsed. He held her while she shook in his arms, then looked up at him as the tears poured down his own face. In the sudden understanding, they both shared that horrid memory of her poisoning, but each from the other's side.
“This was what it was about. This is my apology. That sleeping curse was tied to your life force. Morgause had cursed you to be the source, and I tried everything. I did. I… there was nothing I… I didn’t know… I didn’t, I couldn’t…” He gave a sob and held her, feeling her arms tighten around him, burying her head into the crook of his neck and her fingers tighten around his scarf. She brought his head down and they held one another like that for a long time. It wasn’t until Morgana moved her head up slightly against him that he shifted suddenly, even as her lips grazed his neck, her nose breathing in his scent softly.
“So much for bringing you a hot meal as an apology.”
“Merlin,” she murmured softly, drawing his attention. He looked down at her and realised that their faces were close enough that to lower his to hers would take an instant. His eyes locked onto hers, and she lowered them, a lost smile on her face as she tilted towards him. Merlin closed his eyes, fighting for control. The moment was gone in a heartbeat, and she looked away, turning away from him and facing the wall. Merlin sighed and gripped his hands tightly, then shook with a frustration that he would never have imagined.
“I’m sorry, Morgana. For everything I’ve ever failed you in. I’m so, so very sorry, Morgana. I bare the weight of my mistakes every day. I’ll never hurt you again.” She shrugged and in the candlelight, something pale glistened through a tear in the dress. Morgana’s skin was pale and always had been, but this was something else. He’d never ever forgotten that illicit moment when she was behind the screen, and the smooth softness of her skin tantalised his dreams, with a myriad of thoughts of her turning and smiling at him over her shoulder. Her once beautiful hair covered her head now like armour, hiding her face from him.
“Don’t, Merlin, please. I…You don’t need to, Merlin. I’ve endured more pain that I ever thought to know.” Her hand appeared on her shoulder, touching at her back and then shifting her back from his sight. Merlin restrained her lightly with a hand on her own, holding her there. His free hand moved over her back, touching the skin through the thin material and feeling the layers of scar tissue. His chest darkened in anger, the tightness spreading as he felt his control beginning to slip. Layer upon layer of rough, torn skin revealed itself to his fingertips, and Merlin felt his jaws clench as the darkness in his grew suddenly huge, like a dragon taking flight. That’s when Morgana flinched away from him, and everything turned a deep, righteous red in his vision.
Merlin slammed the doors open with a thud, even as the feast was in full swing and strode forward, through the staggering dances that petered off around him, sensing his anger. He strode boldly up to the monarchs before him, his eyes an electric blue in his rage as he stared at the Sarram. Merlin could feel his control feathering between his will and his rage. This was not the Camelot he had sacrificed everything for. This would destroy the legacy of the Once and Future King that he had sacrificed everything for.
“You cannot treaty with this “thing,” my King,” Merlin spat. “This is no ally to the legacy of Camelot.”
“Merlin!” Gwen exclaimed in shock at his uncharacteristic venom. Arthur was just as stunned and confused, but rose from his throne and stared at his manservant.
“Merlin, what…? Guards!” They came forward, and the knights rose from the tables, looking to Arthur, who nodded at Merlin. Merlin held up a single hand in warning as they came to him, feeling his anger beginning to get the better of him.
“My King, I…” He looked about him and then clenched his jaw and held his jaw up, unconsciously echoing Morgana’s regal bearing in Arthur’s eyes immediately. “I have always looked out for you, Arthur. I have served faithfully and to the best of my ability. I will ALWAYS serve faithfully and to the best of my ability. But this man is a monster, and needs to be put to the sword.” Arthur looked down at the Sarram who was staring at the going on with narrowed eyes.
“He is my guest,” he bit off, teeth clenching at Merlin as they fought to keep the polite respect between a manservant and his King instead of the two friends that they truly were. Merlin reached out to Arthur through his words, as he always did.
“He is a sadistic monster that would as soon plunge a knife into your back as grasp your wrist. End this farce, my King. Camelot would forever be tainted by the likes of this…”
He waved contemptuously at the Sarram, who drained his wine and then stood, his hand going to his sword. His guard followed suit, and the room went from stunned spectators to readied weapons in that single heartbeat.
“I won’t stand for this! I’ll have your head, insolent whelp!” Merlin nodded once, his electric blue eyes boring deep into the posturing murderer and pinning him to his seat.
“Sarram of Amata, if you don’t leave, you won’t stand ever again.” The solid threat in his voice was beyond anything his friends had ever heard in their normally jovial companion. Arthur, startled beyond anything, looked to Gwen, who was equally at a loss. The knights finally moved to Merlin’s side, but didn’t grab a hold of him. Merlin stood before Arthur, imploring him to see sense, and then Arthur nodded at him, a small purse of his lips that could have been a smile or could have been a frown.
“Take him to the dungeon. I’ll deal with him later for this insolence.”
Merlin’s control slipped and he shook his head at Arthur, clearly disappointed. Gwen considered as Merlin was led away that perhaps things were far more complicated between Morgana and Merlin than even they were willing to admit. She had placed Morgana in Merlin’s care, and something had happened, something that had truly affected Merlin in a profound way. There was no one more devoted to Arthur than Merlin, and for him to break character in this way was proof enough of that. Arthur bowed low to the Sarram and she ducked her head in accordance.
“My apologies, Lord Sarram. Perhaps those strong spirits your men have brought have gotten to him. Rest assured he won’t recover quickly from this.”
The door locked with a clang and Merlin stared up at the sky through the bars on the cage window. The cells faced the afternoon sun, or at least they would, had there been any. The dark storm outside suited Merlin’s mood just fine at the moment. He’d lost his senses, he realised. Arthur should have been gone to and guided into the right decision, making the warrior either consider the advice of his own sense of right and wrong, or more likely, seeing reason through his own personal contemplations. That was Merlin’s life, making Arthur believe that he had made the right decisions. He lowered his head as the clouds broke for a moment, shining the sun into the prison and onto his face. For that moment, he wished he could trade places with Morgana, so that she could see the sky, and feel the sun on her face for those heartbeats. A throat cleared behind him, but the door didn’t open. Merlin looked up into the sun, feeling his eyes water. And that was what it was like with Arthur. His promise was so bright that it brought tears to his eyes. But tears blinded you, too. And all that promise was for naught if it was never fulfilled. Again, his thoughts wandered to Morgana. Was she that bright possibility as well, tainted by everything? Was she only the woman she was because of everything that had happened to her, or had everything happened to her because of the woman that she was? He sighed deeply as Arthur cleared his throat again, then turned and rested his back against the door,
“What were you thinking, Merlin?” Kilgarrah’s fears and cryptic nature, Gaius’s concern, Uther’s fear mongering, had they all brought about the change in Morgana, or had they been proven right? Merlin began to quietly consider the chance that it was everyone’s fault. Uther for his unreasoning weakness and blind arrogance. Arthur for following when he should be leading. Gaius for his denial of the truth in favour of caution and most of all, Merlin himself, for giving in to his own fear and not following his heart. In the end, Merlin hung his head further and wept, taking upon his thin shoulders the blame because no one else would look at it. Deep in his mind, he hoped one day that Morgana wouldn’t hate him for what he had made of her.
“Look at her back, my King. Look at what he’s done to her.” The cloth against the door moved as Arthur uncomfortably shifted and then he moved off, obviously looking toward Morgana’s cell.
“Gwen’s there. We’re going to have to work very hard to repair the damage you’ve done. The Sarram has treated her harshly, granted, but he is an enemy that Camelot can ill afford.” The consummate politician and king. Merlin felt his heart breaking.
“Look at her, Arthur. I mean look, go and actually look at what that man has done to your sister.” It took him a moment, but he did so, leaving with a sigh and calling for the guards to unlock the cell door. He was gone for ten minutes or so, and then Merlin heard the sound of the lock clicking back into place and Arthur’s slow footsteps back to his own cell door. He didn’t speak and Merlin nodded to himself as the rain began to crash down through the bars and run down the wall, making a soft trickling sound. Idly, he wondered if the small freshwater trail in Morgana’s cell kept her awake at night or comforted her.
“And now you see, Arthur. For all of Morgana’s evils, she remains a person, a human being. Do you ever wonder if maybe it’s our own fault? She was angry at Uther, and did she not have just cause to be so? I wonder if things were different, if all the decisions that were made for Morgana’s sake and the greater good were made differently, for Morgana’s consideration and not what everyone else thought would be the best. Maybe things should have been different and we wouldn’t be in this situation. So now it’s on you, Arthur, to fix this. If you treat with that monster, you’ll forever taint all that Camelot stands for.” The young king did not move, to Merlin’s ears, and the young warlock turned to the doorway and stood up, moving closer. Arthur’s face was fixed on the sturdy metal door and he was shaking his head in consternation.
“You should have come to me privately, spoken to me. This is a difficult situation, Merlin. Political alliance is the one path that can lead us out of these dark times.”
“That’s your father talking. You know what they say about lying with dogs and catching fleas. It’s not difficult at all, Arthur. He’s a monster. Do what you did best. Destroy him.”
“He’s not a monster, Merlin, he’s a man. And a strong political ally. Yes, we disagree on some things, his treatments of his people being one of this, but this isn’t the days of long ago, where you could solve your problems by lopping off the head of anyone that didn’t agree with you. Camelot needs to be a bright light and lead with compassion and understanding, and that means forfeiting our right to judge those we disagree with.”
“Like magic users? Where is your compassion and understanding then? We’ve failed her over and over again.”
“Them. Magic users. In general.”
“They’ve proven themselves over and over again, Merlin, and remember who you’re snarling at.” Merlin bit back his retort and lowered his eyes in respect to his King. Arthur sighed and tilted his head as he stared at his friend. “Look, Merlin, those things take time. We’re working towards it, but with the people having been so taught to fear magic users for all this time, it’s difficult, it’s a timely matter. Right now… I’m dealing with a political alliance that could end a great deal of bad history. We have to be understanding.”
“Yes, but not at the sacrifice of our humanity, our ideals. Camelot IS a shining light, but we’re being lost in the darkness. We have to strive to be more than this. You’re supposed to be the king that you have always had the promise to be, Arthur. The prince that defied his father and fought off Sigan’s gargoyles was a king I’d lay down my life for. What are you now?” He last was shouted through the bars, and Arthur’s head snapped up.
“I’m your King, Merlin. And you’re forgetting your place. I have enough royal counsellors; I don’t need my servant thinking he has the right to…”
“No, you’d rather take the word of a murdering, sadistic killer instead. Why would you listen to common sense now? You’re royalty. Not common.” Arthur leaned back at the frustration in Merlin’s tone and then he squared himself and unclenched his teeth and fist. He looked over at Gwen, who was staring at them, concern in her gentle bearing. Beside her, pale green eyes watched from behind the barred door.
“You’ve never had your head on straight where Morgana’s involved, Merlin. I can’t have you being involved in this while Sarram is here in the castle. You’ll stay here.” He turned and stared at Merlin, who vibrated with frustration at him with his blue eyes, glaring accusingly at him.
“As you wish, King.” The word cut like a knife to the young king, a distancing that showed just how hurt Merlin was. Arthur stared at him for a few moments more, then turned and left, not looking back. Merlin would get over it, he decided furiously. Merlin always got over everything. The pain was momentary, and he’d see that. He was normally a lot wiser than he was now. Privately, Arthur wondered if Morgana’s collar was nothing but a fake, and that she’d enchanted his friend against him.
Merlin grunted in pain as he collapsed, feeling something happen around him. Deep within him came a tearing, ripping feeling followed by horrific pain, and suddenly he was weightless, feeling himself floating as he fell to the floor and slumped against the door. From somewhere he could feel Kilgarrah raging against the sky, throwing dragonfire about him in horror and anger. The minutes passed into longer, and finally the pain stopped. Merlin breathed slowly, feeling the chest pain ease up and wondering at the weightless feeling that continued to ease him down. Perhaps he was dying, he thought. He blinked and struggled to focus as he heard a voice calling his name. He listened but heard nothing for a moment, then Gwen’s voice came.
“Merlin… I wanted to say… thank you. For what you did for Morgana, and what you’re trying to do for Arthur. I know he’ll see reason, eventually, hopefully when it’s not too late. And for yourself, Merlin…? Morgana heard everything you just said. She knows what you did for her, or because of her. She could hear it all, and I just wanted you to know that.” Her meaningful tone caught in his ears and mind and he nodded before exhaustion took him into the dark.
Kilgarrah slept soundly, even in his dream, but Merlin knew that he could hear the dragon’s thoughts. They spun a meadow glowing in the light of the moon, and looked at one another from across that great divide. Kilgarrah’s golden eyes stared at Merlin and the teeth glistened in that pale light as he snarled soundlessly in distaste.
“I warned you, young Warlock, of the witch’s power. She’s enchanting you, ensnaring you in her will.” Merlin threw his hands wide and dismissed the notion, eyeing the last dragon with something burning inside of him, the emptiness that had wrenched a hole in his soul when he and Arthur had parted last.
“And what would a dragon know of the feelings between two mere mortals?” Kilgarrah scoffed and rose up on his legs, cat-like. He pointed his nose toward Merlin and his eyes narrowed over his golden eyes.
“You have never been a mere anything, young warlock, and the young witch has powers which even you cannot defeat, powers which have nothing to do with her power and yet everything to do with her.”
“I’m not in love with her.” Again came that great scoff and Kilgarrah rose to his full height.
“Then you are enamoured beyond the prize behind her skirts and need to focus. The future of Albion depends on the choices you are making, and you’ve no time for such nonsense. Destiny, Fate and your own stubborn pride are at odds for your soul, Merlin. The rift between you and Arthur will accomplish everything which you have strived to deny to the witch.”
“Stop calling her that.”
“I name you Warlock, Merlin, what is the difference? Perhaps the problem is not my feelings, but yours. I tell you these things that you may prevent the fabric of destiny itself from breaking apart like a breath of fog.” Merlin slumped down to his knees, holding his chest and shaking his head.
“You don’t know what it’s like. She’s the only thing that’s ever made sense. We’re going through the motions in Camelot, and things aren’t working. We need to do something different before it all falls.” Kilgarrah eyed him for a moment then shook his head again, more emphatically.
“No, Merlin. Arthur is the Once and Future King, and Morgana will be the death of that dream given but half a chance. If she lives, Arthur will be destroyed, and your precious Camelot along with him. She is the darkness to your light and you are her doom. This is as it was always meant to be.” Merlin rose up to his feet and dashed his pain in a moment and stared up at the beast.
“Then I would gladly take up her darkness as my own doom. Perhaps my doom is to enlighten her darkness. So that the dark Morgana is no more, and only her light remains. I can save her.” His cold tone brought the dragon up for a moment, then he stepped forward, coming towards Merlin and glowering over him.
“No! Make peace with Arthur and let Morgana die,” the great dragon ordered. Merlin shook his head and stared.
“You are so wise, yet you don’t understand the repercussions of this kind of hurt to a person! You move us around like pawns, but you forget that the tools you use to forge the future you see are also people. Plans change, Kilgarrah.”
“Bah, boy, Destiny and Fate, what hope do they have for a pair of batted eyes, is that right, Merlin? You have a greater destiny than your own petty wants and desires.” His scathing tone rose the anger in Merlin’s throat, but he controlled it and shrugged his shoulders, then turned and walked away slowly, thinking.
“Perhaps that’s the issue. We cycle through this day in and day out, and now everything’s crashing down. It’s time I stopped dancing to fate’s tune and destiny’s rhythm and forged my own. After all, dragon. I’m only human.”
Her screams woke him. Merlin scrambled awake and clawed at the door, dragging himself to his feet.
“Morgana!” he yelled, desperately trying to see her cell door from the edge of his vision. There was a moment of silence, then she screamed in terror again, and his knuckles were smashed against the bars by the flat of a blade. Sarram’s cruel eyes met his and he leered at the bars, cruelly assessing Merlin’s distress and smiling to himself. He didn’t say anything to Merlin, but crocked an eyebrow and turned away, that sick leer still plastered on his face.
“Get that dress off her. I want to see those scars I gave her are still fresh.” Merlin heard Albin’s harsh laugh, Sarram’s cruel offsider dragging her out into the light. Morgana covered her eyes and he ripped her dress, showing in the firelight those wide, deep scars, furrows of healing flesh in full open glory. Thick red welts intertwined, showing new scars and old. Morgana looked over her shoulder at Merlin’s cell, then ducked her head in shame. Albin reached back and backhanded her, watching her form sprawl and she gave a sob.
The darkness that he’d worked so long to deny rose in him and Merlin felt his own soreness burn away as fire covered his body and he directed his rage at the door. The burning fire leapt out and blasted apart the door, and it’s frame, and it’s wall. In stunned silence, Albin frowned at him, his mind not quite catching up with his mentors, who fled with a second’s glance at the rage on Merlin’s face.
The young warlock stretched out his hands and picked Albin up with his gesture, throwing him across the torch lit room and into the door at the wall. Dust rose up around his crumpled form and he did not stir. Merlin knelt in front of Morgana, who was staring at him. Her mouth worked and her eyes searched his, but he lowered them to her and shook himself out of his jacket and covered her in it, then took off his neckerchief and held it to her mouth, stemming the blood from her lip. His cheekbones strained against the muscles of his jaw, threatening to cut the very air as he ground his teeth. His blue eyes, light with power and anger, flickered towards her and her state. His arms were gentle and warm around her, though, as he covered her in his jacket and softly tilted her head up to him.
“I need you to trust me, Morgana, everything’s going to be fine. Open your mind and concentrate.” She was too bewildered by everything to argue, but reached out and touched him softly, nodding as she looked at him suddenly not as a bumbler, but rescuer. Hope came into her eyes for the first time since she could remember, and again, her memories were of Merlin. He was murmuring a spell against her head, and there was a sudden bright green light to her vision and she was somewhere else. Merlin took a deep breath, smelling the last of her own scent and then stood up as he heard the boots against the path stones leading into the cells. He could run, and hide, pretend it was not him. But then the cells were broken out of, and his eyes moved to Albin’s figure, remembering his strike. And remembering the scarred mass of whipping scars on Morgana’s back, and his hands stilled at his sides. His eyes glowed a deep blue as he headed for the throne room.
“Sorcery!” The Sarram stumbled into the feasting hall, scattering guards and slamming the great doors behind him. “Sorcery in Camelot, escaping!”
“Guards,” came Arthur’s voice. “To Morgana’s cell!” He unsheathed his sword and called for the knights but a tremendous shudder rocked the hall as the doors were blasted open, two guards crashing through the wooden doors to reveal Merlin, his shoulder soaked bloody and his hands raised. He was out of breath, but strode forward determinedly and roared at the guards, who flew back from his scream as if thrown from a horse. He gestured to the Sarram and raised his hand, picking the man up and bringing him to stand in front of him with the black rage in him. He stood there for moments until Gwen sighed.
“Oh, Merlin.” His secret revealed, Merlin stalked past the Sarram and strode up to Arthur, who was looking shamed and hurt, more than shocked.
“You really are blind, Arthur, if you didn’t know, or hadn’t guessed by now. Everything I’ve ever done since I let you beat me up in the middle of Camelot on the first day I was in this city has been for the betterment of it. I have worked so hard for the betterment of this city and YOU, Arthur, the Once and Future King of Albion. You owe me your life so many times over and what do you give me in return? You discard what I have to say in favour of you knowing better than I what’s best for the kingdom. In what world has it ever been, Arthur Pendragon, where you seem to think you know better than the people around you? You swing a sword. And even THAT I made for you. You were nothing but a spoiled brat until I came along, and I have sacrificed EVERYTHING for you. My friends, my family, and now you can’t even be bothered to listen to me. Very well. If all you want to respect is an opponent, Arthur, then that’s what I’ll be.” His gaze shifted about the room, commanding attention from all, though he already had it.
“Sarram of Amata,” he began.
“Merlin, stop this!” Arthur’s plea grated up Merlin’s spine and he turned his withering gaze back upon his friend.
“How fitting that you, Sarram, pay the price of your crimes with that which you show you fear the most.” His hands rose in slow motion and the Sarram began to scream in fear. Darkness began to gather in Merlin’s hands, and tears coursed down his cheeks as he stared at Arthur, who was equally devastated.
“I’m your friend, Arthur, no matter the magic or the fools around us that would have us believe otherwise. I’m your friend, and I will treasure that. But this is the betrayal you need to see your own follies. Your arrogance and lack of heedence has cost you your best friend’s guidance. Know now, Arthur Pendragon, that for a King such as you would have been, I would have walked the earth until it crumbled to dust waiting for you. That is the cost of your rule, and the mailed fist in which you cast it.” Merlin clapped his hands together over his head and the Sarram was doused in dark, swirling light. Lighting danced around the young Warlock and his fingers twisted into claws above him and the Sarram screamed in sheer terror and agony. As his very existence was shredded into black ribbons and torn apart by Merlin’s magic, the knights were leaping over the table toward Merlin, who locked eyes with Gwen and bowed, sorrowfully. There was an explosion and the Sarram’s screams stopped as he was ripped from existence. When the darkness dispelled, Merlin was gone.
Morgana awoke slowly, hearing birdsong and smelling a breeze that was filled with the forest that she’d grown to love outside of Camelot. Fresh, rich earth and grasses. Flowering bushes and covered trees. She stretched, feeling the tug of her scars across her bare back and then she suddenly realised she was in a bed, facing an open window. The sun shone down on her and filled her with warmth and she settled, feeling it fill her with light. It had been so long since she’d stopped and enjoyed such simple warmth, she realized. How long had her life been twisted and darkened with hatred? She looked down at her hands and noted the broken nails and dry skin. Slowly, the memory came back to her. Merlin, trustworthy, emotional Merlin had magic. Everything that had come before suddenly made sense, she thought. Every turn, every possible agony that had befallen her, Merlin had been there. Magic, by Arthur’s side. All this time, trying to defeat Arthur, and the most powerful foe she’d ever faced had been right by his side, so often in her grasp. His face appeared to her thoughts again, bewildered and awestruck by her. So easily, she though, she would have been able to bring him to her, manipulate his feelings so he was hers. Had she but noticed him. And what good would that have done, she pondered, lying there. For the first time in her memory, Morgana had no idea what was happening. She only knew she was free, and Merlin, annoying, frustrating, meddling Merlin was her rescuer. Noise came to the stairwell and she closed her eyes, pretending to still be asleep. Merlin came in and quietly stacked the firewood beside the pot, and opened it to check it’s contents, then moved to the hanging kettle and opened it’s top, wafting a strong fragrance towards her. Instinctively, she breathed in and Merlin poured her a tankard of the hot liquid. He got up wordlessly as she daintily grasped the sheet about her front and modestly covered herself, shifting her hair over to the side of her shoulder with a tilt of her head and taking the cup, making certain to keep herself covered. Merlin’s face was as red as his scarf and he turned away, though he noted that his eye lingered on the curve of her bare shoulder. She smiled into the steaming tankard, privately pleased, and surprised at herself for feeling so.
“Where are we, Merlin?” He looked out the window, then got up and leant against it, sitting on the stone sill and staring, lost in thought.
“The Forest of Iridea. Long ago, it was the summer palace of Sigan, before he became so obsessed with his power that he…” His head lowered and then he gave a small shake. “It’s funny, until now, that story never meant more to me than any other. Sigan, I wonder, how long he would have lasted as a servant, or if it would have bothered him? Do you think, Morgana that the only reason he became so evil was because the people he served feared his power so much?” Morgana lowered her head and sipped quietly. The tea was excellent, full of flavours that she could feel rushing through her, helping her stay awake. Her hands started to shake and then her breath was coming fast as she began to hiccup and black spots appeared in front of her eyes. Suddenly, Merlin was in front of her, holding her around the sheet and cradling her in his arms, shaking his head and gritting his teeth as his strength poured into her. Her vision swam and he held a hand over her head, concentrating and murmuring a spell that was tantalizingly just out of her reach. Her vision cleared and she realised he was holding her in bed, his hand cradling the nape of her neck and his face staring earnestly at her. The gold irises faded and the black spots disappeared as he held her, and then there was only the feel of his arms around her and her skin so close to his, separated onto by the distance between them. Morgana lifted her lips up and Merlin swallowed and sighed as he gently lowered her onto the bed and lifted himself off her. Morgana’s arms came down gently, reluctantly. Such differences between them. To him, she was still a princess, though she had lived in hovels and caves and broken wrecks for the last two years and more. He looked around and whispered, his eyes aglow as he looked about the room. The vines moved and moulded themselves, becoming sturdy oak furniture, while the stones cleaned and cleaved, becoming a deep, fur lined bed. Morgana stared about her in wonder until her eyes lit on him and he was holding his elbow anxiously.
“I’m sorry I don’t have… I should have thought to bring you more clothes. There are traders that pass through this valley on occasion, if we run into one… What?” She stared at him then leant forwards and put a single finger on his lips and smiled demurely at him, flustering him completely.
“Merlin,” she intoned lowly, bend down and looking deeply into him. “You have magic.” His shoulders slumped and he nodded.
“Yes. And please, for now, just don’t.” His voice was low and dejected, almost broken, and he tugged at her heartstrings so that she wanted to reassure him. But in the back of her mind, Morgana also remember how she’d felt when she first was taken by Morgause.
“Merlin,” she began, and he moved away from her and went to the window. He leaned down, his should blades sharp and rising above his bowed head as he leaned over.
“I know, Morgana. I know. I’ve failed you. I know. It’s all I ever think about. I’ve been blinded, working towards this goal far away, but Arthur has failed us all before we’ve gotten there. Maybe I should have done things differently. He will never bring magic back to the land. I will not spend my life for a man who trades his character so easily any longer.” He slammed his fist into the unmoving stone and it cracked. Morgana raised an eye and he waved his hand over it, the stone creeping back together like it was a scar that healed over time, though it was mere seconds. “Arthur was supposed to bring magic back into acceptance, Morgana. He was going to free us all.” He kept that hurt silence for a long time, then turned back and stared at her, a world of thoughts going on, but he didn’t move, just stared at her. Again Merlin was awaking things in her that she’d almost forgotten, mused Morgana, as she felt herself feeling self conscious under his unreadable gaze.
“You should eat,” he said, gesturing to the bag he’d snatched from the palace kitchens before he’d escaped. He was still drained, but no where near as much as what he thought he would be. He had tapped into Morgana’s own magic to use the fading spell. She’d be drained and he was to blame. She would be exhausted for days, and he didn’t even know how to talk to her about it. It seemed at every single turn that he hurt her. She pulled the bag open and set the things about them on the bed she lay in; cheese and bread, some cold roasted chicken. Merlin stayed staring out as she drew her clothing to her, pulling her dress over her head and running her hand through her hair, wincing at the pulling knots. When she was done, she cleared her throat.
“I’m decent,” she offered to Merlin softly. He turned around and she pushed the plate towards him, then sat on the bed and tucked her legs up underneath her and pulled her hair about her shoulder, wishing she’d had something better than her fingers to run through. Girlishly, she thought of all she’d had at Camelot, but that dream was long gone. The sun shone through the open door and she moved around out of it’s glare, closer to Merlin.
“Tell me about magic, Merlin. Tell me about yours.”
“The spell I used back at the castle has drained your power from you for a bit, overtaxed you. It’s already building up again, but you’ll need your strength, Morgana, please, eat. I was born with it. Gaius says I’m different to other magic uses. I could move things with my mind before I could walk. Being a dragonlord, well, it’s a magic akin to any, I suppose, although dragonlords are closer to elemental creatures than any other. I read a single book of magic, but once I’d learned the words, the rest came easy. It’s in the mindset for me. I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else. I… I haven’t really talked about it with anyone, aside from the great dragon and Gaius. I’ve been too afraid.” She nodded encouragingly to him and moved the plate closer. He frowned at her, but there was a smile in his eyes, like the old Merlin she’d known at Camelot. He moved his hands over the small bits of bread, cheese and ham that she’d left him. They shimmered into ripe, fresh cherries and Morgana dove on them, and they laughed, deeply and together in the safety of their own little world. Morgana breathed strongly, feeling weak from the laughter, and Merlin held her hand for a second, giving her the last cherry.
“Okay, Merlin. What are we to do now?” He shifted and turned around again, looking at the sun; high in the sky and bright in the midst of the green canopy surrounding them.
“I don’t know what we do. I know that before this, I could feel the currents of destiny swirling about, trying to drown me, and now, it’s like I’m walking barefoot on a beach… There’s no single thing I can point to, but I believe, deeply… that something has changed. And I don’t know where it’s going to take us. But for now, we rest. For now, we’re safe.”
Author's Chapter Notes:
Working on the next chapter as you read, so give me a bit and it will be uploaded. Reviews always welcome... Feedback required to feed personal gratification, ha ha...