Two Sides of the Same Coin
"Please, Merlin, you must beware. This is only the beginning."
Morgana's warning had been haunting Merlin since that day he saved Arthur from the poisonous bite. He always assumed she meant the bargain...but what if it was a warning, about Arthur?
Merlin winced as he remembered how Arthur gripped his shoulders earlier this morning, forced him to look at the flames consuming the sorcerer. When Merlin looked, he saw himself burning at the pyre, and Arthur standing there, passing on the judgement without care. Was that his future?
Was this what Morgana was warning him about?
"Magic is evil, Merlin. People who use it only wish to cause harm." Was that truly what Arthur believed?
He'd believed Arthur was a good man. Sure, he might be a prat and a constant annoyance, but this was the man who helped saved his hometown, who ran off to get the Mortaeus flower to cure him when he was poisoned.
"You are but two sides of the same coin."
Was the Great Dragon only lying to him? Manipulating Merlin so that he could be free? Was Arthur even destined to be the Once and Future King? There was a time Merlin strongly believed it, where he saw glimpses of it within the Crowed Prince of Camelot.
Now he wasn't so sure.
Kilgharrah had told Merlin to save the prince at all costs. He wondered what the dragon would think if he saw Arthur now? Was this his punishment for killing Nimueh?
Merlin stared at his hands again. Like Arthur with his laws, Merlin, with his magic, now wielded the powers of life and death, the Old Religion flowed through him.
Would he abused it?
Was magic truly evil?
Was he evil?
Kilgharrah said perhaps it was Merlin's destiny to change Arthur. He didn't know if that were true anymore.
He jerked as Gaius entered their chambers. His mentor took in the sight of him.
"Merlin! Are you alright?" Gaius hustled over, dropping off his satchel of medicine onto the table as he approached Merlin who sat on the bench.
"I'm fine," Merlin said. He put Gaius through so much. He could sense that the older man constantly worried about him.
Gaius cocked a disbelieving brow and sighed. He lowered himself
onto the bench next to Merlin. "Does it have anything to do with the
execution this morning?"
Merlin blinked and stared at the wall ahead. "Arthur forced me to go."
Gaius stiffened next to him.
"He usually doesn't...he..." Merlin's voice cracked. "He made me watch."
"Oh...oh, Merlin," Gaius said, his voice lined with sympathy. He raised a hand and rubbed Merlin's upper back. "You must remember..."
"I know," Merlin spat angrily. "He's the prince, he's under a lot of pressure." He turned to Gaius. "So am I! I have to restrain my magic, my true self, every day with a constant fear of being caught. I have to work for a prat who treats me like...like a slave. If only..." Merlin shook his head and chuckle scornfully. "If only he knew the lengths I went for him."
"Someday he will."
Merlin scoffed. "When he's on his deathbed and has no choice what to do with me? Yes, someday, he will."
Merlin ran his fingers through his hair. "I can't do it anymore, Gaius. I nearly sacrificed my mother, I nearly sacrificed you for Arthur! I can't keep hiding who I am from him." He exhaled deeply. "Kilgharrah...what if he was lying? What if Arthur isn't meant to bring magic back? What if Arthur and I aren't meant to have a great destiny together?"
"Where are these doubts coming from, Merlin?" Gaius probed.
Merlin sighed, remembering his and Arthur's conversation last
night. "Arthur told me he believed magic was evil."
Gaius huffed a chuckle. "And what did you expect?"
Merlin shrugged. "I thought maybe he'd changed his mind."
"Do you forget who his father is? Arthur grew up with Uther teaching him the very ways of magic was evil."
"How can I change his mind if I can't show him the good of magic? I want to show him...Gaius, I need proof. I need to see that Arthur won't grow up to become like Uther. I can't keep doing this."
Gaius patted his back again. "Perhaps you need to take some time off. I can convince Arthur that I had you sent out on an errand. Would gathering some herbs help ease your mind?"
"Seeing proof of the king Arthur would become will help ease my mind," Merlin muttered. At Gaius' stern raised brow, Merlin nodded. "Yes. Maybe that's what I need."
Arthur can't be lost.
Ever since the Questing Beast incident, Arthur started to act more and more like Uther. Merlin was used to doing many of Arthur's mundane chores, but lately, the prat was overdoing it.
Did Arthur even appreciate Merlin?
He remembered the conversation he had with his mother back with they were battling against Kanen. Hunith had tried to convince Merlin that Arthur was at Ealdor for Merlin, not because Merlin was his servant, but because he cared. He'd almost believed it. The past few days have only proven to Merlin that if Arthur truly knew who Merlin was, Merlin would be dead. No question.
Why was he still here? Because of destiny? Because he wanted his magic to mean something, to matter? There were other kingdoms out there that didn't prosecute magic. Could he really leave Gaius behind and go to a place where he would feel free?
I don't know what to do anymore. I'm lost.
All Merlin ever wanted was a place where he fit in, a place where he belonged.
"Had any luck?" Arthur's old words ran through his head.
Merlin stared back down at his hands.
I'm still not sure yet.
It was near nightfall when Arthur returned. He stopped a good mile from the castle and dismounted from Eirian before he sent the creature off. The magical horse took a while to leave. In his heart, Arthur could sense that the unicorn didn't exactly venture that far off.
"Don't get caught by the patrol guards," Arthur warned Eirian.
Who would have thought? Arthur Pendragon, riding a unicorn? Maybe he really had changed. But more than that; he wanted to change.
He wasn't ready to be king, gods, no.
Today, he was ready to change.
The guards were surprised to see him when he entered, and he wished he didn't discard that cloak he used to conceal himself earlier. When he reached the upper town of Camelot, Leon found him.
"Sire, your father wishes for you to dine with him...as of an hour ago."
He nodded. "Thank you..."
Leon blinked in surprise at those words and gave a quick smile before walking off to his station on patrol duty.
Arthur was in no mood to see his father. He rubbed a hand across his face and paused at the pyre where he killed Peter that morning.
His gaze trailed over the remnants of the wood. He wondered if they gathered the man's ashes and returned it to his children.
Probably not. Arthur knew what Uther did to those ashes.
He needed to find Merlin after his dinner with Uther.
Uther was dining with Morgana, with Guinevere serving them.
She flicked a glare at him as she poured wine into Uther's goblet.
Arthur winced. Merlin wasn't much of a tattler, but he wore his emotions on a sleeve and no doubt Gwen forced Merlin to tell her. However she treated Arthur, he deserved it. That much he knew. He strolled in. "Father. Morgana." He gave a nod to Gwen. "Guinevere." He sat into his chair.
Uther beckoned Gwen to gather Arthur his plate.
"How nice of you to finally join us," Uther said.
Arthur noticed his father's plate was nearly empty.
Morgana's was still full.
He glanced up at her and she refused to meet his gaze. Purple bags hung from under her eyes. When did she last have a peaceful night of sleep? Her nightmares were growing worse. It hit him. He felt the same connection with her that he felt from Merlin and Eirian. Did that mean Morgana also had magic?
No wonder she was always so afraid. Living with Uther and having nightmares didn't help. He felt like a terrible brother, how could he not see it before?
He berated himself. He saw it. He just refused to see it.
Was Morgana ready for Arthur to know the truth?
Did she trust him?
Arthur knew she didn't. And what he did this morning probably didn't help.
I thought was protecting Peter's children...at least I hoped I was.
Did her nightmares show Arthur burning Peter? Did her nightmares show Arthur as a king worse than his father? Did her nightmares always come true?
"I went out on a hunt, I simply forgot to inform you. I apologize."
"A hunt, without a horse?" Uther raised a brow as he teased. His features softened. "It's not easy. Executing a man. It's a different type of killing than out on the battlefield."
Arthur took a sip of his water, suddenly wishing it were wine.
"I'm sure you're proud of him," Morgana sneered.
Arthur tried not to wince.
Uther either didn't catch it or ignored the biting tone in Morgana's voice. He answered her truthfully, "I am." He raised a goblet in acknowledgement to Arthur. "You didn't flinch or hesitated. You looked like a true king out there."
Fear flashed through Morgana's eyes. And this time, Arthur knew why.
Gwen returned and set a plate of chicken, cheese, and bread before him.
He nodded his thanks.
She ignored him.
Uther said, "The reason I wanted you here tonight, Arthur, was to let you know that I'm planning to leave for my rounds before my intended schedule."
Arthur shot his gaze over to Uther. Right. His rounds. Every so often, Uther would visit the other lords and households in Camelot. He stated that it was in his duty to check on the other households and ensure their wellbeing. Arthur had strong suspicions Uther only did it to remind the others who was king.
"Have you decided whether I'm to accompany you?" Arthur asked, taking a bite of his cheese.
"Not this time, there must always be a Pendragon here at Camelot. The attacks on Camelot has risen the last several months, I need you to stay behind to watch over the kingdom."
Arthur nodded, inwardly relieved.
"Morgana will be joining me."
She perked up at this. "Excuse me?"
Uther folded his fingers together. "It is time to find you a suitable lord and match."
Morgana's lips curled in disdain. "I will not be courted around like I'm some short of prize and I will not marry for your political gains."
"You will marry and give loyal sons to follow Arthur upon his reign," Uther said.
Morgana scouted her chair back. "Is that all you see me as, a breeding cattle?" She rose to her feet. "Gwen," she barked before she stormed out of the room with Gwen skittering after her.
Arthur pushed his plate, appetite lost. "Father, Morgana isn't like most noble ladies, you can't expect her to marry for..."
"She will," Uther snarled. "I've been putting it off for far too long. Yours as well. When I return, we will set upon finding a suitable match outside the kingdom of Camelot."
Arthur gritted his teeth. And I'm just tools to be used as well. And what will my marriage gain? Land? Trade?
"I understand, Father."
Uther grinned. "I'm glad you see reason. If only Morgana had your sense..."
Morgana has more courage than I ever will have.
Uther continued with his meal and Arthur pushed aside his food on the plate, pretending to eat. He recalled his meeting with Anhora earlier that day.
"Father..." Arthur's mouth dried and he licked his lips. He needed to know...he had to see how his father would react.
"Hmm?" Uther ripped a piece of chicken apart and placed a strip in his mouth, chewing loudly.
"Was I born of magic?"
Uther's face grew red, the vein on his forehead stuck out. He slammed his fists down, rattling the cups. "Where did you hear such blasphemy?"
Arthur swore he deducted a hint of fear laced his father's voice.
"Tell me." He squeezed the edge of the table, his eyes narrowed. "Was it Gaius?"
"No," Arthur immediately said. Gaius knew? "I, erm, I heard a rumor when I was a child, something made me remember it today." He tried to swallow the heavy lump in his throat. What happened? Uther and Gaius were hiding something from him, and Arthur had a sinking feeling it involved his mother.
Uther bared his teeth. "Don't ever ask me that again."
"I deserve to know."
"No," Uther snapped. "There's nothing to know. It's a lie. Dismiss it."
Dismiss it? That's what Uther always said when Arthur asked about his mother. Arthur knew well enough not to press. Uther would never tell him.
Arthur wondered briefly if he was the reason why Uther decided to wage war on magic.
And the warmth within his chest tingled as if to say yes.
Arthur returned to his chambers to find his bed turned down for the night, a warm bath was waiting for him.
Guilt probed at him. It seemed the only time Merlin was a decent manservant was when he was angry at Arthur. He needed to speak with him. He couldn't hold it back any longer.
He immediately headed down to Gaius' chambers. At the door, Arthur hesitated. He raised a hand and knocked. He nearly groaned at himself. Usually, he would just barged in. Why was he being polite now? He was prince.
"Enter," came Gaius' voice.
Arthur opened the door to find the older man bent over a table of vials, herbs, and whatnot, mixing a new batch of medicine.
Gaius blinked in surprise at Arthur's arrival. "Sire..." then a flash of disappointment molded his features.
"Where's Merlin?" Arthur asked, suddenly wanting to escape Gaius' stare.
"I have him out running errands for me. He shall return to you in a couple days."
Arthur crossed his arms. "You do realize he's my manservant."
Gaius stood straighter. "And as Prince of Camelot, you would
want your people to have access to all options of my potions and medicines,
Arthur didn't know why he bothered. He never won any argument with Gaius. While Uther resorted to threats, Gaius resorted to reason. He always looked up to the physician as an older uncle.
Arthur chuckled. He stared around them room at the various objects and books. As a child, he would hide from his father and tutors at the bookshelves near the top of the room. He loved climbing those ladders. When people stopped by and asked Gaius if they've seen the prince, the physician would send a knowing look at Arthur's hiding spot before sending them off on a wild goose chase. Arthur never thanked him for that. Gaius treated me like a child when no one else did, and he treated me like an adult more often than most.
Arthur's gaze snapped back to Gaius. He opened his mouth, ready to ask the question he asked Uther. He closed it. Was he really going to gamble with Gaius' life for mere curiosity? Was he really that selfish? How could've he have forgotten the wild look in his father's eyes moments ago? No. He had to find another way to answer the question of him being born of magic.
He cleared his throat. "Send Merlin to me first thing when he gets back."
"Of course," Gaius said, his tone a bit clipped.
He gave a slight nod before he departed, wondering if Merlin was out right now, fantasizing various ways to kill him.
The next morning after he broke his fast, Arthur sought out Morgana. When he discovered she was browsing the markets in the lower town, he decided to head down to the Royal Library. The high arc corridor of the library always amazed him when he entered.
Geoffrey of Monmouth rose both brows at the sight of Arthur approaching him.
Arthur smiled weakly and gave a half-wave.
"Last time I saw you down here, you ruined several of my books," he said, placing his quill down on top of a records book.
Arthur scratched the side of his neck. "And you banished me." He held up his hands in a placating manner. "I promise, I outgrew my climbing phase."
Geoffrey used to tutor Arthur down here as a child. Until one session, the older man fell asleep, and a bored Arthur took to climbing up the very old and fragile shelves. He ruined a whole row of bookshelves and destroyed half of the books. It was the first time in his life he'd saw a grown man cry.
"How can I assist you?" Geoffrey lips were thin, his eyebrows set in one line.
"Erm, I'm curious." Arthur wiped a blanket of dust from the edge of Geoffrey's desk with his forefinger and brushed his finger with his thumb. "Do you have any books on magic?"
No response. The man gave him a blank stare.
Arthur shifted uncomfortably. "Erm, my father declared war on magic, and I've decided it's time to research it on my own, so I can truly know what we're up against." There, perfect valid excuse. Better than the lame girly statement: I just want to find out who I am.
Arthur glanced around the room. He always got that unnerving feeling that Geoffrey didn't like him or maybe that was everybody.
"Your father destroyed many books on magic during the Great Purge," Geoffrey said.
Arthur grind his jaw back and forth. Of course he did.
"There are a few that I have on shelves..." Geoffrey trailed off and narrowed his eyes, reading him. "You've never shown interest in magic before. You've seemed to always take your father's word on it, or have Gaius research it."
Arthur rubbed the back of his neck. Valid question. What type of king do you want to be? Anhora's words echoed in his mind. "If I'm to be king someday, I should be well-versed on all subjects and matter that may be brought up during my reign. A wise king shouldn't be ignorant when it comes to his people and the land he rules."
Geoffrey's mouth twitched a bit into a slight smile. He snapped his fingers. "I've been waiting for this day." He unhooked a key from a necklace underneath his tunic and used it to unlock a drawer from his desk. He lifted a false bottom and pulled out an old brown leather book before he handed it over to Arthur: Annals of Magic.
Arthur gripped it from both sides as he took it.
"This used to be Ygraine's..." Geoffrey said softly.
"She had no magic of her own, no, she was an educated woman, always had her nose in a book." He chuckled and Arthur smiled of hearing a real memory of the mother he never knew. It was like finally gathering the true piece of the puzzle he spend years collecting of her. Geoffrey continued, "I don't recall what her thoughts were on the subject of magic, I do know she believed in gathering knowledge on all aspect before generating a decision."
Arthur trailed his fingers along the texture of the book's cover. "Why?" he asked. "Why hide this?"
"Because she would've wanted you to have that, and so I waited for the day for you to come and prove you are your mother's son, the day when you decided to seek out knowledge."
Arthur smiled. "Thank you..."
It felt strange and filled Arthur's heart to have somebody do something so meaningful without Arthur asking or demanding for it. And to have something that his mother used to read...it was like finding her.
Geoffrey returned the smile. "I hope to see you down here more often."
And Arthur made an inward promise that he would.
Back up in his chambers, Arthur skimmed through the book Geoffrey gave him. The pages were in fragile shape, brown and crinkled. Arthur's heart swelled when he noticed a few scribble of writing in the margins from Ygraine.
He decided to read the first chapter and it explained to him more about magic in finer details. Magic was believed to be an ancient energy field from the Earth that humans and other beings tapped into and wielded it through them. They talked about sorcerers and sorceress, high priests and priestesses. Arthur's eyes glaze over at some sentences that he forced himself to read again, for shame in not thoroughly reading something that was once his mother's.
Halfway through, he found what he was looking for. Creatures of Magic. Born of magic and part of the Old Religion. Arthur raised a brow. Old Religion? He's heard of it briefly, and Anhora mentioned that it was what stirred the power within Arthur. His gaze jumped down a few sentences, Old Religion is the magic of Earth itself. They believed in the sacred balance of all living things.
He went back up to read more on creatures of magic. Some were mythical creatures and others were powerful warlocks, yet they were rare. Those born of magic each tended to have their own ability. What did that make Arthur? Somehow, he got the sense that he wasn't a warlock or sorcerer. They mentioned how magic was the very act of breathing to most creatures of magic.
He rubbed his eyes. Nothing. He read through the Old Religion once again. It was a very interesting concept. As a hunter, he's heard of the balance of nature. Yet to expand that concept to all people, creatures, and elements was mind-boggling.
He come upon a section that his mother marked in the book. She didn't add any notes in the margin, just bracketed the section.
At the heart of the Old Religion lies the balance of life and death itself, Arthur read, to save a life, to create a life, another life must be taken in exchange. His heart skipped a beat. The balance of life and death.
"You were born of magic."
"The effects of the Old Religion has stirred the dormant powers within you."
And how strange that Uther has been at war against magic for as long as Arthur has been alive?
He dropped the book onto the floor and rose to his feet, staggering back to press himself against the wall. His breathing quickened. No. It's not possible.
To create a life, another life must be taken in exchange.
Arthur ran his hands through his hair.
"You were born of magic."
And when Arthur was born...his mother died.
Did...did his parents resort to the Old Religion to conceive him? It's not true. It can't be true.
He slumped down onto his bottom and drew his knees to his chest.
To create a life, another life must be taken in exchange.
Tears welled in his eyes.
It all made so much sickening sense now.
"Why do you hate magic?"
"Nothing good ever comes from magic."
A sob racked in his chest.
It was all his fault. His mother died so that he could exist. He wasn't supposed to be here.
I took my mother's life. Arthur rested his forehead against his knees. It's my fault she's dead. She died for him. And look what he's become. If she saw him now, would she be ashamed? Would she wished she never gave up her life for his?
Tears spilt from his eyes and he slammed his fist against the stoned floor as he wished for a way to reverse time and give Ygraine her life back.
"Anhora!" Arthur screamed once again into the ocean's wind. "Show yourself, you coward!"
He scanned the beach, waiting for the old Keeper of Unicorn to reveal himself.
Eirian rested near the Labyrinth of Gedref, staring at Arthur with a sad look. It was like he could read Arthur's emotions.
So much was raging within him. He went from shock and despair to fury. How could his father have kept this hidden from him? Why did they resort to magic to bring Arthur to this life? Then he started to wonder if he was getting ahead of himself, jumping to wrong conclusions. But he couldn't ignore the certainty in his own heart. He knew. Ygraine created a life for Arthur in exchange's for her. Why would she do that? Unless she didn't know. But then why would she mark that section in the book?
"Anhora!" Arthur screamed again.
He left his room, told Leon to give his father some excuse if Uther came searching for him, and snuck out of the castle. With a whistle, Eirian came for him, and Arthur asked the unicorn to bring him here to speak to the one man who could tell him the truth.
"Anhora!" Arthur yelled. His voice cracked at the end and he coughed. His throat was hoarse. How long had he been screaming out here for?
He dropped to his knees again, panting.
Eirian came over and dipped his head into Arthur's lap.
He stroked the unicorn's mane and rubbed his head against it.
"It can't be true." Arthur snuffled. "I can't live knowing that she...I'm not worth it."
"Your mother loved you, very much."
Arthur lifted his gaze toward the ocean. "Anhora." He shook his head. "You're wrong. My mother doesn't know me."
The hood of Anhora's cape was over his head. He used his staff to walk closer to Arthur and Eirian. "You say that because you cannot feel your mother's presence here with you, even now."
Tears welled in Arthur's eyes. "Tell me the truth. Why did she give up her life for me to come into this world?"
Anhora sighed. "It's a truth I don't believe you're quite fully ready for."
"I deserve to know!"
"Deserve? Yes. Prepared? No."
"She's my mother," Arthur whispered.
"And what will you do when you learn of details of what transpired?"
Arthur blinked the tears away. "What?"
"Armed with this knowledge, what will you do with it?"
Arthur gapped, his mouth worked. No answer came to him.
"Knowledge is a dangerous thing," Anhora said.
"Wait. Let me get this straight. First you're telling me to stop being ignorant, and now you're saying I can't know too much because it's dangerous? You're a walking contradiction!"
Anhora released a short chuckle. "You'll come to learn, young Pendragon, that there must be a balance for everything in this world, even between knowledge and ignorance."
Arthur glanced down at Eirian, the unicorn snuggled its snout in comfort against Arthur's chest. "And a balance between life and death? There's no balance between my mother's life and my own. She's worth a thousand of mine."
Anhora smiled sadly.
Arthur took in a few more shaky breaths. Why was everyone always keeping secrets from him? What was wrong with him?
Anhora said, "In time, you will learn the truth. However, it will not be today."
"What am I then? If I'm born of magic?" Arthur asked suddenly. "I'm not a warlock, what type of creature am I?"
"You will find out in time. No books, no common knowledge will tell you, for your magic is the rarest of all. Again...seek Merlin out."
Then the man disappeared.
It's hard to seek out a man who doesn't want to be found. Anhora was right. He did need to find Merlin. They needed to have this conversation now.
Arthur took a deep breath. He'd do it after he controlled himself. His emotions were erratic, and he didn't trust himself to react truly to Merlin's explanations.
He desperately wished to hide behind his ignorance once again. Believe his father's words, pretend that he couldn't see what was right before him. He knew that not only would it not be fair to himself, it would be worse for his people.
And he couldn't allow Merlin to believe he was alone.
Brave-hearted, idiotic, clumsy, entertaining Merlin.
When Arthur took off for Ealdor to help Merlin and Hunith fight off Kanen's bandits, he made a sacred vow to himself that he would always protect Merlin, because there was something about him that attracted Arthur to him.
"Come on," Arthur said, trying not to turn it into a whine as he shoved his feet in Merlin's face, "stop pretending to be interesting. Tell me."
A moment later, Merlin responded, "I just didn't fit in anymore. I wanted to find somewhere that I did."
"Had any luck?"
"I'm not sure yet."
Arthur never realized it, but he had hoped that Merlin felt like he fit in alongside with Arthur. He knew it couldn't be. Not while he was prince and Merlin was his manservant.
Seeing Merlin's hometown, experiencing where Merlin grew up, it helped Arthur grow to respect Merlin a bit more, helped him see his manservant as more of Arthur's equal.
Arthur rubbed Eirian's snout. "Enough of being girly. Let's go find Merlin."
The unicorn harrumphed in approval.
Merlin cut off a piece of the gray-green leaf from the bundle with his short knife and sniffed it. Whew. Definitely Mugwort. He cut some more and placed them in a small leather pouch. He placed the pouch and knife back into his larger bag and brushed his hands against his pants.
He inhaled deeply and looked up at the afternoon sky. He had perhaps a couple hours of daylight left. He should probably set up camp soon. He had a few pieces of bread and apples left from Gaius. He should gather some wood for a fire. Gathering herbs for Gaius was a good break. The tension he's felt since killing Nimueh was starting to uncoil. The doubt in his heart about Arthur lingered.
"I just want someone to see me for who I am."
"One day, Merlin. One day," Gaius assured.
When would that day come? How long would Merlin have to play the idiot? How long would he have to hide his magic? And did he want Arthur to find out?
At least one good thing came from gathering herbs for Gaius. He got to practice his magic.
"Now why can't you have that same kind of dedication when it comes to being my manservant?"
Merlin stiffened. He spun around to face Arthur, dressed in his hunting tunic and leaning against a tree trunk with his arms crossed. What was Arthur doing here? Merlin was at least a day and half out from Camelot. He knew he had a bad sense of direction, but was it that bad?
"What does Gaius have on you that I don't?"
Merlin snorted. "Have you ever tried to disobey Gaius?"
Arthur pursed his lips in agreement.
"What are you doing out here?" Merlin asked.
Arthur pushed himself from the tree and shrugged.
Merlin couldn't resist. "You can't last a day without me, can you?"
"Ah," Arthur raised his brows, "look who's growing a big ego of their own."
Merlin grinned. How easy was it to fall into their usual everyday banter? Merlin shifted uncomfortably when he noticed Arthur giving him a strange meaningful look. He had dubbed it Arthur's "there's something about you" look. Why had Arthur tracked him down?
Arthur bobbed with his head. "Follow me. There's something I want to show you."
Merlin creased his brows, Arthur almost sounded uncertain, yet determined. He lifted the strap of his bag over his shoulder and followed Arthur. They walked in silence, Merlin's curiosity growing with each step. Shadows of leaves danced down upon them. He writhed his hands.
Arthur slowed his walk as they approached a babbling creek. He came to a complete stop that Merlin nearly crashed into him. His bag dropped from the shoulder from the sudden stop.
Arthur pointed into the distance. "Remember him?"
By the creek, the beautiful white unicorn Merlin saw a couple months ago was drinking the flowing water. The sun glittered off its fur. Merlin gapped.
Arthur rubbed the back of his neck. "I..." He curled his lips inwardly, thinking for a moment before he stared hard at Merlin. "I...I lied. Magic...is not evil. At least...I don't believe it entirely is. And...you're not evil."
Merlin was about to poke some fun in Arthur's awkward stammering until his mind registered the last part. Arthur doesn't know. He's a blind clotpole. He took a cautious step back, one that didn't go unnoticed by Arthur. "What do you mean?"
Arthur watched him, expression twisted in sadness. "Merlin, I know."
Merlin's heart skipped a beat. Arthur can't know. Just play the idiot. "Know what?" Merlin pointed at the magical creature. "That's a unicorn? It's not mine."
What is the unicorn doing here? Did it follow him? Did Arthur run into it before he found Merlin?
Arthur straightened his back, his shoulders raised. His mind seemed made up. "I know you're a sorcerer."
No. Arthur can't know. His fear was going to come true. Arthur was going to reject him. Banish him. Or...Arthur wouldn't kill him, would he? Is that why he met Merlin all the way out here?
"Have you been drinking in the tavern?" Merlin forced a weak chuckle.
Arthur sighed. "Merlin, you can trust me."
That ignited the spark within Merlin. "Trust you? You burned a sorcerer and forced me to watch!"
Arthur's face grew red. "I had no choice!"
Merlin released a scornful laugh. "Oh, you always have a choice."
"And allow my father to kill that man's children?"
Merlin shook his head. Wait...what did Arthur say?
Arthur widened his eyes for a second as if catching his mistake. He turned his back to Merlin, running his hand through his hair.
Merlin knew Uther pressured Arthur into it. It was just hearing Arthur sound so much like King Uther, so much of a tyrant, that it scared him. What did Uther threaten this time?
Arthur's words were so quiet Merlin nearly missed it. "I think I understand why you didn't trust me, I didn't exactly give you a reason to. But...I thought we were friends at least. I mean, if I wasn't a prince...yet..." Arthur turned back to him, his eyes glimmering. "What are we? What type of acquaintances are so willing to die for each other?"
Merlin bit back the statement that it was in his destiny to protect Arthur. Maybe that's how it started out. Were they friends? Yes. Truehearted friends? Merlin wasn't sure. Arthur did have a point. They barely knew each other for a year and yet they've nearly died for each other so many times.
Merlin blinked in surprise as he noticed that the unicorn had moved and nudged its snout at Arthur's elbow.
Arthur sighed and gently moved the unicorn's head from him. "I'm okay, Eirian."
Hope bloomed within Merlin's heart. Arthur was on a first-name basis with a unicorn? The son of Uther Pendragon, the son of a king who hates magic more than anybody, was friendly with a magical creature?
Merlin swallowed. "How long have you known?"
"I've always known...I think I just pretended that I didn't see it." Arthur folded his arms. "One thing I'm curious about is why did you learn magic in the heart of Camelot? I knew you were an idiot, I didn't know you were that big of one."
Rage stirred within Merlin's chest. "I didn't learn magic. I was born with it. It's very much a part of me as the very air I breathe."
"You're a warlock?"
Arthur knew that term?
"Yes," Merlin said proudly. He wasn't going to be ashamed of who he was. He was going to show Arthur everything now. It was all out in the open.
Arthur whispered out, "How powerful are you?"
Merlin winced. He had the power of life and death. He's always been strong, but since he's been to Camelot, his powers were growing, and still. "Very," Merlin whispered in response.
Arthur's right hand went to the hilt of his sword.
Every instinct of Merlin's flared in alarm.
"Then why be my manservant?" Arthur demanded. "Or were you only pretending at that too, lying to me, laughing about what a fool I am?" Arthur's hand shook, turning white. "You said you were happy to be my servant till the die you died. Was that a lie as well?"
Merlin meant every word. "No, Arthur. I..."
"I mean, were you plotting against me this whole time?"
"Arthur. No. I've been protecting you."
"Yes! You prat of an ass. If I wanted to kill you, I would've done so long ago."
Arthur lifted his sword an inch from the scabbard. "There are fates worse than death."
"Arthur..." Merlin swallowed. He released his hold on his magic. If Arthur attacked him, Merlin wouldn't use his powers against on the prince.
"Speak! Why did you come to Camelot?"
"My mother sent me to Gaius. She was afraid for me, and wanted Gaius to help me control my powers."
"And she thought you would be safe in Camelot? Do you take me for an idiot?"
"She trusted Gaius. She thought he would keep me safe. I don't know her reasoning. But coming to Camelot was the best thing I ever did, because I found a purpose to use my magic." Merlin held his chin up. "I use it for you, always for you."
Arthur seemed to realize his sword hand trembling and dropped the weapon back into the scabbard. He freed his hand and took a few steps back.
Merlin waited for Arthur to recollect himself. He had to make Arthur understand.
The unicorn slowly approached Merlin and he nearly jerked as he heard the creature telecommunicate to him, its voice loud in his head. "You are Emrys? I've heard murmurs about you from the Druids. I can feel your magic radiating from you, stronger than the last time we've met."
There was that name again, Emrys. How big was his destiny? Did he have to go through with it alone?
Eirian whined. "Forgive my master, he's not yet come to grips with magic. I fear Uther's hold on him is too great."
Merlin tilted his head. "Master?" Arthur? What was the world coming to?
Eirian nodded his head. "I am bound to him, as long as he remains purehearted."
"Can you not sense it? It's weak compared to yours, but it is there. Arthur is of magic."
Merlin snapped his head to the prince. "You have magic?" he exclaimed, aghast.
Arthur spun to him, shocked. "Wh—how?"
"How can you get angry with me when you've been hiding you're of magic all along as well?"
"I just found out," Arthur snarled. He raised a forefinger. "You don't get to turn this around on me. You've been hiding this far longer than I."
Merlin was growing fed up with this. "What would've you have done if I told you earlier? You weren't ready."
"Ready?" Realization dawned on Arthur's features.
"You were going to tell me, in Ealdor. Your friend, Will..."
Merlin's chest ached at the reminder. "Will took my secret to the grave."
"And I told you magic was dangerous." Arthur rolled his head back and groaned. "No wonder you didn't tell me." He locked eyes with Merlin. "I'm sorry, Merlin. I'm sorry you couldn't trust me."
There were many scenarios Merlin envisioned or had nightmares of Arthur discovering his secret. Anger. Betrayal. Death. Burning on the pyre. Not once, did Merlin ever imagine or expect was Arthur expressing guilt over it.
Was this truly the man Merlin saw underneath all those layers of masks Arthur wore? The man Merlin called his equal? The man that was the Once and Future King? The man that was the other side of the coin?
Merlin sighed. "It wasn't that I didn't exactly trust you, Arthur. I may have doubted you, may have been afraid...I didn't tell you because I didn't want to make you choose between me and your father."
"My father?" Arthur scoffed. "He's..." he trailed off, not really saying anything.
Merlin narrowed his eyes at Arthur's reaction. Something happened. Arthur loved and admired Uther, saw good in the man that most missed, Merlin could see that clear as day. Gaius mentioned once, how Arthur was the one good thing Uther ever done.
There were many times where Merlin saw Uther in Arthur. Now, the true Arthur was shining in front of Merlin, revealing everything.
"He's your father, Arthur. I couldn't make you choose. And..." He didn't want to say it, but knew he had to, "I was certain that I'd be dead if I did."
Hurt flashed across Arthur's eyes. He swallowed a lump and gave a slight nod. He pressed his lips together in thought, debating. After a while, he said, "Show me. Show your magic."
Merlin's throat went dry. Was Arthur truly going to accept him? Thoughts whirled through his mind, wondering how he should formally reveal it to Arthur. An idea formed. He patted Eirian and walked to Arthur, stopping just before him.
"Give me your hands," he said.
Arthur raised a brow, and gave him a quick appraised look up and down before he held up both hands.
Merlin took them and cupped Arthur's palms together. Merlin placed his own hands against Arthur's. For the first time Merlin felt a slight tremor of the magic inside Arthur. He poked at it and tried to get a read of it. A warm protectiveness shot through Merlin, and a wave of...was it love? Merlin wasn't sure. He wondered what Arthur felt from him. He glanced up and nearly shrank back from the steady gaze Arthur gave him.
"You're not going to set my hands on fire, are you, Merlin?"
"Don't be a dollophead."
"Oh, pardon me, Prince Dollophead."
Arthur laughed, and Merlin nearly forgotten how wonderful his laughter was. The laugh faded out as Arthur waited patiently for the show of magic.
Softly, Merlin said, "Gewyrc an lif." He opened Arthur's hands to reveal a glowing blue butterfly that opened its wings against Arthur's palms.
A small gasp of awe escaped Arthur's lips. His gaze followed the butterfly as it flapped its wings to fly up into the sky. "That's..." A smile graced Arthur's features. He glanced at Merlin, mischief sparkling in his eyes. "A butterfly? Is that the best you can do, Merlin?"
Merlin forced an exaggerated sigh. "Nothing pleases you."
Arthur chuckled and returned his attention to the butterfly. "I never knew magic could be so..." he seemed to struggle to find the right word.
Merlin knew what Arthur meant. The prince never truly got the chance to see the beautiful side of magic.
"Gaius once told me that he didn't believe magic was good or evil. It just is. It all depends on how it's wielded," Merlin said.
Arthur was still staring at the butterfly. "Is there always a cost in using it?"
"Is there always a cost in using your sword?"
Understanding filtered through Arthur. "Sometimes, depending on how it's wielded."
Merlin knew that Arthur wouldn't trust magic completely, especially not overnight. It would take time. Would Arthur allow Merlin a chance to show him what magic can be? He swallowed, his words hard in getting out. "What...what do you wish to do with me?"
Arthur flicked his gaze to Merlin. "If I banished you to protect you from my father, you will still find your way back to Camelot somehow, wouldn't you?"
Merlin grinned. "You can't easily get rid of me."
There was that look again. "Sometimes I can't tell if you're just stupid or brave."
Eirian was right. Purehearted Arthur only thinking what was best
for Merlin, what was the safest course. "Arthur, I belong by your side. I
meant what I said, magic or not, I want to be your servant till the day I
Arthur creased his brows.
"I believe in you, Arthur, and the kingdom you'll build."
"Do you truly? Why do you believe in me so much? What have I ever done to warrant that belief in you? I mean," he scoffed, "I tried to hit you with a mace when we first met."
"You were an ass, and still are." Merlin sighed. "I'm your servant, Arthur, which means I see sides of you most people don't. I've seen you with your people when you think no one is watching you, I've seen you with the peasants, treating them with respect. I've seen you willing to die over and over again for Camelot. I've seen how much you love Camelot and how much you're willing to sacrifice for her."
Merlin was surprised to see Arthur listening. He remembered one of his last advice to Arthur was to listen as well as he fought. And here was proof that Arthur was taken heed of his advice.
"You're wrong on one thing. There's a part of Camelot I have yet to sacrifice for, to understand. My whole life, my father taught me that magic was evil, and I've always seen the evil of magic by the attacks on Camelot by sorcerers." Arthur took a deep breath. "Looking at Eirian, and seeing what you just did...Can you show me the good of magic? The other half of it that I've never seen?"
"He likes you." Hunith had told Merlin once about Arthur.
Merlin immediately disagreed. "That's because he doesn't know me. If he did, I'd probably be dead by now."
Merlin smiled. He didn't know if Arthur had completely accepted him, but he was willing to give Merlin a chance, he was willing to listen.
Merlin held out his hand. "I'll show you."
Arthur smiled and shook Merlin's hand.
And finally the two sides of the same coin acknowledged one another.