Gwaine looked around nervously, he never normally got nervous about anything, preferring to take everything as it came. But there was no doubt he was nervous. Turning toward the sounds of footsteps he saw Merlin walking towards them smiling.
"How are the horses?" He asked.
"They're fine, though Percival's doing his best to delay going back into that camp" he paused, "how long...?"
"Not long, about ten minutes, that's why I came to find you" Gwaine nodded mutely. "The Druid also said you should eat first." Merlin produced three apples and gave one to Gwaine.
"They're not all for him I hope" Percival said walking over, Merlin shook his head and threw one to him. He watched as they ate the apples. Gwaine was the first to go, he started swaying before collapsing. Luckily Percival was still awake enough to catch him and lay him on the ground.
"What's happened to him?" he asked sleepily as he knelt down next to him.
"Maybe it's just nerves" Merlin suggested innocently.
"You know what, I don't feel so good eith..." Percival suddenly slumped to the ground, mid word. Checking they were ok, more out of habit, Merlin stood up and walked back to the camp. He didn't know how much they would remember when they woke, but Merlin could deal with that later, he knew he only had five minutes to perform the spell.
Kneeling down at Iras side he placed his hands on either side of her head. Looking up on last time he saw the sun was in position. He sent his mind inwards, met Ira who allowed him into her mind and began muttering the spell under his breath.
Arthur stopped his horse and looked around, the forest seemed deserted. It was quiet and peaceful. Leon and Elyan rode up beside him.
"Do you think this is far enough?" Elyan asked.
"Yes" Arthur replied dismounting, "we can tie the horses up here and continue on foot." The others copied him and dismounted, then unsheathing their swords they put them with the rest of their supplies. Seeing the other two were ready he led them in the general direction of the camp. As they slowly got closer they could hear an odd sound. It sounded like footsteps, but there were too many and they were at odd intervals. Slowing down the three of them crept closer. Peering round a tree they saw three horses gathered around something on the ground. Seeing it was clear Arthur, Leon and Elyan moved cautiously toward the horses, as they got closer the thing that they were gathered round became clearer.
"Gwaine!? Percival!?" Arthur rushed forward closely followed by the others.
"What happened?" Leon muttered checking for a pulse, he relaxed a bit when he found one.
"They've been knocked out" Elyan answered after examining Percival. "But how? There's no mark or bruise on their head..." The three of them were at a loss. A moan escaped Gwaines mouth, he slowly opened his eyes, saw who was watching him and grinned.
"Arthur, what...coincidence, see...here...you" he muttered incoherently.
"Gwaine, what happened? It sounds like you've been drugged," Gwaine chuckled to himself suddenly finding everything rather funny.
"Maybe have, maybe haven't..." He was about to go on but was cut off by Percival waking up.
"What...where...?" He groaned. By now Gwaine was fully awake and jumped up wide eyed.
"What time is it?" He demanded.
"Just gone midday" Leon answered confused, "why?"
"Ira!" was all Gwaine said before he ran off, getting Percival up quickly, they followed him into the Druid camp.
"Hang on, Gwaine!? Where's Merlin?" Arthur tried asking him as he was slowly catching up. Gwaine didn't reply but just ran faster. When he reached the space where Ira was, he saw her lying by a tree with Merlin crouching next to her.
"Gwaine!" Merlin said just as Gwaine asked; "am I too late?"
"No, you won't believe it but it's done, a sorcerer turned up" Merlin lied. "He was strong enough to perform the spell, we had to, we didn't know what was taking you so long. I told you ten minutes and you said you were just coming..." He said all of this very fast and only stopped when four knights crashed through a bush.
"Arthur! What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question" Arthur replied picking himself up after untangling himself from Elyan. Before Merlin got a chance to answer, Gwaine butted in.
"It's done?" He asked, "you mean she'll wake up?" Merlin nodded.
"Any minute now."
"Where’s the sorcerer?" Percival asked, looking around, now fully recovered.
"He left, I don't know why, but I think it was because he knew Arthur was coming." Arthur opened his mouth to comment but shut it quickly when he saw Iras’ head move. He pointed at her until all eyes were on her. They watched as she slowly opened her eyes, look around and curse.
"Oh my head" she groaned, "you lot aren't dead already are you?" Grinning she tried to sit up. Merlin reached forward and helped her lean against the tree, Gwaine noticed a small smile being exchanged, is there something going on between them? He wondered. He walked over to her and knelt down.
"How are you feeling?" He asked, Ira shrugged.
"I've felt worse" she replied quietly, Gwaines eyebrows rose slightly. "Ok I feel awful" she admitted.
"She needs to be left alone so she can rest" Arthur jumped slightly, having forgotten that the Druid was standing behind him.
"How long do you think it will be before she's recovered?"
"A day, maybe two. You are welcome to stay" the Druid offered. Arthur tried to think of some excuse not to but before he could Elyan answered for him.
"Thank you, we accept your offer" Arthur frowned at him but Elyan just shrugged. "What? I like it here."
It was slowly getting dark, the knights, having had dinner went to check on the horses. Ira was sleeping and Merlin was leaning against the tree glad he didn't have to do anything for once. From opposite the fire he saw Ira start to panic in her sleep, she started to toss and turn.
"Ira?" Merlin said sitting up, there was no reply. Merlin got up and went over to her. He was just about to wake her when she suddenly sat bolt upright, her eyes wide open and breathing heavily. "Ira, are you alright?" He asked. Remembering where she was, Ira relaxed but put her head into her hands.
"I'm fine" she replied rubbing her eyes.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes” she tried to brush it off but realised she couldn’t. She ran a hand through her hair. “No I'm not. Since I showed you those memories I can't forget them again. I had gotten so good at blocking them out, but since I relived them again I can’t forget them."
"You had a nightmare?" Ira just nodded, "do you want to talk about it?"
"What's there to talk about, I showed you all of it," they lapsed into silence. When she had finally calmed down she spoke again, "I talked to the Druid."
"About what?" Merlin asked fiddling with the grass.
"About learning magic" Merlin looked up and grinned.
"That's great, what did he say?"
"He said he would teach me," Merlin nodded.
"That's good isn't it?" Ira shrugged, not answering. "What's the matter?"
"It means giving up everything I know, my life."
"But you belong with these people."
"Do I? I've never belonged anywhere in my life."
"What about before your father died?" Merlin asked, he knew it was a sensitive topic, but then she had had a family and a home, surely she would have felt like she belonged there? Ira snorted.
"If anything that was worse. I was expected to behave like a lady all the time, it was so boring. It just didn't feel right."
"But now you have a chance."
"A chance for what?" A voice called out, Gwaine emerged from the trees and sat down next to them followed by the others. "What are you talking about?"
"Merlin was just filling me in on what happened after the watchtower" Ira answered.
"Oh that, not much really."
"I don't know, I heard Arthur made a lovely speech."
"I did?" Arthur looked confused.
"Yep, one of the best fighters you've ever met?" she asked innocently.
"Arrogant” she started to tick them off on her fingers, “cocky. I don't where you got those from" Ira continued, "but I liked the part where you called me noble and honourable. They do have quite a nice ring to them. Ira the noble, Ira the honourable" she grinned. Arthur had turned slightly red.
"You had just died" he said trying to defend himself.
"She died a warrior and a hero" Ira quoted still grinning, "I thought I was just some thief?"
"Hang on" Leon interrupted, "we never got to the bottom of that, if you didn't steal anything from those bandits, why did they call you a thief?"
"Oh that, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"How so?" Percival asked.
"I saw another guy nick a golden goblet from them and run off, they only saw me and assumed I had taken it and hidden it, and when I tried to tell them that they didn't believe me."
“I wonder why?” someone muttered.
"And what were you doing there in the first place?" Gwaine asked.
"Trying to get hold of the big bag of money that was sitting next to it" she grinned. That was met with a few laughs, Arthur just shook his head but he was trying not to smile as well. When everyone was quiet again Arthur spoke.
"I think we should leave tomorrow" he said, "if you're feeling up to it Ira?" Ira didn't say anything, what could she say? Just openly admit she was a sorcerer and that she was staying here to learn magic? "Ira?" Arthur asked again, she gave a slight nod, luckily Arthur let the subject drop and they moved on to talking about something else. However Gwaine, unfortunately, had picked up on it. When they had all fallen asleep, they hadn't bothered to set a watch, much to Arthur's unease. Gwaine got up and went over to where Ira was sleeping. He gently shook her awake so they didn't wake the others. She slowly opened her eyes.
"Can you walk?" Gwaine whispered, nodding Ira stood up and Gwaine led them away from their small camp. Only when they were far enough away did he speak again. "Back there, when Arthur asked if you were ok to leave tomorrow, you hesitated." Ira was looking around, they had entered a small clearing that was full of wild flowers and was being lit by the moon so the colours were eerie and different.
"I did" Ira replied.
"Why?" Ira took her time answering. She wanted to make up some excuse, say it was because she wasn’t feeling so well. She couldn’t. He knew her too well.
"I think you already know why" she said avoiding his eye.
"But you can't, Ira it's against the law..."
"In this kingdom..." she cut across him.
"...Which would make us enemies" he finished, Ira laughed sarcastically.
"We will never be enemies" she replied angrily. "This is who I am, we've always known that. I now have a chance to be with other people like me" she kept eye contact with him.
"But are they like you?" Gwaine asked sadly his eyes boring into hers as if trying to find the answer to his question there.
"I have a much better chance at being accepted here than anywhere else."
"That's not true" Ira just raised her eyebrows, "what about in Camelot?"
"It wouldn't work."
"Why not? It’s not as if you would have to hide your magic, you can’t use it.”
“And if I make a mistake? If I accidentally use it?”
“That wouldn’t happen. Ira trust me, this will work.”
"No. It. Won’t. You don’t understand, if I return with you to Camelot, I have to forget who I am. I have to give up what I know, what I love. I can’t do that, not yet.” Without waiting for an answer Ira walked off. Gwaine made to follow her but decided it wasn't worth it, she needed a chance to calm down and think things through. Turning around he decided to head back to the camp but came face to face with Merlin instead.
"Merlin! What are you doing here?" He asked, Merlin shrugged.
"I noticed you were gone and wanted to make sure you're ok," Gwaine sighed and leant against a tree.
"I'm fine" he said, "but it's Ira."
"What's the matter?"
"I don't think she wants to come back to Camelot."
"But that's fine isn't it? She can do what she wants."
“Yes” he admitted slowly, trying to work out how to explain it without bringing up the fact that she is a sorcerer. “But I’m worried that what she wants to do instead will…cause even more trouble” he ended lamely. Merlin nodded.
“You think that she’s making the wrong decision?” Gwaine nodded, but Merlin kept talking. “Even though it’s her decision” Gwaine looked up confused. “If this is what she really wants, who are you to say she can’t do it? Surely she knows what she wants better than anyone else, even you.”
“I thought of all people, you would understand Merlin.”
“I do understand, but I understand her point of view as well. She does listen to you, and I’m sure she’s taken into account what you’ve said when making her decision, but she’s made up her mind. And I’m sure she’ll visit” he added, knowing full well it wouldn’t be possible. Gwaine shook his head.
“She won’t, once she leaves this time, she can’t come back. I’ll never see her again. Merlin I need your help, you have to help me make her see sense.”
“I don’t understand?” Merlin said not looking at him.
“Follow me” he said having made up his mind and not really listened to what Merlin said. He led the way through the trees in the rough direction that Ira had walked off. They found her by a stream throwing small pebbles into the water. “Ira?” Gwaine started to say, she didn’t turn around so Gwaine walked over and sat down next to her, Merlin did the same but on her other side. They sat in silence for a while, watching the water swirl around the few large rocks, each wondering what to say. Merlin knew for his true identity to remain a secret he had to side with Gwaine openly but he just wanted her to learn magic, or did he? Wouldn’t it be a lot more fun, a lot more interesting to get Ira to come back to Camelot with them? He knew he should let her learn magic but another part of him wanted her to stay with them.
Gwaine too couldn’t make up his mind, for so long she had had to hide who she was, doesn’t she deserve to be who she really is? To be with people who are like her? All she ever wanted was to feel welcomed, to feel like she wasn’t the only one like her. But it was dangerous, if Arthur knew, would he kill her? She would never be able to return to Camelot, never be able to visit him, is that a price she is willing to pay? Something inside him told him it was.
Ira was the only one with a clear mind, the only one that didn’t have conflicting thoughts. She knew this is what she had been looking for, if that meant giving up her old life then she would. She knew Arthur hated magic and with her current idea she didn’t see herself getting out of tomorrow alive. She threw another pebble into the water. Are they going to say anything? She looked at both of them in turn, they were thinking too, but about what? She had expected Gwaine to come and find her, to talk her out of it, but what was Merlin doing here? He was going to have to side with Gwaine to keep his identity secret, so she knew whatever he said he wouldn’t mean, he wanted her to stay. Gwaine, if she was being honest, looked like he was having a fight in his head. His face was in a slight scowl, his eyebrows lowered in concentration. Not being able to take the silence any longer she broke it.
“Well?” she asked.
“Well let’s get this over and done with, I want to get back to sleep.”
“I don’t know what to say” Gwaine admitted. “A part of me wants you to do this, but what if it means I never get to see you again?” Ira didn’t know how to reply.
“Gwaine’s right, he didn’t tell me what you’re going to do but from the sounds of it…” Merlin started saying, making sure not to reveal to Gwaine that he already knew.
“I have magic” she said confidently. “I have magic and I’m going to stay here and learn how to use it.” There was silence, both Gwaine and Merlin looked at her in shock, neither of them expected her to say it out loud. “Well it just makes it clearer, this way Gwaine, you don’t have to keep rewording things, and I trust Merlin not to say anything.”
“But Ira that’s illegal.” Ira had to hand it to him, he was good at acting.
“Not in all the kingdoms. I know it means I won’t be able to visit Camelot again, but this is who I am.”
“But how are you going to tell everyone else you’ve decided to stay here without it looking suspicious?” he asked.
“Well at the moment I’m just going to tell them.”
“Might kill me, yeah there’s that. And you two probably, so you can’t let him know that you know.”
“You do realise that means I have to publicly renounce you, just to please him. Just in case he thinks it runs in the family and I might be a sorcerer, or he could think I’m not fully on his side.”
“Something our family is pretty good at dealing with” Ira muttered sarcastically.
“Maybe you don’t have to” Merlin said. “If this is really what you want, why don’t you come back to Camelot with us. Then maybe a day or two later leave and come back to the druids. That way you are not also welcome back and Gwaine will get to see you but you get to learn magic as well.”
“But that means I still have to hide who I am” Ira said quietly, but neither of them heard her.
“That’s a brilliant idea Merlin, no one would ever know.”
“No” Ira said loudly.
“What? Why? Ira this is the only way to do it.”
“Well its better than just announcing it and running the risk of, A, being arrested, and B, being executed.”
“But what if someone finds out? What then? I’ll still be arrested and executed, unless I manage to get out of Camelot before they arrest me but then I most definitely won’t be ‘welcomed’ back.” Ira was starting to get frustrated, the two people she thought she could rely on to understand, weren’t. Ok so Gwaine had a valid reason, he’s already found a place where he is accepted, but he still went through what she was going through now, didn’t he? And Merlin, the only other person who should know how she felt, what it is like having to hide who he is, or is there something more to this that she hadn’t seen? Shaking her head slightly she returned to the conversation.
“Please, Ira, no one will find out. For once you don’t have to choose, you don’t have to pick one path and stick to it, ignoring and regretting what might have been.” Ira was starting to feel tired, she longed for this conversation to be over so she could to back to sleep. She nodded.
“Fine” she said.
“I’ll do it your way” Gwaine grinned happily and put his arm around her shoulders, Merlin was also smiling. Standing up the three of them walked quietly back to the camp both still smiling, but Ira wasn’t. She knew when tomorrow came she would disappoint them both, but it was her decision. She knew to start this life, she had to give up her old one.
The next day came round quickly, a little too quickly for the liking of Merlin, Gwaine and Ira but they woke with the rest of the knights as if nothing had happened during the night. After a quick breakfast they made their way to the horses and started to prepare them for the journey. Once they were ready Arthur turned to the Druid who had come to see them off.
“Thank you for your hospitality” he said, “and for healing Ira, all of us are very grateful.” The Druid just smiled and bowed his head in acknowledgement. Only when they had mounted did Arthur realise Ira hadn’t. “Ira?” he asked confused, the others turned towards her. Gwaine realising what she was about to do closed his eyes briefly and looked away. “Aren’t you coming with us?” He meant it as a statement but Ira took the opportunity to explain.
“No, I can’t” she answered sadly. “I’m sorry” she added wondering if it made any difference.
“But why not? You’re healed.”
“I…there’s no easy way of saying this” she paused, “I have magic” she said simply. “And I have decided to stay here and study it.” Arthur’s eyebrows lowered in confusion.
“But…hang on, you mean to say… All this time we’ve known you, you’ve been a sorcerer.”
“Yes and no, I’ve had magic but I haven’t used it, because I didn’t know how.” There was silence, all the knights looked confused, Gwaine was looking at her sadly. “So what’s it going to be?” she continued. “Are you going to arrest me? Take me back to Camelot where you’ll have me executed?” Arthur’s mouth was hanging open slightly, he honestly didn’t know what to say, none of them did. Though they knew that even if they did this was Arthur’s decision to make. The silence stretched on until eventually he came to his senses.
“I…I…I…” Ira was staring up at him. She was trying to look relaxed, carefree, as if this was something she did every day. But Arthur could see by the way she held herself, the slight look in her eyes, she wasn’t. And rightly so, she knew the consequences, what had it taken her to openly admit this in front of everyone? Arthur knew he should hate her for it, knew that in any other situation he had to have her executed, but something was stopping him. What? He wasn’t sure, he hardly knew her so that ruled out all things like friendship. The fact that she was Gwaine’s sister wasn’t it either. Gwaine! Did he know? Does he have magic as well? “Sir Gwaine” he called out. Gwaine looked over to him. “Did you know about this?” He asked.
“No my lord” he lied quietly.
“Is your family magical?”
“No my lord.”
“So this is a one off.”
“Yes” Gwaine didn’t look at him just kept staring at Ira, how could you be so stupid he thought. “Ira, please, come back to Camelot, if you don’t know how to use your magic then it’ll be fine” Gwaine tried to talk her out of it half-heartedly but knew it wouldn’t work. “Won’t it, Arthur?”
She was still standing there waiting for an answer, a determined look in her eyes, she wasn’t going to back down, not that she could now.
“She has admitted to being a sorcerer I’m sorry Gwaine. Ira, normally I would have you executed but in light of previous events where you have aided the kingdom I will be lenient. I here fore banish you from the kingdom of Camelot, if you step foot there again you will be executed.” No one said anything, Ira nodded slowly.
“Very well” she said knowing that she had been let off lightly. “In that case I suppose I hope never to see you again” as she was saying it he lips twitched up into a small smile before quickly vanishing again. Arthur nodded once, turned his horse around and started to lead the way back to Camelot. Elyan smiled slightly and followed him, closely followed by Percival who gave half a wave. Leon was in shock as he watched the others slowly leave, he looked back to Ira, the corner of her mouth curled up slightly and she held up her hand, lifting his in return he turned to follow the others. Gwaines lips were a thin line, he didn’t look angry just sad.
“So you’ve chosen” he said at last.
“I told you, to choose this life I had to give up my last” Gwaine simply nodded, he looked up as he heard Arthur call his name. Quickly he dismounted his horse and pulled her into a hug. “I’m sure we’ll see each other again at some point.”
“We’d better” he replied. Merlin had also dismounted from his horse and gave her a quick hug. Then climbing back onto their horses they started to ride off. Merlin turned around one last time.
“You know we do do a lot of patrols outside of Camelot, and there’s nothing stopping you from meeting us then” he said.
“I’ll be sure to look out for you” she called after them. Ira held her hand up and watched as the two of them rode out of sight. Hoping one day she would.