Beta: The forever amazing souleswanderer. All remaining mistakes are my own.
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Merlin and no money was made from writing this story.
Summary: Merlin starts having a reoccurring dream, and he realizes he's going to die. How far will he go to save his own life, what happened to his destiny, and where the hell is Arthur?
A/N: This was written for vail_kagami after her generous donation to the Support Stacie April Auction.
Merlin remained in the doorway, his feet fixed to the floor as emotions surged deep within him. Gaius called it a chemical reaction – fight or flight – and Merlin felt cut in two. He wanted to run away screaming or reduce the laughing man to a scorched mark on the stone floor. He heard Uther’s voice, asking Sir William to join him at the table, and swallowed hard.
Arthur pivoted on his foot, an eyebrow of disapproval crawling up his forehead. “Merlin.”
Merlin rubbed his neck as if he was trying to force words from his parched throat. Arthur acknowledged several guests, smiling and shaking hands, as he made his way back to Merlin.
Arthur reached for Merlin’s elbow and leaned forward, speaking quietly. “What is your problem?”
Merlin glanced at his feet before slowing lifting his head. Several noblemen were glancing in their direction.
“Merlin,” Arthur said, his voice belaying his frustration.
“I’m fine,” Merlin said, straightening his shoulders and stepping away from Arthur. This was neither the time nor the place. He could practically feel Uther’s eyes burning a hole in his head. He had to think logically, and if this man was going to kill him, Merlin doubted it was going to happen during the royal feast. Although Uther would probably enjoy the entertainment. “Shall I get you a drink?”
Arthur’s concern vanished, his face slipping to an expression of neutrality. “That is your job, isn’t it?”
Merlin resisted the urge to roll his eyes and walked off to fetch a pitcher of wine, ignoring several sniggers as he went. After he filled Arthur’s goblet, he returned to his typical station during one of the royal banquets which was propping up one of the walls.
He forced himself to remain calm. Despite Arthur being a prat, he’d taught Merlin a few things about hunting and preparing for battle. Merlin decided he could use this time to study the new arrival to Camelot.
Sir William seemed normal enough; he was entertaining, offering several jokes during the meal that caused the other guests to erupt with laughter. He ate like a soldier, chewing and swallowing the food quickly as if he didn’t know when he was going to see another meal. Merlin was beginning to rethink his first opinion of Uther’s longtime friend until the man laughed, his throat titling back and revealing a long, white scar that disappeared behind his clothing. Merlin barely swallowed the bile that surged into his throat.
Cool fingers brushed against his arm. “Merlin, are you all right?”
Merlin tried to ignore the chill crawling its way down his spine. “Gaius had me drink one of his special concoctions today.”
Gwen nodded in understanding, her face scrunching as if she had a bad taste in her mouth. “I’m sorry to hear that. I know how unappealing his remedies can be.”
“It’s not like you can tell him no either,” Merlin grumbled.
“He is persistent,” Gwen agreed. Her eyes traveled over the table, stopping to rest on Morgana. Morgana tilted her head, her mouth lifting to a smile when she met Gwen’s gaze.
“She looks lovely tonight, doesn’t she?” Gwen commented.
“Doesn’t she always?” Merlin returned. When Gwen coughed, he was quick to add, “I meant to say – well, when you have the wardrobe that she has –“
Gwen chuckled. “It’s okay, Merlin. If you didn’t notice, I’d think something was wrong with you.”
Arthur drained his goblet, and Merlin immediately went to his side, leaning over slightly to refill his wine. He returned to Gwen before Arthur could say anything.
“So what do you think of Sir William?” Merlin asked, his voice neutral.
Gwen shrugged as if she hadn’t given it a lot of thought. Uther frequently entertained visitors. After awhile, they all blurred together. “I don’t know. He seems nice enough. He actually thanked several of the servants that tended to him.”
Merlin made a noise in his throat. “What? Do you not like him?” Gwen asked.
“I don’t even know him.”
“He’s known the King since before he took the throne. They fought in the crusades together, and he’s been a staunch supporter of Uther’s decree against magic,” Gwen explained.
Merlin resisted the urge to say ‘of course he has.’ Instead, he said, “He’s known Uther since before he took the throne? He doesn’t look that old.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Gwen bumped his shoulder playfully. “I wish I had his beauty secret.”
Merlin smiled, rubbing the back of his neck. Even though he brought Gwen flowers from time to time, he drew the line at swapping beauty tips.
He helped the other servants clear away the trays and refilled goblets as one of Camelot’s finest bards situated himself aside the table. His melodic voice drifted through the vast chamber, resonating deeply as he sang of the noble King Uther who banished magic from the land. There was a verse that sang of a nobleman who fought alongside him, through everything, a man named William.
The bard finished and bowed, and Uther was on his feet clapping. He dropped his hand to William’s shoulder. “Those were difficult times, my friend.”
William inclined his head. “A battle hard fought and won, sire.”
“A battle that is still waging,” Uther amended. Merlin felt like throwing the silver tray in the king’s general direction. It was another reminder that as long as Uther lived, magic would be banned from Camelot.
William pushed his chair back and stood, Uther’s hand still on his shoulder. “And I shall continue to stand beside you.”
“I could not ask for more,” Uther said, his mouth curving to a smile. For a second Merlin wondered if he should offer them a private room, but decided that might not be the best idea if he valued his head in its current position, attached to his shoulders.
“More wine,” Uther called, settling into his chair and reaching for his goblet.
“I afraid I must retire,” William said regretfully. “The journey was arduous and long.”
“Yes, of course. You must be tired.” Uther waved his hand, and Thomas, one of the servants, approached slowly. “Take Lord William to his chambers and see that he has everything he needs.”
“I’m sure I can find the way –“
“Nonsense,” Uther interrupted. “You’re my guest.”
Merlin felt for Thomas. Escorting a royal guest could be nerve wracking, and Thomas wasn’t known for his amazing aptitude.
William bid goodnight to Uther and the rest of royal guests and followed Thomas to the door. After William disappeared from view, Merlin expelled a long sigh of relief. He followed several servants and started clearing off the table. An echoing thud was heard from outside the hall’s doors.
“Come quickly! The boy has fallen!”
Gaius was on his feet instantly, moving faster than someone his age should be able to. Merlin followed behind Gaius out of habit, knowing there might be something he could do to assist his mentor.
Uther and Arthur followed, and Gwen trailed further behind. Gaius knelt beside Thomas who was lying on his back, blinking up at the stone ceiling.
“What happened?” Gaius asked, his eyes not leaving his patient as he poked and prodded the boy.
Lord William dropped to one knee next to Gaius, his eyebrows tilted downward with concern. “I don’t know. One second he was walking in front of me, the next he was laying on his back. I only managed to catch his head before he hit the floor.”
Gaius nodded, his fingers massaging Thomas’ head. “Your quick reflexes saved him from a possible life threatening injury.”
“What did he trip on?” Arthur asked, his eyes scanning the empty corridor.
“His own feet,” Uther deadpanned. No one dared contradict him especially considering the lack of any objects in their path.
“Thomas, do you remember what happened?” Gaius asked.
Thomas squeezed his eyes closed before sitting up, Gaius’ hand guiding him carefully. “I don’t – I don’t know. I remember walking then I was on the floor.”
“You’ll have to be mindful of those large feet in the future,” Gaius said, smiling at the boy. “Do you think you can walk to my chambers? I’d like to make sure you’re suffering no other ill effects from your fall.”
Thomas nodded. “I think so.”
“Good boy,” Gaius replied as he and William helped Thomas to stand. Merlin watched Gaius push to his feet and thought someone should be holding on to his elbow.
Gaius led the boy away, and Uther turned to William. “I apologize for this – delay.”
“Please, sire, don’t mention it. I vaguely recall a day when I was only a clumsy boy,” William replied. For a second Merlin thought he saw Gwen swoon, and he barely resisted rolling his eyes.
“You are a forgiving man,” Uther said. “Someone else will escort you, then.”
“It is not necessary –“
“Nonsense,” Uther interjected. “I trust I have at least one servant in my court that can take you to your chambers without falling down.” Uther glanced around the tiny audience, and Merlin tried to hide behind Arthur. “Ah, Merlin, the personal manservant to my son, he shall escort you.”
Arthur glanced over his shoulder at Merlin whose face was now devoid of all color. “Father, are you sure that’s a good idea? I thought you wanted someone who could walk without tripping over their feet?”
William chuckled. “You lack faith in the boy. I’m sure Merlin will do just fine.” William grinned at Merlin, and Merlin twisted his hands in front of his stomach to keep from grabbing Arthur. William’s mouth widened, his hand barely covering the yawn. “The hour is late, and I wish to retire.”
When Merlin didn’t move, Arthur stepped to the side and grabbed Merlin’s arm. “Do try to stay upright,” Arthur ordered before shoving Merlin forward with a hand to his lower back.
Merlin swallowed and stepped in front of William, gesturing with his arm toward the corridor. “This way, Lord William.”
William smiled indulgently and followed Merlin down the hall. William remained silent; the only sound filling the stone passageways was heavy footfalls. Merlin pushed open the door, and remained outside the guest quarters. William stepped inside, his eyes glancing around the room.
“Is there anything else you require?” Merlin asked.
William picked up his sword that was lying on the wooden chest of drawers. He pulled out the blade, the metal slicing through the air with a hiss.
“It is a nice blade, is it not?” William asked, his eyes reflecting the cold steel.
“Yes, a valiant weapon, indeed,” Merlin responded, unsure of what he should say. He swallowed and stepped away from the door. “If you do not require my services then –“
William glanced at the fireplace. “A fire, if you please, Emrys.”
“Yes, of – what –“ Merlin froze –“ what did you call me?”
William grinned, his teeth flashing like a predator. “That is your name, is it not?”
“My name is Merlin,” Merlin whispered, retreating further into the hallway.
“My fire,” William repeated, gesturing towards the wood piled in the fireplace. “I do not wish to catch a cold. These castles are so drafty, don’t you agree?”
Merlin shook his head, unable to follow William’s rapid shifts in conversation. Perhaps he’d misheard Lord William. He stepped into the room hesitantly, walking towards the fireplace and knelt down after he pulled the flint off the mantle. The heavy wooden door slammed closed, and Merlin jerked back so fast he fell on his backside.
William was still standing across the room. “See? The draft is terrible.”
Merlin swallowed and pushed himself onto his knees. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He tried to hold the flint steady as pulled the pieces across each other over the wood. His movements became jerky as he couldn’t get the fire to light.
William snickered behind him. “Surely you don’t need flint to start the fire.”
Merlin continued to send sparks over the wood that was stubbornly refusing to catch. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t have to lie to me, Merlin. I know who or should I say what you are.”
Merlin set the stone aside and pushed to his feet. “I’m sorry, Lord William. I’m not who you think I am.”
William tilted his head back and laughed, and Merlin felt his stomach knot, the blood draining from his face as he fought a vicious wave of nausea. The fire surged in the fireplace, flames bursting forth with such energy and power Merlin thought he was being burned alive.
“See, I knew you could do it,” William said, inclining his head approvingly.
Merlin pointed to the fire that had retreated to a normal size. “I didn’t do that!”
“Didn’t you, Emrys?” William said conversationally. “Are you not a great and powerful warlock? Do you not possess the powers to control life and death? Were you not sent here to protect the young prince Arthur?”
Merlin shook his head – words tumbling through his head as he struggled for a response. How could this stranger know so much about him? It wasn’t possible!
“Deny it,” William murmured, his eyes narrowing as his fingers danced across the blade that was resting on the dresser. “Deny it,” he said forcefully.
“Who are you?” Merlin asked instead.
“I am Lord William, longtime friend of King Uther. I am a warrior and a soldier. I am nothing and everything.”
Merlin shook his head, his eyes wide. “What does that mean?”
William chuckled, his hand falling to his side. “All in good time, my young warlock. All in good time.”
Merlin started backing towards the door, unwilling to take his eyes off William. “I will bid you goodnight, then.”
“Yes, of course,” William said. “May your dreams not trouble you tonight.”
Merlin froze, his hand pressed against the door. “How do you know about that?”
Again, William laughed, and Merlin felt flames licking down his spine, flaying vulnerable skin as it went. He shoved the door open, running away from Lord William, his laugh, and the fire that burned.
Merlin ran until his legs burned and his lungs ached. He ran until he couldn’t feel the fire, but he could still hear the laugh ringing in his ears. He fought to control his breathing as he leaned against the cold stone wall.
It had been William. His dreams had to be caused by William. How or why, Merlin had no idea. He didn’t know the man, and from what he could gather, people spoke kindly of him. Why would William want him dead? Would William be the one that revealed him as a sorcerer to Uther? Is that why he would burn?
There had to be more to this story. Something he wasn’t seeing. How could this man know his past? Only the Druids had called him Emrys. Could William be a Druid? No, there was no way Uther would keep such a friendly relationship with a known Druid, unless he was an unknown Druid.
His mind raced, questions flying by with no answers to follow suit. He would think of it later, after he verified Arthur was settled. If he didn’t at least check on the prince, he’d hear about it in the morning.
Merlin stepped forward and adjusted his clothing. Yes, he looked fine. In complete control. Arthur would be none the wiser.
Arthur glanced up from the map he was studying after he bid Merlin to enter. His eyes dropped back to the table for only a second before returning to Merlin. “What happened to you?”
Merlin looked down at his rumpled clothes and decided nothing was out of the ordinary. “Nothing. I’m fine.”
Arthur shook his head, disbelieving. “Morgana’s got more color than you. Come here and sit down. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Merlin eyed the bench warily, and Arthur said, “Now, Merlin.” Arthur was becoming far too astute for Merlin’s taste.
“Right, yes,” Merlin said, hurrying to sit down. He placed his hands flat on the table and swallowed before meeting Arthur’s gaze. “Now what?”
Arthur rolled his eyes and started speaking very slowly. “Now, you tell me what’s got you so spooked.”
“Nothing, I said I was fine,” Merlin replied, scratching at a discolored mark on the table.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Arthur said. “How did it go with Lord William? I trust you didn’t fall flat on your face.”
“Your faith in me is inspiring,” Merlin said flatly.
Arthur smirked at him. “Considering your history, what am I supposed to think? You are rather clumsy.”
“At least I’m not fat,” Merlin muttered.
Arthur looked up, his eyes wide. “What did you just call me? I am not fat!”
“I never said that,” Merlin said, trying to conceal a smile and failing miserably. “I said you should get a cat. The company would do you some good.”
“Hmph,” Arthur muttered. “You’re more than enough company, Merlin. Trust me on that.”
“I’m sure,” Merlin agreed. “I suppose its better this way. If you did get a pet, I’d just end up taking care of it.”
“That is your job,” Arthur pointed out.
Merlin made a noise in his throat, noncommittal at best, that clearly said Arthur couldn’t take care of a living creature if he tried.
“Are you insinuating something, Merlin?” Arthur asked, his tone far too polite.
“Me? Of course not,” Merlin said. “I’m sure you’re a fine caretaker. I mean, if you actually had to care for something yourself, I’m sure you would –“
“You can shut up now,” Arthur interjected.
Merlin nodded quickly. “Shutting up.”
“Good.” Arthur eyed him critically and seemed satisfied with what he saw. Some of Merlin’s color had returned, and he wasn’t shaking anymore. “Do you think you can make it back to your chambers without falling over?”
Merlin seemed to consider this. “I don’t know. That might be pushing it for one day.”
“If you’re that concerned, feel free to sleep on my floor,” Arthur offered.
“You’re so generous,” Merlin deadpanned.
“Aren’t I?” Arthur agreed.
“As generous as your offer is, I think I’ll take my chances walking back to my quarters.”
Arthur shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
“Do you require anything else this evening?” Merlin asked, rising from the table.
Arthur shook his head. “I’m riding out on patrol in the morning.”
Merlin concealed his groan. The last thing he felt like doing was chasing after Arthur and his knights all day on horseback. “What time shall I meet you?”
“I can tell you’re excited at the prospect of joining me,” Arthur commented. “Alas, you’ve been given a reprieve.”
“Oh?” Merlin said, hope within reach.
“Yes, Lord William has offered to join me.”
And Merlin’s meager hope was gone in a flash. “What?”
“It has been many years since he’s seen the kingdom,” Arthur explained.
“I’ll go with you. Surely Lord William is tired from his long journey. Remember, he said he was tired at the feast. I’m sure –"
Arthur folded his arms on the table. “I thought you’d be pleased.”
Merlin was anything but pleased. “I just – it's not a good idea.”
“And why’s that?” Arthur asked.
Merlin should have seen that question coming. Now he was faced with the difficult predicament of telling Arthur something believable that would cause him to change his mind about taking along Lord William without giving away too much information. And unfortunately, Merlin was running short on information because he couldn’t share what he didn’t know. Accusing one of the king’s closest friends of a murder plot wouldn’t go over very well especially considering he was basing that purely on his dreams.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” Merlin said, his eyes studying the surface of the table.
“Why, Merlin,” Arthur said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “are you jealous?”
Merlin pressed his palms together, resisting the urge to punch Arthur’s perfect face. “I’m not jealous.”
“Oh, I think you are,” Arthur replied smugly.
Merlin’s shoulders sagged. There was nothing he could tell Arthur that would make him change his mind. “Never mind. Do what you want.”
Arthur leaned forward, all hints of teasing gone from his features. “Tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “Tell me why you don’t want him to come. There has to be a reason.”
“I just – I don’t trust him.”
Arthur smiled, chuckling. “He’s a longtime friend of my father. I’ve known him all my life.”
Arthur’s faith in the man did nothing to lessen Merlin’s fear. “I still don’t trust him.”
“Did he do something to you?” Arthur asked, his voice quiet, but the underlying threat was there.
“No, no,” Merlin said, “nothing like that.” For a second he was flattered by Arthur’s concern even if it did mean that he thought Merlin couldn’t take care of himself.
Arthur stood up and walked around the table until he was standing in front of Merlin. “Your concern is noted. If something does occur, remember I have been trained to fight since birth.” Again, Merlin’s fear was not lessened by Arthur’s decree.
Merlin’s eyes narrowed and he considered recounting each and every time he saved Arthur’s life to him in vivid, graphic detail. “I’ll see you in the morning,” Merlin said, starting for the door.
“I thought I just said you don’t have to come.”
“You did, and I’m coming anyway,” Merlin said. He trusted Arthur’s ability as a warrior above all else, but Lord William was something entirely different, and until Merlin figured out what that something was, he wasn’t letting that man alone with Arthur.
“You do realize you’re supposed to listen to me,” Arthur pointed out.
“I do listen to you. I’ll listen to you all day tomorrow while you’re on patrol. Good night, sire.”
Merlin let himself out, closing the door on Arthur’s nodded farewell.
Sleep did not come quickly to Merlin. Each time he nearly drifted off, he jerked back to reality, his breath turned to heaving gasps. He knew the cause of his dreams was now inside Camelot’s walls. It was more than just unsettling, it was horrifying.
When sleep finally claimed him, he did not dream of his demise, but of the demise of all of Camelot.
Merlin fell to his knees, his screams tearing his throat raw, and reached his hand out, his fingers brushing fine cloth. He knew that garment and hair underneath his fingers that felt like silk.
The Lady Morgana was dead.