Merrily, merrily, shall I live now
Everybody stood in shock, unable to move, at Morgana’s sudden appearance from thin air. Behind her they could see the air moving, repairing itself.
“Well, boys, what do you think of my little plan? Don’t you just love it? I will finally destroy you, little brother, and take the throne of Camelot all for myself. I see you’re almost dead already. Such a pity… My heart breaks… And my dear Merlin, there is nothing you can do to prevent his death. I now have powers you can’t even begin to imagine! And as for you, poor little Mordred, you should have sided with me when you had the chance, for now it’s too late!” And with these words she hurled a spell at Arthur: Ætynedest heaðuglemm ferhþes. Arthur’s body involuntarily jerked and then he lay still again, and to Mordred’s horror, the wound started to open up again. Mordred immediately tried a healing spell, but the blood kept slowly flowing.
For a split second Merlin was faced with a terrible dilemma, try to heal Arthur first, or stop Morgana and leave Arthur behind with the one person he did not trust: Mordred. Then his eyes glowed golden and with an outstretched arm he ran towards Morgana, an unearthly scream escaped his lips, face contorted in utter savagery. “Ástrice,” he yelled hoarsely, and he could see his raw magic enveloping Morgana. She stumbled for a second, but nothing further happened. “Ic þé wiþdrífe,” he shouted in a deep, commanding voice, but Morgana did not move.
“Forbearnan ácwele”, and a huge fireball sped towards Merlin, who, at the last second, was able to counteract it, causing the fireball to explode in a blinding flash, scorching the grass.
Most of the soldiers and some of the knights had fled now, deadly afraid they were, and fearing for their lives and above all fearing for their souls.
Merlin felt his new-found magic surging through his every fibre, every nerve. Without thinking he cast another spell. The air around Morgana shimmered, but still she did not waver. Her eyes flashed, and Merlin flew through the air and with great force was hurled against a tree. Before Morgana could strike again, he cast another spell, causing part of Morgana for a brief moment to disappear. An idea had formed in his mind: create a rift in the fabric of time and space, and get her away from here forever, transport her to the spirit world. Instinctively he knew he could do it. He felt another hit, saw the evil magic penetrating his battered body and felt his own magic battling to survive; and in his mind spells formed.
Mordred had rolled up his cloak and put it under Arthur’s head. He looked at the wound. No matter what healing spell he used, the wound would not completely close. “I’ll get you for this, Morgana, I will never forgive you for this,” he said grimly, jaw clenched, and he looked at the still raging battle between Merlin and Morgana. He did not see how Arthur had opened his eyes. Arthur tried to speak, but no sound came. He tried to understand what he was seeing, Merlin casting spells and battling Morgana, he didn’t know if it was a dream or real. No, it must be real, he thought, there is too much pain for it to be a dream. “Merlin, you are a sorcerer,” he thought, still unable to utter a sound or even move a muscle. He felt terrible waves of pain surging through his body, but he wanted to continue watching. He saw Merlin hurl a flaming ball to Morgana, but she countered it, causing some trees to burst into flames, leaving nothing but a charred and twisted trunks. “Merlin, you are a sorcerer,” and slowly he felt himself drifting back into unconsciousness again.
Both Merlin and Morgana were showing signs of fatigue now, but neither would stop, could stop. The grass was blackened now, trees burnt or uprooted, rocks smashed into tiny fragments of stone. Merlin suffered from burns, he was bleeding from numerous wounds and some of his bones were broken, but he blocked out all his pain, all he could think of now was sending Morgana to a different plane, somewhere she could do no more harm. “Géosceaftgást edhwierft hinderþéostru,” he yelled, giving everything he had and more. He saw the air behind Morgana shimmering and a rift opened. “Scéotan!” With all his might Merlin tried to magically push Morgana into the rift, and finally, with a horrible scream Morgana disappeared, her howling becoming more and more faint. A sudden blinding flash and then the rift closed. An eerie silence descended over the battle-field, the fighting was over. The remaining warriors of both sides who had been brave enough to stay and witness this terrible magical battle, retreated, and Camelot’s knights gathered in their camp, grieving their fallen comrades, grieving their king, for they were convinced he must be dead.
For Mordred there was no more battle, no more fighting. There were shapes of men running around, but he did not see them anymore, they were like a dream, they were not really there, for all he could see was a dying Arthur. Somehow he found the strength to drag Arthur to his pavilion, avoiding numerous fallen men and horses, and he put him gently on the floor, almost collapsing next to him, only Gaius’ hand saved him from falling down.
“Get that tabletop,” Gaius said, “quickly, and where is Merlin?”
“Percival carried him to the knight’s tent I guess. I think. I don’t know, I saw them vaguely.”
Gaius nodded, fully understanding. Merlin must be exhausted, drained, after such a battle.
They moved the still unconscious Arthur on the wooden board, carefully lifted it up and put him on the round table. “Get water, hot if possible, and clean cloths, if there are still any left that is, and be quick about it,” he said impatient to a squire who had just walked in, involuntarily looking at the pile of bloodied cloths already laying on the floor. The boy ran, to return minutes later with a bucket of water. He took off his own tunic, saying: “This is the least dirty rag I could find”.
“Good,” Mordred said, “now find Leon and get him in here. We must speak with him.”
Gaius felt Arthur’s pulse, listened to his heart, prodded the wound and looked worried.
“Morgana managed to cast a spell, the wound will not completely heal, no matter what I try,” a desperate Mordred said.
Then there was a groan coming from Arthur’s lips: “Wha… happe… hap… Merl…”
“Don’t try to speak now, Sire, you have been grievously wounded, but you are no longer in mortal danger,” said Gaius, and he put his hand on Arthur’s chest, hoping he was right about his claim.
“We won the war, Sire,” Mordred said, “Camelot is safe,” and he saw Arthur trying to smile.
“Good,” he managed to croak, before slipping into unconsciousness again.
Not long afterwards Merlin came stumbling in. His face was ashen and covered in mud and blood, breathing was difficult and he dragged his left leg behind him.
“How’s Arthur,” he croaked, looking with fear in his eyes at the fallen king.
“He has been enchanted,” Mordred said, “Morgana was able to cast a spell, his wound will not heal.”
Merlin limped to Arthur and laid his hands on his chest. His eyes closed and his whole body swayed.
“Merlin,” Mordred said, and there was some panic in his voice, “are you alright? Can I help?”
Slowly Merlin shook his head and almost immediately fell down. “I’m fine,” he whispered, “get me some water.”
Mordred looked at Arthur, the bleeding seemed to have stopped.
“What’s happening here,” came the voice of Leon as he entered the pavilion. Without waiting for an answer he almost ran to where Arthur lay and immediately turned an accusing eye at Gaius, as if he was responsible for Arthur’s fate.
“As far as we can tell, Arthur is no longer in mortal danger,” Gaius said.
“Good.” It was at that moment that Leon finally saw Merlin.
“I’m fine,” Merlin said and tried to sound as cheerful as possible.
“What news,” asked Mordred curtly.
“A most strange thing has happened,” Leon answered, “soon after that witch Morgana disappeared, king Peredur came to us, crying. He claimed he has been under Morgana’s spell and wants to speak with Arthur. He didn’t want to fight, he said, but Morgana made him. He is in quite a sorry state, and laments the loss of his men and ours too.”
“Tell him,” said Gaius sternly, “tell him Arthur is severely wounded and cannot see anyone at this moment. As his physician I strictly forbid it!”
“Where’s Gwaine? And Percival?” Merlin asked anxiously, at the same time afraid to hear of their possible deaths.
“There’re fine. Battered, bruised and wounded, but otherwise fine. Even Galahad.”
Merlin heaved a deep sigh of relief.
“Now please leave us, I must attend to Arthur’s needs,” Gaius said and shooed Leon and a few squires out of the pavilion.
“Tell Peredur we will talk to him later. And what about Maleagant?”
“I don’t know, he seems to have run away, the coward, leaving all the dead behind, left to rot, and looting just about everything and everyone,” and Leon spat in disgust on the floor.
“Well,” Gaius said urgently to Merlin, “how is Arthur? Tell me now, don’t dally!”
“I don’t know for sure. I managed to encapsulate Morgana’s spell somehow so it can’t harm him anymore. It’s a very powerful spell, but it needs a human host to do any harm. It will fade now. I think. I hope… But there was something else I saw. That was not Morgana. It was her body, but there was someone, something, else in her mind, a very powerful being. I managed to sent her, them, back to where they came from, I could see it in her mind. It’s not on this plane. We’re safe for a while, I did something to her magic, but I don’t know what exactly, but she’ll be back for sure. They’ll be back. I don’t know, I think I did something… I… I… I don’t know Gaius, it all so confusing. There are two Merlins in my head, at least that’s how it feels. I gave Arthur a mild sleeping-spell, so his body can heal. Arthur, did Arthur see me using magic?” and a sudden fear crept in his voice, eyes darting to and fro. Mordred shook his head. But every knight and citizen on the battle-field did, he thought, we must urge them to keep silent somehow. “Arthur must never know. And all we can do for Arthur now is let him rest. He must let his body cure itself now. And I’m so very tired.” With these words Merlin crashed on a chair and instantly fell in a troubled sleep.
“Nooooo…” Macha and Morgana screamed in one voice. They felt Morgana’s body almost torn asunder from the enormous forces of magic as she was thrown back into Macha’s realm. Morgana landed with a dull thud on the ground, her head hitting a rock, and she lay there, motionless. The force had ripped Macha’s essence from Morgana’s body, and she desperately tried to find her own body again. Her face was almost unrecognizable with primal anger, and she let her magic run wild. Trees were uprooted and burned, rocks blasted to smithereens. Then she heard a thundering voice: “You idiot, you birdbrain, I gave you the simple task of eliminating the Pendragon dynasty, one simple task and you bungled it! I gave you that powerful sleeping spell, I made sure you would use Morgana and what did you do? Made a mess of things! And what’s worse, that upstart of a Merlin is by now the most powerful warlock in Camelot instead of a dead one!”
“Then give me something better or do it yourself next time!” Macha yelled, completely besides herself with anger now.
“How dare you!” roared the voice of Caer Ibormeith, the ancient and forgotten god of sleep and dreams, for it was he who had set everything in motion, it was he who held a deep grudge against Camelot, and Macha was knocked down. Her eyes rolled back in her head, her body convulsed and then she lay still.
It was a sorry sight at the Knight’s tent that day. Some of the surviving soldiers of king Peredur were still gathered there, wounded and downtrodden, lamenting their fallen brothers in arms. The rest had retreated to their own camp, taking their fallen comrades with them. Only now they fully realized this whole battle had been so unnecessary, so futile, but they had to follow their king in battle, follow a king acting under the influence of evil magic. The Knights of Camelot brought them what little food they could spare and they waited, waited for their king Peredur who was inside the tent, talking and pleading; but it was the knights who did all the talking, and Pederur was merely listening.
“This has been a terrible day,” Leon said, “a terrible day for all our peoples. We all have lost so much. Friends and family gone, knights and citizens gone, decimated, and all because of one evil witch. She is gone for now, but there is no telling when she will return, and when she does, we must be ready. We must be strong and vigilant. I have heard king Arthur talk of uniting all our kingdoms one day, and on behalf of King Arthur and the Knights of Camelot, I offer you my hand in friendship.”
“Thank you, Sir Leon, there is gladness in my heart upon hearing these words. I will gladly take your hand, Sir Leon, and let our kingdoms henceforth be both allies and friends.”
Both men clasped each other’s fore-arms. Gwaine filled goblets with a generous amount of mead. “To Camelot and to our united kingdoms,” he said, and they all drank to that.
“As soon as king Arthur has recovered from his wounds, I will come in peace to Camelot to seal our friendship once more.” The council was over, Peredur stood up and left the tent, recounting the agreement to his soldiers, and they began their cheerless journey home.
For days now Arthur had been tormented with a very high fever. Every day and much of the night Gwen sat by his bed, keeping his forehead cool, moistening his lips, watching him struggle, tossing and turning, clinging to life. Gaius had had Arthur’s bed moved near the window, so he might hear the sounds of the courtyard, the sounds of knights training, in the hope that Arthur would hear it and wake up.
Every day Percival, Gwaine, Leon and Mordred came to see Arthur, telling him how the training went, boasting of their skills. Sometimes even Galahad came with them, but he invariably kept silent.
And every day Gaius came, changing the bandages and cleaning the wound. Merlin and Mordred had done all they could by using their magic, and now there was nothing left but wait for the fever to break. All Merlin could do was keep Arthur company, he even slept in Arthur’s chambers, “in case Arthur woke up”, he claimed. He never spoke of the possibility that Arthur might die.
“The wound is healing nicely,” Gaius said one day, smelling the wound, and trying to sound as optimistic as possible, “there is no more sign of rotting flesh, and we should be grateful for that.” He had put quite a number of maggots on Arthur’s wound these last few days, for the wound had become infested, and the maggots would eat away all the putrid and rotting flesh, thus cleaning the wound.
An exhausted Gwen vaguely smiled as she wiped the sweat from Arthur’s brow, smoothing his damp hair, watching Arthur fighting a battle, fighting to stay alive. She had never felt so helpless in her life.
Then, one sunny afternoon, the fever finally broke.
It did not take long for Arthur to recover, the wound was completely closed now, and he had started training with his sword again. Careful at first, but every day he got better and faster. Soon the day would come when he would be his old self again, and his strength and agility would be back completely.
“I saw what you did back there,” Arthur casually said one day, when he and Merlin were alone in his chambers. “at the Hill of Badon, your fight with Morgana, using magic” and his eyes bored into Merlin’s, mouth set in a thin and grim line.
Merlin paled, and it felt as if his legs buckled under him, unable to hold his weight anymore, the jug he was holding crashed to the floor. This is not happening, he thought, Arthur doesn’t know anything. Nobody had told Arthur anything, or did they? He wanted to say something, but all he managed was a twitching of his lips, and a feeble gesture with his hand.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were a sorcerer, Merlin,” Arthur said, his voice deceptively calm. “WHY?” he yelled and threw a goblet at Merlin’s head, narrowly missing him. “Why Merlin, why did you lie to me all those years. I thought we were friends, but no, you had to deceive me, lie to me, time after time, playing the oh-so-innocent servant. You’ve betrayed me Merlin. Why Merlin, why?” His eyes were blazing, his whole body trembled with pent-up anger and confusion. Merlin just stood there, fidgeting, not knowing how to react. “Talk to me Merlin,” Arthur whispered angrily, “talk to me or get out and never come back!”
“You know as well as I do Uther would have had me killed,” a now emotional Merlin said, finally finding his voice, “How could I have told you, even if I wanted to? I was given a destiny, I was to protect you and do you know how many times I saved your life? And yes, by using magic! So no, Arthur, I had to keep my secret, for if I died you would soon follow and there would be no more Camelot.”
“So you’re the worst possible protector. I nearly died, remember? I nearly died! And you should have told me, your secret would have been safe with me.”
“Really? No Arthur, that’s not true and you know it. All your life you were taught to hate magic and when you were convinced Uther had died of evil magic, you loathed sorcery even more. Would you have let me live if you knew I was a sorcerer? Magic must be banned at all costs, you said. At all costs!”
Both men stood there, the air heavy with tension and unspoken words, almost visibly quivering with the release of these hidden secrets and whirling emotions.
“I had to keep quiet, Arthur, for your sake and mine.”
Silence fell and nothing could be heard but the labored breathing of two tormented and confused souls.
“My mother died by evil magic, my father died by evil magic. So can you blame me? Can you blame me for denouncing magic after that? Can you? CAN YOU?”
Merlin shook his head and whispered almost inaudibly: “No”.
Arthur had started pacing now, hands clasped over his ears, as if he refused to listen to Merlin anymore. Merlin still did not move, only his eyes moved, following Arthur.
“Who knew you had magic?”
For a moment Merlin kept silent, the last thing he wanted was to incriminate others.
“Who, Merlin.” Arthur’s voice sounded like the sharpest of swords, cutting through Merlin’s last shreds of resistance.
“Gaius,” he whispered, “and Mordred. And Lancelot too. And Leon I think, and perhaps Gwaine.”
“So just about everybody, except me. How great…” Arthur’s voice was now cold as steel.
“Where did you learn it? Who did teach you?” Arthur said after an uncomfortable silence.
“No, I was born with it.”
“Born with it?”
“Yes Arthur, I have been a sorcerer from birth. And do you have any idea what it is to constantly live in fear? Fear of being discovered? Fear of getting killed? Trying to save your life without anyone noticing? Every time Uther executed a sorcerer, I said to myself, I could be the next one. I have such a great gift, Arthur, I can do so much, I can help so many people, and all I can do is stand idle and watch, unable to do anything. There were times when I wished I were dead!”
Arthur stopped pacing, and, looking at the wall instead of Merlin, he said: “I need time to think, Merlin, please go. Too many things are happening now. Tell the guards I will not see anyone, not even Gwen. We will talk later.”
And with a heavy heart Merlin left Arthur’s chambers, afraid of what his future might hold. His life was now in Arthur’s hands.
Two days later Arthur summoned Merlin to his chambers. For Merlin it had been two torturous days, not knowing what Arthur would decide, hardly eating, hardly sleeping, and now his heart sank completely. His face was white as a sheet, and he could not stop trembling.
“Have faith,” Gaius said, embracing him, patting him encouragingly on his back, “Arthur will do the right thing.”
But what if Arthur thinks killing me is the right thing, Merlin thought, and slowly he walked to Arthur’s chambers, entered the room and carefully closed the door behind him. Arthur stood there, facing the window. He did not turn around, nor did he speak for what seemed like ages. Finally he said: “Listen carefully, Merlin.”
And in the courtyard he heard a herald proclaim:
“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! Arthur King of Camelot has issued the following statement and wants it known throughout the whole Kingdom of Camelot!
“Firstly, let it be known that Arthur King of Camelot has decreed that magic is no longer forbidden, provided said magic is used for good intentions and good intentions only;
“Secondly, let it be known that Arthur King of Camelot has decreed that druids are no longer outlawed and are henceforth free to walk and live in the Kingdom of Camelot without fear of persecution;
“Thirdly, let it be known that Arthur King of Camelot has decreed that the use of evil magic within the Kingdom of Camelot is still, and always will be, forbidden and practitioners of aforementioned evil magic will be immediately put to death.
“Thus Arthur King of Camelot has spoken.
“Long live the King!”
“Soon the whole kingdom will hear this,” Arthur said, still not turning around. Merlin kept quiet, he was desperately trying to understand what he had just heard, still trying to grasp its meaning. Magic no longer forbidden?
“Last night I had a vision,” Arthur continued, “I saw Ygraine, telling me the curse on Tintagel was lifted, now that I had decided to lift the ban on magic. My mother told me she was finally at peace now. Then I knew I had made the right decision. Don’t think I embrace magic now, I don’t. Don’t imagine I am rejoicing, I’m not, far from it. For the moment I’m willing to tolerate magic and that’s all.”
And all that time Merlin stood there, fidgeting. Suddenly Arthur turned around, eyes cold as steel, and with voice equally cold said: “Come here, Merlin.”
“But Sire, I…”
Merlin failed to notice the smile Arthur was trying to hide, nor the laughter in his eyes. His feet felt like lead, as he walked over to Arthur. Then Arthur embraced him and they stood there, both unable to utter another word, two souls with far too much emotions to handle all at once.
“Dollophead,” Merlin whispered at last.
“Jug ears,” answered Arthur.
Arthurus, Rex quondam Rexque futurum