Part 8: link
The sound of glass breaking beneath his head jolts Merlin from his fitful slumber. Oh no!
he thinks, scrambling into his bag.
The last item Merlin put in his bag before they left, almost on a whim, was the phial of water from the Lake of Avalon, entrusted to him by the Fisher King. The phial that has just broken under the weight of his head.
“No, no no…” Merlin mutters frantically, dumping the contents of his pack out onto the ground.
He watches, amazed, as the water runs between the items, pooling to one side. Eyes wide, he places his hand on the other things in the bag.
They’re completely dry.
“Merlin,” a soft, familiar voice whispers. Merlin looks around, searching for the voice.
“Freya?” he whispers.
“Here, Merlin,” she calls him and he looks down into the pool. He sees her beautiful face smiling up at him from the surface and he almost bursts into tears.
“Freya!” he exclaims softly. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“I miss you, too, Merlin. I don’t have a lot of time, but I’ve come to help you.”
“Help me?” He looks furtively around a minute. Everyone is sleeping except Gwaine, who is on watch a distance away, leaning against a tree. Merlin suspects he’s fallen asleep on his feet.
“With your quest, of course. The immortal army is not infallible, Merlin,” she says.
“I know, we have to spill the contents of the cup,” he says, furrowing his brow.
“Ah, but to get there will require much skill and stealth. And you’ll be battling men who are already dead.”
“Already dead? I thought…”
“No, Merlin, they are not truly immortal. When their blood was added to the cup they gave up their lives to Morgause. They answer only to her, and are at her complete mercy. When they have served their purpose, she will dispose of them.”
“That’s so… cruel.” Merlin suddenly feels an inexplicable sense of pity for these men. They didn’t know what they were getting into.
“Those men thought they were signing up for immortality, when in reality they were signing their own death sentences.”
“Yes,” he agrees sadly. Then he recovers himself, resolve back in place. “But how do we get past them?”
“There is one weapon that has the ability to kill that which is already dead,” she says, eyeing him pointedly.
“Yes, of course,” Merlin nods. Then he frowns. “But… I put it all the way out in the Lake…”
Freya smiles. “Do not underestimate me, Merlin. There is a small lake southwest of where you are camped. Follow the stream, you will find it. Come to that lake and there you will find it.”
“I will come as fast as my legs will carry me,” Merlin says. “Should… should Arthur come along?” he asks, suddenly feeling that Arthur should indeed be there.
“He knows your secret, Merlin. He may come. He should come. And the others as well.”
“The others?” Merlin asks, puzzled.
“The future Knights of Camelot, yes,” Freya nods, a knowing smile on her face.
“Future…” Merlin mutters. He sees Gwaine move out of the corner of his eye and looks up.
“Until we meet once again, Merlin,” Freya’s voice draws his attention back down just in time to see her image fading.
“Wait! Freya, come back…” Merlin pleads, leaning close to the water.
“Lose something, Merlin?” Gwaine asks, walking back over.
“Kind of, yes,” Merlin says vaguely. Then he looks at Gwaine. “Wake up Elyan, Lancelot and Percival. We need to go somewhere,” he says, standing. He walks over to where Arthur and Gwen are cuddled next to the fire, asleep in each other’s arms.
He’s going to kill me for waking him,
Merlin thinks, knowing that this is the first real sleep Arthur has gotten since he left Lyonesse.
“He hasn’t really slept since we left,” Gwaine told him earlier. “He says his mind is too active, but, between you and me, I think he missed Gwen. Hell, I know I would.”
He looks down at the pair of them, the red wool blanket from Fleta wrapped around them, Gwen tight in Arthur’s arms, her face tucked into his chest.
Merlin crouches behind Arthur and reaches down, all the while thinking, I am a dead man.
He pokes Arthur in the shoulder. “Arthur,” he whispers.
Steeling himself, he lowers his finger again.
“Poke me again, Merlin, and you will lose that finger,” Arthur mutters, opening one eye.
“Sorry. You know I wouldn’t wake you if it wasn’t important,” Merlin whispers, not wanting to wake Gwen.
“What is it?” Arthur asks, somehow able to whisper menacingly.
“I know a weapon that will help us against Morgause’s army.”
“We need to go get it.”
“Now?” Arthur asks, a little louder, and Gwen squirms in his arms. “Shh,” he shushes soothingly, quietly, smoothing her hair with his hand, kissing the top of her head softly.
“Yes, now,” Merlin says, glancing up. “The guys are waiting. Sorry.”
“All right,” Arthur says, and he carefully, gently, unwinds himself from his wife and tucks her back in.
“Arthur?” she mutters, half asleep.
“I’ll be back, Love,” he whispers, “stay asleep.” He kisses her forehead and stands. “Where?” he asks Merlin.
“This way,” Merlin says, leading the way. Arthur and the other four follow.
“Hurry back,” Leon calls softly, having been woken to keep watch while the others embark on their mini-quest. He pouts slightly as he watches them depart, wishing he could accompany them, but knowing his presence is more necessary here at the moment. The future queen of Camelot must remain safe.
“Merlin, where are we going?” Arthur asks after a short time of walking in the dark.
“I’ll know it when I see it,” Merlin answers.
“You know, there was a time where that answer would have prompted all manner of snide remarks from me, Merlin,” Arthur grumbles. “I kind of miss it.”
“Sorry to ruin all your fun,” Merlin says, grinning.
“Why is it only just us going?” Lancelot asks, curious. “Surely Bors and Leon should be a part of this as well.”
“Not this time,” Merlin says. “I can’t explain it yet, but I have a feeling all will become clear soon enough.”
“Besides, someone needs to protect Gwen,” Gwaine says.
“And Gaius,” Merlin says.
“And the king,” Arthur adds after another moment.
“Oh yeah, him, too,” Gwaine chuckles.
“Ah,” Merlin declares. There is a body of water in front of them, either a very large pond or a very small lake. He looks around, looking for signs of… anything helpful. All right, Freya, a little help please,
“This mucky lake?” Arthur asks. “Merlin, I was willing to trust you here, trust your ‘magical instincts,’ but…” he trails off, watching as a small boat floats to the shore.
Except it isn’t floating. It is moving with purpose.
“Thank you,” Merlin mutters, and walks casually to the boat. It is not big enough for all six of them. “Arthur, I think you should come with.”
“In that boat? With you?”
“There aren’t any oars, Merlin.”
“Don’t be silly,” he says petulantly and stomps to the boat.
“What should we do?” Elyan asks.
“Um, wait here, I guess,” Merlin says. “This won’t take but I moment. I think.”
“Very helpful,” Gwaine says, sitting on a large rock.
Once both Arthur and Merlin are seated in the boat, it moves again, piloting itself towards the center of the lake while the four others watch from shore.
“That makes me nervous,” Elyan says.
“What? The boat moving on its own?” Percival asks.
“Well, your friend Merlin there is a wizard, what were you expecting?”
“I don’t know. I still haven’t gotten used to that. See, you’re lucky, Percival. You’ve only known Merlin this way. We all knew him as Arthur’s friendly but slightly clumsy servant. So this is quite a revelation,” Elyan explains.
“I knew,” Lancelot admits.
“You did?” Gwaine asks.
“Yes. I saw it when I first came to Camelot. When I ended up banished, like you,” he nods at Gwaine. “I promised him I would keep his secret. Being away from Camelot, it wasn’t really that difficult,” he shrugs.
“Shh. Something’s happening,” Percival says, pointing out to the lake. Arthur and Merlin have reached dead center. The boat stops.
A ripple a short distance from the boat draws Merlin’s eyes. “There,” he says, pointing.
“I see it,” Arthur says, watching, fascinated, as a figure emerges from the water, gradually. A woman, walking slowly, deliberately, as if ascending a staircase. He glances at Merlin and is taken aback at the expression on his friend’s face.
He is entranced. I’ve never seen him look at anyone that way. Wait, is that…?
“Merlin, is that the druid girl?” Arthur asks. “The cursed one?”
“Was,” Merlin whispers, standing as she reaches the boat.
She appears to be standing on a platform just below the surface of the water, though Arthur knows there is none there. She is beautiful and pale, and strangely dry, swathed in a gown of shimmering silver, ethereal, as if it was made of moonlight itself. Her long dark hair falls about her shoulders in soft waves, and she is gazing back at Merlin, mirroring his rapt expression.
“Freya,” Merlin breathes.
“Hello, Merlin,” Freya smiles at him, lifting a slender bare arm, holding her hand out to him.
He touches her hand, gasping as he lifts it to his lips and kisses it almost greedily. “You’re real,” he breathes, pressing his cheek against her hand.
“For the time being,” she says softly, smiling at him, turning her hand to touch his face with her palm now. Then she addresses Arthur.
“Arthur Pendragon,” Freya beckons him, “rise.”
Arthur does as he is told, standing, a bit nervous, but the boat is quite stable. Of course it is.
“My lady,” he nods, furrowing his brow momentarily. Why did I feel compelled to address her as such?
“Thank you, Arthur,” she nods back at him.
“For freeing me from my curse,” she says. “I never got a chance to thank you.”
“But you are dead… aren’t you?”
“I am the Lady of the Lake. I am neither dead nor alive. I exist only to help bring Albion to its glory.”
“In that case, it is I who should be thanking you.”
“That is not necessary, Arthur,” she smiles. “We each have our destinies to fulfill.”
“Merlin says there is a weapon I need to bring down Morgause’s army?” he asks, wanting to get to the point but not wanting to appear ungrateful or disrespectful.
“Yes.” Freya lifts her hand and holds her palm out. Arthur follows the line of her arm and watches as a sword, shining and true, emerges from the water and flies into her hand.
“This sword, forged by the most skilled blacksmith Camelot has ever known, its blade burnished in the fire of Kilgarrah, the Great Dragon, is called Excalibur. It is meant to be wielded by you and you alone, Arthur Pendragon. It is the only weapon that will harm Morgause’s undead puppet army.” She holds it across her palms and extends them toward Arthur. “It is yours. Use it wisely. Guard it well. Do not let it fall into the hands of another,” she instructs, her face grave.
“Thank you, Freya,” Arthur whispers, taking the sword. He wraps his hand around the hilt, feeling its weight, its balance. It feels perfect. Like it is a part of me.
“You are most welcome, Arthur,” she says, smiling at him. Then she turns her attention back to Merlin.
“Merlin,” she says, and once again Arthur is struck by the connection they have. He steps back and sits in the boat, waiting.
“You know your task. Your duty,” she says.
“Yes,” he answers, nodding gravely.
“You must do what is necessary, Merlin.”
“I know,” he nods.
She reaches out to him again. “My time is almost up. Do not fail in your quest.”
He takes her hand again, but this time it is not enough. Merlin reaches out to her, and she moves closer, right beside the boat now. He cups her face gently between both of his hands, his thumbs stroking her cheeks, surprised to find them slightly wet with her tears. Freya’s hands come up to hold his wrists, stroking the backs of his hands with her thumbs.
Merlin leans in and kisses her then, a longing, passionate, heart-wrenchingly sad kiss. A kiss of farewell.
He pulls gently away, leaning his forehead on hers for just a moment.
Arthur watches, moved more than he would readily admit. Freya turns her head slightly, whispers something in Merlin’s ear, and withdraws gently.
Merlin nods once, a small, sad nod. Then he watches as she turns and descends back into the lake. She never looks back.
“Goodbye, Freya,” Merlin whispers, and sits.
The boat starts moving, turning back towards the shore where the men are waiting.
Arthur wants to ask. He really does. But he knows anything he says now will be shot down or ignored. So instead he studies his new sword, running his fingers down the blade, across the runes near the hilt, testing the edge with his thumb and finding it quite sharp.
“Who was the most skilled blacksmith Camelot has ever known?” Arthur decides to ask, thinking it a safe enough question.
“Tom,” Merlin states simply.
“Guinevere's father made this?” Arthur asks, holding it up.
“Gwen said that he called it the finest sword he ever made.”
“I am indeed honored.”
“I know you’re curious. I’ll tell you later.”
“I’m trying not to ask.”
“I can tell,” Merlin chuckles and wipes his face, though he is not ashamed of his tears.
“When you’re ready, Merlin.”
The boat reaches the shore and Arthur sits a moment longer, staring at the sword. An idea floats into his head as he looks down at it. Do I dare?
Arthur slowly climbs out of the boat and turns to the four men standing and watching, their faces various shades of shocked.
“Men,” Arthur says, resting his hands on the hilt of his new sword, “I would like to give you my most heartfelt thanks for your aid during this time. Camelot needs you, I need you, and you have volunteered your services, though you know it may well cost all our lives.”
The men regard him gravely, wondering where he is going with his speech.
“Because if this, I want to ensure that the four of you are honored in the way you deserve. You each intend to fight nobly for Camelot, to restore her to my father and me,” he pauses, watching as each of them nods slightly. “And so you shall be treated nobly.”
Arthur lifts Excalibur, holding it up perpendicular, in front of his face. “Kneel, my friends.”
He’s really doing it,
Merlin thinks, biting back his grin as he watches, fascinated.
Arthur addresses each man in turn.
“Arise, Sir Gwaine of Camelot.”
“Arise, Sir Elyan of Camelot.”
“Arise, Sir Percival of Camelot.”
“Arise, Sir Lancelot of Camelot.”
The men stand, tall and proud, and at that moment, the clouds part and the full, shining moon shines down on them. So bright is it that they blink in surprise, and look over at the lake, which is glittering in a rather otherworldly way.
Merlin smiles. Freya approves. The future knights of Camelot, she had said.
“Merlin,” Arthur turns now. “I… I don’t know what to do with you. I think we can all agree that while you are quite brave and you have your own… unique skill set, you are no knight.”
Merlin chuckles and nods. “I am quite content to continue being your servant, my lord,” he says humbly.
“Are you now?” he arches an eyebrow at him.
“Well, at least until I can be open with everyone about who I am,” Merlin answers pointedly, reminding them all.
“In that case, Merlin, when the time comes, when you are ready, say the word and I will do whatever I can to reward you for your years of loyalty and friendship,” Arthur nods respectfully at him.
Merlin is stunned. “Thank you,” is all he can manage, quietly.
“My father may have my head over this,” Arthur mutters, but then he laughs. “But you’re saving his kingdom, so who knows?”
“We’ll keep it quiet for now,” Elyan says. “The knighthood thing, I mean.”
“For now,” Gwaine smirks.
“Come on, let’s get back. Try to catch some more sleep,” Arthur says, turning.
“What is that she gave you, Arthur?” Elyan asks.
“Magic sword,” Arthur says, giving it an experimental swish.
“More importantly, who was that lady that was all over our Merlin?” Gwaine asks.
Gwen scrunches herself tighter, huddling into her blanket. Why am I so cold?
She slowly wakes, and realizes that she is missing the cocoon of warmth provided by her husband’s firm yet surprisingly comfortable body.
“Arthur?” she whispers, sitting up suddenly, looking around. “Arthur?” she repeats, louder now, trying not to sound too panicked.
“Gwen, it’s all right,” Leon comes bounding over now, having heard her. He throws a few more logs on the fire when he sees her shivering and sits beside her, wrapping his long arm around her to give her some warmth from his body and his cape.
“Where is everyone?” she asks, looking around. She can see Bors, Uther, Gaius, and Geoffrey, but the others are gone.
“They went to retrieve some kind of weapon, my lady,” Leon explains, his face a bit puzzled.
“Weapon? What sort of weapon?”
“I have no idea. Merlin was going on about some kind of special weapon, and they had to go right away.”
“Why are you and Bors still here?”
He shrugs. “We apparently were not needed on this mission.”
She peers up at him.
“Honest, that’s all I know. We’ll find out more when they return. Are you warmer?”
“Yes, thank you,” she says. They sit quietly for a minute. “It doesn’t trouble you at all, does it? Me being Arthur’s wife?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“I guess I was just prepared for all nobles to have the same mindset as the king,” she says, glancing over at Uther, who, as if on cue, starts snoring. Ah, that’s where Arthur gets it from.
“My lady,” Leon starts.
“And there’s that. You seem so at ease addressing me as such, and I cannot get used to hearing it! I’m not really
“You are the prince’s wife. So you should be addressed as such, Princess,
” he smiles, emphasizing the last word.
She huffs, exasperated. “Why?”
“Of course, Sir Leon. I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t want the truth.”
“Ah, there: the answer you have just given me should give you your answer.”
“Hmm,” she thinks, twisting her lips to the side.
“Gwen, you and I have known each other a very long time,” he says, and she nods. “I have known Arthur just as long. You and I grew up together; Arthur and I grew up together, trained together, became knights together. The only people I have known longer than the two of you are family. Yes, you were a servant. But you are also the kindest, truest, most noble person I know. Noble in here,” he points to his heart, “not because of some family crest on an old parchment.”
“Thank you,” she whispers.
“And since I’m being honest, I will also say that I wasn’t really surprised. About the two of you.”
“What?” she exclaims quietly, looking at him, her eyes wide. “We were discreet, I thought…”
“You were, don’t worry. I just have the advantage of knowing both of you very well and I also am noted for being observant. One of my strong points in battle, you know.”
“I do know that, yes.”
“I started noticing things. Like how Arthur always seemed to be in a better mood if he had just seen you. He didn’t even have to speak to you, he could just see you passing and his face would change. He stopped being such a prat, too,” he laughs, and Gwen joins him.
“I think Merlin had a part to play in that as well,” she points out.
“He yelled at me for giving him special treatment while training for the joust once,” Leon remembers. “You and Merlin, you’ve got this… way
with him. You know he is the prince and you give him the respect he deserves, but…”
“But when he’s being an idiot we don’t hesitate to tell him,” Gwen finishes, smiling, knowing exactly which joust Leon is talking about.
“And for whatever reason, with the two of you, he actually responds
to that. It’s amazing.”
“It’s part of his charisma,” Gwen says. “His appeal. He says he cannot know if he has worth as a man or a prince if people automatically agree with everything he says just because he is the prince. He was quite torn up about it for a while.”
“He will be a great king,” Leon says, nodding.
“Yes,” Gwen nods.
Just then they hear a moan. Gwen looks. Uther. He’s curled on his side, clutching his stomach, moaning horribly.
Gwen thinks, but stands and hesitantly approaches him, Leon hot on her heels.
“Sire?” Leon asks quietly.
He moans again. “Stomach,” he gasps.
Gwen looks over at Geoffrey, who is still asleep, but he’s squirming and slightly sweaty.
Leon looks at Gwen.
“We all ate the same things they ate,” she says. “I wonder if they overdid after having nothing for so long,” she muses.
“I’ll wake Gaius,” Leon says.
“No, I can take care of this,” Gwen says, crouching beside Uther.
“Sire, I’m going to bring you something that will help. It will take a minute or two, but I’ll be back.”
He moans again.
“Where are you going?” Leon asks.
“Come with me,” she says. “Arthur will kill us both if I go wandering off alone.” She tosses two empty water skins at him.
Leon nods and follows as Gwen heads in the direction of the place she and Arthur talked, remembering seeing the herb she needs when she was there.
“Where are we going?” Leon asks.
“Not far. Thankfully the moon is so bright, even though it’s gotten low. It must be getting near dawn. Ah. Here we are.”
Leon watches as Gwen crouches down and gathers up handfuls of green leaves, picking them quickly and purposefully.
“What is that?”
“Mint. It will help soothe their stomachs. Would you fill those, please?” she asks, pointing to the stream gurgling nearby.
“Right,” he says, hurrying over and filling them. “How did you know it was here?”
“Saw it yesterday when Arthur and I were, um, talking privately here,” she says, keeping her face pointed away.
“Oh,” he answers carefully.
As they walk back, Gwen breaks the silence with a quiet, “Thank you.”
“For your words earlier. Your support. If I know you are behind me, I think I will be okay.”
“Every queen needs a champion, my lady,” he smiles.
“I am not the queen,” she chuckles.
“Not yet. But you will be. And when that time comes, it will be my privilege to defend you.”
“Thank you again, Leon. You don’t know what that means to me.”
“To tell the truth, Gwen, I have always looked upon you a little more fondly than I probably should have,” he says, avoiding her eyes now.
“Oh?” Gwen asks, quite surprised.
“But don’t worry, I’ve come to realize that any… affection I have for you is more like that of a brother, nothing more. Honest.”
Gwen smiles and looks down. “I am luckier than I perhaps deserve,” she says, plucking a few leaves off of a bunch of mint now, tucking them into her palm.
“I do not think so,” Leon says. “I would say that you are very deserving.”
They stop at the edge of the camp, and Gwen leans up and kisses Leon on the cheek. He bends down to allow her to more easily reach, and she whispers, “Thank you,” a third time before heading straight toward Uther and Geoffrey, both curled and moaning now.
“Here, Sire, chew these to start,” Gwen says, pressing a few leaves into his palm. Then she gives some to Geoffrey.
“Sir Leon, will you put some of that water you collected on the fire, please?” she asks.
He clunks the pot accidentally, and the noise rouses both Bors and Gaius.
“Sorry,” Leon apologizes.
“Gaius, the king and Geoffrey have stomach pains,” Gwen scurries over once the old man has roused himself. “I’ve collected some mint for them.”
“Good girl, Gwen,” Gaius says. “You’ve got Leon heating water? Oh, you have. Of course you have,” he pats her hand. “I probably should check on them anyway,” he sighs, “though you seem to have the situation entirely in hand.” He gets slowly to his feet and makes his way to Uther and Geoffrey, who both seem to be a little more comfortable.
Gwen finds the water to be hot enough, and adds the leaves, crushing them slightly to release their oils and letting them steep a bit.
She pours the tea into two mugs and brings them over, instructing the king and Geoffrey to sit up and drink.
“Thank you… Gwen,” the king says. He uses her name finally but doesn’t look at her.
Small victories, then.
She takes Uther’s blanket at settles it around his shoulders to keep the chill away, then does the same for Geoffrey.
“Better?” she asks him, and Geoffrey nods. He looks less pale already.
“Thank you, Gwen,” Gaius says. “You always had an eye for herbs.”
Gwen just smiles and returns to her own blanket, throwing more wood on the fire, stoking it back up before wrapping herself up and sitting down.
Part 10: link