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When Merlin woke the next morning, Wart was already taking porridge at the table and drawing pictures. The sun was barely up and Merlin wanted, quite desperately, to tell her to go back to bed and wake him up at a more reasonable hour. However, seeing as she was a traumatized war victim, he figured he could handle a few early mornings.

But they really were going to have to break the habit.

"Morning, Wart."

She grinned and waved him over to the table. There were dozens of pictures, mostly of Wart doing some fun activity or another. Merlin blushed when she presented one that looked oddly familiar.

"You are shameless," Merlin said, trying to fight his laughter. Wart just held the picture up and giggled.

It was of Merlin and, assumedly, Arthur, holding hands with hearts draw between them and floating around in the air.

"You know, he's King of Camelot. This could be treason."

Wart stuck out her tongue.

This time, Merlin did laugh. "You are more like him than you will ever know," Merlin mumbled. "Now, as much as I would like to watch you draw all day long, we've got to find a way for you to communicate with me."

Merlin dragged out his large tome. "There's this spell, that allows you to draw in the air..."

Wart leaned over and studied the book.

"I'd cast it on you," Merlin said, "and then you could draw runes in the air. Um, well, it's the safest thing because forced telepathy is scary. I tried it with my owl, well she's not my owl but she seems to put up with me fairly well. It was a complete and total disaster. She still hasn't forgiven me."

She smiled at his rambling and Merlin tried not to blush. She seemed to consider him, as if she was assessing whether or not he was fit to be casting spells on her. Finally, she peered at him through her lashes, pointed at the spell-book and nodded.

Merlin felt a small burst of pride. "Let's see then!"


The next two days passed by in a blur. Arthur was, predictably, nowhere to be found and whenever Merlin did find him, he was wrapped up in one thing or another that pretended to be important (Merlin was still skeptical that that many things in Arthur's life were vital). Although, there was a steady stream of food being brought up to the tower, without Merlin having to send for it, and several items of clothing had been commissioned from the seamstresses, delivered to the tower and were way too small for Merlin. Wart, being young and more interested in learning magic than what the gifts meant, was happy to wear them. Merlin just squinted at his favorite type of pastry and felt like stabbing something.

He didn't want to be wooed. Dammit, he just wanted to be in the same room with Arthur and have an actual conversation—to move forward instead of treading water and waiting for everything to fall apart.

But there wasn't much time to dwell on what was or wasn't happening between him and Arthur. Indeed, most of Merlin's time was occupied with Wart, who in addition to having a fair amount of raw magical talent, also had a knack for fixing things.

(They figured that out when Merlin knocked over the same bowl for the fifth time that day and it was just too tired of his clumsiness to mend with his spell. Wart touched it and not only was it mended, it looked shinier than before.)

The day before, after another disastrous attempt at mixing a potion for a common head cold, Merlin was giving serious consideration to seeing if Wart's talent for fixing things was limited to certain things or if maybe healing was something she would enjoy. He spent the night thinking about it, even going as far to consult Gaius about teaching a silent orphan any sort of complicated magic. But in the end, the result was the same: Camelot needed someone who had some iota of talent in healing and Wart was here, intelligent eyes trusting Merlin to take care of her.

Merlin stared at Wart over a vial. "Would you like to try healing? It's like, fixing things, but harder and of course, if you muck it up too much, you might off someone."

She wrinkled up her nose, thinking or mocking him, Merlin wasn't sure. "Um," he stuttered. "I doubt you'll really be dealing with mortal peril on the first lesson?"

Wart, precocious thing that she was slowly revealing herself to be, considered him and then winked.

"Of course you find the potential of death to be alluring," Merlin laughed out and shook a finger at her. "Well, all right then, come over here. I've translated this book into something that I hope you can understand because I can't show you all these spells and potions without putting us both—oh hell, the entire citadel—in mild danger."

Wart waved her hand at a few ruins appeared, shimmering blue, in the air. Why? Merlin cringed.

"I'm rubbish at healing spells."

She raised her tiny little eyebrow and more ruins appeared. But you're Emrys.

He didn't feel necessarily embarrassed about not being able to heal very well... but yes, okay, he did feel marginally embarrassed that he could open the heavens and the earth—that he could rule all the lands with the flick of his wrist—and yet, patching up a broken nose or speeding up the recovery of a cold was near impossible for him.

"I'm more of a life and death kind of warlock, okay?"

Wart blinked her big, brown eyes and drew: Can you only save Arthur?

"If you weren't so cute, I'd probably throw you out and make you live on the streets like a cur," Merlin muttered. "Stop talking about King Arthur and start reading. We'll make a physician out of your ridiculous curiosity about my private life—because, my dear, curiosity's consequences don’t just limit themselves to cats."

She rolled her eyes at him but happily moved to take the book and climb up to sit in the window sill. Merlin puttered about, pretending he had something important to do before he gave up and put on a cleaner tunic and his favorite breeches.

"Will you be all right, I'm going out for a while?"

Wart shrugged. I can send for you.

Merlin laughed, remembering the minor debacle of her last summons. "That would be perfect, but maybe a little softer this time, okay?" She nodded, unabashed, her fingers playing over the book. "Also, call for me if any of my fowl friends return."

Wart was already absorbed in the pages of the book. Merlin took a moment to admire her freckled face, the way her nose wrinkled up a bit and how she nuzzled against the window sill like a great cat. Then, tying his neckerchief, Merlin left the tower behind him.


He wondered around the castle, in clear denial that he knew where he wanted to go until he couldn't stand himself anymore and just headed for the practice fields. They were sparser than usual, having two envoys of knights out to assess the refugees, but still busier than most of the castle, seeing as how Arthur gladly invited anyone to come and watch the training of the knights. He claimed the reasoning behind it was because since knighthood had been opened up to commoners, there were still few applicants—people feared change and humiliation.

Merlin was sure that it was just another way of feeding Arthur's ego.

Sure enough, as Merlin neared the center of the field, there was Arthur. He was, naturally, devoid of any proper armor and had decided that swinging around a stick with the butcher's son, Tommy, wearing only his dirtiest breeches was appropriate. Merlin tried not to stare but it was hard, when Arthur was glistening in the sun, skin tan and freckling and all those glorious muscles bare for Merlin to fantasize about. It was embarrassing the things he wanted to do to that ridiculous man.

"Come for a show?"

Merlin didn't even bother to turn and see Gwaine's expression, eyebrows waggling and lewd sneer, which he most certainly would be donning with that sort of tone.

"He's such a prat," Merlin said instead, ignoring the fondness in his voice. "I hope Tommy gets a hit into his bad shoulder."

Gwaine laughed. "I see you two are having a lovers' tiff."

"You know that to be blatantly untrue."

"Ahh," Gwaine said, bumping their shoulders together. "His shining display of masculinity only upsets you when he's being a twat."

Merlin sighed. "He is a twat."

"Also, he's been a right git the past few days."

"Look at us," Merlin mumbled, "gossiping about the mood of the king."

Gwaine's arm was heavy around his shoulders but not unwelcome. It was hard not to tell Gwaine everything, tell him all the secrets and how tired Merlin was—Gwaine, out of everyone, understood the burden they carried and how much Merlin struggled with what he wanted and what he was allocated.

"Has he, though?"

Gwaine laughed, a soft rumble in Merlin's ear that had him blushing faintly and wanting to push him away.

"Yes," Gwaine said, leaning into to whisper into Merlin's ear. "He's been more dreadful than usual."

Just then, Arthur met Merlin's gaze across the field with his eyes narrowed down to slits at the sight of Gwaine hanging off Merlin like he had a dowry or access to the pub's mead supply. (At least the latter was true.) Merlin watched, desperately trying to keep his expression neutral, as Arthur fought with Tommy but didn't stray from keeping his eyes on Merlin.

"You aren't clever, Gwaine. He's not a big enough brute to be compelled out of—" Merlin paused, waving his hand around to indicate whatever it was that was keeping them apart, "just because you don't understand how to keep your hands to yourself."

"Jealousy is a powerful motivator."

Merlin scoffed. "You have no idea what you're speaking of, Gwaine. We're not peasants. This isn't a game," Merlin hissed, quickly turning red with anger and shame. "We've no room to act like stable boys giving in to any and all passing fancies."

Gwaine nosed at his ear until Merlin swatted him, finally breaking away from Arthur's gaze to look at Gwaine. Instead of finding amusement, he found longing and a sadness he wasn't expecting.


He shook his head and tightened his hand on the back of Merlin's neck. "You two have a very precious thing and you're just going to let it fall by the wayside, for what? Destiny? Fear? You once told me that there was nothing the two of you couldn't surmount together. Does this not count?"

"It's complicated."

"Certainly not so much as you two are making it," Gwaine replied, squeezing Merlin's neck and pressing closer until his lips were grazing Merlin's ear. "Some things, even between kings, are very simple."

Merlin wanted to cry, there in Gwaine's arms, because Gwaine had this horrible ability to reduce Merlin to the rags on his back. Gwaine thought he was a king—a magical beacon—he wouldn't be convinced otherwise and yet, he managed to strip Merlin down to just the messy emotions he carried around with him but never got to feel. Merlin tried to breathe but Gwaine was still there. Eventually, he smiled softly, mouth curving against Merlin's ear, and turned away.

"Have you heard from your birds?" Gwaine said, tone a blatant lie.

Merlin cleared his throat. "No. I expect tonight, though."

"I fear we will start a war, caring for these refugees."

Merlin scoffed, his heart stammering. "You do not fear war, Gwaine. Don't be ridiculous."

Gwaine pushed him away and walked, backward, toward the field where Arthur was done and talking to the rest of the group. Arthur was watching them both with a careful eye. Merlin scowled at Gwaine's cheerful and mischievous face.

"But I do fear the complicated love games of warlocks and kings!" Gwaine cried, clutching his chest and laughing his way out of sight.

Merlin wanted to curse him. He really did. A nasty one.


When Merlin returned to his rooms, after bellowing at Bartholomew just to relieve some of the tension in his neck, he found a very odd scene.

Wart was standing on top of a chair, shaking her finger at the owl that Merlin had quickly become fond of, and staring at the bird with obvious intent. It seemed they were having some sort of silent conversation because before Merlin could announce his arrival, the owl stuck out its wing and Wart promptly dropped a very large book on it.

The owl and Merlin made disturbingly similar sounds.

"Wart! What are you—"

But she only held up a hand, not turning to face him as she considered the mangled wing. The bone was sticking out and there was a smattering of blood on the owl's feathers. Merlin watched, a little horror struck, as Wart took the wing in hand and closed her eyes.

Merlin shared a look with the owl. She, for her part, didn't look traumatized at all. In fact, she looked shrewd, a little judgmental and like all this business with humans was very beneath her. Merlin wondered, briefly, if everyone in his life was suddenly acquiring the traits Arthur held that annoyed Merlin the most.

When she broke the gaze, her beady eyes were directed at the soft glowing light above her wing. Merlin walked slowly and softly, trying not to disturb Wart too much as she worked, still silent but brow lined in concentration. Her palm was hovering over the wing, light blue light surrounding the slowly mending broken wing.

Wart opened her eyes, smile tentative and the owl flapped her wing. It was flawlessly healed.

"Wart! This is amazing," Merlin whispered, still staring between the owl and Wart's bright face. "I can't believe you just did that. A little brutal in the execution but it's only been a few hours and—you're clearly much more apt for healing than I am!"

She beamed at him, looking at him shyly until Merlin hugged her. She giggled, joy clear and hugged him back until the owl hooted, breaking them apart.

"Oh yes," Merlin said. "I assume I should thank you, you know, for being a test subject for Wart here. Impressive really."

It looked as if the owl was arching her eyebrows and judging him.

"Knock it off! Do you have news for me or are you just feeling high and mighty for no reason?"

The owl bristled, her feathers moving in a wave around her. Merlin walked forward and closed his eyes, letting himself settle into deep breaths before he felt the nudge of the bird's head against his hand. Slowly, magic coursed through his mind and resonated down his arm to flow through the owl's mind.

The picture was fuzzy, memory playback always was but it was exaggerated through differing species. Merlin found that when he tried it on humans, the experience was rather painful and too intense. If it was an easier processes, he would have considered trying it on Wart but delving into a mind that young and clearly traumatized could not be taken lightly.

The images trickled in. First, a flash of a rag-tag group of Morgana and her followers. They seemed to travel mostly by magic, moving quietly through the country and collecting numbers. They were still small, maybe a count of twenty, but they used manipulative magic and charmed smiles to gather forces—attractive lies. Merlin watched as one scene depicted Mordred, wrathful power rolling off of his small body in waves as he mounted an attack on a small Druid camp. It made Merlin's stomach pitch. He pushed the image away and focused on their whereabouts, just beyond Cenred's kingdom to the west, and concentrating on smaller villages where the magic-folk were more desperate for community.

Merlin listened to a few snippets of conversation, nothing important, just idle plans and delusional musings. Morgana, for the most part, seemed genuinely mad. Her ramblings were almost incomprehensible and Merlin saw, more than once, Mordred dosing her to keep her under and seeing. It was dangerous. Induced magical sight was hardly ever right—much like torture—sure, she would see but there was no telling if what she saw predicted this future, other futures, certain paths or just the dark recesses of her mind. Either way, the longer she stayed under, the madder she would be.

Merlin felt the sour taste of guilt, disgust and shame roll through his belly and swell at the back of his throat.

He disengaged the magic and blinked back into the room. Wart was staring at him in wonder while the owl looked bored.

"Thank you," Merlin muttered, nodding at the bird. "I appreciate your help, I know it mustn't be pleasurable having to follow them around for me."

She fluttered her feathers and Merlin thought, not for the first time, that he really needed to give her a name. She was so very useful and although she grumbled, judgmental eyes always searching his, she always did what he asked.

"Here, I have a present for you," Merlin said, whispering a few words that created a lovely gold glow. When he turned his palm upwards, there was a cluster of almonds. The owl hooted in pleasure, grabbed them up with her claws (completely unaware of how brutal her talons were on Merlin's skin) and took off out the window. "You're welcome," Merlin yelled after her.

When Merlin turned away from the window, Wart was staring up at him and chewing on her bottom lip.

"I would say that she's normally quite nice but that's not quite true."

What did you see?

Merlin sighed. What was he supposed to tell her? Lies would serve little purpose here.

"They're trying to gather forces," Merlin said, bending down to her level. "Mordred is exacting revenge on any Druid camps he finds in retaliation for siding with Camelot when I came into my power during the war."

Her eyes, big brown pools of emotion, swelled. She trembled slightly, words appearing above her head.

They came for us.

"You're safe now."

She shrugged, looking down at the floor. You have to stop them. Merlin stared down at the crown of her head. They couldn't go to war again—Arthur would, if Merlin asked him to—but the kingdom needed time to build and define itself. It was clear that Arthur could run a land in wartime, he could hold the whole world on his shoulders if he knew it would save lives, however, the people didn't know him in peacetime. They wanted to; they adored him and had so much hope. It wasn't fair to them and although Albion was the goal, the people of Camelot had to come first.

"Wart," Merlin said softly. "Camelot can't go to war again. It's too soon."

This time, when she looked up, her jaw was set. There were still tears but there was a fierceness about her that reminded Merlin so much of Arthur when he was just a prince that Merlin felt rocked from how long ago it seemed—practically a lifetime ago.

They believe in you. Fix it.

Merlin stared at the runes, then back at Wart's stubborn face.

You don't need war to unite, Albion. They will come if you call them.

"All the kingdoms except for Cenred's have leaders. People won't abandon their leaders for Camelot's, it doesn't make any sense."

Wart shook her head. No one stands for peace.

Albion had been at war for a long time. Before Uther, Camelot had been a territory fought over and its people simply pawns in war games, but Uther had come to power with force. He raised an army and fought with ruthlessness that made the people fear him and respect him. The kingdoms around them had followed suit, forcing peace with an iron fist. Albion had never been at peace, not truly, simply playing a waiting game between wars. The kings were greedy, for land and wealth, and the thought of their people's goodness had been left behind long before Merlin was born.

To hold kingdoms together by peace? Surely it was too difficult to be done if no one had ever tried.

"But how would it work," Merlin though aloud. "Just, open up our borders and invite chaos?"

Then again, no one cared about the border lands. If Camelot took them in, earned the trust of the people—but, no... an Albion at the hands of the peasants? Not only would the peasants have to swear their fealty to Camelot's quest for peace, but they would have to fight for it; it would be a kingdom decided on the whims of the masses.

"A rule like that, Wart," he said, not looking her in the eyes. "I'm not sure if it's possible. Peace is a compelling argument, yes, but so is fear. Our Camelot is not yet strong enough to take on kingdoms for the sake of peasants. It would require reform and so many men, knights and commoners alike, to go to war with their own kingdoms with only the promise of peace to keep them going."

And yet, who had ever promised them peace before? Who had ever returned magic to the land and then stoked the fire of life back to Camelot? If there was any kingdom capable of convincing the commoners of other kingdoms to revolt—to get the borders to blur until Camelot leaked into the other kingdoms and slowly took them over from their heart...


She smiled a very soft smile and Merlin's stomached knotted.

It wasn't a completely insane idea. Naïve, maybe, and too hopeful—too much faith in magic, in the good of people, in the power of Arthur's noble heart. And yet... the refugees...

"I'll think about it," Merlin settled with. "The knights we sent out to the borders will be back tomorrow and I'll throw the idea around with them, speak to the king for you—but you mustn't get your hopes up, Wart. Politics of kingdoms often follow laws that don't make sense in terms of humanity or magic."

She frowned but nodded and Merlin pattered her shoulder, straightening up. "Now, show me what else you've learned today."

Wart smiled, moving toward the book but before she opened it, runes appeared next to her.

You will fulfill your prophecies, Emrys. Love always triumphs.

Merlin stared at the space where the runes where, long after they had faded from sight.


Night settled heavy on Camelot. Merlin had spent most of the day distracting himself by teaching Wart. She had trouble with anything that explicitly required speech but many of the healing spells were hands-on magic, requiring a knowledge of how the body wants to be. It was interesting and delightful to watch Wart's face as she learned, soaking up whatever knowledge Merlin could impart and teaching him a thing or two.

He had taken to feeling the magic through her, trying to learn a healer's magic through Wart's natural disposition for it. Although he was clearly not an expert, he was more apt to try the most basic spells on his own. Before long, Wart had gotten tired and after supper, she curled up in his bed with an anatomy book and fell asleep.

Merlin watched her for a while. It had only been three days since her arrival in the castle and yet, she had come so far. She had clung to magic, the only thing familiar about this strange place, and the advances she'd made were amazing—even for a Druid of her age. Merlin often wondered about her life before. Druids were a family who passed on their trade through the female line, as it was thought that mothers carried the most powerful magic and passed it on to their daughters. He wondered if Wart's mother had been a healer, or possibly an architect of magic, as both required as grasp of object-magic and an easy magic that linked with fixing.

He watched her sleep until what was left of the candles burned down, even though it was still before the midpoint in the night. Finally, he pushed his speculation about Wart's life away and with it, the memories of Morgana that seemed to surface when Merlin was alone with his thoughts. He shucked out of his robes and, with a moment's pause, decided on a pair of breeches that were well worn in the knees, soft as the finest silk and hung off his hips as if he were the orphan boy. These breeches were a guilty pleasure, not because they were so thin that they were nearly indecent, but because they weren't his. They were Arthur's.

They had ended up in Merlin's possession fairly innocently. Merlin had been carrying a batch of laundry down and picking one up and they got mixed up, since they were so threadbare and awful, the laundresses assumed they were his and not Arthur's.

That was before.

Merlin retied the breeches, cinching them tighter around his hips and taking a deep breath. It seemed so long ago that Merlin had pulled on the breeches for the first time and blushed, warmth flooding his belly, when he realized who they belonged to.

He placed a few protective wards over the sleeping Wart and left the room as quietly as possible.

The castle was quiet and Merlin nodded to the people he recognized as he passed the servants. Most of the nobles were at dinner, a subdued affair but Arthur had been making them mandatory in order to keep an eye on any wandering loyalties. So far, Merlin had only been forced to banish one unfortunate looking lord but, in Camelot's defense, he already looked like a goat before Merlin got hold of him. (And really, now that he thought about it, maybe the castle had a point about him turning people into animals—dammit Arthur.)

Overall, Merlin had most of the castle to himself. He wandered a while, passing by the Great Hall with open ears but heard nothing but murmurs. War was profitable for the lords and ladies of the court but decreased the popularity of their station with the peasants underneath them. The rumors about the refugee Druids were growing larger by the day and who knew what kind of news Lancelot and Elyan would return with.

It was peaceful in this part of the castle.

What a strange feeling, after so long of unrest, and as ashamed as he was to admit it, but his magic missed being at war—missed being endlessly useful and tirelessly worked. Bringing Albion together under the hand of Arthur was his destiny, which was ultimately the purpose of his magic. Reigning down terror and furious elemental magic was very useful, sure, but it also made Merlin twitch in the lull. Before the war, he hadn't felt this much power and now that he's come into it, stretched his wings and learned how to wield it all with wrath he didn't feel—well now, it doesn't know what to do with itself.

Coming into his magic hadn't been dramatic or really anything Merlin had expected considering the only evidence of such a phenomenon was in stories of the old gods. It was just after the first battle and Arthur was locked up with his knights for hours, leaving Merlin to either tend to the wounded or catch up on sleep. Being absolutely rubbish at healing had him in his tent before the first fires had truly gone out but he wasn't able to sleep. He had wandered around the woods, a small ball of magical light bopping in front of him. And then, as quick as a candle being snuffed out, Merlin had dropped to his knees in pain. The pain had been overwhelming, twisting up from his gut and bubbling beneath his skin like it was burning to get out.

He didn't even cry out, his voice had been choked with pain and he passed out into darkness.

When he woke, it was to Gwaine shaking his arm but there wasn't any time to explain as Morgana was on the attack again. Merlin hadn't noticed anything different until he took the field. The magic came easier, with only a passing thought but it was powerful and the more he cast, the more he felt an intense sensation—like he'd been there before—it had swirled around him, time slowing to expand and contract around him. Light cascaded up from the earth and Merlin stared as he could see the tendrils of magic flowing out of him and into the earth. He felt ancient for only a few seconds, weathered and thirsty like the trees in Ealdor, before reality warped back and Merlin was watching the soil rise up in pulsing waves, seeming to crawl up the enemies' legs and pour itself into their mouths. Merlin watched, shocked but acutely aware as his magic urged the earth to stuff them full and choke the life from them.

After that, it had felt the same as when he was on the Isle of the Blessed—like the entire world was at his fingertips and that time was collapsing and expanding to feed him with magic that felt old, familiar and overwhelming. He hadn't known what was happening, what to expect as his magic ceased to be under his control and instead, anticipated his thoughts and his feelings, bending to his whims without him truly being aware of it. His magic seemed to meld closer to him, while simultaneously becoming a sentient being.

The Druids had surrendered soon after. They certainly hadn't joined Camelot's forces but the awe in their eyes was apparent and they laid down their magic without force. They claimed that the Old Religion had chosen the way it would return to the land.

Arthur hadn't argued. Merlin hadn't known what to say. He was left with magic he didn't wholly recognize but that wrapped around him in ways that felt pleasant, like the comforting weight of Arthur's arms, but also suffocating—like Merlin was simply a man to be swallowed by the sea.

And now? Now this was his magic and he barely remembered what it felt like before he came into it—before he was no longer kin of the Old Religion but Old Religions itself.

He sighed and let it trail behind him, opening up his magic to dance in a golden twine of sparkling light. It hopped from cobblestone to cobblestone, pinging a little between the walls. Most of the time, there was so much of it inside of him, he didn't know what he was supposed to do with it.

But see... objects had started moving.

The other day, he had woken up to freshly brewed tea and a platter of cheese and bread. No one from the kitchens accepted his thanks. The day before his botched potion—before Wart—he had gone to his bookshelf and realized he couldn't find a damn thing, not because he was dim, but because at some time they had reorganized themselves alphabetically. Even when he had set the room into full cleaning mode, he had felt the pull of his magic a little wildly, like it was itching to keep going and just never wanted to stop.

It was beginning to scare him.

He had read books in fear that detailed the madness of magic. It was the madness that haunted his dreams, not only for himself but reflected back in Morgana's eyes.

Merlin turned left and headed up the stairs of the North Tower. It used to be Queen Igraine's tower, abandoned for most of Arthur's life, but was slowly being uncovered by servants. Arthur hadn't decided what he wanted them to be used for because although Merlin was fairly sure that Arthur would gladly move his chambers up there if it wasn't for the stairs that would inspire a host of complaints from the castle. However, that was exactly why it was so appealing to Arthur—he was sure he would get more sleep. But, unfortunately for Arthur, he was not allowed to pout, or to avoid his kingdom's most annoying advisors and so, the North Tower was still awaiting appropriation.

Behind Merlin, his magic was twisting in loops and circles, blooming in the space to dance in the shape golden figurines. Merlin smiled, as two unicorns galloped in a sparkling magical field of sunflowers, feeling sad and awful and just a little bit alone.

He didn't stop in any of the rooms, just continued all the way up until the stone spilled out to the battlements and turrets. In terms of courtyards, it was smaller and faced the Woods of Fenice. Long before Uther, the forest had burst into flames each Yule and the magic would be born again from the ashes to bring new life to the area. It was rumored that all the largest game had once come from those Woods but that since magic had been purged from the kingdom, the forest laid dead and haunted for having its rebirth denied. The Phoenix Forest had been the name Merlin had heard in the stories his mother would tell.

Merlin hoped, foolishly perhaps, that the woods would burn this winter. That at least he could do that.

He watched his magic manifest around him, a pack of wolves ran along the highest battlement, chased by a stag larger than anything Merlin had ever seen. Despite his feelings about the way his magic needed to manifest—needed more than Merlin could provide—it still felt happy. This magic, which conjured silly golden shapes and trailed out like veins from Merlin's feet and fingertips, this magic seemed content to exist with Merlin as he was, even if it had to spill out in excess.

He settled against an alcove, mesmerized by the sight of his golden hue trailing down around the castle's walls and winding through the Woods of Fenice. He just breathed, letting his mind feel blank and devoid of anything but the simple pleasure of doing magic—what he was born to do.


Merlin wasn't jolted out of sleep, a typical predicament for someone who accidentally slept standing up, but he came to slowly. First, was the clean smell of Camelot's soap—the lye imbedded with so many herbs that left a subtle smell that visiting dignitaries were heard to have coveted it for so long that many of them moved to Camelot just to be able to use it. To Merlin, it smelled like sandalwood and stems broken open when they were too bright green, of bedded down grass and of course, Arthur. When Merlin had shifted, skirting the edge of wakefulness, he had pressed closer to the smell and inhaled deeply, only to discover that it smelled more of Arthur than of Camelot's soap but by that time, he was already nuzzling his face into Arthur's worn jacket.

It wasn't unusual for Merlin to fall asleep in odd places around the castle. When he was just a lowly manservant, he was constantly falling asleep in secret rooms where he had settled to conceal how he was making his magic knit the broken links in Arthur's chain-mail or how he had set five different needles to do the mending. After the war, Merlin had often found himself waking up all over the castle after he had gone for a walk late into the night, the castle too quiet for him to sleep, and managed to fall asleep leaning against a wardrobe or against a window outcropping.

What was unusual about this moment was that Merlin could have sworn he was up on top of the North Tower when he fell asleep and not, let's say, in the king's arms.

He told himself not to panic.

"I could have sworn the North Tower didn't move," Merlin mumbled, body tightening as he realized that Arthur, was indeed, carrying him down the tower's steps.

"You've been mistaken before," Arthur's voice said, low and soft from somewhere above Merlin's head. It was a tone that shot low in Merlin's belly and he curled further, having no choice but to tighten his hold around Arthur's neck.


"Be quiet," he said, his chest rumbling against Merlin's side. "You'll wake the castle."

Merlin's brain was too muffled from sleep to process much and he could only press his face into the soft material of Arthur's shoulder and breathe deeply. He was too sleepy to resist the smell and warm comfort of Arthur's body against his, even if it meant that he was to be manhandled back to his room like a princess being rescued from a tower.

He listened to Arthur's rhythmic footfalls on the stone steps and let them lull him back to sleep.


link to part three.
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December 2011

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