DISCLAIMER: I don't own Merlin. wish I did… Lancelot would have died in the fifth episode XD I never liked him. Too perfect. Got too much love. For the record, I never liked Gwen either. Again, too much love. Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin (although that didn't last long – phew, Freya's better for him anyway :P)… grr. Hands off my Merlin. He's MINE to torture. O.o
Anywayyyyssss… here's to my favorite episode, the Poisoned Chalice!
"Why do you keep skipping around, anyway?" Arthur asked his manservant irritably. Merlin shrugged, face buried between his knees.
"Watch the memory, prat."
The scene showed the road to Camelot. A long line of horses and wagons, carrying many people, trotted into the great citadel. Then it switched in a disorienting fashion to the throne room. A line of people, all garbed in Camelot red, advanced dramatically in an arrowhead formation. On the other side, entering the room, marched an equal line clad in blue. Both stopped when the leaders at the head of the triangle were a few feet away from each other. Uther and the visiting king eyed each other for a moment.
"Camelot welcomes you, Lord Bayard of Mercier," Uther announced, albeit a little coldly. A rather familiar looking 'serving girl,' otherwise known as Nimueh, watched from near the end of the blue platoon.
Arthur started a little. "Hey, I remember this one... isn't this the one where you get poisoned?"
"Merlin gets poisoned?" Gwaine exclaimed.
"Shut up, both of you!" came the annoyed reply. Merlin's head lifted slightly. "Yes, Arthur, you are correct for once, and yes, Gwaine, I did get poisoned. Now watch it."
"The treaty we sign today marks an end to war…" the king of Camelot droned on. Nimueh openly glared at Merlin, who was watching Uther, blissfully ignorant. "… and a beginning to a new friendship between our people." Then he and Bayard shook hands. The rest of the room began to clap.
Once again the scene changed, showing a long hallway crowded with servants and courtiers alike. Among them was Merlin, carrying an overflowing basket of laundry. He stopped as he drew even with Gaius, who was going the other way.
"Why do I always get loaded with the donkey work?" Merlin grumbled.
"You're a servant, Merlin!" Gaius replied cheerfully, an undisguised grin on his face.
"Really?" Gwaine exclaimed sarcastically. "I had no idea!"
The physician continued. "It's what you do."
"My arms will be a foot long by the time I get this lot inside!" the servant complained.
"It's character building," Gaius reassured him, still grinning. "As the old proverb says, hard work reaps…" he paused, hesitating. "Er, a harder soul." Merlin just stared at him, a smile slowly working its way onto his face.
Gwaine, Elyan, Percival, and Gwen all burst out laughing. "That's definitely not a proverb, Gaius made that up!" Elyan scoffed.
"There is no way that's a proverb, you just made that up," Merlin said triumphantly.
The present Merlin shivered. "Sheesh, Elyan, that's creepy…"
Nimueh – disguised as a servant – walked up in between the pair and stumbled to her knees, dropping her load just as Gaius protested, "I didn't-"
"Sorry," she apologized, clearly fake.
Merlin crouched down next to her, helping her gather up the pillows she was carrying. "It's all right."
"Excuse me," she continued.
"Let me give you a hand with that," Merlin added, giving a pointed look to Gaius. He stared at her for a moment, clearly enthralled.
"Merlin, mate, you had a crush on the woman trying to kill you?" Gwaine teased. "Even I know better than that."
The boy pouted. "Hey, I didn't exactly know who she was." Then he added in a lower voice, only barely intelligible. "Besides, she was pretty…" Once again, the knights started laughing.
The two 'servants' stood up in unison, still eyeing each other. "Hi," Merlin said lamely, Gaius watching in the background. "I'm Merlin." He held out his hand.
"Cara." She shook it. "Your Arthur's servant, it much be such an honor," she coaxed sweetly.
Arthur snorted. "If your answer was what I think it was…" Merlin's ears burned bright red, and he buried his face in his knees again.
"Oh, yeah, it is," the manservant enthused absentmindedly. Gaius raised an eyebrow from behind 'Cara.' "Um, someone's got to keep the place running," he tried to comment seriously, still holding one of the pillows.
Finally Arthur cracked up, followed by the knights and even Gwen. Merlin was left to shrink against his rock wall, ears still red, feeling the sudden urge to make soap bubbles come out of his friends mouths. "Keep… the place… running…" Arthur wheezed. "Real honor to be my servant, huh? Well, once we get back to Camelot, I've got a whole list of chores that are just begging to be done by none other than the legendary manservant Merlin. He loves hard work, you see…"
Yes, soap bubbles were looking like a great idea.
Gaius crossed his arms behind Cara with a smirk. Merlin stared him down for a moment before turning back to Nimueh/Cara. "Thank you Merlin," she complimented, then waited for a moment. Merlin just stared blankly before noticing the pillow in his hands. Stammering for a moment, he handed it to her then gazed openly at her back as she walked off.
"Shouldn't you be busy running the place?" Gaius interjected, smiling smugly at his ward. Then he chuckled before meandering on down the hallway. Merlin shot him a look.
Merlin wondered briefly how one would go about changing one's sounds into soap bubbles as more guffaws reached his ears.
The scene flashed to show a guard walking down a flight of stairs. The darkness outside showed everyone was probably long in bed. Nimueh/Cara peeked around a pillar, waiting for the guard to pass. Then it showed her turning the corner into a hallway, holding a small bundle. Glancing around, she tried to open one of the wooden doors, only to find it was locked. Looking on all sides again, she narrowed her eyes at the handle and whispered a spell, pushing the door open easily. She paused, then closed the door behind her and strode over to a small table. Setting down her bundle, the sorceress opened a small wooden box to reveal two silver goblets. Taking out the smaller one, she replaced it with an identical goblet… that appeared to be the one she'd placed a petal in earlier. Closing the box, she smirked…
Then the scene changed to Merlin slamming a bundle of clothes down on a wooden table. Sunlight streamed into the room, showing it was once again daytime. Gagging slightly, he released the garments quickly. "Uah… when was the last time these were cleaned?"
Arthur, standing behind him, thought for a second. "Last year sometime? Before the feast of Beltain."
"Oh, God, Arthur!" Gwen bit out. "That's disgusting!" Her husband looked sheepish.
"They were not fun to wash, let me tell you," Merlin muttered.
"Did it end in a food fight?" Merlin remarked, face scrunched up in disgust as he took the red jacket over to Arthur and started to help him into it.
"Don't all feasts?" Arthur quipped.
"I wouldn't know," his manservant pointed out. "The airs and graces of the court are a mystery to me."
Arthur inspected his shoulder. "Tonight they won't be."
Merlin stopped and stared at him incredulously. "I'm going to be at the banquet?"
"Not quite," the prince added, starting to take the jacket off again. "You'll be there to make sure my cup doesn't run dry. If I have to sit through Bayard's boring speeches, I don't see why you should get out of it." He dumped the clothing in Merlin's arms. "Be sure to polish the buttons." Then he disappeared behind the wooden screen. "Do you want to see what you'll be wearing tonight?"
Merlin glanced down at himself. "Won't this do?"
Gwen shook her head in mock dismay. "Oh, Merlin. You do know that that jacket is probably way past its prime?" The manservant rolled his eyes.
"No." Arthur smiled smugly. "Tonight, you'll be wearing the official ceremonial robes of the servants of Camelot." Merlin seemed a bit pleased at this, until the prince returned from behind the screen and held up something that the present Round Table watching couldn't quite see. Merlin gave Arthur his best 'oh-no-you-don't' look, but the prince just grinned.
"You can't be serious," the manservant said.
It cut to a picture of Bayard dipping a feather quill in ink and signing some unseen piece of paper – the peace treaty. Then it showed Merlin standing by the side of the room wearing red robes with the Camelot golden dragon and a ridiculous feather hat. Gwen, standing beside him, snorted and smiled. "Nice hat."
Once again, bellows of mirth echoed through the Crystal Cave. What was that spell again? Merlin wondered. Something like… ah yes, I almost remember it… I swear, one more outburst and I'm going to let loose.
Merlin nodded. "Thanks." Then he turned to glare at Arthur, who just beamed at him. The warlock shook his head, but his prince just raised his eyebrows then continued watching his father sign the treaty. Nimueh/Cara, standing off to the side, looked at Merlin for a moment, who promptly removed his hat.
"She's pretty, isn't she?" Gwen commented. Merlin ruffled his hair and smiled dreamily. "For a handmaid, I mean," the dark-skinned woman continued.
"Jeaaaaa-lous," Gwaine said in a sing-song voice. Gwen smacked him over the head.
"She's pretty for a princess, let alone a handmaid," the manservant corrected her. Nimueh/Cara didn't look at him, just watched the two kings. Gwen looked slightly put out.
"I hate to say it, but Gwaine's right," Arthur remarked sourly. The knight grinned but got smacked over the head by Gwen, Arthur, and a flying apple (courtesy of Merlin's magic. He opted to wait for the soap bubble thing – for now…).
Uther and Bayard shook hands, and the rest of the room stood and clapped once more. Gwen left Merlin's side, leaving the servant slightly confused, and moved over to the other side of the room as Uther took his seat. "People of Camelot," Bayard began. "For many years our people have been mortal enemies. The blood of our men stains the ground from the walls of Camelot to the gates of Mercier. And though we remember those who have died…" the king droned on. Nimueh/Cara watched with a rather hungry expression as another serving girl passed, carrying the wooden box that contained the two ceremonial goblets, one of them poisoned.
Nimueh/Cara put on her best worried face as she appeared at Merlin's side and whispered urgently, "Merlin, I need to speak with you."
"What is it?" he asked, bemused.
"Not here, please," she pleaded. "I don't know who else to tell."
Leon snorted. "Naturally, having met you exactly once makes you the most important person she could tell. Didn't you find this the slightest bit suspicious, Merlin?"
The manservant opened his mouth, about to spring to his own defense, when Arthur jumped in. "She's pretty for a princess," the king mocked, imitating Merlin's higher voice. He was clobbered over the head (none too gently) by another flying apple.
Gaius watched his ward leave with the mysterious handmaiden. Out in the hallway, she cornered Merlin and began to speak in a fast, hushed whisper. "It wasn't until I saw him give the goblet to Arthur when I realized-"
"Woah, slow down, start from the beginning," Merlin tried to placate her, holding up his hands.
She took a deep (fake) breath. "Two days ago I was bringing Bayard his evening meal. I was supposed to knock, he didn't even expect me to walk in-"
"It's all right," Merlin soothed.
"If he knows I said anything," Nimueh/Cara began to tear up.
Arthur threw his hands up in the air. "God, Merlin, I can barely stand to watch this! How did you not know what the hell was going on? Oh, wait, I know…"
He and Gwaine sang in unison – still high pitched – "She's pretty for a prin-"
At this moment the last syllable of 'princess' came out as a soap bubble. Reaching up, the bubbles drifted over to Merlin's palm, where he popped them. "-cess!" came the last bit of the sentence. Frowning, Arthur tried to tell off his manservant, but again all that came out was a soap bubble. Finding this highly amusing, Merlin popped it again. "Merlin! Release us from this spell at once!"
"No," the warlock said cheekily. "Now watch the memory. I'm not popping any more bubbles."
"He will kill me!" the maid finished.
"I won't let that happen to you, I promise," Merlin said earnestly. "Please tell me what you saw."
"Bayard is no friend of Camelot," she said gravely. "He craves the kingdom for himself!"
"No, you do," Leon corrected her. Several dozen soap bubbles floated to the ceiling, where they popped on the sharp crystals. Bits and pieces of Arthur and Gwaine's voice drifted about, echoing around the cavern.
"Merlin, I swear-"
"Mate, I love your sense of humor but-"
"-mucking out my stables-"
"-conjure up some ale-"
"-if you don't release us-"
"-not that funny-"
"-lovely to have a drink-"
"-I will make your life a living hell."
"-no one can listen to me sing!"
"-for an entire week."
Merlin burst out laughing.
"Tell me…" Merlin pressed. "What has Bayard done with the goblet?"
Nimueh/Cara continued intensely. "He believes if Arthur is killed Uther's spirit will be broken and Camelot will fall-"
"What has he done with the goblet?"
"I saw him put something in it!"
"I shouldn't, he'll kill me!" she half-sobbed.
Merlin leaned forward slightly. "Please tell me! … was it poison?"
Slowly, she nodded. Merlin turned and raced back in the direction of the throne room, too late to see the smirk spreading across Nimueh's face.
"… and may the differences from our past remain there. To your health, Uther." Bayard raise his own goblet as the knights arranged on either side of the room stood. "Arthur." The prince smiled and raised his (poisoned) goblet, and was about to drink when Bayard interrupted. "The Lady Morgana." Her lips turned upwards slightly. Arthur looked slightly frustrated. "The people of Camelot!" He started to sip from the silver goblet again, when his father interrupted.
"The fallen warriors on both sides," Uther finished. Arthur almost rolled his eyes. Finally about to drink, he was stopped yet again. This time by Merlin.
"Stop!" his manservant cried, bursting into the throne room. "Arthur, don't drink it!"
Gwen whimpered. "Oh, no…"
Merlin grabbed the goblet and moved around to the front of the table. "What?" Uther asked dangerously.
"Merlin, what are you doing?" Arthur asked angrily. So close to finally getting a sip…
The present people watching were startled to hear someone's thoughts. Merlin frowned. "Hmm, I guess I wasn't paying attention when I cast that part of the spell.
Arthur let loose another bubble, which his manservant popped, exasperated.
"Merlin, so help me God, release us from this spell now." The boy pouted but agreed, eyes flashing gold – stopping the memory they were watching too – and let Arthur and Gwaine free.
"I'll have to remember that one," the manservant said happily, and ducked when his apple came flying back to its creator.
Nimueh/Cara slowly watched from behind a pillar. "Bayard laced Arthur's goblet with poison," the manservant announced.
"This is an outrage!" Bayard hissed, drawing his sword. His knights, and Camelot's knights, followed suit.
"Order your men to put down their swords!" Uther said calmly. "You are outnumbered." Several more guards raced into the room, surrounding Bayard. He hesitated a moment, glaring at Merlin and the king.
"I will not allow this insult to go unchallenged!" he spat. Merlin glanced at him, slightly nervous.
Uther leaned forward. "On what grounds do you base this accusation?"
"Father," Arthur interrupted, moving around the table to stand next to his servant. "Listen, Merlin, you idiot, have you been at the gin again?"
Narrowing his eyes, the king threatened, "Unless you want to be strung up, you will tell me why you think it's poisoned, now."
Opening his mouth, Merlin began, "He was seen-"
"By whom?" Uther said in a low, dangerous voice.
"I can't say," Merlin said awkwardly. Nimueh smirked in the corner. Bayard kept his sword up.
"I won't listen to this anymore," the king of Mercier growled.
Uther walked around the table. "Pass me the goblet." Arthur handed it to his father. The king gazed at the cup for a moment. Should I really believe this servant? "Are you telling the truth?"
"Again…" Merlin groaned. "Do you want me to fix it or do you care?" The others shrugged, so they went back to watching the memory. Arthur found himself mouthing the words along with what the people he was watching were saying – he'd replayed this moment so many times in his own mind, it was almost second nature. He caught himself and closed his jaw with a snap, hoping nobody had noticed.
"I am," Bayard lifted his chin.
Uther considered for a moment. "Then you have nothing to fear." Bayard nodded and sheathed his swords as the guards lifted their pikes away. Then he reached out his hand for the goblet. The king of Camelot shook his head. "No. If this does prove to be poisoned, I will have the pleasure of killing you myself." He turned and held it out to Merlin. "He'll drink."
Arthur stepped forward. "But if it is poison, he'll die!" the prince protested.
Nimueh smirked. Again. Damn, she was turning into Morgana. "Then we'll know he was telling the truth," Uther challenged his son. Merlin took the goblet carefully.
"And what if he lives?" Bayard shot back.
"Then you have my apologies." Uther watched the secret warlock closely. "You can do with him as you will."
Gaius spoke up. "Uther, please, he's just a boy! He doesn't know what he's saying!"
The present Round Table fell silent. "Wait, you weren't kidding were you?" Gwaine whispered. "You really were poisoned? Because you drank for Princess?" Arthur glared at him. "Ahem, sorry, Queen?" Merlin nodded.
"Then you should have schooled him better," the king dismissed.
"Merlin, apologize! This is a mistake! I'll drink it!" Arthur scolded. But when he reached for the cup, Merlin held it away from him, repeating "No" several times.
Nimueh watched, waiting happily like a tiger waits for a deer to fall into it's trap. "It's alright," the manservant reassured him. Bayard crossed his arms with a calculating expression. Merlin raised the cup, toasting him, then turned and did the same to Uther. Gaius gripped the back of someone's chair as Arthur watched, horrified, and Nimueh lifted her head.
"And still nobody notices her…" Elyan muttered.
"She was hiding," Percival pointed out.
His fellow knight scoffed. "She was half showing behind a stone pillar."
Lifting the goblet, Merlin took several shaky sips. Gwen started to move forward but stopped. As he lowered the cup, Arthur's wide-eyed gaze bored into his servant. For a moment all was still, then…
"It's fine," Merlin choked out. Several sighs echoed through the room and Uther waved a hand dismissively.
"He's all yours." Gwen sighed and looked away, while the king sat down. Nimueh's glare intensified. And… now.
Most of the Round Table shivered. "Okay, my father's thoughts I can handle, my thoughts I can handle, Merlin's thoughts I can handle, but hers… that's just creepy," Arthur murmured.
Merlin put a hand to his throat, making an uncomfortable swallowing sound. Starting to choke, his eyes screwed tighter shut, until with a final cough he crumpled to the floor, the goblet rolling away from his limp hand. Arthur turned as if in slow motion, horrified, and dropped to his knees beside the servant. Nimueh, with a now-triumphant smirk, turned and left. Gaius watched, startled, while the guards, knights, Uther, and even Morgana unsheathed weapons close behind Bayard and his entourage. "It's poison!" Uther said, slightly surprised. "Guards, seize them!" Mercier's king surveyed the guards surrounding him, one hand held up in the air. He'd lost.
Arthur was joined by Gaius. "Merlin! Can you hear me?" the old physician said hopefully. No answer. He looked at the prince. "We have to get him back to my chambers. Bring the goblet, I need to identify the poison." Arthur picked up the manservant while Gwen grabbed the silver cup. All four left quickly.
"Damn, how are you still alive?" Gwaine yelled. This earned him several sour looks from Merlin, Arthur, and Gwen. "What?" he added meekly. Another flying apple hit his head. [A/N: what is it with me and flying apples? XD]
The scene changed to Gaius' chambers, where Arthur was toting a unresponsive Merlin over one shoulder. "Lay him on the bed quickly. He's struggling to breathe," Gaius ordered. Arthur complied, setting down the manservant on Gaius' small white cot. "Gwen, fetch me some water and a towel."
"Is he going to be alright?" Arthur asked impatiently, trying to arrange Merlin's floppy arms and head.
"You care!" Merlin teased. "And was I really that… er, floppy?"
"No and yes," the king growled.
"He's burning up," Gaius frowned.
Gwen hurried over with a bowl of water and a handtowel. "You can heal him, can't you, Gaius?"
"I won't know until I can identify the poison. Pass me the goblet." The physician started to dab at his ward's forehead with the wet towel. Gwen passed him the ornate silver cup. Inspecting it for a moment, Gaius stood up and walked over towards his books. "There's something stuck on the inside…"
Arthur stood up and followed, while Gwen took over on wetting the manservant's forehead. "What is it?"
"It looks like a flower petal of some kind…" Gaius mused, plucking out the clear scrap of plant material.
"His brow's on fire," Gwen announced anxiously, trying desperately to cool down the poisoned warlock.
Merlin whistled. "Wow, that's not good. This is rather fun." Several sharp looks were shot his direction. He thinks it's fun watching himself slowly dying of poison? Leon thought incredulously.
"Keep him cool, it'll help control his fever," Gaius told her, turning and setting down the petal still clasped in the tongs. Removing a thick book from his shelf, he set it down heavily on the table and leafed through the pages quickly. "Ah, the petal comes from the Morteus flower," he pointed at a picture, "It says here that someone poisoned by the Morteus can only be saved by a potion made from the leaf… of the very same flower. They're only to be found in the caves deep beneath the forest of Balor. The flower grows on the roots of the Morteus tree."
Arthur pointed to a picture of some beast that closely resembled a Kimodo dragon. "That doesn't look particularly friendly."
"Cockatrice," Gaius explained. "It's venom is potent – a single drop would mean certain death. Few who have crossed the mountains of Isgaard in search of the Morteus flower… have made it back alive." Arthur gazed at Merlin, turning restlessly on the bed, face scrunched up in obvious pain. Gwen looked increasingly nervous as she wetted the towel again and again.
Arthur thought for a moment, then seemed to make a decision. "Sounds like fun," he said tersely.
"Sire!" Leon exclaimed.
"Fun?" Merlin yelped.
"I wanna fight a cockatrice!" Gwaine giggled. Everyone looked at him suspiciously.
"Gwaine…" Merlin said slowly. "Did you sneak a flask of the ale I conjured earlier?" The knight whistled fake-innocently and avoided his best friend's gaze.
"Arthur, it's too dangerous!" Gaius told him.
"If I don't get the antidote, what happens to Merlin?" the prince argued. Gaius hesitated for a moment.
Glancing at his ward, the old man said haltlingly, "The Morteus juice is a slow and painful death. He may hold out for four, maybe five days but not much longer. Eventually, he will die." Both of them looked at the struggling Merlin, then Arthur made up his mind and strode out the door.
Suddenly they were watching Nimueh almost prancing down the corridor, dressed in a long light blue cloak and her serving clothes.
Merlin groaned. "Doesn't anybody ever notice, wearing a cloak isn't going to magically conceal you from everything? Especially if it's a bright color?"
The clatter of hooves on cobblestone sounded as Nimueh rode out of Camelot on a white horse. The guards at the drawbridge glanced at her but didn't seem to care.
"My lady, I am so sorry I haven't been here to attend to you," Gwen apologized profusely, walking swiftly into Morgana's chambers. The raven-haired woman was taking pins out of her hair.
Smiling, she reassured her maidservant. "Don't worry, I'm alright. How's Merlin?"
Gwen sighed. "If Arthur comes back with the antidote in time, he'll be fine."
"Then he'll be fine. You should be with him," Morgana pointed out. "I'll manage. I know what he means to you. Go."
"Thank you," Gwen curtsied and left.
"It's so sad… seeing her like this," Gwen said mournfully. "She used to be so kind and caring. And now…"
Merlin nodded, sad. Then he tried to lighten things up. "Hey, wait, I'm supposed to be getting sympathy! I'm dying, see?" He pointed at the screen, then faltered as he realized it was now Uther walking purposefully down yet another corridor followed closely by Arthur.
"What's the point of having someone taste for you if you're going to get yourself killed?" the king argued.
Arthur frowned and quickened his pace slightly. "I won't fail, no matter what you think!"
"Arthur, you are my only son and heir, I can't risk losing you for the sake of some serving boy."
"Because his life is worthless?"
"No, because it's worth less than yours!"
"Ouch," Merlin muttered. "Guess he didn't know how many times I saved his bloody kingdom."
"I can save him. Let me take some men. We'll find the antidote and bring it back!"
"Because one day I will be dead and Camelot will need a king. I'm not going to let you jeopardize the safety of this kingdom for some fool's errand."
Merlin's gaze lowered. "He did have a point, Arthur. Not that I didn't want to be saved, but you could have gotten killed, and that wasn't the point of me drinking poison for you in the first place." Arthur opened his mouth to protest, but the warlock raised his hand. "No, listen. If you e-ever… find yourself in that kind of situation again, whether I be poisoned or wounded, you are not to sacrifice yourself for me. And I will not accept any argument."
Arthur glowered heavily. "It's not a fool's errand! Gaius says that if we get the-"
"Gaius says, and that's exactly what makes it so!"
"Sheesh, he didn't have much faith in his physician back then did he?" Gwen tried to deviate the conversation from the topic of Merlin's death.
"Please, father." Arthur's voice had grown somber. "He saved my life. I can't stand by and watch him die."
Uther turned to glance at his son. "Then don't look. This boy won't be the last to die on your behalf. You're going to be king – it's something you're going to have to get used to."
"I can't accept that."
"You're not going!"
"You can't stop me!"
"Damnit, Arthur, that's an end to it! You're not leaving this castle tonight!"
This time Arthur didn't argue, just stared, unbelievably frustrated at the wall. Next the crystals showed the doors to his chambers opening and the blonde prince throwing his sword angrily on the table, then leaning with his hands against the mantle above his fireplace, glaring into the flames.
Morgana appeared in his doorway. "Say what you like about the food, but you can't beat our feast for entertainment."
"Even back then she had a twisted sense of humor…" Elyan muttered. "Wow."
Arthur glanced around. "Morgana, I'm sorry, I should have made sure you were alright."
"Disappointed, actually. I was looking forward to clumping a few around the head with a ladle."
Merlin, Gwen, and Gwaine started laughing. "I bet she would've!" Gwen joked. "That's the old Morgana I knew."
"I'm sure the guards could've handled Bayard and his men."
"Yeah, but why let the boys have all the fun?"
"Morgana, you shouldn't get involved, it's dangerous."
"Spare me the lecture, I've already had it from Uther!"
"If it's any consolation… you weren't the only one."
"Not that I listen to him." She lifted her chin. "Sometime's you've got to do what you think is right, damn the consequences!"
"Definitely Morgana," Arthur murmured.
"You think I should go."
"It doesn't matter what I think."
"If I don't make it back, who will be the next king of Camelot?" he pointed out.
Several pairs of eyes rolled. "She will," Gwaine, Elyan, Merlin, and Leon chorused.
The blonde prince continued arguing. "There's more than just my life at stake!"
"And what kind of king would Camelot want?" she countered. "One who would risk his life to save that of a lowly servant?" She drew his sword from its sheath on the table and held it out to him. "Or one who does what his father tells him to?" Arthur just gazed at her for a moment, and the scene switched to show the gates of Camelot. The guards tried to stop him, crying "Halt!", but Arthur swept past them. Then it showed Nimueh watching the proceedings through her stone basin filled with water.
"It's unfair, they always know exactly what we're doing because of those stupid scrying spells!" Merlin complained. Arthur socked him on the shoulder.
"He's getting hotter," Gwen fretted, patting the feverish Merlin's head with a towel. He began to whisper words in his sleep, gibberish that made the kind maid pause and lift the towel from his forehead. "What language is that?"
Gaius looked at her carefully before saying, "None. The fever's taken hold, none of those words are his own. His pulse is weaker." The physician dropped his ward's hand. Then he leaned forward again, noticing something, and pulling down the warlock's sleeve to show a circular rash on his inner forearm.
"What is it?" Gwen asked.
"Can't be…" he muttered. "The rash is not supposed to appear until the final stage."
"What does that mean?" she prodded anxiously.
"It means Merlin's about to die!" Gwaine announced dramatically. Said warlock shot him a dirty look. "What?" the knight pouted. "We all know you live, happy ending, all that!"
Gaius peered through the book he'd consulted the night before. "It says here that as soon as the rash appears, death will fall within two days."
"You said he had four days," Gwen pressed.
"Something's increased the flower's potency," he concluded.
"Magic, duh, Nimueh, you know all this," Merlin sighed. His eyes flashed golden and time skipped a little, whirling around in a dizzying fashion before settling on Arthur leading his horse by the reins through a misty forest.
Merlin started to tremble, still muttering strange words that were actually from the Old Religion. Back in the forest, hissing and a growl preceded the quick flash of eerie yellow eyes in the shadows and a flickering forked tongue. Then there was a woman sitting on a log – Nimueh, fake crying and wearing her torn crimson dress. Arthur walked up to her. "Hello? Are you alright?" A screech interrupted him, making the prince spin around to see the cockatrice standing at the top of a small rise. "Stay back!" Arthur warned, drawing his sword. He stabbed and sliced at the thing, then ducked under it when it leaped. Jumping back to his feet, he flung the blade, killing the cockatrice. Nimueh, naturally, looked rather disappointed, but she put her scared face back on when Arthur turned towards her, backing up as though she was frightened of the blonde noble. "It's alright!" he assured her. "I won't hurt you. Who did that to you?" he gestured at the scratches on her shoulder.
Merlin pouted. "And you all blame me for falling for her tricks so easily! Arthur just has to rescue a damsel in distress. He's worse."
"My master," she admitted. "I ran away from him, but then I got lost. Please don't leave me!" she begged.
"I won't, I'm not going to," he promised.
She looked hopeful. "You can take me away from here?"
"Not yet. There's something I have to do first."
Nimueh smirked slightly at the sight of a cave hidden in the rock face behind them. "Why have you come to the caves?"
"I'm looking for something. It can only be found here."
"What is it? I know this place… I could help you."
"So… her story is that she's lost, yet she knows the place?" Gwaine surmised skeptically. "Wow, Princess. How did you fall for that one?" Merlin skipped ahead a little before the king could answer.
Merlin thrashed slightly in his bed. "Arthur, it's a trap… it's a trap…" this was followed by more Old Religion. Gaius sent Gwen to find some more water, and scooted closer to the warlock.
"Merlin, you must fight it!" he ordered. For a second the warlock's eyes opened, to show Nimueh holding a torch, leading Arthur into a cave. She pointed at a far wall, naming the flower, and the prince began to slowly walk out onto a spur of rock when she chanted a spell and it shattered, making him drop the torch and cling to the far wall for dear life. After killing some deadly spider, she congratulated and left with a few dramatic last words.
"I'll let his friends finish you off, Arthur Pendragon. It was never your destiny to die at my hands."
The scene cut to Merlin again, whose eyes were once again screwed shut tight. "Arthur… it's too dark… too dark…" Suddenly he muttered a spell. "Fromum feohgiftum on fæder bearme. Fromum feohgiftum." Gaius pulled back the blankets slightly.
"Merlin… what are you doing?" he asked. Cupped in the warlock's hand was a strange silvery swirled ball of bluish light.
Arthur visibly paled and stumbled back. "It was you!" he gasped. Merlin just smiled sadly and whispered the same spell. An identical ball of light flared to life in his hand. "You were the one who first made me think magic couldn't be all bad," the king admitted. His manservant beamed at this. His destiny was finally starting to come true.
As Arthur struggled to cling on to the ledge, a larger version of the ball of light drifted up past him. "Come on then! What are you waiting for?" he yelled. "Finish me off!" But it did no such thing. With supreme effort, the prince managed to heave himself up onto the ledge, retrieving his sword and readying it, but sheathed it again. The light drifted higher, illuminating the Morteus flowers. Arthur's gaze fixed on them.
"Leave them, Arthur!" Merlin cried.
"You wanted him to let you die?" Gwaine admonished. Merlin shrugged.
"I couldn't let him die for me. Although I must say… I didn't know I said spells in my sleep."
"Go, save yourself! Follow the light!" Merlin ordered, as back in the cave hundreds of spiders began climbing the stone walls. But he didn't listen, simply started to scale the walls himself. Inches away from reaching one of the flowers, Arthur watched desperately as the spiders drew closer. The light drifted around near his head, showing him the way out. Finally snatching a stalk, he stuffed it in a pouch at his belt and started to climb quickly, escaping the spiders that were close on his tail. Still the light didn't abandon him, simply lit up where the cave opening was then zooming out into the night sky. Arthur clambered out and spun, making sure no spiders were following him. Then he took off in the direction of his horse.
Slowly the light faded from Merlin's palm, and Gaius eyed his ward warily. The boy had fallen still again, too still.
"Ack! You're not dead, are you?" Gwaine checked. Merlin laughed and shook his head, then grabbed his friend's hand and made him poke his shoulder.
"Not a ghost, see?"
"Inform the King! Arthur has returned to Camelot!" a guard cried as Arthur clattered back through the gates on his horse. Six of them rushed forward and stood in the prince's way.
"What are you doing? Let me pass," Arthur ordered.
The guard drew his sword. "I'm sorry, Sire. You're under arrest, by order of the King."
It cut to Arthur standing in a cell, a livid Uther standing in the doorway. "You disobeyed me."
"Of course I did. A man's life was at stake. Do not let Merlin die because of something I did."
Merlin fell quiet. "You really do care."
"Well, a half decent servant is hard to come by."
"Just you wait, prat."
"That's still a stupid insult."
"SHUT UP!" Gwen yelled. "Just watch!" Both men grew silent instantly, with meek nervous glances at the Queen.
"Why do you care so much? The boy is just a servant," Uther argued.
"Now we know he's much more," Gwaine smirked.
"He knew the danger he was putting himself in, and he knew what would happen if he drank from that goblet, but he did it anyway. He saved my life. There's more. There was a woman at the mountain. She knew I was there for the flower. I don't think it was Bayard who tried to poison me," Arthur countered, taking a step forward.
"Of course it was," Uther dismissed.
Arthur fumbled in the pouch at his belt and pulled out the Morteus flower. "Gaius knows what to do with it." Slowly the king took the flower. "Put me in the stocks a week, a month even, I don't care. Just make sure it gets to him. I'm begging you." For a moment, Uther was still, then he began to crush the flower in his fist. "NO!" Arthur cried, gazing in horror at his father's tight grip on the one thing that could save Merlin's life.
"You have to learn there's a right and a wrong way of doing things. I'll see you're let out in a week. Then you can find yourself another servant." Uther left, dropping the flower just outside Arthur's reach as the guards closed and locked the door. Nevertheless, the prince got on his knees and tried desperately to reach the small flower.
Merlin winced. "Okay, that was harsh."
This time it showed the physician's chambers. "He hasn't got much longer. Has Arthur got the flower?" the physician wondered anxiously.
"I don't know. Uther won't allow anyone to see him. Is there nothing we can do to help?" Gwen pleaded.
"Only the leaf of the Morteus flower can save him," Gaius said gravely.
Gwen thought for a moment. "And we have to find out if Arthur has it. I could sneak into the dungeon."
"That would be very dangerous," he pointed out.
"I've got to. Merlin will die if I won't."
Gaius sighed and gazed at Merlin, who was struggling to breathe. "Be careful."
Gwen walked down the stairway into the dungeon and approached the guard. "Food for the prisoner." He nodded and opened the cell door, letting the maid in. Arthur sat against the far wall, and glanced up as she entered.
"Set it down over there," he ordered. She put down the small plate she carried and retreated slightly. "Thank you," the prince said as he walked over to it and fiddled with it for a moment. She was about to leave when he announced, "Wait a minute." He puts down the plate and sits back down in his spot against the wall. I couldn't possibly eat this, it's disgusting. The state it's in, I'm not sure it's fit for anyone." Gwen took the hint and retrieved the plate, smiling first at the yellow flower she saw concealed there, then at Arthur who studiously avoided her gaze.
Just as she was leaving, a guard stopped her. He walked up and picked over the pieces of bread and cheese, then chose one and started eating. "Waste not, want not, eh? We're not all as precious as our Royal Highness." She smiled and started to leave just as another serving girl came down the stairs carrying a plate and cup.
"Food for Prince Arthur," she announced. The guard yelled "Stay where you are!" as he looked up at Gwen, who dropped her plate and ran. Bursting back into Gaius' room, she hurried over to the cot where Merlin lay.
"Damn, I look scary," Merlin commented.
"How is he?" the maid asked.
"Have you got the Morteus?" Gaius replied. She handed it over with a quick "Here" and the old physician started grinding herbs and other items up, preparing the potion. "His breathing's much worse. We have to hurry." Suddenly he stopped, considering something.
"Why have you stopped?" Gwen asked.
He gazed at her, looking a tad bit apprehensive. "The poison was created using magic. We may need magic to make an antidote."
Merlin yelped. "Then how did he heal me?" Gwen shrugged.
"But we can't. It's forbidden. Even if we could," she pointed out nervously.
"I'll try and make it work without it. Oh, I need some fresh water." He handed her a bowl and she rushed out. Taking a deep breath, he looked around and then closed his eyes as he held the bowl with the potion in it tightly. "Sythan..." he paused for a moment.
"Oh, no, Gaius…" Merlin moaned. Arthur raised an eyebrow, confused, but his jaw fell open as the physician continued his sentence.
"Sythan arrest wearth feasceaft funden. Denum æfter dome. Dreamleas gebad he gewinnes longsum." The green liquid frothed and bubbled, and the physician looked down at it, looking agitated. Gwen rushed back in with the water. "Thank you," he said, pouring some potion into a vial filled with water.
"Um… well… hey, at least he didn't do half the stuff I did," Merlin protested weakly. Arthur's gaze was unfocused. I knew Gaius used to practice magic… but he promised my father he'd stopped… then again, I was willing to risk my life for Merlin too… no, don't think about that… but the light… sorcerers are evil… sorcerersmustdie… Merlinmustdie… WHAT? No. Wait. Merlin doesn't have to die. Neither does Gaius… but they both use magic… magicisevil magicmustdie…
He was interrupted from his thoughts by the continuation of the memory in front of them.
"Hold his nose," Gaius ordered. Gwen obliged and he started to pour the antidote into his wards mouth. "Swallow, Merlin. Swallow," he urged. After he was done both maid and physician sat back and watched. For a moment, the warlock breathed faintly, then fell still.
Gwen said it, weakly. "He's stopped breathing. What's happening? Gaius?" Her voice grew panicked.
Gaius leaned forward and placed his ear to the manservant's chest, then sat up. "His heart has stopped," he said incredulously.
Both seemed unable to process this. "He's dead?" she whispered faintly.
"He can't be," Gaius denied it. "He can't be. It was his destiny…" He stood up, followed by Gwen.
"It's my fault," she sobbed. "If I'd have gotten here sooner. If I'd been quicker."
Gaius shook his head, hugging her as she started crying. "No, no. It was me. I should have looked after him better. It's my fault."
Arthur found himself unable to reconcile the image of the evil, lying, destroying sorcerers he'd always thought them to be with the scene of the old grieving man and the dead warlock lying on the cot. Dead because he'd drunk poison. For Arthur. Magic… wasn't always evil, he supposed. But it still corrupted. It was only a matter of time. Perhaps Gaius had made it past that, but Merlin was bound to go the same way as Morgana sooner or later. Hecouldn'tbetrusted. Magicisevil.
But evil didn't seem to even be able to come close to the dead manservant in the memory in front of him. He whirled on Merlin and prodded him. Definitely not a ghost. Maybe he used magic…? To heal himself. Of course. Magicisselfishandevil magicmustdie Merlinmustdie but Merlinisn'tevil… is he?
The warlock understood the poke, and ignored it.
Gaius embraced Gwen tighter and kissed the top of her hair.
Gwaine found himself trying to clutch Merlin's arm to him. He's not dead now… but he was then. How is that possible?
"That's disgusting. You're old enough to be her grandfather, you should be ashamed of yourself!"
Despite the somber mood, Percival couldn't keep a snort of laughter from escaping his lips. Only one person could have said that. The present Merlin grinned, in perfect imitation of the one in the memory in front of them.
Physician and maid looked down, startled, at the bed. Merlin was sitting up, staring at them with a mock-horrified look. "Merlin! You're alive!" Gaius cried happily.
"No, I'm a ghost come back to haunt you," he joked.
Gwen rushed forward and kissed him.
Merlin and Gwen flushed bright red and looked away from each other. "Her fault," the warlock mumbled as Arthur gave them both piercing glares. Gwaine sniggered and taunted his best friend, much to the manservant's dismay. Gwen refused to meet anybody's gaze.
"I'm sorry. I thought you were dead," she apologized hurriedly.
Merlin looked a little stunned. "It's all right. It's more than all right."
Gwaine wolf whistled, and got smacked by Gwen and hit by another flying apple. Those things hurt. Well, both things.
"Ah, what happened? Last thing I remember is drinking the wine…" Merlin trailed off. Gaius and Gwen exchanged a look.
Next the scene showed Gaius standing at the entrance to the throne room, where Uther and several knights were standing around a table looking at maps. "Sire, forgive the interruption, but may I speak with you?"
Uther dismissed him. "Not now."
"But, Your Highness, it is important."
"Word of Bayard's arrest has got back to Mercia. We're about to be attacked," he growled.
"I feel that what I have to tell you may have some bearing on your plans. Please, it will only take a moment," Gaius pressed. Uther sighed and stepped to the side, letting his knights take over the discussion. "I know who tried to poison Arthur."
The king started to walk back to the table. "So do I. He's locked in my dungeons."
"It wasn't Bayard. The poison was magical. And I'd recognise the hand that made it anywhere," Gaius glanced around, then added, "Nimueh."
"You must have been mistaken."
"I wish I was."
"It can't have been. We'd know her. That witch's face is not easily forgotten," Uther said angrily.
"She's a powerful sorceress. She can enchant the eye that beholds her. We never knew it was her."
"Have you any proof?"
"The poison used against Merlin was made more potent by the use of magic."
Leon frowned. "Just because it was magic doesn't mean it was Nimueh. I mean, we know that now, but what Gaius is saying is a little sketchy." Merlin shushed him.
"Are you saying that she conspired with Bayard to kill Arthur?" Uther asked suspiciously.
"No, Bayard is innocent. Look at what's happening. This is what she's wanted all along. A war to bring strife and misery to Camelot."
Uther turned back to his knights. "How long before Bayard's armies reach our walls?"
Sir Cador spoke up. "A day, maybe less. We should send our cavalry out to meet them." He glanced between the physician and the king.
Uther seemed to make up his mind. "Instruct your men not to leave Camelot until I give the word."
"Sire." Sir Cador bowed and left, followed by the other knights.
"You are making the right decision, Sire. Do you think Arthur should be told the truth about Nimueh?" Gaius asked softly. The scene changed again.
"Wait, wait, wait," Arthur ordered. He glared at Merlin. "Morgause wasn't tricking me? She wasn't lying? My father really did use magic to conceive me?"
The warlock evaded the questions skillfully. "That's for another memory to answer."
This time it was Arthur, Morgana, and Uther on the battlements of Camelot, watching as Bayard and his men left down the long path. "Alright, let the bragging begin. How did you manage it?" Morgana said wryly.
He hesitated. "I'm not sure. All I do know is I had help. Someone knew I was in trouble and sent a light to guide the way."
"Who?" she asked.
"I don't know. But whoever it was, I'm only here because of them," Arthur admitted.
"Finally some credit!" Merlin grinned.
"I'm glad you're back," Morgana admitted, smiling, then she left. Uther walked closer to where his son was standing.
"Arthur? The woman you met in the forest, what did she tell you?"
"Not much. She was too busy trying to get me killed. It was strange, though."
"In what way?"
Arthur considered a moment. "I was at her mercy. She could have finished me off, but she chose not to. She said it wasn't my destiny to die at her hand."
Uther stayed quiet, working something out in his head. "You must've been scared."
"Had it's moments."
"Those who practice magic know only evil. They despise and seek to destroy goodness wherever they find it. Which is why she wanted you dead. She is evil."
Is it possible my father was… wrong? Arthur wondered.
"Sounds as if you know her."
"I do. To know the heart of one sorcerer is to know them all. You did the right thing. Even though you were disobeying me. I'm proud of you, Arthur. Never forget that."
Then why… would Merlin drink poison for me?
Merlin seemed to almost read his mind, for he said, "Your father was a great king in his own ways, but there were many things in which he was mistaken. Never forget that."
The next day, Arthur entered Gaius' chambers to find Merlin with a blanket around his shoulders eating some bread. "Still alive then?"
His manservant looked around. "Oh. Yeah, just about. I understand I have you to thank for that."
"Yeah, well, it was nothing. A half decent servant is hard to come by. I was only dropping by to make sure you're alright. I expect you to be back to work tomorrow."
"Oh yeah, yeah of course, er, bright and early."
As the prince turned to leave, Merlin called after him, "Arthur? Thank you."
He hesitated. "You too. Get some rest."
After Arthur left, Gaius handed Merlin a bowl of soup. "Arthur may give you a hard time, but at heart he's a man of honour. There aren't many who'd have risk what he did for a servant."
"He's right," Leon said quietly. "You are a better man than your father." Arthur didn't know how to respond to that.
"It all would've been for nothing if you didn't know how to make the antidote."
Gaius ignored this. "Eat your dinner."
"I still don't understand why she went to all the trouble of framing Bayard. She could've just kept quiet and killed Arthur," the warlock pointed out.
"But destroying Arthur and Camelot wasn't all she was after. She knew you would be forced to drink that wine. It was you she wanted to kill. Seems someone else knows you're destined for great things, Merlin."
Nimueh watched Merlin in her stone basin as he seemed to stare straight through the water at her. In turn, the sorceress seemed to glare briefly at the members of the Round Table watching, until the memory faded to black.
Dear God. that took FOREVER. This one was - *drumroll* - 8,652 words, 21 pages on Microsoft Word, and a huge load of stress on me. -.-' let's hope the next one isn't as long… I must also offer my eternal gratitude to the amazing bluedragon.77, for directing me to the transcript on the Merlin wiki ^.^' writing these is going to be SO much easier now. Thank you, blueh! :D
Keep watch for the next chapter – the Fires of Idirsholas.