Disclaimer: BBC owns Merlin
Strongest of the Warlocks: Chapter One: Arrival in Camelot
Merlin had gained enough stares on her trek from Ealdor to Camelot, but she did her best to ignore them. She was already in a terrible mood from the walk and from the sudden execution of a sorcerer; in short, she was quite sick to her stomach. So she didn't care if she was the only woman in the crows garbed in male's clothes with a sword strapped to her hip. Apart from that, she was nothing special; dark hair, blue eyes, and skin as pale as the moon (Will's words, not hers).
"Are you lost, miss?"
Merlin did a double take at the knight who had asked her the question. His eyes were light and his hair curly. Merlin reddened; she must look awful.
"Oh, it's just Merlin," she said quickly, waving her hands in front of her face quickly, "I'm looking for my uncle, Gaius, he's the Court Physician?" Her words sounded more like a question than anything else.
"Not to worry," the knight said kindly, gesturing to the opening behind him which was guarded on either side by soldiers wearing the Pendragon crest, "through there, follow the stairs and you'll come across a door at the end of the hall."
"Thank you, Sir…?" Merlin frowned at him.
"Leon, at your service," he said politely.
"Thank you, Sir Leon," Merlin said, bobbing her head in respect before making to duck around him and through the opening, only to pause as he called to her briefly.
"Just one question—"
"One?" Merlin said in a slightly griping voice, her shoulders falling slightly, making the knight smile.
"Just a little confused about the clothes," Leon said gesturing to her whole body.
Merlin looked down at herself and sighed. She was sure that, as her mother always said, she would look much nicer in a dress, but it wasn't what she preferred. She wore a simple blue tunic that wasn't a color that would stand out in a crowd, her greaves were a darker color, the jacket was a softer brown, the boots sturdy and well worn, and to top it off, she wore a red neckerchief at her throat.
"Dresses are too…taxing," she said finally before turning on her heel and striding through, her face flushing at his light-hearted laughter at the thought of a woman finding a dress taxing, but she could see he didn't mean it to be malicious (this knight seemed to be honestly amused by the thought).
She followed the steps, breathing a sigh of relief at the sign on the wall of COURT PHYSICIAN that indicated she was moving in the right direction. She seemed to follow a series of long hallways before she finally came across the room she was looking for.
Merlin creaked the door open quietly, with a small question of "Gaius?" that was not answered. She was not even able to help herself from gazing in awe of the room. There were herbs strung, drying in the windows, tinctures bubbling softly over flames on the table, an assortment of bottles were spread about, with just as much books lying around. The disorder didn't really surprise her. Merlin and her mother's house looked much the same, especially with the herbs in disarray.
A soft mumbling drew her attention quickly to the man that must have been Gaius. Merlin frowned up at the man who was clearly getting on in his years, judging by his head of pure white. So this was her mother's brother…he was a decade older than her mother at least. Yet he'd never bothered to visit his sister or his niece in Ealdor.
"Do not judge your uncle too harshly," her mother had said when she was packing to leave, "the Court Physician does not get much free time, and he isn't as young as he used to be."
"Gaius?" Merlin said his name once more, raising her voice slightly.
This was clearly the wrong thing to do, as her voice startled him so badly the wooden planks of the railing behind him broke and he cried out as he fell through.
Instinctively, Merlin reached out a hand, her eyes flashing an all-too-familiar gold, slowing time in a way no other human could, sending the small bed that lay only feet away under him smoothly with another flash of her eyes. Time returned to normal just as Gaius hit the mattress, gasping in surprise and pushing aside the bits of the wooden railing that had fallen on him.
He struggled to stand, gazing around in shock and surprise. "What did you just do?" he demanded, shocked.
"Lucky that bed was there," Merlin said, forcing her voice to remain calm.
His lips twitched in barest amusement. "I know where that bed was and it wasn't here. How is it that you know magic?"
"W-I don't," Merlin said quickly, stumbling slightly over her words. "Well, Iseldir taught me a few healing spells, but that's it."
"Iseldir?" Gaius asked, the name unfamiliar to him.
"He's a Druid Chieftain," Merlin said, tightening her grip on the straps of her pack. "He's practically my godfather, that's what Mum says."
"He taught you healing spells?" Gaius said rather dubiously.
"Yes…" Merlin said slowly, not quite understanding.
"Then how did you move that bed?" he demanded.
"Oh, that just sort of happens," Merlin said with a shrug.
"That's not possible!" Gaius disagreed. "You had to have been taught!"
"No, I really haven't," Merlin said before correcting herself, "apart from the healing stuff, but I only learned that after I started having these outbursts."
"Are you lying to me?"
Merlin scowled slightly at the older man. "I was born with magic."
"That's impossible!" Gaius eyed her shrewdly for a moment. "Who are you?"
"I'm Merlin…" she said slowly, searching her pocket for her mother's letter.
"Oh!" Gaius' eyes widened in surprise. "Hunith's daughter?"
She handed over the parchment. "That's right."
"But you're not meant to be here until Wednesday!" Gaius told her.
"Er…It is Wednesday," Merlin mentioned in a dry voice.
"Oh…" A realization seemed to dawn upon him. "Well, you'll want to put your bag in there," he added, trying and failing to cover his fumble as he gestured to a small room at the back. "And Merlin?"
Merlin turned back and Gaius saw just how much she looked like her mother.
A pale flush spread across her cheeks and she turned away quickly, placing her things in the small room without so much as a word.
Merlin…a deep voice coaxed her. Merlin…
Merlin's eyes flashed open suddenly and she sat up clutching her flimsy blanket to her chest as she glanced around, looking for the source of the voice, but there was no one there. Merlin sighed, running a hand through her dark hair that was now tangled from sleep.
"What—?" she blinked blearily in complete confusion as to where she was before realizing she was in Camelot. "Oh…right…" Merlin could feel her homesickness growing. She was so used to her mother being a constant presence in her life, a comforting presence especially after Percival had left, but that had been two years ago. Letters were a form of infrequent assurances and were rather short considering how little Percival generally spoke.
She raked her fingers through her hair until it was clear of the tangles, permitting her to tie it into a thick plait down her back before changing into a fresh set of clothes and looking into the bowl of water that she had used to splash her face, her reflection rippling in it.
She didn't see what Percival had seen. Her eyes were too dark a blue and she looked like she had never been out in the sun at any point in her short life. She pursed her lips, glancing down at herself again. Her clothes were practical, she told herself countless times, she didn't need to look as pretty as other girls did.
Merlin tied a thin black sash around her waist, her red neckerchief to her throat, and her jacket over her shoulders before heading down the stairs.
"Ah, awake, are you?"
She blinked thickly at Gaius, but he was smiling kindly at her. "Sorry," she apologized, "but did you want me up sooner?"
He just waved her over, so she took that to be a 'no'. She took her seat, eyeing the bowl of porridge with distaste before Gaius callously knocked over a bucket of water. Before Merlin could stop herself, her eyes had flashed gold and she stood, her hand aimed towards the bucket.
It froze in midair, the droplets of the water as well as the bucket, barely giving her enough time to grab it before it fell.
"How did you do that?" Gaius queried as time began once more and a bit of the water sloshed onto the ground.
Merlin replaced the bucket with a bit of a scowl. "I told you," she said, "it just sort of happens sometimes."
"You didn't incant a spell in your mind?" Gaius asked a bit suspiciously.
"No!" Merlin said heatedly. "I don't know that many spells, especially not ones that can freeze time."
"But it can't just happen!" Gaius disagreed and Merlin's scowl darkened as she sat back down.
"Thank you, I'd rather gathered that for myself."
Gaius blinked a few times. She sounded so much like her father.
"I read your mother's letter," he added.
"Good for you."
"Before you were born…" Gaius said, slumping onto the bench opposite her, "your mother asked that I not come to Ealdor."
Merlin's spoon stilled in her porridge.
"Your mother is very protective of you," Gaius told her, "and I'm sorry I never had the opportunity to meet you before now."
Merlin bit the inside of her cheek, ducking her head slightly as she swallowed the watery porridge.
"Sorry," she muttered, "I thought you and Mum had a falling out."
"Nothing of the sort," Gaius promised her, "I'm very fond of your mother, and I always will be…now, eventually you'll need to find some paid work—"
"I thought the whole reason for me coming here was to become your apprentice," Merlin said in complete befuddlement.
"Ah, but apprentices are not paid," Gaius said wisely and Merlin grumbled a little as he placed a small pouch on the table and a bottle of yellow liquid. "Hollyhocks and feverfew for Lady Percival—"
"For headaches," Merlin said, her grip on her spoon tightening at the name Percival.
"Very good," Gaius said with a smile, "we'll make a true physician out of you yet. "
Merlin's lips twitched.
"And this," he added, tapping the cork that stoppered the bottle with one finger, "is for Sir Olwin. He's as blind as a weevil, so warn him not to take it all at once."
"Right," Merlin said, swallowing her water, her grin widening slightly as he placed a plate of sandwiches in front of her. "Thanks."
"Off you go," Gaius said, motioning her towards the door. She collected the pouch and bottle in one hand, grabbing a sandwich half with the other.
"And Merlin!" he called to her before she could leave. She turned back to meet his eyes. "I need hardly tell you that the practice of any form of enchantments will get you killed."
"Of course not," Merlin said dryly, rolling her eyes as she did so.
"Try to keep out of trouble," he added before she closed the door. Hunith had mentioned in her letter that Merlin was often at odds with the villagers from Ealdor.
My daughter's love for the earth and the herbs that grow here have made her very withdrawn. No one can complain about her because she heals them when they are injured, but I have seen the way they look at her, as if she could never belong. It is because of this that I believe she finds solace in the company of the druids when they pass by. My daughter has a quick wit and a sharp tongue, dear Gaius, she doesn't realize just how much trouble it can get her into…
It was only after she left that she realized she had no idea where these people lived. Where was that helpful knight from earlier?
Guinevere beat a curtain out of the main window, her eyes drawn to the scene below. She gave a sad sigh. In all the time that she had attended to Lady Morgana she had hoped that perhaps Arthur would lose his arrogance, but no such luck.
She pitied Morris who had been forced into being the moving target today for Arthur and a few of the younger knights' amusement.
But then something happened that she did not expect; someone stepped in.
Gwen almost mistook her for a man, wearing a male's tunic and trousers, but her dark plait down her back and feminine shape told a different story.
The girl crossed her arms, her expression sour. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"
"Ooh!" a few of the knights chortled and Gwen strained to hear the words said from where she was, but she needn't have worried, the courtyard had very good acoustics.
"Like you?" Arthur smirked, looking her up and down.
The dark-haired girl didn't appear to appreciate his tone.
"Oh, please," she said coolly, "it wouldn't take much for me to knock you on your ass, seeing as that's all you are, you know, an ass."
Gwen muffled her chuckles, eager to hear what happened next as the girl and Arthur were nearly nose to nose.
"Do not think you can speak to me in such a way—"
"I speak how I like," she interrupted.
"Just because you dress like a man and have a sword doesn't make you anything more than a little girl playing dress up," Arthur said in scorn.
"Oh, really?" She slammed an arm across his chest, using her leg to knock one of his up and the force of her arm to knock him to the ground. "Yes, I can see I'm just a little girl playing dress up," she said with a bit of laughter, vanishing into the crowd before Arthur could call for her to be thrown into the dungeons.
Gwen laughed out loud.
"What is it, Gwen?" Morgana called to her maidservant from where she was sitting at the desk, a parchment before her, her quill poised.
"It's nothing, my lady," Gwen said quickly, "I apologize if I made a disturbance."
"It's alright," Morgana said with a kindly smile, "what was it that made you laugh?"
"Oh, a scene upon the square, my lady," Gwen said, gesturing to the window, "someone stood up to Arthur."
"Did they?" Morgana's arching eyebrows raised and her red painted lips curled upwards. "Good…what happened to the poor lad?"
"That's what was so funny," Gwen said, smiling with humor, "it was a woman."
Morgana stopped and stared at her, her eyes stunned. "A woman? You are certain?"
"Quite certain, my lady," Gwen agreed with surety. "She knocked him to the ground with just an arm and a leg."
"Even more impressive," Morgana said with a laugh of her own, "who is this mysterious woman? I would very much like to meet her."
"I'm certain the whole of Camelot will want to meet her," Gwen informed her in an almost dry manner.
As it happened, Gwen met the girl in question later that day when she was out at the market which was subsequently where the woman happened to be, examining some apples.
Gwen thought she could be mistaken for Morgana from a distance if she wore a dress and let down her hair.
Her eyes were a dark impossible blue that Gwen had never seen before on someone, her midnight fringe not quite covering her equally dark eyebrows. She could never be mistaken for a man, that much was true.
"Um, hello," Gwen said, smiling slightly as she paid for her apples, glancing to her in surprise.
"Hello," the girl said in a bit of confusion.
"I'm Guinevere, but most people call me Gwen," she introduced herself. "I'm the Lady Morgana's maid."
"Ah." She nodded politely, extending her hand to the maid's. "I'm Merlin."
Gwen shook it as Merlin's smile turned sheepish. "I'm kind of new around here…I guess you saw what happened earlier, then?"
Gwen nodded, her grin widening as she released her hold on the pale girl's fingers. "It was really brave, what you did," she said, "standing up to Arthur."
Merlin shrugged as if it was nothing. "Well, I'm not known for my restraint," she admitted unblushingly. "I can't really resist when people think they're superior to others."
"Arthur's a bully," Gwen agreed, "and everyone thought you were a real hero."
"I'm sure they did," Merlin said, laughing slightly, "I'm sure they also enjoyed me dropping him to the ground."
Gwen smothered her giggles behind her hand. "Yes, that was quite impressive," she said, bobbing her head with agreement, "however did you manage it?"
"I've met bigger men," Merlin said unconcerned, "I had a patient once who paid me in self-defense lessons." She patted the hilt of the blade at her side in remembrance.
"Patient?" Gwen asked.
"Oh, I'm Gaius' apprentice-and-ward," Merlin explained, "I'm a Physician-in-Training, I suppose."
Gwen nodded in understanding. "You must know a lot about herbs, then."
"Enough to knock someone out or kill them," Merlin shrugged again. "Depending on what I like."
Gwen laughed out loud. Merlin really wasn't afraid of speaking her mind, was she? It was quite refreshing to talk to someone like that. Even if Morgana viewed her opinion highly, she would never dare to be as bold as Merlin had been with the prince earlier that day. But Gwen had a feeling that she and Merlin were going to be very good friends.
Because who didn't want a girl who could knock a pompous prince on his bum for a friend?
"I hear there was some excitement in the Court Square today," Gaius mentioned as he spooned her some broth.
"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about," Merlin said stoutly, taking the bowl from him and sipping the soup.
"Indeed." Gaius looked at her as though he wasn't sure whether to scold her or laugh, but it seemed scolding won through. "Your mother asked me to look after you," he told her.
"She worries too much," Merlin grumbled into her gulp of water.
"What did she say to you," he asked her, "about your gifts?"
Merlin scraped at the bottom of the bowl. "She doesn't say much about it, Iseldir's the one who taught me more about what I was…but she always tells me I'm special."
"You are special," Gaius had to agree, his voice telling her he completely agreed with what he was saying, "the likes of which I've never seen before."
Merlin paused briefly to look at him, rolling her eyes slightly. "I'm sure you've met sorcerers before with my skills, Gaius."
"I can assure you," he said rather seriously, "I have not. Magic requires incantations, spells. It takes years to study. What I saw you do was…elemental, instinctive."
"Well, I didn't exactly intend to do it," Merlin muttered.
"Which is quite the point," Gaius told her, swallowing a bit of his soup too. "Magic itself is intentional, it is performed with intent. Spells are specific in the results they create."
"So no one's been able to do magic without knowing spells before?" Merlin guessed.
"No," Gaius said with a bit of awe. "You are a question that has never been posed before, Merlin."
"Wonderful," Merlin said dryly before eyeing him. "You know an awful lot about magic…did you ever study it?"
His head twitched slightly. "Uther banned all such work twenty years ago."
"That's not a no," Merlin muttered to herself, "but why would he do that? Magic's not all bad."
"Perhaps not," Gaius agreed, nodding his head to her words, "but back then people used magic for the wrong end at that time. It threw the natural order into chaos. Uther made it his mission to destroy everything from back then, even the dragons."
Merlin froze, staring at him in utter shock. "Every dragon? But that's…" Dragons were magnificent beasts of great magic, that was what Iseldir had taught her. "That's cruel."
"That may be," Gaius said, "but they were also a danger to Uther's reign of terror on magic. However—" Merlin looked up. "There was one dragon he chose not to kill, kept it as an example. He imprisoned it in a cave deep beneath the castle where no one can free it."
Merlin's became pensive, thinking of the voice she had heard calling her name as she slept.
"Now, eat up. When you've finished, I need you to take a preparation to Lady Helen. She needs it for her voice."
Merlin groaned into her soup. "I haven't been here hardly a day and you've got me running around like a little errand-girl! This is not a good use of my skills!"
"Then maybe it will teach you not to pick fights with princes," Gaius informed her.
A pair of blue eyes blinked at him, her mouth gaping. "Wait…that was the prince?"
"Didn't you know?" Gaius asked, equally surprised.
"Well, no," Merlin said, "though that wouldn't have changed mind of putting him in his place."
"You must be careful, Merlin," Gaius warned with a bit of a sigh at the over-bright glint in her eyes, "it is dangerous for someone of your talents in Camelot…would it be too much to ask for you to keep your head down?"
"Definitely," Merlin agreed, "I'm not sure I really know the meaning of the phrase, to be honest."
One of Balinor's no doubt finer qualities, Gaius thought to himself. It seemed that she had inherited more from her absent father than Gaius had originally thought. This was not truly a good thing.
"You must be careful," Gaius stressed this with as much feeling as he could. "If you get caught you will be executed."
"Yes, well, its not as though I parade what I am through the streets," Merlin said a bit bad-temperedly only to fall silent by a knock to the door.
Gaius answered the door. "Sir Leon, how may I help you?"
Merlin lifted her eyes from her broth to look at the knight that had been very helpful to her in her efforts to navigate the castle.
"I was wondering if you had something for mild headaches," Sir Leon said as Merlin stood quietly from the table, taking full advantage of her uncle's distraction as she slowly and silently made her way towards the direction of her small room.
Merlin froze, muttering a swear under her breath.
"Don't think we're done with this conversation," Gaius told her as she twisted around with a smile that was too easy.
"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," Merlin said in a vague manner.
"And you're not getting out of taking that tonic to Lady Helen!"
Merlin's expression soured and Leon was forced to muffle his amusement at the face she now bore that wouldn't have looked amiss on a child who had just been caught trying to do something she wasn't allowed to.
Merlin's grumbles were fairly audible.