The Power of Three by Emachinescat
A Merlin Fan-Fiction
Summary: A reimagining of the series starting from "The Mark of Nimueh," where both Arthur and Morgana find out about Merlin's magic early on. This reimagining of the entire series explores this divergent path and shows how much fate and destiny can change with the power of three.
A/N: From here on out, all my author notes will be after the chapter, just to create a more seamless reading experience. Definitely check it out when you're finished though, if you want - I've got some fun musings and information about this series you'll want to see! Do note that I am actually making it to where Gwen's execution is not brought forward in this version of the story, to give Arthur another night to mull things over. Enjoy!
The Power of Three
Chapter One: The Mark of Nimueh
Arthur stared, slack-jawed, at his servant, who had just marched into the council room and announced that he was, in fact, the sorcerer who had cured Gwen's father.
This couldn't be.
Arthur was jolted out of his shock by the sound of his father's voice and sudden motion in front of him. He realized belatedly that the king had ordered Merlin's arrest, and the guards were dragging him away.
Arthur didn't believe Merlin in the slightest; there had to be another explanation. But in order for him to get that explanation, his servant would need to be alive, and if Arthur didn't think of something soon, Merlin would be dead by this time tomorrow. So he improvised.
"Father, please! I can't allow this - this is madness! There's no way Merlin is a sorcerer." There isn't, is there?
"Did you not hear him?" the king snapped, each word dipped in impatience.
Arthur scrambled for something, anything, to change his father's mind. He surfaced with a reminder that he knew would do no good even before he voiced it: "He saved my life, remember?"
He was right. His father didn't budge. "Why should he fabricate such a story?"
Frantically, Arthur fished for a reason. Why would someone willingly lie about something like this, that would certainly end in his death? "As Gaius said, he's got a…" Arthur really shouldn't have started talking before he knew what he was going to say. Ultimately, he settled on, "a… grave mental disease."
Uther raised a regal eyebrow, an eyebrow that Arthur knew from personal experience meant that whatever well of patience the king was drawing from would soon be dry. "Really?"
What mental disease? Arthur could have kicked himself. He knew nothing of medicine, and certainly nothing of illnesses that affected the mind. Any moment now, the guards were going to drag Merlin away and throw him into the dungeon, in Gwen's place. Gwen would be free, and Merlin would burn.
It all clicked. Yes, that had to be it. Relief flooded Arthur at the revelation, but somewhere deep within he felt a stirring of disbelief. It was too simple, and if he had learned anything from having Merlin as a servant, it was that nothing was simple when it came to that idiot.
"He's in love." The words tumbled out of Arthur's mouth, somehow still shocking himself - and everyone else in the room. Yes, it made sense - sort of - but did he really think his father was going to fall for -
Oh dear gods. His father was grinning.
Merlin, always one to make things more difficult, promptly insisted, "I am not."
"With Gwen." Arthur saw his father's eyes soften ever so slightly at the revelation. It was working!
"Yes, you are," Arthur said pointedly, mentally begging Merlin to play along. Wait… if he's only playing along, does that mean…? No. He couldn't think about that now.
Damn it, Merlin just wanted to die, didn't he? Arthur ground his teeth to keep his calm and reminded the servant of the flower that Gwen had given him just yesterday.
Merlin's defense was weak at best. "I'm not in love with her!" Knowing that he'd won, Arthur slung his arm easily around the servant's scrawny shoulders and teased, "It's all right. You can admit it."
Red in the face, Merlin spluttered, "I don't even think of her like that!" He said it so insistently that Arthur was beginning to believe it. He had no doubt that the servant had noticed Gwen, thought she was pretty - her beauty, regardless of her status, was something even Arthur acknowledged - but to be in love with someone so quickly that he would die for her without a second thought? Merlin hadn't even been in Camelot long enough to fall in love!
"Perhaps she cast a spell on you," Uther mused. Arthur's pulse spiked, but he relaxed as his father snickered, the council, which had been quietly watching the exchange up to this point, joining him in some relief.
Arthur mussed his servant's hair - in a patronizing way, certainly not out of affection - and laughed, "Merlin is a wonder, but the wonder is that he's such an idiot." Looking his father dead in the eyes, he grew serious. "There's no way he's a sorcerer."
His father must have been growing bored of this little game, ready to return to the business at hand, so he sobered and waved a hand in their direction. "Don't waste my time again. Let him go."
"I'll escort him out," Arthur offered hastily, and shoved Merlin out of the room.
That night, Arthur lay in bed, but sleep would not come. The conversation from the council room repeated in his mind, over and over, and Arthur found himself mentally reviewing everything Merlin had said, every movement he had made, even his facial expressions. He had been so desperate to claim that he was the sorcerer. He'd been a right pain to Arthur for the rest of the day, moody and resentful, which, as Arthur had continuously pointed out, was a rather poor way to treat someone who had just saved your life.
It had to be that Merlin was in love with Gwen. The alternative didn't make any sense. How could Merlin have magic? Magic was evil, after all, and Merlin was too stupid to be evil.
Something stirred deep within, a question that had assailed him on more than one occasion - most recently, when his father had sentenced Gwen to death under the accusation of starting a plague using the evidence that she may have healed her father with magic. When Arthur had admitted that yes, maybe Gwen had used magic to save her father, had he thought she was evil? Absolutely not. How was it evil to go to any lengths necessary to save the people you love? And so it followed that perhaps magic, especially if people like Gwen or - gods forbid, Merlin - used it, wasn't always evil.
Arthur's chest tightened at the mere idea of going against the mantra he had heard his whole life, but once the thought manifested itself, it latched onto his every thought and wouldn't let go.
Even when he told himself that he was being ridiculous, that it was obvious that Merlin cared for Gwen and was just trying to save her, he found himself not believing it as much as he would have liked. Finally resolving that he would just keep an extra close eye on the servant for the next few days, he managed to eventually fade into a restless sleep.
Arthur had almost convinced himself that Merlin had been lying, until the servant and Morgana had approached him, insisting that there was a beast in the water supply that was the cause of the poisoning. Eager at any chance to help Gwen, whom Arthur had never truly suspected, and also suspicious of how his servant would have come to know such a thing in the first place, Arthur agreed much sooner to their request than they had expected.
The cave was cold, damp, and dark. Droplets of water meandered down the rough stone walls and reflected the torchlight as he and Morgana led the way. He tried to convince Morgana to turn back, but of course she refused.
"You could get hurt," he insisted. "And Father will have my head if something happens to you and he finds out that I put in you in danger."
Smirking, Morgana pushed past him, taunting that he would be the one to get hurt if he didn't get out of her way.
There was no point arguing with her, though, and so he settled with griping at Merlin instead. That always calmed him down. "You'd better be right," he snapped.
Moments later, Arthur found out how right Merlin actually was.
The creature that sprang up from the water was by far the ugliest thing he had ever seen, a muddy black monster with no definable features other than its enormous, pointed teeth and dangerous talons. It glistened with water and smelled of death and decay. And it was fast, much faster than the prince would have expected.
He ducked out of the way of its claws just in time, swinging his sword at the unsightly beast. Though his blade grazed the creature, it seemed completely unaffected. What the hell was this thing?
Another useless hit later, and the creature disappeared into the darkness. Arthur held his torch aloft, searching the water, the floor, the ceiling. He could hear Merlin and Morgana somewhere behind him, breathing heavily.
Morgana screamed. Arthur spun around to see her cornered by the beast. She thrust her torch at it, trying to fend it off, but it was only a matter of time. Arthur started forward, sword raised despite knowing it was pointless, when something caught his attention in the corner of his eye. In the darkened edge of the cave, a flash of light … a flash of gold.
No, surely Arthur had imagined it. Merlin was over there, against the wall, cowering most likely. His eyes hadn't - couldn't have - turned gold.
But then, out of nowhere, on a day that was warm and still and sunny, in a cave separated from the outside by a locked door, a sharp wind whistled into the cavern. Coincidence, Arthur told himself. The breeze met Morgana's flame, sharpening it into a fearsome blaze that rose unnaturally and propelled itself forward, right at the monster
Moments later, the Avanc was dead at their feet, and Arthur could deny it no longer. That had been no coincidence. Merlin had been telling the truth. He had magic.
The next few hours were such a whirlwind of activity that Arthur was not afforded much time to think on what he saw or what he was going to do about it. A weight had settled itself somewhere within his chest, though, and the physical ache of it was a constant reminder that he would have to address this soon enough.
Thankfully, after explaining the situation to his father and bringing the king to the water supply to show him evidence of the fight, the king wasted no time in summoning Tom the blacksmith and ordering guards to escort him to his daughter's cell for her release. Next was a blur of tears from Gwen, heartfelt thanks from her father, a rare proud smile from Morgana and a splitting grin from his servant, and Arthur found himself walking back to his chambers, alone, as Morgana had requested Merlin stay behind. Apparently there was something she wanted to talk to him about. Arthur was too caught up in his own worries to be curious about what it was, though.
Arthur was grateful Merlin had stayed behind, anyway. He needed time away from the servant, time to think. He knew what the law said he should do. If he didn't tell his father about Merlin's magic and the king later found out, there would be hell to pay. But could he truly sentence Merlin to death for using magic to heal Gwen's father of a deadly disease and save Camelot from a fatal plague? More and more, he could not reconcile the idea of magic and evil being mutually exclusive, because Merlin had done nothing but help people since his arrival in Camelot.
Damn it, why had the idiot even come to Camelot, a place where magic was punishable by death, in the first place?
The prince shook his head. That didn't matter now. He could ask Merlin later. And with that, he realized that he'd already made his decision. He wasn't going to condemn Merlin to death for magic, something that Arthur had only ever seen him use for good. Merlin was annoying, and stupid, and horrible at fighting, and he complained a lot, but he was, at his core, a good man. Arthur firmly believed this.
Still, just to be safe, he would wait and watch. Merlin didn't have to know that Arthur had seen him perform magic. Not yet. Then, if he really did have any bad intentions, he would just pretend to be a good sorcerer and Arthur would be none the wiser. No, the smart thing, Arthur decided, would be to keep an eye on things when Merlin was oblivious. That way, Arthur could be certain of what kind of a sorcerer Merlin was. Once the prince was completely satisfied that Merlin was not evil, then they would have a conversation.
A conversation that Arthur was not going to make easy on his servant in the slightest. He actually felt one corner of his mouth lift in a half-smile. Just imagining the look on Merlin's face when he found out that Arthur knew was hilarious …
When the time came, Arthur was going to have some fun with his servant, that was for sure.
Merlin, feeling as if he were floating, relief having flooded every inch of his body like a lifting breeze, went to follow Arthur, Gwen, and Tom out of the dungeons, but Morgana stopped him, her eyes serious. There was a spark in them that Merlin had never seen before. It was triumphant, excited, and something else he couldn't quite place.
"Is everything okay?" he asked.
"Merlin," Morgana said, and the way she regarded him was as if she were seeing him for the first time, but not like she was seeing a servant, startled him. She looked at him like he was something more. An equal, even. This realization caused discomfort and unease to seep into his bones. Something significant was happening; he could tell. But what?
Then she spoke once more, and her words turned Merlin's world on its head: "I wanted you to know, your secret's safe with me."
It was as if he had been plunged into an icy river and a boiling cookpot at the same time. Morgana knew? The only people who had ever known about his magic were his mother, Will, and Gaius. And Morgana was a noble! She was Uther's ward, practically his daughter, and Uther's stance on magic was -
Her full statement finally sunk in. Still, after a lifetime of being told that he must hide, must always hide, he instinctively tried to play ignorant. "My secret?" He didn't even sound convincing to himself.
"Merlin, don't pretend," Morgana chided gently. Her red lips were curved in a gentle smile. Merlin's heart pumped more furiously. He noticed vaguely that his hands were tingling like he'd just sat on them for an hour. An odd ringing echoed in his ears. "I know what you did."
Merlin stammered, "Y-you did?"
Leaning forward conspiratorially - his heart was beating so loudly that he was certain she could hear it, too - Morgana assured him, "I understand why you don't want anyone to know."
Acceptance finally started to gain control of his thoughts as he realized that this was real, that Morgana understood, that she was offering to be his confidant, to keep his secret. The realization made him giddy, and he found himself smiling widely. "Well, obviously," he choked out.
"But I won't tell anyone," Morgana promised once more. "You don't mind me talking to you about it, though?"
Pure joy buzzed through Merlin's veins. This was more than he could have ever dreamed! Someone who knew his secret, someone close to his own age! He knew he wouldn't have handled keeping his secret in Ealdor if Will hadn't found out. Now he was going to have this in Camelot, too - and a noble! The ward of the king, the Lady Morgana, wanted to talk to him about his magic!
His voice trembled with exhilaration as he stumbled to respond. "Er… no, I, I, it's ... you have no idea how hard it is to keep this hidden! To have someone to talk to about it, other than just Gaius, it would be…" He trailed off, unable to find words suitable enough to express his euphoria. "I… just thank you."
Morgana smiled warmly. Merlin thought that she had never looked so beautiful. The wild inclination to kiss her flew into his mind, but thankfully he forced it back out almost immediately. "I've never thought magic to be evil," she admitted. "Even before Gwen was accused of it. And now, seeing that you practice it, I know it cannot be evil. You are a kind person Merlin, a lover, not a fighter."
Her words made Merlin's ears and face burn and brought tears to his eyes.
"I cannot imagine how scary it must be to live in Camelot when you have magic," she mused, her green eyes clouded over for a brief moment. Then she did something totally unexpected, something that nearly sent Merlin into shock, made his limbs go completely weak, stole his breath, and made him forget how to speak at all. She stood on her tiptoes and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. Seeing his expression, she chuckled. "I'll leave you for now; you've had quite a shock. But perhaps I can call on you in Gaius's chambers tomorrow night and we can talk then?" Merlin registered distantly the hopeful lilt to her voice, and he managed to squeak out an agreement.
As soon as she had disappeared out of sight, Merlin's knees finally gave out on him and he collapsed into a heap on the dungeon floor. Tears fell freely. He felt a lightness, a freedom that he had never expected while in Camelot.
He did not doubt that she would keep his secret. But if she had seen him do magic in the cave, it meant that he wasn't being careful enough.
From now on, he could not be so careless. After all, he had to keep Arthur from discovering his secret at all costs.
A/N: Hello! Looong author's note here! (And yes, I stole the story title from Doctor Who and Sherlock episode titles!) I had an absolute blast writing this, and I can't wait to write the next chapter! :)
Okay, so I realize S1e1 is incredibly early on for Arthur to learn about Merlin's magic. But I absolutely do not think it would be out of character for Arthur to learn to accept it rather quickly during this time. In fact, I think it would be more likely that Arthur would accept it now than later.
For one, Arthur himself has not seen much in the way of magic affecting him negatively at this point. We can see even in the first few episodes that he doesn't hold the same hatred toward magic that his father does and doesn't understand it. He just goes along with what his dad says… except he doesn't, not really. In "The Mark of Nimeuh," he shows that he does not think that magic is inherently evil. We see this in the way that he remarks to his father that once magic is mentioned, Uther no longer listens. Then, he argues that even if Gwen did use magic to heal her father, it doesn't mean that she's the one who started the plague, and it doesn't mean she deserves to die. And finally, Most of us in the fandom seem to have come to the conclusion that ultimately, it is the breach of trust that will hurt Arthur in any reveal more than the magic itself. At this point, Merlin and Arthur's relationship is just starting to bud, so they don't have all this history that Merlin has lied to him through. And given that Arthur was willing to stand up for Gwen even if she did have magic, I have no problem believing that this early on in the series he would do the same for Merlin, even without that history. His hatred toward magic only really festers once he's seen it used against himself and Camelot so many times over the course of the series.
I promise this monster of an A/N is nearly over. I just want to say one more thing: This story is going to be a reimagining of the series, not a rewrite with subtle changes here and there. The entire story is going to change - how could it not - but I am going to try to do a chapter for each episode, incorporating what elements I can and creating new ones to fit the work as necessary to keep up the plot. That being said, I for the most part won't even be taking dialogue directly from the show even when I am writing any scenes that are similar. This is a reimagining, so I'm mostly borrowing elements from the episodes to form new stories, not completely rewriting every moment of them. Hopefully that makes sense!
I am so excited about where this story is going to go! I don't have a set update schedule in mind, but I have been dedicating at least an hour or more each night to writing, so I'd say updates will probably come pretty regularly. Please let me know your thoughts! :)