When Arthur was three, he learned what a secret was. He’d been waving his hands in the air as his nursemaid cleaned his chambers, following the red string that wrapped once around his wrist before disappearing out the window. It danced on an imaginary breeze as he watched, loose and free in the morning light.
“And what are you doing over there, my prince?” His nursemaid had asked.
“I’m watching the string.” He’d answered, then gave her funny look because wasn’t it obvious?
“What string?” She’d asked, and Arthur hadn’t recognized the panic back then.
“The string around my wrist.” Arthur tugged on it, laughing as it wrapped around his fingers. “It’s soft.”
He couldn’t really remember what happened after that. There was a lot of hushed voices, and then a lot of yelling. He remembered his father screaming at his nursemaid until she cried, and crying himself even when he knew he wasn’t supposed to. Princes weren’t supposed to cry.
Something he had never forgotten, however, was the way his father stalked towards him and gripped his shoulders tight. It had stopped his tears, but he still sniffled as his father stared at him.
“Arthur.” He’d said. “You must never tell anyone that you can see your heartstring, do you understand me?”
Arthur had nodded, even while asking quietly. “Why?”
“Because it’s magic son. And what have I told you about magic?”
“It’s evil.” Arthur whispered, fearful of all the terrifying stories he’d been told. “Does that mean I’m evil Father?”
A large hand had pulled his head to his father’s chest. “Of course not Arthur. You’re my son. But you must never tell anyone else of this. Sorcerers could use it against you.”
“Okay Father.” Arthur had said, and that was his first big secret.
When Arthur was seven, he learned what a soulmate was. Everyone in the world had one. Gaius had even told him some people had more than one. Arthur thought those people very lucky – they’d never be lonely, with three or four or twenty soulmates! Gaius had just thought it funny when he’d said so.
Gaius had told him many things that day. Like how soulmates felt a strong pull towards each other, and once they touched for the first time, they knew right away they belonged together. Gaius said it was like coming home after spending the day in the forest or sitting by the fire on a cold winter night. Arthur had asked if he had found his soulmate, and Gaius had drawn away, looking sadder than Arthur had ever seen him. He hadn’t asked again.
Then Gaius had told him about magic soulmates. Sorcerers, and their soulmates, had a unique ability no one else did.
“If someone has magic.” Gaius had told him. “Or if their soulmate has magic, then they’ll be able to see their heartstring.”
Arthur almost gasped aloud. It was only his prince training that kept him from visibly reacting. He shot a glance down to his wrist. The ever-present red string was there, weaving merrily through the air like it was putting on a show. It curled around his left arm, as if asking him to dance.
Gaius was still talking. “This, of course, makes it extremely easy for sorcerers and their soulmates to find each other. They can simply follow their heartstring until it leads them to their other half. They say the first touch is even more intense between magical soulmates. One pair was said to have shaken the very earth when they touched.”
Arthur wasn’t really paying attention anymore. He was staring at his heartstring as it disappeared through the window behind Gaius’s head. If he followed it, Arthur had wondered, what would he find? His soulmate. The one that Gaius had said was his other half. But how could that be true? Because Arthur could see his heartstring, and Arthur definitely didn’t have magic. Which meant his soulmate was a sorcerer.
His soulmate was evil.
Gaius had dismissed him not soon after, saying there wasn’t much point in continuing the lesson if Arthur wasn’t going to pay attention. Arthur was just glad to be away. He was so confused, and he wanted to ask Gaius to explain how Arthur’s soulmate could be evil, but it was his first big secret and he had promised his father he would never tell anyone.
He had all but ran back to his room. He wanted to be alone. He needed to think, and his father always sent people away when he needed to think, so surely it would help Arthur.
Ten minutes later a maid had arrived, telling him the king had requested his presence in his chambers. Arthur had sighed, but he couldn’t ignore his father, and he definitely couldn’t ignore his king.
“Arthur.” His father had called as he entered his chambers. “Come here.”
His father was standing by the window, watching the people of Camelot move around below. Arthur got on his tip toes to peer out at their people.
“Camelot is peaceful.” His father said, and Arthur knew from his tone that he had to listen closely. “It is peaceful and prosperous. Do you know why?”
“Because you’re a great king?” Arthur asked, tilting his head back to look at his father.
There was a chuckle, and then a warm hand ruffled his hair. “Yes son. But there is another reason. Camelot is the great city it is because I have made it my life’s goal to destroy the evils of magic.”
Arthur gulped, looking back out the window. The red blur of his heartstring wound down and out the closed window, into the town below.
“Arthur.” His father said, and suddenly he was spun around to stare his father in the eyes. “There is something you must understand. All magic is corruptible, and all that use it are evil.”
“I know Father.” Arthur had said, though his eyes wondered to his wrist. “They want to destroy us.”
“Exactly.” His father affirmed. “Which is why you must never allow yourself to get near your soulmate.”
Arthur jerked, look at his father with wide eyes. “What?”
“Don’t pretend Arthur.” His father admonished. “You can see your heartstring, which means your soulmate is a sorcerer. You must never let yourself be tainted by their evil, do you understand me?”
Arthur nodded, the motion more of a jerk than a nod. It seemed to placate his father.
Arthur frowned, worry curling tight around his chest to sink it’s claws into his heart. “What if they sneak up on me? I don’t want to be evil.”
His father hesitated, then his eyes glinted like hard steel. “If ever your soulmate gets that close to you, you must kill them.”
Arthur was pretty sure he stopped breathing. In the corner of his eye he watched his heartstring shrivel and curl in on itself. Everything in him wanted to say no. This person was his other half! How could his father order him to kill them?
But his father was the king, and he was very wise. And anyway, sorcerers were evil. You were supposed to kill them, before they could kill you.
Arthur struggled, but ultimately, he nodded. “Yes Father.”
And then Arthur had his second big secret. If he were to ever meet them, he would have to kill his soulmate.
Morgana arrived at the castle when he was eight. He had thought they could be friends, since Morgana had lost her parents and his father had said she would need a friend. But then he met her. She was ten, and very quiet, and refused to play with Arthur. She called him stupid and said that he was terrible with a sword. Arthur had hit her for that, and then they’d both been escorted to Gaius.
Gaius had tittered when they came in, both bruised and covered in dirt. Morgana refused to look up from the ground, and Arthur had glared at his fist. His cheek throbbed where Morgana had scratched it and his hand stung where she had bitten it after he’d punched her.
“What’s this then?” Gaius had asked as he tilted Arthur’s chin in the light. “Have you two been fighting like a pair of wildlings?”
Arthur pouted. “She started it! She called me stupid!”
Morgana crossed her arms, still not looking up from the floor. “If you don’t like being called stupid, then you shouldn’t be stupid.”
Arthur gasped. “You can’t talk to me like that! I’m the prince!”
“Prince Arthur.” Gaius warned, and Arthur fell silent. “Lady Morgana is your father’s ward now. You have to treat her with respect.”
Arthur glared as Gaius finished with him and moved to Morgana. She let him tilt her head and examine the bruise forming on her jaw.
“Lady Morgana, please hold your hair back for me.” She did so, still silently staring at the ground. “What prompted you to insult the prince, my lady.”
Morgana’s eyes flickered to his, and Arthur couldn’t resist sticking his tongue out at her. She glared back.
“He wouldn’t leave me alone, and then when I suggested we play knights, he said I couldn’t hold a sword because I’m a girl, and all girls are weak.” She winced as Gaius poked her bruise gently. “So I called him stupid, because that’s stupid.”
Gaius frowned. “It’s true, woman are far from weak. I have known many excellent woman warriors in my time.”
“Really?” Arthur had asked, disbelieving.
Gaius had nodded, stepped back, and let Morgana go. “Indeed. But that is in the past. Now, no more fighting you two. I don’t want to see you back here again.”
Gaius had shooed them out then. They had shared a glare, then walked off in different directions.
Arthur tried to avoid Morgana after that. She was odd, and very clearly didn’t want Arthur’s company, or anyone’s from what he had heard. She snapped at everyone, even his father. Arthur thought she was hiding something. His father scolded him and told her she had just lost her father. She needed time, he said.
Arthur had rolled his eyes when his father wasn’t looking, but he did feel a little guilty for hitting her now. Arthur had never known his mother, and he still missed her so much it hurt some days. He tried to imagine losing his father, and then quickly decided he’d give Morgana another chance. Maybe she did just need time, like his father had said.
He made his way to her chambers to offer his friendship for the second time, and maybe he’d let her sword fight with him, if she asked very nicely. When Arthur had gotten close enough to knock on the door, there was a faint tremor under his feet. His heart beat in panic as he thought of the stories of earthquakes, of how entire castles had fallen and crushed everyone in them.
It took a second, but finally the tremors stopped. Arthur shakily put a hand on the ground, making sure that it was unmoving beneath his feet. Once he was sure the castle wasn’t going to fall down around him, he burst into Morgana’s room. The girl in question was sitting on the floor, a young serving girl Arthur had never seen before sitting in front of her.
“Did you feel that!” Arthur yelled, then took in the state of the room with ever-widening eyes.
Morgana glanced around at the mess of her room, panicked. “No!”
Arthur frowned. “The whole castle shook. It was like an earthquake! There’s no way you missed it.”
Morgana huffed and got to her feet, one hand tugging the serving girl to stand with her. “Maybe it was all in your head. You can be so pig headed I wouldn’t be surprised if you imagined the castle shaking.”
“Hey!” Arthur growled, because really, he’d come here to be friends and she was acting worse than last time. “I’m not pig headed! You’re just hiding something!”
He didn’t mean it, not really, because he had come to believe his father’s claims of her just missing her father, but at her sharp gasp and the way the serving girl hid behind her Arthur had thought maybe his original suspicions hadn’t been too far off.
“You are hiding something.” Arthur hissed, and stepped closer. “Tell me what it is.”
“No!” Morgana yelled, one hand on her hip, the other still holding the other girls’ hand. “It’s none of your business!”
“I’m the prince!” Arthur argued, though Morgana really should know by now. “Everything is my business. And anyway, who are you?”
The serving girl squeaked as he turned his attention to her. “I’m Guinevere, my lord.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes. “I haven’t seen you in the castle before.”
“Leave her alone Arthur.” Morgana snapped. “She’s new.”
Arthur decided to let it go, because the girl did look terribly frightened, and he highly doubted she was any kind of threat. “What’s your secret then?”
Morgana glared daggers. “Nothing, now leave us alone!”
Arthur had taken a step back then, to survey the room and its contents with the eyes of the strategist his father wanted him to be, and that was what made everything click. He glanced from Morgana to the serving girl – Guinevere – and then at their tightly clasped hands. Like they never wanted to let go.
His breath caught. “You’re soulmates.”
Morgana pounced. Arthur cried out as she rammed into him, only just managing to avoid slamming his head hard on the floor. Morgana was panting hard, and she looked terrified, like Arthur was the one attacking her. She raised a hand to punch him, and he focused long enough to block it and roll out from under her.
He had scrambled as far away as he could get, all the way back to the door, panting and confused and maybe a little bit scared. “What was that for!”
Guinevere was standing still, hands covering her mouth and tears in her eyes. Morgana picked herself up off the floor and immediately ran to take her hand again. Guinevere glanced from her to Arthur, and she looked like she was far more scared of Arthur than Morgana, which he thought was remarkably unfair. She had attacked him; she was the scary one!
“You can’t tell anyone.” Morgana commanded.
Arthur frowned, not liking her tone one bit. “I don’t have to do anything you tell me. I’m the prince.”
Morgana still, infuriatingly, didn’t seem to care for his status. “But you can’t tell anyone!”
“Why not?” Arthur asked, crossing his arms. “You’re crazy. You attacked me out of no where! Maybe I should tell Father so he can protect your soulmate from your insanity.”
“No!” Both girls yelled, and it startled Arthur so much he almost fell back against the door.
“You can’t.” Morgana hissed, and Arthur realised how serious she was when he saw the beginnings of tears in her eyes.
“Please sire.” Guinevere whispered, pleading.
He blinked, looking around the room again, something whispering in the back of his mind that he chose to ignore. “Alright. I won’t tell anyone.”
Both girls sighed in relief.
Guinevere smiled. “Thank you sire!”
He nodded, then narrowed his eyes at Morgana. “Are you going to tell me why?”
“No.” She said, challenging him to say more.
Arthur huffed. “Fine.”
He had hesitated then, knowing the girls probably wanted him gone, but he was curious, and they owed him. He moved back into the room, sitting in a nearby chair.
“What’s it like?” He asked, because he had to know, since his own soulmate was evil and he’d never get to experience this. “The first touch?”
Guinevere sighed, melting back to the floor as Morgana sunk to her knees. “It’s like sitting by my father’s forge in the evening. Cosy and warm.”
Morgana nodded. “It was like seeing the world all over again, except everything was more. All the colours were brighter, and all the sounds were louder. It was overwhelming, but I’d never felt more alive.”
Arthur watched out of the corner of his eyes as his heartstring moved to their words, winding and dancing through the air. “That’s what Gaius said it was like.”
He sighed wistfully, and Guinevere tried to smile reassuringly. “I’m sure you’ll find your soulmate some day soon my lord. Then you’ll understand.”
Arthur looked to where his heartstring disappeared out of the window, a lie already heavy on his tongue. “I hope so.”
He had left the girls then, though he surprised Morgana with an offer to teach her sword fighting if she really wanted. She had given him a smile then; the first one Arthur had ever seen on her face. It looked better on her than her frown, at least.
And so, Arthur ended that day with his third and maybe most important secret. Morgana and Guinevere were soulmates, and no one could know, for reasons he hadn’t been told. Although, perhaps if he had looked a little closer, or listened a little more to that nagging voice in the back of his mind, he would have figured it out on his own.
When Arthur was ten, he got very sick. He felt freezing, but everyone kept insisting he was burning like a raging fire. Nothing he ate seemed to want to stay down, and he barely had the energy to sit up, let alone walk around and be a proper prince. He hated it. It had felt like he had been sick for a lifetime.
Gaius didn’t know what was wrong with him. He thought Arthur was dying. Arthur agreed with him on his worse days, when even the smell of food had him heaving sick into a chamberpot. It certainly felt like dying.
Of course, Gaius hadn’t said so to his face. He had told his father, on one of the nights when the king put aside his duties to just sit with his son. They had thought he was asleep. There had been whispering, mostly about things Arthur couldn’t understand, but he understood enough. He was sick with something Gaius had never seen before, and he was slowly dying from it.
His father visited him every day, mostly in the evenings. Morgana and Gwen visited him twice a day, always just after breakfast and just before it was time for him to sleep. They were brilliant company, his two closest friends, and Arthur loved every minute with them because it was infinitely better than the pressing silence of his room. Once, he got a visit from one of the new squires that had taken Arthur under his wing. His name was Leon, and Arthur though he was going to make an excellent knight. He even told him so, on his visit, and he’d blushed and thanked him.
Gaius was in his room almost constantly. He was always shuffling about, from one test to another, trying to figure out what mysterious illness Arthur had fallen under. Nothing worked, and Arthur often watched through a fevered haze as the physician grew increasingly frantic as the days passed.
When Arthur developed a large rash all over his chest and back, Gaius had gone pale and dove straight for one of his books. He’d come back shaking and ordered a guard to fetch his father.
That was when Arthur knew he was going to die soon.
His father had arrived, red faced and formally dressed like when he was feasting with visiting nobles. Gaius had whispered something to him, and he had turned to Arthur with such grief in his eyes that he had to look away. A cough racked his body, and suddenly his father was there, rough hands gentle and cool against his head.
“There must be something you can do Gaius. Anything.” His father ordered, but to Arthur it sounded more like a plea.
“I’m sorry sire.” Gaius said, still pale and shaking and grief stricken, and Arthur wasn’t even dead yet. “But this is a powerful curse. I don’t know anyone that could stop it, especially not with how far along it is.”
Magic. So it was magic that had made him sick. Now it made sense why Gaius hadn’t been able to treat him. Gaius could treat anybody. But not against magic. He coughed again, and thought magic was the evilest thing in the world. If the sorcerer had wanted to kill him, why couldn’t they have done it quickly? His whole body hurt.
He had fallen back into sleep then, and from there his memories turned blurry. All he knew was that every breath hurt, and he’d never been so cold, even while he sweated more than he had in all his life. His father was by his side more often now. Gaius had seemed to have disappeared. Arthur guessed he wasn’t really needed now, since he was sick with magic that Gaius couldn’t heal.
The next thing that Arthur remembers clearly is a bright green light. It was one of those rare nights where Arthur had been left alone. He’d been doing better the day before, talking with Morgana and staying awake for almost the whole day. Gaius deemed it best if his father rested in his own room, and so reluctantly the king had left his bedside for the first time in days.
The green light pulled him from his sleep. It had slid in through his open window along with a cool breeze. Arthur shivered awake. He would have screamed when he saw the light, but he’d long lost the energy for such things. Instead he flinched back as far as he could, which was an inch to his left before his body betrayed him and collapsed. He could do nothing but watch the green light cautiously.
It seemed to float in the breeze, and it lit up Arthur’s entire room with its glow. He watched it for a moment, before realising something odd.
His heartstring was reaching for the light. It was as loose around his wrist as ever, but it danced as the light came close, drifting up until they were almost touching. Arthur held his breath as the green light circled his heartstring, something almost joyous in its movements.
Then Arthur coughed weakly, and the light jerked to a stop before it sped towards him.
He had yelled then, but it came out no louder than a whisper. He whimpered and closed his eyes seconds before he magic touched him. So this was how he would die. Tears sprang into his eyes and he cried, knowing he didn’t want to die just yet. He was only ten! He hadn’t even become king and ruled his people as his father did. He wasn’t supposed to die yet!
Then the magic sunk into his left arm, where his heartstring disappeared into his wrist. He could feel it, tingling underneath his skin as it made its way into his heart. The instant it his his chest Arthur gasped.
In seconds he was completely calm. He knew this magic, even if he had never felt it before. It was the same magic connected to his heartstring, the same magic his other half wielded. It was his soulmate, and it was there to help.
Within minutes Arthur had felt better than he had in weeks. The magic tingled through his entire body, and he relaxed into his sheets with a sigh. In the instant before he fell asleep, he’d thought that perhaps his soulmate, and their magic, wasn’t so bad after all.
He woke to Gaius and his father hovering over him. The first thing he realised was that nothing hurt anymore. The second thing he realised was that he didn’t feel cold. In fact, with so many blankets piled on him, he felt a little too warm. He relished in it, having thought he’d never feel warm again.
“What happened?” His father whispered, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Gaius leaned over him, pulling his still sleepy body this way and that as Arthur protested weakly. “It would seem that he has been completely healed sire.”
“How?” His father growled. “You said it was a curse, that nothing could be done.”
“It was my soulmate.” Arthur said before he could think any better of it.
The two men froze, his father gaping at him. “What?”
Arthur cleared his throat, wishing he had some water to clear the croak he had when he spoke. “My soulmate healed me. They sent a green light last night.”
He managed to stop himself from telling his father how pretty it was, or about how nice and safe it had felt as it drew the curse from him, but it was a near thing.
His father launched forward and grabbed his arms tightly, ignoring Arthur’s surprised cry and struggles. “Are you absolutely sure Arthur?”
“Yes!” Arthur said, energy waning again as he tried to pry his father’s fingers off him. “My heartstring was dancing around it, and when the magic touched me I knew. They sent it to make me better!”
He snapped his mouth shut in horror as his father’s face turned pale, then a furious red. Arthur stopped struggling and fell back into his bed, shaking slightly. His soulmate had used magic to heal him, and last night Arthur had thought that maybe it meant not all sorcerers were evil. But what if it was a trick? What if…
“Am I corrupted now?” He asked, tears already gathering in his eyes, though he refused to let them fall.
“No sire.” Gaius said instantly, shooting a frown at his father.
The king schooled his expression, hands loosening from their death grip. “No son. But you must not let this cloud your judgement. This was more than likely a trick to get you to trust magic and turn you against me.”
Arthur’s eyes widened. “I would never Father.”
He got a smile for that, tight lipped as it was. “I know Arthur.”
Gaius had cleared his throat then, and ordered Arthur get more rest. He obliged, and within two days he felt healthier than ever before. Gwen called it a miracle, while Morgana just gave him a weird look and told him she was happy he was better.
He never told anyone, for it was a secret that was all his own and he wanted to keep it that way, but he knew without a doubt that despite everything he’d been told, his soulmate’s magic had made him feel safer than all the guards his father assigned to protect him. He knew he shouldn’t be swayed by it. Knew it was dangerous thinking.
His biggest secret was one he could never tell anyone – that, perhaps, magic wasn’t so evil after all.
On Arthur’s fifteenth birthday, almost all of his secrets were discovered all at once by the one person he had always suspected would find out one day.
He had just finished cleaning himself up after his birthday feast. He had felt like he was flying, after having been knighted for all to see that morning, then allowed to drink as much wine as he wanted at his feast. It was a great honour, and Arthur could feel the drink buzzing through his whole body.
He was relaxing in his bed, idly watching his heartstring float around his room. It was something he tried to avoid doing, but the drink made him forget why he was supposed to ignore his tie to his soulmate. He found himself waving both his arms around, giggling drunkenly to himself as his heartstring curled around his fingers and wiggled in his palms.
He hadn’t heard the door open, or noticed the footsteps approaching him.
It was only when Morgana gasped, her eyes trained on his hands waving in the air, that he realised how much trouble he was in.
He had scrambled up, practically throwing himself off the bed. His head spun, and he staggered as his stomach complained about the sudden movement. His heart had beat so fast that in a moment of drunken panic Arthur had thought it would beat right out of his chest.
“Morgana!” He yelled, louder than he had been planning. “What are you doing in my chambers? You can’t just, just… burst in here whenever you want!”
Morgana ignored his slurred stuttering, staring at him with eyes far more sober and understanding than Arthur liked. “You were playing with your heartstring, weren’t you? You can see it!”
“No!” Arthur yelled. “That’s stupid!”
“Don’t lie!” Morgana hissed, stalking forwards until Arthur was forced to step back to avoid her finger poking him in the chest. “You can see your heartstring, can’t you?”
Arthur crashed into the wall, wincing as the back of his head started throbbing. “Go away Morgana.”
“Not until you tell me the truth!” Morgana yelled.
Frustration bubbled in Arthur’s chest, and before he could even think it through words were falling from his lips, words he was never meant to tell another soul. “Yes! Alright! I can see it! Are you happy now Morgana? Is that good enough for you? Going to run off and tell your soulmate so you can both giggle over how I’m never going to be able to have what you two have?”
Arthur glared at Morgana as the last of his words seemed to ring in his ears. Morgana had her hands over her mouth, eyes wide and shocked. A second later, Arthur realised what he had said. He gaped at Morgana, wondering where all of that had come from. Silently he swore to never drink so much ever again.
“Arthur.” Morgana breathed, hands still over her mouth. “Is that really what you think? You think we’d do that to you? That Gwen would?”
Arthur thought of Gwen and winced. “Of course not.”
They stood in silence for a moment, then Morgana gently guided him to sit down in his chair. It was only as he flopped into the cushions that he realised he was shaking. Morgana tutted and prodded at his head, only moving away when Arthur growled and weakly slapped at her arm. She sat across from from him, giving him a moment to gather himself.
“So your soulmate has magic.” She said bluntly.
Arthur winced again, though this time the pain wasn’t physical. “Well I certainly don’t.”
Morgana glared, but Arthur thought he was justified in snapping at her. She had just forced his deepest secret from him, and instead of dropping the subject like she should have and leaving him in peace, she was asking him obvious questions.
“Does anyone else know?” She asked.
Arthur shrugged. “My old nursemaid was the one who first realised what was going on, and she told my father. Gaius also knows, somehow, but I’m convinced Gaius knows everything.”
Morgana nodded, then frowned. “How long have you been able to see it?”
Arthur frowned too. “For as long as I can remember. It’s always just been there.”
“Don’t you think that’s weird?”
Arthur blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Well, if you’ve always been able to see your heartstring, that means your soulmate has always had magic. So they’re either twenty years older than you, or…” Morgana hesitated.
Arthur narrowed his eyes at her, not getting it. “Or what?”
Morgana took a deep breath. “Or they’ve always had their magic.”
“You mean, they were born with it? That’s impossible.” Arthur dismissed. “Magic is an evil, corruptible force that people choose to learn. Nothing I’ve ever heard or seen has proven that wrong.”
Morgana looked pointedly to his wrist. “Except your heartstring.”
Arthur shifted, uncomfortable. “That doesn’t prove anything. They’re probably just years older than me, like you said.”
“But what if magic isn’t something you choose?” Morgana pressed. “What if magic chooses you?”
“Morgana!” Arthur yelled. “That’s treason! You can’t talk like that!”
Morgana drew back, glaring at him again now. “Are you serious? Do you honestly still believe magic is evil? That your soulmate is evil?”
Arthur looked away. “Magic has hurt many people Morgana.”
“So have swords, but no one’s banned them!” She hissed. “Arthur, this is your soulmate we’re talking about! They’re literally your perfect partner! You can’t honestly think that they’re evil.”
And maybe, if Arthur was a little less drunk, he would have yelled and thrown Morgana out for that. Because it came dangerously close to his own thoughts, the ones that rose whenever he remembered a bright light sinking into his heart and making him feel safe and warm. He always did his best to shove those thoughts away. Curse Morgana for giving voice to them.
“What has your father told you?” She asked, drawing Arthur from his thoughts.
He glared at her, and once again his mouth moved before he could think. “What do you think Morgana? My soulmate is a sorcerer. And we all know what my father does to them.”
Morgana grasped his hand, almost crushing it her grip was so tight. “What has he told you?”
And Arthur found he couldn’t hold back this secret, not now she knew his first. “He commanded that if ever I should see my soulmate, I am to kill them before we can touch.”
Morgana hissed and jerked away from him like he had burned her, staring at him in horror, and maybe a little bit of pity. “You wouldn’t.”
Arthur huffed. “I must do as my king commands.”
“Arthur that’s your soulmate! Killing them would be like killing yourself! I couldn’t imagine losing Gwen, let alone killing her.”
“Well then.” Arthur snapped, tone growing dangerous. “Aren’t you lucky she isn’t a sorcerer.”
Morgana flinched back again, something raw and vulnerable in her eyes. Her hand curled into a fist, then relaxed, over and over as she seemed to wage an internal battle. Arthur watched, distantly curious, as she seemed to come to a conclusion.
“If she was.” Morgana said lowly. “If she did have magic, I wouldn’t let anyone hurt her. I’d protect her, no matter what.”
Arthur thought he probably shouldn’t be surprised, considering how Morgana had always fought for magic users to be judged fairly for their actions whenever his father caught them, rather than just executed right away for the crime of having magic. Arthur was, however, surprised at the look of fierce determination now on her face, and the words spilling out of her mouth.
“And you Arthur?”
He blinked, finally finding his voice again. “What about me?”
“If Gwen had magic, would you turn her in? Would you kill her?” She asked, gaze piercing.
Arthur barely needed anytime to consider it, the answer already on his tongue. “No.”
Something eased in Morgana then, even as something else tensed further. “And me? What if I had magic? Would you think me evil?”
“Of course not.” He snapped, frustration returning. “Not that it matters! Morgana, why don’t you go back to Gwen and just leave me alone.”
“It does matter.” She whispered.
Arthur paused, trying to figure out what she meant. “How?”
“Because!” She hesitated, looking from his face to her hands in her lap. “Because you aren’t the only one who can see your heartstring.”
Arthur reeled back, and somewhere in the back of his mind a voice was screaming at him to just run away from this whole mess. He didn’t want to hear what else Morgana had to say. Didn’t want to think about what it meant, for him, for her or for his father and his kingdom. But it was cowardly to run away, and Prince Arthur Pendragon was no coward.
“I’ve always been able to see mine too, ever since I can remember. My father told me to never tell anyone as well. That day I met Gwen, when she showed up in my chambers and my heartstring led to her, I-”
“The earthquake.” Arthur breathed, everything suddenly making sense. “That was you.”
Morgana nodded. “Our first touch. It was… intense.”
Arthur sat in silence for a moment, before finally speaking again. “And is she? Or- or you?”
Morgana smiled, tight lipped and if Arthur was being honest with himself, a little terrified. “We’ve both come to the conclusion that it’s not her.”
Arthur gulped. “How can you be sure?”
“For the past month or so I… I’ve been having these… dreams.” Morgana said slowly, something Arthur had never known her to do. “And when I wake up, those dreams happen. Like they weren’t dreams at all but… but visions.”
“You mean you dream of the future?” Arthur asked, and though he’d never admit it, he was impressed by the idea.
Morgana nodded. “We think so.”
Arthur took a deep breath, allowing himself a moment to come to terms with this new information. “Okay. Alright. You have magic.”
“Yes.” Morgana bit her lip. “Do you think I’m evil?”
“No!” Arthur said, leaping from his seat to fall to the floor next to her. “Morgana of course not. I’ve known you for years! You’re not evil. A little rough sometimes, but you’re not evil.”
Morgana laughed shakily. “You should get drunk more often. You actually show more than one emotion.”
Silence, and then.
“I won’t tell a soul, you have my word.”
Morgana sniffled. “Thank you. You have no idea- you don’t know what it’s like. Thinking you were born a monster. Even with Gwen to tell me otherwise, sometimes I can’t help but feel like maybe she’s wrong and it’s just a matter of time until I do something horrible.”
Arthur struggled to think of something, anything to say, and finally blurted out the first thing that popped into his mind. “So you were born with your powers?”
Morgana frowned. “Well I would certainly have never chosen to learn magic in Camelot!”
Arthur nodded. “I don’t believe anyone is born evil Morgana.”
“And if magic does corrupt those that use it? I might not have been born evil, but I could turn it.”
Morgana was pleading with him for an answer. An answer he honestly didn’t have. His whole life he’d been told the horrors of magic, the destruction it could bring. But looking at Morgana, all of that was flipped around. He couldn’t imagine her doing any of the things he’d been told sorcerers did. It felt wrong, just like killing his soulmate felt wrong, no matter who they were.
“If you’re the one that has magic.” Arthur said slowly. “Then I believe it can be used to help. To do good. Because you’re a good person Morgana. And I can’t imagine anything changing that.”
Morgana sniffled again, quickly leaning forward to pull him into a hug. Arthur pat her on the back awkwardly, trying to ignore the tears he could feel dripping onto his shirt. He got the feeling that was exactly what Morgana had needed to hear.
“Thank you Arthur. You’re a good person too.” She laughed wetly. “Especially when you’re drunk.”
“Sod off.” Arthur protested. “I’m not that drunk.”
And as Arthur walked Morgana back to her own chambers, where Gwen was tending to the fire waiting for her, he felt even lighter than he had before. All of his secrets he now shared with Morgana, and would soon be shared with Gwen, he was sure. Even the weight of Morgana’s magic, and how they would keep it hidden, couldn’t weigh him down. His grin felt like it would last forever, if forever could just be this one night.
When Arthur was twenty, his heartstring tightened around his wrist. It startled him so badly he almost threw his goblet across the high table at the feast his father had thrown for one of the new knights. His father had sent him a disapproving frown, and from his other side Morgana glanced at him in concern. Gwen hurried forward to clean up the wine he had accidentally spilled. He muttered a thank you under his breath, glancing down at his heartstring as he did.
The string, which was usually wrapped loosely around his wrist and left to float and dance around the room above his head before disappearing into the distance, was pulled tight. It had barely any room to tangle in the air, and for a moment Arthur wondered at how wrong that was. His heartstring had always flown free through the air. He’d never known it to act like this.
As it tightened further around his wrist, he realised what was happening, and cold fear gripped him.
His soulmate was getting closer to him.
His soulmate was coming.
His heartstring gave another tug.
Arthur felt like he couldn’t breathe.
The rest of the night passed in a blur. He could feel multiple eyes on him. His father glared at him every time he saw him glancing around the room. Morgana wouldn’t stop sending him concerned looks. He could feel Gwen’s eyes burning a worried hole in the back of his head. Even Leon threw him a few glances from his place among the other knights.
He ignored them all, sneaking glances at his steadily tightening heartstring.
When his father called the feast to an end, Arthur was the first to scramble from his seat and all but run out the door, court etiquette be damned. Morgana made to follow him, but he gestured for her to stay. His father’s glare burned a hole next to Gwen’s. He hadn’t cared.
He slammed the door to his chambers shut, breath coming fast as he stared at his wrist. His heartstring tugged, and he followed it to his window. He tossed it open, uncaring about the cold autumn air, and followed where it disappeared into the darkness. It tugged again.
His soulmate was coming to Camelot, and Arthur had never felt the weight of his secrets baring down on him quite this hard.
In which Merlin grows, and learns to live in a world that hates all he is.
When Merlin was three, his mother told him of magic in hushed tones, and how those who used it were hunted and killed, like the rabbits some of the men sometimes brought back for their families. He didn’t really understand, but when his mother told him that other people would be scared, and that he could only use his magic around her, he had agreed. His mother was the smartest person in the world after all, and Merlin didn’t want to scare anyone.
He used his magic at home all the time. His mother always gave him a fond smile whenever she saw his eyes flash gold, even while reminding him to never use it in front of anyone else. Merlin would nod seriously, telling his mother he knew. Then he’d grin and magic the dust into a bird that flew around his head.
After his mother told him everything she knew about magic, she told him everything she knew about soulmates.
Merlin had taken to staring at his wrist after that, laughing and dancing with the golden string. It liked to wrap around him, like it was keeping him safe in a big hug, the way his mother did on cold nights or when he got scared. Both of them made him feel safe.
His mother told him he couldn’t tell other people that he could see the string, because it would scare them like his magic did. Merlin didn’t really get why, because the golden string was beautiful! Everyone should get to see it. But he did as his mother said, because she was his mother, and she was the smartest person in the whole world.
On Merlin’s sixth birthday, he decided he would follow his heartstring until he found his soulmate. He was a big boy now, his mother had told him, and finding the one on the other end of his heartstring seemed much more fun than helping his mother and the other villagers in the fields. The other villagers didn’t like him anyway. They called him names, like “bastard” and “freak”. Old Man Simmons had even called him a monster once, because he had accidentally set fire to his fence. Merlin hadn’t meant to, but his magic often did things he didn’t want it to. His mother had apologised fiercely, and then scolded Merlin for playing with torches loudly in front of everyone.
Anyway, the village didn’t like him, and his mother was better off without him if the women he had overheard were to be believed, so Merlin figured now he was a big boy he could leave to find someone that did want him. Besides, finding his soulmate was something he’d wanted to do for years, ever since he was old enough to fully understand what it meant.
Merlin stuffed the little bag his mother kept next to her bed with his spare shirt and all the food he could find. He didn’t know how far away his soulmate was, but his mother had taken him out into the forest before and taught him the basics of plants, and Merlin knew which ones he could eat. He was confident he could do this. After all, he had his magic, and his soulmate couldn’t be that far.
He left his mother a note, because he knew she’d probably worry, even if he didn’t think she should. Merlin knew what he was doing. His handwriting was still a little messy, but his mother had taught him well, and he was a quick learner. He left his note on the bed, where his mother was sure to find it. Then he walked out the door and out of the village.
He hadn’t gotten very far into the forest when he started to doubt his plan a little. He had never been this far away from the village before, especially not without his mother there next to him. Still, he had thought, he was a big boy now. This is what big boys did. They went into the forest and gathered herbs and fish, and even hunted rabbits sometimes. Merlin didn’t know how to do those things, but that was okay. He had something none of the other big boys did. He had his magic.
The sun was starting to set when Merlin realised he didn’t recognise where he was anymore. Worry started building in his chest the longer he walked, following his heartstring through the woods. He hadn’t expected his soulmate to be so far away. Worry steadily gave way to fear. It was dark now. Merlin didn’t normally mind the dark, but right now he hated it.
Something screeched above him, and Merlin screamed, tears already falling as he dashed through the forest. He just wanted to go home! This was a bad idea, and he should never have left, and he wasn’t a big boy, he was small and afraid, and he just wanted his mother!
His magic had rippled in the air around him, and suddenly he heard someone calling his name. He sobbed, vision blurry from tears, and ran into his mother’s open arms. She yelled at him, telling him that he had scared her and that he was never to run off again. Merlin promised her he’d never leave the house, not so long as he lived. The forest was terrifying.
His mother carried him home. It felt like no time at all before he was tucked into bed, pulled tight against his mother as if she were afraid he’d disappear again. Merlin had told her not to worry. He wasn’t going anywhere. Not ever.
Of course, childish promises like that were always going to be impossible to keep.
When Merlin was nine, his soulmate started to die. He had never quite been able to describe how he knew. It was like a tightening in his chest, a strain on his heartstring and a distressed buzzing of his magic all at once. It had irritated him at first, and had only grown worse as the days dragged on. He complained to his mother, but she had no idea how to help him. She gave him special tea every night, to ease his chest. Merlin didn’t tell her that it never helped.
By the second week, Merlin had had enough.
He had been tossing and turning all night, the dust from the floor kicking up every time he moved. He glared at the ceiling. His chest hurt, and his head was pounding, worse than he’d ever felt before. And his back was itchy. That was new. He grumbled and turned on his stomach, only to immediately roll back over.
He had sat up suddenly, fed up and tired and hurting. He quietly grabbed his coat and eased their door open, his magic smothering the noises it would normally make so his mother wouldn’t wake. He slipped out the door, breathing in the cold air.
Merlin wandered for a little, weaving between houses until he came to the edge of the village. He glanced at the woods, weary, and made for the fields. The wheat was growing tall, almost above his head, so Merlin knew no one would be able to see him. He got as far away from any houses as he could, then sat down, immediately being engulfed by the crops growing around him.
His magic buzzed under his skin. It reacted to his irritation, and underneath that, his worry. His soulmate was dying, and Merlin hadn’t even met them yet! Of course he was worried. He stared up at the stars, wondering if his soulmate was looking at them too. They should be. They were beautiful tonight.
His heartstring pulled at his arm. He watched it tighten around his wrist, then relax. Like it was asking him to do something.
His magic buzzed in time with each tug, and Merlin suddenly understood what his heartstring wanted. What his soulmate needed.
He sat up quickly. For a few seconds he was at a loss on how exactly he was supposed to do what was needed. He closed his eyes, trying to think of all the things his mother had told him about magic and soulmates over the years. Trying to find something that would help him. Nothing he recalled would help him here however, and he quickly drew frustrated. He knew what to do, he just didn’t know how!
On instinct he cupped his hands together. His magic sang as it rushed down his arms and into his fingertips. Merlin felt something gather, trapped between his fingers. He screwed his eyes shut as tight as he could, feeling the ache in his chest, and suddenly all he could think was go away, go away, go away!
The air around him shifted, and all the breath seemed to drain from his lungs. Wind was stirring his hair, and Merlin was almost afraid to open his eyes and see what he had done.
When he finally worked up the courage, he gasped. He could feel the magic thrumming through him, still gathering in his fingers. It left his eyes glowing gold, he knew, as gold as his heartstring was, and probably glowing just as bright. For a moment, Merlin was amazed that no one else could see it, for his heartstring was glowing brighter than he had ever seen it before. It shone gold like the sun, making him question if it was still nighttime at all.
Then he looked down to his cupped hands, and his world was filled with green. It was the green of the earth, the green of his mother’s special tea, and the green of life. Merlin knew it, sure as he knew his own name. The source of that green was a little light, growing steadily between his hands as more and more of Merlin’s magic flowed into it. He stared at it for a long time, watching it as it grew and grew.
When it was as big as his fist, Merlin opened his hands.
It floated up, hovering just above his head. His heartstring danced around it, seemingly overjoyed at what Merlin had managed to create. Merlin was happy too. With this, he knew, his soulmate would be just fine.
“Go.” He whispered.
Instantly the green ball zoomed away, following his heartstring into the distance. Merlin bolted upright, chasing after it until it was only a small speck next to the faint gold of his heartstring. He watched for a while, wondering when it would reach his soulmate. Hopefully soon. He didn’t want his efforts to be in vain, for his soulmate to die before his magic got there to heal him. He sent a quick prayer to the gods, the way he had seen his mother do sometimes, and rushed home.
The next morning, when he woke, Merlin realized he didn’t hurt anymore. His magic was calm, flowing happily through him like it had for all his life. His chest no longer ached, and the weird itch in his back was gone as suddenly as it had appeared. He told his mother what had happened, and though she bit her lip in worry, she praised him for using his magic to help. Merlin had spent the day buzzing with pride, helping his mother with the chores with a kind of enthusiasm he had never had before.
For a long time, that night had been the proudest he had ever been of himself and his magic.
The first time Merlin punched someone else, he was twelve. Two older boys had cornered him while he was on his way back from collecting water for his mother. He was trapped between Old Man Simmons’ barn and the back of an old house that had been empty for as long as he could remember. It was away from the main part of town, and that had probably been Merlin’s downfall.
At first he didn’t think anything of it. The boys of the village liked to tease him, or yell at him, or even throw rocks at him sometimes. Merlin had learned to ignore the calls of “bastard” and “freak” a long time ago, and he’d become quite the expert dodger, if he did say so himself. He hardly even noticed when they started following him.
It was impossible to ignore when someone pushed him hard from behind, making him drop the bucket and fall to the ground. Merlin scrambled, twisting on the wet earth to face his attackers. He recognized his usual bullies and glared from his spot on the ground. Both boys were smirking at him, their hands pulled into fists.
“What are you doing here, bastard?” Thomas, the baker’s son, sneered.
Alister, one of Crazy Tully’s sons, laughed. “Making trouble, as usual.”
Merlin felt his magic rear up in response to his anger, but quickly forced it down. He took deep, calming breaths, like his mother had taught him, and pushed himself to his feet. His jacket was completely soaked, and he’d have to go refill the bucket, but that was okay. He would take the long route home this time, along the main road where no one could sneak up on him.
He bent down to grab the bucket and was promptly pushed over again.
Thomas erupted in laughter, especially when Merlin glared up at him with dirt covering half his face. “What are you gunna do, bastard? Gunna stand up and fight, or fall over in the mud some more?”
Alister snorted, an ugly sound, and goaded him on. “Yeah, what ya gunna do, freak?”
Merlin’s magic boiled. He barely held it back, knew that the instant his eyes started glowing his secret would be out to the whole village. And that would lead to him either being captured and sold to Cenred’s army or dragged off to Uther to be burnt on the pyre. Neither sounded very appealing.
So, Merlin breathed deep again. Once he had his magic under some semblance of control he hauled himself once again to his feet. He glared at his attackers, and without saying a word or reaching for the bucket again, turned for home.
Only to immediately be stopped by Thomas’s sneer.
“Oh, he’s just gunna run away! Like father like son, right Alister? Just a pair of good for nothings that run away when times get tough.”
Merlin saw red. He wasn’t even sure how he did it, but one moment he was a good ten paces away from the laughing bullies, and the next his fist was making contact with Thomas’s nose.
There was blood everywhere. Merlin was slightly alarmed at how much blood there was, and how Thomas’s nose was bent at an angle that was not at all natural. It made Merlin feel slightly sick, if he were being honest, but it also made satisfaction coil tight in his belly.
Then Thomas had started screaming, and something hard and heavy slammed into the side of Merlin’s head. He fell to the ground again, landing roughly on his back. He groaned and reached up to cradle his face. He held still for all of three seconds before something heavy was on his chest, and then his vision cleared enough to see Alister sitting on him, Merlin’s bucket raised above his head, blood already decorating the bottom of it. Dizzily Merlin realized it was his blood, from his head.
Then he realized what was going to happen next, and started struggling as best he was able. His magic was almost a tangible thing in the air now, growing the more his panic grew, and Merlin knew if Alister brought the bucket down it would react even if he desperately didn’t want it to.
Then someone had hauled Alister off him, mere moments before the other boy would have slammed the bucket down onto Merlin’s face.
Merlin immediately scrambled backwards as his savior got on top of Alister, mirroring the way Alister had been on Merlin’s chest seconds earlier, and started punching him in the face. Merlin watched, entranced, as the new boy brought his fists down again and again, until Alister was bleeding from his nose just like Thomas was, except he was also bleeding from his lip and his eye was already turning black.
Merlin crawled forward when he saw that, careful of the still spinning world, and grabbed his savior by the arm before he could punch Alister again. The boy turned around, eyes wide and wild, and finally Merlin saw who it was that had saved him.
“William.” He whispered, not sure he could talk any louder. “It’s ok. That’s enough. You’ll kill him.”
William growled. “He tried to kill you!”
“Please.” Merlin pleaded, tugging on his arm.
He had been reluctant, Merlin had seen that, but eventually he had let his fists drop. He got up from Alister slowly, glaring at him the whole time. Thomas scurried over, crying and with blood all over his face, and stared at them the whole time he dragged his friend away and towards the center of town. Probably to tell them all that Merlin had attacked them, that he was the monster.
Something in Merlin’s chest went cold.
And then promptly warmed again when a hand fell on his shoulder. “We sure showed them, didn’t we?”
Merlin startled and flinched back from William’s triumphant grin. “Why did you help me?”
William blinked, like he hadn’t though Merlin would be that blunt. “They were going to kill you. I couldn’t just stand back and watch.”
“Most everyone else would have.” Merlin said, and hated how much it hurt that it was true.
William drew himself up. “Well I’m not everyone else! I wouldn’t let an innocent die when I could do something about it. That’s stupid, and cowardly.”
Merlin nodded slowly, and because he had never really talked to anyone besides him mum, blurted out. “Your father died in the war.”
William’s face went cold, and Merlin thought he was about to be the one held down and punched. “He did. You dad left before you were born.”
Merlin nodded again. “He did.”
William looked him up and down. “You’re kind of a weakling, huh?”
“Hey!” Merlin yelled, offended, because while he might not be physically strong, he was certainly strong in other ways. “Did you save my life just to be an ass?”
William gasped. “No! I saved your life ‘cause I thought it was cool the way you punched Thomas. He’s the ass, and he definitely deserved it.”
Merlin snorted and crossed his arms, head throbbing. “Yeah he did. I thought it was cool the way you punched Alister. He deserved it too.”
“Yeah, most definitely.” William nodded, then grinned. “We make a pretty good team, don’t you think.”
Merlin startled for a moment, before grinning. “Yeah. The best team.”
William held out his hand. “I’m Will, and I think we should keep being a team. What about you?”
Merlin grasped Will’s hand in his own, laughing. “I’m Merlin. And I’d love to be a team.”
So, Merlin first punched someone when he was twelve summers old. His mother scolded him for a long time after, even while she fixed his head up and held him close when he told her about Alister trying to kill him. Merlin didn’t really mind. He thought that after everything, that day had been one of the best ever.
Because after that day, Merlin had a best friend named Will, and they were going to take on the world together.
When Merlin was sixteen his best and only friend found out about his magic. It was an accident on a day that started out as any other. Merlin had been working in the fields when Will found him, skipping out on his own chores as usual. And, as usual, he managed to entice Merlin away from his chores to go cause mischief.
The mischief of the day turned out to be letting all of Crazy Tully’s chickens out of their yard an hour before they were going to be killed for dinner.
The plan was simple. Will would keep a look out and distract anyone coming their way while Merlin snuck around the back of the house and let the chickens loose. Will got into position, leaning against the side of the house, looking for all the world like he was meant to be there. Merlin waited in the shadows for a moment, watching a few people walk past the house, then slipped around to the chickens.
It took him a moment to open the latch. When he managed to wrestle it open, he was greeted with four curious chickens. Merlin grinned and opened the gate a little wider.
“You’re free.” He whispered.
The chickens launched towards him. Merlin scrambled back, laughing as each chicken seemed to dip its head to him before running off into the village proper, clicking wildly as they went. Someone screamed from inside Crazy Tully’s house, and instantly Will was at his side, and together they were off, running as far away from the chaos as possible. They only stopped when they reached the very edge of the forest, and from there they chose a tree and climbed, higher and higher until they could see the rest of the village.
Will settled on the branch just above Merlin, laughing as he watched Alister run in circles after a chicken. “This was a brilliant idea. I’m brilliant.”
Merlin laughed, kicking his feet in delight as Old Man Simmons was almost knocked over by Alister. “One of your best Will.”
Will nudged him on the shoulder with his foot. “Don’t sell yourself short Merlin. You were a vital part of this plan.”
Merlin laughed again, hitting Will’s foot away. “Yes, because you couldn’t have opened a latch on your own. You just wanted me to get in trouble with you, you ass.”
“Oi!” Will said, kicking out with his foot again. “No one’s getting in trouble, thank you very much, because no one saw it was us.”
Merlin snorted. “You hope.”
“We hope Merlin. You’ll be in trouble too, remember?”
Merlin looked up, a scalding comeback already on his tongue, when an ominous crack filled the air. Both boys had a moment to look in horror at Will’s branch before it gave way under his weight. Merlin felt a scream get stuck in his throat as time slowed, and he watched with his heart pounding in his ears as Will desperately lunged for the trunk of the tree, only to miss it and hit Merlin’s branch instead. That too let out a loud crack, and this time Merlin screamed aloud as he began to fall with Will.
Will twisted in midair, grabbing him and pulling him so Merlin was above Will. He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that Will was trying to save him, to cushion his fall, but he was too busy panicking to fully understand, because they were falling and from this height they would be seriously hurt, they might even die, and Merlin could not lose Will, he just couldn’t.
He did it without even thinking. He grabbed Will’s shoulders and wished with all his might to stop.
Merlin opened his eyes a second later, after closing them against the wind as they plummeted. That wind was gone now. He blinked, looking around. They seemed to be floating just above the ground, and Merlin could see where the branches they had been sitting on had crashed and broken on the ground next to them. He gulped, trying hard to keep from imagining it as his spine, or Will’s.
It was Will’s chocked gasp that seemed to wake Merlin from his thoughts. He jerked, startled, and the spell ended. Merlin landed on Will with a small “oof”, and then quickly scrambled up and back a few steps. Will lay still for a moment, then forced his arms underneath himself. His eyes met Merlin’s and they both froze.
They stayed like that for a few seconds, Will on his back on the floor and Merlin standing, hovering a few steps away, waiting for Will to scream and run away in fear.
Instead, Will laughed, causing Merlin to jump. “You have magic.”
Merlin bit his lip, and hesitantly nodded. “Yeah.”
His voice was weak, even to his own ears, but Will simply laughed some more and flopped back down on the grass. “Bloody hell.”
Merlin gulped again, carefully sitting down near Will’s feet. “Are… are you alright?”
“Thanks to you!” Will sat up, grinning at Merlin, and something in his chest loosened. “When in the bloody hell did you learn to do that?”
Merlin had looked to the floor and shrugged, still waiting for Will to run screaming. “I didn’t. I’ve just always been able to do things.”
Will was quiet for a few minutes, staring at him, before he got that mischievous glint in his eye. “Can you do other things with it?”
Merlin nodded slowly, carefully. “Yes.”
Will grinned. “So you could steal some of Merek’s pies without him ever noticing? Cause he’s caught me the last three times I’ve tried, and I was running out of ways to try and grab one.”
Merlin had barked out a laugh, staring at Will as he processed that he had not just been utterly rejected by the only friend he’d ever had. Another laugh fell from his lips, and then Will had frowned slightly, and Merlin had realized he was crying. Then there were arms around him, and he hugged Will back tightly, letting himself fall apart slightly.
It took a lifetime before Merlin drew back, checks still wet from his tears. Will kept an arm around him, patiently waiting for Merlin to calm down. Merlin shot him a watery smile.
“I was afraid you’d hate me.” He’d whispered.
Will had grinned, the way he did when Merlin did something particularly stupid. “Come on Merlin. I could never hate you. We’re a team, remember?”
“Yeah.” Merlin sniffed.
Merlin grinned, and Will slowly helped him to stand. They helped each other back into town, heading for Merlin’s house. Soon enough they were shoving each other, laughing and running through their village. Merlin felt like he was flying. Will had accepted his magic. More than that, Will liked his magic, and wanted to see more of it. Merlin let out a whoop and jumped up, causing Will to laugh and yell along side him.
Just as they reached Merlin’s house, out of breath and panting, Merlin turned to Will. He stopped his friend from going inside, and quickly glanced around to make sure they were alone. Then he leaned close to whisper in Will’s ear.
“You can’t tell anyone about my magic.” He whispered seriously. “Don’t even tell my mum you know. She’d freak out.”
Will nodded. “Alright.”
Merlin grinned and opened the door to his house, yelling for his mother as he did so.
Three weeks after Will found out about his magic, he and Merlin were huddled together in Will’s house, whispering and laughing under a worn blanket. Will’s mother was outside, tending to their one old chicken that had stopped giving eggs a while ago. She had sighed and loudly decided that they would probably be having chicken this coming winter.
Will elbowed him, saying in a voice that could barely be counted as a whisper. “Do some magic!”
Merlin’s insides had done a little flip, as they always did whenever Will asked him to do magic. “Like what?”
Will shoved the blanket off his head, glancing around his house, before pointing to the cold fireplace. “Light it.”
Merlin poked his head out too, and narrowed his eyes, considering. “I can try.”
He had glared at the fireplace, imagining warm flames and thinking fire fire fire, and then flames burst to life. Will laughed and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. His eyes never left the fire, and he looked so awestruck Merlin felt both proud and embarrassed.
“That’s amazing.” Will said.
Merlin mumbled under his breath, bumping his shoulder and sending him an embarrassed smile. They sat in silence, letting the warmth of the fire seep into their bones. The house around them was dark and cold in comparison, the night sky outside covered by clouds. It was like they were the only people in the world, and the thought made Merlin move closer to the fire.
“Merlin?” Will spoke hesitantly, and only continued when Merlin hummed. “Since you have magic, that means you can see your heartstring, right?”
Merlin glanced to the golden string wrapped around his right wrist. “Yeah.”
“What’s it look like?” He asked. “I’ve always wondered.”
Merlin watched his heartstring dance around the flames of his fire in all its golden glory. He raised a hand to touch it, shivering as the almost unreal softness of it slid along his fingers. He smiled, relaxing as his heartstring began to curl around his arm in response to his touch.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” He had said honestly. “Mine is golden, but mum says everyone’s is different. Even soulmates don’t have the same color heartstring. It dances in the air, but I think that’s cause I’m so far away from my soulmate. Mum says it pulls taunt like a bowstring the closer you get to each other. And it’s the softest thing I’ve ever felt. Nothing else has ever come close to how soft it is.”
Will stared, mouth hanging open slightly, staring at his own wrists. “I wish I could see it.”
Merlin startled at the barely-there whisper. “Really?”
Will nodded. “It sounds…”
Merlin chuckled as Will gestured with his hands, unable to find the right word. “Yeah.”
They were silent for a while, then Will whispered, even quieter than before. “I could learn magic and see it.”
Merlin tensed, staring at his friend. “Would you really do that?”
“Yeah.” Will turned to the fire. “One day you could teach me, and then we could travel the world to find our soulmates.”
“While doing magic that’s either illegal or hunted to be used in an army.”
Will had just laughed him off. “We’d fight them all off! You and me Merlin, we’re the best team. No one would be able to beat us.”
Merlin grinned, imagining Will’s perfect future. “It sounds amazing.”
“Yeah.” Will sighed.
They spent that night whispering to each other, imagining all the things they would do in the future.
When Merlin was eighteen his mother found out Will knew about his magic. She yelled at him for almost an hour that evening, telling him how he had to keep it a secret or he’d be killed or worse. Merlin had yelled back at that, because Will was his best friend and he trusted him to never, ever tell anyone about him. His mother had retreated to the kitchen afterwards, and it had only taken Merlin five minutes to go to her and apologize.
His mother had held him for a long time, and they’d both whispered apologies for all that had been said.
Three days later his magic started acting out in a way it hadn’t since he was a baby. It started with just little things. Whenever he needed something it would fly into his hands, and it took him a week to admit it to his mother. She was worried, he knew, but there wasn’t really anything they could do. His mother knew the bare minimum of magic, and Merlin had always just tried his best to keep it under control.
Things came to a head when Merlin was goofing off with Will. They’d been messing around in the woods, laughing and shoving each other as they looked for fish for their mothers. They both knew how to fish, of course, but Merlin’s magic kept reaching into the water every time they spotted one, dragging it out and into Will’s waiting hands. They had both startled the first time, but now they were using it to their advantage to complete their chores and goof off.
They were on their way back to Will’s house when they spotted Old Man Simmons grumbling to himself under a tree. Merlin stopped, debating walking around him to avoid any trouble, but then realised that would add another ten minutes to their journey. Will had realised the same thing, for he had squared his shoulders and sent Merlin a look. He nodded back, and together they moved to walk past the old man.
Immediately Simmons had sneered at them, his half blind eyes squinting in suspicion. “Well well well, what are you brats doing out in the woods?”
Will glared. “None of your business old man.”
Simmons glared at them. “It is my business if you’re causing trouble. And you two are always causing trouble.”
Merlin grabbed Will’s arm and tried to pull him away. “Listen, we just want to get home. We weren’t causing any trouble.”
“I don’t believe that for an instant.” Simmons sneered. “Now why don’t you two tell me the truth, before I go and tell everyone else that you were poaching off in the woods?”
“We weren’t poaching!” Will yelled. “We caught fish!”
“Prove it!” Simmons growled.
Merlin clutched his bag closer, feeling the weight of their catch. “No way! We’re not letting you get your grubby hands on our fish! You’d probably steal them.”
Simmons gasped, a ragged sound ripped from old lungs. “How dare you! I’m no thief. You two, however, are obviously more trouble than you’re worth. I’ll tell all of Ealdor about this! They’ll kick you out, like they should have a long time ago!”
Merlin had felt his anger rise up, crawling and itching under his skin, and before he knew it his magic was rearing up too. There was an awful crack that echoed through the forest, and then Will was yelling and dragging both Merlin and Simmons back. Merlin barely had time to recognise the tree beginning to fall on them before it had crashed to the ground at his feet.
Simmons started screaming, something about unnatural happenings and freaks, and Merlin forgot how to breathe. Old Man Simmons couldn’t know about his magic, he just couldn’t, because he would tell everyone, and then Merlin would be dragged off to be tortured and used as a weapon, or dragged of and murdered by a mad king, his mother and Will with him.
A hand slammed down on his shoulder, and it took him a moment to realise it was Will. His friend pulled him along, leaving a still screaming Simmons behind. He didn’t stop pulling until they were safely back in Merlin’s house.
“What happened?” His mother had asked, rushing out of the kitchen and towards them.
Merlin still couldn’t breath, so Will had to explain in rushed sentences and short words what had happened. His mother gasped when Will told her about the tree falling, and that was when Merlin finally seemed to get his voice back.
“I didn’t mean to Mum, I swear.” He whispered, shivering. “He was just being such an ass, and I was so mad, and then my magic was reacting before I could even think!”
He clung to his mother as she pulled him into her arms, and Will kept one hand on his shoulder. Merlin had slowly calmed down, and that night Will had spent the night curled up on the floor with him, talking about their perfect future again. Merlin wasn’t quite so enthusiastic this time, but he still listened as Will prattled on about finding their soulmates and learning magic and fighting all the wrongs in the world.
A month later, right after Merlin had turned nineteen, his mother sat him down and told him he would be going to Camelot.
Well, all right, she hadn’t told him right away he was going to Camelot. She said that when his magic had stared acting out she had written a letter for a good friend of hers. Apparently she used to know a man that had practiced magic, and she thought he would be able to help Merlin learn control. His name was Gaius, his mother had told him, and she had just gotten a letter back from him saying he’d be willing to look after Merlin.
“I didn’t tell him about your magic.” She warned. “I didn’t want to scare him. But I’ll give you another letter, explaining everything, that you can give to him when you arrive.”
Merlin had agreed, and it was only then that she had told him Gaius lived in Camelot. Not only that, but he was the Court Physician and lived in the castle! Merlin wanted to refuse to go, because surely Camelot of all places would be the worst place for him to go, but his mother insisted that he needed to learn control. Looking back on what had happened with Old Man Simmons, Merlin had to agree. His magic was getting out of hand, and sooner or later someone else was going to notice.
And so, a week later, Merlin was saying goodbye to his mother, Will, and the only place he had ever called home. Will had wanted him to stay, and then had wanted to come with him, but they both knew he wasn’t going to leave his mother, and so he had been sulking until Merlin was hefting his pack and staring down the road leading to Camelot.
His mother hugged him tightly, made sure he had everything for the hundredth time, and then stepped back. Will hugged him too, tight enough to break Merlin’s ribs if he wasn’t careful. Merlin didn’t mind. He hugged back just as hard. When they separated Will messed up his hair, laughing like they didn’t both have tears in their eyes.
Merlin turned to wave at them both one last time before he focused on the path in front of him.
Despite the sadness he felt, despite the way he wanted to just turn around and damn this whole idea to hell, and despite the underlying fear that was always there, Merlin knew he couldn’t turn back now. His heartstring wound around him and down the path he was walking, ensuring that even if he lost the path, he wouldn’t lose his way.
Merlin felt his heartstring tighten minutely with every step he took.
His soulmate was in Camelot, he just knew it, and he was going to find them.
No, there was no going back now.
Camelot was huge. In the time it took Merlin to reach the castle courtyard he had seen more people in one place than there were people in his village. People everywhere were shouting, trying to entice passers by into buying their wares. Merlin stopped to look at almost all of them, just for a second. People bustled around him, not caring for the open-mouthed stranger in their midst as they went about their busy lives.
All the while Merlin found himself drawn through the crowd, from one market stall to another, steadily making his way closer and closer to the castle looming above him. He followed a crowd into a large courtyard, still gaping up at the castle.
The crowd shifted, and Merlin wrenched his attention from the castle to the people around him. A man was stumbling along between two guards. Merlin frowned as he was led up onto a small stage and shoved down onto his knees.
Only then did Merlin look up and see King Uther Pendragon.
He couldn’t help but gasp. This was the man that he had be taught to fear since he understood what fear was. There was a hysterical laugh bubbling up in his chest that only got worse as he listened to Uther talk about the horrors of magic. Before he really knew what was happening the man was forced to his knees. He flinched as the axe swung down.
He heard a woman wail, and moved back with the rest of the crowd as she pointed one gnarled finger at the king. She hurled threats at the king and his son and disappeared in a whirlwind. Merlin felt like he couldn’t breathe.
It took him a few minutes after the crowd had dispersed to move. He deliberately stared straight ahead, not even risking a glance at his heartstring, even as it tugged at his arm like crazy. He spotted a guard standing in a doorway and quickly hurried over.
“Hi.” He said awkwardly, earning an unimpressed stare. Merlin shrugged it off with a grin. “Would you be able to point me in the direction of the court physician’s chambers?”
The guard grunted and pointed over his shoulder. Merlin smiled and thanked him, looking down to fix the straps of his bag. As he did so his eyes caught sight of his heartstring. The gold was pulled taut with no room to dance the way it had all his life. It tugged on his arm, trying to pull him in the opposite direction, towards an arch on the other side of the courtyard.
He turned back to the guard. “What’s over there?”
The guard looked where he was pointing and shrugged. “Just the knights trading ground. Past that there’s a path that leads back around to the markets, but most people just use the main gate for that.”
“Right.” Merlin mumbled, squinting at the stone wall his heartstring disappeared around. “Thanks.”
He took a single step towards the training field, then shook his head slightly. He spun on his heel, marching inside the castle and up a flight of stairs. The tugging on his wrist grew more insistent as Merlin walked away from where his soulmate was. He pushed forward, feeling like he was wading through a river as his feet dragged behind him.
Finally, after an eternity, Merlin reached the top of the tower he had found himself in.
The wooden door was slightly ajar, and it fell inward when Merlin knocked. He stepped forward into the room curiously, only to immediately screw up his nose as the scent of herbs assured him. He peered around the room, moving forward slowly, and examining everything as he went.
Shuffling drew his attention slightly upwards, and he watched as an elderly man made his was carefully down a set of stairs. Merlin thought the whole staircase looked ready to fall apart. He shifted on his feet awkwardly and plastered on one of his largest smiles. Then he pointedly cleared his throat.
The man jumped and stumbled, his foot missing the last step. Merlin panicked, and in an instant time around him seemed to slow. He stared at the man, willed his foot to move backwards slightly and find purchase on the step again, and time sped back up around him. Gaius cursed as he rightened himself and stepped down onto stable ground.
He squinted at his foot for a moment, then squinted at Merlin. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“Oh! Um.” Merlin put his grin back into place. “I’m Merlin.”
Gaius seemed to consider this, then his eyes widened. “Hunith’s son? But you’re not meant to be here until Wednesday!”
“It is Wednesday.”
“Ah.” Gaius looked down at the book in his hand and shook his head. “Well, come in then!”
He led Merlin deeper into the room. Merlin stared at the herbs and plants decorating almost every surface. He had no idea what most of them were for, and looking at them he couldn’t even begin to guess. Gaius slammed the book he was holding on a nearby table, the only clear surface in the room, and Merlin jumped at the noise.
“Now then.” Gaius said. “I believe Hunith gave you something for me?”
“Yes.” Merlin said, and scrambled with the pack on his back. “Yes! I have this-” He wrestled with his bag, shoved his canteen out of the way and tugged out a folded piece of paper. He held it out to Gaius. “For you.”
Gaius took it with a raised eyebrow, then frowned. “I can’t read it; I haven’t got my glasses.”
“Oh.” Merlin blinked, then gasped as his heartstring gave a particularly brutal tug towards the door.
Gaius was talking, leading him up some stairs and to a back room that Merlin hadn’t noticed before. He stumbled along behind him, concentrating on not falling flat on his face. He was concentrating so hard it took him a moment to understand what Gaius was saying.
“This is my room?”
Gaius raised his eyebrow again. “Indeed.”
Merlin grinned, hardly daring to believe it. His own room! It even had a bed. He shrugged his pack off and quickly explored his room. A small window high in the wall caught his eye, and he carefully manoeuvred a small table underneath so he could see out of it. He pushed the glass open and stared.
Camelot was spread out before him in all its glory. Merlin grinned, drinking it in. His eyes flickered to his wrist subconsciously. He blinked, sure he was seeing things.
His heartstring wasn’t leading out the window like he had expected. It wasn’t disappearing into the city of Camelot below. No, his heartstring wrapped around him, leading back through his door and out to Gaius’s chambers. Not only that, but Merlin was sure now he wasn’t seeing things.
Where his heartstring had always been a pure, bright gold, there were now bits of red creeping up the sting towards his wrist.
His heartstring pulled, and Merlin followed it like a puppet, helpless to resist. Somewhere in the back of his mind, as he passed tables full of herbs and books, he realised he was alone in the room. Gaius must have left while Merlin was admiring his new home. It was probably for the best. Merlin didn’t think he’d be able to explain what was happening if he was asked.
He stopped before the door. The string around his wrist was a streaked pattern of red and gold, the two colours blending together seamlessly. Perfectly. Merlin had never seen anything as beautiful. He swallowed hard and stared at the handle. Slowly, he reached his hand up to open the door.
Really, Arthur should have known better than to assume today would be a normal day.
To be fair, it had started out normally. Morris had woken him up far too early, wrestled him into some clothes and served a breakfast Arthur loved but never had any hope of finishing. Then he had grabbed his sword and rushed out for training. His knights had arrived as he did, some of them already practicing moves Arthur had shown them at yesterday’s session.
It was an hour later, just as he was about to dismiss the knights for the day, that his heartstring yanked his arm so hard he almost lost his balance. As it was, he simply stumbled, grunting as he forced himself to stand still. His heartstring tugged again, but Arthur was prepared this time. He barely flinched at the sensation running up his arm.
“Sire? Are you alright?”
Arthur turned to Leon, a false smile on his face. “Of course Sir Leon.”
With that Arthur turned on his heels and all but ran from the training grounds. A squire was sharpening a sword in the armoury, so Arthur had him strip him of his armour as fast as he could. From there Arthur made his way to the council chambers, resolutely staring ahead and not at the string tugging on his wrist. It was harder than Arthur was used to.
His father greeted him as he entered, and the councilmen bowed as he sat. The meeting was boring as always, and while Arthur could normally pay attention to what was said, today he found his mind wondering. His heartstring was constantly demanding his attention, pulling on his wrist so hard it was difficult just to stay in his chair.
Arthur knew what it meant. How could he not? He’d spent hours learning everything he could about soulmates as a child, and he knew the tugging he was feeling could only mean one thing. His soulmate was in Camelot, and they were close. So close it was driving him mad, and was probably driving his soulmate mad as well.
When his father called an end to the meeting Arthur almost shoved everyone out of the way in his desperation to get out. He pretended not to see his father’s frown, pretended he wasn’t suspiciously glancing at his wrist every second, pretended he wasn’t willing to do whatever it took to find the person attached to his heartstring.
Arthur’s feet carried him through the castle. He had no idea where he was going, and if he was honest with himself, the thought didn’t worry him in the slightest. All he knew was that he was heading towards his soulmate, and he was going to find them no matter what.
It was only when he found himself standing in front of the door to Gaius’s chambers that he returned to his senses. Arthur had never felt so tense. His heartstring was squeezing so tight he feared for his hand, and his heart was beating so fast he thought it might fly out of his chest. His heartstring was a beautiful mix of gold and red, the most perfect thing Arthur had ever seen, and he had never felt so right.
He felt it when his soulmate got closer. Felt them make their way towards him, felt them stop just short of the door. So, of course, he felt it when his soulmate reached for the handle, knew they were going to open the door and reveal themself.
“By law I should have you arrested and report you to the king.”
Arthur hadn’t meant to say it, not really, and he definitely didn’t mean it. This was his soulmate damnit, and despite all his father had instilled in him as he grew up, he knew that the person in the other side of this door wasn’t evil. They couldn’t be. But, well. A lifetime of warnings and commands to kill his soulmate on sight left Arthur a little weary.
And, if he were being honest with himself, maybe he was just a little bit terrified.
Arthur grew increasingly tense in the silence that followed, and just as he was about to break, his soulmate spoke.
Arthur breathed out a sigh. “If I don’t know who you are then I can’t arrest you, now can I?”
He shifted to lean slightly against the door, felt his soulmate do the same. “That’s true.” Another silence, then. “I guess that means you don’t want to know my name then.”
“No.” Arthur said, a little sharper than he intended. “If I knew your name, I’d know who to tell the guards to arrest.”
Something thumped on the other side of the door, then a suspiciously shaky voice said. “Makes sense.” A pause, shorter than before, then. “So what now?”
“Now?” Arthur shrugged. “Now I suggest you leave Camelot and never return.” His throat closed up at the thought, but he pushed past it. “It’s dangerous for you here. You know what will happen if you’re ever found out.”
“I know.” Was the quiet reply, and then louder. “But I can’t. You really think I’d be here without a reason?”
Arthur’s heartbeat quickened. There was only one reason sorcerers came to Camelot. “And what reason is that?”
“I came here to learn.” Each word is hesitant, his soulmate careful with what is being said. “I was born with my magic, and lately it’s been getting out of my control. My mother knew someone here, someone that could help me learn control, and so here I am.”
Arthur nodded to himself, filing away the knowledge for later. He had always suspected his soulmate had been born with magic, ever since Morgana had found him out all those years ago. It had made a lot more sense than his soulmate being years his senior.
“We will need to be careful.” Arthur said, forcing himself back to the task at hand. “I can’t know who you are. Not if I’m to uphold the law.”
His soulmate sighed, audible even through the thick wood of the door. “Do you believe that all magic users deserve to be murdered?”
Murdered, Arthur thought, sounded so much worse than executed. “It doesn’t matter what I believe. The law is the law.”
“Even if that law is wrong?”
“I can’t change the laws.” Not yet. “And on my honour, I am sworn to uphold them.”
“On your honour?” The other voice teased. “What are you, a knight?” Arthur said nothing, and a second later there was a groan and another muffled thump from the door at his back. “My soulmate is a bloody knight of Camelot.”
“And mine is an illegal sorcerer that could be executed at any moment.” Arthur forced out with false cheer. “I think we’re even.”
“Not even close!” His soulmate protested. “Will is never going to let me live this down! You’re some old lords’ son, right? That means you’re probably a stuck-up prat!”
Arthur spluttered, half drawing away from the door. “You can’t call me that!”
The voice groaned theatrically. “You are a prat.”
Arthur abruptly stood, taking a few short steps away. “I need to go. There are things I should be doing.”
Already his heartstring was protesting against the added distance between him and his soulmate. Arthur forced himself to ignore it. His soulmate had stood too, Arthur could tell by the shadow that fell through the crack in the bottom of the door.
“Important knightly things.” His soulmate teased, then quickly sobered up. “Will you come back?”
“Will you be here?”
“Yes. I’m staying-“
“I don’t want to know.” Arthur cut him off. “I shouldn’t come back.”
“But will you?”
Arthur laughed, a touch of bitterness in his reply. “I may go mad if I don’t.”
“Me too.” A pause, then. “Until then, Sir Knight.”
“Until then, Sorcerer.” Arthur returned.
It was only late that night, when Arthur was in bed ignoring the tugging on his wrist by analysing the conversation with his soulmate, that he realised the voice behind the door was very obviously and distinctly male.
Somehow, Arthur found he wasn’t even surprised.
Life wasn’t fair.
At least, life wasn’t fair to Merlin. So really, the knowledge that his soulmate was a knight of Camelot shouldn’t have been that surprising. It was just Merlin’s luck that the person destined to be his other half was also sworn to have him imprisoned and killed. No, life wasn’t fair to Merlin.
That was the only thought running through his mind as he roamed the castle halls, hopelessly lost despite the directions Gaius had given him that morning. He had managed to find all but one of the people Gaius had made tonics for, but he couldn’t remember where the Lady Morgana’s chambers were, and somehow, he had found himself in an empty corridor without another soul in sight.
He blamed his soulmate for that one, because he had been in the corridor Merlin was supposed to go down, and when he had realised, he had had to dart down a small corridor to avoid being seen. Then his heartstring had almost torn his arm out with how furiously it was trying to tug him back to where he was desperately trying to run away from. All he had wanted to do was get away, twisting down corridors at random until the tugged had died down to what Merlin was beginning to think of as normal.
Merlin groaned and started walking. Sooner or later he would run into someone, and then he could ask for directions, deliver Gaius’s stupid potion, and get back to the relative safety of his room.
The thought that his soulmate may visit him again did not make him pick up his pace, not at all. He was probably too busy doing knightly-things to visit anyway. Merlin really shouldn’t expect a visit again so soon, even if his heart and soul strong leapt at the thought.
Finally, finally, Merlin heard someone else’s footsteps echoing down the corridor in front of him. He hurried forward, grinning in relief when he saw a servant girl rushing towards him, a basket of clean clothes on her hip. He called out to her, relieved when she looked up and stopped.
“Hello.” She said, a question in her eyes.
“Hi.” Merlin smiled sheepishly. “I’m new here, and I managed to get myself lost delivering some potions. I don’t suppose you could point me in the right direction?”
The serving girl smiled. “Of course! I’m Guinevere, but most people call me Gwen. Where were you going?”
“Merlin.” He returned. “And I was looking for the Lady Morgana’s chambers. I’m to deliver this sleeping draft to her.”
Gwen brightened. “Oh! I’m heading to Morgana’s rooms now. You can come with me.”
“Thank you.” Merlin said, falling into step beside her. “Do you work for Lady Morgana?”
“Yes!” Gwen shifted the washing basket on her hip. “I’m actually her maidservant.”
Merlin raised his eyebrows. “Sounds fun.”
“Oh but it is!” Gwen said. “Lady Morgana is a wonderful mistress.”
Merlin wasn’t sure what to say to that, seeing as his own experience with anyone of noble birth was a single conversation through a door. He simply nodded, and they walked in silence. Gwen pointed out a few main corridors as they walked, explaining how to get where, and offered to show him around when she had the chance. Merlin accepted, head already spinning trying to remember everything.
When they arrived at Lady Morgana’s chambers Gwen knocked once before briskly opening it and gesturing Merlin in. He followed.
The Lady Morgana was undoubtedly the most beautiful woman Merlin had ever seen. He gaped for a second, taking in sleek black hair and piercing green eyes, then promptly pulled himself back together. A quick smile pulled at his lips and he gripped the bottle in his hand tight.
“Who is this, Gwen?” Morgana asked, smiling at Merlin.
Gwen was already moving to put her basket of clothes away. “This is Merlin my lady. He has your sleeping draft.”
Merlin bowed his head and held out the bottle. “My lady.”
Morgana took the offered bottle and placed it on a nearby table. “Thank you, Merlin. Are you helping Gaius?”
“Yeah, sort of.” Merlin shrugged. He shifted awkwardly, then grinned and half turned to the door. “I should be going. It was nice meeting you my lady.”
“It was nice meeting you too Merlin.” Morgana smiled.
“Goodbye Merlin!” Gwen called.
Merlin waved and stepped out of the room, the door sliding shut behind him. He took a moment to figure out where he was, then made his way to where he hoped Gaius’s chambers were.
Gaius was waiting for him when he finally found his way back. Merlin gave him a sheepish smile.
“I got lost.”
Gaius sighed, but smiled. “Your supper is on the table. Go clean up.”
Merlin ducked his head and hurried to the washbasin. He splashed cold water on his face and hands and hurried to the table. Gaius was grinding up something awful smelling behind him, so he didn’t see Merlin’s look of disgust as he pushed the slop around in his bowl. He hastily started eating as Gaius finished up and sat down across from him.
Merlin tried to smile. “It’s good.”
Gaius snorted, then his expression settled into something more serious. Merlin put his spoon down and shifted nervously.
He cleared his throat. “What is it?”
“I read the letter your mother wrote.” Merlin gulped and stared at his bowl as Gaius continued. “You didn’t just come here to get out of Ealdor.”
“No.” Merlin agreed.
Gaius leaned back and Merlin chanced a glance up. He didn’t seem angry, or like he was about to call for the nearest guard.
“How long have you practiced magic?”
Merlin looked up in surprise, then shrugged. “Mum said I was doing magic before I could talk.”
“That’s impossible.” Gaius dismissed instantly, then frowned. “You had to have learnt it somewhere. Had to have studied it.”
“I didn’t.” Merlin shrugged. “I was born like this.”
Gaius raised an eyebrow at him. “What can you do?”
Merlin looked around. “A few things. Things just happens most of the time, I can barely control it.”
“Instinctive magic.” Gaius muttered, then louder. “Well, we better keep you out of trouble.”
Merlin smiled. “You’ll teach me then?”
Gaius shook his head. “I gave up magic long ago. There’s not much that I can teach you.” Merlin slumped, only to jump when a book slammed down in front of him. “This, however, might be of use.”
Merlin felt his eyes widen. He opened the book hesitantly, running his hands over the pages almost reverently. He ran his hands along a spell, mouthing the words. He grinned and looked up at Gaius.
“Thank you.” He hugged the book to his chest.
Gaius smiled. “Finish your supper before you try anything.”
Merlin grinned and hurried through the rest of his food. Gaius took his bowl before he could offer to wash it, and Merlin practically bounced out of his chair and towards his room. He gripped the book tight to his chest, not chancing dropping it.
“Oh, and Merlin.” He turned back, grin still in place. Gaius raised an eyebrow again. “I need hardly tell you that the practice of any form of enchantments will get you killed.”
Merlin’s smile faded and he nodded before slamming the door to his room closed. Even with the risk, Merlin was eager to learn what he could do.
Arthur really shouldn’t be doing this. Not only did it go against everything his father had taught him – which, admittedly, meant much less to Arthur than it once had – but it also put his soulmate in so much danger. If anyone were to figure out what the man in the physician’s chambers meant to him then it would be over for both of them. Arthur knew what his father would do to the man, just like he knew Morgana was right when she said you die with your soulmate. Arthur hadn’t even seen his face and he already knew without him he would be nothing.
Despite everything, all the what if’s and fears, Arthur still found himself standing outside the physician’s chambers, his heartstring once more a blend of gold and red. The night should have made it impossible for him to see it, but the colours glowed in the dark. He could see clearer than mere minutes before, when he had greeted Lady Helen in the throne room. Arthur sighed and looked up at the wood in front of him.
His soulmate stood on the other side of the door. Arthur could see his shadow, and suddenly even that seemed far too dangerous.
Arthur startled, before quickly answering. “Hello.”
“I was starting to think you wouldn’t come.”
Arthur snorted. “So sorry, but I am a busy man. Some of us can’t spend all day lazing around and bugging their soulmate.”
His soulmate gasped, affronted. “I did not spend all day lazing around, you prat! I was running around the castle doing my job.”
“Your job of lazing around?” Arthur teased.
Spluttering came from beyond the door, and Arthur caught a muttered “insufferable, stuck up soulmate” before silence fell.
“What were you doing outside the throne room today?” Arthur asked, because it had been bothering him since his heartstring had tried to brutally hurl him out of the throne room doors.
A long sigh. “My job.”
“Does your job include loitering outside castle throne rooms?” Arthur’s heart skipped, because the thought of a sorcerer near him and his father was still slightly terrifying.
“No!” His soulmate protested. “My job is delivering potions all over this damn castle. Do you know how easy it is to get lost in this place?”
“You’re working for Gaius?” Arthur asked, surprised.
“I thought you didn’t want to know anything about me.”
“Nothing that could tell me who you are.” Arthur agreed, dropping the subject of jobs immediately. “Did you really get lost?”
“Yes! This castle is huge, and there’s so many side passageways.” He sighed. “It’s actually your fault.”
“My fault!” Arthur yelled, affronted. “How is it my fault you got lost?”
“I had to run like a madman after I nearly ran into you in the corridors today. I would have been fine if you weren’t there.”
Arthur huffed. “I think you just need to pay more attention to where you’re going.”
The conversation drifted off after that, and for a long few minutes Arthur retreated into his own head.
“Tell me about yourself.” He said suddenly. “Anything that won’t reveal who you really are.”
His soulmate hummed, tapping a rhythm out on the door. “Only if you do the same.”
Arthur nodded. “I will.”
And so, for the next few hours Arthur learned all about Ealdor, and his soulmates mother, his absent father and his best friend Will. He also learned about magic. Growing up with it, how it felt to use it, the things his soulmate had managed to do with it. They both remembered a night of pain, and a glowing green light. Arthur thanked him for that, told him how it had made him feel safer than anything else in the world.
Then Arthur had told him about growing up in Camelot. He told him about his father, how he had found out he could see his heartstring and had commanded he kill his evil soulmate on sight. Silence greeted this confession, and Arthur hurried to tell him about the night Morgana found him, drunk and playing with a heartstring she had instantly known he was able to see. He told him about her confession, and then he told him about his views on magic.
“So you don’t believe in the law!” His soulmate exclaimed.
“I’ve told you, it doesn’t matter. I have to follow my king’s orders.”
“Damn the king!” His soulmate hissed, and Arthur’s blood turned to ice. “He’s a tyrant that murders innocent people! You know magic isn’t evil, you know I’m right. Why follow a king like that?”
Arthur stood, breathing hard. “I have to go.”
His soulmate scrambled up too. “You know I’m right.”
Arthur swallowed hard, ignoring the whirlwind of emotions in his chest. “Goodbye Sorcerer.”
He turned, only just catching his soulmates reply.
“Farewell, Sir Knight.”
Merlin was, quite possibly, the stupidest person in all of Camelot. Maybe even in the whole world. His mother would be so disappointed.
Really, insulting the king was probably one of the highest forms of treason, along with having magic. Merlin should have known better. It was just so difficult, being so close yet so far from his soulmate, knowing that the only thing keeping them separated was a mad king. A mad king with mad laws that his soulmate didn’t even believe in.
It was more frustrating than anything else Merlin had ever been faced with.
He had spent all night and all morning beating himself up about, driving himself slowly mad. Gaius had sent him out to the market early in the morning, and then had him delivering potions around the castle again. By the time he arrived in the armory to deliver his last potion to one of the older knights he was exhausted and just wanted to sleep for the rest of the evening.
The armory was empty when he arrived. Gaius had told him that Sir Cador was normally training around this time and should be finished soon. Merlin sat on the closest bench to wait for him, knowing he couldn’t go to the training grounds with his knightly soulmate wondering around.
Within minutes his heartstring tightened around his wrist, signaling the approach of his soulmate.
Merlin scrambled to him feet. He ran to the door, hoping to make an escape before his soulmate arrived. Instantly he knew he was too late. His soulmate was right there, and from the footsteps echoing behind him, he wasn’t alone.
“What are you doing.” His soulmate hissed.
Merlin growled. “My job.”
There was a groan from the other side of the door. “It’s too late for you to leave. Do you see a door behind you? Near the sword rack?”
Merlin nodded. “Yes.”
“Hide behind it.”
“Hide behind it!” His soulmate hissed, sounding desperate. “Now.”
Merlin hesitated, heard the footsteps getting closer, and decided to hide behind the door. The door which, Merlin instantly realized, lead to a small closet. He grumbled to himself, keeping away from dirty rags and broken swords.
His soulmate had better have a good explanation for this.
His heart beat faster as he felt said soulmate enter the room. Merlin watched as red crept up the gold of his soul string. Even now, as he sat terrified of discovery, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Voices steadily filled the armory. Merlin quickly gave up on trying to discern what any of them were saying. There were too many yelling knights for him to understand anything. It didn’t take him long to get bored. His leg went numb within five minutes, and he was constantly on edge, waiting for the moment someone would open the door and discover him.
The voices faded away slowly. Slow enough that Merlin was almost asleep on his feet, the two voices left nothing but background noise. He yawned, as silently as he could, rocking on his feet. His soulmate had better not pull anything like this again. He was bored, and worse, now he had no idea where Sir Cador would be. Gaius was not going to be happy. Merlin was already dreading the disappointed look he’d be given.
“Stupid soulmate.” He grumbled, then jumped when someone knocked on the door to his hiding place.
“Still awake in there?”
“Barely.” Merlin complained, staring as bright red and gold glowed in the dark around him. “What took you all so long?”
“Do you have any idea how long it takes to get armour off? Or, for that matter, how bad the new squires are at their job?” A sigh, loud enough Merlin knew it was only for dramatic effect. “I might as well do it myself for all the help they give.”
Merlin felt his eyebrows raise. “Then why don’t you?”
His soulmate scoffed. “I’m a knight of Camelot!” Merlin rolled his eyes. “And besides, it’s impossible to reach some of the buckles on your own. The squires just need to learn how to do their jobs.”
“Have you tried teaching them?” He asked, all fake cheer. “It might help.”
Merlin could feel the eye roll. “It’s not my job to teach them.”
“Then how are they supposed to learn?” Merlin asked.
His soulmate grumbled, then swiftly changed the conversation. “I’m leaving. Count to ten before you follow.”
“Wait!” Merlin called, glancing at the position still in his hand. “I was meant to deliver a potion to Sir Cador. Do you know where he’d be now?”
“Old Cador?” His soulmate hummed. “He’s scheduled for patrol tonight. If you go to the stables after supper you should catch him.”
His soulmate stepped away. “Remember, ten seconds.” Then he paused, stepped back towards him. “You do know how to count, right?”
Merlin drew himself up, affronted. “Of course I know how to count, you dollophead!”
His soulmate laughed. “I was only checking! And dollophead isn’t a word.”
“Yes it is.” Merlin huffed.
“Really? Describe dollophead.” Merlin caught the teasing note, and the challenge.
“In two worlds?” He shot back.
He laughed at the spluttering from the other side of the door, and laughed some more when his soulmate couldn’t think of any smart retort. He forced himself to calm down, reducing his laughter to chuckles. Still, a wicked smile took over his face. Merlin had the upper hand, and he wasn’t about to lose it now.
“You’d best hurry along, dollophead. Don’t you have important knightly things to do?”
“I’ll get you back for that one, just you wait.” His soulmate threatened, already halfway out the door.
“I’d like to see you try!” Merlin called, then started counting, loudly.
At ten he finally, finally, opened the little closet door. He’d do as was suggested and find Sir Cador later. He straightened his neckerchief, dusted off his pants, and headed back to his room. At least there the chances of him running into his soulmate was slim to none. Merlin would scrub the leech tank all day if it meant he could avoid having to dodge his soulmate everywhere he went.
Dollophead. Honestly, his soulmate was an absolute idiot. Dollophead indeed. At least Arthur didn’t make up nonsense words whenever he insulted someone. He didn’t think it could get worse than prat, but somehow his soulmate had outdone himself.
The rush of affection Arthur felt every time he thought of the strange word and its creator should probably feel out of place.
“Are you paying attention at all, Arthur?”
Arthur blinked, then stared at Morgana. “Of course I am.”
Morgana snorted. “And that’s why you’ve been staring out the window for the past ten minutes?”
Arthur scowled, even as Gwen walked over and frowned at them both. “Morgana, be nice. And Arthur, you know you can talk to us if something is bothering you.”
Morgana ducked her head. Arthur sighed, and went back to staring out the window. His heartstring led out into the open air and down to the markets of the lower town. Arthur swirled his fingers around it, knowing the girls would see and not caring in the slightest.
Gwen gasped. “Is it something to do with your soulmate?”
Arthur stiffened. “I don’t want to talk about.”
He could practically feel the look Morgana and Gwen shared behind him.
Morgana took the plunge. “Arthur, if something happened with your soulmate-”
“What does it matter Morgana!” Arthur yelled, feeling his frustration boil and overflow. “What would it matter if something happened to my soulmate? I’ve been ordered to kill him on sight. And even if I didn’t, if anyone were to figure out who he was to me then my father would have him burnt! So, whether or not something happened, it doesn’t matter.”
Gwen and Morgana shared another look, one Arthur completely missed this time. Gwen pointedly looked at the door, then gestured to Arthur. After a moment Morgana nodded, and with a quick kiss to Gwen’s cheek she left the room.
Gwen sighed and moved forward until she could grasp Arthur’s hand in her own. Arthur slumped against the window, still staring after his heartstring. Gwen glanced at her own heartstring and found she couldn’t blame him.
Still, the Prince of Camelot couldn’t mope around like this forever, and Gwen knew that she had to do all she could to help.
“When my heartstring started tightening around my wrist and yanking me about, I was terrified.”
“I don’t want to talk about it Gwen.”
“I tried to stay away at first. Growing up, my father had always told me that meeting my soulmate would be the greatest thing in the world, but that it would also put me in a dangerous position. If anyone were to find either of us out, then we’d both be dead.”
Arthur closed his eyes tight, seeing Gwen and Morgana screaming as they were forced onto a burning pyre. “You know I would never let that happen.”
“I do now.” Gwen assured, and Arthur forced the image away. “But at the time I was terrified. I was new to the castle, and apparently so was my soulmate. We were drawn together, and it was agony to be apart, but I avoided her anyway. I didn’t think it would be worth the risk.”
Arthur stared at her. This was a part of the story he had never heard. He just assumed Gwen had arrived and found Morgana, moments before Arthur himself had stumbled on the scene. He never thought she might have done as he did, avoiding her soulmate so as not to put either of them in danger.
“What happened?” He asked, and he honestly wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer.
Gwen smiled, then pulled him away from the window. They’d just sat down at the table when Morgana walked in, a tray full of sweet meats and cakes in her hands. She put the platter down, turned and pulled something out of the chest at the end of her bed. When she turned again Arthur grinned. Wine was exactly what he needed right now.
Once everyone had a cup, and Morgana was happily devouring a small cake, Gwen answered Arthur’s question.
“It took me a week to decide that enough was enough. I needed to find my soulmate, and damn the consequences.” Arthur smiled into his cup as Gwen flushed. It wasn’t often she cursed. “I knew it could be dangerous, but I also knew I couldn’t continue on avoiding her. It was only hurting us to keep apart.”
“And that’s when you found us.” Morgana jumped in, delicately picking up another cake. “Gwen sought me out, and when I finally saw her, I had no idea how to react. I’d figured out she was avoiding me and seeing her standing there almost felt like a dream.”
Arthur swallowed down his wine. “Your first touch shook the castle.”
Morgana’s cheeks reddened. “Only my room and the corridor outside it. We asked around, we were the only ones to feel it.”
“Huh.” Arthur said, and took the sweet meat Gwen passed to him.
“Arthur.” Gwen started, and he knew already what she’d say. “We told you this because we don’t want you going through the same pain. If your soulmate is here-”
“And we know he is Arthur, don’t lie-” Morgana interrupted, sending him a stern glare, and Arthur winced as he realized his mistake.
“Then the worst thing you can do is avoid him. It will only hurt you, and him, in the end.”
Arthur looked down at his hands, then downed the rest of his wine. His heartstring tugged weakly on his wrist. He followed it with his eyes, watching how it disappeared through the door to Morgana’s chambers. His soulmate was finally back in the castle. Arthur was beginning to worry about the idiot. He’d told him he had to meet Cador soon, if he wanted to catch him before he went on patrol.
“I’m scared.” Arthur admitted, and immediately looked away from the door and the girls. Princes weren’t meant to be afraid of anything, much less admit so.
“So was I.” Morgana said, voice gentle in a way Arthur had only ever heard directed at Gwen, or small children. “But I promise you Arthur, it’s worth it.”
Arthur snorted. “That’s not it.” He fiddled with his cup, then filled it and downed it in one go. When he glanced up Gwen was staring at him with mild alarm and confusion, while Morgana’s face was perfectly blank. “I’m the Prince of Camelot. Not exactly the best soulmate for someone with magic, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“Arthur, you can’t know how he’ll react.” Morgana said, trying for reassuring and missing by a mile. “And he shouldn’t judge you for what your father has done.”
“It’s not just what my father has done Morgana, and you know that.” Arthur snapped, hunching his shoulders. “I’ve done my fair share of harm to magic users.”
“You were a child Arthur.” Gwen soothed, much better than Morgana. “You were doing what you thought was right under your king’s orders.”
“But it wasn’t right. And those innocent people are dead because of me. Either the druids that were killed in that raid or the sorcerers that my father has had executed over the years. I’ve done nothing to help them, and everyone damn well knows it.” Arthur flexed his fist, releasing the death grip he had on his cup. “Quite frankly I’m surprised he didn’t run when he found out I was a knight.”
Gwen gasped, and Morgana leaned forward in her chair. “You’ve spoken to him?”
Arthur shrugged. “A few times. We haven’t said any names, or even seen each other’s faces, but it was hell to stay apart. He told me a little about his past, so I told him about mine.”
“And he doesn’t mind that you’re a knight?” Gwen asked tentatively.
“I think it was a shock.” Arthur smiled, thinking back to the thump on the doorway that he knew was his soulmate’s head. “But he didn’t seem to mind too much. In fact.” And here, Arthur frowned. “He said I was probably some old lords’ son, and then called me a prat.”
Morgana burst out laughing, her hands flying to her mouth. Arthur rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out at her. Gwen was doing a much better job at staying composed, though Arthur could see the twitch of her lips as she fought off a grin. He threw a cake at Morgana and sat back in his chair, ears burning.
“It wasn’t that funny.”
“It was hilarious.” Morgana snorted, and Arthur thought she’d never been more unladylike, not even while wearing men’s clothes and beating him with a sword. “I like your soulmate already.”
“Of course you do.” Arthur muttered.
“Besides that.” Gwen said, clearly not distracted enough to drop the main subject. “Your soulmate isn’t going to run when he finds out who you are.”
“How can you be sure?” Arthur asked, almost pleading.
“Because he’s your soulmate.” Morgana said, like that explained everything.
Arthur sighed and closed his eyes. He melted into his chair, trying to block everything out. He looked at Morgana and Gwen, watched as Morgana accepted a sweet meat from Gwen and then captured her hand in her own. Gwen blushed as Morgana pressed a kiss to the back of her hand, and Arthur had to look away.
Morgana and Gwen started talking, not bothering to draw Arthur into conversation. They had always been able to sense when he wanted to be left to his own thoughts, and when it was dangerous not to get him out of his head. They talked about Lady Helen’s show tomorrow night, and about some new serving boy they’d met. Arthur found himself letting his thoughts wonder.
Maybe they were right, and maybe everything would be okay.
He was still terrified his soulmate would run away as soon as he learned who Arthur really was.
Arthur watched Gaius hurry away from his tower. There was a small outbreak of illness in the lower town, and Arthur knew Gaius would want to help as many people as he could. He would never wish harm on innocent people, but in this case, he was extremely thankful. He wanted to talk to his soulmate as soon as he could and waiting all morning for Gaius to leave his chambers was not something Arthur had been looking forward to.
He ran up the steps, as confident he wouldn’t fall as he was terrified of what was to come. He had made his decision, after a sleepless night had passed and bright dawn had greeted him. He was going to tell his soulmate who he was, he was going to open the door between them, and then he was going to swear to him that he would always protect him, even from his own father. Especially from his father.
Morgana and Gwen had been right. This man was his soulmate, and Arthur didn’t want to keep avoiding him. Quite honestly, Arthur didn’t think he could continue like this.
His soulmate was waiting for him, though he wasn’t leaning against the door like usual. This time he was bustling about, rushing around Gaius’s chambers like a madman. Arthur paused at the door, felt his soulmate take a step closer, before he went back to whatever it was he was doing.
Arthur swallowed heavily. “Hello.”
“Hi.” Was the breathless reply. “I can’t talk for long. Gaius needs me. A lot of people are getting sick, and he’s worried. Apparently illnesses don’t usually spread this fast.”
Arthur momentarily panicked, completely forgetting everything but the possible threat to his people. “Does he suspect dark magic?”
His soulmate paused. “No. But he thinks it could get very bad very quickly if we don’t do something.”
Arthur nodded, an idea speaking to life. “Could you help them? With your magic, I mean.”
At that his soulmate finally completely stopped what he was doing to face the door. “I want to, I really do.” Arthur believed him, could hear the desperation to help in his voice. “But my mentor, he said the risk is too high. I could be discovered or get everyone I healed killed for using magic. Not that any of that matters, because I don’t know any healing spells. I suppose there might be something in my magic book…”
His soulmate trailed off, and Arthur almost chocked. “You have a magic book?”
“Yes?” His soulmate said tentatively, going back to rushing around. “How else am I supposed to learn? We can’t exactly be open about what we’re doing here.”
Arthur grunted, because he supposed he had a point there, but worry still gnawed a hole in his gut. “You keep it hidden, I hope?”
“Well enough.” His soulmate said, but there was something in his voice that had Arthur’s worry growing.
“Well enough? What, do you have it stashed under your bed?” He half teased. The worry was really eating him alive now, and the cracking of flames seemed loud in his ears.
“No.” Came the weak denial, after too long a pause.
Arthur actually felt a little faint. His soulmate was an idiot.
“You’re an idiot.” He told him, because it needed to be said.
His soulmate huffed, and something creaked in the other room. “And you’re a prat. No one’s going to find it. Who would search my rooms? I’m a no one. Even if they do find something, I’ll act the fool and no one will believe I’m capable of taking care of myself, let alone having magic.”
Arthur leaned his head against the door. “You’re good at acting the fool, are you?”
“It’s how I’ve lived this long.” Arthur found he couldn’t say anything to that. “Now, you’d best hurry up and get out of here. Gaius needs me, and unless you want to help carry all these potions, you need to leave.”
Arthur stood straight, his nerves immediately flaring back to life. It was now or never. Arthur had decided that this morning. There was no backing out, and if it meant Arthur would have to carry potions to Gaius and explain to him why his helper had suddenly decided to run from Camelot and never look back, then he would do it.
His soulmate was worth the risk.
He cleared his throat. “Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What?” His soulmate asked.
Arthur opened his mouth to explain. The words died on his tongue as a snap filled the air, loud enough that Arthur heard it echo down the stairs of the tower. Seconds later a yell pierced his heart, filled with panic, and then something slammed on the ground, followed closely by the smash of glass.
Arthur had his hand on the handle before he’d even had time to process what was going on. “Hey? What happened in there?” Silence greeted him, and Arthur forgot how to breathe. “Hey! Are you alright?” Five more seconds passed, and still Arthur didn’t get an answer. He steeled himself, tightened his grip on the door handle. “I’m coming in.”
He shoved the door open, stepping into the room. The first thing he noticed was the pile of herbs and potions on the table. They were clearly for Gaius. Arthur pushed past the table, eyes searching the room desperately. His heartstring tugged, weak like he was on the other side of the castle and not right next to his soulmate.
And there Arthur saw him. He saw the black mess of hair first. It looked so soft, Arthur wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch it even as he found himself frozen in place. Then he saw pale skin and adorably large ears, and his heart melted for how cute his soulmate was. The thing he saw last was the bright red of blood.
Arthur’s body turned cold, his blood ice in his veins. He took one faltering step forward, and then he was rushing to his soulmate’s side, silently begging to every god he had ever heard of. No.
“No, no, no, please no.” He begged, not noticing as the words fell from his lips. There were more important things to worry about.
The blood was oozing from a few cuts on pale hands. Arthur though one looked like it might need stitches, but the rest looked like nothing more than a few scratches. He quickly checked him over again, and his heart almost stopped when he spotted the blood gathering below that soft black hair. A head wound. Oh no.
“Guards!” He yelled, screamed, begged. He didn’t know. He didn’t care. So long as they came.
His hands hovered over the still form on the floor. He couldn’t just pick him up. He had to be careful he didn’t touch any skin. It wouldn’t be right. Their first touch had to be important. It would be wrong if one of them were unconscious and bleeding out when it happened.
Oh gods, please don’t be bleeding out.
He grabbed a blanket from the bed Gaius used for patients. That would do. He wrapped his soulmate in it, then ever-so-carefully lifted him. He carried him as gently as he could, putting him down onto the bed just as two guards appeared in the doorway.
Arthur snapped his eyes away from his soulmate just long enough to address the men. “Go get Gaius. Tell him his assistant has been injured, badly. Tell him it’s a head wound.”
“Sire.” The guards bowed and ran off without another word.
Arthur hovered over his soulmate, one hand balling up the corner of the blanket and holding it to his bleeding head. He didn’t know what else to do.
“Please don’t die.” Arthur whispered, and his throat closed up at the mere thought of it. “You can’t die yet. We haven’t even met properly. I was going to ask you if you wanted to, I swear. I want to know you. I want to protect you, even if that means protecting you from my father, or the whole damned world.” Arthur swallowed, and felt tears sting his eyes. “Don’t you dare die on me. That’s an order from your prince and your soulmate, you hear me? I command you to live.”
Arthur barely heard the rush of footsteps, but he did hear the shouts. He stood from the bed, making sure he was still keeping pressure on the wound even as he hurriedly dried his eyes. He did his best to look removed from the scene, as if he had just come across this stranger and was keeping him alive until Gaius got there.
The old physician hurried into the room, his eyes frantically searching for his wounded assistant. Arthur stepped back, let Gaius get a clear view of what had happened. He gasped and muttered something under his breath, and then he was shoving Arthur away, gently removing his hands and the blood-soaked bit of blanket Arthur had been holding. Arthur let himself be moved and stepped back numbly so Gaius could properly examine his patient.
“What happened?” Gaius asked gruffly. Arthur recognized his hidden worry.
“He fell, I think.” Arthur gestured to the broken glass bottles, the bloody floor, the shelf he could now see was clearly broken, as if some great idiot had stepped on it and it had broken under his weight. He swallowed thickly. “He hit his head on something. And his hand, I think it might need stitches.”
Gaius nodded, already reaching for a needle and thread. Arthur blanched.
“Will he be alright?”
“I will do my best sire.” Gaius said, not even bothering to look at him. “But if I stop the bleeding then I believe he will be fine. A little sore, perhaps, and with a few new scars, but nothing he won’t bounce back from.”
Arthur could have collapsed in relief. His whole body felt like a half-melted candle, boneless and half useless. He allowed himself a moment to revel in the news that his soulmate was not dying, thank you, before he pushed away and walked towards the door as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“Inform me when he wakes. I want to have a few words with him.”
Gaius raised an eyebrow, glancing up briefly from his work. “You know him sire?”
“I do.” He stepped towards the door, making his intentions clear. “If you’ll excuse me Gaius. There are other things I must tend to.”
Gaius muttered a goodbye and Arthur made his escape. He paid attention to no one as he made his way through the castle. It was only when he reached his rooms that he allowed himself to just breathe. One, two, three and he realized he was shaking. Four and five and he fell back against the door. Six, seven, eight and he locked the door behind him with a click. Nine and his trembling legs couldn’t keep him up anymore. Ten and he felt hot tears falling slowly down his cheeks.
His soulmate had almost died. He had almost died, and Arthur didn’t even know him, not really, he barely knew what he looked like! Arthur couldn’t lose him, he just couldn’t. His soulmate was a clumsy idiot, with even less respect and more wit than Morgana, but he was his damn it, and Arthur refused to lose him. Not to his father, not to any unjust law, and certainly not to a damned broken shelf.
Arthur laughed, and if it was a little hysterical, well, no one else was there to mention it.
He had known his soulmate for a measly four days, hadn’t said a word to him face to face, didn’t even know his name, and already he was hopelessly in love with him.
When Merlin woke, it was to a throbbing hand and an awful, sharp pain in his head. He groaned, and instantly wished he could fall back asleep. He’d never hurt so much in his life, especially not his head. It felt like he was being split in two.
He coughed weakly, throat burning, and instantly hands were on him, helping him sit up and pressing a cool cup to his lips. Merlin drank the water greedily, only to hear a tut and have it taken away. He opened his eyes, a protest already on the tip of his tongue.
“Not so fast.” Gaius scolded. “You’ll end up chocking. Small sips.”
Merlin nodded, and the cup was brought back to his mouth. He took small sips, as his guardian had told him, and soon enough his thirst was replaced by hunger. He shoved it away, frowning at Gaius.
“What happened?” He asked.
Gaius stood, walking over to a large pit over a fire and stirring its contents. “What do you remember?”
Merlin frowned. He remembered going into town to pick up some herbs for Gaius, and a desperate mother begging him to get Gaius to help her sick child. Gaius had gone, and he said he had been able to treat the girl just fine.
Merlin frowned harder. But that had been yesterday. That morning they had woken up to the news that people all over the lower town were getting sick, and Gaius had rattled off a list of herbs and potions before grabbing a bag and racing out the door. Merlin had only been half awake and had stumbled to get dressed and collect what Gaius needed.
Then his soulmate had shown up. He had sounded a little off, but Merlin hadn’t had the time to talk with him properly, though it had pained him not to stop and simply curl up as close as he could to his other half. But Gaius needed him, and people could be dying, so he had to do all he could to help.
Merlin caught sight of broken glass and splintered wood, and he remembered falling.
Gaius nodded, sitting down on Merlin’s bed with a bowl in his hand. “And pretty badly, from what I can tell.”
Merlin gingerly touched the back of his head. He winced and drew his hand back, staring at the bandages wrapped tightly around his fingers.
“The glass cut you when it smashed. Your left hand needed stitches, as did your head.” Gaius sighed and gently passed him the bowl. The heat of it soothed the throbbing in Merlin’s hands. “Eat up. You missed breakfast this morning.”
Merlin’s stomach rumbled. “What time is it?”
“Just after lunch.”
Merlin nodded, shoving soup into his mouth. It didn’t take him long to finish, and Gaius took the bowl from him as he laid back down. He frowned, a thought coming to him.
“How did you know I was hurt?”
Gaius busied himself around the room. “A guard came and found me in the lower town. I rushed here as fast as I could. Prince Arthur had found you unconscious and sent for me.”
Merlin sat bolt upright, chocking on air. “Prince Arthur?”
Gaius gave him a weird look. “Yes. He said you knew each other. Which reminds me.” He walked over to the door to reveal a guard waiting outside. “Go tell the Prince that my assistant is awake.”
Merlin stared as the guard walked off. He felt like his thoughts had all shut down. Prince Arthur. As in, son of the King, Arthur Pendragon. And he had told Gaius that they knew each other, even though Merlin was pretty sure he would remember meeting the Prince of Camelot.
Unless, of course, Merlin didn’t know that’s who he was talking to.
But no, surely that was ridiculous. His soulmate couldn’t be Arthur Pendragon. He was a sorcerer. The world wouldn’t be that cruel as to make his other half the son of the Mad King. The son that was meant to hate magic as much as his father, that had always supported his father in his quest to eradicate magic from the world. Merlin’s soulmate wouldn’t do that. He couldn’t be the Prince.
Merlin couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t think.
His soulmate was the Prince of Camelot.
Gaius places a gentle hand on Merlin’s shoulder, making him jump back into reality. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you for a time, my boy. Those people in the lower town still need tending to, and I must leave now if I have any hope of attending the feast tonight.”
Merlin nodded dumbly. “Okay.”
Gaius frowned. “Will you be alright? You’re still very pale. Do you have a headache, or feel dizzy at all?”
“I’m fine Gaius.” Merlin forced a smile onto his face, tried his best to look better. “Go. I can look after myself.”
Gaius hesitated, but ultimately nodded. “Send a guard if anything happens. I’ll come back as fast as these old legs can carry me.”
Merlin laughed, and agreed. Then Gaius left, and Merlin was thrown back into his panic.
It only got worse as his heartstring started tugging at him. It was getting more insistent, tighter around his wrist, and Merlin knew what it meant. His soulmate was coming. His soulmate was coming, and Merlin was in no way ready for him, not now, so soon after figuring everything out.
That didn’t stop his soulmate arriving at the door, giving a soft knock.
“Are you okay?”
“Not even a hello?” Merlin forced out, trying for normalcy. “I’m fine. A few scrapes.”
“It was not a few scrapes! There was so much blood I thought-”
His soulmate cut himself off, but Merlin could already guess what he had been going to say, where his mind must have taken him. It grounded him, hearing the worry and fear his soulmate felt for him. He cared. Whoever he was, his soulmate cared for him.
Merlin swallowed. “I know who you are.”
His soulmate was silent for a long time, before he said. “Ah.”
“Gaius told me Prince Arthur was the one to find me, the one to alert the guards and send for him.” Merlin breathed out a long breath. “Was that you?”
“Yes.” His soulmate said, and Merlin felt like the world had crashed around him. “You wouldn’t answer when I yelled. I had to find out what had happened.”
A snort. “I noticed.” They fell into silence after that, their most uncomfortable one yet, before his soulmate – the Prince – broke it. “It’s funny. You know who I am but have no idea what I look like. And I’ve seen you, but I’ve no idea what your name is.”
Merlin gulped, and hesitated, before throwing caution to the wind. He had to ask. “If you open up that door, I’ll tell you.”
He heard a gasp. “Are you sure?”
“Do you not want to?”
“I do, of course I do.” His soulmate reassured. “But you have to understand, you’ll be in so much danger. My father knows my soulmate is a sorcerer, if he finds out about us-”
“If he finds out about my magic, I’ll be dead anyway.” Merlin snorted. “He can’t kill me twice.”
“He won’t kill you at all.” His soulmate swore, and Merlin was taken aback by the vehemence in his voice. “I won’t let him hurt you.”
Merlin swallowed, felt his heartstring tug on his wrist. “Open the door.”
For a moment Merlin didn’t think he would do it. It was like time slowed as he waited for the door to swing open, but he knew he wasn’t doing any magic. Even so, it felt like forever before the door started to move. He tensed, ignoring the ache in his hands and head.
When Merlin saw his soulmate for the first time, he couldn’t help but gasp.
Eyes as blue as the summer sky watched him, taking him in, just as Merlin was doing to him. His golden hair shone like the sun in the midday light. Instantly he wanted to run his hands through it, never mind that they were cut and bandaged. He was tall too, though Merlin liked to think he might be a little bit taller. Not that it would matter. His soulmate’s mere presence seemed to fill up the room, his shoulders back and proud, and Merlin knew he slouched too much to compete with that.
He was the most beautiful person Merlin had ever seen.
“Hi.” Merlin said awkwardly, and immediately wanted to hide under his blankets.
“Hello.” His beautiful soulmate said, lips quirking up into a smile.
Merlin was sliding out of the bed and walking forward before he even really considered moving. His soulmate took two steps forward and then they were mere inches apart, with nothing and everything in between them.
Merlin cleared his throat, and then held out his hand. “I’m Merlin.”
“Merlin.” His soulmate grinned, then glanced at his outstretched hand. “Are you sure?”
“If you are.” He grinned. “Sir Knight.”
The laugh Merlin got for that was blinding, and suddenly an arm was around his waist and another was in his hair, and he was dragged forward until his soulmate’s forehead touched his. It was all Merlin could do to bring his hands up to cup his soulmate’s face before everything seemed to burst at once.
It was nothing like what his mother used to tell him the first touch was like. It was so much more. Merlin could hardly breathe with all the emotions running through him. The world lost focus even as he became hyper aware of the arms around him, the floor under his feet, the very air that he breathed. Distantly, he was aware of a rumble under his feet, the crash of glass around him, the crack of thunder in the sky, but it was so far away it was nothing more than a dream. Merlin could only focus on one thing.
“Arthur.” He breathed, the sound a whisper yet much too loud.
“Merlin.” Arthur returned, just as quiet, and then everything seemed to settle.
They pulled back from the hug slowly, Merlin letting his hands drop to Arthur’s hips and Arthur removing his hand from Merlin’s hair. They didn’t dare move further apart, not yet.
“That was...” Merlin whispered.
“Yeah.” Arthur agreed.
Merlin grinned and finally pulled away, laughing at Arthur’s pout. He grabbed Arthur’s hand and intertwined their fingers, pulling him back so he could sit back down on the bed. He groaned, closing his eyes against the pain in his head. The ache had come back with a vengeance, and Merlin just wanted to curl up and fall back into sleep.
“Are you alright?” Arthur asked.
Merlin grunted. “Head hurts.”
Arthur sat beside him, letting go of his hand for a moment as he reached for something out of Merlin’s sight. Merlin took the bottle when Arthur handed it to him, recognising Gaius’s handwriting and the words ‘for the pain’ written on the side. He pulled the stopper out and downed it in one, pulling a face at the taste. Arthur chuckled and took his hand again.
Both men gasped as a red-golden glow lit up their faces. They both looked down, watching as their heartstring twined around their joined hands. It was streaked with red and gold from one end to the other, the colours mixing perfectly on the tiny string. Merlin’s magic buzzed in his veins, and for a moment he feared he might burst. Their heartstring glowed brighter and danced and weaved up their arms before going back down to their wrists.
Arthur reached out to touch it. Merlin watch, fascinated, as their heartstring curled around his fingers. “It’s amazing.”
“It’s like it’s celebrating.” Merlin said.
Arthur nodded. “We did put it off for long enough.”
Merlin snorted, but agreed. Four days had been far too long, especially now knowing what they had been missing out on.
The sound of footsteps had Arthur springing up from the bed and letting go of Merlin in a hurry. The glow of their heartstring faded, and both men turned to the doorway as a guard appeared.
“Sire.” He bowed his head. “The king requests your presence in the throne room.”
Arthur glanced at Merlin, then drew himself up and walked to the guard. “Of course.” He glanced back at Merlin and smirked. “Try not to fall again Merlin.”
Merlin spluttered, but ultimately laughed. “Prat.”
Arthur didn’t stop, and the guard wasn’t glaring at him, so he knew they hadn’t heard him. He didn’t mind. He’d tell him later.
Merlin relaxed back into his bed, the pain in his head slowly fading away as his heartstring once again danced in the air around him, a brilliant red and gold.
I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone that has commented, bookmarked or left kudos on this fic. You're all amazing people, so thank you very much!
Only one more chapter to go, but don't worry! I have big plans for this universe, and I intend to write a sequel (or two), so if you like this then be sure to keep an eye out for that!
Once again, thank you all, and I will see you in the last chapter.
Arthur strode into the throne room with as much confidence as he could. Truthfully, he was still reeling from the meeting with his soulmate. Merlin. Arthur glanced down at his wrist. His heartstring danced around him, red-gold and free in a way it hadn’t been since Merlin arrived in Camelot. He grinned.
“Arthur.” His father greeted, and Arthur realised he had no idea why he had been summoned.
“Father.” Arthur nodded, then took the seat next to the king.
Morgana glanced at him from his father’s other side, and Gwen’s gaze burned a hole in the side of his head. He nodded to both of them, then turned his attention to the knight kneeling before the throne.
“Report.” His father commanded.
Sir Bedivere stood, a grim look on his face. “The earthquake shook the castle and the surrounding town, my lord, but thankfully no one was injured. An old abandoned house in the lower town collapsed, but otherwise all the buildings stood firm. The lightning, however, set three houses alight. Our men are working with the townspeople now to get the blaze under control.”
Arthur stared at the knight in shock. Earthquake? Lightning? What where they talking about? Arthur hadn’t noticed anything like that. Of course, he was a little bit occupied, what with officially meeting his soulmate. Arthur’s eyes widened.
Their first touch.
Arthur couldn’t remember much except the explosive, wonderful, brilliant feeling of home and rightness their first touch had brought about, but he did remember the distant sound of thunder, of a rumble beneath his feet. He paled, and tried to look inconspicuous as his father barked orders at his men.
How powerful was Merlin, that their first touch rattled the earth and the sky both, that the whole city of Camelot was affected?
Arthur wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer, because in truth he didn’t know if he’d be more in awe of his soulmate, or terrified.
Morgana caught his gaze, and in that instant, he knew she had figured it out. Her eyes widened and she glanced to Gwen, who already had a hand over her mouth. Arthur swallowed past the lump in his throat, and when both women looked at him again, he nodded slightly. Morgana abruptly sat back in her chair, eye ahead and focused even as Arthur knew she wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to their surroundings.
His father dismissed all those that were not on his council, and the room quickly emptied. Morgana and Gwen were the last ones to leave, both of them shooting him an incomprehensible look before the doors shut behind them.
His father launched himself up off his throne and paced. Arthur watched him, saw the fury barely contained underneath the surface. The council members all shifted nervously, and Arthur saw Gaius briefly glance to the door.
“Sire.” One of the council members finally spoke. “Do you believe this to be an attack?”
Several of the men shifted uncomfortably. Gaius started at his father, and Arthur followed his gaze. The King’s eyes were furious and cold, but there was a knowing look there, one that instantly made Arthur’s stomach drop.
“No, this was no attack.” His father growled. “We all know what happened. An extremely powerful sorcerer has found their soulmate.”
Gasps filled the room, and Arthur stepped forward, his heart beating wildly in his chest. “How can we be sure?”
His father turned to him. “I know you weren’t around when sorcerers were allowed to use their magic freely, but this type of thing used to be commonplace. Everyone knew when a sorcerer and their soulmate had their first touch. The nature of magic would not let them miss the chance to announce their evil to the world.”
The image of Merlin, with his messy black hair and quick wit, standing tall as an evil sorcerer was incomprehensible.
“I’ve never seen a reaction this extreme before.” Someone muttered, and several others agree.
“Gaius.” The king snapped. “How powerful would this sorcerer be?”
Gaius shifted, glancing from Arthur to his father. “I couldn’t tell you for sure sire.” He hesitated and said tentatively. “But I would assume, whoever they are, they’re more powerful than any other sorcerer we have seen before.”
Arthur stared at Gaius. Several council members shifted nervously, while the rest looked panicked. His father was fuming, pacing in front of the throne as he tried to figure out a way to draw out the sorcerer and their soulmate, so he could put an end to them both before they could cause any harm.
Arthur heard the crackle of flames, and for the first time, it wasn’t Morgana and Gwen he saw on the pyre. It was Merlin, shackled and tied down, with Arthur himself tied up next to him, while his father watched from high above impassively.
Arthur did his best to shake the image away, but he could feel his hands trembling.
“Arthur!” His father snapped, and his heart kept to his throat.
“Yes father?” He asked, only sounding slightly strained.
His father’s eyes softened a fraction. “I know it will be a difficult task, but I want you to take your knights and search both the castle and the town. I want everyone to be thoroughly searched. We cannot allow this sorcerer to roam free.”
Arthur swallowed, and inclined his head. “Of course father. With your leave, I will start the investigation right away.”
His father waved a hand, and Arthur bowed before swiftly exiting the room. He walked as fast as he could, away from the people milling about in the corridors, and straight to his room. He needed to get his sword, and change into his armour, but most importantly of all he needed to get away from everyone. He yanked the door to his room open and slammed it behind him.
“Are you going to tell us what happened, or are we going to have to wring it out of you?”
Arthur jumped and spun around, a yell caught in his throat. Morgana sat by his fireplace, her arms crossed and eyes trained on him. Gwen stood next to her, an arm around Morgana’s shoulders. Arthur looked away from the both, sighed, and dropped himself down in a chair across from Morgana. Gwen sat on the arm of Morgana’s chair, and both of them stared at him in expectation.
Arthur sighed again, and melted into his chair. “It was us.”
Morgana stared at him. “What.”
“The earthquake, and the lightning.” Arthur swallowed, thinking again of the power his soulmate must have. “It was our first touch.”
Gwen gasped. Morgana simply nodded, as if her suspicions had just been confirmed. She demanded details, and Arthur told her what had happened as quickly as possible. He was aware of every second passing by, knowing he needed to leave and inform the knights of the king’s orders as soon as possible.
Finally Morgana was satisfied. “And how was it?”
Arthur frowned. “How was what?”
Morgana rolled her eyes. “Your first touch.”
Arthur grinned, and knew he looked like a love-struck girl, but found that he didn’t really care. “It was perfect.”
Gwen nodded, a sparkle in her eyes. “We told you it was worth the risk.”
Arthur let the happiness bubble inside him for a moment longer, and then he was up and out of his chair. “Speaking of the risk, I need to hurry and find the knights. My father has commanded we search the castle and lower town for the sorcerer and their soulmate.”
Morgana frowned. “Does he suspect...?”
“That it’s my soulmate?” Arthur grimaced. “I don’t think so. Nothing he said or did indicated he suspected me.”
Gwen bit her lip in worry. “You have to be careful.”
Morgana nodded. “You can’t lose him.”
Arthur swallowed hard, flames echoing in the back of his mind. “I know.”
Merlin wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but Gaius had looked worried ever since he got back from whatever meeting the king had called, and he had refused to talk to Merlin about anything yet. It was slowly driving him mad. He needed answers.
Abruptly, Gaius turned to him. “Did you meet your soulmate?”
Merlin nearly fell out of his chair. “What? What makes you ask that?”
Gaius raised an eyebrow and Merlin fought not to shy away like a naughty child. “Because that lighting and earthquake were caused by a magic user’s first touch, and I can only think of one particular person with enough magic to cause this powerful a reaction.”
Merlin ducked his head. “I didn’t know it would be that obvious.”
Gaius quickly sat on the chair next to him and put one hand on his shoulder. “You have more magic potential than anyone else I have ever seen. Of course it was going to be obvious. Quite frankly I’d be surprised if it had been anything less than what it was.”
Merlin nodded, staring at his hands. He picked at the bandages of his left hand and his heartstring fluttered around his fingers. He grinned, the red and gold of it still new but also perfect.
“You do not have to tell me who it is.” Gaius said quietly, making Merlin look up at him. “But whoever they are, you need to keep them safe. Uther has commanded the entire castle and lower town be searched, and if they find nothing then I have no doubt he will expand his search all over Camelot. Prince Arthur himself will be leading the investigation, and he will not stop until he finds you both. It is not in his nature to give up.”
Merlin nodded, but he was distracted. Arthur would be leading the investigation. On the one hand, it meant Merlin was safe. His soulmate wasn’t about to lead his men to him and turn them both in. On the other hand, Merlin knew it would be hard for Arthur to pretend. He seemed very noble, from what Merlin had seen and heard of him, and he knew how hard lying to a parent was.
Still, there was nothing else they could do. Not if they both wanted to survive.
“We’ll be careful Gaius.” He glanced up, then down again. “I’ll ask if he would be alright with you knowing who he is.”
“He?” Gaius teased, and laughed at Merlin’s flustered stammering. “It’s alright my boy. I would like that very much.”
Gaius stood up again and they fell into an easy silence as he worked. Merlin tried his best to help, bottling potions and labelling them as best he could with his bandaged hands. Then Gaius started packing up, and he turned to Merlin, a smile on his face.
Merlin tilted his head, putting down the bottle he was holding. “What?”
“I just had a thought.” Gaius said. “Would you like to join me at the feast tonight?”
Arthur sighed, trying to keep up with the conversation happening around him. There was so much noise, it was hard to keep track of what was being said. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem at all, Arthur had long ago gotten used to feasts and the sound of hundreds of conversations happening at once, but tonight his mind was occupied.
He hadn’t seen Merlin since the guard had informed him of his father’s summons. He had spent the rest of the afternoon leading his men around the lower town, trying and failing to find any sign of the sorcerer. Arthur, of course, knew exactly why that was, but his men had been frustrated that after hours of searching they had found nothing. His father was still furious, and Arthur thought he might have called off the feast entirely so they could focus entirely on the search.
Lady Helen had been the one to convince him otherwise, and Arthur had been grateful. He hadn’t fancied spending all night searching for a sorcerer he knew he wouldn’t find. He didn’t envy the guards and knights that had been ordered to continue the search.
Something shifted in the air, and Arthur spotted his heartstring dancing in the air, twisting and wiggling as if it were excited. As Arthur watched, the doors to the hall were opened, and Gaius was welcomed in. And there, not two steps behind him, was Merlin.
Arthur grinned without meaning to, especially as he watched Merlin’s eyes trail around the room until he found Arthur staring at him. They locked eyes for a long moment, and then Arthur carefully excused himself from the knights laughing and joking around him. Merlin smiled at Gaius and seemed to bid him farewell, heading towards where Arthur was standing.
Arthur was leaning against the wall casually when Merlin finally caught up to him. They stood side by side, not looking or touching, and Arthur relaxed.
“I didn’t think I’d see you here. Are you sure you should be walking around?”
Merlin snorted. “I’m not some delicate girl you know. I’m fine. Gaius said it would help me to be out of the tower.”
“Well, if you fall again, I’m not catching you.”
Merlin laughed. “You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
“Only until you do something even stupider.” Arthur teased.
“Prat.” Merlin muttered, and Arthur grinned at him.
A hush seemed to fall over the room, and both men looked up in time to see as Morgana entered the room. Arthur’s eyes widened when he saw what she was wearing.
“God have mercy.” He whispered.
Merlin nodded next to him, his eyes just as wide. “Does she always dress like that?”
“No.” Arthur shook his head. “She must be showing off.”
Gwen, Arthur almost said, and only stopped himself at the last second. “Her soulmate, of course.”
“She knows who her soulmate is?” Merlin sounded shocked.
“Not so loud!” Arthur glanced around, grateful people had started talking again. “But yes. She does.”
Merlin grinned. “That’s fantastic! Who…?”
Arthur shrugged and started walking towards Morgana. “You’ll have to ask her yourself.” He could see Gwen close behind her.
Merlin followed next to him, and whispered so quietly Arthur almost missed it. “Is she the one you told me about? The one that… changed your mind?”
“Yes.” Arthur whispered. “I’m going to tell her. About us.”
Merlin gulped, but nodded. “Alright.”
They reached the ladies, and Arthur smiled at them both. “Morgana. Gwen. You’re both looking well.”
Morgana grinned. “Why thank you Arthur.” She held her arms out and twisted from side to side, showing off her dress. “What do you think.”
“Beautiful.” Arthur said. “And capable of grabbing the attention of every man in the room.”
Morgana pulled a face. “How unfortunate for them that I don’t want any of their attention.”
Arthur snorted, and grinned at Gwen. “Very unfortunate.”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Morgana decided she wanted to wear something that would blow everyone away. Luckily, I had this made a few weeks back.”
Morgana took one of Gwen’s hands and squeezed before quickly letting go. “And it’s lovely Gwen. As always.” Then her gaze shifted to slightly behind Arthur and she raised an eyebrow. “Hello again Merlin.”
Arthur blinked in surprise, turning to Merlin. “I didn’t know you knew each other.”
Merlin smiled and ducked his head a little. “I delivered her sleeping potion a few nights ago. Gwen helped me find my way after I got lost.” At this he sent a meaningful glance Arthur’s way. “Hello again my lady. Gwen.”
“It’s good to see you Merlin.” Gwen smiles, then frowned in concern. “I heard about your fall. Are you alright?”
“Oh, I’m fine!” Merlin grinned and waved his hands. “Just a few scrapes and bruises.”
Arthur snorted. “And a serious head wound.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “I’m fine Arthur.”
Morgana was eyeing them both with suspicious eyes, and when she turned to Arther he knew what she would ask. “How did you meet Merlin, Arthur?”
Arthur smiled, and with a nod from Merlin, said. “We actually met a few days ago. Although, we hadn’t seen each other face to face until earlier today.”
Gwen gasped, a hand going to her mouth. Arthur knew what she wanted to ask and nodded. Morgana grinned, first at him then at Merlin, and nodded back.
“Well, I think we should leave you two. I’m sure you have much to talk about.” Morgana stepped closer to whisper softly. “Congratulations.”
Gwen stepped forward and winked. “Have fun you two. And please be careful.”
Arthur watched them both disappear into the crowd. That had gone well. He shot a grin to Merlin, then suddenly thought of something. He leaned closer so he could whisper directly to him.
“Is there anyone you want to tell?”
Merlin looked surprised at first, then bit his lip in a truly adorable way. “There are some people. My mother and Will, for starters, and…” he hesitated, then continued. “My teacher.”
His magic teacher. “Of course. Who is it? I may know them.”
Merlin shifted and glanced around the room. “Gaius.”
“Gaius!” Arthur’s eyes widened, and he almost took a step back in shock. “Gaius is teaching you… that?”
“How to control it, yes.” Merlin was staring at him now, slight worry on his face. “He’s the one that gave me the book.”
“Oh.” Arthur said, because there wasn’t much else he could say to that. “I didn’t know.”
He nodded. “That he had that type of… knowledge.” They fell into silence before Arthur shook it off and stepped forward. “Shall we go find him then?”
“Now?” Merlin asked.
“Yes. The food is about to be brought out. We won’t get the chance to talk again until tomorrow after that.”
“Okay.” Merlin fell into step beside him, eyes scanning for his mentor.
It didn’t take hem long to find him. He was standing on his own, seemingly content watching as everyone passed him by.
“Gaius!” Merlin called, and shoved past a knight that was blocking his way. The knight turned to yell at whoever had touched him, but one look from Arthur and he was turning back around without a word. “There you are.”
“Merlin, my boy.” Gaius greeted, then bowed his head as Arthur stepped up beside them. “Sire.”
“Gaius.” Arthur returned.
“There’s something I want to tell you.” Merlin said, then frowned. “Well, kind of.”
Gaius glanced at Arthur, then focused on Merlin. “What is it?”
Merlin licked his lips, clearly nervous, and Arthur couldn’t help but follow the movement with his eyes. “You said, earlier, that you wanted to meet- well, you know.”
Gaius stiffened, and shot Arthur another glance, so he stepped forward and smiled. “As it turns out, we already know each other.”
Gaius frowned, uncomprehending, before his eyes widened, and he glanced between the two of them. “You mean to say…?”
“Yes.” Arthur said.
Gaius looked stunned, and Arthur wanted to laugh. It wasn’t often someone surprised the physician into speechlessness. After a moment he seemed to get ahold of himself, and he looked at both men meaningfully.
“We are going to have to have a proper talk about this.” He said, then smiled. “But I am happy for you both.”
“Thank you.” Merlin said.
At that moment the king called for the beginning of the feast. Arthur bid Merlin and Gaius goodbye and made his way to the royal table. His father nodded to him stiffly, and Arthur nodded back. Morgana grinned from Uther’s other size, and Arthur smiled at her. His father raised a hand and the room fell silent.
“We have enjoyed twenty years of peace and prosperity. It has brought the kingdom and myself many pleasures, but few can compare with the honour of introducing Lady Helen of Mora.” His father smiled and gestured for Lady Helen to start as he sat down.
Everyone sat with the king. Arthur saw Gaius sit with the other councillors, Merlin nowhere to be found. Arthur looked around, following his heartstring, until he spotted him standing at the edge of the room with the servants. He rose an eyebrow at him and got a raised eyebrow back. Arthur grinned and then very deliberately looked at his goblet, then at the spare wine pitcher on the table next to Merlin.
Merlin rolled his eyes, but grinned and grabbed the pitcher.
Merlin resisted the urge to roll his eyes again as Arthur downed his entire goblet, rudely ignoring the Lady Helen as she began to sing. Merlin slipped between two serving girls whispering to each other against the wall, dodged the suspicious gaze of a guard and finally made it to the royal table.
It was then that Merlin noticed something was wrong. He felt drowsy, even a little dizzy, where mere seconds ago he had been wide awake. A quick glance around the room showed him that he wasn’t the only one. Several people already looked like they were about to fall asleep, with one noble already face first in his bowl of soup.
Lady Helen’s song rose, and Merlin dropped the pitcher of wine he had been holding. He covered his ears, trying to block out the sound as much as he could. His magic spurred to action, driven by his fear, and the world went quiet. The silence was eerie, and was only made worst as cobwebs started to appear over the sleeping forms of everyone in the room.
From his position behind the royal table it was easy to see as Lady Helen strode forward. With a cold jolt of fear, Merlin realised her gaze was focused solely on Arthur. She raised her hand, and Merlin knew he would have to act fast if he wanted to stop whatever it was she was doing.
He looked around, needing something, anything, that could help him. His eyes darted over the chandelier and then back again. He narrowed his eyes and concentrated, thinking fall fall fall, before a snap filled the air and Merlin watched as the chandelier fell on the Lady Helen.
Arthur was the first to stir. Gradually, everyone woke up, looking around in confusion at the cobwebs now covering them. Merlin looked for Gaius and Gwen, made sure they were both unharmed, and then turned his attention back to Arthur. He had stood up, along with his father, and was staring at the crushed form of Lady Helen.
Merlin followed his gaze and his eyes widened in horror.
The crumpled form trapped under the chandelier was not the form of the lovely Lady Helen. Instead, Merlin recognised the face of the old woman from days before, the one that had sworn revenge against Uther for executing her son.
She hauled herself up, and Merlin caught the glint of a knife in her hands seconds before it was flying through the air, straight towards Arthur’s chest.
Merlin yelled, and time slowed around him. He didn’t hesitate. He ran to Arthur’s side, one eye on the knife slowly spinning forwards. Merlin grabbed Arthur around the shoulders and shoved, pushing them both down as time sped up again. Arthur’s arms snapped around him, and for a moment they both lay still.
Then Arthur was pushing him away and scrambling to his feet, and Merlin flailed as he too tried to stand. When he finally found his feet it was to find the entire room staring at him, including one King Uther Pendragon.
“You saved my boy’s life.” Uther said, full of disbelief like he couldn’t believe it despite having seen it himself.
“O-oh, well.” Merlin gulped, and tried not to glance at Arthur.
“Don’t be so modest.” Uther said, finally getting over his shock. “You shall be rewarded.”
Merlin shook his head, wishing he could just sink through the floor. “No, honestly, you don’t have to Your Highness.” This time, he couldn’t help the way his eyes fluttered to Arthur. “I had to do what I could to save the Prince.”
Uther shook his head, a smile appearing on his face. It made Merlin even more uncomfortable. “No, absolutely. This merits something quite special.”
Merlin fidgeted, and decided arguing with the king was probably not a good idea. “Well…”
“You shall be rewarded a position in the royal household.” Uther announced. “You shall be Prince Arthur’s manservant.”
Merlin blinked, and turned to Arthur. His soulmate’s shocked eyes met his, and for a moment Merlin was completely lost in their blue. Then Uther moved, and the room erupted into applause. Arthur clapped him on the back, hard, and Merlin almost landed on the ground again. Arthur laughed as he flailed, and steadied him with a hand to his arm. He squeezed quickly and let go, and then Uther was barking out orders and Merlin was swept away to help clean up the mess the sorceress had made.
Arthur entered his room late that night, after hours of discussion with his father and the council members. His father had been furious that Mary Collins had managed to infiltrate the castle, and had wanted to make steps to prevent anything like it happening again.
Arthur had had to bite his tongue several times, knowing his father wouldn’t take his suggestion of stopping the persecution magic users very well.
Arthur closed the door to his rooms and sighed, slumping in place as the events of the day caught up with him. It took everything in him not to collapse and sleep where he stood. He swayed on his feet and grumbled as he headed towards the bed.
“What kind of a reward is being your manservant?”
Arthur smiled. “It’s a huge honour. Most servants have to spend years in service before they’re awarded such a position.”
Merlin grinned from his position on the floor by the fire. “Ah yes, it’s such an honour to wash your socks.”
Arthur laughed and dropped down beside him, hovering close but not touching. “And repair my armour, clean my boots-”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Yes, I get it.”
“-sweep my fireplace, exercise my dogs, muck out my stables-”
“What!” Merlin squeaked, and shoved his arm. “I am not doing that!”
Arthur laughed, and pulled Merlin into his arms. Merlin frowned for a second more, and then melted against him. Arthur sighed, content.
“I’m going to have to write to my mother about you.” Merlin mumbled. “And to Will.”
Arthur hummed, running his hand up and down Merlin’s back. “I can send them any letters the next time a messenger comes through. They’re in Ealdor, right?” Merlin nodded. “I’d like to visit one day. Meet them.”
Merlin pulled back, looking at him in surprise. “Really?”
Arthur shrugged. “You’re my soulmate. Is it really so strange that I want to meet your family?”
Merlin’s eyes shifted to the fire. “I suppose not.”
Arthur hesitated. “Unless you don’t want me to...?”
“No!” Merlin said quickly, then cringed. “I mean, of course I want you to meet them. Mother would love you. Will would be…” Merlin struggled for a moment. “Difficult, at first, but that’s because his father was killed because of a noble. He’s held a grudge against anyone of noble birth since.”
Arthur nodded, staring at the way the fire made Merlin look almost ethereal. “I would win him over. I’m not like other nobles.”
Merlin looked back to him, a smirk already in place. “No, you’re an even bigger prat than they are.”
Arthur spluttered as Merlin laughed. It was a beautiful sound, and Arthur would let him joke all he wanted if it meant he got to hear it. Without thinking Arthur reached up and cupped Merlin’s cheek in one hand. Merlin stopped laughing, and Arthur found himself enchanted by their deep blue.
“Arthur?” Merlin whispered.
“Is this okay?” He asked, because he had to be sure.
Merlin’s answering grin was blinding. “It’s more than okay.”
Arthur grinned, and then Merlin’s lips were on his, and for that moment the world was perfect.
Merlin pulled back and laughed. “Is this another one of my manservant duties?”
“Idiot.” Arthur grinned, and kissed him again.
Thank you all so much for all the support you've given me and this story. All your comments and kudos have meant the world to me. <3 See you all in the next one!