Gwen lunges toward Lamia with a sense of courage she never knew she possessed. All she registers is Merlin being dragged away before she just acts. Although not as competent with a sword as a knight, she manages to wound Lamia, who lets out a pained shriek. It’s enough to incapacitate Lamia into letting go of Merlin. Gwen stumbles to the ground along with Merlin, who immediately places himself in front of her. Lamia only takes seconds to recover before she hovers over the two of them again, ready to strike.
Gwen can’t hear anything over the pounding of her heart. She grips Merlin’s tunic sleeve tighter, looking over to him as if for the last time. She expects to see fear and guilt etched upon his face. What she sees is gold.
Merlin’s eyes are glowing gold. One of his hands is outstretched, mouth just about to open. Gwen gapes at him, her gaze torn between him and Lamia, wondering what will happen next.
But Gwen doesn’t have to wonder long, as suddenly a sword stabs Lamia through the back, revealing a worried Arthur. Merlin’s eyes fade back to normal, as if the golden hue was never there to begin with. Shakily, Gwen chokes out his name, then surges to greet him. She clings onto him, practically leaping into his arms. A sob forces its way out as they hug, but she refuses to let herself feel weaker than she already does.
“You carry on, don’t worry about me.”
Merlin’s voice breaks them from each other, and Gwen is brought back to the reality of everything that just happened. Arthur heads over to help Merlin up, while Gwen hangs back, still shaking.
After a few bickering remarks, Arthur rejoins Gwen. She wraps an arm around his middle, reveling in the comfort someone familiar brings her. Because suddenly, her whole view of Merlin has been turned upside down. Merlin, the one who Arthur beckons to follow behind them to safety, is a sorcerer.
Everything feels too overwhelming. Lamia was harrowing enough, but to have this newfound secret suddenly revealed to her? That makes her feel all the more anxious. She sticks close to Arthur as they head back to the village. If Merlin is suspicious of Gwen, then he doesn’t let anything on. She sees Merlin rubbing at his back, as if in pain, and she swallows down the immediate need to help her friend. It’s just too much right now. Besides, Merlin appears to be doing alright, if not a bit bruised, so Gwen figures it’s okay to keep her distance for the time being.
They return to Camelot soon after the knights are all deemed well enough to travel. Things are uncomfortable with the knights, as well, after everything that occurred, so Gwen mainly just stays to herself or with Arthur. She doesn’t know what else to do.
When the castle finally comes into view, Gwen heaves a great sigh of relief. Maybe now everything can finally get back to normal. However, as she glances at Merlin, she realizes that nothing will never be the same again. Even as she gets back to work, she can’t stop thinking about it all. Lamia. The Knights. Merlin.
Gwen’s had a rocky past with sorcery. Obviously, she’s grown accustomed to not having any sorcerers around because of the ban on magic in Camelot. Gwen was raised to fear sorcery, to view it as something purely evil. Still, Gwen’s father always taught them never to hate anyone, that they should always be kind and true to themselves. So, despite Uther’s views on the vileness of magic, Gwen never outwardly detested magic. In fact, for a long time, Gwen was sort of indifferent on magic. She never thought of it as some terrible thing, but she also never associated it with good. What she does associate sorcery with is fear.
She’s always feared sorcery, whether it be because of the dangerous those with sorcery pose to the kingdom or because of the horrible things that happen when sorcery gets involved. Gwen could never stand the burnings; the smell of fiery flesh and screaming is something she’ll never forget. And then, it all became unimaginably worse when her own father was executed on the crime of sorcery, a crime he didn’t even commit. And the nightmares are horrific. She had hoped they would vanish after time, but now she knows better. Still, she wakes up some nights gasping for air as she cries, fear flooding through her veins. So yes, magic scares her.
But when she thinks of Merlin, one of her closest friends, she can’t imagine ever being fearful of him. Besides, he just saved her life. If it wasn’t for him, for his magic, Gwen may not have made it out of there alive. She knows that Merlin would never hurt her, and she trusts him with her life. He’s always there for her, no matter how tough things may get. And Merlin has always had such a kind heart and giving personality. He makes everyone around him happier, even Arthur (though he’ll never admit it). So, even though Gwen equates sorcery with fear and death, she can’t possibly equate Merlin with anything other than goodness and light.
She feels so conflicted between her views of magic and her views of Merlin that she ends up avoiding him for a good couple of days. When Arthur asks her about it, she talks it up to everything she’s been through, which technically isn’t a lie. She hates lying to Arthur, but she can’t find it in herself to tell him the truth. Similarly, she can’t find it in herself to tell Merlin that she knows.
And the longer Gwen thinks about it, the more she understands. As the months pass by, she observes Merlin in a different perspective, and slowly but surely it all starts to come together.
The first thing she notices is the way Merlin tenses when Arthur, or anyone else for that matter, mentions magic. Immediately, it’s as if Merlin’s on constant guard. Gwen doesn’t know how she didn’t notice Merlin’s reactions before. His expression drops to something serious, and his eyes hold a deep worry in them, traveling far beneath the surface. You can tell he’s trying his hardest not to react, but now that Gwen knows his secret, it’s like she has another view into his behavior. She can see every nervous fidget, every hand clenching into his trousers, the strained nod he sends Arthur when Arthur declares some type of lookout or attack on a sorcerer. She may not be able to understand everything that Merlin’s feeling, but she can tell it’s eating him up inside.
And that’s just the first of it. She also begins to notice that Merlin does a lot more work than he appears to do. In addition to being Arthur’s manservant, Gwen often finds Merlin coming back to Gaius’s worse for wear. He always brushes it off if she asks, usually claiming that “Arthur worked me too hard at training, the prat,” or “I had a run in with a ditch while collecting herbs for Gaius.” But she sees the weariness behind his smile, the complete and utter exhaustion in his gait. She knows that he’s been doing a lot more for all of them than he’s ever let on. Gwen only wonders what he’s hiding behind his mask.
Through the months, Gwen’s mood shifts from fear to anger. Anger that Merlin kept this from her. She thought they were best friends, that they told each other everything. Gwen has certainly told Merlin everything. But this part of Merlin that he’s been hiding from her makes Gwen feel like she doesn’t even know him at all.
However, after the anger passes, Gwen starts to feel a bit guilty about it all. She’s been keeping Merlin’s magic a secret for all of a few months, and already the toll of keeping it has been weighing on her constantly. She can only imagine what Merlin’s been going through if he’s had his magic for the whole time he’s been in Camelot. But the part that makes Gwen feel the most guilty it that she never noticed. She always expressed her concern for Merlin, of course, but whenever he used a typical excuse, she assumed everything was fine. Even those times when things seemed a bit more than suspicious, Gwen never thought twice. All this time, Merlin has been guarding this secret in fear for his life, and as far as Gwen knows, he’s been dealing with it alone.
So, as conflicted as Gwen feels about everything, she comes to realize that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that Merlin is a sorcerer because Merlin is her friend. And as Merlin’s friend, Gwen can’t stand to hide from him the fact that she knows about his magic.
They’ve interacted plenty of times since that day, but to Gwen they all felt forced, like she was pretending. She wants to feel that bond of friendship again. She cares for Merlin, as she knows he cares for her, and she wants to make everything right again.
Of course, the day that she chooses to do it ends up being the worst possible time.
Gwen awakens that morning with one thought on her mind: Tell Merlin. So, after eating and attending to her morning duties, she immediately heads to find Merlin. She goes to Arthur’s chambers, first, as that’s where Merlin usually is in the mornings. To her surprise, she only finds Arthur in there, eating his own breakfast.
“Good morning, Guinevere,” Arthur greets, surprised.
“Good morning,” Gwen greets back, smiling as he stops eating to kiss her cheek. “You haven’t seen Merlin, have you?”
Arthur rolls his eyes at this statement, already confirming the answer to her question before he even responds. “That idiot didn’t even wake me this morning! He’s just lucky that I didn’t have anything pressing to attend to. When he gets back, though, he’s definitely going to pay with some time in the stocks.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh?” Gwen asks, knowing that Arthur doesn’t truly mean his threats. “I’m sure he’s just busy with chores for Gaius. Let me know if you see him, though. I need to talk with him about something.”
“Or at the tavern,” Arthur adds under his breath, earning a stern glance from Gwen. He eases up. “Fine, I’ll let you know. But if you find him, you let him know that I’m this close to firing him!”
Gwen smiles. “Of course. I’ll see you later, Arthur.”
With one last kiss goodbye, Gwen leaves Arthur’s chambers in search of Merlin yet again. She heads down to Gaius’s next, hoping that he truly is there helping out the Physician. When she arrives, though, she only sees Gaius searching through some potions.
“Ah, hello Gwen. What can I do for you?” Gaius asks.
“I’m afraid I’m just searching for Merlin. You haven’t seen him, have you?”
Gaius raises an eyebrow. “No, I haven’t. He wasn’t here when I got up, so I just figured he was with Arthur. Is he not?”
“Arthur hasn’t seen him. Gave me quite the earful about it.”
A worried expression appears on Gaius’s face, and Gwen has a feeling that it’s from more than just him wondering where his missing ward may have gone. She hesitates before asking the next question.
“Gaius….could his disappearance have something to do with his….abilities?” Gwen asks gently, biting her lip.
Gaius startles a bit, staring at her openly before putting a blank expression back on. “I can’t say I know what you’re talking about.”
“Please, Gaius, I’m really worried about Merlin. I know about everything–the magic. I found out after Lamia, and I’ve been keeping it a secret from him that I know, but now I feel like I need to tell him, but he’s missing and I’m worried that it’s something serious–”
Gaius places a hand on her arm. “Calm down, Guinevere. I have to say, I’m surprised that you know, but Merlin never has been the most careful with his magic.”
“So do you think that’s why he’s gone? Is it something to do with him protecting us again?”
Gaius sighs, rubbing his brow. “I can’t say for certain, but usually that’s what his disappearances end up being about. Usually, he tells me what’s going on before wandering off, at least.”
“He could be in danger,” Gwen realizes. “I have to go find him.”
“You must stay here, Gwen, where it is safe. I don’t know what kind of trouble my boy has gotten himself into now, but I’m certain he wouldn’t want you to risk your life on top of that. He comes out of these things.”
“But how does he come out of them?! Maybe he survives, but at what cost? He’s throwing himself at danger for our expense! I have to help him.”
Gaius relents. “I understand, but please be careful. Who knows what Merlin is up to this time. I would advise you to take a knight, but I have a feeling you wouldn’t listen.”
Gwen shakes her head. “I can’t risk them finding out about Merlin. I might not be completely comfortable with the idea of his magic yet, but I do know that Merlin is my friend, and I will not betray him. Now, do you have any idea of where I might start looking?”
Gaius thinks to himself for a moment before remembering, “Merlin did say something last night about going to the forest for more herbs. I didn’t think anything of it, after all we are running quite low on some items. We typically gather herbs down by the creek.”
“The forest creek. I’ll start there, then. Thank you, Gaius.”
“Thank you, Gwen, for being such a loyal friend to Merlin.”
Gwen smiles, nodding her farewell to the Physician. She only hopes that her loyalty proves true enough that she can find Merlin.
The forest has a strange air to it. The lack of any wind makes the trees stand unnaturally still and silent. Despite the bright shining sun that morning, there’s a dark mood within the forest as she wanders through it. In one hand, she holds a sword, the same one she wounded Lamia with months ago. It seems silly, but the sword reminds her of her bravery, and it gives her strength.
As she continues on her trek through the forest, worried thoughts play through her head about what condition she might find Merlin in. Gwen doesn’t know what she would do if she lost her closest friend.
Gwen reaches the creek bed, but Merlin is no where to be found. She isn’t surprised, as she figured that Merlin wouldn’t be out for so long merely collecting herbs. Gwen continues searching as the day wears on, only stopping to drink and eat, replenishing her energy.
Gwen walks a long distance in search of Merlin, though she never strays into unfamiliar parts of the forest in fear that she won’t find her way back. Her feet ache horribly, and her body is weak, but she refuses to give up before nightfall. The sun rises and sets, and soon Gwen is left searching in the near dark with only the stars to guide her. She’s about ready to call it quits, as she can’t search for Merlin properly if she gets incapacitated herself, when she suddenly hears a deep, loud noise in the distance.
She chases after the noise, despite not knowing what the noise could possibly be. The noise sounds again, only softer, and Gwen continues to trace it as best she can in the dark. Brush scrapes at her hands as she hurries through the foliage, following her only lead she’s had all day.
Finally, panting in exertion, Gwen stumbles into a clearing. Although it is dark, she can make out a familiar form kneeling on the ground next to something. Gwen shudders in relief and sprints over to him.
“Merlin!” she calls out, hitching up her dress as she goes. The figure startles, turning toward the noise. As she gets closer, he comes into better view.
“Gwen?!” Merlin asks in confusion, standing up to greet her.
Gwen smacks into him, clinging on tightly to his form. He winces, but clings back to her just as tightly. An odd chirping noise interrupts their reunion. Gwen pulls away, only to find what looks like a tiny baby dragon at their feet, white as snow, and a cracked egg. She gasps in surprise.
“I-I can explain,” Merlin stutters, grappling for some sort of excuse. Meanwhile, Gwen kneels next to the creature, cooing at it. The dragon snuffles, scooting closer to her in caution. Gwen offers a hand, allowing the dragon to come to her. It stretches out to sniff at her, obviously deeming her acceptable as he comes closer to nudge into her hand with another adorable chirp. Gwen giggles, stroking the strange feeling skin with her palm as the dragon continues to nuzzle her.
“Adorable. What’s its name?” Gwen wonders idly as she scratches at the dragon’s neck.
“Aithusa, her name is Aithusa,” Merlin replies, still shocked at everything that’s happening around him. “Gwen–why are you here?”
Gwen stops petting Aithusa, who continues to explore the world around her. She stands again, facing Merlin. “I was worried about you, of course! No one knew where you were, Merlin. You could have been dead!”
“Well, I’m obviously alive,” Merlin jokes. Gwen smacks his arm.
“That’s not funny, Merlin!”
“I’m sorry, really.” He pauses, in thought. “…You don’t seem very surprised by the dragon.”
“Oh, I am a bit. I didn’t expect you to have hatched a dragon egg, but I’m not surprised that you’re getting into something magic related. That’s actually what I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
Merlin plays dumb. “W-what? What are you talking about?”
“Do not think me stupid, Merlin. I have known about your magic for a while now, since the Lamia incident. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I was trying to wrap my head around everything.”
Merlin gapes at her, face paler than normal. His fingers twitch, and he looks around, as if ready to bolt from her. She takes a step forward, ignoring his flinch, and brings him into another hug. He hesitates before cautiously hugging back.
“So, you don’t hate me?” Merlin wonders, still on edge.
Gwen chuckles. “I don’t hate you, Merlin. I don’t think I could ever hate you. I’ll admit, I was confused and hurt at first, because I’ve been taught to fear magic my entire life. I never would have expected you to be a sorcerer. But then, it all began to make sense. You’ve been protecting us all this entire time.”
She feels the heat of Merlin’s blush against her cheek. “It’s my duty to protect my friends and Camelot.”
“I’m sorry that I wasn’t honest with you about knowing.”
Merlin pulls away this time, looking her in the eye. “You’re sorry?! I’m sorry, Gwen. You’re my best friend. I should have been honest with you about my magic from the beginning, but I was scared.”
“You’re my best friend too, Merlin. And you don’t need to be scared any longer, not around me.”
Merlin smiles, appearing lighter than before. The feeling of Aithusa pawing at her leg gently interrupts the moment. Gwen looks down, unable to do anything but smile at the baby dragon.
“Don’t worry, little one. We haven’t forgotten about you,” Gwen coos, reaching down to pick her up. Aithusa trills happily at the attention. “Speaking of which, what are we going to do about her?”
Merlin scratches his head. “I hadn’t really thought any further ahead.”
Gwen rolls her eyes. “Of course not. Honestly, you men are all the same sometimes. It’s a good thing I’m here to help now. What if we find her a nice cave to reside in where no one will discover her?”
“That won’t work, at least not now. She’s a baby, she needs someone to care for her constantly. I thought Kilgharrah would naturally do that, but I guess I should do it myself.”
“Kilgharrah?” Gwen questions, then backtracks. “Not now, later. You do still have a lot to explain to me, Merlin. Don’t think you’re getting off the hook quite so easily.”
Merlin laughs. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Well, I suppose we’ll just have to bring her to Camelot for now. Only temporarily though! Maybe you can disguise her.”
“Disguise her? How?”
Gwen stares at him. “Magic?”
“Oh, oh yeah! Maybe. I’d have to consult some of my books, though. Maybe she could be disguised as a large bird, like an owl.”
“We’ll figure out the details on our way back to Camelot. Also, just so you know, Arthur is probably planning your punishment as we speak.”
Merlin groans. “Of course. That prat. You couldn’t convince him otherwise?”
“I tried! But you know Arthur. Besides, I do think you deserve a bit of reprimand after leaving to hatch a dragon egg! You could have been seriously hurt, Merlin.”
“I know, but I’m alright, I promise.” As if to confirm this, Aithusa hops from Gwen’s arms over to Merlin’s shoulder, sniffing him. Merlin chuckles, sweeping a hand over her flank. She happily chirps and curls around his shoulders, fitting perfectly.
“You’re still going to get checked out by Gaius when we get back.”
“Fine, if that will convince you.”
Gwen glances over at Merlin, knowing now that she’s finally seeing him for who he really is. “I’m glad I know, Merlin.”
“I’m glad you know, too.”