They arrive at dusk, startling a few chickens that go scampering through the yards. Hunith comes out with the other villagers to greet them with a warm smile. Merlin had written to her a couple weeks prior, that he and Arthur, and a few of the knights, would be coming to visit for the harvest festival.
When Hunith saw her son, she barely recognized him. Gone were the days of tattered clothes and drab tunics. The man that rode in now sat proudly on his horse in a shimmering blue cloak that made his blue/gold eyes shine in the evening light.
Sidling up next to him, with a fond smile, was the King of Camelot, Arthur Pendragon. They both dismounted and met Hunith in a warm embrace. Fighting back her tears of pride she offered, “You boys must be exhausted. I have a stew prepared for you all and John has provided some mead.”
Hearing this, Gwaine pushed his way through, “Lead the way, m’lady.”
Chuckling, the rest followed them to a table that had been set out outside of Hunith’s hut.
They all sat and quickly fell into amicable conversation about their journey there and the recent happenings of Camelot. The other villagers sat nearby fawning over the knights and King. There were many whispered conversations of disbelief about Merlin. Many of them had known Merlin since he was young and knew of his magic. He had tried to hide it then, with little success. He had been such a menace with his friend Will that they had been glad when he left. They did miss the overnight bountiful harvests and the drought-ending rains that only after his departure did they come to understand were the young warlock’s doing.
Following their evening meal, they all sat around outside for a while. Several of the villagers came up to the members of Camelot’s visiting party to make small talk. There were a few attempts at flirting by some of the young women of the town that were brushed off by all. But mostly there were words of thanks and gratitude.
Ealdor had come under Camelot’s control in recent years following the death of Cendred. And moreover, Albion was starting to come into its destiny of peace and prosperity. Everyone, whether willing to admit it or not, knew who this success should be attributed to.
The villagers were prideful people, but after the first person went up to Merlin directly to offer their thanks, the rest soon followed. Arthur smiled at the scene and felt a loving warmth for his partner. He delighted in the way that Merlin could connect with everyone. This had been a common sight to him in Camelot from the very beginning. But he knew it meant more here in Merlin’s home.
As the stars came out, conversation began to fade as many people returned home. The knights were staying in various homes throughout the village and Merlin and Arthur were staying at Hunith’s.
When they got inside, they rolled out their bedrolls near the fire and Merlin waved his hand with a whispered word to light it. Arthur never got used to the domestic displays of magic. Growing up, the only magic he had seen was used in big powerful acts against Camelot. But with the removal of the ban, he began to see what magic could really be.
A walk through the lower town in Camelot would reveal simple spells to pick up discarded items. There were always brooms and mops working on their own. Or there would be small fires and candles lit in shops and homes with a single word. He could nearly sense the joy from laughing children whose parents would lift them up in the air for a brief moment, or make their favorite toys seemingly come to life by moving them about with commonplace spells.
But most of all, Arthur would never get used to Merlin’s magic. He couldn’t see how he had ever been afraid of this when Merlin would stop next to a toddler and release small butterflies made of light. Or when he would make shapes out of the fires lit all along a street to the delight of everyone walking by.
These simple acts were done by Merlin with nothing more than a thought. Arthur knew that Merlin was more than a simple sorcerer, he knew of all the things he had done to protect himself and Camelot. But to see his power used for nothing more than bringing people joy, and without so much as a word, made Arthur’s stomach feel as though it were filled with those butterflies of light.
Here, in front of Hunith’s fireplace, Arthur watched Merlin play with the fire. The firelight danced across his face as he made all manner of creatures dance around the room before fading back into the fire.
As the last of the fire animals faded, Arthur locked his gaze on Merlin. Closing the small space between them, he ran his thumb along Merlin’s jaw, then tilted his chin to capture the warlock’s lips against his own.
“Merlin,” Arthur breathed into the kiss.
Merlin sighed and relaxed into Arthur’s embrace and softly returned the tender kiss. After a few minutes, they broke apart and rest their foreheads against one another so that their eyes could meet.
Merlin had never imagined that his destiny would lead him here. Every day he woke up fearing that it had been a dream, only to be met with Arthur’s fond smiles and light touches. They stood locked in one another’s eyes until the door opened and Hunith walked in.
Hunith took in the sight before her and let out a breath that she had been holding since she first heard from Merlin on the change in his and Arthur’s relationship. She had wanted to believe it, wanted to be happy for him. But after having feared the reveal of magic for so long, she was reluctant to believe it. Now though, she knew, knew that Arthur would never let harm come to Merlin. Knew that he was safe and happy.
“Sorry to interrupt, just pretend like I’m not even here,” Hunith said as she put up a blanket to separate her bed from the rest of the room.
Merlin gave a sheepish smile, but nudged Arthur back playfully. Hunith could hear their whispered banter as they settled into their bedrolls and the fire dimmed to a soft light.
In the morning, Hunith was awoken by the sound of movement and soft conversation in the hut. She got up slowly and carefully began to pull back the hung-up blanket divider. She could see that Merlin had lit the fire again and put water over it to boil for their breakfast. By the looks of it though, Merlin hadn’t got up to do this, he was snug against Arthur, resting his head on the other’s chest. They hadn’t noticed Hunith moving yet so she cleared her throat and met their smiles.
“Water is boiling mum, I’ll get up and get breakfast ready.” Said Merlin, rolling over before pushing himself to his feet. Arthur looked slightly at a loss being left alone, but quickly followed Merlin in standing.
Arthur announced that he would go get more water and then took the bucket to go down to the well. Through the window, they could see that he was stopped by Percival for a quick conversation.
“I want you to know, Merlin, that I am happy for you.” Hunith started.
Merlin shrugged and tried to look indifferent but Hunith could see the small smile on his lips.
“He’s still a royal prat, you know.”
“Yes, well, you are still the same stubborn boy I’ve always known, so I can’t see that you have room to complain.”
Merlin’s smile broke into a grin at this and then he turned to finish preparing their breakfast.
The following day was the festival. The entire village spent the day preparing for it. Gwaine, Percival, and Elyan assigned themselves to collecting firewood. After they had collected more than enough firewood, likely enough to last the village through the next month, they began to mingle with the others.
Gwaine, naturally, stationed himself at the makeshift town tavern. He chatted and flirted with the locals. Their animated conversation carried down the lane.
Elyan went to visit with the local blacksmith. The town’s blacksmith was also a farmer by necessity. Elyan, with years of experience growing up under a blacksmith, offered some assistance in improving the man’s forge. They had brought with them some supplies and gifts for the town from Camelot. With Elyan’s help, the forge’s functionality and efficiency would be greatly improved. The two spent the day trading stories of the work they had seen done. Elyan was shown the blacksmith’s favorite work and complimented him on his craftsmanship. He told the story, that he had only recently learned from Merlin and Gwen, of how a sword built by his father had become a sword of legend known as the Excalibur.
Percival spent his day helping with the livestock. He had grown up in a village not dissimilar to this one and was glad to be able to help as he had when he had been young.
Merlin largely helped prepare for their feast while Arthur trailed behind him. Every time Merlin would try to give Arthur something else to do, Arthur would complain and delegate the task to someone else. Merlin only shook his kingly shadow when Arthur was caught up by some of the village elders wanting to discuss regional politics with him.
By the time of the feast, Arthur had talked to nearly every town’s person. He sat down, after the meal, next to Hunith. They were sat near the fire and watched as Merlin and the knights danced with the villagers.
“I haven’t got the chance to say it yet, but thank you, sire.” Hunith said while keeping her eyes on her son.
“What for?” Asked the king, looking towards Hunith now.
Taking her eyes from the reverie, Hunith replied with a soft, almost sad smile, “For loving him.” She paused, then continued, “I have always been afraid for him, but I don’t have to be now. That is the greatest gift I could ask for.”
Arthur’s breath hitched momentarily, caught up in the emotion behind her words. Then with a gentle smile, he replied, “It’s been my pleasure. I should be thanking you for sending him to Camelot in the first place.”
“As you’ve no doubt come to learn, my Lord, that was hardly a choice. He would have found his way there eventually with your destiny at play. A destiny I cannot even begin to imagine.”
They both sighed lightly, then Arthur asked, “What was he like back then? Before being weighed down by destiny and its responsibility.”
Hunith smirked, thinking back to all of the mischief that Merlin and Will had got up to when they were just kids. “He was happy. Not as happy as he is now. But he was a happy child and carefree. Merlin only ever had one good friend, but the trouble they got up to, it could rival a whole lot of children.”
“Will?” Arthur asked, knowing the answer before seeing the nod in response.
“Yes, most of the other children outcast Merlin,” Hunith shook her head sadly, “I tried to get him to hide his magic, but everyone knew, they were just polite enough not to say anything.”
“What was Merlin’s magic like, as a kid? He told me he was born with it, but I have never been able to imagine that.”
“Hmm,” Hunith hummed in thought, “he was more than a handful as a baby. Before he could move on his own, objects around the hut would get up and go floating through the air. I remember one of the first times it happened, he was only a couple months old at the time. He had been screaming and crying for several minutes. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, then all of a sudden, his eyes turned gold, and his favorite blanket came flying across the room. As soon as it was laid over him, he calmed and went to sleep. That was the first day I had seen him with magic, and I was terrified. There were other times before he could move on his own or talk where things would sail across the room to him. It was incredibly challenging to keep food away from him, and many objects became a hazard when he was teething.”
Hunith took a break in her story, her gaze was distant as if she was looking back in time. Arthur sat in silence, waiting for her to continue.
“It scared me every day. I was never afraid of Merlin, but I was afraid that he would be taken away. The magic has always been a part of him and it took him a long time to distinguish it from the rest of himself. But it has always been beautiful. I remember one day, he was about eight months at the time, trying to crawl and stand up. I took him outside like I normally did in the afternoon. We went into the forest and I sat him on the ground. There were a few bugs around on the flowers and his eyes were tracking them. Before I knew what he was doing, he was surrounded by a bed of flowers just like the ones that the butterflies were on. I don’t think that he could have understood at that point that it would make the butterflies go over there. But he became so excited when one landed on him, that the whole clearing filled with flowers.”
Arthur’s mouth hung open slightly. He knew a few stories from his own childhood. He felt that many of them had been exaggerated though. At only eight months old, he doubted that he could have even walked more than a few steps without assistance. To hear that Merlin had been able to fill a meadow with flowers at that age astounded him.
Hunith noticed Arthur’s expression and faltered, thinking she had said too much and spoken out of turn. But before she could worry for long, Arthur asked, “Could you tell me more? Merlin doesn’t talk much about his magic beyond what I have been able to see firsthand.”
Hunith nodded, she told him stories of sudden rainstorms in the heat of summer, or unnaturally peaceful days in the spring. She told him of the pranks that Will and Merlin would pull with the aid of Merlin’s magic. There were stories of spontaneous small fires, or sudden gusts of wind that opened the gates to the chicken coops. There were the occasional miraculous saves of villagers or their houses. Sudden healing from deadly ailments. The rerouting of a flood headed straight for the town. And the splendid overnight growth of withering crops. Hunith explained that many of these were not intentional on Merlin’s part. She suspected that he would hear complaints or grievances while walking through the village, and then his magic would do the rest for him, aided by his kind heart.
Hunith had also explained that this lack of control was why she had sent him away. In all his years in Ealdor, he never used a single spell. She wanted for him to be able to control it, for his own safety. There was no way that she could have known of his destiny.
By the time Merlin came over to them, Arthur’s eyes were misty from unshed joyful tears. Merlin’s step faltered, clumsy as ever, when he saw Arthur and his mother with broad grins. Both looked at him as if they had never seen anything more perfect.
Regaining his composure, Arthur said, “Your mother was just telling me how difficult of a child you were. You’ve clearly always had little regard for the rules.” Arthur teased.
Merlin smirked and said, “Please don’t tell me you were telling him about that time with the pies.”
“No, she wasn’t, but now I think I need to hear the story.” Arthur lightly shoved Merlin’s shoulder.
Realizing his mistake, Merlin said, “No, really, no story to tell there. What pies? You know, I think I might just go get some pie.” Then he got up and scuttled off again.
Arthur tracked his movements with his eyes and Hunith laughed softly, “I’ll let him tell you that one.” She smiled.
When Merlin returned Hunith stood up to offer him her spot, explaining she was going to go talk to her friend Anne. Merlin took the spot on the bench next to Arthur.
Arthur turned to Merlin and grabbed his bowl to set aside. Then, as Merlin whined a complaint of not being finished with that, Arthur shut him up with a soft press of lips to his mouth. Merlin’s complaints died in his throat as he returned Arthur’s affections and threaded a hand into the blond’s hair.
“I’m guessing… this means… she didn’t tell you… the pie story.” Merlin said between kisses.
“Hmm,” Arthur hummed into Merlin’s shoulder, “no, but I think you are going to have to tell me that one.”
“Later,” Merlin breathed.
Relenting, Arthur continued his soft kisses against the side of Merlin’s neck, “You are amazing you know. I don’t tell you that enough.”
Merlin let out air, in a laugh that was nearly a soft moan, “I-I am guessing she at least told you the flood story then.”
“Among others, yes. In a different world, I would have liked to have known you then. I wouldn’t trade what we have now for the world, but I wish I could have seen you then.”
“Yes, maybe if you weren’t such a royal prat, we would’ve got along.”
Arthur leaned back, faking hurt, and lightly shoved Merlin’s shoulder.
Merlin simply smiled and picked up his neglected bowl to eat his remaining dessert. Even the Great Dragon couldn’t have imagined this destiny.