"I am an idiot."
"I am actually an idiot."
"I can't believe I didn't see that coming."
"I was so stupid."
"You were very stupid, Merlin."
The warlock's head shot up from the table, his expression a mix of confusion and hurt.
"Wha – Gaius!"
"What?" Gaius snapped, crossing his arms and giving his charge The Glare. "You've been moaning about how stupid you were for the past three days. An old man can only take so much of your whining!"
"Whining!" Merlin wailed, clutching his hair with both hands, "Whining! Gaius, I think we have bigger problems than my whining! I've doomed Camelot and Arthur to an early death by the moron who's now practically Arthur's best friend! I've doomed Gwen to a life without her husband! I've doomed everyone. We're all doomed!" He banged his head on the table. Gaius remained silent.
Three seconds…four seconds…five –
"I was so stupid!"
"MERLIN!" Gaius shouted, and Merlin was so shocked that he tumbled off his stool. "I will not listen to your blubbering for another minute! Go complain to the dragon if you need someone to whine to. He was the one who told you to kill Mordred, wasn't he?"
Merlin froze on the floor, staring at Gaius with a blank expression.
Gaius rubbed his temple, feeling a headache starting to form behind his eyes. He'd broken his protégé. Of all the –
"I AM GOING TO KILL KILGHARRAH!"
Gaius jumped as Merlin practically exploded from the floor, his eyes flashing angrily. Before the old physician could advise the warlock that killing a dragon was A Very Bad Idea, Merlin was gone, the door slamming closed behind him.
Gaius sighed. It was going to be a long week.
"Ah young warlock, you were wise to summon – "
"Shut up! I am never taking advice from you again! Do you understand me? Never. Again."
"Merlin!" Kilgharrah looked affronted. "That is no way to speak to your elder!"
"No way to speak to your elder?" Merlin shrieked, and several crows startled out of the trees, squawking angrily. "You'll be lucky if I ever summon you ever again! 'Merlin, make sure you kill Mordred!' 'Merlin, you must kill Mordred in order for Camelot to survive,' 'Merlin, you must not fail again,' 'Merlin, you should do whatever you must, including LIE to Arthur about magic not being evil, to kill Mordred!'"
"I did not say that!" Kilgharrah interjected indignantly, but Merlin wasn't listening.
"Of all the stupid pieces of advice – "
"You did not actually tell the young Pendragon that magic is evil, did you?" Kilgharrah asked anxiously, shuffling his wings.
"Of course I did, because you told me to – "
"Merlin!" Kilgharrah roared, and proceeded to do the equivalent of a dragon facepalm. "Why would you do that? Obviously the Disir wanted Arthur to accept magic in order for the kingdom to survive! Or did you not hear them say that pain and ruin would come to Camelot if he continued to persecute the Old Religion?"
"Of course I did, I'm not stupid!" Merlin shouted back, his eyes flashing dangerously. "But you told me to kill Mordred. I thought I was protecting the kingdom!"
"Young warlock," Kilgharrah said dangerously, "It is appallingly clear that you have not become any wiser about seeing visions of the future. Wasn't that lesson with Morgana, Uther, and the dagger enough for you?"
"You told me to kill Mordred! This is all your fault!"
"You are never going to be allowed to see visions of the future ever again. You are clearly not mature enough to handle them."
"I can't believe I listened to you!"
"Merlin, have you listened to a word I've just said?"
"I am never summoning you again. Ever. Good-bye, Kilgharrah."
The loud bang of his chamber door flying open caused Arthur to jump, making him knock over his inkpot and completely ruin the important document he'd been about to sign. He stared in shock as Merlin charged into the room, his neckerchief on backwards and his hair in wild disarray.
"Merlin, what have I said about knocking – "
"You!" Merlin shouted, pointing right at his king. "We're leaving in the hour!"
Any complaints about the upset inkpot quickly fled from Arthur's mind.
"Excuse me?" he spluttered.
"I was wrong about the Disir," Merlin said, pacing frantically back and forth in front of Arthur's desk. "I gave you the wrong advice. I've doomed Camelot and you to an untimely demise."
Arthur rubbed his face with one hand, giving up entirely on his paperwork. It was far too early in the morning for this.
"Merlin, I hardly think it matters. Sir Mordred is alive and well. Those three old ladies obviously didn't know what they were talking about."
"No!" Merlin said vehemently, and Arthur leaned back a little in shock. "It is definitely not okay that Mordred is magically alive because you didn't do what the Disir wanted! Tell me that doesn't strike you as highly suspicious!"
"It doesn't strike me as highly suspicious," Arthur said flatly, eyeing Merlin with some concern. "They were three old ladies, Merlin. I'm not convinced that they hold the fate of Camelot in their hands."
"THEY'RE NOT JUST THREE OLD LADIES!" Merlin exploded, and Arthur stood up in alarm. "They're the voices of fate and they're going to kill you and destroy Camelot because I didn't tell you that magic isn't evil!"
A long pause.
"Merlin," Arthur said finally, "I think you should go see Gaius. You obviously aren't feeling well, and – "
"What the bloody hell – "
"See Arthur? Magic isn't all evil. I'm not evil and I've been using magic for years. I WAS BORN WITH IT. It's just a tool that some people use for good and some people use for evil, kind of like swords. Although I'm not sure how swords can be used for good. You and the knights like to beat me up with them. I should BANISH SWORDS FROM CAMELOT FOREVER, that will stop me from getting beat up! Banning magic is completely ridiculous and you know it, Arthur. Now get your butt on a horse and let's go back to the Disir and tell them you changed your mind."
"But – you – you have magic and you didn't tell me?"
"Uh no, obviously, because there's a ban on magic, but now that your kingdom's at risk you're going to lift that ban, right?"
"I told you I have many talents, I don't know why you're so surprised. Come on, Arthur!"
And if anyone in the castle saw an icily determined manservant dragging a spluttering and incoherent King of Camelot through the halls, they wisely let the matter slide.
"Arrrthurrr Pendragonnn, King of Cammmelot."
"Yep, that's him," Merlin said helpfully, because Arthur hadn't quite yet regained the power of speech.
"You are backkk."
"Yes he is. He's very sorry and would like to change his mind. Again."
Merlin huffed but obediently shut his mouth. The Disir didn't look all that happy to see him again, although it was kind of hard to tell when they had their hoods draped over their faces. Merlin didn't know how they could even see past all that fabric.
"Arrrthurrr Pendrag – "
"Now hang on," Arthur managed from where he was sprawled on the floor, glaring upside down at Merlin. "His name's Merlin, not Emrys."
"Do not speaaaak of that which you do not understanddd," the Disir said severely. Arthur glared at them.
"I'll speak to him however I like, he's my manservant," he said petulantly. The Disir did not look impressed.
"His name is Emrysss and he is dessstined to be at your side until Camelot fallsss."
Arthur looked at Merlin in bewilderment.
"Did you know that?" he asked, "Because I didn't."
Merlin remained silent, shuffling his feet uneasily.
"Merlin," Arthur said warningly.
"Okay, okay," Merlin caved. "I confess, I knew all along. It's our destiny to work together and create a Golden Age when we unite the Land of Albion. Only, you rejected magic and I use magic, so…that probably won't happen and you'll be betrayed by someone you trust – again – and Camelot will fall into ruin and magic will disappear and someday you'll just be a legend that no one really believes in."
Arthur gaped at Merlin in shock. Then he rounded on the Disir.
"You didn't tell me about that part!" he said indignantly. The Disir were Not Impressed.
"You have made your choiceee," they hissed together. "Your fateee is seallled."
"Would you stop talking like that?" Arthur said exasperatedly, throwing his hands in the air.
"You insssult our waysss, destroyyy our sanctuary, and mock our voiceee?"
"Damn straight," Arthur mumbled belligerently.
The Disir looked at him.
"We are impressssed," they said, to Merlin's shock. "You are a trulllly brave individual."
"I am," Arthur said, drawing himself to his full height and looking directly at one of the Disir. "And I am brave enough to embrace the Old Religion and – uh – do what I must in order to ensure that my kingdom does not fall apart. You have my word as the King of Camelot."
The Disir laughed together, a truly horrific sound that set Merlin's teeth on edge.
"Youuu have unseallled your fate and re-seallled it againnn!" they cackled. "Go, Arthur Pendragonnn. You are wise beyond your yearsss."
"Thanks," Arthur beamed. He turned to leave, and then he caught sight of Merlin hovering near the entryway. He scowled. "You," he said viciously, pointing imperiously at his manservant-turned-sorcerer-turned-destiny, "Have a lot of explaining to do."
When they arrived back in Camelot, Mordred came running to meet them.
"Arthur!" he yelled happily as he started down the steps, "You're bac – "
He broke off in a yell as he tripped over Gwen's dress, hurtled head-over-heels down the stone steps, and crashed to the bottom in a crumpled heap.
"Mordred!" Arthur yelled, vaulting off his horse, "Nooooo!"
Merlin grinned and slid neatly off his own horse, winking at a horrified Gwen.
"Not to worry, Arthur," he said cheerfully, "There's nothing I can do about a broken neck. He's dead."
"No," Arthur said stubbornly, staring mournfully at Mordred's limp body, "He was going to be such a good knight."
"He was going to stab you and betray you and cause the downfall of Camelot," Merlin snapped, stepping delicately over the knight's body. "It's better that he's out of your life before that. Trust me."
"I'm going to get him back."
Merlin stopped cold, turning slowly back around.
"I'm going to get him back," Arthur repeated stubbornly, vaulting back onto his horse. "I'm going back to the Disir and I will beg for his life. Again."
"No!" Merlin shrieked as Arthur galloped out of the courtyard. "Arthur! COME BACK!"