Character/s: Arthur, Gaius, Uther, Aredian
Summary: Aredian’s plan for Merlin is revealed.
Word Count: 982
Prompt: #19 Eavesdropping
Author's Notes: Sequel to #18 Gold: “They are nothing but beasts”. This scene takes place the day after.
Uther liked to convene his council before lunch, forcing Arthur to cut practice short if he wanted to participate. He was going to be late today, though, and took a shortcut through the servants’ corridors to minimise the lost time, meaning he ended up outside the hidden door that the servants used in order to come and go discreetly. Arthur could already see Uther’s withering stare as the Prince burst into the council chamber in the middle of poor Geoffrey’s hundredth plea for an assistant in the library. Arthur opened the door just a little and peeked inside. Geoffrey was not speaking. All the councilmen were turned towards the end of the table, where Gaius stood before the council.
“Your Majesty will recognise this, no doubt,” the physician was saying. He held up a small, bottle, filled with a green potion.
Uther leaned forward in his chair. “I do. It allows one to keep going without rest. It’s been a while since we’ve needed it.”
Gaius inclined his head. “On long campaigns I have administered it in small doses, but Your Majesty has not been to war for some time.” He scowled. “Now Aredian has been giving this to Merlin in his water.”
Uther leaned back again and raised an eyebrow at Aredian, who sat at his right hand. “What good will it do to give the boy such strength?”
“It keeps him from resting!” Gaius almost shouted, making the whole council start. “The potion is extremely dangerous in uncontrolled doses. Without proper sleep, Merlin will lose his mind before long!”
Arthur had never seen Gaius so angry in his life.
Uther turned to Aredian. “Well?”
Aredian, damn him, was as calm as ever. “Gaius is right, Sire.” He turned to Gaius. “It must be hard for you to watch your apprentice come under suspicion. Brings back memories?”
“Merlin is innocent.”
“So you haven’t taught him any of your old tricks?”
“Of course, not!”
“Perhaps he doesn’t need you to teach him. Perhaps the student is far more powerful than the master.”
Gaius grew quiet. “What do you mean?”
Aredian considered Gaius in silence for a long moment. Then he turned to Uther. “Sire, have you considered what it would mean if my suspicions prove correct?”
Uther nodded. “The boy would be a menace like we have not faced since the Purge.”
“A dragonlord,” Aredian said.
An almost imperceptible start went through Gaius' old frame. “A dragonlord?” he echoed, in no more than a whisper.
“Yes.” Aredian smiled. “You remember Balinor, don't you Gaius? I believe you were quite an admirer of his back in the day.”
“It is not in every man's power to command dragons,” Gaius replied, but some of his stoicism was gone.
Arthur's pulse was speeding up. The air in the room was getting hard to breathe, the past crowding in with its many untold stories. The tension between Aredian and Gaius was palpable, like a taut, vibrating string.
“He escaped my net then,” Aredian mused, sounding almost fond. “Ran away across the border to Cenred's kingdom. Ran away ... to Ealdor.”
Gaius barked a laugh, but it didn't sound genuine. “And you think Merlin is Balinor's son, is that it?”
“It's possible,” Aredian said, folding his hands on the table. “But to find out for sure, we shall have to wait a few days.”
For a moment it was quiet. It seemed to take Gaius a great effort to speak. “Wait for what?”
“For my men to bring Merlin's mother from Ealdor.”
Gaius closed his eyes. He looked ancient and exhausted, weighed down by the past. Arthur felt suddenly ashamed, though he could not have said why.
Aredian rose from his chair, bowing his head to Uther. “Meanwhile, Sire, I would like to keep the boy safely under lock and key.”
“How long before Hunith arrives?” Gaius asked sharply.
Aredian smile grew sharper. “Oh, I’m sure they will be here soon. Three days perhaps.”
Gaius' hand clenched around the bottle. “And will you continue to give Merlin the potion?”
Aredian smiled. “I'm not inhuman. I provide my prisoner with food and water should he desire it, and if he consumes it ...”
“If he consumes it, as he must, he will have lost his mind by the time his mother arrives!”
Aredian stood, no longer a snake, but a pillar of stone, hard and cold. “And as he loses his mind, so shall the shackles on his powers weaken, until the taint springs free, and he is revealed as the beast he is.”
Gaius took a step back, swaying. His eyes fell on Uther, and Arthur found his own drawn, likewise, to the King, but he could only see his father’s shoulders, and they expressed none of his thoughts.
“We must know, Gaius,” Uther said finally. “The boy was present at the site of the fire, he was not with Arthur when the attack on the town happened, and there has been no more incidents since his imprisonment. There is reasonable suspicion against him. I cannot but give Aredian free reign, and if what he believes is true, it will be the end of a grave threat to my son.”
Gaius looked stricken. He neither bowed nor spoke, just turned, unsteadily, and walked from the room.
Arthur sank down along the wall, the slowly rising chatter of the council an indistinct buzz in his ears. Merlin a dragonlord? It was beyond absurd. But Uther would not see that. Arthur admired his father’s ruthless pursuit of the truth, and of evil wherever it hid, but this time, all that ruthlessness would accomplish was the destruction of an innocent boy.
Merlin was going to go slowly mad down in the dungeon, while Aredian’s men dawdled on the way back from Ealdor, with poor Hunith in tow.
Hidden in the secret passage outside the council chamber, Arthur found himself trembling.