Title: Dust in the Wind
Pairing/s: Merlin & Arthur
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Gwen, Morgana, Uther, Aredian
Summary: Merlin is too late to save Gaius. Destiny can go fuck off.
Warnings: major character death (not Merlin or Arthur)
Word Count: 1117
Camelot_drabble Prompt: pt 419:bingo-round 2- Blowin' in the Wind
Author's Notes: Takes place during/after the Witchfinder episode. I will be continuing it after the bingo thing is done. Canon AU.
Disclaimer: Merlin characters are the property of Shine and BBC. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan
The castle was just coming into view when Merlin saw the smoke. He’d been laughing at some nonsense Arthur was spouting about Camelot and knight life, a joke that had fallen flat but it was hilarious that Arthur was trying. But as they turned toward home, anxious to get back after a week of patrols and sleeping on the hard ground, Merlin’s heart caught in his throat.
Black smoke, curling up from what looked like the center of the courtyard, could only mean one thing. A sorcerer was screaming his last.
Pushing his horse to gallop hard toward the castle, Merlin kept thinking that it was another innocent put to the flame, another magic user that only wanted to live a life without the terror that each day in Camelot brought. That if he’d been there, he might have been able to help get them out, somehow.
His mind was blank and grieving as he rode, Arthur galloping beside him.
But he knew it was much worse when Gwen was waiting for them by the gate. Crying, her face smudged in soot.
Scrambling down from his horse, Arthur at his heels, Merlin ran over to Gwen, then stopped as she stood there, wringing her hands, gulping back grief.
Finally, she said, “It’s too late. Gaius is… it’s too late.” She tried to say something else, but as Arthur put his arms around her, she began to sob.
Merlin didn’t hear anything after that. His heart had already stopped. He had only to look past the gate to see the last of the burning wood collapsing into a pile of ash and flying cinders, the chains used to imprison Gaius still glowing. There was a splinter of white bone sticking up a moment before disappearing into the pyre’s remnants.
He ran ahead anyway, then stopped at the black edge of the pyre. Around him was the smell of burnt hair and meat cooking, the acrid stink of bowels smoldering, of wool and death.
And on the balcony, Uther stood, and another man dressed all in black, gazing down, smiling at Merlin’s horror.
Time seemed to have no meaning. Uther disappeared and the other man with him, Gwen hugged him tight, Arthur next to Merlin looking as grim as Merlin had ever seen him as Arthur stared down into Gaius’s death pyre.
Gwen was babbling something of a Witchfinder going through Gaius’s rooms and him discovering a book of magic and a staff that glowed in the boards beneath Merlin’s bed and how Gaius insisted that they were his, not Merlin’s.
And that’s when Merlin knew. Gaius had protected Merlin with his life.
The guilt came crashing down. If only he’d hidden them better, if only he’d been in Camelot to defend Gaius, if only he’d been more of a son and less of an annoyance to Gaius. If only, if only.
Merlin must have been muttering something, and he was shaking so hard he thought he might shatter at any moment. But Arthur gave Merlin a half-hug, throwing one arm around Merlin’s shoulder and squeezing hard enough to penetrate the ice in Merlin’s head.
Looking like death warmed over, Morgana appeared. She tried to say something to Merlin, but it was all noise and the smell of ash and he couldn’t understand anything. The next moment or was it hours later, Morgana led Gwen away, and it was just him and Arthur and the execution’s remnants.
Dust in the wind.
Arthur mentioned something about finding out what happened and seeing his father and Merlin doesn’t remember much after that, trudging up the stairs to Gaius’s rooms, sitting among the smashed pots and torn books, gathering shards of glass and not knowing where to put them. Finally he just sat in the middle of the room and stared off into space, not thinking at all.
It must have been hours later. The sunlight had moved across the room into the far corner and it was redder, too, as if the sun itself were bleeding. As Merlin blinked, fingers reached out and took the vial out of Merlin’s hand and put it to one side. He looked up to see Arthur’s grave face.
“Merlin, I talked with my father about what happened.” Arthur hooked his hand under Merlin’s elbow and drew him up, then guided him over to the table. As they both sat down, Arthur said, “Gaius didn’t deny he was a sorcerer. In fact, my father knew but that Gaius had promised to stop using magic long ago. Apparently, he had started up again and recently, too.”
“Gaius wouldn’t, he….” Merlin stopped, trying hard to breathe.
“They found a book of spells and a staff, Sidhe by the looks of it. Just like Gwen said, under your floorboards. Gaius claimed that is where he hid them and that you didn’t know.” Arthur took a long breath and then let it out slowly. “Aredian, the Witchfinder, is insisting that you be interrogated, too. I’ve tried to talk my father out of it. That you have magic is absurd, but they will be here any moment.”
“Have you come to arrest me then?” Merlin didn’t know what to think. That Arthur agreed with his father on magic was a given. That he’d help a sorcerer was not as clear.
“No, I’m here to get you out of Camelot before it’s too late. My father is adamant. There is nothing I can do to stop him. If you leave, I’ll be able to divert him elsewhere, but you need to go.” Arthur looked devastated, but it wasn’t enough, not by a long shot. Arthur hadn’t lost a much-loved father figure. Merlin had.
Still, Arthur was pulling Merlin up and pushing him out the door and down into the corridor leading to the postern gate and outside the citadel walls.
“It’s too late, Arthur. I’m done with hiding. If Uther would kill his best friend and ally over magic, I can’t expect you to do any less.” Merlin said, trying not to think beyond the next few moments.
“What are you talking about?” Arthur looked confused but Merlin didn’t say anything else, just let Arthur push him to the gate and outside at last. “I’ll send for you once Aredian is gone and my father is calmed down. Just don’t go to Ealdor because that’s the first place he’d look.”
Blinking, Merlin nodded. Looking into that well-loved face for the last time, Merlin said, “You’ll always be my best friend, Arthur. I’m sorry it’s come to this.”
Arthur nodded, then said, his voice laced in grief, “Go, go before it’s too late.” And then he shut the postern gate and Merlin was alone.