Two days after Arthur had banished Uther’s ghost, he placed the Horn of Cathbad into Merlin’s hands and asked him to take care of it. The unspoken understanding was that Merlin would lock it away in the vaults; hide it from Arthur so he would never again be enticed by its dark power.
The problem for Merlin was that Arthur’s temptation had become his own.
Merlin’s first mistake was hiding the Horn under the loose floorboard in his room instead of taking it to the vaults. What difference did it make? He was still hiding it from Arthur; that was the important part, he’d reasoned at the time.
And for a while, it had been enough. For days, just knowing that it was there, underneath him while he slept, satisfied him.
But then Merlin found that—at random times of the day and for no reason at all—he would stop by and visit the Horn…just hold it, turning it over and over in his hands, sliding his long fingers against its curves, admiring its beautiful construction and thinking…wondering…
Merlin knew what was happening, because it had happened before with the Crystal of Neahtid: that ancient, powerful magic was calling to him, recognizing him as kin…as Emrys.
So, Merlin tried to put it out of his mind. He really did. But he couldn’t. The Horn called to him like a siren to a sailor, over and over, and like an idiot he kept going back for more.
For five weeks, Merlin fought the growing, aching need taking root in his soul. It got to the point where he barely ate and hardly slept, his mind churning with possibility.
And then something inside Merlin just broke. Why? Why should he deny himself? Why could he not have something that he desperately needed for a change? For once in his life, could he not just have something that was his?
The next morning, while Arthur and Gwen were breaking their fast, Merlin approached them, asking whether he might be able to have a little time off to travel to Ealdor to visit his mother.
Gwen’s eyes immediately met Arthur’s. Just the last evening, after Merlin had been retired for the night, the two of them had pondered aloud about what was troubling him.
They’d noticed his distraction of late, how he’d lost weight, didn’t seem to have the same spring in his step, how his smiles no longer reached his eyes…and wondered why. Perhaps now they had discovered the answer. It had been almost a year since he’d last petitioned for time to visit Hunith; maybe he was missing her…homesick for the tiny village he’d once called home.
“Of course you can go,” Arthur said warmly, placing a friendly hand on Merlin's slight shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “Give Hunith our best regards.”
Heading out the next morning with the Horn tucked safely in his saddlebag, Merlin knew he should have felt guilty. He knew he should…but really, what was one more lie in the sea of the thousands he’d told over the years? And this one wasn’t even a lie, he reasoned, but more of an omission, since he did truly mean to travel on to Ealdor once his detour was complete.
And that was how Merlin found himself standing on the windswept plain, his horse grazing lazily nearby as he stared at the ancient Stones of Nematon erupting from the great grass mound like the first buds of spring reaching for the sun from snowy ground.
This is stupid! Merlin thought, but he could not deny that his heart was pounding more from excitement than from fear.
“This is stupid, Merlin,” Merlin scolded himself again, this time aloud. He tried to reason to himself one last time. “You know how stupid this is…”
Another step, closer…then another. “High Priestesses trained for years before attempting it…”
But his stubborn feet kept moving him closer to the immense stone circle. “Gaius said this was dangerous…”
His fingers reflexively grasped the Horn even tighter; its side warmed to his touch. “Look what happened to Arthur…”
But it was no use and Merlin knew it. He could no sooner stop himself from this action than he could stop the world from turning.
In the end, it mattered not that he was a warlock, or even that he was Emrys. Despite that, despite his destiny…he was still human, after all…
And this was a homecoming he’d earned many times over with blood, sweat, tears, and loss.
It was all Arthur’s fault. Really, it was. If only he hadn’t said it, then I wouldn’t have thought about it, dreamed about it, obsessed over it:
“If you were given the same chance to see your father, talk to him…would you do the same?”
His answer was the same now as it had been weeks before: Yes. He would.
Merlin stepped inside the ring; the stone sentinels surrounded him in silent vigil as the ancient magic swirled all around him, making his breath catch and his blood sing. With tears of joy pricking his eyes, he lifted the Horn to his lips…and blew.