Pondering the Possibilites
“That was your magic back there, wasn’t it?” Mordred asked in a way that meant he wasn’t really asking; he knew.
Merlin felt his pulse flutter and his breath catch at the thought that Mordred knew this secret, too…that he held this powerful sword of knowledge over his head. Not wanting to let on how much this disturbed him, Merlin said nothing.
But, it seemed, Mordred still knew; he could sense Merlin’s unease and discomfort. “Have no fear. I will not divulge your secret. “
Silence fell between them like a thick, stifling blanket.
“Can’t be easy to do so much for so little reward,” Mordred continued conversationally, but something in his tone still rankled Merlin.
“I do not seek reward,” Merlin spit back, his hackles raised against Mordred’s inference.
Mordred gave Merlin a sidewise glance. “Recognition, then.”
Merlin practically cut him off. “My friends are safe and well. That’s all I require.”
“Is it?” Mordred asked, turning in the saddle to look fully into Merlin’s—no Emrys’—face.
Merlin’s jaw clenched in barely disguised fury. “Yes.”
Mordred gave a tiny snort of disbelief. “You may tell yourself that if you wish, Emrys…but you do not fool me. I understand you better than you think.”
Now it was Merlin’s turn to snort. “Hardly. You could not possibly understand.”
Mordred did not look at Merlin as he spoke. “Do not be so sure. I also hide what I am before Arthur…before the Queen…all the knights. Knowing I am different from them; more powerful in ways they cannot fathom. Yet, I hide in plain sight. Even with these people who matter to me, who I care for, I am not free to truly be myself. It is a lonely existence; and a painful one.”
Merlin spared Mordred one mutinous look but did not deign to reply.
“Who do you have that knows the real you, Merlin? That knows what you have done over and over again for Arthur, for Camelot? Only Gaius, yes?”
Mordred glanced sidelong at Merlin, watching as the older man’s jaw clenched and his Adam’s apple bobbed, giving away the answer that Merlin wouldn’t voice aloud.
“We share this secret, Emrys. Why could we not also share this burden with each other? Your cause is noble; you wish only to help Arthur become the great king he is meant to be, who will bring equality and understanding to all his people. I would like to help you achieve this aim.”
Despite himself, Merlin felt the yearning that the young Druid knight’s words wrung from the deepest parts of his soul. Not since Lancelot had he had someone to share his secret with, to cover for him, to understand and accept him for who he was. He wished desperately he could believe Mordred’s earnest appeal…but after what he’d seen in Lochru’s scrying pool, he did not dare. Instead, Merlin kept his eyes trained on Arthur’s horse and tried to pretend that Mordred were not right beside him.
As Merlin continued to ignore him, Mordred became frustrated. “Why, Emrys? Why do you not trust me? Have I not saved yours or Arthur’s lives several times already? What have I done to earn such a deep level of mistrust? Tell me that, at least!”
It is not what you have done; it is what you will do, Merlin wanted to say, but did not dare. Instead he said, “You told me once that you would never forgive me, Mordred…and that you would never forget what I’d done.”
Mordred let out an exasperated breath. “And you think I’ve been holding a grudge all this time? With all due respect, Merlin, I was but a boy: a young boy who had been recently orphaned and manipulated by others.”
“I looked up to you like a hero. Having heard stories of you since I was in my cradle…how could I not? And then to meet the actual Emrys; it was an honor…a blessing.”
“But I had a child’s understanding of the world. I was not prepared to find that Emrys was not the godlike figure of legend, but a man, and a young man at that. I was not prepared for you to be human and fallible, for you to have the same foibles and fears as the rest of us.”
“At the time, I thought you had betrayed me…that you had betrayed the destiny you were born to bring forth. I did not understand then the complicated and delicate the nature of your work, the finesse and patience required to reach your goal.”
“But I do now. I see in Arthur all that you have made him: a man of honor, of caring, of trust and nobility. He is a king that truly cares for his people. You saw that potential in him long ago and helped bring it to light. And Albion is a better place for it.”
“Fear my wrath no longer, Emrys, for I set it aside long ago.”
“Perhaps for now, you have, Mordred…but I know your emotional tie to Morgana is strong.”
Mordred looked down, studying his hands on the reins for a long moment before replying so softly, Merlin almost couldn’t hear, “At one time, yes, it was. And for many years, I dreamed of finding her again. But I discovered in Ismere that the Morgana I loved like a sister is no more. And while that realization is painful, I have accepted it.”
“Had I wanted my revenge, all I had to do was tell Morgana what I know. But I have not. She asked me about Emrys, you know…back there at the Cauldron. Wanted to know if I was with him, if he was there, helping us.”
Despite himself, Merlin asked, “What did you tell her?”
Mordred smirked, “I told her that were Emrys there, we should both have been able to sense his great power.”
Merlin let out an amused snort. “No, she never could sense my magic. Most don’t. Even the Dochraid did not understand the depth of my power.”
“The Dochraid?” Mordred gasped. “You went to see the Dochraid?”
“I had to,” Merlin admitted. “She was the only person besides Morgana who knew how to break the enchantment on Gwen.”
“And she told you?”
“Not willingly. But I was able to persuade her,” Merlin admitted fiercely.
Mordred fought back a little shiver at the latent power just in Emrys’ voice. “Well, I’m glad you did. It’s good to have the Queen back, safe and sound.”
Again, Merlin felt his soul being tugged in two directions. He wanted to believe Mordred; he truly did. The young man sounded sincere, and his explanation made sense. Yet everything he’d been told about the young man before him pointed toward his ultimate betrayal of all Merlin held dear.
“You spoke before of my patience, my finesse when it comes to Arthur. How long are you prepared to wait for Arthur to accept magic before you turn your back on him; before you decide that would be easier without him like so many sorcerers have before you?” Merlin asked, every word an accusation that he could not otherwise voice.
Mordred’s eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. “I will wait as long as it takes, Emrys. I believe in you.”
Merlin pursed his lips, wary of the compliment.
“But, unlike you, I do not think that day is a long way off.”
To Merlin, it felt like his destiny was growing further and further away rather than closer. He shook his head in a sign of disbelief and sighed.
Merlin was startled when Mordred reached across and tugged on Merlin’s reins to stop both their mounts.
“Merlin, I believe that Arthur is ready to know about magic. He’s ready to know about you.”
Merlin shook his head, his eyes darting back and forth but could not light upon Mordred’s face for fear of what the young man would find there.
“Yes,” Mordred insisted. “He agreed to use magic to save the Queen, and it worked; you were able to save her. It will forever change his views on magic. And if someone like you came forth…someone he trusted…”
“No, no…” Merlin shook his head more vehemently.
Mordred’s voice cut over Merlin’s urgently. “Yes, Merlin. In fact, I believe that Arthur has been ready for years now; it has been you that has been holding back.”
“You don’t understand,” Merlin insisted, a hint of desperation coloring his tone. “Arthur has lost everything to magic. He would see it as the highest form of betrayal…especially from me.”
Merlin, noticing for the first time how far ahead Arthur was, spurred his horse into action once more.
Mordred followed suit, catching up to Merlin almost immediately. Mordred’s face was sympathetic. “You are afraid of what he’ll think of you; afraid of what he might do.”
Merlin gave Mordred one succinct nod.
“I do not believe you give Arthur enough credit, Merlin. I did not have to be around the two of you long to see that you share a very close bond; more like brothers than master and servant.”
“No,” Merlin shook his head sadly. “You saw him today. He didn’t even remember I was there…”
“Merlin, you know that is an unfair judgment. He’d just gotten Guinevere back when he thought she’d be lost to him forever. Can you not forgive him just a little for being a bit absentminded under those conditions?”
Merlin huffed. He could. Of course he could…but it didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt.
“Merlin, the whole time you were gone on your quest to see the Dochraid, Arthur stood at a window overlooking the courtyard, awaiting your return.”
Merlin turned to stare at Mordred, wide-eyed and blushing. “Really?”
Mordred nodded. “Yes. You cannot tell me that you do not matter to the king. I have only been in Camelot a few months, but I cannot count how many times I have seen him seek your counsel. Can you not imagine how much better it will be once he is able to see you as an equal, once he understands all you have done for him?”
It was almost as if Mordred’s words were weaving a spell around Merlin, bringing to life a spark of hope that he had long thought extinguished.
“Really, Merlin…what’s the worst that Arthur would do to you?”
“Hanged, beheaded, burned at the stake…” Merlin listed immediately.
Mordred wanted to argue the point, but decided on another tactic instead. “Tell me this then, Merlin… What do you think Arthur would have done if he’d found out about Morgana’s magic while she was still good? Do you think that would have been her fate?”
Merlin shook his head vehemently. “No, of course not! I believe that Arthur would have tried to help her as best he could, had he known. He loved her like a sister even before he knew that’s what she was.”
“Then why would you think he would do any differently for you? You, who are as close as a brother to him and have spent the last ten years earning his trust?”
“That’s precisely why, Mordred! Because Arthur has spent the last ten years trusting a sorcerer!”
“Warlock,” Mordred corrected automatically.
“Like that would make a damn bit of difference!”
“Actually, I believe it would. If he understood that magic was never a choice for you, I think it would.”
Merlin shook his head no. “I can’t.”
“So you don’t trust Arthur, then?”
“No…” Merlin stammered, flustered, “I do, but…”
“You have the ability to change all this for us, Merlin. You do. All our dreams can come true, if only you have the courage to pursue them."
And with that last bit of wisdom, Mordred spurred his horse forward, leaving Merlin to trail behind and ponder the possibilities.