Title: Wicked Witches And Dark Forests
Character/s: Merlin, Mordred, Arthur, Gwaine, Gwen, Leon, Percival
Summary: After Merlin reveals his magic he is banished from Camelot, never to return. Over a year later, Mordred examines some rumours.
Word Count: 1000 and 112
Prompt: #35 Amnesty Post, with #34 Devotion and #13 Time
Author's Notes: None
Deep in the dark forest lives a wicked old witch--
It’s nothing but a rumour circulating the Lower Town. Words are being passed over the wells and tankards of ale. There lives a mighty magician in the forest. It’s a tale told by midwives, barbers and herbalists to the people too poor to afford a professional physician. Nothing short of a miracle can save you now.
And sometimes people go, and find their miracle, and come back.
Mordred knows that only foolish men listen to gossip. But, he reasons, a truly clever man listens to everything. And so one evening he braves a tavern in the Lower Town, where a mug of cider buys him all the information he needs.
He leaves on the first light. Soon he finds the path – long and winding, leading deep into the heart of the forest. It’s narrow and steep at times, and he has a strong feeling he’s not welcome.
The mist gives it away. Cold and unpleasant, it seeps through his clothing and clings to his skin. He shivers and wraps himself tighter in his cloak, but doesn’t turn back.
At the end there is a cave, and before it a burning fire, and by the fire a wooden stool, crudely made by someone whose talent didn’t lie in woodwork. And on the stool sits Merlin.
He hasn’t changed much over the last year. His hair is a little longer and a lot wilder; he has grown a beard.
Mordred is certain he made no sound, but Merlin’s eyes are trained on him, the flames shooting up and curling around his wrist. Whether the gesture is threatening or simply subconscious, Mordred doesn’t know.
‘Hello, Emrys,’ he says carefully.
Merlin nods his head.
‘I’ve been looking for you.’
‘I see you’ve made quite a name for yourself.’
‘They call you the mysterious sage.’
A snort. Mordred dares to take a few steps closer and sits down next to the fire.
‘I don’t suppose you’re planning to come back?’ he asks.
For the first time Merlin speaks. ‘Not really, no.’
Mordred doesn’t know what he expected. Hoarseness after months of solitude, or for Merlin to only contact him telepathically. But his voice is shockingly normal, slightly teasing. Familiar.
‘We miss you,’ he says. The “we” goes unspecified, but the meaning is obvious. A shadow passes over the bits of Merlin’s face that aren’t covered with hair.
He doesn’t say much, but Mordred doesn’t force him to. He helps where he can – Merlin has settled quite comfortably, turning a dank old cave into a modest little house. Still, it’s messy and unkempt, much like his room back in Camelot. In fact, it’s a lot like Merlin’s room back in Camelot, down to a small wooden carving in the spot where Merlin had his window.
Merlin treats him to a supper. There’s nothing that has been purposefully grown, only what can be hunted or gathered in the forest, and nothing except clear water to wash it down with. Mordred actually enjoys it more than he should, reminiscing his childhood in the Druid camp.
When evening falls, Mordred leaves.
Three days later, Gwaine finds his way to the cave in the forest, only he’s thoughtful enough to bring wine. More than a few songs are sung that evening, and laughter rings across the clearing.
The others visit, too. Leon brings bread and ale, and Percival shows off surprising skill with carpentry and makes a sturdy wooden bed as well as a bookshelf.
Gwen comes leading a goat. Merlin stares at it doubtfully for hours and hours, and wakes up to find the sniggering animal chewing through his herbarium. He has a brief panic attack – there are dried Mortaeus flowers in there – but the goat is still alive and well by the end of the day, happily munching on Merlin’s boots.
The steady influx of visitors – peasants, knights, noblemen, the Queen herself – has the place going from secluded to popular in under a month. Merlin is flooded with gifts and has more gold than he has even seen in his life, because all of a sudden people want to pay him. He tries to ward them off, tell them that he doesn’t need it – but nobody listens.
He does more magic than ever before. At first he worries that it will drain him quickly; but with each passing day, he only feels stronger.
On a bright sunny day, Merlin emerges from the cave, his body trembling with anticipation.
He has a visitor. He knows it hours before they finally show up. The goat – named Prince, for all its stubbornness and entitlement – sniggers at him when he tries to clean up a little.
He sits down by the fire, idly toying with flames. When the man comes – alone and on-foot – he doesn’t even look up.
‘What brings here the King of Camelot himself?’ he asks.
‘There are rumours,’ Arthur says. ‘That a man lives in the forest that can solve any problem.’
‘Are you troubled, my king? Because I doubt there’s anything a humble sorcerer can help you with.’
‘I’ve lost something. I was hoping you might help me find it.’
‘What did you lose, your highness? No, let me guess. Was it your mind? Or common sense? Or maybe the ability to tell apart an enemy from an ally?’
The taunting doesn’t upset Arthur. His voice is serious and calm and he says, ‘All of that and more, I’m afraid. But mostly a friend.’
This is when Merlin looks up. Arthur is dressed in simple trousers and tunic, wearing no chainmail and no crown. But to Merlin’s eyes, he has never looked more like the King.
‘Some things can’t be found that easily,’ Merlin says quietly.
‘Perhaps. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try though, does it?’ Arthur smiles. The lines in his face ease a little. ‘In the meantime you could come and work for me.’
‘I’m not sure if this is such a good idea,’ Merlin says.
‘At least come back to Camelot and shave.’
The trek back takes a lot less time than getting there. Arthur squints at the forest and up at the castle towering above them.
‘You were that close? The whole time?’
‘You’re my king. I don’t think I could leave you if I tried,’ he says honestly.
Next to him, Arthur clears his throat. Just before they step into the city he turns around and says, ‘I’m glad you waited for so long.’
Merlin says nothing. He doesn’t need to.
And, as time goes on, they build the greatest kingdom ever.