Title: Truth Be Told, Part 2
Character/s: Arthur, Gwen, Hunith, Merlin, Morgana, Will
Summary: Morgana surveys the damage while Will gives Arthur a piece of his mind.
Warnings: Magic Reveal
Word Count: ~ 2,700
Prompt: #41 ~ Ball
Author's Notes: This story is apparently going to take more than two chapters (probs more like five or six they way things are going...), so I'll keep on plugging! Sorry this is so long, but Will had a lot to say! (will do final edit in the morning, in case it needs it...)
Truth Be Told, Part 2
As Arthur stormed by her, Morgana reached out to grab his arm. “Arthur…” she began, trying to calm down her hot-headed foster brother.
But Arthur jerked out of her grasp roughly and hissed, “Not now, Morgana…”
He slowed only long enough to retrieve a random sword from the ground and sheathed it in his belt as he stomped off toward the tree line.
Letting out a huff of frustration, Morgana turned and walked back toward Merlin. He was still on the ground, although he was now seated in the dirt. Hunith was inspecting the bruise already forming across Merlin’s cheekbone as Gwen knelt in front of him, holding one of his hands between both of hers in silent support of her friend. Merlin’s friend Will paced back and forth in front of them in agitation. The other villagers appeared to give the huddle a wide berth, perhaps not wanting to make the awkward situation more uncomfortable.
Merlin sat staring at nothing, his eyes unfocused and bright with unshed tears. He appeared to be shell-shocked and absolutely devastated.
Crouching down in front of Merlin, she placed a hand on his knee and asked him gently, “Are you all right?”
It took Merlin a minute to realize he was being spoken to. “I’m fine,” he murmured tonelessly, not meeting Morgana’s eyes.
Meanwhile, Will stopped and pointed an accusing finger at Merlin. “The hell you are! Bastard probably broke a bone in your face…He didn’t mind the damned magic when you turned the tide of the battle singlehandedly, oh, no… But afterward, yeah, then he decides he’s too good for that. What a fucking hypocrite!”
“Will…” Hunith warned, giving the young man a disapproving frown while she stroked her fingers soothingly through her son’s hair.
In response to Will’s outburst, Merlin folded even further into himself; he drew his legs up against his chest and tucked his head down so his forehead rested against his knees, completely hiding his face from view of the others.
Will started pacing again, using his hands to punctuate his anger. “All right, that’s it! Where is that pompous, arrogant prick? He might not be your friend, Merlin…but I am, and I’m not going to let him get away with this!”
Will had just turned away when Merlin’s voice pleaded softly, “Please, Will…Don’t…”
“No!” Will’s hand slashed through the air as if its movement could cut off whatever Merlin wanted to say. “I don’t care who or what he is. I wouldn’t care if he were the bloody King of Albion… he doesn’t get to hit you like that. No one does.”
And before Merlin could say more to waylay him, Will stormed off after Arthur.
Morgana crouched down by Hunith, balancing her weight gracefully on the balls of her feet. She touched the poor woman on the arm and asked, “Is there anything we can do?”
Hunith turned her attention from her distraught son to the king’s ward. “Yes,” she replied with a fond smile. “I should really help with injured villagers, but I don’t want to leave Merlin alone. Would you mind taking him back to the house and tending to him? He should be with his friends right now.”
Morgana blinked back tears and nodded. “Of course, Hunith; we’d be glad to.”
Hunith placed a kiss on the top of Merlin’s head and rubbed his back. “I’ll be back soon, dearest. I’m sure Morgana and Gwen will take good care of you.”
Merlin nodded into his knees silently.
Once Hunith had left, Morgana slid closer, grasping Merlin’s arm just above the elbow. “Okay, Merlin…let’s get you up and inside, all right?” Gwen followed her mistress’s lead, also pushing herself to a stand and pulling on her friend’s arm.
Unsteadily, Merlin clambered up, but almost toppled over again when his vision blurred and the ground spun under his feet. Instantly, he felt two sets of hands on either side of him tighten around his forearms, steadying him. “Whoa, there…” Gwen said. “We’ve got you; just take it slow.”
Merlin closed his eyes and let them lead him where they would. It didn’t really matter anymore. While he very much appreciated Gwen and Morgana’s support, it was Arthur’s understanding he truly craved…and—based on his reaction—would probably never get.
Arthur paced back and forth across a small clearing about 30 yards into the forest, hacking at the tall grass from time to time with his sword.
That was a huge improvement from when he’d first gotten there: He’d been so livid that he’d taken his fury out on the side of an oak tree and hacked huge chips out of its side with his borrowed sword. He didn’t even care how much noise he was making. As far as he was concerned, the rest of Kanen’s men could come; with the amount of anger fuelling him, Arthur could have taken them out with no problem at all.
But they did not; they were well and truly gone for good. Arthur was glad of it; glad that he’d been able to help this tiny village—Merlin’s home village, Arthur tried not to think, but did anyway—escape the tyranny of a man like Kanen.
Merlin. Arthur truly did not know what to do about his manservant…or even what to think. Everything his father had ever taught him about sorcerers had always made sense…until today. He could not count the number of times that a sorcerer had attempted to bring about his father’s or Camelot’s downfall…had brought pain, suffering and harm to others through their evil pursuit of power through sorcery.
But yet, Merlin, with all his obvious power, appeared to be content with being Arthur’s servant…and sometimes savior. He didn’t understand; there must be some angle Merlin was playing. After all, wasn’t that what all sorcerers did?
So deep in thought was he that Arthur did not notice that someone had come up behind him until two hands planted themselves on his back and shoved him roughly.
Arthur stumbled forward several paces before he regained his footing. He swore aloud at his own inattention and then whirled around with his sword at the ready. The intruder turned out to be the young man who had refused to fight; the one who had always been the lone dissenter in any plan he’d made for protecting Ealdor: Merlin’s friend, Will.
“Sure, go ahead…strike me down! I dare you!” he bellowed at the prince, stalking forward with his arms outstretched, taunting him. “That’s what you entitled types do, isn’t it? Use us peasants to get what you want and then dispose of us when we’re no longer of use?”
Arthur thrust his sword into the ground next to him forcefully and then shoved the boy backward and hissed, “Mind your tongue! Don’t you know who I am?”
Will pushed Arthur’s palms forcibly away and laughed darkly. “Yeah, I know. You’re the prince of bloody Camelot! So what? Doesn’t mean a rat’s arse to me, because—in case you hadn’t noticed—we’re not in Camelot now. So take your damned title and shove it! As far as I’m concerned, you’re an arrogant arse who thinks of nothing and no one but himself!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Arthur yelled back, fuming at the gall of the scrawny peasant. “How dare you accuse me of not caring for others when I just saved you and your entire town from Kanen and his men!?”
Will laughed again, even more bitterly than before. “You saved Ealdor? Oh, that’s rich! Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, the person who saved Ealdor was not you…it was Merlin! If it hadn’t been for the magic you so despise, we’d all be dead!”
Arthur found himself unable to speak. It was true; the tide of the battle had been turning. If Merlin hadn’t acted when he did, both then and when Kanen had tried to attack…
But Will was by no means done. “Why the hell did you even come here, your Highness?” Will spit the words scornfully, full of sarcasm. “Ealdor isn’t even part of your country…unless you’re planning on annexing us now that you’ve ‘saved’ us? Are we just another playing piece in your war with Cenred, then?”
“No!” Arthur denied vehemently. “My father did not send me; he doesn’t even know I came here.”
“Then why did you come? To get your jollies on lording over people and telling them what to do and how to do it? You’d think you’d get enough of that at home, but I guess not…” Will goaded.
The words burst out of Arthur before he could censor himself, “For Merlin! I came because of Merlin, all right?”
“Why would someone like you help someone like him? He’s just a peasant…a servant. They’re easily expendable, replaceable. One’s just as good as another, aren’t they?”
Arthur’s eyes bugged out at Will’s gall. Who did this tosser think he was? Did they just breed them to be irreverent here? “Merlin is not just a servant to me…” he denied vehemently.
“Well, what is he, then?”
Arthur frowned, not knowing how exactly to explain his connection to Merlin. “He’s a…friend,” he said, finally, and realized as the words left his lips that they were true.
“A friend!” Will crowed in apparent disbelief. “A friend? What does a pompous prat like you know about being a friend! Let me give you a little hint, my lord…friends don’t hit their friends. They sure as hell don’t leave them lying in the dirt after they just saved your sorry arse a second time, either.”
Arthur bowed his head. He was not proud of what he’d done. He should not have hit Merlin like that, but it had almost been an instinct, his hatred of magic ingrained in him from birth. And, besides…
“But he’s a sorcerer!” Arthur exclaimed, as if that explained everything.
“So what? What’s that got to do with it?”
Arthur demanded sullenly, “Well, how long have you known, then? I suppose he told you ages ago…”
“I found out about a year and a half ago,” Will replied, the heat gone from his voice for the first time since he’d started their conversation. “We were messing around near the river during the spring thaw and I fell in. He used his magic to save my life…stopped time. One second I was tumbling arse-over-kettle down white water rapids breathing in facefuls of foam, the next I was on the shore coughing up river water.”
“Merlin stopped time?” A shiver of recognition ran down Arthur’s spine. He thought back to that fateful night when Merlin pulled him out of the way of Mary Collins’ dagger: how one second he’d been on the staircase 15 feet away, the next, he was yanking Arthur down on top of him a split-second before the knife ran him through.
Obviously, Merlin must have stopped time then, too.
“Yeah, although he told me that he didn’t really know how to do it on purpose. Sometimes it just…happened.”
“And this was less than two years ago? I thought you grew up with Merlin?”
Will nodded. “I did. He’d been able to do magic forever, but he never told anyone. I doubt I’d have ever known if he hadn’t used it to save me. Hunith had drummed it into his head very early on that he needed to keep it a secret. He had enough going against him already without bringing the suspicion and fear of magic into it. It might not be illegal to have magic in Essetir,” he explained, “but that doesn’t mean that people really accept or trust it.”
Arthur’s eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. “What do you mean? What else would people have held against Merlin?”
“You mean you didn’t know?” Will tilted his head thoughtfully. “Merlin’s a bastard. His father hoofed it before he was even born. Hunith was known and loved here before Merlin was born and her healing skills made her necessary, so she was tolerated well, and eventually accepted again, but Merlin… Some people in town thought that because he had no father, he must have been a product of the devil.”
“What?” Arthur gasped softly, shocked and left with an ache to better understand what had happened to make Merlin leave his home and come to Camelot.
“Well, Merlin was the nicest kid you’d ever want to meet, but he was always a little bit…different. Of course, now I know why, but then…” He shrugged. “He was shunned by most of the other children. Probably more of their parents’ prejudice than anything, but…It had to be pretty lonely for him.”
Arthur understood about being lonely. His father had not been the most demonstrative of parents during his formative years and because he was the prince, other children had often felt intimidated by him. And when he was older, his so-called friends were really nothing more than nobleman’s sons trying to impress a prince. No one wanted to befriend him for him. Honestly, the closest thing he’d ever had to a friend before Merlin (such as it was) had been when Morgana became his father’s ward.
“But, it never made him bitter, like it would have a lot of other people. And he never complained. He just seemed to accept it, even when shunning occasionally became name-calling or even rock-throwing.”
“How did you two become friends?”
Will smiled, but it looked more like a grimace. “That’s an easy one; no one liked or trusted me, either. My father was a knight for King Cenred. When he was killed, we were left with nothing and our lowlife king refused to help us. My mum and I moved to Ealdor to live with my gran.”
“Cenred’s knights are not well-liked here, and that dislike rubbed off on me. Merlin was the only one that was nice to me. Couldn’t have asked for a better mate, though. ”
Arthur was starting to see that for himself.
“He might have a bit of a sharp tongue when he’s annoyed and he’s not the most graceful of blokes, but I have never met a kinder, more innocent soul than Merlin. He’d literally give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it.”
“The day you arrived in Ealdor, we had an argument; an argument about you. I thought you were arrogant and pig-headed, but Merlin defended you; he told me that he respected you.” Will’s countenance darkened. “He told me that he trusted you with his life. I asked him if he’d told you his secret. Of course, by the look on his face, I could tell he hadn’t.”
“He told you before the battle, didn’t he? He told you he had magic…” Will asked harshly.
Every word felt like an accusation. Arthur nodded wordlessly; still stunned by the outright devotion Merlin must have felt to have defended him to his best friend in such a vehement manner.
Merlin’s friend started pacing, waving his hands around agitatedly as he spoke. “Merlin has never told anyone about his magic willingly before. Ever. And out of all people, he has to pick you to tell…the son of the magic-hating king. Isn’t that just rich?”
Will snorted with disgust as he got right up in Arthur’s face again. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done to Merlin? He trusted you and you betrayed him! You haven’t just hurt him physically; you’ve broken him emotionally.” On the last three words, Will poked Arthur in the chest right over his heart.
“I don’t know what the hell your damage is about Merlin’s magic, and frankly I don’t care. All I know is that you supposedly think of Merlin as a friend, yet you never treat him like one. And you had damned well better fix it, or so help me Gods…you’ll have more than sorcerers out to get you!”
Before Arthur could tell Merlin’s friend that a threat of bodily harm against a prince is considered treason, or indeed, say anything…Will turned and angrily walked away, leaving the Crown Prince of Camelot alone with his thoughts once more.