Title: Trial by Fire
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Morgana
Summary: 4x13 AU. Morgana's dreams reveal Arthur's plans to retake the Citadel. Confident in the knowledge that Emrys is nowhere in sight, she attacks. Too bad she never counted on Merlin.
Warnings: Character Death (Morgana)
Word Count: ~ 3,150
Prompt: #46 ~ Fire
Author's Notes: Sorry this submission is so late! Was sick all weekend and couldn't write worth a darn (brain too fuzzy!).
Helios bowed his head respectfully as he entered Camelot’s throne room. “Your Highness.” A sly smile slid across the man’s lips. “The scouts have returned.”
Morgana raised her chin defiantly. “And?”
“Your vision was right, my Lady. Your brother is in the process of amassing an army in the Forest of Ascetir. I suspect he will try to retake the Citadel in two or three days hence,” Helios reasoned.
“There was no sign of him.”
“Excellent.” Morgana smirked and stood abruptly. “Prepare my horse. I think it is time I paid a visit on my dear brother, don’t you?”
“Of course, my Lady,” Helios grinned widely, vastly enjoying himself. “And how many of our troops should I amass?”
When Helios stared at Morgana in astonishment, she explained, “We won’t need them. You forget, Helios…I have something that all of Arthur’s army can never have…magic. It will be like pigs to a slaughter.”
Merlin awoke to the sound of screaming. Next to him, the King rolled fluidly to his feet with Excalibur drawn. “What’s going on?” Arthur panted as if he’d also been startled from sleep.
“I don’t know, Sire.”
They found out soon enough. Men, women and children who had taken refuge at the edges of their clearing flooded toward them in panic. Arthur managed to grab a young man by the forearms and pulled him to a halt before him.
“What is it?” Arthur demanded, shaking the boy to clear the terror from his mind. “What did you see?”
“Men, Sire…” the boy panted, his eyes nearly white with fear. “Burned, disfigured horrors… They’re surrounding us!”
Merlin whipped his head around to study the tree line. There, just out of the light from the almost full moon, were charred and mutilated hulks that had once been human. The stench of burning flesh hung low in the air; making him gag…and Merlin knew without a doubt that these were the men he’d asked Kilgharrah to kill, to burn alive. Someone had resurrected them and now they were herding them all in like cattle.
Arthur’s eyes met Merlin’s as they simultaneously breathed, “Morgana…”
And then suddenly—as if saying her name had summoned her—she appeared. A small group of knights rushed at her from the side, and she casually flicked her wrist at them, sending them flying to land in an unconscious heap several yards away. Merlin sidled up closer to but just behind Arthur, taking a protective stance, even if no one else knew it.
“Hello, dear brother,” Morgana greeted Arthur as she walked toward him, her voice filled with triumphant glee. She cocked her head to the side jauntily. “Did you miss me?”
Arthur’s hand gripped the pommel of Excalibur tightly as a tendon in his jaw jumped. “I miss the sister that I used to know…” he replied calmly, his eyes never leaving Morgana’s face. “It didn’t have to be this way. Why didn’t you tell me? I could have helped you, I could have…” Arthur trailed off uncertainly.
Morgana’s laugh was bitter. “You could have what, Arthur? Kept my secret? Protected me from Uther? Don’t make me laugh! You hate and distrust magic just as much as he did.”
“I haven’t been given much opportunity to think otherwise,” Arthur admitted, taking one step closer to Morgana, as if hoping his closeness would help her to see sense. “You could have changed that if you’d trusted me.”
“And would you have given me my rightful place as Camelot’s next ruler, too?” Morgana sneered. “I think not.”
“Morgana, it was wrong of Father not to acknowledge you…but even if he had, that would not have changed the line of succession. You know that.” Arthur’s voice was that of a patient parent trying to reason with a stubborn child.
“Well, I’m fixing that now,” Morgana cackled. “If you’re not around, dear brother, the people will have no choice but to recognize me as their ruler.” She lifted her hands and the inhuman things under her command shuffled closer, pushing the rag-tag army into even closer quarters behind Arthur.
“Do you recognize them, brother?” she asked.
Arthur’s jaw tightened. He slid into his battle stance, but said nothing.
Morgana went on conversationally, “You should. It’s your fault they’re like this.”
“What are you talking about, Morgana? I had nothing to do with…” Arthur motioned toward the half-burned beings uncomfortably,” …those.”
“No,” Morgana agreed. “But it was done on your behalf. It was Emrys!”
The word was a feral snarl as it left Morgana’s lips.
Arthur’s eyebrows crinkled together in confusion. “What was Emrys?”
“The reason all my men are dead.” Morgana studied Arthur’s face and then cackled with glee. “You don’t even know! You really have no idea… The magic-hating king protected in secret by a powerful sorcerer. How ironic!”
“There is no sorcerer,” Arthur declared vehemently.
Morgana took a menacing step closer. “Oh, but there is. He has been guarding you from the shadows for some time now, thwarting my plans. As a magic user, he should be on my side; he should be fighting for his freedom from your tyranny. Instead, he protects you! He is a traitor to his kind!” she spat.
“But no matter,” Morgana continued; her voice was calmer now. “He is not here now and it is too late for him to help. Look at you all, penned in like mindless sheep you are! Your precious knights will fight, of course, but there is nothing they can do against my creatures. They cannot kill what is incapable of death…and this time, there is no cup to knock over, no blood to spill. None but yours, of course.”
She flicked a silent hand toward Arthur and he went flying backward, landing hard on the ground beside Merlin, the back of his head striking against a boulder. The impact jarred Excalibur loose from his hand and it bounced out of his reach.
Merlin immediately crouched down beside Arthur, feeling the back of his head gingerly. His hand came away slick with his king’s lifeblood. His expression darkened.
Morgana walked forward, towering over her dazed but conscious brother. One hand lazily cast a spell toward the charging knights, holding them back behind an invisible wall as she prowled toward her prey.
“Where is your dear Emrys now? Has he gotten sick of saving you?” She taunted, crouching down to retrieve Arthur’s blade. She aimed the tip of it close to his heart.
Morgana gasped as the sword suddenly wrenched itself from her grip, seemingly of its own accord. When she looked up, Merlin was holding the pommel of the mighty sword in two hands, pointed back toward her.
“No. I am by his side, as I always am,” Merlin replied, his voice soft and oddly menacing in the unnatural quiet. “As I always will be.”
“You!” Morgana had the audacity to laugh. “Please, Merlin! Your loyalty to my brother is admirable, but you do not fool me. I know that hateful man’s face and you are not he.”
“You should know more than anyone that looks can be deceiving, Morgana.” He raised Excalibur high above his head with one hand. His eyes glowed a molten gold as he chanted loudly in the Old Tongue, “Brunecg ece, Ic acigan ðy hringe halig fyr!”
As fire burst from the tip of the sword, Merlin’s hand made an arc, and the flames encircled the knights and people of Camelot, shielding them from the undead creatures.
“Merlin!” Arthur gasped, more than a little stunned and amazed by what he’d just seen, by what he was still seeing. His friend; his best friend was a sorcerer: a sorcerer who’d been protecting him. Even now, Merlin’s eyes glowed as bright as the sun in the dark night.
Morgana’s face paled against the glow of the conjured flames. “Fire will not stop them, Emrys. You saw to that when you saw fit to scorch them where they stood!” Morgana cried angrily, even as she took a frightened step backward.
“This one will,” Merlin said confidently, planting the tip of Excalibur into the ground next to Arthur. Raising both hands to the sky, he bellowed, “Fælsian sawols, edwendan him restan. Forsceadan!”
Merlin pushed his hands outward, fingers splayed and palms open, and the fire became a blinding white light that shot outward, racing through the clearing and beyond. When the flash was gone, so were the creatures.
Morgana seemed dumbfounded. “You…you…that’s impossible! They were immortal!”
“Nothing and no one is truly immortal, Morgana. Except for me.” Merlin hissed, bending time to cover the ground between them with inhuman speed. “That is what ‘Emrys’ means, after all: immortal.”
Morgana raised her chin, staring into Merlin’s eyes defiantly. “I am a High Priestess of the Old Religion. I am not afraid of you.”
“Well, perhaps you should be,” Merlin responded. “I’ve faced High Priestesses before, Morgana. Faced them and won.”
“I don’t believe you,” Morgana challenged, but her eyes flashed with fear, giving the lie to her words.
Merlin had the audacity to shrug nonchalantly. “Believe what you wish. But those that attack Arthur and Camelot do so at their own peril.”
“Why would you protect him!?” Morgana demanded to know. “He persecutes our kind!”
“He does not, and has not since he became king.”
“The ban still exists; your very life is forfeit now that he knows. He will kill you as he has so many others before you.”
Merlin shook his head. “I do not believe that. Arthur is a good man, and he is my friend. He has known me a long time, and he knows that I would never do anything to harm him. For now, that is enough. In time, I believe he will come to see the truth about magic: that it can be a force used for good as well as evil.”
“Then you are a fool!” Morgana spat at him. “Pendragons see nothing but evil when it comes to magic.”
“Of course they do when it is all they are shown!” Merlin waved a hand toward Morgana as an example. “Arthur has only seen it used for selfish, hateful purposes. How can he change his mind when he has not had the chance to see? You could have helped with that, helped Arthur to understand. You could have been a powerful force for good. But your power has corrupted you; twisted your soul. I pity you, Morgana.”
Enraged, Morgana cried, “Acwele!” and hurled a massive fireball at Merlin…who wordlessly deflected it to the side. The tree that the spell connected with exploded in a rainstorm of leaves and wood pulp. Knights and villagers alike backed away from the two sorcerers, giving them both a wide berth.
“Please, Morgana…” Merlin tried to reason with her. “For Arthur’s sake, I am begging you: stop this feud between you. There is still time to turn back. Arthur loves you. You are all each other have left for family. I am sure he could find it in his heart to forgive you.”
Morgana laugh sounded unhinged. “Arthur could forgive me, could he? How very magnanimous of him! Meanwhile, I should just turn a blind eye on his prejudice and hatred? I should just forgive and forget while he sits on my throne!?” She made a grabbing motion with both hands and screamed, “Wælseax, fleoge!”
All around the campsite, daggers were ripped from boots and sheaths and flew at Merlin from all directions. They whistled through the air at blinding speed, only to stop mere inches from him with just the whispered word, “Gestillan.”
The weapons hung in the air for several moments…and then dropped harmlessly to the ground like steel raindrops.
“Please don’t make me do this,” Merlin begged her. “I don’t want to kill you, Morgana. You were my friend.”
“Your friend!?” Morgana screeched. “You don’t know the meaning of the word. You knew I had magic! You knew I was afraid! I reached out to you; told you my secret. You could have helped me…but you didn’t!” Her non-verbal pushback spell collided with a shimmering wall and rebounded back toward her, forcing her to dive aside to keep from being hit with it.
“I know,” Merlin replied, his eyes bright with both magic and unshed tears. “I regret that decision each and every day. But, I was young and afraid, too. I wanted to help you, but I feared for my life as much as you did yours. That’s why I sent you to the druids…I thought that they could help.”
“That only made it worse! After having a taste of feeling at home, of being treated like I was special…like what I had was a gift; it was ripped away from me, and I was stuck back in that bloody cage under the watchful eye of the executioner himself!”
Merlin nodded sadly. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry! You don’t get to say you’re sorry, Emrys! You brought this upon yourself when you tried to poison me!”
Morgana’s hand made a swift lifting motion as she called out, “Gehæftan!”
Brambles grew out of the ground to twist themselves around Merlin, clasping him tightly and sticking him with thorns. His deep voice rumbled in response, “Forseoþan,” and the branches withered and crumbled into dust.
“You gave me no choice,” Merlin explained, continuing on as if Morgana had never attacked him. “You allied yourself with Morgause and let her use you to house that sleeping spell. Poisoning you was the only way to save Camelot. It was not a decision that I made lightly, I assure you.”
“It doesn’t matter! You made your choices…and I made mine. You chose to protect the very men that wanted you dead; I chose to fight for what was right…for the freedom of magic!”
As Morgana’s ire grew, so did the wind surrounding them until it whipped through Merlin’s hair and plucked at his clothes. Dirt specks pecked at his bare skin, abrading his cheeks and hands until they were nearly raw.
Merlin’s expression darkened, and so did the sky, thick clouds obscuring the moon. “Call it what you will, but this has never been about freedom of magic; it was about taking what doesn’t belong to you. Coveting power that isn’t yours. I’ve seen the way you rule, Morgana. You are a crueler tyrant than your father ever was.”
Morgana voice was primal as she shrieked to the heavens, “Isgebind!” Needles of ice targeted Merlin, stuck to him, held him fast, and imprisoned him.
Merlin’s eyes flashed, and the ice became water that fell to the ground in one large gush. Beneath it all, Merlin was completely dry.
“I am giving you one last chance, Morgana. Leave this place and never return and I will spare your life.”
A wild, desperate light shone in Morgana’s eyes as her hair whipped around her face. “Do you really think I don’t know how this will end? I know I am destined to die by your hand. I have foreseen it.”
Merlin’s face turned grim.
“Well, you might win the battle by taking me down, Emrys…but I will still have won the war!”
Morgana’s hand flashed out with the speed born of desperation and cried, “Ligetræsc!” Branches of white hot power streaked from her fingertips, aimed not at Merlin…but at Arthur.
Caught off guard, Merlin tried to stop time, but knew before he even tried that he was not going to be able to save Arthur from the killing blow. “No!” Merlin cried in agonized terror.
And then something curious happened. As the bolt shot toward Arthur, beside him Excalibur began to hum and glow with golden light. The air around it vibrated in a haunting tune. As if called to it, the forks of white veered from their target at the last possible second and instead struck the pommel of the sword, dissipating harmlessly into the ground where Excalibur was impaled.
Enraged at Morgana’s attempt on Arthur’s life, Merlin’s body absorbed the power of the storm overhead like a sponge. Every hair on his body stood on end; his skin glowed with ethereal light. Merlin’s voice, amplified by the vast influx of energy, boomed like thunder around the clearing. “You should not have done that.”
One of his hands flared out toward Morgana, and a golden thread of pure magic shot forth, holding the High Priestess immobile no matter what spells she tried to cast to break it. The other shot upward toward the sky, fingers outstretched…
A bolt of lightning streaked toward the earth, striking Morgana, making her glow impossibly bright for a split second…and then she exploded in a shockwave of power that knocked grown men off their feet 50 yards away.
Merlin took a deep, cleansing breath and the clouds that had obscured the sky dissipated. The clearing was suddenly flooded with moonlight again. Then he bolted straight to Arthur’s side.
Arthur looked barely conscious. Blood liberally coated the rock he lay against. “Arthur…”Merlin slid his head into his lap and shook the king’s arm roughly. He was rewarded with a groan and a gravelly slur, “Don’t just sit there gawking at me, Merlin…fix it!”
Despite the seriousness of the moment, Merlin smiled. He gingerly cupped his hand behind Arthur’s head to cover the wound and leaned in toward the king. “Fine,” Merlin agreed, murmuring in Arthur’s ear, “but just so you know… I’m pretty rubbish with healing spells…”
“Naturally,” Arthur drawled on a half-whisper, eyes still closed in pain. “When would you ever learn to do anything useful…”
“Prat,” Merlin responded with a chuckle. “Ic þe þurhhæle þin licsare,” he whispered.
The change was immediate. Color refilled wan cheeks. Bleeding stopped. A wave of lethargy swamped Arthur, trying to pull him into healing rest.
But he fought against its inexorable pull. Placing a hand upon Merlin’s arm, Arthur whispered, “Thank you, Merlin…”
“Shhh, don’t talk,” Merlin scolded the king affectionately. “Thank me later. Right now, you need to rest.”
“I’m still angry at you, you know…” Arthur’s voice was starting to drift.
“I know. Don’t worry, Arthur. I’ll be here when you wake up. You can chop my head off then, if you like,” Merlin teased him, but underlying it all was a real abiding fear that Arthur would not be able to accept him; the real him, magic and all.
A tiny snort issued from the king. He peeled one very bleary eye open and hazily met Merlin’s gaze. “Perhaps the day after, if you don’t mind,” he responded with a weary smile. “Tomorrow I’ll be a bit busy…retaking Camelot…”
Arthur yawned and his words drifted off into nothing. He turned on his side, curled himself up more fully into Merlin’s lap, and fell sound asleep.
Glossary of Spells:
Brunecg ece, Ic acigan ðy hringe halig fyr! ~ With this eternal sword, I call forth a ring of holy fire!
Fælsian sawols, edwendan him restan. Forsceadan! ~ Cleanse their souls, return them to rest. Disperse!
Acwele! ~ Kill!
Wælseax, fleoge! ~ Daggers, fly!
Gehæftan! ~ Bind!
Forseoþan ~ Wither
Isgebind! ~ Bind with ice!
Ligetræsc! ~ Lightning flash!
Ic þe þurhhæle þin licsare ~ I heal thee of thy mortal wound.