Title: Bonds of love and loyalty
Rating: G (Series rating: R)
Character/s: Arthur, Gaius (Mordred, Uther, Igraine, Nimueh)
Summary: Arthur learns some shocking truths about himself, and about Gaius.
Warnings: The great purge (Series warning: angst, believed rape).
Word Count: 1911
Prompt: #47 Memories and #48 His
Author's Notes: And we continue with our bi-weekly updates. :P
You can find the rest of this series on AO3, or here at Camelot Drabble.
Gaius looks at Arthur for a long time. “It seems to me you are asking for a number of explanations, Sire.”
Arthur contemplates Mordred’s round, boyish face, which looks serious in rest. “Emrys is still in Camelot. Or he was last night anyway. He has no regard for my authority.”
He hears Gaius sigh faintly. “On the contrary, Sire, his regard is so great that he is willing to defy you in order to save you.”
Arthur rubs his eyes tiredly. His shoulder, where Bruta bit him, is a mass of scars, tender to touch, but without pain. The only remaining injury from the skirmish is the massive bruise from Lindale’s hooves, though even that is just the remnant of a greater wound involving what must have been several broken ribs. Emrys knows his craft. Arthur feels drained though, like he could sleep until Spring.
Something in his tone must worry the physician, because he shows Arthur to a bench and kneels down in front of him to feel his forehead and take his pulse. In contrast to Mordred’s face, Gaius’ bears the marks of age, in wrinkles, and in a weight that never seems to leave his eyes. It is the weight of wisdom, or of cares, or perhaps of both. This face that has changed remarkably little since Arthur was a child, except to grow more dear.
Arthur places a hand on Gaius’ shoulder. “Gaius, tell me you have not betrayed me. Tell me you didn’t know he was still here.”
Gaius rises with some effort, and sits down beside Arthur. “I can swear to the first, but not to the second, I’m ashamed to say.” To his credit, he looks genuinely contrite.
Arthur drops his head into his hands and scrubs them through his hair, roused by frustration. “Why didn’t he save Mordred? I begged him, but he wouldn’t. And last night you told me he met us on the road, healed my wounds, but once again left Mordred to die. What is he thinking? Mordred is loyal and kind; he does not deserve this.”
Gaius purses his lips, looking sadly at Mordred’s still form. “I cannot speak for Emrys.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Arthur says, more sharply than he means to.
He is surprised when Gaius turns to him, looking determined and even proud. “Won’t … Sire.”
Arthur presses his lips together to keep them from pouting, childishly angry at being denied his will. It doesn’t help that he is still wearing his sleep hose and nightshirt either, and he might be overcompensating a bit when he sternly demands that Gaius explain himself.
Gaius gives him another infuriating pause, before nodding to himself. “Perhaps it is time you were told this story, though I held out hope that I would not have to tell it. Now it seems I am the only one left who can.” He settles on the bench with his elbows on his knees, and his gaze drifts off to somewhere far away, and perhaps long ago.
“From the day that Uther took the throne, Camelot flowered. He ruled justly and intelligently, and the love he bore his wife kept his heart kind, but there was one great sorrow that the King and Queen shared with all the nation, and that was the absence of a child. After many years of trying and failing to produce an heir, Uther turned to one of his close friends at court, the High Priestess Nimueh.”
“What?” Arthur’s chest constricts with incredulity, anger and confusion. “Nimueh at my father’s court? Are you mad?”
Gaius gives him the eyebrow. “I do not tell lies, Sire. You would do well to listen, and not interrupt me. Now as I was saying, Uther asked Nimueh to use her magic to help the Lady Igraine to conceive. Nimueh warned Uther that in order to create a life, another life had to be given in payment. Nonetheless, Uther wanted it done, and so Nimueh wrought her magic. For the next nine months, no couple was happier than Uther and Igraine, as Igraine’s belly began to swell, and the baby proved his strength in many a mighty kick. However, when the time of the birth grew nigh, Nimueh reminded Uther of the price that had to be paid.”
Arthur sits paralysed, unable to breathe. He understands all too well where this is going. His mind is icy cold. He sees his beautiful mother before him, her white-golden hair bound up, her shoulders lithe and hands delicate and cool. It cannot be the truth, because then … then …
Gaius’ brow has darkened with recollection. “Perhaps Uther though that when the time came, he would be able to choose the life to be given, but that is not always the way it goes. In the end, destiny wanted differently.”
“I killed her,” Arthur whispers, the words falling from his mouth before he can swallow them.
Gaius turns abruptly. “Arthur, no. Never think that.”
“But if I hadn’t been born-”
“You were an infant! You had no choice in the matter.” Gaius surprises him all over again by pulling Arthur into a hug, right there on the bench. To think of doing such a thing to the ruler of a nation. “Oh, Arthur, you cannot blame yourself for this.”
Arthur blinks stubbornly against the hot prickling sensation behind his eyes. “I was told magic killed my mother.”
Gaius pulls back, but they remain turned towards each other on the bench. “It did, but not because it, or the people who used it, were evil.”
“My father did not see it that way.”
Gaius’s eyes drift off again. “It was a slaughter the likes of which Albion had not seen for centuries. The fires burned constant in the courtyard for days at the time.”
Arthur thinks back to the horrors he can remember from his youth. The druid camp. The executions. The fear. He thinks of the horrors he is too young to remember, but that must invade Gaius’ dreams frequently.
“It was a mistake,” Arthur says kindly. “Too many innocent lives were lost. It was ... gruesome.” He waits for a beat, allows Gaius his memories, but there was a point to this story, and Arthur doesn’t think they have reached it, for all that it has remade his world already. “However, the past is the past, and you cannot protect Emrys indiscriminately because of what happened then.”
“I do not,” Gaius says, and the pride returns to his eyes, if more gently. “If I believed for a moment that Emrys’ intentions were less than good, or that he was about to do the wrong thing, for whatever reason, I would come to you immediately, but until then, I will give my life before I betray him.”
The depth of Gaius’ loyalty is moving, Arthur can only mumble, “Why?”
Gaius looks away, and his voice sounds strange, strained, as he answers. “Because when the executions began, I ran to the King, and before the court I renounced magic as wicked and corrupting.” He pauses. “I wanted to live. I watched my friends and colleagues burn. Healers and tinkerers, students and novices, the black and the white practitioners. They died screaming, and I stood by and did nothing.”
Arthur reaches out towards that bent shoulder again, but pulls his hand back before it can land. He doesn’t know what to say, until he suddenly does. “But you’ve made up for it. You were always there to calm my father when he was blinded by anger, too stubborn to see reason. You always argued for caution, and mercy. And as physician, you must have saved as many as were lost.”
Gaius smiles, nods his gratitude. “I would like that to be the truth. I know only that in my old age, the gods saw fit to send Emrys to me, giving me a chance to redeem myself, and I will not spurn that gift. As long as he has need of me, I am his.”
“Gaius.” Arthur shakes his head. “I don’t think you understand what your magical friend is doing.”
Gaius frowns. “I understand that he is trying to win freedom for his people.”
“Then why not save Mordred? He must have known how that would hurt me. How is this cruelty meant to show me a different side to magic and its users?”
Gaius actually groans with frustration. “Once again, Sire, I will not speak for Emrys. Know only that he has his reasons.”
“That’s not good enough,” Arthur says regretfully. “Gaius, tomorrow at the latest, I have to convene the Table, and explain to all my knights and advisors why we will not be mounting a full scale manhunt for the sorcerer who continues to flaunt my law. Tell me how I am supposed to justify that healing magic was used to save my life, when I am denying the same cure to hundreds of ailing across my kingdom?”
Instead of answering him, Gaius regards him curiously. “If I may ask, Sire, why won’t you be mounting a manhunt?”
Arthur crosses his arms over his chest. “Another excellent question. How about you give me one good reason not to.”
The corner of Gaius’ mouth quirks up in a fit of dark humour. “It would be a waste of time and manpower. Emrys is the most powerful sorcerer in Albion, perhaps the most powerful man of our time: your knights would not catch him.”
Arthur glares. Glares until Gaius stops smiling, at least. “This is not funny. He is making a hypocrite out of me, and weakening my authority as King.”
“He means well.”
“So you keep saying, and yet you will not reveal his motives to me. Fine. If you will not speak for him, then he must speak for himself. I need to meet with him, Gaius, and soon.”
Gaius looks like he is about to protest, so Arthur interrupts before he can.
“Do not pretend that you have no means of communicating with him. Tell him I mean to speak to him, Gaius, and if he refuses to show, I will have no choice but to ban him from Camelot upon pain of death.”
Finally, Gaius merely bows his head, acquiescing.
Arthur stands, sways a bit on his feet and feels sleep stealing over him again.
“Perhaps you should return to bed, Sire.” Gaius suggests, standing as well and supporting Arthur with a hand on his arm.
Arthur nods. He wonders if Merlin is still in bed, and longs to find it so, to be able to tiptoe across the cold floor and slip underneath the warm covers, curl around Merlin and drift off with their mingled breaths for a lullaby.
Arthur goes to Mordred and sweeps an errant curl from the boy’s forehead. “Wake and be healed, Mordred. I don’t want to lose you.”
“Take comfort, Sire,” Gaius says, “in that whatever happens next, it is the will of destiny.”
“Destiny is never comforting, Gaius,” Arthur replies, and leaves the physician to his pale patient.