Pairing: Merlin/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen, Morgause/Nimueh
Summary: What would have happened in S1, had Nimueh raised Morgause, Morgana and Merlin; in which Arthur discovers that an accusation of witchcraft will suck the life out of even the most promising of romances...
Note: I actually finished this more than a month ago but have only just got round to proofing/beta-ing it; it's in twelve parts and I'll post one part every couple of days until they're all up. Enjoy!
Things have not been wonderful between Prince Arthur and his laundry maid – not since he accused her of witchcraft, anyway, which is something that is liable to suck the life out of even the most promising of romances.
Though he returns from delivering the druid boy into the hands of three witches (and a sorcerer) just beyond Camelot’s boarders with an apology on his lips, Gwen is not liable to forget the original accusation, and finds her trust in the sweet, faithful nature of what lay between them irrevocably shaken. She accepts the apology well enough but has not lingered much around him since – struggles to look at him without tasting the disbelief that he had so doubted her.
Even as the conversation begins to come more easily again, as somehow it irrevocably does, growing back like the first crocus tongues licking up out of the earth after winter, she does not let him kiss her again. She stays out of range of his touch, and does not allow herself to be cornered by him in corridors or conveniently secluded alcoves.
She misses him, certainly – and feels her determination to create some distance between them falter when she spots the flicker of hurt in his eyes when she ducks out of his way – but she fears him more, now. The whim of a prince is a dangerous thing. What if he had taken his suspicion of her to his father? With no evidence but his own hysteria he could have had her burned at the stake.
It’s a terrifying prospect.
The prince, in his turn, feels his own shame at his foolishness hold him back from trying to pursue her. He disserves her silent rebuke, he is certain. So they are not as close as they once were, for maybe six weeks, after the incident with Mordred.
But the start of their reconciliation, oddly enough, is triggered when Arthur discovers his laundry maid trembling and weeping beneath a set of stairs – muffling her distress in a stack of clean linen.
She jerks, startled, and her face is twisted with fear and anger – though, to his relief, it does not appear to be directed at him (as evidenced by the fact that she stumbles into his arms and gasps into his chest like a child, all caution and friction forgotten).
“Gwen?” He asks, again, startled and more than a little alarmed at what can possibly be troubling her so severely.
It takes a few minutes for the entire story to be told coherently enough for Arthur to understand. But he is eventually able to piece together that her father has been arrested for aiding a man that he did not know was a sorcerer, that he will almost certainly be executed, that the sorcerer is pursuing her for an object he claims her father owes her but that neither she nor her father knows its location or how they could possibly obtain it and she is too terrified to go home and certain that her father is going to die.
Arthur had known that someone had been dragged in for assisting a sorcerer and thrown into the dungeons (he’d seen the commotion that morning and his father was muttering about it in court all day) but he had not realised that it was someone related to Gwen, let alone her father.
“You have to help him,” her voice carries a desperation to it that almost frightens Arthur; he has never witnessed anyone sound so desolate before, “please Arthur – please – I’ll forgive you – I’ll – whatever you want just – ”
She gasps and shudders and clamps her mouth shut because she will sob if she continues.
Arthur takes her to the court physician, Gaius, to retell the story – for everyone knows (if no one will talk of it) that Gaius himself at one point practiced magic (was spared the purges only because he was a friend of Uther’s and promised never to practice again). If anyone will know what to do with a rogue sorcerer and a blacksmith and his daughter unwittingly caught up in a conspiracy, it will be Gaius.
And then Arthur does something that he has never done before, and takes action that he both knows will enrage his father and that he will not be able to keep secret. He goes to the dungeons and has the guards release Gwen’s father – Tom, his name – on his authority, escorting the frightened, exhausted man himself back to Gaius’s chambers to be reunited with his daughter.
“Stay here,” he orders both of them, then to Gaius, “let no one else in. I am going to speak to my father. If he wont see reason and we cannot find this sorcerer then I – know of a place where we could send you both to be safe.”
He is thinking of the three witches outside Ealdor – how they could have killed him many times over but didn’t. Of Morgana’s odd suggestion that, had circumstances been different, she would have grown up as his sister in Camelot’s courts, and that they would have known and loved one another. How she had, from afar, been keeping him safe all this time.
He has not yet asked his father about the daughters of Gorlois, and why he tried to have them killed if he was such a great friend of their sire. It was all he could do to try to look up evidence of their births in the castle library – of which he found just enough to be quite certain that Morgause and Morgana truly are the daughters of a man who was once his father’s closest friend.
He is not sure that he wants to know what happened – fears how irrevocably it will change his view of his father – but it is enough now that, at least, he trusts the priestesses.
Morgana and Morgause and Nimueh will shelter Tom and Gwen, he is certain, from both his father and the loose sorcerer, if the worst comes to the worst and they must both be smuggled from the kingdom.
His father is not pleased with him, but Arthur is secure in the knowledge that there is very little that the king can do to reprimand him. He has bargained on Uther being too proud to let it be known that his own son has done something so defiant by punishing him in any obvious way (such as committing him to a spell in the dungeons or confiscating his horses and hunting equipment).
And when the sorcerer is found where Gwen told Arthur he would be – when he was threatening her for some kind of crystal he appears to have lost and thinks the blacksmith and his daughter may have stolen – the king calms a little. With his pound of flesh now, he is less inclined to want to execute the poor wretch who was unwittingly drawn into helping the man. A little gentle counselling from Gaius convinces him that the common people will think better of their king if he is merciful, and Tom the blacksmith has the charges against him dropped.
He returns home, and Guinevere grants Arthur another kiss, brief but tender with relief.
They are close again, after that – aided by Arthur’s decision to start bringing Gwen small tokens of his affection. Nothing that will draw attention to her; but little things he thinks she might like: pressed flowers and ornate clips for her hair and a scarf and soft wool gloves when it begins to grow colder.
In return Gwen takes to sliding little bundles of dry lavender beneath his pillows, so that his bed always smells sweet (something he will never admit to liking but enjoys none the less). She brings him a knife that she has made (for she knows a little of her father’s craft), and a new buckle when the one on his favourite belt breaks, and fine dragon head clasps for his boots and riding gloves.
He is able to make her laugh again, and after every feast he will seek her out and they will seclude themselves somewhere. The wine makes it easier for him to forget that he is nervous about kissing her, still, and she feels more comfortable in his lap and less shy about tugging his strong arm about her and teasing him about the size of his feet.
Arthur has no idea what he can possibly hope to achieve with Guinevere, for he cannot marry her and she is not even of high enough blood for him to easily make her his mistress. But for the moment they are close and such a state of affairs makes him unbelievably happy, so he doesn’t think too much about the future.
Then, when hunting quite routinely, he is bitten by a questing beast, and what to do about Guinevere becomes the very least of the problems hanging over his immediate future.
Chapter ten is here.