Summary: Morgana's mind is torn apart, she can govern no one. Perhaps if Merlin had reached her before Uther's men reached him she might have been saved. Five intertwined ficlets
Her dreams come continually now, blood and death, fear and birdsong. And always, always encroaching thorns.
She babbles at the maid who brings her food, pulls at the soft cotton of her dress. No more silks for the lady Morgana; they tear too easily. The maid clears the plates and takes her hand, carefully files her nails short while talking gently. Morgana stares through her blankly, watches the world only she can see.
When Merlin's magic was discovered, her thoughts were torn open, power and fire seen within her mind; the same power and fire before her eyes. Merlin is gone now and Gaius' draughts no longer soothe her. The thorns grow over her and she is the thorns.
The common people say she is driven mad, ensconced away from the court in a tall white tower. They say that Uther protects his ward from the world and the world from her madness. Sometimes common gossip is right.
The thorns have roots sinking deep into the ground. The thorns are limbs, reaching for travellers' eyes. The visions attack her and Morgana screams.
She has a waiting woman to wash her hair, a seamstress stands poised to adjust her dress after she steps into it. She stands glorious in satin and pearls, all the magnificence of Camelot to dress a princess on her wedding day.
Her own hands once carried linens, wielded a needle, a sword. She gossiped with the kitchen maids and haggled in the market. Now servants work for her, there are guards outside her room. A princess is a figurehead, pampered yet passive.
But. She devised the symbolism for her own wedding, worked carefully with Arthur on which dignitaries should be invited, which alliances implied across the marriage feast.
And behind her carefully clothed facade her mind is busy. She reflects on the unrest on the western border, considers which concessions might be offered to the farmers of Dunbury, hopes desperately that the beasts ravaging their livestock are only wolves, safe and non-magical.
She did not expect to be here, always thought Morgana would be in this place. But Morgana's mind is torn apart, she can govern no one. Perhaps if Merlin had reached her before Uther's men caught him she might have been saved.
Merlin stepped forward when all seemed lost, let Camelot see his magic as he held back their destruction. He might have become as much a counsellor to Arthur as she has, but he cannot help them now.
She did not expect to be here. But she is the last trusted support Arthur has left and she will not fail him.
At need, the King still sits in state, but he listens more than he talks, lets his son take the lead, dispense judgement. Arthur is grown to be a fine young man, Uther will see a smooth transfer of power, his kingdom will continue in prosperity. Yet growing old is still a melancholy business.
His joints move slowly now, he leaves the castle rarely. It is months since he handled a sword, weeks since he mounted a horse.
Still, he has seen off the worst threats.
Arthur shows wisdom in judgement, tempers power with insight, mercy with necessity. When he proposes a treaty or levies a tax it is just and it is shrewd. Still Uther fears that he may be too lenient to magic, he questions whether Arthur would have had the strength to begin the purges, the will to see them through. He has not faced down magic in all its seductive evil.
It is as well that Uther has already dealt the most vital blows. He has driven the sorcerers from his realm, cleansed the land of their malevolence, exposed the last great warlock who had tricked his way into Arthur's service.
The servant might have continued undetected to threaten the kingdom from within. He could have fled when he was discovered; instead he attempted to penetrate to Morgana's chamber. The King is chilled even now by the memory, by the thought of what further malice could have been inflicted on his broken ward. But the warlock was caught again; they were spared that last indignity.
Today Uther will preside at the marriage of his son. But tomorrow he will sit and doze in his rooms, remember the years past. From his window he has a perfect view of Morgana's white tower.
The people call him their golden prince, the wise young ruler, their hope. They shower him with praise and blessings, wish him all joy, their future King on his wedding day.
Arthur responds to them graciously, accepts their applause, smiles genuinely at Gwen as she steps to meet him. This day is theirs, though it is not just their own; this marriage belongs to his kingdom.
Arthur will never be his own person again. He is Regent now, in all but name; watching his father he knows he will soon be King in fact. Camelot is his, to protect, to love, to set its laws and negotiate its treaties. Life was simpler when he only ran its army, but he would not step away from kingship now for anything. He owes his people the best he can be, owes them the King's justice and the King's peace.
This day is a day for public joy. Tomorrow will again be for the business of state, Arthur and Gwen working together for the sake of their people.
Was it inevitable that his life would become the two of them against the world? Could Morgana's insanity had been reversed or Merlin have stood by his side as adviser? As protector? The day Arthur lost Merlin, Camelot should have been destroyed. He wonders now how many times Merlin saved them all.
If Merlin's magic had stayed undiscovered, the wyvern plague might have been driven off without ravaging the eastern earldoms. Camelot might have lost less men to the three separate sorcerers who have attacked it in the last two years.
But all the court saw what Merlin can do, saw him vanish from between the hands of Uther's guards. One day it may be safe for him to return. Now Arthur must fight magical enemies the hard way and his people are the ones who suffer.
Merlin escaped from the castle with his life. But his mind was desperate to help Morgana, his heart cried out for Arthur, to explain, to apologise and he had no way to reach either of them.
He should have run far away, but though he could not help he could not bear to leave. He re-materialised in the woods outside Camelot and here he remains. Camelot has Arthur, has destiny, is the place where he learnt to use his magic for a greater cause.
He wandered in the forest, hid in trees from Uther's searching men; Arthur was not with those parties and Merlin wonders what that means. He grew leaner, hungry, dreamt strange dreams.
Near a clear spring he sank, deep into the ground. Thorns grew up his arms and he became thorns.
The life of Camelot is in the very earth, he feels joy and sorrow, transformed by passage through the earth, listens still to the murmur of magic and kingdom entwined together. He draws earth magic up through his roots; the forest is his domain. When a warlock enters it, intent on Arthur's death; Merlin's branches are there to claw out his eyes.
He keeps no track of time. He is made of thorns, he is the wood, he listens to rhythms human ears cannot hear. One day he will rise into human shape again, return to his King, seek exile or forgiveness.
For now Merlin waits. His thorns grow wilder, entangled in the wood.