Chapter 2 – Prove your worth
Merlin managed to convince Gwaine to stay in Haven, just barely, and finally set out toward Camelot. He knew that the coming events would be a defining moment for the would be king and for some reason he felt compelled to help him find his way through this maze he was about to enter. A muttered spell took him to the exact spot where the unicorn had died, glancing around he saw nothing but the forest surrounding him, so he sat and waited for someone to arrive. He knew that both the guardian and Arthur would be here soon enough he just had to be patient and wait for them. Luckily he was very good at doing both.
“Why have you come Emrys?” Turning at the sound of the voice he found an old man draped in robes.
“Hello, honored Guardian, if I may make a request so soon after our meeting I would ask that you not call me by my druid name. Only they and the people of Haven know me as such and I would like to keep that knowledge from the one who you punish.”
“I understand and I shall honor this request. Now why have you come?” The man looked sincerely curious. So he answered as honestly as he could.
“Honestly, I do not know for sure. I felt the death of the unicorn, you have my sympathies for the loss of such a majestic creature, and the curse take hold of this kingdom. At first I was going to just let the events unfold as they would without my interference, I felt that they had brought this upon themselves and in doing so they should also conquer it or fail on their own as well. However, no matter how loudly my mind told me to leave them to their fate, my instincts drove me here. You have my word that I will do no more than advise them, I will not intercede on their behalf.”
“Thank you for your honest and kind words, Merlin. I understand the need that drives you and I do harbor you no ill will for your presence here, I believe you when you say you will not interfere with the course of this curse. I feel the young prince approaching now so I shall leave until he is truly ready to speak with me.”
“I understand great one, and I thank you for your understanding in return.” He watched the old man fade before his eyes and he turned once more sitting upon the long and waited for the foolish prince and his knights to arrive.
Arthur didn’t know what he was expecting to find when he arrived at the place where this entire mess began, but he knew he never thought to find Him.
It didn’t make any sense why would he be here? Unless…
“Are you the one who’s cursed us then?” For some reason he knew that even if that were true he still would not hate the man. He should hate him now on principle alone, the man was a sorcerer for gods sake, but for some reason he just couldn’t make himself take that final step into hatred when it came to this man. Truth be told he didn’t truly hate any of the magic users, who weren’t openly and actively trying to kill him, if anything he pitied them. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts he waited for the young mans reply and wondered what he would do it the answer was yes. Kill Merlin? He didn’t think he could even if he wanted to, not that he wanted to, oh hell he was confusing himself again. Why was Merlin always so confusing?
“No, I did not place this curse on your kingdom, though I did feel it take hold. Just as I felt the death of the unicorn.”
That last part sounded like an accusation or a chastisement. He was being scolded.
“How was I supposed to know this would happen because of shooting one beast in the forest?”
“You are Uther Pendragons son are you not? You have been persecuting magic for your entire life haven’t you? Isn’t that what you’ve been up to?” Well, what his father was up to. For some reason facing Merlin again, it was harder and harder to remember why he was considered a threat to the realm.
“I thought so. So why is it that even after having waged war against magic for decades, Uther never allows anyone to learn about magic at all? Wouldn’t it make sense to have at least some basic knowledge on hand, if not about the people who use it then at least about the creatures that spring from it. Unicorns, Griffins, Dragons, all of these creatures still roam the earth and yet you are ignorant of what to do about them, or in the case of the unicorn what not to do. I don’t know about you lot but I was always taught that fighting blind was a good and fast way to die.”
He had a point, and if the looks on the faces of his knights was anything to go by, he wasn’t the only one who noticed either.
“So if you aren’t the one who placed this curse then are you here to help?”
“I am here to advise you. I will not interfere but I will help you muddle through as best I can without actively becoming involved. This is your mess you must clean it up yourself, I can’t do it for you and more importantly even if I could I wouldn’t do it for you.”
That was straight forward enough now he supposed it was time to ask the important question.
“What can we do to stop this?”
“You must prove yourself worthy.”
What? He was worthy, he was the prince of Camelot, he was the greatest fighter of the realm, he was more than worthy of anything and everything. He had just opened his mouth to inform the little urchin of this when he was cut off.
“Before you starting spouting nonsense about how worthy you are let me be the first to tell you that as you are now you are far from worthy. Guardians like Anhora don’t look to your ability to fight or kill to prove your worth, they already know you can do that, you killed the unicorn. They look to everything else.”
“What do you mean?” What else was there?
“Well knowing how to fight is good and will serve you well that’s true, but do you know when to fight?”
What the hell was he talking about he fought when it was needed. When his king commanded it or when he was provoked just like everyone else.
“Of course I know when to fight.”
“We shall see if that is so soon enough young prince.”
Spinning around he caught sight of an old man in robes for a moment before the image and the man himself faded away. Turning back to Merlin to demand answers he found him gone as well. Perfect, just what he needed. What the hell were they even talking about anyway?
Merlin sat alone in the forest and tried to puzzle out just how he was going to handle this entire mess. He knew what Anhora would do if Arthur managed to convince him by word or by deed that he was deserving of a second chance. He also knew that without the proper guidance given in the proper way he would fail the coming trials. He could not shadow the prince while he was within the Citadel but he could help him with whatever happened beyond the walls of Camelot. He had felt part of the curse lift the day before so the prat had passed the first part of the trial and showed both mercy and good judgment. He knew that the second half of the trial would begin today. Now that he had shown mercy he would be made to show his restraint. That could be a problem.
Feeling Arthur enter the woods, alone for once, he muttered a spell to find him. He would do what he could to help him with this next part of his test, but he feared it would be doomed from the start. Of all the things that was praised about the prince, his skill with a blade being the most spoken of, his pride was something else always paired with his name. He had a sinking feeling prince prat was about to discover the truth in the saying pride goeth before the fall.
Arthur had gotten slightly turned around and he knew it. He had been trying to find the place where he’d felled the unicorn so that he could find this Anhora and demand the rest of the curse to lifted. Water had returned to Camelot but that was not enough, everything else was still wrong. Turning around to try to get his barings he found… Merlin.
“What are you doing here sorcerer?” Not the best way to start but he was beyond frustrated. He’d grown up in these woods and now he was lost. Not that he’d ever admit such a thing.
“Not the nicest way to greet someone who’s trying to help you. Might want to work on that.”
“Work on what? What are you even talking about? Never mind, go away I’m busy.” He had thought about asking Merlin for help but thought better of it at the last moment. The night before after learning of Merlin’s presence in the forest, his father had blamed this entire mess on him. He’d told the other rulers that this whole curse business was just a ruse created by the sorcerer as a way to weaken Camelot before we were ready to attack. A pre-emptive strike he called it. That had won over some of the monarchs that had been previously on the fence about attacking somewhere as well defended as Haven. He knew better though, this curse was very real and he was the cause of it not merlin.
“Looking for Anhora?”
That stopped him in his tracks. Did Merlin know where he was, could he risk asking him for help, what if his father found out?
“Don’t play dumb with me Arthur, you’re the only blond here. You won’t find him you know, not until you’ve passed or failed the next part of your trial.”
“My trial?” What trial and next part did that mean he’d already completed part of it?
“You’re second chance so to speak, you did notice that part of the curse had lifted yeah? That was because you showed mercy and compassion. Now you must show conviction and restraint. You are seeking Anhora, let no one and nothing distract you from your mission.”
He opened his mouth to respond only to find himself alone again. Why did people keep doing that? Didn’t they realize just how disconcerting it was? Or maybe that was the whole point. Shrugging it off he turned once more and continued on to try and find this Anhora and the salvation of Camelot.
Merlin stood alone in the woods once more and waited. He sensed it when Arthur came into contact with Anhora’s illusion. He listened to the taunts thrown at the prince and while they were harsh he should have been able to ignore them in favor of his quest to break the curse holding his people hostage. He did a decent job at first but it was clear that his patience was eroding with every word the man spoke, until finally he stopped resisting and started fighting throwing conviction and restraint to the wind. Camelot was doomed the prince had failed.
He had failed, Arthur knew this was his fault and no amount of blaming magic would change that. He knew why his father was set on this path but that didn’t change the fact that this was his fault. Merlin had warned him that he would need restraint and yet he didn’t listen. Wait a minute, Merlin! That was it, their solution, their salvation, Merlin could help him gain another chance. Grabbing his sword he set off to the woods to find him.