Disclaimer : I own nothing that is even tangentially related to Merlin, not the show, the legends, or anything else. What I do have is the idea that spawned this little story and hopefully more beyond it.
Merlin sat in his room watching the shadows play across the walls as the sun began to set and thought back, for what seemed like the hundredth time that day, about how he had gotten here. He never meant for any of this to happen, but he had learned long ago that destiny rarely took into account what people wanted.
He thought back to his mother, his village, his friends, his life, and the day it all went up in flames.
Cenred had been trying to make peace with Camelot for years and that year he finally had, by allowing Camelot to expand her borders further into his kingdom Ealdor was part of Camelot overnight, only no one had bothered to tell any of the villagers, in any of the villages, that they were now ruled by Uther Pendragon.
When Camelot’s forces had descended on the village Merlin had been in the forest to the south looking for herbs to replenish the ones used during a recent fever and only returned when he noticed the smoke beginning to rise into the sky.
Camelot soldiers had come looking for magic users and had found a few, none with any real power, and when they tried to take them back to Camelot for judgment all hell had broken loose. Ealdor while not a hub of magic like some places viewed it more as a talent than something to be eradicated. They were simple folks who thought that actions spoke louder than could have beens. If you had magic that was fine as long as you never intentionally harmed anyone with it, or caused too much trouble.
The villagers had tried to reason with the soldiers, asking for the chance for the magic users to leave the village and relocate further inland back within Cenreds new borders where the practice of magic was legal, if not openly practiced. The soldiers had refused claiming that they were violating the laws of their king and must face justice immediately.
Merlin’s best friend Will had died trying to protect his mother Hunith who’d spoken against Uther and his high-handed reign.
He had known none of that when he’d broken free of the tree line that day, all he had known was that his world was on fire. The magic users who hadn’t died in the initial assault were taken back to Camelot and executed there to thunderous applause.
After burying his mother and his only friend who’d really been more like a brother he looked around at all the devastation and realized that there was nothing left, at least not for him, nothing holding him here but bad memories and the nightmares of fire that were soon to come.
With nothing but the clothes on his back and that thought in his mind he wandered away. Away from Uther, away from Cenred, away from the smoldering embers of his past.
He’d wandered for days through Escetir up towards Mercia and beyond before he found himself in the Perilous Lands, the lands of the Fisher King. The Fisher Kings lands were a no man’s land in between two kingdoms, it sat on the northern border Camelot and shared its lands with Mercia and while both coveted it neither could ever hold it. He had been half dead when he found himself in the throne room standing before the skeletal king.
“Ah, boy you are here earlier than expected. Though I see now that things have changed, no matter, all will be set right in the end and maybe… yes maybe this will be better.”
Merlin had seen the longing in the old man’s eyes and asked the only question he could.
“What do you need?” Even with his world crumbled down to ash he was still his mother’s son and would help any he found in any way he could.
“Rest. Can you give it to me? I cannot find respite until I know my lands will once more be as they were.” He could tell that every word, every breath, cost him more and more of his strength. Yet he always seemed to find just that little bit more to push out the words that followed after.
“What were they?” The Perilous lands had been the same for the whole of his life and for as long as anyone could remember, he couldn’t imagine what they could have ever been before becoming such a wasteland.
“Safe. A haven for all those who needed it, none were turned away. All were protected. My land was… shelter. Will you bring it back?”
“How?” How could anywhere be a haven in such times? Uther would burn any place such as that to the ground, and smile as the embers burned out.
“Just. Be. Your existence will bring back the haven that was lost. The power, your power, will bring everything back. As long as you draw breath, as long as your heart is pure, and your actions true, those who seek freedom from strife here shall find it. Will you help?”
“Yes.” To his dying day he would always know there had been no other answer.
“Thank you. Place your hand on the trident and let your power call to the earth. Let the world know there is once more peace to be found.”
Five Years Later
Arthur Pendragon fought to stay calm as he rode away from Camelot, it went against everything in his training to flee his kingdom, but his father was right if there was to be hope for Camelot he needed to be free to mobilize the resistance.
Nimueh a known sorceress and enemy of Camelot, had taken the castle so effortlessly it would have been laughable had it not been his home that had fallen. The king had stayed behind to give his son and a few others the time needed to escape. Glancing back at his comrades on his heels he fought a grimace.
Leon had been the only knight he’d managed to bring with him; all others stayed with their king. Other than that, he had Morgana, her maid Gwen, and the court physician Gaius, he’d never seen a more pitiful sight.
They needed to get beyond Nimuhe’s reach, if there was such a place, and make camp for the night so he could decide what was to be done.
Gaius sat by the fire and debated speaking up. While Arthur wasn’t a bad man he shared his father’s hatred of magic and his words would not be taken in the light they were given. The longer he held his silence the more certain he became that he needed to speak. Arthur was a gifted strategist, but he had no knowledge of magic and all he had planned would repel a normal army but would do nothing against a sorceress of Nimuhe’s strength.
“If our allies can arm us we can make a showing of it at least, once the people see that we have not abandoned them they will rebel which should give us the opening we need to make our move. We must be swift.”
“Yes, Gaius.” The prince’s tone was not friendly but that was to be expected given the circumstances and only quelled the physician momentarily.
“I have a suggestion if I may?” His voice began to shake slightly no matter his efforts to control it, but that could easily be excused by the cold night air on his old bones.
“Of course, your advice is always welcome.” His words were respectful, but his tone spoke the truth his words denied. He did not believe Gaius would have anything of use to impart. For the whole of his life Gaius had been nothing but a doddering old physician, puttering about in his rooms giving out horrid medicines to help the ailing citizens of Camelot. Knowledgeable to be sure, wise at times even, but not a battle-hardened knight of the realm and thus of little use given their current situation.
No in the young prince’s mind his use would come after the battle to restore their home, patching up the wounded and sorting out the dead.
“Well, sire, I believe you are overlooking one momentous fact that impacts your plans.”
“Oh, really, and what might that be?” He knew he was on thin ice, but he must persevere, to do any less would be folly.
“Nimueh is a sorceress, sire. So, all your plans can be easily undone by her with little effort.” The look of pure disdain that overtook the young princes face confirmed his fears, Arthur was discounting magic far too easily. Understandable really, he’d never truly seen magic in action, not on the scale that it would be used now.
“We’ve faced sorcerers before, Gaius.” The arrogance of such an assertion was mind boggling, but also not without cause. Unfortunately, they now tread upon new ground where their footing was less sure.
“Yes, sire. However, the magic users you’ve faced in the past were young, inexperienced, most untrained. Nimuhe survived the purge, she’s kept herself hidden all these years, and despite her appearance she is in fact older than I am.” He saw the moment his words sank in. Both the prince and his knight exchanged looks of unease.
“What do you suggest?” And here was the tricky part.
“Well sire, the only way to defeat a sorcerer of her power would be with someone of equal or greater power at your side.” He braced himself before the last word left his lips, he knew what reaction his statement would cause. However, it was necessary, because it was the truth. They needed help.
“What! You would have me abandon my father’s teachings within hours of leaving his side? I thought you were his friend Gaius.” Arthurs look of betrayal nearly swayed him from his path, but one fact kept him steadfast.
“Sire, Nimuhe will release the Great Dragon. No army, no matter the size, will be able to defeat it.” Especially not now, after so long spent imprisoned under the castle. His hatred would have only grown over the years.
“What dragons? All the dragons were destroyed during the purge.” Oh, if only he could leave him to continue believing in the stories of olde. Unfortunately they were just that, stories. This experience more than any other was going to show him that no matter the infallibility of a father a King was just a mortal man and like all others was capable of mistakes and hypocrisy.
“Yes, sire, all but one. Your father thought that to simply destroy them all was too kind of a fate so he locked one away in the bowels of the castle as a statement not only to his strength but also as a reminder of what would become of the wicked. That the only possible outcome of walking the wicked path would be to be brought low by the righteous.” Such tripe worked a treat with the masses who were already in awe of his brutality but those of his inner circle knew the truth. He captured the dragon because he knew the creature had much knowledge held within him and wanted to one day break him to his will. That day unfortunately for them never came to pass.
“Well, my father defeated it before, we will simply have to put the creature down for good this time so it may never rise again. I understand what my father was doing, but it is obviously too dangerous a creature to let live for any reason.” Now the final blow.
“Yes, he did defeat it before, but not alone. He had the aid of sorcery, something we do not have at present.” And trickery, among other things.
“I do not believe you my father would never…”
“Oh, but he did. There are magic users in the world known as Dragon Lords only they can control the dragons. Not even Nimuhe will be able to control what he does once he is free. Back at the start of the purge the Dragon Lords and dragons themselves were killed. While the dragon was spared to serve as an object lesson of sorts the last Dragon Lord fled into the night before he was to be executed and hasn’t been seen in your father’s lands since that night. We need to find that Dragon Lord if we wish to have even a prayer of success.” With his words still echoing into the night he rose from the fire and began to move towards his patch of grass by the two sleeping women.
“Who is this Dragon Lord?” The question stopped him for a moment. He answered without looking back.
“His name is Balinor.”