“It’s the bracelet!”
Arthur, to his credit, didn’t bat an eye as Merlin came bursting through the doors to his chambers without knocking.
“No, it’s the stocks, if you don’t start remembering how to knock, Merlin.”
As usual, the old threat didn’t faze the other man. “This is important, Arthur. Morgause gave Morgana a healing bracelet—“
“—that was, at one point, her mother’s.” Merlin finished pointedly. “And considering that Nimueh was a powerful sorceress, I don’t know what spells she or Morgause might have put on that bracelet.”
Arthur’s head shot up. “Does she know?”
“I don’t think so—but Arthur, this bracelet is definitely magical.” He hesitated. “I think either Nimueh or Morgause practiced or is practicing blood magic. There were two little holes on Morgana’s wrist.”
Arthur tensed. “Is Morgana in danger?”
“No. I managed to heal the punctures without her noticing. She has also agreed to give me the bracelet to study. Only during the day, while she is awake, but it’s better than nothing.” Merlin frowned. “She’s drawn to Morgause, Arthur. Blood calls to blood, magic to magic.”
Bracing himself, he told the prince about the encounter with the soon to be princess of Camelot, barring a few minor details. “I don’t truly know what effects blocking her magic like that will have, but I can’t imagine that they’d be good in any kind of way.” He finished, as Arthur’s face grew redder and redder.
“Have you no sense of self preservation? Did I not expressly forbid you to speak to her about that?” the prince roared. “You can’t bloody well fulfill any sort of destiny if you’re dead, and if you can’t follow orders for once in your idiotic life, I’ll kill you myself!”
Merlin took a moment to silently strengthen the shielding and dampening spells he had set up after the first six months of working for Arthur as the prince continued to rant.
“Arthur, listen to me. Morgana is not going to find out about me. She still believes that Will was the sorcerer, remember? Besides that, I’m her only ally right now. Morgause is still an unknown factor, especially since I planted some seeds to make Morgana question her motives instead of simply blindly accepting them.” The warlock said gently as the prince began to wind down. “The trust is still there, and it’s something that we can build on and reinforce.” Moving so that he was directly in front of his friend, he met Arthur’s gaze, his own hard with determination. “You said that Kilgarrah told you that Morgana is standing at a fork in the path. If she takes a step towards us, her loyalty will be true. If she is lured towards Morgause…” He shook his head. “Morgana is a powerful witch, Arthur. I can sense the potential in her, just as Morgause no doubt can. For good, for evil, I don’t know. But we can’t afford to have her turn against us.”
He couldn’t explain how or why he believed that fact with such certainty, but something—his magic, his own intuition, destiny—was telling him that if they didn’t fight for Morgana with everything they had, she would be lost to them, and Camelot would be in mortal danger.
Arthur had begun pacing, needing to expel excess energy. “What do you need?”
“Time.” Merlin said instantly. “Time to dissect the bracelet, for a start.”
The prince fixed him with a hard, assessing look, which Merlin steadily returned.
“Fine.” Arthur said finally. “But I want to be there to watch.”
Merlin blinked. “Sire?”
“I want to be there when you’re unraveling the spells.” Arthur repeated. “Oh come now Merlin, you didn’t really think that I would just believe the word of a dragon, did you? That you have magic, I have no doubt, but to hear him tell it, you’re the most powerful warlock ever to be born, which just doesn’t make any sense. Why would magical, mystical Merlin willingly demote himself to a mere manservant, in a city that despises magic and all it symbolizes?”
“I thought that you weren’t going to ask why.” Merlin responded coolly after a moment.
“This is me not asking. You figure out Morgause’s plans, and no more ‘why’ questions.”
So this was a test. Arthur wanted to see a demonstration. So be it, Merlin thought with a hint of gleeful maliciousness.
“Very well. You have a council meeting with your father tomorrow, as well as training the knights. I was going to take the bracelet down to the goldsmith to see if he can replicate it. I will then put a variation of the healing spell on the new bracelet, so that Morgana will have some form of protection. That will give me some breathing room and time to concentrate on studying the original more closely.” He bowed slightly, although he kept his eyes on his liege lord. “After the exchange has been made, you are welcome to observe, sire.”
The formality of tone and address meant that Merlin had accepted the challenge and was ceding to the prince’s command. Of course, Merlin being Merlin, he had phrased it so that the whole thing was his idea and offer.
“Have Guinevere take it; she can be discreet.” Arthur ordered, although his lips twitched at the audacity of his friend and servant. “The council meeting is tomorrow afternoon. You and I are going to start your first lessons in staff fighting and shooting a crossbow first thing tomorrow morning.”
When Merlin opened his mouth, Arthur added pointedly, “You promised, Merlin.”
The warlock subsided with a grunt. “Until the ‘morrow, then?” he grumbled, heading for the door. Never one to willingly let his friend and liege have the last word, he tossed over his shoulder, “I trust that you will be awake on your own tomorrow. Since this chamber is shielded and you know about it, I can be far more…inventive in my methods to wake you up now, especially since I know that it is all an act and you are perfectly capable of doing so on your own.” He ducked out of the door, a large boot narrowly missing him. “Sweet dreams!”