The sound of his father’s name on the lips of this stranger made his whole body jerk. All of the magic community knew of Balinor’s fate. After the death of his mother, Hunith, and no word of the fate of his son Balinor had allowed himself to be found by the Camelot forces that were forever on his trail. He had been beheaded on the spot five years past, and the fact that these men of Camelot didn’t know this made fury well up inside of him. Though it shouldn’t surprise him that these people were ignorant of it, they seemed a sheltered lot.
“Sorry, can’t help you find him.”
“Can’t or won’t?” This from the uppity blonde knight, while he had a sneaking suspicion of who this boy might be he would not let that sway him.
“Both, either, take your pick. Either way you’ll find no help here.”
He watched the rage settle in on Prince Arthur’s face and couldn’t help the little bubble of satisfaction he got from denying this man-child what he wanted. He got the impression that didn’t happen nearly often enough.
“Look here sorcerer; we need the help of this man to regain what has been lost to us. You will tell us what you know of his whereabouts or you will be sorry.”
“Oh, really. Was that your plan then for when you got to that village? Make demands and threats, throwing around weight you no longer have. From what I can see Prince Arthur, what you’ve lost is your kingdom, and with it everything that made you a power to be reckoned with in this world. Now not that you asked for my opinion but here it is anyway, move on and leave Balinor alone even if by some miracle you did find him I guarantee you he’d never help you son of Uther even if he could.”
Turning to leave once more before his anger got the better of him and he did something he would come to regret later he felt the weight of his life begin to weigh him down even more than usual.
It had been a long time since he’d heard anyone say his father’s name and just the sound of it brought a wave of sorrow he was sure would never leave him. Added to that the sound of citizens of Camelot, the very place that had condemned and killed him, demanding his father’s help as though it were their due was just too much.
Looking back even though every instinct told him to keep going he found the little maid servant stepping towards him hand outstretched entreating him to stay.
“I understand why you as a magic user would loathe Camelot, but Nimuhe has overtaken the throne and has released the Great Dragon. If we are to have a prayer of regaining our home we need the help of this Balinor. He’s a Dragon Lord you see, the last of them apparently, and we just wish to ask him for his assistance. Even if you refuse to tell us his location maybe you could arrange a meeting for us so that we can plead our case, and he can accept or refuse to help us himself.”
He couldn’t stop himself, he began to laugh, there were just so many things wrong with that little speech and from the looks on their faces not one of them heard it. The longer he laughed the more indignant these citizens of Camelot became.
“You find it amusing that we’ve lost our home?” This from the uppity brunette who just had to be related to Prince Pratt to be that high and mighty.
“I find it amusing that you wish to ask Balinor to help you regain your home when it was Camelot who took his life away. I find it amusing that you say he is apparently the last of the Dragon Lords as though you have no idea what happened to the rest of them. As though they all simply faded away into the mists of their own free will. As though Camelot had nothing to do with the demise of the Dragon Lords. I am sorry that you lost your home, but hey maybe now you understand some of the pain your home has caused everyone else over the last two decades. Everyone has lost something to Camelot you’ll not find many who’ll mourn the loss of the place itself nor the tyrant who ruled it.”
“That is my father you speak of.” Sir Pratt said through gritted teeth, like that would be news to anyone.
“Exactly and maybe that’s why you don’t see him for what he really is. Maybe now you will.” Without another word Merlin turned and walked away. He would not help them. It was one thing to keep the magical community from assassinating Uther; it was another entirely to actually rescue the man who’d destroyed so many lives without a second thought.
No, he swore to himself, he would not betray his people or the memory of his parents by helping that man.
Arthur watched the man walk away and it took all he had not to run after him and demand answers. What had he meant about his father? Uther was a good man, a good king; he protected his people from the evils of magic. Didn’t he?
No! He would not allow some stranger, some magic user, to cause him to doubt his father, his king. If this man would not help them find Balinor then they would simply have to find someone else who would.
Turning back to his companions he found them all deep in thought. That was never a good sign especially with Morgana.
“We should move on to the village, find someone who’s willing to help us.” He hoped if he put enough authority into his voice they would follow along without complaint or protest, but he doubted it.
“Sire if I may?” He knew it.
“Of course Gaius.” He tried not to resent the old man, but it seemed like every time he opened his mouth lately it was either to contradict him or to add a new wrinkle to their current troubles. He knew it wasn’t really like that, that he was only trying to help but for heaven’s sake could he just stop talking for a little while.
“While the boy may have been rude in his refusal to help he did bring up a valid point. Only those of the magical community would even know where to find someone like Balinor and not many of them would be eager or even willing to help any of us. Now we could go to the village and hope to find someone there who knows where to find the man we seek or we could follow the man we know has the information we need and attempt to gain his help. I fear if we go to the village we will only be met with resistance and refusal, if not outright hostility.” He watched Morgana and Gwen nod along with his assessment of the situation like it was a simple fact commonly known and accepted, this only occurs to them now!
Glancing around the clearing Arthur saw that even Leon seemed to agree with the physician, he was well and truly out numbered. Fine! They would follow the boy and try to get him to help them, though how exactly they thought they would manage that he had no idea. If circumstances had been different he might have found the whole situation amusing as it was he just found it all unbearably frustrating.
Seriously? They were following him. Merlin had been so angry he hadn’t noticed at first but now that he had noticed he just couldn’t believe it. What did they think to gain?
Oh, well that was obvious they wanted his help. So, the real question was why did they think he would just change his mind? So far they had just been silently trailing him. At first, he thought they might be trying to see if he would lead them to Balinor. Then when he listened more closely he realized that wasn’t it at all. They were arguing back there, quietly, but arguing all the same. It would seem the reason they hadn’t made a move yet was because they couldn’t agree on what move to make.
Prince prat thought it was a waste of time to try to gain his help. Maybe he wasn’t a complete idiot after all. The knight of course was faithfully and silently on his prince’s side. The uppity brunette and her maid were presenting a united front insisting that he was their best and as far as they could tell only option. The old man seemed to be waffling between the two views trying and failing to keep the peace.
If they didn’t make up their minds and either approach him or leave him the hell alone soon he was going to do something drastic. Seeing a tavern up ahead he made his way towards it hoping that the short stop would either give them the opportunity to get it over with or at the very least give him a distraction to help fight off the headache they were beginning to give him with their non-stop bickering.
Walking in he found an empty table and waited. As expected they all followed him inside and sat at the table behind him staring at his back to the point he was starting to feel it like a physical weight. One of them cleared their throat to try and gain his attention, like they didn’t have it already, finally coming to a decision.
Or not. If the new protests and arguments were anything to go by it would seem that the uppity brunette lady had just had enough arguing when she knew she was right and was going ahead with her plan of action leaving the rest to fall in line behind her. He had to admire her confidence even if he did wish they would just go away.
“Yes?” He knew his voice was condescending but really what did they expect after trailing after him for the past two hours.
“What would it take to get you to help us?”
“What?” Was she serious? It seemed her winning strategy was a simple straightforward approach. As far as plans go, he had seen worse. Hell he’d seen worse from Prince Prat in the clearing.
“Well, it would seem that you have a bit of a problem with Camelot and its people so I was wondering if there was anything we could do to maybe help you work past that, if only a little, so you would feel more kindly towards us. Would an apology from Arthur help? I can’t guarantee it will be heartfelt but the words will be there and if it will help a well-placed kick from me could even bring tears to his eyes.”
He couldn’t stop his surprised laugh at her declaration and the surprised yelp of indignation from Arthur didn’t help either. Taking it as a sign of encouragement both the brunette lady and the girl who seemed to always trail behind her moved from their table to his.
“Alright then, if you’re going to be this persistent I may as well know your names. So beyond Prince Prat over there who are you?” If they were going to be so hell bent on talking to them, he should have something to call them after all.
“Oh forgive me I completely forgot the introductions in all the fuss of our first meeting. I am Morgana, this is my maid and friend Gwen, behind you next to Arthur who you obviously already know there is the ever loyal Sir Leon, and across from him is Gaius.”
He recognized the Lady speaking to him as the King’s ward and her maid seemed nice enough, the knight next to his prince seemed suitably stoic and on alert but it was the physician whose name caused a spark of recognition. How many times had he heard that name tossed around in conversations about the purge?
Gaius the traitor. Gaius the coward. Gaius the man who did nothing.
Glancing at the man in question, the look he got back said that he knew his name would be recognized but pleaded for mercy and understanding if not forgiveness. So he was being stalked and pestered for aid from Uther’s son and ward, their servants, and a traitor. Great, just great.
“I have a question for you.” This should go both ways shouldn’t it.
“Anything.” Morgana seemed eager to answer him, to do anything that might get him on their side.
“You keep wondering why I won’t help. Why don’t you tell me why I should? You give me one good reason why I, a magic user and enemy of Camelot, should help you. If you can give me one good reason why I should then I will help you.”
After an hour of trying to convince Merlin to aid them Arthur’s once good mood was evaporating. When the sorcerer had requested a single good reason to help them he had been smug in his certainty that the matter was well in hand, there were dozens of reasons to regain Camelot giving him one should be simple. This Merlin was just trying to be stubborn. Every reason they gave was discarded as not good enough.
“Damn it. You wanted a reason and we’ve given you over a dozen either you will help us or you won’t which is it?” The look he got in return for his outburst was one he’d gotten often as a child from his tutors. It seemed to say ‘didn’t you pay attention to the question at all?’ as if he and the others were missing something obvious.
“I asked for a reason that I should help you. All you have given me in the last hour are reasons it would benefit you for your home to be saved. Where is the benefit for me?” He looked so put out to have to explain this to them in such a simple manner, like they had been wasting his time instead of him obviously wasting theirs.
Of course, why hadn’t he thought of this before? He was a sorcerer after all and therefore inherently greedy and corrupt.
“Are you saying you want a reward?” He allowed his voice to drip with the disdain he’d been masking for the past hour to appear congenial. Now, his condescension was well deserved. What kind of a man asked for compensation for the simple act of doing the right thing, helping them should be its own reward.
“No, you simpleton. What I’m saying is that you want me to help you regain a place that hates my kind. If I help you, you may regain your home but what do I gain except the return to power of my enemy? Give me a reason why I should help you.”
As he opened his mouth to try and reason with the little bastard yelling from across the room caught his attention. Looking up he saw a man with shoulder length hair and a scruffy beard grinning unrepentantly as he was loudly accused of cheating at a game of cards. He was just about to return his attention to the stubborn sorcerer across from him when the first punch was thrown and all hell broke loose.
At first Merlin was determined to stay out of the all-out brawl going on around him. As soon as the first punch was thrown the prince and his knight had herded the ladies and old man out of the bar to the relative safety to be found out in the open. He could admire that in a way. For a man like Arthur to turn his back on a fight in favor of protecting those weaker than himself must have been agony.
Then the man who started it all, the cheat, had been tossed across his table. He’d expected to see fear on the man’s face at being so hopelessly outnumbered but all he saw was a smile a mile wide and a sparkle in his eyes at the prospect of a good fight.
“Hello. Need any help?” He had to ask, the stranger’s good mood was infectious.
“No, I think I have it under control.” Just then both his legs were grabbed and he was quickly dragged backwards off the table. “Or maybe not.”
Standing up he used his magic to cast the two attackers back. Rushing up to the man he held out his hand to help him up from the floor.
“Thanks for the help mate; I’m Gwaine by the way.”
“Merlin, and don’t mention it.” Looking around he realized weapons were being drawn and what had started as a simple bar fight was about to become so much more. “Care to get out of here?”
“Probably for the best.” As they passed by the bar headed for the door one of the men jumped in front of them only to be hit on the head by one of the barmaids with a full jug. The other man had such a look of pain on his face you would think the man had been his friend. “Such a waste.”
When they finally made it outside he found his annoying tagalongs standing not far from the door waiting. When they saw him they got this look of determination on their faces that made his head pound in anticipation of the long winded discussion to come. Holding up a hand to stall them he decided he’d had enough.
“Look I gave you an hour to make your case and you couldn’t give me even one reason to help you. I am done! I’m sorry about your home, but it really isn’t my problem. I wish you all the luck in the world but I am not a part of this fight of yours understand?”
Both women appeared crestfallen at his declaration like they had lost all the hope in the world. He would not let it sway him, he’d made his decision and he would stand by it. The men looked angry as though his refusal was a personal betrayal, which just no. The old man looked like he reluctantly understood, which again no, he didn’t want to have anything in common with that man.
Looking at his new acquaintance he tried to forget this whole mess.
“Where are you headed?” Perhaps he could gain a more welcome traveling companion for a stretch.
“North.” Was his only answer, like the destination didn’t matter as long as he had a direction to walk in. That was an attitude he could understand, and in some strange way it seemed to match the man completely. It wasn’t so much a good answer as it seemed to be a Gwaine answer.
“Me too, would you like some company?” Despite everything he really did hate to travel alone when he didn’t have to. That was probably why he’d put up with the others for as long as he had.
“Wouldn’t mind it.”
Turning to leave with his new friend he was stopped once more by a voice behind him. This was becoming a habit with these people.
“You wanted a reason for you to help us. You and I both know there isn’t one. I saw your face when Morgana introduced us, introduced me, you recognized me. You see me as a traitor.”
The old man was momentarily cut off by the exclamations of his name from his companions as they took in his words with shock and disbelief that anyone could ever think such a thing of their loyal friend.
“No, it’s alright, for that is what I am. To you, to all the magic users in the world who know the stories of the purge, I am a traitor. I stood by and did nothing while those I cared about, those I once called my friends, were led one by one to their deaths. I was a coward and I thought only of myself and my own safety casting aside lifelong friendships to save my own hide. I will never forgive myself for my actions all those years ago as I know no other magic users will either, including you I’m sure. After everything it is your right to hate us, to hate me, to hate Camelot for everything we have done and maybe more importantly everything we did not do.
“We stand here asking you to help us when not one of us has ever helped your people. We have condemned magic user after magic user to the pyre or the headsman’s block without any true and lasting protest and in our hour of desperation we not only seek the help of those we have harmed for years but we act as though our trespasses against you and your people should just be forgotten for the moment. As though the deaths of the past should have no bearing on the present, as though the killings will end after you help us when we both know Uther would have you killed on sight no matter how much you help us now.
“What I ask you now is, are you better than me? Will you really stand by and do nothing while people are killed for no reason. You and I both know that it is only a matter of time before Nimuhe decides to purge Camelot of the non-magic users as it was once purged of all those who use magic. Yes, the people of Camelot did nothing during the purge and have continued to do nothing in the years since then, but they did not start this war they only do what they must to survive, to not join your kind under the executioner’s axe. Does that make them cowards? Possibly. Does it make them deserving of death? You tell me.”
He was right of course. He hated that.
“Fine, I will help you regain your home, but you keep your distance from me traitor.”
He was going to regret this; he just knew it.