The Lives That Weren'tRating:
Merlin/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen, Morgause/NimuehSummary:
What would have happened in S1, had Nimueh raised Morgause, Morgana and Merlin; in which Arthur and Gwen find themselves saving a lost druid boy. Note:
I actually finished this more than a month ago but have only just got round to proofing/beta-ing it; it's in twelve parts and I'll post one part every couple of days until they're all up. Enjoy!
The Lives That Weren't
Gwen doesn’t know that she is going to save the life of the Druid boy until she sees him huddling under the stairs in the courtyard with guards getting perilously close to his hiding spot and knows that she cannot let a child be executed.
Besides which, she’s been having some very odd dreams lately – the kind of dreams she has when she wakes up knowing a little too much about what is going to happen that day. Like when that Sophia girl tried to drown Arthur…
She’s carrying her biggest laundry basket, so promptly tips out most of its content, ushers the boy in (thank goodness he’s skinny and slight), piles the linens back on top of him and as inconspicuously as possible heaves the basket inside the servant’s quarters.
There she takes him out of the basket, divests him of his druid’s clothes and dresses him in some of the dirty linens.
He is silent throughout, and bleeding from a deep wound in his arm. She rips up a sheet and binds it for him, but knows that he will need medical attention if it is to heal properly.
She’s not sure what to do with him after that, although she has the distinct feeling that taking him to the castle sellers to hide, as was her initial thought, would be a bad idea. So instead she loads him back into her laundry basket, puts the basket onto a little cart used for such purposes, and wheels him out of the castle again, down into the town and to her and her father’s cottage.
Her father has gone away for a few days, accompanying a knight to fix his armour on a jousting tournament in a neighbouring kingdom – a job with a great deal of prestige attached to it and for which he will be paid handsomely. But it also means that their cottage is blessedly empty. Gwen puts the boy into her bed, and wonders what on earth to do with him now.
Guards are already searching the castle and spreading out into the upper half of the town to look for him – it may take them a while to get to her father’s cottage but they will do so eventually, and in the mean time they will be barricading the gates to the city and thoroughly searching anyone leaving.
A few hours later the boy falls asleep and wont wake back up. His skin is hot to the touch and a quick check reveals that the flesh around his wound has grown inflamed, turning an angry red, beginning to dribble clear yellow-ish stuff from between scales of dried blood.
Fortunately Gwen knows healers in the town; the ones who gave her medicines when she was sick; who delivered her neighbour’s baby; who cured her father’s headache – midwives, nurses, white witches (as they were once known) – and knows that they tend to be sympathetic to magical types. Their kind were persecuted during the purges because of their links to druidery and they still occasionally use tricks and charms from the old days to keep their patients alive. Not quite magic – just old knowledge. They aren’t going to turn over a child to be executed, at any rate.
She finds the woman who delivered her neighbour’s baby, and she comes and check’s the boys arm – smoothes a thick white paste over it and binds it with a cloth that smells odd. She tells Gwen that she has heard rumours that there are three witches living a few miles outside of Camelot’s boarders – beyond a village called Ealdor. They will take the boy in, she says, if he can be got to them.
But she will not help them. She will treat the boy’s wound but she can’t be more involved. She has children of her own to think of.
So Gwen sits at the boy’s bedside and thinks about how to get to Ealdor, on the hope of the possibility of witches.
Then Arthur walks into her house without knocking like he’s taken to doing of late.
He looks at her, he looks at the boy in the bed with the druid mark on his chest, he looks back at her. Then he closes the door to her cottage, and says, “ah.”
“Are you a witch?” He asks, when he has sat down on the end of the bed and stared for a while at the boy his father had taught him would kill him and every other innocent soul in Camelot if given half a chance.
“No,” Gwen replies.
“Not a sorceress? Not a druid?”
“Of course not,” Gwen is tempted to snort derisively at the suggestion. “If I was, do you think I’d be a laundry maid? Do you think my father and I would struggle so much to get our rent in on time and keep the roof over our heads?”
“You could be a very clever witch,” Arthur points out. “Know how to hide.”
“Arthur, I just don’t want to see a child have his head cut off.”
Arthur gazes at her intently for a moment, “I don’t know why I kissed you.”
“That first time,” Arthur tells her, “in the corridor. After you gave me that sword – I don’t know why I… that could be why. If you – have magic. You could have…”
“Oh please, Arthur.”
“Well – why else would I do it?” Arthur demands, looking somewhat frustrated.
“It couldn’t just be because you thought I was pretty and interesting and you wanted to?” Gwen asks, folding her arms, peeved with him now, for dismissing whatever it is that is between them so quickly – when she had always thought of it as lovely, somehow. Pure, undefined, easy and warm – unquestionable in its reality but utterly unspoken. “It couldn’t be because you spend all day everyday stopping yourself from doing the things that you want to do because you’re going to be king and king’s can’t do the things you want to do all the time – and just that one time you didn’t stop yourself? That couldn’t be it, Arthur Pendragon? I must just be a witch who enchanted you? Fine – then you can get out and let me and the child be burned at the stake.”
Arthur gawps at her for a moment – then promptly leaves, slamming the door behind him.
Gwen sits down on the bed rather abruptly, because her knees have suddenly decided not to hold her up any longer. Arthur isn’t going to turn her in. She knows him well enough to know that he wont, although he may demand that she leave Camelot – and she’s not sure she can bear that idea.
Somewhere along the way Arthur has become this great big brilliant spot of joy in her previously quiet, dull little existence. And now that she’s experienced it she doesn’t think she could stand going back to life without it. Not to mention what on earth her father would do without her.
The boy has opened one eye, peering curiously up at her from his pillows. Gwen touches his forehead, distractedly. His fever has broken.
He holds onto her hand until he falls asleep again, and Gwen thinks that he seems very small and scared for a magical being hell bent on destroying the kingdom. She strokes his forehead again, thinking about how her father used to look after her when she was sick.
As it is getting dark, Arthur returns. He looks harried.
“I have a horse,” is the first thing he says, “hurry up and bring the boy.”
Gwen blinks, nonplussed. “What?”
“I have horse!” Arthur repeats, as if this were a perfectly natural opening gambit, “outside of the city gates, waiting for us. And there are guards all over this city and people have noticed that you weren’t working where you were meant to be today – it wont be long until someone comes to check your house. Bring the boy!”
“Where are you proposing to take him?” Gwen gets to her feet. The boy is awake but still very pale, shivery. His gaze is fixed on the opposite wall but Gwen has the oddest sensation that he’s really staring at something much further away than that.
“Out of Camelot, over the nearest boarder,” Arthur says, “just – beyond the boundaries of where he might actually be executed. Then he’s not our problem any more.”
Gwen raises her eyebrows, “who do we leave him with?”
“I don’t know!” Arthur waves a hand, “someone – anyone – does it matter?”
“Of course it matters!” Gwen cries, irritated more with herself for forgetting that Arthur can be painfully naive by dint of his upbringing than she is angry with him, “he’s sick, Arthur, and magic may not exactly be illegal amongst Camelot’s neighbours but it’s hardly treated warmly, is it? All those people who fled during the purges – people weren’t exactly pleased at the influx of witches and sorcerers into their towns and villages. There were lynch mobs – there still are! We can’t just dump him on someone’s doorstep and hope for the best!”
“Well what do you suggest?” Arthur demands, “they’re going to come here, Gwen, they’ll find you and I wont be able to talk my father out of sparing you!”
“Someone told me something about witches outside of a village called Ealdor,” Gwen says, “three witches, who would take him in.”
“Three witches,” Arthur folds his arms, “really?”
“Who told you about them?”
“What does it matter who told me?”
“Well – if you’ve been consorting with witches and their brethren…”
“Oh for goodness sake!” Gwen glares at him, fighting to urge to shout because her neighbours will hear her, “a midwife told me, alright? And there are rumours of witches all over, any fool knows that. We should at least try there first.”
“Ealdor is a ways away…” Arthur looks doubtful.
“Then we had best get going,” Gwen asserts, “where’s your horse?”
“I’ll take him,” Arthur informs her, abruptly, “I told father I was going on a hunting trip, but you’ll be missed, Gwen. You should stay here to avoid suspicion.”
Gwen glances at the boy, whose eyes flicker to her for a moment – he looks very small, still, and very sick. She is afraid to let him go, she realises. Her concern is born of a passion that is not quite her own – she feels the lingering of an alien presence beneath the emotion. The same presence the fogs her dreams and uses them to tell her things she shouldn’t know; dreams that feel as if they are not hers at all. She tells herself that she’s imagining things. She ignores the possibility that it could be magic.
But she knows that the boy is important. She knows that she cannot trust his fate to chance.
“He must be taken care of, Arthur,” she tells him, “he’s just a child.”
“I know,” Arthur replies, and he looks tired, suddenly, worry creasing his brow and he gazes at her for a moment – she feels him re-evaluating her. It hurts, that now he doesn’t know how to feel about her. “I’ll take him to Ealdor. And if I can’t find the witches, I’m sure I’ve heard rumours of druids in the forest near there.”
Gwen dresses the boy in one of her father’s old shirts and wraps him in a blanket with a flask of water and two loaves of bread. Then Arthur picks him up and carries him out of her house. Gwen runs down to the east gate with a pie and some wine and distracts the guard for long enough that Arthur can hurry past with the bundle of druid boy in his arms without being noticed. Then they are both away into the night and Gwen knows that she is unlikely ever to see the child she has risked her life for again. A little part of her is relieved. Another is sad that she never even found out his name.
Part five can be found here.