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 Mordred becomes a proverbial spanner in the works for Merlin and Morgana. 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
The boy, Mordred, is fierce and frightened and full of the same fury that still sometimes possesses Merlin. It is the fury of a child who has lost too much, too young, too unjustly.
He spends the first week in their care in bed, recovering from the blood infection that came from his wound, and from the simple shock of yet another upheaval – the loss of another father, another family. He doesn’t talk, although he wakes sobbing from nightmares a number of times and will make himself ill from fright at them.
His attachment to Morgana is immediate, however, and Nimueh encourages the bond.
“Our children do not always come to us out of our own wombs,” she informs the youngest priestess, “you are not from me, Morgana, but you are mine, still – and he is yours. Understand that the gods have seen fit to hand you a son.”
Morgana did understand it, in an odd sort of way. The boy was important, not only to her own destiny but to those of many others across Albion, and what he most desperately needed was an environment in which to come clean from his emotional wounds before he grew old enough to use his fateful influence for the worse.
If she was meant to help provide that for him, then so be it. Although it was disconcerting, to so suddenly have a ten year old, who trailed silently in her shadow and would only eat if she fed him and only dress if she helped him and only sleep if he could lie next to her.
Merlin was not best pleased that his place in Morgana’s bed had been taken from him by the child.
“There’s room enough for all three of us,” Morgana had pointed out, “no one said you had to leave!”
“It wouldn’t seem right,” Merlin had only sighed, “the two of us – with a child so near.”
“We wouldn’t be – getting up to anything,” Morgana had flushed, “plenty of time for that sort of thing during the day.”
“No there isn’t!” Merlin had pointed out, accurately enough, “the boy follows you everywhere! We haven’t – been alone since seeing Arthur off and… in that meadow.”
“Mordred is just needy for the moment,” Morgana had placed a hand beneath Merlin’s chin, “but he will grow more independent. And he is ours, Merlin – he was meant for us.”
“I had thought our children might be of the smaller, noisier, infantile variety when they first arrived,” Merlin had folded his arms – and Morgana had only felt a swell of affection, for he had been thinking about children, then. She had been thinking about them too.
It doesn’t help that Mordred is clearly a little jealous of Morgana’s affection for Merlin, however. It is obvious by the third week that he will deliberately take up Morgana’s attention is he feels that she is giving too much of it to Merlin whilst he is in the vicinity. The boy will trip and cry over an invisibly wounded knee if he sees Morgana go to kiss her lover, or he will suddenly grow very sad about one or other of his dead family members, or he will abruptly throw a temper tantrum.
It’s more than a little maddening, but Nimueh insists that the young couple be patient with the child.
“Once he is secure in his bonds with both of you, he will feel more able to allow you to be affectionate with each other in ways that you are not with him,” she councils, “you were much the same as an infant, Morgana, if I paid Morgause more attention than you, or Merlin, for that matter. You only wanted to know that you were loved.”
They do not have time to be driven too insane by Mordred’s constant need for Morgana’s attention, however, because in the middle of the forth week of his presence in their lives, Ealdor is attacked by bandits and a village woman comes running to them begging for help.
“They have killed my husband!” The grief is as thick on her soul as the mud is on her shoes, her thin hands winding tightly together until it seems that the bones may snap, “they will murder our children – they want our harvest – we will starve!”
It seems that they cannot, in good faith, deny the villagers assistance – if they do, it is likely that many more will be killed and the rest will starve to death in the winter.
Merlin, however, is still reluctant.
Amongst the population of the village still dwells the mob that murdered his mother.
“But their children are not responsible for that particular atrocity,” Nimueh points out, “and we are tenants of the old religion. We are still bound to serve the common people.”
“You are, maybe,” Merlin folds his arms, “I have sworn no such oath.”
“Then stay behind with Mordred,” Morgause tells him, sternly, “but you will not convince us not to aid them, Merlin – and really, you do yourself no service by holding onto your anger.”
“I have a right to my anger!” Merlin stands, abruptly, “those villagers are barbarians! The people who murdered my mother still live there! Unpunished! Her death is not – excusable! Explainable! It is not! Do as you please but I will do nothing to aid your efforts to save the wretches.”
Morgause tries to persuade Morgana to speak to Merlin about the situation a number of times but Morgana knows quite well that Merlin will not listen to anyone’s thoughts but his own once he gets into a certain mood. It does, however, seem to have done Mordred’s opinion of Merlin some good – the boy recognising his own anger in Merlin’s – starting to understand that their origins are perhaps not dissimilar.
He begins to ask Merlin questions, anyway – little things.
“Do you remember what happened to your mother?” Sitting at dinner, asked into the silence whilst staring at his plate, but clearly directing the words at Merlin.
Merlin does not look up either. “No, I was too young.”
Mordred gives a little nod, and goes back to his food as if he had asked nothing at all.
When they are gathering king’s foil in the forest one day – Merlin, Morgana and Mordred as ever clinging to Morgana’s skirts – he speaks up again.
“Why do you not seek vengeance on the people who killed your mother?” His little voice is solemn and careful in the soft hush of the hours just before dawn, the light grey, the ground misty. “I would seek vengeance,” he adds, “if I were a man and I was strong – I would seek vengeance.”
“I don’t know which ones of the villagers of Ealdor killed her,” Merlin replies, after a moment, “so to exact vengeance I would have to murder all of them – even the innocents – and that would make me no better than King Uther in Camelot – no better than the wretches who murdered my mother to begin with.”
Mordred’s gaze is steady and contemplative, “but if they began things, why not treat them in the same manner that they have treated you? Have they not set the standard of behaviour?”
Merlin’s mouth flickers for a moment – a small smile, dry and bitter enough to choke on. “Those are terrible words for a child, Mordred.”
“I’m not a child,” he folds his arms, chin lifted defiantly.
Merlin catches the look of sad affection that touches Morgana’s features, where she stands behind the druid boy.
“And yet you are not a man,” he points out, “or you would be off, seeking vengeance – you said so yourself.”
Mordred’s mouth draws into a thin little line of displeasure, “I look like a child – but I can think like I am grown. I have no childhood left. They robbed it from me.”
“No one can rob you of that,” Merlin informs him, “they can only cut at it – but it’ll grow back, like your hair – and we will help you grow it, alright? Which is why you will not talk of vengeance any longer. There is no place for that here.”
“But you are still angry!” Mordred cries, indignant, “you are still angry and you would take vengeance if it did not mean killing those who had done nothing wrong – I know you would! I hear it in your head as clearly as I hear what you have done with Morgana and what you dream about at night!”
“Boy,” Merlin cuts him off with a stern look – all of a sudden very much a man to Mordred’s angry child, “you have no right to go walking in my head like that, no matter that you have the ability. The ability does not grant you permission, do you understand? Make no mistake that if you do it again I will set you scrubbing every inch of Nimueh’s kitchen every day for a week. And I can be angry without allowing it to consume me – I can be angry without planning my revenge, because there are other things in this life than that sort of rage. Better things. More important things – things that would be eaten up by my anger if I did not protect them from it – things that are too precious for that.”
“Like what?” Mordred is flushed with outrage at being scolded, his fists tightening, his eyes narrowed down to slits.
Merlin’s gaze goes to Morgana again – she is watching carefully, head cocked; it occurs to him that she is waiting for what he is about to say. “Like – Morgana. Like – yes, what I have done with Morgana – and how much I love her – and how much I love Nimueh and Morgause and being here and having this family, who have raised me and put up with me when I was more trouble to them than you are to us now. A future dictated by my rage would be a desolate one, Mordred, and yours will be similar – if I loosen my grip on my anger I may have other things. I may have a wife, and children, and I may do great things – build cities, unite countries, have great adventures – who knows. But I would rather that then set out merely to continue the destruction that has already done so much damage to all of us.”
Mordred stands still, for a moment, mouth drawn shut.
It’s Morgana who breaks the silence, laying her hands on Mordred’s shoulders from behind, and gently squeezing. “We should return home,” she tells him, “Nimueh will be wondering where we are.”
They take one each of Mordred’s hands, so that he walks between them like a much younger child than he is, and he allows himself to be led back to the ruined temple that is their home without another word.
Once there, though, Merlin deposits him into Nimueh’s care. “He wants some pots to scrub.”
“What? Why?!” Mordred rounds on him, eyes bright with fury.
“What did he do?” Nimueh’s look is of the same exasperated fondness that she has always used when disciplining her charges.
“He’s been walking in my head without my permission,” Merlin gives Mordred a gentle poke as if to illustrate the point, “and all of ours, I don’t doubt. I suspect that he might need to spend some time considering his actions.”
“Oh, well then,” Nimueh gives Mordred a pat, “I’m sure I can find something for you to clean, Mordred.”
Mordred grimaces, “I hate you,” but the words come with surprisingly little malice.
Merlin ruffles the boy’s hair and Morgana smoothes it back down for him as they leave Mordred to face what may be his first disciplinary action in several years.
“You are an excellent father,” Morgana informs him, once they are out of earshot, giving Merlin’s arm a teasing squeeze.
Merlin is immediately awkward again, “oh – I don’t know… he seemed to sort of need… something – telling. And he really can’t be allowed to just wonder into other people’s heads like that. It’ll get him into trouble.”
Morgana snorts and stands on her tip-toes to kiss his brow, “More precious than your rage, am I?”
“Yes,” Merlin’s ears go red at that, he casts his gaze down, “sorry – that was – maybe not the most elegant declaration of love…”
“Who says declarations of love must be elegant?” Morgana winds her fingers through his, though she feels a little shy all of a sudden. In spite of all they have done, and all that has already been said and implied, it’s still delicate, what lies between them – still a little unspoken. They are both still cautious of saying too much, in case the other sees things differently. “Come on – let’s go for a walk.”
He presses her up against an oak tree, some time later, and kisses her deeply and places behind it the force of everything he has let go for her – all the anger she leeched off his soul – the poison she bled from his veins – and she holds onto him, and guides his hands beneath her clothes.
This time, they are less clumsy, less awkward and self-conscious, though they are just as tender, and it feels similar but better, because they can concentrate less on the novelty and more on the sensation. After, when they nestle together at the foot of the tree, wrapped in Morgana’s cloak, their clothes damp with sweat against their skin, Morgana says, softly, “you must come with us to Ealdor, Merlin. If you have truly set aside all notions of vengeance – if you want Mordred to see that you have – then you must come. No one is asking you to forgive what happened, but…”
“But I must come,” Merlin sighs, and Morgana knows that he will.
Chapter eight is here.