Genre: Drama, Angst, AU(ish)
Summary: Merlin witnesses the dire consequences of a destiny denied.
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin. Please don’t hurt me.
Warning/Spoilers: None, really. There is mention of non-graphic deaths of secondary characters. This story is much eviler than I’m used to.
Extended Author's Notes: This is not a sequel to Rediscovering Magic, but it (sort of) exists in the same universe. It’s more of a "what if" companion piece. You do not have to read the other story in order to understand this one. All you have to know is that Arthur and Merlin have a son named Emerson whose true parentage and magic are kept secret.
This story isn’t in my usual style, but I thought I would try something a bit different. I’m not really sure how I feel about this fic, but I do know that the other two were more enjoyable to write. *looks dubious*
The blame for this fic rests solely at the feet of my sister. After I was able to force her to read Bearing Fruit and Rediscovering Magic, she sarcastically laughed that she would love to see Emerson as an unmanageable adolescent, raging against the decisions his fathers made for him and the situation he had been born into.
I don’t share my sister’s cynicism of their future.
Comments/critiques will make me sing and dance for you
When Emerson is two, he disappears from the servant’s table when his nursemaid turns her back and reappears in the Great Hall during a feast to honor guests from the kingdom of Elyscia.
His wide eyes sweep eagerly from royal face to royal face until he sees the one that belongs to the man who first ever held him.
With all the decorum of a child (especially of a servant child, some nobles would mutter later), Emerson runs awkwardly towards the head of the long table and crawls into Prince Arthur’s lap, repeatedly chanting the word “daddy” as if it is the only one he knows.
The disquieted hush that follows is jarred only by the discordant clatter of Arthur’s meal slipping from Merlin’s paralyzed hands.
Arthur holds Emerson gingerly as if he fears any more contact would break the boy until a servant (that is not the still stone-faced Merlin) appears by his side. He allows the child to be taken from his arms, not meeting the now frightened blue eyes that so closely favor his own.
Without pause, Arthur raises his wine goblet and announces with a too-wide smile and an unnaturally loud voice that the servant boy is exceptionally perceptive, for one day he will be the father of Camelot as King Uther is now. The royals are amenable to this toast and the feast resumes its stiff revelry, all thoughts of silly servant children casually dismissed.
Later, when Merlin tries to explain that they have to pretend Arthur is not his father and hide his special gifts when other people are around, the child cannot understand.
He is inconsolable all night until they can slip into Arthur’s chambers unseen.
When his father gathers him up and spins him around until his eyes cross, all is forgiven.
Arthur takes Merlin into his arms next, murmuring shamed apologizes against the curve of his neck.
When Emerson is three and a half, Arthur asks Merlin to investigate an unnatural famine that has suddenly stricken Bowerstone. Magic is rumored to be the cause of the town’s blight and Arthur trusts in Merlin’s power to counteract the dark witchcraft with his golden light.
Merlin brings Emerson with him, delighted at the opportunity to take their lessons to the field. He tells the young boy that they’re on a special mission for his papa that no one can know about.
In the cover of night and with his mentor’s quiet words of encouragement, Emerson delves his small hands deep into the crumbled soil of barren farmland and squeezes his eyes shut tightly, imagining.
By morning, thick tangles of vines creep along every structure in Bowerstone and the ground can no longer be seen for all the leafy greens that blanket every step.
The townspeople are wary of the obvious sorcery and the harvests are abnormally large and dense, but the famine ends and Emerson earns both his fathers’ approving smiles.
When Emerson is four, Merlin teaches him how to control time and weather.
He ends these lessons with his usual warning: be careful, love.
But, Emerson is only a child and as he watches his father compete in a tournament with his heart throbbing at the base of his throat, he forgets.
Arthur has just barely pulled up his shield to absorb what promises to be a bone-achingly vicious blow when the energy of life and movement in the arena freezes dead.
The prince is bewildered for only a moment before he looks to the stands where his son is holding out his arms to him and hopping up and down agitatedly.
Merlin flicks away the motionless speck of dirt that had been about to fly into his eye and rubs soothingly at the boy’s tense back while Arthur stalks over, sword and shield still gripped tightly in his hands.
The boy’s toothy smile at having his father’s attention quickly dissolves and he is crying before Arthur even reaches him.
He presses his wet face against dusty chain mail, sobbing his promise to never, ever do that again.
Arthur positions himself back in the trajectory of the other knight’s sword and allows himself to be hit.
When Emerson is five, he is permitted to attend a hunt in Camelot’s forests.
He holds one of Arthur’s spare spears tightly to his chest as if it is a scepter of gold and rare jewels.
When Arthur complains in an off-handed manner to the other knights that they haven’t managed to kill a single creature all afternoon, a succession of countless clashes promptly disrupts the quiet of the woods.
The lifeless bodies of birds and small mammals rain down from the trees and the heavy thunks of large game animals hitting unyielding ground can be heard for a meter-wide radius.
Merlin steps in front of his son and wonders aloud if some unusual disease has infected the area animals.
When they’re alone, Merlin cautions the young sorcerer in his (not often used) grown-up voice that since he has the power to kill with only a thought and a gesture, he must always tread carefully and respect all living things.
Merlin admonishes him for using magic in front of others while concurrently praising him for keeping his devoted thoughts about Arthur to himself.
Guiltily recognizing the sheer wrongness of his own words, Merlin sighs that things will not always be so complicated. He promises that one day, they will hide nothing. They just have to be patient.
Emerson nods like he understands, but his big blue eyes tell a different story.
When Emerson is five and a half, Merlin discovers that he can no longer affect his son’s magic.
He solemnly explains to the boy that this means he has to be even more careful with his gift and they must never miss their lessons.
One day, Emerson wakes from a nap to the sound of his fathers speaking in soft, but anxious tones.
Arthur is telling Merlin that there are whispers of dark magic in Camelot and he must make sure they never practice anywhere someone might see.
Arthur bows his head and holds Merlin's hands to his lips. In a tight voice, he asks the sorcerer to promise that if they are ever caught, they will flee without looking back.
I won’t come after you.
That night, a heavy rain erupts abruptly and comes down in wide, thunderous sheets. In the morning, Camelot finds the grounds outside its walls have completely flooded.
For weeks, no one can leave.
When Emerson is six, Uther dies suddenly of a disease of the brain and Arthur immediately ascends the throne.
He can hide himself from everyone but Merlin and when they are alone, he goes down to his knees before him and grieves.
The mourning period is painfully brief and before long, his late father’s Court Advisers call for a counsel.
They struggle to hide their resentment at Merlin’s attendance. It is especially difficult in the face of his new position, sitting at the table to Arthur’s right.
After discussions of the new order and how Uther’s death will affect the kingdom itself and its many relations, Arthur introduces three unexpected items to the agenda.
Magic is no longer a punishable offense and is to be an accepted practice as if it were masonry or herbology.
Merlin is his Court Magician and intimate companion.
And Emerson, the little servant boy, is their son.
The soured looks cast at them from the men with more than twice their years and experience are like accusations of treason.
Merlin can barely direct his gaze at them from across the table. They are like a many-headed hulking mass of disapproval and coldness.
In a carefully contained manner, they ask their Highness to please consider how this drastic news will affect the kingdom, especially at such a volatile time with Camelot unsettled by the sudden change in regime.
For the love of Camelot, do not reveal your relationship with the Court Magician or the boy’s true lineage until this adjustment period ends and the kingdom is re-stabilized.
Arthur turns to Merlin and it is clear: I will do whatever you say.
Merlin has always been responsible for the welfare of his son and of his prince. It is just now becoming clear to him that he is also responsible for the welfare of Camelot itself.
Once upon a time, he was sure of the only way this singular moment could ever go.
But, he is still a relatively young man and he doubts himself.
That night, Merlin tries to explain why Emerson can now proudly show that he is a magic child, but must continue to keep that other aching secret that burns in his little heart.
Merlin swears that he is not breaking his promise. He is just waiting for the right time.
The boy refuses any more lessons.
When Emerson is seven, Arthur spends much of his time away from Camelot, reestablishing alliances.
During an afternoon when he hasn’t seen his son for hours, Merlin climbs an old tower that used to serve as a storage for battle gear where he knows he will find him.
While Emerson stares out the lone window without looking at his father, Merlin wistfully shares with him the story of how he came to be born of a sorcerer and his prince.
Merlin explains how he wanted to restore stolen life without trading one soul for another.
Emerson tilts his face downward, but doesn’t respond.
That night, the dead walk the earth.
Merlin has Emerson banish them back into the ground, but it takes a week to dig up all the missing citizens of Camelot who had mysteriously been buried alive with their dearly departed.
The Court Advisers cite this instance as more reason to continue the concealment of their personal relations.
When Emerson is eight, Merlin asks him if he would accompany the older sorcerer to Oakvale and determine if the disappearance of several of its townspeople has anything to do with the sudden resurgence of energy in Wraithsmarsh, an abandoned town haunted by malevolent spirits from the past.
At the request, magic light flares in Emerson’s eyes and Merlin uneasily notices how much it has changed from the golden hue that once matched his own.
His son’s eyes are now in shades of burnished rust.
The light flickers out as quickly as it smoldered and Emerson looks steadily at his father.
Don’t bother going to Oakvale.
Merlin fears knowing.
What have you done?
When Emerson was one, Merlin proudly declared to Arthur that their son would be the greatest sorcerer that ever lived.
When Emerson is nine, he is the most powerful.
When Emerson is ten, the Court Advisers demand Arthur cease his futile stalling and take a noble bride.
When Merlin thinks he has sufficiently buried his own heartache at this resignation, he tries to explain to Emerson the political purpose of such a union and the inevitability that a child will be sired to take Arthur’s place when he dies.
A child who would be immediately recognized as Arthur’s own. A child who would never be something that must be hidden or denied.
A child who would be free to run into his arms and squeal daddy in front of the world with the secure knowledge he will not be rejected.
A child whose bursting love for his father does not have to be imprisoned deep down until they are in isolation.
Emerson would never hurt Merlin, but the older sorcerer blinks one time and he is suddenly staring at a closed door, deafening in its silence.
The morning of the wedding, the sun doesn’t rise. The night persists and the earth cools with a dangerous swiftness.
In a tone that does not express the certainty of their impending demise, Merlin calmly tells Emerson that people need sunlight to live.
Even your papa cannot survive without it.
Warmth and light creep hesitantly back over the land.
When Emerson is eleven, Merlin and Arthur proclaim to all of Camelot that the boy is their son and will serve the kingdom as Court Magician and Royal Adviser when he is of age.
Emerson refuses to attend the announcement or the feast in his honor.
When Emerson is twelve, Arthur’s bride gives birth to a stillborn baby.
But, this is not enough.
A day later, the Queen’s mistress bursts crying into the throne room, blubbering that her lady is ill.
By the time Arthur and the physician reach her quarters, they find a bloodless husk slumped in the queen’s chair, thickening the air with the oily stench of diseased flesh.
They attempt to keep the details of her death secret, but dark rumors haunt the kingdom with the ugliness of their truth.
When Emerson is thirteen, Camelot rises against the royal palace, hatefully declaring the king’s bastard son is an evil sorcerer.
Emerson steps out onto the balcony next to his fathers, high above the courtyard where the dissenters have gathered.
Every person of Camelot who stands beneath him looks up.
And up... and up.
Their necks hyperextend and their heads fall back to touch between their shoulder blades, their accusing maws stretched unfathomably wide in a yawning rictus.
The corpses don’t even fall to the ground. They stand like the deformed pieces of a nightmare chess game, waiting to be manipulated.
A strangled breath from one of his fathers.
“It’s just us now,” the boy smiles.
Arthur staggers against the railing, his eyes open but unseeing at the fall of his kingdom.
Merlin kneels with him, but there is no comfort in him to give.
He knows nothing beyond the death of his only child.
Emerson frowns at them.
“You want them back, daddy?”
Out in the littered courtyard, spastic limbs start twitching.
When Emerson is six, Uther dies suddenly of a disease of the brain and Merlin wakes from a terrible dream.
The day after the meeting with the Court Advisers, the sorcerer wakes his son from his afternoon nap to wipe the sleep from his round face and brush his wild hair.
He takes Emerson’s hand and leads him towards the Great Hall where the royal court is dining, in the brightness of daylight without a cloaking spell.
“Tell me where we’re going, Emmie,” Merlin says as they pass others in the hall, “As loudly as you can.”
Pale brows draw down over hesitant eyes.
Merlin just smiles at him and winks.
The boy’s face is more brilliant than the sun when he squeals in the high-pitched ring of a happy child.
“To see daddy!”
“I probably shouldn’t be reinforcing bad habits,” Merlin laughs, fondly mussing hair he had so carefully styled just minutes before, “We’re going to have to incorporate some nobility training along with your magic lessons.”
“Why?” Emerson asks with a heartbreakingly clear face because he is only a sweet and innocent child.
Merlin pushes apart the doors to the Great Hall and watches with soft eyes as his son races along the length of the table and leaps into Arthur's open arms.
“Because today you become a prince.”
Closing Notes: Yeah, I don't know about this. I think I should stick to my old style of happy-go-sunshine, obvious!fics *hangs head in shame*