Disclaimer: Merlin is property of its respective owners. The only thing I can lay claim to is the insanity that is my own mind.
It was getting late, the sky just beginning to tinge red as the sun fell. Merlin and Gaius would be back soon and Hunith wanted to have the preparations done by then. Dinner was nothing fancy, just a simple stew from fresh ingredients she had picked up at the market earlier. It would still be the best meal either of them had likely had in weeks. Merlin, despite her best efforts, was a disaster in the kitchen and while Gaius could make something edible, it wasn’t exactly a succulent meal.
She could already picture Merlin’s eyes rolling when he saw her. He had been insistant that as long as she was in Camelot she should take it easy, see the city, and enjoy herself. Really, he acted like it was her birthday rather than his.
Merlin had blushed the most adorable red when he came home to find that she had tidied his room and found some of his drawings. Though she had to admit, the Lady Morgana was a fetching young woman, she couldn’t help but tease him a little.
He didn’t seem to realise that she didn’t mind doing some cooking or a little tidying while she was here. She saw her son so rarely that times like these were the only time she got to fret over him. Hunith had to get months of mothering in within only a few short days.
And if Hunith had her way she would be making every meal during her stay, and neither man could stand up to her more determined looks for long. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to eat their cooking (which she didn’t) but for Merlin’s sake. Her son had always been a thin boy, but she hadn’t been pleased at what she saw when she walked through that door yesterday afternoon. She knew that once Merlin was fascinated with something – like, say, a magic book someone
decided to give him – he could forget little things like eating right or proper sleep.
Not while she was here.
So she was cooking him a proper meal… and hid his book. Whatever works.
“Hello, Hunith,” a voice behind her said as she finished chopping the last of the vegetables, startling her into nearly cutting her finger as the knife cleaved the last piece. She spun around, praying her eyes wouldn’t confirm who she already knew to be there. Last time she had been in Camelot she had been able to prepare herself for seeing him. She was able to push away everything that she wanted to say, to ask, to yell, and concentrate on what needed to be done.
She didn’t have that luxury this time.
For a moment Hunith was taken back to her first glimpse of the handsome traveller who had come to her village, a man so unlike any other she had met. Then she remember just why that was and her eyes narrowed at the memory of the lies and how used she had felt after learning the truth.
,” she bit out and took some satisfaction at the miniscule flinch on the face of the king before her.
“When did you learn the truth?” Uther asked her, not seeming the least bit apologetic.
“What truth?” she asked him rhetorically. “That there never was
an Elric? That everything between us was a lie? That you used me for whatever game men like you play?”
“I never played games,” he told her as he closed the door and crossed further into the room. “And I never lied about anything.”
“Just your name,” Hunith retorted and he was brought up short.----------
Uther could only wish his knights had as much fire in their eyes as this peasant woman a head smaller than him who could still stare down a king. She was right though; he had lied, about his name at least.
Most who knew him, and even those who knew of
him, would be surprised he would allow someone to speak to him like this, especially someone of the lower classes. The fact was however; he had
Besides, he knew Hunith, or at least he did. Orders and threats would hardly get him the answers he was looking for.
“My name, nothing else,” he told her, allowing an earnestness into his voice that few outside his closest family and confidantes had ever heard. Not that he thought she would believe it at the moment. She had been just as unmovable when a different kind of fire burned in her eyes.
“Oh course,” she retorted with a shake of her head. “And what may I do for you today My Lord
,” she asked with a slight bow and a civil tone if not for the cutting emphasis at the end. Perhaps this was going to be harder than he thought.
“Well, for starters, you could put down the knife.” ----------
Hunith froze, the comment causing the tirade she had been about to embark on to die on her lips. Blankly she stared down at the knife she held in a white-knuckle grip. She hadn’t even realised she still held it and let go like she had been burned at the shock of it, the knife cluttering loudly on the floor.
She watched Uther’s eyes follow it as it fell. “That’s better,” he commented as the knife hit the floor.
“Gaius isn’t here,” she told him, temper deflated for the moment. “He’s still doing his rounds.”
“I know,” Uther said as he bent down and picked up the knife. He eyed it critically for a moment before placing it gently on the table. “I’m not here for Gaius.”
“Then why are you here,” Hunith heard herself ask before she had a chance to think about it, a note of dreadful curiosity in her voice.
Uther sighed and she saw some of the stiff regality seep from his posture. “When did you find out?”
For a moment Hunith considered not answering, but thought better of it. If a king could concede some of his royal bearing than she could push aside her feelings, for the moment. “It was shortly after Merlin turned three. I came to Camelot to visit Gaius and you were giving a public address. And certainly more than the simple traveller you had seemed to be before.”
His eyes left her as she spoke, and he was quiet for so long that when he finally spoke she almost thought it would be an apology she didn’t want to hear. Then she saw his eyes. “Merlin,” Uther said and she didn’t like the way he made her son’s name sound like an accusation.----------
Merlin, the name had brought him back to why he was here in the first place. For a moment Uther had nearly forgotten as he was drawn into the memories of the past and a lingering guilt over his deception.
He honestly hadn’t meant to hurt Hunith, he hadn’t planned it; he hadn’t planned on being anything to her. But, on that first day in Ealdor, he had felt drawn to her. Around her he had been able to be himself. More himself than he had been since he lost Igraine, and in many of the years since.
It had felt nice at the time, but he hadn’t given her more than a stray thought in the years since. Not since he had left to return to Camelot without so much as a word of goodbye.
Uther had never expected to see her again. He certainly hadn’t expected for her to show up in his kingdom years later with a grown son. A son who had already been employed in his house at that. A bumbling young man who tried to his best qualities behind a veil of idiocy. Merlin, who had shown more loyalty towards Arthur than was perhaps reasonable to ask of a servant.
“Merlin,” he said softly, eyes rising to meet hers in a steely gaze. “Merlin, who is soon to turn twenty years.”
“Yes,” Hunith said simply and he saw it in her eyes, and he knew. He knew the answer to the unspoken question, and so did she, but he needed to hear it out loud; needed it to be made real.
“Is Merlin my son?”
There was no point denying it now. The moment she had met his eyes Hunith knew that. She had known as soon as he had mention Merlin; perhaps even from the moment he said he wasn’t here for Gaius. It didn’t make it any easier to admit and she nearly couldn’t get such a simple word past her lips.
She watched as Uther gripped the table’s edge, as if needing the support, and she felt it strange and humbling that such a small word could nearly knock a king off his feet. A flood of emotions could be seen on his unguarded face. Surprise, of course, but also anger, awe, exuberance, and disbelief, to name a few. He settled on anger.
Slowly, still leading over the table, he turned his head towards her and all pretence of civility was gone. “You shouldn’t have hid this from me!” Uther bellowed, his face red with fury, so unlike the kindly passionate man she had known all those years ago.
And in the face of his anger she felt her own rising back up. “What would you have had me do?” Hunith asked. “Show up in your court with a toddler on my hip and claiming kin?” She scoffed. “I would hardly have been the first peasant girl to appear in court with a claim of nobility for their child. Those stories rarely ended well.”
“Yes!” he exclaimed, standing to his full, impressive height, though it didn’t intimidate her in the least. “If that’s what it took, at least I would have known the truth.”
“Would you have even believed it?”
“Yes,” came his reply and Hunith realized Uther was too angry to grasp that he was only fooling himself. That if she really had done that she would have been dismissed as any number of women in a similar situation with nobility had been. And she would have only been turned away if she was lucky.
“If nothing else, I would have known I had another son!”
“He’s not your son!” Hunith all but yelled. “You may have had a part in bringing him to this world, but I
birthed him, I
raised him and taught him and loved him. He’s my
Uther opened his mouth to say something, but she never got to find out what. The door opened and they both turned to see Gaius pausing in the doorway as he saw them. Hunith could only imagine the sight he saw. She and Uther’s faces were both flushed red and their eyes hardened with anger, their bodies so tensed that either could strike at any moment.
“Sire,” Gaius said hesitantly. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Hunith straightened and turned her back to the room, her shoulders set rigidly as she started putting the cut vegetables into the pot. “His majesty was just expressing his condolence over the incident with the raiders last year,” she said tersely.
For a long moment there was only silence and she thought that Uther might be worked up enough that he wouldn’t care they had an audience now. Then she heard footfalls heading away and a sharp “Gaius” before the door closed.----------
Uther paced the length of his chambers. A meal sat on his table untouched, the servant who brought it had taken one look at the king and hastily scurried back out the door. He didn’t know how long he had been worked up like this, though he supposed his food was long cold by now.
With a sigh Uther walked to his fireplace, resting a hand on the mantle as he stared unseeing into the flame. He prided himself on his control. Sure he could be quick to anger, but he usually retained enough control to still think things through. Few things could anger him enough to go beyond that. Magic, of course, being the main source.
Apparently today he had found another.
Once he had heard the admission out loud it had just been easier to be angry, to blame. If he was angry than it could all fall on Hunith. He wouldn’t have to take his fair share of the blame then. Back then he had left practically without looking back, and certainly never thinking of the consequences of what he had done. That something could come from their union he had never considered.
He should have known better.
It was only made worse by the fact that Hunith was right. She hadn’t known who he really was, so how could she have told him? Even after she had learnt the truth she couldn’t have come forward. More than a few of his noble court had lived through such scandals, and they rarely ended in anything favourable for the ones making the claim, even when they were telling the truth. It was so easy to deny and so hard to prove such kinships.
The very fact that Hunith had never come forward actually lent credibility to all of this.
Merln was his son; Uther had known that before the words had left her mouth. The question was, what happened now? Did he pretend nothing had changed, that he had only one son? That didn’t sit right somehow.
Could he actually acknowledge Merlin as his son though? There were those in his court and beyond who would never understand or accept it. Not on more than the surface anyway. He could be discrete about it perhaps. Uther knew a few nobles who had illegitimate families they took care of away from prying eyes. Though none were as publicly known as him, it was still possible. Difficult, but possible.
In the end it just came down to one thing really. Uther could admit, to himself at least, that he had his faults, but abandoning a child wasn’t one of them. Even a child that was full-grown and just discovered.
He and Igraine had had such a difficult time conceiving that to find out he had another child almost seemed like a miracle. And that made the decision for him.
Uther had spent a great deal of time around the servant boy in the past during his duties as a manservant, now he wanted to get to know his son.----------
Hunith pulled her thin cloak tighter as a cool wind swept through the open walkway. The day had a summer’s warmth, but the temperature had dropped considerable since the sun fell and the sky showed signs rain would soon fall as well. Still she waited, certain that Uther would soon come again after having time to think. He would have to cross this spot on his way to Gaius’ home and she certainly didn’t want to talk there; the openness of this walkway would give them some privacy, allowing them to see anyone coming and going from well out of hearing distance.
Once she had a chance to cool down Hunith had thought things through. She could understand how he must be feeling. To learn you have a child and missed their life must be a considerable shock. At least, it would be to the man she thought she had known.
As Merln’s father, perhaps he had deserved the truth, but how was she to tell him? After the lies how was she to know how he would react? Especially since, even as a child of three, Merlin’s gift had long been present. How could she take a magical son to a man who was on a crusade against magic?
Things were different now though. Merlin was grown and knew enough, usually, to hide what he was. He had been in Camelot for over a year now, actually working in the castle with the royalty, and hadn’t been discovered.
Plus, Uther had come to her. That had to count for something. She just couldn’t bring herself to lie when she saw in his eyes that he already knew. It wouldn’t have been fair.
Then things had got heated and all the words seemed to blend together in a serenade of blame. Poor Gaius, what he must have seen when he walked in and Uther stormed out. But, bless his soul, he didn’t ask. He gave her space.
Merlin, on the other hand, had come home and immediately known something was wrong. He asked. She had sidestepped effortlessly, the smell of fresh stew helping take his attention after a few minutes of assurances. Still, there had been the knowing looks through dinner and Hunith knew he had just allowed himself to be distracted for her sake.
It was a long, awkward, and silent meal.
There had been protests, of course, when she announced an evening walk after dinner. Merlin had wanted to accompany her, likely to have that talk she had been avoiding as much for the company and safety, but she had brushed aside his concerns.
She had been gone awhile now and Hunith almost thought she was wrong. No matter how self sufficient she was she had been gone so long that if she didn’t return soon someone would come looking for her. Just as she decided she had wasted her time and he really wasn’t coming she saw Uther come into view at the opposite end of the stone walk.
He paused as he saw her, probably wondering if she was simply out for a stroll or if she had been waiting for him. Then he started walking and she did too, meeting him halfway. They stopped an arms length apart and all traces of anger was gone from both their faces.
“I’ve thought things over,” Uther started. He paused seeming to search for the right words and Hunith nodded for him to continue. “Does he know about me?”
“No,” Hunith said simply, her voice much softer without the shock and heat. “He has a vague memory of a man he thought could be his father, a man I had thought might have been up for the job, but nothing more.”
And Uther nodded back, apparently having expected as much. “Then I have come to a decision,” he announced. “He’s going to.”
“Uther,” Hunith started, not sure how to tell him how bad an idea that was. Of how much more hurt that could cause in the end. And, silently to herself, how much more difficult it would be for Merlin to hide what he is.
He never gave her the chance.
“I’m not asking your permission, Hunith,” he told her calm and firm. “I’m telling him with or without you. Tomorrow Merlin will learn who his father is.”
And Hunith knew that there was no dissuading Uther now. All she could do was be there for her son and try to minimize the fallout.