Title: Cold Flames
Characters: Gwen, Arthur, Merlin, two unknown women
Spoilers: Post Season 2 of Merlin, Post BtVS (no Season 8)
Summary: Gwen has had the same dream for the past five nights now.
Words: 1567 according to Word
Notes: This feels weird, although that could just be because this is day 5 of flu and day 3 of being off work.
Gwen has had the same dream for the past five nights now. The first morning she wakes up all she can remember is flames and screams. She believes it’s just flashbacks from the Great Dragon being loose. The next morning she remembers a strange voice; feminine, strong, far away. She doesn’t remember what the voice is saying until the next morning. It asks her if she’s ready. She doesn’t know what she could possibly need to be ready for this time. Morgana’s gone, maybe, most likely, dead. Merlin wanders aimlessly, guiltily, until someone notices and then he is full of purpose and life. Arthur, Arthur believes he killed the Great Dragon, Gwen fears he is wrong. The fourth morning dawns with Gwen almost feeling the heat from the flames, with the screams still echoing in her ears.
This morning; this morning is different, somehow. This morning the voice is no longer strange, although she cannot tell if that is because she has heard it for five nights now or if that is because she knows the voice, has known it deep in her heart forever. She touched the flames, they were cold. The screams have melted into coherent shouts for help, for a saviour. This morning her first thoughts beyond the dream are not about what she will do without her mistress, or what she will do with Arthur and with Merlin. This morning she has her answer. She is ready.
If only everyone else was.
Gwen carries her basket effortlessly through the marketplace; dodging running children and busy stallholders she heads straight towards the courtyard steps and pauses at the main entrance to the castle. The castle that is beginning to show the signs of its repair; no longer do the wooden scaffolds hold up the outer wall, the stones do not match perfectly as before, but they hold strong and true. The work is long and hard. Stone is brought in from the quarries across the kingdom on almost an hourly basis, great systems of ropes and pulleys are in force to heave the great blocks into place. There are constant shouts from the workers as they move about the courtyard, constant bangs from the stones as they fall into place or are broken to size.
She shakes the thoughts from her head and carries on inside, finding Gaius in the Great Hall she passes her own quarry to him.
“Here,” she tells him, “all that I could find this morning.”
“Thank you, Guinevere, you may return to your duties now,” he dismisses her, taking the basket and returning to his work.
If only she knew what those duties were. Since Morgana, no, since the Great Dragon stopped its fierce onslaught she had barely known a moment’s peace during daylight, but had no idea who she should report to. She just let the world carry her along until someone gave her something to do.
She headed back towards the courtyard. Usually, if she was empty handed, she would be given a job within moments. Barely back into the daylight she heard a shout,“Gwen!”
Turning she saw Merlin heading towards her, hope shining on his face. Someone had shaken him from his guilt already then. She smiled, “Merlin, how are you this morning?”
“Fine, fine,” he answered, his hands fluttering, “and you?”
For once she almost believed him. She kept her answer short and to the point as she could see his impatience clearly.
“Good, good,” he answered, without really listening, “Arthur needs us; he’s up on the outer wall.”
With that he turned and headed away, knowing she would barely be a step behind him, when Arthur called they both would always answer.
“Finally, Merlin!” Arthur shouted as Merlin came into his view, noticing her he softened, “Good morning, Guinevere.”
“Sire,” she nodded, ignoring his frown at her formality.
“Look,” he pointed out across the wall, to the West of the kingdom, “what do you see?”
Gwen looked to Merlin to see if he had an answer, at his shrug she spoke, “The Western parts of Camelot, Sire.”
The prince sighed, and pointed again, “Look closer, both of you.”
Looking out again, both she and Merlin stepped closer to the wall, Merlin leaning his elbows against the top of the nearest inlet. She looked for a few moments when she spotted it, an odd haze across a field by the village second closest to Camelot. Turning back she was about to speak when Arthur nodded, “you both see it then?”
“What is it?” Merlin asked, beginning to lean too far to try and see further.
“If I knew that, Merlin,” Arthur answered, grabbing the back of Merlin’s shirt and pulling him back from the wall, “I wouldn’t have been up here half the morning already, would I?”
“Uh, no, probably not,” Merlin answered grinning sheepishly.
“Given recent events, we must investigate at once,” Arthur began, frowning slightly, “however; the King is unwilling to send a large party due to the works and defence of the castle.”
Without wanting to sound treasonous, even in her own head, Gwen wished that Arthur could know his own father as a father and not just the King.
“So, it will be the three of us.”
“Sire?” Gwen questioned, usually she only left the castle with them in the company of her mistress, and she wondered how her absence would be explained, her travels with two unmarried men of her own age.
“The King feels that if I insist upon going I must take my manservant with me, and that I may as well bring you along as he thinks you have nothing... better to do. I am sorry Guinevere, he should not, I should not have put it in such a way.”
“Why not? When it is true.” She answered, turning back towards the stairs, “I shall fetch a travel pack and some food for the journey.”
She met them at the gates, attaching her packs to the horse readied for her; she threw herself up onto the horse. Ignoring their confusion she began the journey.
She was ready for the changes that were about to come. If only they were.
The journey was quiet, silence only broken by a nervous Merlin speaking about the things that came into his head as they rode. There was none of the usual banter between Merlin and Arthur, none of the usual banter between herself and Merlin. And there was none of the stunted attempts at conversation around the secrets they held between her and Arthur.
As they neared the field they had seen from the castle ramparts Arthur outlined his plan. They were to tie up their horses at the tree line on the edge of the field and walk from there. Arthur would lead, as he always would. She and Merlin were to follow carefully behind, constantly vigilant. Only when they reached the haze would they know what to do.
That was the plan. They were all three standing at the edge of the haze. Gwen knew what they should do, but she had not yet spoken.
“What-“, Merlin began, stopping when he saw Gwen step into the haze.
Or perhaps he had not stopped; Gwen could no longer hear anything above the screams, the shouts for help. She stared into the flames surrounding the village and knew where she was.
She heard movement behind her and knew that Merlin and Arthur had moved into the haze.
The voice spoke, “Are you ready?”
“Yes,” she answered. She was ready. She ran towards the village, towards the shouts, aware of Merlin and Arthur shouting after her, then following. She was ready.
The flames circled the houses, burning as high as them, providing no way in or out. She jumped.
Once inside the circle of fire the screams died down, and she could only hear the shouts of her Prince and her friend from outside the circle. Of the secrets falling as Arthur screamed at Merlin to do something, anything, to get them inside the circle.
A red-headed woman stood in the centre of the village, her hands to the sky, a silent wind flowing about her.
She spoke, “I can only hold the flames away for so long, Guinevere.”
It was not the same voice, yet it felt as familiar as the last.
Another woman with golden hair appeared from behind her, “Are you ready?” she asked, reaching her hand out towards Gwen.
“Yes,” she answered, taking that hand.
The woman smiled, “are they?”
Merlin had somehow gotten himself and Arthur safely through the flames.
“Are we, what?” Arthur asked all his potential alive in that one question.
The women spoke together, “Are you, once and future Arthur Pendragon, and you, Merlin Emrys, ready?”
As if in an oft rehearsed play Merlin and Arthur, Arthur and Merlin, answered as one, “yes.”
On that final s sound they both reached out and the four completed a circle around the woman in the centre of the village.
Gwen, in that moment, could not tell who had answered, was it herself, or one of the other two women? It did not matter. All was silence.
They awoke; just three of them, close to sunset in the empty field, by the horses still tied to the tree line.
The village, undamaged, still three fields away.
They were ready.