Summary: Merlin has a talent other than magic
I like the idea of Merlin surprising people by having talents other than magic. This story is during season 1 or 2, and can be considered AU since the talent I've given our warlock certainly didn't show up in BBC canon. It's also historically inaccurate given that the (not to give it away yet!) 'tools' I've described Merlin using in later chapters would not have existed in medieval times. But hey, neither did magic or dragons, right?
A/N This story was written for the Heart of Camelot 'Chronicles of Camelot' challenge (write a chapter story based off of a drabble). The one I chose is also called 'Harmony' and can be found in my 'Little Treasures' collection. This first chapter is an extended version of that drabble, and takes place during Merlin's childhood. The rest of the story is set while Merlin is in Camelot.
Disclaimer: Don't own Merlin or Arthur or any of the other characters you recognize.
Thanks to LyricalSinger for her usual beta awesomeness, and to my daughters for their help.
Also, a million thanks to Aerist for the fantastic book cover.
HARMONY - The First Taste
The minstrels arrived on a perfect summer's day. The weather had been warm, the skies blue, the berries ripe and plentiful for the picking, and the day's hunt successful. As result, the entire village had turned out to Campfire that evening, and everyone was in great spirits and in full voice.
Hunith smiled as she watched her little dark-haired boy. Merlin sat, mouth agape and chin resting on both hands as he listened to the minstrels. The child was so awestruck that he'd forgotten to sing, a rare occurrence for usually vocal 7-year old boy.
Merlin had seen singers before of course; Ealdor was not far from one of the main trade roads between Camelot and Essetir, and the troubadours often stopped for a night or two on their way to the large cities. Usually, they came alone or in pairs: a singer and a lutist, and sang teaching songs, or spirited jigs and reels that would set the villagers to dancing and clapping. But this group was bigger and better than most. The six were bound for Camelot to sing for the King's birthday celebration a week hence and were practicing for the event, so the villagers had a rare chance to hear some music normally reserved for Courts and Kings.
Hunith understood Merlin's wonder entirely. Campfire was usually all about singing joy or thanks or grief, and these needed the full raw voice that the good peasant stock of the town sang so rightly and so well. But what Merlin was hearing now was meant to tug on the heartstrings; to bring the listener to a different place and wrap him up in beauty.
Hunith doubted that many of her townsfolk understood the point of this type of music, but one look at Merlin told her the child knew instinctively what it was all about. So she was not surprised when the questions came as she held his hand while they walked back to their small hut.
Well, Hunith walked. Merlin skipped along, his joy in what he'd heard leaving him far too excited to do something so mundane as walk.
"Mother, what were they doing?" finally came the first question.
"Merlin, they were singing," she answered in amusement, knowing full well that this was not at all what Merlin was asking.
"Yes, but they were all doing something different, not like when we usually sing at Campfire," the small boy persisted, looking up at his mother.
"It's called 'harmony', Merlin. Good singers, like those minstrels, are able to listen to each other and sing different notes together to make a song prettier.
"It was just… It was just… oooohhhh… I wish I could do it too," pined the youngster, shaking his head wistfully.
"Well, if you're a good boy and finish your chores properly, then maybe tomorrow I can teach you a little bit before bedtime," promised Hunith.
"Really?" Merlin asked, eyes wide and incredulous, as though she'd offered to fly him to the moon.
"Yes, really!" Hunith could only laugh and ruffle her son's hair as they reached their little home.
Hunith groaned sleepily as she began to sit up in her cot, wondering what had woken her up in the middle of the night.
"Merlin, what are you doing?" she asked as she heard a banging coming from their small eating area, where by the dim glow of the damped cook fire she could see her young son busy sweeping the floor.
"Oh, I'm sorry mother. I didn't mean to wake you," came a small startled voice. "I couldn't sleep, and I thought I should just get started on our chores early because I know you don't like me to use my magic for them and I wanted to be sure we'd have enough time for singing tomorrow."
"Well, I rather think it's 'today' by now," replied his mother, amused in spite of her interrupted sleep.
When she saw Merlin's face begin to light up in expectation of an early start, she became stern. "But Merlin, it's far too early for you to be up. It's still the middle of the night, and I want you to go back to your sleeping pallet right this moment."
"But Mother, I've tried and tried and I just can't sleep," he complained, lower lip beginning to tremble.
Unable to resist her little boy's dejection, Hunith relented and held out her arms. "Come here then, you can come in with me this one time."
Once he'd joyfully bounded over to her, Hunith lifted Merlin into her bed and snuggled him in close.
"Merlin, your feet are like ice!" she exclaimed, and as he giggled at the traditional complaint, she began to hum one of the same lullabies that she had used so often when he was still a babe. As her son began to drift off into sleep, she felt a pang of melancholy, realizing he was almost at the age where he would stop wanting such cuddles.
Morning – real morning – eventually came to the household, and Merlin certainly had not lost any of his enthusiasm from the night before. The moment his eyes opened to the sunlit room, he rushed out of the bed and grabbed the bucket on the floor beside their hearth.
"Mother, I'm going to get the water," he shouted as he headed to the door, anxious to get a start on his chores.
"Merlin," said Hunith in exasperation, "Please put on your trousers before you go outside!"
"Oh!" said Merlin, eyes widening in embarrassment. He put down his bucket and ran across the house, starting to remove his nightshirt even before he'd reached the corner that held his pallet and the small chest of drawers where his clothes were kept.
Hunith could only shake her head in amusement as she watched him throw the nightclothes on his bed and then hop around while trying to pull on his trousers in his hurry.
Finally though, he was dressed and able to get under way with a cheery eagerness that endured for the entire day. The chores had never been done so well, and with nary a hint of magic!
It was not long after they had finished cleaning up after their dinner when the boy finally dared to ask, "Mother could we please sing now?"
Hunith smiled broadly, "Yes, Merlin, I think we can. You've been very helpful today, so come and sit down right here with me, and we can start."
Once he was sitting down in front of her, she said, "Now, I want you to sing something – just pick one of your favourite songs. I'm going to add in a harmony so you can hear how it works."
And so Merlin started to sing in the clear, sweet voice that his mother so loved. Hunith joined the melody for his first verse, and then when he started the second she added in a very simple harmony a little bit above.
Merlin's eyes opened wide, and he listened raptly, his eyes fixed on her mouth as she sang, clearly enjoying what he heard.
Once they reached the third verse, she nodded at him to continue and this time she placed her harmony a little bit lower than his melody.
"So you see, I've been singing the same words and the same rhythm as you have, but I've been picking notes that are a little bit higher or lower," she explained once they came to the end of the song.
Merlin nodded enthusiastically, "Ohhh yes, mother, I understand. Can we do it again with a different song?"
At her answering smile, Merlin immediately started into another one of his favourites.
Seeing that Merlin had the idea, Hunith gradually began to use slightly more complicated harmonies, sometimes adding a high descant line or a variation to the main rhythm, and all the while Merlin listened intently as he sang, taking it all in.
Finally they paused for a break to have a cup of tea, and Merlin said, "Mother, I think I understand, but I want to try it too. Can we sing your favourite song now, and may I do the harmony this time?"
Hunith chuckled, "Well that one's a bit complicated, but we can certainly try it if you'd like."
Smiling at Merlin's serious little face and closed eyes as he concentrated on the song, she started her melody, only to stop in shocked surprise after just a few lines. Coming from the throat of her oblivious boy was a beautiful, pure and haunting counter-melody, which was much more complicated than the simple harmonies she'd been showing him, even the ones she'd sung just before they'd had their tea.
She had always known he had a lovely voice, but this was obviously a gift far beyond what she'd ever imagined, a gift that she knew he must have inherited from his father.
Tears sparked in her eyes as she thought about her beloved Balinor. He had been trained as a singer long before he'd become a Dragonlord and then had to flee Camelot, ending up in her care.
Hunith was taken back to that brief but happy time in her life and remembered when he had taught her this same song sitting in almost this very spot.
Unfortunately, his mother's abrupt stop caused Merlin to open his eyes and look up in alarm. Reaching up he dried her eyes with his fingers, and said, "Mother, why are you crying? Did I do something wrong?"
"No sweetling, you did everything just perfectly," she said, engulfing the boy in a tight hug and then setting him back in front of her.
"I'm sorry I stopped, but your harmony made me think of someone I once knew," she added with a sad smile. "Now, would you like to do that again?" she said, putting her hand under his chin.
"Oh yes please, as long as it doesn't make you cry anymore."
Hunith chuckled at his sweet concern and then began her song once more.
As Merlin added in his harmony, she couldn't help thinking that here was another talent that set her boy apart from his townsfolk. Luckily this one might eventually be able to provide him with an excuse to leave the village, and an opportunity for a better life – something he was unlikely to find with his magical talents, at least not this close to Camelot.
For now though, it could prove dangerous. If it was discovered, he may be whisked away to some Court as a musician's apprentice, and she did not want to risk that happening until he fully understood how to control his magic. Well, that and, she admitted to herself with another smile, she just wasn't ready for her baby to leave her just yet.