This is the ficlet I wrote. The prompt was "celebration" and we got bonus points for a) no words ending in -ly, b) canon setting, and c) mentioning a magical creature.
TITLE: Like Father, Like Son
PAIRING: None, gen
LENGTH: 900 words
SUMMARY: Hunith comes to a decision about her son's future.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Takes place pre-series.
Sometimes, when she spied Merlin gazing into the heavens, most often late at night when he thought nobody else was around, Hunith didn’t see her son. She saw his father. Balinor had that same wistfulness, that same sense of wonder about the world when she’d first met him. The older Merlin became, the more he resembled Balinor, in ways she would never be able to comprehend but oh, could she recognize.
Even now, while the revelries for his birthday still went on inside, he’d escaped the confines of their four walls to stand at the edge of the fields with Will at his side. Will was chattering away, but Merlin remained silent, not even glancing in his best friend’s direction. His thoughts were elsewhere, just as Balinor’s had always been.
The door opened behind her, spilling laughter and light into the darkness when Mercy and her new beau stumbled outside. They lurched away, but not before drawing Merlin and Will’s attention to where Hunith stood in the shadows. Will glanced between her and Merlin, then clapped Merlin on the shoulder with a laugh.
“I better get back before all the ale’s gone,” he said.
Hunith nodded to him as he passed, waiting until he’d disappeared inside before venturing to approach Merlin. Merlin cast a single glance at the celebration going on without him, and the shadows aged his already angular features, adding sorrow to his clear blue eyes, wisdom to the set of his mouth. This version of Merlin wasn’t the Balinor she had first met. It was the one who’d been driven away, who’d looked back at her once before cresting the hill and vanishing from her life for good.
“I’m sorry,” he said before she uttered a word. “I just needed some fresh air.”
She smiled. “It is warm in there. It seems as if everyone in Ealdor wanted to wish you a happy birthday.”
“Or they wanted some of your cake,” he teased. He surprised her with a quick embrace. She still couldn’t get used to how much taller he was than her now. “Thank you for everything. It was a wonderful party.”
She didn’t believe him, but she pretended to, for both of their sakes. When they parted, she kept her smile, knowing he would worry about her if she didn’t have it on. “What was Will so excited about?”
With a half shrug, Merlin turned back to gaze out into the darkness. “He wants me to go hunting with him tomorrow.”
“But they’ve just got back from a hunt.”
“It’s not that kind of a hunt.”
When he didn’t volunteer the details straight away, Hunith tilted her head to the side to force him to recognize she was still there. “Merlin…”
He sighed. “There’s…a creature. We found it the last time we were out. Will wants to try and trap it.”
“He’s not using you for bait again, is he?”
“No, it’s not like that.”
“Then what does…” Her voice faded. Finishing the question was pointless. She knew what Will wanted Merlin for.
“It won’t be that bad,” Merlin rushed to say. “He just wants to see what it can do. It might not even be magical, though I can’t say I’ve ever seen a beast change from a goat into an eagle before.”
Her eyes widened. What Merlin described sounded like a pooka, though he’d have no reason to know that. Will wouldn’t understand the significance, either. To them, these were just games to be played, Merlin’s magic a fun tool to wield rather than an instrument to be feared. They were smart enough to keep Merlin’s gifts a secret, but if they continued to take risks such as this one…
“You can’t,” she heard herself saying. “I need you tomorrow.”
Merlin frowned. “For what?”
“There’s work to be done around the house. Tasks I’ve ignored in favor of preparing for your birthday.”
“Oh, all right then. I’ll just tell Will I can’t.”
When he accepted her reason with his easy smile, her heart twisted. This was not one of those moments where he looked like his father. Balinor’s smiles had been harder won, the weight of everything he’d endured locking them away so she had to work to entice one out. She liked to believe that he would have smiled more often if he’d known he had a son. He would have been proud of the young man they had created.
But she couldn’t teach Merlin everything he needed to know. Like what it was like to bear the weight of his power without buckling beneath its potential to corrupt. Or how to corral his ability for the greater good, rather than a few hours of amusement that risked exposure and punishment. She knew of just one man who could do that in Balinor’s stead, but it would mean sending their son into the heart of the very place Balinor detested the most.
I’m sorry, my love. I have no other choice.
She waited until after the celebration, when Merlin was asleep on his pallet, too exhausted to wake because of a single candle she might light. Then, she found a piece of parchment and sat at the table with her quill, knowing this was best for Merlin, even if it made her ache to think of his absence.
My dear Gaius…