Characters: Uther, Balinor
Rating: PG (my approximation, the author has it unrated on AO3)
Word Count: 9717
Summary: After Arthur and Merlin journey to the Spirit World and find themselves able to go back, Nimueh pulls Uther from a self-imposed exile so he and Balinor can travel to find them.
I have a confession. I love Uther. I’m not saying I like him very much sometimes on the show, but as a character, I understand how his paranoia and guilt and anger can create the tragic route he ultimately ended up walking. There’s a ton of rich history to build upon, especially if you want to write a redemption story.
That’s exactly what Upon the Rise is.
It begins after Uther’s death, which means ghost!Uther for the duration of the fic. He’s pretty much in a state of purgatory, not really in any kind of afterlife, his existence dull, lifeless, and solitary. When Nimueh comes to him to tell him that Arthur is in peril, he doesn’t even know how much time has passed. Arthur and Merlin have returned to the Spirit World, and now they’re stuck. It’s up to Uther to be guided there by the one person who can talk to Merlin and learn their location. Balinor.
Tell me how I was supposed to resist a story that forces Balinor and Uther on what is essentially a road trip. Short answer: I couldn’t.
Uther’s redemption in the guise of his and Balinor’s ghosts is heartbreaking to read. The Uther that starts the story is very much the one we know from the show – angry, distrustful of magic – and he has no qualms treating Balinor like crap. Balinor has his own anger to deal with, which only sparks the conflict and history between the two men. Yet, for the love of their sons, they are forced to travel together, fighting obstacle after obstacle, in order to help them.
What makes it so damn effective is how Uther’s love for Ygraine permeates beneath it all. You feel his profound sadness so when he snipes at Balinor over something stupid, you understand the place it’s coming from. Yet, it takes both of them to save Arthur and Merlin, and the gradual understanding that the two men have more in common than their mutual hatred is a joy to watch.
The story doesn’t take the easy road with its ultimate answers. The ending made me cry – in a good way – but the lesson to be learned is one of hope and patience. We have to live with the choices we make. As Uther discovers, those choices don’t end just because our physical lives do.