We begin in the forests as some unlucky soul is being pursued by Morgana and her minions. When he is captured, we see that it is Alator, the Catha priest hired by Morgana last series (?) to kidnap and torture Gaius into revealing Emry's identity. Morgana knows that Alator knows, and is determined to torture it out of him.
Merlin is accompanying Arthur and Gwen as they take a ride through the forest and have some time to themselves (Merlin's presence doesn't count). Merlin notices a strange burn mark on a tree, evidence from Morgana and Alator's earlier struggle during the latter's capture, but Merlin doesn't know that yet. He feels the weight of powerful magic in the air and tries to convince Arthur that something bad happened here, but as might be expected, Arthur doesn't take his servant seriously. Merlin goes back on his own and finds papers and other personal items that look like they've been abandoned unwillingly. Most importantly, he finds a coin/token which Gaius later tells him is the mark of a Catha priest.
The next day when Merlin is out gathering flowers for Arthur to give to Gwen, he is confronted by a woman. She warns him that "the great battle is nearing ... Arthur's enemies are closer than you think" and asks that he meets her that night outside Camelot where she can explain more. Gaius recognises the tattoo on her arm as the mark of a Bendrui which he explains:
"Before the Great Purge, girls were chosen at birth for priesthood. [They were] brought up as initiates of the Old Religion ... needed exceptional magical power to be one of The Nine."Gaius is convinced that Finna is in cahoots with Morgana and that Merlin would be walking into a trap. He begs Merlin not to go, and they have a proper argument! There isn't a lot that they don't agree on and even when they do disagree, Merlin will try and placate Gaius and then go and do what Gaius warns him against anyway behind his back. Today, Merlin says it to Gaius' face - I guess he had to some time!
Just to make certain that Merlin can't be duped by this woman, Gaius takes the issue to Arthur who sends out a patrol that evening when Merlin is due to meet her. Finna tells him "Only you, great Emrys, can ensure the triumph of The Once and Future King," and then they are discovered! They manage to run and Merlin promises to catch up with her.
Back at Camelot, Gaius admits that he was wrong and he and Merlin make up. Merlin has no choice but to go after Finna and he goes with Gaius' blessing.
In Morgana's castle, Alator is still silent on Emrys' identity, swearing that "No matter what you do, you cannot break me ... He is your destiny, Morgana, and he is your doom." How I love those words! It always gives me hope (along with the references to Arthur as the 'Once and Future King') that Merlin and Arthur will triumph! Understanding that she's hitting her head against a brick wall, Morgana decides to just kill him and be done ... but not before one of her minions find a letter from Finna that states she has found Emrys! Morgana now knows the object of her next hunt ...
Merlin manages to run into the Knights in the forest as they are all searching for Finna - but the Knights want to see her captured. Sir Leon won't let Merlin carry on 'gathering herbs' on his own, or even turn back to Camelot by himself, and so he's stuck. A midnight discussion sees Mordred covering for Merlin as he races off to try and find Finna before it's too late.
Just as they catch up with each other, disaster strikes: Merlin is shot by an arrow! Morgana and her other minions won't be far behind and using his sword as a crutch, they manage to hobble off towards a nearby safeplace that Finna knows of. All I could think at this point was 'poor sword.' When it transpires that Finna knows of this tower because she has been on the run for so long, despite being in agony, Merlin promises:
Merlin: It won't always be like this. Things will be better.They don't have long before they are discovered and Merlin is rapidly losing strength and probably blood too. Considering that they didn't even stop long enough to bandage him up, nor do any magic to cure him, it's a wonder that he hasn't bled to death already. But whatever. Finna hands him a box that she says contains the knowledge of the Catha and warns him not to trust the Druid boy! She pushes him to continue up the tower to the roof and she will face Morgana alone, for they do not know that he is with her and his cover would be blown if he stays.
Finna: That's why I was sent ... to help make it so. Without you, Emrys, Arthur cannot build the new world we all long for.
When Merlin wakes, he is healed and the Great Dragon is hovering over him. Merlin is ecstatic to see him but notices quickly that something is wrong with the Dragon's wing. He shrugs it off (as much as a Dragon can shrug) as old age and flies off without answering whether Merlin will ever see him again.
Back at Camelot, Gaius is tasked with deciphering the letter that was contained in the Catha box. It's a single tiny sheet and I for one was a little incredulous that this mere scrap of parchment was supposed to contain the entirety of Catha knowledge. Regardless, the most important part is:
"... for brother will slaughter brother, for friend will murder friend, as the great horn sounds a cold dawn at Camlann. The prophets do not lie. There, Arthur will meet his end, upon that might plain."If it weren't so ominous and horrible, it would be rather poetic.
Just as the episode is about to close, Gaius and Merlin are called to the side of a young Knight. He looks horrific. My first thought was that he had no face and this is partially right. Gaius explains that his skin has grown across his face, eventually suffocating him in a practice known as Ragaid. Ragaid is the ultimate warning from a High Priestess to the whole Kingdom: Morgana has declared war.
After all the negativity in The Disir and other episodes about how Arthur is doomed for not accepting the Old Religion, and there is nothing that can be done to change the course of destiny, it was nice to watch an episode where there are supporters of the Old Religion who are on Arthur's side by virtue of their support for Merlin/Emrys. Merlin episodes can be quite discrete, even though overarching plots can be identified, and I'd like to see how all these ideas and theories will be blended together as we near the finale. With only three episodes left, there isn't much time to climax and close in a way that will reverberate in the hearts and minds of Merlin fans forever. I hope justice will be done.