The Mark of Nimueh
In a dark cave a beautiful woman stands over a basin of water and chants a spell. After shaping a handful of clay into a monster she seals it in an egg and drops it in the water before her. The egg surfaces miles away, in the underground water supply of Camelot and the monster within cracks through the shell.
An undetermined amount of time later, Gaius and Merlin look over a corpse that has been left in the lower streets of Camelot. Merlin expresses his distaste, but Gaius insists that it’s his duty to help. This sentiment dies a little in his throat when they turn over the corpse to see its white-eyed, white skinned face. This person certainly didn’t die of natural means.
Meanwhile, Guinevere and her father Tom are getting ready to leave for their respective workplaces: Gwen at the castle and Tom at the forge. Gwen has a bouquet of flowers with her, and on running into Gaius and Merlin she offers the latter a flower which he accepts and sticks in his neck scarf. Deflecting her questions about the body that they’re carting into the physician’s quarters, Merlin sends her on her way.
The flowers are for Morgana, and Gwen hands them over with a smile, telling Morgana that they’re to cheer her up: she knows that she’s not sleeping particularly well.
Gaius and Merlin are inspecting the body closer when Arthur appears to find Merlin. After chastising him on his lateness, Arthur notices the flower in Merlin’s neck-scarf and raises an eyebrow to hear that Gwen gave it to him. But what he’s really after is Gaius: King Uther has requested his presence in the council chamber.
In the council chamber is another dead body, identical to the one they’ve left in Gaius’s study. Gaius reluctantly confesses that he believes the cause of such a disease is sorcery, and Uther calls Arthur to him, ordering him to find the person responsible before the people turn to magic in order to find a cure.
While Gaius uses his scientific implements to discover how the disease is spreading, Merlin is impatient to use his magic to help people. As Gaius talks him out of it, Arthur and his guards enter the rooms as part of a systematic search for any evidence of magical sabotage. Merlin realizes that he’s carelessly left his book on the floor of his bedroom, but when Arthur ominously calls him up with the words: “Look what I’ve found…” he’s relieved to see that…
Arthur: I found a place where you can put things. It's called a cupboard.
Discreetly Merlin uses magic to cover his spell-book with a bed sheet and Arthur leaves when Gaius hints that the more interruptions he faces, the longer it’ll take to find a cure. Merlin is once again eager to use magic to solve the problem, especially when it means saving lives, but Gaius cautions him.
As the bodies pile up in the courtyard outside the castle, Uther orders a curfew and the cordoning off of the lower parts of the town where the bodies were found. From her stone basin, the sorceress watches with a smile on her face.
After a courtier is found amongst the dead, Gaius comes to the conclusion that the disease is being spread through the water supply. He sends Merlin off with a bucket to take samples, and on his way back Gwen rushes past him in tears. Her father has contracted the disease and she begs Gaius for a cure. He has none to give her, and Merlin fears that by the time a cure is found it’ll be too late for Tom.
That night Merlin sneaks out of his room, causes a distraction for the guards, and magically unlocks the door to Gwen’s house. She is sleeping on the floor next to her dying father, but Merlin manages to slips a poultice under Tom’s pillow and whisper a spell from the window. Tom awakes to find himself healed and wakes Gwen in excitement. Merlin smiles at their reunion, and slips away…
The following day Gaius tells Uther and Arthur that the villagers need to be prevented from drinking the water, and Uther grows increasingly frustrated at Arthur’s failure to find the sorcerer. Gwen on the other hand, is cheerful as she goes about her daily chores – though she finds it a little odd that Merlin knew about her father’s recovery before she told him.
But Tom’s miraculous recovery has caught the attention of both the townsfolk and Arthur as he goes about his patrol. On hearing that he was on the verge of death and that Gwen was the only one with him, Arthur orders a search of the house and finds the poultice under the pillow. Guinevere is duly arrested for witchcraft, despite her pleas of innocence and Morgana’s insistence that she be released. But Arthur is unmoved as she’s dragged down the corridor, and she only just manages to call out to Merlin for help before she’s deposited in front of the king.She begs to be freed, but Uther is convinced that she’s the one responsible for the disease and orders her to be burnt at the stake in the hopes that it will stop the sickness. Morgana speaks in her defence, and now even Arthur is having doubts about what’s just occurred.
Morgana: I've seen the way the girl works. Her fingers are worn, her nails are broken. If she was a sorceress, why would she do this? Why would she kneel on a cold stone floor morning after morning when she could make these things happen with a snap of her fingers? Like an idle king!
Uther: You have no right!
Morgana: You have a right to cast a judgment on that girl!
Uther: I have a responsibility to take care of this kingdom! I take no pleasure in this!
Morgana: But you're sentencing the wrong person!
Arthur: She's right, Father. You hear the word magic, you no longer listen.
Uther: You saw it for yourself. She used enchantments.
Arthur: Yes, maybe. But to save her dying father, that doesn't make her guilty of creating a plague. One's the act of, of kindness, of love, the other of evil. I don't believe evil's in this girl's heart.
Uther: I have witnessed what witchcraft can do. I have suffered at its hand. I cannot take that chance. If there is the slightest doubt about this girl, she must die or the whole kingdom may perish.
Arthur: I understand that.
Uther: One day you may become King. Then you will understand. Such decisions must be made. There are dark forces that threaten this kingdom.
Arthur: I know. Witchcraft is an evil, father. So is injustice. Yes, I am yet to be King, and I don't know what kind of king I will be, but I do have a sense of the kind of Camelot I would wish to live in. It would be where the punishment fits the crime.
Uther: I fear you're right. She's played with fire, and sadly she must die by fire.
Realizing what he’s done, Merlin goes down to the dungeons to see Gwen, passing a weeping Morgana as he goes. Seeing Gwen chained in her cell and tearfully asking him to remember her, Merlin comes to a decision and races back upstairs.
He bursts into the council chamber and makes a declaration to those gathered there: that he was the one who used magic to cure Gwen’s father. Gaius is too gobsmacked to speak properly, but recalling the flower, Arthur skilfully defuses the situation.
Gaius: Merlin! Are you mad?
Merlin: I cannot let her die for me. [to Uther] I place myself at your mercy.
Gaius: He doesn't know what he's talking about.
Merlin: I do.
Uther: Then arrest him.
Arthur: Father, please! I can't allow this! This is madness! There's no way Merlin is a sorcerer.
Uther: Did you not hear him?
Uther: He admitted it.
Arthur: He saved my life, remember.
Uther: Why should he fabricate such a story.
Arthur: As Gaius said, he's got a...grave mental disease.
Arthur: He's in love.
Arthur: With Gwen.
Merlin: I am not.
Arthur: Yes, you are.
Merlin: No way.
Arthur: I saw yesterday with that flower she'd given you.
Merlin: I'm not in love with her.
Arthur: It's alright. You can admit it.
Merlin: I don't even think of her like that!
Uther: Perhaps she cast a spell on you.
Arthur: Merlin is a wonder, but the wonder is that he's such an idiot. There's no way he's a sorcerer.
Uther: Don't waste my time again. Let him go.
With that plan having failed spectacularly, Gaius once again tells Merlin that their best course of action is to use science to find the source of the disease. Together they venture down into the city’s underground water supply, and when Merlin puts his hand in the water to take a sample he disturbs the clay monster that dwells there. Gaius quickly has it identified as an Afanc – but still doesn’t know how to get rid of it.
Merlin heads down to the dungeons to seek help from the dragon, passing a pyre being built in the square as he goes. Once there, the dragon offers some advice:
Dragon: The great warlock returns, as I knew he would.
Merlin: I need to know how to defeat an Afanc.
Dragon: Yes, I suppose you do.
Merlin: Will you help me?
Dragon: Trust the elements that are at your command.
Merlin: Elements? But what is it I have to do?
Dragon: You cannot do this alone. You are but one side of a coin. Arthur is the other.
Merlin: I, I don't understand. Just tell me what it is I have to do.
The Dragon flies off.
Merlin: No! Please, help me!
Dragon: I have.
With Gwen’s execution brought forward to that night, Merlin and Gaius realize the meaning of the dragon’s words: since the Afanc is made from water and earth, then it must be wind and fire that will destroy it. A distraught Morgana appears in Gaius’s chambers to tell them that Gwen’s execution is imminent, and on hearing their plan she goes to convince Arthur to help.
With a little skilful manipulation, Morgana has Arthur marching down to the subterranean caves with Merlin and herself in tow. Though he warns her to turn back, she refuses and the three of them advance with flaming torches. In the near darkness the trio are nearly killed by the
man in the rubber suit
Afanc until Merlin shouts to Arthur to use the torch. With a whispered spell, Merlin calls up a great wind that rushes down the tunnel, catching the fire of the torch, and incinerates the Afanc.
The sorceress watches from her stone basin, and splashes the water in anger, cursing Merlin as she does so.
At what seems to be some time later, Gaius approaches Uther and fills him in on what’s been happening over the past few days. Uther seems happy that the Afanc is destroyed, but his smile quickly fades with Gaius shows him the egg in which it was hatched.
Gaius: It bears the mark of Nimueh. We must be vigilant, Sire.
Uther: Will I never be rid of her?
Uther: Leave me!
The court exits the room, and Uther sits down to brood on his throne.
Meanwhile Gwen is freed from her cell and embraces her father. She thanks Morgana for her release, but Morgana graciously passes the credit on to Merlin. Tom thanks both of them and leads Gwen out of the dungeons. Once they’re out of earshot, Morgana turns to Merlin with a smile.
Morgana: Merlin. I wanted you to know, your secret's safe with me.
Merlin: My secret?
Morgana: Merlin, don't pretend. I know what you did.
Merlin: You do?
Morgana: I saw it with my own eyes.
Merlin: You did?
Morgana: I understand why you don't anyone to know.
Merlin: Well, obviously.
Morgana: But I won't tell anyone. You don't mind me talking to you about it?
Merlin: Er...no. I-i, it's, er...you have no idea how hard it is to keep this hidden.
Morgana: Well, you can continue to deny it, but I think Gwen's a very lucky woman.
Morgana puts her finger to her lips]
Morgana: It's our secret.
The episode ends with Merlin and Gaius (rather hesitantly) eating a meal of fish, and Gaius assures him that one day he’ll be credited for his heroic deeds. He speaks too soon, for Nimueh is watching the both of them, and swears that Merlin will pay for ruining her plan…
- Big Bad: Nimueh
- Big Damn Heroes: Arthur, Merlin and Morgana when they team up to kill the Afanc and rescue Gwen.
- Break the Cutie: Gwen
- Burn the Witch!: Thankfully averted.
- Cassandra Truth: No one believes Merlin when he announces that he's the sorcerer responsible for the poultice.
- Clear Their Name: Merlin fights to clear Gwen's name, somewhat ironically considering he was the one to make her appear guilty of witchcraft in the first place.
- Colour Failure: The victims of the disease.
- Dramatic Drop: Gwen drops a vase of flowers as she's carted away by castle guards.
- Faux Action Girl: Morgana insists on going to the subterranean caves with the boys to defeat the Afanc, but doesn't actually do anything once she's down there except scream.
- Fridge Logic: To convince Uther and the others that Merlin was the real magician, he could have just . . . you know . . . actually done magic, right there in front of them.
- Idle Rich: Morgana accuses Uther of being an "idle king".
- Informed Flaw: Morgana says of Guinevere that: "her fingers are worn, her nails are broken", yet whenever we get a close-up of Gwen's hands, they are beautifully manicured.
- Lover, Not a Fighter: Morgana says this about Merlin.
- Mystical Plague
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Merlin's attempt to save Tom's life only endangers Gwen's.
- People in Rubber Suits: The afanc.
- Villain Opening Scene: Nimueh standing over her stone basin.
- Water Source Tampering; Nimueh sends an Afanc into Camelot's water supply.
- The X of Y: The Mark of Nimueh