In a fairytale-like castle, a baby is asleep in its cradle with a mobile dangling overhead and an open window sending a breeze into the room. The mobile slows down and the room darkens, and a familiar-looking blue spirit hovers over the cradle to look down at the baby. He mutters a spell, and the baby glows blue before waking up and starting to cry. The spirit disappears.
Twenty years later, the baby has grown into a young princess with a daffodil-coloured dress and a lack of coordination. She picks her teeth, breaks wind, and takes a large bite from an apple before marching outside in bare feet to where to where her father is waiting for her. Though they obviously love each other, Princess Elena complains about travelling in a coach, prefering to ride on horseback. Her father responds that he'd much rather her arrive in style, like the princess she is. At that moment, Elena's nurse Grunhilda arrives with a pair of high-heeled shoes that Elena grudgingly squeezes her feet into. The carriage sets off...
In Camelot, Uther and Arthur approach the dais of the throne room in front of a full assembly, awaiting the arrival of Lord Godwyn and Princess Elena. Uther begins to enthusiastically talk up the qualities of Elena, listing "strategic" as one of them, much to Arthur's consternation. He's beginning to catch on when the doors open and Lord Godwyn enters with Elena and Grunhilde in tow. After a frantic whispering match between father and son, Arthur quietly freaks out in the background as Uther steps forward to greet his friend Godwyn. Elena steps forward in order to be introduced, and falls down flat on her face.
Later, Arthur is questioning Gwen about the quality of the guest rooms as Merlin struggles with the luggage behind them. As soon as he's out of the way, Arthur tries to break the news to Gwen.
- Arthur: My, er...my father had some surprising news for me. He expects me to marry Princess Elena.Gwen: Marry?Arthur: Oh, don't worry, I'm not going to.Gwen: I wasn't worried.Arthur: No. No, why would you be?
Gwen darts away.
Up in his room that night, Arthur gets ready for bed and shares with Merlin that Elena's mother died when she was born. Merlin points out that this is something that they both have in common, though the conversation soon dissolves into pillow-throwing (not quite as Ho Yay-tastic as it sounds) when Uther walks in. Merlin makes himself scarce and Uther begins The Talk: that Godwyn is a good friend, that he's a long-standing ally of Camelot, and that Arthur's future isn't based on his own happiness, but the safety and security of Camelot. When Arthur points out that he has no feelings for Elena, Uther encourages him to find some.
In her own room, Elena is having what appears to be a nightmare. Grunhilde enters the room and tries to calm her by sprinkling some sort of fairy-dust in her face. For just a moment, Elena's face transforms into the strange blue visage of the fairy that visited her as a baby. She drifts off into a deeper sleep.
Later that night, Grunhilde hurries through the streets of Camelot and the forest to the shores of Lake Avalon. There she chants an incantation and several blue fairies appear above the water. Her eyes glow with magic, and the scene slows itself down so that Grunhilde can see them properly. Her reflection in the water changes into that of a long-nosed, long-eared creature with black warts over her face. The blue fairy hovers in front of her, and she informs him that "the fathers are committed to the match." This is good news to them, for their plan is for the fairy inside Elena to emerge as soon as her marriage to Arthur is complete, thus ensuring that a Sidhe will be Queen of Camelot.
The following day Arthur and Elena prepare for a horse ride, and before Arthur's eyes, Elena mounts up on her own and gallops from the courtyard. Arthur seems quite impressed as she rides after her through the forest; so impressed in fact, that he doesn't even notice that his horse has changed from light brown to dark between shots. As soon as they stop by the river, Arthur opens up a conversation about their mothers, which ends with Elena rather awkwardly assuring him that he's not at all like his father. Arthur presents her with a rose that he picked along the way, which Elena takes with delight, even she ends up sneezing on him. At that point, Merlin arrives with the picnic gear.
- Arthur: Merlin! What kept you? Do not leave me again.Merlin: You were riding so fast. I thought you were eager for some time alone.Arthur: Nobody likes a clever-clogs, Merlin.
They return to Camelot where Elena thanks Arthur for their outing by hugging him, something that neither of them seem to particularly enjoy. As she turns away, she stumbles on the castle steps and staggers away.
At the banquet that night, Godwyn and Uther enthusiastically discuss the impending marriage between their children, as Arthur and Morgana react with amusement and mild disgust at Elena's table manners. Grunhilde makes eyes at Gaius from across the room, and then hurries to his side with a plate of food. Gaius looks as about as happy as Arthur at his prospective partner. When Elena gets the hiccups, Guinevere goes to fetch her some water, with a sympathetic pat on Arthur's shoulder as she does.
Up in her room, Elena is getting her hair brushed by Grunhilde, sadly speculating that she's not really much of a princess. Though Grunhilde tries to comfort her, Elena confides that she wants to make the match with Arthur work for her father's sake. Grunhilde tells her she should keep any doubts to herself, and rewards her with a small frog in an ornamented box. Elena is delighted, and lifts up the frog in order to eat it, calling it "our little secret."
The following day Merlin is out collecting herbs when he notices Grunhilde hurrying through the forest. He follows her out of curiosity and spots her sitting by the river-side, trying to catch insects with her frog-like tongue. Merlin rushes away in fright.
Back in the physician's quarters, Gaius is suggesting that it was perhaps the result of an illness, but Merlin isnt' convinced. They realize that some magical creature has infiltrated Lord Godwyn's household, and Gaius takes it upon himself to investigate further. He is making a search of Elena's room when he spots something hidden under the mattress of the bed, and pulls out the magical pouch full of fairy-dust. He just manages to return it when Grunhilde returns, and covers for his presence by asking if Elena would like some sort of perfume.
- Grunhilde: That is a very bad excuse.Gaius: Really?Grunhilde: You don't full me for one minute. You were looking for me.Gaius: I was?Grunhilde: I understand. It's alright.Gaius: I think probably I should be going.Grunhilde: Elena won't be back for ages. Why don't we make sweet perfume together?
She reclines on the bed before him, while Gaius looks on in terror.
Having managed to extract himself, Gaius joins Merlin back in the physician's quarters to tell him that Grunhilda is a pixie. This explains the dust and her attraction toward "distinguished gentlemen". Merlin is disgusted at this, and Gaius is quick to get his mind back on track: that pixies are the servants of the Sidhe and that Elena might be a changeling - a mortal who is unaware that a fairy living inside her. When the time comes, it will possess her entirely, presumably to give the Sidhe power over Camelot's throne.
That evening, Guinevere is serving the Pendragon family at the dinner table, when Arthur brings up the subject of Elena. Misinterpreting him, Uther and Morgana at once begin to congratulate him on his impending marriage, but Arthur is quick to say that he has no interest in marrying her, stating that he can't marry someone that he doesn't love. Uther puts his foot down, telling him: "you can, and you will." Only Morgana notices the anguished look that passes between Arthur and Gwen.
Elsewhere, Merlin has overheard Elena's wailing and peers through a grated window in order to get a better look. Sure enough, he witnesses Grunhilde administer the pixie dust, but upsets the table that he's standing on and makes a run for it. Grunhilde emerges just in time to see him disappear around the corner.
Merlin returns to Gaius to confirm his suspicions, though Gaius (as usual) is quick to say that they can't tell the king. They're going to have to take it upon themselves to rid Elena of the changeling before Arthur marries her. They settle in for a long night of studying.
The following day, Morgana watches Merlin and Arthur from her bedroom, and smirks to herself as she notices Gwen begin to make the bed behind her.
- Morgana: I wouldn't like to be in Arthur's shoes.Gwen: What do you mean?Morgana: Forced to marry someone against his will.Gwen: I don't think he'll marry her if he feels that way.Morgana: I know it's hard to believe, but he may not have a choice. Even if it isn't what he wants. Even if his heart belongs to another. Even if she feels the same way. We've known each other for too long. I can see it in your eyes. You like him, don't you?
Gwen has remained silent all through this, but Morgana's gentle goading soon causes her to crack. Morgana reminds her that Arthur can't change the laws that surround who he is to marry, and Gwen quickly leaves the room.
Merlin and Gaius are still looking over the books, when Gaius finally comes across a potion that will force the changeling out of Elena. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to make it or what many of the ingredients are.
Elsewhere, Gwen comes to visit Arthur, who looks a bit teary-eyed as she explains to him that she understands the pressures that he's under and that people can't always have what they want. She tells him that Elena has a good heart, and might one day make him happy, though Arthur doesn't look convinced. On asking what she'll do if he marries Elena, Gwen answers that she'll watch him grow into the king that Camelot deserves.
In front of King Uther, Lord Godwyn and the entire court, Elena is nudged into the room by Grunhilda, and gives Arthur a little wave as she draws near. As Merlin and Gaius finish up their whispered conversation about the difficulties in making the necessary potion, Grunhilde shoves herself between two guards in order to listen to Arthur's proposal speech.
- Arthur: I am honoured to be standing before you today, in the presence of our dear friend, Lord Godwyn, and his wonderful daughter Elena. The people of this kingdom are very dear to me. This place is my life. I hope one day to continue the good work of my father and to make Camelot a place of peace and happiness.
The court applauses. Gwen looks resigned. Elena looks petrified.
- Arthur: It is my sincerest hope, that you Princess Elena, share these dreams. With this in mind, I would like to ask you to do me the honour of being my...wife.
For some reason the scene cuts at this point, to return to Gaius and Merlin brewing the potion back in their rooms. Merlin comes back covered in mud, having found one of the ingredients in the middle of the marsh. Gaius voices his hope that it will be ready by tomorrow's wedding.
Back at the lake, Grunhilde is telling the master of the Sidhe that they may have a problem: that Merlin knows that Elena is a changeling, and that she doesn't expect him to keep quiet. The Sidhe does the usual - don't fail me, Merlin will soon regret getting involved, the mighty Sidhe, and so on.
The small blue light of the Sidhe glows as he flies into Camelot's courtyard, darting passed two guards warming their hands by a brazier and into the castle itself. It flies into the physician's quarters and into Merlin's room, who wakes up and just manages to slow down the Sidhe seconds before it blasts an energy bolt into his bed. On the ground, Merlin lifts up the loose floorboard and grabs the Sidhe staff, running for the door and falling backwards down the steps as the Sidhe hovers over him. He dodges another bolt of energy and Gaius wakes up, just in time to see Merlin shoot back at the Sidhe. The cupboard falls over, and Merlin's eyes glow as he slows down the Sidhe just long enough to shoot it in the chest. That was relatively easy, but unfortunately, their only bottle of potion has been smashed.
The following day, a miserable-looking Elena reclines in bed as Grunhilda bustles about the room, excited about the fact that it's her wedding day. On the other hand, Elena has realized that she doesn't love Arthur, and that he neither loves nor understands her either. Grunhilda tries to reassure her, but Elena still seems uncertain.
Downstairs, Merlin and Gaius have managed to salvage some of the potion, and now need to find a way to get Elena to drink it without Grunhilde realizing. Merlin comes up with an idea...
Gaius knocks at Elena's door, and invites Grunhilda to join him down in the vaults. It doesn't take much convincing, and Grunhilde agrees to meet with him as Elena stumbles around in the background, trying to get the hang of her new shoes.
Down in the vaults, Gaius is extracting Merlin's word: that he'll come to his rescue if it appears that Grunhilde is overpowering him. Merlin ducks to hide as Grunhilda rushes in, and sneaks behind her as she tries to exchange some tender words with Gaius. She puckers up for a kiss, and Gaius makes a run for it, back out of the vault where Merlin slams the door shut and magically locks it behind them. Grunhilde's long tongue licks Gaius's face and she declares that he'll never know what he's missed out on. Merlin and Gaius make a run for it, and Grunhilda begins using her own magic to break down the cell door.
In the great hall, Uther begins welcoming the guests as they gather for the wedding. Morgana and Guinevere stand apart in their best gowns, one looking satisfied, the other deeply unhappy.
Grunhilda manages to break the door down and hurries after Gaius and Merlin, catching up with them in the corridor where Merlin blasts her with the Sidhe staff. She goes flying backwards, and Merlin decides to hold her off whilst Gaius administers the potion to Elena.
In her room, Elena is trying to get ready for the wedding when Gaius arrives. As the sounds of Merlin and Grunhilde's battle go on outside, Gaius gives Elena the potion and urges her to drink it in order to calm her nerves. Merlin manages to blast Grunhilde into submission and blow her up into pixie-dust, and immediately bursts into Elena room. Gaius looks on helplessly, but Merlin grabs the potion, holds Elena's nose, tilts her head back and pours the potion down her throat. Elena falls backwards onto the bed, and after a bit of Exorcist-style thrashing, a blue fairy emerges from her mouth and begins to fly around the room. Merlin has his staff at the ready, and shoots a final energy bolt at the Sidhe. Elena stands up, full of life, and asks after Grunhilde.
Outside the great hall, Arthur looks to be on the verge of a meltdown.
- Merlin: I've brought you your ceremonial sword.Arthur: Is that for me to fall on?Merlin: Hopefully not. What's wrong?Arthur: You wouldn't understand, Merlin. You have no idea what it's like to have a destiny...you can't escape.Merlin: Destinies...are troublesome things. You feel trapped, like your whole life has been planned out for you, and you've got no control over anything, and sometimes you don't even know if what destiny has decided is really the best thing at all.Arthur: How come you're so knowledgeable?Merlin: Hmm? Oh, I read a book.Arthur: What would this book tell you? Should I marry her?Merlin: It's not really my place to say.Arthur: I'm asking you. It's your job to answer.Merlin: If you really want to know what I think. I think you're mad, I think you're all mad, people should marry for love, not convenience and if Uther thinks an unhappy king makes for a stronger kingdom, he's wrong, because you may be destined to rule Camelot, but you have a choice...as to how you do it.
Arthur looks struck by these words, but at that moment the doors to the great hall open and the trumpets sound. Arthur makes his way down the aisle to where his father and Geoffrey of Monmouth stand. In her own room, Elena turns around and asks her father what he thinks. She's in her wedding gown with her hair neatly styled. He thinks she looks beautiful and offers her his arm.
Father and daughter head down the aisle to where Arthur waits with Geoffrey, who is prepared to wed the two of them. They awkwardly take each other's hands, and Geoffrey begins the ceremony. Arthur glances over at Guinevere, who drops her eyes and shifts uncomfortably. The vows are exchanged, leading to smiles from Uther and Godwyn, but before Geoffrey can proceed any further, Arthur asks him to wait. Guinevere and Merlin look up in hope.
- Arthur: Something I should have said a long time ago. Something from the heart I dare not speak. Elena, you are a wonderful woman and a beautiful bride, but I cannot deny my feelings.Elena: You do not love me.Arthur: And I think, if you are honest, you do not love me either.Elena: No.Arthur: Then we are both here out of duty. Can you forgive me?Elena: I agree with all you have said. Thank you, Arthur.
Uther looks surly, but for everyone else, it's like a cloud has been lifted. However, this doesn't stop Uther from storming into Arthur room afterwards and demanding to know what he thought he was doing. Uther tells him that he's not ready to be king until he puts his duty before his feelings, but Arthur calmly points out that he'll be a much better king if he has the love and support of a wife that he chooses.
As Godwyn prepares to leave, he wonders where Grundhilde's got to, and advises Uther not to punish Arthur - he did the right thing by not marrying someone he didn't love, and that he has the makings of a great king. Elena elegantly glides down the staircase to her horse, and Arthur kisses her hand in farewell. She tells him that one day they will hopefully find the love that they deserve, but until then, she's available should be ever want to be beaten in a horse-race. Uther looks thoughtful as Godwyn and Elena leave, perhaps wondering if his son did act properly after all.
Arthur and Merlin enter the castle, and spot Guinevere coming down the staircase. He bounds up to her, reminding her that he's still a single man. After a bout of teasing, they part ways, and Arthur practically skips up the stairs as Guinevere descends out of sight.
- Abhorrent Admirer: Grunhilda, to Gaius.
- Adorkable: Elena. Elena. A hundred times, Elena!
- Anachronism Stew: As always, but special mention for Elena's high-heeled shoes.
- Arranged Marriage: Arthur and Elena, as arranged by their respective fathers.
- Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: Grunhilda feeds Elena a live frog. It's never explained, it's utterly pointless, and it's never mentioned again.
- Bit Character: Oh hai, Geoffrey.
- Bonding Over Missing Parents: Merlin suggests that Arthur tries this with Elena.
- Changeling Tale: Averted completely, despite the title of the episode, considering that changelings in the Merlin universe have no similarities whatsoever to the traditional definition of the term.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: The Sidhe staff.
- Continuity Snarl: Last time we saw the Sidhe, they were prepared to sacrifice Arthur in order to allow two exiled Sidhe back into Avalon. Here we learn that the whole time they had plans to marry a changeling to Arthur.
- Costume Porn: Morgana, Guinevere and Elena at the wedding.
- Curse Cut Short: Arthur's reaction to Uther's news of his impending marriage to Elena is to mouth: "What the f...?"
- Cute Clumsy Girl: Elena is a quintessential example.
- Dirty Old Woman: Not a human woman, sure, but Grunhilde certainly qualifies.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Merlin demonstrates how long Grunhilde's tongue was.
- Ensemble Dark Horse: Elena, on account of her general cuteness, being a rare non-evil female character, and a temporary love interest who posed no permanent real threat to any Fan-Preferred Couple. Ironically, actress Georgia King endured some Real Life Die for Our Ship when it became apparent that she was dating Bradley James.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Elena has the title of princess even though her father is just a lord.
- The Fair Folk: The Sidhe
- Funny Background Event: Watch the grooms in the background when Arthur and Elena return to Camelot from their horse ride. The groom on the left decides to give his horse a kiss.
- Also Morgana's face at the dinner table when Elena plucks out and eats a morsel of food that fell down the front of her dress.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Grunhilde's pelvic thrust when she talks about Arthur's "brawn."
- I Kiss Your Hand: Arthur to Elena as they farewell each other.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Gaius to Merlin after he's tried to seduce Grunhilda.
- Man Hug: Uther and Godwyn.
- Marry for Love: Arthur
- Meaningful Name: Averted. At the time, many fans thought that the name "Elena" bore enough of a resemblance to "Elaine" that it foreshadowed an eventual relationship with Lancelot. Jossed as of the end of series four.
- Overly Long Tongue: Grunhilde
- Princess Tropes: Princess Elena manages to be a deconstruction of both Rebellious Princess and Tomboy Princess. Despite her clumsy, awkward demeanour and love of freedom and horse-riding, she's an obedient daughter who is willing to go through with an Arranged Marriage for her father's sake, and most of her tomboyish qualities are erased once the changeling is exorcised from her body, leaving her a much more elegant, groomed, stately princess.
- Romantic Comedy
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Elena, for her wedding.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Used In-Universe when Godwyn comments on Grunhilda's disappearance. Since Merlin blew her up, neither he nor Elena will ever see her again, and they'll never know why.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Merlin kills Grunhilde, even though she wasn't actually doing anything particularly threatening, nor even trying to actively kill anyone at any point during the story.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Morgana goads Guinevere about Arthur's inability to wrangle himself out of an Arranged Marriage.