It’s been a while since I’ve talked about this fandom. I have to admit that sometimes I don’t think BBC One’s Merlin is very good, but it was certainly captivating, and I couldn’t stop watching it. Unfortunately, the show decided to engage in queerbaiting, which did nothing to lessen all the other issues I had with it—and there were many issues. Even without the baiting, I knew there would be slash fanfiction everywhere, but I had already been turned off to the Arthur/Merlin pairing by that point. I don’t find anything wrong with the pairing, and I would have loved to see something like that in the show, but the baiting is what did this couple in for me. Of course, being a glutton for punishment, I waded through dozens of fics to not only find one without slash, but one that was very well-written and true to the characters. Major fic spoilers after the jump.
Like many fics in this fandom, Iron Grip ultimately culminates in Arthur learning that Merlin can do magic, eventually accepting this about his friend, and reexamining his stance on magic all together. However, though Arthur features in the fic, the main characters this time around are Merlin and Gwaine.
Gwaine may be known for his tavern brawls and his willingness to prank his fellow knights, but he is nothing if not loyal. So when Merlin begins acting strangely, Gwaine goes to great lengths to figure out what’s wrong, unaware of just what he will uncover in the process: blackmail, plots, danger, and a dark secret hanging over the head of his best friend like an axe.
A Lord Nigel is coming to Camelot for the next few weeks, and he knows Merlin’s secret. Nigel plans on blackmailing Merlin into stealing something called the Amulet of Arolygaeth from the Vaults of Camelot. The amulet would give its wearer the power to control other people. It also turns out that Nigel is not the person behind this plan; rather Nigel’s servant, Daneir, who is also a warlock, is the mastermind. Daneir wants to take control of Merlin, because Merlin is the most powerful warlock there is.
Interestingly enough, Daneir is not just a clichéd villain out for power. Yes, he does want power, but Sydelle Rein did a good job in, well… not justifying his reasons, but making them understandable, while also showing how unhinged he really is. Daneir is someone who’s been victimized before, by magic, and as such, he doesn’t like other sorcerers. However, he realizes that there’s no possible way to destroy magic, so instead he seeks to control it. If he is in control of it, no one will ever have any power over him again.
Obviously, Merlin doesn’t want to help Daneir obtain the needed amulet, so he enlists Gwaine’s help. Eventually, Merlin has to tell Gwaine his secret, and the two work together to thwart Daneir’s and Nigel’s attempts. They don’t succeed, and Daneir eventually gains control of the amulet. From there, everything goes downhill.
As it stands, I’ve given a lot of the plot away already, and I don’t want to give away too much more of it, but I totally recommend checking this story out. Though the fic is dominated by male characters—I think Guinevere is the only non-male character, and she doesn’t have a large role—this is still a really good story, and the characters who do feature are really well-written. Check it out here.