Merlin, a young country boy, arrives at the great bustling colourful city of Camelot. He rushes to join a lively crowd that has gathered in the main square, but his excitement quickly fades as he takes in the spectacle he is watching. A young man is led to the gallows, found guilty of practicing magic and sentenced to death. The axe falls, but the roar of approval is interrupted by an old crone, who warns Uther that he has taken her son, and in revenge she will take his. She incants a spell and disappears in a spiral of dust upwards and away from Camelot.
A little shaken, Merlin makes his way to find Gaius, the Court Physician. He peers into the physician's chambers and finds Gaius standing on the top of a ladder. The old man spins round in fright, topples and plummets towards the flagstones below. Merlin reacts instinctively - his hands reach out and, by magic, a pallet bed flies across the floor to break the old physician's fall. Gaius stares at him in astonishment. But instead of thanking him for saving his life, Gaius rounds on Merlin and warns him that it is the kind of action that could get him killed.
It is the start of Merlin and Gaius's warm, but sometimes awkward, father-and-son relationship. In Gaius, we can see many of the wise attributes that Merlin will inherit over time, but Merlin is still young and keen to enjoy life. And so Merlin, eager to discover his new surroundings, meets a fiery young man practicing his combat skills. Merlin watches on with some amusement as the young man makes fun of his manservant, but when the joke goes too far, Merlin steps in. The young bully sets about humiliating Merlin and challenges him to a duel. Unable to use magic, Merlin is made to look a fool. Upset by his impotence, he takes a swipe at his aggressor. The atmosphere suddenly changes. The young man tells him that he is going to have him thrown in jail. Merlin reacts "Oh, yeah? Who are you, the king?" The young man smiles "No, I'm his son, Arthur."
Merlin is thrown in the stocks, where he meets a young maid, Gwen. She has witnessed Merlin's heroics and is clearly smitten. When he's finally released, Merlin faces Gaius's ire. He warns that magic must be studied, mastered, and used for good, not for idiotic pranks. Above all, it must be kept secret. Merlin is upset. What's the point of magic you have to keep a secret? Gaius looks at him, all too aware what a burden Merlin's 'gift' may prove to be.
It is only when Merlin discovers the existence of the Great Dragon held prisoner by Uther in the caves beneath Camelot that Merlin learns his destiny: The reason for his special skills is to protect Arthur, the future King of Albion. Merlin balks and refuses to accept this, but when the old crone suddenly returns to Camelot to take vengeance on Uther's son, Merlin instinctively acts to save the prince with his hidden magic. Unaware of the use of enchantment, a delighted Uther reacts - "As your reward, you will be allowed to serve Arthur as his servant!" Only Arthur's former manservant looks at this news. But Gaius reassures Merlin this is just destiny's way of knocking at his door.