Disclaimer: Alas, I do not own BBC Merlin. I own my OCs though
Warnings: Even though it's the last chapter, I'll be consistent: Just T-rated violence and some adult themes. Nothing graphic though! Just suggestive as per the rating guidelines. If enough people think I should move it to M, I will, but I don't think it'll be a problem.
Thank you to Kitty O, DragonflyonBreak, sarajm, yearofthedays, where the wind blows, ForIHaveOvercomeTheWorld, Oya.22, TeganL74, MamzelleHermy, Laughy-Taffy the Grape, godsdaughter77, Hiding in the Shadow for reviewing!
Also, sorry in advance for the romance. Now enjoy :D
Two days later, the familiar spires of Camelot came into view from between the warm foliage. Arthur called a halt to their slow pace and shook Merlin gently awake from his dozing. His blue eyes opened to the rooftop of the forest. The leaves were almost offensively painted in bright reds and oranges, and his eyes were drawn to a stubborn maple that was still green but had some single red leaves which made Merlin think of an apple tree. The warlock yawned and sat up, rubbing his tired eyes.
"We're almost home Merlin," the prince stated and stood back to let Merlin struggle out of the cart. Arthur reached a steadying arm out even before Merlin ungracefully tripped. The warlock grinned at him before scanning their group.
"Oh," Merlin said upon realizing this was goodbye. For now anyway.
The knights and druids were saying their farewells. Jaril did not even look like he was sucking on a lemon, and Merlin thought that it made him look a bit less like a crotchety old man. He was shaking hands with Pellias beside Kiara who was tearfully embracing a shocked Leon. It seemed that the woman was not one for goodbyes. Merlin watched as the old woman flitted from knight to knight distributing crushing hugs. Kiara had recaptured her calm exterior for a few moments before getting to Merlin. A sad smile crossed her lips as she took his hands in his. "It has been an honour, Merlin," she said earnestly and gave him a gentle hug.
Arthur smirked at him as a flustered expression blundered onto his face. "No, it's been mine. Truly," Merlin affirmed sincerely. Gwaine then walked from behind him to steal the blue cloaked druid away. Arthur and Merlin simultaneously checked the knight's gait to check that he really was fine. Yesterday evening he had got up out of his cart and cautiously walked around. He soon laughed and graduated himself to running, opting to jog circles around their troop. It seemed to have cheered Ragnell somewhat who now had time to digest Firran's death. The druid had been mostly quiet when not keeping Gwaine, Merlin and Arthur in line.
Pleased with what he saw, Merlin smiled and bid his goodbyes to the druids individually. Ragnell, Nevin and Malachi went after Kiara, followed by the rest of them. In the midst of their final words, Gwaine had stole Ragnell away into the trees away from the others.
They walked wordlessly through the trees until the chatter from the others became almost silent. A sigh escaped Gwaine's lips and he took away his hand from her back to observe the changing leaves.
"You haven't brought me here to sigh at me have you?" Ragnell smirked lightly.
A smile formed on Gwaine's lips and he turned to look into her deep eyes. The words he was going to say left his lips in a soft breath as he stared into them. He had never been so preoccupied with a woman's eyes before.
"Gwaine?" She asked curiously.
He shook his head wildly, causing his hair to whip about. "Heh, sorry," he grinned.
"I suppose you are not too good at goodbyes either," Ragnell guessed softly.
He shrugged. "Better than you'd think."
A flash of hurt flickered in her eyes and Gwaine nearly panicked. "No, no! I mean, I'm used to them. You sort of get the hang of it after so many you see. But with some people it's harder." He glanced up at her only to look at the forest floor again. The pine needles and leaves proved to be a lot less interesting but they made him feel significantly less vulnerable. His hand seemingly moved on its own accord and took Ragnell's, interlinking their fingers softly. Gwaine started to talk before he looked at her again. "It doesn't have to be a long goodbye. I can visit your clan. And you can come to Camelot, and I'll show you around." Gwaine didn't think he had wanted anything more than he wanted this.
"That is quite a risk," she noted quietly.
His voice was hushed as he rushed out his question. "Will you take it for me?"
When she did not answer right away he gave a fake grin that did not hide the hurt in his eyes, not from her. "Never mi-"
Ragnell tightened their fingers, halting Gwaine from retreating. Next thing Gwaine knew, he was being thoroughly kissed. She had stood up on her toes and pulled he collar of his cloak down. The knight stood there stunned before his hand flew to hold the back of her head gently and he returned her chaste kiss.
Ragnell drew back with a dazzling blush blooming across her face and spreading down her neck. The only thing that stopped Gwaine from following it was his favourite pair of eyes. "Does that answer your question?" She asked around an embarrassed grin.
Gwaine blinked and smiled wolfishly. "I think I need another hint," he hinted.
Ragnell ducked her head to laugh. The next second, a high pitched sneeze racked her frame. Her face was now a vivid shade of red to match Merlin's neckerchief. And he laughed.
Ragnell huffed and crossed her arms. She was angry now. But Gwaine swooped down to place a kiss on her forehead.
"You are not like most druids." He was going to say 'women' but smoothly thought better of it.
"Nor you a knight," she said. A smile wriggled through her anger which left as quickly as it came. Her hands went to her braid and untied the yellow ribbon holding it. She glanced at Gwaine and silently tied it around the hilt of his sword. "So you can think of me," Ragnell said shyly and ran her hands through her hair to unloose it. It cascaded past her waist and Gwaine was sorely tempted to see if it felt as soft as it looked.
Ragnell turned her head towards where the others were no doubt waiting. "I should go," she sighed.
Gwaine didn't want her to. But she had her duties as did he. "Well, we'll see each other soon anyway. How does tomorrow sound?" Gwaine took her hand and began to walk with her back to the others. It was strange, he thought, holding hands. But it was undeniably nice.
"I suppose it will have to do," Ragnell teased. Neither let go when they walked through the trees and Gwaine's immediate glare to Gerrick stopped his wolf whistle. Not Merlin's though.
"And now we must part ways," Malachi said over the chuckles of some of the more immature knights, to Arthur who was still eyeing Gwaine and Ragnell.
The prince nodded and addressed the druids to give his final farewell. "I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your help. You will not go unrewarded. If there is anything you should need, from aid to provisions, you will find it in Camelot. When we started on this quest, I do not deny that I was wary of you all. But I can now say that I count you among my closest allies. I see now that it is power, and not magic that corrupts." He paused to gather his thoughts, and for effect Merlin would say. Prince Arthur then turned his gaze toward the warlock. "I promise you, all of you, that one day you will be free to use your gifts. That all magic users will be able to call Camelot home if they wish it. I do not imagine it will be a fast or easy process, but when I am king, things will change. I will lift the ban on magic. I only hope I have allies at my side to help me."
Tears were parading freely down Merlin's cheeks, making his eyes shine a piercing silver in the bright afternoon light. He simply nodded since he could get no words to make it past his tears. The druids were having similar reactions and more than a few surrounded Arthur and reached to shake his hand or even just touch his shoulder.
Ragnell's eyes were bright and she took in a shuddering breath. "Thank you, Prince Arthur. Words cannot express my gratitude. And if you ever need anything, just travel to the Darkling Woods and we will find you."
The druids retreated from the prince and then as one, turned their backs after voicing their thanks to both Emrys and the Once and Future King. Ragnell gave a last smile to Gwaine before extracting her hand and following her clan. But in reflex, Gwaine grabbed her wrist urgently. The knights exchanged amused glances with each other and the other druids. Nevin and Gerrick were each trying to outdo the other in pretending to be disgusted. Neither Gwaine nor Ragnell took any heed of them though.
"Here," he said, and freed his favourite dagger and scabbard from his belt. Gwaine handed it to Ragnell who took it mechanically. She stared at it as he explained. "Daggers are useful. Not just for hurting people you know."
Ragnell laughed and tied it around the waist of her cloak. "Druids are not brainless you know... Thank you Gwaine." She squeezed his hand in gratitude.
The knight kissed her fingers and let go. "Until next time, my lady."
Ragnell smiled and gave him a swift kiss before hesitatingly turning away. They all watched as the druids disappeared into the trees, lingering before they set off once again. "Well best be off then," Gwaine sighed.
"I can't wait to get back," Merlin admitted as he sat back in his cart. His sentiments were mimicked by the knights and they all hopped up on their horses. Arthur looked like he was glad to be in the saddle again, and Merlin glanced to Tilly who was tied to Aldeib's saddle. Arthur led the group and they formed a ring around Merlin who occupied himself with nattering on about nothing in particular to Gerrick who was walking beside him.
The knights remained wary for any threat, but the only thing that attacked them on their way back to Camelot was Gwaine's lovesick sighs.
Their arrival in Camelot was heralded by thunderous cheers spreading through the city. Peasants and nobles alike flooded out to the streets as soon as word reached them of the prince's return. Arthur straightened his back and nodded to the citizens lining the streets. He flicked his gaze to the side and surveyed Merlin who had insisted on walking into the city. His horse, bless her, was patiently walking straight despite Merlin's weight pulling her to the side. Behind the warlock, the knights were keeping a keen watch on him as well. Pellias had even sidled forward to walk beside him in case he were to fall and Lancelot took place on the other side. Merlin's reaction was to give them both petulant frowns. Gwaine followed behind them, in front of Aldwin, Gerrick, and Eadric with Leon and Elyan bringing up the rear.
As they walked into the courtyard, Arthur smiled at the familiar faces waiting for them. "Sire!" Cadmon called over the cheering crowd. He, Gaius, Gwen, and the knights' families waited eagerly for them to dismount. Sir Raonull was waiting beside the grey haired knight, having sent to report to Cadmon by Arthur. When they were close enough, two children broke free of their mother and ran toward the group. Aldwin laughed and tossed his reigns to Gerrick before rushing forward. He knelt down just in time for his youngest brothers, Ashwin and Cenwyn to crush him with hugs. From above their heads, Aldwin grinned at his approving mother and Hadwyn standing beside his other brothers Edwin and Godwin.
Arthur turned away from them because the rushing of fabric alerted him to Gwen running towards him. The prince caught his love and planted a kiss on her lips. Merlin would have smiled at him if Gaius was not fussing over him. "I fine Gaius, really," Merlin repeated. The physician it seemed did not take his word for it but pulled his ward in for a relieved hug.
"It's good to see you, my boy," Gaius said, "I want all the details as soon as we are alone."
"How about after I sleep? Arthur can tell you everything while you're tending to him," Merlin smiled. Let it never be said that Merlin was not masterful at avoiding conversations.
Gaius drew back and surveyed Arthur who was now talking to Cadmon with Leon. Beside them Gwen had Elyan in a crushing hug. "Was he hurt?"
Merlin nodded. "He was. We all were. But we had a lot of help." A yawn burst from his lips, causing his eyes to water and his body to tire. Luckily Gwaine steadied him before he could sway too far.
"I told you that you shouldn't have walked," the knight chided.
"Yes, twenty times now," Merlin laughed and valiantly stopped using Gwaine as a support.
"Twenty two," Gwaine corrected with a crooked grin.
Merlin looked at the knights and Arthur again, hoping that they could get away from the crowds already. The courtyard was packed with people, only held at bay by the line of knights blocking them from coming closer. Merlin could see into the corridor that lead to the physician's chambers and sighed tiredly. He heard his name mentioned and looked to see Hadwyn bringing Cenwyn and Ashwin over. He was carrying the giggling six and four year olds upside down.
"You look like death warmed over Merlin," he greeted and set his brothers down.
"Thanks," Merlin smiled and gripped Hadwyn's forearm. It was the only thing that kept him upright when Ashwin crashed into his legs. Merlin laughed and ruffled the child's chestnut hair. "Hey there Ashwin."
"Don't do that Ash!" Cenwyn scolded, "he's not feeling well!" The six year old was rocking on his feet with indecision until Merlin opened his arm. Cenwyn needed no further incentive and hugged Merlin around the middle. "Hullo Merlin!"
"Hello Cenwyn. Have you been running the place well?" Merlin grinned.
Cenwyn nodded gravely and glared at Ashwin who loudly captured Merlin's attention. "He and Godwin have been so boring Merlin!"
"We have not!" Cenwyn huffed.
"Okay!" Hadwyn seized his brothers and saved Merlin from being destroyed in an argument. "Let's go save Lady Aelith from Gerrick again." Hadwyn nodded at Merlin and then gave Gaius a significant look.
Merlin laughed as the two boys waved goodbye. He glanced at Gerrick who was embracing his fiancé and didn't look like they would be separating any time soon. Hadwyn smoothly altered his course to Aldwin who had one arm around Godwin's and Edwin's shoulders and the other around his mother's. Merlin could not help but chuckle at the sobbing noblewoman who was clearly not listening to her son's increasingly impatient assurances.
"This is quite the welcome," Percival's voice remarked. Merlin and Gwaine turned to the tall knight who was walking up to them with Lancelot and Pellias. Elyan noticed that the knights were gathering without him and he ducked away from Gwen to join them. "The council isn't even snubbing us." They all looked at the front of the crowd for the council members who indeed, were even smiling at them.
"Oh it probably won't last," Lancelot grinned. The knights laughed their agreement and looked at Merlin because of his lack of reaction.
The warlock merely smiled tiredly. "For Sir Pellias it will."
"You just had to point that out, didn't you?" Pellias mock grumbled. "You know, you should probably get some rest Merlin."
The warlock motioned to Arthur who was still allowing the people to show their gratitude with cheering. Since the prince had not made a move to leave, Merlin certainly could not. Arthur must have felt Merlin's eyes upon him for he looked to meet the warlock's gaze. The next moment Arthur held his arm out to the people for silence. He uttered no words but his next actions spoke volumes. The prince strode to Merlin who was eyeing him warily. With a sweep of his cloak, Arthur knelt down and bowed to Merlin.
The warlock felt like he was punched in the gut and would have fled had his legs allowed him. From the corner of his eye Merlin noticed that the Knights of the Round Table were on one knee as well. A stir was passed through the crowd but within seconds, everyone had mimicked their prince who was king in all but name. Merlin's throat went dry as he realized that he was the only one standing in the packed courtyard, and they were all bowing to him.
It was too much. Merlin was saved from his frozen state by Arthur who rose and steadied him with an arm across the shoulders. "Arthur, what are you-" Merlin began faintly but was silenced by the prince.
"You have your saviour, Camelot!" He yelled to the now standing people. Arthur's voice rose to be heard over the surprised mutterings of the crowd. "It is not I you owe your lives to, but this man here. My servant, Merlin has shown bravery and strength to surpass my own. It is through his actions that Camelot was saved and will remain standing. I hereby declare Merlin a freeman of Camelot. Let it be known that I am honoured to count him as my closest friend." Arthur bloody Pendragon grinned brightly at Merlin and then spoke so only he could hear. "You will get the credit you deserve. For your deeds and your rightful station. Thank you, Prince Merlin."
Merlin gaped at his friend. "I hate you. I really do. And never call me that again."
The prince laughed. "No problem there. Idiot sounds so much better."
"Says the cabbage head." Merlin smirked. He then stepped back from Arthur and schooled his expression. The warlock then knelt to the prince, falling a little too fast because of his lacking strength. The crowd followed him and also bowed, erupting in cheers once more.
Merlin didn't have long to stare at the ground before Arthur offered his hand. The warlock gratefully took it and was hauled up. "I've had quite enough of the pleasantries now," he informed the prince quietly.
"As have I." Arthur held his arm out to the people in parting and led Merlin towards the castle. The warlock could not help but smile despite his mortification at Cadmon who was waiting for them. He stepped away from the other knights and greeted Merlin.
"Merlin," Cadmon smiled and was brazen enough give him a one armed hug. "Arthur says you single handedly defeated the curse."
"He's lying. I couldn't have done it alone," Merlin replied modestly, "it's good to see you." He blinked heavily which spurred the prince into gesturing them along. Gaius bustled along beside Merlin and Gwen came up to loop her arm around one of Merlin's. "Oh hi, Gwen."
"I'm so glad you're back, Merlin," Gwen smiled. Both she and Arthur ignored the knights' joking warnings to the prince. The warlock grinned vaguely at Gwen before falling asleep mid-step and both Gwaine and Pellias lunged to keep him upright. "What's wrong with him?" Gwen demanded worriedly.
Gwaine and Pellias exchanged glances before the roguish knight helped Merlin onto Pellias' shoulders. "Just...tired," Gwaine answered and glanced to the very unhappy and worried physician. "We'll give you the full story when we're in your quarters. Right Lancelot?"
Lancelot cleared his throat and smiled at Gaius. "That is correct." He gave a significant look to the old man. Gaius' legs forgot to work momentarily but luckily Arthur was there to steady him.
The prince nodded to Gaius and patted his shoulder. "Everything is alright Gaius."
And it was.
Gaius would never admit that Merlin's snoring was one of the most comforting sounds in the world. For one, it meant that the warlock was asleep and not causing mischief, and for the other it meant that the warlock was asleep and that he was safe. A smile formed on the physician's lips and his hand squeezed Merlin's for the countless time. The warlock was sleeping soundly in his bed, covers draped securely over him.
"I'm not dying you know, Gaius," Merlin mumbled. The old man jumped in surprise and nearly cursed. Looked like the warlock was not sleeping so soundly after all.
"But you were," Gaius pointed out concernedly. It had taken hours for the knights and Arthur to explain what had happened, and even longer for the physician to grill Arthur about Merlin's revealed secrets. The only thing they hadn't talked about was Merlin finding out that he was a prince, which was a fact still only known to five people in Camelot.
"Not anymore," Merlin said obstinately.
Gaius merely handed Merlin a disapproving frown which eventually melted into a worried smile. "I'm just glad you are safe Merlin."
"So you've said," Merlin grinned. "Hey, where's Gwaine?" The warlock turned his head on the pillow to look past Gaius. His brow furrowed when he saw that Gwaine was still sleeping, but quietly.
Gaius snorted in response to Merlin's concern. Gwaine's snoring wasn't quite so comforting as Merlin's. More like grating. The man had stubbornly stayed after Gaius had made sure the knights and Arthur were alright- curling up in a makeshift cot on the other side of Merlin's room. Gaius had grudgingly admitted that Ragnell had done a good job with healing them.
Merlin smiled gratefully at Gwaine before looking at the flickering flames of the candles on his rickety wardrobe. "What time is it Gaius?"
"Dinner time," Gaius answered briskly, rising up and bustling out of the room. Merlin's stomach grumbled at the mention of food and he hopefully waited for the physician's return. A bare minute later, after Merlin had pushed himself up so he could sit, Gaius came climbing back up the stairs carrying a bowl of ham stew. The smell reached Merlin's flaring nostrils and caused his stomach to gurgle hungrily.
"Here," Gaius offered and handed the warm bowl to the warlock. "It is actually a few hours past midnight, but you need some food." The physician reclaimed his seat and settled to watch his ward like a mother hen with the eyes of a hawk.
Merlin grinned at the stew and immediately shovelled a spoonful in his mouth. He knew two things at once- one was that he had never tasted stew so delicious and the other was that Gaius had not made it. "This is amazing!" Merlin closed his eyes in pleasure. "Thanks Gaius!"
The old man smirked at Merlin's enthusiasm. "Compliments of Giselle. She wanted to prepare you a feast but you will not be fit to attend any time soon."
Merlin made a noise of dissatisfaction. He had absolutely no problems with eating a feast, but could not argue that he would not fall asleep on his plate. Indeed, Merlin had to force himself to eat three more mouthfuls before he handed it back to Gaius. The physician did not have to ask what was the matter because Merlin's eyes shut in a prolonged blink.
Gaius smiled at the exhausted warlock before coaxing him back down on the bed. "Maybe Arthur will have a feast in my honour," Merlin murmured sleepily and laughed.
Gaius didn't tell him that Arthur was already planning the details. No, he would let Merlin sleep.
A long week passed largely by sleeping, saw Merlin once again still in bed. A long and dramatic sigh fluttered from his bedroom past the closed door and to the main chambers outside. He was bored. Gwaine was off once again to the Darkling Woods and Merlin would have even volunteered for the chance to hear the knight talk incessantly about Ragnell, as Gwaine was wont to do if given the chance. Gaius was just outside but acting as a prison guard so Merlin could get yet more rest. Admittedly, he was still tired- if only just a fraction less than a week ago. So the knights were not allowed entry to Merlin's utter frustration. But then he couldn't blame Gaius all that much since two days ago, when all of the men and Arthur packed themselves into Merlin's room with what looked like year's supply of ale. Merlin smiled just thinking of it. Gerrick had said that if they couldn't take Merlin to a tavern, they would just bring the tavern to Merlin.
Gaius had returned early from a clever ploy orchestrated by Percival and Eadric to keep him away for a while, and had burst through Merlin's door like livid whirlwind right in the middle of Pellias' epic tale of a spurned tavern maid's quest to win Gwaine's attentions. It had caused Merlin's ribs to hurt from laughing so much. But Gaius had not appreciated it (Gwaine was not sober enough to agree), and had kicked the knights and prince out with little more than a highly raised eyebrow.
So now, he had no news of the outside world since Gerrick had somehow snuck past Gaius to tell Merlin that Aldwin had bought him a horse. Merlin smiled at the memory- Gerrick had told him he might have to marry Aldwin instead of Aelith. The new horse was actually related to Sunny which was the reason Aldwin had picked it. Merlin could visualize it just from Gerrick's description, it was a flaxen horse, which was rare in Camelot and had white mane and smooth sorrel coat. The blonde knight had named it Winny. Oh he would have loved to see Aldwin's face when that decision was made.
Merlin was startled out of his amused thoughts when someone rapped on the door. It squeaked open and Arthur walked inside. "Notice I knocked," he greeted.
The warlock rolled his eyes extravagantly. "Congratulations," Merlin replied dryly.
Arthur closed the door and sauntered inside. "I'm sorry that you are still in bed," Arthur sighed. He took a seat on the wooden chair and leant back, resting his feet on the end of the bed. Merlin eyed him and used magic to make the dirt on Arthur's boots clear away.
"Well I have you to thank that I'm even alive at all," Merlin replied offhandedly.
"And Kilgharrah," Arthur mentioned. Ah so this was what Arthur wanted to talk about.
"And Kilgharrah," Merlin agreed quietly. "I suppose he was quite a shock to you."
Arthur did not find Merlin's statement funny in the least. "You could say that." The prince glanced at Merlin before examining his very clean boots. "He seemed very worried about you. You two are friends then?"
"We have a bond." Merlin shrugged. "We never used to be. It started with him feeding me riddles. Well I told you what happened. When we went to fight him, I didn't kill him. I showed him mercy when he had shown none. We are the last of our kind, and I couldn't-" Merlin sighed. "I got stung by a serket ," he stated to Arthur's complete surprise.
"What?" The prince breathed, "When? Wh-"
Merlin smoothly interrupted him, "When the un dead army attacked. I told you that Morgause trapped me in chains for the night. But I didn't tell you that she set a nest of serkets on me. I called Kilgharrah after one stung me, and well," Merlin gave a small laugh, "he's made a habit of saving me I suppose. If I didn't spare him that night, I wouldn't be here right now. And I would have lost one of the greatest friends I have."
The warlock fell silent, marking the dark cast of Arthur's face. "That scar on your back. It's from the serket."
Arthur nodded and rubbed his jaw. He looked up and stared at the dried herbs hanging from the ceiling and spoke to them. "He killed my people. He tried to destroy Camelot."
"You aren't going to defend him?" Arthur asked sharply.
The warlock responded honestly. "I could say that your father killed every last one of his kind. I could say that he was imprisoned for more than twenty years and made to grieve alone. I could say that your father's betrayal of mine only made him angrier. And I could say that anyone would have reacted like he did if they had a chance." Merlin's tone was hard and effectively grounding. "But the fact remains that he was wrong. Kilgharrah let revenge rule his heart, something he more than anyone should know the follies of. Those innocent people didn't deserve to die and I think about them every day. It was my fault more than his. I knew what was going to happen."
"I know why you released him Merlin. You didn't have a choice," Arthur stated somewhat automatically but firmly.
Merlin just shrugged and stared at his clasped hands. "It is all in the past now anyway."
The prince nodded. "You're right. If you trust him now that will have to be good enough for me. And he is redeeming himself." Arthur unconsciously gripped his shoulder.
"Really?" A tentative smile budded on Merlin's lips.
"Of course," Arthur said, and then hesitated when he went to say something more. He swallowed and carried on after Merlin gave him a curious look. "...There was one thing I wanted to... no, no it's too soon, never mind."
"Arthur," Merlin insisted.
"You don't have to answer, but," the prince started carefully, "there is one thing I've been wondering about for a while now." Merlin just nodded and waited for Arthur to continue. "Cenred...did he know that Kilgharrah was alive?"
The warlock's eyes immediately became guarded at his uncle's name and he avoided looking at Arthur for the remainder of the topic. "Yeah he did."
Arthur understood and accepted that Merlin would not be helping the conversation along. "He wanted something from you," Arthur pressed on gingerly, "it wasn't just information on Camelot was it?"
Merlin sighed and finally said the words he had been keeping from his friends. "He never asked me about Camelot. He wanted- he wanted to use Kilgharrah as a weapon. Probably against the whole of Albion after Camelot. I never would have let it happen."Arthur's eyes closed at the information. "And don't say thank you."
"Thank you for telling me. Merlin, you're a true friend." Arthur smirked despite a fresh wave of guilt rising up. "Perhaps you should be prince of Camelot. You'd do a fine job and then Guinevere and I can live in the country."
Merlin's smile faded from his face and he sighed. "Hmm, a prince. You should have said so sooner." Arthur stiffened and took his feet off the bed, choosing to rest his elbows on his knees. "I almost wish you never told me. What should I do Arthur?"
The warlock's blue eyes gazed desperately at Arthur who gave a humourless smile. "It is you who is usually counselling me," he pointed out. "But I'll tell you what you are going to do. You are going to do nothing. You are going to stay here in Camelot and do as you have always done."
"But am I not abandoning the people of Escetia?" Merlin frowned. "They are still in upheaval. I could put an end to it."
"You don't really believe that." Arthur noted that Merlin knew exactly the consequences of any potential action- having had days to think about it- but needed to hear it aloud. "You grew up a peasant, no matter who your father was. If you claimed the throne it would spark a war. With other kingdoms and possibly even within Escetia. What you will need is power and stability, you will need Camelot for it to happen."
Merlin locked gazes with Arthur. Suddenly they were more than just two friends, but two allies. "Thank you."
Arthur tilted his head slightly. "When the time comes, will you take the throne?"
Merlin let Arthur stew a bit before deciding to answer. "...Nah." He crossed his arms behind his head. "I'll let you do all the hard work."
"You realize what you are saying?" Arthur asked incredulously. "What we as two princes are talking about?"
"Of course I do, I'm not an idiot you know," Merlin answered.
Arthur shook his head. "You know, I don't think you are in your right mind. We will talk about this when you are fully healed and not a moment-"
"I'm not cut out to be king, Arthur. I think you know that. That's your area of expertise. Besides when you take the throne it will be the best thing for them. Well, that's not for a while yet I suppose."
Arthur just shook his head at Merlin. "Shame... you'd be a good king"
Merlin immediately gasped theatrically. "That- that was a compliment!"He then started shouting at the door. "Gaius! Gaius! Arthur complimented me! Come quick, I think he's dying!" Merlin started to laugh and grinned at Arthur when the physician did not appear. "I don't think he cares."
"Hmm, well I think my bout with dying has worn off," Arthur commented, "you are the biggest idiot to ever grace this castle."
"But I thought that was you," Merlin said with a mock innocence.
The gleam that entered Arthur's eye marked the start of a legendary battle of wits that would be remembered for years to come.
Flames danced contentedly in every bracket lining the castle of Camelot. Winter was almost upon them- leaves had abandoned the trees and the days were becoming greyer with the promise of rain. A chilly stare certainly rested on one's warlock's face. Merlin stood in Arthur's chambers glaring at the prince. For Arthur's part, he had a smile pulling on his lips. "A feast?" Merlin repeated. "Tonight?"
Arthur nodded cheerily and rocked on his heels, enjoying Merlin's surprise. "But Gaius needed me for his rounds tonight, I told you last week!"
At the door, Gwaine and Cadmon exchanged grins. They were dressed in expensive silks and had their swords buckled to their belts. In short, they were fit for a feast to receive a king. Arthur gave Merlin a pitying smile. "Well we had to keep you here somehow."
Merlin's frown became wary instead of indignant. "What do you mean?" The warlock looked at Gwaine confused when the knight sniggered. Cadmon too had a large grin on his face, and Merlin realized he was out of the loop. "Why did I not hear of this feast?"
"Because it is in your honour!" Arthur declared smugly. "Everyone within the castle was sworn to the utmost secrecy."
The words hit Merlin soundly, causing him to gape. "Sorry?"
"Feast. Your honour. Tonight." Arthur drawled slowly. "I've prepared you a speech to give to all the nobles."
Merlin swiftly made for the door but was greeted by the smiling knights, whose presence was suddenly explained. "You were planning this!" He accused the prince.
Arthur shared a look with Gwaine and Cadmon before shaking his head at Merlin. "Ever since we got back from Isgard."
"You kept a secret for two months?" Merlin asked Gwaine incredulously.
"Hardest thing I've ever done," the knight bemoaned.
"Is that why you dragged me off to the Darkling Woods? I'm surprised you let him, Arthur," Merlin said with a furrowed brow.
"Yes well, we needed the entertainment to arrive without your notice."
Merlin's eyes brightened a bit at Arthur's statement but he was still put out.
"I thought you wanted to properly attend a feast," Cadmon pointed out.
The warlock rubbed the back of his head, his fingers twining in his hair that was not quite dry from the bath Gaius insisted he take earlier. "Not as the main attraction," he mumbled, "and I certainly don't want to give a speech!"
The prince chuckled. "Ok, I lied. You don't actually have to give a speech."
"Really?" Merlin asked without much hope.
Arthur sighed. "Unfortunately."
A grin fell onto Merlin's lips and he looked at his boots. "Is this a joke?" He asked slowly, his smile slipping away. The warlock's voice was quiet and hiding a vulnerability that Arthur managed to hear.
"No Merlin," Arthur answered. As if on queue, knocking sounded on the door. "Ah! That will be your outfit."
Merlin looked suspiciously as Gwaine opened the door to emit a servant. The boy bowed and greeted everyone and Merlin relaxed upon seeing the folded blue bundle he was carrying. He placed the clothing on the dressing screen as Arthur asked and departed with a flourishing bow. "No hat?" Merlin grinned.
"Not this time," Arthur said and looked genuinely disappointed. "Well go on, I'm not going to dress you."
The secret prince hesitated and needed a push from Gwaine to get going. Merlin ambled behind the dressing screen and took off his jacket. He marvelled at the strangeness of such an experience before pulling off his shirt, taking extra care to not muss his hair. Merlin grabbed the shirt hanging on the dressing screen and shook it out gently.
"I can't wear this!" He gasped, staring at the royal doublet. It was midnight blue silk embroidered with silver thread and had light blue rhinestone and crystal worked into the collar and sleeve cuffs.
"Why? It's fit for a prince!" Gwaine snidely commented. "And it's a gift from me. Alright, and the knights as well."
Merlin stared at it and felt the soft material between his fingers. "But Arthur doesn't even have anything like this," the warlock protested.
"Don't be so sure," Arthur called, "hurry up."
The warlock bit his lip and then gingerly put the doublet on. He stared down at it and pressed his hands down his front, smoothing the material. After Merlin was sure his peasant skin wouldn't set the expensive shirt on fire, he set about putting on the similarly expensive but simple black trousers. Their style was close fitting, making Merlin grateful that the hem of the doublet reached his thighs.
"What about boots?" Merlin wondered.
"They're out here," Cadmon informed him, "we need you to come out after all."
The warlock frowned and looked at his cold feet. He perhaps irrationally didn't want to put on his old socks and mix with the trousers. He inched out from behind the screen slowly, biting the inside of his cheek and coming to a stop. "Well, how ridiculous do I look?"
He glanced up to gauge his friend's reactions. Arthur and Gwaine looked so surprised it was offending while Cadmon had a proud grin on his lips. The oldest knight spoke first. "You look like your father's son," he smiled.
Merlin laughed delightedly and sought out a mirror to examine himself. "Huh," he remarked upon seeing his reflection. He definitely did not look like a peasant anymore. Merlin unconsciously straightened his back, inspecting how the dark blue shirt made his eyes seem brighter, and how the whole fit seemingly added inches to his height.
"You're missing something," Gwaine laughed and strutted over, bringing black boots to the warlock. Merlin watched him in the mirror, and used his hand to block the socks whipping toward the back of his head.
"Thanks," Merlin smirked and used Gwaine as a wall so he could balance and put his socks and then boots on.
Gwaine nodded his approval. "Looking good mate."
"I win by the way," Arthur stated, he too coming to stand behind the warlock.
"What?" Merlin asked as Gwaine groaned.
The prince smirked. "Gwaine thought that the jewels would make you look like a girl. But I said that they would work."
Merlin scoffed. "Since when do you know anything about fashion?"
Arthur chose to ignore that statement and he nodded proudly, like Merlin was some painting he had completed. The prince then hesitated. "You need a sword."
Merlin blinked in confusion when Gwaine and Cadmon nodded and called goodbye to Merlin, calling him 'Sire'. They left before Merlin could ask where they were going and Arthur traveled to his closet. Merlin waited with his head tilted to the side and his eyebrows climbed to his hairline when Arthur came out holding a sheathed sword. "Here, and if you're wondering, I didn't buy it for you. Well only the scabbard. I had it done specially."
Merlin shut his mouth and took the sword in both hands, gaping at the sheathe alone. It was attached to a studded black belt and was black as well. But what caught his attention was the fine silver inlaid in the scabbard. Merlin realized with a start that it was in a complex design of a dragon. His mouth dropped open as he looked at the sword. The grip was ebony inlaid with gold and the silver pommel was gilded and formed like a dragon's head. Merlin's eyes lingered on the cross guard which was shaped after a dragon's wings and worked with gold and silver. Words failed him and he looked to Arthur who was grinning. The prince gave an encouraging nod which prompted Merlin to draw the sword out. The steel rang out in the room, and Merlin admired the sharp and polished blade. His amazed cobalt eyes stared back at him.
"I can't take this," Merlin managed and he carefully sheathed the sword. Arthur took it from him and tied the belt around the warlock's waist. Merlin stared at his reflection and his fingers hovered over the pommel.
"It's yours," Arthur smiled from beside him. "It belonged to your father."
"What?" Merlin breathed.
The prince walked away from the mirror and to his bed which had previously unnoticed garments on it. He held up his own doublet which was Pendragon red. "I brought Cadmon with me to search the vaults. I figured that...that when your father was here for the last time, he was relieved of his belongings. We searched until Cadmon recognized it." He motioned to the sword at Merlin's waist. "Gaius thought it lost, but I knew my father would keep something of him. You deserve more."
Merlin swallowed the lump growing in his throat and wrapped his hand around the hilt. "It was my father's?"
"Yes, Cadmon and Gaius both attest to it."
The prince held up his hand. "I hardly did anything. You can wear it whenever you want. I'm giving you the honour to carry a weapon in Camelot. I feel like I should do more. You have done so much for everyone."
"Same as you," Merlin shrugged. He then laughed when Arthur continued to stare at the doublet in his hands. "Do you need help with that?" Merlin had not seen it before which meant that it was new. While it was as extravagant as Merlin's, it did not have any jewels worked into the material. Merlin recognized that Arthur was doing him a great courtesy of dressing slightly lower than the guest of honour.
"No," Arthur sneered. He allowed Merlin to help him though when the warlock strode over. "You'll see Merlin, tonight will be great," he said excitedly as Merlin dressed him, "I'll actually have someone to talk to as you'll be sitting at my right hand. And the knights will all be at the main table. And just wait until you see the entertainment!"
He got Merlin to start being excited and the warlock asked a plethora of questions, mostly about the food. The warlock forgot about his previous nervousness until they were out the door and into the hallway. Merlin suddenly felt so very conspicuous in these strange clothes. "Come on, I can't wait to see everyone's faces," Arthur told him.
"That makes me feel so much better. Thank you," Merlin muttered tersely.
"Just don't trip, you'll be fine," Arthur remarked and then continued to spew unnerving advice.
Merlin, miraculously did not trip. Even when they entered the dining hall to stare at the roomful of people gaping at him. The whole place had stuttered to silence until Cadmon started to clap. He was standing from a place at the head table along with the rest of the knights, Gaius and Guinevere. To Merlin's embarrassment he could see unshed tears flood his mentor's eyes when he caught Gaius' gaze. Applause erupted and Arthur pressed a hand on Merlin's shoulder to get him walking. To his credit, Merlin's stride was strong and he nodded his head just the right amount to the nobles as Arthur instructed he do. He did blush though when many a noblewoman giggled flirtatiously at him. Later, Merlin could recall the exact words Arthur greeted the hall with and the words of gratitude that he had scraped from his own tongue, albeit gracefully and much better than Arthur could ever put together he thought. It would be a topic of argument for many years.
But for now, everything was going by in a blur until they sat down and the rest of the hall seemed far away. Food was brought in and the knights immediately hailed Merlin who was trying to greet Guinevere from around Arthur. Merlin stared at the plate placed in front of him and he caught himself from asking if Arthur wanted some wine. Instead a servant named Brian came from behind him and poured some wine into Merlin's goblet. He stuttered a thank you which earned a joking comment from the man. All of the servants directed smiles toward Merlin and most managed to impart a word or two to him, and those he was friends with brushed invisible dust off his tense shoulders to force them down from his ears.
Merlin looked to his left and Arthur raised his glass to him. He grinned and brought his own goblet to Arthur's for a toast. "To idiots," the prince said solemnly.
"To prats," Merlin replied equally as sombre. They drank but could not hold their serious faces for long. Laughter bubbled from their lips and they fell into their usual banter. Merlin was content to enjoy the night and he marvelled at the acrobats, minstrels, bards, fire eaters and all manner of entertainers, and of course the food.
It was a night to be remembered and cherished. Not in the least because Merlin had proof that Arthur could be nice, and certainly not because Gaius had a little too much to drink due to Merlin's possible involvement.
Merlin had trouble getting to sleep that night, still overstuffed and thrilled from the festivities. A content smile rested on his face as he listened to Gwaine snore from the corner. The knight had been too lazy to go back to his own room after escorting Merlin and Gaius back and had gathered the usual blankets designated for his overnight stays.
The room was pitch black but Merlin could still see the gleam of his father's sword. Arthur's gift meant possibly more than he knew to the warlock. It rested beside the scabbard on Merlin's dresser and he stared at it until his eyes would stay open no more. He fell asleep with a soft sigh, actually grateful for the darkness.
The nightmares of the past were finally staying where they belonged.
A final thank you to everyone who has reviewed! Especially those who have reviewed every chapter, I appreciate it more than you probably think! So thanks for taking the time :D And to everyone who put this on their favourites, alerts, and in their communities!
I say there won't be a sequel but this baby wasn't planned either (and look what it grew up to be!) so...who knows what the far away future will bring. You know what, forget that- there will be other stories in this universe but most likely in the past. If there is a direct sequel, well it won't be out for a year or two. I have other stories that are begging to be written!
Anyway, thank you so much for reading and I will definitely attempt to reply to all reviews. If someone is anonymous I'll reply in the next instalment of Fractions (that's allowed right? If not, ohhh well), so look out for that.
Please review and tell me what you thought about the chapter, the story, anything :)
GAH! I don't want to say goodbye! But I must... I hope everyone enjoyed this as much as me, if I may be so bold, it's pretty awesome being responsible for making someone happy.