Hey! So here's the next chapter. Thank you to all of those who reviewed, favourited and followed my story. And thank you to those of you who favourited and followed me as well! It really means a lot. This is the last chapter. I'd like to do some other stories, both short and long, so I'll probably be posting some soon. But anyway, I hope you like this chapter
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-At the hilltop-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
"Merlin!" yelled Arthur, as he ran towards his fallen friend. Kneeling next to him, Arthur put his fingers on Merlin's throat, just as Gaius had taught him. Seconds passed, and Arthur was panicking, denying the terrible possibility that was threatening to come true with every passing moment…
But then he felt it. A slow, but steady rhythm under Merlin's skin. Merlin was alive.
Arthur let out a huge relieved breath.
"He's alive" he said, turning to look at the two knights standing behind him. Tristane and Percival looked relieved, but Arthur's attention was now focused on the still figure not too far from them. She was laying on the ground, not moving, and her face was turned away from. Arthur felt torn, not knowing what he was supposed to feel at the moment.
"She's dead, Sire" said Percival with a solemn tone. "I'm sorry."
"Thank you" said Arthur, turning his attention back to Merlin. The warlock was alive, but they didn't know much beyond that. They needed to act fast.
"Go down to where our men are." said Arthur "Percival, you are to find the physician, and two other men, and come back here. And Tristane, you and Leon organize the men to get back to where our camp was. Wait for us there."
As the two knights walked away, Arthur was left alone with his friend, who was once again, unconscious. He sat in silence for a few minutes, not moving in case Merlin awoke. But Merlin remained as silent as he was.
"I'll deny ever saying this" said Arthur, as he looked at Merlin. "But your usual prattle has grown on me. It's strange seeing you like this, being all quiet and proper."
But Merlin didn't make a sound, and Arthur just smiled sadly. He stood up, and went to retrieve Excalibur, which had been blown away during the magical duel. He purposefully avoided looking at Morgana's unmoving body, as he walked closer to where the sword lay. As he kneeled down to it, he heart a slight groan, followed by something that sounded suspiciously like "prat."
"Merlin!" yelled Arthur, as he ran back to his friend. Merlin's eyes were open, albeit a bit unfocused. Arthur kneeled next to him, the sword he had previously retrieved thrown carelessly beside him.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like death" said Merlin, his eyes now finally focused on Arthur "But other than that…"
"Can you sit?" asked Arthur, extending his arm forward. Merlin nodded, and he took Arthur's arm. Arthur slowly raised him, and Merlin let out a pained groan as he slowly moved into a sitting position.
"Are you certain you'll alright?" asked Arthur, keeping one hand on Merlin's shoulder.
"Well my chest hurts a bit" said Merlin "and I'm very tired, but considering what…"
But he was cut off when Arthur suddenly hugged him. Merlin was confused for a moment, thinking that his mind was playing tricks on him. But Arthur really was hugging him, so Merlin just decided to go along with it.
"I didn't know you were the hugging type." said Merlin, as Arthur pulled back from the hug.
"Oh shut up, you idiot" said Arthur, trying, but not succeeding to stop the smile that was now forming on his face. Merlin gave him a small smile in return, and for a moment, Arthur was just grateful that his friend was somehow, still alive.
"What happened, Merlin?" asked Arthur "The last time we spoke was when I ordered you and Gwaine not to do anything stupid."
"Ah, well…" started Merlin "about that…"
"Look, I'm not surprised in the least that neither of you followed my order." said Arthur "But going after Morgana alone? Even you are not that stupid. Most of the time."
"After you and the knights left." started Merlin, as he took on a serious tone "a woman attacked us at…"
"I know about that." said Arthur "Gwaine told me that the woman tried to attack, but that he and Tristane stopped her. He also said that you interrogated her, and that after that, you decided to go and face the enemy on your own. Did you know it was Morgana all along?"
"No" said Merlin, who was now looking at Morgana's lifeless body. "I had no idea who was behind the attacks. But after what that woman said, it just sort of… clicked. It all made sense, and I knew I had to stop her."
"But why…" started Arthur, but Merlin cut him off.
"There was no time!" he said, looking directly in Arthur's eyes. "I knew that she had something else planned, but I didn't know what. So while Gwaine and the others were on their way to warn you, I had to try and stop her. I knew where she would be, and I knew that she would probably be alone. It was our best chance."
"It was the noble thing to do." said Arthur "but it was also foolish. You were wounded, and poisoned just a few days ago. And yet, you decided to take on a high priestess yourself."
"There was no one else" said Merlin, looking away from Arthur "It had to be me."
"You could have died!" said Arthur, his voice now filled with desperation and anger.
"I know" said Merlin, looking at Arthur again "But I had to try."
Arthur just shook his head, as he looked around. It was almost night now, as the sun had already disappeared behind the horizon.
"When Morgana was trapped" started Arthur, his voice now calm "in those roots, you turned to me, and you said you were sorry. What were you sorry for?"
Merlin lowered his head. He knew he had done what needed to be done. But it was still hard thinking about it.
"While we were fighting" he said, his head still lowered "I realized how strong she really was. I realized that the only way that I could save us all was if I… killed her."
"I am sorry" he said after a small pause. He had now lifted his head to look Arthur straight in the eyes. "That it had to come to that. And I'm sorry it had to be me."
Arthur just looked at him for a few moments. He then slowly put his hand on Merlin's shoulder, and with a gentle voice, he said: "She would have killed you, and then she would have killed us. You have nothing to apologize for. You brought peace. And I am thankful for that."
There was a sense of finality to Arthur's words, and Merlin realized that this was all that Arthur had to say on that subject, at least for now. Knowing how awful Arthur must be feeling, Merlin decided to drop the topic. He looked at the now dark blue horizon. It was finally over.
_-_-_-_-_-_-At Arthur's camp-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
It was now the middle of the night. Arthur's knights were sitting around the campfire. The wounded had been taken care of, and the enemy soldiers were now tied up in the cave, along with the woman who had been spying on Merlin and the others. She was still mute, as Merlin's spell was still in full force. She had now resorted to sending hateful, although slightly frightened looks at the five knights who were guarding the prisoners.
The dead bodies were set at the side, prepared for the pyre. It was unclear if the enemy's bodies were to be burnt along with those of Camelot's finest. But that was for Arthur to decide.
'Where are they?' thought Gwaine. He was sitting near the entrance of the cave, looking at the stars. It had been a few hours since Percival and Tristane had arrived, telling them about Morgana and everything that had transpired. Gwaine was glad that Merlin was alive, albeit a bit worried when Percival fetched the physician. But Percival had reassured him that Merlin was going to be fine, before heading back up the hill, with Mark the physician and two other knights following close behind. Gwaine and the others had headed back to their camp, as per Arthur's orders. That had been several hours ago.
Gwaine cursed his injury. It wasn't a deep wound, but it still hurt, and the young physician had told him not to move about too much, as he would only aggravate it more. So Gwaine was stuck here, thinking about all that could have happened. He didn't have much to go on, as Percival hadn't revealed much other than the fact that Merlin was alive, that their enemy was actually Morgana, and that after fighting with her, Merlin had killed Morgana. It was a lot to take in, and it certainly gave Gwaine a lot to think about. He was worried about Merlin, of course. But he was mostly thinking about Morgana.
Gwaine remembered that day, the day after Camlann, so vividly. He and Percival had tried to trick Morgana, trying to lure her away from Arthur's location. And they had done it too, but they had underestimated her. She was powerful, stronger than they had imagined. She tortured him, using her magic in such cruel ways, until he could no longer bear the suffering. Finally, he had told her everything. He'd been disappointed in himself, but he had hoped that at least the torture would have stopped. He'd been mistaken, as Morgana had only continued with her cruel ways. But alas, his fellow knights had come to their aid, managing to save him before Morgana could kill him. She got away, and in time, his physical wounds had recovered. But few knew that Morgana had used some other kind of torture as well. Only his closest friends could see that he still feared the mention of her name.
And now, she was gone. She could never hurt him, or anyone else, again. Gwaine couldn't believe it.
An hour or so passed, and the knights all slowly went to sleep. Only Gwaine and a few others remained awake. Suddenly, there was a sound of rustling leaves. Someone was coming. Gwaine stood up, ready to greet whoever it was. Could it be…?
And sure enough, a few familiar figures emerged from the trees. Sir Alger was leading the group, holding a torch in his hand. Behind him was Mark, and Sir Ned was at the back of the group. Behind Mark, Percival and Arthur walked slowly. They were supporting the person walking between them, and with good reason too. Merlin looked like he could barely stand, let alone walk. But he was alive and well, and Gwaine hurried to go and greet him.
"Merlin, mate!" said Gwaine as he hugged Merlin, pushing Arthur and Percival aside.
"Gwaine" said Merlin, smiling "I'm glad you're alright. Arthur told me that you've been wounded?"
"Nothing too bad" said Gwaine, as he released Merlin from the hug. They now slowly walked toward the cave, Merlin still being supported by Arthur. They all sat down next to entrance, and almost all of the knights gathered around Merlin, curious to learn what exactly had happened. While the knights were settling down, Gwaine, who was sitting next to Merlin, leaned closer to his friend.
"Is it really over, Merlin?" he asked quietly.
"It is" Merlin answered, a small smile appearing on his face.
Gwaine gave a satisfied nod, before letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-At the hilltop-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
A few days had passed since then. Merlin was now almost fully recovered. After sustaining a burn to the chest, and spending an extraordinary amount of strength and energy, he'd been understandably tired. He had fallen asleep not long after their return to the camp. So they left him sleep, as they all knew he dearly needed the rest. He'd slept for a day and a half.
The enemy prisoners were to be sent back to Robin and Ouida's kingdom. Arthur had written a letter for the majesties, explaining that he wished to be present for the prisoners' trial, but that he had to go to Camelot first. And as soon as Merlin had woken up, he gave the spying woman her voice back. Soon after that, ten of Camelot's knights, along with the prisoners, had left for Robin's kingdom.
Arthur burned the bodies of his fallen knights on the pyre, and he burned the fallen enemies' bodies on a separate pyre. He was sad for the loss, their deaths weighing heavily on his conscience. But he didn't let Merlin feel guilty about them even for a second. He knew that his kind hearted friend was not to blame for their death. The ones who were guilty were about to receive their punishment.
All except the one who had already received her punishment. Arthur tried to burn her body as well, but something stopped him. He remembered how much Morgana had been scared of fire when they were children. Somehow, he still remembered when one rainy evening, as they played in the castle, the nine year old Morgana had told him how much she hated the thought of her body being burned. This had been years ago. It was before Morgana had grown out of her fear of fire, before he had met Merlin, and before Morgana had betrayed him. But he still remembered the promise that he had made to her on that rainy night, that he wouldn't let anyone burn her. Arthur was fairly certain that if the positions were reversed, Morgana wouldn't think twice of keeping some childhood promises. But he was alive, and she was dead. And he just couldn't bring himself to burn her.
So he decided that he would bury her instead. Choosing the hilltop as the suitable place, Arthur had ordered his knights to wait for him at the bottom of the hill. No one was to accompany him. He had to do this himself.
That's when Merlin, in his usual Merlin fashion walked next to him and asked him when they were leaving.
"This is something I need to do alone, Merlin" said Arthur.
"Of course Arthur. And I'm coming with you"
"I think you should stay here." said Arthur "It's a long journey to the top, and you could use your rest. I order you to stay here."
"If you really want to be alone, I'll stay. But if you're just being your usual dollopheaded self…" said Merlin, causing Arthur to roll his eyes.
"Do you ever do as you're told?" said Arthur, looking exasperatedly at the warlock.
"Sometimes" said Merlin, taking a step forward "Are you coming?"
So here they were, the king and the warlock, standing side by side at the hilltop. A body lay before them, covered with a long white sheet. The two man stood there, thinking about all that had been lost. Merlin was unsure of what to say, waiting for Arthur to speak first. But when it became clear that Arthur was lost in his thoughts, Merlin decided to say something.
"Do you want me to use my magic?" he asked quietly. Arthur turned to look at him, and it was clear that Merlin's question had confused him.
"For the grave" Merlin explained. "I could use my magic to dig the hole, and then…"
"No" said Arthur, causing Merlin to stop talking "thank you for offering, and I know that it would be faster that way… but I want to do this."
"Is it because I killed her?" asked Merlin, looking sadly at Arthur.
"No, Merlin" said Arthur, as he turned to look at his friend "I told you, I don't blame you. She had to be stopped, and I'm sorry that it had to be you. I know that she was your friend."
Merlin gave a small nod, and Arthur continued: "I want to do this without magic, because before she was my enemy, and before she found out about her magic, she was my friend, and she was my sister. And I'm not blaming the magic, because I know it's not her magic's fault…" he paused, looking at the covered body before him.
"Even though she was my enemy, she was first my sister. And I feel that I need to be the one who puts her to rest. Does that make any sense?"
"Do what you feel is right, Arthur" said Merlin "I'll be here if you need me."
Arthur took the shovel he had brought with him, and he started digging a hole. Half an hour passed, and Arthur was still digging, but Merlin never said a word.
After some time, Arthur climbed up from the hole. He carefully lifted the covered body from the ground, and he jumped down into the hole. After he lowered the body to the ground, he climbed back up again, and he started shoveling the earth back into the hole. Finally, after another half hour had passed, the hole had been filled back with earth. Arthur stood silent for a moment, before turning to Merlin.
"Should we mark her grave?" asked Arthur, sounding uncertain. "She was our enemy, after all, and she killed so many people. I'm not sure it's the right thing to do."
"May I?" asked Merlin, raising his right hand. Arthur just nodded his head, and Merlin's eyes changed colour. He said a few words, and a moment later, a tombstone with a neat writing on it appeared. Arthur came closer to the tombstone, as he attempted to read what was written on it.
"Here lies Morgana Pendragon" he read "who had a good heart, but who lost her way. We will always remember her kindness, compassion and spirit. For that is who she really was."
"I put a spell on the tombstone" said Merlin in a low voice "no one will be able to scrape off the text, or harm the tombstone in any way. It will stay here for days to come."
"Thank you, Merlin" said Arthur. He looked at the tombstone for a few more moments, before turning away and leaving. Merlin gave one last look at the grave, and then he turned around as well, following Arthur.
The sound of rain drops awakened Gwen from her slumber. She had dreamed that Arthur and the others had returned, and that all was well. She was disappointed when she woke up, and her bed was empty. They hadn't returned, not yet. It was just another dream.
She stood up, and she sat on her bed, facing the window. The rain had stopped now, and the sun was slowly making its way through the grim, grey clouds. There was a slight chill in the air, but it wasn't too cold. Gwen was concerned. It had been several days since she had sent the knights to assist Arthur. She knew that the road back to Camelot was long, but they should have been home by now. 'Unless,' she thought 'something had gone wrong… Could someone have died? What If Gwaine hadn't been on time, and Merlin had died? What if Merlin survived the poison, only to be killed in battle later? But no, Merlin must be fine. But what if Arthur was the one who…'
"Stop it" she said loudly to herself. "You mustn't think that."
So she got up, determined to make the most out of her day. After she was dressed, she ate the breakfast that her servant had brought her. Seeing as she didn't have any duties for the day, she decided to keep herself busy by writing the plan for tomorrow's meeting. She knew that discussing the state of the kingdom's potato and tomato production was important, but it wasn't the most thrilling subject to discuss all the same. So she wrote the exact topics they needed to talk about, and she hoped that having a schedule would shorten the length of the meeting.
She was nearing the end, and she was currently musing about the last item on the list. Did they really need to go over that again? Surely, the tomato and potato sellers could come to an agreement about the best way to water their plants on themselves. They were the one who were growing the vegetables, after all, and not her, and it's not like she knew much about that anyway. Why would they need to involve her, again, was beyond…"
The door to her chambers suddenly flew open, causing Gwen to spill ink all over her dress. It was a dress she didn't really like, so she wasn't particularly saddened about it, but it was still incredibly rude to barge in unannounced like that…
"My lady!" said a young girl, the one who was responsible for the huge spot of ink that was now present of Gwen's dress. But the girl hadn't noticed this, as she continued speaking.
"My lady, they're here!" yelled the girl.
'Who's here?' thought Gwen. Her first thought was that the vegetable sellers had arrived a day early, and she was about to ask the girl why was she so excited about that…. But then it dawned on her.
"They are?" she asked, jumping out of her chair "When did they arrive?"
"The tower guard just spotted them down the road" said the girl "they should reach the city within the hour."
"Thank you for telling me" said Gwen, as she got her cloak from the hanger. "Go and inform the knights and the council members. I'll go and find Gaius."
The girl left, and a few moments later, Gwen was hurrying down the corridor leading to Gaius' chambers. She was so excited, and she wanted to be the one to tell Gaius.
"Gaius!" she yelled as she entered the old man's chambers. She found him sitting on the bench, and an old woman was standing in front of him, holding a glass vial in her hand. They both seemed startled at Gwen's sudden intrusion.
"Sorry" said Gwen "I thought you were alone…"
"It's no problem, your Majesty " said Gaius, although his left eyebrow still remained high on his forehead. "I was just giving Mildred her medicine."
"I was just leaving, your Majesty" said Mildred, moving slowly towards the door "I'm sorry if I've…"
"No no" said Gwen "It is I who should be sorry. You have nothing to apologize for Mildred. I hope you have a nice day."
"Thank you, your Majesty" said Mildred, before she disappeared through the door.
"What's the problem, Gwen?" said Gaius then "Has something happened?"
"The tower guard spotted them, Gaius" said Gwen, unable to hide her happiness "They should reach Camelot in the hour."
"Oh" said Gaius "that is something indeed."
"Of course it is!" said Gwen, coming to sit next to him "They're finally home."
"Yes" said Gaius, thoughtfully "Well then, I need to prepare some potions, and bandages, in case they have some wounded. And I need to tell the servant boy to fetch me some clean water, just in case…"
"I'll tell him" said Gwen, standing up "Do what you need to do, and then come meet me at the courtyard, alright? I want to be there when they finally arrive."
"Of course" said the old man, and the Queen almost bounced away from his chambers, unable to contain her excitement. Gaius was glad that she was excited. He hoped that her hopes were well founded.
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-In the courtyard-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
They had been waiting in the courtyard for the last half hour. Several knights, as well as several of the servants were there, to help if needed. Gaius was there as well, cautiously optimistic, but prepared for the worst. Gwen was standing next to him, worried as well, but mostly hopeful that everything was going to be alright…
Finally, the guards blew the horn. The gate was opened, and the sound of hooves soon filled the courtyard.
And then she saw him: Arthur. He had a few cuts on his face, but he looked fine, and Gwen was so thankful… She scanned the other faces behind Arthur. Some of them were on horses, and some were not, but she soon recognized the faces of Leon, Gwaine, Percival, and many more. She didn't remember all of their names, but she was so glad that they were alive… but where was Merlin?
Finally, she saw him. He was on a horse, but he was near the end of the group. He looked tired, so tired… But then he noticed her stare, and he gave her one of his signature grins, which melted her heart. She let out a huge laugh, and forgetting that she was supposed to be proper, she ran towards the arriving knights. Gaius followed her, although not at nearly the same speed.
As soon as he saw his Gwen, Arthur leapt of the horse. She ran toward him, and he caught her in his arms, kissing her and lifting her of her feet. He then put her down and hugged her tight. He was worried for a moment, that he might be squeezing her too hard, but then she squeezed him back tighter than he ever thought her capable of. He had missed her so much.
"Oh Arthur" she said, after kissing him again "You're alright!"
"Yes I am" he said, smiling at her "And so is he."
He pointed towards Merlin, who was now slowly climbing down from his own horse. Gwen approached him. He hugged her, and she hugged him back. Her friend was alive! It was only now that she realized how much his loss would have affected her.
"I missed you Gwen" he said, as she still hugged him "You don't know how much of a prat your husband can be sometimes."
"I know him well, Merlin, don't worry" she said, pulling back from the hug. She looked at him carefully, before asking "Are you really alright, Merlin?"
"I'm tired, but fine" he said, smiling at her "Really, I am."
"Well then." she said, as she stepped to the side "There's someone here who'd like a word with you."
Merlin looked behind her, and for a moment, he was speechless. Gaius was standing there, looking straight at him with a look in his eyes that Merlin almost couldn't bear. Gaius's eyes were filled with so much pain and unshed tears, and he looked so worn out, and so tired. Merlin knew that Gaius must have been worried about him, and he felt guilty for having caused the old man such trouble. He slowly walked toward him, and after a moment, he engulfed him in a warm hug.
"My boy" he heard Gaius whisper "Oh, my boy…"
"I'm alright Gaius" said Merlin "Don't worry, I'm fine. I'm home now."
"Not worrying is not an option with you, I'm afraid." said Gaius, and Merlin chuckled at that. He could hear Gwen greeting Gwaine, and Leon, and all the others, and he could hear Arthur mumbling about something that Gwaine had done. People were starting to come in the courtyard, curious to learn what had happened, and Merlin knew that he would have to explain it all. He knew that there were so many things that needed doing. But for the moment none of it mattered. He was in Gaius's arms now, feeling the comfort only the old man could bring him. He was safe. He was home.