The Moment of Truth
Arthur paused in confusion as he entered his room, puzzled by the scene before him.
The room was dark, lit only by the soft glow of candlelight. As he watched, a drop of wax splashed down onto the gleaming wood of the table top, cooling to a malleable seal almost instantly in the autumn air. A chill wind blew threw the open hair, ruffling tapestries and clothing but that was not what had drawn Arthur's attention.
No, what had caught his eye was the figure of his manservant, of his friend, huddled in the window seat, arms wrapped tightly around his knees, eyes directed unseeingly at the fire burning in the grate.
"Close the door, Arthur." Too startled at being given an order by a servant to protest, Arthur did as he was told, shutting and barring the great heavy oak doors that led to his chambers.
As the silence stretched once again between them, Arthur crossed over to where Merlin was seated. Standing directly in front of the other man, Arthur crossed his arms acros his chest and waited for Merlin to turn his face towards him. For a moment he wondered how it was that Merlin's eyes still reflected the glow of the firelight when he was no longer looking at it. Opening his mouth to speak, he was waylaid as Merlin beat him to it.
"Will wasn't the sorcerer." Merlin's voice was soft, barely above a whisper, but Arthur felt his heart plummet with the words. As he held Merlin's gaze, he felt lead fill his stomach and bile claw its way up his throat. Jerking violently away from his friend, he stumbled backwards, not stopping until he collided solidly with the table in the centre of the room. Thoughts whirled through his mind – only Merlin or Will could have conjured that wind, only one of those two could have been the sorcerer. He knew that Merlin had no reason to lie to protect the dead. Catching Merlin's gaze, he saw the truth reflected in eyes which bled from blue to gold as he watched.
Shaking his head violently, Arthur tried to obliterate the knowledge from his mine.
"Arthur I– " Merlin's words were stopped violently as Arthur flung himself across the room and jammed his hand across his friend's mouth. He took no care as he did so, and Merlin's head hit the stone of the wall with a sickening crack from the force of Arthur's movement.
Dazed, blue eyes stared up at him from beneath raven locks and Arthur desperately tried to rein in his panic.
"Don't." He hissed at Merlin. "I am honour bound to report all instances of magic to my father. Do you understand Merlin? It would not matter if the user were Morgana herself, I would have to tell my father." He refrained from mentioning what Uther would with anyone accused of witchcraft, they had both seen examples of his 'justice' too many times already.
As he felt lips move beneath his skin, in an attempt to talk, Arthur withdrew his hand.
"You wouldn't keep it a secret?" He asked quietly, "If it meant saving Morgana's life – you wouldn't fail to report this one thing to the king?" The words were perfectly neutral, calm and unassuming – but both Arthur and Merlin knew what was truly being said.
"No." Arthur sighed, "I wouldn't." Seeing the horror in Merlin's eyes, Arthur hurried to explain himself. "I would want to – god knows I would never want to see," he paused, "Morgana dead. But what kind of king will I be, if I cannot even show my own father the loyalty I will one day demand an entire kingdom shows me?"
A look of understand crept in to Merlin's gaze, but his mouth was still set in a resolute line. "You would be a king who would have the courage to stand up for what is right – to defend his people against any tyrant – who realised that it is not magic which is evil, but men."
The words struck deep in Arthur's heart and he briefly considered rebuking Merlin for insinuating his father was a tyrant, but he could not bring himself to do so. The weight of Merlin's opinion hung heavy in the air, and as much he wished he might be able to act in such a way – he knew he could not.
Taking a deep breath, he turned away from the window. "As Crown Prince of Camelot, I, Arthur, Son of Uther Pendragon, have sworn to uphold the laws of this land, to serve my king with featly and love, to be chivalrous and just and to set an example for every man, woman and child in Albion." He paused, steeling himself for what he had to say next. "Never speak of this to me again."
Behind him, he heard Merlin stiffen, before excusing himself to Gaius's chambers. As the door swung shut behind him, Arthur cursed, and prayed to God that he had not just shattered the only friendship he had ever held dear.
A/N:Please review and let me know what you think
A/N 2: I have made a minor alteration to this story as, as many people pointed out, Arthur cupping Merlin's face in his hand was rediculously OOC. Hopefully this more aloof Arthur is better.