The Dragon of Camelot
Chapter 6; Pride and Loyalty
Harry was well aware that he was being watched by several of the villagers as Septimus rode back into the village with a couple of his other scouts. He dismounted as he spotted Harry and bowed quickly. "Stop bowing, Septimus. We're not from Camelot remember?"
"Of course, your highness." Septimus nodded.
"Oh… much better." Harry rolled his eyes and Septimus blushed. "You have a report?"
"The bandits regrouped by the river not far from here. We ran them down but they fought and there are no enemy survivors." Septimus told him.
"Not the ideal way to end this but better for us if there is no one on their side to tell the tale of highly trained soldiers showing up that Cenred will know aren't his own." Harry nodded. "Send out a patrol to check for any lurkers within a few miles and then bring everyone back into the village for the night."
"It will be done." Septimus nodded and mounted up again and with a whistle his horse was spinning around and taking off. All the scout's horses could be directed by whistle and shout in case they needed both hands to fight.
Harry turned back to find Arthur approaching him. "The bandits?" Arthur asked.
"Lying dead by the river." Harry nodded. "My scouts will check the area for any more of them."
"Thank you for coming, Harry." Morgana declared. "But bringing your scouts… won't the King…"
"The King sent me." Harry shrugged and got a gasp of surprise from some of the villagers.
"The King of Camelot?" Someone gasped in awe. "Sent soldiers to help us?"
"Yes." Harry decided on in the end but he saw the way Morgana and Arthur were looking at him. Harry raised his voice so the villagers would hear. "King Uther was greatly concerned about your plight and, heartened by the actions of his son and adopted daughter, he couldn't just sit by and do nothing. But you must realise that he has broken the treaty with your own King by sending soldiers into his Kingdom. That is why we wear no emblems. His hand in this must remain a closely guarded secret or King Cenred may take offence and that could lead to war."
"It will remain our secret, your Highness." One of the villagers nodded.
"If anyone asks simply tell them that you bartered with a passing group of well-armed merchants and they came to your aid." Morgana suggested and then turned to rally the villagers to check on their wounded and gather the bodies.
Arthur caught his arm tightly in his hand. "Father didn't send you to protect this village." He accused.
"Of course not." Harry shook his head. "I was sent to collect you and Morgana and return you to Camelot. It's not my fault I arrived in a battle and had to take action to safeguard you both."
Arthur rolled his eyes before looking around. "Where has that useless servant of mine gone? Hiding his sorcerer friend maybe?"
"Arthur." Harry sighed. "For a sorcerer to use his magic right in front of you took a great deal of courage on his behalf. Knowing what you might do yet he still did it to protect this village. That's as much courage as I see in your Knights and my soldiers on any day. We owe him for that and the best thing we can do is to pretend it never happened."
"And you're sure it was his friend and not Merlin?" Arthur asked before blinking and cracking up into laughter. "Of course it was." He seemed to find the idea of Merlin being a sorcerer to be absolutely hilarious.
"We'll ride first thing in the morning, brother." Harry announced. "Once we clear up and rest for the night."
"Alright." Arthur nodded. "I hope you brought some decent food with you."
"Arthur…" Harry warned before turning as his scouts burst out of the trees. Some of the villagers cried out in alarm before they recognised them from before and his ten scouts rode up through the centre of the village, the horses gingerly skirting bodies. Jeremy met them and directed them to the side of the town where he'd clearly already spoken to the villagers to find them a place to camp for the night.
"I'll sort out a fire for the bodies." Arthur told him and Harry nodded and watched him leave just before Feosol butted against his side and licked his hip. Harry pulled out a small bag from his waist and handed down a small bit of dried beef that Feosol took from his fingers carefully and swallowed down.
"Find Merlin, Feo." Harry prompted and Feo growled happily and took off at a quick walk and Harry followed his wolf into one of the nearby homes. A low affair with two rooms and a low thatched roof. Feosol jumped through the open door and Harry heard the gasps from two people and Gwen complaining. Harry entered and Gwen was carefully putting the table between her and Feosol. Merlin was stroking Harry's wolf on the head as his mother and the young man, Will, stared in awe.
"Gwen, could you give us a few minutes please?" He asked formally.
"Of course, your highness. I'll go check on the injuries." She assured him and escaped rapidly.
"Poor Gwen has a small fear of Feosol." Harry announced.
"Feo who?" Will asked.
"This is Feosol." Merlin announced softly but couldn't seem to make himself look at Harry. "He's the Prince's loyal pet. And he's very intelligent."
"It was always my suspicion that there is a little magic in his heritage." Harry announced simply. "Though the King believes that he's simply very well trained. But even the best trained wolf cannot recognise speech as he can. Feo…" Harry prompted and tossed him some beef that Feosol happily caught and came back to his side to be stroked between the ears.
"Is there anything you need, your highness?" Merlin's mother asked quickly. She was trying to draw the attention away from a very nervous Merlin. "Some water perhaps?"
"My men and I have our own supplies and we will use your village well to stock up on water." Harry told her. "My scouts and I keep to a very careful guide. We leave no trace whenever we can. We will not put a drain on your village tonight."
He paused and looked around the small home. "Now I think we need to do some talking. Preferably before my brother realises I'm absent and comes looking."
"Prince Harry…" Merlin started.
"You haven't called me Prince since the first time we met, Merlin. And you only call me your highness in front of other people." Harry sighed. "Don't start being formal now just because I know."
"It was me." Will complained.
"Do it again and I'll believe you." Harry told him simply.
"Forget it, Will." Merlin sighed. "Harry is too smart and observant. I thought I'd gotten it past him."
"Merlin…" His mother complained.
"I swear to you all that me knowing this truth will not affect Merlin's position in Camelot in any way." Harry announced. "On my oath as a Prince and Knight of Camelot. I have suspected that Merlin had some grasp on magic for some time but understanding his position and trusting him as I have I did not want to panic him by prompting him for an explanation. My brother and I do not believe all magic to be evil."
"Your brother does." Will complained. "He wanted to kill me."
"My brother has had to support our father for many years. He knows how our laws have kept the vast majority of citizens in Camelot safe for decades." Harry shook his head. "Arthur and I both grew up in the peace after our father's war but we were both born during that war. Magic took away Arthur's mother and magic has caused me a great deal of pain and will most likely take my life too in short order. Arthur's wariness of all magic is because of his concern for me."
"I don't understand." Will muttered.
"But I do not believe that magic itself is evil nor that users of it are inherently bad. Magic is a tool just the same as my bow. One that I do not fully understand but a tool none-the-less. It is those that wield those tools that cast either good or evil through it." Harry sighed. "And unfortunately the law in Camelot is there for a good reason."
"It's overboard." Will complained. "It discriminates against all magic."
"It has to." Harry sighed. "I have read the reports from before and during the war. Magic was being used so callously that the entire kingdom was on its knees. A single sorcerer could wipe out an entire village and no soldier or citizen could do anything to stop it. Innocent citizens of Camelot feared for their lives at all times knowing that they were helpless to stop someone with magic from simply taking what they wished. There was no way to combat the sorcerers with half measures. When a person without magic commits a crime you can combat that with any soldier or Knight of the kingdom but when you have no magic on your own side how do you combat those with magic that wish to do harm to innocent people? You can't." Harry shook his head. "Not without turning the tables and making them fear reprisals. That is what Uther did."
"You agree with him?" Merlin asked shakily.
"I agree that the law against magic use in Camelot is a necessity." Harry nodded and Merlin gave him his first proper look. One of pain. "For now. As it stands we cannot police magic. We have no one we can trust to enforce normal laws on those with magic."
"Arthur has… me." Merlin's voice broke a little.
"Yes." Harry smiled. "He does." He moved over to Merlin and put a hand on his shoulder. He didn't want to hug or kiss Merlin right now until Merlin came to him. "One day Merlin you and I will tell my brother the truth and when he rules this kingdom changes can be made. You can help him understand magic and help him rule those with magic fairly. So they can be a part of Camelot too. Just as you are."
"I feared you would hate magic too much to accept it in me." Merlin whispered to him.
"I don't hate magic." Harry shook his head. "I fear it I suppose. But I don't believe it to be evil like my father does."
"What did you mean by pain and killing you?" Will asked.
Harry sighed and turned to Will and Merlin's mother. "When I was younger I was abducted by a sorcerer. For weeks he tortured me while my brother and father, and Camelot's army, searched the Kingdom for me. When they eventually found me I was nearly dead. The sorcerer was taken to Camelot and for his crimes he was to be executed."
"That's different. He was a kidnapper and a torturer." Will nodded.
"The fact he used magic was just that." Harry shrugged. "He kidnapped me to get to my brother and father. But he also cursed me somehow." He made short work of his jacket and shirt and showed them both the scar on his shoulder. "Some of the magic he used to torture me remains inside my body and each year that I get stronger my body tries to fight it. That fight will kill me and there is nothing that can be done about it."
"What about magic?" Will asked. "Can't Merlin… heal you or something?"
"All non-magical attempts have failed." Harry did his shirt and jacket back up. "Uther knows that only magic could save me. And he hates magic too much to allow it. If Merlin tried to heal me that way my father would assume magic had been used and he'd hunt that sorcerer to the ends of the kingdom. And maybe punish me in turn."
"And because Arthur would never stand for Harry to be hurt he'd be in danger of being punished with his life when he steps in to protect Harry." Merlin told them miserably. "But…"
"Merlin?" Harry frowned as he realised that tears were gathering in Merlin's eyes. "You tried already." He realised and Merlin's mother gasped in shock.
"Yes." Merlin slumped. "During the major attack I tried. Gaius helped me but… I'm not strong enough to counter the magic. Not without hurting you."
"Thank you for trying, Merlin." Harry nodded before turning to the other two in the room. "I know my duty. I will protect my brother and Camelot until I am unable to. And I will protect Merlin because he has his own duty to protect my brother. I will do what I can to help him cover for his magic when he uses it to protect my brother as I know he has done so already so many times."
"What about Arthur?" Merlin asked.
"He believes absolutely that your friend cast the magic and in truth is relieved that he doesn't need to worry more on it since you are not one of our citizens." Harry shook his head.
"What about your scouts?" Will asked.
"They have seen many a strange thing in their time." Harry chuckled. "But they are completely loyal to me. You have nothing to fear from them."
"Thank you, Harry." Merlin moved and hugged him suddenly and Will and his mother gasped in surprise. Harry ignored them and hugged him back but didn't try to kiss Merlin. Clearly Merlin was keeping at least that part secret for now.
Harry turned to Will after a moment and then to Merlin's mother. "What are you plans now? To rebuild and remain here?"
"Do they have another option?" Merlin asked.
"Our borders are not far from here. Nobody would be surprised if villagers that have suffered an attack here without the aid of their own King travelled across into Camelot in search of safety. There are several villages within Camelot that would be happy to house the people of Ealdor." Harry nodded. "Even without a letter from the Princes of Camelot. Or if you wish to make a life in Camelot it can be seen to." He told Merlin's mother. "I could find you a place to live and work into the city itself if you wished to be closer to Merlin."
"I would not want to abandon the others here." She shook her head. "And we fought for this place. It is our home."
"I understand." Harry nodded and turned to look at Will. "What about you? Will you spend your life in this village? I see the worry you have for Merlin and your concern about him leaving again. You can fight. I could find you a place in the city or within the army if you wished it."
"He's an amazing hunter." Merlin grinned widely. "And until I saw you shoot a bow I didn't think there was anyone better than him."
"Coming from you, Merlin. That isn't great praise." Arthur's voice made all of them jump as he stepped inside. Merlin went pale but Feosol's happy whine told Harry that Feosol had only just noticed him and therefore Arthur had only just come into earshot.
"If that's true, Will." Harry turned to the young man. "A place is open in my scouts if you want it."
"Harry…" Arthur frowned at him as he moved over to his side and petted a demanding Feosol. "You're inviting a sorcerer into Camelot?"
"I thought we agreed to forget that happened?" Harry asked his brother with a raised eyebrow. "Or do you want to turn your hair grey worrying about it?"
"Harry." Arthur growled at him before sighing. "Fine. Whatever."
"I can play him easily." Harry announced and Merlin snorted.
"You're still my servant, Merlin." Arthur narrowed his eyes and Merlin swallowed thickly.
"We'll be leaving in the morning, Will." Harry announced and snapped his fingers. Feosol yowled quietly and pounced to the door and nosed it open to check outside at the command. "If you wish to join my scouts just be ready to leave. You know the laws in Camelot but you're not breaking them just by being there." Of course he knew that was academic.
"I'll think about it." Will nodded shyly. Harry prompted Arthur out of the house to let the other three talk things over and Harry soon busied himself getting his horse settled in at the camp and talking to Jeremy who had simply kept his own discoveries to himself.
Harry sat himself down next to where Merlin was mutilating a stick with a sharp knife. He recognised it as a replacement part to one of the damaged livestock fences but it looked like Merlin was a little distracted to do it properly. Merlin looked sideways at him and took a deep breath before trying to work out what to say.
"I hope you don't start treating me differently just because I know the truth now." Harry commented. Merlin glanced around but the nearest people were the scouts in the camp and they were well out of earshot. "I've suspected for some time. Jeremy too."
"Jeremy too?" Merlin swallowed.
"Jeremy is very protective of me." Harry shrugged. "He studies most of the people I spend any time with. When odd things started happening that were helping us he got suspicious."
"I've always had to hide it." Merlin hung his head. "Even here growing up. Strange things happened but nobody commented on it. Only Will and my mother knew the truth. When she sent me to Gaius she made me promise to keep it a secret. We knew what would happen to me if somebody discovered me."
"Gaius knows?" Harry asked and Merlin nodded slowly.
"When I first arrived he slipped and fell from his book shelves. It's pretty instinctual for me and I caught him with my magic. He guessed." Merlin shrugged.
"Gaius used to use magic when he was younger." Harry nodded. "He'd recognise it easily. I don't really know the details and my father tries to never mention it but sometime during the war Gaius started helping him understand and overcome magic. I've always tried to remember that. How can we fight magic… when we need to… if we don't understand it. If we don't have allies that use it responsibly."
"I try to be responsible but… I'm still learning." Merlin hung his head.
"You do use it responsibly." Harry nodded. "And you are trying to do good with it. I appreciate that."
"I got so close to telling you. With everything we have. I love you and if I couldn't tell you… who could I tell?" Merlin asked.
"I'm sure if the occasion demanded it you would have told me." Harry assured him. "I don't blame you for not telling me. You can't afford to tell people even if you trust them. You saw how Arthur reacted. He panicked when he thought it was you. And my father doesn't care what people use magic for. He'd kill you just because you have it. I on the other hand care very much how people use magic. I can see the good in people that use it despite the pain it has caused me."
"You trust me?" Merlin checked.
"Yes." Harry nodded. "You've been using magic around me and the castle for months and my scar hasn't reacted. Not like it reacted to the witch you saved my brother from or from the undead knight. The evil behind the magic in my scar reacts and grows in strength when it senses other evil magic. When it does that my body tries harder to get rid of it. At least that's what Gaius thinks."
"Thank you." Merlin sighed and leaned against his side.
"So tell me about it, Merlin." Harry prompted.
"I was born with it." Merlin told him softly. "Others like Gaius can use it if they train but I use it instinctually. It's not that I have magic. I am a magical creature. The only human I know that was born with it. Not everyone can use it of course but even those with the gift aren't born with magic of their own. I've always just used it instinctively before I arrived in Camelot. Gaius gave me a spellbook and I've been learning more control of my magic from that. But a lot of it is still just instinctual. I know what I want to happen and I do it."
"That's impressive." Harry smiled. "You can tell me all the adventures you've gotten up to sometime if you like."
"I'd like that. And it'll be easier to protect you and Arthur from magic if you know the truth." Merlin blushed. "I'm not very good at coming up with cover stories."
Harry laughed. "You're a terrible liar but I supposed since you've been keeping this secret you're not so bad at it."
Merlin blushed fiercely and Harry gave him a moment. "So should we expect Will to return with us tomorrow?" Harry asked eventually.
"Yes." Merlin nodded. "He's a bit nervous about what Arthur will do thinking he has magic but it's not like he can do anything to get caught."
"I'll talk to Arthur and make sure he doesn't think on it too much." Harry nodded. "Arthur trusts my judgement about people. Does Will want to join my scouts?"
"I think so." Merlin nodded. "He likes the idea of being in the city close to me in case I need him. He never really liked the idea of me going to Camelot. He would have followed me then but it's not easy just to set up roots in the city."
"My scouts will give him the training he wants." Harry nodded. "And his position will give him access to the Citadel and you if you need him. And he can help you if anything happens. But he'll be my scout and I expect him to do what's expected of him."
"Will knows." Merlin nodded. "He's always taken that sort of duty very seriously and he's very grateful for what you've said and done. My mother is too. She worries."
"That's her job." Harry laughed before quieting and reaching over and touching Merlin's hands. "There's more to me too, Merlin. A lot I don't know about myself. Things that have happened that I can't understand."
"You can tell me." Merlin promised but Harry couldn't keep hold of his hand and dropped it before they were seen like that.
"Do you know how I came to be in Camelot?" Harry asked.
"Only what everyone knows." Merlin shrugged. "You were taken in by the King during the war and he adopted you."
"I was taken and given to the King by a Dragon." Harry declared softly.
"The one… under the Citadel?" Merlin swallowed.
"You've met Kilgharrah then?" Harry was surprised.
"That's his name?" Merlin asked. "He spoke to me when I first arrived. I go to him for advice. It's him that told me to protect Arthur."
"Well when I was just a year old Kilgarrah gave me to Uther and made Uther take me in. My father has only spoken of this once when I was younger. He told Arthur and Morgana about it too. Despite the fact the Dragon said I was a magical creature my father has feared not accepting me because of the warning that Arthur could never rule without me."
"You…" Merlin looked at him in wonder.
"I don't have magic." Harry shook his head. "But there is magic inside me. It's what that wizard wanted. What he experimented on me for. But he couldn't find it."
"You don't know what you are?" Merlin asked.
"Not really." Harry shook his head. "But at times I have a resistance to things. You remember the witch that sung us all to sleep. It almost didn't work on me. I tried to fight it. But I wasn't completely immune like it seems you were because of your magic."
Merlin just studied him for a moment but he was being completely accepting and if anything he was a little relieved to. "My own situation has nothing to do with why I trust you, Merlin. Or why I don't care that you have magic. You are who you are." Harry assured him. "But in recent months I've had a few signs of my own about what I am. I've seen golden… scales… on my skin. When I'm really furious I've felt them. Like my body is trying to change. And when the Griffin attacked me I should have died. We all know it. Somehow it's claws didn't just go straight through me. My body changed into something that could withstand it."
"But you don't know what?" Merlin asked. "Doesn't Kilgarrah know?"
"I've never spoken to him." Harry shook his head. "Uther has forbidden anyone from going down there. But I know how powerful that Dragon is. If he needed to talk to me he could easily do so. Like he did with you."
"Yeah…" Merlin nodded.
"My father is resigned to what I am because I show no signs of any magic." Harry told Merlin. "But that's also why I'm very careful to keep myself away from any such displays. I don't want to draw my father's attention. It is also why Arthur won't resort to searching for a sorcerer to try to heal me. He knows a miraculous healing will possibly turn Uther against me."
"I'll be careful." Merlin promised him.
"Just keep doing what you've been doing, Merlin." Harry chuckled. "Protecting Arthur from magic is far more important than anything else and maybe one day my dream for Camelot can come true. Arthur on the throne with me to help him as long as I can. And you behind him to keep magic at bay. Maybe even with Arthur knowing the truth. A true Kingdom where everyone is free."
"I'd like that." Merlin nodded. Harry rose up.
"Now go spend your evening with your mother. We'll be leaving straight after breakfast in the morning. Make the most of Arthur not being able to bark orders at you." Harry grinned just as Feosol bounced over to them and grabbed the mutilated stick out of Merlin's hand with a happy growl.
Two days later
Harry spurred Vete through the arch and into the main Citadel courtyard with Jeremy walking at his side and Morgana riding Jeremy's own horse behind them and Arthur on one of his scout's horses. Since Morgana and Arthur hadn't taken their own with them. The rest of his scouts had peeled off with the other horses when they passed the main city barracks outside of the Citadel walls and they'd taken Will with them so as not to make a point of his arrival. Just in case Arthur got a little fidgety. So it was just Merlin, Gwen and Jeremy walking with them.
As they approached the steps where they normally disembarked the doors slammed open at the top and Uther stormed out and started down the steps. "I'm afraid the hunt didn't go well, father." Harry called up loudly as he dismounted and let Jeremy take Vete by the nose and out of the way. "I did catch up to them but it seems Arthur had no luck finding anything worth hunting. Morgana will just have to try her hand at it when a better season comes around."
His father gave him a surprised look and his eyes narrowed but he'd work it out soon enough and wouldn't show Harry up by asking what he was going on about. Arthur and Morgana wisely kept their mouths shut until Uther recovered and greeted them like he normally would have and then turned and disappeared again. Arthur breathed out in relief. "What would you do without me?" Harry asked in amusement.
"Get into a lot more trouble." Morgana pointed out the obvious.
"Huh?" Merlin asked in confusion.
"Father is angry but he knows Harry is a lot quicker on the ball than most of us." Arthur sighed out. "Shouting about us going into Cenred's Kingdom to wage a battle wouldn't do any of us any good. Better to just let Harry's excuse take root."
"We might even get away with not having this mentioned again." Morgana suggested. "Come on, Gwen. I think we're both in need of some fresh cloths and a nice hot bath."
"Arthur… you too." Harry smirked. "You stink."
"Hey!" Arthur complained but Harry was already moving up the steps. Merlin turned to take Arthur's borrowed horse back out to the stables and probably check on Will and Jeremy had taken both Vete and his own horse to the citadel stables so Harry made his way up to his rooms and caught a young servant cleaning the corridors.
"Could you have the fire in my antechamber lit and enough water for a bath brought up?" Harry requested and the young man bowed quickly. "My own servant will be up shortly. I only need the fire lit and the water ready."
"Of course, your Highness. I'll see to it immediately." He bowed again and rushed off to get someone to find the water and bring it up. He'd probably get the fire lit himself.
He sorted out his bow and other weapons as he heard Jeremy arrive next door and take over and when he could only hear Jeremy he moved through into the antechamber and stripped off as Jeremy finished heating the water. Harry slid in with a moan and Jeremy grinned at him and followed suit to share the bath like they normally did to save Jeremy having to head to the public bathing areas or do without.
Harry relaxed and barely noticed as Jeremy added to the hot water once in a while from the plentiful supply of water they'd been brought. Harry was tempted to doze when he heard somebody in his bedroom and then Merlin was poking his head in. Harry smiled and made a gesture and Merlin blushed a little. Jeremy laughed and mock covered his eyes but Merlin was clearly feeling brave and he quickly stripped off and slid in next to Harry. Harry moved and pulled Merlin against him and kissed him on the cheek.
"How is your friend settling in?" Harry asked.
"He was helping the others brush down the horses." Merlin told him. "He looked alright though."
"I'll have them out for training tomorrow." Harry shrugged. "But it'll be up to the others to deal with Will's training outside of my time."
"How's it work?" Merlin asked.
"Harry only takes them a few times a week." Jeremy explained. "Normally for something random. Bows or hand to hand. Sometimes a little time in the forest. It's mostly just a reason for them to fall in with Harry. Get used to him taking the lead. The rest of the time they train together and mostly with whatever they like."
"My scouts all have equal rank. There's no one in charge just like with the main army. The Knights officially lead the army but the Knights can't train the scouts. The skillsets are all wrong." Harry explained. "On a rare occasion Arthur will ask me to help teach the Knights something, or a new Knight that needs to learn the skills. And then I'll either do that myself or have them join one of my training sessions with the scouts."
"Like teaching the Knights to use crossbows properly." Jeremy piped up.
"The scouts will take it upon themselves to train Will in everything he needs to know from how to pitch in with chores in their barracks to the tactics they use. Basically when they do something they'll teach him." Harry summed up. "But they'll also decide if he needs anything extra. Most of them get sent up to take a guard duty in the Citadel along with the regular Citadel Guards. He might end up guarding my rooms for a shift or standing in with the guards elsewhere. Just to understand those duties."
"But they'll look after him?" Merlin asked. "Even if they think he has magic?"
Jeremy twitched in the water and Merlin looked down at his lap under the water. Jeremy didn't say anything though. "I'd already sent my scouts off to run down the bandits when Arthur confronted you both. They saw your little bit of magic but they have no follow up. It could have been one of the bandits or any of the villagers for all they care."
"They'll take their lead from their Prince." Jeremy told Merlin. "And their Prince offered Will a place amongst them. That's good enough for them. Harry has always protected the scouts and they respect him for it."
"Protected them?" Merlin asked.
"My scouts are above the main military and well respected by the regular army and even by most of the Knights but on occasion a Knight… nobility… will do something unnoble. My scouts know they can rely on me not to just take the word of a Knight over theirs." Harry explained. "I've had Arthur banish a Knight from Camelot once after a fight with my scouts."
"What happened?" Merlin asked in fascination.
"One of my scouts was in a serious relationship with a girl in the town who worked in one of the taverns." Harry explained. "A Knight decided he liked her and was pretty drunk and didn't take the advice of the Knights he was with and when my scout tried to protect his girlfriend it blew out of proportion. The Knights stick together and the Scouts do the same and there was a confrontation. The Knight ordered my scouts put in the stockade for fighting him but I stepped in. The other Knights could not discard their honour and lie to me so his friends told me the truth and when the Knight in question refused to apologise to my scout, and the young woman, I asked Arthur to deal with him. Arthur banished him from the city."
"Isn't that a little harsh?" Merlin asked. "I mean banishment. Not just the stockade?"
"Putting a Knight in the stockade, in front of the townspeople, damages the reputation of all the Knights." Jeremy explained. "And they are expected to be held to a higher standard. Showing themselves up like that would expect a punishment like banishment. And although the Knights are a powerful force the military works best when it can work in harmony. Prince Arthur and Harry both understand that and the military take their cues from them. Letting a Knight off lightly for something like that would have caused resentment. Resentment that I'm sure they would have kept to themselves in respect for Prince Harry but still…"
Merlin shifted a little to set his head on Harry's shoulder and was clearly enjoying holding Harry like this. "Want me to find something else to do?" Jeremy asked, perfectly seriously.
"No." Merlin shook his head. "I just want to do this."
Harry chuckled and stroked Merlin's back as Merlin slipped a hand down his own side. "How are your ribs?" Merlin asked after a moment.
"Mostly fine now." Harry assured him. "There's no pain to touch them but I know I should still take it easy in training. A few more days and I'll be fine."
"Good." Merlin nodded.
"Duck down, Merlin." Harry prompted. "I'll wash your hair."
"A Prince washing a servant's hair!" Jeremy gasped in amusement. "What is the world coming to?"
"I've washed your hair plenty, Jeremy. Shut it." Harry laughed before tangling his fingers in Merlin's hair. "You need a haircut at some point."
"My mother might have mentioned it." Merlin blushed.
"Jeremy can cut it for you if you ask him nicely. He sorts out my hair." Harry grabbed the soap to clean Merlin's hair properly and enjoyed just being able to pamper Merlin after the revelations of the last few days.
A week later
Harry sat up straighter in his seat at the head of the table as the senior Knights, Lords and members of the court turned from their dealings to the doors as they burst open and Arthur marched into the room. Feosol perked up but Harry kept to his seat. Every couple of weeks his father called a meeting for his most trusted advisors to deal with all number of things for the Kingdom including going over stores, military readiness and a hundred other things. His father generally kept to his feet during the meetings and Arthur showed up to maybe a few a year but his father always insisted Harry attended because he knew that Arthur had little interest in it all, just like Uther didn't, and that one day Harry would most likely be dealing with it all.
His father let Harry make a lot of the decisions himself when things arose and that was why Harry often availed himself of the chair at the head of the table and although this time his father was in attendance the last time he hadn't been. The same as when his father opened the doors of the Citadel to petitioners twice a month. He'd started letting Harry deal with them more and more.
"Father!" Arthur announced happily and Harry's eyes found Merlin behind him carrying a red pillow with something long on it. The way they'd bring in a trophy from a hunt but it wasn't anything that Harry recognised. "I come bearing a trophy from the hunt."
"What is that?" Uther asked.
"A Unicorn Horn." Arthur announced and Harry frowned a little. He knew the stories of Unicorns. How magical and rare they were and how it was supposedly a crime to slay one because of how pure and peaceful they were. Not something that would worry his father of course who seemed extremely impressed.
"Look at this, Gaius." Uther lifted the horn from the pillow and held it up. "Isn't it magnificent. We shall be the envy of every Kingdom with this mounted on our wall."
Harry noted the impressed looks to the other nobles and Knights but Gaius didn't look happy. Uther clearly spotted it as well and frowned. "What is it, Gaius?"
"It is indeed very impressive." Gaius announced reluctantly.
"Out with it, Gaius." Uther sighed.
"What he means to say, father." Harry spoke up from where he was still seated. "Is that there is great concern about hunting and killing something as defenceless as a Unicorn." Harry got strange looks. "According to legend killing a Unicorn will only bring bad luck down upon whoever killed it. Mounting it on our walls will not bring prestige or good luck to Camelot. Perhaps the opposite."
"Son." Uther shook his head. "Those are only tales spread by sorcerers. Take nothing from them. This is something to celebrate."
"If you say so." Harry shrugged.
"You do take the fun out of things, little brother." Arthur smirked at him in amusement.
"I'd think bringing back the claws or horn of something dangerous would be more your style, brother." Harry retorted. "Did the horse look at you funny?"
A couple of the Knights sniggered but quickly covered that up. "Enough." Uther demanded. "Come, Arthur. Let us celebrate your victory." Uther slung an arm across Arthur's back and led him from the room. Merlin followed along quickly but the others all looked at Harry.
"Let's take a break for something to eat." Harry announced. "We'll reconvene in two hours with or without the King."
They all bowed quickly and left the room except for Gaius. "Is there truth to the legends, Gaius, or is it just a superstition?" Harry prompted when Gaius waited until they were alone.
"I have never seen a Unicorn before, your Highness." Gaius shook his head. "But I have also never heard of anyone killing one before. In the Old Religion nobody would have dared harm one."
"That speaks for itself." Harry frowned. "Will the curse come down on Camelot or just my brother or his hunting party?"
"I cannot say for sure, your Highness." Gaius bowed his head. "Perhaps it is all just superstition."
"Thank you, Gaius." Harry nodded. "Please, be on the lookout."
Gaius bowed to him and quickly left the room and Harry stroked Feosol for a moment before deciding to go and find some lunch knowing that Jeremy would have been finding him something to eat soon anyway.
The next day
Harry steadied his aim before releasing his bow and it cut through the air and slammed dead centre into the target at the end of the field. He stepped to the side and nodded to Will who was shifting a little nervously. This was the first time Harry had put him on the spot in a training session but Will wore his scout uniform proudly and was coming along well according to the general training reports he got from the other scouts. Will raised his new bow, one suitable for war and not just hunting. He took a moment to steady his breathing knowing that he had an audience and then released. The arrow sunk into the target just within the second ring which was better than any other archer in the army other than his scouts.
"Very impressive, Will." Harry nodded and Will smiled.
"I missed the centre." Will complained.
"You're still adjusting to the power and kick of a bow like that." Harry told him before looking at Septimus who he knew had taken an interest in Will's training even though all of the scouts were responsible for Will. "Take him to the armourer and have a proper bow made up for him."
"Sire?" Will asked.
"All the scouts have their own bows." Harry told him calmly. "You'll have seen them. They are perfectly sized for them. You've trained enough to move onto ones of your own. Those are the ones you must train on now."
"It's a rite of passage thing." Septimus told Will. "And your custom bow will make you stand out from the army even if the badge doesn't."
"And your preference for melee weapons?" Harry prompted.
"He's not really settled yet, sire." Septimus told him. "But he's very light on his feet despite his bulkier form. He has the muscles and build to wield something heavy but if we give him something too heavy it will slow him down and waste his speed and agility."
"Perhaps something like a halberd to go along with a pair of swords?" Harry suggested. "A halberd is light enough that he can still move but has the punch he can put his strength behind as well as have the advantage of reach in a battle. And the swords will back him up nicely if speed is the way to go."
"He's shown promise with a halberd, sire." Septimus nodded as Will blushed furiously at the attention. "But none of the current scouts are masters with that weapon."
"Knight Leon is very accomplished with a halberd." Harry mused and turned to look around the field to see where the Knights were training. He spotted Leon and of course Jeremy was at his side in a moment waiting for his word. Harry nodded to his servant who ran across the field. As soon as Jeremy stopped beside where Leon was duelling another Knight their fight stopped.
It wasn't long before Leon was running over and Will looked like he was about to have a heart attack. "Sir Leon." Harry nodded.
"What do you require, your Highness?" Leon asked respectfully.
"Have you met my newest scout?" Harry asked.
"From Cenred's Kingdom." Leon nodded. "A childhood friend of our dear Merlin I hear."
"Yes, sir." Will spoke up meekly.
"He's coming along very nicely but we're trying to decide what weapons will best suit him. He has a strong build but also a great deal of speed and agility. Attributes we don't want to waste by sticking to something like that horrendous sword of yours." Harry referred to Leon's two-handed broadsword. "We were thinking of a halberd for a mix of speed and strength with a good reach. And we'll train and outfit him with a normal sword as a backup. What do you think?"
"Give me a few hours with him and we'll soon know." Leon grinned in amusement.
"None of my scouts are accomplished with a halberd and I need him to learn to fight alone, not with a phalanx like the army does." Harry declared. "If you think a halberd suits him I'd like you to take over training him in it until you feel him ready."
"It would be my pleasure." Leon nodded. "Come, Will. Let's see what you can do."
"Septimus… go with him or he might just have a heart attack." Harry sniggered just as he turned and spotted one of the citadel soldiers rushing over towards him. The man bowed quickly.
"Sire, your father requires your attendance immediately." The man rushed out.
"Where?" Harry demanded.
"On the lower fields outside the citadel." The man nodded.
"Jeremy…" Harry prompted and his servant nodded and sprinted off to get their horses so they could ride out. It wasn't long before they were out of the city itself and into the nearby valley and the group of farms that mostly supplied the city with grain. Harry dismounted and left his horse with the group of knights lingering nearby as he eyed the dead plants stretching across the valley. His father and brother were in the centre of the field and he left Jeremy behind and made his way over. Every single head of wheat was dried up and dead.
"Father." Harry announced himself.
"Harry." Uther greeted him.
"How much have we lost?" He asked.
"The upper and lower fields all look like this. And the orchards in the east." Uther sighed.
"Some sort of disease?" He asked.
"Gaius is taking samples and then we'll know more." Uther nodded. "Place the city under rationing."
"Yes, father." Harry frowned and looked around again before heading back for his horse. He pulled himself up and spurred Vete to attention as Jeremy followed. He rode not into the citadel but into the city barracks and people rushed out to meet him as soon as he was spotted. "Increase the guard details." He ordered. "Something has killed off the harvest. The city is going under rations and you all know what that means. Put a large guard detail around the stores throughout the city."
"Your Highness." One of the main guard leaders bowed before turning and sending off messengers. Harry turned Vete and quickly headed up through the upper city and into the citadel itself.
He dismounted but shook his head at Jeremy when he went to take Vete. He turned instead and signalled to one of the boys that worked in the stables that always lingered in the courtyard and he rushed over and took their horses from them. "Jeremy, find the stores clerk. Tell him to put all the stores on rationing and tell him I was an update on our exact levels as soon as possible."
"Of course." Jeremy nodded and turned and rushed off. Harry turned for the steps and people were starting to mutter knowing something was happening. He found Gwen just inside.
"Gwen… I need to borrow you for an errand." He prompted and she nodded kindly at him. "Can you run down to the kitchens and tell the cooks we're on rationing. Nothing wasted. And then if you know where Morgana is tell her to come find me. I'll be in the throne room with the city council."
"Sire." She curtseyed and ran off and Harry moved deeper into the Citadel and stopped the next servant he came across.
"Spread the word for the City Council to meet." He ordered the young woman who curtseyed and rushed off. Harry took a breath and entered the throne room and the soldiers that guarded it rushed to help him move the table into the middle just before some of the council rushed in. Harry waited until they were half there before bringing them up to date just before Morgana rushed in and he left them to talk as he explained what was happening to Morgana.
Later that day
Harry was up on one of the balconies over the courtyard watching the line of townsfolk trickle in through the gates, kept in order by some of the citadel guards as they queued for a ration of grain from the citadel stores. "Son." He twisted his head and spotted his father walking out onto the balcony. "How does the peace fare?" Harry had declared he would see to the overall peace of the city and make sure the people didn't panic.
"The guards I doubled on the city stores stopped several attempts at looting." Harry told him bluntly. "Though no crimes have been committed because my men turned them away. I have issued a warning throughout the city that any attempt at looting will be taken as an act of treason in this time of crisis. Since then nobody has made an attempt."
"You did well." His father nodded. "I would not have thought to place the guards until after looting had happened."
"I've no need to distract myself with bigger concerns as you have had to." Harry assured his father as he idly stroked Feosol on the head. "But I believe that the vast majority of the people know how serious this situation is and they trust us to worry about them and see to their needs. The peace will hold as long as they continue to believe in us."
"Have you seen Morgana?" He asked.
"Several of my scouts are guarding her in the city." Harry told him. "She is seeing to the needs of the children that cannot otherwise see to themselves. She believes you would stop her sharing what food we have."
"I just might." Uther frowned.
"The people see her being generous and it speaks for us all. The small amount that she slips away with is nothing in comparison to the peace that she is ensuring. The people of this city adore her. It is well worth the cost." Harry pointed out.
"I'll bow to you on this." Uther smirked.
"But this is spreading." Harry warned. "Word has reached us that every town in the Kingdom has similarly been struck. The towns have what food they have already cultivated but soon they will fear for the next harvest enough to head for the city. They will add to the drain on the city stores. Turning them away will just cause problems."
Uther stood next to him for a moment but was prevented from anything when someone stumbled out onto the balcony and breathed in sharply. Harry knew Jeremy wouldn't have reacted like that to spotting the King and by the way Feosol reacted he knew it was probably Merlin before he'd even turned around. "Merlin." Harry greeted as the King turned as well and Merlin quickly bowed. Harry spotted the concern on Merlin's face. "What do you need to report, Merlin?"
"A problem, Sire." Merlin directed at Uther of course. "The well and the pumps have run dry. There is only sand."
"Impossible!" Uther gasped but he didn't seem to be accusing Merlin of anything. Harry's eyes narrowed but he followed Merlin and his father down to the main steps as Merlin assured Uther that Gaius was already looking into it. Harry spotted a couple of his scouts and whistled in a way they were all familiar with. They turned and rushed over and his father paused to see what Harry was doing.
"Go down to the underground reservoir." Harry ordered. "Take note and report to us at the upper town well."
They bowed and turned and ran off and Uther nodded to him and followed them out. "Merlin… find my brother if you would." Harry prompted and Merlin nodded and turned for the training field where he probably knew Arthur would be venting off some excess energy.
They found Gwen and Gaius at the well just as they hauled up a bucket of fine yellow sand. Harry eyed it as Gaius spoke to the King. "That isn't even native to this area." Harry commented and got a surprised look from Gaius.
"As you say, your highness." Gaius nodded.
"Harry has sent men underground to the reservoir." Uther spoke up. "But if this has happened…?"
"There is no scientific explanation for this, sire. Perhaps this could be explained away by a rock slid cutting off the water but as Prince Harry has already said, this type of sand is not usual for this area." Gaius nodded just as his scouts rushed up along with Will who they seemed to have found.
"Will." Harry prompted, just to get his newest scout used to speaking.
"The reservoir, your highness." Will nodded. "It is dry. There is just sand."
"Father…" Harry turned to the man who hadn't been paying attention to his scouts. "All the water has turned to sand."
"Then I must conclude that this is the result of sorcery, Sire." Gaius frowned. "But not of any kind that I have ever heard of before. This is powerful sorcery."
"Harry… see to a search of the city. If there is a sorcerer here they must be found." Uther ordered just as Harry spotted Arthur.
"With your permission, father. I'll leave that to Arthur and the Knights." Harry shook his head. "When word of this spreads there will be panic. I must turn my focus on maintaining the peace."
"As you say." Uther nodded. "Gaius… find a way to correct this."
"I will try, your majesty." Gaius assured him and Harry turned to talk to Arthur to catch him up on events. Arthur was soon running off and Harry sent the other two scouts off with messages for his own soldiers but kept Will and Merlin back.
"Merlin…" Harry started before signalling to them both and heading for the main entrance to the citadel and then up onto the wall so they could talk in private. "What is this?"
"I'm not sure, Harry." Merlin spoke softly. "But… the Unicorn…"
"I was hoping you wouldn't say that." Harry sighed as they paused by the middle of a stretch of wall where they wouldn't be overheard. He touched his chest. "My scar has not reacted as I thought it would. If this was evil magic I would have thought I would have felt it."
"I've felt nothing either." Merlin shook his head.
"You feel powerful magic?" Harry asked in surprise and Merlin nodded.
"Then while this isn't evil itself it is incredibly powerful. And subtle." Harry frowned. "And in that case unlikely to be the work of a sorcerer but something a lot more dangerous."
"I really don't know." Merlin frowned. "I'll try to counter it. I promise."
"I know you will but perhaps there is no way to do that." Harry shook his head. "Did you notice anything when Arthur killed that Unicorn?"
"I… thought I saw a figure. A sorcerer in a white robe." Merlin nodded. "But then he vanished."
"Could he be casting the magic?" Harry asked. "And if so is this just a single sorcerer's revenge for the death of the Unicorn rather than some curse?"
"I'm not sure." Merlin shook his head.
"Logically speaking, if this is a curse cast on us because of the death of the Unicorn, then to break it Arthur must atone." Harry frowned.
"How would he do that?" Merlin asked.
"Maybe that Dragon knows?" Will spoke up meekly, finally coming over his anxiety about talking like this around a Prince.
"Quite." Harry nodded. "Maybe you should ask him first of all and go from there. Failing that we must seek out this sorcerer you spotted and plead our case. Would the balance of justice really so callously kill thousands of innocent people to exact revenge on a single person or would there be a way to save so many lives?"
"I have no idea what you just said." Merlin teased him.
"Go on." Harry rolled his eyes but turned to Will. "I'm putting you at Merlin's disposal but report to me if there are any major breakthroughs or you need something. You will be able to access the Dragon without sneaking around as Merlin on his own would."
"Thank you, your highness." Will nodded and Harry watched him and Merlin rush off and he turned and pampered a patiently waiting Feosol.
The next day
"It's utterly ridiculous!" Arthur complained from his table as Harry sat at the end picking at a few berries. Harry was thirsty and hungry but he was ignoring it as much as he could for the time being knowing what the situation was like in the town.
"Grow up, Arthur." Harry half snapped at him making Jeremy and Merlin jump a little at his tone. "You're starting to sound like you're whining and it's not a good look on you." Arthur opened and shut his mouth a few times as he tried to find something to say. "You're just upset that you might have caused this. Whether you caused this or not it really doesn't matter. Passing a few tests to show you're a good person is a very small price to pay. If this sorcerer is leading you on then all you've wasted is a little time. If he's telling the truth then you prove yourself and you save thousands of people. Are you seriously going to pout about that?"
"Harry…" Arthur complained.
"You want to save your people, don't you?" Harry asked simply and Arthur nodded slowly. "Can you turn sand into water? Can you miraculously bring a dead harvest back to life?" Arthur narrowed his eyes. "Then do what you do best. Be a Knight and prove you are just and good and solve this problem that way."
"I don't like being held to ransom." Arthur complained.
"Don't put your pride before your people." Harry cautioned. "One day you will be King. You might as well start trying to do it the right way. And you'd better do it fast. My soldiers can only keep the peace for so long and the lack of water is starting to shorten fuses."
"Alright!" Arthur complained and looked at Merlin. "We know he'll come again. The grain store is the only thing keeping us going and he'll target that next. We'll head him off."
"Be careful, brother." Harry sighed.
Two days later
Harry watched from the balcony as the first cart full of grain rolled up to the citadel under heavy guard. The day before the sand in the reservoir and wells throughout Camelot had turned back into water after Merlin and Arthur had run into a looter and Arthur had let him go despite Harry's decree about treason. But then when Arthur had decided to head out to the forests where he'd killed the Unicorn to find another test he'd failed when he'd risen to the challenge of the same looter and failed the test. Merlin had found another way to break the curse if Arthur could really prove himself and clearly it had worked as a farmer had rushed into town to say that not only had the harvest recovered but it was ready to harvest well ahead of schedule.
Harry had given the farmers use of the soldiers and any man, woman and child willing in the city to help take in the harvest and he'd ordered the first bit of the harvest to be baked into bread by the numerous bakeries in the city to get food to the people as quickly as possible even as fruit would start coming in quickly.
His soldiers would need to still keep the peace and guard the carts coming into the city but already most of the extra people were heading home in the hopes of fresh harvests of their own. Harry would need to start restocking the city stores as soon as possible but that would be easy now with an earlier than normal harvest. Harry would have to prompt the farmers into planting an early winter harvest or they'd run low on stores come spring but that was all really the job of one of his father's advisors.
Harry spotted his brother and Merlin ride up into the courtyard and look around in amazement. They'd come back briefly earlier but then ridden out again with the Unicorn horn. Harry decided to head to his brother's room and soon found his brother just pulling off his shirt that was rather grubby.
"Things look busy." Arthur grunted at him.
"Not only did whatever you did reverse the effect on the harvest but it left the crops ready to harvest." Harry announced. "Are you both alright?"
"Arthur drank a chalice full of poison." Merlin didn't look impressed.
"It was me or you." Arthur told him bluntly. "And it wasn't poison, it was just a sleeping tonic."
"You didn't know that!" Merlin complained and he was clearly upset. "You should have let me drink it!"
"That was the test?" Harry asked as he took a seat.
"Two chalices, one with poison in it and we had to each drink from one chalice." Arthur told him. "Without knowing which was poison."
Harry frowned for a moment as he worked it out. "So you poured them together so you knew where the poison was." Harry nodded and then looked at a clearly upset Merlin. "If Arthur had let you drink then he would have failed the test. He had to be willing to put your life ahead of his. If you'd drunk it, Merlin, then Camelot would have been doomed."
"His life is more important than mine." Merlin grumbled quietly and Harry shot him a loving look when Arthur wasn't looking.
"Right." Harry stood up. "I have lots of work to do. We're not out of this yet. Thank you for helping Arthur, Merlin." He turned to Arthur. "I'm proud of you, brother."
Arthur rolled his eyes in way of accepting the praise and Harry left them to it knowing that Merlin would probably find his way into his bed that night and could tell him all the details then.
Two weeks later
Harry watched the two freemen standing in the middle of the throne room. Harry was sitting in his own seat on the right of the throne and a little more slumped than he normally would be because he'd been in this meeting for hours now. Feosol was laying across the front of his chair currently liking at his paw and looking up to growl whenever one of the pair raised his voice. Jeremy was standing to his own right next to a table with some fruit and drinks for him and there were about a dozen people dotted around the room. They were all petitioners from around the Kingdom that needed someone else to solve their conflicts. And his father really didn't have the patience for it anymore so Harry was taking more and more of these sessions. He had a few notaries with him to deal with his decisions as well as two of the Knights to support him though they both looked incredibly bored.
His brother was off somewhere or other getting distracted and Harry wasn't much better. The night before Arthur and his men had tracked down a sorcerer conducting some sort of experiment in the blacksmiths. Or creating weapons. It was unclear but they'd arrested one of the Kingdom's best blacksmiths for aiding a sorcerer and what made it worse was that it was Gwen's father. They'd also arrested anyone else in the city that had 'aided' the man including those that had given him a meal or a bed for the night. Harry had already had a bit of a go at his father for that one and stressed his point enough that he knew his father had gotten close to ordering him out but in the end Harry had a good point.
His father knew that Harry was integral to keeping the peace in the city. He was adored and respected by the common people throughout the Kingdom as well as by the members of his army and the nobles. Harry knew better than Uther how the people would react and the long term damage of executing people for accidentally aiding a sorcerer just by doing what they normally do with visitors to the city would be untenable. People would start to become suspicious of all visitors to the city. The inns wouldn't be able to do business and the market place would be irrevocably damaged. Harry had insisted and eventually his father had caved.
Harry had spent an hour that morning questioning those that had been arrested to find out what they could about Tauren, the sorcerer, and then he'd released them. But it wasn't going to be that simple for Tom, Gwen's father. He had had several meetings with Tauren and taken payment from him. And then witnessed him conduct magic. The fact that he hadn't had time to report Tauren to them weighed in his favour but Uther was going to be rather blind to all of that. He'd declared that they'd give Tom a trial but that it would be a mockery of one. In his father's own words, Tom's guilt was known and the trial was just to formalise it.
In Harry's opinion it was going too far and he intended to speak up during the trial. If he could rally enough of the court to his view then his father would most like clear Tom and focus his attention on Tauren again.
Those before him though had another problem. They were spokesmen from two small villages that resided not too far from one another. They were both good farming villages and well within the heart of the Kingdom. They were separated only by a dense forest which they used for forage and hunting since it had been released from the King's remit on such things. Hunting for animals in the Kingdom was highly restricted to the nobles but on occasion areas of the forests were opened up for commoners to hunt. The issue was that rivalry between the villagers had grown over the years, little feuds that had never been settled and it wasn't the first time they'd come before the crown with a petition. The last time Uther had divided the forest between them with a line in the sand but that clearly hadn't worked. They were both accusing the other of hunting in their own area of the forest and Harry knew it was just too hard to expect someone to just stop tracking something as valuable as a deer just because of a line they couldn't actually see.
Harry raised his hand and the two trailed off quickly in their argument. "Previous measures have been taken to end the feuds between your villages." Harry sighed as he rose to his feet. People knew that if their Prince was standing because of this then they were in trouble. "You identify yourselves so seriously as opposing forces. Two villages. Two groups of people. But that is false." He moved to stand right in front of them and Feosol growled as he crouched at his side. Feosol would never attack but the villagers eyed him fearfully. "The truth remains and always has done so. Your villages are both part of a greater whole. This Kingdom is the sum of its many parts. Like parts of a cart. All pieces are needed. All must work in unity to strengthen this kingdom. When the crops died and the wells dried up did you remain in your villages isolated or did you consider yourselves a part of Camelot?"
"Camelot, your Highness." One of them muttered and the other nodded.
"This Kingdom cannot thrive without the efforts of every person in it. From the children learning to tend your fields to the King himself. We are all a part of Camelot." Harry announced sharply. "Your villages both stand on Camelot's soil, the soil that gives your villages some of the best agriculture in the Kingdom. The forest thrives on that very same soil. It all works as part of a whole."
He paused and moved back to his seat and accepted a sip of wine from Jeremy. "Now… stand up, the both of you." They quickly did as ordered as Harry relaxed in his chair. "Clearly sharing the forest is out of the question. So there are only two options as I see them. The easy option for me, and the only option I believe my father would see, would be to outlaw hunting in the forest. Foraging as well.
Harry watched as they both glanced at each other out of the corner of their eyes. They both knew they didn't want that and so did Harry. They could survive without the forest but the forest gave both villages variety to their diets and more importantly wood for their homes and farms. Without the forest they would have to grow trees themselves outside of the forest for the future and in the meantime trade for what they needed from other parts of the Kingdom. Not to mention they would need to use more of their own livestock for meat.
"Clearly you don't want that." Harry summed up. "My own solution is more radical and it will mean work for you." Harry declared simply. "Your villages reside on fertile valleys that you use for farm land. The forest lays between your valleys across the hills but to the north of the forest is a plain so far untouched with easy access to both valleys and to the forest. Not to mention closer to the river."
"Yes, your highness." The other one that hadn't spoke before nodded. "The Ronan Plains. We often used it to graze sheep before…"
"Before disputes ten years ago forced my father to place it off limits." Harry nodded. "You have two disputing communities. The easiest solution in my eyes to end this once and for all is to turn your two communities into a single one." They both gasped and looked up at him in surprise. "Your two villages will be struck." He declared and their eyes widened. "And return to farm land and your two communities will merge and build a village together on the Ronan Plains."
Most of the room muttered at that and the two Knights were avidly paying attention now. "As such the farmland of the two valleys will both belong to the new village and the use of the forest will no longer be divided." Harry continued. "I am well aware that the feuds that have built up between your villages over the generations will cause trouble but I expect you to make the effort. If your communities truly come together you would become one of the most prosperous regions of the Kingdom. There would be a great deal to gain once you overcome the challenges."
There was silence in the room. "Do you understand what I am ordering you to do?" He demanded.
"Of course, Prince Harry." The men nodded but there was clearly still a bit of reservation between them.
"There is time enough this year, considering the early harvest, for both villages to be able to move to the Ronan Plains before winter falls and you will be provided what support you need. At the cost of the crown." Harry declared. "I'm sure I can drum up some extra workers, carpenters and thatchers from around the Kingdom to assist you in quickly building enough shelter for the winter and of course I don't expect you to take down your current homes until you can be assured shelter over the winter."
"We'll see to it, your Highness." One of them nodded.
"I understand it will be difficult. Prove yourselves worthy of the trust I have shown you." Harry declared. "I will make a point of visiting your new village before the snows fall. If I approve of your efforts I will greatly reduce your requirement for fealty next year. As a reward."
"Thank you, your Highness." They gasped.
"Your generation is the last to squabble like they have. See to it." Harry nodded and glanced over at the scribes who bowed their heads to him. They would deal with the official things needed for combining two communities and their lands into a single one. And once they wrote up the papers he'd make his father sign them. The increase in production from the larger community would benefit them greatly. Not to mention the increased size of the farms once their livestock was moved onto the otherwise non-arable plains. "Dismissed." Harry ordered and reached out for Jeremy who tossed him an apple which Harry started cutting up as the next group of petitioners moved forwards, speaking their problems as Harry ate and fed Feosol pieces of fruit.
Harry shot up in the bed as he heard the warning bell ringing out through the city. The bright light through the open window told him it was early but the fact Jeremy wasn't there told him just how early it was. Merlin groaned beside him before perking up as he realised what they could hear. Someone knocked heavily on his door and Merlin turned panicked eyes on him. "Into the antechamber." Harry prompted as he slid out of bed and pulled up his trousers as Merlin grabbed his underwear and dashed through the open door into the locked up antechamber. Harry opened his chamber door.
"The prisoner escaped, your highness." The guard told him in a rush. "But the citadel guards are closing in."
"Very well." Harry nodded and shut the door and locked it again and turned just as Merlin crept back in.
"But… why would he try to escape?" Merlin weakly gasped. "He's innocent."
"People fear the reaction of the King when there are accusations of magic use." Harry sighed and moved to the bowl of water and dunked his head for a moment to freshen up. "You'd better get moving and find my brother."
"Yeah…" Merlin nodded and nervously moved closer, always slow to instigate any touch. Harry hugged him and made him laugh as he rubbed his soaked hair against him. They dressed quickly and Harry checked the corridor before giving Merlin the all clear just as Jeremy arrived.
They headed down to the dungeons and clearly beat his father or brother there. "What happened?" Harry demanded as he spotted the body at the bottom of the main staircase. It wasn't the only way up to the citadel but it was the only one used in general. The other ones were kept a secret, in some cases from all but Uther, Harry and Arthur. There were plenty of hidden rooms and corridors in the Citadel, like the one he'd pulled Merlin into the first time they'd met… and engaged in a little bit of frottage.
"We were to take him up to prepare for his trial this morning." One of the guards told him. "He was supposed to be manacled but he got free somehow and overcame the guards taking him up. He ran but we surrounded him. He was armed and…"
"You killed him?" Harry frowned as Feosol moved around and sniffed around the body and the soldiers. He'd been stabbed enough times by the guards that clearly one of the wounds had pierced his heart since there wasn't enough blood flow.
"Those were our orders from the King, Your Highness." The guard told him meekly. "He was known to work with a sorcerer."
"He was due for a trial!" Harry snapped. "Nothing was known for sure. You outnumbered him and he's just a blacksmith. You could have easily disarmed and subdued him. Get out of my sight."
The man backed up quickly and Harry turned to the others as he moved up to the body. Feosol was paying attention to Tom's pocket and signalling to Harry that he had a scent he wanted Harry to know about. Harry crouched next to Harry and searched over the body with gentle hands but pulled a key out of the pocket. A key for their manacles. Somebody had helped him, someone whose scent had caught Feosol's nose and that meant someone he was familiar with.
Harry let Feosol sniff at the scent straight from the key and knew his wolf would lead him to the scent in due course. Feosol had an excellent nose to go with his intelligence. He rose up. "See the body removed and this mess cleaned up." He ordered. "Make sure it's covered well. His daughter is Morgana's servant."
"Your Highness." The other guards muttered. But Harry couldn't really blame them considering they had been given orders by the King.
Feosol's reaction to Morgana the moment she stormed into the throne room was rather telling and Harry just stood back as Morgana raved against Uther. He'd heard Gwen's cries in the courtyard as she'd seen her father's body but he'd kept his distance. Seeing the son of the man that had ordered such measures wasn't going to help her.
"Enough Morgana!" Uther yelled and Morgana gritted her teeth.
Harry pushed himself off of a pillar knowing that Morgana was going to get into trouble again. "Come." He demanded and Morgana knew that tone of voice as he led her from the room and turned to her outside. "Did you learn your lesson, Morgana?"
"What lesson?" She hissed. Harry held up the key and handed it to her. "What's this?" She asked though Harry saw right through that.
"Feosol found your scent all over it." Harry rolled his eyes. "Your heart was in the right place but you shouldn't have acted so frivolously. I had hoped to get the support of the court in clearing him. I would have spoken up for him. Now his attempt to escape will be the same as an admission of guilt."
"I…" Morgana couldn't seem to meet his eyes.
"You know how good I am at convincing father." Harry sighed. "I could have won this. Like I had the others freed. Sometimes patience is the way to go. Or asking someone for their advice."
"I'm sorry." Morgana told him.
"Take care of Gwen, sister." Harry told her softly and reached down for Feosol who nuzzled his hand.
Harry bolted up as his door shook as someone scrambled with the key. Which had to be Jeremy or Merlin. He sat up as Merlin slipped inside and Feosol settled down again where he'd moved to stand over Harry ready to defend his human. "Merlin?" Harry asked and sat up properly when it was clear this wasn't just a normal nightly visit from his lover.
"I…" Merlin looked panicky. "I don't know… can I tell you something?"
"You can tell me anything, Merlin." Harry sighed and pulled Merlin closer so he was standing between his legs. He rubbed up under Merlin's shirt to stroke his skin.
"It's… Morgana." Merlin frowned. "I followed her out of the city and into the woods."
"Did she get hurt?" Harry frowned.
"No." Merlin looked down and Harry sighed and pulled Merlin to kneel between his legs and then pulled his shirt over his head. Merlin was panicking and Harry knew he needed a little comfort. "She met with Tauren."
Harry tensed up but kept his silence as he waited Merlin out. He knew Merlin trusted him but the question was if he trusted him enough to shared suspicions about someone Harry had been raised around. "She…" Merlin almost seemed to whimper. "She told Tauren she wanted Uther dead. That she'd help him kill the King. I don't know what to do. The Dragon…"
"You went to see him?" Harry prompted when Merlin quieted.
"Yes." Merlin sighed. "He hates the King though. Wants Arthur to rule but… is Arthur ready to rule. With you to help him? I want Arthur to be King but…"
"Do you want Arthur to gain his throne because of an act like this?" Harry asked Merlin to help his lover work things out. He knew Merlin enough to know what he was going to do but he had to help Merlin sort his thoughts out in his own mind. "Can you live with watching Arthur take the throne after his father is murdered like that? By his own sister while you stood by."
"Does it matter now?" Merlin asked in a whisper. "I've told you. It's up to you."
"No…" Harry shook his head. "I'm not your master, Merlin. It's your decision as well."
"It's not right." Merlin whispered. "I don't like Uther… for what he'd do if he found out about me but… it's not right just to kill him."
Harry pulled Merlin up into his lap and kissed him gently and stroked his bared skin. "Tomorrow I'll give you Will. Between the two of you keep an eye on Morgana. If you need me to step in then tell me."
"Thank you, Harry." Merlin buried his face into Harry's shoulder and Harry pulled him back onto the bed and stripped Merlin off properly.
The next afternoon
Harry raised his bow and fired his arrow and it sunk through the back of one of the men. Will took his own shot and felled the other man but Harry spun and nocked another arrow as he heard movement. A man threw himself out of the trees at Harry before hitting what seemed to be a solid wall. He went flying back and hit a tree with a rather solid thump. Harry glanced at Merlin with a smile knowing that had all been Merlin's power. And the first time Merlin had done any sort of magic in front of Harry. That magic was no more dangerous than Harry with his bow.
They carried on up the gully heading for the hilltop where Morgana's father was buried and where she'd brought Uther out into a trap. Merlin and Will had come straight for him, not knowing exactly how to handle it but they'd soon ridden out after them. Harry was just in time to see Tauren straddling Uther and trying to stab him as they wrestled together. He watched Morgana rise up with a sword and he took aim at the sword, knowing even if he missed the blade it would put off her aim and he couldn't aim at his sister. Not to save Uther. But she wasn't trying to help Tauren and her blade came down at the sorcerer. He staggered to the side but the blade hadn't gone deep enough and he struggled around and tried to go for Morgana. Harry and Will both acted and fired. Harry's arrow went straight through his heart and Will's hit him just below his collar bone.
"Hide, Merlin." Harry prompted and Merlin squeaked and ducked back into the gully. Harry motioned to Will who joined him as they walked across the meadow. Harry had his bow armed and so did Will, just in case anyone else from Tauren's group were still lurking around.
"Harry?" Morgana looked rather distraught even as Uther pulled himself to his feet.
"Son?" Uther asked.
"You're lucky I happened to be in the area." Harry commented.
"Why are you out here?" Morgana looked terrified.
"I decided to give my newest scout a little training." Harry shrugged a shoulder towards Will who bowed quickly from where he was lingering behind Harry. "We stumbled over your guards… they're dead. We took out a few men in the gully. Nice work with that sword, Morgana."
"Yes…" Uther nodded. "You saved my life." He told her and she looked rather upset.
"Yes, she did." Harry smiled even if Harry and Will could have killed Tauren easily enough while he was wrestling with Uther. Or at least Harry would have been sure of his aim enough to shoot right at the King. "Now…" Harry glanced at Will and then back to the King and Morgana. "I have to insist you let my scout and I escort you back to the city. There's no telling who might still be lurking around."
"Yes… of course." Uther nodded.
Harry let Will lead the way and he glanced at Morgana as she straightened herself out before heading down towards the horses. Clearly she'd changed her mind but would she change it again the next time Uther did something she didn't like?