Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction and all rights to the series this fiction is based on probably belong to the BBC. The characters have been around forever but the portrayal of them in this story is based on the cannon within the BBC series.
A/N: This is my first Merlin fic. It is an episode tag for Le Morte d'Arthur.
I would like to thank The Lady Isis for her beta read on this story and a little nudge at the end.
Please enjoy. Comments are always welcome.
For The Love of Camelot
Arthur had a restless night filled with disturbing dreams that he couldn't quite remember. He may not have known what his dreams were in detail, but he knew they were centered around Merlin, which in itself was a bit disturbing. Of everything that had happened over the last few days it was no wonder that he'd been having disturbing dreams. What bothered Arthur was that if he were going to dream about a servant, why couldn't it have been Guinevere?
The things that Merlin had said to him the previous evening kept replaying in his mind, which thoroughly irritated him. Merlin had failed to turn up to help him get changed, something that with his left arm trussed up in a sling was now more of a necessity than a luxury. Perhaps Merlin had actually decided to quit his job after all. Arthur hadn't really given it much thought at the time, but perhaps he should have. Merlin had mentioned something about Arthur getting another servant, but it must have been a joke. Once again Merlin's words from the previous evening played out in his mind and he could almost hear the young man's voice.
"Promise me this; if you get another servant, don't get a boot licker."
'Ha! A boot licker, indeed! At least a boot licker would have the decency to show up on time in the morning and be eager to help his prince get this damned sling off and... and...'. Arthur wanted to feel angry at Merlin for being absent when he needed him, but he couldn't quite manage it while his gut churned with such anxiety. His shoulder hurt and Gaius had yet to show up with something for the pain, setting his nerves even further on edge.
"Why should I feel anxious?" the prince almost shouted aloud to his chambers. He continued to grumble under his breath as he finally managed to remove the sling from around his neck and shoulder. The tunic he wore was another matter altogether, but he - Arthur, Crown Prince of Camelot - would not be defeated by a collection of fabric and stitches.
There was nothing for it but to grit his teeth and raise the injured arm up over his head into the air. He pulled at the bottom of the tunic with his good hand at the same time but only got partway there when his injured shoulder protested vehemently, causing the prince to voice his own objection to the procedure rather loudly as both arms were now up in the air above his head and his face was covered with the fabric of his soiled tunic.
Hearing a commotion, Gwen stopped in the hallway outside the prince's door. When she heard him exclaim "Now what?" in a most exasperated voice, she knocked timidly at the door before pushing it open just far enough to poke her head through. The sight she was greeted with chased all other thoughts from her mind as she pushed the door open wide staring at the Crown Prince with a mixture of astonishment and humor.
Arthur's face could not actually be seen, but he was clearly trying to use his teeth to shift the tunic with no success at all. She could not stop the laugh that escaped her lips as Arthur gave that tactic up as a bad idea and turned around clumsily before bending over his bed to try and use it to slide out of the shirt. This approach would almost certainly have worked if only Gwen's giggle hadn't reached his ears at the same moment his knees reached the floor.
For a moment Arthur froze in mortified embarrassment, but the stiffness and pain in his shoulder demanded resolution of his current dilemma. "Well, could you please lend me a hand... or two?"
Gwen quickly recovered her composure and came to Arthur's aide. Once he was freed of his tunic Gwen took a hold of Arthur's injured arm and supported it as he brought it back down to his side. He was surprised to see her, but pleased all the same and wondered briefly if Morgana would be interested in switching servants for a time.
"Gwen, thank you. This would have been a bit easier of Merlin had showed up this morning," Arthur said, irritation in his voice.
Gwen's smile slipped from her face as she turned to fetch a clean shirt for Arthur. "What is it?" he asked, concerned by the sudden change in her mood.
"Merlin is probably tending to his mother," she replied, with sadness in her voice.
"His mother? Hunith is here in Camelot?" Merlin hadn't mentioned that his mother had come for a visit when they had spoken last night. The despondency that Gwen displayed when she spoke of Hunith worried Arthur.
"Yes, she came to Camelot the night before last. She is gravely ill..." Gwen stopped speaking as she helped Arthur get the clean shirt on over his shoulder and head. "She's dying, Arthur, but Merlin won't see that. He is convinced that she will get better."
Now Arthur was really concerned. Why hadn't Merlin said something to him last night. His manservant had never been shy about speaking his mind at any other time, and in all honesty Merlin was just as frank in his opinions last night as he had ever been.
"Oh, I know who you are. You're a prat... and a royal one." Merlin's voice sounded clearly in Arthur's mind.
"What's wrong with her?"
Gwen sighed and gently shook her head as she picked up the sling and set to work getting it on Arthur. "I've never seen anything like it. The illness came on her suddenly and it has ravaged her completely. I tried to make her as comfortable as I could but she is suffering terribly."
Arthur stood up and began pacing his chambers as soon as he was securely back in the sling. "Why didn't he say something?"
"Who?" Gwen asked, confused and a little distressed.
"Merlin. He spoke to me last night. It was very... odd, actually. For a minute there I thought he was trying to resign, but..." Arthur continued pacing and thinking. "When did you say she became ill?"
Gwen grabbed up Arthur's soiled tunic and absentmindedly folded it as she spoke. "It must have been the day before yesterday. I think that's what Gaius said. What did he say that was strange? Merlin, I mean."
Arthur thought back to what his servant had said to him the previous evening with a new perspective. It gave his words a completely different implication.
"I'm happy to be your servant to the day I die. You are a great warrior and someday you'll make a great king, but you must learn to listen as well as you fight."
The anxiety that Arthur had felt before returned ten fold as he began putting things together. He had been dying from a poison that there was no cure for, and yet he had miraculously recovered at the same time that Merlin's mother had come down with a deadly illness. Merlin wanted Arthur to promise not to get another servant who would coddle him yet assured the prince that he would be happy to serve him until he died, then tried to impart him with some sage council, or at least as sage as Merlin got.
"Just... don't be a prat."
The prince spun around and stared at Gwen. "My, God, Gwen... he was saying goodbye."
Arthur needed to see for himself if his suspicions were correct and abruptly ran from his chambers leaving a stunned Guinevere standing there in his wake. Arthur walked across the courtyard from the main keep but as he got closer to the west tower he began walking faster and faster, his progress fueled by a sinking feeling that was growing in the pit of his stomach. He took the stairs leading up to Gaius' chambers two at a time but came to an abrupt halt as he reached the landing to find the court physicians' door open and ajar. He could hear the soft sounds of a woman's lament coming from beyond the door and he approached feeling his heart in his throat.
As he stepped into the room, he saw Hunith, looking to be anything but from on her death bed, clutching a parchment and weeping openly. She had some marks on her face showing evidence that she had recently been afflicted with some sort of illness, but she was clearly not dying, so why was she crying?
"Hunith?" Arthur spoke gently as he stepped closer to her.
Hunith looked up at Arthur as he approached; fresh tears dropping from devastated eyes. "I've lost him."
Her words sent a shiver of pain through his heart, but he knelt down beside the woman and gently took the paper from her hand. The parchment she held was a letter written in Gauis' hand and addressed to Merlin. Some of the words had been completely obscured by Hunith's tears. "Who have you lost?"
She looked up at the Prince and said, "I don't know, maybe both of them."
Confused, Arthur looked at the letter and read feeling his heart sink with each word.
My life is already near to it's end, though it has, for the most part,
had very little purpose to it, very little that will be remembered.
In contrast, Merlin, your life...
Arthur couldn't make out what was written next for the ink was smudged and the text almost unreadable. The next thing he was able to make out made him feel as though a spear had been thrust through his chest.
To have known you has been my greatest pleasure, and to sacrifice
myself for you is but an honor.
You are and always will be the son I never had.
"Where is Merlin, Hunith?"
Fresh tears dropped as she bowed her head trying to compose herself. She was frightened now for her son. Arthur now would know about Merlin if he still lived because of what Gaius had written. Uther's law would condemn both of them for what was on that parchment.
"Hunith? Where is he?" Arthur's asked again with more urgency, but his tone was not accusatory. He sounded scared and she looked up at the prince.
"He went after Gaius, to stop him."
Arthur took her hand with his good one and helped her to her feet, then guided her to a stool, taking a seat beside her. "Where did they go, Hunith? What did Gaius mean by sacrificing himself for Merlin? Does this have something to do with how you became ill, and how you got better?"
Hunith was no fool and she could see that the prince was dancing around the subject. She took the page back and looked down at what her brother had written. Her tears had rendered the middle of the letter unreadable and she felt a tiny ray of hope blossom within her.
"Hunith, how did you become sick?" Arthur asked this question gently but directly and his expression showed that he would not let it go until he had an answer.
"You were bitten by the Questing Beast, conjured using the old magic. Only the old magic could save you, but..."
"There was a price to be paid for it. To give a life one must be sacrificed."
Now Arthur was completely flummoxed. "You were made ill in sacrifice to save me? How?"
A new set of tears welled up in Hunith's eyes. "Merlin made a deal to trade his life for yours, but whoever the sorcerer was that he struck the deal with didn't take his life, but mine. He was tricked; this sorcerer betrayed him. Sire, he was so angry. He planned to go and trade himself for me, but Gaius left in the night to make that bargain in his place. Merlin found this letter at dawn and chased after him. All I know is that one or both of them are lost, for I am recovered." As she said this, fresh tears dropped down her face. "Please, sire, you can not hold them to task. Merlin is loyal to you and would do anything to save you. Making a deal with a sorcerer may be against the laws of Camelot, but it was done for the love of Camelot and your future reign over her."
Hearing his words spoken back to him, the words he spoke to his knights when they sought out the beast to kill it brought him to his feet. "Where have they gone, Hunith? Where is this sorcerer?"
"I have no idea, sire. I can only wait to find out the fate has befallen my son and Gaius."
Arthur began pacing the floor of Gaius' chambers. Waiting was not his strongest suit. He wanted to charge out after Merlin and the court physician, he wanted to slay the sorcerer who conjured the beast and then tricked Merlin into sacrificing his own mother. He wanted to... he needed to save Merlin, but he didn't know how. He had no idea where they had gone. The pain in his shoulder was throbbing in tempo with his beating heart making it harder for him to concentrate.
Suddenly he'd stopped pacing and stared around at the room he was standing in. The court physician's chamber's were cluttered with books, papers, glass jars of every shape and size one could think of, racks for firing potions, enigmatic symbols hanging from the walls and he hadn't a clue where to begin searching.
"There must be something here, something that will tell us where they went."
Arthur began looking through all of Gaius' books and papers, he searched the entire lab for any clue that would give him a direction to go in. Hunith also looked around but she felt as though she were invading Gaius' privacy in doing so. Arthur was determined to find an answer and it was clear that he would stop at nothing to try and find Merlin, to save him if he could. She prayed that her son yet lived and if he did she knew he was blessed to have a friend in Arthur. Try as he might Arthur could find no clue to lead him to his servant or the court physician and as his frustration grew his temper flared. After searching for nearly three hours whilst Hunith tried to straighten up in his frenzied wake Arthur picked up a glass beaker and threw it hard against the wall causing it to shatter into pieces.
"Where are you, Merlin!"
The sudden violent outburst shocked Hunith and scared her just a little. She knew that Arthur was only worried about his friend but it didn't stop her from gasping loudly in surprise. Arthur had almost forgotten that she was there and turned to face Merlin's mother with an apologetic and contrite expression.
"I'm sorry, Hunith. Really, I am. It's just so frustrating not to be able to do anything."
The woman stepped over to the prince and gently put a hand on his good shoulder. "Come sit down for a moment. Your shoulder looks painful, I'll rub it out for you."
Hunith worked on Arthur's shoulders and back noting the tension in his muscles. She felt the same tension in herself but she had resigned to accept what ever fate was to come. As Arthur began to relax a little she could feel him begin to sag and he hung his head. "I never would have wanted him to trade his life for my own, why did he do it?"
Hunith spoke in a soothing tone but she spoke plainly. "You are his prince and his master. That is what is expected of him. Any of your knights would lay down their lives for you, why would you expect anything less from Merlin?"
"But he isn't a knight. He hasn't sworn to protect Camelot or me with life and limb."
"Hasn't he? Forgive me for being blunt, sire, but you aren't seeing things very clearly. Merlin is far more than just your servant. He is your friend. He would do the same for any of the people he loves."
Arthur turned and stared wide eyed at Hunith. He didn't know what to say to her words. It was hard for him to admit that he was very fond of Merlin, but it was true. He would risk his life for him and had done so on several occasions in the past, but Arthur attributed that to his nature. He would risk him life for his people; he would die for his people. Merlin was one of his subjects now that he lived permanently in Camelot, but it was more than that and Arthur knew it in his heart. "I'm sorry Hunith, I didn't mean to..."
"You have no need to apologize. I know that you are concerned for him. It is not necessary to voice that, but understand that he would do the same thing if he were put in the same situation again. If he has died, then he did it fulfilling his destiny, and for that I am proud of him."
Arthur placed his hand on Hunith's hands that were kneading his shoulders. He could have sat there all day letting her work out the tension in his muscles but the woman had been through quite enough over the last 48 hours. "Thank you, Hunith. That's much better. ... And... thank you for setting me straight; about Merlin, I mean. You're right about him, of course. He has already saved my life nearly at the cost of his own. He really has been more than a servant and has shown as great a loyalty to me as any knight. I shouldn't have questioned his reasons for trying to save my life again, I'm only sorry that you were drawn into this but some sorcerer's treachery."
Arthur suddenly stood up and walked over to the window placed high on the wall under the raised platform that Gaius used to get to his library of medical and scientific texts all along the upper walls of his chambers. He could see the city from that vantage point, but what he wanted to see was the country side. He wanted to look in the direction that Merlin would be coming from were he to return to Camelot.
It had grown late in the afternoon and he turned to Hunith. "Let us go to the upper parapet of the west tower. Perhaps we will be able to see them returning."
Hunith nodded sadly, knowing that her son was most likely dead or at the very least Gaius was dead, and it pained her to know who would be returning. She almost didn't want to know.
Arthur saw the conflict in her eyes. "He'll come back."
As the sun began to set on the horizon, Arthur and Hunith saw two horses approach the city gates. They couldn't tell from the distance who rode the horses until both had cleared the tree line. The slender figure with dark hair riding along side a stockier figure with shoulder length white hair was like seeing some miracle occur before their very eyes. Disbelief, relief, joy and the overwhelming need to run down to the gates overcame both prince and mother at the same time. They were back, both of them, and at that point neither Arthur nor Hunith cared why, they just wanted to welcome both of them home.