A/N: This is the final chapter. I hope you all enjoyed the ride.
I have a total of 8 Merlin story lines that are vying for my attention to get written. Three have already been throughly outlined while the others are a little more vague. There is one that is half written that takes place within a week after the final episode of season one after Merlin and Gaius return from The Isle of the Blessed. Other than that all of my plot ideas are based on or within the time line of the episodes in season one so stay tuned for some new stories!.
I wish to thank all those folks who took time to let me know what you thought of this work. Your reviews are always a treat to read and they make the extra work and research worth every hour spent on them. Thanks once again to dHALL for stepping in on these last two chapter's as beta.
By midday, Arthur was actually glad to see Edward when he entered Merlin's chamber; carrying the walking sticks that Arthur had left behind in one hand, and a tray holding the prince's lunch in the other. After sitting in the chair next to Merlin's bed for nearly two and a half hours, Arthur was decidedly stiff and sore. He knew he could have called the guard to come and help him get back to his own chamber, but he felt oddly compelled to stay and watch over Merlin. He continued to wipe down his brow and talk to the young man about anything and everything until his voice was hoarse. Edward's arrival meant that he could put his leg down and move around, if it only meant standing up.
"Ah, Edward. Thank goodness. Let me have those walking sticks."
The young servant set the tray that he managed to balance on only one hand down on the table without tipping the pitcher on it or disturbing anything else on the tray. Arthur couldn't help thinking of what a disaster that maneuver would have been in Merlin's hands. Then Edward stepped over to the prince and handed over the walking sticks.
"Just stand close by in case I lose my balance." Arthur commanded, and he grabbed hold of the handles the way Gaius had showed him and raised himself up out of the chair.
He wobbled a little and Edward grabbed his forearm to steady the prince. It felt so good to get up out of the chair and allow blood to flow through his lower body again that Arthur just stood there for a moment. He looked over at the tray of food and his stomach rumbled in response to the sight of it. Arthur moved slowly, trying to make sure he wouldn't fall forward the way he had done earlier, as he carefully made his way over to the table. It felt absolutely marvelous to be able to move about on his own and he sent a silent thanks to Gaius for the sticks.
"Edward, do you have any idea where Gaius is? I would have expected him back before now."
"I saw the court physician going into the market place earlier today. He was headed for the herbalist, if the Lady Morgana's handmaiden is correct. That was quite some time ago, however. Would you like me to fetch him for you, Sire?"
Arthur had made it over to the table and gingerly sat down in front of the tray of lunch. "No, that's alright. I was just wondering where he was."
Edward poured a cup of water for Arthur from the pitcher, which the prince gratefully drank to ease the dryness of his throat. As Arthur began to eat, Edward set about straightening up the room. He cleared out the dirty linens that had been used to wipe Merlin's fevered body and replaced them with fresh clean ones. He dumped the water in the basin by the bed side and poured fresh water into it and set that down next to the clean linens. He picked up a worn and battered backpack, eying it curiously, and then sitting it in the armoire. He picked up the odd looking flask sitting on the bedside. He shook it slightly, noting that it was nearly empty, and was about to dump it in with the waste water.
Arthur hadn't been paying too much attention to the quiet efficient work of his temporary man-servant, but he did glance at the young man when he picked up Merlin's back pack. Arthur had just raised the cup to drink when he caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. Edward had picked up the flask of mead and was about dump the remains in the waste water bucket. Spurting water out of his mouth, Arthur nearly lunged at the man as he shouted, "No! Don't touch that!"
Edward practically jumped out of his skin and then froze, looking at Arthur shocked. "I'm sorry, Sire. The flask is nearly empty and I thought that it needed to be washed."
Arthur was standing and balancing precariously on his good leg. He leaned forward with his hand extended. "Give it to me."
Edward, now thoroughly flustered, handed the flask over to the prince apologizing repeatedly.
"Enough." He said forcefully. Feeling as though he needed to make an excuse for his reaction, he added "It's Merlin's. He may not want it dumped." He quickly capped the flask and slipped it inside his shirt for safe keeping.
Arthur had lost his appetite and dismissed Edward, who left with the remains of the lunch tray and the bucket of waste water. The man looked completely chagrined and cowed. Arthur hadn't yelled at him that much. Merlin would never have been daunted so easily. He would have come back with some witty retort about not leaving important things lying about with the trash that needs to be picked up. Arthur used the walking sticks to get back over to the chair by the bed and lifted his casted leg up on the stool.
It was throbbing slightly and the swelling had increased because it had been down while he ate his lunch. He could use something for the discomfort and was about to call for the guard to try and find Gaius when the door opened and the physician walked in.
"Ah, there you are Gaius." Arthur said, turning in his seat.
The physician walked into the room and bowed slightly to Arthur. His face looked beaten and worn down. Even his posture was slumped as though he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. What really struck Arthur were Gaius' eyes. They were swollen and red rimmed. They reflected a deep sorrow that seemed to reach right to the old man's soul. It was obvious to Arthur that Gaius had been crying.
This took the young prince completely off guard. He had known Gaius his entire life and never had he seen the court physician cry. He had seen him get angry enough to make the king back down, he had seen him laugh until he couldn't breathe, he had seen true compassion radiate from the wise old eyes, but he had never seen the man cry. As he approached, Arthur could see that he was holding a small vial filled with an opal colored liquid.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to return, Sire. I had an errand to run."
Gaius' voice was husky and it cracked when he spoke. Arthur eyed the vial suspiciously and turned in his chair to face the physician directly. He unconsciously leaned a little to his right, as if blocking Merlin from the old man's view.
"What is that, Gaius?" Arthur asked, pointing to the vial.
"It is for Merlin, Sire... to ease his passing." Gaius answered with so much anguish laced within his words that it almost made Arthur's heart stop.
Processing what Gaius had said, his eyes widened with shocked disbelief and he allowed his casted leg to drop to the floor as he stood up using one of the walking sticks for support. He positioned himself between Gaius and the boy lying in the bed, clearly indicating that he would not allow the physician to pass.
"No, Gaius! I will not permit you to kill him!"
Gaius stood facing Arthur, looking stricken by his words. "Sire..." he stopped and shook his head sadly. "Is that what you think I want?"
Arthur defiantly squared his shoulders. "You have given up, Gaius. I promised Merlin that I wouldn't give up on him and I won't. You want to 'ease his passing'? That is nothing more than a euphemism for murder!"
Arthur's words hit Gaius with such emotional force that he flinched as though slapped in the face and stepped back slightly, stunned by the accusation.
"Merlin is like a son to me, Arthur. I love him as if he were my own. That is why I cannot stand by and allow him to suffer needlessly." Gaius' voice cracked with emotion and new unshed tears sprung up in his eyes. In a stronger voice he said, "I assure you, Sire, making this elixir was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life."
Arthur felt badly to have caused the old man this kind of pain, but he wouldn't budge. He would not allow Merlin to be euthanized by Gaius or anyone else. "Examine him." He ordered, in a strong and commanding voice.
Gaius frowned in confusion. "Sire?"
"You are a physician; examine your patient."
Gaius' stricken expression was replaced with something closer to a cross between confusion and suspicion, a fact that was not lost on Arthur. He knew that he was taking a huge risk, but that couldn't be helped. The old man stepped over to the bedside as Arthur moved out of the way, sitting back down in the chair. He used his good leg to push the chair back from the bed so that Gaius had unrestricted access to Merlin.
Gaius was beyond shocked by Arthur's cruel words, and he still felt a strong pang of guilty remorse. When the prince ordered him to examine Merlin, a small flicker of hope ignited in his heart. Arthur spoke so assuredly; he seemed so positive that Merlin would recover that Gaius felt his heart skip a beat. It was clear to the aging physician that Arthur was up to something. This wasn't just a case of a friend doggedly refusing to accept the inevitable.
As he approached the boy, lying so still in the bed, his hope almost crashed to the ground. There were no quivers in his muscles, his breathing was no longer labored, and he was no longer thrashing about in the throes of fevered delirium. For a glimmer of a moment Gaius thought that he was too late and that Merlin had passed, but as he stared at him he saw the steady rise and fall of the boy's chest.
Almost haltingly, Gaius reached out and touched Merlin's forehead. He still had a fever, but he was definitely cooler than he had been. He took a hold of the boy's wrist and felt his pulse. His heart rate had slowed from its frantic pace and felt steady and strong. He reached down to Merlin's waist and checked the wound under the bandage on his belly and while there were still signs of infection, it looked markedly better than it had that same morning. Gaius barely dared to believe what he was seeing. It made no sense at all, unless...
The physician stood up and turned to face Arthur with a piercing stare. "What have you done?" Outright accusing the young prince of breaking the laws of Camelot, laws that he himself had bent more than a little by harboring a warlock, was hardly his intention; but Gaius could find no other explanation so he blurted out, "Merlin was dying. That's all there is to it. Now his fever is lower, his pulse is stronger and steadier, his breathing is no longer labored and his wound is showing unfeasible improvement. This kind of rapid recovery can only be explained by the use of magic."
As Gaius looked at him, Arthur paled slightly, but he did not bow his head in shame. Instead, he reached into his shirt and with drew out the flask.
"When Merlin and I were in the forest, he told me of an old trader who gave him a ride. The way he described this man and his experiences with him… I began to suspect that he was no mere trader. He gave Merlin a ride from just outside the Knavesmire Wood all the way to Ealdor in the space of a single night."
Gaius frowned and sat down on the edge of the bed facing Arthur. "That's not likely. Ealdor is more than a day away from Camelot."
"I'm aware of that. He saw this trader again on his return trip. The man gave him a ride again and by nightfall they had come from Ealdor to Ithandin."
Gaius shook his head, still confused. "What was Merlin's explanation for this remarkable travel time?"
"He didn't know. For some reason, both times he traveled with Odin, he fell asleep. He was at his destination each time when he woke up."
Gaius grew concerned by that statement. He knew that Merlin was experiencing fatigue due to the anemia but this was clearly something else. He wanted to examine the flask that the prince had produced, but Arthur held it tightly, not willing to give up his hold on it until he had finished his story.
"When Odin and Merlin stopped just outside of Ithandin, they slept for the night along the side of the road. Merlin mentioned that the food Odin made was better than anything he had ever had before. He also drank some mead that was very strong. He said he fell asleep quickly and slept better than he had in a long time. When he woke, Odin was gone but had left behind some food for him; which again was better, in Merlin's opinion, than anything he had ever tasted in his life. He also found this flask by his back pack. It was full of the mead that Odin had shared with him the night before."
Gaius reached his hand out toward Arthur. "May I see it?"
Arthur seemed reluctant to hand it over, but after a moment he relented. The physician opened it and smelled the contents.
"Gaius, when Merlin showed up and rescued me from those thieves, he looked well. He wasn't pale at all. He was strong. And while he looked ridiculous trying to wield my sword, he still managed to do so with enough luck and skill to kill a skilled adversary. It was nearly midday by the time he was able to begin to dig me out from under my horse. He has had no energy that late in the day ever since he was attacked at the stables. He offered the flask to me several times during our journey back to Camelot. The mead made my leg feel remarkably better. It was still very painful, but nevertheless it was more tolerable than I could have imagined possible."
Gaius sniffed at the flask again. "So, you think that this mead is actually a magical potion, and that this trader, this Odin, is a sorcerer?"
"I suspected that he might be a druid. As you said, magic is the only possible explanation. I mean, how else could Merlin have done everything that he did with a wound such as that?"
"This could be very dangerous, Arthur." Gaius admonished. "We know nothing of this Odin."
Arthur reached over and took the flask back from Gaius before he could object. "I drank almost half of what was in this flask at Merlin's insistence. You said it yourself Gaius. My recovery is nothing short of miraculous." Looking slightly less sure of himself, he blurted out, "I gave some to Merlin this earlier. I would have given it to him sooner, but I had forgotten about it until this morning. But now look at him. He's alive, Gaius. He's still alive, and what's more he's recovering."
Gaius remained silent for a moment, thinking. He seemed to be weighing something in his mind and Arthur began to feel a little nervous.
"Arthur, you knowingly administered a magical potion to Merlin. You do realize that the king would consider that an act of treason? You have consorted with a sorcerer."
Arthur knew that this might happen, but he'd had time to think and he was prepared for it. "I can hardly be charged with consorting with a sorcerer or druid that I have never actually met. I don't care if it's against the law, Gaius. This helped me, it helped Merlin." Arthur held up the flask. "How is this evil? Tell me that, Gaius? How can something that saves the life of an innocent man be evil?"
Gaius leaned forward and placed a hand on Arthur's arm, feeling the tension in the muscles there. "It isn't evil, Sire. Magic is neither good nor evil. That is the prerogative of people. Magic is only a tool."
Arthur was heartened by what Gaius was saying. He was concerned for a moment that the physician would turn him into the king. "My father must never know of this." he said, as he held up the flask.
Gaius smiled broadly and sat back. He felt lighter than he had in days. He only nodded his agreement with Arthur before turning back to Merlin to cover him up.
Two days and the rest of the mead later, Merlin slowly opened his eyes trying to focus on his surroundings. The last thing he could remember was sitting in a chair in Arthur's chambers, talking to Gaius, while the wound in his side robbed him of the last of his strength. He stared up at the deep red drapes of the four poster bed he lay in, confused. This was neither Arthur's bed chamber nor any bed chamber he had been in before. The bed was soft and comfortable, which in and of itself was disconcerting, but as he looked to his right he was certain that the world was turned upside down. Sitting there next to him, with his leg propped up, was the Crowned-Prince of Camelot reading a book. The fact that Arthur was reading wasn't what confounded Merlin so, but rather the fact that he was there at all.
Sensing eyes on him, Arthur looked up from his book, and seeing Merlin awake he smiled. "Well, it's about time you woke up. How are you feeling?" Arthur asked, as he set the book down on the bedside table.
Merlin tried to push himself up to a sitting position and gasped in pain as his side protested the movement. Arthur reached out quickly and helped him, grabbing pillows to stuff in behind his back for support. Once Merlin was comfortable, Arthur reached again to the bedside table and poured a cup of water from a short silver pitcher and handed it to Merlin. "Here drink this."
Merlin looked at the proffered drink as though it were something completely foreign before turning a stunned and slightly disconcerted expression up at Arthur. "I'm dead aren't I?"
Arthur frowned slightly in an effort to hold back a smile. "What?"
"That must be it. I've died. But, since I can still feel pain I'm in some sort of bizarre purgatory where the Crowned-Prince of Camelot sits by a servant's side and offers him... what is that? It's not poisoned is it?"
Arthur looked offended. "Of course it's not, you idiot."
Merlin accepted the water. "That sounds more like reality, but where am I and what am I doing here?"
Gaius had entered the room, unbeknownst to either of the young men, and answered before Arthur could say anything. "You are in the room next to Arthur's and you were brought here by Uther himself."
Merlin nearly choked on the water and looked up startled at Gaius. "Oh that does it, now I know I'm dead; either that or delirious."
Gaius smiled, hearing a bit of the Merlin he was used to. "You are neither dead nor delirious; well, at least not any longer."
Merlin was no more clear on his current circumstances than he had been a moment before, and as a point in fact he was now even more confused. "I don't follow."
"I see your intellect is no worse for the fever then." Arthur quipped.
Gaius stepped over to the bed to get a closer look at his patient and Arthur lifted himself from the chair using some odd looking sticks. "I need to go, but I'll be back later. I'm glad you're feeling better, Merlin."
Merlin watched him with a puzzled look on his face as Arthur used the sticks, which fit under his arms, swinging with his good leg allowing him to move without putting any weight on the broken one. At least he remembered the part where Arthur had broken his leg when his slain horse fell on top of him. As the door closed behind the young prince, Gaius sat gently on the edge of the bed and lifted the bandage on Merlin's waist to examine his wound.
"You really did give us quite a scare, Merlin. You should have said something… told someone that you were wounded."
Merlin tried to hold still as Gaius checked his wound, but it was sore and incredibly uncomfortable. "I still don't understand why I'm here in this room. Why wasn't I taken to your chambers?"
Gaius was satisfied with the healing and reapplied the bandage before he looked up at Merlin. "What do you remember?"
Merlin had to stop and think. His mind felt fuzzy and his surroundings didn't help dissuade the surreal feeling he had. "I remember helping you to set Arthur's leg. That was a bit difficult to watch, actually. Then my side started to hurt a lot and I sat down. You asked me if I was alright. Gwen was there and she went to fetch water and your rounds medical kit."
"Do you remember what you said to me after Gwen left?"
The same deep sadness that Merlin had felt since losing his magic came crashing back, and it showed in his eyes. He knew that this was all too real and not just a dream. "I remember, but none of that explains how I got here and why."
"Well, after you passed out I had some job of getting you off that chair and on the floor. Gwen arrived with my supplies just after Uther came to check on Arthur. The bandits that you over powered had been rounded up by the King and his guard. He had been told how you managed to fend off the brigands and dig Arthur out from under his horse, and then practically carried him back to Camelot. He was as impressed as any of us that you were able to do that having suffered a sword wound like this. You saved Arthur's life, Merlin, and you did it without magic."
A slight smile turned up the corners of the young man's mouth. "I guess I did at that, too bad I nearly did myself in, in the process."
Gaius stood and emptied a small pouch of powder into a cup and added water. "Uther was quite impressed, and when I asked him to have one of the guards take you to my chambers, I was surprised to see him lift you up himself and carry you to this room. You have been here ever since, as I attended to both you and Arthur." Merlin took the cup that Gaius handed him and made a face at the smell. "Just drink it down and try not to think about it." Gaius instructed.
"How long have I been here?"
"It has been nearly a week. Your wound was infected and you raged with a fever for days. Gwen, Morgana and even Arthur have taken turns watching over you so that I could attend to my other duties while you recuperated. Even Uther has stopped in from time to time to see how you were fairing. It seems saving Arthur's life yet again has firmly put you in his good graces."
Merlin shook his head, not really sure if he was willing to believe what Gaius had told him. He felt weak and thoroughly spent, but he wanted to get up and move around. Gaius wouldn't allow it, explaining that he had at least another few days of complete bed rest ahead of him.
"How is your mother?" Gaius asked conversationally.
Merlin immediately grew red-faced and looked down at his lap in shame. "I'm sorry that I did that... left without a word or a note. You have been good to me and you didn't deserve to be worried like that."
"No matter. I understand why you were upset. In truth, if our situations had been reversed I would have been equally angry with you."
"I'm not happy about leaving the way I did, but it was good to see her. She helped me to put things into perspective. I miss home, but I belong here."
Gaius hadn't told Merlin what he had witnessed after he passed out in Arthur's chambers and he was trying to think of a way to test a theory he had developed. The Great Dragon had been very clear about a couple of things when Gaius spoke to him. He had said that the dragon whose tooth was embedded in Merlin's heart was his mate in a magical sense. He also said that only the pure of heart can wield the magic born in dragon kind. In Morgana's vision, when Nimueh invoked the incantation to bind Merlin's magic to the dragon tooth, a green light had formed over his heart. When Merlin collapsed, a green light emanated throughout the room.
Gaius had postulated in his own mind that the light meant that the dragon had relinquished its hold over Merlin's magic, and that was why he was initially sure that Merlin would recover from his wound. It made the boy's deterioration even more heartbreaking when it looked as though Merlin would surely die. Gaius didn't dare to raise Merlin's hopes falsely. He suspected that the boy's magic had returned, but he wanted to test his theory without Merlin knowing what was happening.
Finally, he decided that he would do exactly what he had done the first morning after Merlin arrived in Camelot. Turning away from Merlin, Gaius reached over to the bedside table and tipped the silver pitcher of water over. Merlin reacted instinctively as he had done that morning and suspended time. For a moment the pitcher and the water stood in midair before the shock of what he had just done registered and the pitcher and water crashed to the floor. Merlin sat in bed, staring with his mouth open wide at what had just happened, but Gaius stood back smiling widely.
"What? How? Wait a minute, did I... did I do that?"
"Well, I certainly didn't. It seems that you have been accepted as pure of heart by your dragon mate."
If Merlin looked stunned a moment ago with the unexpected return of his magic it was nothing to the utterly dumbfounded look on his face at Gaius' statement.