The Blacksmith's Son- Epilogue
Disclaimer/references: Merlin does not belong to me.
Summary: He has the hands of a blacksmith but a heart of a prince- if only she could see that. AU fic, in which Arthur is the blacksmith's son and Gwen a princess- because being epic means being two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fits, even when the colours have changed.
"For your services to Camelot, your honourable display of courage, your commendable efforts in helping Camelot when she was most in need and given that for many years you were a citizen of this kingdom, I hereby make you an honorary knight of Camelot." Gwen places the sword she holds in her hands on each of Arthur's shoulders. "You may rise, Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther, knight of Lyonesse, honorary knight of Camelot." Arthur rises from his kneeling position and when he is at eye-level with her, she whispers to him so that only he can hear, "And friend of Merlin," causing him to smile.
She extends her hand and brings him from his step and onto the dais. He turns around, facing the applauding crowd before him. They are all a sea of familiar faces: his men and the townspeople all packed tightly into court. He scans them all in- his men looking at him with amused grins ("An honorary knight? There's no such thing!" Gawain had exclaimed when Gwen had told Arthur she was making him one), Merlin clapping louder than the entire crowd put together, Morgana dressed in her finest gown and with a glint in her eye that suggests that she's going to make up for lost time spent in the dungeons, Leon and his family looking incredibly relieved to be free, Gwen standing next to him looking at him encouragingly and lovingly and finally from behind him, he sees the King sitting in his throne, still too weak to move, but thanks to Merlin he is better and not bound to his bed. The King looks at Arthur with pride and recognition and it leaves him gobsmacked because he never thought the day would come when the King of Camelot would ever know who he was.
Arthur takes in all these faces and memorises every expression and movement before him. He had dreamt of all of this for so long- of becoming a knight and for Gwen to see him as more than just a simple blacksmith's son. The long journey it took to achieve all these things- the isolation, the sufferings, the feelings of inadequacy, the heart break...it was all worth it to get him to where he is today.
There is a feeling within him that causes him to float higher and higher, and he's certain that his feet are well off the ground.
And there is nothing that will cause him to come back down.
"I have a medal," Merlin brags, coming up to him with Archimedes perched on his shoulder. Merlin motions to the gold medallion pinned to his neck scarf, which Gwen had given to him on her father's behalf, in gratitude for saving his life.
"I just got made honorary knight," Arthur counters.
Merlin's face drops. "You always take away my glory," he moans.
He comes to stand by his side and the two of them watch as people enjoy the feast before them. The food offered isn't grand by any means and it is only thanks to Merlin utilising the crops Lancelot stored away that they have any food at all, but to these people who have had so little to celebrate in a long time, the food could be fit for the gods for all they knew.
In the corner of his eye, Arthur absent-mindedly watches Gwen, who is talking to her father. There is a smile on her face and a healthy glow about her skin that greatly contrasts with the pale and frail woman he found near to death in the forest, and he is extremely glad for the transformation. He knows that part of that is because Camelot is safe again and because her father is well and he feels great relief that she got what she wanted after all.
"So how does it feel to be an 'honorary knight'?" Merlin questions. "Whatever 'honorary knight' means."
Arthur shrugs as Archimedes flies over and perches on his shoulder. "It feels surreal. I can't believe I'm a knight of Camelot!"
"Sort of," Merlin supplies. "You know, I could have been an honorary knight," he muses.
"Oh really?" Arthur says, lifting his hand to stroke Archimedes who begins to affectionately bite his hand.
"Yes, you see I could have taken out Lancelot."
"Was this before or after I rescued you from his evil clutches?"
"He threatened to kill Gwen if I used my magic!" Merlin protests. "Anyway, I knew you wanted to, so I let you fight him. But had you wanted me to, I could have wiped him out or made him three foot tall or inflicted incurable pustules on him. Instead, I let you have this protracted, drawn-out fight with him whilst injuring yourself in the process. Injuries which, by the way, I can cure, but you're probably enjoying Gwen fawning all over them."
"I am not!" he exclaims.
"It's true and you know it."
Arthur shrugs. Maybe he did enjoy Gwen fussing over him. His eyes stray over to her again and he sees her talking to Morgana. Gwen lifts her head and catches him looking at her and he smiles at her, not embarrassed at being caught. She smiles warmly back.
Merlin knowingly follows his gaze. "So have you decided then?" he asks. "Have you decided what you're going to do?"
He had found her in the very place he had left her all that time ago: in the royal gardens, dressed in a dark blue dress and wearing his cape. She was sitting by the roses and examining each one. When she saw him approaching, she beamed and motioned for him to sit next to her, which he did so obligingly.
As he sat down, he looked all around him, noting how vibrant and alive the gardens were.
"Merlin," Gwen had said, answering his unspoken question.
He had smiled. "Of course."
When he turned back to face her, he saw that she was extending a hand to him, and in it was a dark pink rose.
"Here," she had said. "A token of my affections."
He had taken the proffered rose with another smile. "Just to clarify," he had said, "Is this rose in lieu of my cape?"
"Well, I told you I would think about giving back your cape if we survived the battle."
"Which we did."
"And I have thought about it, but the answer is no."
"There's a surprise."
"I can offer you an apple instead," she had replied, motioning in the direction of the orchard.
"Keep the cape, no exchange necessary."
They had lapsed into silence, before Arthur asked how her father was.
He had watched as Gwen's eyes brightened. "My father is much better, thanks to Merlin. I mean he's still weak, but he can talk now and Merlin assures me that he can only get better from now on." She emitted a little laugh. "Did you know that Morgana and Leon smuggled him into your old house?"
"Yes! At Gaius' suggestion. Lancelot would never have thought the King would be there."
"The King in my house- that's something I never thought would happen. So does he know about Merlin's magic?"
"Yes," she had replied. "He was surprised at first and maybe a little shocked, but when I informed him about the lengths Merlin went to in order to help me and to save Camelot, he was a lot less critical. Maybe I can even convince him that magic isn't the evil he thinks it is."
Arthur smiled. "Merlin would appreciate that very much."
They lapsed into silence again, but the inevitable "what next?" question hung like a heavy weight in the air.
Finally, Arthur broached the topic and everything suddenly turned serious.
He knew that he couldn't bring himself to permanently leave Lyonesse. He had forged so much there: a new family and the company of the best knights in the entire land. Leaving them behind seemed like an impossible feat, but Gwen leaving Camelot wasn't even a question.
The colours of the sky began to change and darken, but they had remained on the ground, still talking, going over every possibility, trying to find a compromise and reach the easiest conclusion. Finally, they managed to make a heart-wrenching decision and then suddenly every moment henceforth seemed to slip through his fingers as he desperately tried to cling to them all: getting ready for the celebrations; the sight of Gwen standing on the dais, dressed in a berry red dress, with her hair down and adorned with a gold tiara and emerald necklace all taking his breath away; Gwen giving a speech to her people with the King sitting on the throne behind her, his face echoing her sentiments; Merlin receiving his medal; Arthur being knighted and marking the start of something new for Camelot; everybody celebrating and enjoying the food, music and drink; Morgana shamelessly flirting with Gawain; Gwen talking to everybody in the room, and finally Merlin coming up to him and asking the answer to a very important question.
He looks at his friend and nods. "I've decided to return to Lyonesse."
As everybody begins to dance, Gwen takes him by the hand and insists he dance with her. He doesn't need to be asked twice.
They pick a dance that matches the pace of the music, and Arthur is eager not to be left behind by Gwen's expert movements.
"You've improved!" she exclaims as he twirls her.
"Why yes," he answers. "In Lyonesse it is mandatory that every knight is able to dance."
"Because dancing makes the perfect secret weapon," she teases.
"Exactly," he answers as he twirls her again.
When his eyes meet hers again, he sees her eyes are full of sadness.
"I don't want you to go back," she says.
He stops dancing and looks at her. "I will return," he vows.
She shakes her head. "Not soon enough."
He extends his hand to her face and she closes her eyes at his touch. He examines her face and notices how her sorrow contrasts greatly with her radiant beauty and he sighs at the image. She opens her eyes, and sombrely extends her hand back out to him and he takes it, reeling her back in.
All around them people dance to the music, but the two of them dance to their own tune.
Gwen lifts her face up to his and a ghost of a smile flickers across her face. "This is how I knew," she told him.
He looks at her in confusion. "Knew what?"
"That I was falling for you. I realised it when I danced with you for the first time."
He laughs. "You realised this when I was tripping over my feet in front of you?"
"How is that different from when I met you all those times before?"
He shakes his head and twirls her again. "Once, I met this little girl who consoled me when I fell over. She gave me a handkerchief and handed me her flowers and she's held a special place in my heart ever since."
Gwen frowns. "That girl was me?"
Arthur nods. "Merlin says you're the only thing that stopped me from becoming a hard-edged, cynical man."
"But I don't remember that meeting."
"I don't expect you to."
"But I should remember it."
"It was a long time ago," he assures her. "And for all I know, maybe you rescued crying little boys all the time."
"Hardly. So that was the first time you met me?"
He nods again.
"I wish I'd known you longer," she says wistfully, although they both know it wouldn't have made a difference.
Around them, people begin to head home and the candles begin to dim but they continue dancing; wanting to savour whatever remaining time they have left.
The faint glow of the candles offers little light and what light it does offer seems to throw an enchantment across the room, making it look like an entirely different place.
They are alone now and are free to dance across the entire floor should they choose to, but instead they remain in the centre; Gwen's head leaning gently against Arthur's chest and her wishing that this moment could last forever. Arthur wishes he could stay another day longer, but he knows that if he did so, he would find it increasingly hard to return back home to the kingdom he belongs to.
At some point they stop dancing and stay standing there. One by one the candles die out and Arthur's arms go around her to keep her close.
Gwen lifts her face to his and places her hand against his cheek in an echo of his gesture to her. He closes his eyes as her fingertips dance across his face, memorising each feature.
He opens his eyes just as the last candle flickers out. His lips meet hers halfway and in the darkness they stand, sharing their last goodbye.
From her tower she watches as he leaves; her heart growing heavy at each step he takes away.
She'll see him again, she knew that much, and they had even worked out a schedule. He would split the four seasons up, so that he would spend two in Camelot and the other two in Lyonesse. Pending an official engagement, she would be free to join him for small periods in Lyonesse, but for now she would await his return, and use Archimedes to exchange letters in between. The separation would be hard but not impossible and she was just glad that they were able to reach a compromise.
Gwen had bid him and his men goodbye before they had set off and then had rushed up to her chambers so she could watch as they faded into the distance.
She sees him ride upon his white horse and lead his men away. He looks magnificent and although once it was hard to reconcile the image of Arthur as a knight with the familiar image of him as a blacksmith teaching her how to fight, now she sees that it was a natural transformation.
Gwen's eyes are glued on Arthur's back and it is not long before he turns around to look in the direction of the castle. His eyes seek out the tower and it's not long before his eyes are on hers and she is reminded of a similar instance to this, such a long time ago.
He waves to her and smiles; the faraway distance seeming all that nearer.
And she looks at him one last time and smiles; glad for the day that their two worlds ever collided.
A/N: Just a few things:
There's a two-chaptered counterpart fic that focuses on Arthur and Merlin's friendship, of how they became friends and how Arthur found out about Merlin's magic. It also tells the Arthur/Gwen story from Merlin's POV, with some new scenes there as well. For those who haven't read it but would like to, please let me know in your review and I'll send you the link. I will not be posting any more of my stories on ffnet , but for those who would like to read my other Arthur/Gwen stories (for which I have quite a few) again, let me know in your review.
This was originally just going to be a five-chaptered piece, in which the worst thing Lancelot was going to do was have an affair with Morgana, but turned into this instead. And yes, I did leave the epilogue a bit open-ended. I did not want a Disney-like ending as I didn't think it would be realistic for them to marry and live happily ever after, when they had objects still getting in the way (like Arthur being needed in Lyonesse.) At least this way it ends hopefully!
This has been incredible to write (and it still amazes me that people actually enjoyed reading this), and probably the best thing that came from it was the friends I made and I'm very sad (although relieved) that it has finally ended!
To those that were here from the beginning, those who joined in at the end and those who came in midway, I appreciate it. To everyone who constantly and always made the effort to comment, I thank you for making the effort. This is my first story on ffnet to get over a hundred reviews and that makes me so happy. So thanks to everyone who made an effort to review! And for those who have yet to review, I'd still love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading.