Brave New World

by Liss Webster

In another lifetime, it may be that in Uther Pendragon's enchantment by the troll, the Great Dragon saw destiny's chance to unfold, and denied any knowledge about breaking the spell.


Uther Pendragon awoke with a pounding head and the sick uneasiness that comes from a night haunted by terrible dreams. One of the heavy, velvet curtains was drawn back so that strong midday sun streamed through, and Uther thought, for a second, that it was late in the year for such good weather. His chamber was empty but for him, and it felt different somehow; unoccupied. He reached up to scrub a hand across his face, and paused, shocked, as his fingers touched on the brittle, crinkled hair of a beard. His hand fell away, and he noticed, for the first time, red marks on his wrist – on both wrists. There was a looking glass on the far wall, and he stumbled over, legs weak and untried, and the face in the glass was thinner, older and definitely more bearded than it should be.

Uther raised a hand to his face and pretended it didn't tremble. He'd had dreams of fighting to be free, of shouting of betrayal and treachery: were they true? Had he been a prisoner? Captivity could affect a man's judgement, he knew that. The last thing he remembered clearly… he searched his mind, pushing away half-formed memories and the shadows of dreams. It was Arthur, he remembered. Arthur back from freeing Morgana's maid from Hengist, Arthur back, not looking remotely sorry for having disobeyed. Then life had continued as usual, and Uther desperately chased the memories until they faded into mist, and he was left, standing unsteadily in his chamber, with a beard and red marks on his wrists and… he looked down. And clothes that looked like they hadn't seen a laundry woman in a good while.

And his wrath grew as he headed for the door to demand an account, except someone got there before him, and the door swung open. It was Arthur.

"Father," he said, "how are you feeling?"

The thousand and one things Uther had wanted to say – demand – shout – dried in his mouth, and he stared at his son. This was Arthur, but an Arthur he had never seen before. He seemed taller, broader, older. There was a watchful, judging look in his eye which was new, and Uther, who had always been in command of his child, felt the loss of his composure keenly.

"Father?" prompted Arthur. His hand slid unobtrusively to the hilt of his sword, but the gesture wasn't missed on Uther, and the feeling that some foul fate had overcome him welled inside him again.

"I demand to be told what is happening!" he roared, hampered only by the hoarseness of his voice.

"You've been…unwell," said Arthur.

"Don't lie to me, boy!" shouted Uther, then looked in astonishment as a guard – a young man he didn't recognise – appeared in the doorway.

"Sire?" he said, and Uther began to speak as Arthur said, "It's fine; return to your post." The guard obeyed, and Arthur turned back to his father. "You're right, that was a lie. You've been under a curse, Father. We'd almost given up hope of breaking it."

"A curse…" murmured Uther, backing up till he could sit heavily in a large, carved chair at the foot of his bed.

"Gaius couldn't find a way to break it," continued Arthur. "He thought perhaps if the creature enslaving you could be killed… but it fled the city and we lost all trace, until yesterday."

Uther looked up sharply. "It's dead?"

Arthur nodded, his expression one of grim satisfaction. "Oh, it's dead all right. We saw to that."

"What was it? What could have done this?"

"It was a troll," said Arthur, and his voice became more hesitant. "Father, do you remember the Lady Catrina?"

Uther nodded absently. "Yes, of course. Her father was a great man; I admired him very much. The family was killed, except the Lady Catrina, who…" He broke off and frowned. "I thought she escaped, but I remember no news. I…" He frowned more, and looked away. "I'm not sure…"


She's lithe and graceful, like a willow tree or… something, and Uther brushes away the comparison for he has never been one for poetry. But she's beautiful and gallant and brave, and her hair shines like ripe chestnuts in the cold sun, and Uther knows that he would give anything for her happiness and security. For what is a man if he cannot provide these things for the woman he loves?

"You want me to help you," she says, "and I want to be a part of Camelot."

He reaches out a hand, because she's so noble and so good, and he knows she will love Camelot as he does.


"Well, the troll pretended to be her," said Arthur bluntly, "and enchanted you into falling in love with her, marrying her, and making her your heir."


"And when part of her magic failed, and she was revealed to the rest of the court – to the rest of Camelot - as a troll, you were still unable to see the truth. On account of the enchantment."


"She sat in a heap of dung at high table."

Uther held up a hand. "Enough, Arthur. What did you do?"


"It's all very well knowing she's got him under some spell," Arthur says irritably, "but that doesn't do us much good if we don't know how to break it!"

"I apologise, sire," begins Gaius, but Arthur waves a hand.

"Oh, it's not your fault, Gaius. You revealed her true nature, at least. I suppose we'll just have to keep looking for someth…"

It's Sir Leon who interrupts them, jogging along the stone corridors of the castle. "Sire, forgive me," he says, "but I thought you should know."

This can't be anything good. "Know what? What's she got him doing now?"

"The King says Bayard of Mercia is coming to celebrate the wedding."

They stare at him. "Well," says Merlin eventually, "that's going to be an interesting occasion."

"No," says Arthur. "No, absolutely not. The King of Camelot cannot be seen married to a troll." His face is disgusted. "I mean, dear Lord, can you imagine what they'll say? What they'll think? How long before someone decides to take advantage of our… weakness? We must put him off. Send a message."

"It would be a terrible insult," says Gaius, and Leon nods.

"He's right. Other than grave illness, there could not be any…"

"So say there's an illness!" shouts Arthur, and there's a movement at the end of the corridor that reminds them this sort of conversation is not one to be held where anyone might hear.

"Outside," says Gaius.

They make a move, and Arthur reaches out and catches Gaius' arm. "We have to do something," he says, and Gaius nods.

"Of course, sire."


"We tried to kill the troll, but it escaped and fled Camelot," said Arthur. "We hoped that might be an end to it, but you were still under her curse. We had to keep you here whilst we hunted for it."

"How long?" asked Uther, feeling the coarseness of his beard. "It must have been weeks."

Arthur looked for a moment like he wouldn't meet Uther's gaze, but he wasn't a coward, and stared his father straight in the eye. "It has been longer than that," he said. "Father, it's been four years."


Gaius attended to him, and Uther was grateful for the familiarity of his old advisor, even if 'old' was an epithet only too appropriate: Gaius had withered and shrunk in the past four years, all wrinkles and hair like dandelion clocks. But his eyes were as bright as ever, and his voice as confident. He helped Uther shave, and find clothes more appropriate to his position and then, as Uther sat resplendent at his table, produced his crown.

"How has Camelot been?" asked Uther, rubbing gold and jewels with his thumb.

"Arthur has been a good regent," said Gaius. "You would be proud of him."

Uther laughed brusquely. "I imagine so. As it is, I haven't the faintest idea about anything. Have there been any attacks? Any attempts at uprising? In my absence, Camelot must have appeared vulnerable…"

"Arthur will make sure you are aware of anything you need to be," said Gaius, and left. Uther sat and watched the door swing close. Aware of anything he needed to be. Uther's face darkened, and he slammed his open hand on the table. Not good enough! Camelot was his kingdom! He didn't need to know whatever Arthur deemed necessary, he needed to know everything. He strode to the door and flung it open, and spied a familiar figure at the end of the corridor.

"You! Boy!" he called, and the boy Merlin halted in his tracks and stared at him, wide-eyed, coming closer as Uther gestured irritably.

"Where's Prince Arthur?" he demanded.

"Um," said the boy – and even he, Uther noticed, looked older and, for that matter, quite a lot better dressed – "should you be," he waved a vague hand, "up?"

"Do you dare to question your king?" Uther shouted, amazed at such temerity in a servant, and noticed, satisfied, as Merlin's adam's apple bobbed nervously.

"No! No, definitely not. No questioning. Wouldn't dream of it." He smiled engagingly, but Uther was in no mood to be engaged.

"Where. Is. Arthur?" he said, teeth gritting. "Idiot as you are, surely you can manage to answer that, unless you want to find yourself in the stocks again?"

Merlin looked discomfited by that, and glanced quickly at the two guards standing by the King's chambers. A quick glance told Uther that they, too, were discomfited, and he wondered what Arthur had done that the punishing of ignorant, lazy servants was viewed as something unusual.

"Take me to him," he said, and Merlin nodded instinctively.

"Of course. I mean, well, I'm actually in the middle of… you know what, it doesn't matter. If you'll come with me, your Majesty."


Arthur paces up and down his chamber, while Gaius, Merlin and Leon sit at the table.

"And there's been no sighting of the troll?" he asks.

"We've been scouring the countryside for the past two days," says Leon. "Nothing. Not a sign of the troll, or Jonas."

Arthur turns to Gaius, but the physician is already shaking his head. "I have no solution, sire, apart from the creature's death."

Arthur nods. "And my father?"

"Restrained, for the time being, I'm afraid." Gaius sighed. "He is senseless in his trust of 'Lady Catrina' and sees us as the grossest traitors to Camelot."

"I'm sure he'll come around when we kill the troll," says Merlin brightly, and Arthur rolls his eyes.

"Well, that is the plan, Merlin," he says. "I just… I wish it hadn't come to this."

"You couldn't have done anything else," says Merlin, and Gaius and Leon nod.

"Merlin's right," says Gaius. "Leaving Uther in power as king with the troll controlling him was untenable."

There's a tap at the door, and Merlin jumps up to open it. Gwen steps in, a little hesitantly.

"Guinevere," says Arthur, with something like a smile. "Did Gerald and his family get home safely?"

Gwen nods. "I saw them there myself. They're all right, well... they're a bit scared. No-one's really sure what's happening. After the taxes and the arrests and now – nothing, except guards coming and going night and day."

"Should we tell them the truth?" asks Leon. They look at each other, no-one quite sure what they should do. They're all so young, thinks Gaius.

"We'll tell them the King is taken ill, poisoned by Lady Catrina's imposter," says Arthur eventually. "He- he's not going to change overnight, is he?" he asks, and Gaius shakes his head. "Very well. I will make the announcement tomorrow morning." He's confident, but his eyes are not, and Gwen steps forward involuntarily.

"We will all support you," she says seriously, and Arthur meets her gaze.

"I know," he says.


"Ar- Prince Arthur's down in the town," said the boy cheerfully. (He wasn't a boy any more, and in a corner of his mind Uther recognised that fact, but he wasn't ready to let go of what his reality had been, and so Merlin could remain a boy for as long as Uther decided.) "We had a couple of bad storms, and some of the homes to the south of the castle were damaged. They're just looking at rebuilding a roof or two."

The morning sun had disappeared into the afternoon, and it was colder now. Uther stalked through the lower town. A child, in a patched smock, watched him curiously. "Who's the man?" she asked, but her mother hushed her, and pulled her back into a doorway. He was watched with caution, and Uther expected that, but he would have thought his people would be happier at his recovery. He tried a benevolent smile, but that didn't seem to improve things, and he did not pander to the people.

They reached the lower parts of the town, and Uther could see Arthur with a couple of knights, and a mason and thatcher he recognised. Morgana was there, and he smiled automatically at the sight of her, profile as beautiful as ever, wrapped in a dark velvet cloak, her maid similarly clad beside her.

"There's Merlin!" called one of the knights. "Maybe he…" He broke off, dismayed, as he recognised Uther, and a silence fell across the group for a moment.

"Father!" exclaimed Arthur. "What are y…" He stopped prudently. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better. We're just looking over some repairs."

"Well, surely they don't need you here as well?" said Uther. "I want to talk to you."

Arthur stared at him for a moment, then inclined his head. "Very well." There was a second of discomfort, then Morgana stepped forward.

"Sire," she said, and Uther smiled and reached out to hug her.

"Morgana! It's so wonderful to see you looking so well!"

"And you as well," said Morgana. "I can't tell you how worried we've all been for you. Will you escort me back to the castle, and I can tell you all the gossip while Arthur finishes here."

"Of course, my dear," said Uther, and would have done so had not there been a commotion at the gates, and a rider galloped up towards them, missing Uther by a hair's breadth.

"My lord!" said the rider breathlessly, tumbling off the horse. "News from Leopold!"

The change in Arthur was electric, and he started forward, bristling with tension. "What news?" he demanded.

"The Franks have been sighted off the southern coast. Tis thought it's maybe an invasion."

"Damn them!" said Arthur vehemently. "I thought we had made our position clear!"

"They don't think we'll do it," said Merlin. "They don't think you can do it."

Arthur's face was grim. "Well, they'd be wrong, wouldn't they? I told Louis I would unite all of England if that was what it took, and that's what I'll damned well do!"

"You should assemble everyone," said the maid, and Uther stared at her in amazement. "I'll finish this."

"Send riders out to the others," Sir Leon told the messenger, "then join us in the hall."

"Aye, sir," nodded the rider, and led his horse towards the stables.

"We should…" started Merlin, which was the last straw.

"ENOUGH!" shouted Uther. "I demand that someone tell me what's happening immediately!" For a second, for the briefest moment, it seemed like everything would slide back into its usual place, and Uther would be in control again. But the moment passed.

"I'm sorry, Father," said Arthur, already hurrying towards the castle. "There isn't time. Join us in the hall, if you like. Gawain, gather the others."

Uther was left, deserted, in the middle of the town, with the mason and the thatcher and the townspeople deliberately not looking at him. Morgana and her maid watched him, and he wished he could say their gaze was sympathetic, but he wasn't sure it was. The maid raised an eyebrow at Morgana, and his ward took his arm.

"Come, your Highness," she said. "Arthur can tell you about it up at the castle."

They made their way along the street, silently at first, until Uther spoke again. "Your maid is very insolent these days," he commented.

Morgana made no effort to hide a smile. "Yes," she said. "Yes, isn't she? I don't know who she thinks she is."


"Well, it's up to you, isn't it?" says Merlin.

"I should act as my father would act," says Arthur. He stands by his window, staring out blindly. "I am only his regent. I'm not the king, Merlin."

"Execute them, then," says Merlin. "I mean, they haven't done any harm to anyone, and actually they saved Gwen and Morgana's lives, but still, sorcerers."

Arthur slaps at the stone embrasure. "How can I? They've been living here peaceably for years! The only reason they used their magic was to save someone!"

"You know what I think?" offers Merlin. Arthur sighs.

"No, and I don't really care."

"I think," Merlin continues blithely, "that you respect your father, but you often haven't agreed with him. And I don't think your conscience will let you make the decisions he's made. And… well, there's something I need to tell you." He takes a deep breath. "Arthur, I'm a sorcerer."

Arthur looks at him and raises one elegant eyebrow. "Yes?"

"I mean it! Honestly! I can do all sorts of stuff!" He begins to enumerate his magical victories, only stopping when Arthur tips back his head and groans.

"For God's sake, Merlin, shut up! Of course you're a sorcerer! I've known for ages. Or did you think I was a complete idiot?"

Merlin stares at him, open-mouthed. "Um… well… that is, sort of. Yes."

Arthur scowls. "Well, if anyone's the idiot, it's you. And I'll release those witches."

Merlin smiles sunnily, and Arthur throws a jerkin at his head.


The hall was still recognisable, but only barely. The thick oak table still ran down the middle, but more chairs were clustered around it, and the thick tapestries that had hung from the walls were replaced by large canvas maps. In one corner, Uther recognised Geoffrey of Monmouth scolding a pair of young scribes who kept dropping one roll of parchment after another. Arthur was already in situ at the head of the table, and knights – some who were familiar to Uther, and others who weren't – clustered around him, listening as the messenger passed on the messages from Edmund, the king of Sussex. Arthur paid no attention as Uther entered the room, and, teeth clenched, Uther sat down at the foot of the table and watched as messages were disseminated.

"Take a look," said Leon, reaching half-way across the table to hand a letter to Arthur, and Arthur scrambled to reach it.

"We really need to do something about this table," he grumbled, as he read over Edmund's missive.

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Yes, because that's really a priority at this point."

"Shut up, Merlin," said Arthur, without bothering to look up. "Well, Edmund seems pretty clear on how the Franks plan to proceed."

"Right," replied Merlin, apparently not one whit abashed by the rebuke. He went over to one of the maps, and pointed out a route between France and the south coast of England. "From what Edmund says, it seems they're coming in this way."

"Aye," agreed the messenger. "And with the weather as it was, likely they're close to landing now, if they haven't already."

"Will Edmund fight with us?" asked Gawain, and the messenger nodded.

Arthur tossed the letter into the middle of the table. "Of course Edmund will join with us," he pointed out. "They're sailing into his kingdom! No, it's the others we have to convince."

"Bayard?" asked Merlin, sitting back down.

Arthur sighed. "Maybe. They all like the idea well enough, especially with the Franks on our doorstep, but getting them to actually sign a treaty – that's a different matter."

"The Franks will be enough of a threat," said Percy.

"For Sussex and Kent," agreed Arthur. "And probably Essex and Wessex."

"Maybe East Anglia," added Merlin, then cocked his head at the clattering of armour outside. "It sounds like the others are back from their hunt."

The door swung open to admit several more knights, with a stranger in a blue cloak behind them, and Uther stared at him blankly for several seconds before realising who - what - he was. His mouth was already opening in angry protest as he rose from his seat, only to be cut off by a heavy hand like iron on his shoulder and his son's voice in his ear.

"If you would see Camelot survive what is to come, you will keep your peace, sire," said Arthur quietly. "I respect your position as king, but I will not risk the alliance I am trying to forge. Say one word about the Druid – about anything that might contradict me - and I will have you removed from the hall."

Uther wanted to protest that Arthur had run mad. He wanted to say that his was the final authority in Camelot and he could have his son arrested at his whim, executed, even, if he wanted. Alliances were his to make and break. He was king. He was absolute.

But he wasn't stupid. Of all the shortcomings of which he had been accused, stupidity was not one of them, and he could see, plain as day, that Camelot's loyalty had shifted to Arthur in the past four years. If he ordered the guards to arrest him, they would not. Not now. Not yet.

"My lord," the Druid was saying.

Arthur moved further forward and held out his hand. "Branagh. Thank you for coming. You have heard the news?"

"Aye. You want our support for your alliance."

"I do."

"And Camelot's promises, to cease the persecution of my people?"

Arthur's expression firmed. "Have I not kept those promises?"

Branagh spared a glance for Uther, sitting, clench-fisted, on the edge of his seat. "And in the future?"

Arthur hesitated for the barest split-second, a scarcely perceptible flicker towards Uther. "Camelot will honour its promises," he said. "You have my word on it."

Branagh stared at him, pale eyes uncanny. Finally, he bowed his head. "That is enough."


The quick patter of feet has Arthur looking up, and he smiles involuntarily as Gwen hurries closer.

"Everyone's settled in," she says. "I thought maybe you could have some men assess the houses once the water goes down."

Arthur sits back, lifting a knowing eyebrow. "You mean you've already told them I will."

She flushes slightly, but her smile is mischievous. "I apologise if I have presumed, your Majesty." She dips a curtsy and turns to leave, but Arthur catches her hand and pulls her down to him. The smell, the feel of her is intoxicating, and he bends his head towards her.

"There's no reason to wait any more, Guinevere," he says.


He left the meeting abruptly halfway through. They spoke of things Uther had no memory of, events he had not witnessed, agreements he had not ratified. Messengers came and went, and the quartermaster summoned. The solarium seemed blissfully empty, and Uther was sinking into a chair when he realised he was not, after all alone. Morgana's maid – Gwen, her name was – had been hidden in the window. Dressed more finely than he remembered. One of Morgana's gowns, he thought, even as he knew it wasn't.

"Shouldn't you be seeing to your mistress?" he asked.

The maid looked at him, almost puzzled, but not timid, not how he remembered her. Like everyone else, she had changed. "No-one's told you, have they?" she said, and Uther flung his gloves onto the table beside him.

"No-one's told me anything!" he exclaimed. "I am their king, and yet they dare treat me like a nuisance to be brushed out of their way!" He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "The Franks have never bothered us before now," he said.

The girl sat down next to him, but for the moment he didn't have the energy to order her to stand in his presence. "The old king died," she said, her voice making it clear she was aware of the irony. "And the new one is a lot more acquisitive. Their country has been united for generations; we should count ourselves fortunate they didn't think to try and invade before now." She leant forward eagerly. "Do you see? That's why this alliance is so important! Arthur knows that if the kings unite, the Franks cannot possibly win." Her enthusiasm was appealing, but in his mind's eye, Uther could see her laundering and scrubbing, and this was not her place.

"What I see," said Uther heavily, "is that my son has allowed my court to be over-run by sorcerers and servants!"

She stared at him for a moment, her expression growing cold. She pushed back her chair abruptly, and stood up. The sun shone behind her, catching her yellow gown and warm skin and jewelled hair, and gilding the curves of her curls as she looked down at Uther, and it was as if he was looking at a stranger, not the blacksmith's daughter whom he'd seen grow up in Camelot.

"You have been insane these past four years," she said, each word precise. "You can't really have thought you could step back into being king as if nothing had changed." She rested her hand on the back of her chair, and her voice softened. "Everything has changed, sire. The question is whether you can change with it."

She walked towards the doors, only to pause as he called after her. "Gwen!" She didn't turn, but stood still. "You've changed too."

Her face was only in a quarter profile, but he could see her lips curve into a smile. "Yes."

"You're married to my son."

"Yes." She turned more fully, so that she looked him in the face.

He sighed. "I had always cherished higher hopes of him."

Her smile was gentle, but her words were not. "And he of you."


"So, Morgana does magic too," observes Arthur, kicking at the singed remains of a bed curtain.

"Um. Yes," agrees Merlin. "Oh, and she has this prophecy thing too."

"Well, that's just brilliant."


From the solarium window, Uther could see Arthur's golden head in the courtyard below, sending soldiers hither and thither. Knights were mounted and sent on their way, with Arthur always on attendance, joined a while later by the dark curls that signified Gwen's presence. He was thus engaged when the door opened again, and Morgana entered, the doors swinging closed again behind her.

"Sire," she said, and he smiled, because his love for Morgana had always been free of the duty to make her great.

"Morgana!" He crossed the room, and embraced her again.

"I hear you've been catching up," she said, pulling him down to sit beside the fire – had that always been there?

"You should have told me about Arthur and your maid," he chastised.

Morgana just shrugged. "I forgot you wouldn't know," she lied easily. "Do you disapprove?"

Uther shifted impatiently. "She's a servant!" he exclaimed. "Of course I disapprove!"

She shrugged again. "Ah well, it's done," she said, leaving unsaid, and there's not a thing you can do about it. But Uther understood her well enough.

"Is there anything else I should know?" he asked, with forced jocularity. "I see Arthur's been making allies of the Druids."

"Yes," Morgana said simply, and Uther frowned.

"That doesn't anger you? They kidnapped you!"

Morgana looked blank for a moment, then smiled. "I'd forgotten about that." She reached to touch his cheek briefly and the fire sparked in the stone grate. "Oh, Uther, you never did understand. They didn't take me. I sought them out. And don't ask why," she added, forestalling him. "You know why."

He shook his head in denial, but Morgana ignored it.

"I was saddened by what happened to you, it's true. But I find myself wishing they hadn't caught that troll." She sighed, and smiled brightly at him, and he found the juxtaposition disconcerting. "Still, we'll all just have to find a way out of this muddle, won't we?" She jumped up, and the doors banged open. She went gaily through them, and Uther watched as they banged closed again, then buried his head in his hands. Dear God, what else had changed?


"I thought you'd gone to bed," says Merlin, surprised, a pile of chainmail clutched to his chest. Arthur looks up, a letter in his hand.

"Just reading this again," he says. "It's a message from Eldred."

"Eldred of Kent?" asks Merlin, dumping the mail on the table. "What does he want?"

"Nothing," says Arthur, "yet. Ships have been sighted on the horizon. Eldred says they've been there for weeks, now. He thinks the Frankish king may be contemplating an invasion."

"I thought their king just died," says Merlin, confused, and Arthur casts him a withering glance.

"They've got a new one, Merlin. That's how it works."

"Right. I knew that."

Arthur sighs, and rubs his chin. "He writes that he has notified all the kingdoms of Britain, as a courtesy."

"That's nice," says Merlin inanely.

"It's short-sighted!" Arthur retorts sharply. "What if the Franks do invade? What then? They take Kent, then Sussex, then Wessex… one by one, we all fall." He leans forward, eyes gleaming. "But together - Merlin, together, they would have no chance against us."


Once again, the solarium doors opened, this time to reveal Arthur himself, with Merlin following behind him.

"We're riding out to the east now," he said perfunctorily.

"To defend Sussex."

Arthur looked at him. "To defend us all," he corrected.

"And you expect the others to join you."

"Yes. We meet at Winchester and ride on from there," said Arthur.

Uther shook his head. "I had not thought you so naïve," he said, and Arthur's expression hardened.

"This is not a vain hope, Father," he said sharply. "This plan has been in motion for three years. All it took was a final threat from France. They will join me, and they will sign the treaty that will unite us."

"You think Mercia cares for such things? Northumbria?"

Arthur shook his head and turned away. "You know nothing of how the land now lies, Father, and I wish I could make you understand, but there's no time. We ride in an hour." He glanced back, his gaze defiant. "And I must see my wife." He stalked out of the room, and Merlin went to follow him.

"Boy!" Merlin paused.


"What would your master have me do now? Sit at home?"

Merlin looked wary. "If that is your will."

Uther smiled without any evidence sign of pleasure. "And if I overturn Arthur's changes; return Camelot to its proper state?"

Merlin grinned, as if he couldn't help it. "Well," he said, "I don't say you couldn't try…"

"Really," said Uther acerbically, "it would have been so much easier had I died, would it not?" He looked Merlin up and down from head to toe. "And where do you stand in all this, young Merlin? I'm not a fool; I can tell you're more than Arthur's servant."

"My loyalty is to Arthur," said Merlin. He wasn't nervous or stuttering any more, just looking at Uther with sharp, intent eyes. "It would grieve him to see you dead. But not as much as it would grieve him to see all that he has achieved these four years undone by a man whose bigotry blinds him to the future."

"Now, you listen to me, boy," Uther began, but Merlin was coming closer, and Uther, unbelievably, found himself feeling threatened.

"Are you really so blind, Uther?" Merlin asked conversationally, eyes still intent. "Do you really not see? Arthur will unite this country and reign over all of Albion. It's his destiny." He grinned suddenly, for a moment the young lad Uther had casually handed into Arthur's service. "I should know, after all. The dragon told me about it enough times."

The smile disappeared and Merlin stepped back, watching Uther as Gaius might watch an interesting specimen. "You were a decent king, Uther, for all your faults. But Arthur will be a great one, perhaps the greatest that will ever live. And I can't let you get in the way of that."

He walked out then, and Uther was left, once more, alone in the solarium. He wasn't frightened of Merlin, or of Arthur, or of the future. Maybe he could adapt to new ways. Uther shook his head. No, he couldn't carry on as Arthur had done. But if the new ways were not his, perhaps the old ones were.

He left the solarium, left the formal chambers of the castle, and made his way down to the armoury. And there, in a chest covered by the detritus of four years' sweat and work, was his armour, his shield, his sword and his helmet.

If the men of Camelot were going to battle, then by God Uther Pendragon would go with them. And if he triumphed, then Arthur would yield to him. Arthur would have to yield to him. It was the way of things. He commandeered a horse from the stables, and rode into the courtyard, up to Arthur, who acknowledged his arrival with a nod.

"I'm leaving you a garrison of castle guards," he was telling Gwen. "They're small in number, but well trained. I doubt an attack would come from the surrounding kingdoms, not at the moment, and the Druids will parlay with the Welsh if need be."

Gwen reached up and clasped his hand. "I know. Don't worry, we'll see to things here."

"If more volunteers are found, send them on after us, but only if you get a decent number. There's no point having farmers stumbling round the countryside by themselves."

Gwen nodded, and Arthur glanced quickly to the stone steps where Morgana stood. "And you'll keep an eye…"

"Of course," Gwen said quickly. "You know I will."

Arthur's smile was quick and sharp, and he bent down to kiss her. "I know. Camelot is safe in your hands." He held one of them still in his, and rubbed her palm with his thumb. "Take care of yourself, Guinevere."

"And you, my lord," she replied, then nodded formally towards Uther. "Sire."

"M'lady," responded Uther, then rode out by his son's side.


It's barely dawn when Camelot's gates are heaved open, and a weary cavalcade makes their way into the town. People are already up and about, though; the day starts early, and people gather to watch and cheer as Camelot's soldiers return home. Several messengers have been sent back and forth, and the English victory is old news, but no victory comes without the expense of lives, and no-one yet knows who lives and who died. They recognise the man at the head of the procession, though, and that's a relief. They watch with patient enjoyment as the Lady Guinevere comes running down the stone steps of the castle, and as Prince Arthur swings off his horse to meet her, then gather as he addresses them.

"United with the other kingdoms of England," he says, "we saw off the Frankish invaders, and have hopefully seen the last of them!" There's a cheer at this point, but they can tell something more needs saying, and Arthur looks down for a second, squeezing his wife's hand.

"I regret to tell you that my father, Uther Pendragon, King of Camelot, was slain whilst fighting. He died bravely and nobly. I believe he would have asked for no more." Someone applauds and is hastily silenced as people start falling to their knees, and Gwen and Merlin exchange quick, amused glances as Arthur actually looks a little uncomfortable.

"Oh, that's… Thank you." He looks around and waves his hand sheepishly.

"God save King Arthur!" someone shouts, and the crowd takes up the chant. Arthur's going a little pink now, which Gwen thinks is quite funny given how confident he'd always been that this was his rightful place. Sir Leon clears his throat meaningfully, and Arthur gestures for the crowd to be quiet.

"Sir Leon," he says, pointing, like they don't all know who Sir Leon is.

"Thank you, sire," says Sir Leon, then raised his voice. "Everyone will be anxious to hear of those who didn't come back with us. Some of the wounded remain at Winchester, and will follow on later. Now, I'll read out a list…" He continues, but Arthur and Gwen slip away, Merlin on their tail. Morgana awaits them at the top of the steps, and she flings her arms first round Arthur, then Merlin.

"I knew you'd be safe," she says, and Arthur cocks an eyebrow.

"You could have said!"

She smiles sweetly. "Oh, Arthur, you know that spoils the fun!"

"Hm," says Arthur and, his arm round Gwen's waist, heads into the castle, leaving Merlin and Morgana alone.

"So," says Morgana, "Uther's dead."

"Yep," says Merlin, then his eyes widen. "Did you…?"

Morgana looks back at him. "Did you?"

They stare at each other for a second, then look away uneasily, neither truly wanting an answer.


Uther is mourned, truthfully, by Arthur, Morgana and Gaius alone. But he ruled with respect and fear and would not really have expected anything more. The day soon comes for Arthur's coronation, and he stands in state with Gwen and Merlin as they see to his robes.

"You'll be a great king, Arthur," says Gwen, and kisses him on the cheek, before leaving for her own dressing.

"I knew this day would come," says Merlin, dropping Arthur's gloves, his chain and his cloak in quick succession. "It's destiny."

Arthur looks at him suspiciously. "I'm warning you, Merlin, if you make me go through that sword and stone routine again, I'm going to be very unhappy."

Merlin grins. "Oh, I think everyone knows who's really king now," he says, and Arthur nods.

"Well, they'd better. Now, where's my cloak? Honestly, Merlin, I don't know what I did to end up with someone as useless as you…"