Title: Moral Measure
Author: Alice I
Beta: The Lady Isis
Spoilers: Season One and Season Two
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin or the BBC interpretation of these classic characters. Just playing with them before I put them back.
Summary: "...I can see the pain in your heart, but no matter how miserable you feel, this pain is a good thing." A sharp stab of remorse and guilt speared Merlin's heart at his mother's words. It felt like a pronouncement of judgment to him; one he richly deserved...
This is a fic that ties up a bunch of unanswered questions and loose ends left at the end of season two. Someone had to do it.
A/N – I have finally caught up with the rest of the world where Merlin is concerned thanks to some friends pointing me in the right direction. Season two was by far better than season one and the last few episodes were stunning. At the end of The Last Dragon Lord I was flabbergasted at where they left things. I personally disagree with one small thing. Well actually two, but the first is Merlin's happy go lucky smile in the last scene as he walks back to the castle with Gaius. I mean after everything that he has been through over the last two weeks there is no way he would snap back and be just fine and dandy with how everything turned out. The other thing I disagree with is that Kilgharrah was the last dragon alive. I mean really? Did Uther go to China and kill all those dragons as well? How about Scotland, and Japan and every other place where there is dragon lore? But what is canon is canon and can not be changed. Perhaps Kilgharrah is the last of the European (British) dragons.
In any case I had to write this because I could not think of anything else there for awhile. I am finishing up the fourth and final chapter of this story and it should be done by the end of the week. This is really nothing more than an episode tag for The Last Dragon Lord and how I would interpret the unfinished business I saw after that episode.
Arthur walked to the castle beside Guinevere feeling conflicted. The last week had been beyond exhausting and the final battle with the monster that had almost single-handedly destroyed Camelot left him worn, but exhilarated at the same time. He turned to Gwen, gazing into her eyes. Tonight was a night to remember. Her embrace had taken him by surprise - both for its warmth and its boldness. She hadn't hidden her feelings, even in the relative public of the main courtyard.
"Gwen, go and round up as many people as you can find. Spread the word to commoners, servants, gentry and the guards. Have everyone meet in the Great Hall in an hour's time. Get the kitchen staff to bring food and wine; as much as they can gather. Tonight we celebrate."
He couldn't believe it - he had slain a dragon. He hadn't even realized that he had done so until Merlin told him. The last thing Arthur clearly remembered was striking the beast, only to have it strike back with so much force that he sailed through the air. He'd landed so hard it forced the air from his lungs with tremendous force. After that everything went blank until he opened his eyes to a starlit sky and his manservant standing over him.
Merlin walked several paces behind him with Gaius. The prince looked over his shoulder. "Merlin," he said, in a voice that clearly spoke of his desire to be followed.
Gaius smiled warmly at his ward and nodded him off in the prince's direction. Gwen joined Gaius and the two headed off to carry out Arthur's instructions together while Arthur led Merlin up to his chambers. As they entered the room, Merlin automatically began to unfasten the armor from the back. Arthur couldn't seem to hold still, yet Merlin showed surprising patience with the emotionally-charged prince.
"I still can't believe it, Merlin. We did it."
"Yeah, you did it alright. Although for a moment there I was certain that Camelot had lost you when Kilgharrah tried to burn you alive."
Arthur turned around and looked at Merlin with unabashed shock. "Kilgharrah?"
Merlin looked stunned buy his own utterance and he quickly dropped his eyes. He clearly had not meant to let his words slip. "It... It was the dragon's name. It was called Kilgharrah."
Arthur continued to stare at Merlin as suspicion began to seep into his face.
"Balinor, the Dragon Lord, told me it's name. You were passed out with fever from your wound. When I told him that the great dragon was attacking Camelot, he told me the beast's name was Kilgharrah."
Arthur considered Merlin's explanation for a moment then turned back around so that the young man could continue to unfasten the straps on his armor. "What else did Balinor tell you?"
Merlin didn't answer right away, and Arthur turned once again to look at his friend. He may not be able to admit it aloud - or at least in front of his father - but he did consider Merlin a friend, especially after tonight. Arthur could still scarcely believe that his servant had willingly ventured out to face the most fearsome monster Camelot had ever encountered. Merlin had claimed that he cared about the prince's armor, but Arthur knew what his servant had meant. It warmed his heart to know that Merlin would risk everything to stand by his side.
"Merlin, I will not move from this spot until you tell me what Balinor spoke of that night. You clearly developed some kind of bond with the man - feelings you expressed when you shed tears for someone that you had only known for a day. Now as your master and your prince I am commanding you to tell me what he said to you."
Merlin looked down again, not wishing to meet Arthur's eyes. "You're wrong, Arthur."
Arthur wasn't sure what he was wrong about.
"What you say to your young knights - you tell them that no man is worth their tears, but you're wrong."
This was not what Arthur had expected to hear. "Merlin?"
Merlin was no longer listening, and his blue eyes were very bright. "They all do; every man, woman and child who has died these last few days are worthy of our tears, including Balinor. He was brought to Camelot at the king's request. The king told Balinor that he wanted to use his powers to bring the great dragon to Camelot so that he could make peace with it, but it was a lie. Uther used the Dragon Lord's power to imprison Kilgara. Then he tried to have Balinor killed, along with the rest of the Dragon Lords. Balinor fled Camelot for his life, and moved to another kingdom. He found a woman he loved and made a life with her. He was content to never enter this kingdom again, but when Uther found out where he was, he had him hunted down. Once again he had to flee. He was forced to leave the life and the family he had forged behind in order to protect them."
Arthur heard the anger in Merlin's voice and was slightly taken aback by it. It was obvious that his servant felt very strongly about this.
"Even after everything Uther had done to him, Balinor was still willing to come back here and help a city and a king who destroyed his life and tried to murder him. And in doing so he lost his life!" Merlin paused, and took a deep breath. "So yes, Arthur, even Balinor deserves my tears; especially Balinor. He acted with honor and valor. He gave his life in service to a realm that showed him no mercy. Forgive me if I show remorse for his passing and his sacrifice."
As Merlin spoke of the Dragon Lord his voice cracked and his eyes grew more glassy, but he held his head high with a defiant air, almost challenging Arthur to disagree with him. He did not. Arthur had not known the details of his father's association with Balinor and he felt shame for it. Merlin was right. Everyone who had died deserved to be honored, including the Dragon Lord. He would make that clear in a short while - and if his father objected then it was too bad. He placed his hands on Merlin's shoulders and waited for the young man to look at him.
"Merlin, tonight we will honor all who have fallen, I promise you that. Now, let's get this armor off."
Arthur stood beside his father, facing the congregated people of Camelot. They were a ragged-looking bunch having suffered five nights of relentless attack by the great dragon. Kilgharrah, Arthur mentally corrected himself. He took his cup and raised it to the people, causing them to respond in kind.
"Over the last week I have witnessed unparalleled valor throughout Camelot. Brave knights and royal guards have laid down their lives in service to their kingdom, but I have seen farmers, tradesmen, women and even children fighting to extinguish the fires set by the great beast in an effort to save their homes and lives, and those of their friends and neighbors. I have seen servants fall as they tirelessly supported their masters while they worked and fought to save the city. The gentry and those born of nobility have worked side by side with common folk to salvage whatever they could from destroyed streets and buildings. The last Dragon Lord, Balinor, hailing from another kingdom lost his life while returning to save Camelot from the scourge of the beast."
Arthur could see out of the corner of his eye the dark look on his father's face at the mention of Balinor, and felt his stance become rigid beside him. He paid him no heed. Balinor deserved to be recognized.
Before he continued to speak, Arthur turned and beckoned Merlin to his side. Merlin seemed flustered and didn't move at first, but Arthur kept his hand outstretched looking pointedly at the young man until he reluctantly stepped forward. Arthur could tell by his father's shifting feet that he was not comfortable with Arthur's actions either. He laid his arm across his servant's shoulders when he came close enough and drew him up to his side before turning back to the people.
"Fifteen men ventured out this night to defeat the monster and only two returned, but the dragon was defeated. Tonight we honor everyone who has died. The knights who perished tonight have joined the rest of Camelot's fallen. Those number among the gentry, the knights and royal guard, common folk and servants, as well as the last of the Dragon Lords. They were heroes - all - united in a single purpose. They gave their lives in service to King and country, and we honor their bravery and their sacrifice!"
A loud cheer rose up from the people gathered. Arthur wasn't quite finished as he faced the crowd, waiting for the fervor to die down.
"Someone close to me, whom I have come to greatly respect, told me that all who have fallen are worthy of our tears. These are words of wisdom that I will live by. To that end I now raise my glass in honor of all of those who have died."
Merlin's shocked expression was almost comical, but he raised his glass, as did every other person in the hall. Even Uther did so, if grudgingly. Once everyone had taken a drink in toast to the dead, Arthur continued.
"There is much to do to bring Camelot back to its former grandeur, but for tonight we celebrate the end of the siege and the dawn of new hope."
A roar of agreement followed his statement and the people of Camelot raised their cups once again to their lips as did their prince. At a nod from Arthur, the kitchen staff set their goblets down and began to place food out on the tables within the hall. People cheered for Arthur more as they began to find seats and refill their goblets from pitchers placed at intervals along the long tables.
The angry expression on Uther's face could not be hidden and was not missed by Arthur. He knew that he would hear about his words later, and he would gladly speak his mind about what transpired in the past with his father. The king's shortsightedness had cost them dearly.
Merlin seemed to feel exposed up in front of all of these people standing beside Arthur and he pulled back. Arthur didn't force him to stay out in front of everyone, understanding that he wasn't used to this kind of attention. Merlin moved back behind the head table into his customary position, ready to keep Arthur's cup full. The pleased and embarrassed smile on the young man's face made Arthur happy until that smile faded when his servant's eyes drifted to his left. Arthur looked to see what has caused Merlin's smile to falter - and saw his father glaring ominously at his servant. Arthur felt his irritation begin to bubble over until he looked again at Merlin and remembered his words. His father could stew in his own displeasure; tonight was about the fallen. He would not allow anyone including the king to rob them of the honor they deserved.
By the time the feast had dwindled and the people had begun to wander back to their homes - wander being the appropriate word - the morale of the people of Camelot was palpably stronger. The words of their prince had bolstered their crumpled spirits. Merlin noticed several people embracing, or helping those around them. It was late, but some had actually dug in and begun again in earnest the arduous task of cleaning up. Merlin was still riding on the high of Arthur's acknowledgements. His father's sacrifice would not go unsung, at least for one night. He knew that Arthur was in for a long night of argument with his father, and he felt bad about that in all honesty. But he refused to regret telling Arthur the nature of Balinor's sacrifice.
His own guilt over the death and destruction that had reined down on Camelot over the past week swelled as he looked around at the ruined lower town and market place. Most of the buildings, made primarily of wood, had been leveled. Arthur's words may have bolstered the morale of the people of Camelot, but it would take more than words to ease the pain in the young warlock's heart. He wasn't even aware of his actions when he rolled up his sleeves and joined a few people working to clear away the debris and detritus littering the market place. Thoughts of his father as well as the days of destruction flitted through his mind as he worked. Fueled by guilt and remorse, the young man worked long into the night after everyone else had left for home and sleep. Gaius found him in the back corner of what used to be Tom's blacksmith shop piling up the remains of it's east wall - now nothing more than a haphazard pile of planks charred to a cinder.
"Merlin! I've been looking for you for the last two hours," the old man called out.
Merlin turned at the sound of his mentor's voice startled out of his reverie. He looked a mess to the physician. He was covered in soot and dirt. His face was all but black with ash, except for the tear tracks running down his cheeks. Gaius stepped over to him, looking carefully at his ward's bloodshot eyes in the moonlight.
"Merlin, what are you doing here?"
Merlin frowned at the question and looked around at his surroundings. "I rather thought that bit was obvious, Gaius. Do you need me in the infirmary?" he asked, wondering if he had forgotten to do something.
"No, Merlin, I don't need you in the infirmary. I need you in bed. Do you have any idea what time it is?"
Once again Merlin looked around and then up at the sky, half expecting to see an ominous winged figure soaring overhead. The moon was low in the sky to the west indicating that it was only a few hours until sunrise.
"Oh. I didn't realize how late it was, I'm sorry, Gaius. I guess I'd better get cleaned up if I'm to be up on time for Arthur."
Merlin was thankful that Gaius didn't choose that moment to lecture him. He had been running on pure adrenalin, but now that he realized what time it was, fatigue seemed to crash down on him like an anvil. He mutely followed Gaius back to the castle and took a few minutes to strip off his filthy clothes and wash his face before collapsing in bed. He was sure that sleep would render him oblivious to the ache in his heart, but within a few hours he found himself awake again staring out the high window in his room at the brightening sky as the sun rose.
The young man ignored the aches in his body as he rose and dressed for the day. He gathered up his soot-covered clothes and stuffed them in a wash basket to take with him, figuring that he might as well wash them along with Arthur's. Arthur was sound asleep when he arrived at his chambers. Dark circles were apparent under the slumbering prince's eyes and Merlin realized that he must have been up late into the night 'in conference' with the king. It was better to let him sleep. Camelot would need him fresh and ready to lead over the next few days. Merlin set the breakfast he had brought down on the table and quietly began to gather up Arthur's discarded clothing.
He left the room silently and headed to the laundry to get the clothes washed and hung, before heading out to the infirmary to see if Gaius, who had left early that morning, needed anything. The physician looked Merlin over when he arrived in the infirmary, a little surprised to see his ward up after so little sleep, but there was so much to be done, there was no time to insist Merlin go back to bed. There would be time for sleep later. He sent Merlin for more medical supplies, food for the injured and ill, and fresh water. By the time that had been done and the infirmary was running smoothly, Merlin took his leave to return to the laundry.
Arthur's clothes, hung by the roaring fire in the large wood stove, were nearly dry when he arrived and he gathered them up to return them to the prince, who was just waking up when he entered Arthur's chambers.
"Merlin, where did you go after the feast last night? I wanted to speak to you."
Merlin looked a bit taken aback by that. "I went back to work in the marketplace. I assumed that you would be speaking with the king after the feast."
Arthur pulled himself from the comfort of his bed and stretched. "You aren't wrong there. Father and I had quite a lot to discuss, but... Wait did you say you went to the market place?"
Merlin was busy hanging Arthur's cleaned clothes and pulling out an outfit for the day when he spoke, but he didn't turn to face Arthur. "Yes, your speech last night motivated many people. There is much work to be done to repair and clean up the damage."
Arthur raised his eyebrows and nodded in approval. He was pleased that his words had struck a chord with the people. "Such dedication to work! Merlin, I'm impressed. You have brought me my breakfast, cleaned my clothes and all before I even got out of bed!"
Merlin shrugged, "Well, as I said, your words motivated the people. I have to return to the infirmary to help Gaius and there's still a lot to do to repair the lower town. I'll bring you your dinner later, unless you plan to dine with the king."
Arthur frowned at that suggestion. "No, Merlin, I will most certainly not be dining with the king tonight. As you have said: there is much to do."
Merlin helped Arthur to get dressed and when the prince turned around he noticed the fatigue in his servant's face.
"Merlin, you don't need to tend to me over the next few days. I am capable of dressing myself. You look as though you haven't slept in days. Perhaps you should go back to your room for a while and get some sleep."
Arthur's suggestion threw Merlin for a moment. Arthur had never before shown such an outward display of concern for him, and it confused him somewhat. "I'll be fine, Sire, but thank you," was all he could manage.
Merlin's emotions were jumbled and confused. He was pleased that Arthur was actually showing concern for his well-being; a novelty for sure, but that warred with his feelings of culpability and attrition for the disaster that had befallen the city. He quickly finished with Arthur so that he could leave and get to work repairing the damage that he felt at least partially responsible for. It was true that Kilgharrah had caused the death and destruction, but he never could have done so if Merlin hadn't set him free. Merlin understood that he had had no choice. He could have allowed Camelot to fall to the knights of Medhir while everyone slept by not making the bargain with Kilgharrah for the answer to breaking the spell laying across the city, but the result would have been the same. He was in an impossible situation and he did the only thing he could to resolve it. But in releasing the dragon the city was nearly destroyed anyway.
His feelings of remorse deepened every time he saw Gwen. She had lost her lady and her friend. If she knew that Merlin had poisoned Morgana in order to force Morgause to stop the attack on Camelot she would never forgive him. He hated what had happened, what he was forced to do, and he began to question what kind of man he was becoming. He had nearly murdered a young woman who was confused and being used and manipulated by Morgause - and in payment had released Kilgharrah, who in turn had nearly destroyed Camelot. He sought out his father and in doing so he had lost him forever as the man died saving his life.
Merlin felt like his life was spiraling out of control, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He could speak to no one of this, even Gaius didn't know that he was the one who had freed the dragon. He felt as though he was truly alone in every way a person could be.
The guilt fueled his efforts, and pushed him far beyond what he should have been able to accomplish. By late afternoon, ready to collapse with exhaustion, Gwen and Gaius found him in a nearly deserted section of the lower town. Both of them had gone out looking for him when he didn't return to get ready for the memorial service for the dead, something they knew he would not miss. Gaius' concern for Merlin's state of mind grew as he saw his young ward's golden eyes. He was using magic to speed along the work of cleaning and repairing. Thankfully Gwen was behind him and could not see the young man's face.
"Merlin!" Gaius shouted sharply.
Merlin's eyes faded back to their normal color and he looked at the stern face of his mentor. Gwen was looking around at the street that had earlier been completely impassable with wreckage. It was now completely cleared so that workmen could come in and begin to rebuild.
"Merlin, how... How did you do this? I saw this street just yesterday and it would have taken ten men to clear out the wreckage. How did you manage it?" Gwen spoke, with fearful awe in her voice.
Merlin realized that he had to come up with a plausible explanation unless he wanted to incur the young maid servant's suspicion. "It did take ten men - actually there were fifteen of us. The others have moved on already. I was just finishing up."
Merlin looked up at the sun hanging so low in the sky that it was obscured by the castle's western tower, or what was left of it.
"Oh, I didn't realize the time. The service is at sunset. I need to get back."
Gaius eyed him with deep concern. "That is why we came looking for you, Merlin."
The young warlock did not want to get into a discussion with either of them at the moment. He nodded to Gwen and walked past Gaius, heading quickly back to the castle. Gwen and Gaius exchanged a look and stared at his retreating back for a moment then followed Merlin back so that they too could get ready for the service.
End Chapter One
A/N - For those wondering, I have started a second chapter to Square Peg Round Hole. Give me time to get it right and make all this new canon material fit.