A/N: So here it is! The final chapter! *Plays dramatic music*
I'd just like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has read, reviewed, alerted, favourited this story over the last 10 months that I've been writing it! I love you all! Long gone are the days when I used to update every day! I really need to go back and edit this now, I just re-read it, and wow, I really didn't care about spelling, grammar and simple punctuation in the early days! Not that I really do now...
Again, a BIG thank you!
Chapter 30- Friendship
Exactly one week after the Council, Arthur sat quite calmly on a hillside overlooking Camelot, unknowingly occupying the exact same spot Merlin had when he had conjured the figure of a horse out of smoke.
His wandering gaze fell upon the ruined walls of his city, scarred by the weapons of war, and upon the steady stream of people flowing into the city, returning from the refuge they had sought when war began.
Building work had commenced, the mammoth task of rebuilding the city was well underway, aided in part by the Druids, whose skills of lifting heavy objects with nothing more than a simple incantation, had vastly sped up the process.
The number of habitants of the Infirmary had declined rapidly, and there were few in the city who had no shelter or food, thanks to the help of the Druids.
The message of peace had spread through the streets like wildfire, the people of Camelot openly rejoicing at the news and embracing the Druids as brothers. Many had welcomed the Druids into their homes. Arthur was struck by the sheer goodness in the hearts of the people, casting aside old prejudices, and welcoming change.
However, Arthur thought with a grimace, all was not entirely well. There were a few, Sir Drefan most prominent amongst them, who opposed the king's decision, and had even left the city in disgust. They protested in public, condemning the Druids, physically attacking them and refusing to cooperate. The message of peace had not affected everybody.
Arthur despaired at the thought of these people; so blinded by hate, they would have everyone continue to suffer. He knew that this was not the end of it by far. There was still a long way to go.
Still, relations between the people of Camelot and the Druids had improved dramatically in the past week. Many had not originally welcomed the Druids, not out of hate, but out of fear. People always did fear what they did not understand. But the fear had now all but vanished, and a brighter future was visible.
The past week had been trying to say the least. Endless meetings, councils and debates had filled the week, as Uther and Fyrmest had holed themselves up, going through the finer points of the Treaty again and again, these meetings usually ending in Uther storming out in disgust, ranting about the sheer audacity of sorcerers. When Arthur had no meetings to attend, he worked in the city alongside his people, doing what good he could. The people appreciated his presence, as he relished the work; it took his mind off of less pleasant thoughts.
Arthur had been surprised to learn his father had been so willing to work so closely together with the Druids, but Fyrmest had a slow, calm way of speaking which seemed to reassure people, and also, Arthur suspected Uther was more than a little afraid of him. Fyrmest was difficult to anger, but when roused he was truly formidable. The Druids could not have a better person to protect them.
Although Uther was willing to work with the Druids, he made no secret of his contempt for them. He never addressed them by name, only as "Druid", or "Sorcerer," and was the first to criticise them behind their backs. The Druids were little bothered by this however, partly because they and they alone knew what foul things the Druid children sneaked into his drinking water...
Uther did however, seem to appreciate the need to make decisions for the good of the kingdom, despite his own personal feelings, something Arthur was sure was down to his own near death. He was now far more open to new ideas, though Arthur doubted he would ever fully accept change.
Uther avoided the Druids as much as possible, which Arthur didn't challenge, the fact that he hadn't changed his mind so far was a good sign, and if as little contact with the Druids as possible was needed to ensure this, then so be it.
Lyft was little better, mixing as little with the people of Camelot as possible, not out of contempt for them, but simply that he did not yet fully trust them.
Arthur was surprised however, to find that a friendship had struck up between Brim and Sir Leon, even despite the fact that the former had now returned to his former practice of speaking with only his mind. They were now rarely to be seen out of one another's company, and Sir Leon seemed genuinely interested in learning as much about the Druids as possible. Arthur supposed this was natural, Brim was the youngest of the Druid Elders, save for Morgana, and seemed to be the most open-minded to new ways of life.
It really was encouraging.
But all of this was about to change. The details had been decided upon, after much arguing between Uther and Fyrmest, and been discussed again and again, and now the Treaty was ready to be signed. As of sunset, war between Camelot and Druids would be officially over. And the Druids would have to leave.
Arthur felt a small pang of sadness at this thought. He'd grown accustomed to their presence and truly felt he would miss them.
He did not want them to leave, he didn't see why they should. He'd tried to convince his father of this, but Fyrmest had dissuaded him. He'd said that Druids prefer to live in the wild, and staying would be more of a punishment than a reward. But Arthur still didn't like the idea of them being driven from the city as though they were criminals.
He conceded that he should be grateful, that even coming this far was an accomplishment in itself. But it was still only half way. Should he be content with that?
He wondered what Merlin thought of all this. They'd both been so busy in the last week, Merlin acting as a mediator between his father and Fyrmest and Arthur involved in the rebuilding, that they'd barely had time to see each other. Just the occasional brief talk, in which the majority of the conversation was permeated by Merlin's smug remarks about being made an ambassador.
Arthur snorted. If someone had told him several weeks ago, Merlin of all people would be made an ambassador...
But as ridiculous as the idea seemed, even now, Arthur was pleased for him. Merlin had to be the most accepting, non-judgemental person he knew, and he also had the advantage of being part of both worlds, never truly belonging in either one. This role was perfect for him. If Merlin could master any job, it was this one.
Merlin having magic was no longer strange to him, he'd accepted it now. It made sense. Arthur had always known there was something strange about Merlin, known he was hiding something. And now he knew what it was, everything seemed to fall into place.
He remembered those first few weeks after the big revelation with pain; how could he ever have been so stupid as to doubt Merlin? And now there was no longer the impeding threat of an army of sorcerers, he had time to think over everything in more detail. In particular, the things Mordred had shown him, the memories of Merlin and his magic.
Most of these things had just filled in the gaps and helped him to understand more of what had been happening, and Merlin's motives. But some things disturbed him.
The shock at discovering Merlin was Balinor's son and therefore a Dragon Lord, that Merlin had poisoned Morgana and released the Great Dragon, and that Arthur had been the one who had killed the woman Merlin loved.
That particular event haunted Arthur the most.
He watched as the sun dipped deeper in the sky, counting down the time the Druids had left in the city. Arthur knew it was time for him to leave.
He pulled himself up and looked out once again over the city that would one day be his.
He heard a rustling behind him, and was immediately on alert for an attack, his hand inching closer to his sword. But then he heard a sharp 'thunk' and an 'ow!'.
"How'd you know?"
Arthur removed his hand from his sword, but didn't turn around.
"Merlin, how can you possibly be an ambassador of peace when you don't even know when to keep quiet?"
"In my defence, I managed to stay quiet for ages before you noticed me."
Arthur rolled his eyes.
"How long have you been standing there watching me Merlin?"
"Don't flatter yourself Arthur. I was out here meditating, and then you came blundering past!"
"You'd be surprised, it's very relaxing."
"I'm sure it is."
"You should ask Fyrmest to teach you. It really helps you think...you could do with the practice."
Arthur sighed, and turned around to face Merlin for the first time, who as usual had that ridiculous grin plastered over his face. It was then that Arthur noticed what he was wearing. He had discarded his Druid robes and was dressed in the same clothes he had always worn in Camelot, complete with scarlet neckerchief. He looked exactly like the old Merlin, only, he seemed different, or rather he was holding himself differently.
Arthur looked him up and down.
"Merlin, you can't wear those tatty old things."
Merlin frowned and looked down at himself.
"Why, what's wrong with this?"
Arthur rolled his eyes again.
"Merlin, you're now a royal ambassador. You simply can't go around dressed as a servant."
"Why can't I be both?"
"Well, I can serve the king as an ambassador, and at the same time, serve you as being a, well, servant. There won't be much for me to do after all, the Druids are pretty content to just stay in their village."
Arthur looked at him incredulously.
"You've just been promoted to the most prestigious position in Camelot, and you want to be a servant?"
"Well, no, but let's face it, you'd be hopeless without me."
Arthur didn't even bother to continue arguing. He knew it was pointless. Merlin may be an idiot, but he was a stubborn idiot.
Merlin came and stood beside him, and they silently watched over Camelot together.
Seeing Merlin again had brought unbidden memories to Arthur's mind, things he would rather forget, but he thought Merlin deserved to hear.
Merlin turned to look at him with a questioning gaze. However Arthur found himself lost for words. How could he begin to express the multitude of feelings soaring around inside of him? How could he ever tell him how sorry he was for ever believing he could be evil? How could he ever express the regret he felt at all Merlin had had to suffer on his account and the gratitude he felt for all Merlin had done for them?
Merlin seemed to understand however, with a single knowing look in his eye.
"That's all in the past Arthur, this is the future. What you can do now is make sure it never happens again."
Arthur nodded, and stared at his feet for a moment, overwhelmed at the forgiveness and graciousness in the man standing beside him.
He spoke, trying to voice his own doubts:
"The Treaty was supposed to prevent all of that, but I fear it will not."
Merlin regarded him in surprise.
"You don't believe in it?"
"Of course I do! I just don't think it will be enough!" Arthur shouted, turning away in exasperation, all the doubts from the past week flowing from him. "The Treaty was supposed to end the fighting, which it will, but there needs to be more."
Merlin simply watched him, with no expression on his face.
"Like the Druids being accepted for who they are!" he shouted. "True, they will no longer be hunted, but they are still denied the right to have citizenship of Camelot!"
"They don't want to live in Camelot, you know that."
"Yes, but they should still have the option, instead of being hidden away out of sight. Who are we to say where they should and should not live? If the people of Camelot and the Druids are required by law to be separate, what hope do we have of preventing fear and suspicions from rising once more? If they are denied the right to practice their art within the walls of the city, how can we convince the townspeople that it is not evil? We are making magic look like a criminal act, something shameful and should be hidden from the city, and not something which should be embraced and celebrated. We are only encouraging more fear and hated to arise in the future!"
With that outburst, Arthur cast himself on the ground, his back to a rock, his face in his hands.
Merlin said nothing, but continued to stand, unmoving. Then, in a quiet voice:
"And you can change that Arthur. You are the Once and Future King. And you shall be remembered for your tolerance, your compassion, and your determination for equality in all things. You will go down in history as the man who ended violence, and hatred, and oppression. You will be the greatest king who has ever or will ever live. But every king requires patience."
Arthur looked up, startled by the sudden change in Merlin's demeanour. He was standing still, looking out over Camelot, the dying sun shining in his hair, looking proud and strong, even in his peasant clothing. And Arthur saw for the first time why the Druids so respected him.
Merlin turned to face him.
"I thought the same thing at first. I thought Fyrmest was asking for too little, that nothing would ever be accomplished. But now I see it. It's your destiny Arthur. You're the one who has to unite the lands of Albion, not Uther and not me, I'm just there to make you look good. And once you're king that's what you'll do. And the people will remember."
Arthur paused for a moment, awed by Merlin's absolute confidence in him.
"But how are the people to ever learn to accept magic if it's hidden away from them?"
Merlin grinned, looking like the goofy idiot he always was, breaking the illusion of wisdom and power.
"That's what they've got me for isn't it?"
Arthur laughed and felt a great weight lift off of his chest.
"I suppose you're right, though I hate to admit it. The main thing is, that they're no longer dying for it. That's the first step isn't it? And then we can move on from there."
Merlin grinned again.
"Then that'll be my first act as king. Giving Druids the equal rights they deserve, and making magic no longer a criminal offence."
Merlin raised an eyebrow.
"Really? I thought your first act would be removing certain marrying restrictions for certain princes and certain servants?"
"Second act then."
"This is the moment when Fyrmest would say something like 'Every great oak tree must grow from the tiny acorn' or 'One spark is all it takes to start a fire' or something else nature-y that makes him sound so clever and wise."
Arthur remained silent, barely supressing a laugh.
"You know Merlin, being wise doesn't really suit you."
"Maybe by accident."
They fell into silence, and the sun continued to sink lower and lower in the sky, bathing the city in a warm glow. There was something about just being there with Merlin that felt so right to him. The Druids would probably say this was all due to 'destiny' and 'prophecy', but Arthur knew that it wasn't the call of destiny which had led to this. It was the call of friendship.
Arthur stood up once more.
"I suppose it's time."
Merlin nodded, and together they set off down the hill into Camelot.
Arthur looked across at Merlin who was walking down the steep slope as clumsily as he always was, his eyes fixed on the ground to avoid tripping.
"Merlin. Are we friends?"
Merlin looked up at him and stared at him in all seriousness.
"Yeah, right. Like I could ever be friends with a prince!"
And they both laughed, more carefree than they had ever been before, each of them knowing the true answer, and revelling in its knowledge.
The evening that followed was once remembered in Camelot for generations to come. Grandparents told their grandchildren of how they had been there when Prince Arthur and Merlin had walked through the streets of Camelot, side-by-side, as equals in the light of the setting sun.
They told of how the entire city had tried to squeeze itself into the courtyard at the palace to witness the signing of the Treaty, where a stage had been erected on the spot of the former execution podium, to signal to everyone the new age that was dawning.
The told of how the Druid Elders had carried themselves with nobility, and signed the Treaty, the former Lady Morgana among them, who had just been named the new permanent High Priestess of the Fire Discipline.
They told of how Uther and the most noble of the Knights had signed the Treaty, and shook hands with the Druids.
They told of how Merlin and Arthur had signed the Treaty, Merlin using a spell to summon the quill directly out of Uther's hand, prompting an indignant splutter of rage from the king, who could do nothing to stop him, and how the prince had immediately whacked him around the head with a gauntlet.
They told of how the Druids had then left the city, hooded and cloaked, holding lanterns in front of them, passing like ghosts into the night, moonlight streaming down upon their heads, peace at last between their two peoples.
But most of all, they told of the friendship of Arthur and Merlin. A friendship that lasted through time. A friendship not without its trials and tribulations. But a friendship that endured.
A friendship that endured through the ages.
A/N: A bit soppy, and fluffy, and cheesy, but what the hell, IT'S OVER! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MYSELF NOW?
I'm genuinely quite sad now :(
Anyways, just let me know if this was a crap way of ending it or not, I'm not very confident in wrapping stuff up. I know myself how it all works, but I don't often convey that well...
I apologise for the lack of Morgana in this chapter, I know people wanted to see more of her, and possibly some Merlin/Morgana, but I just didn't think it would have worked at the end. But I promise ONE DAY I will write a Merlin/Morgana fic, possibly set after series 3 which would be interesting...
I don't know what I'm gonna write now so any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated!
Please, please, please review, even if you haven't before, I'm sooo close to 300 now and it would be amazing to end this fic on a high note!
Anyways, THANK YOU! :D