36. The end of a beginning
Gaius wasn't very surprised when, after lots of discussions between father and son, Uther's travelling plans were somewhat amended.
On their arrival at the Welsh coast the young King made sure that his messenger to Camelot would take some time before he finally reached the royal castle. As His most resolved Majesty aptly put it – Merlin's words, not Gaius' – this would give him and his father an opportunity for some nice and quiet talks, the kind they had not had in years. Other than Uther himself the young warlock was not in the least surprised that his friend and master would not let his father go before they had worked their way through all of the skeletons that virtually littered the path of Uther's life.
Naturally many of these talks were neither quiet nor especially nice, at least not for Uther. More than once the former King bitterly missed the ability to call for the guard to have his son restrained and locked up in a cell very, very far away. Alas, this was no longer possible. When Guinivere officially joined the man she loved in his bedroom the father temporarily forgot about the new distribution of roles and his son found some short but very decisive words to remind him.
Morgana for one had a great time and she did not hide it.
Gaius, on the other hand, did not know whether he was glad or unhappy when the intermezzo finally ended and not even Arthur could avoid the parting any longer. Camelot was calling her King back home but she did not call for Uther Pendragon.
The overall agreement was that Gaius would accompany the young King and his entourage to Camelot until the coronation would be over. The coronation and a very surprising wedding but this the delegation who had come to take Arthur home did not yet know. After these hopefully joyous occasions the old healer would leave to join his friend in Massilia for good.
It had not been an easy decision and especially Merlin had had a word or two to say to that. Gaius had found Uther smirking at his doorstep once, after a more heated conversation with his ward. "It's good to see that Arthur isn't the only one who's having fun at his old man's expense" he had said.
So the final evening came for all of them.
What father and son said to each other in private during that last night they had together nobody would ever know; not even Merlin or Gaius.
With most of the participants remembering the night they had been forced to leave Arthur behind in Cearcean it was an awkward moment when the former and the present King said their formal good byes the next morning.
Things were made even worse by the Camelot delegation. The notables stood only a few feet away from them but they ignored the man who had ruled over them for more than 20 years. Uther returned the favour to the best of his ability and when he rode off to catch his ship to the Mediterranean Gaius looked at Arthur's face. What he saw there did not bide well for the Camelot notables' future.
Out of habit, Gaius started to worry about what the rash King would do, what it would cost him and who might be the one to suffer the consequences. When he finally realized that he was worrying about another Pendragon King now he found that this did nothing to calm him. "Like father, like son" he thought. "Maybe I should stay in Camelot. Who knows what the clotpole is going to do, now that they have made him angry?" Aggravated he looked at his ward who rode at Arthur's side, merrily enjoying the Welsh spring and all the excitement around him. How typical for the childish boy not to know how serious it all was!
"Gaius!" Morgana said. "This is Arthur Pendragon, remember?"
"Get out of my head, child!"
"There is no need to go into your head if all your thoughts are written that plainly on your face!"
"It's not right to make fun of this. At least you should know that Arthur is facing some very difficult challenges."
"Yes, and how will my poor brother manage without you?"
"It's not me I'm thinking about it's…."
"Uther!" she stated drily.
"Well, and if it is Uther I'm thinking about, what is there to laugh at? A King's own Court can be a more dangerous place than any battle field. At least Uther knows how to survive the snake pit!"
"Gaius, my brother has survived his father, his uncle, his aunt and his – I mean our – beloved sister. Believe me, I am related to the lot myself; I know what I am talking about. If Arthur can survive his own family neither friend nor foe can harm him, human or beast, magical or otherwise." She laughed out loud and spurred her horse to join the group in the lead of the caravan.
Gaius saw Merlin's alarmed face when she approached him – something she loved to do – and shook his head. Perhaps Arthur wasn't the only one who had something to be apprehensive of.
However, presently Uther's son found more things to loath than challenges to fear.
The physician thought more than once on their journey home that the young King would have deserved something better than this state occasion of a homecoming. Surrounded by boot-lickers, pompous courtiers and formal greetings in every larger village or estate he was a prisoner of rank and protocol with barely an opportunity to speak a word in private to those he had been pining for all this time.
Things did not get better after they had reached Camelot Castle. The hurly-burly absorbed the young King completely once the preparations for the coronation were well under way.
The quietest hours he had Arthur spend with the Council behind closed doors. Other than the enthusiastic reception would make them all believe the prolonged absence of King and Prince had not exactly strengthened the Pendragon rule.
This became obvious when Arthur tried to negotiate some milder terms for Uther's banishment. There was no chance to soften the realm's attitude towards their former ruler and with a silent sigh and a horribly sick feeling in his guts the new King abandoned the subject and with it his father.
He did not say another word on the matter but his Courtiers and Council Members knew what this silent cost him. So they closed and opened their fists only in their pockets when Arthur finally brought his foot down in some other urgent matters, defining his rule once and for all.
Two new laws hit the realm like strikes of a hammer. The first lifted the ban on magic. The second pronounced the wedding and the adjoining marriage contract of Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot, and a servant girl named Guinivere and nothing else.
The notables went mad, as did the people, the one with anger and the others with joy. Admittedly the joy was caused by the announced feastings, an amnesty and a six months tax relief more than by a genuine pleasure at a peasant girl's good fortune. Nevertheless the atmosphere improved – for a while at least.
The wedding itself was a very private affair, at the King's explicit wishes, and performed in some haste. The gossipers had much to say about the latter. Officially the wedding feast was just postponed until coronation day. The treasurer and the pursers were much in favour of this solution, especially after the tax relief had been pronounced.
Guinivere did her very best to ignore the gossip, the derisive looks, the barely hidden sneers and the tale telling supercilious smiles which from now on would be her life, either until Arthur would produce a more interesting scandal or she would produce an heir to the throne. Gaius admired her more than he could say while her husband was still mercifully oblivious of his wife's impossible situation.
However, somebody else had even more problems to adapt to his new station in life. Gaius had the pleasure of seeing Merlin running his feet off. Being Arthur's personal friend and official Court Sorcerer was definitely more stressful than being the Prince's servant. The physician often imagined he could hear the former King laugh at the sight of the young warlock running around desperately with three errands at once while his Royal Master was busy keeping the other courtiers on their toes.
At least Merlin wouldn't have much time to miss his old guardian, that much was certain.
On the morning of the combined coronation/wedding feast Gaius groaned while he tried to press his poor feet into the fancy shoes that went with the finery he had to wear for the occasion.
Naturally he was late but he found that Morgana, still Arthur's only official sister and a Princess of Camelot by the new King's decree, had kept a place for him at her side. Gratefully he joined her.
She looked radiant. He had never seen her so beautiful before. If he had not known better he'd thought she was trying to outshine even the new Queen herself. For the briefest moment he thought of Lordegrade before he dismissed all dark thoughts of the past from his mind. It had clouded and almost destroyed a Prince's life, it would not mar a King's coronation day.
The healer chuckled when he spotted Merlin behind the two throne seats where he would wait for his King/Master/Friend or whatever he considered Arthur to be right now. The young warlock was that nervous, he actually gnawed his thumb.
"You know Gaius, I think I am the only one who got it all" Morgana suddenly whispered. "Think of it. My father's murderer is dead, Uther's gone, my sister has a life of her own now – may she breed in peace – my brother is well off, I've returned to my home and to a much extended stipend as I may add and guess what?"
She smiled at him; then her eyes wandered to where the throne was. Gaius followed her gaze and found it resting on Merlin in what could only be called a most predatory manner. In the very last moment before the ceremony began she bent to Gaius' ear one last time.
"You know, I think he will not try to poison me again. Wouldn't you agree?"
A/N: God(s), I thought I'd never finish this.
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