Eyes Wide Open
Summary: After witnessing Merlin using magic, Arthur is faced with a series of hard decisions. Can he decide where his loyalties lie in time to defeat a new enemy that quickly approaches Camelot?
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or any of the characters. All I have are my words and my squees of rabid fangirlishness.
A/N: Final chapter... wow - I don't think I've ever completed a fanfic as quick as this before... Thank you all for reading and also for the reviews and encouragement I've received throughout. I truly do hope you've enjoyed this as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
Arthur studied the sorcerer as he sat there, watching for any unexpected or sudden changes in movement. There was none. Still, he didn't let his guard down. Merlin was right, there was no telling what this Blaine was capable of. Merlin may not have been able to survive being run through with a sword but that didn't mean this sorcerer didn't have some trick up his sleeve so that he would.
But Merlin had looked drained. There was no chance Arthur would leave him alone with the man for the same reasons Merlin didn't want to leave Arthur alone with him.
"See," he said as he heard Merlin return with the horse. "He's still unconscious and I'm still alive."
"Congratulations," Merlin muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Arthur to hear. "I'm sure they'll hold a festival in your honour."
Arthur rolled his eyes and pushed himself up, regarding Merlin and the horse - who didn't look at all happy about being led there, and really, it was a horse so it had no right to look that way. He slid his sword away before brushing away the dead leaves that clung to him.
"Cheer up," he said, reaching out to pat Merlin on the head like a faithful hound and earning a glare for the effort. "If this goes how I hope it will, you will be back with Gaius before the night is done."
"And if it doesn't?" Merlin questioned, his scepticism clear and Arthur shook his head, stopping that line of thought right there. It would work. There was no other choice.
"It will," he answered and moved to saddle bag, rummaging inside. After a few beats of extended silence, he pulled out a small and worn book and tapped on the front cover thoughtfully before flicking through the pages. Perfect. "And this is why."
"Magic…" The manservant sounded fascinated, his attention held on the book like it held answers to unknown questions and he supposed that for Merlin, it probably did. Then his brow creased and he pulled that rapt gaze away from the book and looked at Arthur instead. "But surely, as the Prince of Camelot, your word would be enough…"
"It didn't do much good when Ivan first accused you." Arthur sighed and thrust the book back into the bag. "Come on," he continued, moving to the sorcerer, "help me with him so we can get going."
With a lot more effort than it really needed – because apparently being a sorcerer that could control fire and wind and who only knew what else, meant that your muscles became weak and useless from lack of use – they managed to heave Blaine up onto the back of the horse. It was reluctant to move at first, completely ignoring Arthur's commands and orders but then Merlin clucked his tongue encouragingly and stroked a hand down its mane and apparently that was all it took for the stupid animal to move.
"What will you tell your father?" Merlin asked after several steps and Arthur considered the question carefully before answering.
"The truth," he said, already imagining the conversation in his head. He ignored the half croak, half squeak noise that came from Merlin's direction and carried on with a shrug. "I'll tell him Sir Ivan sold his honour to the highest bidder and was paid to create a distraction so that this waste of space," he hitched a thumb towards Blaine, "could slip into Camelot unseen to off me whilst everyone else was too busy scrambling around trying to catch you. But of course, being the Prince of Camelot, I figured it all out."
Merlin looked at him through disbelieving eyes, his lips quirking up into an incredulous smile as he shook his head. "Sounds like a long shot to me."
"I swear, you have no faith in me, Merlin." He tried to sound offended but didn't quite pull it off and they fell back into companionable silence, only the forest life and horse's hooves breaking through it. It wasn't until the walls of Camelot were in sight that Arthur spoke up again, casting a sidelong glance to Merlin.
"Does it hurt?" he asked, the question having been circling his mind continuously after bearing witness to just how much power Merlin seemed to wield.
Merlin looked to him and reached a hand up to his shoulder, the cloth of his jacket torn after its encounter with the branch. Ever the ignorant idiot, he didn't follow Arthur's line of thought. "Nothing serious…"
"I meant the magic." Turning his attention back to the path laid out to them by the forest, Arthur lowered his eyes. "Does it hurt to use it?"
Merlin shook his head. "It's like breathing."
He considered that for a moment, the gentle clip-clop from the horse's hooves echoing in the silence his thoughts left. Then he spoke again, slow and contemplative. "What he said back there… about you protecting me, do I even want to know?"
"No." Merlin beamed at him, his grin impish and eyes alight. "It'd only bruise your ego."
Arthur could only nod in reply. Everything he had been through with Merlin, all the dangers he had faced, looking back at them now, he was seeing them in a whole new light. The little unexplained things that happened or the memory lapses that occurred when he woke to find a beast slain, Merlin was always there.
The sound of his name pulled him from his thoughts and he looked to Merlin briefly before focusing on what was ahead of them. Camelot.
Of the guards that stood at the entrance, only two approached and Arthur took a deep breath, readying himself. They looked as unsure as he felt, uncertainty washing over their faces and creeping into their movements.
"Send news to my father," he announced, coming to a stop a mere foot away from the largest of the guards. "I have taken the sorcerer captive."
There was no argument, just a flurry of movement as one of the guards turned to dash away. The others looked to Merlin, already making their way towards him but Arthur growled in frustration. "Not him, you idiots," he snapped before pointing to the horse and lump that lay across the saddle. "Him!"
Merlin kept his eyes down as they stood in the court, avoiding all of the looks that were thrown his way. The worst had come from Uther – a glare that was murderous to say the least. If Arthur hadn't been stood between them, Merlin had no doubt that the king would have crossed the room to follow through on the threat that lay in the depth of that glare. It had him rethinking this whole plan of Arthur's and wondering if it wasn't too late to sneak back out into the forest.
"I found your sorcerer." Arthur stepped forward, posture rigid and voice confident. "As I said, Merlin is innocent and should be cleared of all charges. After saving my life, yet again, it is the least that can be done."
"And you have proof?" the king questioned, shifting up ahead. Merlin dared to quickly look his way but dropped his gaze almost immediately to the prone body of Blaine that lay across the floor – whether dying or alive, the sorcerer didn't have anything on Uther who could radiate terror as easily as a bird could sing.
Everyone in the court seemed to hold their breath and maybe that was why it sounded so loud when Blaine's spell-book landed on the floor in front of Uther, the thump seeming to vibrate and echo in the air. "This was found amongst his belongings."
Footsteps and then, "It is a book of magic, My Lord. There is no doubt." Gaius' soft and wizened tones calmed Merlin and he felt himself relax just a little but still he could not look up.
Uther said nothing for a long while, as if attempting to decide whether the evidence was enough. Apparently it wasn't. "And Sir Ivan conspired with this man?"
"Yes, Sire," Arthur answered.
"Is there anyone else besides you and the boy that can confirm this? Any witnesses to this bribery of which you speak?"
Arthur said nothing. There was nothing to say. Witnesses? He hadn't asked for witnesses when he had been condemning Merlin for sorcery…
"My Lord, if I may…" Merlin looked up, his eyes searching for the owner of the voice and finding Sir Leon, head bowed in respect. "I do believe I recognise this man," the knight continued when no one interrupted. "I saw him speaking with Sir Ivan the evening before he accused young Merlin of sorcery. I thought nothing of it at the time but I do recall Sir Ivan being a slight… testy when questioned about it."
For a long moment, Merlin believed that Uther would dismiss the statement and order Merlin to be restrained and taken to the cells once again. He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat and watched the king carefully. When the king met his gaze, it was with disdain but there was less murder there which had to be a good thing, right?
"Very well," Uther conceded, looking to Arthur instead. "The charges have been cleared. Your manservant is a lucky man."
"Thank you, Father." Arthur bowed his head and Merlin found himself imitating the movement.
With a reluctant nod of his head, Uther turned away, his eyes moving to the guards near the doors as his hand motioned toward Blaine. "Take this man to the dungeons where he can live out what little is left of his life and when he passes, I wish to know immediately."
Everyone drifted slowly from the court, Merlin and Gaius included, leaving Arthur alone with his father. He felt drained, his stomach wound into a tight knot and his mind foggy from overuse and lack of sleep. But this could not wait. His father would not wait.
"I am sorry, Father," he started, his head inclined and eyes focused on the cold stone floor. "I disobeyed you and placed myself and Camelot in danger. I can only hope that, in time, you will forgive me for my actions and perhaps come to understand why I did what I did."
"And what is it that I am to understand?" Uther questioned, sounding just as weary.
"That I could not allow a good man to die." He met his father's gaze, trying to read what he saw there. Suspicion, disappointment, confusion… "From a young age," he went on, "you taught me to trust my instincts. You told me that whilst my eyes may be fooled easily by sorcery and magic and whilst my ears may be open to lies and mistruths, it would be my instincts that allowed me to see past the beautiful face or softly spoken word that would wish to deceive me. My instincts told me that Merlin was innocent."
"And what if your instincts had been wrong?"
He stood tall, refusing to back down. "If I am to be king one day, I cannot allow for them to be."
Uther sighed. "If you are to be king, my son, you cannot allow for your emotions to rule your actions."
"I understand, Fathe-"
"No," Uther interrupted, pushing himself up from his seat. "I am not sure you do."
Arthur's brow furrowed and he shook his head in protest. "Father…"
"One day I will die and you will be king. When that time comes, there will be many difficult decisions to be made. There will be sacrifices that must be taken in order to survive. Your compassion for the people blinds you." He turned away and looked toward one of the many great windows. "One day, you will learn that."
Moving swiftly along the castle halls, Merlin walked with Gaius, the old physician guiding him as he went over all that happened. He told Gaius of Sir Ivan and Arthur banishing him and of Blaine and his wish to never see Albion united. "He knew about Arthur's destiny and he knew who I was," he said.
"Very few are gifted with the power to attain such knowledge but doubtless there will be others like him. We will have to be cautious." Gaius nodded thoughtfully, answering the question that had lingered at the tip of Merlin's tongue before falling silent as a servant girl approached and passed them by. When she was out of ear shot, he spoke again. "Arthur appears to be coping quite well with knowing your secret…"
"He hasn't threatened to kill me yet," Merlin jested but his smile became strained. Arthur had defied Uther for him, lying to the king in order to protect him and Merlin could only imagine how difficult that must have been for the prince. "I just wish he hadn't been put in that position."
"Merlin!" the familiar voice of Gwen echoed up from behind and Merlin turned to see the handmaiden approaching. Her infectious smile had him grinning once more.
"I'm glad you're home," she said when she caught up with them, wrapping her arms around him briefly before pulling away again, a light blush spreading across her cheeks. "Thank you..."
"My father," she answered. "Gaius told me what you did for him."
He frowned and looked to the old physician before looking back to Gwen, already opening his mouth to ask what he had done but she didn't give him the chance to speak. "I have to go, I'm running late. I'm supposed to be helping with the laundry – I just… I wanted to see you and make sure you were okay and say that I'm glad you're home, not that you wouldn't already know that, I just wanted to say it-"
"Gwen," he said, cutting her off and she clamped her mouth shut. "Thank you."
She smiled once more then turned on her heel and dashed off the way she had come, leaving Merlin still unsure of what he had done. "What did she mean?" he asked Gaius, following him up the steps toward his chambers. "About her father…"
"I think," Gaius explained, "she means thank you for giving her those few more precious months with her father by healing him."
"She knows about… but… who else knows?"
"As long as you try to be a bit more careful, hopefully no one else will or next time, your head might actually make it to the chopping block." Gaius looked to him with a raised eyebrow and then motioned toward the seat next to the table. "Now sit down and take your shirt off. I want to make sure your little adventure hasn't hindered your healing."
Merlin complied, pulling away his jacket and letting it land on an empty patch of table before doing the same with his shirt. He fell into deep thought as Gaius examined his shoulder briefly then moved onto his chest, carefully stripping away the bandages that were dotted with small spots of red here and there. It didn't hurt that much, barely even a dull ache anymore, and after everything that had happened, it made the injuries seem inconsequential.
When he was back in Ealdor and Will had discovered his magic but promised to keep it a secret, Merlin remembered feeling a sense of freedom and security. He hadn't realised how much that feeling meant to him until Will had died and Merlin had been left with one less person to confide in about his magic. The sense of loss was even greater after Freya. But now... He smiled to himself as he thought about the home he had found in Camelot and the friends he had made. He finally felt like he belonged somewhere.
"Uther will be watching you," Gaius said, breaking into Merlin's happy thoughts. "You must be extra careful now."
"Aren't I always?" he asked but Gaius' eyebrow just rose higher in response and Merlin took that to mean 'No, not particularly'. He sagged a little and looked to his freshly bandaged chest.
"It is not just magic he'll be looking for," Gaius continued and Merlin frowned, watching the old physician through confused and narrowed eyes. "He will be watching to see what influence you hold over Arthur."
Merlin laughed. "I don't hold any influence over that dollop-head. If I did, do you really think I'd be washing his dirty socks?"
But Gaius looked sombre and Merlin's laughter faded. "Arthur put his position as Crown Prince on the line to keep you, a mere servant, from being executed. It is not something Uther will take to lightly. Promise me you will be careful, Merlin."
"Of course," Merlin answered with a nod of his head. He would be as careful as he could be.
"Ah, Merlin – there you are."
Arms laden with Arthur's breakfast, Merlin turned on the spot to face said prince as he tried to figure out whether he was running late or Arthur was running early. "Sire?" he greeted, a little uncertainly, waiting for Arthur to inform him that it was indeed the former and that his tardiness was becoming a problem.
It had been a week since they had returned to Camelot with the dying sorcerer – Blaine hadn't even lasted the first night, taking his final breath before the sun had attempted to rise on a new day. Other than a few odd looks, things had started to return to normal or in other words, Merlin had gone straight back to being Arthur's manservant and barely had a chance to notice what else was going on within the walls of Camelot what with all of the jobs he had been given. And Arthur, he acted as if none of it had happened.
It made Merlin wonder if he had imagined it all – he had asked Gaius after the second night if he had but the old physician assured him that it all had, indeed, happened.
Arthur looked at the plate of food in Merlin's hand with a furrowed brow as if he was trying to contemplate what it was and why Merlin was holding it. He didn't question Merlin on it though, which was just as well because the kitchen staff were in earshot and they were known to hold a grudge. "I need you to fetch my armour from the armoury and bring it to the training fields. We're doing mace work so you can use the time to sharpen and polish my sword. And when you're through with that, my horses need mucking out and my rooms need tidying – I saw rat droppings again – and I'll need you to bring me an early lunch then prepare my hunting gear."
"You expect me to do all that, this morning?" Merlin questioned, the very thought of it all making him feel as if he had already done a hard day's work.
"Why? Is there somewhere else you have to be?"
Merlin gritted his teeth. "Of course not, Sire."
"Good, then I'll see you down on the training fields in ten minutes." Arthur grinned, or rather he flashed his teeth like a dangerous predator.
"Ten minutes?" he whined in reply, his shoulders sagging. "Just how do you expect me to do that?"
"Magic, Merlin. Magic." Grin still on his face, Arthur turned to leave and Merlin grumbled under his breath, wondering if the prince truly did expect him to use magic or if he was just enjoying the torturous effect that his unreasonable demands had on Merlin. "Oh, and Merlin…" he added, turning once again to face him.
"Yes, Arthur?" Merlin smiled tightly at him, already considering what he would use magic on – after all, maybe Arthur would be less trouble as a toad or small field mouse.
The prince's eyes softened, his voice dropping to a level that made him almost sound concerned. "Don't get caught…"
Merlin's smile turned genuine and he nodded. "Yes, Sire."
Arthur left Merlin to the impossibly long list of chores and turned his attention toward the training field. He didn't miss the clatter of plates or Merlin's curse as one of them shattered against the stone floor, finding himself shaking his head and smiling almost fondly as he thought of the manservant and all that had happened.
Blaine had been a sorcerer, as had all the others before him. But Merlin, well, Arthur stuck to the conclusion he had drawn before - Merlin was just an idiot who happened to have magic. He was Arthur's loyal servant and friend and despite all that his father said, Arthur found himself thinking more and more about what Merlin had said in the forest. Maybe Arthur wouldn't be the type of king that his father wanted him to be but would it be so horrible to be the type of king that Merlin believed he would become?
Though really, uniting the lands? That was a bit of a stretch, even for Merlin.
And that is the end of this story... Thank you all so much for reading and for the encouragement and reviews throughout. I really hope you have enjoyed reading!