A/N And that's all, folks. I can't believe I finally found the time to finish this story. I personally love it so I hope you do too. Please review. I know it's hard when it's taken four years to bring this one home but reviews are love after all.
It was amazing how the beats, the tempo of normal life returned to Camelot so quickly.
The city had shaken itself as if from a bad dream and returned to routine as to an old friend; comforting in its familiarity.
There were moments, however, when the facade of normality slipped. An ordinary man meeting another on the street and remembering a day not long ago when he had terrorised him for no other reason than that he could. A strange camaraderie formed between a noble and a peasant or a merchant and a farmer she had shared the calamity with.
The flat anger the citizens tried not to direct at their King who had failed and who knew it with every fibre of his being. The reverence and respect with which they greeted in the street a strange mix of the noble and the common: Prince Arthur, his servant Merlin; the Lady Morgana; Tom the Blacksmith; Merita the Washerwoman who, by the end, had been worried she wouldn't like the name she ended up with; Sir Leon's servant, Robert, who had remembered he actually liked serving his master; Guinevere who now preferred to be called Guin and who was stepping out with Robert (everyone thought that was a good match for both of them); and Gaius, the old physician who already had their goodwill but now had their respect too.
They all remembered. They all had a new part of themselves that they nurtured. The world could be a better place. They just had to try.
The only sour note muddying the happy gossip in the markets, streets and taverns was the strange case of Merlin and Morgana or, as they had known them, Raven and Emerald. Used in those few short days to seeing them inseparable the good people of Camelot wondered now why their memories had so completely restored their old habits.
Merlin tended to Arthur; assisted Gaius, was his usual happy self, gambolling around the city and quietly helping everyone who needed it. But the Lady Morgana was never by his side. Rumblings began that it was Uther's fault. That he had forbidden the match because of the memory of their true status. The rumblings, combined with the complaints about his leadership during the crisis, grew until they grew so loud they could be heard even behind the thick walls of the Palace.
"I failed, Gaius," Uther said one morning, after summoning his physician to the Throne Room.
"You, of course, have a responsibility as the King, My Lord," Gaius said, "but we all danced to somebody else's tune. Others as much as you."
"No," replied Uther, with a dismissive wave. He turned from his old friend to look at the throne he couldn't bring himself to sit upon.
"All I can think is how close my hated of magic came to taking my Kingdom, my people to war. You can say what you want, Gaius, but they chose me, chose Camelot for a reason. I am appalled at how easily my anger blinded me to the truth. What was once my greatest strength has now become my greatest flaw. It's what they exploited. It's why they chose me.
"And now my people rail against me in the streets. And so they should. I must do better."
"Sire," Gaius began to argue.
"No, old friend. It may have taken an apocalypse to open my eyes but they are open. I must overcome my prejudice, put the past finally behind me and open my mind. Magic saved us. I felt that magic and it was the purest thing I have ever felt. And it came from a boy I dismissed as utterly unimportant because of his birth.
"I should be scared of him, I suppose. Before this happened, I would have been. But there was no evil there, Gaius. There wasn't even the possibility of evil. I can't forget that. Ever. I want you to promise that you won't let me."
"I will, Sire. I promise."
"And my son?"
"Is outside. Awaiting your summons."
"Then send him in."
Gaius bowed to his King's back and turned to leave.
The celebrations had been strangely muted. It is one thing to celebrate the defeat of your enemy. It is another to feel your enemy was inside yourself; a part of yourself you could never be sure was excised.
The discussion Uther had with Bayard was brief and solemn, with the two clasping hands in understanding before Uther had addressed his army and taken them unceremoniously home.
Once there, he had thrown a banquet in the honour of the city's heroes, only to realise later that Merlin left after only an hour to do laundry. Frankly, Uther felt that having the most powerful man in the Kingdom cleaning saddles and sweeping floors was insanity but although he offered him a number of official posts more fitting to his new stature, Merlin had refused every one.
On the third day, Morgana had walked slowly and deliberately down to the small rooms Gaius and Merlin shared and rapped deliberately on the door.
"I'm sorry, my dear," Gaius lied, "Merlin isn't here."
"Do you know," she swallowed and then brought her gaze to his with pride, "do you know why he's avoiding me?"
Gaius sighed and shook his tired head, "I don't know, My Lady. I am sorry. Since you returned, it's as though Raven never existed. Or maybe he just wants to believe he never did."
"But why? Why would he want to forget what he achieved, all the good he did? Why would he want to forget... us?"
"The spell he cast was... it was the most extraordinary piece of magic I have ever seen. It was the magic of a God. It's possible he just needs some time, child."
"We all cast that spell, Gaius. We were all there. That was the point. I just... I don't understand what happened. Where did he go?"
And as she swept from the room, Gaius wondered precisely how many times she would come again before refusing to debase her pride like that again.
Guin practically skipped down the cobblestoned streets from the Thursday morning poultry market, her hands full of that night's dinner and her mind full of what was needed for next week's feast. She smiled shyly as she saw Robert waiting for her and gladly handed over her purchases to the young man.
"I heard the news," he said as he fell into step beside her, "Are you happy?"
"More than happy," she told him a little breathlessly, "I'm ecstatic. My father and Merita are a perfect match. I never thought I'd attend my father's wedding but now it's happening I think it's the best news I've ever heard."
"To think, without the spell, they would never even have met."
Guin just nodded in acknowledgement of the sentiment as they took the turn into her street.
"Speaking of which," Robert began, clearing his throat three times as though to help the words come more easily. "The spell..."
"Was a moment of madness," she told him, stopping at her door and pulling out her key to unlock it.
"Oh, yes, of course," he said, going through the now-open door and putting her packages on her dining table.
"But, maybe, a good moment of madness?" she ventured, tentatively and was rewarded with a grin of pure joy.
"I thought so too. And I was thinking that, maybe, you might want to have a few more moments. With me. At some stage."
"How about you help me with these groceries. And we'll go from there."
"That sounds nice."
He opened a bag and pulled out a raw chicken and she laughed at the expression on his handsome face as he grimaced at it.
"How about I get that? You can have the potatoes."
"What a relief. It still has feathers on it."
"Well, it is a chicken."
"Chicken should be alive or cooked on a dinner plate, not anywhere in between."
"You sound like Arthur."
"Is that a bad thing?"
She shook her head and plucked the chicken with a smile plastered on her face while he peeled the potatoes.
In Avalon where priestess and sorceress sat side by side pondering fates and where the Lake, calm across its surface almost everywhere else, churned and roiled around the Island's edge to keep out those who could not navigate their magical tides, Morgause sat in the apple garden, poised on a bench and looking at an empty coffin that may now remain empty.
The garden was always spring and the light touch of the sun upon her skin had always reminded her of her childhood, before she knew about the life that had been denied her by her unfortunate birth.
"This is a strange place for a God," she said finally, "especially one as rooted in the Earth as you. There is no life or death here. No turn of the seasons. These trees bloom but never fruit. I can't imagine it's a place you find comfortable."
"You're right, of course."
Waif walked among the blooming, lifeless trees and touched a petal reverently, "It is beyond death. As is everything here. But even Avalon is not eternal."
Morgause threw her one of her small, tight smiles.
"The world has detoured to a new fork. But the tree keeps growing. It is lucky it now has such good gardeners."
"Do you really believe they can do it?"
"Merlin and Morgana? Together they can keep us growing along the right fork. As long as someone doesn't intervene."
This time the look Morgause threw her was sharp.
"You know the prophecies," the God reminded her. "Some would throw away even Utopia for their own selfish ends."
"What can I do?"
"Nothing. The Gods intervened and so a God helped. But if one act forks the tree again, there is little that can be done."
"I do not think so. Which is why I'm here."
Morgause grimaced and stood, walking over to place one refined hand on the clear glass lid of the resting place for a man whose death would still be a tragedy, but one of a different kind.
"You wish me to give up any attempt to have my revenge, to reclaim my rightful place in Camelot, to fill this coffin?"
"If Uther Pendragon can put the horror of the past behind him then surely so can you. His path is now clear. He will give his Kingdom peace and his son will give it greatness. Magic will come back to the land and we will have a golden age that will last a thousand years. And this coffin will stay empty. We'll have no need of a resurrection when heaven is on Earth."
"Why do you care, as long as life continues?"
"Because death is inevitable. But cruelty is unnecessary. There is no need for the cycle of life to include such suffering. Surely you can see that."
Morgause felt the cold glass beneath her fingertips and the endless spring sunshine warm on her back and she gave a small look of resignation.
"You are right, of course. Ruining what could be to achieve my own petty ends would be childish. I would like to think I am many things but not that."
Waif nodded and with a small wave of her hand disappeared from the garden, leaving the petals she'd touched budding with a fruit out of season. The fruit swelled and grew and then burst instantly into flowers instead.
"There are those, however, who did not have a childhood and so could never grow up," she whispered to the empty air. "And I fear you are even more impotent against them then you are here."
And she returned to her seat to contemplate the memories she had never lost but would refuse to let dictate her actions nonetheless.
Arthur took a breath for courage and another for fortitude and then entered the Throne Room at his father's request. Gaius had looked thoughtful as he'd left and he was concerned at the reception he would get.
Afterward, his father had treated them all as heroes but in an expansive way that had included Arthur as merely another citizen. He had, he realised, disobeyed him, countermanded him, ignored him and, in the end, fled from his rule with a group of outlaws. It was the kind of behaviour his father abhorred, whether the ends justified the means or not.
And while he might congratulate and laud the others for their brave actions, he would be unlikely to tolerate such actions from his own son. Sons obeyed their fathers and princes obeyed their kings.
It had been a week since they returned and only now did his father request an audience. It was surely an ominous sign.
Arthur walked into the Throne Room, dim despite the bright summer sun outside, and saw his father still contemplating the empty throne.
"Father?" he said tentatively.
His father turned and smiled at him warmly, moving to embrace him.
Arthur accepted his father's arms around him, unable to remember the last time they'd been like this.
"Come, let's go for a walk along the battlements. I'm tired of being cooped up here with a piece of furniture and a silly crown."
They walked through the corriders and finally up to the very walls of the Keep where they could see the roofs of the Lower Town stretching almost to the horizon where the city gates loomed.
"From up here, everything seems normal," Arthur noted.
"It is," his father agreed, "from the outside at least. Life goes on as if this calamity never befell us. But it did and it's not something I intend to forget. Arthur..."
"Father, I know what you're going to say. I disobeyed you. I acted against your direct instructions. I fled the city in its greatest hour of need. I..."
"Acted in line with your principles and with the truth against a madman intent on destroying your Kingdom."
Arthur stuttered to a halt in astonishment. "But, I..."
"I didn't bring you here to castigate you, my son. I brought you here to show you what your courage achieved." He waved his hand toward the people scurrying about their daily business below.
"You did this. I am so proud of you. You had people from all sides telling you what to do. The easy path and the difficult one and you saw the truth and you took the hard path, against even your own father, the king. You did what you knew was right, despite an extraordinary level of opposition. And don't think Gaius hasn't explained to me how this spell worked. Obeying me was ingrained in you from birth. And yet, here we are. I don't think I've ever been more proud of you in your entire life."
"Father, I, I don't know what to say."
"Good. I prefer it when people listen and don't talk back."
Arthur choked back a laugh and wonder if he was going to ruin the moment by crying. Instead he turned back to the scene below.
After a moment, his father cleared his throat as if to indicate it was now time to get back to business.
"I need to talk to you about Merlin. And Morgana."
Arthur looked down, the buoyancy of the moment having passed.
"I don't know whether to laud him as the hero of the hour or to smack him upside the head. He lied to me. For a long time. How did he walk around Camelot pretending to be such an idiot all this time and get away with it?"
"If I remember he did save your life. More than once."
"And here I was thinking that was luck."
Uther took a moment before broaching the real topic.
"Before this happened the idea of him and Morgana having any kind of relationship was unthinkable. But this did happen and, possibly more importantly, the people cry out for it. They are a symbol now. Seeing them together brings them comfort and security. They blame me for the fact that he is still a servant and they blame me also for the fact that they are not a couple. I know very well I have not forbidden it and they have not mentioned it to me. What has happened?"
"I think you're asking the wrong person. He seems determined to put our relationship back to the way it was before. Which is frankly weird. I'm a hair's breath away from smacking him one. Except he could probably turn me into a small animal at will. I'm surprised he never did."
Uther simply nodded.
"I could summon him before me and, since he's doing his best servant impression, he would have to comply. But it seems to me the situation would not benefit from my intervention. And it would no doubt enrage Morgana"
"Probably. Besides, he's stubborn. That certainly hasn't changed. If he hasn't gotten his act together in a week I might order him to clean out the garrison latrines. Let's see how quickly he gets over this servant business then."
His father laughed and began to leave the battlements, no doubt off to a new appointment.
"Then we can only hope he and my Ward deal with it as effectively as they have dealt with other problems lately. The Kingdom needs them together. And frankly so do I."
He had such large hands. There was a time when a man with such large hands would have frightened her. And for good reason, as it turned out. Merita's memories were something she'd been trying to lock away in a box for years. It was no wonder that being freed from them had freed her. But now that they were back, she was determined that they wouldn't stop her from keeping everything the Washerwoman had gotten her and more.
She walked up behind him as he put his tools down on his anvil and plunged his head into a waiting barrel of water. Being a Blacksmith was hot work.
She reached out and took one of those large hands and squeezed as she handed him a cold ale.
He smiled and enveloped her tiny hand in his, drowning the ale in one parched gulp.
"We're getting married," he said finally.
And she was so happy that all she could do was nod and enjoy his warm, callused hand around hers.
"You're an idiot."
Merlin turned from where he was cleaning beakers from one of Gaius' experiments and grinned.
"And you're a prat."
"I'm serious, Merlin. What are you doing?"
"I'm a servant, Arthur. A peasant. I'm doing what peasants do."
"What are you even talking about? You could be a landowner. A freeman. An advisor. Court-appointed magical advisor at that. You could be with Morgana. Right now.
"You're more powerful than any other man in this Kingdom. In any Kingdom, possibly. So get your head out of your as... posterior... and step up."
"Maybe I don't want to be. Did you ever think of that?"
"Want to be what? Because the last time I looked, you've always been this person. You've just been hiding. And I get that. You had to hide. But you don't have to anymore. And I don't have much patience for a man who hides with his hands plunged in soap. So get over it. Whatever it is. And be the man we need you to be. This is a new world. You made it. It's your responsibility to help keep it going.
"Raven wouldn't behave this way and the last time I looked, Raven was you."
He rolled his eyes in frustration, turned on his heels and slammed the door on his way out.
Morgana walked listlessly into her room, took off her jewellery and looked into her mirror, unaware for a moment who looked back at her. Her shoes she kicked off but her emerald dress she kept on for a moment, wondering why she'd put it on at all.
"Emerald was a fantasy," she said to her own tired reflection and stood up to call her new maid to help her undress when there was a quick double knock on her door. Her heart leapt and she figuratively grabbed it and slammed it down. It had been annoying her lately and the last thing she needed was for it to be jumping up and down like some childish fool.
She paused for a moment to gather her composure and then opened the door.
"Ra... Merlin," she greeted him, "What are you doing here?"
"There's um... there's something I need to say. It's ironic really. Under the circumstances. I now that. The irony. But nonetheless, it's something that needs to be said."
"And what's that," she asked him as she let him in and closed the door behind him; a air of frost entering her voice against her will.
He turned to face her, his eyes going darker in the gathering doom.
He walked over to her dresser and poured himself a glass of water, turning back to her as he placed the goblet back on the hard wood.
"It turns out Merlin is a bit of a coward," he managed finally. "Ironic, isn't it? A man who lectured the entire world on courage. Well, he is. A coward. Always was. Scared of everything. Scared of his own shadow."
Her face softened and she took a step towards him. "As I understand it, he had a reason to be scared. Every day. So did I, as it turned out. I just didn't know."
"Scared, yes. But not a coward. That was a choice. And maybe before all of this I could blame it on a lifetime of prejudice and persecution. But given what's happened, that would be an excuse. And a sad one."
He went up to her and took her hands in his.
"It's not just Raven who loves you. I needed you to know that. I know that my cowardice has caused you pain the last few days and I'm sorry. I love you. Merlin loves you. I think I've loved you since Mordred."
She took a sob of what she could only assume was joy and slid her arms around him, "I love you too. Let's not be afraid anymore. Of anything."
He tipped her face up toward his and kissed her, lightly, on the lips before wrapping his lean arms around her and burying his face in her hair.
"Everything's going to be better now. We won't live our lives in fear. We won't let that happen."
She nodded, her face in his alabaster neck and her hand entwined in his hair.
"No more fear."
In a deep dank cavern beneath the castle, a magical being of extraordinary age and power eyed the enchanted chain around his ankle and contemplated his fate with a reptilian sigh.
"So sad," a voice sang in the darkness, "The best laid plans of mice and men. And Gods. And Dragons."
"What are you doing here, witch?" he said to the woman, who laughed at his anger.
"Well, I have so much time on my hands now. Uther with a magical protector. What is a girl to do?"
"Mayhap you can spit your poison elsewhere."
"Now, now, is that any way to talk to an old friend. I once graced the court myself before magic was banned. And now everything old is new again.
"It's funny how the world turns. And Uther will turn. You know that, as do I. Your little friend is in as much danger now as I once was."
"Do you have a purpose here, witch, or do you come merely to bore me with your revenge prattle? And with Uther protected it is now just that. Prattle."
She moved out of the shadows, her long dark contrasting her brilliant white skin in the semi-darkness; a long blue dress blushing the ground around her.
"Nimueh, please. It's only polite to call a girl by her name. You should know that, Kilgharrah. Such a proud name. And yet, here you are."
"It is none of your concern."
"Nurturing the boy. Whispering in his ear. Isolating Morgana. Driving her eventually to her sister. And all so you can fly free.. And then, poof! All undone in one moment of glory.
"Oh, it hardly benefited you to lose Camelot to war. You weighed your choices and made the best one you could. And now you do not fly free. Ever."
She smiled seductively at his studied nonchalance, seeing from experience the emotions roiling underneath.
"Or do you?"
His eyes glittered as he shifted forward in his prison.
"What do you mean?"
"It was such a powerful spell, wasn't it? The power of a God. But he is no God, is he? He's just a man. An extraordinary one. But still a simple mortal man."
"You would not dare."
"Oh, I wouldn't harm him. What would be the point of that? I need him. Just like I need you."
"And why would I ever help you?"
"I think we've established that. The fates break off in all directions. And, as we've all learned, we are only what we remember."
The Dragon threw his long sinuous neck back and laughed.
"It took three Gods to cast that spell."
"Only because they wanted to wipe everything. And only because they wanted to keep magic suppressed. But to wipe everyone's memories of only, oh, the last few weeks? Now, that would be easier. And I know some Gods who would be very grateful."
"Such a plan is madness," he replied, but nonetheless she saw a spark of interest in her eyes.
"It would be if a certain wizard we all know didn't recently cast a spell to bring a part of every human being into themselves. It would if we didn't have Merlin. We don't have to cast a spell on everybody. We just have to cast a spell on him. It's lucky that he trusts you. So very much."
"Is a part of him now too, if I recall. And what she doesn't know cannot really hurt her. Or... anybody actually."
"No. I won't help you, witch. Merlin may trust me but I do not trust you."
"I'll give you a day or two to think it over. It's such a big decision. Don't go anywhere. Oh wait, you can't."
She turned and left the cave and her laughed echoed off the ceiling of his prison long after she was gone.
He gave his manacled feet an experiment shake and closed his eyes in deep contemplation; the weight of the rock above his head pressing down on his mind all the while.
After a while, he opened them again and they glittered like a snake's in the dark.