Author's Note: Second part of The Future King. Please read previous chapter or previous episode prior to read this.
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin. I do not own its characters.
The Future King (continued) – by AudiRox
Moments later, the king is seen sitting at the table in his chambers. The room is dark with just a few candles lit throughout the massive area. A few of them, on the table as the king attends to some parchments. There's a knock on the door.
"Come in," the king says without raising his head.
Arthur appears from behind the doors. "You asked for me, father?"
The king looks up at the prince. "Yes," he nods as his son closes the door behind him and walks towards him. Uther notices the slightest limp in Arthur's walk. "You're hurt," says the concerned king as he looks down at Arthur's leg.
Arthur dismisses it, "Oh, it's nothing."
The prince sighs as he thinks about his clumsy attempt at hiding from Merlin, of all people. "Nothing, really. I just tripped and fell. It's just a slight sore."
The king goes back to the parchment in front of him. "You shouldn't be careless, Arthur. Especially now."
Arthur is curious, "Why have you asked for me, father?"
"I needed to speak with you in private," says the king without looking up.
Resting his elbows on the back of a chair, Arthur leans in a bit. "Is it about Gwen?" he thinks. Preparing himself to answer whatever questions his father might have regarding Guinevere, he asks, "What is it, sire?"
"I think it is time we talked about you becoming king," the king reveals.
Completely surprised, Arthur stands up straight, "What do you mean?"
The prince observes the king as he places the quill on the table, stands up and walks over to the window. "I can't do this any longer," he says with strain.
"I cannot pretend that everything is alright."
"Pretend?" asks the prince.
"What I mean, Arthur, is that I cannot go on pretending that everything is alright after what happened with Morgana."
Arthur realizes what the king is trying to say.
With teary eyes, the king looks back at his son, "I miss her. I miss my daughter."
Arthur isn't moved, and so he speaks firmly, "Your daughter tried to destroy all of Camelot."
The king nods, "I know. Yet," he continues, "I miss her. I can't help but feel a sense of guilt for what she has become."
Arthur shakes his head, "Father, you cannot dwell on the past. Camelot needs you to be strong. Isn't that what you've always told me? Camelot comes first." Arthur is overwhelmed by his father's sudden weakness, but he tries to stay strong.
Uther looks out the window at the darkness as father and son stay silent.
Arthur feels the need to say something; anything to make his father feel better, but he fails.
"I'm no longer fit to be king, Arthur."
The prince shakes his head, "No, don't say such things. You are still our king. Your time is not yet done."
Uther takes another moment near the window, and then he walks back to the table. "If anything were to happen to me, I need you to take charge as you have before."
"Of course, but nothing will happen. We know the dangers we face, and we'll face them together. The whole of Camelot is on your side."
"No, son. The whole of Camelot is on your side."
Arthur stays silent as he does not know what to say.
"We need to tighten our allies. Make sure that everyone around us is loyal to Camelot and its sovereign."
Arthur shakes his head, "Father, I'm not comfortable…"
Uther cuts him off, "I've given Geoffrey instructions." He looks up at his son and continues, "You're going to be king sooner than you think, Arthur. It may not be today or this week, but the day will arrive fast, and I want you to be sure that you have all the resources you need. You need to have people around you that you unwaveringly trust."
Arthur nods, but tentatively.
"Morgana is alive and she has already tried to hurt us," the king reminds. "As much as I miss her, I cannot deny her dark side. We should be prepared, and you need to stay safe for the sake of this kingdom."
Arthur nods again.
"Your knights, do you trust them with your life?"
Arthur nods, "I do."
"What about your servant boy?"
"I've heard you call him an idiot on more than a few occasions."
"Well," the prince sighs, "he is-an idiot." He takes a deep breath and continues, "But I trust him." He takes a moment to reflect before he continues again, "I don't know why, but I trust Merlin with my life."
Arthur takes the opportunity to insert, "And Guinevere."
Uther looks up quickly. "I see."
With sudden determination, Arthur asks, "Why do you not speak of her? You know of us now, yet you stay silent."
The king seems uncomfortable, and so he looks down at the table. "I've asked that we not speak of the matter. What you and this girl have…"
Arthur cuts in, "Guinevere. Her name is Guinevere."
"What you have with her is none of my concern. Not anymore."
"Is it really that horrible to say her name in front of me?" asks Arthur. "Saying it would force you to acknowledge her, wouldn't it? And that's why you choose not to."
The king is forced to speak his mind, "She is a servant girl."
"Not anymore." Arthur shakes his head. "And even if she was, I'd still care for her."
"You cannot change the course of hundreds of years. I'm sure she is a good person, but she is not one of us. She isn't our kind."
Arthur responds in earnest, "Of course she isn't! She is honest, loyal and kind. She is nobler than all of the royals put together. Of course she is not our kind. Our kind, father, is the sort that lies and betrays the throne. Or have you forgotten?"
Uther Pendragon of just a few months ago would have taken offense to Arthur's words, but Uther of today cannot.
Seeing that his words have affected him, Arthur proceeds, "I'm sorry to be so cruel with my words."
"Yet, you speak the truth," the king surprises his son. "I can no longer dictate who you choose to marry. I can only speak my mind."
Arthur turns to leave. But as he inches closer to the exit, he remembers what Gwen had asked of him, and so he turns around. "If I may," he continues, "Gwen would like a meeting with you regarding some work."
Uther is curious.
"I know how you feel about her, but at least grant her this."
Arthur nods in return and exits the chambers.
The next morning, Gwen and Merlin are seen in a small, rundown room in the lower tower of the castle.
Merlin walks around picking up scraps of wood lying around the floor. "It's not much, but it should do?"
Gwen sweetly smiles as she looks around. She nods, "It's perfect, Merlin. Just perfect."
The two friends smile at each other.
In the market, Arthur is seen walking through aisles of stalls with Gwaine and Leon. They observe the citizens of Camelot going about their business as they talk about strategies to keep their beloved city safe from outsiders.
"All the guards must be prepared to face whatever comes their way," says Arthur as he examines an apple from one of the fruit stalls.
"Of course, my lord," says Leon while Gwaine checks out the people around him.
"If I may, sire," says the middle-aged man tending to the fruit. Arthur, Gwaine and Leon look at the weathered man, "It is very good to see you this morning."
Arthur is flattered, "Thank you," he nods, "very good to see you, too."
The man continues, "Your presence this morning will surely bring us good luck."
Arthur is beyond flattered and he looks behind at Leon.
"We believe in you, sire."
Arthur is caught by surprise and is humbled by the man's words. "Thank you. That means a lot to me."
The man nods.
Arthur looks around and sees many of the people around him nodding and smiling. He smiles at some of them as he steps away from the stall and walks down the aisle. Gwaine follows closely. "Sire," says the knight. "If I may speak frankly."
Arthur stops and turns to face his knight. "Nothing has stopped you from doing that before, Sir Gwaine," he smirks.
Gwaine looks around to make sure he can speak freely. "You know, the king does not have to die for you to take control."
Arthur frowns at the knight. He isn't happy that Gwaine took inappropriate liberties in saying it, "With all due respect, Sir Gwaine, it is not your place to say such things!"
Leon steps forward as he slightly pushes Gwaine to step back. "Sire, Gwaine should not have uttered such words but…"
Arthur looks up at the tall knight. "What is it?"
"He isn't wrong in what he says." He watches Arthur's expression to make sure he can continue, "It is time you took over, don't you think?"
Arthur takes a deep breath trying to process what his knights are trying to say.
"The king is not the same anymore." He gestures at the people going about their work, "The people are anxious, sire. Camelot needs to progress and the current king isn't allowing it. We cannot live in fear all our lives."
The prince is a little flustered by this revelation. He looks at Gwaine, who seems to be in agreement with Leon. He then looks up at Leon and subtly shakes his head, "We need to get back to the castle."
Leon and Gwaine look at each other and sigh as the prince walks ahead of them.
Later that morning, Merlin is seen in Gaius' quarters with Gwen.
As he places both hands on Gwen's shoulders, Merlin tries to comfort his friend, "Don't worry, Gwen. You'll be fine. Just be yourself."
A nervous Gwen sighs, "This is Uther we're talking about, Merlin."
Merlin smiles, "He will love your proposal."
Just as Gwen takes a deep breath, the door opens and in comes the prince of Camelot.
Gwen turns around, "Arthur?"
Arthur walks directly to her and takes her hands, "I wanted to make sure you were alright before you walked into the lion's den."
Gwen smiles, "Thank you."
Merlin steps back and observes the two people in front of him.
"You know I'm there to support you."
Gwen nods but asks, "Promise me something."
Arthur tilts his head.
"Promise me that no matter what the king's decision will be, you will not show me any favor and will let it be."
"Promise me, Arthur. That's the only way – the king's decision stands."
Arthur sighs and reluctantly nods. "I promise."
"Thank you," she looks over at Merlin and smiles, "you're a witness to this." Gwen walks around Arthur and heads towards the exit.
Moments later, in the council room, a seated Uther sees Gwen step closer to his throne. He takes a moment to observe her and then he nods in acknowledgement. As cold as he seems at times, the king couldn't deny the relationship he was building with the young woman that stood before him. After all, she took care of him when he needed to rebuild his physical and mental strength. He had no doubt she was inherently good, but her status or lack thereof was an issue he couldn't get past.
"Sire," says Gwen as she curtsies.
Uther nods, "I've been told," he briefly looks at Arthur standing a few feet to his left, "that you have something to speak to me about. Regarding work?"
"Yes, my lord," nods Gwen. She looks around and sees Arthur with Merlin behind him, Uther with Geoffrey of Monmouth next to him, Sir Leon, Gwaine, Percival and her brother, Elyan standing to the far left. She looks back at the king. "What I wish to speak to you about is not just regarding work, sire. But something that may benefit this kingdom."
Uther nods encouraging her to continue.
"Camelot needs a place of learning, sire. The children, especially, need a place where they can learn to read and write."
Uther, Geoffrey and some others are surprised.
"Upon further research, sire, I've found out that an overwhelming number of children and men and women do not know how to do either." Gwen takes a moment.
In unison, Arthur and Merlin subtly smile at the woman that's the focus of the entire room.
"And so I propose a school."
"A school?" questions Uther.
Gwen nods, "A place where children, even people who are older, can learn to read and write." She observes Uther's expression and decides to continue, "Ignorance enforces fear, sire. The people of Camelot are in danger of being manipulated by sources outside as we've seen in the past few months. Educating them will be very beneficial to Camelot."
Uther can't help but be impressed by Gwen's words.
Arthur looks on with pride as Merlin sweetly smiles at his dear friend.
Uther nods, "I will admit that your intentions are noble but we do not have the resources to build such a place."
"We do not need to build anything, sire. There is a room in the lower tower of the castle that has been abandoned since I was a child. It is more than enough for such a place."
For a moment, it seems as if Uther contemplates it, but Geoffrey steps forward and looks down at the seated king to his left. "If I may, sire?"
Uther gestures for him to continue.
"Very noble, indeed," he says to Gwen, "but we do not have resources to find such a person that will teach these people to read and write."
Uther, Arthur and Merlin look at Geoffrey, as they are well aware of Gwen's abilities.
He continues ignorantly, "And I'm aware of the room you speak of, it is not big enough to hold enough people."
Arthur frowns at the old man, but stays calm as he promised his future queen.
Gwen responds calmly, "Your concerns are justified, but people are going to resist it at first and you won't see a lot of children attending such a thing. Also, families in the outlying villages will probably not send their children into the city, not at first anyway. We won't need any more space than we already have." She smiles at the old man and adds, "And I will take the role of the teacher for no more than a maid's pay."
Geoffrey looks at the king who is well aware of Gwen's ability to read and write. He then looks back at the young woman and reminds her, "But dear girl," he shakes his head, "you are no longer employed by the king."
Arthur begins to grind his teeth. He takes as much energy as he has to keep himself from stepping in. Merlin rolls his eyes at the old man.
Gwen takes a deep breath and looks at the king who, until now, has been silently listening to the exchange.
The king is forced to admit, "Geoffrey, I have promised her a job in Camelot."
Geoffrey nods and steps back.
The king continues, "As I've said, it's a noble cause and I commend you."
Arthur, Merlin and the well-known knights are anxious as Gwen holds her breath.
"But I must think on the matter."
Arthur isn't pleased and so he takes a step forward, but Gwen quickly looks at him and subtly shakes her head.
Remembering, once again, the promise he had made, he steps back.
Gwen nods at the king. "Thank you, my lord." She curtsies and takes leave as everyone watches her move towards the exit.
Arthur and Merlin sigh in unison.
Later that day, Uther and his son are in the dining room as Merlin serves them their meal.
Barely a word is being said between father and son. Uther notices Arthur's tensed shoulders and decides to break the silence.
"Have you made a list of people you have reason to doubt?" the king asks.
With barely a glance at his father, he responds, "I haven't a reason to mistrust anyone around me. Although, I could come up with a list of people that are highly annoying. Starting with Geoffrey, for one."
"Ah," says Uther as he realizes the reason for Arthur's annoyance. "He was only looking out for Camelot."
Arthur wants badly to speak in favor of Gwen, but Merlin clears his throat prompting the prince to look up at his servant. The subtle shake of his head enforces him to keep his mouth shut.
However, what Uther chooses to say next prompts the prince to end his silence.
"I'm surprised," says the king.
"About?" asks the prince.
"You were very quiet this afternoon in council."
The prince can't help but admit, "I made a promise."
Merlin rolls his eyes.
"A promise?" the king is curious.
Arthur looks at his father, "I made a promise to Guinevere that I wouldn't show any favor."
"Ah, I see," says the king in surprise.
The prince looks back down at his meal.
"Anyway, the request will most probably be denied," admits the king.
Arthur quickly looks up at his father's face, "Denied?"
Merlin isn't thrilled, but he stays quiet as he does not have a voice in such an environment.
"Arthur, you have to understand that we have other matters to deal with and have no place for such a request."
The king continues, "I will have to consult with advisers before I make a decision."
Arthur tries to hold onto whatever calmness he can find, but he decides to inquire, "Is it because of my feelings for her?"
"You're denying her request because of our relationship?"
Uther does not want to go down this path once more, but he looks up at the servant and demands, "Leave us."
As always, Merlin is frustrated that he gets to miss the meaty part of the discussion, but he exits the dining room.
"No, Arthur, that is not why I'm denying the request."
Arthur is persistent, "She would be a great teacher, and it would benefit Camelot a great deal."
"When you are king, you may approve such a request."
Arthur is furious with his father, but takes a deep breath to calm his nerves.
Uther continues looking down at his utensils. "And I'm sure, if she is to be your queen, she can do whatever she pleases."
Not wanting to stay in his father's presence another second, the prince abruptly gets up from his seat and leaves the premises leaving Uther to contemplate his words.
Moments later, in Gaius' quarters, the old physician and Merlin sit down to have their evening meal.
"I'm starving!" exaggerates Merlin as he sees the well cooked chicken on the table.
Gaius smiles as he pours some water into two goblets. "Of course you are. You're always starving. You eat like a pig, yet I do not know where the food goes as you're still very much a stick."
Merlin chuckles, "It's all that running around after Arthur."
"Must be," nods Gaius as he takes a seat across from his young companion.
Just as Merlin tries to dig into the food, there's a loud knock on the door.
Merlin sighs. "I'll get that." He gets up from his seat and just as he inches closer to the door; it opens wide and in comes the king of Camelot to everyone's surprise.
"Gaius," he says as he enters with authority.
Merlin looks back at the old physician.
"My lord?" says Gaius as he stands up.
Uther looks at Merlin, who now stands just inches away from the king. "Leave us," he says as he steps even further into the quarters.
Merlin rolls his eyes. He looks back at the untouched food and wonders if he should grab his share before he leaves, but the king turns and looks at the servant wondering why he's still there. And so Merlin sighs heavily and exits his home.
"To what do I owe this pleasure, sire?" asks Gaius as he walks around the table and closer to his sovereign.
Uther examines the bottles of medicine in the cabinet by the wall. "I need your advice, Gaius."
Gaius tilts his head wondering what his king needed advice on.
Uther turns around, "I can't allow Arthur's feelings for her to carry on, Gaius. He needs to marry someone with royal blood. He isn't a child anymore, he's five and twenty and should know his duty to Camelot comes first."
Gaius moves his head back as he realizes what Uther's going on about. "Sire," he starts to speak frankly, "I'm afraid that I'm the wrong advisor for this particular matter as I may be bias."
Uther nods, "I'm well aware, but I would like you to speak your mind." After a moment of silence he continues, "What is your opinion, Gaius? As a friend, please… tell me."
Gaius nods, "I've known Guinevere almost all her life, sire. Her father, Tom, was an honest and good man who was very unfortunate in the end. But he raised a fine young woman who is kinder and nobler than any woman." He observes as Uther walks to the other side of the room. "If you spent even just a few moments with the young woman, you'll see what most of us see in Gwen, sire."
Uther turns around and looks at the old friend, "But you forget, Gaius. She was my only companion for over two months. I'm well aware of how good she is, but customs of hundreds of years cannot change."
Gaius steps closer and with all his wisdom responds, "Maybe it's time they did, my lord."
Meanwhile, Merlin has arrived in Gwen's house.
"I'm starving!" he exclaims as he sits at the table as Gwen serves him food.
"Eat up," she says with a smile.
"Thank you," mumbles Merlin as he stuffs his mouth with bread and stew.
Gwen is amused and so she sits across the table and witnesses her friend eat what she has cooked. A moment later, an expression of concern takes over her face. "Uther isn't going to approve my request, is he, Merlin?"
Merlin stops stuffing his mouth with more food and looks at his friend, "Don't give up yet, Gwen. The king may surprise you."
"Have you heard anything?" she asks earnestly.
He shakes his head, "The only interaction I seem to have with Uther is when he throws me out of whatever room he enters when I'm around," he says with a pout.
Gwen continues with concern, "I fear Uther is going to deny it because of my relationship with Arthur. He isn't fond of it, Merlin. And I'm afraid it's only straining Arthur's relationship with his father."
Merlin stays silent.
"You know Uther doesn't care for it."
Merlin contemplates, "I wonder if there's a way to change his mind."
Curiously Gwen tilts her head at Merlin, "What is it Merlin? What are you thinking?"
Merlin smirks, "I'm sure there's a way to change his mind about you and Arthur."
Gwen smirks as well, but she shakes her head, "If you're planning on changing Uther's mind as you cured me of the poison, I insist that you clear that thought off your mind at once."
As much as Gwen is aware of Merlin's abilities and as much as Merlin is aware of Gwen's knowledge about him, they seem to tiptoe around it.
Merlin sighs, "Fine."
Gwen's expression becomes serious again, "But I cannot bear to see Arthur so hurt by his father. Their relationship is so strained, Merlin. I do not want to play a role in making it worse."
The next morning, Merlin enters Arthur's chambers with newly polished armor. He sets them down by a column as he notices Arthur standing by the window.
"Good morning, sire," says Merlin as he inches close to his master.
He has seen the prince behave this way before. Looking out the window but at no one in particular. In deep thought, usually following a strained sigh.
"Merlin," says the prince still looking out the window. "What do you think of my father, the king?"
The young warlock chuckles at the unusual question, but a glare from Arthur makes him realize it was a serious question. "The king?"
The prince nods, "Yes, what do you think of him?"
"Well," says Merlin with a sudden feeling of nervousness.
"He is very… very… k-kingly?" says Merlin with a dorky expression.
Arthur rolls his eyes, "You may be frank, Merlin. What's your honest opinion of the king?"
"Oh no sire," he shakes his head, "if I were to speak my mind, my tongue will then surely be cut off."
"I promise you, your tongue will not be cut off."
Merlin continues to shake his head, "If anyone heard what I thought of the king, they'll surely harm me."
Arthur sighs, "I will not let anyone harm you, Merlin."
"That doesn't make me feel any better; you've threatened to do far worse things to me for speaking my mind."
Arthur looks down at the floor and sighs again, "Merlin," he earnestly insists, "please."
Merlin's expression becomes of a more serious one. He looks at Arthur directly and continues, "He was more of a tyrant than a king, really. His heart may be in the right place, but his mind leads him astray. Everyone has always feared him but now they see that he's weak, which is even worse."
Arthur looks out the window again. "If he does not approve the request to form a school in Camelot, I'm going to have to take other measures."
Merlin advises, "Arthur, please don't make any decisions in haste."
Arthur turns to his servant and says with confidence, "Maybe you were right. You and everyone else. Maybe it is time I took over."
With these words, Arthur walks out of his chambers and leaves the servant wondering what is to come.
Meanwhile, Gwen is seen in her house sweeping and cleaning up the small living quarters when she hears a loud knock on the door. It is opened by someone from the exterior before she has a chance to. A guard enters the house.
Gwen wonders if it's one of the palace guards that Arthur insists on placing by her door for her safety.
The guard nods and stands aside for someone else. The sight of King Uther Pendragon entering her home leaves Gwen speechless. The guard exits and closes the door behind him as Uther walks straight into Gwen's home.
"Sire!" says Gwen in shock. She looks around to make sure everything is neat and places the brook in the corner.
Uther looks around him with authority. "This is where you live?"
Gwen nods, "Yes, sire."
Uther observes how small her home is. Possibly one fifth the size of his chambers. But he also observes how neat and tidy she has kept her belongings. "How long has this been your home?"
"Almost all my life, sire."
"Hmm." He walks back to the door. "I've come to tell you of two things." He turns around and faces the young woman in front of him. "My son was born of royal blood, raised into being the future king of Camelot. His whole life, everything he did, he did knowing very well that he is to be the future ruler of this great kingdom."
Gwen realizes where this is going and with sudden confidence, she asks, "Is this where you tell me that I was raised to be a servant, sire?"
Uther takes a moment before he continues. "No matter how good of a person you are, I cannot accept you as my son's wife or the future queen of Camelot."
Gwen can't help but feel a deep pain in her heart to hear this from Arthur's father.
The king continues, "But…" he takes another moment, "but it is not my decision. Not anymore. And so I will not get in the way."
These words should ease her pain, but they do not. Unhappily Gwen looks down at her hands.
"I will not accept you because years of customs and fine breeding will not allow me to do so."
Gwen takes yet another bold move and responds, "You're right. It is not your decision."
A moment of silence passes between them.
"What was the second thing, sire?" she asks.
Uther looks up at her.
"You mentioned you had two things to speak to me about."
"I will approve your request of a school in Camelot. I see worth in such an institution as it will only benefit this kingdom."
Despite the king's refusal to accept her, Gwen is pleasantly surprised. "Thank you, sire. You will not regret your decision."
Just outside Gwen's home, Arthur arrives to see a few guards lined by the wall. He looks at them curiously and hurries to open the door.
He enters in haste to see his father standing a few feet away from Gwen. "Father?" he says curiously. He looks at a surprised Gwen standing with her hands clasped.
Uther nods, "I was just leaving."
Gwen notices the cold air between father and son.
Arthur steps closer to Gwen as his father exits the house. "Guinevere?" he asks. "What happened? Are you alright?"
"Everything's fine," she assures him.
"What did he want?" Arthur asks as he takes Gwen's hands in his.
"Nothing." She forces herself to smile, "He just wanted to give me the good news in person."
"The school is approved, Arthur." She smiles at her prince.
Arthur is surprised. "It is?" He can't help but smile at Guinevere. "That's great news," he says almost in disbelief.
"It is!" she agrees.
Arthur briefly looks at the partly opened door. And then looks back at Gwen. "Just when I thought I had lost the littlest faith I had in him, he restores it by doing what is right."
Gwen smiles cautiously as she nods.
"Anything else? Did he mention anything else?"
Gwen shakes her head and lies, "No. He just wanted to bring the good news."
Arthur smiles, kisses Gwen's forehead and pulls her into a hug.
While Gwen is happy for her soon-to-be place of learning, a close-up of her face suggests sadness in knowing that the king and father of her true love would never accept her to be worthy.
Just outside, unbeknownst to Arthur and Gwen, the king lingers having heard the exchange between the two lovers. The expression on his face is tentative. Possibly an expression of gratitude towards Gwen for not mentioning to Arthur the negative part of his exchange with her. Or maybe an expression of remorse for what he has said or done. One may never know.
End Notes: Magic is mentioned but not used in this particular episodic story. Many of the relationships grow and some regress. But all of this is to move the story along. I hope you enjoyed.
Thank you so much for reading. Let me know what you think. Your reviews are always appreciated. Even the very short ones that simply read "Cool…"