This fic is T rated. There is nothing in here that a 13 year old shouldn't read, but I personally feel it is more suitable to a 15+ audience both because our heroes are in their late twenties at the start and because some of the subject matter is a little more 'mature'.
'King Arthur's Ward' was written just after Series 3 and edited around Series 4, and so is now a little AU at the start. It was to begin about two years after the probable final Series 5 and so, at that point, I'd calculated Arthur to be about 27 at the start of this fic and made some educated guesses about the others.
King Arthur's Ward
Prologue: The Sisters Return
The party to celebrate the end of the latest tournament was now in full swing, with the kingdom's best food, drink, music and entertainment provided for competitors and honoured guests alike. The champion, Prince Arthur, Regent of Camelot was sitting at the top table of the banqueting hall with King Uther on his left and his wife, Princess Guinevere, on his right, whilst all the most important Lords, Ladies and Knights were seated on the other longer tables that ran down the length of the room. Numerous servants prowled around the outside of the hall, quietly serving and cleaning, or ensuring that there was enough food and drink for everyone whilst, high above in the minstrel gallery, musicians played their merry music to entertain the dignitaries below.
Arthur's eyes flicked towards Merlin; once just his servant now …? Well, most people here wouldn't believe exactly what he was, and that knowledge continued to make the young Regent shudder at times. However, the warlock was still required to act the meek servant in front of Uther and the older Lords and so, here he was, standing with an ale jug in one hand, serving plate in the other and the usual goofy grin plastered all over his face as he watched the proceedings. Arthur had to admit that the disguise was still very effective.
Merlin hadn't changed much during the last few years, except that he wore his hair a little longer nowadays. Still ridiculously slim, he was dressed in much the same outfit as he had worn in his early twenties, although Guinevere had managed to sneak into his room one day and swap all his old, coarse, threadbare clothes for higher quality versions. Soft, well fitting trousers and shirts in his favourite red and blue, now made in a far richer material, with elaborate embroidery decorating collar and cuffs. On Arthur's insistence his wife had not made him any new neckerchiefs and he had ensured that his old ones were burned, only for Merlin to turn up the next day wearing some tatty one that they'd missed, along with the rest of his new outfit and a priceless scowl on his face. The warlock had refused to talk to either of them properly for a week and, eventually, Guinevere had succumbed to the pressure and made him some new, smarter ones to replace the old.
Arthur grinned at the memory before quickly turning to Uther, when the king made some amused observation about one of the Lords in the hall tonight. He gave his father a relaxed smile in return, pleased that he seemed rather more alert than usual and was obviously enjoying being back in charge of proceedings, despite his poor health preventing him from taking part in governing Camelot as much as he had before.
Guinevere gently stood up then and moved closer in order to kiss him on the cheek. Arthur closed his eyes at the touch of her lips on his skin, still amazed that such a simple gesture was able to cause shivers to run up and down his spine, even after two years of marriage. The movement had now drawn Uther's attention towards the couple, but he simply smiled absent-mindedly at the sight and Arthur knew that his father had no idea that his son's wife had once been a servant and not born of noble blood as most of the Lords believe, thanks to another one of Merlin's mad schemes.
Once the young prince had taken over as Regent and knighted her brother Elyan, Guinevere had settled into her role as a lady of Camelot with such confidence and ease, that few members of the court had objected when the Regent had started courting her, and the King had happily given his blessing when confronted with the apparently indisputable evidence. Arthur doubted things would have been so easy if Uther had been entirely in his right mind.
"I'm just off to check on Amr," Guinevere said as she reluctantly pulled away from him with a loving smile. "He's been a bit fussy lately, so I'd better see if he's settled."
"That is what we have a maid for, you know?" Arthur said with a gentle smile.
"You know my answer to that," she replied haughtily. "I'm happy enough for the help, but I will not having strangers bringing up our son." Guinevere, having lived most of her life as a commoner, was quite unlike every other lady of the court, for which Arthur was truly grateful - for many different reasons.
"You off already, Gwen?" asked Merlin casually as he came over to fill Arthur's rapidly emptying glass.
"Yes. Why are you still doing that job, Merlin? It's hardly fitting given the circumstances." Merlin exchanged an amused glance with the Prince.
"Old habits die hard?" He replied with a smile and a shrug.
"Don't drink too much, Arthur," Gwen said gently laughing at Merlin's comment, "I have some serious plans for you later." The Prince's heart started to pound at the thought.
"Far too much information," muttered Merlin pulling a face and Arthur grinned wickedly at him, whilst Gwen gave a delighted laugh. Arthur always found it ridiculously easy and highly amusing to embarrass his friend in that manner.
Suddenly it seemed as if a wild wind had entered the hall. There were a number of screams and some confusion as people attempted to grab items on the tables to stop them from falling over, and tried to cover their eyes from the dust that was being whipped up by the mini tornado. When everything had stilled, Arthur looked up in shock to find Morgause and Morgana standing in the centre of the hall; one blonde, one dark - their cloaks still swirling from the magical wind they had created.
"Guards!" Arthur and Uther shouted in unison.
"Hello, Father. How are you?" asked Morgana with a sneer.
"Get out ..." the King spluttered. "Guards, remove this sorceress and ... and that woman from my hall."
"Oh, Uther, have you still not worked it out? That's sorceresses ... plural." Morgana drew the sentence out, as if explaining to a slow child. She moved forward in that strangely seductive way she had, somehow drawing all eyes in the room to her presence, before chanted a spell directly in front of the king. Arthur swallowed hard as he saw her eyes flash gold and a small flame dance on the palm of her hand. He heard his father's strangled gasp to his left, and Morgause wild laugh in front of him, before the sorceress unleashed some powerful spell directly towards the whole of the top table.
Arthur instinctively moved in front of Guinevere, noting that Merlin had quickly stepped in front of him. The young sorcerer had turned his back on the sisters, his eyes now golden and both arms spread wide, as he apparently created some magical shield to protect the whole top table. Merlin started to grimace with the effort and his chanting suddenly became more urgent, as the sounds of screaming and crashing continued to echo around the hall. Arthur started to struggle up, quickly checking that Guinevere and his father were unhurt, only to find that the sisters had disappeared just as quickly as they'd arrived. They had obviously assumed that their magic had worked but, although debris was falling from the ceiling above him, and the long heavy head table was lying on it's side, with it's plates and goblets still rolling on the floor - the chairs had remained stubbornly upright.
Uther was still sitting in his, apparently untouched by the spell, although he was breathing heavily and clutching his chest in obvious shock. Somehow they had all managed to survive the magic that Morgause had aimed straight at them. Arthur again looked up at Merlin to see that his golden eyes had relaxed to blue and an uncharacteristically angry expression had appeared on his face.
"Are you alright, Merlin?" he managed to ask.
"That was one vicious little spell," he replied, shaking himself.
"What? What did she do?" asked Guinevere.
"It doesn't matter. I blocked it easily enough," the warlock replied with a casual shrug. Arthur shuddered at the calm comment, still finding it hard to full appreciate how powerful Merlin was even after two years of knowing his secret.
"Merlin, the King!" shouted Leon. Uther was still clutching his chest and breathing heavily, his face now grey.
"S-she has magic," he gasped. "How … how can she have magic?" Merlin ran over to check on him, but was just as quickly shaking his head. He may be a powerful sorcerer, but Arthur knew that healing was not his strong point, which was why they had urgently sought other help for Gaius as Merlin's new duties had inevitably taken him away from his elderly mentor.
"Quickly," Merlin shouted. "Someone go and fetch Alice. The King is gravely ill."
A/N This is my second (planned) multi-parter which is longer and more involved than 'The Ice Palace'. I do hope you enjoy it.
This is my most serious and complicated fic to date and, due to a number of early reviews, I have decided to re-publish it with a number of corrections, tweaks and small additions (24 July 2011).
The basic story remains unchanged but, if you are in the habit of reading reviews, you may find a few seem a little off. If so, this is probably due to the edits I have now made because of them! I will highlight any major issues and credit reviewers as we progress.
Since writing this chapter, I have also published 'King Arthur's Chronicles' (KAC) . Chapters 1 to 4 happen before this prologue and so, if you feel the need for a little back story before fully launching into this future fic, do read 'The Druids' and 'New Era' before you continue. It is not required, nor will the first four chapters contain any real spoilers to this story either.