Very much the last chapter, on exactly 400 pages according to my word document. Hope people enjoyed it, since it turned into something of an epic! I did try to just give Arthur and Merlin a third person perspective to round off.
Mithian had decided that Arthur was rather sweet, especially his rambling attempts at conversation. Something that the accompanying knights seemed to find amusing. Lancelot was far more subtle than the others but he himself had been the recipient of Arthur's jibes when he had been courting Gwen; so Gwen had told Mithian.
"Why wouldn't I," Mithian eventually answered. "I love hunting."
"Do you?" Arthur announced in surprise. Mithian smiled again at Arthur's expression, while he attempted to deal with the amazing concept that she could enjoy hunting. Having dealt with that, Arthur smiled.
"Oh, well, in that case I would be honoured if you would accompany us… me…" Arthur added causing Mithian to smile. Gwen again rolled her eyes upwards, causing Mithian to giggle. She had got on well with the young serving maid, married to one of the knights, who seemed devoted to his wife.
Gwen had to give the visiting princess credit, Mithian seemed entirely unruffled by any of Arthur's mistakes and stupid comments. Then again, Mithian had four brothers and they were just as bad on occasion. If not much, much worse. As far as Mithian could tell Arthur was making an effort, but she knew the driving force for that was to secure peace between their kingdoms.
"I will enjoy that," Mithian said with a smile, she was about to question Arthur further about some of Camelot's traditions when she heard the sounds of crashing in the bushes. Her knights close by tensed, and so did she as Arthur sat up, moving away from her, his eyes turning to the bushes where the sound appeared to be coming from. Mithian sat up hand sliding down to reach for the knife she had in her boot
"It's all right!" Arthur announced loudly, raising his hands as he realised the Nemeth knights had reached for their swords. Two of them drew their weapons anyway, eyeing the bushes warily. Arthur knelt up, moving away from Mithian and her eyes widened as the huge dark animal crashed through the bushes.
Cyan bounded towards Arthur, tongue lolling out of his mouth, showing his sharp teeth. Mithian tensed as she watched the wolf jump on Arthur, who held his hands out to order everyone around him to back down, knocking him onto his backside. Arthur seemed entirely undisturbed by the interruption. Mithian stared in shock as Cyan proceeded to lick Arthur's face, slobbering on him enthusiastically, tail wagging so that the wolf's entire back end shook. She watched Arthur's fingers run into the wolf's thick fur. Her knights watched in shock as Arthur wrapped his arms around the wolf's neck, reaching up to rub one ear. Cyan made his usual huffing sounds in greeting.
"Hello," Arthur said, trying to extract himself from under the beast. Cyan flopped onto him, pinning his legs, which was currently his favourite move when he wanted someone's full attention.
"Hey!" Arthur yelped in objection. "Where's your master anyway?"
Mithian had heard the stories, all the kingdoms had been rife with tales about the boy sorcerer who could tame animals. But none of them prepared her for Merlin's appearance as he crashed through the undergrowth, following the same route as Cyan, fighting his way through the brush, his hair askew, fragments of leaves tangled within it. He looked worried until he spotted Arthur, pinned under the wolf, and he beamed happily. Mithian stared at him with mild shock, realising how young and innocent he looked.
"Hello Arthur! Hello Gwaine! Hello!" he added to everyone else. Gwaine grinned.
"Merlin!" Gwaine said brightly.
"Hello Merlin," Arthur said, wrapping his arms around Cyan's torso and hefting him sideways. "Get off me you great oaf!"
Cyan huffed again but slid off Arthur's legs, sprawling on the ground and thumping his tail down as Gwen appeared with two chicken legs. She offered one out to Cyan dropping it between his paws. The wolf sniffed, licked and then wedging the leg started to chew on it, fastening it between his paws to do so.
Arthur got to his feet, brushing himself down. Mithian didn't stand up but she sat up straighter, pulling her skirt down again to conceal the weapon. Merlin looked around, his expression confused as he assessed the Nemeth knights, and Mithian. She smiled at him and Merlin gave a hesitant smile back, but then he looked to Arthur for an explanation.
"This is Princess Mithian, from Nemeth. Princess, I'd like you to meet Merlin."
The group from Camelot watched Mithian's reaction as she looked up at Merlin. She stared with interest, already having asked Gwen, and feeling faintly disappointed when she realised that Merlin and Balinor were not in residence in the castle. Nor had she really worked out a way to ask Arthur about them. Now it wasn't necessary.
"Hello Merlin, it's nice to meet you."
Merlin looked at her, eyes wide as he stared, still a long way from understanding the etiquette required. He turned to look at Arthur and announced.
Mithian smiled. "Thank you, Merlin."
Merlin beamed at her again, Cyan gave a light whine, looking at Gwen pitifully until she gave him another chicken leg.
"Will you join us Merlin?" Mithian asked. "You friend already has."
Merlin looked a little uncertain, looking down at his messy clothes, and the two rabbits he held in his left hand. He and Balinor, Arthur realised, were probably out checking their snares. Arthur hadn't really thought about it when he had picked the picnic spot, thinking it up for the view, when at the back of his mind he knew it was close to Merlin.
"Come on Merlin," Arthur coaxed to get him to stay. "Where's your father?"
"Here," Balinor announced, having taken the slightly longer but more sensible route. He had shouted at Merlin not to run off, but that tended to be habit more than worry. No one in Camelot would hurt Merlin, Balinor felt sure of that. As he reached Merlin he brushed a few stray leaves out of his hair.
"Cyan can take care of himself, there is no need for you to go dashing through hedges."
Mithian stared up in shock, wanting to stand but unable to move. Merlin remained an unknown element and so innocent looking that he seemed utterly harmless. Balinor however was a different story. He was the last Dragonlord, and Mithian felt a little cowed under the man's presence. It was nothing that Balinor did consciously, in fact he went out of his way to subdue the sensation. No one could really ignore it and Mithian felt slightly swept away as Arthur turned to introduce her.
"Balinor, I'd like you to meet Princess Mithian, of Nemeth. Mithian, this is Balinor, the last of the Dragonlords."
Balinor reached out a hand and Mithian reached up. The Dragonlord bowed.
"Princess, it is a pleasure."
"And you, I have heard much about the Dragonlords, it is sad to think you are the last."
"Actually that epitaph is not only annoying, it is rather inaccurate. Merlin will inherit the power, I am not the last, nor I hope will Merlin be."
Mithian glanced at Merlin and then back to Balinor.
"I did not mean any offence."
"None taken," Balinor announced with good humour. "Stop that," he added to Cyan who had rolled onto his side and whined up at Gwen to persuade her to give him something more. Cyan gave a disgruntled murmur and rolled back, sitting up. Merlin put his stuff down and plonked himself down on the ground next to the wolf. Arthur turned to Balinor.
"Will you join us?"
"As long as we are not interrupting."
"Certainly not," Mithian said. She sat up a little further, sorting through some of the plates of food to put something together for Balinor. Arthur watched her carefully, realising she had something of an interest in the Dragonlord. For a moment he felt a flicker of jealousy, but it doused as he realised what her interest was.
"The other kingdoms have heard quite a few stories. Especially considering the Great Dragon's involvement in turning back Caerleon's army."
Arthur contained his grimace. Balinor, however, laughed.
"You can put some of that down to Kilgharrah's rather unique sense of humour."
Mithian raised her eyebrows.
"I only wanted to ensure the safety of the villagers," Arthur said.
"Kilgharrah certainly accomplished that," Balinor said.
Mithian gave a shocked laugh. "Is it true he landed and threatened to eat them?"
"I need to be more specific with my instructions next time. But yes, he prevented the small force from taking the border village by landing in front of them and informing them if they continued with such an action, he would, regrettably, be forced to eat them. Naturally, self-preservation prevailed," Balinor said, and he smirked at Mithian who laughed loudly. Merlin looked up. "For the record, dragons do not like human flesh," Balinor added.
"Why would Caerleon do that?" Merlin asked.
"Because he thought he could take advantage of Arthur, since he had just become king," Balinor said patiently.
"But Arthur's a good king," Merlin said.
"Thank you Merlin," Arthur said. Merlin beamed.
"But using the dragon meant that no one else would try the same thing," Balinor said, looking at Arthur.
"Yes, I know that, and I don't want to rely on it. The Great Dragon should not be used as a weapon," Arthur said.
"I know you know that, which is why I sent him, I know it is not something you will abuse," Balinor said.
Mithian listened intently. So did Merlin as he fed Cyan, the wolf making contented rumblings as he ate. Mithian smiled at him, and Merlin gave a slight smile back, staring at her with open interest. She had been intrigued by the stories, and had wanted to find a way to meet the pair. Arthur had understood Balinor's reasons for carefully keeping themselves separate while the visit went on. Arthur felt a little the same, he didn't want people coming to view Merlin out of curiosity, even though Balinor and Merlin had strengthened the kingdom. It had been a hard decision to ask Balinor for help, not wanting to drag him or the dragon into the issue. In the end Arthur had only done it for the sake of the people under threat from Caerleon.
Arthur had followed up the dragon's advance arrival, heading to the outlying areas of Camelot that bordered onto Caerleon's kingdom. The dragon had done a rather good job. All Arthur needed to do was leave enough men to keep the situation contained and move onto the next thing, his negotiations with Nemeth.
The hints at marriage had been less that subtle, but Arthur didn't feel sure, he didn't feel ready. He had seen the relationship that had developed between Lancelot and Guinevere. Arthur had watched every tiny detail of that from the moment Lancelot had arrived in Camelot. It made him hesitate to just simply marry someone, because it made negotiations easy.
Mithian felt a little the same, after she had been sent off to Camelot, unsure of what she might find. The other kingdoms around Camelot had been unsure of the new king, especially in the circumstances that had resulted in him taking power, and allowing magic back. What she had found was a very determined, and likeable, Arthur, but her curiosity had not been satisfied when it came to the sorcerer that had helped him. Until now, and Merlin had crashed onto the scene.
She listened intently as Merlin and Arthur talked.
"How's Llamrei?" Arthur asked.
"She runs fast," Merlin said. "And she's getting big."
"You'll have to bring her to Camelot, or I'll come and see her."
"Who's Llamrei?" Mithian asked.
"My foal," Merlin said proudly. "From my horse, she mated with Arthur's stallion, and had a baby. Arthur saved her."
"Did you?" Mithian asked smiling a little. Arthur flushed.
"When the mare was in labour the foal caught her hoof in the birth canal, I had to pull it out."
"It was messy," Merlin added.
"Yes," Arthur agreed having got covered in most of the fluid from the birth sac. Gwen, Lancelot, Gwaine and Leon all gave discreet sniggers. Merlin frowned at them disapprovingly, which just made them smile all the more. Arthur gave them his own look of disapproval, not that it was meant particularly seriously. Merlin's appearance appeared to have completely relaxed the environment.
"Will you be coming on the hunt, My Lord?" Mithian asked Balinor later on, as they slowly started to pack up the picnic.
Balinor shook his head.
"I think not, although if you are passing that way you are welcome to stop. I don't find hunting entirely agreeable, the odds seem a little out of favour."
"You catch rabbits without much issue," Arthur said. "I feel a need to defend my favourite sport."
"When you have dogs, horses, crossbows and people on one side against an animal it does not feel like sport. I know that for a fact. Besides you disturb more wildlife running around like that so you end up catching very little, as far as I can see."
"You sound like someone who understands it very well," Mithian said.
"I spent a few years surviving in the forest," Balinor said dismissively.
Mithian watched Arthur raise his eyebrows in surprise, twenty years of anger and exile appeared to have been completely disregarded. But it was in favour of Merlin, which Arthur completely understood.
"However," Balinor said, reiterating the invitation. "You are welcome to visit us if you pass by that way."
Mithian smiled, by the look on Arthur's face she guessed passing that way would be nothing more than inevitable.
Three days later Mithian stood in the courtyard, her knights ready to take her back home, quite aware that she and Arthur had carefully avoided a discussion over any sort of emotional relationship. Mithian had a feeling she could be quite happy as Arthur's wife. He was certainly attractive, and considerate, and the king of one of the most powerful kingdoms. The last one a plus as far as her father was concerned.
Arthur handed her the scrolls he had written up.
"I hope that our kingdoms can come to an agreement."
"I certainly think that will be entirely possible," Mithian said. "Although, we haven't talked about…"
She tailed off with a smile. Arthur blushed slightly, getting the hint. They had not brought up the possibility of cementing the treaty with their marriage. The letter Mithian's father had written certainly advocated such a move.
"I would think," Arthur said, trying to sound authoritative, and less like an idiot – which he felt had happened quite a lot over the last few days. "That perhaps we deal with the treaty before that, and see what happens."
"Perhaps," Mithian said, smiling as Arthur's attention turned as Merlin and Balinor rode into the courtyard. On a lead rein the little foal Llamrei trotted between the two horses, Cyan following close to the little, long-legged foal. The foal's head darted around as it assessed the new environment, it's little hooves skittering on the cobbles. Mithian watched Arthur smile, and Merlin beam back at him.
"Hello Merlin!" Gwaine said loudly, breaking formation from the cluster of Camelot's knights to greet them. Lancelot rolled his eyes at Arthur, who stared at Gwaine disapprovingly, which caused Mithian to smile to herself. After a moment Arthur seemed to realise she was still there and turned his attention back to her, frowning as he saw her smirk.
"If nothing else," Mithian said, turning to glance at Merlin as he was surrounded by people, before looking back at Arthur.
"I don't think I can compete with the real love of your life."