A/N: I want to thank you all for sticking with me through this story! It's been a blast and I can't even begin to tell you thank you enough! So… I will be writing a sequel to this. I didn't plan on going into the before mentioned chat between Merlin and Arthur in this story because I just don't think it fits with the mood and context of this one. So the final, which will more than likely be a one-shot, maybe two-shot. I haven't thought of a title yet. It will deal with the aftermath of this story and take place just hours after the action of this epilogue. I'm actually thinking about continuing this into a series of related stories eventually, but first things first. :) That being said, I'm not exactly sure when the sequel will be up. It shouldn't be too terribly long but I can tell you that it will definitely be at least a month because I'm not even going to think about starting it until I'm done with this school semester. But hopefully within the first few weeks of summer break. :) Also – this story is meant to be friendship. You can read it however you want, but I just wanted to clarify the intention. :) Okay… sorry for the extremely long author's note but I felt that this just had to be said (plus I just like to talk, LOL!). Okay, here's the final installment. Enjoy and PLEASE REVIEW!
Follow the Leader
Camelot was under siege – and quickly losing ground.
When the knights had returned to Camelot with an emotionally spent and exhausted Prince Arthur and limp, bloody, unresponsive Merlin in tow, the kingdom had been on the verge of panicking. The king was sick, the prince was missing, and Camelot was vulnerable. Everyone from the noblest knight to the captain of the guards to the poorest street urchin knew this. As long as King Uther was afflicted with this strange mental illness and Prince Arthur was nowhere to be found, Camelot's enemies would use their absence (of mind and Camelot, respectively) to their advantage.
When it was confirmed that the prince was back, unharmed but tired, relief spread throughout the kingdom. Surely Arthur would be able to lead the knights in the king's absence were there an impending attack upon the citadel.
Arthur, for his part, had managed to give Sir Leon and the other knights that had found them a very skimmed over explanation for all that had happened in the past day. He didn't mention Morgana, the dragon, Merlin. He simply told the knights that he had gone a spur of the moment hunting trip (technically, it wasn't a total lie considering that he had been tracking something – Merlin) and that he had run across Morgause but had hidden, listening to her plans as she discussed them with an ally. He tried not to blanch as he indirectly referred to Morgana as an ally of Morgause.
Gaius had been shocked to see Merlin's condition and Arthur hadn't told him that he knew of Morgana's treachery or Merlin's magic. He had a very strong feeling that the old physician knew about both but he wanted to be absolutely sure before he brought up either one. The knowledge he now possessed would have to be used delicately.
After sleeping for the rest of the night and part of the day, Merlin had awoken feeling much more refreshed but Arthur had barely gotten any sleep at all – he was too busy trying to make plans for the upcoming battle. He passed Morgana a few times in the corridors and each time he avoided her gaze, too afraid to look into her gray-green eyes. Afraid of what he'd see there. He still couldn't believe it. Morgana, a traitor…
And then Merlin had barged into his father's room where Arthur was sitting by the king's side. He had been both relieved and exasperated to see his idiotic servant and sorcerer back on his feet again and being as rude as ever, but the look on Merlin's face had quelled any rising insults. He knew what this meant – Cenred's army was approaching.
"Merlin," he had said seriously as they stepped out of Uther's chambers, looking Merlin in the eyes and gripping his upper arm tightly – not because he was afraid Merlin would dart away but because he needed that connection right now, the lifeline. Camelot was on the verge of collapse and Merlin was probably the clinching point that would determine their success or failure. He needed to make sure the warlock knew just what was at stake, although he was certain that Merlin had already given it plenty of thought. But he just had to make sure. "I have made the decision to trust you. I still haven't completely come to terms with everything that I've learned, but if there is one thing I am convinced of, it is that your loyalty is to Camelot."
Merlin had nodded solemnly. "My loyalty is to you," he confirmed, "and Camelot."
Arthur had dipped his head, almost overwhelmed by emotions. He wasn't sure that they were going to make it out of this alive, but they were sure going to try. He rested a hand on his friend's shoulder (funny how it was getting so much easier to refer to Merlin as his friend in his head) and said, "We have to do whatever it takes to keep Camelot away from Morgause, Cenred, and…" he hesitated.
Merlin nodded again. "Morgana. It's going to be fine, Arthur. With the two of us working together, there will be no way in hell that they'll be able to take us down."
Arthur grinned and shoved Merlin in the shoulder. "Unless you trip and ruin the whole thing."
Merlin gaped. "Hey, I resent that!" he had exclaimed, grinning. "I'm coordinated when it counts!"
Arthur had been about to ask why he felt it didn't count when he was hunting or doing chores or working for Arthur in general when the first yells of warning came from the lower town. They had nodded at each other solemnly before dashing off in the direction of the attack.
Now they were being pursued by skeleton warriors and Arthur was beginning to think that magic was involved. He glanced around, ducked under one of the skeleton's sword, and knocked its head off with his own weapon, wincing as the ever-grinning skull rolled along the cobblestoned courtyard turning black from debris and ash as it went. The body lunged forward clumsily and Arthur began to dart away. "Merlin," he muttered softly, eyes darting around. "Where's Merlin?"
His eyes suddenly landed on a skinny figure hurrying from the courtyard into the castle. "Merlin!" he yelled, needing to know what was going on. Merlin didn't answer and Arthur figured that his servant couldn't hear him over the yells and clashes of battle. He gave one last swipe to the ivory-boned body before sprinting at full speed toward the door Merlin had just went through.
"It's over, Morgana."
Morgana's head snapped around as Merlin walked into the crypts where she had been in with the staff since she had summoned the dead to walk again. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw him, looking as healthy as ever. She couldn't figure out how he had gotten away and it made her blood boil every time she had thought about her enemy managing to outsmart even Morgause. What was it about Merlin?
"Merlin," she sneered, eyes flashing gold as her anger bubbled to the surface. Merlin managed to dodge the tendril of fire that shot out at him, even as he lost his grip on his sword and it clattered to the ground. Hm. Interesting – she hadn't been sure what would happen, but fire was nice. She hadn't quite gotten the hang of using her magic yet – it normally just reacted with her emotions.
"Please, Morgana – if Morgause couldn't even keep me under wraps, what makes you think that you can?"
Morgana swept up her sword and had its point against his throat in a matter of seconds. Merlin stood still, eyes calm as he regarded her almost sadly. "I'd really think about what you're doing, Morgana. It doesn't have to be this way – innocent people are dying. Do you really want that?"
Morgana didn't answer. Instead she pushed the sword fractionally deeper, causing a trickle of blood to seep down Merlin's neck. He didn't even flinch, just stared at her stonily before moving with a speed and agility she hadn't even known he possessed, ducking, grabbing up the sword he had dropped and darted for the staff. Morgana shrieked, rushing forward with her sword raised, and was inches away from plunging it into Merlin's unprotected back when another sword blocked the killing blow.
She gasped as Arthur parried the hit, his blue eyes cold and angry. Betrayed.
She pointed a finger at Merlin as he stood over the staff, about to try and shatter it with his sword. She almost smirked, knowing that it wouldn't work. It could only be destroyed with magic – and very powerful magic, in fact, even more powerful than she herself could wield. Still, she had an opportunity to place the blame on Merlin and she was going to take advantage of it. "Merlin," she gasped, making her voice tremble. Merlin glanced over his shoulder at Arthur and Morgana at the sound of his name, the sword still poised above the staff. "He was behind this – I was trying to stop it… Please Arthur, I swear!"
Arthur shook his head sadly. "It's over, Morgana." Whipping his head around he yelled, "Merlin, now!"
Morgana watched in horrified astonishment as Merlin's eyes turned a bright gold – brighter than Morgause's had ever managed, in fact – and he swung the sword at the staff, cleaving it in two. Something shattered along with the once powerful piece of wood – the magic that had brought the dead to life. She knew that the skeleton army was crumbling somewhere above them. Cenred and Morgause would draw back. They had failed.
She glared fiercely at Merlin. Merlin had magic. And Arthur… well, Arthur didn't seem very surprised or disturbed by the revelation.
"Arthur—" she began, but the man who had once been her friend cut her off.
"Morgana, I don't want to hear your excuses. I know everything." He glared at her. "I can't even begin to understand why it is that you have come to hate us so much that you would try to kill us, murder us, try and destroy your home. I know that Morgause is your sister, but how can you believe for one second that she cares about you more than we do? More than we have? Even now, when you tried to have father go mad, tried to have Camelot destroyed, I still care about you."
To her complete and utter astonishment, Arthur then reached forward and pulled her into a hug. She didn't return it but stood stiffly, not sure what to make of this turn of events. She nearly jumped when Arthur's voice whispered in her ear, "I'm not telling my father about you… this time. But mark my words, Morgana – I will be watching you. One false move, one toe out of line, and you will regret it. Because Camelot is my home, your home – and you are not going to do anything to harm it or its inhabitants again." He pulled back, staring her in the eyes. "And you will not speak of Merlin's secret to anyone in Camelot, is that clear? If my father finds out about Merlin, he will find out about you."
Morgana nodded curtly, sending a death glare Merlin's way as she passed him, mind reeling, before turning on her heel and striding out of the room, mind spinning. Arthur knew. Merlin had magic. Their plan was ruined. She smirked as realization dawned on her – Arthur had warned her not to tell anyone in Camelot… but Morgause wasn't in Camelot, now was she?
Her sister – her true family, despite what Arthur had said – would find a way to take care of Merlin, to make him stop meddling, to turn Arthur against him, to kill him, or just anything to get him out of the way. They would enjoy every minute of getting rid of him – and then, with Camelot's secret protector out of the way, the path to Camelot would be clear once again.
Merlin could hardly believe all that had happened. Had he really followed Morgana to the forest just two days ago? It seemed like a lifetime.
Everything that had happened was so unbelievable. It was more than he had ever dared to dream – Arthur knew. Arthur knew about his magic and he was prepared to trust Merlin. This in itself was astounding – it was clear that Arthur was beginning to see that magic was not just black and white. Not evil. Not good. Neutral. The one who used it was the key, and Arthur's mind was slowly being introduced to that concept.
He started as his door was flung open and he sat up from where he'd been lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Arthur stood there awkwardly in the doorway for a second before coming in and closing the door behind him. "Er… Gaius said you'd be in here."
Merlin grinned. "Guess he was right."
Arthur laughed. "Look, Merlin – I just wanted to say… thank you." Merlin was surprised. He hadn't been expecting that. "What you did back there," Arthur muttered, "you saved us all."
Merlin shrugged, suddenly a bit self-conscious, although it was rather nice to be acknowledged for his hard work by someone other than Gaius. "I told you – I'm going to protect you and Camelot, no matter what."
Arthur shuffled his feet and stared down at them like they were the most fascinating thing in the room. "Yes, well… still, it hardly seems fair that you saved us, saved Camelot, and didn't get any credit for it."
Merlin chuckled. "Well, I'm used to it by now. After all I've done to save your royal backside…"
Arthur's head snapped up and his blue eyes met Merlin's. "Ah yes," he said as if just remembering why he had decided to make this visit so late at night. "You said something about protecting me before you passed out. And the dragon acted like there were many people counting on you."
Merlin suddenly decided that his shoes were quite interesting. Arthur couldn't help but smirk. "Care to explain?"
Merlin sighed dramatically. "Care to stay up all night?"
Arthur blinked at the strange question. "What are you talking about, Merlin?"
Merlin grinned. "It's a loooong story," he drawled a bit cheekily.
Arthur rolled his eyes and fixed Merlin with a determined glare. "Then you'd better get talking."
Merlin smiled as he began to recount everything that had happened since the day he arrived in Camelot, interrupted almost periodically by teasing remarks from his master as they bickered good-naturedly. When Merlin finally got into the meat of the story, telling about Mordred, Morgause, Nimueh, Sigan, all the battles, the sacrifices, the heartache and pain, however, the banter dissipated as Arthur was drawn into the story. He realized just how much Merlin had done for him – and resolved that he, too, would be there for that selfless idiot, no matter what.
A/N: What did you think? :) The sequel will actually be the conversation and aftermath that I sort of glossed over. I didn't want to go too much into it because I think it should be a story within itself. This was about Arthur following Merlin to the meeting, and the sequel will veer away from that. Also, as you can see, I left it open for more stories by adding a little Morgana suspense. I plan on writing another story after the sequel to go along with this universe. :) Anyway, please review and let me know what you thought of the chapter and the story as a whole! :D Thanks so much for the support and hopefully I'll see you soon with the sequel! :)