If the royal advisors were surprised when the prince's—the king's—former manservant entered the private council meeting, they didn't show it. If they were shocked when he sat at the table, at King Arthur's right hand, as their equal, they didn't express it.
But they did not keep so quiet about their confusion when Arthur suggested lifting the ban on magic.
"But…my lord, your father…"
"Yes," he agreed solemnly. "My father would not approve. But my father is not here, and I believe this will be best for Camelot.
"If magic is illegal," Merlin explained. "Only criminals will have it, while we could be employing loyal Camelot citizen for the kingdom's defense."
Though Arthur had heard this point, and many more, from the young warlock before, he smirked at this. "Well look there," he marveled, mockingly impressed. "The idiot's actually capable of higher level intelligence."
"At least I'm not a prat," Merlin seemingly mumbled, while still being loud enough for the nobles to startle at it.
"Is that anyway to speak to your king?"
Merlin saw it for what it was: a joke; Arthur was egging him on.
The nobles didn't get it.
"I'm sorry," Merlin said. "At least I'm not a prat, my lord."
Arthur chuckled, more cheerful than he had been since his father's passing.
But the advisors who had served the previous king exchanged wary glances.
Later, one of them would find Arthur alone in the throne room and take the opportunity to express their concerns.
"My lord," he began. "The veteran advisors are all for having the peasants…er, commoners…What I mean to say, sire, is…"
"Your advisors," he continued hesitantly. "We who served your father as well…we have certain concerns."
"Concerns?" Arthur repeated slowly, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, sire. You see…what we observed between you and your servant—"
"Merlin," Arthur interrupted, narrowing his eyes.
"Yes, my lord. We feel what occurred during the meeting of the council was…inappropriate. We fear the boy does not realize his place."
Arthur rested his chin in his hand, contemplating what had been said to him.
"As an advisor who served my father faithfully for many years, I appreciate your advice on any matter that affects Camelot."
The advisor's face took on a hint of smugness.
"But," Arthur continued, holding a finger up to him. "Merlin has served me faithfully. And my friendship with him is not a court matter, and is not up for debate."
The advisor blinked, opening and closing his mouth in shock. Swallowing, he regained his composure.
"Now," Arthur went on cheerily. "If your other concern is related to the fate of Camelot, I would be happy to hear it."
"Well, my lord," he continued, obviously subdued. "There is the concern of legalizing magic. As we said, we do not think it is a sound plan. The kingdom cannot handle magic running rampant again so suddenly with no regulations."
Arthur nodded. "I will take that into consideration. Thank you."
The man nodded, knowing he had been dismissed. As soon as he was gone, Arthur went in search of the former servant in question.
"Is Merlin here, Gaius?" he asked when he reached his chambers.
"No, my lord. Is something troubling you?"
"Not exactly, just…I've had an idea. An idea that might solve two problems the council seems to think I have. May I run it by you?"
"Of course, sire."
Arthur stood at the door to the balcony, preparing for the moment he –and Merlin—had been waiting for. Arthur looked around for the other man before giving up and focusing on his gloves.
"Ah. There you are Merlin," he greeted. "About time you showed up. I need to speak with you about something.
"All right?" Merlin started after a few moments of silence.
"The newly appointed court sorcerer will be occupying the seat next to me at the Round Table."
Merlin broke into a grin.
"That's great! I'm sure Gaius feels honored."
Arthur's face fell as he realized his friend had misunderstood him.
"Not Gaius, you idiot."
Merlin's own grin faltered. "Then…"
"Merlin," Arthur continued, cutting him off. Suddenly it occurred to him that the advisors may have been right. "Do you know your place?"
"Is…is that a trick question, sire?"
Arthur rolled his eyes exasperatedly before exuding seriousness and placing a hand on Merlin's shoulder.
"It's the same place it's always been."
"In the stocks?'
"No," Arthur replied shortly. "Though that was amusing, and I do miss it a bit. Try again."
"In the floor of your room, scrubbing it?"
"No," Arthur repeated, elongating the word.
"Oh! Is it in the stables, mucking out after your horses? Because actually, there are people—"
Arthur exhaled deeply and remembered when a quest he was supposed to complete alone actually meant, quite naturally, that it was to be just him and Merlin. When Merlin stood next to him, without armor, facing down the dragon. Every time he rode or walked into battle or back to Camelot. Merlin could always be found in the same place.
"I'm going to be at your side," he remembered Merlin saying. "Like I always am. Protecting you."
At the time, it had almost seemed like a joke. And yet, whenever Arthur needed him (for important things of course, not his silly duties as manservant), he was always there.
"Your place, Merlin," he said, looking his friend in the eye. "Is right next to me. Just as it always has been."
"Oh." Merlin grinned, looking out the window and nodding. Then, Arthur saw his eyes and mouth widen as realization hit him, and he turned his face back to the king. "OH!"
"There you go! Don't strain yourself too much. I know thinking is not really your strong suit."
"Is Gaius…Gaius won't be upset, will he? That you didn't ask him? I mean, he's been studying far longer than I have, and he's much more knowledgeable than I am."
"That is not saying much."
Merlin gave a small smirk to imitate Arthur's.
"Besides, he already has a job. Court physician, remember? He likes it, and he thinks you will be perfect for this new position."
Merlin's grin, if possible, grew even larger. He nodded.
"Then…I would be honored, my lord," Merlin said, with an uncharacteristic bow. "As always, I am pleased to be in your service, sire."
"Good," Arthur stated, finality lacing the word. "And if you never call me a prat again, I will assume you have become a bumbling 'yes'-man, have no further need of you, and use you for target practice. Understood?"
"You know, for a king," Merlin mused. "You're still a pretty big clot pole." He fell in step next to Arthur as they walked on the balcony, but stumbled when Arthur clapped him, just a little too hard, on the back with a grin.
Later, someone would swear they saw Merlin mumbling a spell right at that moment.
Only he and the king knew that he was whining about 'his royal pratness' under his breath.