On the Wings of a Butterfly
It was over.
The battle had been bloody and long. For the third time in just over the span of a year, the lower town had been taken by the enemy and was badly damaged because of it. But true to form, the citadel remained un-taken and civilian casualties had been blessedly minimal. Camelot's knights, however, were not so lucky. At least a score of them had been killed, with twice as many injured in some form or another. By some good fortune, none who were seated at the Round Table had been amongst either of these groups.
Yet to Arthur, Crowned Prince and Regent, it still felt like a terrible, terrible loss.
Although the walls had not been breached, they were badly damaged. The enemy's war machines – greater in size and number than even the ones Cenred's army had been able to produce – had ripped mercilessly into their defences. One of the great towers of the castle had fallen after being subject to multiple hits from catapults and the courtyard was currently inaccessible due to the fallen masonry. Cracks raced up many of the walls in the grand hallways, most of the windows in the castle had been blown-out and the throne room was destroyed – thanks to a shot that was more likely due to luck than any real skill.
But that was not the worst of it.
Camelot's lands were fertile. Like much of Albion it was surrounded by rich forests, full of animals and practically oozing natural beauty. Crops did well here, producing a bountiful harvest each year which meant that all of Camelot's people were usually fed. The enemy forces had taken great satisfaction in destroying as much of this as possible.
Now, standing on the walls he had been fighting on only a few hours ago, Arthur could feel the despair crashing down on him as he looked out across his beloved Kingdom.
The bastards had burnt it – they'd burnt it all.
As far as Arthur could see, the forest surrounding the castle was a blackened mess, still coughing up smoke from fires that were only just starting to die out. It would take the land years to recover and would mean many hard years ahead for the people; famine was going to be a major concern. The air reeked of ash and death and even the sky was dark and overcast, with the afternoon sun only just struggling through.
Arthur was compassionate, and he knew that the people of Camelot loved him for it. However, looking out there, he was mortified to realise that his throat was aching and his eyes were stinging. He coughed and swiped at his sweaty, ash-streaked face in frustration. He would not cry now. Compassionate or not, he was the Prince Regent. His father, King Uther – driven half-mad by Morgana's betrayal – had never really recovered and was literally locked in his room to keep him safe. He needed to be strong for Camelot, for the people.
The sound of tumbling rock prompted him to look down into the ruined courtyard. A couple of the uninjured knights – Sirs Percival and Leon among them – were helping some servants to start the laborious process of clearing the debris. The task of moving the dead had been completed and Arthur deliberately kept his gaze forward, away from the neat rows of blanket-covered bodies behind him which had been placed on the grassy area used for training. They would be laid to rest soon enough. The only issue that remained was where.
"My Lord?" So much for keeping his gaze away...
Almost reluctantly turning around, Arthur made sure to keep his face neutral; there was much work to be done and he needed to be strong and lead them through it. The young page boy standing before him looked wretched; his eyes were dull with exhaustion and his face was pale, his uniform was askew and covered in dirt and ash. Like many others he probably hadn't slept since the battle preparations began.
This destruction is not something a young boy like that should ever have to see.
"Yes Jarda, what is it?" His tone sounded flat even to his own ears, but Jarda didn't seem to notice, bowing respectfully before he began.
"The last bodies have been collected, Sire. And the wounded have been moved to the hospital that the physician has set up." Arthur flinched at the reference to Gaius, it made Arthur think of him. But Jarda carried on speaking, completely oblivious. "He says he's running low on herbs for poultices and potions, Sire, but there is enough water and bandages and he has many helping hands..."
Arthur continued listening as Jarda filled him in on the other various goings on around the castle before scurrying away again. Sighing, he brought up his hands to rub at his temples – he was getting the beginnings of a major headache. But he brought them quickly back down to his sides though as he saw a familiar figure walking towards him, one that caused a small amount of peace to settle back into his heart.
Guinevere looked as harried as the page boy had been. Like most everyone in the castle, she was covered in ash from the fires and looked completely exhausted. She'd been helping to care for the wounded during the battle and her presence brought a semblance of cheer to Arthur – if Gwen was here then Gaius must have been confident he could handle the injured himself, which was good news. The small smile she gave him seemed to be forced, but he could see in her eyes that she was glad to see him. Now just wasn't the time for smiles – he was pretty sure his answering one was more of a grimace. Arthur opened his arms in invitation and she immediately stepped into them, burying her face into his chest while he kissed the top of her head softly before resting his cheek in the same spot.
They stood there a while, taking silent comfort from each other and having the chance to just be. But time waits for noone. They both reeked of smoke and despair and the time was long gone where Arthur could just forget his duties when in Gwen's arms. He may wish for it, but his duties would not just go away for his love.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes." She breathed in reply, pulling away but keeping a hold of Arthur's hands. She glanced out towards the ruined forests before quickly turning back again. Arthur didn't blame her. "Thank the Gods most of the injuries were minor. Nasty and painful, but minor."
She sighed mournfully, looking out across the training field at the dead before shuddering and once again turning back to Arthur. Her eyes were filled with a profound sadness at all the death and destruction and Arthur wished more than anything that he could just will it away.
"Gaius needs more herbs for his medicines though. His stock has quickly run low and obviously we can't just go and search for more, so Elyan has taken a few knights and is searching through the lower town to see if he can find anything we can use. Gwaine and Lancelot went to scout the forest hours ago, just in case anyone was hiding out."
Arthur nodded in approval, pleased with the action his knights had taken without having to be told.
There had originally been a lot of animosity towards his knights. They were commoners after all and in knighting them Arthur had broken centuries of tradition. They had proven themselves many times over though, both in this battle and others, and now they were using their own initiative to help further the Kingdom's recovery. Arthur had little doubt that the issue of whether they were worthy of their titles or not had been well and truly resolved.
"Are you alright?"
"As well as can be expected. That little nick on the shoulder I got has been bandaged and once the courtyard has been cleared we can start-"
"I'm not talking about the battle Arthur." Gwen said, quickly cutting him off. "I'm talking about Merlin."
And at the mention of his manservant's name, Arthur's doors slammed down.
He turned his head towards the ruined town again, looking but not really seeing. In his peripheral vision he could see Gwen trying to catch his eye, but he ignored her. If he looked at her he was afraid she would see the pain in his eyes. His stomach was twisting into hard knots and there was a familiar feeling burning in his chest. He felt Gwen gently take his chin in one delicate hand, turning him to face her.
"You can't ignore it forever Arthur." She murmured softly and Arthur felt his face contort with pain.
"He lied to me Guinevere. Lied to me for years. How can I just forgive that?"
"Can you really blame him? Magic is illegal – people are killed for using it, which he has borne witness to in this very courtyard many times. If he had told you, you would have been duty-bound to Uther to have him arrested and sentenced to death, no matter what he used the magic for."
"He could have told me..." He whispered sullenly.
"So this is less about the fact that Merlin has magic, and more about the fact that he didn't trust you with the knowledge of it." It was a statement, not a question.
Arthur couldn't continue though, because Gwen had hit the nail on the head – trust was the problem, not the magic.
It had been shocking – to say the least – when Merlin had revealed his powers.
The battle had been going badly.
The enemy army was less than half the size of Camelot's, yet they had at least two sorcerers in their midst. Using some sort of shielding spell, they were able to prevent Camelot's missiles from even getting close to their mark, while at the same time allowing their own weapons to cause utter havoc. Sporadically, the sorcerers had fired bolts of magical energy into Camelot's forces, each taking out more men in a single hit than any of the fireballs from their catapults.
There was no stopping power like that with steel alone and, for the first time, Arthur had been confronted with the price of his Father's purging of magic from the Kingdom. They had no knowledge of what was happening, no means of retaliation and no way to block it. The enemy was free to advance at their leisure, making sure each area was thoroughly decimated of life before moving forward.
It was slaughter and they had been helpless to prevent the army from coming right up to Camelot's portcullis, where they leisurely starting using a battering ram, toying with them.
All hope had seemed lost.
But then the very air in front of them had seemed to shimmer before a beautiful mother-of-pearl dome of energy stretched along the front of Camelot's forces. Arthur had thought that was the end, and judging by the yells of dismay, most of the others had also. Imagine their surprise when the battering ram and those unfortunate enough to be carrying it were sent careening backwards upon contact and all the enemy projectiles being fired at them seemed to turn to dust.
Not understanding what was happening, everyone had stopped.
Yelling in outrage, one of the enemy sorcerers had sent a great bolt of fiery magic screaming towards the energy. Amazingly, it was snuffed out as if it were a mere candle.
There had been a strange shocked pause before the enemy sorcerers started firing magic – at what Arthur then understood to be a shield of Camelot's own – left, right and centre. The shield didn't even waver. Not once.
"That can't be Merlin can it?"
The puzzled question had come from Sir Leon, stood on the prince's left. Looking past him in the direction the knight was facing, Arthur soon spotted the skinny figure of his manservant. He was stood on the battlement walls at the top of the nearest tower; how the usually clumsy man had managed to get up there without plummeting to his death Arthur wasn't entirely sure. Along the walls, others also turned to face Merlin, all just as perplexed as Arthur himself. In the strange light of the magical shield, Merlin's pasty skin seemed to take on an ethereal glow while the wind whipped at his dark hair and his clothes.
Enemy sorcerers were still firing magic willy-nilly at Camelot's shield, but still it did not waver. Arthur's gaze was locked on his manservant, a strange feeling of dread growing in his gut. Merlin seemed almost amused at the other sorcerer's efforts.
In a strange, detached sort of way, Arthur watched as Merlin slowly raised his right arm. Then, Arthur's heart climbed into his throat as Merlin's eyes flashed a brilliant gold. Merlin's own bolt of magic – silvery blue and vaguely arrow-shaped – shot from his outstretched palm towards the enemy's shield, where it hit with a flash of light and one colossal bang. The whole thing shuddered violently and there were more cries of dismay – this time from the enemy side. Arthur could just about see Merlin's face clearly from where he was stood, and he was positive that he had used no words and that the effort the magic had taken him had seemed almost casual, as if he had done no more than flick a crumb from his shirt.
Behind him, he was aware of Gwaine firing off surprised and awe-filled expletives from where he had been stood on Arthur's right with Percival and Lancelot, whilst in his line of sight Leon and Elyan were staring at Merlin like goats. Their reactions would have been comical in any other circumstance, but Arthur felt like he was almost seperate from the situation, as if it were a dream. Any second now he was going to wake up laughing at it all...
It must be a dream, this was too bizarre. Merlin – clumsy, idiotic, scrawny Merlin – was a sorcerer. And a bloody powerful one, at that.
The enemy sorcerers seemed to try combining their attacks now, firing the biggest bolt yet at Merlin's shield. Again, it just fizzled out against it and again Merlin fired back. This time, with a sound like shattering glass, the enemy shield crumbled.
Despite his shock, the prince knew an opportunity to push the attack when he saw one. Shoving his feelings to one side Arthur raised his sword and bellowed at the top of his lungs:
"For the love of Camelot!"
His knights responded immediately, firing on the now defenceless enemy. While firing his own crossbow Arthur was aware of Merlin responding to his clarion-call too; firing four smaller bolts simultaneously, with each taking out one of the catapults in a burst of blue light.
As quickly as that, the tide of battle turned. Within an hour the enemy was in full retreat with the victorious cheers of Camelot ringing at their backs.
Amidst his knights, who were smacking each others' shoulders and whooping for joy, Arthur once again looked towards the tower. As Merlin lowered his arm, his shield faded. He still didn't look even the slightest bit fatigued. Arthur's feelings, pushed down before in lieu of more important things, came forward full force. Anger, fear and more than a little betrayal were the most dominant, though he could not deny the awe that was also there.
Merlin's eyes had met his then, and despite the distance he could see sadness and more than a little fear in the other man's eyes. They were their usual sapphire blue now, but Arthur shuddered as he remembered the way they had blazed gold as Merlin had unleashed his awesome power. If what he had just done was easy for him, who knew what he was truly capable of? Arthur didn't know where to start, what to say. He was still trying to figure out which of his feelings was most dominant. Yes, he was angry – magic was illegal for God's sake. But mostly, he felt the stinging tendrils of betrayal. Why had Merlin kept this from him?
They stared at each other a while before Merlin turned, jumped down from the wall and then disappeared into the tower. Arthur thought about going after him – deep down, he didn't like the fearful way Merlin had stared at him. But something in his heart stopped him, something that was feeling bitter and bruised.
The stupid idiot brought it on himself; let him stew in fear for a bit...
Arthur knew that his decision was wrong now, and an extremely childish one besides. He was more than aware that Merlin had pretty much single-handedly saved the Kingdom; Arthur was not going to kill him for that. But by the time he decided to go and find Merlin to talk, he had become caught up in the turmoil of the after-effects of the battle. Camelot came before his and Merlin's feelings after all.
"He was my friend Guinevere," Arthur had never admitted that out loud before, but he felt the need to now in order to try and explain these feelings. "I trusted him, trusted him with everything. If he lied about something as big as him having magic, what else has he lied about?"
Merlin was a clumsy idiot, give him a sword and he'd be more likely to chop off his own head than an enemy's. He was loyal to a fault and would willingly lay down his life for Arthur and for Camelot. He wasn't afraid to express his opinions and damn if Arthur didn't enjoy the banter between them – it made him feel less like a prince and more like an ordinary person. But if he'd learnt anything about magic over the years, it was that magic corrupted people. What if everything he had known about Merlin had just been an act?
There were other issues too. Gaius probably knew – he had to have known. Merlin's mother Hunith must have known too. So who else did? In the aftermath, Arthur hadn't been completely oblivious. He saw the way Lancelot had been looking at him. All of the other knights, even Gwaine, had seemed as shocked as Arthur himself was. But Lancelot didn't seem surprised; in fact he had been studying Arthur, almost as if he were trying to decide how he was taking the knowledge.
Which meant that Lancelot had already known as well.
And that was another stab in the heart for Arthur. He could understand Gaius knowing, after all Merlin lived with the man. But why had Merlin told Lancelot and not him?
Gwen was right. In the end, it wasn't the magic. It all came down to the fact that Merlin hadn't trusted Arthur, hadn't trusted him to do the right thing. Did Merlin truly think that Arthur was that much like his father that he wouldn't hesitate to sentence his closest friend to death? That hurt. It hurt a lot.
"I don't know him anymore Gwen," Arthur said in a tiny voice. "I don't know who he is."
Gwen was quiet for a long time, staring into Arthur's eyes with an expression he couldn't read. Word travelled fast around the castle, so Gwen had heard all about what had happened on the battlefield.
"When I first heard, you know what I felt? I was angry." Arthur just watched her; he had felt the same in the beginning. "He's my best friend and for a while I wondered how much he must value our friendship if he couldn't even tell me. But I understand why he didn't. Just as telling you would have strained your honour and your loyalties to your father, it would have destroyed me if I had to keep something as big as that from you. As much as we are suffering for Merlin's choices now, I think he has been suffering more.
"All those coincidences and near-escapes Camelot has had since Merlin arrived here... I wouldn't doubt that he must have had a hand in almost all of them: healing my father during the plague, taking the blame as that old sorcerer, creating that whirlwind back in Ealdor..."
Arthur nodded. Of course it had been Merlin – from griffins to questing beasts and even the defeat of the Great Dragon. It was all so painfully obvious now, Merlin had always been there.
"He put his life on the line time and again and got no recognition, in fact I bet he let you take the credit for a lot of things. On top of that his childhood friend took the blame for the sorcery and died for him and you saw how that devastated him. He had plenty of time to do things to you or to Uther over the years, but he never did. Merlin may be a sorcerer, but I still think he's the same Merlin. Surely not all magic is bad?"
Arthur had often wondered at that. His father was firmly of the belief that magic was evil, that magic corrupted anyone who used it or was associated with it: 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely'. But what if his father was wrong? Arthur had often wondered about this before, but now that he was effectively being pressured into deciding his opinion of magic, he wasn't so sure what he thought. Despite the betrayal he felt, he knew Merlin wasn't evil. But he had seen the destructive force of magic too many times for that knowledge alone to be sufficient enough to change his mind.
He was snapped out of his musings when he saw Gwaine hurrying towards them.
Oh God, please don't let him have found something bad.
"Sire, you should really come and see this."
Gwaine was usually very quirky, his back-talk being similar to Merlin's in a way. But now there was none of his usual sarcasm or 'Princess' comments, just solid formality. Whatever Gwaine wanted to show Arthur was important, and yet he seemed pretty relaxed.
"What is it Gwaine?"
"Err... you really need to see for yourself."
That confused Arthur more, but he didn't question it, turning to face Gwen instead. "Guinevere we'll be-"
"She can come too. In fact, she probably should."
Utterly perplexed now, Arthur shared a bemused glance with Gwen before gesturing for Gwaine to lead the way. Gwaine set off at a trot, Arthur and Gwen on his heels.
Gwaine led them into the ruined forest. Arthur felt his heart sink even lower seeing the destruction around him.
Many trees were still standing, but they were blackened and dead. Every footfall sent up a cloud of ash and there seemed to be a layer of smog hugging the ground. The smell was just awful, worse than an un-cleaned fireplace in the summer. Worst of all though were the bodies, bodies of various woodland creatures which had been trapped by the flames and lay petrified in the dust. They travelled for about half a mile. The further away they travelled from Camelot, the denser the trees got. Though the destruction was still absolute, there were some dead bushes now too - densely-packed blackened fronds that the three of them had to fight through. Though Gwaine still had his armour on, Arthur had taken his off earlier in order to allow treatment for the minor wound on his shoulder, as a result the bushes snagged abominably at his and Gwen's clothing, making them stumble.
Just as Arthur was going to ask Gwaine where on earth he was taking them, the knight turned around and gestured for quiet, before crouching and making his way towards a denser patch of bushes. Arthur followed, with Gwen just behind. A glint of silver that could only be armour caught his eye. He spotted Lancelot laying on his stomach half-inside a particularly dense bush, with Gwaine settling into a similar position just to the man's left. Arthur felt a familiar ire build up inside of him at the sight of the knight, but he pushed his feelings roughly aside and settled on the other side of Lancelot and Gwen in turn lay down next to him.
"What are you doing?" Arthur asked in a low whisper.
In reply, Lancelot inclined his head forwards, prompting Arthur to follow his gaze. The bush they were hiding in was next to a small meadow, though down on this level the smog and ash were so bad Arthur could hardly breathe, let alone see properly; visibility was only a few yards at best. The trees surrounding the meadow were just as dead and the ground was covered in about an inch of soot, like contaminated snow. He was about to turn to Lancelot again when a movement on the other side of the meadow caught his attention. What he saw made him start in surprise.
There, walking like a wraith amongst the trees, was Merlin.
The man was covered from head to toe in soot and – contrary to his many hunting trips with Arthur – he was moving in a way that was ridiculously silent.
I knew he was deliberately scaring the animals off! The thought came before he could stop it and he crushed it with immediate ruthlessness. Of course Merlin had been faking, he was a sorcerer; they were masters at this sort of thing.
But what was he doing out here? Arthur figured that Merlin would be somewhere in the castle, avoiding him. He never believed that Merlin would run – if anything, the one thing that he was still completely sure of was Merlin's courage. Besides, he wouldn't just leave Gaius like that. But then, why was he all the way out here?
Arthur stewed on these thoughts, so he almost missed it when Merlin raised his hand. Waiting with baited breath he watched as Merlin placed his palm on the trunk of the nearest tree. The servant closed his eyes and after a short pause murmured a few words that none of them could quite catch from where they were lying. Once he completed what Arthur figured was a spell, Merlin's eyes snapped open, blazing gold. There was a quiet gasp from Gwen – Arthur forgot this would be the first time she was witnessing Merlin perform magic – and he reached for her hand to both reassure her and to make sure she remained still and silent. The four watched as a soft blue light radiated through the tree in slow waves, reaching from the base of its trunk to the top of its bare branches and lighting it up from the inside-out. After a few seconds the light faded and Merlin removed his hand. Sighing softly, he gently picked with a fingernail at the blackened crust coating the plant. To Arthur's astonishment Merlin eventually uncovered some unblemished, healthy bark. Nodding to himself, the servant moved on.
Arthur's head snapped towards Lancelot.
"He's healing the trees?" He asked incredulously.
Lancelot turned to him and nodded. "He's been at it for hours, since we first came out here and found him."
"He doesn't heal all of them, only one every few yards." Gwaine added with his eyes still fixed on Merlin. "The main thing he's been doing is putting out the fires and getting rid of this damned smog."
As Gwaine spoke, Merlin finished with another tree and stepped into the centre of the little meadow. The four hideaways shrank back, making sure they couldn't be seen. Lifting both of his arms this time and holding them in front of him, Merlin again spoke, in a language Arthur didn't understand.
"Isenordál sé æðm."
The group watched as all of the smog seemed to flow into Merlin's hands, coiling like grey serpents. It cleared the air around them and allowed them to breathe easier. It also gave them all a completely clear view of the servant. There was a look of solid determination on his face and Arthur had the strange thought that maybe Merlin was trying to distract himself from something.
His thoughts were cut off once again as in a sudden movement Merlin flung his arms skyward. He spoke no words, again confusing Arthur, but still some magic was cast. As Merlin's eyes again burned gold, the ash covering the ground leapt into the air, reducing visibility to zero for a long second before it too disappeared. What was left on the ground was a coating of blackened grass and flowers, a sorry sight if ever Arthur saw one – the clearing must have once been beautiful. The servant looked around and Arthur could see a profound sadness in his eyes, the same sadness the prince felt at seeing the ruined meadow. Reaching into his jacket, Merlin pulled out a small pouch, before scattering some sort of sand that was inside it all around him.
"What is he doing?" Gwen murmured.
"We went to see what he was scattering about after he left the last clearing," Lancelot replied. "They're seeds."
"Seeds," Lancelot nodded. "Grass seeds, flower seeds... we think he spent the first hours after the battle collecting as many as he could fit in there, his pockets too."
Lancelot was cut off from further explanation as Merlin froze in mid-shake. Afraid they had been heard; all four held their breaths as he dropped the pouch to the floor and walked slowly towards them. Arthur's heart beat faster until he felt like it was going to explode out of his chest. But Merlin wasn't looking towards their bush. Eyes fixed on the ground, the servant crouched down about five metres away, facing towards them. His lips turned down in an anguished expression and Arthur wondered at the cause of it. Tenderly, Merlin reached downwards and a slight movement on the ground drew Arthur's eye.
It was a butterfly. An honest-to-goodness butterfly.
How the creature had survived the flames and being buried in ash, Arthur didn't know. But there it was, fluttering feebly in the dirt. Merlin scooped it up, cupping it in two hands. It was badly damaged – one wing was only a stump and the other had such a large hole in it that it was a strange, crescent moon shape. Arthur couldn't even tell what kind of butterfly it was without the wing-markings to identify it with. He watched in fascination as Merlin gently ran a finger along its fluffy body, looking at the creature with such compassion that Arthur felt an unexpected blossom of pride for his servant swell in his chest. It was only a mere butterfly, but the look on Merlin's face was the same as the one he had displayed whilst delivering his speech about destiny and choice before Arthur nearly made the mistake of marrying Princess Elena – a look conveying so much faith and compassion that you couldn't help but be drawn in.
For a while Merlin just studied the creature, gently touching its damaged wings and singed antennae as if comforting it. Then, cupping both hands again, he brought the butterfly closer to his face and blew softly onto it.
The butterfly's body became a brilliant blue, radiating silver light while Merlin's eyes blazed brighter than ever before. Rays of light arced from the man's hands, bathing the whole area in a soft glow. Some of the beams touched the ground in the clearing and where they did, the seeds Merlin had scattered flashed blue before suddenly germinating. All around the servant fresh new grass reached towards the sky, the stems of flowers dotted at random in-between.
It was the most innocent and beautiful example of magic that Arthur had ever seen, and he found himself struck dumb, gaping like a fish.
When the light died there, in Merlin's gentle hands, was the butterfly – a Peacock Butterfly. The azure blue eye-spots on its newly-restored wings flashed as they opened and closed a few times, as if the butterfly couldn't quite believe it had them back. Merlin smiled and laughed softly before he murmured something which Arthur thought sounded suspiciously like: 'You're welcome'. Then he raised his cupped hands and once more gently blew on the butterfly. This time, it took to the sky.
The smile gracing Merlin's features was huge as he watched the healed butterfly flutter in gay circles around his head and Arthur felt a small smile spread across his own face at the innocent picture they represented. Merlin laughed once more before he gently flicked a finger. A warm gust of wind sighed through the clearing, catching the butterfly's wings and boosting it up towards the open sky, where it disappeared over the trees. Merlin remained crouched there for a while, smiling upwards, before he eventually stood and picked up the pouch he had dropped. He seemed surprised at the random patterns of grass and flowers around him, but did nothing to change it and after looking around the clearing one more time the servant turned and walked away into the trees.
Once he had disappeared, the group remained quiet for a while, processing what they had seen. Gwen was the first to break the silence.
"That was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen."
The three men murmured various agreements and Arthur sat up, brushing some ash from the front of his red tunic. For Arthur, Merlin's little display held much more significance for him than mere beauty. He made it no secret that he had once agreed with his father: that magic was a force for evil. But now, Arthur found he didn't quite believe that. Something that was evil could never be used for something such as what Merlin just did. What if magic was like fire? Neither good nor bad, but could be used for either depending on the morality of the user?
He was startled by a movement out of the corner of his eye.
As Arthur watched, the little Peacock Butterfly landed on his shoulder. It sat there for a minute or so, delicately cleaning its antennae and its coiled proboscis. It was almost as if it were showing itself off, proving to Arthur that what he had just seen was real. Then with two quick flicks of its glorious wings it fluttered off into the clearing to settle on a blooming flower.
Arthur smiled softly to himself before getting to his feet. The two knights and Gwen mirrored him, having not noticed his little friend.
"Come, we should return to Camelot. The clean-up is still on-going and we really should be there to help."
"Shouldn't we keep tracking Merlin, Sire?"
Lancelot asked the question and Arthur could have sworn the man was challenging him. Gwaine too had a similar look on his face and both gazed steadily at him. He felt he could no longer justify any ill-feelings toward the gentle knight. Like Merlin, Lancelot valued loyalty above most everything else and who knew what the story behind his knowledge was? For all Arthur knew Merlin could have saved Lancelot's life in the past. He gave the knight a broad smile; if that were truly the case, then of course the man was going to look out for the servant. He understood what the two knights had done: if he didn't think he had an audience Merlin wore his heart on his sleeve for all to see. Arthur needed no more proof of his intentions.
"No, from what I've seen Merlin is doing his bit to clean up the area. Let's go."
He watched over his shoulder as Gwaine, Lancelot and Gwen shared three significant glances, gently smiling at each other before hurrying to catch up with their prince.
Arthur would have to have a long talk with Merlin when he finally returned to the castle after restoring life to the forest. He had a lot of questions and Merlin was going to answer them. But they would do so in a civilised manner, he owed the man at least that much. He also knew that the trust would have to be rebuilt, as well as their friendship. But the foundation they had to build on – based on loyalty and respect for each other – was a solid one, and Arthur knew that things would be back to normal soon enough.
Well, as normal as things could get with that bloody idiot around anyway.
Well, I'm not quite sure where this one came from – the scene with Merlin and the butterfly popped into my head when I was listening to a song (called "Fire and Ice" by Groove Addicts. Look it up on YouTube if you're interested) and I just had to get it down. It turned out longer than I thought it would though, but I'm happy with it.
We're often told in the series how Merlin's magic is 'good', however there are rarely examples of his pureness of heart – with most of his magic being used to either save the Kingdom or for tasks such as chores and playing around with Arthur. The only example I can think of is when he used magic to move some smoke into the shape of a rearing horse. So, I thought I'd make my own, because you can never have enough magic!
Translation: "Isenordál sé æðm" – Old English for "Clear the air", or close enough to it that I could find.
XD :D XD