A/N: I know, I know – it's been more than a few days, but I've been busy! :) I'm sure that excuse is getting pretty old, too, but it's the truth, LOL! Anyway, here it is, the final chapter of A Game Well Played. Thank you ALL so much for your continued support and reviews – you all have made writing this story all the more enjoyable! So thanks! Time for the epilogue – please review and let me know not only what you think of the final installment, but also the story in general! I'd love to hear from you! :) Enjoy!
A Game Well Played
To say Gwen was shocked to see her estranged brother as a part of the returning party would be putting it mildly. When Arthur and a rather sullen Morgana rode back into the city with an unconscious but thankfully alive Merlin draped over the front of Arthur's horse and none other than Elyan traveling alongside them, she had gaped, staring out of Gaius's window, before rushing out to greet them.
"Arthur," she gasped upon reaching the man she loved. She met her brother's eyes, questions broiling in her own brown eyes, and Elyan looked far too pleased with himself. She rolled her eyes at him, determined to find out what he was doing here later, before curtsying to Morgana – whose lips twitched in what Gwen supposed was an attempted smile – and then turned her attention to Merlin.
"What happened?" she asked, tears in her eyes and voice. Merlin looked terrible – he was bloody and bruised, his sleeping face contorted in pain, and one of his arms was bent at a grotesque angle.
Arthur didn't answer, his mouth set in a tight line. How was he supposed to tell her that Merlin was tortured, beaten and cut and broken because Arthur refused to talk? How could he admit that he had stood there, chained to the wall, silent and unyielding, while his friend was tormented because of his refusal to talk?
So he remained quiet and shook his head. "We need to get him to Gaius," he said, and Gwen immediately ran off to tell Gaius of Merlin's condition so he'd be prepared when Arthur brought him to the physician's chambers. She cast one last confused look at Elyan before darting off, lavender skirts trailing behind her.
While Arthur went to talk to his father and tell how the 'mission' went and Gwen caught up with her brother, Gaius poked and prodded and cleaned and applied medicine to Merlin's wounds. The old man was trembling when he first saw the severity of Merlin's condition, his anger close to peaking because of the callousness of his captors. Merlin was bone-thin, having not eaten anything since his captivity. His chest was lucky not to be infected and Gaius secretly thought that Merlin's magic might have played a part in that particular miracle.
Gaius washed away the blood that stained his ward's front and cleansed the open knife wounds, wincing at the depth and damage of the shoulder wound where the knife would be twisted. He sewed up the gap as best he could, praying the muscle damage would heal and that Merlin would eventually regain full control of his arm.
When he turned his attention to the broken arm, even the seasoned physician that Gaius was winced and felt slightly queasy at the break. Merlin's arm had literally been snapped just below the elbow, the bone held together by less than an inch of muscle. Gaius used discreet magic to knit the bone back together as best he could. It wasn't perfect, but with time – several months, he decided – it should heal normally. He wrapped the arm and secured it to Merlin's thin chest so he wouldn't hurt it further when he woke up and started moving.
The head injury was a bit trickier, especially since the laceration had healed partially before being opened again. Gaius's anger at Morgause and Cenred swelled anew but he crushed it, not willing to let his emotions get in the way of the treatment of his patient.
Finally Merlin was covered in bandages and salve and patched up the best Gaius could manage, the old man sat back and did the only thing he could – he waited.
Five days passed and Merlin was slowly beginning to heal. He was still bedridden, bandaged, and weak, but he was on the road to recovery. He'd spent the last few days doing almost nothing but sleeping. Arthur had been concerned at first, worrying for his servant's life, but Gaius had assured the prince that this much sleep was only to be expected if his body was to recover. And so Arthur had taken a leaf out of Gaius's book and waited for the idiot to finally open his eyes so the two of them could have a proper chat.
Finally, the young warlock was aware enough to hold a conversation. He was propped up on several fluffy pillows (that Arthur had most certainly not taken from his own bed for Merlin's use, thank you very much) and restless, the fingers on his unbroken arm tapping nervously at the warm blanket (also not courtesy of Arthur, of course not). Finally he couldn't stand the silence any longer and he spoke up, right at the same time Arthur decided to start talking.
"Thanks," master and servant said in unison, before breaking off into weak chuckles. Arthur felt decidedly awkward, especially since he had just thanked his servant, but plowed ahead nonetheless. This was important.
Merlin, for his part, looked rather shocked. Grimacing in pain as he attempted to shift slightly where he was lying, he still managed to ask, "I'm sorry; I didn't quite catch that. Could you repeat it?" He smiled wearily and Arthur rolled his eyes and restrained from throwing something at Merlin. After all, not only was he making it a point not to further injure his selfless manservant, but he had a strong feeling that Gaius would be likely to do him in if he hurt Merlin right now, prince or not.
So he just made a face and Merlin chuckled before asking, "Seriously. Why are you thanking me?" He tapped his fingers even more agitatedly and Arthur knew the movement had to be irritating his punctured shoulder but apparently the servant was too nervous to care. "I mean, why am I even here right now, healing? I'm – well, you found out that I—" He trailed off, opting to stare at the ceiling rather than meet his master's gaze.
Arthur frowned. "Do you really think I'd leave you to Morgause, Merlin? Or turn you in to my father after what you did? You saved my life, Merlin, and that's not all – you took everything they did to you with bravery and honor, rather than trying to plead for me to talk. You… you saved us all, Merlin, and I am grateful. I couldn't ask for a better friend, magic or not." Even though it felt strange, admitting Merlin was his friend, Arthur felt a little lighter when he saw Merlin's eyes light up at the prince's words. Not that he was planning on repeating them any time soon, however. That had to have been the most awkward sentence he had ever uttered, despite the truth. Good heavens, he wasn't good with emotions and words and the like!
Merlin grinned but then shook his head slowly, answering Arthur's question. "I'm sorry, that wasn't fair. Of course you wouldn't do that; I trust you with my life. After all, you risked your life to save mine. But… I hate for you to be in that position, between your father and I… and I would've told you sooner but I was afraid of dividing your loyalties." He sighed. "I just—I can't believe that you know. I mean, for so long I—"
"Ah yes," Arthur interrupted, not in the mood for any more of this emotional talk. "About that."
Merlin's bruised face paled a bit more and he gulped overdramatically. "Uh-oh. Are you about to be a prat again, Arthur?"
"Seeing as you seem to be feeling well enough to insult your amazingly wonderful master, I think it's about time we had a bit of a talk."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Yep, you're being a prat again."
Arthur smirked. "Why don't you tell me… everything, Merlin?"
Merlin made a face. "But it's a long story."
"Well, lucky for you, I cancelled training with the knights and have the afternoon free, all for you, Merlin. Gaius said that it's about time for you to exercise your voice now you've got it back, so I figured I'd just… speed up the healing process."
Merlin grumbled but began to talk, because Arthur wasn't telling his secret and still trusted him with his life, which was more than Merlin could have ever asked for.
Even though he'd been through hell and back to get to this point, the young warlock was beginning to think that this might all be worth it.
Two hours later, with Merlin's throat sore and Arthur's mind buzzing with a plethora of new information, the bond between prophesied prince and warlock was that much stronger.
Camelot and the future of Albion was most definitely in good hands.
A/N: Wow, it's over; I can't believe it! This was such a fun ride! :) I really enjoyed this story and I'm glad you did too! Thanks so much for the continued reviews and support! See you on the flip side! Please review! XD