Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin, its characters or its magic.
AN: Any and all mistakes are mine. I'm relieved everyone enjoyed the previous chapter so much. It was a pretty important chapter, wasn't it. I can only hope that this a good chapter as well :)
Tears of an Angel
Arthur let his gaze dart around the camp as so much could be seen. Children, who were now safely inside tents, had been playing in the grass and between the trees. The faces of men were rough, their arms broad and strong, while the women looked kind and motherly as they gathered the children en rushed them inside. As many looked at the new arrival, Arthur in this case, their gazes become cold, though, almost distant. When looking at Lancelot, no one seemed to have a problem, however, which annoyed Arthur beyond comprehension.
A young woman came walking towards them, her blonde hair waving in the wind. Arthur could already tell from this distance that she was pretty and young. When she came to a halt before the two men, she crossed her arms before her chest and pressed her lips together. She didn't seem to make any motion towards speaking.
Lancelot smiled. "Hello, Annabeth."
So that was her name. Arthur had recognized her from the city since it was her that had helped Merlin get away from the pyre. Even with Lancelot's disarming smile, the girl remained tense, almost vigilant.
"What are you doing here?" Her voice was strong, confident. "What is he doing here?"
Arthur wasn't used to being spoken to in such a manner and he had to force himself not to say anything about it. He was the Prince of Camelot and he was used to be treated with respect. Then again, he stood in the middle of a Druid where many, in other words all of them, hated the King and therefore his son as well. Arthur realized that he should be grateful to even be allowed within the boundaries of the settlement.
Lancelot spoke softly, his smile having disappeared. "We are only here to see Merlin and not cause any trouble, Annabeth. Please, tell us he is alright because last we saw him..."
"I've nothing against you, Lancelot," Annabeth said, her tone more gently, "really, I like you. You seem like a descent man, but he –" she turned her eyes to Arthur and they narrowed almost viciously, "he is not welcome here. Who isn't to say that he'll come back later and slaughter us all."
Arthur couldn't help but admire the woman. She was one of the first that dared speak her mind to him. He also couldn't believe that she would think this of him. He could see these people were peaceful, harmless. It was rude of her think that he would be that ruthless. "You saved Merlin," he spoke for the first time, "and for that I am entirnally grateful. Thank you for saving him."
Doubt crossed Annabeth's eyes.
Arthur smiled reassuringly. "How is he? I only want to see him, see that he's alright. Tell me where he is, please."
Now Annabeth rolled her eyes, a gesture Arthur hadn't expected her to make. "Well, I can tell you where he isn't and that is in his bed. He really should be resting, but he's off anyway."
Arthur chuckled. "That's Merlin, never doing what he is supposed to be doing."
It seemed that he had broken through Annabeth's shield because a warm smile started pulling at the corners of her lips. She still didn't seem entirely convinced that she could trust the Prince, but this was a start at least.
When she realised that she was actually smiling, however, she quickly snapped her lips shut again and turned on her heels, striding away without another word. Arthur was speechless. He wasn't sure if he had ever met a woman like Annabeth before.
"That's Annabeth," Lancelot grinned, "I like her."
Arthur would have said something, but his eyes suddenly caught a figure arriving in the distance. He was barely recognisable as he was leaning heavily on a wooden stick that offered support, but as soon as Arthur saw the familiar black hair and blue eyes, he knew he was looking at Merlin. The servant's back was slightly bended and with every step he took, he seemed to be resting for a second. He wore a long blue cloak that touched the ground and his face looked weary.
But it was without doubt the man Arthur had thought never to see again. He hurried forward, rushing towards Merlin as he needed to be sure that he wasn't imagining this.
Merlin flashed the Prince his usual goofy grin. "Hello, Arthur." Turning to look at his left, he looked at a man with bright red hair who Arthur also recognized from the city. "This is Alec," Merlin introduced him to Arthur.
Alec nodded his head slightly, but his eyes remained kind and calm. He was almost the opposite of Annabeth. "Arthur Pendragon," he said, "I have heard much about you."
"Nothing but good things I good," Arthur said. He regretted it immediately. Alec was a druid which meant he wasn't very keen on the monarchy that ruled the land. Of course he wouldn't have heard a lot of good about Arthur.
Alec's face remained the same however. "Merlin told me you are a good man," he said, "and I believe him. I hope I won't regret this in the future, but if you are twice the man your father is..." He trailed of, turning to look at Merlin now. "Take it slow, Merlin, you aren't fully healed yet, don't forget that."
Merlin nodded. "I won't," he said, "thank you for everything, Alec."
Alec bowed his head in respect, a movement Arthur was very familiar with. Only he used to be the one receiving the bowing, not Merlin. Why would he be treated like this? Surely not because he has magic? Everyone here had magic! There had to be something more to it, but Arthur pushed aside these thoughts. Merlin stood before him, alive and almost completely healthy, and that mattered now.
Arthur turned to look behind him, expecting Lancelot to be standing there, but the man had apparently walked away with Alec. He could see they were talking about something exiting and Arthur frowned. "They seem to like each other," he commented.
"Alec is telling him about Annabeth," Merlin said, calling back Arthur's attention, "they are going to have a son."
Arthur smiled. "I am really glad you are okay, Merlin," he said with sincerity in his voice, "I thought you weren't going to make it. Not that I don't have faith in you, I know you're stronger than you look, I mean...– I know...– you aren't...- This is difficult!"
Merlin chuckled. He started to walk towards where a fallen tree trunk lay and slowly sat himself down. Arthur watched how pain crossed his eyes, but when Merlin looked back into his eyes, he only saw his clumsy servant. Arthur sat down besides him and had his elbows resting on his knees.
"I'm not sure you should have come, Arthur."
Merlin's words surprised Arthur. "Why not? I had to know you were alright. Last time I saw you, you were near death, burned and in pain. It was a horrible sight and it's one I never want to see again. But here you are, living and breathing."
"I owe these people a lot," Merlin said, "and I wish I could repay them somehow. They are really kind, Arthur, this life, they don't deserve this."
Arthur closed his eyes. He was still coming to terms with Merlin's magic, and he couldn't deal with the druids as well. They had magic, sure, it was a well known fact, but was he really supposed to like them suddenly? After all, hadn't they tried to kill him as many times as Uther had executed one? Arthur forbade himself to think like that. He couldn't condemn these people for the actions of one individual.
"I know, Merlin," Arthur sighed, "I know of your magic."
Merlin remained eerily silent.
The Prince turned to look directly in those blue eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Merlin shifted his balance, his eyes falling to the ground beneath them. "I couldn't," he said, avoiding Arthur's gaze, "I'm sorry, but I just couldn't. I wanted to trust you, really, but we live in Camelot which is a place where people die because of the gifts they are born with."
Gifts? Was that how Merlin saw his magic? As gifts? Arthur couldn't understand how anyone with magic would want to welcome it. There were enough examples of people becoming evil and corrupted because they embraced their gifts. Or was that because of something else? Merlin certainly wasn't evil or corrupted.
"And these people," he asked, "do they have magic?"
"Some of them – most of them," Merlin corrected himself. His eyes moved from druid to druid and finally rested on Arthur. "They are good people, each and everyone of them. If you don't trust them, then trust me."
Arthur slowly nodded.
Merlin smiled, moving his legs a little closer towards his body and he suddenly groaned in pain. Arthur's senses were on high alert in an instance, his hand already on Merlin's shoulder. "Are you alright?"
"My legs," Merlin sighed, "they aren't fully healed yet. I still have some burns on them, but I'll be fine, Arthur, nothing that I can't handle."
Arthur's eyes had become round with disbelief. "Burn marks on your legs? And you're still walking around? You should be in bed, like Annabeth said."
Merlin chuckled, though it wasn't completely convincing. "I didn't know you cared so much."
Arthur gently elbowed Merlin's side in a teasing way and the sound of Merlin's laughter was one he enjoyed. If he hadn't almost died, Arthur would have him pinned on the ground, making him remember who was the Prince and who was the servant. But that would probably only make Merlin feel pain and the druids might not like it either.
"I'm here to take you home, Merlin," Arthur said. He couldn't believe he hadn't actually told Merlin this yet. Merlin's face paled, however, which wasn't something Arthur had thought possible since he already looked very ghostlike. "I spun a story for my father," he quickly explained, "he believes I am actually saving you and Lancelot. He thinks you are both under a spell cast by the druids and that I am here to kill those responsible for the late mess."
"So he thinks the druids are responsible for this," Merlin said slowly, much less enthusiast than that Arthur had anticipated. "They aren't, though, they're completely innocent."
"I know that," Arthur said, "but my father would never believe it and this way, you can return to the city and Lancelot will be free as well. I had to help him escape from the dungeons, Merlin, and if I hadn't spun the story, he might have been executed."
"I know," Merlin closed his eyes for a moment, looking even more exhausted, "I know, but they are taking the blame anyway. How are they ever supposed to...they'll never..." He didn't finish his sentence, only sighed deeply.
"They'll never what?" Arthur wanted to know.
"They only want to be accepted," Merlin explained, "not having to live in the woods anymore, hunted down like animals because of who they are. They want a normal life, for themselves and for their children."
That Arthur could understand. It wasn't that he lived a bad life, on the contrary, being the Prince meant that he lived a rich and wealthy life, but it couldn't be called ordinary either. He often found himself wondering what it would be like to be a simple farmer, to be able to have a life with the woman he loved. With Gwen... He couldn't suppress a faint smile covering his lips.
Merlin's voice called back his attention. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking," Arthur said, still holding on to the image of him and Gwen before a small house surrounded by farmlands, "that we'll never have a normal life."
Merlin smiled. "No," he said, "but it is fun. Adventurous."
"You call dying, coming back to life with painful visions of death that are tormenting you and almost dying again on a pyre fun and adventurous?"
"Well, obviously not those parts," Merlin shot Arthur his famous goofy grin, "but it definitely keeps things interesting."
"You really are an idiot, Merlin," Arthur muttered. Then he rose from his seat and watched Merlin do the same, albeit more slowly. For a moment, he wanted to reach out and help him, but something held him back. He didn't want to offend Merlin, make him feel weak, because Arthur was fully aware that he wasn't anything but weak.
"It's time for another healing spell," Merlin announced, " then I will be as good as new."
"And then we can go home," Arthur said.
Merlin's eyes brightened. "And then we can go home."
He was the first Merlin laid his eyes on. Gaius came rushing forward, an entire set of emotions displayed on his old face. Worry, definitely worry, and fear as well, perhaps for what was still to come. Uther had seen him use magic after all and now he was back in Camelot. Merlin conjured a large smile on his face, trying to ease Gaius and it clearly worked.
When the physician reached his ward, his arms already outstretched, Merlin fell into his embrace. He had thought never to see Gaius again, let alone hug him.
Gaius released Merlin from his grasp and took a good look at him, eyeing him with care as if he was searching for wounds. "Good to see you again, boy," he smiled, satisfied to see Merlin in such a good shape.
"It's good to be back," Merlin said, "I never believed it possible."
A short distance away, two women came running down some stairs. Merlin turned to look at them and he pushed down the memory of his visions. He had seen both Morgana and Gwen and he hated what would happen to them, but he chose to ignore it for now. That future lay far ahead and it was the present that mattered.
"Merlin!" Gwen cried, big tears streaming down her soft cheeks. She flung herself at the servant boy and buried her face in Merlin's shoulder. "I was so afraid," she cried, holding onto Merlin strongly, "but here you are, alive and well!"
Merlin pushed away his own tears that were stinging in the back of his eyes. He didn't want to start crying now. "Oh, Gwen," he whispered, "it is wonderful to see you again." Slowly, he let go of her and his gaze moved towards Morgana. As always, she stood tall, full of pride, and only a little smile curving up the edges of her lips.
Her voice was smooth. "Hello, Merlin," she said, "always full of surprises. You disappear half dead in the arms of Druids, only to appear healthy and well like always."
"It's a gift," Merlin smiled.
Morgana's smile broadened, illuminating her entire face now. "It's a gift to treasure then," she said. She folded her arms before her and shifted her weight. "Good to have you back."
Arthur bowed his head deeply when standing before Uther. He wouldn't be addressing him as his father, but as his King which meant he needed to follow all the rules. Bowing, using the correct words, remaining polite and obedient. Arthur disliked every moment of it.
"Ah, Arthur," Uther said, rising from his throne and looking down on his son, "you have returned well." A polite smile filled his face, but it quickly disappeared again since Uther barely showed any emotion when speaking to his son.
Arthur ignored the behaviour. "The plan went well," he announced, "the Druids responsible are dead and both Lancelot and Merlin are back to their old selves." He watched Uther grew almost glum. It made Arthur feel slightly sick. How could his father feel pleased when learning of the death of innocent people. Though Uther didn't know they were actually innocent, it was never appropriate to feel happy about people dying.
"You did well, Arthur," Uther said, "you have aided our fight against magic."
Arthur bit down hard on his lower lip until he could taste the salty blood on his tongue. He wanted to tell his father exactly what he thought, what his vision on magic was, but of course he couldn't. His father would have him locked in a cell for days, weeks even which Arthur would be able to survive easily, but there was no doubt that Uther would have Merlin exicuted, Lancelot as well.
"Thank you, father," Arthur pushed out the words, praying that they didn't sound too forced. He bowed his head again and turned on his heels. Leaving his King alone, he headed to the one place where he knew he would find his servant. Gaius' personal chambers. And he was proven to be right. Not only did he find Merlin and Gaius there, but Lancelot as well, and Gwen and Morgana.
They all looked surprisingly happy but when their gazes fell upon the Prince, worry and anticipation filled their eyes. Arthur knew what they were waiting for. "He believed it," he said, "Merlin and Lancelot are free."
"Thank the gods!" Gaius exclaimed.
But Arthur sought out Merlin's eyes, but found them fixed on him already. For a long moment, they just looked at each other and then both of them smiled. "Thanks," Merlin said silently, "Arthur, thank you for everything."
Arthur stepped forward until he stood before the seated servant. His hand found its way to his shoulder and Arthur squeezed it lightly. "I'm glad you're still my servant," he told him, "my friend."
Merlin's goofy smile became even bigger which Arthur had thought to be impossible. But everything was alright now, Arthur was certain of it, because Merlin was alright.
AN: Well, that's it. The end. First of all, I want to apologize for the spelling and grammar mistakes because I know there will be a few in this chapter. I tried to filter them all out, but some will have slipped through.
Thanks to everyone who read this story, reviewed, alerted or faved it! It was so much fun to write!