Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I do not own Merlin! All rights belong to the BBC and whoever else owns him...wish it were me...
A huge thank you to MerlinStar for being an awesome beta, thank you so much!
"Merlin, will you please tell me where we are going?" The Crown Prince and acting regent of Camelot glared impressively at the back of the black haired head in front of him. Why Merlin had decided that they had to practically sneak out of the castle at the break of dawn, Arthur had no idea. But since discovering a certain secret that his manservant had been keeping, the prince knew that he would have to comply, or Merlin would simply drag him out. Ever since Merlin had begun to relax enough to use his powers around the prince, Arthur had found his normal comebacks didn't seem to work as well. After all, what good was throwing a goblet at his servant when the said servant could spin it around and chuck it straight back, without moving or saying a word? Arthur had thought he had seen it all with the army of the undead Morgana had used to help her seize Camelot nearly two months ago. But now watching his servant do something like that with no effort at all, Arthur knew he had a lot to learn about magic still.
Things had definitely changed in Camelot since Morgana's betrayal. Arthur had found that his responsibilities had increased tenfold; while his father may still technically be king, it was obvious which Pendragon was truly in charge. Uther simply didn't seem to have any interest any more; becoming a hollow shell of the man Arthur had once looked up to and inspired to be. He wasn't the only one, however. Merlin, too, had felt an increase in his duty to Camelot and Arthur. The time had finally been right, and with a racing heart and pounding nerves, he had plucked up the courage to tell Arthur about who he truly was, almost a month ago exactly. Of course, the prince had merely blinked at him, before saying that he already knew. Whether that was true or not, Merlin had no idea; he was just very thankful that he was still alive. Even more than that, he was grateful that Arthur had given him the chance to show that magic could be used for good, despite everything that he had seen or suffered at its hands.
"We're nearly there, Sire," Merlin called back over his shoulder, not sparing Arthur so much as a glance as he tried to navigate his way under a low hanging branch and almost knocked himself off the horse in the process. Arthur couldn't know, not yet. Merlin had to admit, he was almost as nervous about doing this as he had been when he had revealed his magic. There would be no telling whether Arthur would take him seriously, or whether he would just brush it off with some normal comment about Merlin being an idiot.
Sighing, Arthur nudged his own horse into a trot, determined that he was going to at least keep level with the boy rather than falling behind like he was the servant. It was only the fact that Merlin had called him "sire" that stopped Arthur from turning around and galloping towards his warm bed. The fool only seemed to do that when he was about to spout some deep nonsense that actually made Arthur think about what it was they were doing. Since finding out about his servant's powers, Arthur had to admit, all of Merlin's deep speeches did seem to coincide with a miraculous victory that shouldn't have happened. Of course, now, Arthur knew precisely why that was.
"Merlin, shouldn't you be in the tavern with Gwaine or something equally useless?"
"At dawn?" Merlin asked, sounding more than incredulous as he finally glanced over his shoulder at the prince. Despite trying to keep up, Arthur reluctantly had let Merlin stay ahead. After all, he had no idea where the servant was taking him.
"I wouldn't put it past him," Arthur muttered, instantly causing Merlin to grin. Lancelot had taken well to being back in Camelot, but Merlin wasn't really surprised. The man had finally gained everything he had been striving for in life, and Merlin couldn't help but smile himself whenever he caught sight of the grin on his friend's face as he trained with the knights. Gwaine, on the other hand, didn't quite seem to know what to do with himself now that he had somewhere he could truly call home.
Silence fell between the two men for a while, a companionableness settling between them that years of working side by side had created. From the very beginning, Merlin had been more than just the prince's servant, and now that he knew quite what the younger man was capable of, Arthur couldn't help but think they were well matched. Merlin kept him in check, even Arthur had to admit that. It had been said by many since the warlock had first insulted the prince how much Arthur had changed. But no one seemed to think that was a bad thing.
"We're here." Merlin's voice was quiet, almost hesitant as he reined his horse in, slipping from the saddle as he did so. The young man had managed to create a certain aura of mystery around the area. Waiting until they had secured the horses, Arthur finally turned to face his servant properly. Folding his arms across his chest and raising an eyebrow expectantly, Arthur knew he certainly looked the part.
That was more than could be said for Merlin. Shifting from foot to foot, he didn't seem to know where to start. Arthur had subconsciously registered that the further away from Camelot they had gone, the more anxious Merlin had become. Normally it was the other way around, with the surrounding forests providing him with protection and the chance to be the warlock he truly was. But now, it looked like it was taking a lot to keep him from just running back to the castle.
"Any time today?" Arthur prompted, knowing that if they were going to get anywhere, it was going to be up to him to start the conversation. From thinking that Merlin was incredibly open, it was only now the prince realised just how secretive he could be.
"You know what I can do?" Merlin eventually asked, sitting down cross legged on the ground as he spoke. Rolling his eyes, Arthur joined his servant on the floor, wondering precisely how long this was going to take. With his ever increasing responsibilities, Arthur had better things to do than let his servant lead him on a wild goose chase.
"The levitating sword gave that one away," Arthur muttered, a slightly teasing, affectionate smile playing across his lips as he attempted to get Merlin to relax a little.
"Arthur, the dr-someone told me I had those powers for a reason." Choosing to ignore Merlin's slip of the tongue – he would cross that bridge later on – Arthur lay back where he was sitting, staring at the sky whilst he thought of a way to respond. Despite having accepted his servant for who he truly was, there was a part of Arthur –the part that was still fiercely loyal to his father – that felt uncomfortable when they were talking so blatantly about magic.
"And what reason is that?" he asked casually, throwing a handful of leaves at his servant as he spoke. Immediately squirming away and trying to dislodge them from his hair, Merlin grinned. Arthur's attitude was certainly helping; it was clear that the prince just wanted to get it over and done with. It would have been far worse had Arthur been as apprehensive as him.
"To protect you," Merlin muttered, knowing that the tips of his ears would be beginning to burn.
"As if I need any protection, Merlin."
"And to help you become the Once and Future King."
"The what?" Merlin's last words certainly caught Arthur's attention. Sitting back up again, he stared at his servant in incredulity. He knew he was going to be king of Camelot, heck, he practically already was. But that was certainly a title that he hadn't heard before. The way Merlin's eyes were gleaming as he nodded energetically, Arthur knew this was something that was linked in with magic. His servant always got a certain look about him when he spoke about magic, almost as if he was lighting up from the inside. Arthur knew how he felt though; he got the same reaction when he thought about his kingdom, his people.
"It has been foretold that you are the one who will unite the land of Albion, and it is my destiny to help you do so."
"Merlin, have you been on the mead?" Arthur asked slowly. In reality, his mind was racing through all the things the two of them had done together. Despite Merlin clearly thinking that this speech was something new, Arthur knew otherwise. After all, this was not the first time that Merlin had spouted gibberish about destiny and protection.
"That's what I thought when I was first told," Merlin responded with a cheeky grin, throwing a handful of leaves back at his master. He could remember his reaction to the dragon's words as if it was only yesterday, his stubborn refusal to admit that he was even going to think about saving the royal prat.
"Who told you?"
"No one you know," Merlin muttered, turning away from Arthur slightly at the same time. Although the warlock had opened up more than he had ever believed possible, there were still some things he was keeping from the prince. He didn't think that Arthur would take the news too well that Merlin was the one who had freed the Great Dragon, nor the fact that he could control the creature with ease.
"So what are we doing here? Couldn't you have told me that back in Camelot?" Arthur asked, standing up as he did so. Though the prince would never admit it, his mind was reeling with excitement. It made sense, it really did. The fact that fate had somehow thrown the two of them together... and they had emerged victorious from everything that had been thrown their way. Arthur had never really admitted it to anyone – including himself – before, but he couldn't help but think that the pair of them together was truly becoming an unstoppable force.
"There's something else," Merlin continued, also climbing to his feet. However powerful the warlock was, the servant was still as clumsy as ever, and stumbling slightly, he smiled in appreciation at the hand Arthur automatically stuck out, steadying him. Some things would never change, the prince mused with a half-smile.
"Who's protecting whom here?" Arthur muttered, pushing Merlin upright and smirking as he did so. Ignoring him, Merlin made his way to the edge of the clearing, pushing his way through some brambles. Wondering if his servant had truly lost his mind, Arthur let his eyes flicker over to the horses. Satisfied they were secure; he took off after the warlock, wondering what on earth the boy was going to come out with next time.
"In order to be able to defeat any foe, you need a weapon."
"I've got one! You should know, you've polished it enough times." Arthur exclaimed, wondering where his servant was going with this.
"You think that a sword like that would be any good against the undead?" Merlin asked, stopping where he was and facing Arthur properly, for once looking him in the eye. The prince was frowning again now, and Merlin instantly knew that it was because of his tone of voice. It was normally the tone that had him ducking as Arthur attempted to cuff him around the head, but this time, the prince was preoccupied wondering where this was all going. There had been too many occasions when the foe he had been fighting simply refused to die.
"What do you mean, Merlin?" Arthur's voice was quiet now, a sure sign that the prince was beginning to feel slightly out of his depth. Considering everything his servant had just told him, Merlin wasn't surprised. The warlock had at least had time between one thing another, as his destiny slowly became clearer. By contrast, the prince had just had the whole thing dumped on him without warning.
"There is a sword, Arthur. One enchanted to kill anything. One forged specifically for you. But in the wrong hands, it can do terrible damage... hence why I hid it out here."
"You hid a sword in the middle of a forest?"
"Just... oh just shut up and come and see." Not knowing what else to say, Merlin forced his way through the last part of the bushes. Coming to a stop, he sensed Arthur fall still as he caught sight of the rock in the middle of the clearing. Or more specifically, the magnificent sword standing tall and proud in the middle, the morning sun glinting off the handle. For a heartbeat, there was complete silence.
"Why did you put it in a rock?" After everything that he had just been told, Arthur found that his mind wasn't able to form a coherent response, instead just gazing in wonder at the weapon in front of him. The sword seemed to scream power, even Arthur could feel the magic coming off it. One glance at the smile on Merlin's face, and he knew the warlock was more than aware of it as well.
"Only the man for whom the sword is destined can pull it free," Merlin said quietly. Looking over at him, Arthur had to suppress a shudder. When Merlin spoke like that, it betrayed just how much power the lanky youth had running through his veins. Arthur knew without even thinking that Merlin's power outstripped anything he could do by far.
"And that man is…?" He had to be sure.
"You, Arthur. You are the one the sword is destined for." For a moment, Merlin's words seem to hang heavily in the air between them. It wasn't just the sword they were talking about any more, Arthur knew that. Merlin was telling him precisely what he was destined for, what both of them were. And if he was honest, Arthur found it scared him. Did that many people truly believe he had the strength to unite a whole land, one torn apart by war for so long?
"Oh go on, you prat, just pull it free," Merlin eventually muttered with a shaky laugh, giving Arthur a gentle shove in the back and sending the prince stumbling forward. Arthur made to turn and tell his servant precisely what he thought of his attitude, but found that he was unable to do so. The sword had captivated him, and involuntarily, his feet took him closer. The whole clearing seemed to hold its breath as Arthur stepped up to the rock.
Taking a deep breath himself, Arthur shut his eyes momentarily as his hand closed around the hilt. It fitted perfectly into his palm, and immediately, Arthur could tell what Merlin had meant about him being destined for the sword. No sooner had he come into contact with the weapon when shocks of magic and energy seemed to soar through him. His back straightened instinctively and his shoulders dropped as he stood tall and proud. Watching him, Merlin knew that for the first time, he was truly looking at the Once and Future King. Tears glistened in his eyes as he watched his friend, knowing that Arthur was finally being the man Merlin had seen in him for all of these years.
For a long moment, no one seemed to move. Fidgeting slightly, Merlin felt the moment begin to pass, and yet Arthur had yet to move.
"Arthur? Is everything okay?"
"What is it, Sire, what's wrong?" Barely aware of how frantic his voice sounded, Merlin found himself stumbling further into the clearing. Pausing, he couldn't help but frown at the prince. Arthur wasn't simply standing there as his servant had thought, but instead seemed to be pulling.
"Merlin... it's stuck."