A/N: Set during Goblin's Gold. When I saw this part of the episode, I couldn't help but wonder what on earth was going on in Arthur's head at the time. So here's my version: Merlin's accusation, arrest, and clearing through Arthur's eyes.
Arthur strode quickly towards the throne room. Apparently Gaius had something to say, and wanted a full audience for it, leaving Arthur rather confused. Gaius rarely requested a formal audience. Normally his words with the king were kept private.
He opened the hall doors confidently, striding in to stand before his father's throne. He nodded respectfully to Gaius before addressing his father. "What precisely does this meeting entail, Sire?" he asked respectfully.
"We are about to find out," Uther responded. He looked to Gaius. "What is troubling you, Gaius?" he asked the aging man.
The man held something fairly large, wrapped in a cloth. He made no move to unwrap it yet though. "Yes. I have some unfortunate information to pass on to you. I have discovered that there is a sorcerer living among us."
The reaction was immediate. Father and son both tensed. Uther rose to his feet and stepped forward, standing directly in front of Gaius. "A sorcerer," he repeated. "You're certain?"
"I'm afraid so, my lord."
"Who?" Arthur demanded before his father was able to.
"I regret to say that it is Merlin."
Arthur froze in shock. His father had frozen at the words as well, though it was clear that his silence was due more to suppressed outrage.
"Merlin." Arthur repeated slowly. "As in my servant Merlin."
"The very same."
"As in your ward Merlin," Arthur continued again, as though the physician could have misunderstood his previous question of clarification.
"Of course," Gaius responded, growing impatient. "Everything that's been going on recently—the boils, His Majesty's baldness—Merlin has been responsible for it all."
"Arthur, take some guards and arrest the boy," Uther commanded instantly.
Arthur, in complete bewilderment, bowed his head obediently and turned to leave, glancing uncertainly at Gaius as he left. He was smiling. Smiling! Gaius, Merlin's guardian and no doubt closest confident had just turned his ward over to be executed and he was smiling!
Something wasn't right. Merlin a sorcerer and Gaius turning on him? He wasn't sure which of those two instances made less sense.
He indicated the guards outside the door to follow him as he walked passed, briefly explaining they'd been ordered to arrest Merlin. His father would expect no less. But Arthur had no intention of arresting Merlin. Not until he figured out what was going on.
He thought fast. He needed to get away from the guards and warn Merlin. Merlin had cleaned the stables only yesterday, and he had also recently polished Arthur's armor and cared for his weapons. A brilliant idea hit Arthur. "He'll either be in the stables or in the armory," he lied. "Let's split up. You two check the stables, I'll check the armory."
It was at that exact moment that Merlin decided to round the corner right in front of them. "Arthur!" the boy called when he caught sight of them. He changed direction in mid-step to head towards them. You idiot Merlin! Arthur silently shouted at him. Why, why did that idiot have to have the worst possible timing? "I have to talk to you," Merlin continued.
Arthur hesitated, looking anywhere but at his servant, scrambling for any sort of excuse to get the boy off the hook. The guards looked at him for instruction. He gave Merlin the barest glance before looking away. He didn't want to do this.
"Arrest him," he said reluctantly.
"What?" Merlin responded instantly with the beginnings of one of his uncertain smiles, undoubtedly thinking this must be some sort of a joke. His smile faded as the guards moved forward to do just as instructed, taking both of Merlin's arms and holding him securely. "Arthur what are you doing?"
What could he say? The fear was subtle, the boy's face masked more in confusion. Merlin really didn't know what was going on. If he really was practicing magic, surely he would know why he was being arrested.
They led the supposed sorcerer back to the throne room without another word.
He led the way as the guards brought up the rear with Merlin between them. When they strode back into the hall, Arthur moved to stand to the side, leaving Merlin standing in front of the king.
"Is it true?" Uther asked. Merlin stared on blankly, looking around for anyone to explain. Uther didn't disappoint, "That you are responsible for the…afflictions that I and other members of the court have suffered?"
There was the barest moment's pause of shock. "What?" His gaze shifted to Gaius. It was subtle, but Arthur noticed the anger that grew. Something was definitely not right. "No!" He said firmly, for all people to hear.
"Gaius," Uther motioned. Arthur looked on in confusion as Gaius picked up a large book. It was the same size as his previous item. The cloth had been removed.
"I found this in your room," Gaius accused. "It's a book of spells and enchantments." Arthur's eyes widened. No. Not possible! But there it was: possession of a book of magic was condemning evidence.
But there was no proof that it had actually been found in Merlin's rooms. But why would Gaius lie if Merlin was innocent?
But why would Gaius tell the truth if Merlin was guilty?
"He's lying!" Merlin accused. Arthur winced. Even to his ears, that sounded like a desperate fabrication. But as fake as that sounded, Arthur certainly didn't expect what he said next. "That's not Gaius," Merlin said definitively.
All eyes turned automatically to the physician, who looked completely unfazed. The brief silence that followed seemed to stretch for an eternity.
"What are you talking about?" Arthur asked in confusion. But as confused as he was, this was a possible explanation. Gaius didn't seem likely to turn Merlin in. At least not for anything that would get him executed. If this wasn't really Gaius…Perhaps a sorcerer? Impersonating Gaius would be an easy way to get close to the king.
"He's been possessed by a goblin."
A goblin, Arthur thought incredulously. A sorcerer would have been a better excuse.
"The boy is reduced to making the most desperate and ridiculous accusations," Gaius informed the court incredulously, as though his very honor had been tainted by the insane accusation.
"You seriously expect me to believe Gaius is a goblin?" Uther asked Merlin.
Don't do it Merlin, Arthur thought silently. Just stop talking. We'll figure something out later…But Merlin had no way to hear the prince's projected thoughts and he stammered on. "It—It's controlling him." Only silence met his words. "Gaius is still in there…somewhere," he finished lamely.
Arthur closed his eyes and took a breath, knowing the answer to his next question before he even asked it. But he had to ask. "Do you have any proof of these accusations?" Arthur prayed he said yes.
Merlin almost looked like he was about to cry. "No!" He looked at Arthur in frustration. Arthur knew that look: a look begging for him to listen anyway.
"I fear that magic has corrupted you. It pains me more than I can tell you."
"I really doubt that." The answer was so immediate to Gaius's claim of sorrow, and so full of venom that it triggered a ray of truth in Arthur's mind. Arthur glanced at his father to see what he was thinking of all this, but he could already guess. The look on the king's face only confirmed what Arthur feared—he was having none of it.
"My lord, I have been harboring a sorcerer. For that I offer my sincere apologies," Gaius stated formally, glaring at his ward as though he was the most ghastly thing in any of the smelly potions on his shelves.
"You are not to blame, Gaius. He's fooled us all." Uther also looked upon Merlin in hate.
Arthur hated this. His father was too blind to even consider the possibility that Merlin might be telling the truth. But there was nothing Arthur could do but stand by helplessly.
"It's not me that's fooling you." It was a final, desperate attempt.
"Silence! You have been found guilty of using magic and enchantments. In accordance with our laws, you will pay with your life. Take him away!"
It was all Arthur could do to watch Merlin being pulled from the throne room. He resisted the urge to scream in frustration! Instead, his eyes migrated to Gaius—if he really was Gaius.
There had to be something he could do.
Uther dismissed them all, but Arthur stayed behind.
"He is a sorcerer, Arthur," he replied automatically, knowing his son was about to object. "Even you must admit that was a ridiculous excuse."
"Exactly!" Arthur exclaimed. "Merlin's an idiot, but even he's not that big of an idiot! Why would he make that up? I could think of a dozen different lies that all would have been more believable!"
"It is not for us to comprehend the minds of sorcerers."
Arthur came that much closer to shouting in anger. He barely restrained himself. Why did his father always fall back to that excuse?
"He has been a trusted servant of Camelot," Arthur pointed out. "Have you forgotten the reason you appointed him to me in the first place? He saved my life! The least we could do is investigate his claim."
"Gaius is a trusted servant of Camelot!" Uther spat. "I will not allow his name to be tainted by such lies!"
"If he really is Gaius…" Arthur muttered. Then winced at his mistake.
Uther was furious. "Merlin will be executed at dawn! If you attempt to change that, I will have you locked in your chambers until after his death."
Arthur stared coldly at his father, seething in anger. He wasn't going to sit and watch Merlin die—not without giving him a chance. But he couldn't argue. His father would certainly make good on his threat, and then he wouldn't be able to do anything to help Merlin.
Arthur turned and left without another word.
Apparently, the king had forbidden Arthur to so much as enter the dungeons, leaving Arthur grumbling his complaints all the way back to his chambers. So much for talking to Merlin and making a plan.
He wasn't going to be able to prove anything before dawn. They needed more time. The only way to get more time was to delay the execution, but the only way to do that was to help Merlin escape. It was a temporary solution, but it would buy them their much needed time.
But how could he break him out without letting him know the plan?
He finally resolved to wait until the castle slept and then sneak into the dungeons, even if it meant knocking out his own guards. His father would be furious if he found out—and he probably would. But at least Arthur knew that he would not be executed. He would just have to grit his teeth and take what his father threw at him.
Several hours later, just before Arthur was about to put his "plan" (for lack of a better word) into action, the warning bells sounded.
Arthur punched the air in triumph. He knew it was Merlin. He just knew it. Somehow the idiot had managed to escape on his own. Arthur just prayed he wouldn't get caught. If he did….Unbidden images of Gwen's father came to mind.
"Come on Merlin," Arthur said softly, looking out his window, hoping he didn't see him. Hoping no one did.
"Merlin has escaped. It seems he somehow managed to obtain a set of keys." Arthur had to fight not to smile as he said that. The guards had searched all night, but no trace of the supposed sorcerer was found.
"Escape?" Gaius nearly shouted. "How was this allowed to happen! Incompetence!" Everyone present stared oddly, Arthur especially. There was so much un-Gaius-ness in that sentence. How could no one see it? Shouldn't it at least be proof enough for an investigation? A trial? Anything? Gaius seemed to realize his words were odd. "I didn't mean to speak out of turn my lord," he said to Uther.
Right, Arthur thought bitterly. That fixes it.
"Gaius is right. This is unacceptable," Uther finally responded. Arthur resisted the urge to glare or to sigh in exasperation. "The guards shall be punished."
"I will see to it personally," Arthur answered immediately. If he took charge of that "punishment," he could go easy on them.
Then again, maybe he shouldn't go easy on them. It didn't bode well if Merlin was able to escape unaided. (Even if it had worked to their favor.)
"Search the town. I want Merlin found."
"Yes Sire." Like that's going to happen.
The one good thing about his father being so suspicious and angry with him over this, is that Arthur was not trusted to head the search for his servant, which left him time to deal with other matters.
There was a knock on his door just before it opened.
"Ah! Gaius. Come in," Arthur said as cheerfully as he could manage.
"I believe you wanted to see me," Gaius said, almost humbly. Arthur poured a drink as he spoke.
"I wanted to thank you in person," he handed him the drink. "It can't have been easy for you, exposing Merlin like that."
"My loyalty to Camelot and your father comes first." His answer and his smile were both just a little too quick. Arthur wanted nothing more to smack that look off his face. Any small amount of uncertainty he had vanished in an instant. But he needed something more concrete. He needed Gaius to say something that even Uther couldn't deny the real Gaius would never say. He kept going.
"It is much appreciated. I should also thank you for ridding me of the most incompetent, rude, and lazy servant Camelot has ever known."
"I'm just sorry you had to suffer his ineptitude for so long."
Arthur gritted his teeth to keep from saying some rather stupid words. Then he forced the next words out. "When we catch him, you will see him hang."
Chuckle. "I shall look forward to that." That was it! Arthur nodded solemnly in his triumph. Gaius—or rather the goblin—seemed to notice the change in his demeanor. "Is something wrong?" he asked suddenly."
Arthur set his goblet down and walked around the table. "The Gaius I know would never look forward to seeing Merlin hang, no matter what he'd done." He drew his sword and pointed it at the goblin's throat. "Merlin was telling the truth."
Later Arthur had to wonder what he'd been thinking. He really should have known better than to challenge a magical creature while they were completely alone.
Pain erupted in the back of his head as the vase collided with it. After that, Arthur was lying unconscious on the ground.
He woke up on the floor not much later, his head hurting fiercely. He groaned slightly, lifting his head up for a second before putting it down again as the ache increased. Stealing himself, he pushed himself up to his knees with a groan.
Except, his groan didn't sound like a groan.
Arthur froze, then opened his mouth and tried to speak. All he heard was a loud bray. What on earth?
He reached a hand up to rub his head, and his fingers connected with something quite unexpected. Something…furry.
Confused beyond all else, both hands flew up to his head, as he felt two identical, furry…things sticking up on the sides of his head. As fast as his dizzy head would allow him, Arthur got to his feet and made his way to the mirror, his jaw dropping at what he saw.
He had donkey ears! At least…that's what he thought they were. "What!" he shouted, or tried to shout. All that came out was a particularly loud bray.
He, Arthur Pendragon, was braying!
Oh this was humiliating.
What was he supposed to do now? How was he supposed to confirm Merlin's story if no one could understand him?
He was still pondering that question when there was a knock on the door.
Arthur whipped his head towards the door in a sudden panic. A small bray of surprise managed to escape him as he did. He couldn't face anyone now! Maybe if he just stayed really quiet…
Oh no. Of all people to come see him now why did it have to be her?
"Arthur it's Guinevere."
As if he hadn't already figured that out…
"Can I come in?"
Absolutely not! He nearly cursed himself for trying to say that. Predictably, he brayed his answer. There was a hesitation at the door, before the faint click of a turned handle could be heard.
How was he supposed to face her looking and sounding like this? Arthur did what any man would do—he jumped behind the bed.
"Arthur?" He stayed silent, thinking at her to go away, wishing there was some way she could hear that and listen. Not only did he have donkey ears, not only was he braying, but now he was hiding behind a bed from a woman. This was doing wonders for his pride… "Arthur?" she repeated, sounding a lot closer this time. Arthur braced himself. There was no way to avoid this now.
A moment later Guinevere came into view and gasped. "What's happened to you?" she demanded.
The stupid goblin! That's what happened! More braying. Curse all donkeys for having such obnoxious sounding voices.
"Did Gaius do this to you?"
No. I normally sound like this. Of course it was Gaius!
She almost looked satisfied—which answered the question at the back of his mind of why she was here. She probably came to convince him that Merlin was telling the truth. "He's a goblin."
I figured that much out myself!
She crouched down in front of him, looking at him quite pitifully. Arthur hated pity. "You poor thing…" She reached up and gently stroked one of his ears like she would a loving pet.
A strange sense of elation filled Arthur as his worries melted away…this was so comfortable. A moment later he came to his senses rather awkwardly and brayed his indignation—thankful for once that he didn't have to form actual words.
She reached her hand back with a guilty look on her face. "Sorry." She stood up, looking down on him equally awkwardly. "Merlin's working on a plan," she informed him. Even in his annoyance a bubble of relief filled the prince. Merlin was safe then, if he was working with Gwen… "We'll figure out what to do." She looked at him for another moment before adding, "Stay here."
Arthur brayed his short agreement.
The next several hours were a torment. Arthur could do nothing but pace around the room anxiously as he waited for some scrap of news. He was vaguely surprised that no one had come to see why the prince had disappeared for an entire day. But then again, maybe they just assumed that his father had locked him up to keep him from aiding and abetting a wanted sorcerer. Perhaps the hours would have been more bearable if they didn't give him ample opportunity to reflect on his stupidity.
But, at long last, there was a timid knock on the door, followed by a soft, "It's me."
Arthur hesitated a moment as his mortification set in again, but he'd already humiliated himself in front of her, how could things get any worse? So he opened the door to let Guinevere in.
The moment she entered the room, her eyes flickered to his furry ears, and she seemed like she was fighting back a grin, and failing rather badly. He wanted to object, but settled for glaring at her. He wasn't going to start braying again if he could help it.
"Gaius has requested another audience with the king," she informed him. Arthur felt his heart hammer against his ribcage. What now? Was he about to condemn someone else, as well? "The real Gaius," Gwen finished, correctly interpreting his face. "Merlin and I managed to get the goblin out of him." She held a small vial out to him. "Gaius says that should put you right." With another smile, she left him.
Arthur eagerly downed the contents of the potion, ignoring its horrid taste. He hoped it worked fast enough for him to hear what Gaius had to say.
"You mean to tell me it was you who was responsible for the..uh…the baldness, the flatulence, the boils, and Arthur's donkey ears?" Uther asked. Arthur still felt strangely, though he'd been returned to normal.
"I fear I was my lord. Or at least the goblin was while I was possessed by it."
Arthur fought the urge to grin in triumph. He glanced at Merlin, who stood confidently at Gaius's side. Despite Merlin's obnoxious "told you so" look on his face, Arthur could not begin to describe his relief that this was finally over.
"Magic has the power to corrupt even the most honorable of men." Uther responded. Arthur couldn't help but notice that Gaius did not seem particularly happy with that particular response, but the old man wisely bit his tongue.
"Indeed. Though I must assure you that Merlin was entirely innocent."
Silence stretched between them, and for a moment another burst of fear gripped Arthur. To formally clear Merlin would be to admit he had made a mistake, something Arthur wasn't sure his father was strong enough to do. But then Uther put those fears to rest. "Then he is pardoned," he said reluctantly.
At his words, the box in front of them rattled its protest, making everyone in the room visibly jump. At Gaius's suggesting to lock it up where no one could over get to it, Arthur could only nod his agreement wholeheartedly.
"See that it is placed in the vaults," Uther commanded the guards.
It was over. It was finally over. As Gaius and Merlin bowed and took their leave, it was all Arthur could do to suppress a sigh of relief.
It wasn't until the next day that Arthur saw Merlin again. Merlin came stumbling in with his breakfast tray, relatively on time (relatively meaning as on-time as Merlin ever was.) Despite having been arrested, doomed to execution, and miraculously cleared the previous day, Merlin seemed remarkably Merlin-like. He halfheartedly apologized for being late, chattered on about nonsense, and poked fun at Arthur with thinly veiled insults.
"What's up with you?" Merlin asked finally. "You're being oddly pensive this morning. You haven't even thrown anything at me!"
In response, Arthur picked up his empty goblet and silently chucked it at Merlin's head, which Merlin easily dodged, letting it clank loudly against the stone wall. Merlin frowned at the response. "What's wrong?" he asked.
Arthur just stared pointedly at him. "Merlin," he said slowly, as though this was obvious, "I arrested you."
Merlin stared at him in return. "And…?"
And? And? Why did Merlin need him to explain what was wrong with this picture. "So…aren't you angry with me?"
Merlin slowly blinked, then the bewildered look on his face cleared. "Oh!" he said in sudden understanding. Then he shook his head. "No."
"But why not!" Arthur nearly wined. He'd been busy feeling guilty all night, really not looking forward to the moment he'd meet his servant again.
Merlin shrugged. "You believed me," he said simply. "No one else did, except for Gwen. You tried to help me."
"Fat load of good that did," Arthur grumbled, poking moodily at his breakfast with a fork.
Merlin grinned, then turned to stoke the fire up a bit more. "Ya, you did 'help' rather badly. But at least you tried. Thank you."
Arthur continued to pout at his breakfast, but he felt better. Merlin had forgiven him. It didn't even sound like Merlin had ever actually blamed him.
Merlin took a breath as though about to say something, but then hesitated. Arthur waited for him to get on with it. A moment later, Merlin took a breath again. "Did…" he began, then hesitated again. "Did you ever suspect me? Did you ever think that Gaius might have been telling the truth?"
Arthur pondered the question. Honestly, he had had no idea what to think. He'd been given no time to think. Gaius had simply accused Merlin, then Uther had ordered him to go arrest the boy. He had never had any intention of arresting Merlin. But…that had been a temporary stall. A way to buy more time for him to figure out what the heck was going on.
"I knew you could never be responsible for the courts afflictions," he said at last, hoping Merlin accepted that as an answer.
Unfortunately, Merlin was particularly astute this morning, and seemed to realize the implication of his words. "But…?" he asked slowly.
Arthur fought the urge to twitch in discomfort. "Well…"
"You thought I might be a sorcerer, after all," Merlin finished for him. The look on his face was…well, it made Arthur want to say whatever he had to for that fear to go away.
"I know it was ridiculous," he assured. "You don't have to worry, I know you don't have magic. You couldn't have magic…"
"What makes you so sure?"
Arthur couldn't help but fidget this time. Merlin was really going to make him say it? He wasn't good with things like this…
"You're just…" he let out a sigh of defeat and swallowed his stupid pride. "You're just too damn good to be a sorcerer."
Arthur had expected Merlin to look surprised, pleased maybe, and definitely a bit cocky at those words. He expected the boy to make some sort of jab about Arthur actually complimenting him for once, but the look on Merlin's face just made Arthur's stomach drop.
Merlin looked so resigned, so dejected—like he had just suffered a deep betrayal, not received a reluctant compliment. But Arthur didn't understand. Sorcery was evil, Merlin was good. Shouldn't that make Merlin feel better?
The boy didn't say anything at first, then he nodded slightly. "Thank you, Sire," he said, not sounding thankful at all. He then left the room.
Arthur couldn't help but feel like all his efforts to make this better had, in actuality, made everything worse. And for the life of him, he could not figure out why.
A/N: Yes, that's the end. Hope you liked it! Please leave me a review and let me know what you thought. :) Thanks for reading!