Disclaimer: IDOM, and I actually do not own a part of Arthur's speech-a few lines are lyrics from the song "City of Hope" (Journey: Eclipse ) This song has been such a huge inspiration for this fic, and I really suggest you listen to it in full because it is absolutely incredible how much it parallels with what I feel Merlin dreams for Camelot. Every single lyric relates to either him as a character or the city. Brilliant song.
AN: :) Here's the end, all (YES, THIS IS THE LAST CHAPTER! Lol). I'm sorry it took so long, but I was trying for something special...Do you know how some writers can cause shivers to run down your spine and when you're done reading, you just sit back and think "...WOW..."? That is what I was trying to accomplish here. Not sure if I succeeded, but I assure you that I did my very best to. :)
City of Hope
The cheers echoed through the city, surging in a unified thunder and rumble of sound. The words rang across the battlements, rebounded across the courtyards, towers, and gardens, and carried across the Lower Town. Camelot resonated with the noise.
From hundreds upon hundreds of throats, a shout: "Long live the King!"
Arthur looked out the double doors and out beyond the banister of the wide balcony, staring at the sea of color and movement below. He took a deep breath, the air cutting against his suddenly parched throat, and began fiddling with his protective charm; butterflies fluttered in his stomach, and his feet felt as though they had been suddenly filled with lead. That square had been used for so many sorcerer executions…He banished the thought from his mind.
The feeling was so surreal; he could hardly believe it. Only just a moment ago, he was on his knees, having given his oaths, and had the heavy, golden crown placed upon his head. He was King of Camelot.
It was something he would never forget, something that would stick with him forever—the image of Gwen, Gaius, and multiple others crying, the feeling of being surrounded by smiles of hope and joy…but it was Merlin's smile, a grin broader than Arthur had ever seen before, stretching across his face, that would hold the memory in place for the rest of his life.
Behind him, Merlin, Gaius, Gwen, Geoffrey, and the rest of the council hovered. The council members were staring at him strangely, and they were antsy. They had not heard a single word about his speech, and they were obviously waiting for him to physically pull out the parchment that he had prepared.
It was too bad for them that Arthur hadn't written a single word.
Gaius and Gwen were bouncing on the balls of their feet with worry. Their eyes flickered between the large gathering, to the two young men, concerned for both Arthur and Merlin's well-being if things…did not go according to plan.
Merlin, however, smiled at Arthur. He gave the King a reassuring glance, offering his support and strength, his nervousness only visible in the deepest depths of his eyes and his twitchy fingers.
This is it, Merlin said in his head gently.
He didn't flinch at the contact this time, and he inclined his head in acknowledgement. It was time.
"Good luck," Merlin breathed aloud, shifting his weight helplessly.
Arthur steeled his will, and with a flourish of his scarlet cloak, he propelled himself out onto the balcony, unconsciously holding himself with erect confidence and regal poise. While he took place in full view of the people, whose unified chant had swelled, the others filed onto the balcony silently, lining themselves discreetly along the sides.
Arthur closed his eyes briefly and drove the fear from his mind. He searched for inspiration, the flare and spark he knew burned eternally in his breast, and drawing upon that strength, that hope, and knowing that Merlin was right there beside him, Arthur shook the trembles from his limbs, and fiery determination coursed through his veins.
He raised his gauntlet-adorned hand, and after one more mighty shout, the crowd shuffled restlessly and became eerily silent, eyes intent on the young King.
There had been complete silence for all about three seconds before Arthur heard a loud, obnoxious "Woot!" His eyes immediately swung to the cluster of cloaked Knights, finding Gwaine with his hands cupped around his mouth. He glared at him, and Leon—bless him—smacked Gwaine across the back of the head. Arthur heard sniggers from Merlin and from the Knights, and he failed to keep himself from showing amusement.
As the chortles faded, Arthur suddenly caught sight of a frantically waving hand to the right of his Round Table Knights, melding into the crowd of commoners. To his surprise and utter delight, he recognized the owner of the hand.
Though the Druids had discarded their distinguishable cloaks, there was no mistaking them. It was Enya, sitting high on Kynon's broad shoulders, Aislin standing beside. The little girl's long blonde curls flew about her face, her grin as infectious as Merlin's, grey eyes wide with excitement and awe. This was, after all, her first time seeing the city and castle.
Enya noticed that she got his attention and babbled excitedly to Aislin in an unheard whisper. Aislin shushed her with a finger to her lips and tweaked the little girl on the nose, pointing up at Arthur in an attempt to get her to listen and behave. All the while, Kynon held one of his wife's hands, never dropping it for an instant.
A perfect family.
Arthur's heart began to thump wildly in his chest, and he began to sweat. So many people! The sheer number of people standing there overwhelmed him, and before he could lose his calm confidence altogether, he gritted his teeth and dropped his hand.
"Thank you," Arthur said, his voice steady. "I would like to take a moment to remember my father, Uther Pendragon. May he rest in peace."
There was an unintelligible mumble as they repeated his blessing, bowing their heads in respectful remembrance.
Arthur paused in silence for a few moments, his eyes closed once again. He wished that his father could be there now, and the moment the thought hit his mind, he perceived a presence. It might've been his imagination, but before his eyelids, he saw them…as a feeling, a soft glow, and he knew that both of his parents were there, watching over him and proud.
His father's words rang in his head, "For it was my actions, and my actions alone that began this war—and now it will have to be your actions that either continue it or end it."
Then, Arthur truly began: "Some may hear the name Pendragon and cringe. Many saw my father, having been blinded by his paranoia of magic, as cruel. He was seen as merciless: he ruled with an iron fist, often cutting down his enemies without so much as a second glance. Others feared his temper and his lack of judgment because of it, but all the same, we looked up to him, knowing that he would ultimately lead us through the darkness. He kept us fed and our homes safe. He did what he thought was best for this kingdom and nothing less. Otherwise, he was distant. Only a name. Hardly a face. He was King, and he once told me that a King could not rule the people as well as befriend them.
"I disagreed then, and standing before you now as King myself, I know that I wasn't wrong to disagree."
"This was neither the first time nor the last that I disagreed with my father. He was a hard man to live with. Stubborn," he joked. He was pleased to hear responding chuckles, and his confidence grew. "For most of my life, I watched him never sway in his judgment, and his confidence was inspiring to me. He seemed to bear the weight of responsibility effortlessly, and there was nothing I wanted more than to one day be the King that he was. I followed orders obediently and trained hard, hoping that I would make him proud. It was some time before I realized that I was not Uther and that I never would be. So, slowly, almost unconsciously, I made myself into my own man, and I fought for what I felt was right, not only relying on logic, as my father had taught, but also the heart to make my decisions.
"This is my promise to you. I have said it more than once: I am not Uther. I've been told that I've inherited my father's stubborn head—more generous people might call it willpower—but if anything, I only wish I have inherited his clever intuition and his calm strength and quick thinking in the face of trial and difficulty. And I can only hope that I did not inherit his temperament and guarded nature. This was his failing as both King and father, and I, even if I did inherit these traits, will not repeat his mistakes.
"It is strange. I feel that I hardly knew him until he died. I saw him, more or less, as I have just described him. I did love him, but he was more my King than my father. It was his duty, as it was mine as a Prince. Sometimes, this harsh relationship slipped. Laughter, teasing, some intense near fatal experiences on my part revealed how much he truly cared for me as his son. But the night he died, his last words to me were spoken as my father—there was no King present. Only a father, dying and more open of his love than he had ever been.
"The things he told me!" Arthur exclaimed. "Whether you wish to believe it or not, I assure you that Uther Pendragon was perhaps one of the bravest men I have ever known. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you were wrong—" the crowd had been captivated by his words, but there seemed to be an even higher level of attentiveness as his words took this turn—"to confess that your mistakes had spawned a whole new level of danger, and to apologize for your deeds… that takes even more courage.
"In his last moments of life, he revealed who he truly was. He had been a man, hidden a behind a nearly unbreakable, stony, gravely emotionless mask of sternness and seriousness, but suddenly, he transformed, becoming a man of unquestionable compassion and insight. In his search for forgiveness—for not only being a poor father, but for leaving behind a legacy of fear—which I gave without hesitation, he was finally able to depart peacefully."
Arthur's voice suddenly changed, becoming even stronger, surer, and clearer. "But he did not leave us in peace. The war on magic has left our land divided and its people scarred (1). In our fear, we have hunted them—sorcerers. In their fear, they have been driven to defend themselves, and they have allowed hatred and revenge to fuel their hearts. When will this war end? Whose fear and mistrust will win out? Who will destroy the other? If the fear is not counteracted, we will begin to destroy ourselves… and our beautiful kingdom reduced to nothing more than dust. Our fear, the legacy of the Purge, is driving us further and further from what we can really be and who we truly are. I say we. It is not just them; it is not just us. No, it never had been, no matter how much we believe—believed—it."
There were some confused mutterings, and the crowd shifted, looking like a ripple of sea-waves. Arthur knew that he was being ambiguous, and he did not hesitate or pause, his true opinion near to revealing itself. There was no turning back now.
"I dream of Camelot being a place beyond our fears, where miracles happen and where freedom sings. I see a foundation of faith and trust, a network of love, binding us all. I see a city of hope, where truth can be heard, and it is time for the truth to be heard.
"My father told me the night he died that in order to make my decision—the decision as to how to continue to deal with magic—I had to understand why the Purge began. Before the Purge, I learned, Camelot was a different place. A very different place. Some of you are old enough to remember this time.
"It was a time that magic was not associated with evil. In fact, it had been revered and celebrated, and for those who did not abuse it, they were allowed to practice it and study it to their heart's content. The kingdom was prosperous and peaceful. Don't be mistaken: there was evil and there were some threats, just as there are now, but the difference? Then, we had magic to combat magic. My father had welcomed a sorceress to court, and with her knowledge, he was able to better protect the people of Camelot from those abusive magic-users and Dark creatures of the Old Religion. Her name: Nimueh."
Flinches of recognition made the sea shudder violently. Those who remembered her did not do so fondly—Uther had made sure of that by so cruelly and publicly denouncing her and her kin.
"My father admitted that she was a friend to both him and my mother. Yes, Queen Igraine, King Uther, a high priestess of the Old Religion—friends." A small smile touched his lips at the thought. "He told me that when my mother and he could not conceive an heir, they went to Nimueh for magical assistance. She granted their request, warning them of the consequences: it was a magical law—a life for a life—for one to live, one must die. In the end, Igraine died; I lived. And so, in his blind grief, my father began the war against magic. Yet, there I was, born of magic."
Sharp gasps echoed through the city, and Arthur cringed at the sound. But, as soon as the noise began, it was choked off. Arthur's eyes widened briefly. They had accepted this revelation, their initial, violent shock fizzling to interested curiosity, quite easily. From the corner of his eye, he saw Merlin's impressed face—he obviously had not expected Arthur to make this public knowledge, and he was proud, Arthur could tell, that the young King had had the courage to do so. His stormy eyes were gauging the people now, and Arthur saw that he was just as surprised as he was at their placid silence.
Arthur continued, "It was not magic that began the Purge. It was neither its evil nor its goodness. No, my mother's death and my resulting birth broke Uther—in his mind, magic became the enemy. This was the beginning of the Purge.
"In reality," Arthur said musingly, "I am the true cause of the Purge, and in accordance with my father's law, I should have been executed many, many years ago. To continue to pretend that I am not breaking his law by simply existing is nothing short of hypocrisy."
Arthur saw some nods and the glint of many wide eyes staring up at him. "And this," Arthur said, "is the least of the reasons why I am lifting the ban on magic."
Arthur saw the jerks of the council members around him, but his resolute look was enough to make them keep their silence. He felt their turbulent emotions rolling off of them in waves. On the other hand, Geoffrey was unobtrusively eyeing Merlin with interested eyes, seemingly unsurprised at Arthur's announcement, Gwen and Gaius were watching the reactions of the people, and Merlin was grinning again, his eyes on his boots.
The people…just did not react. Perhaps they simply could not believe that he had said those words. The sea froze over, and then it began to churn and whisper; there were no crashing waves—neither joyous applause nor angry rioting—of any kind. Only whispers, maddeningly incomprehensible.
"Nothing is certain in uncertain times. It is hard," Arthur admitted, "to see beyond the greed and the crime. We have had too many sorcerers and Dark creatures attack our walls and our hearts in the years following the Purge to deny that it is hard and that this change is frightening.
"But, if you think about it, are any of the magic-users truthfully to blame for their actions? Yes and no. I'm sure you understand why yes, but why no? If we had not persecuted them, if we had not shunned them and called their gifts evil and wrong, if we had not hunted them and killed them for their magic, there would be no fear and violence, no injustice and inhumanity. There would be no thirst for vengeance. The Lady Morgana would never have become the enemy that she has become, and we would not be seeing her as our greatest threat in the times to come. She would not have become corrupted by power. If we did not react so negatively to our fear of magic, if we did not have such strong prejudices, she would be standing here with us now, a friend, a daughter, a sister to us all. It is our fault—mostly the Pendragons' fault—that we have suffered at the hands of magic, and it is our fault that we now believe that all magic is evil.
"I cannot reverse the effects of the Purge; I cannot alter history, and I cannot fully repair the sins that my father had committed, but I can begin to stitch the wound together. For the hellish hands of consuming fear and ignorance to stop creeping into our hearts and minds, we need to see the light. And the truth: magic is neither good nor evil—it just is, and we are foolish not to recognize its place in our world. Just as I wield my sword for Camelot and a bandit wields his for selfish gain, a Druid uses his magic for healing and renegade uses his for destruction. There is a choice."
Even from above, Arthur could see the glistening tears, glimmering like tiny gemstones, on Aislin's face. A lump rose in his throat at the sight.
"And this is mine. For peace to ensue and prevail, the ban on magic must be lifted. For that is all I want: peace. This is my vision, and this is our destiny."
The crowd applauded politely. For the majority of those standing there (with the exception of his Round Table Knights and the Druids) that was all it was—tensely polite—and they only did so in respect for their King, their confusion and uncertainty leaking through the rather reluctant applause.
"You probably all think I'm mad," Arthur said softly, an overpowering compassion rising up inside him. The people stilled immediately at the tone in his voice. "Both of my parents' deaths were somehow and someway connected to magic. I have ridden against Dragons, griffins, beasts of hell. I have fought witches, renegades, and a few immortal armies. I have felt the keen sting of betrayal. Yes," Arthur said sadly, "The wounds that my half-sister inflicted during the Bellum Sanguinis still run deep, and her betrayal will never be forgiven or forgotten.
"With all of the horrible memories of troubled times you and I carry, you probably wonder how I can be so sure that this decision will bring peace, how I can be so sure that Camelot will not crumble and burn…how I can be so sure that this is our destiny. When we have seen more evil than good, how can I?
"Because my Knights and I do not ride and fight these evils alone. We do not ride with merely sword and sinew. We ride and we fight with magic at our side."
Merlin's hand flew up to his mouth to cover a panicked squeak, and swaying like a travel-weary sailor stepping off a boat onto land for the first time in days, he whispered hoarsely, only just loud enough for him to hear, "Arthur? What—what're you—?"
Arthur flashed him a smile, and he heard Gwen, whose comforting hand tried to steady him, say in a tender undertone, "He's freeing you."
The young King couldn't have said it better himself, and with strong memories and with an even stronger love, he pressed forward, wanting, more than ever before—wanting so much that it hurt—Merlin to be fully rewarded and recognized for all of his deeds.
"There are two sides to every story. This is the story of a warlock. Well, it is only part of his story. The full tale would take hours to retell—that will come in its own time.
"You may not know this warlock personally, but you should recognize him. He's walked amongst us for years, hidden in plain sight, always watching and protecting from the shadows with a steadfast loyalty. Even out of the shadows, where we all can see him, his loyalty knows no bounds. But it is in the shadows that he uses his magic.
"Without any selfish need for recognition or reward…without regard for his own life, he has flung himself headfirst and armor-less into danger and has emerged victorious, an unspoken hero and savior. More often than not, he stood silent as my knights and I unknowingly took credit for his deeds, and he was never once bitter—maybe a bit amused and maybe a bit hopeless for his situation—but never bitter for it. For all that he has done for us…it is more than fair that I finally reveal and relate just how much he has done, how much he has sacrificed for us.
"With the aid of two other brave men to watch his back, he went after the Cup of Life during the Bellum Sanguinis and broke the enchantment fueling the immortal army, and in the battle for the Cup, he felled the witch Morgause, causing Morgana to flee. We have recently received intelligence that leads us to believe that Morgause will never recover from the injury."
There was a sudden roar from the crowd, and there was a huge movement as people turned to their neighbors, friends, and family and embraced each other. Arthur watched them with a small grin; the news of one vicious enemy's downfall certainly was a cause for celebration.
Arthur waited, his smile broadening, and then he went on, "He, the last of a noble race, born of a Dragon-Lord, befriended the Great Dragon and saved us all from his wrath when he turned on Camelot after his escape. He recaptured the ancient sorcerer Sigan's soul, which stopped the living stone gargoyles from destroying the city. When Cenred attacked last year, he was the one to obliterate the skeleton army, turning the tide of the battle. He has slain more Dark creatures and has thwarted more plans and plots for my death and even my father's death than I can say, and he has saved my life more times than even that."
Merlin's face flushed in his modest embarrassment and grew redder with each word, and unshed tears clung to his eyelashes, threatening to fall, but Gaius, in a fatherly gesture, and Gwen, in a sisterly gesture, had each taken one of his long-fingered hands. This did not go unnoticed by the council, and they, with wide eyes and sudden smirks at the realization of irony, were beginning to see that there was no doubt as to who Arthur was speaking of.
"What I find most incredible: he does not falter in his loyalties. Not once, not ever, nor will he ever. He has been by my side since the beginning…though I took my time realizing it. Without him, I wouldn't be here today, and neither would you.
"But why? Why would a sorcerer help us? Isn't magic supposed to be undeniably evil? This man had every reason to leave us to the mercy of every threat that he miraculously disposed of. His family was torn apart by the Purge; I killed the love of his life. He, having been born with magic, lived in constant fear of execution his whole life, knowing that the tiniest slip could incriminate him; he lived with horrible prejudice, and he experienced, saw, and listened to us all denounce people like him for simply having magic. He had lie to his friends day in and day out, and he had to lock away a huge part of himself. His magic is extraordinarily powerful, and he could so easily use that power for his own gain. But he doesn't.
"So why would he continuously risk his life for Camelot? He has magic; he lives through these injustices and pains—and yet, he protects us all. He had learned to smile through it all, and he pushed through with the hope that one day his gifts will be recognized for what they really are and that one day, he can convince a certain stubborn Prince that he is not evil. That magic is not evil.
"He is no ordinary sorcerer. No, he is much more than that. He was born in a small farming village, but I have met no man more noble. He is the most powerful man I have ever met, but there are none more modest. He humbles himself working as a servant, but he is spoken of in high esteem in Druid Prophecy as being the greatest warlock to ever walk the land. He is wise beyond his years, and he's a goofy idiot at the same time. He's disobedient and obstinate, helpful and compassionate, courageous and trustworthy. He has a sharp wit and wicked sense of humor to match. Whether he knows it or not, I wouldn't be who I am without him, and I wouldn't have gained a friend like him if he hadn't stood up to me all those years ago.
"When I first met him—when he first graced me with his insolent retorts, idiotic smile, and blatant disrespect—I never expected us to come to this…friendship—this brotherhood. If you look back to our infamous Lower Town mace-war and you think about the first time he saved my life—the same day that he became my servant—when we knew nothing of our joined destinies, ignorant to the bond that would grow between us, you never would have expected that Arthur Pendragon and a servant would become friends. And I don't think you'd ever expect him to ask his servant to become Court Sorcerer.
"I found out about his magic just under a week ago, and though I thanked him then, I thank him now, from the very bottom of my heart." Arthur's eyes strayed to Merlin's and locked. "I thank him for going beyond the line of duty, for changing me, for putting up with me, for never failing me, for protecting us all, for giving us another chance to see another day, for simply being…" Arthur paused, severely struggling for the right words, "Merlin."
Arthur gestured for Merlin to come stand at his right side, but Merlin, who was overwhelmed to an incredible degree, merely gave him a dazed look, obviously still disbelieving that this was happening.
Gwen gave him a small shove forward and whispered, "Go on, Merlin."
Seeing that Merlin wasn't going to come forward, Arthur smirked and grabbed Merlin's arm, and he dragged the unresisting, wide-eyed warlock to the front with him, and he turned back to the people, waiting.
It started with one clap from Lancelot. The rest of the Round Table Knights quickly took up the applause…Before Camelot suddenly erupted into applause and cheers. Whistles and shouts of encouragement and support sang throughout the square.
Beside him Merlin exhaled a pent-up breath shakily, and Arthur laughed before ruffling his raven-haired locks.
"I—I can't believe it," Merlin whispered, his captivating eyes scanning the people below.
Arthur grinned, but did not reply, allowing Merlin the chance to soak it all in.
When the crowd settled, faces beaming, Arthur addressed Merlin, "It is time I returned the favor: there is no one I trust more, and there is no one that deserves this more than you, Merlin. Do you accept my offer? "
To his intense surprise, Merlin spoke loudly and confidently, and pretending to be deep in thought, he asked jokingly, "Do I still have to polish your armor?"
The crowd laughed, and the people on the balcony all chuckled, observing the two, King and warlock, with reverence and respect.
"Only if you get on my nerves," Arthur teased. "It's not like you can't magic it clean in less than sixty seconds, right?"
"Prat," Merlin laughed, and with an exhilarated and joyful grin rivaling the one Arthur saw at his coronation, he bowed his dark head and lowered himself to one knee. "To you, Arthur Pendragon," he said, "I swear fealty." His eyes seemed even to glow like pale blue flames in the bright sunlight as they met Arthur's. "I promise to do my utmost to help you in anyway that I can to protect his land, with or without magic, as I always have, and though I accept your offer gratefully and happily, I will forever be your servant. Until the day I die."
Arthur stared at his former manservant, and brushing away his sudden tears, he offered Merlin a hand, saying above the applauding crowd, "Rise, Merlin Emrys, Court Sorcerer of Camelot."
The young man rose clumsily, raising an amused, exasperated, and confused eyebrow at the second name he had been given.
"I want there to be no doubt as to who you truly are," Arthur explained to the warlock alone. "And I want none of them to doubt my faith in you."
Merlin, blushing again, said, "Thank you, Arthur. For this chance, for sharing this dream, for making it a reality… For everything."
"There's nothing to thank me for," Arthur said.
He shook his head, disagreeing with the statement, and he suddenly lost all bravery in the face of the giant crowd, his awed disbelief overtaking him once again. The words that followed were soft and as quiet as nonexistent breeze, but he heard them clearly and smiled. "Do I really have such little faith in destiny?"
"Sometimes," Arthur replied with a hearty chuckle, now feeling light and giddy from the release of anxiety and weight from his chest. "Sometimes."
Arthur shouted to the crowd, "For Merlin, my friend and brother, to live free, and for us all to live in peace, I officially lift the ban on magic. Any person possessing magic will be judged just as fairly as any person not possessing magic, and anyone found abusing their magic for reasons of treason, murder, thievery, and any other crime will be punished fittingly—just as any non-magical murderer or criminal would. My plans beyond fixing the judicial system are extensive. In time, I hope to establish relations with the Druids, and I hope to recover and reinstate some magical education in our children's lives.
"This is the beginning of a new era, Camelot, and I'm proud to be a part of it. Ignorance will be eradicated, fear and hate uprooted. That you have opened your eyes and that you have accepted our vision so readily is already one step closer to what I dream…In time, Camelot will truly become a city of hope."
Merlin began to grin at his boots again, and he remained at Arthur's right side in front of the people as they, once again, began to cheer, where he would remain always.
It was then that they all heard a beautiful sound—music of a sort. It was magical, ethereal, and eerie, spoken in an ancient, powerful language, and Arthur felt his heart fill with hope for the future. He had heard this voice, this language, once before, and even as Merlin immediately turned his brilliant, amused, and exasperated gaze skyward and as the people began to point at the sky and shout in both terror and amazement, he knew that he was listening to a dragon's song. The song.
Once the enchanting music ceased, Kilgharrah released a satisfied jet of golden flames, and he winked at Arthur and Merlin before straining his wings upward and away, sailing the winds and cutting through the cloudless, eternal sky of that magnificent, unforgettable day.
The feast was extraordinary. The council members, Gaius, knights and Round Table Knights, visiting noblemen and noblewomen, Lords and their Ladies, Gwen, Merlin, and a few special guests—including Aislin, her respected mother and camp healer, Faye, Enya, Kynon, and his father, the leader of their camp— (the people were spending their day off work celebrating as they wished) all congregated around the massive table, piled with heaps upon heaps of steaming food and jugs upon jugs of sweet wine, which Merlin avoided, saying in an undertone to a whining and teasing Gwaine, "I wouldn't want to scare them all off. It is only the first day."
Arthur and Merlin, much to his embarrassment, had been questioned nonstop, and Merlin's magic, the Druid's and Kilgharrah's presence, and Arthur's plans concerning magic overtook much of the conversation.
Merlin was uncomfortable at the beginning of the feast and incredibly shy, but slowly, he began to regain his cheeriness and his humor. Despite the presence of nobility, he was being himself… completely himself—to Arthur's surprise, he even used some magic openly when Enya nearly dropped some food onto an expensive dress—and the look on some of the stuffy Ladies' and Lords' faces in reaction to his quirky ways and behaviors was hysterical. The best part was that they could hardly complain about his lack of protocol. Not without the possibility of offending one very bizarre and powerful sorcerer, one King, or one group of extremely protective Knights.
Merlin's face seemed to be permanently molded into a smile as more and more subtle signs of acceptance, comfortableness, and awe appeared and revealed themselves. Arthur, Gwen, and Gaius, all three glowing with pride, watched him often, and by being so open and so friendly, Merlin caused most of the lingering fear to fade without a trace.
There was one incredible moment when Geoffrey, who came in late for reasons unknown, in front of everyone, bowed to Arthur in congratulations and then to Merlin. He had stuttered, "It truly is an honor, Merlin Emrys."
Once Geoffrey had taken a seat, a semi-disgruntled Merlin had muttered to Arthur, "Looks like that is going to be permanent."
Arthur had laughed, and then, when Gwen worried that Morgana would recognize the name and realize who he really was, Merlin, too, began to laugh. Even Gwen dropped her worries and couldn't help but giggle as well.
It was just…indescribable—how Arthur felt, seeing Merlin in his true place, interacting with those around him in a way he never had before—the lost look gone from his eyes, the secrets lifted from his face—and as those around him opened their eyes and saw as he saw, he had never felt more proud of anything he had ever done.
He had not failed Merlin.
It did not surprise him when Percival caught his eye and jerked his head towards the door. In fact, he had been expecting it. What surprised him was the fact that Merlin had lasted this long.
As happy as Merlin was about the reaction to Arthur's announcement, Arthur knew that, at some point, it would be too much for the warlock and that he would need to have some time alone to think. After something like that…well, Arthur could understand why someone would want some time alone. And it was a notorious habit of his, after all—sneaking off.
Arthur excused himself from the table, and after extracting something that he, in clever foresight, had asked Gwen to place under his chair before the feast, he kissed Gwen and followed Merlin.
He found the young man where he thought he would, perched on the wall overlooking the entrance to the city, watching the sunset and hugging his knees, a few tear-streaks staining his scarred cheekbones.
Arthur slowly approached, the package under his arm, to make sure he didn't startle him. Merlin acknowledged his presence with a small smile, and for a moment, the two stood in companionable silence. They didn't need to talk. They just needed each other there to share their unspoken thoughts, which ran in sync and in perfect harmony.
"I have something for you," Arthur finally said, taking the gift out from under his arm.
Merlin looked at Arthur curiously and then at the lumpy item Arthur placed in his hands.
Merlin gave him a stern look. "After today, do you really think I need or want anyth—"
"Just open it, you idiot," Arthur interrupted.
Merlin saw the eagerness in Arthur's eyes, and with a reluctant smirk, he tore at the messy paper packaging and pulled out a long, midnight-blue hooded cloak.
He blinked and began to laugh, hot tears of mirth welling up in his eyes, and he doubled over, trying without success to catch his breath. "Is—is this—" he managed to say, clutching at his ribs, "Is this what I think it is?"
Arthur watched his friend with satisfaction for his reaction, and he said, "Yes. I know how much you liked it as Dragoon…and it seemed fitting to me."
Merlin wiped the tears from his face and gleefully threw the cloak around his shoulders.
Arthur took a step back and surveyed him. "Now all you need is your staff and a beard, and it'll complete the picture!" Arthur joked.
Merlin gave him a playful shove, and the two young men broke out simultaneously into snorts and laughter, all of their anxieties gone, all of their doubts disappeared. All that remained: friendship, love, and hope. And complete giddiness.
They laughed with relief, relief that Destiny had indeed prevailed and that they, her messengers, had saw through what it was that they needed to see through. They laughed with the realization that they were free and that their dream was now real and that Camelot was on its way to something greater than it ever had been before.
Even though they knew their work was hardly done, even though they knew that the change that they had pressed was going to bring new, trying challenges, even though they knew nothing but everything would be the same, they laughed.
They knew that Merlin would face some anti-magic prejudice for a little while. They knew that Arthur would struggle adapting to the responsibilities as King. They knew that Morgana would come.
And they were going to be ready.
But those were worries for another day and another time. Today, they had sought to confront fear and had won the battle. Today, there was every need for celebration. Arthur Pendragon was King; Merlin Emrys was Court Sorcerer. Everything was as it should be.
Finally, when their laughter calmed, Arthur said, "C'mon, Merlin. We don't want to be late."
Before dismissing the people, he had invited them to a bonfire at nightfall to honor the innocents—those who had magic and those who had been falsely blamed alike—who had been executed during the Purge and all others that fell as Uther continued to fight magic.
"Would you like to do the honors?" Arthur asked him. "Would you like to start the fire?"
Without hesitation, Merlin agreed, seeing that Arthur thought it would send a more powerful message of forgiveness and repentance if the newly instated Court Sorcerer was to do it with magic. "I'd be honored."
They—two of the most powerful men in the world, the two whose legend would inspire millions and create a new form of magic— began to walk side-by-side, Arthur's scarlet cloak and Merlin's midnight cloak billowing about their boots as they teased and bickered with each other.
They were walking forward into unknown territory, nearly blind, but they weren't walking alone, and they weren't hesitating for the briefest moment.
Because, really, what was the point in doubting destiny?
AN: (1) Line inspired by Zuko's speech in the finale of Avatar: the Last Airbender
Another thrilling ride, guys. Thank you so much for reading! I hope you've liked it and that it wasn't too disappointing for you.
Do I have any plans for a sequel to this sequel? Not at the moment, and I'm pretty sure that it is going to stay that way. But, I may do some one-shot companions. I was already thinking of writing the full Whump scene in this fic (when Godwin sends Samuel to dispose of Merlin before heading to kill Arthur), for one. Quite honestly, I don't think I could do another multi-chapter fic during the school year. This one really wore me out. :P
Enjoy the rest of series 4!
Edit 06/12: What I've said above is kinda null and void, seeing as there is now a sequel... ;)