Title: Choice – Not Chance
Characters/Pairing:Merlin/Arthur, Arthur/Gwen, Gwen/ Lancelot, Merlin/Godric(very mild) Hogwarts Founders, Knights.
Word count:4,400 ~
Disclaimer: Ah...no. Anything you recognize belongs to either BBC/Shine or JKR. This Archimedes the owl is inspired by Disney's Sword in the Stone.
Summery: Merlin receives a letter from Godric Gryffindor, asking to visit Camelot to recruit more children to the new school they are building. Arthur is not happy.
Notes/Warnings:This was written before S4. Arthur is King, but Lancelot's death is disregarded. As is the Arthur/Gwen story arc in S4.
||castles will stand for thousands of years
my heart will crumble without you near||
"...do you think, Merlin? Merlin?"
"Hmm? Oh! Er..."
King Arthur rolled his eyes at his Court Sorcerer. "That's what I thought." The assembled knights of the Round Table and Queen Guinevere laughed, not unkindly.
"Well, you're talking about grain reserves. It's not the most scintillating of subjects," Merlin complained, fashioning his mouth in a pout. Determined to give off the Icouldn'tcarelessaboutwhatwearediscussing vibe, the most powerful Warlock in all of Albion took to staring at his nails.
There were snorts all around. It was a well known fact that Merlin would rather be doing almost anything – even cleaning up after Arthur again – than sit through the tortuously dull council meetings Arthur forced him to come to. Merlin saw Arthur give him an exasperated look out of the corner of his eyes. "We are not, actually, talking about grain reserves anymore," he informed Merlin. "Which you would know if you weren't busy looking out the window at every passing speck of dust."
Merlin wanted to protest and say he wasn't blankly staring at dust. He was actually looking out the window waiting for a very important missive. But explaining that would take too much time, and Arthur would only ask more inane questions. So, instead, Merlin gave a shallow bow with just his head, a mockery of a true bow worthy of a King. "My apologies, your highness." It was difficult keeping a smirk off his face, but Merlin managed only just. Gwaine winked at him from across the table. This time, Merlin did smirk.
Some of the knights who had known Merlin from his manservant days exchanged knowing looks at Merlin's tone toward the King. The newer knights, on the other hand, looked downright scandalized, even though it was a well known fact throughout citadel that the King tolerated such insolence from no one but his Court Sorcerer.
"Pray tell what you need my invaluable advice on this time," he said, forcing his face in some semblance of a Serious Expression.
Arthur sighed, but didn't comment on Merlin's jesting tone. "We were discussing the rumors spreading through the country. About this supposed sword that won't detach itself from her place in a stone no matter who tries to claim her."
"Rumors?" Merlin blinked. "Oh. Oh!" Then he beamed widely at the table at large, startling its occupants. "Why, you must venture out and try your hand at it, sire." The knights turned suddenly sombre, all joking glances gone.
Arthur raised a questioning eyebrow at that. He looked to an equally confused Gwen sitting on his other side, who in turn looked at a frowning Lancelot. Clearly, Merlin was missing something in this Exchanging of Very Important Looks.
"What?" he demanded.
Lancelot frowned some more. "You, er. You don't think it might be a curse of some sort?"
Merlin gave Lancelot an affronted look. "Of course it isn't cursed." Just then, a beautiful Eastern-Screech owl flew through the open window, carrying a rolled parchment in it's claws. "Ah, Archimedes. There you are."
Archimedes circled the room once, twice (almost clawing Arthur's ear off the second round) before landing on Merlin's outstretched arm with a self-satisfied hoot.
Arthur glared, rubbing his ear exaggeratedly. Honestly, Archimedes didn't mean to hurt Arthur. "That ruddy bird is a menace."
Archimedes glowered at him and opened his beak to squawk at Arthur, before Merlin ran a soothing finger down his head. "Behave," he said warningly to both Arthur and Archimedes. The surrounding knights did a poor job of hiding their amusement.
The owl huffed indignantly, waited until Merlin had removed the missive and took off to his perch in Merlin's tower to get some much needed sleep after his long trip.
Arthur glared after him. "I'm telling you, he hates me."
It was Merlin's turn to roll his eyes, while the knights tried to hide their smiles. It was a well known fact that ever since Merlin had met Archimedes, he and the King did not get along. "He does not. He just..."
"Hates him?" Gwen offered.
Merlin smiled at her and pushed away from the table. "If I may, your highness?"
"Yes, yes. You may leave." Arthur waved a dismissive hand. Merlin bowed (properly, this time), and was almost at the door to the council chambers when Arthur called him back.
"The sword, what about the sword?"
Merlin smiled at him. "Claim it for yourself, sire... It was made for you after all."
"It was –" Arthur shook his head disbelievingly, a slight smile on his face. "Of course it was made for me."
The day Arthur pulled his sword out of the Stone, Merlin wasn't there. In later years, legend would say Merlin was right there with Arthur, declaring him the true King of Albion. But the truth was – see, the truth was, Merlin was five leagues away trying to stop a vengeful sorcerer, named Tim (and wasn't that a disappointing name for someone trying to kill the King?) from getting to Arthur. Again.
So Merlin actually missed the whole ceremonial, symbolic pulling out of sword from stone. He came stumbling through the shrubbery, right sleeve torn, scratches on his face, blood soaking through his tunic (not his own, of course) and found Arthur standing with one foot on the stone, magical sword already in his hand, raised toward the heavens as the knights around him roared in support of their King. Then, then – Merlin always kept this part out of the legends he spread throughout the millenia – Arthur's sea blue eyes met Merlin's cerulean and he gave one nod. It said everything without saying anything at all.
There was a feast that night. Arthur named his new sword Excalibur. After that day, he never went anywhere without her.
For all that Merlin complained about Arthur making him sit through hopelessly boring council meetings, the truth was that Merlin didn't leave his tower for days on end sometimes. Now that he didn't have to practice magic in secret, and could access the books Geoffrey and Gaius hid away during the Purge without looking over his shoulder, he had much more time to learn.Arthur always added 'By error more than trial.' Which Merlin could not truthfully deny.
Archimedes was an error.
Sometime after Uther's death, between Arthur mourning and being crowned King, Merlin had the bright idea that he wanted to learn to fly. It was mostly because Arthur had wanted to get away from the oppressive atmosphere of the castle, and Merlin relished any opportunity where Arthur asked him to show him magic. He still swore to this day he hovered for a few inches, no matter what Arthur said. Really, he did. But anyways, there he was hovering ( no, not standing on his tip toes, Arthur) when there was a surprised hoot, flurry of feathers, and the distinct sound of something falling from a tree nearby.
This was followed by some colorful swearing that would make even the bawdiest of stable boys blush. When Merlin and Arthur inched closer to inspect the source of this swearing, they found it was not, as they had initially suspected, a man. Rather, it was an owl. And owl who cursed and stomped and squawked and hooted hotly until he realized the two dim witted humans (his words, not Merlin's) watching him could actually understand him. He insulted Arthur first because of his utterly gormless expression. Merlin, more used to animals doing unexpected things around him, had taken it more or less in stride.
Hunith had always been adamant in teaching Merlin as much as she could. Having grown up with Gaius (a scholar's son) she knew quite a bit of the scholarly arts, which she passed on to Merlin. So when Merlin realized Archimedes thought too much, constantly pondering on this or that, Merlin knew what to name him. Thus the name Archimedes derived from the Greeks. Luckily, the temperamental owl had accepted it without complaint.
Merlin and Archimedes had been inseparable since then. Anyone, be it man, woman, child, animal, (or in this case) bird, who called Arthur a 'brain dead, trollish, brute-like clotpole' – well. They were most definitely on Merlin's list of People Whom He Must Befriend Immediately. Merlin loved Archimedes. Understandably, Arthur did not. The whole brain dead, trollish, brute-like clotpole may or may not have had something to do with that.
Archimedes was still a free bird, but he would occasionally do Merlin a favor. Like bring him rare supplies from far off lands to where Merlin himself could not travel easily, or kill the pesky rats in his chambers. Or, he would, say... deliver a letter to someone who communicated to him via the fireplace in his tower. And called it Floo.
Yes, he really did.
Godric Gryffindor first got in touch with Merlin five full moon cycles ago. It had been late into the night when the dying fire had suddenly flared brightly and a scrap of parchment was floating to the hearth in front of it.
DearestWarlock, the letter read.
This may seem abrupt and a tad presumptuous. Forgive me. I am Godric Gryffindor from the moors of North Humbria. I call upon you as a representative from these northern lands for the purpose of furthering the teachings of magic throughout the land. As the troubled times for magic folk in your lands dwindle, I ask, nay, beseech you consider my offer.
We, that is to say, my dearest friends and I have started a school. In secret, of course, for there are still many who hate our kind and would persecute us without a moment's delay. However, magical education should not be limited to only those from our regions. I am sure there are many in your parts who possess the gift. They too, should have this opportunity to learn. We wish to give them this opportunity.
I hope you give this proposal thought.
Until then, I am,
Merlin's stomach had fluttered in excitement. The thought of saying no had not even occurred to him. Correspondence had been struck, and Merlin and Godric Gryffindor had written frequently. Over the course of their conversations, he found out who these 'we' were, and been informed that Godric had located him because his power had shone like a beacon across the lands. He had insisted on calling Merlin Emrys in the early days, but Merlin had quickly disabused him of the notion.
Merlin had written back saying he would love nothing more than to promote this school of theirs, and that he would most assuredly find young boys and girls with magical talents and herd them their way. At first he hadn't known how to deliver the letter to Godric, not knowing the secret of fire communication. Archimedes had come up with the bright idea of taking the letter to Gryffindor himself. Merlin had been doubtful at first, but Archimedes had glowered him into submission. Needless to say, the letter had been delivered safe and sound within three days.
Merlin didn't tell anyone in Camelot about Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff, Salazar Slytherin and their school. It was just something he wanted to keep to himself. For now, at least. When Arthur asked why he was going door to door across the town and out-lying villages, Merlin shrugged and said he wanted to help families with children like him. He didn't tell Arthur he talked to them of the school up in the north where they would learn more magic than they imagined.
Godric's latest missive, the one Archimedes brought in while he was in the Very Boring Meeting in the council chambers, asked if they could come to Camelot for some time to meet the children Merlin had judged gifted in the magical arts. He sighed. This would not be easy.
Merlin took a deep breath and prayed for patience. He rather required it when Arthur decided he wanted to be exceptionally difficult. It wouldn't do to get as fired up as Arthur right now.
"Sire, it is beneficial to Camelot to have magical alli –"
"So you want them to come here? To Camelot?"
It was lucky, Merlin thought, there was no one other than Gwen, Lancelot, and Gwaine here to see Arthur yelling at his Court Sorcerer in such an un-kingly fashion. His face held a slightly red tinge to it; proof that Arthur was more than just a little annoyed. Though Merlin couldn't understand for the life of him why.
Well... maybe he might. Just a tad.
"It isn't just for me," Merlin defended. "It's for all the children of the realm who have no guiding hand. They need someone to teach them. Someone to help them harness these powers for good."
Arthur paused his spluttering for a moment. Merlin knew the stubborn king could find little fault in this logic. However, he soon pouted petulantly like the arrogant prig Merlin knew him to be (Druidic prophesy be damned) and said, "You can teach them, here in the castle."
Merlin rolled his eyes. He had known Arthur would try to make this argument, and Merlin already had just the words to counter it. "I cannot. Half the time I'm trying to sort out this magical catastrophe or that accident. And if I'm not doing that, I'm running after you to make sure you don't get yourself killed. If it's not that, I'm spending the rest of my time fortifying Camelot against her many enemies. Tell me, my King, where am I supposed to find time to help the magical children of the realm between all that?" Merlin added, "I had Gaius. He helped me harness my powers and mold them. Every child deserves that." There was a pause where Arthur and Merlin stared each other down in a silent battle of wills.
Arthur stood tall and golden in front of his throne in Camelot red, the crown upon his head brilliant. His eyes held the fierce stubbornness that made most everyone (except Merlin, of course, because someone had to stand up to him) tremble; his regal jaw was set just this side of arrogant. Merlin himself tilted his chin upwards as a unspoken challenge. He kept his gaze a delicate balance between adamant and insolent (although, maybe, just maybe, it veered more towards the latter). The other three occupants of the room held their breath, waiting for the King to pass his verdict.
Eventually, Arthur released an angry huff through his nose. His eyes skittered sideways for half a second before landing on Merlin once more. "Fine. They shall be my guests." The childish iftheymust was left unsaid, but Merlin heard it nonetheless.
Merlin may have grinned just a little triumphantly.
Arthur scowled. "Shut up, Merlin."
Three weeks later found the Court of Camelot waiting in the citadel's courtyard waiting for it's first Very Important Historic Foreign Magical Visit. It was all very pretentious and frivolous and exciting.
Civilians from the lower town had gathered as well, all waiting for the new sorcerers to show themselves. Merlin would be lying if his nerves weren't jangling excitedly.
Next to him, Gwaine put a soothing palm on Merlin's shoulder. Merlin leaned into the touch slightly. "Calm down. Your acting like a skittish colt."
"I feel like a skittish colt," Merlin answered under his breath, causing the knight to chuckle under his breath.
Merlin didn't voice what he was really worried about. He knew everyone awaiting their guests' arrival expected them to come trotting up the courtyard's main entryway. He, however, having had intimate knowledge of magical folk, knew their entrance would not be so simple.
He was right.
After an uncounted amount of time, there was a loud rustling noise followed by a windstorm in the courtyard. It was reminiscent of the dust storm Merlin had created in Ealdor all those years ago. Arthur glanced at him, eyebrows raised. Merlin grinned and shrugged; there was nothing to say. Other people were not as understanding. Some screamed while others watched, fascinated as the storm slowed until it died out and in its place stood a dark wooden, horseless carriage with intricate designs on the sides. Upon closer inspection, Merlin found they were animals: a lion, a raven, a badger, and a snake.
Out stepped three people whom Merlin could name just by the descriptions Godric had provided him in their many magical missives. The first one, a man with light colored hair like Arthur's, clad in red and gold, was none other than Godric Gryffindor. Merlin looked him up and down, tallying this real image of Godric to the one he had created in his mind's eye. Yes, he had the same chiseled jaw Merlin had imagined, as well as the bright green eyes (although he wouldn't be able to tell you why he thought Godric would have green eyes), and broad smile that seemed to always resonate through his letters.
Godric held the door open for the other two occupants to step out. The second to follow was a tall, dark haired woman with the sharpest violet eyes Merlin had ever seen. She crackled with undefined energy and reminded Merlin of... well, she reminded Merlin of Morgana. Strong, yet with a certain vulnerability about her. Her clothes were flowing robes of royal blue with bronze lining around the seams of her cloak. Last came a woman who was doubtlessly Helga Hufflepuff, with hair lighter than Rowena's but darker than Godric's. She had a kind face and easy smile on her. Merlin immediately relaxed when he saw her.
Merlin waited, only just stopping himself from running down the steps to greet his guests. This was a historic moment, and Merlin didn't want to ruin it by being his usual bumbling self. Although, it was quite difficult to keep his smile controlled.
The newcomers bowed deeply to Arthur first, then Guinevere, and lastly Merlin.
"Lord Gryffindor, Dame Hufflepuff, Lady Ravenclaw. Welcome to Camelot," Arthur greeted, as gracious as any King. If Merlin didn't know any better, he would have said this trip was all Arthur's idea.
Except, Merlin did know better, so he saw stiffness that belied Arthur's geniality. He only just resisted rolling his eyes at his King's guarded gaze. Despite Uther being gone for three years, Arthur was still wary of any magic and magic wielders who were not Merlin. Though Merlin did not blame him, he wished Arthur would be a little more warm toward their guests.
"'Tis our greatest pleasure," Dame Hufflepuff said. She turned to Merlin. "An honor, Emrys, to meet the greatest Warlock of our time."
Merlin frowned in a joking manner."It is Merlin, for I shall call you Dame Hufflepuff your entire visit here otherwise."
"Surely not," Lady Ravenclaw chirped from behind Helga. "Helga detests the title." She presented her hand forward for Merlin to kiss.
"Indeed, I am aware," Merlin told her as he looked up at her from underneath his eyelashes with an impish grin. "My lady."
She gave a tinkling laugh at Merlin's silly antics. "Oh, Godric. You hadn't exaggerated his charm."
"There was no need, Rowena." Godric extended his own arm to Merlin to shake in a friendly manner. "Although, I must agree with Helga. It is an honor to be standing here. In both your presences." He added hastily when he realized he had forgotten the King.
Arthur raised on eyebrow, clearly unimpressed at the half-hearted save. "The servants will show you to your chambers. I'm sure you want to freshen before the feast after your..." He glanced suspiciously at the horseless carriage standing in the middle of the courtyard. "Journey."
A few hours after arrival of Camelot's latest guests Arthur huffed, and he puffed, and he wished he could blow the castle down from just his rage but he didn't have the power. Maybe Merlin did.
"I don't trust them," he finally blurted out to Gwen and Lancelot who were sitting in the King's antechamber with him while he attempted to sort through some tedious reports.
Gwen snorted delicately from her relaxed perch on the chair nearby. She didn't even have the courtesy of looking up from her book. "There's a surprise."
Arthur pouted in a very pleasing way that worked on everyone but Merlin. But he was just special that way. True to his prediction, Gwen softened her mirthful gaze a little. "They're magic," he hissed mostly to himself, but Gwen and Lancelot both heard him.
"Don't let Merlin hear you say that," she said with a reproving glance. "Personally, I think they seem quite nice." Next to her, Lancelot nodded agreeably like the besotted sap and Queen's Champion he was. Although, no one apart from the three of them knew of Lancelot's secret position as Champion.
"You're supposed to agree with me, oh, First Knight of the realm." Arthur scowled disapprovingly at Lancelot.
It took Lancelot a few more seconds before he looked away from Gwen. "If I may be so bold, your majesty. Perhaps you should ask yourself why you really distrust them so. Or should I say, him, in particular?"
This only caused Arthur to frown more fiercely. "I just do! And I'm your King, you're not allowed to be bold until I say it's okay."
Lancelot gave a respectful bow, but there was a small smile on his face. It reminded Arthur of how his father looked at him when he was only a babe and was being a spectacular brat. It didn't make him feel much better when he saw a similar smile on Gwen's lips. He slumped in his chair – not at all petulantly, thank you very much – when the door to his chambers banged open.
"I swear by Merlin's insolence, no one respects me properly around here." He glared at Gwaine. "You're supposed to knock before you enter the royal chambers, you know?"
Gwaine smirked. "Yes, your Queen-liness. I'm only here to remind you of the feast in honor of our guests."
Arthur peered at the rouge knight. "I wasn't going to skip it, if that's what you're worried about."
Three pairs of eyebrows were raised at him in an uncanny impression of Gaius. "Well, wasn't thinking on it too seriously," he grumbled under his breath, and then decided he really should lay down the law more strictly. He was King, dammit.
And anyway, he mused as he walked to the banquet hall with Guinevere on his arm and Lancelot and Gwaine flanking him, it wasn't as if he particularly disliked them. Much.
It was just... well, Godric Gryffindor wore red and gold. Like Camelot red and dragon on the flag gold. It wasn't fair. They were Arthur's colors, not something – something a run off the mill sorcerer with a stupid title like Lord could just snatch them and use them for himself. It just wasn't done.
When Arthur entered the hall, he saw Merlin already seated at the High Table with Archimedes perched on his shoulder, waiting for Arthur and Guinevere. Camelot's guests were already seated there with him. Dame Hufflepuff sat on the far right, between Gwen's and Lancelot's seats. Godric Gryffindor sat between Arthur's high chair and Merlin while Rowena sat on Merlin's left, putting her between the Sorcerer and Gwaine. They were all dressed in the same colors as they were before, though the clothes were different.
Everyone stood and bowed as their King and Queen walked up the aisle leading to the High Table. Arthur only just managed to contain his scowl at having to sit next to Lord Gryffindor making polite conversation. He turned to face his people and gave a small speech about welcoming a new era and new friends, topping it off by asking everyone to enjoy the feast.
"I think it is an ingenious idea," Arthur heard Lady Rowena say down the table. "Using a bird as intelligent as an owl to send your letters to us, Merlin."
Archimedes ruffled his feathers in appreciation of the praise. Arthur glowered at his roasted boar. Merlin chuckled, stroked Archimedes' head, and said, "I could have asked for no one better. Yet, your Floo fascinates me."
"It was an invention of Salazar's," Godric explained. "His and Helga's. We had been discussing the demerits of traveling hundreds of stairs for the purpose of one sentence messages when Helga came up with the idea. I still haven't the foggiest how they did it."
"It's quite sad Master Slytherin could not make it," Merlin said with adequate sympathy.
Godric waved a dismissive hand and grinned brightly at Merlin. Arthur was vexed to note Merlin returned his smile. He didn't smile at Arthur like that. He mostly gave Arthur indulgent little smirks. "Salazar is quite a recluse. Doesn't come out of the dungeons unless we force him. Hell, he'd forget to eat if Helga didn't have regular meals sent to him three times a day. He's happier with just the apprentices underfoot. Likes tormenting them, you see."
"Speaking of apprentices," Rowena piped up from next to Merlin. "When are we going to meet our potential students, Master Merlin?"
"As early as tomorrow morning, m'lady. I have invited the parents to bring their children to the castle to meet you." Merlin smiled unreservedly. Arthur thought he saw the Lady Rowena flush just a little. He clenched a fist under the table.
"Excellent," Godric commented. "I look forward to meet the charming little ruffians."
Gwen looked scandalized at the children being called so, but neither Merlin nor Helga and Rowena said anything in protest. It seemed that was just Godric's way of speaking.
"You won't be disappointed," Merlin assured him.