OH...MY...WORD! 71 reviews for ONE chapter! I can't believe it! After I posted the last chapter I left for like three hours and when I came back there was seventeen reviews! I'm lucky if I get that many for one chapter in three days, let alone three hours! I am just shocked. This is the most reviews I've gotten for something that was less than seven chapters long. I am amazed, you guys are fantastic! I had no idea this would get such a good response from people. You guys are so wonderful, which is why I am so sorry for how long this took. But I was very busy over the New Year and then I had some family issues AND THEN I got sick (again) and I've been miserable and my nose has been trying to see how many Kleenex boxes it could go through and every time I tried to write whatever I wrote sucked. So I am so sorry for how long this took. For the amount of reviews you all gave me it should have been posted a lot sooner.
Anyway, here is the chapter and I hope it doesn't disappoint. It is a bit different in tune and style than the previous chapter was, but it is supposed to be this way. This one is shorter than the last one, but I hope it's still fantastic. Once again thank you all for your support! See you at the bottom.
Leon had known Arthur Pendragon for a long time. He had commanded Camelot's knights before the prince had been old enough, though at the time he himself had been fairly young, and he had gladly surrendered his command to him when the time came. He had watched the prince train from a young age and had watched him train the other knights. It was Leon's job to watch his Crowned Prince and make sure that nothing ever happened to him. But he was just one man and there had been several times when all his skill and experience hadn't been enough and only Arthur's own adeptness with the blade had saved him.
He had watched the young man's transformation from trainee to trainer, from follower to leader. But even after the prince had been given charge of the knights he still had trouble thinking for himself and leading the way he was supposed to. He was too caught up in trying to please his father to the point that he just let the king make all of his decisions for him.
But that had all changed when an insolent peasant had appeared in his life. Merlin seemed to shock the prince out of his numb complacency and made him start thinking for himself. Leon had always been impressed with his prince, but after Merlin became his servant he realized that every day he became more and more proud of him. And now that he was king Leon had never been more honored to serve him. Merlin had truly made him a leader, one that his people loved.
Yes, Leon knew Arthur well enough to guess what was going through his head. Arthur was in a lot of pain over what they had learned about Merlin, though, they all were. Leon had watched Merlin, too, and seeing someone so innocent and so kind suffer like that wasn't easy. But what truly horrified him was the thought that the boy seemed to think that he had to go without food like that, like he had to push himself beyond his limits. Even now after he had finally eaten something and had gotten a good night's sleep the servant still looked awful.
They were riding back to Camelot now and no one could miss how Arthur glanced at Merlin every couple of second as if afraid that he'd miss some important clue. In fact, they were all paying more careful attention to Merlin just as Arthur had asked, though, not because of him. They were all afraid that Merlin would just keel over any second. As it was, the boy seemed very deep in thought and didn't even notice how his friends were staring at him. It's just as well, Leon thought. He doubted that the servant would enjoy being the center of attention like that and would most certainly not like the thoughts running through the knights' heads.
Leon shook himself mentally. He was more than a little impressed at the manservant's resistance to pain and hunger, as well as his endurance and ability to keep moving for days even though he should be too weak from lack of food, but Leon also hated that strength. Since Merlin had appeared in all their lives he had seen more happiness and love than ever before. He himself felt younger than he had in years just by being around the lad. And yet while everyone grew younger, Merlin only seemed to be growing older and Leon, having watched the boy mature from a distance, mourned that fact. He and Merlin weren't that close, but he loved the boy in his own way and would gladly save his life in a heartbeat. Which was why he had felt so happy when the joke he and the others had played on him had worked and they had seen Merlin smile. But now he wished they had never done such a thing to him, it wasn't worth it.
And it was that fact, that guilt, that was tormenting Arthur and the rest of them now and Leon just hoped that they would get a chance to make up for it.
Arthur had a blank look on his face as he and the knights and Merlin rode into the castle courtyard of Camelot. But that look was the exact opposite of what he was feeling. His emotions were in turmoil and he wanted more than anything for this whole thing to turn out to just be a bad dream. But he had long ago learned that wishing for things to go away was useless and a waste of time. He had made this mistake and now he had to deal with the consequences of it.
He watched as Merlin slowly dismounted his horse, taking his saddle bag with him, and disappeared out of sight.
Arthur sighed slightly and got down off his own horse and strode as confidently as he could manage up the castle steps, where he practically ran into Gwen.
"Arthur! You're back," she said smiling a smile that warmed Arthur's heart. "Did everything go well?"
"The quest went well," Arthur replied, leaving out nothing had since then.
"Are you sure? I just passed Merlin and he looked a little ill," Gwen said concerning permeating her tone.
"Oh! And I wonder why?" Gwaine exclaimed to no one in particular but himself.
"Did something happen?" Gwen asked with confusion and worry marring her beautiful face.
Gwaine threw his arms out. "Something happened all right. Merlin passed out because he hadn't eaten for four days straight and, the good friends that we are, didn't notice it! In fact, we even helped him to starve himself by taking his food away from him!" Gwaine, full of anger and frustration and guilt, threw a punch that landed hard on the wall.
Arthur winced. Judging by the sound it was pretty painful, but the knight didn't seem to notice his pain as he sighed and sagged where he stood and then turned back to Gwen who was very worried now.
"And that's not even the worst bit," he said slowly and Arthur and the other three knights tensed when they realized what he was going to reveal next. "Merlin told us that he normally skips one or two meals…a day. He's been starving to death and I didn't know." He rubbed his hand over his face. "Oh, what kind of friend am I?" he asked the air.
Arthur secretly had wanted to punch walls, rant, and ask that question right along with Gwaine. He should have listened to that sense of his that always told him when something was wrong with Merlin, though, if it was truly accurate then he should feel it all the time considering how starved the boy was on a daily basis.
Gwen sighed comfortingly and put a hand on Gwaine's shoulder. "The kind of friend who would beat himself up mercilessly over something like this. Only someone who really cared about Merlin would feel the way you do." She threw a small glance at Arthur and the king could tell that her words weren't meant for just the drunkard. "You care about Merlin…and so do I, so do you think you could explain all of this to me? You say Merlin's not eating?"
"Not nearly enough," Gwaine answered. "Though why is beyond me. He lives with a physician; doesn't he know that food is important?"
"Yeah, what was Merlin thinking?" Leon asked.
"I suppose none of you have any idea of what goes on in Merlin's life, do you?" Gwen asked rhetorically. Everyone gave her quizzical looks and she sighed slightly in exasperation. "Merlin is your servant, Arthur, which is a fulltime job, but he also is Gaius' apprentice and helper, another fulltime job. It's not easy. Merlin wakes up late in the mornings so he has to rush to get Arthur his food and wake him up, so he skips breakfast. Arthur, you get angry at him for being late so you pile a bunch of chores on him so Merlin works really hard until he finally stops for a late lunch. But then Gaius needs his help gathering herbs or cleaning the leech-tank and so that takes up the whole of Merlin's lunch and when he's done he's already behind on his usual chores again. So he works long and hard well past the time when a normal servant would be done because, believe it or not, Arthur, Merlin truly does try to perform every task you give him. Then he returns to his chambers and eats a hurried dinner and then plops into bed, exhausted. And because he went to bed at such a late hour he's late to wake you up the next morning and the cycle starts again. Not only that, but Merlin is a kind person and whenever he passes me he'll always stop and talk. If he sees someone who needs help he'd give it without hesitating. Merlin tries to live three lives in one, and that's why he isn't eating properly," Gwen finished.
Everyone stared at Gwen. They had never seen it before; Merlin was perhaps the busiest man alive. No wonder he didn't take time for food.
"Not to mention," Gwaine said slowly, breaking the silence, "that he often cleans our armor and sharpens our swords. He does half of our work for us." Gwaine cursed himself. He had heard Merlin say earlier that both Gaius and Arthur worked him hard, and yet he hadn't even made the connection.
"How does he manage it?" Elyan asked in awe.
"He should be dead," Percival commented, which made almost everybody flinch.
"I'm not saying that this is what happens every day," Gwen began, "but I think that it might be the cause of everything."
Arthur suddenly turned to her. "Guinevere, how long have you known about this?" he asked a bit sharply.
"Arthur, I didn't know," she denied. "I just know the life if a servant and I've watched Merlin and this is what I think may be the reason. I know that he skips meal now and again and that he's often tired, but I had no idea it was this bad. If I did then I would have told someone, put a stop to it."
Arthur looked contrite immediately. "I know you would, I'm sorry. But I still wish you would have come forward anyway, Merlin shouldn't be overworked, period." If only I could get that through my thick skull, Arthur harshly wished.
"I should have, but I didn't know what to do. You need a servant and Gaius could really use Merlin's help, and I don't think that we can just tell Merlin to stop being nice to people. I wasn't sure what to do…but now I know that this must stop.
Arthur turned and looked down the hallway that led to Merlin's chambers. Gwen was right, it had to stop now. Without a word he walked quickly away from them and to Merlin's room. When he entered he spotted Merlin sitting on the small steps with his bag in his lap. He looked up sharply as if startled.
"Arthur!" he exclaimed.
Arthur wasn't quite where to start so he floundered a bit and didn't notice how Merlin stuffed his bag out of sight. "Is Gaius here?"
"Um, apparently not," he answered.
Merlin really did seem better than he had just yesterday and no longer seemed in danger of collapsing at any given moment, but now that the illusion of a healthy and happy servant had been shattered it was easy for Arthur to see all the signs of his malnourishment. It was amazing that he had never noticed it before. "Merlin," he started, "you fainted yesterday and—"
"I did not faint, I passed out!" Merlin interjected with a familiar incredulity.
Arthur stopped and sighed and then continued. "You passed out yesterday and I cannot have that happening to my servant. Merlin I…I have a right to know what's going on in your life and you should have told me that you had so many things to do that you stopped eating."
"I didn't stop eating, Arthur; I just don't eat as much."
"Whatever," Arthur waved it off. "Now, I don't want you getting fat and lazy, Merlin, but you still should be eating more than you do. It's not healthy, it's not right, and I cannot have you faint—passing out every time we go on a quest." He fixed Merlin with a stern glare. "From now on you are to have a minimum of three reasonable-sized meals a day. No less."
Merlin scoffed. "What would I do with all that food?"
Arthur felt his stomach twist. "Merlin…you'd eat it and possibly put a little bit of weight on. Honestly, it's not good for my image to be seen being followed around by someone as thin as you. And since you seem to be doing far too many jobs what with being Gaius' apprentice and all starting tomorrow I shall assign another servant to take over some of your duties." Arthur couldn't miss the brief look of panic on his face.
"So you're firing me again?" Merlin asked with disbelief in his voice.
Arthur sighed exasperatedly, something he seemed to be doing a lot recently. "No, Merlin, I'm not replacing you. I'm just going to give some of your more time-consuming and exhausting chores to other servants who would no doubt enjoy the money. But you'll still have to bring me my breakfast and wake me in the morning. And I expect that when you do that it will be on a full stomach from now on." He glared at Merlin. "You will start taking care of yourself; if I have to I'll make that an order."
"Why, Arthur," Merlin said mischievously, "do you actually care?"
Arthur scoffed, though on the inside he was screaming yes. "No, of course not, Merlin. Gaius happens to be a close friend and confidant and I know he would be devastated if you died. I'm merely trying to insure the happiness of someone I owe a lot." In a way it was true, Arthur knew that he owed Merlin much more than he could ever hope to repay.
Arthur turned to leave, but stopped himself and looked back at Merlin uncertainly. "Merlin I-I'm sorry that…I didn't notice that you had gone that long without food. I should pay more attention." And then he left.
Merlin waited in the clearing for Kilgharrah to come after he had called him. On his way back from the quest he had felt depressed, tired, and rather ill. But then, after he had passed out and Gwaine had gotten some food into him he had felt a bit better, and even more so the next day. In fact, since returning to Camelot he had started to feel more like himself again, though, he still couldn't shake that feeling of disgust he felt for himself when he thought of killing Borden or Arthur's father or any of his mistakes. The truth was that he feared that he was losing himself, that he was no longer Merlin but rather someone who was only capable of hurting others. And though the joy of Arthur caring about him and the knowledge that he wouldn't have to work to death anymore had briefly lifted his spirits he had now once again fallen back into the despair that had been haunting him since this whole thing with Borden had started.
That had to be part of it. Merlin new from past experience that he could go as long as a week without food before passing out, which was why he had been confused that he had fainted. There had been times in his life where things had been hard and because of that Merlin had a high tolerance for hunger. Well, that and the strength his magic gave him was what allowed him to go so long without food. So Merlin guessed that the reason he had collapsed was because of the stress and exhaustion of the last couple days, not to mention healing five knights who were dying from a strong poison, which had been quite draining, combined with the lack of proper sustenance or rest.
In all honesty he was rather mortified that he had collapsed at all, no matter the reason, because that meant that everyone now knew one of his closely guarded secrets. Some part of him knew the folly of nearly starving himself on a regular basis and knew that he didn't want anyone to know. Plus, part of the cause was that he was always busy saving everyone from disaster after disaster. There were days when he just didn't have time to eat, and Arthur asking why scared him, just in case he may be able to trace it back to magic.
In truth the past couple of days had been very stressful and difficult, though, they hadn't been without their bright moments.
He felt joy that he had rescued the egg; however, he couldn't help but wonder if maybe it was too late. Maybe his curse of pain and death had touched even this un-hatched dragon. Perhaps, after four hundred years it was dead, and that thought made his soul ache.
Merlin looked up as he heard the beating of wings and felt the sharp wind blow as it always did when the Great Dragon came to him.
The great beast landed and Merlin made a final wish for the egg's survival before he asked, "Is it still alive?"
Kilgharrah gazed at him for a moment. "It can live for more than a thousand years," he answered.
Merlin felt relief flood through him. It was okay! Staring up at the big dragon that was both his kin and his friend, he realized what this news meant. He grinned as he felt joy join the current of emotions cascading through him. "So you are no longer the last of your kind." He felt excitement and happiness spring up inside of him at that thought for it would mean that he himself was not quite so alone.
The dragon chuckled slightly, which was his way of expressing happiness. "It would seem not."
Merlin looked down at the bluish whitish orb that he had fought pretty hard to save. Having a dragon egg would mean nothing if the tiny creature never emerged from its shell. He looked back up at Kilgharrah. "When will it hatch?" he asked.
"Young dragons were called into the world by Dragonlords," the great beast replied. "Only they had the power to summon them from the egg. As the last Dragonlord this solemn duty falls to you, Merlin," he said rather pointedly.
"How do I summon it?" Merlin asked so that he wouldn't make some sort of vital mistake.
"You must give the dragon a name."
He had to name it. At first there was a tiny hint of panic because he had no idea what to call it. But that soon dissipated as reason caught up with him. He knew what he had to do. He reached down into himself, crushing all doubt and searching for that place in the core of his being that had what he needed. Suddenly he could feel the very life-force of Kilgharrah beside him and he knew he had control of the dragon's mighty power because he could feel it within himself. He could feel his mind stretch out and look for other dragons in a desperate and almost instinctual need for kinship. And, as always, he felt intense emptiness and grief when he could sense no others. Except this time he could feel the faintest brush of a small mind against his own and he focused on it. He could feel the sleeping dragon in its egg and he could feel its loneness. He wanted more than anything to wake it up…so he did.
He briefly merged his mind with the baby's and told it to prepare to wake up, and then he searched the creature's mind, looking for an indication of a proper name. Then, suddenly, he found it. In his mind a word sprang up that seemed to be made exactly for this young dragon. He spoke the name and when he did he put the full force of his Dragonlord power behind it. "Aithusa."
Merlin heard a cracking sound nearby him and, coming out of his trace, Merlin opened his eyes and trained them on the egg. He could still feel the life of the baby dragon vibrating, and yet seeing its tiny white head poke out of its shell seemed almost unreal. The creature gurgled slightly a few times and Merlin couldn't help but wonder if that was a dragon's way of purring.
Merlin stared at the beautiful creature and began to slowly move forward, only partially hearing Kilgharrah say, "A white dragon…is indeed a rare thing."
Merlin would have to say that he agreed with that. The tiny baby looked incredibly precious and he was filled with even more awe as he watched it.
"And fitting," Kilgharrah continued, "for in the Dragon tongue you named him after the light of the sun. No dragon birth is without meaning."
Merlin saw Aithusa knock a large chunk of the shell off and the warlock was amazed at how majestic and beautiful and powerful he was. For even though he was young and small Merlin could sense the power building within him.
"Sometimes the meaning is hard to see, but this time, I believe, it is clear.
The manservant was hardly listening to Kilgharrah now because his magic was reacting to the magic of the young dragon. Merlin had felt all sorts of magic before, but no matter whose he felt it always felt unclean or tainted. Even the magic of good sorcerers had always felt a bit dirty and in a way it made sense to Merlin. Everyone had some evil in them, it was only natural. But it still made him feel a bit gross and nauseated all the same.
The only person whose magic had never felt impure to him was that of Freya's. Despite everything she had gone through in her life she had remained good and kind and loving. Her magic had felt like a ray of sunshine in a dark world.
But this dragon, this dragon's magic was much more powerful than hers and just as pure. To feel something so good, so right, so devoid of evil so strongly was stunning for the warlock. Never before had he ever felt something like this.
Aithusa's magic started to embrace him, but instead of trying to taint him like everyone else's magic did, this magic comforted him. Calmed him. Healed him. It was the most wonderful feeling.
Merlin found himself smiling with pure joy and even more so as he heard Kilgharrah's words.
"The white dragon bodes well for Albion. For you and Arthur."
Merlin started laughing with happiness as he felt both Aithusa's magic and the magic of the hope Kilgharrah was telling him wash away all the stress and fear and sadness and pain that had nearly overcome him in the past few months. It was as if some great weight had been taken off his shoulders. He felt as if the hardships of the past five years had never happened. He felt free.
"And for the land you will build together," Kilgharrah finished.
Tears of wonder and happiness appeared in Merlin's eyes as he saw the white dragon break completely free of its shell and spread its wings, gurgling once again. It was as if the innocence of Aithusa had utterly wiped away all the thoughts and feelings that had been troubling him for days, leaving in their place a kind of power and resolve that the great warlock hadn't felt in a long time.
Merlin knew that this happiness and freedom wouldn't last. No doubt some other disaster would strike soon and it would all come crashing back. But for now the dragon had given him exactly what he needed. He had felt so tired lately, and not from the lack of food, but rather from the weight of the memories and emotions he carried. More than once Merlin had nearly collapsed under the pressure and now, just as he could take no more, the weight had been lifted for him.
Aithusa was beautiful and majestic and his presence spoke of hope and life and love. Merlin felt his soul renewed and he became positive that whatever happened good would prevail. The white dragon's existence meant that one day soon Albion would live and prosper…and that, more than anything, gave Merlin the strength and endurance he needed to press on. Merlin would never give up, and when he tried Aithusa would always be there to lend a hand.
Merlin felt many things that he hadn't felt in ages, but the most surprising thing he felt when he eventually left that clearing with the image of Aithusa permanently etched into his mind was a gnawing, nagging feeling. Hunger. And for the first time in a long while Merlin truly wanted to eat.
The end. I know a lot of people were probably looking forward to more apologies and maybe the knights doing Merlin's chores or something, but that really wasn't the point of this fic. I originally thought of this because I wanted the knights to see the consequences of what they had done, and I remembered thinking as I watched it that Merlin looked REALLY depressed throughout most of the episode and that he seemed really happy at the end. My fanfiction-formatted brain put those two facts together to make this story and that's why it wasn't about people apologizing to him and making everything better. It was more about knocking some sense into Arthur's head and trying to explain exactly why Merlin was so happy at the end. The truth is that Arthur never fixes things with Merlin, so our favorite warlock has to find some other methods of comfort.
I also realize that after the last episode of the season a lot of people are probably pretty skeptical of Aithusa, But I started writing this long before that episode aired. The last episode ending on a rather ominous and confusing note, but Kilgharrah said very definitely that Aithusa would mean good things for Merlin so I believe him. The dialogue from the scene in the clearing I copied word for word.
Now, (if anybody is still reading) I originally hadn't planned to do any sort of a sequel for this, but after some of the reviews I got I started thinking. I'm not opposed to writing another fic that has more of the bromance and apologies that everyone misses. And maybe some of the POVs, like Percival, that I really wanted to put in but couldn't. Of course, it would be a bit AU because I would fix a lot of the things that are wrong with how everyone treats Merlin and, let's face it, that may never happen in the show. Keep in mind that any ideas for this fic are in the "very rough draft" phase, so it probably won't come for some time. But if anyone has anything they may like to see in the possible sequel then please don't hesitate to tell me.
And again, thank you everyone for the support and reviews and all the amazing responses. You guys are all terrific.
"Take heart...I have overcome the world."