La Belle au bois dormant
Summary: Morgana returns and 'Emrys' is forced to make an appearance. But as Gwen falls prey to magic, friendships are tested and secrets revealed. Are Merlin and Arthur strong enough to endure it?
Timeline: Set after season 4
Spoilers: Up to and including season 4
A/N: I've had Merlin completely on the brain lately and have been suffering from withdrawels from lack of new episodes... So this came about. Another Merlin fic that I've been toying with for awhile and have finally got around to writing. It's another reveal fic too because I'm completely obsessed with Arthur finding out about Merlin's magic.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading as much as I have enjoyed writing it so far.
Camelot was peaceful.
The skies were blue, the city filled with people once more, the air filled with cheer. It had been slow getting there, slow rebuilding a broken kingdom, but get there they did. Rebuild they did. And so Camelot was peaceful once more. Arthur was her king and Guinevere her queen. Smiles, laughter, even song, spread out through the castle and out onto the streets. Swords clashed only for practise and tears shed only from happiness.
Merlin sat upon the steps to the castle, unease resting on his features, brow burrowed and lips turned down into a frown. He watched the comings and goings of the people in the courtyard, only partly paying attention as the rest of his mind was lost in thoughts that lingered elsewhere.
Morgana. She was gone. She had been defeated. But something just didn't feel right with Merlin. The way she had vanished... He hadn't done that, he knew he hadn't. Not even by accident. Which meant Morgana had escaped and he had no way of knowing if she was dead or alive, though in his heart, he could feel it was the latter. She was still out there.
"Ah, Merlin, there you are!" Arthur's voice broke through Merlin's thoughts, the young king jogging down the steps to where Merlin sat.
Merlin raised his eyes to meet the expectant gaze of Arthur, wary as something niggled at the back of his mind, like a forgotten memory. "Here I am..?"
"Well?" Arthur asked, arms spread out in questioning, eyebrows raised in impatience. "Where is it?"
Merlin dropped his gaze in thought and clucked his tongue before answering. "Ah yes, the erm... the..."
"The gift, Merlin," Arthur supplied, words sharp and smile tight, "the one you were meant to be collecting so I can present it to Gwen. Tonight. At the celebrations."
"Oh... Oh! Yes!" Merlin sprang to his feet, grin spreading across his features as he dusted himself off. "The gift! I was just on my way to get it right now!"
"And I suppose you were just readying yourself?" Arthur questioned, disbelief settling in his eyes. He motioned to where Merlin had been sitting. "Resting those overly weak muscles of yours."
"Just because I don't swing a sword around all day doesn't mean I'm weak."
"No," Arthur answered, smile still tight and eyes devious, "the fact that you're weak makes you weak."
Merlin scoffed. "Goes to show what you know then."
But Arthur just raised an eyebrow. "Merlin...?"
"Right away, Sire." Offering an excessively low bow, Merlin grinned up at Arthur before taking his leave and heading away from the castle and to the streets of Camelot.
Chatter filled the air and Merlin caught snippets of conversations as he passed through the crowds. The streets were thrumming with excitement and speculation, all focused on one thing. Queen Guinevere. There was to be a weeklong celebration dedicated to her crowning. Lords and Ladies, along with the Kings and Queens who remained on good terms with Camelot, had been invited.
Arthur had gone to great lengths to ensure the whole affair was a success, determined to make up for the time he had lost with Gwen. Merlin recalled their conversation clearly, and the way Arthur had paced his chambers, trying to think of the perfect gift.
"Flowers?" Merlin had suggested.
"Too small." Arthur had replied.
"Too bi- wait. Maybe..."
And so a horse it was. But not just any horse. No, Arthur couldn't have that. Arthur wanted it to be perfect. Arthur had to have the best horse he could find which was to be delivered that morning and Merlin was to collect said horse and take her up to her new home where she would wait to be presented to the new queen that evening.
He continued on through the heaving crowds until he arrived at the gates of Camelot. A man stood there waiting, horse by his side. She was beautiful, as Arthur said she would be. Her coat was as black as night, a perfect healthy shine to it, and she stood tall and proud, almost regal, as if she already knew where she were headed. Merlin approached and held out a hand to her, stroking her nose gently. He looked to the man and the man gazed toward the sky, his thoughts seemingly lost to the clouds overhead.
"Excuse me?" Merlin questioned, unsure whether the man had heard him approach.
The man remained silent, his grip slack on the lead, an almost dreamlike expression in place on his features.
Merlin frowned, removing his hand from the horse to wave it in front of the man's face instead. "I'm here on behalf of King Arthur."
That seemed the snap the man out of whatever daydream he had been in the middle of. He blinked, once and then twice, before lowering his gaze and taking Merlin in, his brow burrowed, questioning. "King Arthur?"
Matching the man's furrowed brow, Merlin narrowed his eyes and cast a glance around him for any other men with horses. "I'm sorry, I think I might have the wrong person."
"You're here for the horse!" The man grinned brightly, head tilted to the side, his gaze still distant and giving Merlin the impression that the man's mind was still off elsewhere.
"This is the horse?" Merlin questioned. "The one for King Arthur?"
"This is the one," the man answered, patting her gently on the shoulder. "Beautiful, ain't she?"
Merlin nodded unsurely in reply and took the lead as the man offered it up. Only when the man made to leave did Merlin speak again. "What about your payment?"
"It's already been seen to," the man called over his shoulder, voice almost sing song, his gaze drifting upward once more toward the clouds.
For a long moment, Merlin watched the man, that twinge of unease settling once more in the back of his mind and the pit of his stomach. He shook it away though once the man was out of view. After all, it was entirely possible for an event to be held in Camelot without something suspicious happening. Merlin was sure it was, though he couldn't really think of a time when something suspicious hadn't happened. But there had to be one...
"Right," he said, spinning on the spot to head back toward the castle. He guided the horse gently along, stroking her mane every so often.
"You know," he said to the horse, glancing sideways to look her in the eye, "if I didn't know any better, I would say I know you from somewhere."
"Talking to animals now, are we, Merlin?"
An arm found its way around Merlin's shoulders and he turned his head a little to see Gwaine grinning at him.
"I didn't take you for the horse whispering type," the knight continued on, that ever present glint in his eyes suggesting he was either up to no good or just plain looking for mischief.
Merlin narrowed his eyes on the knight, a smile of his own twisting at his lips as he attempted to decide which it was, though judging by the lack of shouts and cries, he figured it was the latter. "I thought you were meant to be helping with preparations for the feast."
"You mean doing the heavy lifting?" Gwaine asked, a light chuckle to his words. "I left it to Percival. Strong as an ox that one."
"So basically, you're slacking off then?"
"I prefer to call it 'resting up for a night of merriment'."
"Gwaine!" a second voice called out from ahead of them. Merlin didn't need to look to know who it was, but his eyes found their way toward Elyan all the same, his features frustrated – no doubt from having to track down Gwaine.
Gwaine let go of a breath and removed his arm from around Merlin's shoulders, patting him on the back as he did so. "And that's my cue to run."
Before Merlin could say anything or even think of a reply, Gwaine dashed off. Not toward Elyan but toward a small alley between two houses. Elyan didn't hesitate in taking off after him, his feet thudding against the dirt ground. All Merlin heard when the second knight passed by was a grumble beneath his breath, a faint murmur of, "I'm going to kill him."
Merlin shook his head and left them to it. He could already imagine Elyan dragging Gwaine back the castle once he had finally caught up. The image put a smile on his face and he continued on.
When he reached the stables, Arthur was there waiting for him, arms crossed in front of his chest, foot tapping against the ground impatiently.
"You took your time," he snapped, which Merlin took to mean 'thank you ever so much, Merlin. You are a fantastic servant and friend and should have a day off for all that hard work you've done'.
"It's not exactly a short walk from the castle to edge of the city. If you ever had to walk it yourself, you would know that," Merlin retorted, coming to a stop and turning his attention toward the horse instead.
"What is that?" Arthur questioned, words sharp and bitter. His arms fell to his side and he moved forward to inspect the horse.
"I believe, Sire, that it's a horse."
"But it's not the horse."
"Not the horse?" Merlin repeated, brow furrowing and eyes narrowed. He looked to the horse and then to Arthur.
"Yes, Merlin – that's not the horse."
"Are you sure?"
Jaw tightening, Arthur swung to glare at Merlin. "I think I should know which horse I bought."
"And this horse isn't the one?"
"Are you being deliberately thick today, Merlin, or has that tiny little brain of yours finally decided to give out? No! That's not the horse!" Arthur shook his head, looking over the horse once more before motioning to it. "The one I saw was chestnut and it had this... thing on it's head."
"Thing?" Merlin asked, raising an eyebrow, his gazed moving once more between the horse and Arthur.
"Yes, a thing!" Arthur motioned to the head of the horse now with his finger. "Right here... a white patch in the shape of a star."
"Hmmm," Merlin offered up, pursing his lips before clucking his tongue. "Well, that's a bit strange, isn't it?"
Once more Arthur rounded on him, eyes locked on Merlin and jaw set so firmly that Merlin was sure it must have been causing Arthur some kind of pain. "A bit strange? Merlin, where is my horse?"
"Well I don't know, do I?" Merlin asked. "You just sent me to collect it and this was the only one there. Maybe next time when you buy a horse you should take it there and then."
Arthur took a deep breath, closing his eyes and holding it before breathing out again. Merlin just watched him, a questioning frown on his face.
"What are you doing?" he finally asked when Arthur had yet to open his eyes.
"If you must know, Merlin," Arthur answered, voice still tight but somewhat calmer, "I am trying to stop myself from having you thrown in the stocks."
"So this is my fault now?"
At that, Arthur opened his eyes, rage and frustration returning once more. "Who else could be to blame if not you?"
"Let me think... how about the bloke you bought the horse from? Or, just maybe the one who decided to buy a horse and have it delivered rather than bringing it back himself?"
"And where in the world was I supposed to hide a horse, Merlin?"
"In the stables?"
And Merlin had to admit, Arthur was doing a wonderful job at restraining himself, though perhaps that was because the only thing within reach to throw at Merlin was the horse... and that was too big to lift. After a series of incoherent grumbles, Arthur lost some of the tension in his shoulders and reverted to speaking English once more.
"Just... put it in the stables," he finally breathed out, waving a dismissive hand in the direction of the stables before uttering a small warning toward Merlin, "I just hope for your sake, Merlin, that this one turns out to be even better than the one that I'm supposed to be giving Gwen tonight."
The festivities and celebrations continued on. By the time the sun was gone from the sky to be replaced by stars, the majority of the guests had moved into the great hall, ready for the feast that would follow. Arthur and Gwen sat at the lead table, waiting for the remaining stragglers to make their way in and find their seats, and Merlin stood behind, ready to fill their goblets.
When the last of the guests made it into the hall, Arthur stood and the chatter that had filled the hall fell away, a hushed silence taking hold.
"Welcome, friends and guests of Camelot," he called out, voice clear and strong. "Thank you for coming to share in these joyous celebrations."
One hand around his goblet, he held the other out to Gwen and she took it, rising gently from her seat. Once she was standing, Arthur raised his goblet, head held high.
"To Guinevere, Queen of Camelot."
The crowd of guests echoed the sentiment, their own goblets held in the air as they joined in the toast, a choir of voices calling out for Gwen.
Behind it all, Merlin smiled as he looked out over the hall and then to Arthur and Gwen once more. Their happiness spread out like a warmth, a blanket on a cold winter's day, a ray of sunlight breaking through in a raging storm. It brought hope for Camelot and for peace, and to Merlin, it brought hope for a united Albion.
"To Guinevere," he joined in, the words a whisper beneath his breath, "Queen of Camelot."
A second and late reply called out, cutting over Merlin and breaking through the cheer.
"To Guinevere," the voice called out, louder than any of the others, feminine and gentle. It matched the owner perfectly, a small woman, plain but fair, all eyes drawn to her as silence fell once more in the hall. "Queen of Camelot."
She stepped forward, away from the open doors and into the hall, hair the colour of sand, long and flowing. Her dress was simple, as plain as she was, but elegant all the same, fitting her perfectly. She lowered herself into a curtsey, dipping low enough that the ends of her hair all but touched the stone floor.
"My apologies," she went on to say when she rose, meeting Arthur's then Gwen's eyes.
Merlin watched with careful consideration. Nothing about her screamed magic, nothing about the way she dressed or looked, yet Merlin could feel it. He could feel it thrum in the air, radiating out from the girl and it made him wary.
"My mistress," the girl continued when no one interrupted her, "she regrets she could not make it to the celebrations and sent me on ahead with a gift for Queen Guinevere."
"A gift?" Arthur questioned, rising from his seat once more to look the girl over.
"Yes, Sire, a gift." She reached into her satchel and pulled out a bundle of cloth, gently unwrapping the bundle to reveal what looked to Merlin like a spindle. "Tis a simple gift to bring good luck to the new queen."
"Arthur," Merlin breathed out in hushed warning, swallowing the tight lump in his throat and shaking his head minutely.
Arthur nodded, meeting Merlin's gaze for a moment before returning his attention once more to the girl. "And your mistress, who is she?"
"An old friend of both King and Queen," the girl answered, taking another step forward and offering the bundle of cloth up, her eyes locked on Gwen.
Merlin's eyes were locked on the spindle though. Like the girl, it radiated magic, fainter but still present. He moved to Arthur's side, jaw clenched. "The spindle, Arthur... you can't let Gwen touch it."
The girl laughed, short and light, yet there was something sinister beneath it that had Merlin's mouth drying up, his eyes rising to look her over again.
"Tis naught but a harmless spindle," she answered, smile far too sweet and eyes glazed over in a manner that reminded Merlin of something.
But before he could think what it reminded him of, Arthur spoke again.
"Then please, if it truly is harmless, you won't mind telling us the name of your mistress."
"Of course." The girl inclined her head. "My mistress is Lady Morgana. She sends her apologies for the delay in her arrival but hopes to be here soon."
"Guards!" Arthur called out without hesitation, motioning toward the girl, Morgana's name an instant trigger. "Seize her!"
The guards moved immediately, heading straight for the girl, but by the time they reached her, they were already too late. A swirl of magic enveloped her and when it faded away, it left behind only the spindle and cloth, along with a small rabbit with fur the colour of sand. The guards paused and the rabbit hopped once on the spot.
"Did she just..." Arthur started, eyes focused on the rabbit.
"Transform into a rabbit?" Merlin questioned, finishing the statement, his lips thinned and head cocked slightly to the side. "I think she did."
It was another moment before Arthur seemed to remember himself, shaking his head to wake himself. "Well, don't just stand there," he called to the guards, "seize it!"
They stared at the rabbit as it turned to face the doors, then they all lunged forward at the same time that the rabbit hopped out of their way. It had nearly reached the doors before the guards had untangled themselves. The only thing to stop it from hopping any further and escaping out into the castle were the doors slamming closed as one of the large candlesticks nearby 'accidentally' tipped over of its own accord.
One of the guards swooped down and snatched the struggling rabbit up, turning to face Arthur. "What should I do with it, Sire?"
"He's got a point," Merlin breathed from beside Arthur, "a rabbit could easily escape the dungeons."
"Then find a cage!" Arthur called out, his frustration aimed more at Merlin than the guard.
"Right away, Sire." The guard bowed before leaving the hall with the aid of a second guard, silence filling the air once more.
"What about the spindle, Sire?" Sir Leon voiced, moving away from his position and across the floor to where the spindle sat.
"If I may, Sire," Gaius spoke up, following Sir Leon out onto the floor.
Arthur nodded, his brow pulling down and lips forming a thoughtful frown. "Of course, Gaius."
Bundling up the spindle in the cloth once more, Gaius took his leave, Sir Leon following after him. Chatter began amongst the guests once more, and Arthur fell back into his seat with a sigh, Gwen's hand moving to hold his.
"Well," Merlin started, gazing out over the hall, "it could have gone worse."
Thank you for reading! More to come soon!