A/N: Thanks again to serendipity08 who is a fantastic beta and a great person as well! Here's the final installment of My Bond. I hope it answers all your questions and manages to end well. Thanks so much, guys, for your reviews. It's been so nice getting to know you!
Gaius didn't see much of Arthur over the next few days. The king had many important things claiming his attention, of course, and Merlin did nothing worthy of much notice. He just healed slowly, woke occasionally and grew more and more frustrated. It was understandable. Gaius checked his wounds often and tried to keep Merlin's mind active with riddles or puzzles instead of fixating on the pain or his magical difficulties.
It worked until late afternoon, when the boy awoke with a renewed fever and a severe ache in his shoulder. Gaius treated the wound for the beginnings of an infection. "This should do the trick, Merlin. Nothing to worry about."
"Yeah. Nothing at all," Merlin mumbled, gesturing feebly at his eyes. "Can't see. Can't do magic. Can't even get out of bed."
"You can do magic, Merlin. You said so yourself. If you hadn't helped Arthur, then the king would be dead right now. You saved him, at great pain and risk to yourself."
"But I-I…I don't think I could do it again. Not now."
Gaius knew what he meant. Only sheer, agonizing desperation had forced Merlin's magic to come to his aid and only because Arthur was in mortal peril.
"Well, then it's a good thing we don't need it now. Stop moping and rest." Merlin huffed out a frustrated breath. He finally drifted off again at around sunset.
It was later that night, when checking Merlin's eyes, that Gaius saw something that stopped him cold. The bloody sheen covering the whites of Merlin's eyes had been fading and was nearly back to normal now. That, Gaius had been expecting. But the irises of Merlin's eyes were glowing a soft, molten gold. "Magic," Gaius muttered disapprovingly, "Why can't the boy ever do anything like a normal person?" From now on, he'd have to make sure no one was around when he checked Merlin's eyes.
"Gaius?" Arthur's voice startled Gaius out of his thoughts. A few seconds later, the king clambered up the steps and into Merlin's room. "How are his eyes?" He stepped over to the bed, sparing only a glance at the healer. Gaius had Merlin's eyes well-covered by this point.
"Healing, sire," the old man said, trying to look innocent.
Arthur sat in the chair he'd sat in for hours, waiting. "Has he been awake at all?"
"He has, fitfully. Tomorrow I will begin lessening his pain draughts. We should see him staying awake more often then."
Arthur nodded, his face growing more somber as he looked down at his servant. "Tomorrow actually might not be a good day for that." The king cocked his head, looking up at Gaius with an exaggeratedly pensive air. "I wonder, Gaius, if you could answer a question for me."
"I will certainly try my best."
"Does Merlin have many visitors here, in his room?"
"What do you mean, sire?"
Arthur stood and moved over to the corner, where Gaius had hung some of Merlin's laundry up to dry. "Does he ever have friends here in his room or girls…or anybody?" Arthur gestured, trying to make the obvious question more obvious. "Anyone…uh…spending the night?"
Gaius frowned. "Why would he…?" Then raised his eyebrows. "Ohhhhh." A small smile broke free. "No, Merlin isn't one for entertaining the ladies. Goodness me. Imagine that."
"Well, and it's no wonder. Look around."
"Is there something wrong with Merlin's chamber, sire?"
"Of course not. No," the king said hastily, "it's perfectly fit for a servant. But…maybe not fit enough for my servant. So if Gwen and I were thinking of changing it, doing something…ridiculous and ostentatious…if it were to be contained here in his room, then it might not even get seen. Am I right?"
"Oh, certainly, sire. But it does make me wonder what you have in mind?"
"Nothing that should put you out too much, Gaius. You just keep going on about your work. Say nothing to Merlin and uh, ignore the knights." Arthur headed for the door.
"The knights, sire?"
"Yes," Arthur said, turning around with a cheeky grin. "The knights might be a bit underfoot here and there. But, you'll be kind to them for Merlin's sake, right, Gaius?"
"Most assuredly so."
"I'll return tomorrow. If Merlin wakes up, tell him to hold off a day on the whole 'seeing' thing. Then we'll give him something worth looking at." With this cryptic remark, Arthur grinned rather like a jester on black coffee and left with a bright laugh that made Gaius smile despite himself.
As it turned out, Arthur was right. The knights were underfoot a good bit of the next day. First thing in the morning, they made an enormous amount of racket at the bottom of the stairs. Gaius went out to investigate.
"Damn thing won't fit!" Gwaine was complaining. "This must be the narrowest staircase in the whole, bloody castle!"
"Would you just listen to me," Elyan said in a tone that indicated he was way past being patient, "If we just unhinge the top and flip it so that—"
"It won't come off," Percival growled, "I've already tried."
"Maybe you didn't try the right way—"
"Elyan, you're insulting Percy. Not a smart move," Gwaine pointed out.
"Just put it back. Arthur will have to pick another one. A smaller one," Leon concluded. The knights groaned. "Let's go. Pick it up." The noises faded with then as they went.
A few hours later, Gaius heard them again. This time, they made it all the way up the stairs and into the room with their heavy burden, setting it down with a loud thud. Gaius gaped. The chest of drawers there were carrying was only this side of massive, made of a dark, smooth oak.
"Where did you get that?" Gaius moved forward, his eyes taking in the excellent carving on each door.
"From the other side of the castle," Gwaine said in between breaths, "naturally."
"This," Elyan said proudly, "used to be in the royal chambers, but Gwen was given a new one by King Arthur. So, this one," he said, hitting it lightly on the side, "was free."
Leon stood up straight and heaved one more breath. "They had moved it to a guest chamber, but the king decided his servant could do better than that pine monstrosity in his chambers now."
"That monstrosity used to be mine," Gaius said acidly, then raised a hand to prevent Leon from stumbling for an apology. "I know very well what a horrid piece it is. Once it's replaced, you can burn it for all I care. Have a bonfire. Roast a pig."
"Get rid of it?" Gwaine said, looking apprehensively from Gaius to Leon.
"Well, you don't think his room is large enough for two, do you?" Gaius asked. The knights groaned. "In fact, you might do well to take that one out before you carry this one in. Be as quiet as possible, if you please. We don't want to wake Merlin."
The knights shot him various looks, from exasperated to venomous, but they mounted the stairs and went into Merlin's room as quietly as four knights can.
While they were gone, Gaius moved closer to the chest. He couldn't help but run his hands over the carved scrollwork on each door. It was delicate, and as fine as anything he'd seen before. There were four panels, two on each door, each one representing one season of the year. The tree in the center of each was carved to minute detail, budding and blossoming in one panel, leafy in another, losing its leaves in the third, and finally, barren in the last. Surrounding the tree was a beautifully rendered glade and distant hills. Merlin was certainly going to be impressed.
It was nearly lunch time when the new chest was installed by the door and the knights were headed down with the monstrous chest of drawers. It sounded to Gaius as if they dragged it for nearly the whole distance down, but then, it was no longer his business. He went back in to check on Merlin, half-wishing that the boy had been awake for the hilarity and industriousness on his behalf. However, since his eyes had turned golden, he hadn't woken at all. Gaius tried not to worry. Likely, his magic just needed to concentrate on healing.
The sun was low in the sky when the knights returned later, looking exhausted. This time, they carried a chest to put at the foot of Merlin's bed, also made of the same carved oak. The lid was covered in the delicate scrollwork and the autumnal tree with falling leaves. Percival carried a small oak table with a built-in bowl for washing. The carving on its rim depicted the blossoms from the tree on the chest of drawers.
"A luxury, indeed," Gaius said as he stood aside as the piece was carried in to Merlin's room where the boy still lay sleeping. Tired, Percival rammed the table into Gwaine's side as he tried to make room in the corner for it.
"Sorry," he said curtly. Gwaine just glared at him.
"Gaius? There's not enough room at the foot of his bed for this bloody thing," Gwaine gestured to the low chest. "Any suggestions?"
"The other corner, perhaps?" Gaius gestured. The knights groaned as they saw the pile of crates that had been left there from the days when this room had served merely as storage. "Those will have to be moved, I fear. I'm sorry my old bones can't be of more help to you."
The knights grudgingly went to work. Soon they had the crates out and the chest and table in the corner closest to Merlin's bed. They looked very nice together.
Gaius gave the knights a smile. "And am I to look forward to another piece of matching furniture?"
"Not tonight," Elyan said.
"We'll be back in the morning," Leon explained. "I just hope that bed is made to come apart."
"I'm surprised that Arthur didn't try for something more manageable," Gaius said as he headed back down the stairs.
Elyan followed, smiling. "Surprised? Arthur never does anything half-way, you know that, Gaius."
"I just hope Merlin wakes or it will be difficult to move him," Gaius said as Percival and Leon came down next.
Percival smiled. "I can handle him. After this, he'll be easy."
"Good night, Gaius." He and Leon headed down stairs, each taking a crate.
Gwaine came down from Merlin's room looking sober. "You say he's healing, Gaius?"
"Indeed, he is. Better every hour."
"Good to hear. I guess bruises always look worse before they look better."
"That's the way of it."
"Well, we'll see you in the morning."
"I'm sure I'll hear you first."
Gwaine grinned as he and Elyan grabbed the last few crates and headed back down.
Gaius climbed the stairs and went into Merlin's room. The room vaguely smelled of sweat and felt warmer for all the effort the men had put into getting the heavy pieces of furniture in here. He opened the window a bit wider then turned to look at Merlin's tidier and improved room, smiling. Merlin didn't even own enough property to need that much storage space, between the large chest of drawers and the other, smaller chest, but what a grand gesture, an expansive gesture, indeed.
The next morning, the first project for the knights was the bed. From the argument down at the bottom of the stairs, Arthur had chosen a bed that was far too big for the stairway. Gaius winced at the language that made its way up the stairs before they gave up and went away. An hour later, when Gaius was feeding a finally conscious Merlin some rich broth sent up from the royal kitchens, another stirring came from the hallway.
"What's that?" Merlin asked groggily, passing a hand over his bandaged eyes. Gaius had not allowed him to try seeing yet. The golden glow had faded, but Merlin's usual blue irises were still shot through with an intense glow that did not look normal. Gaius was keeping those eyes covered until they looked completely normal. "Gaius? What's that noise?"
"Oh, the knights are up to some mischief. I think they'll be up to see you later."
"Okay, good," Merlin said as he yawned. "Ow. Gaius," he whined, "it hurts to yawn."
"So stop yawning and go back to sleep."
"But I just woke up." The stubborn set to Merlin's jaw was not nearly as effective with the pinched, pained look that had settled on his brow. The pain medicine had worked its way out his system and the waking had not been a pleasant one.
"And now you're just going back to sleep." Merlin wanted to argue, Gaius could tell, but he was simply too tired. He lied back on the pillows and, after a moment, turned on his side. Gaius felt Merlin's brow. That was one thing to be thankful for—his fever was finally gone. But even with that large step forward, going to a half draught of pain medicine hadn't dimmed Merlin's exhaustion a bit. The boy had at least two broken bones to mend—his ribs—as well as making up for blood loss and all the cuts and bruising that needed to heal. Also, Gaius suspected there to be a break in the bone over Merlin's right eye, where the swelling and bruising seemed worst. If they were lucky, and he truly hoped they were, it might only be a crack.
"Just rest, my boy. There will be plenty of time for you to be nosy later on," Gaius concluded. But Merlin wasn't listening. "Not unlike taking care of an infant," Gaius said fondly as he tucked the covers back around Merlin.
A few hours later, Gwaine stomped up the stairs and thrust a round, wrought iron shape at Gaius.
"No idea. That girl, Yolande, gave it to me and said something about Merlin getting better."
"Really? That is most unusual. I don't think a girl has ever given Merlin a sconce before. Flowers, yes. Extra food, constantly. They always want to fatten him up. But, house wares…"
"Probably has something to do with the fact that we keep carrying furniture up and down stairs and all around the bloody castle trying to figure out what will fit through your door. Word's gotten out. It's not like we're quiet or anything."
"No. I do know that. Well, this will look nice on Merlin's wall. When he finally gets a look around, he won't even recognize his room."
"That's the general idea, Gaius. Might take us three weeks, but we'll get it right." Gwaine sighed and ran a grimy hand through his hair. "For one thing, Arthur won't let us do anything else until we get it done. Just imagine. Enemy armies attack, and we're too damn busy hauling furniture to fight. Oh, you, uh…might want to move out of the way. Delivery coming."He grinned.
"Ah. Very good." Gaius took his modest meal and moved over to the corner of the room. In half an hour, the knights had a very large wooden bed frame angling into the doorway. It didn't appear to have all the necessary parts, but Gaius knew better than to ask. The four knights heaved it through and gave a little cheer.
"Fourth time's the charm," Elyan said with a limp grin.
"Now we just have to get it through Merlin's door," Leon said speculatively. The four knights looked up.
"Aw, hell," Percival said, wiping at the sweat collecting over his brow. "I'm not taking it back down. I say, if it doesn't fit, it stays right here." The other knights quickly agreed.
And that was how Gaius got a new bed. The old cot was shoved under for patients and the bed went in the corner after a few racks had been moved out of the way. It seemed a trifle ostentatious, wider and longer than his cot, and decorated with carvings of Celtic design. But the mattress was far and away more comfortable than the straw ticking he had been using and he was thrilled. The knights, on their way out the door, were not.
"We'll be back," Elyan sighed.
This time, when they returned, it was without Percival. Rhys was manning the fourth corner. The story went that Gwaine had seen him training and called in a favor. When Rhys found out who the bed was for, he was eager to help. Now, at the final, most delicate part of the operation, he was streaming with sweat.
"Is Merlin still abed?" he asked Gaius.
Gaius, who was still admiring his new bed, stood up and straightened his robes. "Yes, he is. I was hesitant to move him unless absolutely necessary."
The knights exchanged glances. "It's absolutely necessary," Leon summed up. "Shall I get him?"
"I got him." Gwaine was already through the door before Leon finished the question. In under a minute, he appeared with Merlin cradled against his chest. The knight moved slowly down the stairs and over to the corner, laying him on Gaius's new bed. Merlin's head rolled on the pillow, and he mumbled something before returning to sleep. The knights all watched breathlessly.
"Nice," Rhys summed up. "So let's get moving."
It was easy work to get the old cot and mattress out of Merlin's room. The harder bit, by far, was getting the new bed frame up the stairs and through the door at the same time. Very wisely, Arthur had chosen a dark oak frame with thin spinnerets on the four corners that unscrewed to make it an easier fit. Gaius eyed the spinnerets lying in the corner. After a moment, he concluded they would likely be too high on the bed for Merlin to impale himself. One could only hope.
Finally, after a symphony of grunts and groans and with more than one smashed finger, the bed frame made it through. The knights celebrated quietly then returned to the lower chamber for the mattress and spinnerets.
Gaius came up to help see the bed completed. The dark oak spinnerets were put back in place where their carved vines caught the light gracefully, along with the scrollwork running down the length of the frame. Soft muslin sheets were spread over the soft, downy mattress then a thin but warm woolen blanket and a navy blue coverlet were spread over the top and tucked in tight. Gaius's eyes grew wet, remembering many nights when he was certain Merlin had suffered ill effects from the cold that always crept its way through the stone walls. The boy would finally stay warm.
"Oh. Nearly forgot." Gwaine grinned and disappeared downstairs for a moment. He returned with a blue tapestry that matched the coverlet, embroidered delicately with a white dove. Gaius was quite shocked to recognize it as the sigil of Ygraine. This, then, also came from the queen's old chambers.
"Am I to understand that Arthur wishes this to be hung in Merlin's room?"
"Oh yeah. His orders specifically. He said that Merlin would understand."
Gaius's one eyebrow stayed raised. Only the kin of Ygraine or Arthur would have been welcome to use that sigil in any way, much less sleep under it.
"So, when do you expect him to wake?" Gwaine looked like a child on Christmas morning.
"I imagine when you start pounding the daylights out of the wall."
"Ah, yes. We should do that now. Leon?"
Gwaine and the knights busied themselves finding a free war hammer and then using it to pound large iron nails into the walls. It only took a half an hour to get both tapestry and sconce on the wall, as well as hanging a rod over the window for a curtain that Elyan insisted was forthcoming.
"Be right back," Elyan said, taking off downstairs as though he hadn't just exhausted himself moving furniture. Leon sat on the stairs and rested. Gwaine fussed around Merlin's room, moving the small table and chest one way and then the other.
Then he cursed low under his breath. "What's he supposed to use to put his books on? We took all the crates out."
"On it," Rhys said, jumping to his feet. "Don't start without me."
"Youth is wasted on the young," Leon said as he and Gaius watched Rhys bolt through the door.
"I have often thought the same thing," Gaius said, smiling, "though I would have put you in that category as well."
Sir Leon smiled. "You know good and well I'm past my prime fighting years. The knights only keep me around because I'm a good luck charm. You know, come back to life once and they think you're something special."
Gaius suddenly remembered that he had remedies to make, including more draughts of Merlin's pain medicine. For the next hour, he tried to get work done while the knights moved here and there, trying to help and usually ending up in the way. At last, Elyan, Rhys and the king appeared at the door. Rhys came in first, carrying a small, dark oak table with no decorations at all. "All we could find," he said, shrugging, "Should work for books, though."
"Looks perfect to me," Gwaine said, taking it from him and disappearing up into Merlin's room.
"Curtain," Elyan said, raising a long, blue curtain the same shade as the tapestry already hanging in Merlin's room, "Won't take but just a second."
"I brought a rack," Arthur said unnecessarily as he entered the room. He set the piece of furniture on the floor, looking at it critically. "I know Merlin doesn't have spears or swords, but he's got to have something to stick in there, right?"
Gaius wisely agreed. "I'm sure he'll know just the thing."
"That's what I thought," Arthur said, giving a wide grin and hefting the rack up on one shoulder as he headed for the room. "Coming through," he called ahead. There was a quick conversation, the sounds of sliding furniture and then King Arthur reappeared.
"Well, by God, I call that an improvement." Arthur grinned ear to ear. "Where is he?"
"On Gaius's new bed," Leon said pointedly, "there."
"Ah." Arthur strode over to the bed then paused. "Wasn't this…"
"Yes, sire. And now it's Gaius's. He hasn't had a new bed…ever. Right, Gaius?"
"You are correct," Gaius admitted. "This is a vast improvement, my lord, and I am very grateful."
"Fine, good." Arthur shrugged off the news, approving the gift of the bed to Gaius simultaneously as he bent over Merlin. "Still with the bandages, eh?" He straightened up. "Gaius, is there any way you could let him try his eyes out now? I've only got a short while before the council hunts me down again. You know."
"Certainly, my lord. If we can get him to wake up."
"He didn't even hear all that pounding earlier," Gwaine said, shaking his head.
"If you wouldn't mind stepping back, your majesty."
"Of course." Arthur moved out of the way.
Gaius gently began to speak to Merlin. When that didn't rouse the boy, he shook him gently by his good shoulder. This time, Merlin stirred. "What is it, Gaius?"
"Wake up, sleepyhead. We've got something to show you."
Merlin turned his head. "Arthur?"
"Merlin, I'm going to take the bandages off," Gaius said gently. "Keep your eyes closed until I give you the word. Gwaine, close the window if you please. Leon, light a few candles nearby, if you wouldn't mind. Elyan, would you do the same in Merlin's room?"
"I'm not in my room, am I? Whose bed is this?" Merlin ran his hands over the coverlet, seeming to enjoy the feel.
"It's my new bed, Merlin. What do you think of it? The knights brought it for me."
"Oh, it's wonderful," Merlin said with feeling, "definitely better than that old cot. You might have trouble kicking me out of it when I'm well." He smiled, a ghost of his normal grin, but it was heartening nonetheless.
"The bandages are off. I want you to take it slowly. Open your eyes."
Merlin opened his eyes a crack and sucked in a breath, turning his head and angling away from the candlelight, gripping the bedclothes. "It's so bright."
"That's a good sign. Your eyes must have time to adjust."
"That's it, Merlin," Gwaine added. "Give it time."
"Why don't you sit up?" Arthur asked, stepping over to the bed. He placed one hand behind Merlin's back and helped raise him up. Gaius got Merlin's legs untangled from the covers and soon Merlin found that he had both feet on the floor. Breath unsteady, he kept his head down. "It's better now. Not hurting so much." He swiped away tears. "And I'm not crying, you prat," he said in Arthur's direction.
"Even I realized that, Merlin." Arthur knelt beside him. "So…can you see?" The king's casual tone faltered on the last words.
"I think…I think…yep, your boots definitely need cleaning," Merlin said firmly, smiling a bit.
"You can see them?" Gaius asked, "not just shapes, but details?"
"Yes," Merlin said, raising his face a bit, beaming his joy, "I can."
"That's good to hear."Arthur, relieved, reached up and ruffled Merlin's hair.
Gwaine whooped and ran over to pound Merlin on the back.
"Sorry! But that's great news! Great! Now. Get up because we have something to show you," Gwaine said, helping a very confused Merlin to his feet.
"Actually, I have something to show you," Arthur said drily, "though the knights here did help a bit." The knights protested loudly. "Okay, all right. They helped a bit more than a bit."
Gaius stopped Merlin with a gentle hand. "Are you sure you're feeling up to it, Merlin?"
"I'm fine. Lead on." He smiled as he leaned on Gwaine.
"Up the stairs, then," Arthur bounded up and went through the door. Merlin halted, puzzled.
"You want me to go back to my room? But I'm better."
"Yes, I know it," Arthur practically sang. "That's why we want you up here."
Merlin huffed out a frustrated breath and forced his shaking legs to attempt the stairs.
"You got it. That's it," Gwaine encouraged softly, "almost there."
Gwaine's tone helped calm Merlin down and he reached the top of the stairs with a much better attitude. It didn't matter where they wanted to stick him while he recovered; the fact was, he could see and even seeing his old, cramped room would be heavenly after—
Merlin froze in the doorway, trying to ignore the goofy grin on Arthur's face and focus on what was around him. "This…this isn't my room any more?" He frowned at Arthur. "You're kicking me out?"
"What? No, no, of course not, you idiot," Arthur said, still grinning, "this is your new stuff! We got rid of the old and put in some much, much better things. To be quite honest, while I was waiting for you to wake up, I got tired of staring at these walls and all your hideous furniture and decided to do something about it. And Gwen was only too glad to help…"
By this point in the monologue, Merlin had let go of Gwaine and moved over to the window, where a set of blue, embroidered curtains hung all the way to the floor. He touched the fabric gently, charmed by its satin sheen. Queen Gwen wouldn't be out of place in this room. Turning, Merlin found the matching tapestry on the wall with a dove sigil resting in the center that he recognized very well. Feeling an exquisite ache in his chest, he looked over to find that Arthur had halted and was watching him carefully. Merlin smiled, not quite sure how to say it but figuring that Arthur would know how much it meant to him. Arthur nodded once, then turned away, going off again about how much trouble it had been to find the right furniture, etc., etc.
Merlin trailed a hand over the smooth surface of the wash table, wishing the water were already there to use. A luxury he'd never even thought to own. The chest was beautiful, even larger than the one at the foot of Arthur's bed. It was probably completely empty. The thought made Merlin smile. And then he came to the bed. His smile abruptly fled. Tall, majestic and surely fit for a king, or at least a prince, the bed was ludicrously sumptuous for a servant.
"Arthur," he began in a low tone.
"I don't want to hear it."
"No, I refuse to listen to the many reasons why this bed is too much for the likes of you. I know it is and I still want you to have it. I'm king, so I win." Arthur grinned at him. Merlin just shook his head and turned back to study the carving on the spinnerets. There was no way he could sleep in this. It was ridiculous. Why had Arthur done it? It was just too much…
There was suddenly an exodus of bodies and then Arthur was there beside him. The king took a few deep breaths then placed one hand on Merlin's good shoulder. "Merlin, I…I don't even know how to put into words how sorry I am for what happened to you. The fault lies with me—"
"No," Merlin said, turning to look at Arthur and finding deep pain in his eyes.
"Yes, it does, Merlin. I am king and my decisions have consequences. My bad decision almost cost you your life and only slightly less worse, your sight. Queen Annis targeted you merely because you were my servant and because I…cared about you." Arthur pulled away at this, looking supremely uncomfortable. "And then I fought and then I saw what they had done to you and we nearly went to war again." He stood a moment, staring off at the window. Merlin knew better than to say anything. "But we didn't. I couldn't. All I could do, Merlin, was sit and watch you struggle to recover, and pray that you would be strong enough to pull through." He finally looked back at his servant. "And you did. So this…all of this, is my way of saying, 'welcome home.' And…'well done.'"
Merlin's eyes went watery and he smiled a quivering smile that was difficult to hold for some reason. He couldn't speak. Instead, he sat on the bed, awed by the way the mattress gave beneath him and the way the coverlet felt cool and soft at the same time. Words were gathering up in his head, like water will in a stream bed when its way is blocked. But for the life of him, he couldn't seem to protest any more. All he wanted to do was lie on his new bed and ruminate on the words Arthur had just said. Well done.
"Do you want me to get Gaius?" Arthur asked quietly.
"Not just yet."
"Did you see the chest of drawers over there?"
"Is that what that enormous thing is? I'm supposed to have enough clothes to fill that thing up?"
"Well…I guess so. But mostly, you're just supposed to look at it and remember how superior you are to other servants."
"Of course you are. The king and queen just redecorated your room personally." The knights made noises at the door. "Okay, right. And the king's knights helped."
The four of them crowded through the door.
"Percival helped, too," Elyan put in.
Merlin smiled. "I don't think just saying thank you is quite enough in this instance, but I'll say it, anyway. Thank you all. Very much." There was a lot of beaming from the knights and some more from Arthur and it was all very blinding and full of quiet healing for Merlin's heart. All too soon, the king left reluctantly to go back to council and the knights back to shower and eat.
Then it was just Gaius and Merlin. Outside, the day had faded and shadows crept into the room, chased away by candlelight from his new sconce. Merlin was beginning to feel the effects of taking his last pain draught of the day.
"So what do you think of my new room?"
Gaius paused, and Merlin braced himself for a thorough answer to his rather flippant question. "At first glance, it is pure excess. Be sure that I mentioned several times to Arthur that you don't have enough belongings to fill even a third of that chest, not to mention the chest of drawers as well." Gaius shook his head. Then his gaze returned to Merlin and softened. "But knowing the king as I do, and knowing all the sacrifices you have made for him and the ways you protect and serve him daily, in reality, this is but a paltry reward."
"No, no more words from you. I already know what you're going to say so you don't need to say it." Gaius stood, smiling. "Even if this gift wasn't richly deserved, you would still be forced to keep it because he is the king and he's determined to see you comfortable and well-rewarded for your loyalty. And that, my dear boy, is a grand thing, indeed."
Merlin grew still, thinking on those words. He let Gaius go with a soft smile. How was it possible that out of one of the worst experiences of his life, so much good had come? He gazed around his room, refusing to revisit the frightening memories of that long night and day, focusing instead on what was around him. Despite what Arthur and Gaius had said, he still felt undeserving and slightly out of place. But the beauty of the gifts spoke to him in a way he couldn't deny. The dove caught his eye and he lay still, contemplating it until sleep came and claimed him once again.
The room slowly darkened as candle after candle burned down to the wick. Merlin, cocooned warmly in his new bed, slept, dreaming of peace, a lovely brown-haired girl with his name on her lips and a shining sword that shone like hope itself even in the darkest night.