A/N: Takes place after the end of S4. Everything is the same except that Arthur and Gwen were never together romantically, so anything directly pertaining to their romantic relationship never happened. Lancelot did sacrifice himself at the beginning of S4 but his soul managed to find its way back to earth and now he and Gwen are together.
Isolde never died but did save Arthur's life so he gave her and Tristan a plot of land in one of the outlying villages of Camelot as compensation.
Arthur has legalized magic, but is still wary of its use within his kingdom.
This story starts on Arthur's birthday.
"Up you get, sire!" Merlin cried as he threw open the curtains of Arthur's windows.
"Merlin," Arthur groaned as he rolled away from the light streaming through the glass.
"Come on, sire. You've got a big day ahead of you."
"Shouldn't I be able to sleep in on my birthday?"
"Nope," Merlin said from his place at the base of the bed and whipping the covers off the young king in one fell swoop.
"Merlin!" Arthur yelled, curling up into a ball as the warmth of the sheets disappeared.
"Oh come on, you lazy lump. I got your favorite breakfast," Merlin sang playfully.
Arthur glared at him as he rolled out of bed and walked towards the table where Merlin had laid out a magnificent spread.
"How did you get all this up here without waking me?" the king asked his servant, popping a grape into his mouth. "Usually you can't walk five steps without tripping over something."
"You know, most people would just say thank you," Merlin said, stripping Arthur's bed and dumping the sheets in the laundry basket.
"Most people are not the king."
"And therefore have been raised with manners," Merlin muttered to himself as he spread new sheets onto the bed.
A roll hit the back of his head and he looked around at Arthur. "I heard that."
Merlin rolled his eyes as he turned back to the bed. "So are you excited about the entertainment tonight?"
"Considering what happened last year, not so much."
"Have you ever considered perhaps employing a Court Sorcerer. It may be useful to have an expert."
"Merlin, given my father's history with magic, I highly doubt I can trust anyone of magic to be loyal to my court."
"You are not your father, Arthur. And the act of legalization was an important gesture."
"Yes, but if my father taught me anything it was to not rely on anyone else. We were both betrayed by people we trusted deeply."
Merlin pursed his lips, thinking of Morgana and Agravaine.
"Anyway, that's why we're just having a feast and some of our usual court jesters and singers. And the hunt of course," he said with a smile, glancing at Merlin, who winced. "What's wrong, Merlin? You aren't looking forward to it?"
"Of course, sire," Merlin said sarcastically. "Because every time we go hunting, it turns out so well for us."
"You know, it's that kind of attitude that ruins the day."
Merlin rolled his eyes as he left with the laundry basket as the king smiled after him.
It was just Arthur, Merlin, and his inner circle of knights as they prowled through the woods looking for game. Merlin was tripping over roots and dropping equipment as he followed Arthur while the king tried to hide his smile at his servant's antics.
"Really, Merlin, with the racket you're making, we'll be lucky if we catch anything."
"Why do you bring me along if I do such an inadequate job then?"
"I seem to ask myself that every day."
The truth was, he liked Merlin's company. Merlin kept things interesting. He was the first person to ever stand up to Arthur. Even his inner circle of knights, who he joked and played around with were not as constantly blunt with him as Merlin.
Merlin was also like a kind of security blanket. He knew how insane that sounded. But he liked having Merlin near him. He felt safe with Merlin. It was the most irrational thing in the world given that Arthur was stronger, more coordinated, and certainly superior to Merlin in every way physically. But Merlin kept him grounded, sane, rational. He stopped him from doing something stupid or dangerous in the heat of the moment.
And though his father had always told him never to rely on anyone else, Merlin had always been unwaveringly loyal despite how badly Arthur sometimes treated him.
By the time they were done hours later, they had managed to take down a buck and five fairly large rabbits, and Arthur was satisfied with the success of the hunt, as was Merlin for the simple fact that nothing had attacked them.
Arthur's party was in full swing two hours after sundown. There was a single long table in the Great Hall, at which Arthur sat at the head. Leon, Lancelot, and Gwen sat down the right side closest to him; Gwaine, Percival, and Elyan down the left. Other distinguished nobles and advisors sat farther down the table, and, of course, Merlin stood three steps diagonally behind him to his right, ready to attend to whatever the king needed.
Arthur was smiling, laughing at a joke Gwaine had just told as Merlin refilled his goblet.
Merlin was so distracted the banter of the knights and his serving duties that he didn't sense the great magical presence outside the heavy double doors at the end of the hall until a moment before they were thrown open.
The king and his knights stood up at once, all drawing their swords as the hall went silent, every eye on the black-hooded and caped newcomer standing in the doorway.
Before anyone could say or do anything. The figure spread its arms in a fluid, sweeping motion, and everyone was thrown back, away from the table. In a split second the figure soared over the table, and landed in front of the king, who had been thrown onto his back.
The figure ripped off its hood and grabbed Arthur by the neck, pulling him to his feet.
"Hello, dear brother," Morgana hissed just before a great column of air whipped up around them.
"ARTHUR!" Merlin cried as the king was swept up away from the hall with his sister.