...And one secret Arthur blew open himself.
"Merlin, am I stupid?"
Merlin stopped polishing Arthur's shield and looked up, a smart retort burning on his lips. It died when he saw Arthur's dejected face. It was a month after Galahad's triumphant return and two days since Percival and Guinevere left on a state visit to Munsalvaesche. Merlin knew he'd been in a sour temper since Gwen was gone, but he didn't know it was that bad. If the king looked that hurt, it wasn't a time for jokes. "No, Arthur. As much as I tease, you're not stupid. You're quite clever. And even if you don't like politics and diplomatics and things, you can play the lords better than a bard can play a lute. It's sort of amazing to watch. You make your people proud." In anyone else, it would seem as though the praise was a little heavy handed, but both of them knew Merlin never voiced admiration lightly.
The sad frown remained on Arthur's face. Merlin stood and set the shield aside. He walked toward Arthur's writing desk, grabbing a chair from a smaller table. Pulling it up to the desk, he sat and leaned on the wood of the desk, pillowing his head with his arms. "Mind telling me why you asked?" he said, voice soft with concern.
Arthur took a deep breath and stared at the floor, his eyes empty. "…I've been thinking about the last several years. Everything that's happened. And I noticed something. Morgause lied to me about Mother, and then it turned out she was telling the truth and Father was letting me believe it was a lie. In fact, he lied about it rather than her. And he was lying about Morgana, too. She was my sister. And then she was evil. And then she had magic. And magic is evil, Father told me all magic is evil, but he lied to me about the other things and I didn't see anything wrong with the magic on the road to Westmorland and the Fisher King said magic loved me and Galahad was raised in it and he's all right, though he's all the wrong age, which is creepy, and Percival's magic would kill him if he put a toe out of line. And I killed a dragon, but it didn't die. And a castle fell on the only other dragon egg we knew of, but somehow there are two of them. Dragons, I mean. Gwaine is a prince. Percival is the heir to an enchanted land, which is kind of like being a prince, but more like being a mouthpiece. Gwen really was a princess all these years and never said a word, and Elyan a prince, too, a crown prince, to boot. And Gwen betrayed me with Lancelot, only she didn't, because Lancelot was dead, but then he wasn't, but that was really a shade and he might be half alive somewhere being someone else's knight and he had a son out of wedlock. And Agrivaine was evil all along, too. Am I missing anything else?" He snorted. "Or, let me guess, you've got some kind of secret, too."
"Oh yeah, I'm magic," Merlin said, then sat up straight and clapped his hands over his mouth. He hadn't meant to say anything at all, but Arthur was on such a roll he felt like he had to complete the list. Arthur stared at him, the same blank look in his eye, not saying a word. Seconds went by and still nothing. Merlin lowered his now-trembling hands and continued as if he couldn't stop himself, rushing through some points and stumbling across others. "Um…Technically, uh, I'm a, um, warlock, so I was born with my magic. So, uh, I haven't actually broken any rules. Except I did start to study, er, sorcery, after I came to Camelot. Butonlytoprotectyou! I've never actively done anything to betray you, or commit treason, or break a law, other than, er, of course, the actual study of um, magic. And the, um, thelying. Although technically, I never said I couldn't use magic… Uh…I've been saving your life almost weekly ever since I first arrived...and I, uh, might also be, um, a dragonlord. The last dragonlord...and, um, theonewhosetthedragonloose in the first place, although I did that before I was a dragonlord, and I didn't know he was going to go all crazy and roast the castle, although I guess I should have known, because I'd be angry, too, if I had to spend twenty years chained up in a pit…And, er, I, uh, might also use an aging spell to be, um, Dragoon the Great, but yourfather'sdeathwasnotmyfault. I mean it was, but it wasn't. I mean, Morgana got to him before me, I swear, the spell would have worked if she hadn't spelled him first…And, er, there's sort of a, um, prophecy. About us. The two of us. You're kind of the Once and Future King, although if I'm perfectly honest with you, I'm not entirely sure what that means any more than you do, and I'm kind of EmrysKingoftheDruids, your sworn protector, and we, uh, may be destined to raise up the kingdoms and unite them all into Albion, although I think you rather sort of did that without much help on my part…" He swallowed. "…Arthur? Please say something."
Arthur blinked. "…Oh, you're finished? I thought there might be more." He leaned back in his chair, rubbing the back of his neck.
Merlin frowned, trying to decide whether the words were sincere or sarcastic. "…That's it? That's all you're going to say?"
The king's hands dropped into his lap. "After all that's happened, it hardly surprises me, that's all."
"Well, it only serves to prove my point, Merlin," he said, leaning forward again. "A couple of years ago I would see all this as betrayal upon treason, just one right after the other. But it's everyone, Merlin, everyone lies to me, even you, who I loved as the little brother I always wanted and never had, and if you tell anyone I said that I'll cut you to ribbons, magic or no." He shook his finger in Merlin's face before taking a breath to continue. "I'm honest, aren't I? I hate lying, can't stand it. Can't stand lying, can't stand being lied to, but it happens, every day. I was angry, for the longest time, at everyone, then at myself. I mean, I thought I was a good judge of character, but apparently I'm just…gullible. And really stupid."
"No, Arthur, you're not," Merlin argued, although his mind was reeling. Arthur knew he had magic and he wasn't dead yet. That had to be a good sign. And Arthur loved him as a brother, which he'd known for a while, but it still made him positively giddy to hear the words. Terror, confusion, and happiness were an insane emotive combination, and in the end Merlin settled for confused, which took the least effort.
"No, Merlin, I'm not," Arthur said. "But there's still a problem, see, because I'm not stupid, and I'm not gullible, and people were still keeping things from me. And you know what I decided that problem was?"
He kneaded at his temples with his fingertips. "Me. See, I was angry at first, but then I saw how foolish that was. If one person betrays you, get angry. If everyone betrays you, you're doing something wrong. So what is it I'm doing wrong? Clearly I'm not trustworthy."
"But you are!"
"No, I'm not. If I were trustworthy, Morgana would have come to me about the magic. You would have told me about the magic. Lancelot would have told me about Galahad. Gwen and Gwaine might have said something about being royalty. I have been stupid not to see it before, and I realize now something's got to change. If my dearest friends feel like they can't approach me when they have a problem, then what right do I have thinking my people can approach me with their problems? It's bad government, is what it is, and what's more, it makes me feel like I am as distant as my father. He was devoted and meant well, but that's not enough. I intend to be a better king than my father."
Sometime during his little speech, Arthur had stood and started to pace back and forth in front of Merlin, alternately pulling at his hair and holding his hands behind his back. Now he stopped and blinked at his surroundings as if not entirely aware that he had moved from his chair. He groaned and flopped back into the seat, letting his head fall into his folded arms. They stayed like that for almost a full minute, Arthur pouting with his head on his desk, Merlin tense and confused across from him. At last, the king peeked at Merlin over the top of his elbow. "Do you really have magic?" he asked, his voice muffled by his sleeve.
Not trusting himself to speak, the warlock nodded.
"Can…can you show me?"
He hesitated a moment, then looked at the flickering candle next to him. "…Drakon," he said, and the flame grew and twisted into the shape of a dragon the size of Arthur's fist. It gave a tiny, smoky roar and, at a glance from Merlin, launched itself away from its candlestick. It flew twice around the room, wings trailing flame like a red cloak of Camelot, before coming to rest on Arthur's desk, in front of the king himself. It bowed its head to the king and dissolved, becoming an arch of fire from the unscorched desk back to its candle before settling into a normal candle flame once more. The gold left Merlin's eyes.
Arthur stared at the candle. He'd went as stiff as a board when the dragon formed in the flame, but as it flew, he'd relaxed. Now a smile was spreading across his face. "…That was…brilliant."
"…So you're not going to kill me?" Merlin asked with a nervous half-chuckle. His hands were still shaking.
"Well of course not, idiot. What did you expect?" He rose from his chair again. "Help me get ready for bed."
Not another word was said while Arthur changed into his nightshirt and flopped onto the bed in a manner not in the least bit suited to a king. Merlin, gathering Arthur's laundry from the other side of the room, held back a grin at the sight. Some things would never change.
"Merlin, I want you to come in extra early in the morning," Arthur said as he settled under the covers. "No excuses and no tardiness, not tomorrow."
"I think I'll be angry in the morning, and I'll definitely want answers. I want to get the whole story, and to yell at you a good long while. I need to get it all out of my system before I repeal the ban on magic at the council meeting tomorrow evening."
Merlin choked and dropped the laundry, gaping at Arthur—although his head was the only thing that could be seen over the top of the bedclothes. "W-what?"
The blanket moved. Merlin guessed Arthur had shrugged. "Between Percival and Galahad and Gwaine's hair 'tonics'—don't think I don't know about those—it had to happen sometime. And there's Westmorland, too, and all its people looking to come home—and Garis, wanting off the throne as soon as possible…Though he did say he'd stay if I changed the laws, he'll have less power if I began treating Westmorland like our other provinces and that would make him happy—Sweet Camelot, and he'll have to tell me he told me so, too, won't he? Anyway, you've just cinched it. It's time to throw this whole secrets lark out the window. Perhaps it's even time to see what 'Once and Future King' really means. Unto Albion, right?"
Merlin smiled—a real smile, a perfect smile, a free smile, feeling an exclamation of joy bubbling just beneath the surface his skin. "Unto Albion, Arthur. Thank you."
"No, thank you. Get the candles, please?" Merlin nodded, shifting the laundry into one hand and reaching for the snuffer. Arthur laughed and shook his head. "Come on, Merlin. Surely my future Court Sorcerer can do better than that."
Merlin smiled again, but it soon fell into a grimace. "Uh…"
"What is it now?"
"Court Sorcerer? You're going to make me the Court Sorcerer? Because I'm not, at all, in any way a sorcerer. Or were you not paying attention when I said warlock?"
"Really, Merlin? You tell me you've been lying to me for years and when I voluntarily give you a promotion in response, you want to argue semantics?" Arthur groaned, but there was a smile on his face. "How about Court Warlock? Or is that too limiting?"
"I doubt you'll be able to find one after me," Merlin admitted with a modest blush. "At least I've never met another one."
"…All right. What would you call someone who uses magic in the most general sense entirely?"
The warlock chewed his lip. "…Magician?"
"There we are. You're to be my Court Magician, and you expect to put out a few candles with a snuffer? The city of Camelot will be the shame of the magical community in Albion, I can already tell."
"We'll see about that." Another perfect smile and a flash of gold and every candle in the room extinguished itself at once. "…Good night, Arthur!" he cried, heading for the door.
"A very good night indeed," he heard the king mutter as the door closed behind him. "A very good night indeed…"
Don't think that's the end.
I've got a two-shot sequel already half-written and a drabble/one-shot dumping ground for this world in the works. Also thinking about slaving away come series 5 to reconcile the show to this story rather than the other way around, but that sounds like A LOT of work, and frankly, I'm a little lazy. On the other hand, there are lots more legends to play with, and waaay back when this was just Gwaine's place, didn't I mention something about a wedding?
You guys have been an absolutely fantastic crowd. I love hearing from you in reviews and PM's, and getting these stories to you. You never fail to brighten my day. I hope this has been as much fun for you as it has for me.