A/N: Well, got here eventually. Took me long enough. ;)
Chapter 6: Merlin
"Traitor! You're a sorcerer, Merlin! How dare you use magic … how dare you!"
"Arthur, please. Let me explain..." Merlin didn't get any further as he suddenly found himself desperately defending himself from his friend's fists. Somehow knowing that using magic wasn't going to help the situation and feeling guilty enough not to care, Merlin attempted to back away instead.
"It's not over yet, Arthur," he continued. "You have to let me go. There's something else I need to do."
"This is what you left for? To learn magic? What were you thinking?"
"No, that's not it. That's not the reason … Arthur, you have to listen to..." He got no further as one of the punches got through his block and he found himself on the floor, his left cheek throbbing in pain. Merlin was bracing himself for the next blow when he suddenly heard a familiar voice and looked up confused, blinking as he saw a slim figure in armour somehow managing to keep Arthur at bay.
"Sire, please … think about what you're doing. Arthur, you must stop! Merlin has given us a chance to win but … you have to keep fighting."
That couldn't be right. He must have been hit harder than he thought, but there was no mistaking that voice, that figure. As Arthur was persuaded to return to the battle, Merlin started to scramble to his feet and turned to face his unexpected rescuer.
"What in the world are you doing here, Morgana?"
"How did you get Arthur to … oh." Suddenly Merlin felt it; the strange sense of magic, the vague outline of a much larger figure hovering like a ghost around the slimmer frame. "Oh, not you too!" He started to laugh at the coincidence but quickly winced instead as his cheek stung from the action.
"You can see... me?" Morgana asked him, confused.
"Yes, because..." He winced again. This time for a very different reason.
"Oh, yes, I remember Nimueh saying now. Something about it not working on those with powerful magic." She turned an accusing look on him.
"Morgana, what were you thinking? Don't you know how many sorcerers are here? How many can see you for who you really are?"
"Apparently not," she replied pointedly. "Looks like I definitely missed at least one." She glared at him, folding her arms.
"Ah, yes … sorry."
"I should be furious with you," she continued.
"Yes, you should. Aren't you?"
"No, I'm just relieved. I was worried I wouldn't get here in time to save him."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Morgana. Really I am but... I was told not to say anything, as I'm sure you've guessed."
"As for Arthur," Merlin continued. "Apparently protecting him was my job."
"Well, I was told I had to be here too. To protect Gwaine."
"Don't sound so surprised, Merlin. I do have magic, you know, and am considerably more skilled with a blade than you are."
"No, you're right. I'm sorry, I didn't mean it to come out like that but, you do need to be careful, Morgana, I can sense that there are a lot of sorcerers here and it's probably best you don't risk being seen by them."
"All the more reason for me to stay here and help you out," she insisted.
"What? Would you rather that I make my way home and sit meekly with my needlework waiting for my brave men to return from war?" she asked sarcastically.
"I'm just worried about you," Merlin said quietly. "I know you can take care of yourself but, I still can't help it." She smiled at that and moved slowly forwards, her eyes softening. "Ah..." Merlin looked around nervously. "You might want to remember that most of the soldiers here will only be able to see a large red-haired knight gazing lovingly at me."
Morgana laughed, one eyebrow raised. "You think I'm gazing at you lovingly?"
"Yes," he shot back, "and as much as I'd love to keep flirting, the war's still on and there's something else I need to do."
"Oh, such as what?"
"I need to bring someone else in on this battle."
The war was won and, despite now being the official king of the North, it was decided that Merlin, along with Gwaine, should first return to Camelot so they could all decide what they were going to do next.
So, the three young friends rode home with a small, supporting army of Knights, having assigned the rest of the large army to help hold and police the newly acquired land whilst they were away.
Both Arthur and Gwaine asked after the large red-haired knight who had made such a big impression on them and Merlin reassured them that the man had survived the battle and was now part of the group that had been sent to defend his Northern castle whilst the new king was briefly away. In truth he didn't know for certain whether or not Morgana had taken his advice and gone home but, if she had ignored him, she was certainly managing to keep herself well hidden.
The small group made good time and entered the main courtyard of Camelot to find a welcoming party standing on the steps ready to greet them. Uther was there in the centre with Gaius and Hunith to his left and Gwen and Morgana on his right. Merlin grinned as he saw the latter; amused at the way she was standing there seriously, looking as if she'd been there the whole time, rather than having so recently played a key part in securing their victory.
Morgana took a hesitant step forward then before turning to Uther, apparently seeking his permission for something. The king's slightly distant expression briefly disappeared and he smiled encouragingly at her. Taking this as permission granted, she lifted her skirts and moved hastily down the stairs, heading straight for Arthur whilst Uther continued to smile approvingly, obviously expecting some romantic reunion between the two.
However, as Arthur walked forward at the head of their little group of knights, Morgana merely paused for long enough to put a friendly hand on his arm, turned to give Gwaine a brief kiss on the cheek and then, moved quickly towards Merlin, threw her arms around the young sorcerer's neck and kissed him passionately in front of everyone.
He allowed it briefly before pushing her gently away. "What are you doing?" he hissed, feeling his cheeks flare with embarrassment.
"Giving the true hero of this battle his just reward," she replied slyly.
"But..." Merlin looked over to see Gwaine with a broad grin on his face and Arthur looking on open mouthed in shock. However, that was nothing to the look on Uther's face. The king was moved towards them now, his face contorted with rage, with Gaius, Hunith and Gwen quickly following behind.
"What are you doing, Morgana? What are you thinking?" the king asked.
"I am greeting the man I love, after he's returned unharmed from war," she replied confidently, lifting her chin high. Merlin swallowed hard, his heart beating furiously at her sudden, very public declaration.
"How dare you, and in front of your fiancé too?" the king spluttered.
"Oh, Arthur doesn't mind," she replied casually. "He's in love with Gwen, anyway."
"Morgana!" Arthur hissed.
"You don't mind if I marry Merlin instead of you, do you, Arthur?" Morgana pushed on, not at all bothered by the various shocked looks of those around her.
"What? Morgana ..." Merlin complained. He had to admit that it was what he hoped would happen eventually, but there were a number of complications to sort out first and it would have been nice if she had discussed such a thing with him first.
"Morgana, we should talk about this later. Quietly and … in private," Arthur complained, casting a nervous look between Gwen, Lancelot and his father. The knight too had gone pale – having started towards Gwen and now hesitating – unsure of his welcome.
"I'm fed up with all the secrets," Morgana continued. "There have been far too many lately, I'm sure you'll all agree."
"Inside the Hall, now!" Uther ordered. "All of you involved in this … fiasco."
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Merlin whispered, as Morgana casually looped her arm around his as they made their way up the stairs, a satisfied smirk on her face.
"Getting things moving," she answered. "Otherwise nothing positive was ever going to get done."
"Now, Arthur," said Uther, once they were closeted in the Hall. "Will you please tell me what is going on."
"The war was successful, Father. Morgause is dead and Cenred defeated," the prince replied, obviously deciding to start with the positives.
"Good, so Camelot is in control of the whole of Albion, just as planned."
"Yes but, Father, we cannot control the whole of that large territory from here," Arthur continued. "We need to put trustworthy people in charge of those places in order to administer the outlying areas efficiently."
"Yes, Gaius and the other advisors were explaining that part of your plan to me whilst you were away. At first I wasn't at all sure about it, as it seemed as if we were splitting Albion back up again, but now I can see it was the right decision and that the East and South are fully under our control again as a result."
"Yes and I plan to hold a meeting assigning new people to those areas," Arthur continued. "People that are acceptable to both us and the locals. People that will do the best for the individual areas, Camelot and the whole of Albion."
"We have lords in the South and East already," Uther commented.
"Those were only temporary placements. These new assignments will be far more suitable."
"And what of Morgana's display out there? What did she mean when she said that you were both looking elsewhere?"
"It's true, Father. I know you made a promised to Gorlois but I'm sure that her father would have wanted what is best for his daughter. However, for now any marriages amongst this group needs to be put on hold, as I cannot manage this new plan for Albion otherwise."
"What? What are you talking about?" Uther asked.
"The best person to administer the East is Morgana. She cannot do that if she is married to me or to Merlin. Next year, if things are more settled, she can assign the position to someone else if she so wishes but, for now, the right person for the job is her – as it always should have been."
"Thank you, Arthur," Morgana replied sincerely.
"No! I do not want her in the East," Uther complained, his eyes slightly wild. "That is just playing into the hands of the Druids."
"It is best for Albion and best for Camelot," Arthur pushed.
"I forbid it."
"Why? It makes perfect sense. Gwaine is obviously going to be administering the West and I have decided to assign the North to Merlin and the South to Gwen. All were born in those countries and will have full support of the locals as a result."
"No, no!" Uther shouted. "You cannot put your friends in those elevated positions, Arthur. Do you not realise what that will mean?"
"They will have a year or so to settle into the new system and, during that time, we can all re-evaluate these betrothals and see what might be best for all of us at a later date."
"Gaius. You cannot agree with this?" Uther continued.
"I have to admit that the idea seems a sensible one, Sire," the old man replied carefully. "The rebellions have ceased totally in the East and South since Arthur first initiated this plan and I see no reason why it won't continue to work in all of the territories."
"I'm sure we can worry about prospective marriages at a later date," Geoffrey interjected. "But I agree that these assignments seems like a good way of dealing with the complex situation after so many years of large scale war and small scale rebellion."
All the others present were quick to agree, leaving Uther stunned and suddenly with no argument left to make. He wanted to explain what was bothering him – that Arthur putting his friends into these positions was helping to make the Prophecy come true but, what he didn't realise, was that Geoffrey and Gaius were here in Camelot for that very reason – undercover Druids placed here twenty years ago to help the Prophecy come to pass. Suddenly Arthur had offered them the perfect opportunity and they had grabbed it enthusiastically leaving Uther, who trusted them to be impartial advisors, with no logical reason to refuse their council.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Morgana and Arthur's announcements resulted in the king's relapse just as Arthur had feared. The young Regent was then left to take the meeting the following day, his four friends in attendance along with Gaius, Geoffrey and a few other senior knights and lords.
Unemotionally, Arthur assigned various people to the different territories and parting all romantic pairings as a result; separating Merlin from Morgana and assigning Lancelot to the West with Gwaine - just as far away from Guinevere as Arthur himself was forced to be.
"I can see the benefit of assigning Morgana to the East but why Merlin? Why Gwen?" Lord Pellinor asked. There was a long pause as the Quintet looked nervously at all the others present. Finally, with a shrug, Arthur nodded to Merlin who stood up with a large sigh.
"I've recently found out who my father was," he announced. "Prince Balinor, eldest son of King Morfed."
"And I am the daughter of King Thomas of the South," Gwen said confidently once the first set of gasps had subsided.
"I didn't know he had a daughter," Lord Villiars interjected. "I thought he just had one son. I know that Uther was very aware of the significance of the young prince's birth date, obviously."
"Prince Elyan was my twin," Gwen answered, an uncharacteristic steeliness evident in her voice. "My existence was somehow kept quiet and I was smuggled out of the area without anyone's knowledge. I am the rightful Queen of the South."
"Uther is correct!" Villiars exclaimed. "The prophecy has come true despite all his attempts."
"Or perhaps even because of them," Geoffrey corrected calmly. "After all, if he had not conquered Camelot, Arthur would not have been born a prince in the first place."
"You're saying that this was all inevitable?" Pellinor asked.
"Is that not the nature of all prophecy?" Gaius replied simply.
"Come now, we have much to discuss about the running of Albion and what assistance my friends can give and receive to help them in their tasks," Arthur continued.
"Then what?" Villiars asked.
"They they will return to their own kingdoms and start to manage their principalities."
"And what of the betrothals? What of this Prophecy?" Villiars asked.
"It seems that the Prophecy is more than capable of taking care of itself," Arthur replied with a sigh. "Let's focus on more earthly matters for the time being, shall we?"
It had been an amazing but very strange year for Merlin. He had missed Camelot and all his friends greatly whilst in the North, but nowhere near as much as he expected. Being king took up a huge amount of his attention and focus but he found that he thrived on it; that he enjoyed the challenges that the position gave him and loved being able to put his own unique stamp on his new kingdom, as well as carrying out the orders that came down to him from Arthur.
And, for most of that year, things were uneventful until, shortly before his twentieth birthday, Merlin received the news that King Uther had died and that he was to travel immediately to Camelot for Arthur's Coronation.
He left the very next day, just as early as he could, suddenly desperate to be by his friend's side and wishing that they had not been apart when it had happened. He even contemplated using a transporting spell to travel there instantly but eventually decided against it, using more subtle magic to allow him to cover the distance rather quicker than he would ordinarily.
"Merlin?" A slightly pale Arthur looked surprised as he opened the door to his chambers to reveal the grinning face of his fried. "But, I sent the message less than two days ago."
"I thought you might appreciate my being early for once," Merlin retorted.
"You cheated, didn't you?" Arthur accused.
"Perhaps a bit."
"I notice that you've ignored all my correspondence regarding magic use in the North."
"Seriously? Did you expect any other response from me?" Merlin responded, folding his arms.
"I suppose not."
"How are you holding up?" Merlin asked after a few moment of silence.
"It wasn't as much of a shock as it might have been, not considering how unwell he's been feeling lately."
"All the same..."
"I'm glad you're here," Arthur continued holding out his hand. Merlin grabbed his friend's elbow, rather than the offered hand, grasping firmly and pulling him closer.
"So am I. I've missed the old place … ooh!" He suddenly swayed, as a powerful sensation rippled through him.
"What is it?"
"Apparently I'm not the only one to have cheated. Trust Morgana to show off."
"What? What has she done?"
A firm knock on the door was his only reply and Arthur opened it to find Morgana standing there. "You too, eh, Merlin?" she asked, winking.
"I wasn't quite as pretentious as that," he replied with a smile. "Just prompt. How are you?"
"Pleased to be back." She walked up and kissed Merlin briefly, but firmly, full on the lips before going over to Arthur and hugging him tightly. "I came as soon as I could."
"I wish you'd come earlier," Arthur said. "He asked for you on more than one occasion."
"Don't you start, Arthur, I've already had all of this from Merlin."
Arthur raised a curious eyebrow at his friend. "She visited the North a couple of times," the warlock replied. "We had things to discuss."
"Discuss?" he asked sceptically. "Really? Do I want to know?"
"Probably not," Merlin replied with a slight grin. "Neither subject would be to your liking."
"You're both as bad as each other," Arthur complained as Morgana laughed in response to Merlin's comment.
"Arthur, this whole prophecy is about bringing magic back to Albion. You're going to have to accept that eventually," she pushed.
"And you two still intend to marry?"
"Yes," Morgana said firmly. "I don't see what your problem is, Arthur. Our betrothal is a lot less controversial than yours."
"Well, you know that you and Gwen have my full support in the matter," she continued.
"And mine," Merlin added, beaming.
"Fine then, why don't you two see if you can still remember where your old chambers are and join me this evening for supper. I expect it'll be another day or two before Gwaine and Guinevere arrive.
King Arthur Pendragon of Camelot was crowned two weeks before his twentieth birthday in front of a packed hall full of Lords, Ladies and his four very best friends. A couple of days later saw the Quintet reunited and sitting at Arthur's new Round Table with other important guests including, Hunith, Ragnelle, Gaius, Geoffrey and Alice.
Merlin and Morgana still found it amusing to watch Arthur and Gwen constantly do a double take every time Gwaine's pretty wife entered the room; both recognising her as the lady they had greeted here in Camelot a little over a year ago, whilst also apparently stunned at how much more attractive she appeared to them now than she had before.
Apparently, once Gwaine had agreed to marry Ragnelle, deciding that he liked her personality despite seeing her enchanted form, she had dropped the spell and revealed her true looks. Gwaine had sulked for quite a while after that, offended that she had felt the need to go through such a charade but, he'd quickly got over his annoyance, the pair had married, and the young man admitted to his friends that he was now very happy indeed.
The Round Table meeting was long and rather boring for the most part, although Merlin found himself content, nonetheless, simply happy to be in the same room as all four of his friends again at long last.
Suddenly everyone was distracted by a commotion outside of the main door. Confused shouts from the guards and some other unexpected sounds could be heard and everyone stood; Arthur and Gwaine unsheathing their swords, Merlin and Morgana raising their hands – all taking a defensive stance.
Then the door blew open violently and five birds flew into the Hall, eliciting a few muffles shouts from those present. Other than that, everyone froze opened mouthed as, with a flapping of wings and general squawks and cries, all the birds circled the tables a few times before suddenly setting down in front of different person. Merlin blinked at the small bird of prey that had landed in front of him and the bird blinked back, tipping its head slightly.
"Someone's got an odd sense of humour," he complained, leaning quickly forward to untie the message from the bird's foot.
Morgana laughed brightly as she too moved quickly to untie her message from the raven that had landed in front of her. "A merlin. How very apt," she responded with a laugh.
Gwaine was the first of the others to recover, moving rather cautiously towards his magpie "Are you sure it won't peck me?" he asked of no-one in particular.
Gwen's dove hopped gently forward and even offered her its leg, causing her to giggle as she retrieved the message.
"What's this one called?" Arthur asked, taking his from the bird's leg.
"A kestrel," Merlin replied. "A good little hunter."
"But why are they delivering messages?" the blond continued, opening up his small note. "More to the point, why am I being summoned to some Druid meeting?"
"Mine's telling me to attend on The Day of the Dragons," Gwaine said, looking up with a frown. "Is this to do with the Prophecy?"
"I imagine so." Merlin quickly read his note before glancing at Gaius for confirmation.
"You are now all rulers of the five old kingdoms," the old man confirmed. "The five dragon souls fully grown and united. The time of the Prophecy is indeed upon us."
All five had left Camelot along with Ragnelle and the three Druids who had been residing there. They were a relatively small party, all perfectly able to defend themselves in one way or another and so made especially good time as a result.
Merlin noticed Arthur glanced curiously at the extra package that he was carrying; a bulky rucksack on his back which he refused to open or discuss when any of his friends asked. He could tell that the newest of the young kings was especially nervous and unsure about this venture even though he was trying his best not to let his fears show.
The group travelled to the Druid community that Merlin had grown up close to; the same one that Morgana had visited on her quest the year before and, when they arrived, she did not seem at all surprised to see Nimueh and Alator there, although Gwen and Gwaine certainly were – having often feared that they may never see their old mentors again.
There was time for some catching up and socialising, but soon the numbers of people within the camp began to swell, Druids and scholars from all over Albion coming to the celebration and witness the Prophecy in action.
Of all the people there, Arthur seemed the most uncomfortable, with everything his father had told him was evil, everything generations of his family had strived against, all contained in this one village.
"He was wrong, you know," Merlin said quietly, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder. "There is nothing evil here. Nothing bad. We're just here to correct a grave injustice. To honour the dragons that lost their lives. To celebrate the start of a new era. One of peace and prosperity."
"Yes, Arthur, and magic. There's nothing evil there either, unless you believe that I am."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Because I was born with this magic, Arthur, it's who I am."
"So you said."
"But you still don't believe me?"
"It's not that I don't believe you, Merlin. More that I find it so hard to believe."
"I suppose I can understand that." They glanced over to where their two female friends were standing together, quietly talking. "Are you definitely going to marry Gwen, then?" Merlin asked of his friend.
"Yes. We've discussed it and are fairly convinced we can make it work. She has people in the South that she trusts and we'll share our time between the two castles during the year just to ensure we can keep track of everything."
"Yes, Morgana and I have agreed to something similar."
"How on earth are you going to survive that marriage, Merlin?" he asked. "She'll eat you alive, you do know that, don't you?"
Merlin grinned. "Do you not remember how I defeated Morgause? You seem to forget who and what I am, Arthur. I never was the weakling you believed me to be."
"Well, I never thought that, exactly."
"If you say so but, there's no need to worry about me," he continued with a broad grin. "I am more than capable of handling Morgana and will have a great deal of fun in the process, I imagine."
"Far too much information, Merlin," Arthur replied with a wince.
It was the Eve of the Day of the Dragons and the five young heirs stood in a circle in the clearing of the village. Merlin held Arthur's hand in his left and Morgana's in his right with Gwaine next to her and Gwen in-between the other two young men.
Iseldir came forward and spoke in a loud, clear voice, quoting the full prophecy that Merlin had only recently discovered.
"The Once and Future King, born of the dragon, will unite the five kingdoms of Albion and welcome the ancient arts. The three Kings and two Queens, born on the same day, will cement the alliance that began during their childhood. They will be named Courage, Strength, Magic, Knowledge and Wisdom and the earth itself will tremble at their birth and none will have the power to oppose them. For the five carry the souls of dragons and all will hear their call."
Then Merlin sensed him. Kilgharrah, flying in quickly from the North. As he reached the group he flapped his wings to keep him hovering over the five as they held hands, and the young warlock knew that he wasn't the only one to sense the strange warmth at that moment. Knew it wasn't just his magic responding to the dragon but something far deeper that all of them felt, all of them shared, as if, for one amazing moment, they were a single entity. The six dragons re-united at long last.
"Now, Merlin." Kilgharrah's voice entered his head. "It is midnight. It is time." And, with that command, Merlin took the pack of his back and opened it to reveal a pale, strange shaped egg, it's tip highly elongated. He lifted it reverently in both hands and placed it in the centre of the small circle before stepping back and resuming his place.
"What's happening?" Morgana's voice entered his head telepathically and he smiled, pleased at how much more easily she could communicate with him this evening. Perhaps not surprising, considering.
"Patience," he replied and couldn't help but grin at the annoyance he felt from her at the request.
"But all is not lost, for the dragon line does not end with Kilgharrah," Iseldir announced. "Merlin, as the last Dragonlord, the honour falls to you."
Merlin nodded and closed his eyes, concentrating on finding the correct name. "Aithusa," he intoned, and there in the middle of the circle, the egg cracked and a small white head emerged from the shell, blinking as she looked around at the large audience.
"She's beautiful," Morgana murmured next to him and Merlin looked at his other friends to see all had their mouths open in awe. His vision started to become a little blurred then, tears of joy now gathering in his eyes at the wonderful sight.
"The Day of the Dragons," he pronounced. "Literally."
"And you all made it possible," Iseldir continued. "The five friends prophesied to bring peace to Albion. All Born of the Dragon."