Elyan was with Gaius, Arthur's armour was polished, his breakfast was in hand, his clothes washed, hell, Merlin would have polished his crown if he thought he'd appreciate it. In other words, there wasn't a single thing that even Arthur could find fault with, Merlin was pretty sure.
But he still didn't go in.
He wasn't even sure why. After all, he should be jumping for joy, standing on his head and... rolling down hills in jubilation. What Arthur had said last night... it meant far more than he could say. It was the precious first step to the goal of everything that Merlin had worked for in the past few years, and it had been real. Not some foolish, wistful daydream, but real, flesh and blood, his destiny, his prat standing there saying the words. I promise...
He sighed. Honestly, he wasn't sure of what to expect now, which was maybe why he was hesitating. But really, what was there to fear? That Arthur would have forgotten all about last night? That he would deny it ever happened? No, he knew the man who was his king, and Arthur would never back down from his word. So that was all right.
And yet. Last night he'd been treated to yet another glimpse of his destiny laid out before him with startling clarity, one of those precious moments when he knew it would all be worth it in the end. Because there, struggling with grief and guilt but facing his death with a courage that stole Merlin's breath, he had seen the Once and Future King, never more a king kneeling there crying than standing upright with a crown.
So maybe it was that he was half expecting to see some noble stranger in the room, staring at him with Arthur's blue eyes. Which he honestly wasn't that happy about, though it would mean an end to his long, lonely wait, and yet-
He rolled his eyes at himself, dithering in the doorway like a coquettish maiden, and walked in with a loud, "Rise and shine, sire!"
He came to a startled halt at the sight of Arthur, still dressed from last night (or was it this morning?) leaning against the wall and looking out the window Merlin had come to dub 'the thinking window', since his king seemed to decided that staring morosely out of it was the best thing to do when he had no idea what to do.
"Up and shining," was the dry reply that met him, and he grinned involuntarily.
"I will always remember this day, my liege!" He declared cheerfully, earning a withering look. "Breakfast?"
"Put it down," with a vague wave of his hand, and Merlin frowned. He knew for a fact that Arthur hadn't eaten much yesterday either, and he wasn't about to let him get away with skipping meals (for all that he teased him about being fat).
"You have to eat," he said hopefully.
"Merlin, if you imagine that you are being persuasive, you are wrong."
"I am wounded," he shot back, "but then your example hasn't taught me much."
Arthur snorted, but turned from the window, and Merlin was startled at the shadows beneath his eyes. His face must have showed it, because Arthur cast him a particularly ferocious glare that all but screamed shut up, and sat.
"I brought him to Gaius, safe and unmolested." He realised what he'd said and shut his mouth with a snap. Arthur stared.
"And he might have been... molested?"
"No, no! It was just a... figure of speech! Yes. It means... uh, being, uh, undisturbed."
Arthur dropped it. He ate in silence for the most part, while Merlin moved the things on the bedside table just because he could, but the wound up mass of things that were not said was thundering in his ears, and he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"What you said was really moving, you know."
There was a pause. Arthur glared at him. He winced, realising how much like teasing that had sounded, and that Arthur was reluctant enough to discuss such things without more goading from him, and hastily attempted to patch it up.
"I'm serious! I'm not joking!"
"I got that the first time, Merlin."
Merlin wasn't sure what to say, and so thankfully kept his mouth shut.
"So you... agree, with what I said?"
"Sorry?" Arthur gave him a look, but repeated himself. Merlin gave him a blank smile while panicking inwardly. What was he supposed to say? On the one hand, he most certainly did not want to champion magic too strongly, just in case Arthur became suspicious (though he doubted it, his friend was as oblivious as a block of wood); on the other, he would quite willingly pour hot oil on himself if he undid what happened last night.
"I... think you did the right thing, sire."
"Shut up, Merlin." Pause. "I mean, don't shut up. Just tell me what you think, and drop the sire. It makes you sound funny."
Merlin gaped, but shut his mouth. "I agree. The Druids have never harmed anyone."
"And yet we have harmed them," and he saw guilt in the shadows in Arthur's eyes.
"The child forgave you," gently, then, "did you... attack many camps?"
"No. It was one of the last left, anyway, and when my father told me to lead another charge I..." Arthur trailed off, looking faintly sheepish. "I feigned illness. And Morgana-" He cut himself off sharply, and the light that had briefly lit his features shut off suddenly. Merlin winced. Morgana's name was still a knife to Arthur's heart, and he knew that his friend had never fully understood why she had turned away so suddenly and so brutally. He'd never tried to explain.
He let it rest for a while, then, tentatively, "I'm glad. That you did."
"He found out," Arthur's tone was measured. Merlin wondered what it was about Uther Pendragon, that gave his name so much presence that a single pronoun was sufficient to convey who you meant. "He hauled me to his chambers and called me coward. Suffice to say, I never tried it again."
There was a bitter taste in Merlin's mouth. The one time your child tries to do what he thinks is right- albeit in an unconventional way- and you shame him.
"He was wrong." The words were out before he could stop them, and he closed his eyes before the storm broke over his head. Any second now. Oh, he was in trouble. Maybe the stocks. Or some more "training" with the knights. He just hoped none of them were possessed this week, he still had bruises from Elyan. Or maybe-
"Was he?" Arthur's voice was amazingly mild, and Merlin stared for a while before deciding to take his good luck and not question it.
"Yes. Yes, he was. It's not cowardly to try to get out of killing innocent people."
"Maybe. In any case the killing of Druids was wrong."
"Yes..." Merlin swallowed hard, and took a risk. "After all, they were peaceful people. Even though they had magic."
Arthur tensed. Merlin held his breath.
"Magic... does not necessarily make a person evil."
He must have made some noise, some expression of his joy, because Arthur turned sharply to him. "Why? Don't you agree?"
"Yes! Oh, yes, sire!" He knew he was talking too much, but hearing Arthur say those words- "Yes! It doesn't! It's like a candlestick! Right? I mean, because candlesticks are kind of rare, but they don't make a difference to the person who has them, unless they decided to drop it on someone else's head, right? I mean-"
"Shut up, Merlin."
Merlin shut up, but he was grinning like an idiot and he knew it.
"I'd say magic was more like... a herb, actually. Some kind of strange medicinal leaf. You know, that can be used to heal or to kill."
Merlin blinked. "You're... right."
"Did I hear correctly?" Arthur was regarding him with eyes filled with mirth. "Did you just concede that I was right?"
"Yes! I do that... all the time."
Arthur raised an eyebrow that could rival Gaius, and shrugged. "Well, in comparison to yours, any analogy would be good."
"Hey!" Merlin was genuinely indignant. After all, he was the one with the magic! And all right, maybe candlesticks hadn't exactly been his best moment, but still... It wasn't that bad! There was nothing wrong with candlesticks!
Arthur put down his fork, looking weary all of a sudden. "You know, the council is going to kill me for this. And somehow I don't think candlesticks are going to convince them."
Merlin winced in sympathy, but smiled brightly. "You never know sire, you could always drop them on their heads if all else fails."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Yes, Merlin. I will line them up and you can position the candlesticks and drop on my signal."
"Alright!" He got up energetically.
"Merlin! I was joking! You know, when people say things they don't really- Merlin!" A crash sounded as Merlin really did drop the candlestick- who would've known it was so heavy!
Arthur sighed. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around. You amuse me. Any chance of joining the circus, Merlin?"
Merlin shot him an appropriately hurt look, and went back to moving things. His thoughts were racing. Herbs. Well, who would've thought! He wanted to hug the herbs. He wanted to hug Arthur, but somehow he doubted it'd be appreciated. He wanted to-
"You are sure, Merlin?" He froze.
"What do you mean?"
"That... magic... really is not evil. That the Druids can be trusted." That I'm not making a huge mistake. Merlin heard the unspoken words loud and clear, and did not regret what he did next.
Swiftly he went to Arthur, and knelt at the side of his chair. "My lord. Those words you spoke last night? They were the promise of a king, and never have I been so proud to serve you."
Arthur looked at him, a curious softness in his eyes, before he smiled slightly and nodded, the acceptance of allegience. "A poor king, Merlin, kneeling in the mud."
"No." Merlin's words were out before he'd thought them, but these words he would not take back. "No. You were more a king kneeling there than you ever were standing out before everyone with your crown, because you- you spoke- and your voice-" he bowed his head, not trusting his own to express that indescribable mixture of pride and joy and pain that had filled him at the resonant timbre of Arthur's voice, making that promise. "It is not the crown that makes the king, sire, but the courage."
And, yes, it was. It was the courage that made the king that made his destiny and his world and all his life, because Merlin might be working for magic but oh, he was working for Arthur too-
Arthur regarded him with something akin to wonder. "You never fail to surprise me, Merlin. Not only wise, but poetic!"
"I aim to please!"
"You fail. Badly." Before Merlin could muster a reply of appropriate heat, Arthur smiled.
- Maybe more than magic, because he served his king and his friend-
"I really wasn't joking, you know."
"About your speech."
Arthur glanced at him, and Merlin knew he understood. "Thank you."
- and yes, it would all be worth it in the end.
Merlin shrugged lightly. But before he stood he looked closely at Arthur's face, noted the shadows that still lay there, and drew a deep breath. All or nothing, then.
"Arthur, I will speak of this once, then leave you alone. You may have been thinking about Druids and whatnot, but I know your heart cannot forget- Gwen. Don't!" Arthur had opened his mouth, presumably to tell Merlin to shut up. "I understand why you did what you did, and I know it was merciful. But Arthur, don't give up. Not yet. There, now I'll shut up."
Arthur glared at him for all of seven seconds, before caving and sighing. "Very well." Merlin knew it was all of the reply and thanks he was going to get on the matter, but it was enough for now.
"So!" They stared at each other for a long moment. Merlin smiled hopefully. Arthur lifted his eyes to the heavens.
"Go polish my armour, or... something."
Arthur stared at Merlin. "You actually did your chores?"
"I did," he nodded hard. "I thought you deserved some kind of reward, you know, for restraining your prat-like qualities long enough to make that speech. Oh, and would you like me to polish your crown?"
"Get out, Merlin."
He turned, but couldn't resist, "Are you sure about the candlesticks? I could just try one on-"
He laughed, and did. It was a new day.
I wrote this generally because I was amazed at the last scene of 4x10, Herald of a New Age. I loved the rest of it, but then Merlin mocked Arthur's tears and Arthur told Merlin he was as stupid as he was ugly and I was left sitting there with my mouth open. Why boys, why? I understand that you are emotionally constipated (at least Arthur is) and boys insult each other when they're emotional, but still! Surely such an important moment warranted some discussion.
Secondly, a little nod of the head to Gwen, because really, everyone thought Arthur and Elyan were being all miserable about her, and turns out they were both thinking about the shrine! Really! Doesn't anyone care about Gwen?
Next, about candlesticks and herbs: I've heard the magic is a sword analogy so many times, I want to guillotine it. Hey, that's an idea! Magic's like a guillotine! It's... um... actually, forget it. Anyway, I wanted to try to be a little original... hope it worked for you! Please do drop a review!