A/N: A huge thank-you to my reviewers merlinismylife, Ash9, lordstarlight, LadyDunla, ReadingRaven019, Epsilon Scorpii, Stormyskies89, CarolinaEirasSa, rmatri540, carinims01, CeaseFireOne, StrangelyPenned, and Laughy-Taffy the Grape, as well as to everyone else who ever reviewed or who will ever review this story. Thank you also to everyone who has or will put this story (or me) on favorites or alerts. I've had a great time on this journey with you, and I hope you did too.
We end on quite grand note, so I hope it makes up for this fic having to end :)
The Dawn of Albion
The day dawned bright and sunny, and a cool breeze ruffled through the newly-rebuilt city. The whole of Camelot had a tranquil and serene air about it as its citizens bustled about their morning duties.
Into this peaceful scene burst a haggard-looking warlock who appeared to be running for his very life from a highly annoyed king.
"No!" Merlin shouted as he raced across the courtyard. "I'm not wearing it; you can't make me!"
"Merlin!" Arthur called in exasperation, waving a hat around. To anyone else, it was just a hat – albeit an outrageously ostentatious one – but to Merlin, it was an instrument of torture. It was deeply purple and pointy and covered with little golden stars – and Arthur expected Merlin to wear it. To the royal ceremony. Where he would be appointed Court Sorcerer. For the whole kingdom to see.
"I am not wearing that ridiculous thing!" Merlin exclaimed. "It's horrible!"
"It's expected!" Arthur shot back, chasing after him. "You'll need an official hat as Court Sorcerer."
"NO!" Merlin all but shrieked as he dashed to the training grounds and hid behind Percival's bulky form. "Save me," he begged the big knight, who chuckled heartily.
"Percival, would you be so kind as to forcibly restrain Merlin for me, please?" Arthur asked. "I need to see how well this fits him; the royal hatter needs the measurements back by noon if the hat's to be ready for the ceremony tomorrow."
"Arthur, if you dare make me wear that…that abomination – I will turn you into a toad," Merlin threatened.
Arthur sighed. "Honestly, Merlin, must you be so dramatic? It's not like you'll have to wear it all the time – only at official ceremonies…"
"Oh, official ceremonies, is it?" Merlin said, a little wild around the eyes. "Arthur, I am never, ever, going to wear that thing, no matter what you say or do."
"But it would make you look so distinguished…"
Arthur chuckled. "Fine." He tossed the hat unceremoniously to the ground. "I told Gwaine it wouldn't work, anyway…"
"Gwaine put you up to this?" Merlin exclaimed in disbelief. "Why would he do that?"
"Well, I was wondering what your official costume should be – obviously you can't wear those old things anymore…"
"I like my clothes," Merlin defended.
"…and Gwaine suggested a hat as part of your outfit. Then Leon told him about the time I made you wear the feathered servants' hat to the banquet with Lord Bayard, and how you were never, ever going to wear such a thing again…"
"With good reason!"
"…and Gwaine almost died laughing. He said he wanted to see you in a ridiculous hat at least once, and offered me ten gold pieces if I could get you to wear this one to the ceremony," Arthur finished. Merlin stared at him, speechless.
"Where's Gwaine?" he asked finally. "I'm gonna kill him."
When Merlin entered Arthur's chambers the next morning (without knocking, of course), he was surprised to find Arthur already dressed and writing at his desk.
"You're up," Merlin observed, in some confusion.
On any other day Arthur might have rolled his eyes and made some sarcastic comment to stress his point about how he wasn't totally helpless – but today was a different matter entirely.
"What are you doing here, Merlin?"
Merlin blinked in puzzlement. "I am your manservant," he pointed out. He started to make Arthur's bed.
"By this afternoon, you won't be." Arthur set his quill down. "I know I said I didn't have time to train a new manservant yet, but that was two months ago, and the ceremony is today. You don't have to do this anymore, Merlin." He walked over to take his pillow from Merlin's hands, but Merlin kept a firm hold on it.
"No, really, I don't mind."
"You may not, but I do." Arthur tugged harder at the pillow, but Merlin still wouldn't let go. "You should be getting ready for the ceremony."
"I have plenty of time," Merlin insisted stubbornly.
"Merlin," Arthur said exasperatedly, "let go of the pillow." He finally succeeded in prying the pillow away from Merlin's grasp.
Merlin looked decidedly mournful. "It's my last day as your manservant, Arthur. Can't you just let me fulfil my duties?"
"Since when have you been so keen to do chores for me?" Arthur wondered.
Merlin awkwardly shuffled his feet and mumbled, "Since I'm never going to do them again after today."
Understanding dawned on Arthur; Merlin was nervous, not so much about the change that was coming, but about how it would affect his relationship with Arthur.
"Merlin, you do know exactly what it is you're being promoted to, don't you?"
"Then you should also know that I won't need you any less – in all honesty, I'll probably need you more. Our friendship won't change just because you'll no longer be my manservant – in fact, it'll be on better footing, because we'll finally be equals."
Merlin looked thoughtful for all of a second before a sly expression crossed his face. "Does that mean you can't throw things at me anymore?" he asked cheekily.
In response, Arthur shoved the pillow in his face. "No, Merlin. That is, and always will be, my right as your friend."
"All right, Merlin?" Queen Guinevere asked gently as she came to stand beside Merlin on the balcony where, in a few short hours, he would be introduced to the people of Camelot as their Court Sorcerer.
"Yes," Merlin assured her. "I just can't believe it's finally happening, you know? All these years, I've been waiting for this…waiting for Arthur to realise just how much I've done for him – and now the moment's here and I can barely believe it."
Gwen smiled. "I still can't believe you were hiding magic the whole time I knew you," she said. "Never in a million years would I have thought you were a sorcerer, let alone Emrys."
Merlin laughed at that; then his thoughts and expression took a more pensive turn. "It's just a pity…" He trailed off, sighing.
"What?" Gwen inquired.
"That Morgana couldn't see this," Merlin finished. His eyes turned sad. Gwen sighed and nodded.
"You knew before any of us did, didn't you? That she had magic?"
"Yes. Gaius and I tried to keep her from discovering that she was a Seer, that her dreams were prophecies – we were afraid of what Uther might do if he found out. We were trying to protect her."
"I don't blame you," Gwen said. "The number of times she woke up screaming because of her dreams…she would have been even more scared if she knew she had magic."
"She did eventually find out," Merlin said. "And she was scared, Gwen – she was absolutely terrified. I wanted to tell her about my powers, so she could see that it wasn't a bad thing – but Gaius warned me not to…and I guess I was a little afraid of what she would do, too. Now that I look back on it, maybe if I'd told her, she never would have –"
"Merlin, you can't blame yourself for what she did," Gwen interjected. "It was her choice. What matters is that she came around eventually. At the very end of it all, she was our Morgana."
"She always was a good person at heart," Merlin agreed. "She was so strong...she always stood up to Uther, always helped those who couldn't help themselves…and when she accepted her magic, she was scared, but she had hope for a better future, a better Camelot, where magic was allowed once more, and seen as a force for good." He shook his head with a small, wistful smile. "It's just sad she couldn't see it happening."
"I'm sure she knows, Merlin," Gwen said sagely. "She knew what you were working towards, what your destiny was – she died knowing Albion would come to be."
As the day drew closer and closer to the time of the ceremony, Merlin grew increasingly anxious. He took to pacing around Gaius' quarters, nervously chewing on his lips. The old physician sighed as Merlin's incessant footsteps distracted him, once again, from the page he was reading.
"Merlin, what is the matter with you?" he inquired. "In a few hours, everything you've been working for will come to fruition. I can't imagine that you have anything to be worried about."
"I'm not worried…I just…I'm nervous," Merlin said. "Everything's all happening at once – what if something goes wrong?" It was an irrational fear, he knew – but after so long living in dread of his magic being discovered, to be mere hours away from acknowledging it in front of the whole of Camelot…it was surreal.
"Normally I'd see your point, but in this case I think you're being a touch paranoid, Merlin," Gaius told him. "There is no reason to think that anything will go wrong."
"It feels like a dream, Gaius," Merlin confided. "I keep expecting to wake up and find that the past few months never happened, that Morgana's still evil and Arthur still doesn't know who I am."
Gaius rose from his chair and walked over to Merlin to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I understand the feeling, Merlin. But I assure you, it is no dream. These past few months have been a journey for all of us, but this is something that has been in the making since before you were even born. Your time has finally come." As he hugged his ward, he added, "I'm proud of you, my boy."
Merlin stood outside the double doors leading to the throne room, still anxious, but feeling much calmer than he'd been in the afternoon. He tried his best to look stately in anticipation of his grand entrance, but he kept fidgeting – largely because he felt strange in his new clothes.
Gone were his blue shirt, his brown coat, and his red neckerchief – he was now clad in a midnight blue doublet and black trousers. On his feet were tailored boots of black leather, and behind him trailed the red cape traditional of Camelot. Merlin had thought the cape clashed horrendously with the blue of his outfit, and had said as much to Arthur – but Arthur had pointed out that it wasn't any worse than what he usually wore. And once he'd actually stopped protesting and dressed in the thing, Merlin had to admit the contrast wasn't actually that bad. (Of course, Arthur said he still looked as ridiculous as ever, even in such finery – but the fond note hidden in his voice as he'd said it belied his true opinion.)
"Well," chuckled a familiar voice, "don't you look dashing."
Merlin spun and almost tripped over his cape before Gwaine caught him.
"I must say, though, the new clothes haven't done much for your balance. You're still just as clumsy as ever." Like Merlin, Gwaine was dressed for ceremony, looking every inch a Knight of Camelot in his newly polished chainmail and a freshly laundered cape of his own.
"You would know, wouldn't you?" Merlin teased as he regained his equilibrium. Gwaine scrutinized him critically.
"I still think you could have done with that hat," the knight said with a pert grin. Merlin glared at him and Gwaine held up his hands placatingly. "I'm joking."
"Hilarious." Merlin rolled his eyes. "What are you doing out here, anyway? You should be inside."
Gwaine shrugged. "I'm running a little late – I was at the tavern, acquainting myself with a very attractive barmaid…you know how it goes." He winked. Merlin couldn't help laughing. Then Gwaine grew a bit more serious. "And I wanted to see my best friend before the most important moment of his life."
Merlin smiled widely. "You didn't have to do that."
"Oh, I know. But Elyan told me you've been looking worried all day."
"I'm not worried…anymore."
"Good." Gwaine clapped him on the back. "Don't be, Merlin. You deserve this." He grinned roguishly. "I'd better go in before the royal princess gets irritated. See you inside, Merlin." He slipped into the room, leaving Merlin alone outside.
A few minutes later, the trumpets sounded from inside and the doors were pulled wide open. Merlin took a deep breath and swept in, willing himself not to trip as he made the long walk up to where Arthur and Guinevere were standing as King and Queen. Upon reaching them, he went down on one knee, and Arthur began to speak.
"People of Camelot," the king began, "today marks the beginning of a new age. For years, magic has been banned from the kingdom, on pain of death. But as we have seen in the past few months, magic is not evil. It was once a force for good that was welcome in Camelot, and so it shall be again. In accordance with that, I hereby officially declare the ban on magic lifted."
A storm of cheering and applause met his words – between Merlin's spectacular defeat of Morgan le Fay, and his magic significantly speeding up Camelot's recovery process, and Arthur's absolute faith in him, most of Camelot's citizens had come to accept magic as a natural part of life. Still kneeling, Merlin smiled. The ban had been all but non-existent since that day in the forest, but with all the rebuilding and reorganisation that had had to be done after reclaiming Camelot, it had not been officially repealed until today.
"And to celebrate this momentous occasion," Arthur continued, "it gives me great pleasure to appoint a new post of the royal court. Today, a position of great importance is to be granted to one who has served Camelot faithfully, above and beyond the call of duty, and who is one of the best men I have had the pleasure of knowing." Here Arthur accepted his ceremonial sword from Geoffrey of Monmouth and turned to look at Merlin. "Do you swear to uphold the laws of Camelot, with all your might and all your will, with every fibre of your being and every breath of your body?"
"I so swear," Merlin replied.
"Do you swear to remain loyal to your king and fellow citizens, to pledge unwavering fealty to your sovereign, from now until the end of your days?"
"I so swear."
"Do you swear to use your magic only for what is good and pure, to defend Camelot from the evils which plague it, and to never cross into the path of darkness?"
"I so swear."
"Then by the power vested in me as Sovereign, I declare thee, Merlin Emrys…" Arthur gently laid the flat of the blade against each of Merlin's shoulders before announcing, "…Court Sorcerer of Camelot and First Advisor to the King."
As Merlin rose, a thunderous cacophony of cheers and claps, even greater than before, ushered him into his new role. Arthur's eyes were alight with rare pride in his friend, and Guinevere was smiling warmly as she joined the applause. Gwaine, Leon, Elyan, and Percival were all grinning broadly, and Gaius looked as though he might burst with pride for the man who had become like a son to him.
However, it wasn't over yet. With Gwen at his side, Arthur led Merlin over to the balcony, so that the citizens congregated in the city square below could also welcome their new Court Sorcerer. As Merlin waved to them, Kilgharrah touched his mind.
"Well done, young warlock."
And then, to his surprise, another draconic voice chimed in.
"From this day forth I swear fealty to you as my Dragonlord, Emrys, for now that you have come into your destiny I am yours to command."
"Aithusa?" Merlin questioned silently.
The only answer he received were the distant roars of two dragons, their voices full of joy at the fulfilment of destiny and the dawn of Albion.