Dragonfasting by ebhg
Pairing(s): Merlin/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen
Spoilers: Series 1-4
Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to BBC
A/N: I blame this story entirely on The Nightmare Begins and A Servant of Two Masters. Such chemistry between Merlin and Morgana. That, and I felt Morgana's evil villain persona seemed like such a shell of her former self, that there had to be something else afoot. Hint, hint...
This is a post-series 4 Mergana fic- *but* I'm not a fan of dark!Morgana/Merlin pairings. This is very much a story of redemption and forgiveness. You'll just have to be patient and see how that one works out...
Thanks go to my very patient hubby who pre-read and edited and allowed me to bounce ideas off of him. And the amazing Gleena as well, who took time from her very busy schedule to pre-read this chapter for me:)
There wasn't a street in Camelot that didn't have a crowd buzzing around and dancing in their giddiness. The kingdom was celebrating; the day prior, Arthur and Gwen had been handfasted. Only that morning had Gwen been crowned. Courtiers and peasants alike were celebrating all over the city. Even in the citadel, the mood was buoyant. Guards were a bit more friendly and servant's smiles more frequent. Even the usually cantankerous cook in the palace kitchen had been singing merrily as she prepared a feast fit for royalty.
The king's manservant was just as pleased as all the rest; perhaps even more so than his peers. Except that he'd be more than happy when he could finally collapse into his bed. For now, he'd be pleased just to steal a rare quiet moment to himself. After ensuring that Arthur was dressed and that the head table was set properly, Merlin left the last of the banquet hall preparations to the other servants and stole out into a little-used servant's corridor.
He reveled in the quiet of the deserted corridor and seriously contemplated the possibility of propping himself up in a small alcove and attempting to get a short nap before the feast began. It was likely to last well into the early morning hours and Merlin had been up since before dawn. The manservant looked up and down the empty hallway and breathed a weary sigh of relief as he crossed his arms, closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall within his little niche.
A moment later, the sound from the banquet hall became slightly dampened. Merlin surmised that the courtiers must be moving to their seats- he could afford a few more minutes. He knew that the gathered knights and nobles would only be truly quieted when the feast was served and they could stuff their faces with it all. Even then, their palpable excitement would hardly be banked. Especially since the king's best wine would be served in honor of his new queen.
The king had been anxiously awaiting this day for the last four weeks and he had nearly driven Merlin mad with his grouchiness. It had taken all of Merlin's considerable patience to deal with Arthur's impatience. The moment she had accepted his proposal, Arthur had been ready to marry Gwen without further notice or plan. Luckily, cooler heads (mainly Merlin's) had prevailed and Arthur was convinced to wait until the castle could be put to rights. After all, there had been two hostile takeover battles in as many weeks.
Therefore the castle servants had been put to work as though a fire had been lit beneath their feet. Numerous hurried preparations were undertaken, in addition to the usual cleaning duties, for the joint handfasting and coronation celebrations. Not to mention the necessary repairs to Camelot herself. Some things had been completed with only hours to spare, just in time for a wedding befitting a king and his beloved bride. Merlin had hoped that with the festivities nearly behind them, he could finally find a moment's rest.
Just as he'd settled into his little patch of wall and started to doze lightly, the doors to his left opened abruptly. Booming laughter and loud voices overflowed from the banquet hall, only to be slightly muffled when the door was swiftly latched shut. Merlin pondered on the possibility that whoever just came out that door would simply pass him by. Alas, it was not meant to be, judging by the booted footsteps slowing to a stop right in front of him.
"Merlin, my friend, what are you doing out here? There's food, mead, wine and more than one pretty serving girl inside that hall. What more could a couple of blokes such as ourselves want?"
Merlin chuckled at his friend's simple outlook. If only.
"Well, I'm sure even you could manage an invitation into a lovely lady's bed," Gwaine teased rakishly. "But you can't do that from out here, so what are you waiting for?"
"I meant my own bed, you cad. I'm enjoying a moment's peace, if you must know, Gwaine," Merlin answered cheekily, without opening his eyes. "The moment I walk in there, it's going to be 'Fill my goblet, Merlin. Fetch me a fresh napkin, Merlin. I need more drumsticks, Merlin. Move Guinevere's chair closer to mine, Merlin.' Not all of us are afforded such luxuries as a seat at such a sumptuous banquet, Sir Knight," Merlin finished with his characteristic grin, finally opening his eyes and taking in Gwaine's amused expression. Merlin was in no way feeling put out that he was working at the feast, regardless of how he teased Gwaine. He was a servant, it was his job to serve. But Gwaine was never one to let the underdog lie. Merlin could see the glint in his friend's eyes. That look was never a good thing, Merlin had found.
"Come on then, you can sneak some ale while you're slaving over Princess and his lovely queen. You might even get a lass or two to pay you a favor! You'll get nothing of the sort out here!"
Merlin chuckled and allowed his boisterous and more-than-slightly inebriated friend to sling an arm over his shoulders and pull him into the great hall. However, he was not expecting the welcome that awaited him.
"I FOUND HIM!" Gwaine bellowed upon entering. Several heads turned in their direction causing Merlin's face to redden. "He was skulking in the hallway, trying to get away from Princess' many demands!"
Merlin could feel his ears and cheeks burn at the attention focused on him and at Gwaine's words. The warlock put on his most innocent face and shook his head at Arthur, who was smirking at him. Gwen smiled and came to stand right beside Merlin.
"Gwaine, I will ignore that slight upon my husband, but only because you've brought me my best friend," Gwen teased, linking her arm through Merlin's and raising her eyebrow in a reasonable imitation of Gaius.
Merlin looked between the two in confusion. He had missed something somewhere, and he was wary of what had gotten into his friends. Gwen smiled even larger and pulled him away from Gwaine, towards the head table. The cheerful knight followed, chuckling merrily.
"Merlin. Whatever were you doing skulking in the hallway?" Arthur mocked, still smirking at Merlin's wary gaze.
"Just enjoying the lovely ambiance, sire." Arthur narrowed his eyes at Merlin's sarcasm; only Merlin could make the title sound like one of the terrible afflictions written about in one of Gaius' dusty tomes.
"Well, Merlin. If you hadn't been skulking in the hallway, you would have known that your presence here was required."
"Of course, sire. We mustn't let your cup run dry! What would you prefer? Ale? Wine? Mead? And your plate! That belt's got plenty more room for improvement!" Merlin grinned triumphantly. Arthur never won their arguments when Merlin referred to the king's potentially expanding waistline. Arthur just rolled his eyes.
"Merlin, you really are an idiot, aren't you. Or have you taken a blow to the head lately that I didn't know about?" Arthur asked drolly. Merlin's face fell. That was not the reaction he had hoped for. He'd have to try harder next time.
"What?" Merlin asked, trying to get his mind back into the confusing conversation he was having.
"What Arthur is trying, and failing I might add, to say, Merlin, is that we don't want you to serve us at this feast."
At Merlin's slightly taken-aback and hurt expression, Gwen quickly backtracked.
"No, no, no, you misunderstand me. We don't want you to leave, we want you to have a seat and enjoy this feast, as our guest."
"What?!" Merlin shook his head and pulled on his earlobes, not quite believing what he'd heard.
"Is that all you can say anymore, Merlin?" Arthur taunted.
"I'm sorry, I thought Gwen just said I was a guest tonight. That couldn't possibly be what she said. Gwaine, did you slip me something whilst I wasn't paying attention?"
"Merlin! Gwaine has not given you anything, that is what I said. We would like you to be our guest, our friend, tonight," Gwen assured him. Merlin broke out into a huge grin.
"Then I would be delighted! Am I to sit with Gaius? Where has he got to? I haven't seen him since this afternoon." Merlin looked around, seeking his mentor amongst those already seated.
"You really are thick, aren't you?" Arthur laughed. "We owe a great deal of what we've accomplished here these last few weeks to you, Merlin. Tonight you are here as a guest of the king and queen. That means you will sit at the head table, at my right side, along with the Knights of the Round Table."
Merlin was speechless; he could feel the lump in his throat as he processed all that Arthur said. Then the prat cleared away any awkwardness in one swift, brotherly stroke.
"Don't be such a girl's petticoat, Merlin, and get your sorry backside to the table."
Merlin grinned at Gwen as she rolled her eyes and smiled lovingly at her husband's retreating back. Merlin held out an arm to the queen and the two of them went to take their seats on either side of their king.
The feast was wonderful; Merlin could not recall a time in all his life in which he ate more, or better. He was almost too full for comfort, a sensation he could not claim to have ever suffered before. Merlin was also feeling somewhat inebriated. While he had been able to avoid most of the ale and wine that Gwaine had pushed his way, he had definitely had more than was usual for him. Merlin decided it was past time to stop when he inadvertently drew his goblet into his hand from more than a hand's length away.
That was precisely why he never had more than a single mug of ale. Any more than that and his magic just overflowed as though a great barrier had been breached. He and Will had found out the hard way that getting Merlin drunk was great fun in the moment, but very hard to explain later. Cows did not grow unicorn horns by themselves, after all. Old man Simmons had not been pleased.
Hopefully, everyone else was just as tipsy as he was and no one had noticed his little slip up. Nevertheless, Merlin put down the goblet with a newfound sense of sobriety and looked around as surreptitiously as possible. The Round Table Knights flanked he and Gwen on either side of Arthur. Elyan and Leon, on Gwen's left, seemed entirely engrossed in their conversation. The various courtiers throughout the room were more than sufficiently drunk to overlook something so small. No one seemed to be watching him, until he noticed Gwaine to his right. The friendly knight had a startled look on his face, his eyes fixed on Merlin's goblet.
Thankfully, Percival, sitting just beyond Gwaine, was distracted trying to flag down a servant carrying a platter of roast chicken. Merlin held his breath anxiously until Gwaine met his worried gaze. For one seemingly endless moment, Merlin was unsure what the genial knight was going to do. Gwaine's face went blank, showing no emotion. His eyes tracked back and forth between Merlin and the goblet. Gwaine's mouth twitched very slightly, then he blinked and shook his head as though to clear it. Merlin was hopeful that his friend would put it down to his own drunkenness. The warlock let out the breath he'd been holding and tried to hide his visible relief as he wiped his mouth with his napkin. Though he nearly choked at the knight's next words.
"I expect we'll be having a little chat soon, Merlin," Gwaine murmured into his mug just before he took another hearty swallow. Slamming the empty flagon down to the table, Gwaine raised his eyebrow and gave Merlin a smile that said that he was not going to be able to squirm his way out of said conversation.
Merlin chuckled nervously, then cast his eyes around the room once more. Gaius was speaking quite animatedly with Geoffrey of Monmouth. Several bored-looking servants floated around the room, a couple of which gave him envious glances. Merlin thought that they wouldn't be so envious if they had to put up with the Prat as much as he did, or if they'd had to do as much as Merlin had in order to earn the seat he was currently occupying. Lastly, he dared to look to his immediate left. As suspected, Arthur and Gwen were huddled close together, whispering and giggling as only the newly married could.
"Isn't that just revolting?" Gwaine said, following Merlin's gaze. Though his grin said otherwise.
"Utterly and completely," Merlin agreed, grinning just as widely. He was incredibly happy for his friends; he was glad that they had forgiven one another. He had certainly hinted and prodded Arthur towards that end often enough.
Merlin's smile slowly melted as he watched his friends for a moment longer before looking away. There hadn't been any time for him to want or need a companion. He was content in his life, or so he thought. As it was, Merlin was entirely unprepared for the sudden pang of longing that lanced through his gut. His friends' happiness was a sudden and stark reminder that he had no one; not the way Arthur and Gwen had one another. His love, his Freya, was unattainable. He hadn't even been able to touch more than her hand when she had presented him with the sword at the lake.
Perhaps it was all the alcohol he had recently consumed, but he had thought that he had a better grip on himself and his emotions than that. It had been more than a year since he spoke with Freya, and more than two since he had held her in his arms by the lakeside. It suddenly seemed far too long to Merlin.
Newly resolved, he made an impromptu decision. He needed to go to the lake; perhaps he could see Freya while he was there. Gwaine was conveniently distracted by a pretty serving girl; everyone else was occupied with their food and conversations. Mumbling softly to those around him, Merlin slipped away from the table before anyone truly heard and processed whatever nonsense he had used to excuse himself. Even Merlin wasn't quite sure what he had said.
The woods were dark and quiet; the forest and its residents still recovering from the upheaval of the last month. Merlin walked slowly, purposefully onward, needing no light. He simply allowed his magic to guide him; he could feel the power, the magic, centered around the lake. It was like a beacon to him.
The trees thinned, the breeze calmed, and then he was there. The sheer beauty of the Lake of Avalon left him breathless once more. The moon shone upon its glassy surface as the waters lay as still as stone. The mountains loomed protectively beyond the lake's waters, reflected just as magnificently as the moon. Merlin walked slowly, reverently, to the edge of the shore where he fell to his knees and allowed his fingertips to gently break the surface of the water. He was suddenly reminded of the Vilia and the way their magic surrounded and healed him so many months ago. Absentmindedly, Merlin waved his fingers through the water, watching the ripples as they continued across the moonlit surface of the lake.
It was like a whisper on the wind, but Merlin would recognize that voice anywhere.
"Freya?" he gasped, looking wildly around the lake.
"Merlin, my love. You are sad."
"I miss you," he choked out, eyes still scanning the water.
"And I you, Merlin."
An ethereal blue light glowed at the center of the lake. It started small, then grew larger and brighter until it was glowing white and suddenly Freya was rising from the center of it. The water seemed to rise with her, encasing her legs in a fountain of glowing water. Slowly, she began to glide over the surface, transported by her fountain, until she stopped about ten feet from the shore.
"Come to me, Merlin, for I cannot go any further."
Merlin wasted no time, immediately running into the shallows, heedless of his boots and trousers that were now soaked. He stopped just short of Freya, wanting to wrap her in his arms, but not knowing if he could. The water flowing around her calmed until it was just below her knees. Then she smiled and opened her arms to beckon Merlin forward. Without hesitation, he gathered her up and buried his face into her shoulder for a moment before he took a big breath and lifted his lips to meet hers.
It was a simple, chaste kiss, but it was more than Merlin had hoped for. Too soon, he broke away and looked into Freya's deep brown eyes, unable to speak.
"As much as I miss you and love you, Merlin, you must let me go," she whispered with a sad smile. "I have my duties here in Avalon; you have yours in the mortal world. You shall always hold a dear and special place in my heart, but I am not your future."
"I know, I know. But I am so lonely sometimes. There is no one for me; no one that I can be myself with, as I was with you. I cannot love someone with such a secret between us, and I can never tell anyone else and allow them to risk themselves should my secret come to light before Arthur is ready to hear it. Perhaps I am meant to be old Dragoon, puttering away in my madness as the years pass me by." Merlin grinned sardonically.
"You are destined for greatness; it was never said that greatness equaled loneliness."
"Yet still, I can have no one."
"Do not be so sure; things are happening. Fates are changing, destinies shifting. The white dragon has clouded all that was expected; there are things to come that no one could have foreseen."
"What do you mean?" Merlin was stunned. Could his hatching Aithusa really have changed so much? Would it all be for the better, or had it made things worse? It wouldn't be the first monumental mistake he had made. But no, Merlin could not see Aithusa as a mistake. Merlin had felt such pure joy at the little dragon's hatching. It was not a foreboding event. Even Kilgharrah said as much.
"The white dragon bodes well for Albion; for you and Arthur and for the land you will build together."
"You will see, in time, Merlin. There are a great many things in store for you, including love."
"Shhh..." Freya pressed her fingers to Merlin's lips, silencing his protests. "You are not destined to love only me. Open your heart, Merlin. It is my desire to see you happy."
With a smile, and one last gentle kiss, the Lady of the Lake backed slowly away from Merlin and released the magic supporting her, sinking slowly, silently back into the still waters.
Merlin took in a shaky breath and wiped away the tears that he hadn't realized were falling from his eyes. He would always love Freya, nothing could change that. But he could honor her last wishes, he owed her that much. A new well of hope sprang in his heart; if Freya was right (and why wouldn't she be) he wouldn't be alone forever. It was enough to bring a tremulous smile to his face. He slowly waded out of the waters of Avalon and stood, contemplating this latest riddle.
Absentmindedly, Merlin waved a hand towards his legs and feet, drying them instantly. Distantly, Merlin chuckled as he thought of the scolding he would have received had Gaius seen him dry his clothes and boots as though he were swatting an errant fly. Thinking of his foster-father jolted him back to awareness and of how late it was. It was well past time to head home to Camelot. As he turned and began his journey home, he was certain he heard Freya's parting words follow him on the wind.
Open your heart, Merlin. It is my desire to see you happy...
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