Author's Note: Alright everyone this is the first chapter to the next story in my series. For any of you that have not read The Trust of a King I would highly recommend doing so or else you may not know some of the characters. Anyways, the feedback I got from the last story was amazing so I hope you enjoy this one as well. As a little teaser I will let you know that Morgana makes an appearance in this story. Please review and happy reading!
"Nervous," the warlock asked, bustling about his king in a futile attempt to make him look slightly less disheveled than he was.
"Why would I be nervous, Merlin," the king grunted watching with a sort of detached amusement as his young friend betrayed his own nerves by dropping about everything he touched.
"Well, this isn't just any day is it? I mean today is the day you make your intentions for magic clear to the court. It has to be a little daunting."
"I don't have any reason to be nervous. If things begin to go sourly I can always just pretend you've enchanted me. Its an easy out."
"Glad to see you have my back, Arthur. I knew I could count on you when things got tough."
Merlin may have made this particular statement in a rather sarcastic, biting manner, but the truth was that the young warlock could indeed count on his king when things got tough. Arthur had proven this to him less than five months ago when, unintentionally of course, found out that his friend of almost a decade had magic. Not only had the king more or less accepted the warlock he had gone on a life or death mission in order to save his life and Merlin would forever be grateful.
The past five months had been a blur of long conversations and magical demonstrations that would all culminate to a single meeting inside his sire's courtroom. The two men would be attempting to prove that their was a positive side of magic and that, if such power was deployed properly, it could be used not only to protect Camelot, but to open doors that had previously been closed to them.
Merlin and his king had discussed, in great length mind you, which members of the court would be their easiest allies and which would be their staunchest opponents. They had devised a plan of action for each of them and felt reasonably sure they could at least soften them up enough to further the conversation past the initial shock of the idea.
Where the conversation went from there, however, was entirely unknown to them. Perhaps if they had decided to not use Merlin as an example of what Arthur had termed 'magical innocence', a term the warlock still smirked at every time he heard it, the fear of failure wouldn't be so tangible. Now, if they failed, Merlin's secret would be out for the entire world to see and he knew that he could prove deadly to him. He was powerful, of course, but he wasn't invincible and knew that their were townsfolk who would be more than willing to drive a sword through his heart in order to settle and old score.
Arthur had promised that no matter what the outcome he would find a place for the warlock by his side, even if he had to go against the royal court to do so. Merlin hadn't quite decided if he would actually allow Arthur to go to such drastic measures, but didn't risk mentioning this little detail to his king, knowing that Arthur needed all the confidence he could get. Besides, they had become so comfortable with one another these last few months that to think of leaving brought Merlin physical pain.
The moment they had returned from their perilous journey to the lands of the Fair Folk Arthur had made it perfectly clear that Merlin was no longer the man's servant. Sure, the king had yet to assign him a new position in the court, but the warlock knew that he would do so when the time was right. For the time being Merlin merely accompanied his sire on his usual rounds and while such an occurrence was entirely normal there conversation was anything but.
They discussed everything from the inner workings of magic to how his relationship with his newfound Fair Folk woman was going. Arthur liked to tease him mercilessly about his lack of experience in anything to do with romance and Merlin took the ribbing for awhile before following it up with a jab at his king for the many times he'd put his foot in his mouth when dealing with Guinevere. Sometimes, when Arthur could come up with a reasonable excuse to escape, the two of them would wander off into the forests bordering Camelot. Once hidden, Merlin would delight in showing his friend his abilities in magic and had frequently astonished his king into silence. Arthur had even tried to learn a few words of the Old Tongue, but he mangled them so badly Merlin flinched every time an attempt was made.
To the public eye, of course, Merlin was exactly what he'd always been which was Arthur's servant. The king would send his friend on small errands here and there about town, to keep up appearances of course, but Merlin suspected that Arthur took a bit too much joy out of his continued ability to order the warlock around. Merlin made it a point to leave him some magical gift to remember him by on such occasions, his particular favorite being a toad that multiplied every time Arthur touched it. His days were spent as they always had been, serving Arthur in whatever the king desired and his secret remained safe as long he did so.
Arthur spent his evenings with Guinevere and Merlin was dismissed to spend the time as he wished. He didn't mind his dismissal in the slightest for his evenings were spent with Awen who had found a childish delight in the newness of the world around her. They spent many nights exploring the numerous hidden caves and twisting rivers they came across in their adventures. She continually astounded him with her ability to move silently and ghostlike through the tree's and they had made a game of him attempting to find her. During the day, while Merlin was away playing servant, the Fair Folk woman had taken to either learning whatever she could from Gaius's numerous collection of books or watching intently as the knight's fought in the yard attempting to incorporate their unique fighting style with her own.
Strangely, the people of Camelot had accepted the woman without much hesitation though she would never be invited for tea. Arthur had explained, as best he could, that Awen came from far across the sea, which, according to Fair Folk legend wasn't entirely untruthful. As far as the people knew the woman was just as mortal as the rest of them and Merlin frequently wondered what their reaction was going to be upon learning the truth.
"Merlin," Arthur said seriously, bringing the young man back to the present. "I want you to know that, no matter what happens today, you have my full support."
"I know," Merlin said softly. "I just—this is it, isn't it? There's no going back."
"Would you want to," Arthur asked curiously, head cocking to the side like one of his hunting hounds when given an unknown command.
"No, in my heart I know this is the right course of action, but—"
"It doesn't make it any less terrifying," his king guessed. "I know how you feel, Merlin. A lot is riding on this meeting going well the greatest being your safety. The knights will be with you every step of the way. They are at your disposal, at least until we know which way the dice is going to fall."
"Thank you," Merlin said softly. "I can't tell you how long I've waited for this, Arthur. For so long I could only wish for it, but now that it's actually here, it almost feels like a dream."
"Pray that it stays that way," the king replied grimly. "You have enough nightmares as it is."
His friend was referring to the drama that took place almost nightly in the warlock's mind. Merlin had almost been overtaken by an entity of darkness so powerful it nearly ripped his mind to pieces. It had taken the form of those most important to him, the most common entity being his king and had tortured him savagely. It was only through the efforts of both Arthur and the woman he now loved that he hadn't been killed. For almost a week afterwards Merlin could barely stand his king's presence, let alone his touch, but together, they had worked through it enough that the warlock barely minded it. He still found himself flinching at too sudden movements and wasn't fond of being touched by others, but he could deal with those issues as they came along. The nightmares he experienced, however, were a different story.
They often came without warning and though he'd learned to expect them he still found himself surprised at the vehemence in which they struck. Oftentimes, he would wake up screaming, covered in sweat, and shaking uncontrollably. Even though he and Awen rarely spent a night a part from each other the young woman would have to spend almost an hour trying to calm him enough to allow sleep to overtake him once more. His sleepless nights affected him deeply and it was extremely rare to see the young man without the telltale shadows beneath his eyes. He would get agonizing headaches quite regularly, but he didn't know whether this was from lack of sleep or if it had something to do with the entity that had previously taken up residence in his mind.
Arthur was extremely sensitive to his friend's condition and while Merlin appreciated the concern he also found it irritating at times. He felt weak every time Arthur ordered him to rest his eyes until whatever condition plagued him that day was taken care of, but bit his tongue instead of saying something that could offend his friend. He'd found himself accepting Gwain's offer to join him at the tavern more often if only for the dreamless sleep the alcohol provided him. Not that he told Arthur of this, of course. He'd only recently escaped the reputation for being a shameless drinker who often spent nights at the tavern and didn't particularly care to be known as such once more.
Merlin smiled slightly at his king and nodded, fully aware of Arthur's eyes carefully studying his face for signs of distress. Seeing none or perhaps choosing to deal with it later, the man turned away to adorn his head with the simple, undecorated metal crown he wore when dealing with matters of court. If the king had his way he would have tossed the useless piece of metal out the window by now, but tradition insisted that it remain planted firmly on his brow.
"Well," the man sighed, opening his chamber doors and greeting his assembled knights with a nod. "The moment of truth is upon us, Merlin. Shall we?"
Merlin nodded and followed his sire down the hall, the knights closing around him with practiced precision. Gwain grinned at him, flipping his boyishly brown hair out his face and winked in a conspiratory act of friendship. Merlin smiled back though his stomach was trying to claw its way up his throat. Leon, who was behind him, squeezed his shoulder in a gentle, reassuring way and as they walked he received other small gestures from the knights around him. He was grateful for their loyalty and decided he would find a way to repay them somehow. That it, if everything went according to plan.
They reached the courtroom doors quicker than Merlin had planned and he imagined the giant oak doors looming over him as fate who would judge whether the warlock was worthy of its attention. Swallowing the lump in his throat Merlin followed Arthur into the room where the members of the royal court stood waiting to decide his future.
They stood in groups of two or three, all talking animatedly with each other in their resplendent robes of green, blue or purple. They stopped upon Arthur's entry and made no effort to hide their stares, watching in confusion as Merlin was ushered to a chair on Arthur's right hand side.
"Sire," one asked questioningly, obviously wondering if his king had gone mad. "What is the meaning of this? He's just a servant."
"Merlin has been anything but a servant for a long time," Arthur replied in measured tones, never wavering from his confident expression. "We have much to decide today, Yamish and Merlin will be a key figure in these proceedings. Do you have an issue with this?"
"No sire," Yamish sighed obediently. "I have no concerns."
"Good," Arthur said quietly before turning to face the rest of the court who had taken up their chosen positions around the table. "Does anyone else have something to say about Merlin's presence here? If so, say it now."
Not a single person spoke up but Merlin could feel their stares, some openly hostile while others were merely curious. He shifted uneasily in his seat and Arthur, sensing his friend's distress, put a comforting hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently before releasing him again. If any of the court members noticed the king's small display of affection none commented on it, though Merlin suspected they only remained silent out of respect for their king.
"Old friends," Arthur said, voice strong and commanding. "I have called this meeting today to discuss a concern that has come to my attention in recent months. For over two decades now we have believed that magic has no place within our lives and that those who use this power are nothing more than evil."
Merlin squeezed his eyes shut, attempting to shut out the alarmed expressions on the majority of the room's faces. He wished fervently that Gaius had been allowed to take part in these proceedings, but the physician was not a member of the royal court and Arthur figured it would be prudent to keep from offending the judges any more than they had to.
"Today," Arthur continued. "I have come to tell you that I believe we were wrong in this assumption. I believe that—"
"What," Yamish snarled, rising from his chair, his numerous chins quivering in disbelief. "You cannot be serious, my lord. I believed such tricks beneath you."
"Sit down," Arthur replied stonily, continuing only when the noblemen quelled beneath his gaze, sitting his ample bottom back on the chair. "I can assure you that this is no trick. I understand the shock you all must be feeling, but rest easy knowing that I have not come to this decision lightly."
"My lord," another man whispered, his wheezy voice fitting perfectly with his willowy figure and waifish white beard. "I do not mean to be rude, but I do not understand what could have possibly brought on this change of heart. Whether it is right or wrong I cannot say, but it seems rather unexpected."
"True enough," the king said, smiling reassuringly at the old man. "What would you say, Sir Rowan, if I told you that I had evidence that magic wasn't what we previously thought it was?"
"I would say show it, my lord, and let us decide for ourselves."
"Excellent notion," Arthur grinned, obviously pleased with the man. "I plan to do just that. Merlin, will you rise please?"
Merlin, unable to keep his eyes closed any longer, stood shakily and faced his king. Arthur winked at him and Merlin was so surprised by the gesture that he couldn't stop the small snort of amusement that escaped his throat. Arthur immediately rolled his eyes and frowned at him, but the warlock could see the gleam of amusement in his friend's gaze. He motioned his head in the direction of the court and Merlin reluctantly turned to face them, aware of the way his hands shook.
"Um," he squeaked out.
"You didn't tell us the evidence would be delivered by a mouse," a man with wiry red hair boomed out, laughing at his own cleverness. The rest of the court soon followed and Merlin felt himself coloring.
"Hush," Arthur ordered. "The next man who laughs will be escorted from the room, is that clear?"
The laughter ceased as abruptly as it had started though Merlin could tell the red haired man was none too pleased by this fact. The warlock squeezed his hands into fists and alternated between tightening and releasing them, a trick he'd learned from Gaius when his anxiety threatened to overtake him. He took three deep breaths then faced the small crowd once more, new resolve pushing his stomach back where it belonged.
"Many of you know me," he said, voice nowhere near as confident as Arthur's, but not cracking with strain either. "I have served Arthur…I mean, King Arthur for nearly ten years now and have come to view him as…as a just and fair king."
"Friend," Arthur interrupted, eyes daring anyone to correct him. "You can be honest, Merlin. We are friends."
"Friends," Merlin repeated quietly, touched at Arthur's confession and grateful for the protection it provided him. "King Arthur and I have been friends for a long time, but I must confess that, until recently, I had not been entirely honest with him."
The court members stared at him expectantly, intrigued in spite of themselves. Merlin found the words he was looking for, but they seemed stuck and he remained silent, fully aware of their growing impatience, even as he worked at the lump in his throat.
"Merlin," Arthur whispered from beside him, eyes blazing with something akin to pride and perhaps affection. "You can do this. I'm right here beside you. Nothing bad is going to happen."
Merlin really hated when Arthur chose to tempt fate in such a brazen, unconcerned manner. Things rarely went according to plan when he did so and the warlock suspected that fate, being the fickle mistress that she was, took great pleasure in proving him wrong. In any case, his friend's promises of safety might have had more meaning had Arthur's hands been resting anywhere but on the pommel of his sword, fingers flexing repeatedly against its smooth handle as they prepared for a fight.
"Get on with it, boy," Yamish growled, risking a defiant glance at his king.
Arthur raised his eyebrows at the man and he immediately raised his hands in a signal of defeat as he realized just how out of his league he was. The king narrowed his own eyes, assuring the man that their silent discussion on his insolence was not going to be forgotten so easily, before turning his attention back to his floundering manservant.
The young man quailed at the number of expectant eyes staring at him and before he realized what he'd done he shouted, "I'm a warlock!"
Arthur's eyes widened fractionally, clearly surprised that his friend had gone with such a bold approach after they had repeatedly discussed easing them in to the idea. Merlin shrugged apologetically at his king and smiled sheepishly.
The court had gone silent after Merlin's outburst and for a brief moment the warlock believed he'd braved the worst of it. Then the shouting began.