Author Note: Hey everyone, hope you all had a fantastic Christmas. Merlin is well and truly finished now, sadly, although I have to say the finale was very disappointing (in my opinion, at least). However, so as not to spoil it for those who have not seen it yet, I will not go into details. Instead, I offer you part 2 of Mordred's trial, where Dante and Merlin sieze the chance to be rid of Mordred, once and for all.
Gaius, Arthur, Gwen and a handful of guards were waiting for them in the Council Chambers.
"What's happened?" Dante asked, ignoring all protocols and speaking to the room's occupants as equals, as she strode into the room, Merlin hot on her heels. Arthur waved away the guards, ignoring her lapse in manners, and waited until the door was closed, before he started speaking.
"Nantes has joined Lot. He says it is our fault that his daughter is dead and that we do not deserve his help. This now seriously tips the balance in Lot's favour." The King began to pace, wringing his hands in agitation, his chainmail clinking and rattling as he moved.
"Which means?" Merlin asked as Gwen sat down, defeated, in the throne and Dante lent against a nearby pillar. Gaius and Leon merely looked down at their feet uneasily, and it appeared that Merlin was the only one amongst them who did not realise the gravity of the situation.
"Which means, Merlin, that unless I do something truly amazing, Lot will become High King of Albion!" Arthur roared as finally his temper and all his pent up frustrations boiled over.
"Alright, the man's a nasty piece of work," Merlin shrugged, still not fully understanding. "But would it be so bad for him to be High King? Would be less pressure on you...less responsibility. Don't you always complain about never having enough time to be with Gwen?"
"Merlin," Dante said softly, finally looking up from her finger nails, which she'd been studying closely until that moment. Her tone was grave and deadly serious, and Merlin felt his blood run cold. He knew then that what she would say next, he wasn't going to like one bit. And he was right.
"If Lot becomes High King...Morgana will be High Queen. She has accepted his proposal of marriage."
"Oh," Merlin said simply then, reality finally crashing down upon him.
"Indeed," Gwen finally spoke up for the first time. "All Arthur's hard work will have been for nothing."
"But we must be able to do something!" Merlin protested. All around the room, the others shook their heads, aside from Arthur, who continued to pace in agitation.
But then suddenly Dante stood up straight, away from the wall. "What of the accusations Gwaine has thrown at Mordred?" She asked.
"Dante, is now really the right time to - " Arthur started, but Dante cut across him.
"Why don't we throw the accusation of Nantes' daughter's murder, into the mix? If Mordred is found guilty, Nantes will have his killer, we will have the proof that we're not as incapable as he's making us out to be, and maybe...just maybe, he will come over to our side."
"You are saying that we pin the blame for murder on an innocent man?" Arthur fumed, but Dante merely scoffed.
"No man is innocent, Arthur Pendragon. Least of all Mordred."
"If there's something you're not telling me about him," Arthur started, stepping forward ominously. Dante held her ground, although she was silently trembling under the King's gaze. Arthur's anger was unlike anything she'd ever seen before. He was close to breaking point and she was pushing him nearer and nearer with every second.
Just as she pulled the roll of parchment from her sleeve, however, and was about to hand it over, Percival charged into the room. "Sire! It's Mordred!"
"What is it?!" Arthur snapped as Gwen jumped up from the throne, and everyone else turned to the knight.
"He's been arrested. And so has Gwaine."
"Under what charges?" Dante asked, speaking the question that everyone was thinking.
"Fighting in the marketplace. Gwaine claims he was defending himself, whilst Mordred claims he was provoked."
"Will this madness never end?!" Arthur groaned, raising a hand to his throbbing temple. Gwen stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on his arm.
"Don't trouble yourself with them, My Love. Let them battle it out in the arena and be done with it. They can bash away at each other until their hearts are content, and by tomorrow morning, the whole silly argument will be forgotten."
"If only it were that simple," Arthur sighed, turning to Leon and Percival. "Bring them both here. We'll settle this here and now, and be done with it."
"Yes, Sire," Leon bowed, and the pair of knights hurried from the room. Gaius moved his gaze from the two monarchs, to Merlin, and finally to Dante. They were all looking stressed and strained by this latest development. All except Dante, who instead looked thoughtful.
Well, perhaps thoughtful was an understatement. He could practically see the myriad of thoughts crossing her mind as she no doubt cooked up some elaborate scheme. He was well aware of her plotting with Merlin and Gwaine, after all, and apparently this whole situation had just given her a bit of a brainwave.
"Something on your mind, Milady?" he dared to venture after a moment - if only to break the awkward, tense silence that had fallen upon the room. Dante started like a scalded cat, breaking suddenly from her train of thought. Then she quickly gathered her wits once more.
"I was just thinking, Gaius," she offered. "That idea of Gwen's...it's not such a bad one, after all."
"You believe Mordred should be given a trial by combat?" Arthur frowned. "Why go to so much bother?"
"Because I know Gwaine," she sighed, beginning to pace. "He doesn't lie. If I knew nothing else about him, that would be enough to tell me that he is a good man. I don't really believe he's making these accusations up."
"But you said in the trial - " Gwen started.
"I know," Dante groaned. "But I was...annoyed. I let my anger cloud my judgement. Now that I've had time to think on it more clearly, however, I've realised that lying is not one of Gwaine's strong points. He was never very good at it, and I don't believe much has changed these past few years - in that respect at least."
"I did see Gwaine talking to a woman in the marketplace the other day," Merlin piped up then, seizing the opportunity to make this right again - just as Dante was trying to do. "She looked distressed. And she kept glancing over her shoulder as though she was afraid of something."
"Or someone," Arthur added thoughtfully. "Was Mordred around at the time?"
"Well, the funny thing was, when he walked round the corner, she immediately turned and ran away, leaving Gwaine looking confused."
"How is that funny?" Gwen wondered with a frown. "Surely you could have mentioned that earlier?"
"Well it never really struck me as important until now," Merlin shrugged apologetically. The truth was he'd only just made it up on the spot, but nobody except Dante could know that, so he had to act like he'd known it all along.
"A terrified woman runs away from a knight, and you don't think anything of it?" Arthur asked incredulously. "Sometimes, Merlin, I really do worry about you!"
Merlin's retort was cut short by the doors being opened and two struggling men dragged in by three armed guards each. As soon as Gwaine saw the assembled group, however, he quietened. Mordred did not, and continued to fight his escort until at last they forced him to his knees before Arthur, swords pressed to his neck and his wrists chained behind his back.
"Arthur," the druid smiled confidently.
"That's your King you speak to!" Gwaine roared, straining against his captors, trying to get at Mordred once more. "Show some respect!"
"Yes, thank you Gwaine," Arthur spoke calmly, holding up a hand to silence the knight. Then he looked between the pair, before his eyes finally settled on Mordred. "I gave you the benefit of the doubt, Mordred. And this is how you repay me? By brawling with one of my knights?"
"With all due respect -" Mordred started, but Arthur cut across him.
"Enough, Mordred. I've had it with this petty rivalry between you and Gwaine. Settle this now, like grown men, in the arena. Then be done with it."
"You are saying we should duel?" Mordred asked, taken back by the King's statement.
"I'm saying, I'll give you a trial by combat, in order to prove that you are indeed as innocent as you claim. Then, whatever the outcome of the trial, that will be the end of it. One way or another. Agreed?"
"I have no problem with that, Sire," Gwaine replied calmly.
"Well, if His Majesty insists," Mordred shrugged, trying to act indifferent about the whole situation.
Gwaine fought back the smile then as his confidence finally returned. He could easily beat Mordred in a duel...unless Mordred cheated and used magic. He didn't stand a chance, then. So perhaps this wasn't such a good idea, after all.
Seeing the brief flash of panic in Dante's eyes, he knew that she'd just had exactly the same thought as him. But as always, she was quick to think of a solution.
"My Lord," she said quickly, before Arthur could agree to the fight between Gwaine and Mordred. "I don't think this is a good idea."
"But you just said - " Arthur started, confused.
"Oh by all means, a trial by combat is a fine idea," Dante started quickly, intending to explain. "But I do not think Mordred should be the one to fight Gwaine. He should find a champion to fight in his stead."
"Why?" Arthur frowned. "Mordred's more than capable of fighting his own battles."
"Yes, but he's nowhere near as experienced as Gwaine. If Gwaine wins, people will say it was an unfair fight. And if, by some small miracle, Mordred wins...people will say he used his magic to cheat. If he were to choose a champion who was more equal to Gwaine in strength and skill, however, then people could not contest the victory either way."
"She has a point, Sire," Gaius nodded, speaking for the first time.
Arthur considered for what felt like an eternity then, and Gwaine and Dante shared a brief glance, wondering if this would work. Finally, the King nodded.
"Mordred, you have twenty four hours to find yourself a champion, otherwise the fight is forfeit and I will have no choice but to find you guilty."
"Very well," Mordred nodded, though he looked none too pleased by the idea. A vicious glare in Dante's direction warned her that she would soon be finding her way back into Morgana's bad books again, but she was beyond the point of caring now. What was the point of all this tip-toeing around? If you were going to do something, might as well do it properly.
"Dismissed," Arthur told the room, before he turned and stalked away, Gwen trailing after him and wondering how she would ever break him out of this sour mood now.
The guards let Gwaine and Mordred go, but pushed them towards opposite exits of the room, and not wanting to cause a further scene, Gwaine did as he was told and left. He wanted to get to the other knights before Mordred, and warn them off, anyway.
As he passed Dante, however, she moved sideways ever so slightly, so that he bumped into her.
"Sorry Milady," he apologised, as she secretly pressed the scroll of parchment into his hands.
"It's alright, Sir Gwaine. No harm done," she smiled sweetly as he sidestepped round her, the parchment crunched up in his fist so nobody could see.
He had no idea what it was, but if Dante was giving it to him without wanting anyone else to know about it, then it must be to do with Mordred.
Gaius saw the exchange, but acted like nothing had happened, as he was thinking along the same lines as Gwaine. Calling Merlin after him to help finish his rounds, the room finally emptied of everyone but the Lady and the Druid.
And that was when Dante realised she should have left with one of the others. Now she was alone with Mordred. And that was a very grave mistake indeed.