Merlin woke to a tempest.
At least, that was what Adelle came across as. His bleary eyes cracked open to the sight of a loud, roaring, devastating, practical force of nature as she waved her arms around and yelled at the knights who stood, helpless other than to listen to the train of abuses flying from her mouth. None of them were able to get a word in edgewise, the red-faced woman seemingly apathetic to their excuses and explanations.
"Why the hell didn't any of you come to tell me you were alright?!" she screamed, pacing back and forth in front of the motley crew of men. Gwaine had developed a sudden interest in his boots, while the others seemed to be having trouble finding something to stare at. Arthur, of course, looked back at Adelle evenly, appearing to take the rebukes in stride.
Merlin saw the precarious and rather uncomfortable position his friends were in, and briefly wondered if he should, perhaps, intervene. And then Adelle, after catching her breath, continued her tirade.
Merlin let his eyes slip closed, and quickly pretended to be asleep.
They could handle themselves for a little longer without him. No reason in risking a woman's wrath if you don't need to.
Arthur watched patiently as Adelle paced back and forth, her arms crossed as she struggled to contain what seemed, to Arthur, to be an irrational amount of irritation. She was ignoring them now, which was rather unfair after she had decided to yell at them animatedly for several minutes. Arthur had feared she would wake Merlin, but his attempts to quiet her had been for naught.
She'd shown up that morning, and woken Arthur by kicking his head. She'd been positively livid for the better part of a half an hour. The other knights had woken up from the yelling and somehow managed to duck their heads and undergo her rage throughout. Finally, she had simmered down, and now seemed to be trying to sort through whatever complicated lady emotions she was suffering at present.
What kept Arthur from speaking up or defending himself was the strange conflict displayed on her lovely face, which was now contorted in confusion and anger and trepidation. This was so different from what Arthur had grown accustomed to I the time he knew her, that he almost felt sorry for her.
Except, for the fact that she had called him a forgetful, lazy lout. That was uncalled for.
Still, any and all impressions she had given him were all ones of self-assuredness and a profound understanding and acceptance of her place in life. Now she looked like she was trying very hard to maintain any semblance of control over herself.
Finally, both hands on her hips, she raised her gaze to the heavens and sighed, her shoulders falling in a sign of complete resignation.
"Alright then," she said, glancing down from the sky to look at each of the knights in turn, before her gaze settled on Arthur, "I suppose I have no choice…I'm coming with you,"
She was barraged with an immediate chorus of negations and excuses, all of which seemed to have no effect on her decided countenance,
"Really, there's no need-"
"Too dangerous for a woman-"
"Not enough horses-"
"Need to move quickly-"
The torrents of disapproval, even Arthur's, were stopped by Adelle's calmly raised hand,
"Listen here," she said, clasping her hands behind her back and splaying her legs shoulder width apart, "That man there," she pointed towards the sleeping form of Merlin, who was entangled obliviously in six red and gold cloaks, "almost died. I don't know who you are, and I don't know where you're going. But what I do know? You lot are obviously incapable buffoons in need of a brain to get you home safely," they tried to protest again, but she spoke over them with a raised finger, "Nah," they halted in their words, "My decision is final. If I don't travel with you, I'll follow along behind, keeping a close eye," she smirked triumphantly.
Arthur crossed his arms stubbornly, and the knights took up similar stances of fortitude. Adelle sighed, seeing their unwavering faces, and lifted her arms slightly, palms facing towards them imploringly,
"Look," she tried again, voice not quite so commanding, but still firm, "Against my better judgment…I've somehow grown fond," she wrinkled her nose at the word, "of you all. I don't know what your home is like, or what I'll do once I get there…but," she sighed again, face screwed up in concentration as if talking about her feelings was one of the most distasteful things she could do. Arthur felt a sudden, small amount of warmth towards her. Now that he could relate to, "I'm tired of this crummy old city. And I'm tired of living off its scummy population. I won't do it anymore," She folded her arms across her stomach and her gaze flitted downward, this time in a gesture that seemed more...vulnerable, somehow, "Despite your perpetual ineptitude," a small smile appeared on her face, "you're better men than I've been privileged to associate with in this life. And I don't want this life anymore. Wherever you're from, if you're anything to go by, it's a hell of a lot better than this place. Besides," her gaze flitted over to Merlin once more, a hesitant, tender smile forming on her lips, "I'm not letting him out of my sight again,"
Arthur couldn't hold back a disbelieving chuckle as he began rubbing his eyes. How was it that Merlin somehow always managed to make things more complicated by just being himself? Where did that power come from?
After several moments of contemplation, in which Arthur could feel the stares of everyone situated on him, he came to a decision. Puffing out his cheeks in a prolonged breath, Arthur looked up to see Adelle giving him a rather unnerving, scrutinizing stare,
"Very well," he said, and couldn't help but grin as she smiled brilliantly at him.
"You can ride with Gwaine," Arthur announced. Adelle's face immediately fell, as she glanced over at the knight in question, and her face twisted in disgust as he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Arthur chuckled and twirled around, whistling as he began packing up his bedroll. Adelle had made some good points. If she wanted to start a new life in Camelot, who was he to say that she couldn't? Well, other than being the king, of course. But any new citizen with a willing heart was something he was completely fine with.
That didn't mean he couldn't extract a bit of petty revenge. Nobody calls him a lout.
Merlin was singing.
"Ooooooooooooooohhhhhhhh! I wandered into a tavern that day! My clothes and hair in disarray-"
He was singing loud and long and proud. It was the voice of a man who was simply celebrating the fact that he had the breath in his body to do so, the air in his lungs to live. He didn't care who heard him. He hollered into the day and fresh air. And Arthur damned anyone who would try to ruin that for him.
"-but none could ever shy away, for my love is Bonnie Green! Ooooooooohhhhhhh-!"
They were now several hours away from Mercy, and were traveling on horseback through the woods. Warm light filtered in through the treetops, slowly drying their still damp clothes. Arthur was filthy and hurting, bruised and stinking, but he was in a vastly better mood than he had been for the past several weeks. Merlin was alive, they were all alive, healthy and heading home. And Merlin was happy. Happier than Arthur had seen him in a long, long time.
Arthur couldn't wait to get home. He couldn't wait to see Gwen. He knew that she was keeping things afloat back there all by herself. Hopefully, she was still awaiting their return.
Arthur was pulled from his thoughts at the sound of another voice joining Merlin's. He turned around in his saddle to see Adelle, who sat in front of Gwaine on their horse, with a deeply amused, highly contented smile on her face, singing along with Merlin.
"Yes, her eyes were of the deepest blue, but her skin was akin to a vegetable's hue!"
And then Gwaine joined in. And then Elyan, and Arthur, and eventually Percival and Leon. And there they were, singing loudly and badly, but not caring, trotting through the sunshine with their heads held high.
"My Bonnie Green love did steal my heart, the thieving young lass did tear apart, myyy hooooooooooooommmmeeeee!"
Arthur didn't know for how long they sang together, the air filled with their ecstasy, relief and camaraderie. But they only stopped when there was a slapping sound, followed by a loud yelp of pain from behind, Gwaine's. And Adelle's shriek
"Keep your meaty paws to yourself, you beslubbering imbecile!" (1)
That night, they ate stew made from rabbit and vegetables and seasonings freshly gathered from Mercy that morning. They entertained each other with stories and songs, and Merlin used his magic to morph the sparks from the fire into shapes to go along with each one.
It felt almost dreamlike, to Merlin. The sudden safety and complete lack of pain.
He was honestly homesick, though. He wanted to see Gaius and Gwen. He was also feeling restless. He was not a naturally inactive person. And after so many years risking his life for one kingdom…being away from it for so long just made him…fidgety.
The next several days passed smoothly. With Merlin now functioning completely normally, they didn't have to stop as often to rest, or deal with any attacks. A trip that had taken them two weeks the first time around, they had managed to cut a third off of.
After just a little over a week, they were not a few minutes away from being able to see their beloved kingdom.
In the time they had spent together, they had spent time bonding and talking, hunting and telling stories and jokes. Mostly, they made good time on their horses, only stopping late at night to sleep, and rising early even then.
Merlin had spent much of his time answering Adelle's numerous questions. Yes, Arthur was a noble. Yes, he was also a warrior. Yes, that was possible. No, Camelot wasn't small. No, Merlin wasn't involved with anyone, despite what Gwaine said.
"It's beautiful," Merlin said, riding alongside Adelle and Gwaine, "White and brilliant in the sun, red and gold flags. The people are so brave,"
"Geez, Merlin," Gwaine laughed, "I might have thought you were king instead of Arthu-"
Realizing his mistake, Gwaine's mouth shut with an audible "click". Adelle furrowed her brow in suspicion,
"What?" she said. Then, slowly turned to the very irritated looking Arthur, "Wait…he's…? But…" she whirled about on the saddle, looking at each of the knights in search of an answer. Merlin chuckled as she realized exactly who she had been insulting and teasing and bantering with for the past week and a half or so.
Arthur nodded in confirmation at the obvious question in her eyes.
She swallowed and settled back against Gwaine,
Gwen couldn't take it anymore.
Over a month of waiting. Of agonizing and torture, tedious council meetings and adlibbed excuses. She was ready to burst from the absolute torment she was going through. Her husband, her best friend, her brother, the rest of the knights, she hadn't seen any of them for far, far too long.
She was almost practically running through the corridors to reach her chambers. That was it. She didn't care anymore. She was going out to look for them.
Irrational with worry and frenzied in her eagerness, she rushed to pack.
Brushing past the guards outside her door, she flew into her room and ran to the wardrobe. She pulled out some of the old dresses she kept from her maidservant days, and then rushed to grab the pair of boots out from under her bed. Just as she was heading to grab a sack, a knock sounded at the door.
The sound was like a bothersome fly, and Gwen waved her hand and called absently,
She didn't notice who entered the room, until the voice sounded, saying words that seemed to break through the hazy spell of grief and concern she had been trapped in for the past several weeks,
"Milady," a guard said, "the king has returned,"
The people of Camelot watched with bright smiles and enthusiastic cheers as their king and all of his knights, and also his manservant and one woman, came trotting into the courtyard. They had only just dismounted, greeting the guards and knights that came to slap them on the backs and ask questions, before a cry of sheer delight and relief resounded from the door of the castle.
The queen came sprinting down the steps of the castle, dress and hair flying behind her as visible tears streamed down her face. After an endless moment of exultation, she flew into the waiting arms of her husband, head buried in his shoulder, and his face in her hair. They held each other tightly, Guinevere weeping into his jerkin, arms wrapped around his neck, and his about her waist. She then pulled back, and planted a fierce kiss upon his lips, and the people applauded and cheered louder.
Gwen then went to each person in turn. She hugged Merlin so tightly it seemed she was afraid he would disappear. She kissed his cheeks several times, and cried when he told her he was completely cured. She embraced Elyan and laughed when Gwaine kissed her cheek. She must have hugged each of them a dozen times, before ending up with Arthur's arm about her shoulder as he announced to the courtyard that there would be a feast that night for the entire kingdom, celebrating their return to the kingdom. This was met by an enthusiastic chorus of approval from the people.
Arthur then introduced Gwen to Adelle, and the queen was all too happy to embrace her as well, and thank her for the assistance she had offered her family. Adelle blushed and looked a little taken aback and uncomfortable, but she seemed to take an immediate liking to the servant turned monarch.
And then, as a laughing, smiling, teary eyed group, they entered the castle, stronger, than when they had left.
As soon as Merlin entered the familiar surroundings of the castle, he had to quickly excuse himself. He departed from the group, and walked slowly towards the waiting form in the shadows, standing with his hands folded in front of him, a small smile on his weathered face.
"Gaius," Merlin choked out through the lump in his throat, a smile filling up his face against his will. Though, he wouldn't have wanted to fight the absolute elation taking over him.
He drank in Gaius' features. Those wise eyes, that wonderful, wonderful eyebrow.
"My boy," Gaius whispered, his own voice watery, his eyes shining with unshed tears.
Without a word, they both stepped forward into a prolonged, reassuring embrace. Merlin didn't realize how much he had missed his mentor. He dug his fingers into Gaius' worn, brown robe, letting the scent of potions and book pages fill his nostrils.
"You're back," Gaius said, his voice betraying his heavy emotions. Merlin smiled again, reveling in the feeling of his own steady heartbeat, the warm air around him, the sounds of fading laughter from his friends, his family. This was home.
This story is dedicated to Permanentscars. Without her support and counsel throughout the story, it would not be the same.
If you're in the mood for some fluff after this angsty ride, check out her Arthur's Pride series for some quality work. :D
Thank you all so much for your support and reviews throughout this story! You guys have been absolutely amazing with your kind words and wondrous encouragement. Writing this story has really gotten me out of the creative funk I was in, and has really made this year all that much better. I owe you all my deepest gratitude. :)
(1) Beslubbering is a word...
One last thing, if you haven't taken the time to review before, I would really appreciate your feedback on the whole of this story. Was it good, bad? What could I improve upon in my writing?
I can't wait to start on these other plots dancing around in my head. Thank you all for joining me for this adventure.
Happy New Year!