Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot
Guinevere Pendragon, Queen of Camelot
Morgana, exiled warlock
Gaius, Physician to the King
Sebelin, Gaius's new assistant (OC)
MERCIA CAST: (note, all of these are OCs)
Lawrence Azalie, King of Mercia
Alastair Azalie, Crown Prince of Mercia
Sebastian Azalie, Prince of Mercia
Clarence Deshiki, Court Jester
Merlin, exiled warlock
Author's Note: Since he isn't shown actually sleeping when Merlin summons the dragon, I imagine it's actually highly possible the Arthur could have stumbled across that scene. Besides, Merlin running through the forest, yelling for the dragon in his own tongue? How does that not wake him up or get some attention? Seriously.
A few notes for you who like to correct people. Yes, I know full well that Mercia already has a king, who is shown in the first season, episode four, The Poisoned Chalice. However, I don't care. If you want to pretend his kingdom was taken over to make yourself feel better, go ahead. As for Sebelin, well, Gaius will need some help after Merlin's gone. You'll get a brief glimpse at the new cast at the end of the chapter but that's about it. You'll have to wait until tomorrow, since this chapter was mostly written out and finishing it was easy. Next chapter should be up soon, and then you'll get a good look at our new heroes, as well as the occasional glimpse of Arthur missing his old friend. If you feel I'm really OOC with Merlin or Arthur, please feel free to tell me. I'll try to show them better. Also, this will be one of the only times I portray the FRIENDSHIP of Arthur and Merlin. Merlin will later be paired with an OC, not Arthur, so sorry all you yaoi/gay fans. Try reading one of my other Merlin fics, they will definitely show that. ;) In fact, I'll post one right after this just for you, yaoi/gay fans. Now, please enjoy!
It occurred to me, rereading this, that I rather rushed the first publication. I'm reediting it, adding a bit more, and clearing up the issue with Alistair and Sebastian.
"The fate of Camelot rests in your hands, young warlock. For you, and you alone, can restore the king's faith."
Arthur stared at the dragon, which spoke with such ease to his servant. He'd noticed Merlin sneaking off, despite it being his turn to keep watch. Worried he was doing something stupid and dangerous again; for his sake, Arthur had followed him. He'd never seen Merlin run like this, though. He ran fast, faster than he'd ever let on that he could run and he shouted out strange words that made his heart tremble as he ran. What had rooted Arthur to the spot, however, was the sight of Merlin before this beast. He stood before it with little fear, as though he were a king asking an advisor for council. Moreover, this giant creature spoke to him, called him 'warlock' as if it was talking to an old friend. Had Merlin betrayed him? Was he, too, seeking to take over his throne?
"How?" Merlin asked the dragon.
"You must make him believe that he can become king once more."
Become king? What were they talking about? Was Merlin really after his throne? Was Merlin really looking to overthrow him? Arthur couldn't think straight anymore. Only bits and pieces of the conversation were registering in his brain, so flabbergasted was he by the sight of his most trusted friend, yes friend, talking to a magical creature. Hadn't they just had a conversation about how he was constantly being betrayed? Yet Merlin had the gal to sit there and try to comfort him, all the while he was doing the same. Grief struck at his heart, causing it physical pain. Merlin continued to stand before the beast, unaware of anything that was going on or any who might be watching him.
"I wish I could be of more help, Merlin."
So the dragon knew his name. His servant was on terms with it. This wasn't just some huge mistake. And, on closer look, Arthur was sure this was the dragon that had attacked Camelot. The dragon Merlin had sworn he killed. Had this creature attacked his home under Merlin's orders? Would it attack his kingdom again?
"No. I know how." Merlin smiled up at the dragon. His next words sent terror to Arthur's heart, though. "The people of Camelot. Do you know where they're hiding?"
"I am a dragon. I can cover many leagues in the blink of an eye. They shouldn't be too hard to find."
"Then we have no time to loose."
Arthur couldn't figure out what they were planning. He'd trusted Merlin. He'd trusted him just as he trusted Morgana, Agravaine. He'd trusted and been betrayed again. Heart heavy, he slunk back to the camp for some sleep. In the morning, he would deal with this. In the morning, he would expose Merlin and banish him, even if it cost him everything to do so. He'd held Merlin dear to his heart, as a beloved friend and sometimes councilor. He didn't want to loose him. His father's words and teachings rang in his ears, however, clouding his thoughts. Magic was not to be trusted. Sorcerers were evil. Merlin was not to be trusted. He was a warlock, one who chose to use magic. Therefore, Merlin must be evil. He winced at the thought but he knew his father would be proud of him for what he must now do. He must banish Merlin, banish him or… Or follow in his father's footsteps.
The next morning, however, he was awakened by a shake from Merlin. He smiled at him as a friend would smile and beckoned him to follow. "Come on, there's something I need to show you."
Had he come to kill him? No, if Merlin truly wanted to kill him he could do it any time. No one would be the wiser. In fact, it was a small wonder that he had not done so before. Why hadn't he done so before, come to think of it? He could easily do it, dispose of him, dispose of his trusted knights; if he had enough magic to control a dragon, something not even Morgana could do, surely he could kill him and take over his throne. Perhaps his throne was not what he wanted after all. Hope swelled in his heart at that thought, but he tried to crush it. If so, then what did he want? He listened to Merlin speak, making inane comments. But Merlin was obstinate, he told him to listen to what he had to say. Unable to get a clear picture of Merlin, even now, Arthur obeyed and lapsed into silence.
Merlin told him the story of his ancestor but he added a part that Arthur had never heard about. He told him about a part including a sword in a stone. How stupid did he think he was? But to his surprise, despite his protests, Merlin produced an actual sword in a stone. Even more surprising was that his people were coming toward it. Arthur immediately blanched, not feeling up to the task. This was foolishness. Perhaps Merlin wanted him to fail; so all these people could laugh at him and he could step in and lay claim to his throne.
"What the hell are you playing at?"
"I'm proving that you are they're leader and they're king."
"That sword is stuck fast in solid stone."
"And you're going to pull it out."
"Merlin, it's impossible."
"Arthur, you're the true king of Camelot."
"You want me to look like a fool?"
"No, I'm going to make you see that Tristan's wrong. You aren't just anyone; you are special. You, and you alone can draw out that sword."
The conviction in his voice coupled with the words he'd heard the dragon speak to him convinced Arthur that Merlin was serious. "You better be right about this." He told him. Fearfully, he approached the stone. There was no way he could do this. He tried and failed.
"You have to believe, Arthur." Merlin told him.
He kept trying, willing himself to believe even as he doubted.
"You are destined to be Albion's greatest king."
He stepped away from the stone and took a breath.
"Nothing, not even this stone, can stand in your way."
Merlin's words, despite knowing his betrayal, managed to give Arthur courage. Hope. Confidence. He believed in him, in his words. Despite knowing everything, he believed.
He had faith; he had faith in Merlin. He had faith in his words. He had faith in himself. And he pulled the sword from the stone. What he had believed was impossible, his faith being restored in himself and his belief that he could be king returned, had happened. All this was thanks to this sword and stone. He wondered how Merlin had known about this but dismissed the notion he set it up for him. Merlin was still a warlock, despite all. He probably really had missed that bit of the history lesson. After all, he hated history that didn't have to do with battles for glory and justice. Anchored in his faith, he kept a firm grasp on his new sword. With this, he felt he just might be able to win against Morgana and her army.
The battle won, all Arthur's efforts turned to righting the kingdom. He refused to accept that the reason he was so focused on this might be because he didn't want to deal with the issue of magic. A month passed before Arthur finally was ready to address the issue of Merlin having magic. It wasn't as if he was dreading doing this or anything. He was king. He didn't dread it at all; he was above that. It's just; first, he really did have to put the kingdom back in order. The court was a mess, the nobles weren't sure whom their allegiance belonged to anymore, and then there was the matter of having made Gwen his queen. Considering how quickly he'd put the ceremony together, without giving the nobles and the court a chance to air and reconcile any reservations about the union, he'd been forced to deal with the grief in the aftermath. It turned out, it was ten times worse than he expected. He was still unraveling that mess but it was nearly put to rest. Another month or two and even the still grumbling nobles would have to let it go.
In other matters, Tristan decided to stay for a bit, which Arthur would never admit pleased him. He refused to become a knight, of course. He said it was drab and boring and way too noble for the likes of him. He was quite suited with his way of life, thank you very much, although he promised not to smuggle in Arthur's kingdom anymore. Not that Arthur believed him for an instant but eh, he was glad the man seemed to be recovering. He spent much time joking and drinking with Gwaine and oddly enough, in quiet conversation with Merlin. His treacherous servant seemed to calm the otherwise agitated man.
All of Camelot seemed to be recovering nicely and in the middle of it all was Merlin. Annoying, exasperating Merlin. Sometimes Arthur wished he had dreamed the whole incident up. After all, how could weak, senseless Merlin be a warlock? Heck, he couldn't keep a secret to himself if his life depended on it! No, Merlin couldn't be a warlock. He tried to convince himself yet he knew that it wasn't true. Merlin went everywhere with him. He was there in the moments when everything just seemed to turn around and go right for Arthur. Besides which, there were all the oddities he'd heard but ignored up until now. He had heard the complaints from the outside villages of Camelot, that there were strange noises that occasionally came from the clearings in the hills. No doubt they were similar to those sounds Merlin had made that fateful night when Arthur saw him summoning the dragon. He couldn't understand why though. The dragon hadn't attacked Camelot. To his knowledge, it hadn't attacked any other kingdom either. He was positive he would have gotten a report if a dragon were seen attacking a kingdom. Why, then, was Merlin summoning the dragon? And then there were the incidents when, before, Merlin had been accused of sorcery. He'd scoffed at the time, saying it was rubbish, but clearly there had been some truth to it. In fact, Merlin himself had once admitted to sorcery! Although Arthur had played it off at the time as a delusion of love for his new wife, now he knew he'd been telling the truth.
There were other things to consider. After getting back, he'd secretly checked around. He'd had an artist sketch Merlin, demanding the boy sit still under the pretense of some mission only to pretend he hated the sketch and tell the man he changed his mind. He paid him, whispering to return with the sketch and give it to one of his knights, Sir Leonardo. He then had Sir Leonardo ask as discreetly as he could around the taverns if Merlin had been there. He'd been hoping someone would recognize him but none did. His suspicion confirmed; that meant Merlin had been lying to him. He didn't bother to take into consideration that Gaius might have been lying to him as well. No, Merlin probably told Gaius a lie to tell him. So if Merlin didn't frequent the tavern, where was he always wandering off to all the time? The more he considered the situation, the more he came to one conclusion. He couldn't trust Merlin anymore. Merlin had betrayed him and there were consequences that came with that. No matter how much he wished it wasn't so, no matter how much he tried to rationalize it, it came down to one thing. Merlin was a sorcerer, a warlock and a practitioner of magic. He couldn't be trusted and he had to be punished. Perhaps, just perhaps, if he brought it out into the open, he would finally get the answers he was looking for. Answers, he was discovering, he desperately needed. He wouldn't bring the matter to court, however. No he would address it in front of his most trusted knights. This way, he would have more freedom to deal with Merlin as he saw fit, without the court trying to interfere as they had been since he became king. And this way, he might get some honest answers. He had a feeling that Merlin wouldn't admit to anything in court, that he would merely take his sentence in silence. He was more open and honest with Arthur and the knights away from the castle. He chuckled bitterly to himself. Open and honest? Who was he kidding. No matter what he might have thought, Merlin was nothing more than a liar.
"I've summoned you all here for one purpose." Arthur announced, looking around when the knights had gathered in the square. He looked at each of their faces. Faces he knew and trusted. He wondered if any of them had betrayed him? No, he gave himself a mental shake. Knowing Merlin's betrayal was just messing with his head. He couldn't begin to suspect others, not without proof. Once this was cleared up, everything would return to normal. He wouldn't be so suspicious over everyone anymore; he wouldn't be constantly tense or nervous. He wouldn't jump every time someone entered the room. Not that he jumped, of course. He would just glance at them suspiciously. No one seemed to notice as of yet but he couldn't let this mess with his mind anymore. He glanced sagaciously at Merlin, who appeared oblivious as always. How could he not guess that Arthur knew? Or was he that confident that he could overwhelm both Arthur and his knights? He knew he was drawing attention so he motioned for them to follow him and began leading them to the lower town. He didn't bother to lower his voice, for he didn't want them crowding him and he honestly didn't care who overheard what he was going to say. "There is a yet another traitor. One I have only just found."
The knights all looked at each other in confusion and Merlin looked sharply at Arthur, clearly confused by this sudden news. So he hadn't known, hadn't even guessed that Arthur knew. Well, he would keep him guessing then. It was well-deserved payback for not telling him up front about his magic. He knew he was behaving a bit like a spiteful kid and that shaming Merlin in front of everyone would do no good but he was sure it would make him feel better. In the long run, that was what counted, right? His peace of mind would return and he could gloat a little over this moment. Ignoring Merlin's probing gaze, he nodded. "Yes, we have yet another traitor in our midst."
"Do you know who, Sire?" Sir Leon was instantly alert. Sir Leon, Arthur's most trusted knight. Yes, he would lay down his life for him in a moment, without hesitation. He would never betray him. Would he? He would have said the same about Merlin before this incident. Merlin, who seemed so willing to sacrifice everything for him.
"I have some idea. In fact, I believe they are quite close to me in the castle."
"Is it a noble?" Sir Gwaine, ever distrustful of the nobles despite being born of noble blood, supplied his guess. Arthur glanced at him. He wondered how his knight, who swore an oath to protect him and lay down his life for him, would take the news. He often said that he considered Merlin his first and best friend. Not well then. Still, he would have to deal with that fall out. It was a task he wasn't looking forward to, but he had no doubt that Gwaine would remain by his side. Right?
He shook his head. "No. All the nobles appear to be loyal to me, although I suppose we should question them later to be sure." Who knows whom Merlin could have possible corrupted with his magic. Despite himself and the seriousness of the situation, he almost snorted. Merlin, corrupting people? What an absurd thought. He couldn't even begin to think of Merlin trying to corrupt people. He was far too clumsy; he would probably end up casting the wrong spell. He must be on the edge of hysteria if he felt like laughing. He would have to see Gaius later on to make sure. Instantly, the hysteria left him. Gaius would take the news of Merlin's betrayal, and his punishment, badly. Hopefully it wouldn't cost the physician's health too badly.
"No, it's not a noble." He reiterated.
"Then who? Surely you do not suspect one of the knights. They are all loyal only to you, Sire!" Sir Elyan guessed, objecting to the thought of one of his comrades being traitorous. Sir Elyan, brave and true, loyal to him despite how painful it must have been when he'd banished Gwen. He realized he would be putting him in another painful situation, where he must chose Arthur, his king, and Camelot over his friend. He would surely understand Arthur's reasoning behind his decision, wouldn't he? Hadn't he understood when he banished Gwen?
"It is not one of the knights, I assure you. However, as it is someone close to me, I am biased in the matter. I need your council on what I should do, how I should handle this matter."
"If it's a traitor, you should kill them. Let them hang." Gwaine threw in quickly.
"Traitor to Camelot and its king, beheading isn't too good for them." Elyan said slowly, not particularly blood thirsty but striving to be fair. However, when he imagined someone might be selling secrets, he feared for his king and his sister, the queen. He couldn't let such an offense go lightly, not when it endangered the lives of those he cared about.
"Hanging is a just response for the crime." Sir Leon nodded slowly. A few of the other knights present murmured in agreement.
"Banishment from the kingdom. His picture sketched and sent to all the regions, so that he can never again set foot on land claimed by Camelot." Percival threw his lot in. Arthur listened to all their suggestions before glancing at Merlin again. This time, Merlin caught his eye.
He spoke in a quiet voice. "Run them threw with your sword. A quick death, merciful and just."
Elyan protested. "Why should he be merciful to a traitor, Merlin? They've betrayed him!"
Merlin turned a wise eye on his friend, the knight. "And he is the king." That statement silenced all the knights. "He is our king, he must strive to be merciful and just at all times, whether it be sentencing a traitor to death or rewarding a servant." He grinned cheekily at Arthur, causing his lips to twitch slightly up. Merlin, who occasionally could show himself to be wise, had a point. Yet he didn't wish to kill Merlin. The small smile melted away into a frown.
He turned around to face his knights, not acknowledging Merlin. Not that ignoring Merlin was anything new. He knew it was a common occurrence and he wondered for the first time if that was part of the reason Merlin was able to trick him for so long. Had he just not been paying attention, not cared enough about him? He looked at Sir Leon, his first knight, and thought about how long it had taken him to warm up and truly trust Merlin. Despite his kind heart, he did not view servants as equals to knights and while he had never said anything, he quietly disapproved of Merlin's presence. Would outing Merlin forever set him against the servants he was only just now beginning to show kindness to and look after? Not that he ever raised a hand against them. He was a knight of Camelot and took his position very seriously. He knew that knights were supposed to protect the weak. It dawned on Arthur for the first time, perhaps that might be part of the reason he disapproved for so long on Merlin traveling with them. He considered Merlin weak and wanted to protect him.
He turned his gaze next to Sir Gwaine. Gwaine, the nobleman. He hated his noble blood and there was little love lost between him and Uther, who originally banished him. Yet he had proven himself a worthy knight ten times over. The thing he still valued the most was his friendship with Merlin. True, they hadn't exactly been best pals as of late. Merlin was still a servant and Gwaine had begun to enjoy the perks of being a knight, but he still looked after his first and best friend. In fact, part of the reason he became a knight was because of Merlin. Merlin brought Gwaine into his life, the same way he brought Lancelot and Elyan and later Percival. Gwaine, who he still sparred with and tried to beat; demanding rematch after rematch to settle that dispute over who would have won during that slaver incident. Gwaine, who had recently begun to open up and talk about himself not just to Merlin and Arthur but also to the other knights as well. How would this affect him? Would his loyalty still be to Arthur and Camelot? Or would he choose Merlin, his first friend, over all his new ones?
He looked at Elyan, remembering how it wasn't just Gwen who pushed him to help him but Merlin as well. Merlin's faith in the knight had never shifted, not once. He trusted Elyan even when he'd been enchanted and that faith is what had helped Arthur trust him. He looked at Sir Percival and the few other trusted knights he had brought with him. They all knew Merlin. Sir Percival, who had been brought to them by Sir Lancelot, his most beloved knight. Lancelot, who betrayed him and tried to woo Gwen, only to kill himself to restore his honor. Who would Percival choose? Himself, king and Camelot, or Merlin, whom Lancelot had originally brought him to help aid? He didn't fool himself; Lancelot might have wanted to aid him but he knew that he Lancelot had come because of Merlin, because he asked him for aid and because like everyone else he seemed to meet, Merlin befriend him.
His mind reeled. If it weren't for Merlin, with the exception of Sir Leon who was already a knight, he wouldn't have any of these trusted men as his knights. Merlin was partially responsible for all of them. He noticed Tristan approaching out of the corner of his eye. He gave him a vague nod, wondering if he could convince the man to become a knight. He could use a man like him as a knight. Perhaps Merlin would work some of his magic and–and that was exactly why they were all here, wasn't it? Because Merlin had magic. Despite the worried stares he was receiving from his knights as the silence stretched on, he chanced a quick glance at Merlin. Merlin gave him an anxious look but nodded for him to continue, glancing at the knights. Merlin, who always seemed to know the right thing to say at the right time. When he continued to stare, his servant stepped forward and spoke in quiet, rushed tone. "Sire, the knights are waiting for you to continue. You need to tell them who the traitor is."
Stunned by hearing those words, the words tumbled out of his lips. "Merlin."
Merlin looked up at him, confusion covering his face, and pulled back slightly. He glanced around and then again at Arthur. "Uh… Yes, Sire?"
The knights appeared equally confused and looked at each other before looking at Merlin. Clearly, they didn't get it. A small voice in the back of his head said, 'good.' It told him to end it there, to not let himself get embroiled in this mess. Outing Merlin like this would do no one any good. Yet the small voice was easily quashed by his misgivings and his sense of betrayal. No, he couldn't let this deception continue. "Merlin. It's Merlin." He said again.
Merlin caught on quickly and shock caused his jaw to drop open as he blinked at Arthur. Slowly, the knights begun to catch on what Arthur was saying.
"What's Merlin?" Gwaine demanded, not getting it. Or rather, refusing to understand Arthur's meaning. Elyan leaned over and whispered in his ear. He paled, his eyebrows scrunching together as barely contained fury erupted inside of him. "You're saying Merlin is the traitor? Merlin?" His voice sounded incredulous. "On whose word do you take this farce?"
"My own." His voice was deadly calm, his eyes cooling to a stony look as he continued to stare at Merlin. Merlin said nothing; apparently unable to wrap his obtuse head around the idea Arthur could call him a traitor.
"You idiotic, spoiled little–" Gwaine erupted again, Sir Leon having to restrain him before he could lunge at his king.
"Sir Gwaine." His knight uttered in a warning voice to the irate man. He was coming dangerously close to treason. However, he trained his questioning gaze on his king. "Surely this cannot be, my lord. I have known Merlin since shortly after he arrived. You know him better than anyone! He would never betray you."
"I, I, I wouldn't!" Squeaked the traitor, still in obvious shock. He seemed to be trying to figure out why Arthur thought of him that way. He clearly couldn't fathom that he knew.
"Merlin is the traitor." Conviction rang in voice even as doubt entered his eyes. Was he really doing the right thing? Yet he needed answers. "He has magic."
Merlin's eyes bugged out for an instance. "I, I have what?" He asked weakly.
"You are a sorcerer. You wield magic Merlin. Don't deny it."
"What, what makes you think I have magic?" He didn't even think of denying, yet he knew he should do it immediately.
Arthur sneered at him for the first time, mistrust and betrayal mixing together in his stony eyes to portray the prelude to hate. "I saw you, Merlin."
He wilted, looking suitably guilty. His reluctance to deny it hushed the knights, even Gwaine who was looking at his friend with apprehension and confusion. Merlin didn't look at anyone else, simply watched Arthur, trying to gauge him. "I see…"
"So it's true then? You don't deny it?" Somehow, that surprised Arthur.
"No…" He replied quietly, shaking his head.
"You hid your 'talent' from me, from all of us, for a very long time." He crossed his arms, wanting answers. The betrayal stung anew and all the more painful, having Merlin admit it. A part of him wanted him to deny it. Perhaps if he had, he could simply have let it go at that. It was an odd dream, a trick in the night sky, it never really happened.
"I, I didn't want to hide it from you." Merlin protested weakly.
"Oh, no, you just thought that I wasn't worthy of your secret." Arthur scoffed.
Merlin's temper rose slightly, and a spark of anger entered his eyes. "Well, what was I supposed to do, Arthur?"
Arthur opened his mouth but Merlin cut him off, continuing on. "Tell you? Tell you, Arthur? The son of Uther Pendragon, who started the great Purge in order to eradicate any and all of my kind?" That stung and Merlin looked like he regretted the words as soon as he said them, looking away and at the ground. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean… You just act like it was easy, Arthur."
"Wasn't it easy, Merlin? Wasn't it though?"
"Easy? Easy?" Merlin scoffed. "What exactly about it was supposed to be easy, Arthur? I walked into this city and the first thing I saw was someone like me, a man I didn't even know, being beheaded for magic. For magic! I was sent here to be protected from such practices and I landed in the worst place, apart from everyone I knew, alone and scared in a new place. On top of that, I was assigned your servant, servant to the son of the man who could simply have me killed for looking at you. I was told I was trash, I was worthless, I was a nobody. I was treated like crap and that was just from the other servants who looked down on a country hick. I had to endure your treatment, your degrading and your mocking, and not react at all, which of course we both know I failed to do. All the while, every day I was wondering if it would be my last, if someone was going to try to kill me, if I would be burned at the stake or beheaded. I couldn't tell anyone my secret and when I noticed Morgana had magic as well, oh yes I noticed that Arthur, I couldn't even help her! I couldn't help her because of your father, and she suffered for it. She was this beautiful pure soul and now she's been twisted into this ugly, hateful thing and it's my fault, my fault for not thinking about her instead of my own pathetic life. I had to watch as your father put others like me to death, stand by your side and pretend not to be effected. I even saved your father's life a couple times! So was it easy, Arthur? Yes, of course, it was a breeze."
"If it was so hard, why didn't you bother telling anyone? You could have told me!"
"Right, when would that be, Arthur?" Merlin shook his head. "When I went back to Ealdor? You condemned my friend for using magic, which, by the way, that was me. Yeah. Not the first time my magic saved your life and it wasn't the last time either. So no, I couldn't tell you then. And after that? When? When Morgause was telling you about your mother? No, that turned you against magic. Then when after that? After Morgana tried to use magic to take the thrown from you? When was I supposed to tell you I had magic, Arthur? When exactly? Even now, even now you look at me like I'm some disgusting creature when I'm exactly the same as I was yesterday and the day before, the exact same Merlin as last month!"
"But you're not the same Merlin. You lied. You're a liar, Merlin."
"What was I supposed to do? I tried to tell you in the beginning! I said it was me, not Gwen, who used magic to save her father. It was me!" He shuddered, clearly not happy to reveal such a thing. "And you laughed, Arthur. You brushed it off as me being lovesick over Gwen." He gave a harsh, bitter laugh. "I was a lovesick fool and incapable of magic, remember?"
Yes, Arthur remembered that. He also remembered that Morgana had magic, thanks to Merlin bringing her up. His eyes hardened further. "Magic is prohibited in Camelot. By using it, you have betrayed all of Camelot. Since I witnessed you using it during the war, there can be no doubt that you are guilty of this crime." The word 'crime' used in regards to magic seemed to goad Merlin.
"Oh, right. It's easy for you to judge, Arthur." Merlin snapped. "Now that your war is over and done with, will you banish me too? Like you did Gwen? The same way your father banished Gwaine and Lancelot? Or will you follow in your father's footsteps and have my put to death?"
"I should banish you!" Arthur shot back, stung by Merlin's sudden show of defiance and the hurtful words he flung at him. Did he really think him so callous as to be capable of killing him? Yet why wouldn't he? He never said he wouldn't kill Merlin; that was still the law of Camelot. He hadn't bothered to change it after his father died, had never doubted the law until he realized it applied to Merlin. Merlin, who knew better than anyone what he had done for his father in the war against magic, would he expect to die? The same way that druid boy had? "The act of magic is strictly forbidden! I can't believe you betrayed me like this."
"Betrayed–Betrayed you?" Merlin sputtered, outraged. "Do you know how many times I saved your miserable life with magic?"
"No, Merlin, but I assume you're going to enlighten me." Arthur rolled his eyes. As if it could be that many times. He'd already listed one, that time in Ealdor.
Merlin, however, was more than happy to go down the list. Since the first time he saved him, against the singing sorceress, to the most recent time in this previous war. He withheld certain facts; ones that he knew would injure Arthur's pride. Even now, he wouldn't, couldn't hurt Arthur. Not like that. He hadn't wanted to hurt him with his magic, but how could he do anything but hide it from Arthur? "Besides which, I actually had to kill your uncle. I don't like killing, Arthur. I hate killing. But you never turn your hand against your family and that's fine. That's fine because I was here to take care of them for you. Them. Morgana. Agravaine. But I'm tired of saving your life and being treated like crap. I'm tired of making all the sacrifices and letting you gain all the glory. I don't want to be recognized as a Knight of Camelot or anything like that, I just want to be able to fight by your side without getting grief from you and everyone else for it."
"Oh that's rich." Arthur scoffed. "When have you ever had to sacrifice anything for me? I've had to sacrifice a whole lot more, Merlin, more than you could ever imagine–"
"My best friend, Will." There were tears in his eyes and his voice shook. He couldn't believe Arthur had never seen it. "My best friend sacrificed his life for you and you, you acted like he was terrible because he lied and said he used magic. He lied to save my life."
Arthur blanched. "Well, one time doesn't really count as many sacrifices." He muttered softly. In his heart of hearts, however, Arthur prayed that was the only one. He'd never seen Merlin look like this, on the verge of tears.
"There have been others." Merlin continued, dashing Arthur's hopes. He took a moment to compose himself, desperately wishing not to choke on the words that came pouring forth, as if from his very soul. "Freya. The girl I fell in love with." Tears spilled over and slid down his cheeks. "She was cursed, something she couldn't help. She turned into a Bastet and killed people. She hated herself for that but I, I loved her. Before I got a chance to save her, you killed her. You mortally wounded her." Leon started at that, remembering the beast Merlin described. He had played a part in the girl's death as well. He'd watched her die and rejoiced. Merlin had seemed withdrawn after that for a time but he hadn't connected the events. He paled, feeling nauseous. He'd rejoiced over the death of a friend's beloved. Having his own love he was trying to woo, he didn't even want to think of the pain he went through over that.
Behind the knight, Tristan stiffened. He too knew the loss of his beloved, which was still fresh in his mind. This past month, finding the chance to settle down in Camelot for a short period of time while the court was put back in order, had done little to ease his grief. Yet Merlin had worked hard, doing his best to befriend him and talk to him. He'd sensed that he had lost someone close to him as well but never for an instant had he thought… Yet this boy, this young man in that childishly gangly body of his, had devoted himself to Arthur, despite his loss at his hand. He had new respect for Merlin. His judging eyes turned to regard Arthur, wondering if he could hold onto the righteousness and justice he'd been willing to fight for in the forest when he first joined his fight, or if this spoiled king would succumb to feelings of vengeance for a perceived betrayal.
"And then there's my mother. In order to save your life, I nearly sacrificed her own. Do you realize how hurt I was to realize that? Of course there were others, Arthur." Percival looks away, not able to bare the pain in Merlin's voice or the sight of his tears. Having watched his mother die a slow and painful death from disease, he could imagine the pain Merlin must have felt when he thought he was loosing her. To know that it was his fault and that it was to save someone else, even if it was his prince, must have made the ordeal twice as painful. He hoped Arthur could understand his predicament. It seemed Merlin had suffered much trying to protect Arthur while keeping his secret safe. He'd never been particularly turned against magic, although he held his tongue on the matter after seeing what magic was capable of when used for evil. The incident with Lamia alone had left him wary of the craft, yet he wondered if it was truly so bad for Merlin, of all people, to have some knowledge of it?
"I've lost so many people I care about, simply because you needed saving. You needed my help. What about Lancelot? He was the only person who knew my secret, figured it out and swore not only to keep it but also to help me use it to keep you safe. He was my true friend and I watched him die. I watched him die for me, for you, for all of Camelot." Gwaine twitched slightly at that. He'd begun to suspect that there was more to Merlin than met the eye but he had drown his suspicions. Merlin was his first friend, his only true friend, and he hadn't wanted to hold a secret as precious as that, one that could hurt his friend or cost him his life. Yet Lancelot had been willing to carry that secret. What kind of friend was he, if he was unable to do even that much for Merlin? He hadn't wanted to know about his secrets, which was part of the reason he'd been pushing him away, even before the Lamia incident. After what happened, he'd placed even more distance between them, although he still played the joking fool.
Merlin continued on, not realizing that he was giving all the Knights of the Round Table something to think about. "And Gaius. How many times have you and your father put his life on the line because of something someone else said or did? Gaius, who has been like a father to me. Not to mention my own father. I lost him because of you too."
"Your father? You said you didn't know your father." Arthur felt anger coming on. Had he lied about that as well? Arthur had trusted him, had talked to him about his mother. That fragile connection they held, where they both didn't know one of their parents, had meant something to him. It had meant a lot to him.
"I didn't. I didn't get a chance to either. You watched him die, watched Balinor die, and all you could care about was failing your father. I watched my father die and I wasn't even allowed to mourn his death! So don't you say you've sacrificed more or that I betrayed you. Don't you dare say that, Arthur." He wiped his tears away. "You were allowed to mourn your father's death. You were allowed to claim your heritage without fear. Even now, you can embrace your beloved. You have never had to raise your hand to someone like you, to see yourself and your fears and hopes inside them. I stood by your side through all that, despite all that."
Arthur looked at him as if he was seeing Merlin for the first time. All this revelation had his mind reeling. If even half of what Merlin claimed were true, magic could be used for good. Magic was not evil. If that were true, perhaps it could be harnessed and used in their favor–but no. He couldn't believe that, couldn't allow for that thought to take root in his mind. Such thoughts would be a betrayal of his father. He looked down at Excalibur on his hip. The sword had given him strength and confidence once, when he lost all faith in himself. Since Merlin hadn't mentioned his part played in that, instinctively knowing that revealing that would break the fragile belief his king had recently regained, he didn't know it was magical. He fingered the hilt; looking to it to find the answers he was searching for, the answer of how to handle this and what he should do. Then he turned his back on Merlin and addressed everyone else. "Magic has always been a crime punishable by death but seeing as you have shown yourself loyal to me and the court all this time, I will show leniency and banish you from Camelot instead."
"Arthur..." Merlin began.
"That is all I'm willing to do, Merlin. From this day forth, if you step foot inside the boarders of Camelot, you will be killed."
"I understand." His voice shook and he didn't bother hiding his tears. He bowed low to Arthur's back and the words he said hit Arthur harder than any magical curse could. "It has been an honor serving you, Sire. I know you will create a great kingdom, the Albion everyone has been waiting for. Goodbye, Arthur." With those words, Merlin turned and ran away. His back was already disappearing into the crowded street when Arthur whirled around. The Knights of Camelot watched with heavy hearts as Merlin fled. Percival was the first to turn away, unable to bear the sight of Merlin fleeing from Camelot. Gwaine looked away next; angry with himself for not standing up for his friend and injustice he had to bear by staying silent. He was a knight and he refused to break his word, even under these circumstances. He wouldn't let Arthur change who he was but– "Damn it!" He kicked over a barrel of fresh barley, overturning it and upsetting the street vendor, before he stormed away, intending to drown his pain and find a nice barmaid to distract him for the day, or maybe a week. Elyan watched Merlin make it down the street before he also turned away. His gaze searched out Gwaine's angry retreat before he moved closer to Percival. He took comfort in the larger man's gentle strength before and now he needed it more than ever. Only Sir Leon and Tristan watched in silence as Merlin made his way to the gate and disappeared beyond the walls of Camelot.
Arthur couldn't bear to see the sight any more than his knight. He'd expected some sense of relief once everything was revealed. Instead, he felt guilt and grief. Worse still, the sense of betrayal hadn't gone away either. If anything, it seemed to increase. Yet his betrayal, strangely enough, no longer seemed directed at Merlin. Or, well, not solely at Merlin but at himself as well. Was there nothing he could do to set things right in his heart? He could think of nothing and the sight of Merlin running away made him turn and travel at a brisk pace back towards the palace. He too had to run from fate and the nagging feeling that he just lost a part of him.
Merlin walked. He walked until his legs were weak, until they felt like gelatin, and still he continued to walk. He walked until his shoes were worn through, patched them up as best as he could, and walked on. He didn't stop walking despite having entered another kingdom. He kept walking until he collapsed from exhaustion in the middle of the town square. He happened to collapse almost literally at the feet of the Crown Prince Alistair. Not that he knew this, of course. He was just so tired, so weary, both physically and emotionally. He'd tried to tear out his heart, to rip it from his body, metaphorically speaking. When that hadn't worked he'd clawed at his chest, attacking himself in hope that the desolation would disappear. He didn't want to deal with this pain anymore. He just wanted it to disappear. He wanted to disappear.
To say that the Prince was startled when a traveler literally collapsed at his feet was an understatement. He took a step back, both physically and mentally, trying to acquaint himself with the situation. This was Mercia, a peaceful land. There should be no need for anyone to look that ragged. His father might not be as invested in the people as he and his brother were, but he would be aghast to hear such an incident occurred. He was still trying to mentally work out what happened and how to handle the situation when he noticed movement. His brother, Prince Sebastian knelt beside the boy. No, he was a young man; he could see that as Sebastian carefully rolled him over to get a better look at him. His clothes were tattered, the kerchief around his neck torn nearly in half and the brown jacket full of rips. His pants were little better, and there places where it looked as whatever struck through his clothing had torn skin, for there was blood as well.
Matted hair stuck to his face from sweat and his half-open eyes flickered from his brother to him. He had a second to see the brightest blue he'd ever borne witness to before they fell shut and his chest heaved, his breathing labored. His eyes flickered to Sebastian, who looked up as if sensing his gaze. For a moment, they shared a mental conversation with their eyes, as they had often done as children. Then Alistair gave a curt nod before turning away. Sebastian immediately took charge, understanding without words what his brother wished to convey. He watched him begin to walk away before he turned to address his servants.
Grinning at them like a fool, although he only let them think that, he gestured to the young traveler. "I've taken a liking to him. Take him back to the housing my brother and I share. We'll clean him up and make him well again in no time." When no movement was immediately apparent, his eyes hardened slightly. How dare they refuse him? "I said, pick him up. Now. If you would be so kind."
The icy tone seemed to do the trick and his servants as well as a few of his guards immediately set to work preparing to move the boy. He made a mental checklist of everything that would need to be taken care of; of course, a physician would be called and scouts would be sent out. He'd find out his background, whether he was truly one of their serfs, how he'd come to town in such a state, and the best way to make sure he stayed. It was rare that his brother took an outside interest in anyone. That it took someone literally falling at his feet to grab his attention was no surprise to him; that he seemed to want to observe the boy was new. Ever the devoted little brother, Sebastian had every intention of pampering his older brother. He'd give him everything he wanted, everything in his power to give, including this young man. It shouldn't be too hard; after all, he was technically theirs to already.
By the end of the day, he'd been brought to the small rustic cabin both brothers had spent their time in as children. They'd grown up away from the palace and the nobles for several years, anonymous among their people. It wasn't simply because it was tradition; for at least one year, usually two, every king in Mercia had to go through a humility ceremony, where they learned a trade in the lower town and pretended to be a commoner. It taught a respect of the people that would not be quickly forgotten and it fostered a love in the people for their king, who was willing to work along side them regardless of rank. No, it wasn't simply because of this ceremony that both brothers had spent several years as seemingly simple peasants; they're lives had been under threat at the time. Only these past five years had proved fruitful in capturing and dispatching the ones responsible for that threat. However, because of this, the little thatched roof cottage had become a sort of second home for the princes. It was here that Merlin was brought, unconscious, and here that Prince Alistair met Prince Sebastian.
Grinning at his big brother, he gave a mock salute. "Should I send a servant to fetch the court physician?"
Merlin moaned and twitched, causing them both to look at him. Slowly, with a frown on his face, Alistair shook his head. "No…" He sounded unsure as he stared at Merlin. When his teal eyes turned back to Sebastian, they had gained reassurance. "No. We'll bandage him ourselves. We can at least do that much." He added grimly.
They spent a fitful night, bandaging his wounds and caring for him. He was unnaturally pale – o r maybe his skin was supposed to be that white? – and his skin was cold and clammy to the touch. Morning brought some relief and they allowed a servant to take over their duties for a brief respite. Stepping outside, Alistair sighed, for that small home seemed stifling somehow when he was watching the raven haired youth struggle for consciousness. He leaned on the wall, getting his second wind, as his brother greeted their runners. It seems that he'd truly understood everything he'd silently asked of him yesterday. There was no one matching the boy's description in the kingdom. Scouts would need to be sent out, discretely of course, to check the towns on the other side of their borders. It was one thing to claim one of his citizens as a convenient form of entertainment and quite another to take a citizen of a bordering kingdom. He wouldn't start an international incident for the boy, no matter how intriguing he found his presence. However, he hoped if it were truly the case that he was from another kingdom, perhaps he could find a way to keep him without starting a war. What was one peasant between one king and another?
They went back inside and tended to Merlin again. Checking his bandages, which seemed a little too loose, they changed them. Perhaps he'd be better tonight. Perhaps they could avoid one more day of treaty matters and territory disputes. Perhaps he would want to stay with them. Perhaps… Perhaps… Alistair noticed Sebastian already asleep on the bed. On the verge of nodding off, he reached out and grasped the young man's hand. His nursemaid used to do this for him when he was little and sickly, since the queen was too prone to illness to come herself. It always made him feel better. His eyes heavy, he thought it wouldn't hurt to close them for just a minute. The man no longer seemed clammy, but rather a little warm instead. Was that a good sign? Perhaps…
Several hours later, Merlin woke with a start, sweating and panting. He looked around wildly and his eyes landed on two young men. One pillowed his head on his arms, resting them on the edge of the bed. The other slept awkwardly in a chair, Merlin's hand grasped loosely in his grip. Who were these two men? They had obviously helped him, rescued him. He owed them a great debt. The question was, why had they helped him and where had they taken him? The surroundings were simple, that of a humble house. They had calluses on their hands. They didn't appear to be nobles. That suited him just fine – he'd had enough of nobles to last him a lifetime. He wiggled his way out of bed, careful not to disturb them. He wasn't that great of a cook but he could do something as simple as cook some eggs and brew some coffee. At least, with a little help of magic, it wouldn't taste completely terrible. Or burnt to an unappetizing blackish brown.