Arthur opened his eyes and blinked a couple of times in the bright light that had managed to creep in through the gap in the heavy curtains. He lay there for a moment feeling utterly disoriented and a slight look of perplexity came to his face as he tried to work out where he was and how he got there. He was lying on his side….. and he was in his own chambers….. and he seemed to have pillows or bolsters against his back, presumably to stop him turning over. That was the easy bit. But beyond that…. And then he groaned. Although he felt considerable discomfort and not a small amount of pain in his back, the groan was as much as anything the sort that he often let out when Merlin opened the curtains in the morning and he just wanted to be left to sleep.
"Welcome back, your majesty." Gaius moved around the bed and came into Arthur's very limited field of vision.
"Did I go somewhere?" Arthur's voice sounded slow and slightly slurred, not to mention slightly muffled by the fact that his face was half buried in a pillow. He was also finding out just how much of an effort it was to say anything.
"Well, that's a very interesting question, my lord." But Gaius didn't elaborate any further at that point. "You've only just missed the Queen. I sent her to get some sleep in the room next door. She wanted so much to be here when you woke, but she's been sitting with you ever since we brought you back and all through the night, and she couldn't keep her eyes open any longer." Gaius paused for a moment and scrutinised Arthur before continuing. "How are you feeling, your majesty?"
Arthur thought for a moment, but all he could come up with was a slightly muffled "Strange….." and again it felt like a monumental effort just to say the one word.
Gaius gave a slightly non-committal "Hmmm," before giving a little smile. "Well, I suppose that's not surprising under the circumstances."
"What circumstances?" Arthur went to raise himself slightly to see Gaius better, but immediately turned pale and felt as if he was about to throw up, and collapsed back down onto the pillow, panting.
"It's probably better, your majesty, if you keep lying completely still."
Arthur wasn't going to argue with that. Gaius paused and cocked his head slightly, before continuing. "What exactly do you remember of what happened, sire?"
Arthur lay there thinking. The horrors of the fall of Camelot were swift in coming back to his memory. He remembered the events in the square, then preparing for battle, and then – more hazy in his memory – the confusion and blood and pain of the awful battle. "There was a battle… We defeated them, I think…." He paused. "Merlin… he was there…. we spoke, and…." And then the memory of Mordred, the knife in his hand and Merlin's defencelessness crystalised in his mind, and he was gripped by a sudden, awful fear for his friend's safety, and Gaius heard the note of anxiety and urgency in Arthur's voice when he spoke again.
"He's fine – thanks to you. In fact, you could say he's never been better!"
Arthur paused, remembering again everything that had led up to the battle, and there was a slight guiltiness in his voice as he asked the question that seemed to matter more than any other. "Where is he?"
Gaius raised his eyes to look somewhere beyond Arthur, and the king heard the voice that was so familiar coming from behind him. "Where I've always been…." And Merlin walked round the bed so that Arthur could see him. "…. at your side."
Merlin had a warm smile on his face as his and Arthur's eyes met once more. Arthur went to raise himself again, but another sudden wave of nausea forced him rapidly back into a horizontal position.
Gaius sighed with exasperation. "Your majesty, your inability to do what you're told is only matched by that of Merlin! The healing spell probably needs more time to complete its work."
"Healing spell?" Arthur had no energy to either question or resist the use of magic on him at that point. "What for?"
Gaius paused. "A mortal wound."
"Don't understand," came Arthur's still muffled response.
"I'm not sure any of us do, your majesty." Gaius looked at Arthur with curiosity. "Do you remember anything more of what happened, sire?"
Arthur lay there thinking again, but there was just a huge blank between setting his eyes on Mordred and waking up in his chambers.
In fact, Arthur never remembered any of his encounter with Ygraine in the meadow – but there were still distant echoes of it that crept in on his mind at unexpected moments in his life. Guinevere would sometimes catch him with a faraway look in his eyes when they were out in the fields around Camelot on a warm summer's day. A light breeze would suddenly bring the scent of a wild flower, and it would be as if Arthur's mind was momentarily somewhere else, trying to catch an elusive recollection of a dream or a long forgotten memory - then the moment would be gone. And there would be a strange stirring in his heart, an unfathomable longing – for what, he knew not - whenever he caught sight of distant mountains bathed in sunshine. But the sweetest echo of all was his thoughts of his mother. Although he never understood why, whenever he thought about Ygraine after that day, it was never with the deep sadness that there had been before. Instead, there would be a smile on his face and the feeling that she was never very far away.
And just as Arthur never remembered what happened as he lay fallen on the battlefield of Camlann, Merlin never forgot it. As he had knelt sobbing, cradling Arthur's body in his arms, he had suddenly heard something like a whisper on the wind or a voice that was so quiet that it was more like a thought in his mind – and what he heard was just five words: "The Once and Future King." He wondered at that moment why he had never thought to ask the meaning of those words, but he suddenly knew it without having to be told. And in the depths of his being stirred words that he had not learned, words of magic that - like those in the dragon's tongue - were embedded deep in his soul from birth. And he spoke out the words that had been given to him, words that gave him the power to call back into the lands of the living the one whose soul was knit so closely with his.
Arthur looked back at Gaius and shook his head slightly to indicate he remembered nothing, but even the effort of shaking his head made him groan again. "What did happen?"
"Well, maybe that needs to wait until you're fully recovered, your majesty. But I think we can safely say that there is probably only one person who can really give you any sort of explanation – the one person you need to thank for the fact that you and those you love are all alive today."
Arthur looked at his friend again, knowing exactly who the physician meant.
"I think we need to have a chat, Merlin," slurred Arthur, but he had a wry smile on the half of his face that wasn't obscured by the pillow.
His friend grinned back at him. "But not now. You need to sleep, Arthur, so that the healing can be completed." And with that Merlin approached him and laid a hand on the king's forehead. But then he paused and suddenly withdrew his hand, and asked gently, "May I?"
Arthur gave a little nod, and Merlin put his hand back on his forehead, but as he did so, he caught the expression in his eyes, and said quietly, "Don't be afraid, Arthur."
And Arthur felt like he was a small child again, being taken into a new and large and daunting world, and having to be reassured by a grown up that there was nothing to be scared of. And Arthur finally let go of a lifetime of fear and prejudice, and put himself in Merlin's hands, and as the words of magic flowed effortlessly from Merlin's lips, Arthur felt himself being wrapped in a soft, warm, dark blanket that was so soothing that within only a couple of seconds he had fallen into a deep sleep from which he would not awaken until several hours later when his healing was complete.
Gaius moved closer to Merlin and put his hand on the young warlock's shoulder. Merlin looked up into his old friend's face, and they both smiled - but neither spoke. Instead they simply gave each other a little nod, but each saw in the other's eyes with the same thing as their own – tears.
- O –
For the first time ever, the large wooden table in Arthur's chambers was set for three, and Arthur pulled out a chair for his servant to join him and Gwen for supper. Arthur was wearing a dressing robe that was richly embroidered in blues and purples. It had been a present to him from his wife, and was part of her ploy to stop him constantly wandering around half naked in their room. Not that she minded that, of course, but she was very aware of the increasing number of interruptions to their privacy that came with Arthur being king. And she wanted her husband to at least try to look a little more respectable when some subject or other arrived early in the morning or late at night with some urgent business to attend to. When Arthur had protested that his state of undress had never mattered in the past, Guinevere had simply given him the sort of withering look that only a wife could and replied pointedly, it never mattered to you! But old habits died hard with Arthur. So, when Arthur had finally arisen relatively late on in the day, feeling more refreshed than he had done for a very long time, she was ready with the robe for him, and for once he was happy to oblige.
It was the first time Merlin had ever sat down to eat with the king and the queen. He had shared numerous camp meals with Arthur when the pair had been out on some mission on their own or with the knights. He had eaten meals with Gwen before when she had sometimes cooked a dish for him and Gaius, back in the earlier days of his time in Camelot. But sitting with just Arthur and Guinevere - as friends, as equals – felt both strange and completely natural at the same time. Arthur's appetite had returned with a vengeance, and both he and Merlin devoured the meal that had been brought up to them from the palace kitchens with great enthusiasm as Gwen filled Arthur in on what had been happening in Camelot and in court whilst he had been unconscious, but she left out the details of those who had fallen in the battle. Although she and Arthur would, in due course, share with each other the darker details of the events that had cast such a deep shadow over their land and their lives, neither felt ready to return to those days yet, and so the queen largely spoke of how order was being restored and of the good wishes for Arthur's health that had been expressed by so many members of the court, but also by the ordinary people of the city in many touching ways.
The re-telling of the recent events meant that Gwen's plate remained largely untouched, but she did then have a chance to catch up. As Arthur was helping himself to a sizeable second portion – which didn't get the look from his wife that it normally would have, given the noticeable amount of weight he had lost over the preceding days – he paused before resuming eating. He leant back in his chair and fixed Merlin with a quizzical look. "What was it like, Merlin – before you came to Camelot? When did you first know you had magic?" And as Arthur and Gwen ate and listened, Merlin began to tell them of his childhood, of how he had known he had magic as early as he knew anything and of his exploits with Will as they had grown up. Arthur almost choked on a mouthful as Merlin recounted one particular story of a rabbit, a squirrel and a rather lame attempt to convince an elderly villager that rabbits could actually climb trees. Merlin also spoke of the concern that his mother had had for him over the years, and by the time Merlin reached the story of how Hunith had sent him to Camelot with the letter for Gaius, the food on the plates of both king and queen had long since been finished.
With almost perfect timing, there was a knock on the door, and a head tentatively appeared around it. "Excuse this interruption your majesties, but I was wondering if you were now ready to permit me the honour of clearing the table for you, and furnishing you with any further victuals that you may require for the remainder of the evening?"
"Yes, thank you George, that would be lovely." Guinevere was always more gentle and gracious in her dealings with the over-efficient servant than her husband could manage, and she noticed that both Merlin and Arthur's mouths were twitching slightly as they watched George give another display of extreme proficiency in table-clearing.
"Oh, and George, could you bring us another flagon of wine, please?" George gave a little bow to the king. "If it pleases your highness, I would like to suggest that on this occasion you might like to sample one of three rather excellent new wines that are in the cellar. The first of them was made from the grapes of…." But any further detailed explanation of the relative merits of the three vintages was curtailed by Arthur simply holding his hand up. "George, we are happy to leave the choice to your better judgment. Just bring us whichever you think is best." This clearly delighted George, whose face almost immediately took on a more serious expression as he steeled himself for the new and weighty responsibility with which the king had entrusted him. "And might I be so bold as to suggest that your majesties might also like a platter of sweetmeats from the kitchen."
"Thank you, George, that's a very thoughtful suggestion." The servant was positively glowing with pride at the queen's comment as he finally left the room, leaving the table looking spotless and with a pile of plates balanced skilfully on his right arm. Arthur and Merlin grinned at each other, which earned them both the playful rebuke "Stop it, you two!" from Gwen. Merlin simply looked at Arthur and joked, "Just think how much more weight you would have put on if you hadn't had me for a servant!"
It felt as though they had barely had time to stand up from the table before George returned with the promised food and drink, which he placed on a small low table near the fireplace, before closing the curtains for the night, and bidding them a pleasant evening, adding as he left that he would be ready to attend to any further needs that might arise, and that he would be nearby should they need him. As the door closed, Arthur picked up the flagon of wine, and poured a goblet of the rich, plum-coloured liquid for both Guinevere and Merlin, and handed it to them before pouring one for himself. He beckoned them both over to the seats near the fire, and they settled down there, with Arthur and Gwen sitting on the large couch that now resided in their chambers. It had been added to the furniture there shortly after they were married, to allow them to sit together in the rare moments of ease that their lives allowed. Arthur relaxed back into the couch with his arm around Gwen as she leant against him, and before speaking, he took a long look at Merlin who was sitting on the opposite side of the low table to him, thinking back to that first day they had met, when Merlin had called him friend. Arthur smiled warmly at the young man who had become the very epitome of that word. "I want to know everything, Merlin. Tell me all the things that I don't know about your time in Camelot. Don't leave anything out – tell me what really happened."
And so Merlin began the telling of a story, the like of which neither Arthur nor Guinevere had heard before. He told them of his first day in Camelot and how the very first thing that Gaius had seen of him was his magic. He remembered his first encounter with Kilgarrah word for word, and was at ease enough with Arthur to joke about how he'd described him as an idiot to the dragon. He told them of the ability he had to slow the flow of events around him, and how that had been the reason he'd been able to save Arthur's life for the very first time – resulting in Uther appointed him as Arthur's manservant. The stories continued, but there was an interruption just after he'd related how he'd healed Gwen's father when Nimueh had poisoned the water supply (leading him, he reminded Arthur, to actually confess to the court that he had magic – a confession that Arthur had laughed off). Although the king had specifically told the guards on the door that they were not to be disturbed that evening, there was one man who would not or could not be stopped by the guards, and that was the king's physician.
Arthur smiled as the old man entered the room. "Gaius – I'm glad you're here. Come and join us."
Gaius raised his eyebrows at the young man. "That is very kind, your majesty, and it will be a pleasure to join you. But not until I've done what I came do – which is check on my patient."
Arthur raised his goblet to him: "I'm feeling absolutely fine, that's the check over, now come and have a seat."
Gaius sighed and folded his arms, and when he spoke his tone was full of the gentle, good natured sarcasm that Merlin was only too familiar with. "My lord, I'm sure a lifetime of medical experience has qualified you to make that judgment, but I feel it is possibly wise to offer my lesser medical skills to give a second opinion."
Gwen knew Arthur only too well to expect that Gaius would be able to budge him from his comfortable position on the couch for a medical inspection. "Gaius, believe me, judging by the amount he ate at supper, he really is back to normal! Please come and sit with us."
"On your own heads be it!" But the old physician had a smile on his face as he came to join them by the fire. In a matter of moments, Merlin had pulled another chair from the table over to the little group, and had poured Gaius some wine. An expectant hush fell and Merlin continued his story.
It was fortunate that the warlock's elderly mentor had joined them, because it soon became apparent that he was able to add to the story, particularly giving details that Merlin – because of his modesty – might have been tempted to leave out. One of his first contributions, which left both Arthur and Gwen dumbstruck and shaking their heads in wonder, was to tell how Merlin, whilst suffering a life-threatening fever as a result of the Morteus plant, had conjured the silver orb of light that had guided Arthur (many leagues away) out of danger and to safety when he had been in search of the cure to Merlin's fever. Arthur simply asked quietly and to no one in particular, "How is that even possible?" He shook his head and with a mystified expression on his face said to Merlin, "I knew that there was someone who realised that I was in trouble and had sent help. How could I ever have guessed it was you?"
The stories continued, and Merlin spoke of how Lancelot had discovered his magic, which gave Arthur a certain amount of satisfaction when he realised that Lancelot hadn't, after all, been able to succeed by himself in killing the griffin when he himself had failed. He told of his first encounter with Mordred, but as soon as Merlin began to explain about the sword that had been forged in the dragon's breath, Arthur interrupted, leaping ahead in the story as he saw where it would eventually lead. "So you were making up the story about the sword in the stone!" There was a certain amount of good-natured indignation in his response, and it was accompanied by a rather comical glare at Merlin.
"Oh, come on Arthur, it worked, didn't it? And if you weren't so much of an ignoramus about history then you might have known that for yourself!"
Thankfully for Merlin, Arthur was in no mood to do anything other than see the funny of it. "Just get on with the real story then!"
More than once that evening Gaius intervened and told of how Merlin had saved Uther's life, and then Arthur and Gwen became very quiet as Gaius went on to tell how Merlin had offered his life for Arthur's, as the prince had lain dying from the bite of the Questing Beast, and how it had been the young sorcerer rather than the physician who had provided the cure for Arthur's fatal wound – water from the cup of life. But those events also stirred other memories, and Arthur squeezed Gwen affectionately: "I still remember the words that you spoke to me when you were tending to my fever. Is it possible to fall in love with someone when you're unconscious?" They kissed briefly, before Gwen spoke to Merlin with a look of deep gratitude. "Thank you for saving my husband."
The stories continued with tales of ancient sorcerers, druids and angry trolls, and the recounting of how Merlin had enchanted the witchfinder evoked laughter from all present, although Merlin did have to confess to being the real reason for the presence of the witchfinder in Camelot in the first place. The lights across Camelot began to go out and the candles burned low as Merlin told them of Freya. Once again there was silence in the room, apart from the low lilt of Merlin's voice. Both Arthur and Gwen looked close to tears as Merlin spoke of her and as Arthur realised that he had been responsible for mortally wounding the only woman that Merlin had ever loved. When Merlin related how he had sent her body out onto the lake in a small boat, a tear rolled down the queen's cheek, and Arthur said in a quiet, choked voice, "And I thought you were upset because I'd thrown water over you."
And there was a similar silence a short while later, as Merlin revealed that Balinor had been his father. This time it was Arthur who was most deeply affected by the revelation, remembering how he had watched Merlin shedding tears as the father whom he had only known for a matter of hours had been slain before him, and then having to put all his heartbreak to one side to return to Camelot and face the dragon. They all sat in silence for a while before Arthur finally said, "We will make sure his memory is honoured – he gave his life for you and for Camelot. And he was your father." After another pause, a little smile came to the king's face. "Maybe a bronze statue of a dragon somewhere in Camelot?" The suggestion obviously delighted Merlin, whose whole face seemed to light up. But before he continued with his tale, he held out his hand and uttered a short incantation which resulted, much to Gwen's delight and Arthur's amazement, in a large log suddenly rising up out of the wicker basket near the grate and depositing itself on the fire which was, by this time, not much more than smouldering embers. The familiar word Forbearne! caused the log to burst into flame, and bring to the room a welcome burst of heat.
By the time Merlin was telling them of his encounter with Morgana in the crypt that led to the defeat of the army of the dead, Camelot had fallen silent and Gwen was snuggling into Arthur with a richly woven throw over her to keep out the chill of the night. But when Merlin confessed to having let the goblin out of its lead cage, Arthur rolled his eyes and exclaimed (remembering his donkey ears) "You idiot, Merlin!" and threw his empty goblet at him. The goblet, of course, came to an abrupt stop in mid-air and Merlin gracefully glided it back toward Arthur, causing the wine flagon to rise up and meet it, and tip itself up so as to refill the goblet. Merlin then made the cup float back over to his friend, but as Arthur - shaking his head in wonder - went to take the goblet from its position in mid-air, Merlin chose that moment to move the goblet closer. The result was a copious quantity of wine being spilled over Arthur's clothes, and the exclamation "Great! I go from having the clumsiest servant in the five kingdoms to having the clumsiest sorcerer!" Everyone laughed, and Merlin gave Arthur one of his looks as he responded, "Ah, but even a clumsy sorcerer can do this!" and with that he uttered another spell which resulted in the wine instantly disappearing from Arthur's clothing.
Yet another interruption came shortly after this. Merlin had been just about to launch into the story of the crystal cave, and had been relating how he and Arthur were being chased by bandits armed with crossbows, when Gwen suddenly raised herself and exclaimed, "And they shot Arthur in the back, didn't they?" Merlin stopped mid-sentence and stared at her in amazement, knowing that he had only told Gaius about what had really happened. "Yes – but how did you know?" but then Merlin caught a comical look on Arthur's face that seemed to indicate that he knew what was coming next – and wasn't particularly looking forward to it. Gwen, instead of answering, looked triumphantly at her husband: "You owe me five new dresses, Arthur Pendragon!"
Merlin looked at the couple with a quizzical expression on his face, and Gwen duly obliged with an explanation.
"Shortly after we were married, Arthur and I were in bed, and I was…." Arthur reddened slightly at the memory, and averted his gaze from the other two men, a little smile on his face. Fortunately, his wife decided to leave the details of that particular encounter unspoken. "…. Anyway, let's just say that I noticed a scar on Arthur's back. I asked him what had caused the scar, and he said, I haven't got a scar on my back, and I said, yes, you have, and he said, no, I haven't, and that went on for a little until Arthur…." She broke off again, and it was her who blushed slightly this time. Arthur simply quickly interjected, "….. until I asked what this scar looked like."
Gwen then interrupted again and resumed telling her story "I told him it looked like a scar from an arrow, and he said something along the lines of, I think I would have known if I had been shot in the back with an arrow, but I told him that I had helped Gaius on enough occasions to recognise the scar from an arrow when I saw one, but someone who shall remain nameless still wouldn't believe me, and said (I quote), If I was shot in the back with an arrow, I'll buy you five new dresses."
Before Arthur could respond, Merlin simply offered his suggestion. "Look at it this way, Arthur: it's probably a small price to pay for still being alive!"
Merlin's tales continued as the night wore on, and Arthur was almost relieved to hear about the true nature of the Eye of the Phoenix which Morgana had given him before he had set out on his quest to the perilous lands. He'd always felt slightly guilty that he had required the help of Merlin and Gwaine to complete the quest that he was supposed to accomplish on his own to prove his worthiness to be king. And when Merlin related his encounter with Grettir, the penny finally dropped, and Arthur shook his head and rolled his eyes at what now seemed completely obvious, "Of course! You were magic, and Gwaine was strength." And shortly after this, the king and queen fell silent once again, as Merlin related how he had taken on the appearance of the old sorcerer, putting his own life at risk, to ensure that Guinevere was saved from being burnt at the stake. Not for the first time that evening, Arthur said with great feeling and sincerity, "I don't know how we can ever thank you, Merlin." The little group fell silent for a few moments, before Arthur's brow furrowed slightly at a fresh memory. "Hang on a minute! What was it you said about me when you were standing before my father in the council chambers?" Merlin grinned. "I think I said you were a spoilt, arrogant brat with the brains of a donkey and the face of a toad." Arthur looked, for a moment, as if he were going to throw something else at Merlin, but then clearly thought better of it as he remembered Merlin's powers, and simply joined in the laughter of the others instead.
There followed the accounts of the Cailleach and of Lancelot's sacrifice, the attempt to heal Uther and why it had failed. Arthur then sat dumbfounded as he was told of Merlin's attempts to kill him whilst under the spell of the fomorroh, although his servant's incompetence as an assassin also caused him to laugh until he cried. Merlin had been going to avoid any further mention of Lancelot, but Arthur had questioned him about the events that had surrounded Gwen's supposed betrayal, as finally Arthur had something to add to the story that Merlin didn't know – Morgana's admission to him of Guinevere's innocence in the matter. Merlin was then able to speak freely of how Lancelot – the true Lancelot, rather than the shade - had not betrayed the king either, and another peaceful silence fell on them all again, as they were finally able to remember Camelot's most noble knight without his memory being sullied.
As Merlin continued to share his tale, fresh candles had to be lit, and Gaius began to listen to the young warlock with his head back against the chair and his eyes closed. Gwen had drawn her legs up onto the couch, and she lay curled up, with her head in Arthur's lap and the throw over her. She had had less sleep than the others over the preceding few days, and although she desperately wanted to listen to the story, she found herself beginning to doze, and with Arthur gently stroking her hair and the comfort of feeling so safe beside her husband, she found it harder and harder to stay awake. Arthur smiled as he felt her breathing become steady and regular, and lent down and kissed her forehead lightly as she finally fell asleep. So she missed the horrified look on Arthur's face, when Merlin told him how he had almost killed her with his crossbow, when Morgana had cast a spell on her that made her take on the form of doe. And even Gauis was finally asleep by the time that Merlin recounted the spell he that had cast on Arthur, and his master's time as the village idiot.
Arthur, however, was in no danger of falling asleep, as his fascination with everything that Merlin was telling him kept his attention rapt and his curiosity piqued. Time and time again, he would have an incredulous look on his face, the frequency of which was only matched by the expressions of heartfelt gratitude, and as Merlin began the final chapters of his story as the night approached its end, his king, master and friend continued to hang on every word with wonder.
And when the story was finally told and Merlin had finished telling the last details of how he had held Arthur on the battlefield, understood the meaning of his name and found the magic deep within not only to call Arthur back but to heal his body, the two young men sat in silence for a while, both in deep thought – but were suddenly interrupted by a gentle snore from Gaius. They grinned as they looked at both him and Guinevere. "Do you think I bored them?" Merlin's quietly spoken question (mindful of the two who were sleeping) evoked another laugh from Arthur, who then shook his head and gazed long and hard at the servant who had become the closest friend that he had ever known. Arthur's eyes didn't leave Merlin as he quietly said - slowly and deliberately - words that had been forming in his mind throughout the time that Merlin had been relating the truth of what had happened over the years since they had first met: "Gaius once said to me, Merlin, that he hoped that one day I would understand just how much others had done for me." He paused and smiled warmly at his friend. "I think I finally do, and I know that I wouldn't be sitting here now with those I love if it wasn't for you. I owe you everything, Merlin."
Neither of them spoke for a moment, but continued to hold each other's gaze as the other two slept. And then Merlin's face finally broke into a broad grin. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world!"
Arthur smiled back, "Neither would I."
Merlin slowly rose to his feet and walked over to the window. The sun had just risen above the horizon and its rays were beginning to filter in around the edges of the curtains. Merlin parted the drapes and let the early morning sunlight stream into the room. He stood there, looking out on Camelot for several moments, before turning to face the king again. "It's a new day, Arthur."
Arthur smiled again, "You're right Merlin – it is." He paused before adding, "Hungry?"
A night without sleep had left them both with empty stomachs. "You bet!"
And despite the fact that it was hours earlier than Arthur normally rose, he cocked his head and said to Merlin, "Breakfast?"
Merlin nodded and then, without prompting, both men simultaneously broke into broad grins and uttered the same single word; "George!"
They decided that before venturing out of the room, it would be better if Arthur were dressed, but first Arthur gently extricated himself from Gwen's sleeping form, scooped her up in his arms, and took his sleeping wife over to their bed, gently laying her down there, before covering her with one of the bed covers. She murmered quietly without opening her eyes, "Is it morning?" but Arthur whispered "Go back to sleep," before softly stroking her forehead and then kissing it. A little smile came to her face, before she drifted off into slumber again. Merlin put a cushion behind Gaius' head, and similarly covered the elderly physician, who was still sleeping soundly, with a blanket. The two young men then wandered over to Arthur's wardrobe, and Arthur looked at his servant and asked, "So, where do we go from here, Merlin?"
"Maybe it's time you finally learned to dress yourself….." Merlin joked, as he pulled a red tunic out of the wardrobe and threw it at, rather than to, Arthur.
"That's rich coming from a man who puts on exactly the same clothes every day of the year!"
Merlin paused, and waited till Arthur's head appeared out of the top of the shirt before speaking again. He looked steadily at the king. "I once said that I was happy to serve you until the day I die." He paused again and then added. "I still am."
He handed Arthur his trousers, and as he pulled them on, the king replied quietly and with possibly a greater degree of humility than Merlin had ever seen, "I can hardly expect you to be my manservant any more. I've seen your powers, Merlin, and if anything, you should be in my place, and I in yours."
Merlin handed him his boots with a grin, "Yeah, but I'd be a lousy king!"
"True – you would."
When both boots were finally on, and Arthur had finished fastening a leather belt around his waist, he put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I know what I need most, Merlin – and that's a wise counsellor at my side. Someone I can trust with my life, whose judgment I value and who I know won't just tell me what I want to hear. I'd like that person to be you."
"And I assume that also means someone to save your royal butt every time you're a prat and get yourself into trouble."
"Shut up, Merlin!" The words were said more for old times' sake than anything, and with that they started walking towards the door.
"So, in other words, you just want me to keep on doing what I've been doing since the day I met you – with the exception of washing your royal socks." Arthur opened the door, put his arm round Merlin's shoulder, and smiled at his friend as he replied, "I suppose it is!"
And with that, they went out into the deserted corridor, in search of George and of breakfast, and as the new day dawned over Camelot, both men were finally able to go forward into a future that was not shackled by dark prophecies of doom, to write together the chapters of a legend that would be remembered and retold by countless generations to come.
So that's how I'd like the series to end. Apologies to any who didn't want to see Morgana killed off, but it was difficult to get round the Cailleach's words to her, and after her performance in the opening episodes of Series 5, any redemption seems less likely. I do admit, however, that my dealing with her was rushed so that I could get to the heart of the story. Hope you enjoyed the story – have tweaked slightly chapters 1 and 2 since originally posting.. Any comments are always gratefully received via reviews.