Final chapter for real this time! Here we go (:
"Are you going to kill me?" Arthur asked. There was no fear in his voice, no resignation, only honest curiosity. Perhaps it was for this reason that Morgana chose to answer her captive, who was locked behind the iron bars of her prison on the lowest level of her subterranean castle.
"Not yet. I find that live bait is more effective." She curled a hand around a bar and leaned towards the king.
"Bait," Arthur said slowly, testing the word on his tongue.
"Yes, brother dear. You didn't honestly think I cared about ransom money, did you?"
"Bait for what?" Arthur demanded, rising from where he sat slumped against the dank wall.
"For Emrys, of course. He is the true protector of Camelot, the final defense against my assumption of the throne. And now he shall walk into the open, where I can finally crush him. Thanks to you."
"I do not know this Emrys," Arthur admitted. He had heard the name several times before. Sorcerers spoke of the man in a voice of reverence and hope. No doubt this Emrys was a king among men and magnificent warrior, as he was said to deliver many nations from evil and provide unity in a time of darkness. Arthur would like to meet him.
"You will never know Emrys," Morgana said. Her voice had never sounded so cold. "I am going to murder him today."
Arthur allowed himself a laugh. "Confidence was always your undoing, Morgana. Perhaps it will be once more."
"Not today." Morgana lifted her chin and made her way out of the dingy dungeon with purposeful strides. The moment the door rocked shut, a figure emerged from the darkness of the corner. A young man with curly hair and a slim nose. A young man with eyes of crystal.
"Mordred," Arthur breathed. He knew the knights would not let him down. And now they were here—infiltrating Morgana's own headquarters under her very nose. His heart swelled with pride at their triumph. "Hurry! Do you have a key?"
"I need no key," the knight said. He flicked his eyes up to where the lock sat. They glowed gold for a sliver in time, and then the door opened.
Arthur stumbled back in shock. "Magic," he said, and the word sounded tinny in his ears. "You have magic."
"Of course, you idiot. I have magic. I had magic the day you found me, just as I had magic the day I was born."
"And you didn't tell me," the king said, every syllable clipped as it escaped his mouth. Anger, disbelief, sheer shock— it all flooded into him. "How could you not tell me? Mordred, I trusted you!" he yelled.
"You shouldn't have," Mordred said darkly. A chill shook Arthur's body, starting at his neck and making his way down his spine. He began to understand. Mordred had no intention of allowing him to escape.
Mordred was going to kill him.
"I'm sorry," Arthur's voice grated out. His mouth was dry. "The druids I forced you to kill, the secrets you had to keep— but perhaps if you had told me—"
"It's much too late for that. And now you're going to suffer, Arthur, just as you made me suffer. It starts now, with the revelations. The betrayal. It starts with me, but I am only the first of many. Emrys is next. I am going to stand there when you find out the truth. I am going to stand there when you discover that the one closest to you has weaved a magnificent lie. The great Emrys, the magic to Arthur's might, has been hiding in plain sight for all these years. You've let him into your heart, but even now he deceives you. And I'm going to be there when you see him for who he really is. I'm going to be there when you realize that there are none left who are true to you. I'm going to be there, Arthur, when you despair."
Arthur didn't notice that he was panting until silence fell across the room. It was then that the door slid back into a lock and the friend Arthur thought he had faded into the darkness, into nothingness.
"Magic," the king groaned, burying his head into his hands. He slid to the ground slowly, bracing himself for what was to come. Mordred was only the beginning. Next was Emrys. The one closest to him. A lie.
A great army stretched out before the fortress that guarded the entrance to Morgana's underground castle. Arthur took it in with regretful eyes. These were his friends, his citizens. They were here to die for him. And he didn't deserve it.
"Behold, the king of Camelot!" Morgana announced with scorn. Her voice was amplified with some sort of enchantment. It boomed across the army so that all could hear. "The great Arthur Pendragon! What would you do to win him back?"
The soldiers raised their weapons into the air with a rallying cry. The ground seemed to shake with their shouts. And all Arthur felt was regret.
"Emrys," Morgana said slowly. She gazed keenly into the crowds. "What would you do to win him back?"
The masses went silent. They looked into each other's faces with confusion. Emrys, they asked. Who is Emrys?
A wizened old man pushed his way through the crowd until he was beyond the front line. Arthur's lips parted with shock.
"You!" he screamed down to where the sorcerer stood. He tried to point a finger in vehement accusation, but his shackled wrists would not allow him the motion. "You murdered my father!"
The army churned as they all turned to behold the man. Several yelled and threw their weapons at him, but the blades seemed to bounce off his robes as if by magic. Which, Arthur realized, was probably a viable explanation.
Morgana emitted a mirthless laugh. "Emrys? Kill Uther Pendragon? You honestly thought—" she broke off, shaking her head, as Arthur squinted his eyes at the famed man. "I murdered Uther Pendragon, brother! And I would do it again and again, if given the chance!"
Arthur snapped his head towards the witch, anguish and fury twisting his heart and stomach painfully as he beheld a face that used to be so dear to him. "You. You murdered our father? You—" he could not manage another word. Never had so much hate coursed through his blood before. He was going to sink his blade into Morgana. He was going to tear her right out of the surface of the world.
"Morgana!" Emrys shouted up to where they stood on the battlements. His voice too was amplified by some sort of enchantment, which filled Arthur's heart with fear. So far, Mordred's words rang true; Emrys indeed wielded magic. "I propose an exchange."
"An exchange," the witch snorted. "How cute."
"Hear me out. You value the lives of your men, and Arthur values the lives of his own."
Arthur. Who was this man that addressed him without a title?
Emrys continued. "Is this bloodshed truly necessary? I know what you truly want, Morgana. You want me, and you want me dead. I want Arthur, and I want him alive. So I propose an exchange. I will be placed in captivity under your control. Arthur will walk free."
The king's jaw dropped as he stared at the sorcerer. Emrys intended to lay down his life for Arthur, the one who oppressed his kind? It made no sense.
"No one shall die for my sake, Emrys," he spoke to where the man stood below. The sorcerer did not shift in his stubborn stance where feet shoulder length apart, planted in the ground like the hoofs of a stubborn mule.
"I would gladly die for you, Arthur. Your destiny far exceeds my own. It would be an honor to sacrifice myself for my king."
For a moment, it seemed Arthur had forgotten how to breathe. The words, the voice, they were so excruciatingly familiar. The one closest to you, Mordred had said. But the king still could not understand.
"It doesn't matter," Morgana finally decided. She regarded Emrys with a deepening frown. "I refuse your proposition. Arthur shall not go free. I shall kill you, and then I shall kill him. On my own." Then, as if speaking to the shadows, Morgana muttered, "Just as I shall discover Emry's true identity on my own. I don't need you, Mordred."
Emrys sighed with resignation below. "Then we shall enter this fortress by force and win Arthur back. You brought this upon yourself, Morgana."
"The fortress is impregnable!" the sorceress declared. Her dreadlocks brushed behind her shoulders as she lifted her head up to the sky. "It was wrought by the breath of the great dragon Aithusa, and only the breath of a dragon can undo it!"
"Then it's a good thing I brought a dragon along, isn't it?" Emrys said, smiling up at Morgana with a smug look that was so damned familiar, Arthur's head threatened to burst. The sorcerer opened up his hands and took in a deep breath. "AAAAAH!" he bellowed in a voice that was not entirely human. It trembled across the armies with power of an earthquake, and the soldiers listened in awe. "DRAGORN! NON DIDILKAI! KAR IMISS, EPSIPASS IMALLA SOORKRAT! KATOSTAR ABORE CERISS! KAR KRISSASS ME SENTENDE RAGORN!"
A pregnant silence fell upon the army. They waited, just as Arthur waited, with fear and wonder in their hearts. And then— thrum. Thrum. The wing flaps sounded like drumbeats through the air as the great dragon Arthur had supposedly slain so many years soared across the sky. Thrum. The men did not run as they had last time, but stared, as if seeing him for the first time for what he truly was.
Beautiful. He was beautiful, an awe-inspiring, majestic creature that made Arthur want to flee and kneel at the same time. The dragon thundered down onto the ground and nudged Emrys with his mighty snout.
"NO!" Morgana screamed. "NO!Guards, bring our captive back to his cell! Prepare for a siege upon the fortress! Ready yourselves to fight, leave none alive!"
Arthur resisted against Morgana's men, but to no use. They began to drag the king back down the stairs, back underneath the ground and into the darkness. He glanced behind him one last time at the army, one last time at Emrys. The man nodded to him like an old friend.
"I'll find you," he said, and it sounded like a promise. Then the sorcerer's face disappeared behind the dragon's breath of fire, which scorched the fortress's walls in flames of orange and blue. Arthur could hear the stone framework beginning to crumble even as the guards jerked him out of sight.
It was an ugly battle. Arthur was sure of it. Too much time had passed already from the time he had been thrown into his prison up until now, where he paced the cell back and forth. The odds must have been perfectly matched. But Arthur was certain that Emrys would come. He had promised as much, and for some odd reason, the king had immediately believed him.
It was just then, as Arthur wondered why he would ever possess the natural inclination to trust a sorcerer, that Morgana stormed in. Her eyes were lit by a maniac glow. Her hair was a wild wreath around her head, tangled with blood and gnarls. In her hand was a long silver sword stained and dripping with gore.
"It's time," she smirked. "Fate has bound us all together for this moment. Wouldn't you agree, Emrys?"
The sorcerer blew down the door with a gust of magic and stepped into the dungeon. His movements were stiff and feeble. Arthur didn't understand. Emrys was far too old to accomplish all that the supposed prophecies spoke of. Morgana seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
"An aging spell, then," she said. "That is how you have hidden your true identity for all these years."
"About time you figured that one out, Morgana!" Emrys roared. His eyes shone yellow for a heartbeat, then the lock on Arthur's jail jangled open.
"I'm still chained to the wall," Arthur told the sorcerer. With a quick spell, his fetters clanked to the ground. "Thanks," the king said, kicking the door open to face Morgana.
"Two against one," the witch grinned. "I always loved a challenge."
"That's too bad," another voice sounded from the shadows. Mordred stepped into the light to take his place beside Morgana, who appeared just as surprised as Arthur and Emrys were. "Because now the odds are even again."
The four stared at each other in silence for a moment. It was a moment for the ages, the moment that the four most powerful beings in that medieval world stood both united and divided by the cunning knot of Fate.
It was Mordred who would speak first. "It appears all the secrets are out," he said slowly, thoughtfully, eyes prowling around the room. "All the secrets…except for yours." He turned to Emrys.
The withered old warlock bowed his head. "I suppose I've put this moment off for far too long. I didn't mean for things to happen this way, Arthur." Emrys would not meet his eyes. "At first I feared to reveal the truth, as it would cost me my life. I thought everything would change once you became king, that magic would be permitted and I would be able to come into the open with safety. But it didn't. Still, there's no excuse…no excuse to lie to my best friend."
Arthur's eyes narrowed, closed, then opened again. His heart had matched the quickened beat of a rabbits as he stared at the decrepit figure in front of him. It couldn't be… Arthur's mind went hazy, his eyesight a blur.
"I tried to tell you—and I did tell you. I told you at least four times, Arthur. Please remember that before you pass your judgment. I—I'm sorry."
And then the warlock lifted his head, ever so softly, his long hair shortening and darkening with every second the motion took. Arthur wanted to look away. He wanted to close his eyes, to pretend the whole thing was a dream. But he couldn't. And so, when Arthur finally looked upon the man in front of him, he met not the tired eyes of Emrys but the fierce blue eyes of Merlin.
Merlin, his servant.
His best friend.
"N-no," Arthur said, taking a step away from the boy— the sorcerer. The world seemed to topple down around him, shake the ground he tried to balance upon. A thousand different thoughts occurred to him at once. All the nights Merlin had snuck in late, scrambling for an excuse, all the times he had unraveled conspiracies before Arthur had discovered them, all the freak accidents that had saved Arthur's life— earthquakes, tree branches, fires, winds, fog— oh! Oh!
The king's knees buckled, he might have fallen back against a wall, but still the thoughts kept flowing. Merlin's wisdom, so out of place, but so fitting. The sword in the stone, the cup of life, the Witchfinder, the dragonlord, the dragon himself— oh. The ridiculous accusations, suspicions—Morgana, Agravaine, Mordred. And all those times Merlin had looked him in the face and admitted his powers! Gwen's trial, the Dissimulo Ball, Mount Opsepire, that night he was drunk. It was all real.
Seven years. Merlin, the blundering, good-as-useless servant who couldn't keep a secret or tell a lie for the life of him—his Merlin, the secret hero in the body of a coward, the one who hid from a fight and couldn't lift a sword— this was Emrys. Who was Emrys? Who was he really? Who was the man that Arthur had gotten to know, to hate, to love as dearly as a brother? Did he even exist? Did he even care? Did he even think twice before he lied to his king for nearly a third of their lives? Did he ever think about the man he was betraying, and see the world through his eyes? Did he—he—
"MERLIN!" Arthur screamed, pounding his fists against the wall to force the angry tears back into his eyes. He shouted out again, though this time without a coherent word riding on his cry. The servant boy raised his sad eyes to Arthur's. He didn't say a word. Merlin simply pressed his lips together and waited. Morgana and Mordred were waiting too; the witch with a look of utter bewilderment, the warlock with a look of sadistic glee.
Arthur was shaking all over. Yes, his pledged knight had turned against him, his dear friend had cheated with his fiancée, his uncle had conspired behind his back, his own sister had murdered their father. But this betrayal seemed to hurt ten times more. "Why?" the king spat out at last; a single, ragged word. "Why? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was afraid," Merlin said. He did not look away from Arthur's piercing gaze. "First I was afraid of my father, then afraid of you, and then afraid of myself. My magic isn't something I can help, Arthur. I was born a sorcerer, just as I was born a dragonlord. But I wasn't sure you would understand."
"Like hell, I don't understand!" Arthur yelled. "But that doesn't mean I don't sympathize!"
"You hate magic and hate all who practice it! You said as much to me yourself! What was I supposed to think about that, huh?"
"You would have changed my mind! You've changed my mind, changed my thinking about almost everything— war, peace alliances, treatment of citizens, my wife— you could have done it one more time!"
"I'm sorry, okay!" Merlin shouted. His eyes were bloodshot red. "I can't do everything!"
Arthur bunched his fists. They were raw and bleeding from where he had pounded them against the wall. He realized that he wasn't entirely angry at Merlin. He was angry at himself. He had refused to see his see his servant for what he truly was, was blind to all his aspects save his idiocy. He had denied Merlin of the credit he deserved, despite all the times the warlock's magic had no doubt saved his clueless self. And for that reason, their long friendship was about to die.
"Stupid," Arthur growled, referring to both Merlin and himself.
"Indeed," Morgana's cool voice fluttered against his ear. Arthur spun around just in time to see her sword drive its way towards what would have been his back, had he not moved. But now that he had, it was much, much worse. Morgana's blade was perfectly aimed towards Arthur's heart. The king didn't have time to shout out or dodge the blow.
Neither did Morgana.
The magic hit her squarely in the chest and sent her flying against the wall. The sorceress screamed as her body smacked against the wall.
"You…liar!" she groaned to Merlin from her crumpled state on the ground. "You knew! You knew about my magic, about the agonizing pain and misery I was going through, and you left me completely and utterly alone!"
"I was a coward, Morgana," Merlin said, a tear escaping down the corner of his face. He kept his hand outstretched in the air as he watched her writhe on the floor.
"And for that I you will pay with your life, Merlin Emrys, bane of my existence!" She leapt to her feet and released a torrent of energy that shot Merlin through the air and against the prison bars. His mouth embraced the impact of the collision, and when he pulled himself upright, his bloody teeth were terribly askew. Arthur looked around desperately for a sword, a weapon of any kind, and found Morgana's where she had dropped it. His friend was in trouble, and sorcerer or not, bloody Emrys or not, Arthur was going to save his sorry hide.
Morgana's eyebrows plummeted the moment she laid eyes on Arthur. She promptly raised her hand to dispose of him, but Merlin was too fast. The sorcerer's eyes glowed as he forced her body to the ground. Morgana whimpered and lashed out. Her magic caught Merlin around the legs and sent him toppling over.
Arthur could hardly keep up with the invisible forces at work, but he did know how to wield a sword. With Morgana's blade in hand, he charged the witch. Hastily, she raised her hand and knocked Arthur down as well. Merlin crawled towards the two of them. His hand was raised, ready to strike. However, when he tried to assail Morgana with magic, she was ready. Their two forces hit each other head on. Arthur could tell as much from the beads of sweat dripping from Merlin's brow and the clenched look of concentration written on Morgana's pained face. The two sorcerers went silent, the true extent of their powers being put to the test. And then, after a long five seconds, a sonic boom rang from between where the two lay and sent every person in the room tumbling backwards.
Morgana clutched her arm in the corner. From Arthur's eyes, it appeared to be broken. But still she was conscious and made an effort to stand. With a sharp intake of breath, Merlin pushed the fire from the torch above the witch onto her clothes, igniting Morgana's body in flames. Another tear slipped down his face, and he made no attempt to wipe it away.
The sorceress screamed and screamed and batted the fire away. Quickly it was reduced to singes. Still the witch drew breath. Still she rose to her feet. Morgana was all but gone; her body was utterly spent. Still, ugly fragments of her splintered soul persisted onward, carried her forwards towards her doom.
"I won't die," she said, lurching towards the corner where Merlin lay. "Not while you still live, Emrys."
Merlin shook his head as he took in her wretched state. "I never wanted things to end like this, Morgana. I told you as much before. I didn't want to poison you, to hound after you, curse you and watch you sink lower and lower into wickedness. And I don't want to be the one to take your life." His voice crackled for a moment before he locked eyes with her one final time. "I'm sorry."
They were two simple words. Two simple words that shattered Morgana's world. None had dared to sympathize with her, to understand her, to apologize to her since Morgana had turned her back on Camelot. But the care in Merlin's eyes, the contrite pity in his words reminded the witch of a humanity she had forgotten. And it was upon remembering this humanity that the witch realized herself for the first time in many, many years. She saw her hideous hate, her heinous murders, her terrifying magic in an unmercifully enlightening white light. She saw herself, and was filled with deep and unquenchable hate.
It was at this moment that Mordred padded back out of the darkness once again, one final time, carrying in his hand the one thing she longed for most: a way out. He held out a long, thin dagger and gently passed it into Morgana's own. Arthur could not make a sound, and neither could Merlin. All watched in a trembling silence as Morgana bowed her head and closed her eyes.
Then she plunged the knife into her chest and sank to the ground.
Arthur only found his breath after her body thumped against the cold tile. His sister, his mortal enemy, his ultimate betrayer—
"Dead," Mordred said in a voice devoid of emotion. He was examining Arthur's face, searching it for signs of grief and despair. He found only relief.
"There are worse things to come, Pendragon," he said softly—oh so softly—like the first roll of thunder in a rising storm.
"We'll be ready," Arthur said, surprising himself by finding his voice.
Arthur hesitated before his eyes found Merlin's. His friend nodded to him silently, and Mordred noticed the interaction. His face darkened with fury.
"Until we meet again, Pendragon. You should dread the next time you look upon my face. It will be your last."
And then Mordred stepped back into obscurity, letting the darkness consume him until there was nothing left but scuff marks on the floor.
Merlin stared dazedly past Morgana's dead body, into the distance. "So she is finally free," he whispered.
"Yes." Arthur's heart ached, but the tears would not come. "I suppose she is."
They sat in the quiet for several minutes, perhaps out of reverence of the dead, perhaps because they did not quite know how to deal with the living.
Finally, both of them rose.
"You saved my life, didn't you?" Arthur mused aloud.
"It's kind of a favorite past time of mine."
Arthur wetted his lips as he stared at the sorcerer. He wasn't really sure what to do with the man now, or where to go forward from this numbing point. Seven years of secrecy. Were they supposed to start over from the beginning now? Arthur simply shook his head, humorlessly muttering, "Idiot," his breath.
Merlin beamed at the insult, exposing his terribly crooked teeth from his run-in with the prison bar. It was a smile worthy of the Merlin that Arthur knew full well, full of that endearing quirkiness and dorkiness that made his friend who he was.
It was in that moment that Arthur understood. Emrys was Merlin just as much as Merlin was Emrys. Everything had changed, and yet nothing had truly changed at all.
Arthur sighed, realizing that he was going to have to forgive Merlin sometime soon. And fire him too; it just wouldn't do to have the great Emrys working as a servant, even if it was to the king. And then he was going to have to legalize benign magic, he supposed. That thought made his organs contract painfully, as the idea went against everything his father had ever stood for. And then there was Mordred to take into account for. The sorcerer hated Arthur's guts; it wouldn't be long before he launched his first attack against Camelot. But Arthur had a sorcerer of his own, one more powerful than Mordred would ever be. He casted his issues aside and looked upward and outward, to where the sun streamed in through the dungeon door and the knights exchanged calls of victory.
Arthur brushed past Merlin's shoulder, and together, the two stepped into the light.
That's a wrap, folks! I've got no sequel planned, but be ready for more Merlin fics from me. I've been chasing around a couple plot bunnies that might just amount to something.
If you were wondering about the chapter titles…
Disimulo is based off of the Latin word for disguise.
Opsepire is based off of the Latin root for shield or defense.
Aperione is based off of the Latin root for reveal.
Resurgam is based off of the Latin root for rise.
Veritas is based off of the Latin word for truth.
Let me know what you thought of the chapter, and the story as a whole! And, by the way, thank you for reading!
-just a girl with ideas