I've been working on this story for more than a year and it seems it has finally come to an end. Only the epilogue remains... Omaigoodness!
I crunched and forced myself to get this out in time for Christmas, to give you all a little Christmas gift for being so wonderful through this whole thing. Through all the crap things that happened this year, all I needed to do was come on here and look through your reviews and my spirits would be instantly lifted. You have all been so wonderful and I'm so sorry it took so long to get this chapter out (I fear endings XD)
Shell22: I always hoped they would do an awesome magic on magic fight in the show, but I think the budget really crippled that aspect of the show and so they had to make due. The writing and acting makes up for it though. XD My story can't have good acting and so I will just write fight scenes that the show couldn't and leave the amazing other stuff to them. XD
MegamiTenshiHime: Not as soon as it should have been. XD Sorry!
heMightyE: Sorry, made you wait!
Moon Fox: Thanks hun! I have you to thank for some of it! You have been so awesome with all the help you've given me with my sticking points in this chapter!
Aerist: You helped out! You all have been awesome! And thank you!
icarusLSU: Yo! Lol thanks. I hope you're not disappointed!
1983Sarah: I'm glad. I agonized over that fight scene for daaaaaays. I'm glad it came out so well!
Cloud9timeforEmu: So glad you stopped in! I am sorry it took me so long to finish this. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoy!
Writer's-BlockDP: Thank you! Whatever their shortcomings, I love the writers of Merlin and any time someone tells me they with my story was in the series, I am just floored and honored!
montanagirl1138: All in one go? Wow! Thank you so much!
Phoenix1998: Thank you! I'm sorry it much come to an end. But I guess something loses what makes it good eventually if it just keeps going. XD
Stella Limegood: This was one of those reviews I had to read over and over again and then read to my roommate because I am so happy you liked it that much. You flatter me and I am so happy the pacing and balance came out right. Thank you so so much!
Rise of Albion: XD Thanks. Honestly, the way I do it is simply practice. I have been writing both original work and fanfiction for 13 years now. I still love it and when I hear people like you and other reviewer say things like that it makes me think that my work has paid off!
Guest: So sorry it took so long. Thank you so much! I was also kind of eeeehhhhhh about the way they portrayed Guinevere in the fifth season. I wanted her to be the strong woman she was in earlier seasons. Glad you liked her!
eilonwy77: Here's the end!
I love you all and I will see you at the epilogue!
His head ached, and the voices were an unwelcome grating on his ears. His back ached. His hand throbbed. His side sent regular spikes of pain through his ribs.
The blinding brightness of the early afternoon sun was mitigated only slightly by the scruffy head above him and Arthur squinted and groaned.
"Arthur, what happened?" asked Gwaine, giving the king's shoulder another gentle shake.
Everything rushed back to the king and he bolted upright, ignoring the protests of both his body and head. The Eastern tower. Morgana. "Merlin!"
He looked behind the roguish knight, and sure enough, the tower was gone. Adrenaline suddenly sprinting through his veins, he leaped to his feet, grabbing the fallen Excalibur and gripping it tight. He was on the flat roof of a tall noble's house near the main courtyard. The square where the Eastern tower had once stood now sat like a large bowl half filled with rubble, rock, and mortar. He nearly jumped at the sight of the massive form of Kilgharrah nosing his way around the edges of the rubble, careful not to step on any rocks. From his throat was issuing a consistent low growl like far- off thunder. Arthur spun on Gwaine. "How long was I out?"
Gwaine shook his head. "Percival and I were fighting some Saxons there," he motioned to where Arthur had left Percival to cover his flight toward the tower, "and suddenly you were flying over our heads. Then there was that blast... I ran over here and it took you a minute or two to wake."
"Merlin was at the base of the tower when it went down!" said the king, looking frantically about for a way off the roof.
Gwaine's eyes widened. He turned toward the former tower and leaped onto the building next to them. Arthur followed the knight as he lowered himself onto a stack of crates and then to the ground. The Bear was waiting at the edge of the square, looking over the damage.
The large man swung around, giving the two a lost look. "What happened?"
"Merlin is under there somewhere!" cried Gwaine.
Anything Percival or Arthur were about to say was suddenly drowned out by the haunting roar of a dragon. The king's eyes immediately flew to Kilgharrah, but the dragon had his eyes elsewhere. Arthur followed the dragon's gaze and across the rubble-filled square, he could barely make out a white form flying at them. Within seconds, Aithusa landed on some of the buildings at the periphery of the square and began clawing at the piles of rock.
Arthur's eyes were fixated. The creature was magnificent. Shiny, healthy, white scales glittered in the high sun. She was not a third of the size of Kilgharrah, but she was mighty and beautiful. Her great head pushed through the rock before her until only the four horns that curled gracefully away from her face were visible.
"The other dragon Merlin mentioned..." breathed Gwaine.
"She must be looking for him," said Arthur, his tone colored with hope.
With a short cry, the dragon began digging more ferociously and within a few minutes, her head emerged with a burden. Clutched gently in her mouth like a fragile doll was something tattered, limp, and black.
Arthur's hope crashed into rage as he saw the unmistakable bloody form of Morgana. Aithusa laid the witch down and nuzzled her, cooing gently. After a few nudges, the witch suddenly turned her head toward the king and blood spurted from her lips. Excalibur's magic roared in response and Gwaine and Percival both took a few steps back when the blade began to glow. The gathering magic catching her attention, Aithusa's deep silver-blue eyes locked onto Arthur's. She took a step forward, lowering herself protectively over Morgana and roared; not nearly as frightening as one of Kilgharrah's, but the razor sharp teeth and wild look in her eyes was intimidating enough. Arthur wound up to swing.
"Do not touch her!"
The booming voice hammered down on the king and his knights enough that they nearly ducked their heads. They looked up to the source of the voice and saw Kilgharrah's massive head looming down over them from the building to their left. His golden eyes were filled with anger and warning. Arthur looked back to where Aithusa was gently gathering Morgana into her talons and spreading her great wings to leave.
"She's taking Morgana!" cried Arthur, not allowing Excalibur to release the built up magic quite yet.
"That dragon is the only other of my kind, whether she is protecting the witch or not," said Kilgharrah.
Arthur growled and Excalibur thrummed in response. He wound up to swing again.
Kilgharrah growled and slammed one of his huge talons down in front of the king. "Do not test me when my Dragonlord is not here to protect you, Arthur!"
Arthur grit his teeth as the magic in Excalibur seemed forcefully dispersed and watched as Aithusa awkwardly flew off, Morgana clutched tightly to the beast's chest.
"And what of Merlin?!" Gwaine suddenly demanded, startling Arthur out of his rage-induced trance. The knight pointed a finger at the rubble. "He's still under there!"
"And he is alive," said Kilgharrah.
Hope alighted into Arthur's mind again. He looked from the dragon to the rubble. "You are sure?"
"He is my Dragonlord," said the dragon with a small nod. "If he were dead I would know it."
Gwaine and Arthur exchanged a look and the king sheathed Excalibur. "Do you know where?"
Kilgharrah nodded. "Come with me." He turned away from them and they began crawling over the fallen chunks of rock after him. They made their way across the cluttered square until they arrived at the mound from which Morgana had been pulled. Nearby stood the tallest heap of stone; the base of the collapsed tower. Kilgharrah began scratching at the largest pile with one massive hand. Arthur immediately began grabbing whatever rocks he could lift and tossing them out of the way, Gwaine and Percival joining in immediately. Any rock that was too heavy for one of them to lift, Kilgharrah would sweep aside and they would continue digging.
It wasn't long before Arthur, Gwaine, and Percival had all shed their armor and chain mail under the heat and exertion, sweat running in rivulets down their face, arms, and chests. It was soon after this that Arthur moved a rock and found beneath it an empty space through which he could see the ground.
"I found something!" he called to his knights.
The explosion had shaken the very earth beneath their feet and had drawn Gwen, Gaius, Leon, and Elyan to crowd around the window of the mostly-empty physician's quarters. With Gwen's white-knuckled grip tangled in the sleeve of Gaius' tunic- and with grips equally as powerful on the knights' swords- the four watched as the Eastern tower folded in on itself.
Leon dashed to the door of the physician's quarters and barked at a guard to find out what was happening in the city. Once the door fell shut again, he immediately immediately began pacing, his heavy armor clacking rhythmically as he did. Gwen watched him for a few moments; the set of his shoulders stiff and the grip on his sword shaking as though it were taking every ounce of self-control he possessed not to abandon his protective post and race to see the state of the city for himself. She couldn't help but empathize. She felt her duty was to those that lay on the cots in Gaius' chambers, but after Dayla had once again vanished after dropping off Frio's body she had to fight every instinct she had not to run out into the violent streets looking for her.
The tension in the room was stifling. Elyan sat, but his leg bounced restlessly. Gaius headed to a set of glass tubes and began heating one over a small flame. Gwen eventually abandoned her seat and hurried about in an attempt to distract her mind from drifting toward the violence outside the protection of the castle. She walked to the cots of a few men who had been manning the pitch barrels when the siege first began. She removed the damp rags on their foreheads and checked their temperature before hurrying to Bedivere's cot. The man was sleeping soundly, a poultice buried in the pillow upon which his injured head lay. At last she moved to the small table they had set up to the side. Beneath one of Gaius' white blankets lay a small, still form, and with a sad sigh Gwen ran her hand along its length. She moved then to Gaius' workbench and sat down, fidgeting when she did. Gaius gave a sympathetic smile and pushed a stone bowl of yarrow leaves over to her. She smiled in thanks, picked up the pestle, and began to grind. The room was deafeningly silent; especially in light of the chaos that had erupted during the siege.
More than an hour passed, and all at once the silence was broken. The door flew open to permit Percival entrance, the large man having to turn his lanky burden sideways to get him in the door. Gaius jumped and immediately extinguished the flame over which he was bent.
"Merlin!" he cried, hurrying to the cot where the Percival lay the servant.
Gwen jumped to her feet as Gwaine entered, followed by Arthur who held a small bundle against his chest. As the queen dashed to her husband, the bundle in his arms unfolded into the small dust-covered Dayla and Arthur set her on the ground next to him. All of them had shed their armor, wearing just their padded tunics, and were covered in sweat and dirt. Arthur and Gwaine took a few steps toward the prone servant, but Gaius shooed them away with a flick of his hands and a stern look in his eye. As Arthur moved back toward the door, Guinevere threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Arthur enveloped his wife and relished the feeling of her there; memorizing the way her body felt against his and inhaling her scent. They stood like that for a long moment, as though forgetting there was anyone else in the room. Gwen eventually pulled away and took his face in her hands, looking him over in a manner that was equal parts doting spouse and mother hen.
"We saw the tower collapse," she said, out of breath with relief.
Arthur nodded. "Yeah, I think Merlin did that, but I wasn't there; he got me to safety." He looked down at the druid girl standing against his legs and watching the knights and physician fuss over the unconscious warlock. He placed a hand on her brown hair and she looked up. "We found this one curled up with him under all the rubble," he said.
Gwen dropped to her knees, searching the child over for any injury as Dayla gripped tight something in small trembling hands. Tears carved their way down dust-covered cheeks and Gwen suddenly found Dayla clinging to her, the girl's face pressed into her shoulder. Gwen placed a gentle hand on her back and whispered soothing words.
"It was so dark," managed Dayla through her sobs. Gwen felt the druid crane her neck toward the cot where Merlin lay. "And he was bleeding... and I didn't know... if he was alive," she choked, her lungs yanking air back down her throat as she spoke.
Gwen looked to Arthur.
"They were under there for an hour before we could dig them out," said the king.
Gwen pulled away, and held Dayla's shoulders, pressing her forehead to the child's. "You were very brave," she said, eliciting a small smile of pride onto Dayla's mouth. "But why were you in the rubble? You shouldn't even have been there."
The ghost of a prideful smile evaporated to be replaced by one of knowing, and the death-grip she maintained on the item in her hands relented. A glint of blue caught Guinevere's attention and she looked down between the girl's fingers, her chocolate eyes growing wide.
"The gem of Taliesen," she breathed, looking up at Dayla's face and then back at the gem. The druid dropped the small stone into Gwen's hands.
"When did you get that?" asked Arthur, a small smile curving his lips.
Dayla glanced to the king at his query and then looked back to Guinevere, guilt weighing down her tone when she spoke. "When you sent me with the knight and Emrys into the caves, I went to get the gem instead."
"How did you manage that?" demanded Gwen, once more checking the girl over for wounds, as though the new information would spawn new ones. "That was right around the time they breached the walls!"
"There were plenty of druids in their ranks," said Dayla with a shrug. "I don't think they noticed another druid cloak."
Arthur's eyebrows drew to a point and he had to stop himself from shaking a finger at her. "But you couldn't have known they wouldn't notice you, Dayla! That was very dangerous of you!"
The guilt vanished from her eyes to be replaced with something that Arthur saw every day in the eyes of his knights and his idiotically loyal manservant; duty.
"The witch would have sensed it. I couldn't let her find it."
Arthur found it mildly disturbing that such a level of duty shone in the eyes of an eight year old girl.
Gwen pulled the girl into another hug, tears welling in her eyes. "Your mama would be so proud of you... I'm sure of it."
Dayla stood back and the absolute joy that shone in her eyes was enough to banish any frustration still held at the girl's adamant disobedience.
"And after all the times you were told to hide," Arthur mused.
Dayla's eyes flashed a bit of mild fear and jumped to Merlin's mostly obscured frame on the physician's cot. "He said he'd turn me into a pigeon," she muttered.
Gwen laughed and pressed the gem back into the girl's hands. As she stood and turned, the attention in the room shifted, and all eyes save for one pair fixed on Merlin. Dayla's eyes swept the room and when they didn't find what she sought, she grabbed the side of Gwen's breeches and tugged gently.
"Where's Frio?" she asked, her voice thick.
Gwen's eyes moved away from Merlin and to the still form beneath the blanket, heaving a sigh. She grabbed Dayla's hand and moved her away from Arthur, once again kneeling to her level once they were next to the blanket-covered table. Before he could adjust his ears to their quiet conversation, his attention was pulled back to his front where Gaius was silently working his way to his feet. He moved slowly to his potions table and, finding Gwen predisposed, he waved Percival over and set him to grinding a plethora of herbs. It was after this when the man's silence persisted that Arthur groaned in frustration.
"Gaius!" he cried, resting his hands on his hips. "Is he alright?"
The old man looked up with eyes wearier than Arthur had seen them in a long time and he was struck by a flash of guilt for his outburst. "I don't know," he said, wiping his hands- which Arthur now noticed were smeared with blood- with a cloth. "The cut to his side was shallow, so even though he was under the rubble for a while, his blood loss has been minimal. He has no head injuries, so unless he is under the influence of a spell, he should have awoken by now." He stared at Merlin's still face for a long moment before fixing Arthur with a contemplative look. "What happened?"
Arthur shook his head. "I couldn't really say. Merlin seemed to be doing well... but after Morgana cut him he sent us both flying. After that, something seemed wrong."
"How so?" asked the physician.
"He was holding his head and Morgana said he had 'lost all control'. He sent me flying to the roof of a house near the courtyard right before the tower came down."
"Lost all control?" repeated Gaius. "Of what?"
Arthur pursed his lips in thought. "I think she may have been talking about his magic."
Gaius' right eyebrow assumed its traditional position high above his eye. "His magic?" he asked. "Merlin's magic may be instinctive, but to my knowledge, he's never had trouble actually controlling it. What makes you think that was what she was talking about?"
Arthur thought for a moment before speaking. "Before Merlin sent me to the rooftop... and the tower looked like it was going to collapse... I told Merlin to stop the shaking. He told me he couldn't." Gaius took a moment to ponder the information and Arthur waited until his attention returned to him that he spoke again. "And it just felt wrong." When the old man showed no signs of understanding, he continued with a slight rolling of his eyes as though being forced to admit something. "I've gotten used to the feeling of his magic around me; when he was in the sword... even at the beginning of the fight with Morgana. But... at a point during the fight, it started to feel different."
"What do you mean?"
"Well it usually feels..." began the king, groping for words.
"Heavy," said Gwaine.
"Warm," Percival added.
"Comfortable," finished Arthur. He shook his head. "But at some point it changed. It became... prickly; like an itch I couldn't scratch. It was just wrong."
"Long live Morgana Pendragon!"
None could react to the scream before all were thrown off their feet. Arthur hit the floor with a yelp. The four knights, queen, physician and druid were tossed off their feet like dolls and pinned against the nearest wall. Arthur forced himself to his feet and spun around.
In the doorway with her hand held aloft was Edlyn. Her face was an absolute mess of browning bandages, torn flesh, and dirt from her cell. Her legs wobbled beneath her and her eyes were glazed with madness. As the king drew his sword, Edlyn's other hand snapped toward him and his body froze.
"Ætstille,(1)" she hissed.
Arthur cursed as his body's control was once again wrenched from him and he growled and strained against the spell that held him.
Edlyn laughed weakly, her visible eyelid drooping a little in fatigue. "Camelot," she spat like it was a slur. "Your dungeons become much less impressive during the chaos of a siege," she said, her voice weak and slurring like she'd had too much wine. Arthur's grip on Excalibur tightened for a moment before a wave of Edlyn's hand wrenched it from his grasp. His previously injured hand screamed at the action and he yelped. The druid caught the hilt and examined the blade. "Also less impressive without the great Emrys within, eh?"
Merlin's body gave a violent jerk as Edlyn took a few steps forward and plunged the blade into Arthur's stomach.
Guinevere screamed. The knights let loose a tired of curses and swears. Arthur fell to his knees.
Edlyn hobbled past the fallen king, her eye set upon Merlin, but she stopped when something caught her attention. The air around them suddenly changed. An orchestra of sound erupted from the shelves around them as every glass bottle Gaius owned began to shudder. A few at Gaius' side burst, their contents staining his clothes and the floor at his feet. A wind swept in from the open window and began to rustle the blankets that had been laid over the cots' occupants. Merlin growled and groaned softly in his sleep, his body writhing weakly in its place on the cot. The ground beneath their feet did not shake as before but suddenly felt less solid, as though the earth were about to react. Her brow creasing in concern, Edlyn drew herself up and swung Excalibur down at Merlin's prone form.
In one swift motion Arthur was on his feet again, yanking Bedivere's sword from its hilt at his side, and stopping Edlyn's swing a foot from Merlin's exposed neck. He met her horror-stricken eyes with a glare of contempt. With a grunt he shoved Excalibur away from the warlock and Edlyn's weakened body followed it as it arched backward and imbedded itself into the table behind her. There was a flash of light and a shriek. When vision returned to the room's occupants, Edlyn lay motionless on the floor, her eyes glazed and wide open.
The knights, the queen, and Dayla were suddenly released from the spell that held them. Leon jumped over to Edlyn's still form and with a cry of rage impaled his sword through one of her shoulders, as though pinning her to the ground. She did not make a sound, nor move, and the blond knight turned his attention to where a cloud of red fabric descended upon the monarch kneeling monarch. Dayla hurried to the cot where Merlin lay and placed her hands on his heaving chest. Her eyes closed and flashed gold behind her eyelids.
"Stille,(2)" she breathed. The beakers and vials in the room stopped their shuddering and the wind fell still until deafening silence permeated the room.
Gwen pushed through the crowd of chain mail and capes to drop to her husband's side, tears streaming down her face. "Arthur! Gaius help him!" she sobbed, turning her panicked eyes on the old man. The knights parted for the physician to hurry through, but Arthur's head suddenly popped up, laying Bedivere's sword on the ground and extending his now-empty hand.
"No no," he said, shaking his head and coughing roughly. "I'm fine."
Gwen took his face in her hands and examined his eyes as though they would give her a true assessment of his injuries. He waved her hands away and sat back on his heels, coughing again as he did. With the hand he had held out to stop Gaius' approach, he lifted up his padded shirt to expose a blood-free belly. Sitting at the base of the king's sternum was a simple red line, as though he had been stabbed many years ago and the wound had since been reduced to nothing more than a scar.
"I'm not hurt," he said, glancing to the old man, his eyes wide with adrenaline and more than a little fear. "But I don't know why... I felt it pierce me, Gaius." Weathered hands moved along Arthur's abs, poking the new scar a little and glancing up at the king when he flinched.
"It did pierce you," muttered Gwaine, moving round the king to look at the hole in the back of his tunic. "I saw the tip come out your back."
Arthur curled his arm around his side to try and touch the hole Gwaine was referring to, and after a moment simply shook his head. "It feels like nothing more than a bruise."
Gwen threw her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply, continuing to sob quietly in relief when she pulled away and buried her face in his shoulder. The knights stood on wobbly legs and none could fight the smiles that curved their lips at their king's survival.
"Excalibur was forged for you and only you, My Lord," said Dayla, rounding the table where Merlin lay. A strangely elated smile was on her face that almost didn't seem to suit the matter-of-fact tone in her voice. "Specifically in Emrys' presence, it could never harm you."
A fluttering to the side drew attention to Merlin's still body where Frio was nestling down onto his chest, shaking herself and beginning to preen the dust from her feathers.
"Frio!" cried Gwen, releasing her husband and jumping to her feet. The bird looked to the queen at the sound of her name and cooed happily. "But... she was dead!"
"Merlin long ago proved that he has power over life and death but I've never seen it demonstrated." He looked from the bird,to Edlyn, to the king.
As if in response, the mighty bird stood on her stocky legs, spread her wings and flapped them a few times, cooing and clicking. The minute she was still enough to allow it, Dayla threw her arms around Frio's body and buried her face in a sea of beige feathers. Frio shifted a little under the child's weight, but rubbed her head against her cheek.
Dayla laughed quietly as tears once again flowed down her cheeks.
Arthur rubbed his temples and groaned. Three hours with the council mitigating the damage from the siege and the magical properties of his sword had lead to him fleeing to Gaius' chambers for something to quell the pounding behind his eyes.
The castle was still a chaotic mess. It would be well into the wee hours of the morning before the kingdom's citizens were emptied from the citadel. But the corridors and rooms near the physician's chambers were blissfully quiet in the wake of the siege. The few seriously injured had been sent home with tonics and instructions for the families, and the dead had been taken off to be prepared for burial.
It was something of a surprise to find Merlin not on the cot where the king and his knights had left him, but sitting at the table shoveling stew into his mouth. On the table in front of him was nestled Frio, her beige feathers glistening in the evening light and staring at the warlock like she would rather do nothing else in the world than keep him in her sight. After a few spoonfuls, Merlin reached into his bowl and plucked a bit of meat from its depths. He held it out cautiously for a second before yanking it back a little bit and giving the bird a look like some silent conversation was occurring. Once Frio cooed softly, Merlin extended the meat again and she plucked it gently from his fingers, tossing it back and swallowing it in one. He went back to eating but paused when Arthur entered and smiled when he looked up.
"So being trapped in a sword for a few days has done nothing for your manners, I see," snorted the king.
Merlin swallowed and shrugged. "I've seen worse from you on a normal day," he said, handing another piece of meat to Frio.
Arthur took a moment to assess his manservant. A lump of cloth- no doubt filled with herbs- had been bound to his collarbone where the Emrys stone had seared onto his flesh, held on by two thin bandages that crisscrossed his torso. Another bundle of bandages was tied firmly around his middle where Morgana had cut him. But Arthur's eyes wandered around the exposed flesh of the man's upper body as well. Particularly, his eyes were drawn to an old wound in the upper-right part of his chest partially covered by the bandages. It was a large burn set over his heart, the skin warped and taught at strange places. The temperature to create such a would would have been intense, like someone had taken a smithing tool to his flesh. The rest of his skin was marked like a knife-throwing target. He was covered in small nicks and scars. Some stood boldly out on his pale skin while others were faded enough to almost miss had he not been looking for them. He let out a breath and Merlin seemed to notice.
"What?" he asked around a large spoonful of stew.
"Will I ever hear the story behind each of those?" he asked, indicating the large burn.
It took Merlin a few seconds to look down and figure out to what he was referring. Once it dawned on him, he blushed under the scrutiny and began looking over his arms and stomach as though taking stock of all the stories he would eventually have to tell. He gave a wry chuckle.
"Yeah. I'll tell you them all eventually." he said softly, returning to his meal.
They fell into companionable silence as Merlin worked his way through his stew and Arthur wandered over to stand nearby. "Didn't expect you to be up so fast," said Arthur after a long pause.
When the king took his seat, Merlin met Frio's eyes and another silent communication seemed to pass between them. With a few clicks and a stretch of her wings (that managed to slap Arthur gently in the face), the bird hopped over to the window and dove out into the city. "Neither did Gaius," said Merlin once she had gone. "When I woke, he was looking at me as though he feared I might not."
"Well you did have a tower fall on you," said Arthur with a shrug and a bob of his head. Merlin fixed his eyes on his stew, a strangely sheepish look on his face. "You're alright then?" Arthur asked as though he already assumed the answer.
Merlin looked up, his eyes wide. "Uhh... yeah. Strangely enough."
"How's your head?" continued the king.
One of Merlin's eyes hiked upwards at the question. "My...? Fine. Why?"
"Good." Arthur nodded a little and smacked the back of Merlin's head as hard as he seemed able. The warlock yelped and a vial to Merlin's right burst into little more than powder. King and servant stared at the remaining pile of dust for a few seconds before Arthur decided to ignore it and jabbed a finger in Merlin's face.
"What the hell were you thinking?!"
Merlin rubbed the sore spot on the back of his head and glared up at Arthur. "What do you mean wha-? Saving your royal backside as usual is what!"
"By dropping a tower on yourself?!" Arthur motioned out the window where the Eastern tower could previously be seen. "You nearly died!"
"Everyone nearly died!" countered Merlin. "I was just trying to make sure it stopped!"
"It's amazing," growled Arthur, pinching the bridge of his nose, "that you manage to cause headaches even when you're helping. Do you have any idea what I've been through the last few hours?" He motioned to the door. "How many questions I've had to try to answer without starting a revolt? How many questions I've had to avoid- why are you laughing?!"
Merlin sent a dopey smile at his sovereign and shrugged. "Never thought I'd be so happy to hear you yell at me," he said. "I thought everything might be too different for it."
"Merlin," began Arthur, all rage gone from his tone and a serious look in his eye, "There is no part of my mind that believes in a time where things are so different that you will no longer be an idiot."
It was strange how much warmth flooded Merlin's heart at the insult, and though neither of them noticed (but Gaius would no doubt discover later) a small bundle of herbs behind them burst into mature blooms. Merlin looked down to where he was swirling his spoon around in his stew.
"Just glad you aren't too afraid of me to yell," said the warlock. At Arthur's incredulous look, he continued. "After what I did to that tower... I'm a little afraid of me."
Arthur heaved a sigh and took a seat on the stool across from his servant. "Afraid because my manservant may very well be more powerful than all my knights combined?" He scoffed and scrunched his nose. "I would never admit that." Merlin's face fell a fraction further and Arthur felt a small stab of guilt. Whatever reassurance the warlock had been seeking, the king had not provided it. Merlin inhaled a few more spoonfuls of stew before Arthur screwed up his courage enough to ask the question that had been pressing on his mind since they pulled Merlin from the wreckage. "What did you do to the tower?"
Merlin looked up at him like a cornered animal and for a split second Arthur regretted asking the question. But the warlock relaxed almost immediately and looked more worried than terrified. "Nothing I intended," he said at last.
"You mean your magic," Arthur stated rather than asked.
Merlin only spent a fraction of a second looking surprised at his correct assumption before nodding. "I didn't consciously start it, and I couldn't stop it once it had."
"But why? Gaius said you've never had trouble with actual control before."
Merlin absently poked at the bandage on his collarbone. "It was the stone, I think. It made me aware of so much more. My magic has always been as much a part of me as the blood in my veins, but from the moment I woke up in the cave... it felt like I was drowning."
"Drowning," repeated Arthur, one eyebrow moving toward his hairline.
At the lack of comprehension on the king's face, Merlin's eyes began roaming around the room in search of a method of explanation. After a moment of searching, he grabbed a discarded water skin off the end of the table and held it out to Arthur. "Imagine trying to fit all of the water in the well into this."
Arthur looked at the water skin handed to him and then moved his eyes to the nearby tub. He looked back to Merlin.
The warlock shook his head. "There's simply too much of it. It would force the stitching apart even if you could manage to get it all in." He glanced briefly to the empty window. "When Morgana cut me it was like I suddenly lost a battle with my magic and my head felt like it would split open." He looked back to Arthur with a shrug. "It's a little like when I was first put in the sword. There's so much... it's hard to control."
Something dawned on Arthur and his eyes shot to the pile of dust at the right of Merlin's head. His mind rolled back to the morning he woke up to his destroyed chambers, and the sight of the pitched of water bursting with the warlock's cry of elation. He pointed at it and looked back to his manservant. "So that... that happened because I hit you?"
Merlin looked to the dust as if just realizing it was there and gave a sheepish smile. "I guess so." It was now Merlin's turn to have a realization, and the sheepish grin turned into an impish one. "I guess you really will have to take it easy on me for a little while," he said, crossing his arms over his bandaged chest.
"Don't worry," said Arthur, a challenging curve to his lips. He clapped a hand on Merlin's shoulder. "We've still got a perfectly good houndskull helm."
"Now now, Sire," quipped Gaius, stepping through the door as though summoned by the pitiful look Merlin was giving Arthur, "I might have to insist Merlin stay indoors until help arrives."
Arthur and Merlin's faces swapped expressions, so Arthur was looking rather put out next to Merlin's grin. The physician's words seemed to register in Merlin's mind and he looked over. "Help? What do you mean?"
Gaius placed his medicine kit on the table and spun to look at the two. "Well, you've lost control of your magic, and as far as we know, there's only one person in the world who helped you learn to control it in the first place."
Merlin's face broke into a wide grin and Arthur couldn't help but smile along at the infectious elation in the warlock's eyes.
1. Be still!