So this is a little rough, but I figured that after all the waiting you did, you deserved the epilogue the moment I finished it! XD This epilogue has been a bit of a wild ride. Turned out almost twice as long as any of my individual chapters at almost 12000 words. I had an original plan for what I wanted the epilogue to be and it changed so much that the original idea (a banquet) didn't even make it in!
I heard a suggestion from Moonfox that I make this a separate story, but I just couldn't figure out how to make it work, and so I kept it as the epilogue. I hope you all enjoy this monster! I haven't been able to speak to my beta lately due to scheduling conflicts so she hasn't seen the final draft (and I am impatient and wanted to get this up), but thank you so much Moonfox for all your help and suggestions! 3
Moon Fox: Oh my this happened all the way back in Christmas. XD Your help is always awesome! Thanks!
MegamiTenshiHime: Why thank you~!
Princess101855: Lol technically no. Here's another 12k words for ya.
DutchGirl01: Aww, thanks!
1983Sarah: Thank you! I'm so sorry you had to wait so long for this one!
Max Corvin: Pleasedon'tbedead. Pleasedon'tbedead. Pleasedon'tbedead.
IHaveCookieInMyEye: Thank you so much for this review! It makes me so happy that you enjoy it so much! 24 hours? Wow! And you think I'm up there with Captain Ozone?! *squeal!* HOMG
MugetsuPipefox: Thank you! I definitely think that Aithusa could have been handled so much better in season 5. I don't know why she did what she did, but I have my suspicions. I guess I am proud of it in my own way. Obviously I'm still plagued with self-consciousness as are most writers, but I am happy with it overall I think. :)
titan616: Lol thanks! The situations that presented themselves in this story were just so much fun to write! Arthur and Merlin sharing a mind. Arthur finding out through a third party. And the knights interactions are always fun.
fariedragon: :) Fairly major character in the epilogue.
93 Diagon Alley: Here it is! So sorry for the wait!
For the last time, here we go!
Emrys... Cume Emrys... cume.
Like a drop of water upon his burning skin, the call released a trickle of relief into his mind. Sweat darkened his tunic and streaked down his brow. He winced and flipped onto his back, the lush blankets twisting around his legs.
Beswice, Emrys... Ályne.
His lungs heaved beneath a stray pillow: the soft mass of feathers as a boulder upon his breast.
Álæte. Beswice Emrys.
The words embraced him like his mother's arms, cooling a bit of the fire that coursed through his limbs. True relief eluded him, and he suddenly knew- as he had never known anything more in his life- that it would be granted to him if he could only reach out and touch the voice. Calloused hands wound themselves into the sheets beneath him; clenching into white-knuckled fists.
Cume ond béo. Cume ond ábìde, Emrys.
The cooling embrace retreated a little and his entire body screamed for its return. He hissed and groaned, slamming his head back and forth against the pillows. His hands released the sheets and his arms flailed weakly against the covers that coiled around him like a snake.
There was noise; a cacophony as heard from the other side of a heavy door. Something very much alive tossed and turned within him. Violently, it slammed itself against the insides of his head and stomach. It shrieked in response to the call and there was such pressure in his head he feared it would burst.
Álæte angsumnes endes, Emrys. Ælcuht sy gesælþ... ðu néadclamm cume.(1)
"STOP!" Burning golden eyes flew open and suddenly the chaotic din was all around him. There was screaming and cursing, and none of it his own. Glass flew through the air and he was pelted with water as the living thing within him exploded into the air.
"I'm not sure what can be done, but the people can't take another night of this, My Lord," grumbled Leon, moving away from a crowd of three families crammed into a set of guest chambers. "We've only just recovered from the siege. At this rate, the Lower Town will be gone within the week." He moved to the nearest window, pushing open the blinds a little and squinting against the blast of air and icy rain. Lightning lit up the sky, followed immediately by thunder that seemed to rock the very floor beneath their feet. Outside, little could be heard above the wind that roared against the sturdy walls of the castle. The homes of those huddled once more within the citadel did their best to stand against the barrage of wind and rain. Several had already given in and others leaned dangerously to one side.
Gwaine shivered a little as he heaved the door closed behind him. "Not to mention all the rumors of sorcery," he said, pulling his cape tighter around him. "A rain storm in the middle of winter when it is easily cold enough to snow? You don't have to be paranoid about magic to think it unnatural."
Arthur folded his arms across his chest and huffed as Gwaine past him to join Leon. "You think it's Morgana?" he asked, prompting a raised eyebrow from the blond knight.
Leon scrunched his nose in thought. "Could she cause such a storm? I know she is powerful, Sire, but manipulating the heavens..."
"Besides," coughed Gwaine, giving another shiver. "She didn't look up to doing much of anything when the dragon pulled her from the rubble. Even given the time that's passed, it should still be a while before she's up and using magic of this magnitude... I would think," he added, as though not fully confident in what he was saying.
"Could she have healed herself, though?" suggested Arthur with a wave of his hand. "Perhaps she used a healing spell," he continued quietly, making a subtle gesture to Gwaine's leg.
"Seems a bit of a leap in power," said Gwaine. "Dunno if I'd believe she's capable of producing such a maelstrom for a full day and night like this, even uninjured."
Arthur bobbed his head in agreement. "I suppose we'd have seen her use it before."
"Would Merlin know, Sire?" asked Leon.
Arthur chewed his lip a little and shrugged. Nearly two weeks had passed since he had last seen his servant, reluctantly relying upon George to fill in as the warlock worked with his mother and the physician to repair whatever damage had been done during the siege and his imprisonment within Excalibur. His hand drifted unconsciously to the hilt of the sword. It hummed anxiously beneath his fingers and that alone was enough to send him hurrying away from the knights and down the hall toward the guest rooms closest to his own.
After a few rather insistent questions following several maturing (yet previously dead) bushels of herbs and enough shattering vials to make a few veins throb worryingly in Gaius' temples, Arthur had moved Merlin and his mother into a set of guest chambers near his and Guinevere's. The banging and clattering of errant magic was enough to occasionally wake the royals in the middle of the night, and it had taken no small amount of self-control to keep from stomping into Merlin's rooms and smacking him upside the head with a goblet (partly because Arthur feared that, with the amount of magic randomly messing with things around him, he feared it would simply shatter upon impact).
Arthur stopped dead in his tracks and he shot down the hall at a run.
He cursed under his breath and nearly hit himself for his apparent blindness. It seemed to be a bad habit of his; coming to a conclusion and suddenly unable to understand how he hadn't reached it before. The halls near his chambers were deserted, and the ruckus clearly happening in Merlin's temporary chambers made him suddenly grateful for Gwaine's suggestion that they avoid stationing guards in this hall for the time being.
Even from the far end of the hallway, Arthur could see the doors to the guest chambers rattling on their hinges. The great planks of wood thumped against their frame as though a mighty beast within was fighting for freedom. The sound echoed down the halls, driving Arthur's feet faster. His hands were shaking as he fumbled with the keys to the door.
The minute the brass lock clicked open, Arthur was nearly thrown from his feet. The doors exploded outward (were they even meant to open that way?) and a wall of wind slammed into his front. The cacophony within brought instantly to mind Merlin's display when forced to reveal himself to the knights and Guinevere. Water pelted him in the face and he had to squint to see the open window by the bed. Broken pottery littered the floor accompanied by bits of metal as though brass goblets had been shattered like glass. The table was on its side and pressed against the far wall, the chairs strewn around it. There were blankets and clothes sprawled across the floor as though a wardrobe had burst. The canopy of the bed leaned away from the window as though trying to escape the noise. It was dark, meager light coming from the fireplace where the flames bravely struggled against the wind and water. No candles could maintain their light, and most of them were on the floor anyway. Light from the torches below reflected off the myriad of rain drops in the air and allowed them a little more illumination.
Hunith's frail form clutched the bedpost and looked like the maelstrom might pull her right out the window. Gaius was crouched at the foot of the bed where he was shielded a little. He caught sight of the young sovereign and a plea for help entered his aged eyes. Arthur's gaze finally landed on the lone occupant of the bed. Merlin tossed and turned, whispering and moaning as though in the throes of some horrendous nightmare. The wind in the room and even outside seemed to swell with his labored breaths and the room was suddenly illuminated by a brilliant flash of lightning, followed immediately by a crash of deafening thunder. The air was thick with magic and Excalibur thrummed nervously at his hip.
It felt wrong- just as it had during the fight with Morgana.
Arthur almost physically tried to brush aside the pins and needles that assaulted his flesh. The sickly power was pouring off Merlin in waves and Arthur felt a small amount of instinctual panic set in as he swore and fought his way to his servant's side. Every part of him- warrior, king, man- screamed at him to get far away from what felt like the path of a rampaging boar, but he set his jaw and grabbed Merlin's shoulders.
His voice cut the magic in the air like a knife. It fled like it feared the king's very presence; as though it obeyed his commands as much as Merlin's.
Merlin jolted into a sitting position, nearly smacking his forehead against Arthur's as he did. The closed window on the far side of the room exploded inward and Arthur found himself crouched over Hunith in an instant as little bits of glass pelted the back of his tunic. A blast of cool and cleansing wind burst away from the bed, banishing the remainder of the sickly magic and there was suddenly deafening silence. The din outside quieted. The gales stilled, the lightning stopped, and the thunder was silenced.
Merlin stared at the far wall, his posture slumping as though he was having difficulty holding himself upright. Sweat rolled over his high cheekbones and down his neck. His breath was labored and shuddered in his chest. His entire body trembled and his golden eyes were clouded with fear when he finally turned them on his master.
"Ar-thur," he heaved, blinking as a drop of sweat from his brow rolled into his eye.
The king was suddenly muscled out of the way by a woman who very much did not look like she had the muscle to do so. Arthur took a step back when Merlin lay back down under his mother's gentle hands and he could feel the magic that was always coiled around his manservant relax a little with him.
At a grunt and groan, Arthur hurried to help the physician to his feet.
"I'm too old to be keeping up with such a ward," he lamented with a wry smile.
Arthur couldn't help but return it for a moment before his eyes turned back to his servant and he sobered. "What happened?"
"A nightmare, it would seem," answered Gaius, but the offhanded way he spoke didn't well match the uncertainty in his eyes.
"Has he never had a nightmare before? Because- while I am now aware that you and Merlin have gotten away with quite a lot over the years- I'm fairly certain someone would have noticed something like that!" He pointed at the open window where the sun was beginning to break through the retreating clouds. He looked to the warlock, who seemed oblivious to everything except the small hand he held with both his own.
At a stern glare from Hunith, Gaius motioned to the open door. "I must mix a draft to help him sleep, and I doubt our talk is helping. We will discuss this further in my chambers."
Locking the door behind him, a heavy silence fell over the two as they headed down the winding steps to the physician's quarters. The walk seemed far shorter than normal as Arthur's head spun wildly. Three months had passed since the Saxons and Druids had laid siege to Camelot. Merlin's magic was still a closely guarded secret, but his recent outbursts of magic had gotten increasingly worse over the past month. Finally, Merlin had agreed to barricade himself within his room until they could get it under control, but things were clearly worse than they had been. Unconscious, Merlin had managed to summon a storm- the likes of which Camelot had never seen. His nightmares could bring maelstroms; so were they to live in fear of Merlin's magic- sleeping and waking?
He was suddenly aware that they were in Gaius' chambers and the old man was grinding a group of herbs in a mortar as a small vial bubbled away above a flame. Arthur shook his head clear and spun to firmly shut the door.
"What's going on, Gaius? You had me believing that Merlin's control was doing just fine."
"And Merlin had me believing the same," grumbled the physician. "But it would seem that less headway has been made than either of us thought."
"You've quarantined him to that room for almost two weeks, Gaius. Has he made any progress?" asked Arthur, starting to pace.
"Looking at things now, I am not sure how much progress can be made," said Gaius. Arthur raised an eyebrow at him. The old man's face was pensive for a moment and his eyes wandered across his desk, as though looking for the answer among his potions and serums. His eyes lit up with some form of discovery after a moment and grabbed a large empty vial from his shelf. He then grabbed four smaller ones from his stock: one filled with a milky white liquid and three filled with deep crimson. He held up the large vial.
"This is Merlin," he stated, placing it on a clear area of his work table. Arthur's look remained incredulous, but he nodded. Next he held up the clear liquid. "This is Merlin's control over his magic." He poured half the small vial into the larger one. Lastly, he held up the crimson concoction. "This is Merlin's magic." He quickly upturned whole vial into the larger one and a sizzling erupted. Pale pink steam billowed up and out of the vial. Arthur coughed and waved at it. He watched the strange reaction for a moment before turning his gaze back on Gaius for further explanation.
"Merlin's control and magic are normally pretty evenly matched," he said, pointing to the bubbling mixture at the bottom. "He releases the excess evenly and in a way that doesn't draw attention. That's how he's always done things. In fact, during his time here in Camelot, he hasn't even really needed to bleed off excess magic because he uses it to keep us all safe," he said, pointing at the steam that billowed from the neck of the vial. A small bit of understanding trickled into Arthur's eyes.
Gaius spun and grabbed another empty vial, obviously of the same type as the one sizzling between them, but much older and with a large cork in it. With a bit of a grunt, he yanked the cork out and moved the large steaming vial off to the side. He placed the new container between them and poured the other half of the clear liquid into it. He then took the other two vials of red liquid and rapidly dumped one and then the other in. With practiced hands he set the empty vials down and jammed the cork back into the neck. The inside quickly clouded with pink smoke as the space inside was consumed with what was billowing freely from the previous vial.
"Right now, Merlin has many times more magic than ever before, but the same level of control. Stand back." The order came from nowhere and Arthur found himself backing away out of instinct. Gaius remained at the table a moment longer, wrapping the round belly of the vial in a heavy rag before stepping back a few steps. Bright pink liquid began to accumulate among the fog within and traced streaks down the sides. "Not only that," the old man continued, "but he is terrified that he will lose control and hurt someone. So, he is keeping his magic inside, blockading it within himself. If he tries to bleed the excess off like normal, he fears it will too easily turn deadly. But this is not how it is meant to work. Eventually-!"
A deafening 'POP' cut Gaius off and made Arthur jump. His eyes remained fixed on the table, but his mind was suddenly far away. He no longer saw the vials and potions and herbs, but rather found himself outside in a place he felt he should know. The woods around him hummed with life. The mountains gleamed in the distance and reflected on a pristine lake. Peace and power engulfed him and his breath caught in his throat.
He was suddenly aware of a weight in his arms and he looked down. Merlin's lanky form was draped over his arms: pale as death and holding barely enough breath to stir the air.
The lake. He had to get him to the lake.
The idea possessed him and he lunged toward the water.
He sucked air into lungs that felt suddenly starved for air and his entire body shuddered. He was back in Gaius' chambers and the old man was patting the king's cheek with increasing strength. He stared deep into Arthur's eyes as he became aware again.
"Sire? What happened?"
Arthur shook his head and his eyes stung. His gaze landed on the table behind Gaius. The rag wrapped around the vial had collapsed in on itself, the neck tilting at an odd angle and laying on top of a pile of sliced cloth and broken glass.
He swallowed hard. His throat felt as though he had been screaming.
A silent singing rang in his head. He looked to Excalibur at his hip and it seemed to pulse in response. The lingering energy in his head was all too familiar and his hand closed over the hilt. He looked to Gaius.
"I know what to do."
"A hunting trip?" asked Gwaine with an eyebrow hiked so high above his eye that he suddenly resembled Gaius. "You told them you were going on a hunting trip in the dead of night... in the middle of winter?" He pointed at the moon, just barely visible through the forest canopy. They sat around a roaring campfire, bowls of stew in the hands of the two knights while Hunith cradled Merlin's head in her lap and Arthur fussed about with making a bed.
The oddity of his excuse suddenly hit the king and he sent a glare from where he was crouched folding up the flowing red cloth of his cape into something resembling a pillow. "I can be moved by whimsy," he stated in lieu of argument.
Gwaine laughed far louder than necessary, which in itself prompted a quiet chuckle from Hunith. "The only whimsy you've ever possessed came from love spells and enchantments."
"They didn't question it, so it doesn't matter," growled Leon. The captain seemed far less amused by the joke than Hunith and Gwaine. "Besides, if you thought it was a weak excuse, you didn't have to come. It's not a particularly dangerous mission and the fewer people that know what we're actually doing, the better."
"First of all," began Gwaine, swallowing a rather large spoonful of stew, "the forest is never safe at night. Second, Arthur is more than capable of protecting himself on this 'not particularly dangerous' trip, so why are you here, Leon?"
"Because Arthur is my king."
"And Merlin is my best friend."
An uncomfortable silence fell over the group following the rather serious admission by Gwaine; the silence broken only by the dull hum of the wilderness around them, the crackling fire, and the labored breaths of their ailing warlock. Arthur rolled his eyes and moved to pull Merlin into his arms. The warlock stirred and Arthur glanced to the roguish knight. "I'm glad you're here, Gwaine. I just think this one," he shrugged Merlin higher in his arms," is making that one," he bobbed his head at his captain, "nervous."
"And rightfully so, Sire," argued Leon, setting aside his bowl of stew. His eyes strayed to Hunith for a brief second before looking back to the sovereign. "After seeing all that Merlin has done for the people of Camelot- for all of us- I would never wish ill on him. But..." Hunith's gaze bored into the side of his head and seemed to be chasing his words back down his throat.
A hand landed on his shoulder and he looked up at his king, who had finished putting his manservant to bed. "But I am your first priority and you need to be prepared to make that decision," he said, finishing the blond knight's thought for him. "I understand, Leon. You are my captain because you are willing to make those decisions."
And live with the fact that you- and everyone else- would never forgive me if I ever had to, he thought with a sigh as Arthur filled two bowls with stew and returned to the warlock's side. He handed one to Hunith, and leaned back against a tree to eat his own.
Another uncomfortable silence fell over the campsite like a suffocating blanket as they returned to their meals. After a few deafening moments, Gwaine looked to the mother. "So how have you been enjoying staying in Camelot? You've been here nearly three months now, right?"
Her eyes were weary even through her smile. "It's lovely, but hard on my heart," she said with a quiet chuckle and a nod in her son's direction. "When he was a boy and had to let off excess magic, he would let it loose on our little farm." She gave a fond smile and traced her hand down his pale face. "He loved helping the crops grow." She sat straight a little, taking another bite of stew and shaking her head. "Even that little bit was enough to make me tremble in fear that someone would discover him. I nearly fainted when he regrew all the razed crops in the kingdom." She stopped as a thought occurred to her. "By the way, if Arthur hasn't told anyone else about Merlin, how did you explain that?"
Gwaine made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Most people don't question the return of their livelihoods, even if they think magic might have been involved. And as far as the ones that did question it... there was a magical army here, preparing for a siege. For all we know, they regrew the crops to support their troops." He shrugged and Hunith nodded a little as though accepting the explanation herself.
"You said when he was a boy," said Leon. "Has this happened before?"
"Nothing on this scale, but a few times. Mostly when he was growing. It evened out after his growth spurts," she laughed weakly. "In the same way he tripped over his own feet as he first reached his full boney height, he struggled to control his magic."
Arthur gave a sideways glance to Merlin's still form as Hunith got up to refill her bowl. "Well... right now he's only among those who know of him. Perhaps we don't need to wait until we get to the lake to start." He looked to Hunith, who paused as she headed to where their bags were piled. "Maybe he can ease his struggles a little here."
The woman shrugged. "Perhaps. I imagine the sleeping draft would work better if he was fighting himself less," she said, digging around in the medicine bag. "Besides, we should see if we can get him to take some stew."
The king nodded and gently shook the warlock's shoulder. "Merlin? Merlin, wake up."
The warlock's eyes flew open, shining a brilliant gold whose light rivaled their campfire. They landed on his master and Merlin suddenly resembled a cornered animal. "Arthur..." his voice was heavy with fear and his eyes dashed this way and that until they landed on Hunith. "Mother," he panted. "Draft!" He jutted his hand out and Arthur could see it trembling. "Hurry."
Out of instinct, Arthur could see Hunith's search become more frantic. "Merlin," he said placing a hand on top of his raven head. Golden eyes flicked to him. "Merlin, we are far enough from Camelot now. You can let go of some of your magic."
Merlin's teeth gritted. His body convulsed a little, accompanying a grunt and a whimper. "No- Gah!" He twitched violently, as though someone had jabbed him in the ribs. Red stained his lips as blood streamed from his nose.
"Merlin!" scolded Arthur, grabbing the red cloak under his manservant's head and using one of the corners to dab at his nose. Panic began to set in when he noticed another crimson stream trickling from the corner of his mouth. "You're killing yourself! Stop!"
The warlock's eyes flashed angrily and around them the trees groaned as though joining the argument. "I destroyed a tower on accident!" he yelled as loud as he was able, blood bubbling from his lips. The hand that reached for his mother dropped and his body went limp for a moment before he gave another yelp and violent twitch. "I can't... won't risk..." he trailed off as his concentration returned within.
"Merlin," said Hunith, hurrying to his side, stew in one hand, sleeping draft in the other, and a water skin slung over her arm. "You need to eat something."
"No," Merlin argued weakly, rolling his head back and forth. "Sleep."
"Merlin!" cried Arthur, dabbing at the blood on his lips.
"Sire." The king found himself silenced by a quiet utterance from the woman across from him. With nothing more than a gentle look, Arthur was shooed away and she set down the bowl and draft to take Merlin's hands into hers.
It was nearly inaudible at first, but there was an immediate effect on his manservant. A soft humming; a gentle tune. A low melody that seemed to wash over Merlin and steal away all the tension in his limbs. His face relaxed a little, his eyes opening a crack as though he had fallen into some sort of trance. They remained a bright golden and provided a strange illumination to his face as Hunith slowly reached for the bowl of stew. She never stopped her humming as she looked to Arthur and nodded her head at Merlin. The king jumped to obey the only command he figured she could be sending and, gentle as he could, slid his arm across Merlin's shoulders and pulled him into a sitting position. With soft and practiced movements, Hunith pressed a spoon to Merlin's bloody lips and slipped the warm broth into his mouth. Though the red stain was still there, the supply of blood had slowed to a stop and the warlock seemed to have little trouble swallowing the stew as he was fed. With each spoonful, the lullaby seemed to sooth him deeper into this strange relaxed state and Arthur found himself briefly wondering if Hunith had magic of her own.
As Hunith tipped the fifth spoonful of stew into Merlin's mouth, his golden eyes drooped a little and the woman quickly traded the spoon with the small vial of bluish liquid. Once that had been emptied into his mouth and a wince overcame him as he swallowed, Hunith grabbed the water skin and poured a little bit of that down his throat. Within minutes, Merlin's eyes slid closed and Arthur eased him back onto the makeshift bed. The king sat back and the knights stared at Hunith as her humming finally quieted and she began using the water from the skin to dab away the rest of the blood on her son's face.
"What was that?" asked Gwaine, his voice laden with awe. "Was that a spell?"
Hunith looked up with wide eyes and a gentle smile. "Of course not. That was simply a lullaby I used to use to calm him down and put him to sleep as a boy." She dabbed at the last traces of blood and shrugged. "I didn't know if it would work on him as an adult, but I thought I would give it a try."
"Amazing," said Arthur with a chuckle. Hunith gathered the spent vial, the bowl, and the spoon and began wandering around the site, gathering the used utensils. As she stooped to grab Leon's bowl, he placed a hand on her arm and hopped to his feet.
"Oh, let me," he said, not quite meeting her eyes. She gave a kind smile and handed over the small pile of bowls and spoons before moving back to sit next to the sleeping warlock. Grabbing the cauldron over the fire and using it to carry the other utensils, Leon hurried away from the site and toward the nearby stream.
"Leon!" called Arthur, leaning onto his elbow on his makeshift bed. The blond knight spun in place to look at his king. "You're on first watch."
Leon nodded and his pace away from the camp carried him quicker than necessary to the ice-cold stream. Once there, he took his time cleansing the bowls and cooking pot. Once he could stall no longer, he made his way back to the light of the fire, only to find that the person he had sought to avoid by offering to clean the dishes was still awake. His feet dragged as he moved back to the site, lay the cleaned pot next to the rest of their supplies and took up his guard a few feet away from his own bed roll. His mind could linger on nothing but the look in her eyes and he ignored the woman for a good ten minutes before he could bear it no longer.
"I'm sorry." He didn't turn to see her reaction. "You shouldn't have had to hear that conversation." He didn't feel the need to clarify the particular topic to which he referred, but her response showed she understood.
"No, Sir Leon. I understand," said Hunith, tracing her fingers in comforting lines across the top of Merlin's head. "Your duty is to the King, and not to my son."
Leon finally turned and met her eyes. "I would not take his life unless that were the absolute only choice available."
Hunith stopped her fingers and sat up, her eyes far gentler than he anticipated. "Sir Leon... you have no need to explain." She looked to Merlin for a moment and then back to the captain. "Three months I have been in Camelot and I have seen the way you all handle yourselves around Arthur... around each other... around Merlin. You all love him as much as he loves you. I have no doubts about that... or your duty to protect Arthur." She smiled and while her words soothed his initial discomfort, he found he was still uneasy.
Though, he figured, uneasiness should be expected when speaking of being forced to kill Merlin.
Hunith remained awake even as the guard changed and Leon woke Gwaine to finish the night's watch. They spoke quietly, the roguish knight keeping the fire going and doing what he could to ease the mother's worries, but it was still after the first signs of morning appeared that Hunith's eyelids finally won their fight downwards and she fell silent.
Arthur was the first to wake a few hours later, squinting his eyes at the sun as he pushed the corners of his blanket off his eyes. The air was stale and Merlin's magic bubbled around them, sending waves of butterflies through his stomach. It didn't like being contained within the confines of Merlin's pale skin and it jarred Arthur to his feet. Merlin's body seemed a tiny obstacle against the power he felt looming over them and it urged him to action.
With Arthur hurrying around the camp and barking orders at his knights to help, the group was packed, fed, and on their way within an hour. The sun was just past its zenith when the lake came into view. Excalibur thrummed at Arthur's hip. The lake felt familiar and foreign at the same time, and not just from the vision the sword had projected straight into his head. Had he been here before?
Merlin squirmed in the saddle in front of him and Arthur's arm across his stomach tightened. The horses fidgeted anxiously beneath them, sensing both the cloud of magic they were entering and the uncertainty of their riders. The area was strangely warm- to the point that Arthur figured that their winter traveling clothes would become uncomfortable soon.
Hunith's tired eyes fixated on the lake, as though attempting to discern exactly how it would help her son. Gwaine drank in the view with his mouth lax, staring at the perfect reflection of the sky and mountains upon the glassy surface of the lake. Leon's eyes moved this way and that, his brain registering everything he saw as a potential threat. The clearing was teeming with more life than any of the humans had ever seen in one place, as though every animal in the forest had come to watch... whatever it was they were about to do. What Leon had initially believed to be a thicket of bushes turned out to be a collection of deer- bucks, does, and fawns alike. Rodents scurried around the hooves of the horses, scattering with each step only to regroup as though desperately trying to see what the intruders brought with them. Along the lakeside lay several collections of wild boar, the young playing around the lounging adults. Near them stood just as many wolves, gathered in their packs and intense eyes fixed on the humans. Neither species seemed to mind the others' presence- the newcomers seemed to be far more important to them.
A screech drew their attention upwards. The sky was dotted with more birds than the king had seen all winter- more than he figured remained in the kingdom during the cold weather. Among the small creatures above them, Frio's wingspan and bright colors stood out as she circled the group below.
Gwaine smirked a little. "I thought Dayla convinced her to stay in Camelot," he mused under his breath. His comment did little to dispel the discomfort that was slowly getting worse the closer they got to the lake. Despite the mass of animals in the clearing, the area was disturbingly silent and subdued. No birdsong was in the air and if the creatures around them were moving in the forest, they did so noiselessly.
Arthur's voice pierced the quiet like a knife. The warlock's fidgeting and whimpering suddenly ceased and his lanky form went limp against the king. The labored breaths that had accompanied them since they left Camelot fell silent.
"Damnit, don't you dare," growled the king. He leaped from his horse and yanked the manservant down, laying him across his shoulders. By the time the other three dismounted and tied the horses, Arthur was halfway to the lake's shore.
He knelt in the shallow water and eased Merlin into the sand. Laying on his back, the water lapped at the warlock's ears and suspended his arms a little. Ensuring that his head would not roll to one side or the other, Arthur stood back. The other three jogged up to his side and all eyes were fixed on the still servant's form as though expecting his eyes to open.
The clearing seemed to hold its breath. The animals were all still. Even the gentle breeze died away. Arthur's hands twitched at his sides involuntarily. Something was wrong.
"Something should be happening," he said, almost to himself. He looked up at the still waters of the lake expectantly. He spun, his eyes flying over the animals he could see in the brush behind them, past his knights, and landing on Frio as she perched on a small sapling nearby.
"What do you mean?" asked Hunith, her voice tense and heightened. Arthur could see her anxiety rising as every muscle in her body began to grow taut.
Excalibur thrummed at his hip. His hands and legs ached and tingled. He shook his hands out, and one clamped over the hilt of his sword. "This is wrong. There is something else meant to happen." He turned again and stared at Merlin's prone form and it took several shallow breaths for Arthur to determine that the warlock was indeed still breathing.
"Well... how did you know to come here?" asked Gwaine as Hunith pushed past Arthur and knelt beside Merlin. She began gently shaking him, whispering his name.
Arthur's grip on Excalibur tightened. "The sword showed me." The eyebrow above Gwaine's eye requested that the king elaborate. "Gaius was demonstrating what would happen to Merlin if something wasn't done about his magic." He met Gwaine's eyes, finally taking his off his servant. "The vial burst and I saw the lake. I just... I knew I needed to bring him here."
"Well, ask it what to do next then!" cried Gwaine.
"I can't! I didn't ask it in the first place! It just showed me!" argued Arthur. His heart pounded in his chest as frustration and fear encompassed it.
"You used its magic pretty well in the siege!"
"This isn't a spell I'm casting or something it is telling me to do!" yelled Arthur, panic now saturating his voice. "All it's telling me now is that this isn't right!"
"Arthur he's stopped breathing!" shouted Hunith suddenly, her voice just this side of a scream. Arthur whirled around to study his warlock.
"Damnit!" seethed Gwaine, pounding a fist into the palm of his other hand. "We did not do all that to bring him back just for him to die because of his own magic!" he shouted. He bent over and tangled his fists into the front of Arthur's tunic, yanking him back upright and pulling him inches from his own face. "Listen to me, Arthur!" he cried, his voice building with rage until he was practically screaming into the king's face. "Merlin is going to die because you can't get that damn sword to work! The sword he made specifically for you! Your best friend is going to die because of you!"
"Gwaine!" Leon's arms appeared beneath Gwaine's, yanking him away from the king and tossing him to the ground next to Hunith. Her grip on Merlin's shoulders tightened and her shaking grew stronger and more frantic, but he did not stir.
In the wake of Gwaine's outburst, Arthur's eyes lost their focus and glazed over for a long moment. He stared at the ground, his mouth lax and his breathing shallow. He came back to himself with a jolt, a cough, and several deep breaths.
"H-Hunith!" His voice was raspy and barely heard over Hunith's cries and Leon's ire. But hear him they did and both fell silent. Arthur paused as if coming to a realization, then stooped to gather Merlin into his arms. "I know what to do," he said, pulling the warlock free of his mother's hands.
He turned and waded out into the water, doing his best to both hurry and maintain his balance among the rocks, sticks, and sand under his boots. He continued until he felt the water take the majority of Merlin's weight off his arms and stopped as though he had hit an invisible wall.
The water moved around them like it was alive. Magic danced through it like playful ribbons that swirled around his body and through Merlin's hair. He could sense more than see the little ribbons coil around the warlock's limbs and eventually embrace him like a strong pair of arms. And all at once Merlin was gone- pulled under the surface of the water and vanished into its depths in the blink of an eye. Excalibur's magic attempted to calm the panic that set into his brain as he waded a little deeper and swept his arms below the surface. "Merlin?"
"MERLIN!" Arthur could hear Hunith scream from the shore, having watched her son's form swallowed by the lake. She lunged toward Arthur, but was stopped by Gwaine's powerful arm as it locked around her middle. She punched and kicked at him. "Let go! Merlin!"
Gwaine ignored her, locking the woman against his side and keeping his eyes on the king as he slowly turned and began heading back to shore. Arthur's head swiveled continuously around, as though expecting to find Merlin's still form floating somewhere in the water. When he returned to the group, Gwaine was almost entirely supporting Hunith's weight as she struggled to control herself, a shaking fist held against her mouth and tear-filled eyes scanning the glassy surface of the lake.
"Now what?" asked Gwaine, sounding far more composed than he felt.
"We uhh..." Arthur swallowed hard, doing his best to ignore the panic and focus only on Excalibur's happy singing in his head. "We wait."
"Wait?" asked Leon, taking a step forward. "But he went under-!" Leon's voice was drowned out by a deafening explosion.
Water at the center of the lake surged toward the sky with a sound that sent every gathered animal in the clearing fleeing to the safety of the forest. Only Frio remained, her wide black eyes fixated on the spray of water and her wings flapping anxiously. The entire surface of the lake lit up with brilliant light. From within the surge of water shot hundreds of colored wisps, like little colored wyrms of power. They sailed into the air and out to the forest. Some dove down to the water's surface like they were playing with their reflections. The majority, however, headed straight for shore. A large group swirled around Hunith and her tears dried. Another group surrounded Arthur and the familiar blanket of Merlin's magic embraced him. More still danced around Gwaine and Leon. So enthralled were they with the little creatures that it took a screech from Frio to bring their attention elsewhere.
The hawk flapped playfully with a few wisps that twirled around her. Beneath her talons, the sapling she had been perched on began to sprout new twigs and leaves, flourishing as though it was maturing before their very eyes. Around them, trodden grass turned a brilliant green. Patches of wildflowers grew from buds to open flowers in seconds. The branches of the surrounding trees seemed to stretch further toward the sun and over their heads. A few of the animals returned and a gust of wind plowed into the four humans, nearly knocking Arthur off his feet and turning his attention back to the lake.
He lunged for the water, but was caught by Leon, who looped his arms under Arthur's and held him in place. The surge of water had died down and had been replaced by a strange sight.
A woman stood upon the surface of the lake with Merlin draped across her arms.
She was lovely and strangely familiar. Her skin was pale and flawless. Tresses of deep brown hair cascaded behind her like a cloak. Her gown seemed to be made of the water itself, and she was unabashed by her beautiful naked form easily seen beneath it. She seemed to float along the surface of the water, cradling Merlin against her bosom like he was a treasure worth more than anything in the world. In her wake, the waters of the lake stilled and became a mirror once more. It seemed an eternity before she reached the shore and lay the soaking wet Merlin down on the sand beside them. Hunith dropped to her knees at her son's side, grabbing his face and checking him over frantically. Arthur stared at the woman's face, familiarity bubbling about in the back of his mind, but he looked to Merlin.
Color had returned to his cheeks. His face was relaxed and peaceful, as though in the thrall of a pleasant dream. His breathing was steady and easy to spot, and the tension and discomfort had been entirely removed from his body. Hunith laughed a little through her tears, running her fingers through his hair and heaving a shuddering sigh of relief.
The magic in the air seemed to swell with his breath and Excalibur hummed at his side. He had nearly missed it during his first once-over of his servant- his mind completely occupied with ensuring that he was alive and well- but he now spotted a difference in Merlin's face. Along the flesh of his temples were marks that Arthur could only describe as tattoos. They reminded him of some of the illustrations within the druidic scrolls he had studied (it seemed so long ago now). They were a faded black that seemed to become more saturated the longer he looked until they resembled ink penned by a master calligrapher. They swirled in little designs beside his eyes and a few wisps of ebony dropped down to brush along his jaw. The designs were simple, but strangely beautiful.
Arthur's eyes returned to the woman, as though expecting an explanation and doing his best to place her face. She met his eyes for an instant before looking back to Merlin and kneeling at his side in a motion that was inhumanly fluid. As she took his damp face into her hands, she slid something around his neck; a simple black leather cord connected to an amulet that rested against his chest. She pressed a few fingers to the center of the medallion and the small burst of magic that erupted there caused Merlin to take in a deep breath. She smiled lovingly down at him for a moment before leaning down and taking his lips in hers.. She remained there for a long moment and when she pulled away, the beautiful designs on Merlin's face had vanished. Arthur nearly missed her words, "Sleep well, my love."
As she stood again, her face finally clicked in Arthur's mind.
"You're Freya," he breathed.
She turned back to him and nodded with a small smile. "I am." Her eyes moved from Leon, whose tense hand was coiled around his sword's hilt, to Gwaine (who didn't look entirely sure what to make of her), and then returned to Arthur. "The power in his body now is that which has been prophesied. The true power of Emrys now sleeps within him, but it is too soon." She looked down at Merlin as Hunith pressed her forehead to his. "The magnitude of his magic is far too great to control as he is now. He will have to learn to control it over time. Until then, the amulet will keep it safely locked away. Merlin will only need remove it to wield the power he did during the siege." Arthur buried his surprise at her knowledge of the event and her eyes turned from kind and gentle to serious and ominous within a second. "But when the amulet is removed, you must be wary. Emrys does not know friend from foe as Merlin does. He knows only to protect you, Arthur."
The king looked to Merlin for a moment, before raising an eyebrow at the woman. "But... what do you mean? Merlin is Emrys."
Freya gave a weak smile. "One day, that will again be true."
"What does that mean?" Arthur repeated. He would receive no answer because Freya turned and her entire form melted into nothing more than water that dropped into the lake.
The magic in the air died down and Excalibur went silent in its sheathe. The animals that had gathered again dispersed and the entire area seemed to relax after the overwhelming surge of magic. Over the course of the next hour, Hunith made numerous attempts to rouse Merlin, each one more intense than the last and Arthur could see her growing desperate despite the peace that seemed to have settled over him. At last, the decision was made to let him rest and they set up camp on the surface of the lake.
Panic set in almost immediately as Arthur came to. Why had he been asleep? Hadn't he been on watch last? He jolted upright, squinting at the early morning sun that pierced his skull like icy fingers.
"You're up earlier than I expected. Thought the sleeping spell would last longer. You looked beat."
Merlin was crouched over a pot that boiled away over a healthier version of the fire they had built the night before. He gave his servant a cursory once-over. All seemed well. His eyes were bright and more alive than he had seen them since before he threw him in a cell for sorcery. His cheeks were flushed with the cool air and he was smiling a little. Another wave of panic crashed over him and his eyes darted to Merlin's throat. The amulet hung down from his neck and reflected light from the fire. The warlock almost didn't seem to notice it was there.
"You're awake," said Arthur, shaking off the wave of butterflies that had erupted in his stomach at the thought of Freya's warning the day before.
Freya... what was he to say? Was he to say anything?
During Merlin's residence in his mind, the simple mention of the woman's name had sent enough guilt, loss, and pain into Arthur's mind to feel that he had been struck in the gut. Something had happened with this woman, and the love he had sensed from Merlin that day- coupled with the woman's kiss the day before- made Arthur wonder if he should even tell his servant that she had been there. She was clearly not human; walking on water, wearing a gown made of water and then melting into the lake as she had. Clearly, Merlin had lost her once and Arthur didn't figure that her appearance the day before meant she was 'back'. Was it worth putting Merlin through that pain again if there was a chance he couldn't see her again?
But the amulet. How was he to explain that if he didn't mention her and her warnings? Human or not, she had helped them, and Arthur found himself disturbed by the notion of not telling his servant what she had done for him.
"Should I not be?" laughed Merlin, pulling Arthur from his thoughts. He stirred the stew in the pot a few times before ladeling out two bowls. He handed one bowl to Arthur and plopped down onto the bedroll next to him.
Arthur didn't take his eyes off his servant as he took his stew. He was comforted a little by the innocuous conversation, as though it was delaying his decision to speak of Freya. "It's not that... just with how many times your mother tried to wake you, I almost didn't think you'd come to until after we got back to Camelot."
"Speaking of which," said Merlin, looking around at the trees around them and the lake stretched out behind. "Not that I don't appreciate the view, but why are we here? I didn't think anyone knew of this place other than me."
The comforted feeling vanished.
"You don't remember?" asked Arthur, taking the spoon of stew away from his lips and placing it back in the bowl. Merlin shook his head as he chewed.
Apparently, Arthur's face reflected the confusion in his mind, because Merlin smirked a little at his expression. "What? Did I miss much?"
"Well if you don't remember yesterday, then yes," said Arthur with a wave of his hand. He thought for a moment; his mind wandering to his nightmare the night before last. "What's the last thing you do remember?"
Merlin squinted his eyes in thought for a moment. "It's been... about a week since Gaius trapped me in the guest chambers. We haven't had much success controlling my magic, but I actually feel great today."
Arthur choked a little on his stew prompting a few good claps on the back by the warlock. "Merlin, that was a week ago!" he managed once his airways had cleared.
"A week?" repeated Merlin. He stared into the fire for a long moment before looking back at the king. "What happened?"
Arthur grumbled under his breath a little. Any thoughts he had about postponing this conversation until after they were back in Camelot were promptly put out of his head. However much he didn't want to be the one to tell his servant about Freya's appearance, the time for lies ended the day he saw Merlin in the æmtignes.
"And what's this?" Arthur glanced to Merlin at his question and the panic set in again. The warlock was holding the amulet and craning his neck to see it. He moved to remove it and Arthur clapped his hand over Merlin's wrist.
"Don't!" he cried before he could stop himself.
The warlock eyed him as though he had sprouted a second head. "Don't what?" he asked.
Arthur tugged gently on the amulet as though to solidify its place around his neck. "You can't take it off."
One of Merlin's eyebrows hiked toward his hairline. "What?"
Before he realized what he was doing, Arthur started talking. The events of the last few days spilled from his mouth as though he could suddenly not contain them- the bursts of errant magic, the maelstrom, and Gaius' prediction about the consequences of not finding an outlet. As he spoke, Merlin stared at him like he was being told a tall tale, as though there was enough truth spun within to be believable, but he couldn't quite accept it. When Arthur's story brought them to the lake he stalled as long as he could, describing the explosion of magic in more detail than seemed necessary.
But Merlin knew.
The moment he described the way the water pulled him from his arms, a look overcame the warlock's face- one that stood on the border of grief and delight.
"It was Freya," said Arthur at last, motioning to the lake behind them. "She brought you back to shore and gave you the amulet."
Merlin's hand closed around the medallion as though realizing that a priceless treasure hung around his neck. "What for?" he asked after a hard swallow.
"She said..." Arthur's lips pursed as he tried to remember her exact words. "She said it was to help you control all the extra magic you've got now."
Merlin's eyes lost their focus for a moment, turning his mind to the magic that bubbled in his soul. "It does feel normal. No loss of control or... drowning sensation."
"She also said," began Arthur, pulling Merlin's attention back to him, "that when it was removed I should be wary of Emrys."
There was a long pause and Merlin did little but blink at him. "Emrys?" he asked, as if he had heard the name wrong. "But... but Emrys is me."
"That's what I said," said Arthur with a wave of his hand. "And all she said was that someday that would again be true." He shrugged. "Then she disappeared."
There was a strange little fond smile that curved Merlin's lips for a moment and his gaze fell to the fire in front of them. It was strange- seeing Merlin pining after someone. His care of the king consumed so much of his life that Arthur found he had never really given thought to the idea of Merlin being with someone. But the connection he shared with this... entity... was powerful.
A smile of his own overcame him and he nudged Merlin a little with his shoulder. "She kissed you," he said and Merlin looked up with that same fond smile. It was strangely different than the fondness he reserved for his king that Arthur had caught glimpses of over his years of service. The love he had for Arthur was tinged with pride- it seemed to swell within him and raise his chin and chest. This smile had a softness to it- a gentle yearning that Arthur found sort of broke his heart. "Sorry you had to be asleep for that part," he added after a moment.
There was silence again and Arthur smirked a little more and contemplated not speaking again at all, but he simply couldn't stop himself.
"Her dress was made of water... see-through," he said into the fire. He looked to Merlin and reveled a little in the way his ear tips and cheekbones were suddenly aflame. "Sorry you missed that, too."
All at once the camp was alive as Hunith's cry roused the slumbering knights. She set upon her son, locking her arms around his shoulders and planting kisses on his forehead and cheeks.
As they settled around the campfire, Arthur cast a glance to Excalibur, where he had impaled it in the dirt as he had while Merlin was confined within it. It had fallen silent, but in a happy way- as though its job was done and could relax. The air around them was brimming with magic, but without the discomfort and tension that had weighed on them the day before.
Arthur was suddenly possessed by curiosity- wondering if he was still connected as he had been. With a quick glance to his hand, he flattened his palm against the ground. Though it was not as overwhelming as it had been while sharing a mind with Merlin, the spiderwebs of magic were still there- now untainted by sadness. The earth's heartbeat thudded through him and he found it reassuring. Despite their hardships- Merlin's imprisonment, his own capture, the army that lay siege upon his city, the tower that nearly took the life of his best friend- it was still there. It felt the same now as it had while sitting nest to the gem that contained Merlin's soul. When the very magic that his friend commanded threatened to rip him apart.
It was strangely comforting and Arthur couldn't stop the bizarrely giddy laugh that bubbled from his chest.
Men that stood guard outside the throne room were accustomed to a great many things. The goings-on inside were strangely varied; from doors flying open at to permit enraged royals, to coronation celebrations, to a few villagers who swooned at the opportunity to walk among such opulence. But rarely was it used for private parties, considering the only one permitted to use the room for such a purpose was the king himself.
But there was no doubt in the guards' minds that a private party was precisely what was happening given that the sounds currently issuing from behind the heavy wooden doors was akin to a group of grown men dancing on tables. There seemed little cause for alarm, however. The room was filled with laughter and- no doubt- drinking.
One of the doors suddenly popped open and the guard in front of it instinctively stepped forward. The room inside had gone strangely silent, though one could hear stifled snickering as though a prank were about to be pulled. From the crack in the door appeared the mussed black hair of Arthur's manservant; his pale cheeks flush and a dopey grin splitting his mouth.
"I am so sorry," he said in what sounded like a genuine attempt to sound sober, "that you have to stand out here tonight. 'Specially since there's a huge party going on in the banqueting hall right now." He paused for a moment to think. "Though that's all Arthur's council being all happy that we survived the siege, so I guess that wouldn't be fun for you either."
The guard in front of the open door chuckled a little. "I doubt it, Merlin," he conceded, "We'd probably be standing outside a much less interesting party to listen to."
"I know, they're so loud, aren't they?" cried Merlin, bobbing his head at the room behind him. He turned his head and called toward the king and knights, "You're so loud!"
The opposite guard shook his head. "No trouble, Merlin. Honestly, we're happy Arthur seems to be giving you a break."
Merlin sputtered a little and waved his hand. "Break? Hah! He wants me to be the entertainment. Even thought I was supposed to be part of the party!" he cried loud enough to easily be heard by the occupants of the room.
"That didn't mean I was going to be nice to you!" called Arthur from in the room .
The guards stifled their laughs as best they could. Laughing at their king was most inappropriate... even if he was drunk.
"Oh!" cried Merlin suddenly, as though Arthur's words had reminded him of something. He turned on his heel and pulled two platters from behind the door. Laid upon each was a Cornish hen. They seemed to be freshly killed, their necks laying at odd angles. "I thought you might be hungry." The guards eyed the dead birds for a long moment before Merlin jumped a little. "Oh! Oh these're not cooked!" he said, as though shocked.
He turned, pulling the platters back into the room. After a few moments he swung them back out. The guards jumped back a little because, for a split second, it looked like Merlin had replaced the platters with large torches. After that second of panic, however, they noticed that what he held were nothing of the sort, but in fact two plucked, basted, spiced, and flaming hens. The guards stood back a little and laughter erupted from the room behind them.
"Ahhh!" Merlin stared at the birds as though just now realizing they were on fire. He took a breath to blow them out but what came from his mouth was an impotent rubbery sound as though he couldn't quite get his lips out of the way. The guards quickly joined in the effort and the birds were quickly extinguished. They looked and smelled oddly delicious despite the flames, as though they had been fully cooked prior to being set on fire. Merlin handed one platter to each guard, grinning like an idiot. There was an awkward silence as the guards held the platters, staring at the slightly smoking hens.
"Do you want more dressings?" Merlin asked suddenly, looking between the guards. "They look like of boring there... what about potatoes?"
Before the guards could respond, a thick hand twisted itself into Merlin's red neckerchief and yanked him back into the room. The door thudded shut and Arthur swung the warlock back toward the knights. "No more summoning food," he slurred, wagging a finger at him. "You're going to give yourself away."
Merlin sputtered again, this time dissolving into a fit of giggles. "I once summoned food right off your plate... in front of you. You didn't notice. It'll be fiiiiiine," he said, taking a few steps back toward the door. "They need potatoes and carrots."
A thick arm wrapped around his neck, and he was pulled back against Percival. "Okay, so you can summon food. What next?" he asked, posing the question to the rest of the knights.
Merlin slapped feebly at the Bear's bicep. "Oh come on," he whined, "I already showed you what I can do. I knocked Gwaine out of his chair."
Elyan waved his half-full ale mug around. "That was all manner of serious, though. This is for fun." He pursed his lips in thought.
Merlin scrunched his nose and continued wriggling beneath Percival's iron grip.
"Come now, Merlin! You must know how to do fun things as well as destroy masonry," prompted Arthur after a few moments of collective thinking. "You of all people should know how to do something useless with magic!"
"Useless?" repeated Merlin, sending a hazy glare at his king. Percival's grip went lax a little and the warlock slipped away, moving to stand in the open space in front of the knights. He cast his gaze around the room, his eyes eventually trailing up to the ceiling when he failed to spot what he was looking for. His face lit up in discovery and he threw a hand toward the wall above one of the windows. "Bebiede þe arisan cwicum!(2)" He swayed drunkenly as he spoke, but his words seemed to come out much clearer than any of his other speech since the ale touched his lips.
There was the sound of stone grinding against stone for a moment before from a carving twenty feet in the air burst a stone dragon. It was long and thin with elegant designs along its snake-like body. Arthur immediately recognized the creature as having been pulled straight from one of the many Pendragon emblems that were engraved in the walls all over the castle. The small beast soared around the room, letting out a little jet of fire with a squeak (that Arthur assumed sounded far more formidable to itself than anyone present) before arching toward the king. It beat its wings like a hummingbird and it's body twirled in the air like a bit of rope as it hovered in front of him. Arthur laughed when he reached out to touch it and it nipped at his fingers, letting out another squeak and hiss- doing its best to look intimidating but really only looking slightly more adorable. It twirled away from him and flew over to wrap itself across the back of Merlin's neck like it was replacing his neckerchief.
"Not such a useless trick when I used this to bring out those snakes that Valiant put in his -aaahh!" The stone dragon was far heavier than it looked and Merlin's equilibrium was soaked pretty thoroughly in ale and thus he tipped dangerously to one side, only catching himself when he plowed into Gwaine's chair, making the roguish knight burst into laughter.
Arthur laughed and gave a few hearty claps with his hands. "I don't even remember what you're talking about, but that was marvelously useless!" he cried, as though bestowing a great deal of praise upon his servant.
The little dragon flew away from the warlock, giving him what Arthur thought to be a rather sheepish look. Merlin waved his hand and the beast shot back to the wall above the window and was a part of the engraving once more. The manservant then fixed his king with another look of sheer drunken determination and stood straight. "I can do better things!" he cried, much like a belligerent child. He took a deep breath and stood there for several seconds as though the lack of air was meant to help him come up with some form of trick. When he finally released the breath, it came out as a spell. "Áþwínan!(3)"
And he was gone. There was no burst of smoke or flash of flame that generally accompanied tricksters and fools when such acts were performed. He simply vanished at the uttering of the spell.
The knights were all on their feet in an instant, casting their eyes around the room. "Merlin?" called Gwaine. There were sloppy footsteps echoing off the walls of the empty room, but none of the knights could tell if their own feet or those of their invisible friend were responsible. There was a barely heard snicker from behind them and they all whipped around, expecting to find their drunk friend swaying out from behind the pillar but there was nothing. A few more tense seconds of silence passed, and smiles slowly grew on the faces of all present, as though there were a game to be played.
Arthur near jumped out of his skin as Merlin seemed to materialize behind him. His arm lashed out in a fit of instinct and connected with the manservant's shoulder, sending him back several paces with a yelp. Before he could scold the lanky man, however, he was gone again with a giddy laugh. The group began scanning the room again, several knights whipping around suddenly to try and catch the servant before he could do the same to them.
The group spun toward the few chairs to the left of the two thrones to see them suddenly topple over and for an instant, they could see a flurry of gangly limbs attempting to right themselves. Overlaying the sight of his servant, Arthur- with a squint- could see a slight shimmer in the air. The space above the fallen chairs didn't seem quite normal, and were he not so drunk, he probably would have noticed it sooner. But no one else seemed to have picked up on it, because Gwaine took a few hurried steps toward the pile, but stopped when Merlin vanished again.
Arthur smirked, keeping his eyes on the shimmer as best he could. He stood and bounced on the balls of his feet as though anticipating Merlin's next scare-attack, but the shimmer continued to meander around the room like he couldn't decide what to do with himself. When he finally did decide, Arthur's smile vanished and he ran toward the door that lead into the hallway outside.
"Merlin! Stay in here!"
"Carrots and potatoes!"
There was a 'THUMP' against the large double doors that made the guards consider for a moment heading into the throne room to check on the group, but dismissed it as the hall echoed with laughter. And the laughter, thumps, and crashes continued long after they were relieved by a new set of guards and the sun began to light the sky. It was the kind of laughter and boisterousness in the king that had been sorely missed after Uther's death, and all who heard it found it strangely refreshing.
Papers were piling on Arthur's desk to sign. Merlin's secret still batted around in the back of his friends' heads. The very sight of the amulet around his servant's neck made the king's anxiety return, and his mind turn to the events at the lake. The council members at the banquet elsewhere in the castle muttered among themselves, and Arthur knew he would face their scrutiny again the next day- another day of mediating was due.
But those were tomorrow's problems.
1. "Emrys... Come Emrys... Come."
"Be free, Emrys... Release."
"Let it out. Be free, Emrys."
"Come and be. Come and stay, Emrys."
"The pain will end, Emrys. All will be well... you must only come."
2. "I command you to rise up to life." (From Season 1 Episode 2: Valiant)