A/N: Alright guys; it's finally here. The end. I really tried to get this out sooner, but obviously failed, so I apologize. The beginning came fairly easily, but everything just fell into chaos once the action started. I've incorporated several of your ideas- thank you for providing them :)
Good news, though: I'll be starting another collection that will serve as a sequel for this one. The focus will no longer be the neckerchief and updates will be even more random but I've had a couple ideas for life after all this spectacle so the timeline will continue. Huzzah!
Many thanks to the guests who reviewed between this and 41 - particularly the one who started from the beginning and reviewed every chapter. I love you guys!
It's been so great writing this and hearing from you all; thanks for sticking with me ^_^
*massive hugs to all who would like them*
Merlin tugged at the collar of his tunic as his mother fussed with his cape. He was eternally grateful to the queen for stepping in and preventing Arthur from having his way with the ceremonial attire, but it still felt a bit odd to not be wearing a neckerchief for his big day.
Otherwise the clothes were barely different from his normal dress, simply much finer and with a long cape instead of his jacket- and it was all in varying shades of blue. There was a sprinkling of semi-precious stones set in the silver belt, but still he was more comfortable with the clothing than his new position.
"This cape is too long," Hunith commented for the third time that morning.
"I asked for that, mother." Honestly, if he didn't know better he'd think she was more nervous about this than he was.
"Well I can't i-"
A knock at the door was swiftly followed by the king's entrance, freshly-polished armor gleaming alongside the golden cloak clasp Merlin had gifted him with the previous Christmas. He smiled softly at the older woman.
"Hunith, would you mind giving us a moment alone? Guinevere is waiting to escort you."
"Oh! Of course," she stood on tip-toe to kiss her son on the cheek. "I'm so proud of you."
One last hug and she made her exit, casting a thankful glance at Arthur as she passed.
Merlin eyed the small box in his friend's hand.
"That better not be a hat."
"Sadly, it is not. Turn around."
The warlock squinted in suspicion, but complied.
There were some sounds of fumbling, then arms flashed before his face and something silky settled around his neck. He looked down, surprised.
"Wha- I thought you hated my neckerchiefs?"
"I never said that; just that they were faded and ratty- which this one is not."
It certainly wasn't. It was midnight blue with a barely-visible embroidery of silver leaves around the edge, a silver owl gripping an olive branch adorned the point.
"What's this?" He tilted his head to get a better look.
"Well," Arthur cleared his throat. "Every noble has his own device."
"Ah, so you chose one for me?" His smile was teasing, but secretly he was touched. "I knew you thought I was wise."
The king scoffed.
"Nonsense. The owl is a symbol of bad luck- which you certainly are." He reached upward and ruffled his friend's dark hair.
"Hey! Mother spent all morning fussing over that!"
"Don't pretend you wouldn't have mussed it before long."
The pair grinned at each other for a moment before Merlin reached beneath his new cape.
"I have something for you too."
"What? Merlin, this is-"
"Just take it." The warlock reached out and slipped a gold ring onto his master's thumb.
Arthur stared at the stone whose varying red tones shifted as if something were swirling within; the metal held a gentle heat.
"I made it from the remainder of that neckerchief you're so fond of. You know, the one I was wearing when-"
The monarch held up a hand to cut him off.
"How-" he swallowed. "How did you know about that?"
"Really?" One dark eyebrow arched. "You kept it beneath your pillow for weeks, you carried it everywhere, you stood in the window and practically inhaled the thing and you thought I wouldn't notice?"
Well this was embarrassing.
"Then why did you take it with the laundry?"
"I was already planning on using it for that," he nodded toward the ring, "and good timing it was."
Arthur grunted noncommittally; gazing appreciatively at the gift.
"I- you didn't have to... thank you, Merlin."
The warlock smiled and ducked his head.
"It's connected to me so you'll always know I'm safe," he said softly. He was still looking away from his friend, otherwise he might not have been so surprised by the hug Arthur initiated.
Merlin squeaked, but soon relaxed into the embrace, patting the king's back a few times before they drew apart.
"Right." Arthur readjusted his cloak as Merlin smoothed his own back into place.
"Well, let's go before you're late to your own promotion."
Camelot being as it was and servants being as they are, everyone had known what the king's announcements would be long before gathering in the courtyard below the balcony where the royal couple stood, Merlin out of sight for the moment. Thus it was with joyful anticipation that the majority of them watched as their sovereign officially legalized magic and beckoned behind him.
"I now present my Court Sorcerer; Merlin!"
To his credit, Arthur only twitched slightly when his former servant stepped out and he had to look up into his eyes. A quick glance downward revealed the previously too-long cloak barely brushing the floor, though it concealed the man's feet (which he suspected were not, in fact, touching the balcony).
Merlin winked at him before hesitantly facing the crowd. They were cheering so loudly he couldn't hear himself think, and small spells were being cast into the air in celebration - which is probably why he didn't notice the fire being hurled at Arthur.
The king shouted, dodging the magic flame so that it skimmed his armor. His cloak didn't even burn as the fireball flew past it to scorch the castle wall. He had had his suspicions before, but this made him fairly certain the cloak clasp Merlin had made was more than simply "good luck".
"On the left!" Merlin yelled, flinging out a hand.
Arthur spotted the attacker right before he tumbled from his window perch and a group of knights converged on his position.
After ensuring that Guinevere was unharmed, the king was about to make a joke about the situation when the comforting warmth of his new ring became a shocking chill that had him whipping around to face Merlin, who now had a hand pressed to his side where red was flowing.
"Merlin!" He drew his sword on the guard who was readying his bloodied weapon for a second attempt.
"Arthur!" The warlock's eyes glowed and a crossbow bolt shattered against the shield he had erected – not that the king noticed, busy as he was impaling the man who had just attacked his best friend.
"Are you alright?" Arthur grabbed Merlin's shoulders, trying and failing to see the wound through blood and grasping fingers.
"I'm fine," he answered, eyes busy scanning other potential points of attack. "I don't see anyone else, unless they're in the crowd."
"Merlin, let me in!" Gaius demanded from the royal chambers, kept from his ward's side by the shield.
"Drop it, Merlin," Arthur commanded as Guinevere pressed the warlock into a seated position.
The translucent blue wall disappeared and the physician rushed forth, pushing aside Merlin's hands to examine the wound. He sighed in relief.
"It's long, but shallow. His ribs prevented further damage."
"See? Told you I was fine." Merlin winced as Gaius cut his new tunic open to better clean and bandage the wound.
A red-faced Sir Leon rushed onto the scene, stopping to bow once he was certain the immediate danger was gone.
"Report!" Arthur commanded, wrapping a reassuring arm around his wife as she watched Gaius fussing over Merlin.
"Sire, the attackers have been apprehended. Two died and the other three are on the way to the dungeons. We haven't gotten much out of them, but they seem to be a group of outlaws against the raising of the ban."
"But one of them was a sorcerer!"
"Probably didn't want the competition," Merlin remarked.
"Possible," Arthur conceded. "What about him?"
Leon looked toward the guard Arthur had slain, surprised by his presence.
"That is- was Wallace, one of the guard who is known for his anti-magic sentiments. I relieved him from duty for the day, but it seems he talked his way up here regardless." His scowl promised ill things for whoever had let that happen.
"Very well. Good work, Sir Leon. Send someone to clean this up, would you? We have a ceremony to finish!"
"You can't be serious," Merlin frowned.
"Of course I am! Now get up here and accept your praise."
Merlin grumbled at length, but accepted Arthur's helping hand and rose to his feet; both of them assisting the queen.
Most of the crowd had remained despite the upset, waiting for confirmation that all was well. When the trio came into view – Merlin's cloak hiding his injury - they erupted into joyful cheering once again.
"See? This isn't so bad," Arthur murmured, thumping Merlin on the back.
"If you say so," the warlock's forced smile returned, looking more like he was grimacing at the people below.
"Couldn't ask for a more fitting demonstration, really."
"I could've done without the threats to life and limb, myself."
"Thought you'd be used to those by now."
"That doesn't make it any better."
The king laughed.
"Why don't you do something impressive so I can send the people off on a high note?"
"So I've become your jester anyway?"
Arthur simply laughed louder and pushed his friend forward.
The crowd gasped in awe as he opened one side of his cloak to release a flock of finches, varied colors and songs brightening the air as flower petals began to rain from the sky. He waved his arm and two rainbows appeared over head.
"Such a girl," Arthur muttered before coming forward to dismiss the crowd and invite them to a festival the following night.
"Well one of us has to have an appreciation for the beauty of life," Merlin grumbled as he was ushered back inside.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," the king fiddled with his new ring, which had returned to its warm state.
"Good. I'm not planning on changing."
Arthur threw an arm around Merlin's shoulders, awkwardly steering him down the corridor as they both smiled.
"I wouldn't want you to."