AN: Here it is folks, the final chapter! The kind of snuck up, didn't it? Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, I really appreciate it very much. I've had a wonderful time writing it, and I hope you've had fun reading it. Keep an eye out on AO3 in the coming months, because I'll have a slightly revised version posted, though it will be largely the same with minor differences. Anyway, enjoy the last chapter, and thank you so much for reading!
"How do you feel?" Gaius asks as Arthur shakily gets to his feet.
Arthur takes a shuddering gulp of air before replying. "Alright, I think."
"Good," Gaius says, nodding with relief. "That's good."
Arthur brings up his sleeve to wipe away the tears on his face. "I've accepted his death."
"And not a moment too soon," Gaius says. "Morgana can't be allowed to rule for much longer. How long do you think it will be before..."
"...before I'm sane enough to fight her?" Arthur finishes, and Gaius nods. "I think soon. I've finally managed to overcome her curse, so it wouldn't do to wait."
"We should get you back to my chambers before someone sees you."
Just as Arthur nods his agreement, warning bells toll overhead.
"They know I'm gone," Arthur says, above the noise, "They'll be looking for me."
"Then we must hurry back," Gaius says quickly.
"No," Arthur says, "You go. I'm going to find Morgana."
"Now?" Gaius sputters. "Are you sure that's wise?"
"I've finally gotten my sanity back, what better time is there?"
Gaius sighs, looking as though he wants to argue further but knowing it's futile. "Good luck then," He says, "And be careful. I don't want to lose you as well."
"I'll be fine, Gaius, trust me." He claps Gaius on the shoulder briefly before running into the castle. This wing of the palace is empty, but distantly he can hear the sounds of guards rushing about, barking at each other to find the escaped prisoner.
Arthur rushes through the halls, suddenly realising his utter lack of a plan. He can't exactly burst into a room full of angry sorcerers and expect to win, can he? He doesn't even know where Morgana is, let alone how to defeat her.
As he moves through the castle he encounters more people, all hurrying about as the warning bells toll. It's surprisingly easy to hide from Morgana's guards, ducking behind tapestries and statues whenever he sees one coming near. Briefly he wonders if his own guards are this easy to fool, and makes a mental note to check on that when this madness is over.
Finally Arthur walks past a large ornate door, decorated with carvings of fruit and twisting vines. Morgana's chambers. Casting a look about himself, he finds that there's nobody around to see him. Gently he tests the door and is surprised to find it unlocked, opening easily at his touch. He slips inside and closes the door behind him.
The chambers are grand and elegant, large chairs and tables made for lounging positioned around the room. As Arthur creeps in, he feels the place radiating an aura of darkness despite the light colors. It's as though the presence of Morgana's corruption has made the room permanently evil, magic and anger lurking in every corner.
On the table lies a variety of objects that Arthur can't begin to fathom the purpose of. There are boxes with complicated locks, twisted metal tubes and bowls full of strange plants that Arthur's never seen. This must be where Morgana practices magic, casting spells and enchantments from here in her room.
On the other side of the table from him, Arthur spots a dagger lying on top of an old book. He strides towards it, picking it up and inspecting the blade. There are tiny flakes of a dark brown substance that Arthur would call rust if he didn't know better. Deciding a weapon could come in handy, he slides the dagger into his belt for safekeeping before turning his attention to the book that was underneath it.
It's large and leather bound, its unmarked cover worn and ragged from years of use. Arthur's curiosity gets the better of him and he reaches out a hand to flip the book open, turning the yellowed pages with steady fingers, looking through the spidery text and horrific pictures. There are lists of ingredients for potions and long paragraphs explaining enchantments, along with diagrams of the human body and drawings of plants and animals.
Much of it is written in an exotic language that Arthur doesn't recognize, the shapes of the letters are such that he can't begin to comprehend their meaning. In the margins of the page are written words in a different hand that Arthur recognizes as Morgana's. Little notes on spells and potions such as: "Leafy plants work better" and "Use under a new moon." Arthur pages through the book until he sees a note that makes him pause: his name, written and underlined in the corner of a page filled with text.
"This spell will cause one to experience extreme delusions and hallucinations. The person whom the enchanted loves most will appear dead, so that the enchanted's worst fears will be realized. This spell will cause insanity and madness: Use with caution."
A bad taste fills Arthur's mouth as he reads, the introduction followed by a list of instructions and steps necessary to cast the spell. A full moon just after nightfall with the smell of rain in the air are listed as essential for the magic to work. Arthur remembers that first night, how dark it seemed under the moon, how the rain from earlier that day had cleared but remained present in his senses. Then he remembers the horrible scream he heard, and he gives an involuntary shiver. Clenching his jaw against the memories, he slams the book shut and turns away.
Immediately his attention is captured by the glint of something in the corner of his eye near Morgana's bed. His breath catches in his throat when he realizes what it is: Excalibur, leaning against the bedpost.
He rushes to it, snatching it up eagerly. He smiles at the familiar weight in his hand that he didn't realize he missed. Inspecting it, he finds Morgana has kept it well polished, the smooth metal shining and smooth, the engravings and designs still clearly carved.
The reunion with the sword is interrupted by the sudden sound of Morgana's shrill voice.
"Find him! I don't care how and I don't care what you do with him, just find him!"
The sound of her commands get nearer, and Arthur hastily braces himself, facing the door with his sword at the ready.
The doors fly open and Morgana storms in, a wild look on her face, anger radiating from her elegant form. When her eyes fall on the person already in the room, her expression morphs to a smirk.
"Arthur," She purrs, "Pleasure seeing you here."
The doors fall shut of their own accord as Morgana moves toward him, magic crackling around her fingertips.
"Morgana," Arthur warns, lifting Excalibur before him.
"What are you going to do?" She laughs, "Do you think you can overpower me with that bit of metal?"
"I'm going to do all that is within my power to stop you," Arthur says. "This has to end, now."
"Because your people are suffering?" Morgana scoffs, and with a twitch of her finger sends Excalibur clattering to the ground. "It's not so different from what Uther did to mine, is it?"
"That's not an excuse," Arthur pleads, taking an involuntary step backwards. "You must have mercy."
"Don't worry, I won't do this forever," Morgana says sweetly as she advances. "Only for the next twenty years or so. When that time is over your debt will be repaid."
"It is not my debt, it is my father's."
"But he's dead, so I'm afraid the punishment is yours."
"I know I've done wrong," Arthur says, raising his free palm, "I stood by and watched while my father executed innocent men and women, and for that I am truly sorry. But the people of Camelot have done no wrong."
"I don't care," Morgana snarls.
"I don't want to hurt you," Arthur says. "We grew up together, remember. You were like my sister before I knew that you really were. I'm sorry for what's been done to you. If there were any other way to save you I would do it, but your corruption has given me no other choice but to kill you."
"As if you have the power of life and death over me!" Morgana's eyes are bright and wild, her black hair in slight dissaray. "Are you forgetting that I had the same power over your dear Merlin?"
Arthur winces at the mention of his friend's name.
"Remember, I caused him to die a thousand different ways inside your head. I sent you spiraling into insanity when you couldn't cope with his death. His suffering was your suffering and I made you endure it tenfold! You went mad and your kingdom fell to me because you are weak and I am powerful. What makes you think that you could even touch me?"
"You're no different than Uther," Arthur spits, "You and him are exactly the same."
"Every day I find myself caring less and less," Morgana says simply. "I'm taking my revenge." She holds out a hand and thrusts it at Arthur's chest, the force sending him crumpling to the ground, just missing the bed, close to where Excalibur landed. "I wasn't going to kill you at first," Morgana continues, smirking down at him. Arthur struggles not to sway there on his knees, holding her gaze as he slowly reaches for the dagger in his belt. "If you behaved I would have let you live, sitting in the dungeons with your dear friend Merlin to keep you company. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to send you to the same place I sent him."
She pauses to smirk down at him, and Arthur draws the dagger out, gripping it tightly before him. He lunges forward with a cry, managing to slash her thigh before her eyes flash, sending the weapon clattering to the side.
"A dagger," She pants, slouching to grip the cut in her flesh. "I admire your persistence, I'll give you that. It's a pity you don't have the same amount of intelligence."
Blood seeps through her fingers, staining the dark blue satin of her dress and coloring her pale skin. Her eyes are hard and cold, yet she's smiling in something similar to glee, as though she doesn't feel the pain.
"Arthur, dear, you are nothing more than a shadow of the legend you once were, I made sure of that. You're crippled," She spits the word, "By your love for that damn servant of yours. It's pathetic, and it will be the death of you."
"I'm not as mad as you think, Morgana," Arthur breathes, looking up at her. In his peripheral vision he sees Exalibur lying where he dropped it, just beyond an arm's length away. He starts to subtly edge towards it, scooting slowly sideways on his knees.
"Oh really? What kind of sane man spends his time speaking to a servant long dead?"
"I don't, anymore."
"Don't try and fool me," Morgana says menacingly, her smirk dropping. "Your delusions are what drove you here, because you care too much. You let your feelings for Merlin come before all else, and you've let your subjects suffer because you were too much of a coward to do anything about it, making it wonderfully easy for me to take the throne."
"That's not going to work, Morgana," Arthur tells her. He's closer to the sword now, and Morgana hasn't noticed. "I've moved on."
Morgana's face darkens further, her eyes glinting with malice and anger. "You think you can just pretend you're in your right mind? That you can say you're alright and then suddenly you will be?" Her face inches closer, leaning down so that Arthur's vision is filled with her face. Her eyes are sparkling with fierce anger and Arthur knows that he has her full attention. Relying on this knowledge, he reaches for his sword. "Spells and magic are strong, but the mind is stronger, especially one as troubled as yours," Morgana spits, "A curse can wear off, but true insanity will consume your mind and leave you broken the rest of your hopeless days. If you think you still have the power to overthrow me, after everything that I've done to you, then you're even more foolish than I thought."
Arthur's fingers touch the cool metal of the sword and he closes around it, gently dragging it to him, speaking over the light scrape of the metal on the stone floor.
"Foolishness is not found in one wishing to protect his people," He says, "It is found in one wishing to oppress them."
Suddenly there are long fingers around his throat, squeezing tightly until he can no longer draw breath. "I am a High Priestess and Queen of Camelot!" Morgana screeches, "I can do to my subjects whatever I wish, for they are nothing more than the dirt underneath my fingernails!"
The force of her attack sends Arthur backwards onto the floor, his head hitting the stone, bringing Morgana down with him. She positions herself on top of him, one knee on the floor, the other pinning his chest firmly down.
"I'm going to enjoy watching you die beneath my hands, Arthur Pendragon. You're a fool and a disgrace."
Despite the lack of air his position, Arthur still has Excalibur grasped tightly in his fist where Morgana is paying no attention. Her gaze, feral and savage, is riveted to Arthur's bulging eyes and rapidly coloring skin, not paying any attention to his arms splayed out on either side. As he positions his sword underneath her, he knows he's won.
He drives Excalibur into her flesh, plunging in just below her ribs and emerging on the other side. Immediately Morgana's fingers loosen, her face turning into the perfect picture of surprise.
"I'm not the one who's mad, Morgana," Arthur says, his voice hoarse from abuse, "Thanks to you I've learned that I should not fear death, but a life of fear itself." He jerks his body forward, sending Morgana to land on the floor, the sword sliding smoothly from her body. "I've conquered my sanity and freed myself from my mind, and in doing so I've beaten you."
"But..." Morgana gasps, her breathing ragged as the struggles on the floor, her hands fluttering uselessly around her wound. She convulses, her breath getting quicker.
"I'm sorry I had to do this to you." Arthur brings himself to his feet, looking down at his dying sister. "I can only hope for your sake you can repent before your time is done."
Blood crawls from the tear in Morgana's dress, darkening the material and spreading out on the stone. Her lips move limply, forming silent words as she takes her final breaths, her expression frightened and pale. As she looks desperately up at her brother, her finely dressed chest rises once, twice, then goes still.
Now the only sound in the room is Arthur's labored breathing, raspy after Morgana's assault. He lets the blood stained sword fall to the ground, the metal ringing against the stone. Staring down at Morgana, he sees her final expression, frozen in shock and fear. He supposes fear was inside her all along.
Arthur glances around himself, unsure of what to do next. Outside he can hear the clamor of people, guards and servants all bustling around, completely unaware that the Queen is dead.
Turning back to her body on the ground, Arthur bends over and gently scoops her limp form into his arms. Blood drips from her dress, clinging to the material and soaking into Arthur's sleeves. He walks the few steps to Morgana's bed and lays her on top of the blankets, her head resting on the pillows. He arranges her dark hair around her face and smooths her dress, moving her hands to cover the worst of the blood spots. Then he uses two fingers to gently close Morgana's eyes. When he's finished he steps back, taking one last look. She looks almost like how he once knew her, a ghost of the compassionate woman she once was.
Heaving a sigh, Arthur turns and finds himself walking towards the big window overlooking the square. The sun shines brightly, reflecting off the snow and lighting it up brilliantly. People bustle about, servants walking quickly and men with horses and swords rushing in pairs, busily going about their duties. A smile appears on King Arthur's face as he watches his people, thinking with a spark of triumph; look Merlin, I did it.
"Just up there, sire," Leon says, pointing to the tree at the top of the hill. Arthur nods his thanks and dismounts, handing the reins of his horse to some other Knight.
"I won't be long," He promises. Leon nods.
Arthur turns and climbs the rest of the way up the hill. The sky is clear and bright as the snow crunches under his feet, the air still and peaceful.
When he reaches the top he turns to look back. The Knights have retreated a respectful distance well out of earshot, speaking and joking amongst themselves. Smiling, Arthur turns back to the tree. Though it has no leaves in the dead of winter, it somehow seems to be filled with life, teeming with inexplicable energy.
"Hello, Merlin," Arthur starts, shifting from foot to foot, his voice sounding too loud in his ears. He clears his throat and tries again. "It's been a long time, but I've been busy these past weeks. It's hard to regain the people's trust, but they're starting to come around. I suppose they're just glad Morgana's gone."
It's been tough, getting Camelot back in order after all that's happened. Though their leader was gone, Morgana's brutal followers still remained in the city, doing the best they could to keep hold of the power the sorceress had given them. The Camelot guards and Knights swore allegiance to Arthur immediately, and with their combined efforts they managed to drive most of the evildoers from the city. The rest have slunk into the shadows, once again keeping their magic hidden. Arthur supposes he'll let them go, so long as they repent their wrongdoings. If they don't, well, he'll find something to do with them.
"These past few weeks certainly have been tumultuous. I could use your guidance through some of it." Funny, he thinks, that under normal circumstances Arthur never would have said such a thing aloud.
"I'm sorry for not talking to you before," Arthur says, after a long pause. "About the curse and my hallucinations. I'm sure you could have helped me through it and saved a lot of lives. Hell, you probably would have solved the whole thing and I never would have known it was you.
"I guess it wasn't easy, doing all that work and never getting any credit. Gaius told me all about the things you've done for me. Most honorable men would never do such things without the promise of reward, but you...I'll never understand why you would do that, but I do appreciate it. You saved all our lives many times over."
He draws his cloak around himself against the chill. "I'm not mad about the magic. I suppose I knew, somehow, but maybe I was just in denial. If I had found out any other way I probably would have been angry, but I'd have come around, eventually, at least I like to think so. There's no way I could ever think you were a bad person, Merlin. We could have figured something out." He sighs. "I only wish you would have told me, it would have made things so much easier."
He smiles softly. "I'm going to write a letter to your mother," He says, "She deserves to know what's happened. I'll tell her everything, all that you've done and all that's happened, although I'll keep some of the details to myself. Nobody deserves to have those images in their heads, especially not Hunith." Laughter bubbles up in him, short and quiet, and he sobers as soon as it starts.
"I'm sorry for what happened to you," He says quietly. "I'm going to try and make it up, I promise. Gaius is going to help me see what I can do about this ban on magic. It seems that's been the source of all our problems anyway." He smiles. "That man is going to get one hell of a raise, eh?"
There's a moment of silence, and Arthur looks over his shoulder at his men, some looking away respectfully, others watching him carefully, ready to jump at the first sign of trouble. He turns back around and approaches the tree and the neat pile of rocks next to it, bringing a hand to rub the bark of the grave marker. Beneath his fingertips he can feel the thrum of magic, pulsing and humming in tiny vibrations, traveling up through his arm and straight to his heart. The feeling reminds him of Merlin, and he rubs the tree gently, the motion soothing to him.
"Sleep well, my friend." His whisper is soft but clear, his hand connected to the magic of the tree, feeling warmed despite the chill in the air.
A smile gracing his lips, Arthur lets his hand drop and he turns his back on the grave, walking down the hill to his Knights.