So, this is the last chapter. I didn't know whether to post this as two seperate chapters or just one final big chapter. However, I am now working on my next fanfic and I am excited about it so I didn't think it fair to leave this one hanging around.
Again, thank you so much to everyone who reviewed and read this. It was my first Merlin fic and I did struggle with it in places. I really welcome constructive crit, especially around characterisation and whether I am staying true to the show. Hopefully, whatever you say in your review will make my next Merlin fic even better. Keep an eye out for my next one :)
Arthur sat at his throne with Guinevere by his side. She was still at a loss to what was happening but had kept mercifully quiet. Arthur didn't like keeping her in the dark but he really didn't know how to start. He had told her about the sorceress and what was happening with the weather but had conveniently left out all the parts concerning Merlin. It made for a very disjointed tale and Guinevere was under no illusion that she hadn't been told the full story.
It was part of the reason she was here now. He had to talk to Gaius and she felt she should be included from now on. She was right but this meeting was bound to generate more questions than it would answer.
Gaius entered looking harrowed but ready to face whatever was coming.
"Has Merlin told you about the sorceress we encountered Gaius?" Arthur began. It was his main priority at the moment. He had to neutralise the threat to Camelot and then deal with Merlin. "He seemed to think that you might be able to spread some light on the issue,"
"It wasn't… the main topic of conversation… but he did briefly mention it," Gaius said with a trace of defiance. "If I could have more time with Merlin I'm sure I could gather further useful information for you,"
"Merlin is not to have any more visitors," Arthur said leaning forward in his seat. He felt Guinevere sit up at the statement. "She had a stone that controlled the weather. She said her kingdom had once encompassed the lands of Camelot and Mercia, a world between worlds,"
Gaius nodded. "She sounds like a powerful being," he consented. "I will consult the records but I fear that I might not be able to help in this instance. It is not anything that I have come across before,"
"Are we to wait until she decides to attack us again?" Arthur argued.
"It may be our only option, sire," Gaius replied.
Arthur didn't like it. He was a man of action. He didn't like not being able to go out and fight the enemy, he didn't like not telling his queen everything, he didn't like that Merlin was sitting in a cell waiting for him to do something with him.
"She wanted Merlin," he said slowly. "Could we use that?"
"Use Merlin …as bait?" Gaius enquired slowly. "That may be difficult from his place in the cells,"
Arthur sat back and tried not to look like a sulking child. Gwen was getting more agitated in her seat the more confused she became and Arthur was trying desperately not to snap at her to sit still. He didn't want to lose more friends today. Instead he flashed an irritated glance, which she returned in full force.
"Find out as much as you can about this sorceress and then come and see me," Arthur said finally.
"Sire?" Gaius asked, deftly ignoring the clear dismissal in his last order.
"Merlin is loyal to you," he said "But he lets his fear get the better of him,"
"Please… just leave, Gaius," Arthur sighed and tried to will away the headache that was creeping up on him.
"Yes, my lord," Gaius left swiftly leaving the two royals alone.
Arthur looked upon Gwen. She was so lovely even when she was giving him that disapproving look. Maybe if he told her how pretty she is, she would be kind to him.
Merlin hadn't heard from Gaius since he had first been put in the cell. In fact he hadn't heard from anyone. Gwaine had tried to make it down but Merlin had heard the guards tell him that King Arthur had ordered that there must be no visitors for him. That made him slightly angry. He understood that Arthur was upset with him but that seemed just a little petty. It had been a day almost. He had not slept much and no one had arranged any meals for him.
He needed to know what was happening. They could be attacked by a crazy, snow queen at any second and he wouldn't know about it.
Did he really intend to just leave him down here with no company, no food and nothing to do?
His answer came in the form of Gwen. She had ordered the guards out of the way and stalked gracefully through the dungeon until she came to Merlin's cell. She stood in front of him, a picture of regal beauty in the dark and damp prison. The red and gold of her dress contrasting greatly against her dismal grey surroundings. She looked conflicted as she positioned herself in front of the bars of Merlin's cage. He stood up from his cot to address her. He didn't need to ask what was troubling her, he could take a guess it had something to do with him.
"Arthur has told me that you're a… warlock," she huffed and blinked at him.
Merlin shuffled uncomfortably on his feet, not quite certain how to respond. He had never really spoken to Gwen on her views on magic and he wasn't entirely sure they were favourable.
"Yes," he said as that was all he could say. Honesty was difficult for him but it was still baby-steps, one-word answers were easier.
"You've always been this way?" she asked
"Yes," This appeared to be the only thing he knew how to say.
"He didn't say a lot. He's a bit …overwhelmed," Gwen said brushing the folds of her skirt absentmindedly and not looking directly at Merlin.
Merlin nodded. There was not a one-word answer for that. He was a little overwhelmed himself. Gwen shifted her eyes around the dungeons uncomfortably, she looked at the lock on the door, the straw on the floor, the stone floor, anywhere but Merlin.
"Gwen," Merlin said as he managed to catch her eye and hold it. "How do you feel about it? I'm still the same person I always was. I'm still your friend. You know that, right?"
She smiled kindly and stepped forward towards the bars. "I know you are," she said and took his bandaged hand in hers. "It's just a shock. We're all wondering why you hadn't told us sooner. The knights have filled me in more than Arthur was able to. We're all a little… hurt, to be truthful,"
Merlin nodded and accepted that they were hurt. He couldn't help the small flutter of shame that trickled down his throat. Gwen was looking on him with wide eyes that didn't do anything to hide the question behind that statement.
"I have spent my whole life hiding Gwen. It's a hard habit to break," he said but he knew this wasn't enough. "The threat of execution also does wonders for a man's secret-keeping abilities,"
The joke fell flat
"Did you honestly think that we would have turned you in? That Arthur would have had you killed?"
"You didn't see him Gwen. He almost killed me himself when he found out,"
"But he didn't. And he won't. Why do you not trust him? He trusts you. He still trusts you…after everything," she whispered desperately "You could get out of this cell anytime. You only have two guards at your door. Gwaine is ready to stage a jail-break at the drop of a hat. You haven't been restrained. He just wants his trust returned,"
Merlin's ears rang with her words and he was trying to blink back the tears burning in his eyes.
"What do I do?" he asked feebly "He's only doing this out of some sense of kingly duty now and … I think… to hurt me back,"
Gwen nodded and didn't deny that Arthur was just lashing out. Merlin suspected as much. He'd do the same if he was Arthur.
"Just stay here and I'll talk to him," she sighed. "It's a difficult situation. Half the castle knows about you now and it won't be long until it gets down into the city. This means that Arthur has to make a decision on magic. Either it is still banned and you stay here forever or you are freed and magic is allowed again,"
"And that goes against all his father stood for…" Merlin finished for her and she bit her lip in anxiety.
"Don't worry," she said resolutely. "It'll be fine. Are you hungry?"
Merlin nodded quickly at her with a smile.
"I don't think he's realised that he's even stopped the kitchen staff coming down here," she said with a roll of her eyes and Merlin actually began to feel like they were friends again, with Gwen, at least, he felt like nothing had changed too drastically. "I'll get something for you,"
"Thanks Gwen," he murmured.
She whisked her way out of the dungeon with an order to let kitchen staff through. The guards didn't dare argue with the Queen.
Arthur was sulking. No he wasn't sulking. He was spending some time alone in his room. In his bed. Under the covers. Fully dressed. In the middle of the day.
But definitely not sulking.
Sleeping was not something that Arthur was finding very easy at the moment. He was tired of waiting for something to happen. The spring was slowly breaking through the ice of the winter, buds and leaves poking through the snow. The land was beginning to fight back against the magic that had held it so frozen. He couldn't believe that the sorceress would just let this land mend, that she would leave so quickly without putting up much of a fight, that she would let Camelot recover. Maybe she was wiser than they had thought. Maybe she was biding her time or recouping her resources.
Gaius was still searching through old texts trying to find something that would enlighten them to what they were dealing with. He was still a little cool with the king because of Merlin.
It had been a three days since he had Merlin put in a cell. Gwen had spoken to him about Merlin's imprisonment and his motives for it several times since then. For the most part she was absolutely right but he wasn't going to admit it.
She had told him that Merlin was only still in prison because Merlin had hurt him. That he didn't know how he felt about magic and he was putting off making a decision about it. That he wanted some retaliation to the lies. That he didn't want to face his emotions regarding those lies. That he was in denial about the whole thing and Merlin wandering around freely would just remind him about it.
Gwen was annoyingly right about a lot of things.
She had come in earlier and noticed him sulking (not sulking…resting) and told him to go and talk to Merlin.
Well, he really didn't want to do that. Merlin had a habit of just infuriating him every time they had a discussion about it. Anyway, she was visiting him regularly enough for everyone. This, of course, may be due to the fact that he wouldn't let anyone else visit. A matter that just seemed to exasperate Gaius even more.
As if he had been summoned mystically by Arthur's thoughts, Gaius appeared at his door. It was open and Gaius had a clear view of the unhappy king but he reached out a hand and knocked anyway.
Arthur narrowed his eyes at the ridiculousness but Gaius waited for the command to enter anyway.
Merlin never knocked.
"Sire?" Gaius entered with a book under one arm and raised an eyebrow "Are you ill?"
Arthur huffed a sigh and sat up, throwing off the covers in one swift movement.
"No Gaius…just resting," he said and cleared his throat. Gaius still kept the eyebrow up near his hairline. "Was there something you needed?" Arthur prompted and the eyebrow finally lowered.
"Yes sire," Gaius began. "I believe I have found something of use in the ancient texts. The stone is called the 'Sapphire of Boreas'" Gaius said ominously and placed the book he had been holding down onto the table in the chambers. He skilfully found the page and pointed out the picture in the far right.
Arthur recognised it straight away. The cut and the colour of the Sapphire could not be mistaken, it had caught his eye as soon as he had peeled Merlin's fingers away from it.
"That's it," he confirmed.
"The stone holds the power of the North Wind. It feeds off the magic of others to create powerful weather and it is said to be the birth of the 'Werewulf'. If a man without magic were to touch the stone they would be transformed into a wolf for the rest of their days,"
"Yes," Arthur said "Merlin freed them, including Gwaine. He could control it but he destroyed it as well," It also explained why Merlin was so adamant that nobody touch it.
"I do not doubt it," Gaius said "It takes great power to harness the will of the stone. Merlin is very powerful,"
Merlin? This was the same Merlin they were talking about? Arthur looked at Gaius but the old man only nodded sympathetically. Gaius knew the king was having trouble with the whole Merlin is a warlock thing without adding 'very powerful' to that title.
"Ok," Arthur said, moving swiftly on. "So what does this tell us about the woman?"
"The stone is said to have a protector and a mother," Gaius said "'Orithyia'. In legend she is the wife of the God Boreas. She is a goddess of the mountain wind. She is said to have been gifted the stone by her husband, but because her love of power corrupted her so much, Boreas decided to teach her a lesson and made it so the stone stole her power whenever she used it, and weakened her. She is on a constant search for power, she is attracted to magic because it is the greatest power in this world,"
"So, not a sorceress. We're dealing with a Goddess here?" Arthur asked.
"I fear so, my lord," Gaius nodded gravely. "Destroying the stone probably maddened her but without it she will be strong. Every moment we wait, she will become stronger and stronger,"
"Where do we find her?" Arthur asked urgently. They couldn't let her grow to her full potential.
"I don't think we can go to her," Gaius said slowly. "But we may be able to get her to come to us,"
"How?" Arthur did not like the look Gaius was giving him.
Gaius let that eyebrow get away from him again.
Merlin had not had any visitors that day and he was getting bored. He says 'visitors' but really he meant that Gwen hadn't come down yet and Gwaine hadn't lost it and knocked out the guards yet. Although, they were becoming increasingly more nervous every time he came down.
It was uncomfortable in his cell. It was all stone and bars. There was some straw but not enough to cushion his head. Nights were difficult and he spent most of them looking out for rats.
He was just beginning to get hungry when he heard footsteps making their way down the corridor to his cell. His stomach growled in answer and he quickly got to his feet to wait by the bars for the nice kitchen-girl to give him his bread and broth. He couldn't remember her name, he felt bad about that. It was something like Sarah or Sophie or Susan?
However, the person that stood in front of him with his plate of broth was definitely not a 'Susan'.
"A-Arthur," he stuttered in surprise.
The king stood before him. Clean, dressed in plain clothes, his hair was sticking up in places like he had just gotten out of bed but his eyes held dark bags like he hadn't slept in one. Well, that made both of them.
"Hello Merlin," Arthur said far too cheerfully. "I brought you…food,"
Arthur pushed the bowl through the bars and Merlin took it carefully. He decided not to ask where his bread had gone. That might be pushing his luck.
Arthur hadn't deigned to come and see his former manservant at all before. Not that Merlin wasn't glad to see him, it was just that he couldn't assume it was a casual visit. Had he decided what to do with him yet? Should he say something? Did he need to say something?
Why wasn't Arthur saying anything?
He was waiting for him to eat.
Merlin sat down on his cot and began slurping the broth up quickly with his spoon, watching Arthur carefully.
He looked a little tired. He was probably not far away from losing his temper again.
Merlin wondered if he should start the conversation. Would that push him too quickly? Would he get angry?
Gwen had told him that he needed to trust Arthur. That Arthur needed to see that he trusted him. And with that knowledge, Merlin decided to wait for his king to start. He finished his broth and he stomach hummed happily with the warmth that entered it. Placing the bowl down on the place beside him on the cot, he stood up and muttered his thanks and waited.
And Arthur stared.
He was testing Merlin again, wasn't he?
He was seeing if Merlin would break and start trying to take control of the situation. Well, not this time Arthur, this time he was going to do what he was told.
"Why aren't you saying anything?" Arthur asked suspiciously.
He just couldn't win, could he?
"You came to see me, not the other way around,"
Merlin flinched at how petulant that sounded and reprimanded himself for not keeping to the 'respectful Merlin' plan.
"Sorry, sire," he murmured and Arthur cocked his head to one side in bewilderment. "Have you found out any more about our lady-friend?" he asked in a vain attempt to change the conversation.
Arthur seemed relieved for it. "Her name is Orithyia. She's a goddess,"
"Oh," Merlin nodded like he understood but didn't really have a clue. Arthur nodded back in agreement but he doubted that he really understood any more than Merlin did. "Look, Arthur. I'm sorry about…everything,"
Arthur looked at Merlin and he could see the pain still glimmering in the depths of his eyes. But he smiled anyway.
"No," he said "I don't think I made it very easy for you to be friends with me. To trust me with this …secret you had. I'm not a rational person. I get angry quickly and I never made it a secret how distrustful I was of magic. This is not your fault,"
Suddenly Merlin felt lighter than he had in days, he felt like smiling, he felt like laughing but he had to say something first.
"It's not your fault either, Arthur," Merlin said and he stepped forward to the bars so he could look Arthur seriously in the eye "I should have trusted you. You are going to be a great king, Arthur. The best that the world has ever known. I just wanted to be there to see it,"
Arthur smirked at his friend's over-confidence in him and Merlin knew that Arthur didn't quite believe him yet. He would though, one day, Arthur would know that Merlin was telling the truth about this and about a lot of other things as well.
"Merlin," he said "I want to get this mess sorted out," he gestured to the prison "But I need your help first,"
"Of course you do," Merlin laughed "I told you that you wouldn't last long without me,"
"It might put you in danger but Gaius assures me that you'd be able to handle it,"
"When is it not dangerous?"
"We're going to use you as bait,"
Gwen had been right again.
Arthur did feel better about going to speak to Merlin.
The plan had been set into motion, the knights had been informed, and the guards. The city had been put on high alert and the trap was about to be baited. A platform had been placed in the centre of the castle's tournament arena. Arthur had tried not to think about the fact that it was the same platform that was used for execution pyres. However, this time, a cage had been placed in the middle and not a pole stuck into a pile of wood.
Arthur watched from the castle battlements as the preparations were made. Gwaine had asked if the cage was really necessary and Arthur had told him that it was and Gwaine was not to try and open it under any circumstances.
But Arthur understood the temptation as he watched the guards lead Merlin to the door and lock him inside. The skinny man blinked in the bright sunlight, looking gaunt and ill, he looked around at the castle before finally spotting Arthur and gave him an enthusiastic wave. Arthur rolled his eyes but gave a weak wave back at him.
'Powerful warlock', his arse.
Merlin had taken the plan quite well. He didn't seem to feel worried about being made bait to a Goddess who wanted to steal his power, or kidnap him, or kill him… or all of the above. His confidence gave Arthur confidence but it wasn't Orithyia that he was worried about at the moment. It was the people of Camelot. They were scattered around the yard, getting on with their business. They had all heard about Merlin, the sorcerer that had been locked up in the castle dungeons for the last week. The sorcerer that the king would not have put to death. The sorcerer that would not be banished. They stared openly at Merlin being placed in the cage and rumours of public execution sprang up around the castle like a plague.
The plan was that Merlin had to be bait. And to be bait, he had to make himself look attractive. Arthur scoffed at the thought. Fortunately, for Merlin, looking attractive meant using magic. Lots of magic. So the Goddess would sense it and come running. The cage was there so that the people of Camelot felt safe. It was a false security as he was sure that if Merlin had wanted to hurt anyone then a few metal bars would probably not stop him. Now Merlin could not really attract her holy craziness from within the walls of the castle because that would be stupid. They wanted Orithyia out in the open, in a battlefield, a place where they could fight freely and away from the innocent citizens of the city. The tournament arena was the obvious choice.
He hadn't reckoned for the innate curiosity of his people. As soon as Merlin was placed in the cage, the place began to fill up with people from the city wanting to get a peek at the warlock. Like he was some freak in a show.
Arthur stood agitated at his place on the battlements. They shouldn't be gaping at him like he was entertainment. Maybe, putting him in the arena wasn't the best idea. There were even stalls for them to take a seat in, perfect position to throw some vegetables at him. The murmurs started in earnest and the arena filled with people from all parts of the town.
The knights arrived at the scene, obviously sensing trouble brewing. Sir Gwaine was at the head of the pack, not hiding his temper at the crowd. Percival got to the front and he and Leon motioned for the people to move back a little further. Merlin looked a little worried from his seated position in the cage but he hadn't let it panic him yet. The crowd went still and silent when the knights had arrived. They wanted to see the show. He noticed some of them glancing up at him, wandering if he was going to give the order.
Then the first egg was thrown with a furious hiss of 'sorcerer'. It hit the bars of Merlin's cage with a crunch that rang out in the quiet. Merlin had flinched away from it and looked resonantly up at Arthur. The king gritted his teeth and tried not to let the anger reveal itself to his subjects. Merlin was trying to help them and they would reject him so quickly.
Very much like Arthur had done when he first found out. Merlin still had the thin cut on his pale neck and Arthur felt the shame overcome him, not for the first time.
Gwaine had drawn his sword at the attack on Merlin and Percival had rushed over to him and managed to get the hot-head to put the weapon away again. He did so reluctantly with a realisation that violence was not going to solve this problem. Leon gave a warning out to the crowd that the next person to show hostility to Merlin would be brought before the king himself for their punishment. He bid them to leave as there would be no execution and to remain here might be dangerous.
Slowly the crowd dispersed but the man who threw the egg was one of the last to leave. He spat a few profanities at Merlin but was jostled away forcefully by Gwaine in the end. Arthur could hope that this would be the last show of aggression towards Merlin but in reality it was probably one of the first. Maybe even just one of many for Merlin.
The only people that were left were the knights and the guards and some of the servants to the castle whose jobs brought them to the arena on a daily basis. They would keep their opinions to themselves if they wanted to keep their jobs, Arthur thought venomously as he spotted one or two give Merlin a nervous look.
The warlock looked up to his king in a silent request for permission.
Arthur nodded. He could start.
Merlin grinned and motioned for the knights to move back with a playful wave of his hands. Arthur had never seen Merlin look so comfortable and as the gold entered into his eyes Arthur guessed that he was seeing a part of Merlin that he didn't show to many. Now he was baring it for everyone to see and leaving himself vulnerable to insults and jeers.
Arthur watched in wonder as Merlin held his hand out to the smashed pieces of egg shell and yolk on the bars of his cage. The pieces slowly fit back together, swirling in the air to go back to the smooth surface of an unbroken egg. It moved carefully into the cage and landed softly in Merlin's hand. So delicately placed. The egg was perfect again and Arthur wasn't sure if it wasn't better than it had been before. It looked fresher. Merlin laid his other hand over the top so the egg was hidden in his cupped fingers and Merlin smiled knowingly. Arthur felt himself leaning forward, opened mouthed as Merlin brought his lips to his fingers and whispered something to the egg. When Merlin opened his hands again a small yellow chick stood up and ruffled its feathers indignantly as Merlin placed it beside him.
Unknowingly to Arthur, Gaius had arrived at the arena and chuckled fondly at Merlin as he walked over to the cage. The knights had been watching transfixed, completely forgetting that they were meant to be guarding Merlin and Arthur couldn't blame them, he had lent so far forward in an effort to see better that he had nearly thrown himself off the battlement.
Gaius put an affectionate hand on Merlin's healing shoulder and had a short conversation and Arthur realised with a guilt that this would have been the first time the physician would have been able to see his ward in a week. He walked away from the battlements after that, he needed to go back to his chambers and think things through, he needed to talk to Gwen. He needed to process what he saw Merlin do. It was not a spectacular feat of magic, by any means. After all it was nothing like the magic he saw when Merlin had changed Gwaine. But that was the problem, that hadn't been Merlin's magic that he had seen back then, that had been the magic of the North Wind. A cold and powerful magic, yes, but nothing like the magic he just witnessed.
Merlin had just given life. He had brought a chick to life with a few whispered words. His magic was different and powerful in a subtle way.
He had seen Gwen a few hours later, she had been busy and was kindly holding off questions from council members on the laws of magic. Some of them had been furious that Merlin had not been killed as soon as he had arrived in Camelot so he could not begin to guess what they were like now that Merlin was openly performing magic in public. Arthur and the knights were battle-ready, dressed in full armour, and a guard had been placed at the warning bell with orders to ring it at the first sign of the Goddess. Therefore he wasn't really in the mood to listen to what some old council members thought about the whole situation.
Gwen had come into his chambers with a smile on her face and told Arthur what she had just seen Merlin doing. Apparently he had melted the snow around his cage in the arena and made a meadow spring up around him. That would explain the wild flowers now adorning his wife's hair.
"He's amazing," she said, eyes sparkling. The flowers were of all shapes and colours. One particularly sweet flower matched the blush in her cheeks. She grew quiet at Arthur's half-smile and took his hand. "You should go and see him,"
"I've seen him," Arthur said roughly "I've seen him every day for the last seven years. It's Merlin, for gods' sake,"
Even he recoiled at the scorn in his own voice. Gwen just glared at him significantly.
"Ok," he surrendered "I'll go and see him,"
"No time like the present," she chirped happily and pulled him out of his seat by his arm.
"When did you get so pushy?" he laughed.
"Well, you made me Queen, remember?" she chuckled.
It wasn't long before Arthur was picking his way through the wild flower meadow that had suddenly sprung up in his tournament grounds. The knights were looking relaxed but ready at the sides of the cage and Gwaine looked like he had calmed down considerably. They were all looking down at the ground in front of the cage, including Merlin. It wasn't until he had got closer that he saw the young children talking to Merlin. A little boy and girl.
They were covered in butterflies.
Arthur stopped and watched as Merlin laughed as one of the butterflies rested on a little girl's nose and she crossed her bright green eyes to see it.
Arthur rolled his own eyes and cleared his throat to make his presence known. The knights jumped to attention and Merlin lost his concentration and the butterflies disappeared. The children went wide-eyed but quickly scattered away.
"Even your magic is girly," Arthur mocked and Merlin shrugged. "Leave us for a moment," he ordered the knights.
They went away with a couple of backwards glances but ultimately left them alone.
"Show me something," Arthur said when they had gone far enough.
Merlin looked curious and little hesitant. "But not girly?"
"Preferably not," Arthur agreed.
"You don't like butterflies? I thought everyone liked butterflies?" Merlin whined a little.
"Ok," he said and sat up straighter. Arthur even thought he would roll up his sleeves for effect but he didn't. "But don't be worried, I know what I am doing,"
Merlin's eyes flashed with gold before Arthur could tell him that he was never scared and the cage burst into flames, enveloping Merlin within it. Arthur staggered backwards in shock and he heard the knights yell in the background. His heart raced and his breath came in short bursts with the fear that was restricting his chest. What had he done? Was he alive?
Out of the flames in front of him came the shape of a slender dragon. It's body looked like it was made of molten lava as it stepped slowly out of the cage and stretched it's fiery wings outwards, it looked at Arthur with flame-filled eyes and began to smile. Teeth made of charred stone, embers and smoke billowing from its nostrils.
The knights arrived with drawn swords and Arthur didn't know what to tell them.
Soon the dragon became much more symbolic, it manoeuvred itself in to the position that replicated the Pendragon flag and winked at him ironically.
Thankfully the whole flaming dragon and the flames engulfing the cage quickly burst into butterflies and flew away. This left a very smug-looking Merlin sitting cross-legged within his cage.
"I bet you don't mind butterflies now,"
"Merlin!" Arthur bellowed. He was about to go on about how stupid that had been and how he'd thought that Merlin had died. That he could have hurt someone, that he could have hurt himself. But Merlin's smile faded at Arthur's anger and he started to look panicked. Arthur closed his eyes and swallowed his fury "Let's just… keep to the butterflies for now. No dragons." He said calmly.
Merlin gulped and nodded. "Would you like to see something else?"
Arthur turned to his knights who had already got the message and were moving away again now that they felt everything was safe. Arthur looked a Merlin for what seemed like a long time but really was only about a few seconds.
"Gaius says you are powerful," Arthur blurted. He didn't know why this particular fact was bothering him so much but it was. He'd never put 'Merlin' and 'powerful' in the same breath before and he was finding the concept particularly difficult. However, after that display, Arthur was starting to see it now.
Merlin didn't look too astonished by the statement. "That's what people keep telling me," he said with a grim smile.
"What people?" Arthur said as he narrowed his eyes. Who else would know about Merlin?
"Well, Druids mostly," then because Arthur could tell that this wasn't the whole truth he glared at Merlin a little more. "And the Great Dragon," Merlin added on receipt of said glare.
"The Dragon!?" Arthur yelled then lowered his voice because the knights looked over in concern. "The one I supposedly killed?" he whispered.
Merlin looked a little guilty then said "Surprise!" with a nervous smile.
Arthur reminded himself to breathe and to not get angry with every new revelation as he guessed it might be a very long day if he did. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "So… the dragon told you that you were a powerful warlock?"
"Do you think we could get into this later? I think it's probably going to take a very long time to explain, it's all to do with destinies and saving your life and prophesies and it all gets rather complicated," Merlin said quickly. "I would do it now but there is a very angry woman behind you,"
Arthur swivelled around and put his hand automatically to the hilt of his sword. Merlin was right. She did not look happy at all.
Orithyia stood, taller than Arthur had remembered her, eyes and hair were white and she had a faint glow to her skin. She looked healthier than she had before. She looked so much younger than she had before. Her eyes locked onto Merlin in an expression of pure lust and it made Arthur feel a little uneasy to be standing between them, as if he was interrupting something personal.
It all happened very quickly. She turned her head deliberately to look at Arthur, her eyes looked dead. No colour or pupils in them, just whiteness and small bluish veins. He couldn't bring himself look away. He started to feel very cold, very numb. His brain started to slow but he could still not look away. Sounds and colours started to fade from him and a dull humming blocked his senses. He wanted to reach for his sword but couldn't remember where he kept it. His heartbeat deafened him. Vaguely he registered that the knights had become aware of the presence of the goddess and had started running towards them. The warning bell sounded. A dog barked. But it was not his men that made it to him first but Merlin.
He blocked his view of Orithyia and Arthur blinked out of his trance and briefly wondered how Merlin got out of his cage. Oh right. Powerful warlock.
Merlin's worried voice broke through the haze "Arthur, snap out of it,"
Suddenly a great force of wind hit them. Merlin slammed into Arthur's chest and they were thrown a few feet in the air. They landed ungracefully with a crunch in the long grass of Merlin's meadow.
"Ow," Merlin groaned then jumped to his feet. Placing himself between Arthur and Orithyia. Arthur got shakily to his feet. He registered that he was trembling in cold and looked confused as ice crystals that had formed in his hair and eyebrows broke off and dropped to the floor.
The knights had reached them with their swords at the ready and their shields raised. They formed a protective barrier around Arthur and Merlin.
"Hand over the sorcerer," she said "We belong together. My beautiful sapphire has gone but he will be more than ample compensation for it,"
Her eyes widened with longing and madness.
"He's not a sorcerer," Arthur said, finding his voice again. He thought he would wait for his teeth to stop chattering as well. "He's a warlock,"
Orithyia laughed gleefully. "Even better," she said and Merlin gave Arthur a 'Thank you but not that helpful' kind of look. "Now give him here and when I rule your pitiful land I will show sympathy and mercy towards you for such a gift,"
"You'll have to come and get him," Arthur growled and unsheathed his own sword.
"Very well," she replied. Her arm rose into the air and opened her mouth into a silent scream.
The tornado of wind and ice spiralled down from the sky and whistled as it split through the bright sunshine. Clouds billowed out from nowhere and Camelot darkened under their stormy cover. The tornado of ice shards and hail changed direction suddenly and Orithyia pointed her outstretched arm towards them and the wind followed her command and her shrill scream.
Merlin shuffled to the front of the knights before Arthur could bring him back and held out his own outstretched arm towards the Goddess.
He brought up a shield of fire with a few muttered words and a flash of his eyes. The tornado hit the shield but could not penetrate it. Ice melted against fire and the wind died against the force of the blaze Merlin had created. The warlock started backing up and motioning for the knights to do the same. Arthur wondered why until he saw the fire die in the middle and Orithyia walk through with a face like thunder.
"Why do you protect these puny men?" she sulked and stalked closer to Merlin. He stood and waited for her to get closer and Arthur questioned why he didn't shoot something else at her. "They imprisoned you, put you in a cage, the king even drew his sword on you,"
Arthur thought Merlin had actually paused to consider what she was saying, he was too late to realise that she had caught Merlin in her icy gaze before she placed a long, delicate finger on the cut on the warlock's neck and started whispering a long enchantment into Merlin's ear.
"Don't touch him!" Arthur roared and charged forward with the knights behind him. He slashed forward with his sword but felt it bounce off an invisible shield that surrounded her and Merlin. He watched helplessly as Merlin fell to his knees. She scowled at Arthur in anger but quickly returned to holding Merlin's gaze and continued whispering into his ear.
At the point where she had touched Merlin's neck, ice had formed and was spreading up past his jaw, his lips turned blue and his eyelashes started to frost over.
"Merlin!" Arthur yelled as he furiously slashed and kicked at the shield. His arms jarred, it was like slashing against stone. He had to get to them, she'd kill him. "Merlin!"
Merlin blinked once. Then again.
Orithyia stopped whispering and looked at Merlin with confusion.
He blinked again and his eyes flashed gold.
Orithyia was thrown across the arena and slammed into one of the stalls walls. Her shield was broken and Arthur made it to Merlin's side in time for him to start shivering convulsively. Arthur helped him to his feet and stood up in front of him protectively as Orithyia staggered forward with murder in her eyes.
"Acwele!" Merlin shouted from behind him and bright streak of lightening burst from Merlin's fingertips and hit Orithyia squarely in the chest and she fell to the ground.
Arthur looked at Merlin briefly. He was still cold and shivering but he had never seen him look so dark. So dominant and foreboding, his eyes burned gold and his face appeared to glow in the dim light. His eyes looked so ancient and so tormented that suddenly Arthur had no trouble in believing that Merlin was powerful.
Merlin met his stare just as his eyes were returning to their normal blue and he saw his friend and his servant again. The youth and untroubled countenance returned to him.
Merlin quickly became serious again as he watched Orithyia get up and scream in frustration at him.
"Arthur, that was a killing spell," Merlin said darkly "She should be dead,"
Arthur looked at Orithyia drawing herself up into her full height. Her hair was a little messy but she definitely wasn't dead.
"She looks very healthy for a dead person," Arthur muttered.
"YOU CAN'T KILL ME!" she screeched and wind began to spiral around her "I. Am. A. Goddess! A creature of the Earth and Sky. I will be held in the hearts and foolish thoughts of men until long after all of you have died and been forgotten. No puny King and his pet sorcerer will defy me,"
She let off a powerful and concentrated wave of wind and ice which picked Arthur and Merlin off their feet and flung them into the knights.
"Fealle Gyden!" Merlin yelled, arm outstretched. The earth rumbled and Arthur staggered while trying to recover his balance, he saw Gwaine fall over spectacularly in the corner of his eye and Arthur mentally took note to mock him mercilessly about it later.
However, at that moment, there were more interesting things happening. The earth exploded with lava at the feet of the Goddess and she screamed as the molten rock hit her feet and began bubbling up her body. Arthur thought he would go deaf from the screams she emitted. The wind seemed to join in her anguished yells. Howling and whistling around her. It began to rain, ice cold droplets steamed off of the lava, trying to cool it and heed it's movement up her body. She tried to break her arms out of the stone but more lava bubbled forward and trapped it again.
The rain pelted them and the hail stung their faces and ears but Merlin kept his eyes firmly locked on her with his teeth bared in the effort of the magic that was pouring from him.
They watched in horrified fascination as the lava completely consumed Orithyia then cooled into hard rock.
The rain stopped.
The wind died.
The clouds thinned.
Then Merlin fell over unconscious.
Arthur dropped beside him and rolled him onto his back, not before Gwaine and Percival also arrived to provide help.
"Get Gaius," Arthur ordered and Gwaine ran off at full pelt to the physician's chambers.
"What happened?" asked Leon.
"I don't really know," Arthur said. He shook Merlin's body and felt his neck for a pulse. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief when he felt it strong and healthy under his fingertips.
Merlin shifted and blinked his eyes open again. Blue. Like normal.
"Over-exerting yourself again, Merlin?" Arthur said cheerfully as Merlin's eyes finally focused on him.
"I've had a particularly trying month," Merlin agreed.
Arthur just smiled. "Can you tell us what you've done to our guest?" he said pointing to the cooling mound of rock in the middle of his tournament arena.
Merlin got up with the help of Arthur and Percival and stumbled over to the rock. Merlin put his ear against it and waited, listening for something. It was quite a while before Merlin tapped the surface of the mound with his knuckle and then put his ear back to listen again.
Arthur was considering whether Merlin had finally lost it when they all heard the resounding crack that came from the centre of the rock. Merlin placed his hand on top the mound and pushed. Nothing happened.
"Um," Merlin said
"Yes?" Arthur was quite enjoying a confused Merlin.
"Could I have some muscle please?" Merlin asked sheepishly. "I need to push the top off…"
Percival and Leon walked forward and pushed where Merlin indicated they should push. There was some further cracking and then top of the mound slowly broke away revealing a small, bright diamond in its centre.
"Don't tell me that's her," Arthur said disbelievingly.
Merlin smiled and pulled the diamond away from the rock and held it up to the light.
"She was right. I couldn't kill her." He said happily. "But I could give her a prison. You may want to put that somewhere safe," Merlin chucked the gem to Arthur, who fumbled to catch it.
"This is her?" he asked again.
Merlin nodded with a big toothy grin
Arthur watched from his place at the table in his chambers as Merlin scurried around the room placing his breakfast in front of him, getting him water, listing his duties for the day and presenting his armour. Arthur looked down at his breakfast, no food had been stolen from the plate, and it had been brought on time and even looked presentable. Arthur had been woken up on time and dressed in time to actually eat his breakfast at a leisurely pace and Merlin looked clean and well-groomed for a change. He hadn't tripped over his own feet once and he kept calling Arthur 'sire'.
It was Merlin's first day back as Arthur's servant and out from behind any bars or in any shackles.
And it was freaking Arthur out.
He didn't like respectful and competent Merlin. He didn't know how he felt about Merlin as his servant now he knew that he could kill Arthur with his little finger. It felt odd and wrong.
This was all going to take some time to get used to it. Should he get used to it? Should he get a different servant? It didn't seem right anymore, somehow. Merlin was more his equal than ever before.
"Merlin," Arthur interrupted as Merlin was listing his meetings for the day. Arthur hadn't listened to a single thing on the list.
"Yes, sire?" he questioned politely.
"Why are you doing all this?" Arthur asked, ignoring the 'sire' again.
"I'm your… manservant?" Merlin looked apprehensive and Arthur realised that he was probably worried if, after everything, Arthur still wanted him as manservant. Well, Arthur wasn't sure about that but not for the reasons Merlin was probably thinking about.
"Yes, you are," Arthur reassured him. "But why are you doing such a good job of it?"
Merlin looked a little hurt at the insinuation that he didn't normally do a good job but they both knew the offended look was just for show. "I take pride in my work?" Merlin tried but the question in his voice betrayed him.
"No, you don't,"
"I do sometimes," he said with a hurt look. Arthur narrowed his eyes at him "Ok, look. I just didn't want you to regret trusting me,"
Arthur sighed and a small smile played on his lips. Merlin was trying too hard. He stood, with an uncomfortable tension in his shoulders, picking at the grain in the wood of the table.
"Ok," Arthur said softly "What are my meetings today?"
Merlin smiled, happy to get back to some sense of normality. Arthur wasn't sure they could go back to 'normality'. Too much had changed now. It made him rather nostalgic and sad for the loss of a way of life.
But, he had to admit, apart from the awkwardness of their current situation, Merlin seemed happier and freer than he had before.
"Well, the council want to convene on the lifting of the rationing put in place by Gwen, they feel that the stores are sufficiently stocked and food will be sufficient until the next harvest. And the knights would like to discuss the resting place of…the diamond, the vaults perhaps… or somewhere not so easy to break into," Arthur let that comment slide this once but made a note to ask Merlin about it later. "And both of them want a meeting to discuss the laws surrounding…you know…" Merlin trailed off in an embarrassed mutter.
"Both groups?" Arthur questioned.
"Well the knights don't want the decision to be left to the council (Gwaine said something about jumped-up, self-righteous group of old gits) and the council didn't want it to be left to the knights either (Lord Barden said something like more muscle than intelligence)," Merlin said brightly with a cheeky grin.
Arthur put his head in his hands. That was going to be an entertaining meeting. He could feel the headache brewing already.
Did they really need a meeting? He knew what the decision was going to be anyway. He looked up at Merlin who was looking a picture of nervous energy.
"Cancel them," Arthur said in sudden defiance.
"Arthur?" Merlin said with enough shock to forget that he was meant to be calling him 'Sire'.
"Schedule them for tomorrow," he said. "I'm going hunting today,"
Arthur got up and picked his hunting jacket from the wardrobe.
"Do you want any men to come with you?" Merlin asked and the tone of his voice suggested that he thought Arthur might have lost it.
"No," Arthur said "Just you,"
"Me?" Merlin said, looking worriedly down at his carefully illustrated list of Arthur's duties. "But I hate hunting," he moaned.
"But you've also got a lot of explaining to do," Arthur smiled widely.
Merlin looked even more anxious. "Do we have to do that while you have weapons? It didn't go well last time,"
Arthur rolled his eyes at an attempt hide the small twinge of shame that seemed to be accompanying him these days. There was still a mark on Merlin's neck from his sword. The sensitive pale skin had not healed completely and a small silvery scar was left behind. It wasn't noticeable unless you were looking for it. Unfortunately, Arthur felt himself looking for it frequently. His conscience was unable to let him forget his rash and stupid hurt-motivated actions.
Merlin must have caught on to where Arthur's thoughts had wandered because he cleared his throat and adjusted his neckerchief so the scar was hidden from view.
"Merlin, I…" Arthur wanted to clear the air. He wanted to apologise. But, as usual, his pride made him stumble and falter. He looked down at his hunting jacket and absent-mindedly brushed non-existent dirt from the leather sleeve.
"Don't worry about it," Merlin said quickly. "Please, can we just go back to normal?"
Arthur considered the imploring request in Merlin's blue eyes. He smiled sadly at his once manservant and future friend. "Merlin, I don't think we can,"
He visibly watched as Merlin's heart broke in front of him.
"I thought…" Merlin's voice cracked a little and Arthur searched frantically for the words to truly convey what he meant by his last few words. "Aren't you ok with the magic now? I thought you'd accepted that I'm loyal, that-"
"No! Merlin. I mean, yes I know you're loyal but that's not what I meant," Arthur sighed and ran his hand through his hair. Merlin waited for him to continue, it sounded like he had stopped breathing. It would make it easier for Arthur if Merlin would breathe in again. "Too much has changed, there's too much I don't know. We can't go back to normal because I doubt I ever knew what normal was for us,"
Merlin nodded slightly.
"Things will be different, Merlin," Arthur said solemnly and Merlin met his eyes. "But, you need to trust me, things may be different but I think…they will be better. You may not be my manservant anymore, but to be frank, the job never did suit you…"
Arthur's heart lightened at the sound of Merlin's small chuckle.
"…However, I will still need a friend and an advisor. I'll still need you…If you'll have me?" Arthur finished lamely.
Merlin's grin was the only answer Arthur needed. He responded to it with his own enthusiastic smile.
"Now, pack enough provisions for the day," Arthur ordered instinctively "I don't want to see the insides of these castle walls until the sun is well below the horizon,"
"Why don't you pack the provisions?" Merlin retorted "If I'm not going to be you manservant anymore…"
"I'm still the king," Arthur growled playfully.
And, just for old-time's sake, Arthur picked up his goblet and threw it at him. He watched as it satisfactorily bounced off Merlin's arm when the man brought it up to protect himself.
"Hurry up," Arthur said "We'll need as much of the day as we can get. I'm guessing that you've got quite a story to tell me. Something about destinies and dragons and saving my life and prophesies and apparently it all gets rather complicated,"