Chapter Two: The Dawn Breaks
"What happened next father?" the youngest girl asked.
"Hold on a moment dearest, while your mother makes more tea."
The storm continued its roaring and cracking, cruelly lashing rain against the windows of the cozy room. The baby had long since been put in his crib, warmly bundled against the chilly night air. The father piled more logs onto the fire, using the nearby poker to stir up the orange embers.
The mother returned, three piping hot cups of tea and two goblets of mulled wine upon her tray.
"Thank you m'dear," the father said, kissing his wife's cheek. He then turned and settled himself in his chair once again.
"Now, where were we?"
Merlin (for as you children know, Emrys was Merlin) limped cautiously forward.
Before Merlin could get any further, the King turned on his heel and stomped away. With a sigh, Merlin followed him. When he reached the edge of the camp, he found Gaius waiting for him.
"The king stormed into camp and into his tent without speaking a word to anyone, not even to the Queen. Am I right in my assumption as to the cause of his anger?"
Merlin hung his head.
"Yes. I had to drop my disguise to beat Morgana. I thought he'd gone, but-"
His voice trailed off as Gaius patted him encouragingly on the shoulder.
"Come, we must tend your wounds."
An hour or so later, Guinevere entered the healing tent.
"The King wishes to speak to you, Merlin."
Merlin nodded as he stepped towards the tent-flap.
He turned back to Gwen. She took his hand reassuringly.
"Whatever Arthur may say, I know you saved his life. Thank you."
A grin stole onto Merlin's face as he left the tent.
The King was leaning against a table, arms folded in front of him, a half-eaten apple in his right hand. His armour was gone, replaced by his usual white linen shirt, though Excalibur was tucked firmly into his belt.
"Are you angry?"
"Angry? Why should I be angry? I just found out that, not only is my servant a sorcerer, but that he has been lying to me since the first day we met."
Arthur's voice was cold, but calm. He took a bite of apple and munched for a moment.
"Tell me, Merlin, what I should do with you."
"I – I don't know."
"Well, if I were my father, you'd be burnt at the stake."
"Fortunately for you, I am not my father."
Merlin's shoulders relaxed slightly.
"Why all this deception? Why did you never tell me?"
"I didn't want to put you in the position you're in now."
"But why all these years as my servant? Risking your life; breaking the law; for what?"
"It is my duty to protect and serve you. If fulfilling my destiny meant all that, then it was worth it."
Arthur nodded thoughtfully. He started to speak when Leon entered the tent.
"Forgive me Sire, but Gwaine and Percival have sent back word."
Arthur lifted his eyebrows and inclined his head.
"The Saxons are in full retreat, Sire, and they've no one to rally them. If we press them now they will be routed completely."
Arthur turned to look at the map on the table behind him, pondering his next move carefully. He motioned Leon over.
"Tell Percival to move his patrol through the pass here. If he moves quickly, their retreat will be cut off. Gwaine is to press them on into Percival's trap and await the dawn. You will proceed to reinforce him at once with two-hundred men. I will follow with the rest of the army in the morning."
Leon bowed and left the tent, and Arthur turned back to Merlin.
"I have to press our advantage at once. I will make my decision concerning you when this is over. Until then, you are free to do as you please."
"When do you want your armour?"
Arthur looked surprised, but he answered quickly enough.
"I'll need it by dawn."
"Better get to work then."
With no more adieu, Merlin strode over to where the armour lay, and began mending the dents in the plate.
A red sun rose in the East, the clouds and mountains glowing pink in the predawn light. Merlin gingerly helped Arthur into the armour that had taken over half the night to repair.
"You sent Leon ahead with two-hundred men," Merlin stated matter-of-factly. "How many do Gwaine and Percival have?"
"The same a-piece."
"And how many do you have?"
"Counting Gwaine's and Leon's..."
Merlin waited patiently, as Arthur's voice trailed off.
"If Gaius' casualty list is correct, then counting Gwaine's and Leon's troops, I have eight-hundred men."
Arthur turned around.
"Why do you care anyway?"
"I just wanted to know if you needed my help."
Arthur shook his head.
"We now have Morgana's army in a worse position than ours was in yesterday. I rather think we can handle them."
Merlin nodded quietly. Arthur made for the tent-flap, but stopped halfway.
He turned halfway 'round.
And with that, Arthur left the tent, Merlin trailing behind.
Arthur's march had been uneventful but slow. Thanks to Morgana's grave, the pass through Camlan was less than half its former size, and once they reached the end of the pass, the ground was rocky and hard -so hard, in fact, that it broke many of the iron shoes right off the horses' hooves.
Chagrined at this further delay, Arthur reluctantly gave the order:
"Dismount and proceed on foot. And watch where you step!"
Cautiously the men proceeded onward, careful not to impale their own feet on the rocks which they'd spared the horses. Onwards they trudged through a dreary rain that made the going even harder.
"Blast this rain," Arthur muttered.
About noon the drizzle worsened into a downpour. It seemed as though the heavens wept for all the boys that lay dead on the plain behind them. They reached Gwaine's position about 3-o'clock. True to form, he and Leon were teasing one another as they inspected their lines.
As Arthur's exhausted men filed into position, many of them collapsed on the ground, seeking what little sleep they might steal before the battle that would end the war. Merlin and Gwaine watched quietly as Leon gave Arthur a detailed description of the situation.
"Percival is in position on the other end of the pass, and we've been skirmishing with the Saxons all day. Scouts report that the ground on our right is steep, but not too steep to climb. The ground on our left is a sheer cliff face; no one cuold climb that."
"Then I'll place my men on your right. We'll have them blocked in on three sides with nowhere to run."
Merlin stepped forward.
"Perhaps you could give the men a few hours' sleep before moving them? Many of them are too tired to stand, let alone climb."
Arthur thought for a moment.
"Not only that, but it'll be dark in four hours time."
He looked at Leon.
"You say you've been skirmishing with them all day?"
"Yes Sire, we've been at it since first light."
Arthur's smile widened.
"Then they'll be far too tired to fight tonight."
Merlin grinned in spite of himself. Perhaps it would be that easy after all.
To everyone's surprise, it was that easy. For the first and only time, one of Arthur's battles went exactly according to plan. The knights moved in captured the whole lot of them. Not a single man resisted. Arthur paroled them all on condition that they never again attack the kingdom of Camelot, and, to my knowledge, not a one of them has from that day to this.
A week later, Merlin was called into the King's chamber.
"Well Merlin, I have made my decision."
"I have decided to punish you in the harshest way I can think of."
"I have decided to replace you as my servant."
"Speechless, are you? Yes, I know it's awful, but that fellow George is much more reliable than you."
Arthur padded over to the window and peered out.
"Besides, I am quite certain he's not a sorcerer. The man is far too dull."
Merlin chuckled at his friend's reasoning.
"But that's not the whole of it."
Arthur strode over to Merlin and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Since you are no longer my servant, and because I don't want you just lounging about the castle-"
Merlin rolled his eyes.
"- I've decided to appoint you to a different position. A new one, in fact. Care to hear what it is?"
"I have chosen to make you my Court Magician."
"Your what?" Merlin asked in shock.
"My Court Magician. It has rather a nicer ring to it than 'sorcerer', I think. It certainly has less stigma surrounding it."
"Does this mean..."
"That magic is no longer outlawed? I suppose it must, now mustn't it? It would hardly be fair for me to let you do it and not let everybody else."
Merlin looked his friend in the eye, his own sparkling with joy as the pair of them laughed.
"I should go tell Gaius."
Merlin had his hand on the doorknob when Arthur spoke again.
"And Merlin? One more thing."
Arthur held out his hand.
"And that, my dear ones, is how I came to be the Court Magician."
The eldest son sat with rapt attention as his father finished his tale. The girls and the mother had long since fallen asleep, nuzzled warmly together under a woolen blanket. Merlin (for the father was Merlin) rose and paced to the window, his son in tow.
He looked out at the clear sky, light streaming into the room behind him. He turned and tousled his son's fiery hair.
"Come. We'll get breakfast ready for everyone."
The two of them stepped gingerly past the sleeping figures into the nearby kitchen, which was soon filled with the scent of bacon and eggs and mushrooms, all in a frying pan.
A/N: And so we come at last to the ending we had all hoped for. All is well in Camelot, and Albion flourishes in her Golden Age. Thanks kindly for reading.
I owe my deepest thanks to Clive Staples Lewis for allowing me to borrow the "bacon and eggs and mushrooms all in a frying pan".
God bless, and a Happy New Year to all,