A/N: Hello everyone! So this is my first fic! I wrote this a few weeks ago and spent a lot of time since then considering publishing it, only to continually beat myself with uncertainties and fears. But I finally made myself do it, so I hope it does alright. And I'm sorry about the cliche title, but I could not for the life of me think of anything better. Anyway, I hope everything works out alright and I hit all the right buttons to get this out there. Please read and tell me what you think, good or bad!
Disclaimer: Contrary to popular belief, I do not own Merlin.
For what seemed like the first time in nearly a week, it was finally quiet.
Of course, over the last week during which Morgana held the throne, there had been little talking within their small group, so naturally there was a general lack of noise. Between the sneaking around in the forest and hiding from patrols, added to the tension and depression that was almost tangible around them, it had been a terse, near silent period of time, devoid of nearly any talking besides the necessary. Only Merlin seemed to have been attempting to be cheerful; Arthur had been downright moody and lacking of enthusiasm in anything. The betrayal had hit him quite hard, and, to put it lightly, he had been finding it hard to see the use in any rebellion or retaliation against an army of immortal soldiers, led by his own half-sister.
Yet only now, as he settled into his bedroll and listened, did he realize how noisy and confusing it had been in his head; his constant questions with no answers and endless circles of thought had been giving him quite the headache. But now it was finally and utterly quiet. Since the moment they all sat down around the Round Table, something inside Arthur shifted just a tiny bit. He finally opened his eyes again to the world and paused in his depression long enough to see the other side of the situation; he had nearly all of his most trusted knights and friends with him, waiting quietly in respect for whatever orders he may give them, all willing to do anything for him. As one by one they had stood up and declared their undying loyalty to him and his cause, he finally found something within himself that he never thought he would be able to find.
Just a tiny spark, but as they agreed to fight and formulate a plan, he had felt that tiny spark begin to grow as though it were an ember having fresh air blown onto it, slowing gaining confidence and enthusiasm. He was so overcome with the loyalty handed to him by these respectable men, he could think of only one way to even begin to repay them. And that he did, knighting each of the swordsmen despite the many ancient rules he knew he was probably breaking. And they all seemed very proud and honoured, strengthening his belief in the choice.
So it was now as he lay there, finally beginning to wonder if they might just have a chance at succeeding, that he felt the beginnings of drowsiness creep in; he realized only now that he had been unable to sleep properly the last few days. He embraced the heaviness of his eyes and only prolonged the moment before the darkness overtook him completely so as to enjoy the light, peaceful feeling a moment longer; it was just as he was on the verge of falling asleep that he realized there were hushed whispers nearby. Despite his desire to rest peacefully, his curiosity would not allow him to ignore the voices completely, and he found himself straining to hear the quiet murmurings that carried slightly from across the room.
"You're a knight. At last."
"But for how long?"
The first voice he knew easily-he should be able to recognize Merlin's voice anywhere, having been awakened to it nearly every morning and listening to his sarcasm and back talk every day for the past... well, number of years. And the second could only belong to Lancelot, who spoke with that certain tone of voice that sounded confident yet soft.
Merlin murmured something in response before the two fell silent, lost in their own grim thoughts.
"What are you planning?" he heard Lancelot ask suddenly, with a quiet but serious voice. "And don't even think about lying; I know you too well."
As he waited for a reply, he wondered what-and who--the man could possibly be referring to. One of the other knights must also be up; who could be 'planning' something on his own? And Lancelot mentioned knowing whoever it was too well. Who was that close to Lancelot? Why, half of the men in the group barely even knew Lancelot, and the only people who were that familiar with him were Percival, Gwen, Gaius, Arthur himself, and Merlin. It must be Percival; the large knight was the only man Arthur didn't know very well, and he was therefore not yet sure of his personality or intentions.
It was a moment or two before a quiet voice responded;
"It's too difficult to explain."
But that was Merlin's voice! Completely confused as to what the manservant could be talking about, he held as still as possible to better hear the hushed conversation.
"...You can tell me," Lancelot's voice drifted over toward Arthur.
Another small pause in which some rustling suggested that Merlin was checking to make sure the others were asleep. Arthur worked hard to control his breathing and act asleep while still trying to stay within earshot; it was getting difficult to hear, considering the two men were lowering their voices even further.
"Morgana has the Cup of Life," Merlin's whispered voice barely carried. "If I can find it and empty it of the blood within, then the army will be destroyed, and Morgana will be powerless."
Destroyed? The army would be destroyed? Just like that?
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Lancelot reminded him. "It's guarded by an immortal army."
Merlin's response was so quiet that Arthur missed it altogether and only heard a silent murmur; the next voice he heard was Lancelot's again, sounding concerned and slightly stern.
"It doesn't make you immortal."
Arthur cursed himself for missing whatever Merlin had said; he had lost what remaining part of the conversation made sense. After a lengthy pause, he had just been about to go back to sleep when he heard Lancelot's quiet voice once again, sounding as though he were in awe.
"You know, Merlin, you're the one Arthur should knight." At this, Merlin snorted, but Lancelot continued. "You're the bravest of us all and he doesn't even know it."
Arthur only had a moment in which to wonder the implications of that statement before Merlin responded in a voice that sounded both grim and sad.
"He can't," the young man whispered, sounding older than his years. "Not yet. That's why I need to find a way to get to the Cup without Arthur knowing."
"Leave that to me," Lancelot assured him with resolve.
At this point Arthur heard more rustling as the men got comfortable and went to sleep; he, however, was now far from drowsy. His mind was going in circles thinking about what he just heard. He had no idea what was going on, and could not for the life of him figure out why Merlin had suddenly sounded so old, or why he and Lancelot seemed to be sneaking around together. What was it that Arthur couldn't know? And why not? These were men who had only just a few hours earlier pledged their complete and utter allegiance to him, claiming they trusted him completely; were those empty words?
There was also the matter of the Cup. This was incredible news; the army could be destroyed? It could turn the whole war to their favor! His mind had already begun trying to think of ways to reach it... But Arthur dragged himself back to his present confusion. If Merlin knew of this weakness in Morgana's plan and thought they could make use of it, why hadn't he told anyone? Oh, but of course, he had decided to tell Lancelot. Arthur tried not to allow a little jealousy to creep into his thoughts. He was immensely glad that Lancelot had come; the man was an incredibly noble person who was also skilled with a sword, and he was a useful ally, not to mention he saved their lives. Again. Yes, Arthur liked him and was glad to have him in this dark time... but to witness firsthand the intimate bond between him and Merlin, a trust that didn't completely reach Arthur... it brought back small pangs of hurt, and he could not prevent a brief image of Lancelot and Guinevere holding hands to pop up in his mind when he thought of the man. He knew it was silly, and he tried to convince himself there was nothing to be jealous of. Lancelot was allowed to be friends with Merlin or Gwen or anyone of his choosing. It made no difference to Arthur.
But putting aside his petty feelings, he tried yet again to focus back on the matter at hand. What was going on? So maybe Merlin had his reasons for keeping the information secret. Despite his general idiocy, he did have his moments of brilliance, rare as they were, so Arthur would at least wait to confront him about it. But why would the clumsy, weak boy ever attempt to do something as impossible as what he spoke of? The cup would be guarded heavily by immortal soldiers, hidden somewhere within the castle filled with more immortal soldiers, with Morgause and Morgana on the prowl... It would be near impossible, and of anyone who could possibly have any sort of chance, Merlin did not have good chances. He was clumsy as hell and barely strong enough to even swing a sword, and he was quite obviously recognizable to anyone in the castle, so how did he think he had any sort of chance at even getting in on his own, much less finding the cup or defeating an immortal army? He'd be caught and killed within five minutes of setting foot in the citadel. Yet Lancelot, who Arthur knew to have a rational mind and high set of morals, was fine with this plan; why, he was offering to help! He only seemed mildly concerned for the raven-haired boy. He had said... what was it he had said? In his bewildered state, Arthur almost couldn't remember.
"You know, Merlin, you're the one Arthur should knight. You're the bravest of us all and he doesn't even know it."
Lancelot's words suddenly rang out in his head. He pondered on that statement; the bravest of us all. He was about to scoff at it-everyone knew Merlin was the one who hid behind trees during fights-when he stopped and realized it was true. He had just heard Merlin admit he was going to attempt the impossible, win the war single-handedly without even telling anyone, despite the non-existent chance of survival. He didn't even want Arthur or anyone else to know; he wasn't doing this for credit or to impress anyone, and if he died tomorrow, Arthur would go on believing him a cowardly weakling. But that wasn't true; Arthur knew he was brave. He had seen the stubbornness with which the boy refused to stay home during quests and his willingness to risk his own life for Arthur's. Yet this was something else completely. He was practically sealing his own fate for the small chance that he could succeed and save everyone. That merely made him brave; what made him the bravest of them all was that he refused to be acknowledged, refused to let anyone know what he was about to do, why they may never see him again. He seemed to have some crazy idea that Arthur couldn't know about this other side of him, and for whatever reason, he was convinced that it was for the best that he hold his silence.
Well, Arthur would be having none of it! After what he had heard, how could he possibly just pretend that nothing had happened and allow the servant to completely risk his life? It was impractical, it was outrageous, it was... it was...
Arthur stopped. What could he do? There was still so much about Merlin that he was completely oblivious to, as was proved by the conversation he heard tonight. While it wasn't that unusual that Merlin knew quite a bit about magical artifacts-he was Gaius's ward, after all-Arthur still had no idea why he hadn't seen fit to tell anyone else about the Cup, or why he planned to go off on his own into danger, or what advantage he thought he had... What gave him such confidence that Lancelot had had to remind him that he wasn't immortal? Why was Lancelot willing to help him on this suicide mission? How the hell did Merlin think he could even come close to achieving his task? Arthur was forced to admit that he actually knew next to nothing about the situation-or even about Merlin himself-and he couldn't just barge in and demand an explanation, and Merlin would probably just deny anything he said, so there wasn't much point anyway. He realized he might just have to blindly trust the boy and let him do whatever he wanted; At least he would have Lancelot looking after him. Arthur finally allowed himself to drift to sleep, wondering what the next day would hold for them all.
A/N: You're still here? Seriously? Wow, so maybe it wasn't actually that bad. Thanks for reading, and I hope you actually enjoyed it... What do you think? Should I continue? Please give any feedback you can in any way, shape, or form. Feel free to be super critical as long as it's not just plain mean or rude. Thanks!