Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed the last chapter. I was overwhelmed when I logged on and saw the response to the chapter. To come back and see that the story had surpassed 200 favorites and 300 reviews blew me away. I never expected such a response! And the kind words you all had to say... You really made my day.
Here is the final update. It feels so bittersweet to be at the end, but at least I have some sequels and side stories to work on! More on that in the Author's Note at the end.
On with the epilogue. I hope you enjoy it :)
Warning: Potentially fatal doses of bromance below. Proceed with caution.
"Merlin, not so tight," Arthur growled as he slapped at his friend's hands. "Have you forgotten how to fasten a cape properly or are you trying to choke your king?"
"Sorry," Merlin apologized sheepishly as he loosened his grip and finished the knot with shaking hands. "Just a bit anxious, I suppose. Either that or you've gotten larger. Now that I come to think of it..."
Arthur glowered at him. "I have not gotten larger!"
Guinevere giggled as she came entered the chambers. "Will you two ever stop bickering?"
Merlin and Arthur looked at each other for a moment before they both said, "Not likely."
All three of them laughed. Merlin grinned at the queen. "You are looking lovely today, Your Majesty."
"Thank you, Merlin," she said. "You look rather handsome, yourself. It's nice to see you getting use out of that jacket again."
Merlin looked down at himself and blushed. He was wearing the red jacket that Arthur and Guinevere had gifted him to wear at their marriage ceremony and the queen's coronation. Guinevere had made it especially for him, and Arthur knew that it was one of Merlin's prized possessions.
Merlin had humbly objected to receiving such a fine gift. The fabric was likely more expensive than all of his other clothes combined.
"You're our best friend," she had told him as she'd pushed his arm through the jacket. Arthur remembered the way she had given him a sharp look before adding, "even if Arthur won't ever say it. You deserve to stand out, even just a little bit.
Merlin had donned the jacket again for the magic repeal ceremony that afternoon at Arthur's suggestion. Just as he had at the coronation, Merlin also wore his old blue neck scarf.
Arthur frowned and plucked at the material. "You really need to take that off."
"I do not," Merlin said stubbornly, stepping away from him.
"It is old and threadbare," Arthur said. "Not to forget completely unfashionable."
"But I don't want to take it off. I always wear my neckerchief."
"Not the first terrible choice you have ever made."
"It stays on," Merlin said.
"Leave him alone, Arthur," Guinevere chided with obvious amusement twinkling in her dark eyes. "You look wonderful, Merlin."
Merlin looked smugly at Arthur, who sighed. "You are supposed to be on my side," he told his wife.
"Always," she said with a quick kiss on his cheek. "I'm off to go see that the preparations have gone smoothly and check on Hunith. Last I saw her, Gwaine was showing her around the castle."
"Heaven help us," Arthur said.
"Don't let him flatter Mother too much," Merlin said.
Guinevere's laughter filled Arthur's ears until she shut the door behind her.
"I don't know why you left your poor mother alone with Gwaine," Arthur told him. "You condemned her to a day of mindless chatter and tavern stories."
Merlin shrugged. "She likes listening to Gwaine's stories."
"She's a braver person than I." Arthur looked in the mirror and rolled his eyes at the cape that rested askew over his shoulders. "Oh, for heaven's sake, it's crooked."
"Oh... erm... I'll just fix that." Merlin stepped forward to untie the garment and was immediately met with a struggle.
"Just leave it alone," Arthur hissed in irritation.
"No, no, I've got it," Merlin insisted. "I have done it a thousand times before, after all."
A knock at the door interrupted their scuffle and Arthur took advantage of the sound to push Merlin's hands away from his cape in favor of fastening it himself.
"Enter," he called.
The door pushed open to reveal the young maid servant whose infatuation with Merlin had been the topic of discussion seemingly ages ago. Adalind entered quietly with her green eyes trained on the ground and two plates of food held in her hands.
"I've brought the food you requested, Your Majesty."
"Ah, yes," Arthur said casually. "Merlin, you will join me for lunch, won't you?"
Merlin frowned. "I could have gone down for your lunch. You didn't have to send for Addy to bring it here."
"Nonsense," Arthur insisted. "Adalind, is it? Would you mind setting the table for me and Merlin? Everything is just over there in that cabinet."
"Of course, Sire." Adalind bowed her head lower and placed the two dishes on the table before going to retrieve utensils. It was only as she reached for a goblet that Arthur noticed the slight tremor in her hand.
Merlin huffed and rolled his eyes at the king before approaching the kitchen maid. "Please don't, Addy. I can handle all that. I already know where it is, after all. Arthur's just being a great prat as usual and—"
A crash resounded through the chamber the moment his hand touched Adalind's elbow and she dropped the goblet on the ground. With a frightened squeak, she flattened herself against the piece of furniture and stared at Merlin with wide eyes.
Merlin's cheeks and ears tinged red and he backed away from her self-consciously.
"Oh-h, I'm so sorry M-Merlin," she stuttered nervously as she reached down to retrieve the goblet. "I'll just..."
"It's alright," Merlin said gently. "Just go on. I'll finish here."
Adalind glanced at Arthur unsurely and he held back a sigh as he nodded in confirmation. "Thank you for bringing our meal," he said.
Adalind bowed her head again. "Your Majesty." With one last anxious glance at Merlin, she darted from the room with the goblet still in her hand. Merlin sighed and collected utensils
"I see that situation hasn't improved much."
The warlock gave him such a reproachful look that Arthur might have felt a bit ashamed of himself. "Thanks very much for that. Don't you think it was a bit obvious of you requesting a kitchen maid serve your lunch?"
Arthur shrugged. "I was only trying to help."
Merlin set the utensils down on the table, but only set it for one. "She isn't the only person afraid of me now."
"I'm sorry, Merlin. They'll all come around eventually. As loathe as I am to admit this and cause you to grow a large head—"
Merlin snorted at that. "Yes, we must worry about my oversized head."
Arthur pursed his lips but continued. "Everyone in Camelot likes you Merlin. They always have. They'll all come around eventually."
"It may take years to reverse the prejudices your father built."
"And that's exactly why I need you as my Court Sorcerer to show the people how magic can be used for good. With you representing the magical community, we can help the kingdom fight those prejudices. Set that for two, Merlin. Or do you plan to eat with your hands?"
"Court Sorcerer?" Merlin repeated, ignoring his king's command.
"Well, you can't very well keep this job, can you?"
"Hold on now. You're sacking me?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "I'm promoting you, you idiot, though I may have to second guess making a dimwitted fool such a pivotal member of my court."
Merlin was gaping rather impressively at him. "Pivotal member of— Arthur, I can't be Court Sorcerer!"
"And why not?"
"Have you met the stuck-up nobles in your court?" Merlin asked with his eyebrows high. "They never got over you knighting peasants and they are still reeling from your decision to repeal the ban on magic and the discovery that your servant has been practicing it all along. If you tell them you plan to make that peasant from Ealdor a member of court, they'll think you madder than Uther under a troll enchantment. Worse, they'll probably think I enchanted you."
"It's a good job I have already thought of that and dug up some rather irrefutable evidence of your place in Camelot's court." Arthur approached his bedside table and picked up the rolled piece of parchment that sat there. He handed the document to Merlin, who stared dumbly at it and made no move up open it.
"Your family's seal of nobility."
Merlin laughed then. "I haven't got a seal of nobility!"
"You have," Arthur said surely. "Balinor was a dragonlord, Merlin. Before my father turned against them, the dragonlords came from nobility. I asked Geoffrey to research it for me."
When Merlin still made no move to open the scroll, Arthur huffed and snatched it up again. He opened it to reveal a coat of arms, its crest, like his own family's, a gold dragon. The beast faced the opposite direction of the one adorning Arthur's cape and sat atop a seal of rich royal blue.
"This is the crest of the Ambrosius family," the king explained, "of which you are the last remaining descendant. The Ambrosius family was once highly respected, holding one of the most powerful lordships in Albion. In fact, there were close ties between the Ambrosiuses and the Pendragons for years." Arthur placed the seal back in the warlock's hands. "You are nobility, Merlin, true nobility by birth into the house of Ambrosius. And I am reinstating the title that is your birthright."
Merlin studied the document with a frown before meeting Arthur's eyes. "Arthur, you must be joking. I'm not a noble. I'm... Look at me. Do I look like a lord to you?"
Arthur looked at him critically for a moment and sighed in false disapproval. "Appearances aside, you are the descendant of a very old family of nobles. Not that it changes anything, really. You are still a lazy idiot and a hopeless fool and..." He stopped himself and set a hand on Merlin's shoulder. "Well, whether a bit of parchment decrees it or not, you have always been the noblest man I know. This just makes you a proper member of the court for the sake of the 'stuck-up nobles' who need appeasing. Besides, I thought you might want it as one of the remaining legacies from your father. I imagine you have precious little by which to remember him."
Merlin watched him with glassy eyes and Arthur knew he had done something right. He wasn't always the best at expressing gratitude, but for the first time in years he was making a true effort to ensure that Merlin knew how appreciated he was. "I... thank you."
Arthur turned to the table and grabbed a blue cloth object that had been folded and set there by Guinevere. "There's more," he said as he put it in Merlin's hand.
With a quick glance at Arthur, the younger man eagerly unfolded the fine material to reveal the gold Ambrosius crest. With further investigation, he discovered that it was a blue cloak with gold clasps at the neck.
"Geoffrey recalled some belongings of the Ambrosius family being locked away in the vaults down below," Arthur explained. "We found this with a bit of digging, and I believe it was worn by your father long ago. There are more of your family heirlooms among magical objects that you may want to examine."
Merlin ran his fingers over the embroidered crest as if touching something fragile and precious. "I can't thank you enough for this, Arthur."
"And of course, there are some magic books that were not destroyed by my father. You are free to do as you like with anything that was stored away in the Great Purge. You'll need something to fill all that space, after all."
Again, Merlin looked rather bemused at Arthur. "What space?"
"In your new chambers, of course."
"Arthur, I haven't moved to any new chambers."
Arthur rolled his eyes and indicated for Merlin to follow him to a set of doors in a corridor adjacent to the Arthur's corridor.
"Where are we going?"
Arthur opened the door and stepped into a chamber nearly as large as his own but adorned in shades of blue. The furniture was made of beautiful dark wood and included a four-poster bed with bedside tables, a desk and chair and an ornate chest for clothes. The three bookcases lining the walls were still entirely bare except for a single magic book given to Merlin by Gaius years ago.
The king watched his former servant's eyes travel the room before settling on the meager pile of his belongings—everything he owned in the world—on top of the bed. They would hardly fill a drawer in the large chest.
"I can't have my new court sorcerer—and certainly not a noble—living in a drafty, cramped room in the physician's chambers."
"You really must be joking now," Merlin said in disbelief.
"I assure you that I am not. It was Guinevere's idea that you should have proper chambers and I quite agree."
Merlin shook his head. "This is too much. Just because you think this all makes me a noble—"
"It has nothing to do with your station," Arthur argued. "You have saved my life more times than a king is owed by any one subject and at great risk to your own life, Merlin, and have been incredibly loyal for no reason than your faith in me. I'm not certain that I ever earned such faith, but you gave it despite my many shortcomings. This is a meager show of gratitude for all you have done for this kingdom."
"But it requires no thanks," Merlin insisted. "I did it because you're my friend."
Arthur smiled. "And I did this because you are my friend. The greatest friend I've ever known."
Merlin grinned and looked around again. "That bed is really mine?"
"It really is."
And with a childish bounce in his step, Merlin leapt onto the bed and collapsed against the pillows. "Oh, this is heavenly."
"I swear, you have the mind of a child, Lord Ambrosius," Arthur chastised as he grabbed the blue cloak.
Merlin sat up and pulled a face. "Ugh, that sounds atrocious. Rhymes with it, too."
"Better not let Gwaine hear you say that or else you'll never be rid of the name. Would you prefer to be called Lord Emrys? I suppose you aren't required to take the name of your father's house."
"Merlin works just fine," the warlock said cheerfully. "I've been Merlin my whole life and I rather like it."
"Fine. Lord Merlin it is. "
Arthur rolled his eyes and sighed with exasperation. "Well, obviously I know to just call you Merlin. Get over here, you fool."
Merlin laughed as he came over. Arthur unfolded the cloak and threw it around the warlock's shoulders. As he went to fasten it, Merlin tried to protest. "I will do it," Arthur commanded and tugged the neck tighter. When Merlin stopped fighting him, Arthur worked on tying it. "Merlin, I know a lot of things are changing rather quickly, but can you promise me one thing?"
"What's that?" Merlin asked as he shifted, clearly uncomfortable with the role reversal for the moment.
"Never change, not for anyone. I want you to always be you."
The corner of Merlin's mouth twitched upward as he watched Arthur's hand work. "Child's mind and all?"
"And all." Arthur finished fastening the cape and stepped back to admire his handiwork. "There. We'll make a noble out of you yet."
Merlin snorted as he looked down at himself. "Not bloody likely."
"Well... Not in those boots, of course."
"Hey! I like these boots."
"Further evidence that they must go. Also, have you never heard of a comb?"
"My entire life," Arthur said to the many occupants of the throne room, "I was taught to fear magic. My father raised his son and ruled his kingdom on the principal that all magic was evil. And in accordance with that principal, all those who had magic were made enemies of Camelot and her citizens.
"I do not doubt my father's good intentions in this matter, but I am no longer a young boy who must accept his father's truth. And, as your king, it is my duty to this kingdom to look at those who have come before me and recognize their successes and their mistakes. I am here today to tell you that my father was wrong.
"I know that many of you have been given reason to fear sorcery. We in Camelot have all met our fair share of those who would harm us with magic. But that is because those who would do good with it were either forced into hiding by fear or, worse, were so consumed by fear that they turned to evil.
"I am as guilty as any other person of the prejudices that forced so many to hide their natural abilities, but I have recently learned a different truth. I have met dragons who would protect this kingdom from harm. I have seen magic heal deadly wounds. I have witnessed a magic born of true love that endures even in death." Arthur glanced beside him at Merlin and smiled slightly. "And I have learned of the magic that has long existed at the heart of Camelot to protect me and my people.
"Magic is no more evil than the sword. It can protect as easily as it can harm. Like the sword, its use is determined by its wielder. This is why I must officially repeal the ban on magic in Camelot. Those who use magic shall be treated as equals to those without it. All residents of Camelot will henceforth be judged for their character and actions and not for their abilities. I ask that you all live by that principal.
"My sister Morgana, though she died an enemy of this kingdom, once had a kind, beautiful heart and cared deeply for Camelot's people. It was not magic that corrupted her but the fear of persecution that made her our enemy. If we accept our magical brothers and sisters, we can ensure that no others are pushed into such darkness by fear.
"We must all honor and nurture those we love rather than reject them for their natural abilities." Arthur searched the crowd before him and found Mordred, his youngest and most promising knight and one of the most honorable men he had ever known. The young druid's eyes were bright with hope and promise, and Arthur remembered the words Merlin had repeated to him on their way to Avalon. "In the words of a very wise druid, who is dear to my heart as a son, 'The love that binds us is more important than the power we yield.'"
The room broke into applause and, despite the many unsure faces among the crowd, Arthur had a good feeling about what was to come. He watched Mordred smile in surprise and duck his head humbly. Further to the left, Gaius patted Hunith's arm as the woman, dressed in a modest but finely-made blue gown, cried silently.
Arthur accepted a quill Geoffrey and dipped it into the ink well on the table that stood before him. To his left, Guinevere beamed at him with pride. To the right, Merlin... Well, he continued to fidget a bit, quite obviously uncomfortable with standing at the head of a room filled with so many people. He'd have to get used to it, though. Merlin, who was so bright and honest and good, did not belong hidden in the shadows, and Arthur would never let him relegated there again.
Without further hesitation, Arthur put his signature and seal to the decree. He took a deep breath as he finished and looked back at the man beside him. "Merlin."
The smile that played on Merlin's lips was small and unassuming, and someone less familiar with the warlock might have never known the sense of triumph and pure elation hidden there. But to Arthur, Merlin's earnest, tear-filled eyes told the story of a man who had silently sacrificed so much because he was filled with such love and goodness. A man who had desperately fought for a dream that had at times seemed hopeless. A man who would have readily abandoned his personal dream of freedom for love of his king and friend.
Arthur had never seen Merlin happier, and the king himself would count it as one of the greatest moments of his own life.
He grinned and clapped his hand over the warlock's shoulder. "It's a new day."
And it was the first day of a new age. In the years to follow, new alliances would be formed and old wrongs would be righted. In those years, the friendship of the valiant King Arthur and the wise warlock Merlin would create a Camelot that would endure in legend for centuries. A peace yet unknown to Albion in Arthur's lifetime would unite the land under Camelot's leadership. And magic would flourish again for one last Golden Age.
Of course, prophecy always has a way of unfolding in time and Albion's Golden Age would one day come to an end. A dark power would turn the loyal young knight Sir Mordred against his king, but it would be many years still until they would face one another on that final battlefield. Arthur would be a well-lived man with a son of his own when he fell at Camlann, leaving Guinevere to continue his work. When she and their friends eventually passed and Albion divided again, magic would slowly fade until it was but a myth. And Merlin would wait until the time when the Once and Future King would rise again.
But that is a story for another day, for it matters not where the tale ends so much as where it began: With a haughty prince and a foolish warlock whose friendship would become the stuff of legends.
This epilogue kind of ran away from me lengthwise, but I just couldn't bring myself to cut any of it! I'm quite happy with where this ended. I hope you all feel the same way. I wanted to allude to the rest of their tale for anyone who is content to finish "Fighting Fate" and not proceed to the sequels. But don't worry, I mean it when I say it's a story for another day :)
So about those sequels... I have already decided that their titles will be "Revising Fate" and "Meeting Fate," and they will tell the story hinted at in the ending here. RF will take place about a year after this story and MF about 15 years after that. I probably won't post the first chapter until this fall because I want to have a decent amount prewritten.
Revising Fate: For just over a year, magic has been legalized in Camelot. It has taken a lot of work from King Arthur, his Court Sorcerer, his Queen and the Knights of the Round Table to change Camelot's views and earn the respect of those previously persecuted, but things in Camelot are finally settling down. Content that Camelot is thriving under the new laws, Merlin goes on a trip to learn more healing magic from the Druids. However, when faced with the loss of a loved one, Merlin attempts to cheat death and threatens the balance created by Arthur's legalization of magic. He finds that he has angered the Triple Goddess and that Arthur could pay the price for his mistake. Meanwhile, a magical artifact discovered in a hidden vault in Camelot has the potential to corrupt even the purest of hearts, and Mordred may fall victim to its power.
I will hold off on a synopsis for MF but will mention that Morgana manages to make an appearance somehow... You'll have to wait to see how, but thanks to Irene for her prompt that evolved into that part of the story.
I also have some side stories I would like to write in this new AU that sprouts from the events of FF. These include:
-A story about Merlin traveling to Nemeth as Camelot's ambassador to help them reintroduce magic into their own kingdom (inspired by a combination of reviewer suggestions)
-A sad story about Kilgharrah's passing
-A silly story about trying to convince Aithusa to lay an egg to preserve the dragon species
-A story in which Merlin must face Gaius's mortality and his own potential immortality
Have any other stories within this sort-of AU that you would like to see? Let me know what you think. I can't promise to do all of them or to do them exactly as suggested, but I don't mind prompts that get me thinking. Considering that the beginning of FF until the end of MF spans more than 15 years of Merlin's life, there is a lot of time to work with.
I'll also add some scenes and drabbles to "Protecting the Prat" now that this is done. Feel free to tell me if there is anything you'd like to see in that as well.
And so, I must bid you all farewell and final thanks for this story. Your reviews and suggestions truly made my first fanfic a wonderful experience. Thank you all!