A/N: Last chapter, guys!
Chapter 16-The Last Mermaid
Merlin woke late in the afternoon. He was back at the inn, lying on the bed in the room he shared with Arthur. He stared at the ceiling for a long time, thinking about what Arabell had said to him before she had disappeared. He wondered if she was right. Was human nature just to kill?
After all, there was Morgana who seemed to be bent on killing everyone who didn't agree with her. And there was Aggravaine, who seemed to want to help her. Morgause had killed, too. Cenred's army had decimated so many. Bandits had killed Merlin's own father. Arthur's knights had killed Freya, the only girl he'd ever loved. Raiders had killed many people in his own home village of Ealdor. Nimueh had killed dozens of people, too. All this death. Was Arabell right? Did humans only kill?
But as Merlin thought through his life, he remembered the time that hadn't involved killing. He recalled Gaius's kind words and fatherly care. He remembered the friends he'd made in Camelot. The time when Nimueh had poisoned him, and Arthur put his life on the line to save the servant he'd only just met. He recalled Morgana, when she was good, helping those who needed help. He recalled Gwen's gentle heart, and the friendships between the knights.
Merlin smiled to himself. Humanity wasn't near perfect. Humans had a lot of issues. But once in a while, they could do something good. Merlin could only hope that he'd be able to remember that.
Slowly, the warlock rolled to his feet, wincing at the bruises he'd sustained from his adventure the night before. He was sore and stiff, but he had to admit, he had witnessed something amazing. The last of the mermaids. No one had seen them in hundreds of years, but he had. And he'd witnessed the last mermaid on earth. Maybe a few bruises weren't that bad.
He made his way down the stairs to the tavern where Arthur and the others were gathered. Matthew was there, along with Urie and Maria. Merlin noticed that though Leon and Gwaine were present, the two guards were still missing. He wondered what had happened to them.
"Ah, Merlin," Arthur said, acknowledging his servant. "Glad to see you're alive."
"Yeah, you too," Merlin answered with a smile as he joined the others down on the ground floor. Gwaine slid him a tankard of ale, which Merlin gratefully accepted. Hopefully the alcohol would take the edge off his bruises.
"What's going on?" the warlock asked. Arthur took another drink from his own tankard.
"Matthew here said that they went to find Isaiah this morning," the blonde responded once he'd swallowed. "But he was dead."
"Probably happened when the mermaid's power over him broke," Merlin told them. "It knocked you out, Arthur. I guess Isaiah was just too old to withstand it."
Arthur nodded thoughtfully.
"I guess so," he agreed. "But Matthew, what happens to the council now?"
"I don't know," the older man admitted. "We'll have to declare a new leader. We haven't had to do that for many years."
"Will you convene the councilors today so we can discuss it?" Arthur asked. Matthew nodded.
"Of course, Sire," he said. Arthur nodded.
"Good man," he said.
"Your Highness?" a quiet voice asked. The others around the table turned to find Maria looking worriedly at Arthur.
"Yes?" Arthur replied gently.
"The mermaids…" the girl asked nervously. "Are they…gone?"
Arthur smiled and glanced at the knights and Merlin.
"I don't think you'll have anything to worry about," he assured her.
Unfortunately for Merlin, he found that their stay in Halen was far from over. Arthur met with the council, helping them draw up a plan of succession in order to replace Isaiah, and so in the future they'd be able to easily instate new head councilors. In the end, a new man was elected the head of the council, a man named Jamar. Merlin didn't know him, but he had won a large portion of the votes so he assumed there had to be some positive characteristics to recommend him.
After the council had received a new head, the meetings had taken a sharp turn. Matthew was voted off the council, despite Arthur's protests. But even the king had to admit that the town heads had the right to decide who should be among their leaders, and the leaders of Halen had unanimously decided that Matthew was not worthy.
Despite the setback of Matthew's expulsion from the committee, Arthur still had to proceed with trade negotiations. With the delegate Leon had successfully brought back from Mercier, the council had slowly and painstakingly started drawing out a compromise between the two kingdoms. Jamar was more lenient to the trade situation that Isaiah had been, and eventually the two sides had come to an agreement.
Two days later, the Camelot party was looking at success and a chance to return home.
As Arthur wrapped up a few last unfinished issues with the council, Merlin took a break from preparing the horses and came back inside the inn, where he found Matthew sitting alone at the bar nursing a tankard of ale.
Merlin crossed over to the old man and took a seat beside him. The fisherman looked over at the servant and smiled, but Merlin noticed how tired the man's eyes looked. It seemed as though he'd aged three years.
"I don't understand why they got rid of you," Merlin said. "Even after Arthur tried to explain about why you broke into Isaiah's home. I don't understand. They should be commending you."
Matthew chuckled softly.
"The council would never commend me," he answered. "They still don't believe there were mermaids, even though we had eyewitnesses. Isaiah assured them there weren't any, and to them, his word was as good as a king's. I was seen standing against him, and therefor I was unworthy of standing amongst them.
"Besides," he continued. "The council was forced to accept me as a member because my father was a councilor, and sons of councilors always become councilors when their fathers die. But they've never liked me."
"Why not?" Merlin asked. Matthew shook his head.
"When I was a young man…." He started, but trailed off. "It doesn't matter."
Merlin nodded, accepting that Matthew had a past that he didn't feel comfortable talking about.
"But what will you do now?" the servant wondered. Matthew shrugged.
"I'll leave this place," Matthew replied. "I'll take my daughter, Maria, with me. Her mother has been dead for years. It's time to leave here, find a new life, a new home. This town just doesn't fit us anymore."
"You could come to Camelot with us," Merlin suggested. Matthew chuckled but shook his head.
"it's a nice offer," he replied. "But the sea is my home, and I'd hate to be away from it. Don't you worry about us, Merlin. You have a king to protect."
Merlin rolled his eyes and sighed. There was more truth in that statement that Matthew knew.
The door swung open behind them, and Merlin turned in his seat to find that Arthur had walked in.
"Merlin," the blonde said, spying his servant. "I hope you're not just sitting around. Are the horses ready?"
Merlin made a face at Matthew, who hid his smile in his tankard.
"Yes, Arthur," he replied. "They're ready."
"Good. Because we're ready to ride out."
Merlin nodded and slid off the barstool. He held his hand out to Matthew, who took it and shook it warmly.
"Thank you, Matthew," he said. "It was nice to meet you."
"Thank you," Matthew said. "Without you and Arthur, we'd still be plagued by those mermaids. I don't know how you did it, but you did."
Merlin laughed and turned, just as Arthur crossed over to the old fisherman. He, too, held out his hand, which Matthew took and shook.
"Thank you, Matthew," he said. "I'm sorry about what the council did to you."
"It's of no matter," Matthew assured him. "I did what I had to, to protect my village. I have nothing to regret."
"I could use men like you in Camelot," he said. Matthew shook his head.
"Like I said to Merlin," he replied. "The sea is my home. I can't leave her."
"If you ever need anything," he told the fisherman. "Let me know, and you'll have it."
"Thank you, my lord," he said, and bowed. Arthur clapped the man on the shoulder, then turned and led Merlin out into the fresh salty air. Since the crystal had been broken, the fog hadn't returned. Merlin could tell that the townspeople were much happier now.
"Merlin," Arthur suddenly said, pausing beside his horse. Merlin turned to look at the blonde.
"Yes, Arthur?" he said, unsure of what he would say.
"I wanted to say," the blonde started. "Thank you. Matthew told me what you did, that you came after me. I think it was the stupidest thing you've ever done, but it was brave. You're a true friend."
Merlin blinked, slightly stunned. He couldn't believe Arthur had actually thanked him for something.
"Just doing my duty, Sire," he replied. "You know, doing your laundry, grooming your horse and saving your backside."
Arthur glared at his servant.
"'Saving my backside'?" he repeated slowly. Merlin smiled, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Gwaine and Leon come over to join them. The Mercier delegate would stay in town a few days to make sure there weren't any issues, and then Arthur would dispatch a guard to escort the man back to his own country. With the two guards gone (Merlin had learned that Gwaine and Matthew had found them dead) they'd need both Leon and Gwaine for safety's sake. They weren't expecting trouble, but one could never tell.
"That's right," Merlin replied with a grin. Arthur stuck a finger pointedly in Merlin's face.
"You can't find your own backside with both hands, Merlin," Arthur told him. "I don't think you're near capable of saving mine."
"You'd be surprised," Merlin replied, knowing that Arthur was joking. Arthur rolled his eyes and swung up onto his horse.
"Someone's got to look after ungrateful cabbageheads like you," Merlin continued, mounting his own horse.
"Ungrateful what?" Arthur challenged as the Camelot party turned their mounts and began to ride together through Halen. Merlin smiled.
"You heard me."
Arthur glowered at him.
A thought suddenly struck Merlin. He glanced over at Arthur.
"Did you kiss her?" Merlin asked. Arthur glanced back over at his servant, eyes part way between confused and utterly annoyed.
"Kiss who?" he demanded.
"Arabell. Did you kiss her? You two spent quite a lot of time together."
Merlin had seen the glare Arthur used now to cow many a man in his service, but Merlin was completely immune. He could barely keep himself from laughing aloud.
"I told you," the blonde replied. "I don't remember anything from when I was under her control."
"Sure." Merlin said, nodding conspiratorially. "I'm sure you don't."
Arthur glared daggers at his servant, but Merlin was still immune.
"Merlin?" he said. Merlin looked at Arthur and raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, Sire?" he asked innocently. Arthur took one had from the reigns of his horse and pointed at Merlin again.
"You breathe one word of what happened here to Gwen and I will use you as a punching bag for training."
"You do that already."
"You know what I mean!"
Merlin laughed as the Camelot party rode together, the friendly banter picking back up where it had left off when Arthur had been taken over by Arabell. Despite their light argument about what had happened when Arthur had been under the mermaid's spell, the warlock knew he had gotten off lucky. He knew that Arthur hadn't remembered anything from his time under Arabell's control, and that was good. If Athur had heard what Arabell had said in the caves about Merlin's magic, or seen what Merlin had done to the crystal, he'd have been in big trouble.
But, since Arthur didn't remember any of it, it was perfect material for Merlin to tease him about later. Merlin smiled to himself.
"Wipe that grin off your face, Merlin," Arthur muttered, then kicked his horse to trot ahead of the warlock. The black-haired servant laughed and spurred his own horse on to keep up. He glanced over as Gwaine and Leon got in on the action, driving their own horses to catch up with Arthur's. Pretty soon, they were all racing out of Halen.
Merlin suddenly noticed they were riding past the cliff overlooking the rocks where he'd first seen a glimpse of a mermaid when they'd come to Halen. He wondered which one it had been, what her name had been. He hadn't even known Arabell's real name.
Glancing ahead, he slowed his horse as he rode over the cliff, paused for a moment to look down at the water that lapped against the shore.
And, just for a brief moment, he thought for certain he saw a green tail flash between the rocks before slipping back beneath the seawater. He smiled to himself.
The last mermaid on Earth, safe beneath the waves.
"Merlin, you coming back there?" he heard Gwaine call. The servant looked up to see the Camelot party stopped several yard ahead looking back, waiting for him. Merlin laughed.
"Yeah, I'm coming!" he called, kicking his horse into a canter to catch up with the others. Arthur fixed Merlin with a look.
"I said next time we're just going to leave you behind," Arthur said.
"But you didn't," Merlin reminded him. Arthur rolled his eyes.
"Shut up, Merlin," he replied, then turned back around in the saddle and kicked his horse into a gallop. Merlin was right behind him, falling back in line quickly. Gwaine and Leon followed and the Camelot party laughed as they raced through the woods.
Merlin glanced over his shoulder once more at the cliff that was quickly disappearing into the distance. Maybe someday he'd see Arabell again.
Till then, he thought with a smile, then turned back around in the saddle and followed the others as they started the long trip back to Camelot, and – hopefully – some normality.
But he knew that was asking too much.
A/N: Well, that's it. I have to say, writing this story was incredibly fun, and hearing your comments on it was even better! I'd like to thank everyone who followed it all the way through, and everyone who commented and offered their ideas and corrections as the story went along. You have no idea how much your words mean to me! You guys are amazing!
Anyways, don't worry, you'll see more from me soon. I may be taking a short break from Merlin, and trying something else out, but I have several more ideas! See you next time. ;)