I have no idea why the first one was in source code…it didn't show up like that in the document manager so I hope this one works! Thank you to everyone who let me know via review and PM.
Well its finally finished! I'm so sorry it took me this long to get it done, graduate school got the better of me and once it was over I just had trouble getting back into the groove but I think I finally found it :) I hope you like this last chapter, its definitely a sap-fest but I think its a nice change from the rest of the story. I didn't quite out Morgana yet, I like the idea of having her and Uther within the walls of Camelot for possible future antagonists but Arthur definitely knows everything now.
I really hope you liked this story. I know from the amazing reviews that you guys have given me that you seemed to like it and I hope that carries through to the end because I had a lot of fun writing it!
Alright on with the show.
His head felt like it had been confined in a helmet for the better part of a week, a helmet that had taken a constant stream of abuse from a very burly man with a sword. As he tried to bring both arms up to comfort his maltreated head, he realized his left arm was immobilized, strapped to his body under the rough blanket. His right arm would just have to do. Slightly shielding his eyes, Arthur risked opening one in an attempt to figure out exactly where he was. After slamming the curious eye shut rather quickly, he took a breath and tried again, realizing he would be calling Merlin a girl for attempting to do the same thing. Dropping his arm to his side, he forced both eyes open. The first thing he noticed was that the dark tendrils dipping through the room caused by the setting sun were cut through with various candle irons placed at strategic points. His memory came back with his focusing eyesight. The explosions! Looking quickly to his right he saw Merlin beside him and then realized they were both in the throne room, either the battle was still going on or no one had thought to move them while they slept. The Prince tried to focus his hearing, straining to pick up any sound of war horns or the din of battle; he could not pick up anything, which he took as a good sign.
When Arthur finally managed to get his thoughts sorted and his eyes open he looked around the room, there were still men ensconced in the beds near him so clearly there had been no move to get the wounded to a different location. Maybe he just couldn't hear the noises of the battle? Suddenly, he just wanted to get up, needed to get out of his bed and the chairs sitting between his and Merlin's beds offered that opportunity. Clearly, Gaius (and probably Gwen) had been keeping an eye on both of them but they weren't there now so Arthur decided to make use. Slowly rotating his still throbbing body he positioned his legs over the edge of the bed, careful of the injured one, Gaius would chew him out if he managed to tear the stitches. Putting the majority of his weight on the uninjured leg, he carefully maneuvered himself out of the patient bed, and managed to shuffle the few necessary feet before falling heavily into the chair. As he collapsed he realized how worn he was from the battle and the blood loss, to be honest he was surprised he was awake. But that didn't matter now because at least he was in a place where he was more alert and aware of the world around him. Straining his ears, he still did not hear the normal sounds that accompanied full-scale battle, hope swelled within him; maybe his knights were engaged in the cleaning up process and no one had been there to move the wounded yet?
Arthur then turned his attention to his friend. Merlin looked better if too pale. At least his face wasn't screwed up in the same pain that Arthur had gotten used to seeing. Whatever Gaius had given him seemed to be working because he was finally sleeping peacefully and for some reason Arthur had the feeling that all the madness that had been brought on by Cenred's ambassadors was finally ending. It was a slight feeling, a change in the tension of the world, a delicate shift but it was there. The Prince felt for some reason like he could breathe for the first time in a long time.
That was until he heard the distinct echo of heeled shoes on the stone. His breath caught in his throat because he knew that was not Gwen. Looking up quickly, he saw Morgana gliding up to the bed. Instantly on alert, he bristled, turning his body slightly to lay his arm on Merlin's bed.
"What are you doing here, Morgana?" The witch had to mask her surprise, the venom in the Prince's tone, regardless of what she knew she could do to him, was still unnerving. But what did he know? She knew that little servant of his had been spying on her but she had been careful, hadn't she?
Putting on her most convincing worried look, she cast a questioning eye on the Prince, "What do you mean Arthur? Gwen told me you both had been hurt and I wanted to make sure you were alright?" She pouted just enough at the end to let Arthur think that he really had hurt her.
"Drop it Morgana. I know what you did."
"I don't know what you're referring to Arthur but if you are insinuating I somehow had something to do with the attack you are sorely mistaken."
The Prince thought quickly, was it worthwhile for her to know that he knew? He mulled it over for just a moment, he was done pretending she had not done anything and he still needed to get Ethan out of the dungeons, unfortunately he needed her help for that. "Do not pretend, Morgana. I know everything, the collusions with Morgause, your magic, the attack."
"Arthur you can't possibly…"
But the Prince cut her off, "Merlin and I found the explosives, Morgana. But before that he told me everything about you and I followed you to a meeting with Morgause. I know exactly what hand you had in this attack."
"Trusting a sorcerer. I never thought I would see the day, Arthur." She hissed and then paused, "What do you mean 'everything'?"
"Everything you have been doing since Morgause took you two years ago."
Her eyes flashed, "Did you precious sorcerer tell you why Morgause was able to take me? Did he tell you he poisoned me?"
Arthur dipped his head in sadness, mourning for the friend he had lost and the pain he knew Merlin still harbored for his part, "Yes he did. And Morgana, he still feels guilty for that day."
"It doesn't matter. What's done is done." But she continued, "He could have offered me the choice or at least explained to me what was happening, but like a good dog he chose you over me. Did he tell you he held me? As I was dying because he poisoned me, he held me. And I couldn't get away." There was such anger in her voice and Arthur suddenly felt a pang of pity for her.
"He told me Morgana. He said he wanted to make sure you knew you weren't alone."
"Well, luckily for me I wasn't." The venom hadn't dissipated any.
Arthur finally realized something; maybe he was as thick-headed as Merlin was always telling him, "That's why you tried to kill him wasn't it? It wasn't his magic, it was revenge."
"Don't be so naïve, Arthur. It was both." Realizing what she was doing, Morgana made a move to get out of her current situation, at this point there was no tricking Arthur or convincing him otherwise so she figured a threat would be a better insurance policy, "Just know Arthur if you ever breathe a word of whatever hand you think I had in the attack, I will make sure that Uther knows you are protecting a sorcerer. You know what else, I might even say he threatened me, that would be the quickest way to the pyre."
Arthur stumbled, the switch in the conversation coupled with the pounding in his head, jarred him slightly but he knew better than to question her resolve, "He never wanted to hurt you Morgana."
"It does not matter, Arthur. Just know I will turn him in to Uther if any fault falls on my shoulders."
Fine, Arthur thought to himself, if we're trading demands. Switching tactics, the Prince decided to attack as well, "This doesn't have to end in threats Morgana but since that seems to be all you understand, you will go to my father and tell him you made a mistake about Ethan. Tell him you lost those earrings or you forgot where you put them. But whatever you say, it had better be convincing. If you do not get Ethan out of the punishment you brought down on him I will make sure Uther knows about your involvement in the attack. Once he thinks you're lying, nothing you say will be credible." The Prince knew he was stalling, knew this was a long shot; the chances of him convincing Uther that Morgana had anything to do with the attack were minimal. He needed another threat and quick.
The woman who used to be like a sister started to laugh, "You know as well as I do that Uther will not believe you, Arthur! Especially not when I convince him that your servant forced me to do so under a spell." She put on her best doe face for a moment before the steel was back in her eyes, "You cannot honestly think that is a threat!"
Thinking quickly, Arthur covered himself, "I think you don't want Uther looking too closely at where you sneak off to in the middle of the night. There is no reason why I cannot tell my father that someone issued a threat against you. That the secondary reason for the attack was to capture you. He knows it was a sorcerer who took you years ago and the attack today was magical; it would not be hard to draw the connection. I believe that a few guards at your door and beneath your windows would make any midnight activity dangerous for you." He continued, "I will tell him that the sorcerer is still believed to be in the castle, that the battle was a diversion to get him in. You would be confined to your room indefinitely and you know Uther's stubbornness, even if a sorcerer is not found the guards will not disappear." If he had not been so tightly wound, he would have smirked at his own ingeniousness.
The smile slid off Morgana's face. "Why would you bring about an investigation into magic when your own servant has magic?"
"I can protect him if I'm involved in any investigation, you know that. I'm not worried about him being found out and if he is, nothing will happen." She was slightly off-balance and calculating her own move, so he decided to push a little more.
"Morgana," Arthur said in his most authoritative tone, "while you're right, I don't have the proof I need to turn you in for the conniving witch you are, I can make it impossible for you to meet with Morgause. I can make it impossible for you to hurt others. I can make sure I know where you are every moment of the day and you know it's true, Morgana. You tried to have your witch take my city, tried to have her break me, break Merlin," he lowered his tone to a growl, "you attempted to kill my friend," Arthur gave a sick smile when she finally flinched and he leaned forward in the chair, "and now you have a servant of mine in the dungeons, do not for one moment think that I would hesitate to make your life difficult. I would end it now if I could and trust me, it would be much more painful than poison." Then Arthur lowered his tone still further, "and if you endanger Merlin, Gwen, or Ethan again, I will ensure that when your body is found, it looks like you were killed by someone who hated you."
Arthur sat back, staring at Morgana, giving her a moment to digest his offer. For an instant he thought he saw fear and then an icy cold mask fell across her face and she lowered her voice to match his, "This is not over Arthur Pendragon." Morgana spat, "Your father is not fit to rule, magic will return to its rightful place. The way it should be." She paused for a moment, considering her options. She might hate the Prince but she was smart enough to know when she was beaten, for the moment, regardless of her power, the terrain was still to his advantage, "I will get your precious servant released but know this Arthur, the next time you get in my way, I will make sure I kill Ethan, Gwen, and Merlin slowly, just so you can watch what happens to those who threaten me."
She stood suddenly and made to leave when she turned around one more time and Arthur, for just a moment, saw the girl she used to be. Her eyes were directed at a spot near his feet and in a whisper she asked the last question the Prince ever thought to hear from her, "Why do you protect him?"
Arthur was caught off guard for a moment and immediately resorted to the defense, "Why do you care?"
Then she remembered herself and her eyes snapped to his, all vulnerability gone, "I don't. Remember what I said Arthur Pendragon." And like that she was gone.
Arthur was left staring after her retreating form, wishing against all rational thought that he could help her. He sat in silence for a time, attempting to comprehend everything that had happened since that hunting trip. Merlin had magic, Morgana had magic and was working with a crazy king and his still alive pet sorceress, who Arthur had stabbed rather forcefully with the pointy end of a sword, and Camelot had been attacked, again. The banging in his head came back with a vengeance, it had been pretty effectively pushed to the back of his mind when Morgana had shown up but now it made itself known. Groaning, Arthur forced the heel of his hand into his eye, hoping it would reduce the pressure in his head, but to no avail. Looking longingly at the bed he had vacated he berated himself for ever having gotten out in the first place. But when he couldn't summon the strength to crawl back into it, he pillowed his head in his good arm on Merlin's bed before drifting off into blessed blackness.
The creaking of something moving woke him from his stupor and he instantly hated whatever it had been that was moving because his version of waking up always included moving, an act that caused a terrible pain to flare in his stomach. He must have reacted to the pain more violently than he realized because a rough hand on his arm pushed him back into the bed and forced him to calm down.
"Easy... not appreciate – I restitch…wound." The warlock finally recognized his mentor's voice through the fog that was his brain.
Even with his forced focus, his hearing sounded muffled, like he was trying to listen to someone yelling at him underwater but he managed to get some of what Gaius said.
"…injured again. You – Arthur…made…throne room before…passed out."
He was trying to listen to what Gaius was saying when it hit him, "the catacombs! Arthur was wounded too, is he alright?" He couldn't really hear himself but he knew he was talking a bit louder than he should be and then his ears popped. It was not a pleasant feeling but at least he could hear everything Gaius said to him after.
"Yes, Merlin, he's fine. He lost some blood but Gwen stitched him up, he's sleeping in his room now and its time for you to continue doing the same." Gaius pulled a sleeping draught that had been concealed somewhere in his robe.
"Wait Gaius, please. What happened with the battle?"
His mentor sighed and pulled up a chair, "Merlin you really need the rest. No one should have been able to do what you did. Arthur told me about the shield and that on top of the magic you cast to find the explosive should have killed you. I think it would be best if you rested now and I'll explain the rest later."
"Please Gaius. I need to know what happened, obviously we did not lose the castle or we would not be here now. Just give me the abridged version and then I promise I will take the draught."
"Alright. Once you and Arthur disappeared, the horde just sat outside the gates like they were waiting for something, although in this case I'm guessing it was someone, Morgause was not visible until after the explosions. So Gwen and I took the chance to get throne room ready to receive the injured.
We were just about finished when we heard the first horns pierce the silence that had fallen over the castle and that's when the attack started, the catapults they had set up let fly, battering the ramparts and killing men standing on the wall. But the attack stopped after a few volleys and the horn sounded again, but nothing happened. I know now it was because they were waiting for enough magic to build up in the stones to cause them to explode. That's when the first explosion sounded through the castle. It was an odd feeling because it seemed to shake the foundations but no one could figure out its source, the catapults had been quiet. Then a second explosion, much louder than the first, I'm assuming the first one was thanks to you, sounded through the halls.
Uther immediately sent men down to deal with it and that was the last I knew until you two showed up in the throne room. All I know is that if it had not been for you and Arthur the castle would have been lost." Gaius stopped for a moment, hoping that Merlin's strength was waning enough to get him to get some rest but instead his ward looked up at him expectantly, he had agreed to tell the whole story.
"After the two of you made it up to the throne room and subsequently passed out, a runner showed up as well. He told Uther of the holes in the battlements and explained that the knights were working to defend the area while the main doors into each section were strengthened and garrisoned. Uther gave the order for enough men to stay behind to hold the doors and the rest to make it to the courtyard, he wanted to ride out and route the army once their easy in had been shut off.
It took some time to get enough soldiers assembled but once the knights rode out, the mercenary army broke and ran. According to some of the men who were captured, they had been promised and paid for an easy victory. The fight they got was not worth the trouble and so many deserted. There was a small contingent that tried to stand against our knights, my guess is they were Cenred's army, but they were overrun quickly and those not killed fled with Cenred and Morgause. I would have expected Morgause to try something else but she never did. I'm guessing it had something to do with the talk of Emrys I heard filtering through the prisoners. Apparently, you've got Morgause scared as well." Gaius finished with a hint of pride.
Merlin's eyes were dropping but he still tried to pay attention, "At least for now I do, who's to say they won't try again but with sorcerers."
"If they do, Merlin, my confidence is always with you and Arthur."
Merlin appreciated the conviction of that statement but he knew they had a long way to go until all the threats to Albion were eliminated. Gaius held up the vial that magically appeared again and Merlin took the hint. It was time to rest. Camelot was safe for now, and it was all right for him to finally sleep.
The next day, Gaius was working on rebuilding his store of painkillers and Merlin was asleep on the bed near the fireplace when a soft knock echoed in the silence. It was so quiet that Gaius almost didn't hear it but the abnormality caught his attention, knowing it wasn't Arthur (who would have simply barged in) Gaius answered the door. Expecting a knight Gaius was surprised when he had to look down to address his visitor. The slight stature and brown hair of his guest made Gaius pause, "Ethan?" When the physician said his name, the boy finally looked up at him and gave him a slight smile. The servant looked a little worse for the wear but he still had all his appendages and he was alive, definitely a step up from what could have happened in the dungeons. Still Gaius had to know for sure, "Ethan, it is you! Arthur told us you would be released. Are you alright?"
The boy looked at Gaius for a moment before he broke out into a wider grin, happy to be out of the dungeon surely, "I'm okay now. I was scared when the knights came into my cell but the nice one, Leon, I think, said there was a mistake and the Prince ordered him to let me out." The physician could tell he was not completely fine from the way that his hands still shook but overall he seemed well enough, if maybe a little dirty. The sheepish look in his eye was enough to tell Gaius that he would be having bad dreams for many nights to come but Arthur seemed to know how to pick individuals who could handle whatever life threw at them.
Gaius decided to stop analyzing for now and just distract the boy, "Would you like to stay for dinner? I was just about to cook something for Merlin and myself you could stay if you would like."
At the mention of food he perked up a bit but there was still something on his mind, "I was actually looking for Prince Arthur. I wanted to thank him."
"Well, why don't you stay and have something to eat first. Arthur finally woke up this morning and I know how he gets when he's forced to rest so I'm sure he'll be stopping in soon enough to check on Merlin. The Prince never was one for staying in bed long enough for his wounds to actually heal."
Ethan took on a stricken look, "He was injured! They were injured, are they okay? Did it have anything to do with…" he lowered his voice, wary of anyone hearing, "the lady Morgana?"
Gaius couldn't help but chuckle, "It did. But they're fine now. Both were injured while they were trying to defend the wall from the mercenaries but Gwen stitched up Arthur's arm and leg, he'll be fine."
"That's good." The brown head bobbed the affirmative, "What about Merlin?"
"His healing will take a bit longer. He took a crossbow bolt to the stomach and I had to stitch it closed, but he'll be well soon enough. Why don't you go change and clean up a bit while I start on dinner?"
Merlin woke up to the delicious smell of his favorite meal, only this time he also remembered what had happened to him. Focusing intently on slowly shifting his weight, he got up out of bed and shuffled over to the bench. Gaius turned when he heard the ruffle of covers but since Merlin was taking it easy he didn't move away from the pot. Once the warlock made it to the bench he took in the surroundings, that's when Ethan came through the door carrying a loaf of bread Gaius had sent him to get, "Ethan! Thank the gods you're alright!"
The boy almost dropped the bread in fright at the exclamation but managed to hold on and set it down before he ran to Merlin, giving him a hug, "I'm glad you're safe, Merlin!"
"I'm glad you're out of the dungeons." The warlock said before letting him go, "Arthur normally only sends me there."
What was meant to be a joke left a very serious look on Ethan's face, "It wasn't Prince Arthur, it was the Lady Morgana that sent me."
"I know Ethan, I was just trying to make a joke."
The look dropped off the boy's face as he hopped up on the bench next to the warlock and Ethan appraised him closely, "How are you feeling?"
Merlin sighed and looked straight ahead, "I'll be alright Ethan. I've had worse, trust me." Then he turned to look at the boy, "How are you?"
"I'm okay. I was scared but I knew that you and Arthur would fix everything, so it's okay." Merlin looked him over again but he was satisfied that the boy was telling the truth.
The tension was cut when Gaius set the bowls on the table with a smile, "Time to eat."
Merlin was able to savor the first few bites when the door snapped open and the Prince hobbled in, Gwen following behind him.
Merlin had a retort on his tongue instantly, "Have you ever heard of knocking, prat?"
Gwen bolted out from behind Arthur and engulfed Merlin a hug, "I'm so glad you're alright!" The warlock almost didn't hear the Prince's quip, "Have you ever heard of standing out of the way of bolts, dollop head?"
Merlin sighed and looked at him from over Gwen's shoulder, "You're stealing my words again." Gwen let him go and elected to sit next to him.
Arthur let him have this one and instead gave him a smile, "I'm glad your alright."
Merlin also let the banter drop, "I'm glad you are too."
The Prince turned to Ethan then, "As much as I wanted to see how Merlin was doing, I came to apologize to you, Ethan, Leon told me you'd be here." Very carefully, the Prince crouched down so he was eye level with the young boy, "I'm so sorry for everything that happened and I should have never put you in that position."
Ethan's voice took on a deferential, if still comfortable tone, "It's okay Prince Arthur. You didn't make me do anything. I wanted to help."
Arthur looked at him with fondness, "I realize that but I still was the cause for your stay in the dungeons and I am sorry for that."
The young servant beamed at him, "I helped though, and everything is okay now."
"That is very true, you helped. You saved many lives, Ethan."
The young servant just smiled at the Prince and Arthur took that as acceptance. Using the table to level himself up without using his still healing leg, he pulled a chair up to the end of the table and address everyone seated, "Patrols have been sent out to clean up any stragglers still in the woods but it looks like we won this one."
Later in the day, Arthur made his way up to Merlin's room. Gwen, Ethan, and Gaius were talking in the main room but the physician had made Merlin go to bed and rest after they had finished dinner. However, Arthur still wanted to talk to him.
"Merlin?" He stuck his head in the door to make sure the warlock was still awake.
"I'm awake, Arthur." The Prince stepped in from behind the door and closed it quietly, pulling up a chair to rest, as much as he didn't want to admit it, he was tired too.
"Merlin…I need to thank you." His tone was serious, any joking long gone.
"No you don't Arthur." Merlin matched his sincerity.
"Yes I do. If it hadn't been for you, for what you were willing to do, more people would have lost their lives and Camelot would have fallen. I just need you to know that when I'm king, you'll be free. No more hiding. To be honest, it should be now but I can't yet because of my father. I guess…I just wanted you to know that no matter what happens you are my brother and I accept you for who you are and I don't ever want you to change."
Despite himself, Merlin felt his eyes start to water, after everything that had happened, everything he had done, Arthur finally accepted him, "Thank you, Arthur, you don't understand what that means to me."
"To be honest, I'm sure I don't but from now on, you don't have to feel alone ever again. Anything you need you tell me, understand?"
Merlin nodded wordlessly.
"Finally can't find anything to say, can you?"
Merlin met his eyes with a sparking smile, "Can I have a day off now, prat?"
Arthur just laughed and engulfed his brother in an enthusiastically returned hug. For once it was not about injury or fear or protection, this was about friendship and love. It was a promise of acceptance for the other side of the coin and of what they would build together one day.
Well that's it! The story is over for now. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it (I think I said that once already but the sentiment stands :)).
Thank you so much for all the amazing support and reviews throughout the entire process.
I hope you all have a wonderful day and remember to stay awesome!