Arthur woke more exhausted than he'd like, Merlin's escapade robbing the king of energy. He woke up, already frustrated by George's idiosyncrasies, when a familiar sight greeted him. Merlin, setting Arthur's clothes for the day out and tidying his room.
"Merlin." Arthur said bluntly. Last night, the man had fled and Arthur didn't know if he'd return home soon, only to find he had decided to come back to work.
"I figured you'd suffered with George long enough," he said, a grin on his face. He grabbed Arthur's shirt and threw it at his face. "Come on, royal life awaits you." As Arthur sat up and put his tunic on, Merlin said "and besides, I felt kind of bad about running away last night," a little sheepishly.
Arthur's anger bled away at Merlin's apology, as a good man's often does. "I can hardly blame you after what you've been through," he said understandingly. Then his face hardened in bitterness. "But the dragon," he said, bleeding into anger instantly.
Merlin faced away, tears pricking his eyes. "Yes, I let him out, no, I didn't really want to, no, I didn't know what he would do, yes, I stopped him, yes, I let him live, and yes, I lied to you about your killing him." he said quickly, wanting to avoid the session of questioning.
Arthur was rendered speechless. "But how did you stop a dragon?" Arthur asked, chief among the questions in his mind. He was hurt by the lie, but Merlin had forewarned him that he had lied about a lot over the years. He supposed that this was among the biggest of them, at least - after all, what could possibly be bigger than freeing a dragon onto Camelot to wreak destruction?
Merlin was facing away from him, dirty laundry being twisted in his hands. "Balinor was my father," he said shortly.
Balinor... Balinor was the dragon lord they sought out to stop the great dragon - Kilgarrah, apparently - from ravaging Camelot. But Balinor had died... Died in Merlin's arms. And Arthur had chastised him for crying about it.
"I'm sorry," Arthur said. "I didn't know." He was again rendered speechless by the lengths of his ignorance.
Merlin turned around, an understanding smile on his face. "I've already forgiven you, Arthur, for every insensitive thing you said, whether or not you knew the full story."
"I seem to have done that a lot," he admitted wryly. "There's a new law of Camelot, and it only applies to you - no more lying about me to things. You can keep the secrets you already have until you're ready," Arthur said, holding up a finger to still Merlin's tongue, "but if anything more happens, please tell me."
Merlin nodded silently. "I only met him that one time," he admitted, acting like that somehow made the lie better.
In actual fact, it only grieved Arthur more. "That sounded better in my head," Merlin admitted.
"Oh, like you're so graceful with words yourself." Merlin bit back.
A look of offense crossed Arthur's face. "I'm the king, I'm as graceful as I want to be."
"And yet I write your speeches."
"While you were gone I wrote all of them!" Arthur lifted a finger to point at Merlin accusingly.
"And how'd they turn out?" Merlin asked, a smile playing on his face.
Arthur responded with a grimace. "Not well. Gwen started helping after a while."
Merlin grinned in victory, and Arthur threw his dirty trousers at Merlin, and Merlin threw his clean ones aggressively at him right back.
A knock sounded at the door. "Arthur?" Gwen's musical voice sounded, and Arthur's face lit up with a happy smile.
"Of course you can come in Gunivere," he said, and she came through the door. Her eyes landed on Merlin in shock.
"I thought you weren't coming back to work," Gwen said, and after a piercing look from Arthur interrupting her, she added "for some time yet," hastily. Merlin noted the odd exchange.
"Yeah, well, I was getting bored sitting around all day. I can only read one book over and over for so long." Being a peasant, it was amazing he could read or write at all, let alone in two languages.
Gwen turned to Arthur. "Well, honey, shouldn't you be getting on with your duties?" She asked. "Someone is already here to see you from the Druids. She says she's looking for someone by the name of Emrys."
Arthur paused, recognizing the name from what Merlin had told him. Merlin looked frustrated for a second and said, "I have been over this with them so many times. They can't come in like that and bandy that name about." Gwen looked bemused.
"The Druids call Merlin Emrys," Arthur said by way of explanation.
She looked puzzled. "Why?"
"Story for another time," he said dismissively. He found himself saying those words a lot lately. They arrived in the throne room, and what greeted them made Merlin go silent.
The woman who freed him stood in the center of the room. She was wearing traditional Druidic robes, green flowing onto the ground from her dress. Her brown hair was long and untamed behind her, half of it braided up behind her. Her face was a mixture of worry as she saw him.
"Merlin, are you all right?" Arthur asked as the woman turned to them.
"She's the one who saved me," Merlin whispered hoarsely.
Arthur immediately dismissed his guards from the room, and turned to the pale woman. "You may speak freely here, as we now know his secret."
"Emrys," she exclaimed, falling to one knee in respect. The three others in the room were immediately baffled, and Merlin blushed quickly from embarrassment.
"There's no need, really," he said abashedly. She rose and looked at him.
"The time will come soon when you realize there is a need," she said solemnly. She then turned to face Arthur as well when she said, "An army soon marches on Camelot from Olaf's lands. It is Morgana, and she has recruited sorcerers from all over the five kingdoms to fight, as well as the whole of Olaf's army. She believes that she can overcome Emrys."
Arthur's face turned concerned. "Do you know when this will be happening?"
She frowned. "Not exactly, merely in the next couple weeks. She came to my Druid clan and asked for our support in the upcoming fight. My clan said no, and that we were loyal only to Emrys. There are many other sorcerers, even Druids, that think that Emrys has taken the wrong path."
Merlin frowned this time. "What do you mean?"
She turned to Merlin. "The prophecies state that you were to return magic to the kingdom with Arthur Pendragon. They did not state that he had to remain King. Many believed he deserved to have the throne usurped, and when you chose to show him the good of magic and forgive him instead, they were angered. They believed that you have done your job wrong, and that the Pendragons deserve death."
Arthur scoffed. "Nothing new there then."
She then turned to Arthur. "Her army is more powerful than any she's brought to you before. She will surely be prepared for this conflict, and you will need all the help you can get to defeat her."
"I guess that settles it then," Arthur said decisively. "It's time to officially make magic legal in the kingdom, a little sooner than I'd like if Morgana will be marching on our lands. Can I ask you to bring a message back to the Druid clans in Camelot?"
Amalya smiled by way of reply, and nodded her head. "I came here to deliver a message from them, and I will deliver one back."
"Camelot extends the hand of friendship to them, and calls upon them for aid against the witch Morgana."
"My Lord, we would have assisted you whether you like it or not. As Emrys is loyal to you, so too are we. I am merely glad we can be openly accepted into the fighting force."
"Well return to your people, and tell them the good news about the legalization of magic. I must remain here and actually carry it out."
She turned, and went to walk from the room. Merlin stopped her, saying "My name is Merlin. I'm... I'm very glad you made it out." Merlin's voice got a little thick. "Thank you."
She smiled, and said compassionately "I prepared for the moment, just as you had." Then she walked out of the room and headed back towards the forests.
Merlin addressed the empty space with Arthur and Gunivere. "I had magic-binding cuffs on my wrists and ankles, so even though I knew a teleportation spell I couldn't escape. She came and performed the spell for me, freeing my legs, at great personal risk to herself. I left her there alone with the Catha's guards. I didn't even know if she'd lived." Merlin turned his head away in shame.
Gwen spoke up first. "There was nothing you could do for her if you stayed, Merlin, you knew that."
Merlin nodded. "I did, but it doesn't blunt the pain."
Arthur spoke up. "You appeared in the council room, in the middle of the meeting. Why would a teleportation spell take you there, if I may ask?" he asked humorously.
Merlin looked at the ceiling and brought a hand up to his neck sheepishly. "The spell I used was designed to take the target to wherever they most felt at home. It was the easiest to perform, and most low energy."
"And it brought you to the council room," Arthur asked dryly.
Gwen smacked him on the head lightly. "No, idiot," she said warmly, chuckling. "It brought him to you." Merlin still kept his eyes trained on the ceiling, or the floor, or anywhere that wasn't Arthur's gaze.
Arthur opened his mouth. "Ah," was all that came out.
"Well. I have one more thing to talk to you about before you go," Arthur said to Merlin with his best voice of authority.
"Hm?" Merlin asked.
"In the time before the Great Purge, there was a court position called the Court Sorcerer. Their job was many and varied; improving defensive enchantments on the castle, attending to the magical community's needs, working with lawmakers when dealing with magical law, so on and so forth. Would you happen to know anyone suited for the position?"
Merlin's heart leapt and fell in the same sentence. As Arthur was talking he had hoped he would offer the position to him, but then when he finished he realized he wasn't a noble.
Gwen may not have been, but Arthur was in love with her, and the knights may not have been, but the attack on Camelot was a time of undue stress - unusual decisions are usually made then. Merlin was not only a noble, but he was not a noble man.
Gwen spoke up. "You know, what, I may. He's well-respected in the magical community, and already a trusted member of the royal household," she said in a toying manner. Merlin's heart rose again.
"I think I may know who you're talking about," Arthur asked. "But I don't know if he'd want the job," he said loudly. "He seems quite happy with his current one. He told me he'd be happy to do it until the day he dies."
Merlin was outright grinning now. "Guys," he said.
"But he'd be perfect for the job," Gwen said even louder. "And I know he'd love - "
"Fine!" Merlin about shouted, grinning. "I'll do it!"
"Do what, Merlin?" Arthur said, settling back in his chair grinning equally.
"I'll... Be the court sorcerer." He said the words awkwardly, as if he had been wanting to for years and at the same time didn't want to say them at all.
"I never offered the job to you." Arthur's smile was wide.
"Prat. When do I start?"
"Tomorrow, I'll need you tell Geoffry you've accepted the position and get to rewriting the treaties with the five kingdoms, so we can propose the changes to them immediately. I'd like some thoughts or drafts by the council meeting that evening."
Merlin opened his mouth, aghast. "You've been planning this!"
Arthur smiled. "That I have. The moment I decided to legalize magic, you were the natural choice. Everyone who matters knew your position except you."
Merlin pressed his lips together, amused. "But who will do your chores?" Merlin asked, laughing.
"Someone," he said dismissively. "Anyone but George." Merlin laughed at Arthur's frustration with the man.
"I'll find a permanent replacement you'll like," Gwen said to Arthur. "And you," Gwen said, "Are no longer a peasant. Knights can technically be commoners who swore allegiance to a King, as they are in many other kingdoms, but court members are nobleman by default. So you'll be needing clothes and your own chambers."
Merlin was in a daze. "I'm a nobleman?" He mouthed.
Gwen laughed. "Yes," she replied. "Arthur bought the land the Druids live on from its previous owner to award to you. Furthermore, the chambers down the hall from Arthur and I have been cleared for you. And I need to take you to the tailors today to get come clothes fitting of one in your position."
Arthur piped up. "The ceremony is this evening, and I'll be announcing the change of laws around midday."
Merlin's mouth fell open and stayed there. Not least of all in his mind was the question of how a war-ridden boy from Ealdor was going to adjust to being a nobleman when he currently freaked out at the smallest frustration in someone's voice. "I don't think I can do this," Merlin admitted weakly.
Their faces fell into seriousness. "As far as adjusting, I got used to it in enough time," Gwen said. "You already know how to deal with many of them better than I could, since you're at Arthur's side all the time."
"But that's not what you're concerned about," Arthur said.
Merlin kept his mouth closed and said nothing.
"Give it time, Merlin. It's only been a couple of weeks. I promise in a year or two, as long as you work at it, you really will be back to normal."
Merlin significantly doubted that. He was barely able to tolerate darkness, reflexively lighting candles or creating a light in any dark room he was in. Whenever someone raised their voice even a little, he was possessed with a desire to run and hide. There was no way he could sit in a council meeting with that reflex still hanging around.
"That's a year or two a significant court member sits out of every single meeting," Merlin pointed out. "I know that won't go over well."
"It will be okay. They know you went through quite an ordeal, and in five years everyone will have forgotten you sat out anyways."
Merlin looked at Arthur in disbelief, and then looked at Gwen. "Well if we're going into the upper town, Gwen, we had better leave soon before the crowds pick up." He spoke loudly, obviously wanting to change the subject and not discuss the current one in depth.
The three of them left the throne room, Arthur going his own way to deal with the busy day, and Gwen and Merlin set off for the commercial district of Camelot. Merlin was blessedly happy for the calm crowds of early morning; he didn't need set off by an accidental bump or something from the midday crowds. He hardly wanted to make a scene in the middle of the city. After a hurried walk, they soon arrived at the premier tailor for most of the nobleman in the city.
"Hello Alf," Gwen said casually to the man. She had done much business with him before.
"My lady," the kindly old man said, dipping his head. "It is always a pleasure to see you."
"And you," she replied back with all the grace of a queen. "My friend here will be named a nobleman soon, and needs the clothes to reflect the status change."
"It is indeed an occasion when a new noble family is named," the man named Alf said. "What will you choose as your family name?"
Merlin stopped in his tracks. What would he chose? Merlin felt that there was really only one logical choice, given what he was being awarded a position for. "Emrys," he said.
The man saddled him with a piercing look that made Merlin think he knew more than he let on. "Curious family name," he said pointedly. Merlin merely grinned back lopsidedly, hoping to draw attention away from the loaded name. He got the feeling this man knew its significance.
"Could you step up on this stool," he instructed Merlin. He stepped up, and the man whipped out a measure and began measuring Merlin. "You're lucky, I have some clothes made in your size that another gentleman returned, since his son didn't like them." He pulled out a pile of clothes, consisting of a tunic, pants, and a cloak.
The tunic was made of a fabric that almost shined when the light hit it the right way, making the silver come off as gold in the glint of the sun. The pants were a muted black, and the cloak's inside matched the tunic while the outside was black like the pants. They lent a mysterious air to the wearer, and while they were a far cry from Merlin's usual bright colors he found himself drawn to them.
"I love them," he said.
"I thought you might," Alf replied again as if he knew something Merlin didn't.
Merlin set the thought aside, and asked Gwen "how will I pay for them?"
"This first set of clothes is on us," Gwen said, smiling. They paid and Merlin carried the clothes back to Camelot. He and Gwen went down to the physicians chambers, to grab Merlin's meager possessions and move them to the new room in the castle.
Merlin came in to holding the pile of clothes, and the first thing out of Gaius's mouth was "So they finally told you." Gwen smiled at Gaius.
"Yea, and I'm not sure about all this," Merlin replied.
"Haven't I been telling you all these years that your time would come?" Gaius said knowingly.
"Yeah, well, it was still a long wait," Merlin replied, pretending to be surly, a grin tugging at his features. "I'm just here to bring my stuff to my new chambers," he said weakly, wandering into his room.
Just this morning, it was a normal day. As normal as any day was, these days. The candles sat strewn across his room haphazardly. His clothes occupied their usual spots along the floor, his magic book left open at the foot of his bed. He went about piling his clothes into a nearby basket, putting the book at the bottom so that no passerby would see it. He reached under the loose floorboard, and retrieved the carving of the dragon his father had given him all those years ago.