TWO SIDES OF THE COIN:
Winner of the 2013 Fan Fiction Award for "Best Dialogue" from theheartofcamelot dot com
Author's Note, 11/26/13:
Originally Published: 10-30-12 (republished as the original one-shot, with edits 11-26-13)
Summary: Arthur is certain someone is standing in the shadows assisting them with magic. Bromance! Reveal! Spoilers for episodes up to 5x04 "Another's Sorrow".
Please take a moment to watch the trailer for these stories by Aylass84 and leave a comment on her youtube channel, thanking her for the amazing piece of cinematic editing she created! youtu dot be/EMzLKC40btE
HUGE THANKS to Nance for going back in and retro-beta'ing this story and all the sequels that follow.
Cover Art by Caldera32.
This was originally posted as a one-shot reveal, and it took on a life of its own, becoming my personal version of an AU season 5.
As part of the (late) one year anniversary of this story, it is being reposted as the stand alone it was meant to be, finally edited for grammar and consistency! (it has also been cleaned up from rambling author's notes throughout)
The continuation has been renamed "Flipping the Coin".
Please don't hesitate to leave reviews and comments for me! My muses (otherwise known as Rabid Mutant Plot Skwerls) thrive off your feedback!
IDOM, any remaining errors are solely my own.
Cream colored limestone made up the walls of Camelot, imported travertine and marble stone tiles lined the floors in intricate patterns. Candelabras, dripping with wax stood in the corners and alcoves. Torch light from sconces gleamed off the leaded glass windows and highlighted nearby hanging tapestries. Merlin had been fascinated by the woven pictures since his arrival in the great city, many years before. This was especially true at night, when the shadows made the scenes in the tapestries come alive.
Growing up in a small hovel like Ealdor he had never seen life sized embroideries. In fact, there had been many things the warlock hadn't experienced before he came to the citadel: kings, executions, a rich marketplace with such a large variety of wares and food, knights, cabbage-head princes, armies of dead men…dragons, or what exactly a rotten tomato feels like when it pelts you across the face. He snickered as the observations from his life in the past years played through his head.
"Is something funny, Merlin?" Gaius questioned as the two men made their way to the small council chamber, breaking the young man out of his daydreaming.
"Uh...no. Just letting my thoughts wander is all."
"As much wandering as your thoughts do, it's a wonder you have any left inside that head of yours, my boy." The old physician chuckled.
"I think they go off, get lost, find some more thoughts, and come back to multiply."
"That would explain a lot." He gave his ward a comforting pat on the shoulder. "So, do your wandering thoughts have any idea why Arthur would be summoning us, at this late hour?"
Merlin shrugged, "No one has come to speak with him since Princess Mithian and King Rodor departed. So, I can only assume it has to do with what happened on the mission. All I know is that he asked me to quietly gather the Privy Council for an urgent matter."
King Arthur, his queen, and the most loyal of knights were already gathered in the King's Solar, when the elderly man and his ward arrived. They were all seated around the table, waiting. Typically, when this group gathered, it was covered in maps and battle plans. On this night, however, the wood grain lay exposed. Gaius took his seat, after offering a slight bow to Arthur, while Merlin took up his position as manservant, and stood quietly behind the king.
"Thank you all for meeting me at such a late hour." The king looked around those gathered, his eyes coming to rest on each of the ones seated. "I'm sorry to have summoned you all, however I have realized there is a matter we need to discuss.
"I have noticed, for quite some time, that we have been rather lucky in...well...a lot of things. In the tomb, when Percival and I were facing Morgana and King Odin, we appeared to be more than just lucky. Having the earth shake at the very moment Odin was about to exact his revenge seemed to be an act of the Gods. I have spoken with each of you, and it appears that the quake was only inside the cavern." The king once again looked to each of the men gathered. He allowed them time to digest the information.
Gwen sat forward. She had known from his mood that some sort of internal struggle had been taking place for her husband since their return; he had yet to divulge any of his thoughts to her. "Are you suggesting, Arthur, that someone caused it on purpose?"
"I am." Arthur stated somberly, "...And I realized that wasn't the first time. Reflecting back over the years, many occurrences come to mind. I think, that if you all take a moment, you will realize what I mean."
Sir Leon narrowed his eyes. He had grown up in Camelot, under the laws of Uther. "Are you suggesting sorcery, Sire?" The thought that someone would use magic around the King of Camelot, in a good light, was a foreign concept to the eldest of the Knights gathered and it didn't sit well with him. "Perhaps, if a person was using magic it would explain all the trouble we've had. Who is to say all this would have even happened if they weren't around casting spells to begin with?"
"Let 'em use magic, I say." Gwaine leaned back in his chair. "I have no personal issues with it and if it's been keeping me alive to drink another day, all the better." He ended with a trademark roguish grin, as he flicked the hair out of his face.
"Magic is outlawed for a reason, Gwaine. Look at all Morgana has done with her witchcraft? The number of times she has nearly killed each one of us." Leon glared at the scoundrel.
"Our father died, because he was trying to make a living and happened to pick the wrong person to work with. Hell, my sister has even been sentenced to death, TWICE, simply because she was suspected of it." Elyan gestured towards the queen then brought his fist down on the table with a thump.
"That was different! Queen Guinevere never actually did anything!" Leon snapped back.
Arthur held up his hand for silence. He carefully weighed each of their words. "Percival?" He asked quietly.
"I've seen what Morgana has done. I also know the druids have magic, and are overall very peaceful. After my father was killed, my mother took me away from towns and villages. We rarely saw anyone, but I know she traded with the druids and they never brought any harm to us."
The others looked at the largest of the knights, realizing how little they actually knew of the quiet giant.
The king breathed a silent sigh of relief. "Gaius," he addressed the court physician. "You have been around since before the time of the Great Purge. What do you have to say about all this?"
The old man took a deep breath and folded his hands in his lap. He was careful not to look at Merlin. Gaius chose his words cautiously, "There was a time, Sire, when magic was welcomed in Camelot. Your father, rest his soul..." He gave Arthur a pointed stare, silently referring to recent events, which the gathered knights weren't fully aware of. "...seemed to have a very biased point of view on the use of magic. I will admit, I, myself, have limited training in the actual use of magic. Because of this, I understand it is the wielder, not the magic that chooses its course. IF there is someone with power, as you are implying, then he, or she, has obviously been using it to aide you in bringing peace to Camelot. However, the laws in place have kept this person hidden...for fear of execution."
Arthur nodded, digesting the words and understanding what the physician was inferring when it came to the recent haunting. "Guinevere, what do you think of all of this?"
The queen pursed her lips and raised her chin slightly. "I really don't know, Arthur. You all have seen more of this than I. Yet, from my personal experience the laws of your father were rather...one-sided...when it came to this subject. I have experienced times I thought were hopeless, only to have another one of these miracles save me.
"It was Merlin who tried to keep me from the pyre the first time." She glanced back at her friend, before she looked lovingly on her husband. "Another time, there was the strange old man who saved me...saved us both really. Although, if it hadn't been for magic...I may not have been there in the first place. "
Only due to his years of training as a knight, did Leon keep his seat. "And that old man killed King Uther...and stole a horse, knocked all of us senseless, among other things."
"That 'old man' probably could have killed you, instead of just leaving you dazed!" Gaius put in, showing his true point of view for the situation. "He tried to heal Uther, but due to Morgana's magic and Agravaine's betrayal, was unable to do so!"
The gathered men erupted into a shouting match. No one, save the dark-haired manservant, standing in the shadows behind his king, noticed when Arthur stopped paying attention to the tensions at the table. Merlin felt torn listening to his friends yelling at each other about magic. He cried out silently for the acceptance he craved, but his fear kept him silently in the background. It was when Arthur slowly turned in his seat to face him, that the warlock knew his gig was up. He gulped audibly, or what would have been, had the others not been arguing so loud. He felt his heart racing, crystal blue eyes widened...wondering, if this night might be his last.
"You, who ALWAYS has something to say, have been a little too quiet during this discussion." Arthur's voice broke through the shouting, and they all turned to gaze upon the, for once, quiet servant standing in the shadows.
Merlin did his best not to fidget under their scrutiny. "I'm just a servant, Sire, from a small village. I really don't want to get involved in this matter."
"Bollocks!" Arthur erupted, causing his chair to fall back with a crash, his arms gesticulated frantically, "It was you who convinced me magic was evil when Morgause summoned my mother's form."
Merlin's eyes widened and he felt his temper spike, his nostrils flared slightly...his nervousness forgotten. "If I hadn't, you would have killed your own father. My own beliefs be damned, I refused to let you do that, Arthur Pendragon."
The king smacked his fist on the table, his breath was heavy and uneven. "How long?" Arthur bit out through gritted teeth.
"How long what, Sire?" Merlin responded sharply, his own body quivered with adrenaline. Years of anticipation for this moment barely kept him rooted to the floor. If Arthur truly, finally, wised up to the situation, Merlin wanted to be absolutely certain.
"God! Quit playing the fool, Merlin! I want to know: how long have you been doing magic? It's the only thing that makes sense! The ground shakes...and you are just around the corner. Branches fall on ruffians...and you are hiding around the tree. Not even in the city for two months and your only friend's father is magically healed; when you burst into my father's council chamber and proclaim that it was you who healed him! When the Knights of Medhir were attacking, who was it, in the chamber, when they fell with Morgause and Morgana? My quest to the Perilous Lands, who followed me? You, Merlin! You are the constant in all of this!"
The tension between the two men burned through the room. They glared at each other. Sky blue eyes locked with hazel blue...the power in each other's stances matched and pressed against invisible walls, like a spring wound too tight...waiting for the pressure to relieve, or all hell to break loose.
The gathered council didn't dare take a breath. Not only did they fear the wrath of their king, but now his manservant as well.
Moments passed, when Merlin finally allowed his eyes to close. He yielded to the man his destiny lay so heavily entwined with. He lifted his hand and ran his fingers through his dark hair. He steadied his breathing before he allowed his arms to drop to his sides...relaxed and submissive. "I have always had it. I was born with it, and I don't want to die..." His eyes raised to meet Arthur's, glistening, pleading, "...simply because of it."
Arthur clenched his jaw, the veins pulsed visibly in his neck. "Leave us. All of you."
The king refilled his cup with wine, and did not bother to look towards Merlin. He took a long drink, as the others quietly made haste out of the room.
Gwen softly closed the door behind them. She met each of their eyes. "What was said in there is to be kept in the utmost confidence, until Arthur says otherwise." She waited for a nod from each of them, especially Sir Leon, who seemed to have the hardest time processing all that transpired. Finally satisfied, she nodded, "Gaius, please accompany me, if you would."
"Of course, My Lady." The old man gave a slight bow, ready to follow her and hopefully answer the many questions he felt coming. The two wandered off down the shadowy halls.
The four knights glanced at each other. Gwaine reached out and placed a brotherly hand on Leon's shoulder. "I think we could all use a drink after that. Who's buying?"
"You, obviously." The elder knight narrowed his eyes at the rogue.
"Gods, they were like two sides of a coin or something in there, did you see that?" Elyan questioned his companions, as he stood looking towards the door, his jaw was slack and his dark eyes wide from witnessing the display.
"Hmph." The noise came from Percival. The others looked at him skeptically. The large man smirked, obviously knowing something the rest did not. "There was a legend among the druids about two men of power. 'Two sides of the same coin' is actually how they are referred to. One is said to be the most powerful of any magic user ever born, and the other is destined to be the greatest king to ever live."
"Well, then," Gwaine spoke up cheerily. "I guess I am buying the drinks, I want to hear this story!"
Back in the room, Arthur finally turned to give his manservant a measured look. Merlin was quietly leaning against the side wall, all the tension released. He'd grown even taller and finally began filling in around the shoulders and face, and did not appear quite as gaunt as he did upon arriving in Camelot. His hair and clothing were still kept the in the same fashion. Although younger than Arthur by nearly two years, in the shadowed room lit with candles, Merlin appeared older than he should, an invisible weight carried heavily on his shoulders. The king ran through quips and insults in his mind, yet in the end finally decided the time for joking needed to be set aside. "You are my closest friend. I trust your advice Merlin, always have."
"Well, then maybe you should listen to it more often, and quit acting like a prat so much of the time?" Merlin grinned and flinched, anticipating a flying goblet aimed for his head. He could see Arthur's fist clench the stem in preparation. The blow did not come, and for the first time in many years...Merlin allowed himself to feel hopeful, that despite his deception, their friendship might remain intact. Arthur sat the goblet on the table and held up his hands in an offering of peace.
"I happen to agree with what Gaius said about the wielder, especially considering recent events...which we will never speak of." He said in a warning tone. "I just wonder how I have been so blind not to see it before."
Arthur looked down at his chair; he saw a fresh crack in the wood from the fall. Carelessly, he pushed it aside and instead took a seat in the one his wife had occupied. A heavy sigh escaped him, and he motioned for Merlin to join him at the table. "You won't die. Hell, I won't even banish you for this. I might be first in line at the stocks tomorrow with a few rotten eggs...but you won't die." He looked his companion directly in the eyes, in an effort to assure the younger man of his promise. "We have a lot of things to discuss, I imagine."
Merlin poured a cup of wine for himself and sat down, for the first time he felt truly, as an equal to his friend. "Yes, we do...Where would you like me to start?"
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this, please take some time to review and look at my profile for a link to "Flipping the Coin" the first in a series of sequels to this tale...and my AU version of Season 5.
Here is a short excerpt from that story:
It took every ounce of willpower he had, to not rise and fight back. Time slowed down around him. The boy's eyes reflected the orange fires left from the dragons' devastating breaths. The battle surrounding them reeked of death.
Merlin blamed himself for so many innocent dead. For Morgana's insanity. There was no denying, he had done his part. So much of this could have been prevented. Perhaps Leon was right in his assessment of magic. If only he had leveled with Arthur sooner…his mind was filled with what ifs.
Despite all the wrongs, the ancient soul within the young warlock made peace with himself. He nodded his acceptance of his fate. He could sense the boy preparing to strike. "Make it quick," Merlin whispered. He felt time normalize as the sword came down.
A force slammed into Merlin, throwing him to the ground, face first. It knocked the wind out of his lungs. Merlin blinked and scraped the mud from his eyes. His mind was unable to comprehend what happened.
"NO!" Someone screamed. It took Merlin less than a moment to realize it was his own voice.