Merlin could see the stake out the window. Men were carefully arranging bundles of sticks to help light his pyre. It had been a stupid mistake, one Gaius had always warned him about.
They were under attack. Morgana had set bandits and mercenaries along the hunting path. Arthur was busy fending off three at once when a forth wacked him on the head. As they went in to grab them Merlin forced them back with a quick burst of magic. Standing guard over Arthur Merlin fought off any who came near using both magic and sword. When it was clear he dragged Arthur away from the clearing and deeper into the forest. Glancing around Merlin bent over Arthur and muttered the healing spell. As he finished he heard a twig snap behind him. Whirling around holding Arthur's sword he faced the enemy.
They were to many of them for him to fight off and Arthur wasn't recovered. He shouted and several of the men flew back as Merlin's eyes blazed with gold. With a look swords flew out of the enemies' grasp. Soon every attacking man was either dead or unconscious and weaponless.
"Merlin." Arthur sounded surprised, "What are you doing?"
"Helping you again you prat." Merlin bent down to help Arthur to his feet. "You managed to get yourself knocked out."
"I realize that! What I want to know is what you were doing to those men?" He gestured at the fallen around them. "You didn't touch them yet they move no more."
Merlin looked away-what could he say to ease Arthur's mind? Could he add another lie to the long list of secrets he already was keeping?
"You are a sorcerer, aren't you?" Arthur stood by himself sword in hand facing Merlin. "Don't try to lie, I watched you. With a look men flew. You waved your hand and swords vanished."
"I am a sorcerer, sire. But I have-" Merlin was cut short by Arthur.
"I trusted you. You've betrayed me." Arthur turned and stopped, "You merlin are under arrest for sorcery and will be executed for your crimes." With that Arthur went back to help his knights round up the last of the bandits.
The journey back to the palace was silent. As the rode to the door and dismounted, Arthur turned to the guards. "Merlin is under arrest, if he tries to flee kill him on sight." He watched stony-faced as the confused knights as they led a very cooperative Merlin away.
Merlin sighed that had been yesterday. Gaius had come to see him and said he would try to talk Arthur out of the execution. Gwen had come with food and a blanket the night before.
"You there," A guard opened the door, "the king has given you an audience."
Merlin walked into the throne room between the two guards. Arthur sat at his throne, Gaius in the back and Gwen on the throne beside him. Gwaine, Leon, and several other knights stood on the edges of the room.
Merlin was forced to his knees in front of Arthur. He would have knelt willingly but had not been offered the chance.
"Why?" Arthur didn't look at him-couldn't look at him. "Why did you use magic? How could you have betrayed my trust? You know my feelings towards magic."
"Sire, I have only tried to help with my magic, I only ever used it for good." Merlin tried to keep the plea from his voice. He had to stay strong to stay alive.
"It is good to lie to me then." Arthur's tone was ice.
"My lies saved you, My Lord. My magic saved you."
"Your magic saved me? When?" Arthur looked curious now.
"Which time?" Merlin knew he shouldn't feel as though all was not lost, the stake was just outside.
"The time you saved my life."
"Well you see, I have done it more than once. There were at least ten enchantments; three of them were love spells, five poisonings , six assassins, any battle where the enemies sword blunted-turned-or moved, every raid where the enemy attacked from behind, two rigged jousting tournaments, and about fifteen battles with sorcerers other than Morgana, and at least ten with her." Merlin looked away from Arthur's shocked face, "At least those are in the past year or so. I try not to think about it much."
Gaius tried not to smile even with the fate of burning at the stake Merlin could remain-would remain cheeky.
"If you have done all this without me knowing what happened yesterday?" Arthur leaned forward expectantly.
At this Merlin looked ashamed, "Ah that was a stupid mistake. I thought you would be unconscious longer and that the bandits would take less time."
"You mean to tell me," Arthur started seething. "That the only reason I found out, was because I woke up too soon?"
"Well, usually the healing spell takes longer to start. And I had planned to tell you one day when magic was more accepted, and it wouldn't get me killed." Merlin looked away, fidgeting with his neckerchief. With a deep breath he continued. "I have always believed in you Arthur, in the land of peace you will bring. I know you are going to be a great king the greatest Albion has ever seen. I am proud to be your servant and your friend as you work towards that goal. I am not sorry that I have used magic, it was done only to save your life. I am sorry that you cannot accept it for the good that it is. I have always been willing to lay my life down for you, and have several times. Arthur, my King." Merlin stopped talking and waited. He didn't dare look up. The words that followed his speech were not what he had hoped for, but they were expected nonetheless.
"Take him away." Arthur seemed resigned. His best and only friend had betrayed him, had lied to him for many years….and yet he had saved his life multiple times over if what he had said was true. Arthur dismissed the knights; Gwaine especially seemed to be hit hard by the news.
Gwaine decided magic or not, law or not, Merlin was his friend. He would not leave him alone, not with his death so near. Merlin was slumped against the wall, he hardly looked like he breathing.
"Don't bother getting the keys from the guards." Merlin stated not looking at Gwaine. "You should stay outside the cell."
"Like I'm going to talk to you from out here? Really you know I wouldn't leave you alone. Besides I'm a knight what can you do?" Gwaine sorted through the ring of keys, why were there so many anyways?
"Lots, I could do lots to you." He watched morosely as Gwaine found the key and came in.
"I'm your friend, does that help?" Gwaine looked worriedly at Merlin, he looked weak as though he hadn't eaten. But Gwaine knew it was just the effect of twenty-four hours with imminent death and the hatred of a once best friend that made Merlin so very pale.
"That's why you're still here and not locked in a cell next to me."
"You could do that? Lock me up without moving?"
"Or worse." Came the quite reply.
"But you won't." It wasn't a question just a statement of what Gwaine knew to be true.
"I've never harmed my friends, I only ever tried to save them, the knights, Arthur." Merlin covered his face with his hands. "Oh wait, I do have to apologize for one time."
Gwaine looked at him with something akin to surprise, "I never realized you used magic on me."
"I was disguised. I was about eighty years old. A patrol of knights found me, you, Elyan, Percival, and Leon. I pushed you away with magic then used you as a stepping stool to get on my horse." Gwaine and Merlin laughed about it, although it was a bit of a forced laughter.
They sat in silence for some time before Merlin asked, "Gwaine, Why aren't you scared of me?"
"Ah, mate I couldn't be scared of you! I've seen you drunk and injured, you're not that scary. And I've seen a sorcerer or two. I was banned from Camelot for a bit, remember?" Gwaine watched as some of the tension seemed to ease out of his friend.
"I…I had forgot."
"I'm just upset you hadn't thought to tell me at least! I mean after all those times we got drunk-it must have made some sorta dent in that secret."
"Nah, I pretended a lot. And didn't drink a barrelfull like you did." They grinned but the easy banter seemed strained. And both knew the cause was the threat of the next day. It went quiet for some time, Merlin his head still in his hands with Gwaine casting him worried looks.
"Merlin," Gwaine started and readying himself for an answer he might not like, pressed on. "Why don't you break out and leave?"
Merlin sat back with a sigh. "I've thought about it. Really it wouldn't be that hard. Two spells and the doors are unlocked with the guards asleep. Four words and the flames would disappear. A few more words and I am transported away. Or I could easily just slip into the crowd- no one expects the small boy to be the great traitorous sorcerer Merlin."
As Merlin spoke he rocked each idea seemingly sending a message of panic and the need to get up and flee, but he restricted himself to rocking.
"But I can't leave Arthur. I believe in the Albion he will bring. He is the Once and Future King. I promised I would serve him until the day I died. The day just came a lot sooner than I expected is all." He gave out a bark of laughter at that, "Actually it came later, when I promised Arthur that I was on my way to the Isle of the Blessed to sacrifice my life for his after the questing beast bit him. The sorceress Nimueh died instead."
"Let me guess you killed her?" Gwaine had meant it as a joke but the humor left his face as Merlin nodded.
"I called lightening down from the sky and killed her. "I didn't even realize most of what I had done, it had been instinctive. Did you know? I was born with magic, and that makes me a warlock not a sorcerer so most of what I do, I don't understand. Making fire that has a spell; calling lightening was beyond my control. Well it was then; I've found an enchantment for it now. It's a handy weapon, especially for bandits attacking in stormy weather." He added with a sly grin.
Gwaine tried not to look so surprised, there were two or three cases of lightening shocked deaths when bandits had attacked Arthur's hunts or patrols.
"You certainly have some power my friend." Gwaine clapped Merlin on the back and was dismayed to see him flinch away. "I am glad I've been on your side-and you haven't seen the need to strike me down."
Merlin managed a weak smile at that. But before either man could say more a guard entered the small cell.
"Sir Gwaine-" To which Gwaine muttered to Merlin 'Told them not to call me sir.' The guard didn't hear and kept talking, "The king has decreed that any who spend time with the sorcerer today will join him tomorrow."
Gwaine grimaced; trust Arthur to make Merlin's last day harder. Merlin looked up at the guards words.
"Gwaine you better go. Arthur will need someone to watch his back now that I." He stopped and swallowed hard. "Now that I won't be here."
"Arthur shouldn't be executing you! Look what you've done without any praise or reward!" Gwaine was storming towards the cell door.
"I know." It was all Merlin could say and he turned his back to his friend. Gwaine, frustrated with Merlin's seemingly lack of care and Arthur's pratishness that wouldn't let him save the man who had saved him a hundred times over, left fuming.