Born of Magic
This is where Arthur belonged.
Not on bed rest with his arm in a sling.
Not sitting at the council, struggling not to sleep.
Not substituting for his father on the throne, taking care of the common people's problems that they could settle themselves.
Out here, in the open, with a sword in his hand, that is where Arthur belonged.
He was a warrior, a knight at heart.
His sword masters always commented to Uther that Arthur must've been born with a sword in his hand, because he was never without one growing up.
Arthur didn't believe much in destiny, but if there was one, the only destiny Arthur believed he had was to live and die by the sword.
He retreated a step back as Sir Leon delivered a quarter-cut with his blunt sword.
A dull pain shot from his left shoulder across his chest. Arthur gritted his teeth, trying to ignore it. Three weeks was too soon to be back out on the practice field. Uther advised against it, as well as Gaius, and his pesky manservant. It didn't matter. They didn't understand. Arthur needed to be out here.
The pain grew as Arthur parried another of Leon's attack and went in with a low thrust.
Behind Leon, among those watching, Arthur caught glimpse of a red scarf.
"I'm happy to be your servant till the day I die."
His mind snapped back to that moment three weeks ago. The goodbye that wasn't one. When Arthur was in that coma, he never told anyone, but he had a terrible nightmare where Merlin was in danger and died.
Hearing Merlin talk to him like he was to say goodbye brought that dream back. Merlin's screams and cries. And Arthur helpless to help him.
"Learn to listen as well as you fight."
Arthur's mind whirled back to the present as Leon's sword slammed down against his left shoulder. A scream of pain bubbled up but Arthur forced it down. His arms trembled as he struggled to hold onto his own sword.
Leon immediately knew Arthur was in pain. His eyes widened and he dropped his sword to rush to his prince's side. "Sire!"
Arthur forced a weak smile. White caved around his vision, but he would not give in. He was a prince, they must not show weakness. "Why so worried, Leon? Morgana can hit harder than you."
Leon shook his head, his curly hair plastered against his forehead by the sweat.
Suck up the pain, Arthur told himself. He didn't want to add guilt onto his best and loyal knight. He was the one who forced Leon to spar with him.
Funny thing about being a prince, eventually, everyone obeys.
Not everyone, his inner voice said. Arthur ignored it.
Leon chuckled, though the concern brimmed in his eyes. "You just broke your first rule."
Arthur glared. He knew his owns rules of his sword training. Number one: don't get hit. Number two: hit the other guy. Ever since that idiotic, clumsy fool became his manservant, his knights started to be more open-mouth around him. Less restrained. He wondered who he had to blame for that: himself or Merlin?
Deep inside, Arthur liked it.
Merlin was starting to make him hate bootlickers.
"You just got in a lucky shot," Arthur retorted.
Leon helped straighten Arthur up, geez, when did I start hunching over, and gave him a look. Arthur knew that look. He'd seen Leon use it on the other knights. Arthur was done for the day, but Leon was giving Arthur the chance to maintain his dignity.
"Alright," Arthur bellowed to his other knights. "Good to see you guys haven't been slacking off. Spar off again until Sir Leon here decides when you lousy girls are done for the day."
There were chorus of "Yes, Sire" and groans.
He strolled over to the armory, careful to maintain his proper princely stance as Merlin likes to call it. His manservant immediately rushed over and followed him inside.
Merlin...that idiot has yet to leave his side the last three weeks. It was driving Arthur crazy. Merlin had turned into a mother hen. Arthur kept throwing chores to keep Merlin away from him: muck out the stables, walk his dogs, mend his armor, clean all the knights' boots, heck, he even ordered Merlin to attend to Sir Leon and he still somehow managed to make it back to serve Arthur. He couldn't stand Merlin's overprotectiveness.
Though...that wasn't the real reason why he kept pushing Merlin away.
He tossed his sword onto the long wooden table and took his gloves off.
"I thought you said nobody ever hits you?" Merlin said.
Arthur upside Merlin on the head with his glove. "Sometimes I let my knights get in a hit, it boosts morale."
Merlin snorted. "And what about calling them girls?"
Arthur grinned, despite the pain. "It builds character." He gestured to his armor. "Now, are you going to get me out of this or continue to question my teaching methods?"
"You won't ever admit you're not perfect, will you?" Merlin said, his hands fumbling around the pauldron on Arthur's right shoulder.
Arthur reeled his head back, feigning he was offended. "I am, Merlin."
He smiled as he heard Merlin mutter "prat" under his breath. He would never ever admit it, but he grew to like that endearing nickname.
Arthur rolled the muscles in his shoulders as Merlin took the pauldron off. He raised his arms and bit back a hiss of pain as his left shoulder flared. He could see his left arm shaking as Merlin helped him out of his chainmail.
He breathed deeply, trying to steady himself and his growing white vision. He would not and could not pass out here.
He blinked as he noticed a vial before him, held up by Merlin.
"I figured you might need this."
Arthur huffed. "What is this?"
"Gaius' pain remedy," Merlin said. He sighed and Arthur refused to look at him. He hadn't look back at his manservant since they entered the armory. He could already see the disappointment on Merlin's features without having to look.
"I don't need it," Arthur said.
"Arthur!" Merlin groaned as if he didn't know why he bothered. "I saw Sir Leon hit you right where the Questing Beast bit you. Take it."
Arthur was tired of everyone treating him like he was a fragile vase about to break. He was fine! The pain was nothing compared to three weeks ago.
Arthur scoffed and this time turned to face Merlin. "You just want an excuse to say 'I told you so'."
"I have that chance every day."
Arthur narrowed his eyes, not amused.
Merlin jerked the vial toward Arthur. "Take it."
"I'm fine, Merlin," Arthur stressed through clenched teeth.
Merlin rolled his eyes and grabbed Arthur's hand to shove the vial in. A sharp tingle spread through Arthur, a warm feeling, a strong sense of security and protectiveness overcame him. His shoulder pain eased to a dull throb.
Arthur jerked his hand back and the pain returned. The vial dropped to the floor. "No. Damn it, Merlin. I'm fine. Stop treating me like a child."
"You're acting like a royal one," Merlin argued.
Arthur released a biting laugh. "Oh? Is that how you talk to your future king?" He strolled up and leaned his face in toward Merlin's. "Mend my armor, and when they're done, all the knights."
Merlin's jaw dropped, aghast. "I won't."
Arthur leaned back and smacked the side of Merlin's shoulder. "Either that or suffer the stocks, Merlin." He brushed past his manservant and out of the doorway. He added over his shoulder. "Vegetables are quite ripe this time of the year."
Merlin's lips scrunched up in anger instead of a retort.
Arthur has seen it enough times to know Merlin was royally pissed and rightfully so. But he couldn't deal with it. He didn't want to feel that tingle, that warmth in his chest...
Arthur had no idea what it was.
And it scared him.
Arthur was almost to his chambers when he heard someone shout out his name.
He stiffened to a halt. Not her. Not only had he been pushing Merlin away, he'd be avoiding Morgana. He swallowed and turned, watching her frantically rush toward him in her emerald gown.
"Please, you must talk to Uther," she said.
Arthur bit back a groan. Why did everyone think that Uther listened to him? Arthur learned a long time ago not to question his father's motives, a lesson he never wanted to repeat. But this was his sister, though they may not be bound by blood, he viewed her as such. He was glad when the terrifying notion of them marrying dispersed. He pinched the bridge of his nose, ignoring the pain. "Why must I speak with him?"
"Did you not hear? He arrested a sorcerer!"
And why did Morgana find this surprising? That was all Uther ever did. He remembered after Gwen's father had...he swallowed back that painful memory...Uther was less strict against magic for a time being after that.
The pain in his chest flared in response.
"And you think my father listens to me when it comes to matter of sorcery?" Arthur said.
Instead of a rebuff like he was expecting, her eyes grew more wild. Ever since the Questing Beast incident, the look in her eyes scared him. She gripped his hand, at the contact of skin, Arthur felt an overwhelming sense of fear spread within him. Confusion and darkness swirled in his mind. "Arthur, please. You have to stop it. If you don't..."
He immediately jerked his hand away, and the fear disappeared. He panted. "Morgana." He placed his hands on her shoulders, on the fabric. "I'll talk to him. What happened? What was this man caught doing?"
I can't reason with him if there's strong evidence, but he decided not to tell her that.
"He was caught by his neighbors, using magic on his crops. His kids, Arthur...their father is all they have."
Okay, he could argue that the neighbors' words weren't to be trusted, they weren't noble. That always seemed to work on his father. Until Morgana said,
"And the knights caught him in the act when they arrested him."
Damn it. Why did people think he could sway his father's mind?
He bit his lips. "I'll talk to him."
Morgana's shoulder sagged forward in relief.
He moved past her and down the hallway.
"Arthur." He turned his head back to her. Her eyes darted back and forth, uncertain. "Just...don't say yes."
He burrowed his eyebrows and nodded. He set out to find his father. Don't say yes? He never really believed much in Morgana's nightmares, and part of him didn't want to put much thought into it. He never forgot how she tried to stop him from going after the Questing Beast, certain he would die.
He did a lot of thinking after he woke up.
Especially of Morgana's nightmares.
She was certain he was going to die. When Arthur was in the coma, he knew he was going to die. What happened?
"I'm happy to be your servant till the day I die."
"I've see the man inside you, Arthur."
Arthur pushed those away. What did Merlin and Guinevere see in him?
"You're a better man than your father."
He winced at Morgana's words when he freed her from the prison Uther condemned her to after Tom's death.
He found Uther in the council chambers, signing some papers.
Uther sat up in his chair. "Arthur." He motioned for the guards to leave them. They closed the doors behind Arthur.
"How did training fared?"
"Ah, I was a little stiff, though, it went well." The pain in his chest was excruciating now. He needed to go back to his chambers and relax. His vision wasn't getting any better. How is it that Morgana can rope him easily into doing these things?
"Better," Arthur lied. Before Uther could question him on it, he pressed forward. "I heard you arrested a man."
A grim nod and dark eyes. "For sorcery."
"You're going to condemn him to death for using magic on his crops? It's been a dry summer, Father, surely..."
"The law is the law, Arthur. No form of magic will be accepted." He waved his finger. "You are crowned prince, you must learn that you have to always uphold the law."
Even if the law is wrong? He knew his father wouldn't react well to those words. He rested his hand against the edge of the table. "I understand, Father. You also told me that I must put myself in the shoes of my people. His family was starving. Can't you understand the lengths a desperate man may go for his family?"
Uther leaned back in his chair and folded his fingers together. "And this right here proves to me you're not ready to be king. You're naïve."
Arthur narrowed his eyes at that.
"First he uses magic on his crops. If I let him get away with that, then he'll use it on something else. Magic is evil, twisted. You are lucky you were born today instead of my days. There's always a price for magic."
"And what's the price for using for his children?" Arthur snapped.
Uther slammed his fist on the table. "The price of his soul. You may think there are certain forms where magic is of innocent use. Magic will always twist and darkened the souls of any man. Have you forgotten all the attempts on the crown, on your life?"
Am I naïve to believe it was because of grief, of revenge for what you bestowed upon them? Arthur gripped the edge of the chair in front of him. "I have not forgotten, Father...I..."
"I won't hear of it anymore."
Arthur scoffed. Typical. "Father," he tried once more.
"Or perhaps you should learn your place again."
Arthur's breath caught in his throat.
Uther's eyes glared. "You're the crowned prince. You must serve an example. Tomorrow morning, you will light the pyre and pass the sentence onto this sorcerer," he spat the word out.
Arthur shook his head. "I will not. Why can't you just swallow your pride and pardon him?"
His father's features darkened.
Arthur took a step back as Uther rose from the chair. He stormed over to him, nose in his face. "You dare think to disobey me? That is treason."
"I'm your son," Arthur said.
"Exactly, start acting like it!" He grabbed a bunch of Arthur's shirt. "You are to obey and follow my orders, or have you forgotten I'm king? If these magic users were to see a strife between us, if they believe you're not entirely loyal to the crown, they will use you against me." He leaned in and whispered harshly. "Do you want that?"
Arthur swallowed. "No..."
"Then follow out my orders."
"Damn it, Arthur. You will." An idea sparked within his father's eyes. Arthur reeled his head back as Uther leaned in more closely. "Magic is likely to be passed down by blood. That sorcerer has two children."
Arthur's heart pattered. No. He wouldn't dare.
"Use the torch and execute the man's sentence. Or tomorrow his children will be added to the pyre."
Arthur wanted to argue against it, say that Uther wouldn't kill children. But he knew. Arthur had struck down Druid children on Uther's orders before. He'd seen them on the pyre.
"Arthur...just...don't say yes..."
And condemn innocent children. Burn them alive?
Arthur closed his eyes, defeated. "I'll do it, sire."
"Good. See that you do. And, Arthur, put on a damned convincing performance that you believe what I do. Or those children..." he let the threat hang in the air.
My people will always be my weakness. And Uther will always use it against him as the final straw.
Uther stepped away and patted Arthur's back. "Good. The man will be executed at dawn."
Arthur slowly opened his eyes and watched his father return to his seat. "Why?" he found himself saying. "Why do you hate magic so much?"
A brief sadness crossed Uther's features. "Nothing good ever comes from magic."
"I'm here to see the prisoner," Arthur said. "By orders of King Uther."
The guards nodded and stepped aside to allow him to enter the narrow hallway where the damp cells resided.
Peter Cushing was the man's name. He lived on the outskirts of Camelot. His village were raided by bandits, then their crops failed to grow because of the lack of rain. He had two children, a boy and girl, both younger than ten. If he killed their father...they would be orphans and alone in the world.
Where was the justice in this?
At the fourth cell, Arthur found the sorcerer sitting at the far corner of the cell, his clothes ragged and torn. Dirt covered his arms and face. A simple, scrawny peasant.
Arthur felt ashamed standing before him in his fine tunic, well-fed, and clean.
The strange tingle in his chest, it wasn't warmth, but close to it, bubbled. Why in this man's presence? Because he was a sorcerer?
The brown hair man glanced up and Arthur tried to ignore how he had the same big ears as Merlin. "M'lord," the man cried as he stumbled to his feet. "Please. Spare me. I won't do it again. My children... they were hungry, they kept getting sick..."
Arthur's heart tore. Show no weakness. Be the man your father wants you to be. Save this man's children. "You were caught using magic and under law, the punishment is death." God, he even sounded like his father.
Peter scrambled forward, wrapped his slender fingers around the bars. He was younger than thirty. "They need me. Their mother passed only recently..."
"You should have thought of the consequences before you used magic." Easy words to say. When have I ever thought of my own consequences for the things I did?
Peter blinked. He seemed to realize that his words would have no effect on Arthur. If only Peter knew that they were. A strange look crossed Peter's face. "How?"
Arthur forced his words from the lump in his throat. "Dawn. On the pyre."
His eyes widened. "Burned alive?"
The worst way to die, Arthur thought. He nodded. And the words escaped his lips before he could catch them, "I'm sorry."
"I don't want your pity, Prince Arthur." Peter said his name like a cursed word. "You may take my life, but I promise you I will haunt your every living moment until you die." In that moment, Peter stood like a king and Arthur felt like the lowly scum of the Earth.
Arthur bobbed his head and turned to leave.
"Wait." Arthur hovered by the cells. "Are you truly the Prince of Camelot everyone says you are? Are you a man of honor? Are you a man who truly cares for his people? Are you a man worthy of our loyalty?"
Arthur didn't dare look back, for fear he would crack and break down if he did. The pain in his chest thumped to the pounding of his heart. "No...I am not."
Peter chuckled behind him, though he was surprised it was one of relief. "A modest man...I'd thought there were none left." He cleared his throat. "Do I have to beg you, then, to look after my children?"
This time, Arthur looked back. No insults? No curses? No threats? Only the thought of his children? Peter used magic to save his children, it was never about him. Once again, Arthur's seen proof that his father's laws must be changed.
Peter caught Arthur's eyes and waited.
"I will see that they are placed in a good home, together. They won't be living out in the streets," Arthur promised. And by the gods, he will see to it.
Peter gave a small, sad smile. "Seems like we're both desperate men."
Arthur slumped into his chair back in his chambers after finding a new home for the children. A family he knew from Gaius that were having trouble conceiving were more than happy to take them in. He rubbed his left shoulder as he glanced about his room. He was surprised to find his candles lit, his clean armor on the bed, and a vial of Gaius' pain remedy on the table.
Merlin knew him too well.
A rise of guilt hit him as he remembered his attitude toward his manservant.
"I'm happy to be your servant till the day I die."
Why say those words? After all Arthur treated him? He knew Merlin meant it, was sincere about it. Why did it bother Arthur so much?
The doors of his chamber opened and Merlin slipped inside, dinner on a tray.
"Leave," Arthur said at once, in no mood for company. His stomach churned at the food, it seemed to mock him. If he were in Peter's position, would he resort to the same methods? "I'm not hungry."
Merlin kicked the door shut with his foot. "You want to waste this?" He gestured to the tray.
Angry flared up within Arthur. He knew what Merlin meant by that statement. That there were people hungry, that Arthur shouldn't waste food when others couldn't get it. But how could Arthur eat when he was about to kill the man who only used magic to save his starving children?
"Take it," Arthur snapped. "Do you forget who you're speaking to?" Great, he was his father's son. He's always been his father's son.
"A prat?" Merlin bit back. "Do you know the lengths your people went through to get crops this year, to waste it..."
Arthur slammed his fist down on the table. "I understand the lengths! Do you think I'm so blind to my own people's sufferings?"
Merlin's features softened. "No." He quirked a smile. "You're blind to many things...but not your people."
There it was again. That proud look. The proof that Merlin was wiser than he often showed.
Arthur stood and took the tray from Merlin. "Besides, if you don't want me to waste the food," he set the tray on the table. "Then you can eat it for me."
"What?" Merlin said as Arthur pushed him down onto his chair. His shoulder flared at the movement and he hid a grimace.
"Oh, yes. You're lanky and skinny enough as it is. People must think I starve you." He held up a fork. "Eat, that's an order."
Merlin glared, but didn't argue. He stabbed the chicken and shoved it into his mouth.
Arthur grabbed the goblet of wine from the tray and took a sip, hiding a smile.
Merlin fidgeted in his seat and tossed a piece of ripped bread into his mouth. "I ran into Morgana earlier."
I just want to forget it, Merlin. At least until morning, I don't want to think what I have to do.
"Oh?" Arthur forced a tease. "Were you bringing her more flowers?"
"What?" Merlin was gob-smacked. "No...Arthur, I don't have a crush on Morgana."
"You're awfully quick to deny it."
"Because you obviously don't believe me."
"With good reasons."
Merlin raised a brow. "Hold on, are you jealous?"
This is why he loved to banter with Merlin. He was quick and always easily turned it around back onto Arthur. Quick and smart.
Arthur scoffed. "Jealous? Please."
Then Merlin turned serious again.
Arthur almost groaned. No, keep playing, keep playing.
"What did your father say?" Merlin asked.
He wanted to toss the goblet at Merlin's head. Instead, he took a long swig of his wine. "He declared his love for unicorns and rainbows." He rolled his eyes. "What do you think he said?"
Merlin seemed to sink into the chair. "I'd thought..."
"What? That my father would listen to me? Change his mind about magic?"
Merlin opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. "What do you believe?" He cleared his throat, looking thoroughly uncomfortable. "About magic?"
His father's words echoed in his head: "And, Arthur, put on a damned convincing performance that you believe what I do. Or those children..."
He stared at Merlin. He trusted Merlin, with his life. Could he trust Merlin with his secrets, thoughts that he truly didn't believe in father's way? Arthur found that he did.
But he didn't trust his father.
"Magic is evil, Merlin," Arthur said. "People who use it only wish to cause harm."
"Is that what you really believe?" Merlin asked.
Why was Merlin asking him of this?
He remembered a couple years ago, raiding a Druid camp, he killed so many people that day, even the women and children. All for what? To gain his father's favor?
He seen sorcerers attack Camelot over and over again. Attack his father. Attack his people.
But then he'd seen people like Peter. Who used it for crops, to heal.
He remembered that glowing blue ball of light in the cave.
No. Arthur never believed it. He tried to convince himself. He spent hours trying to convince himself. He would repeat his father's words, there were days where Arthur almost believed he did, but his heart always betrayed him.
He found that Merlin was waiting with batted breath for his answer. Like what Arthur said would determine everything.
Ever since he met Merlin, that idiot forced Arthur to confront his own truths, his own self.
He grew to think of Merlin of his best friend, though he could never admit that out loud. If his father found out...
Arthur remembered once a peasant boy he had befriended when he was a child. Uther had been outraged when he found out Arthur had been shirking from his duties to hang out with a peasant. Since that day, Arthur never saw that boy around the kingdom.
Arthur vowed never to make a friend again. To hold people away at arm's length.
If Arthur told Merlin the truth now, would their strange friendship grow? Would they become close? What would happened if Uther would to discover the truth of how Arthur felt of Merlin? He remembered the consequences when he returned back from Ealdor after he helped saved Merlin's town from bandits. His father was livid. Arthur never told Merlin or anyone that his father had given him lashings for disobeying his orders. Lashings he never told Gaius about. Lashings that he made Sir Leon dress and bandaged.
Arthur would rather take the punishment than have Merlin face it. And he'll accept it. Because it was Merlin.
So he must protect Merlin, no matter the cost.
"Yes," Arthur found himself saying and he almost believed himself. "Magic is evil. Those who use it deserve nothing but death."
For a moment, it looked like Arthur had killed Merlin's mother, but it was replaced quickly as it came. "I see."
"I am to pass the sentence tomorrow." Arthur trailed off as he realized how much Merlin hated those executions. After the second one when Merlin started as his manservant, he noticed how Merlin was always dejected and sad. Heck, Merlin cried when Arthur killed that unicorn. He hated anything to do with injustice. Arthur would often give his manservant the day or morning off when there were executions held. Arthur held back his bitterness at that when he himself still had to attend.
He remembered on several occasion Father asking where Merlin was. He would lie, saying he had Merlin off doing some type of chore.
If he let Merlin have tomorrow off...
I can't let my father hurt you. I can't seem to rid of you...
"You should join me. You'll be at my side tomorrow and you'll see just how evil magic."
"That's an order, Merlin. I'm tired of you always asking these questions and being so sympathetic toward magic users. It's time you realized the truth."
"Sire," Arthur quickly corrected.
Merlin pushed his chair back and stood. "If there's nothing else, sire."
Arthur dismissed him with a wave of his hand.
He tried to ignore the betrayed look in his manservant's eyes. He tried to ignore the door slamming behind Merlin as he left.
His chest ached in pain and Arthur grabbed the vial from his table. He stared at it.
"Seems like we're both desperate men."
With a cry, Arthur hurled the vial at the wall and it splattered. He dropped to his knees and hugged himself.
He deserved this pain. For being so weak.
For being unable to overcome his own father.
Arthur went through the motions with a dull, numb feeling. Like he was watching himself do all this from a distance.
He didn't feel anything when his father greeted him before he went down to retrieve Peter. He was emotionless to the praise from his father's lips, the twinkle of pride in his eyes.
When the guards stood Peter up from the cells, he only asked one thing as he was being escorted out, "My children?"
"Safe," was all Arthur said.
Merlin met Arthur at the pyre. There were heavy bags under his eyes, his skin pale, but he said nothing. He didn't merit a glance at Arthur.
Arthur watched, not really feeling anything, as they tied Peter to the wooden pike.
Uther gave him a nod to signal the start of the execution.
Play the part. Convince him. For those children.
Arthur bellowed out to the gathered crowd around them, ignoring Morgana who watched from her windows. "Let this serve as a lesson to all of us within Camelot. This man, Peter Cushing, is adjudged guilty of conspiring to use enchantments and magic. And, pursuant to the laws of Camelot, by the decree of my father, Uther Pendragon, these practices are banned on penalty of death."
Merlin stared at him with wide-eyes.
Arthur wondered how much he sounded like Uther.
"There will be no room for magic in Camelot, and when I become king, these laws will continue to be uphold."
He gestured to the executioner to hand him the torch. He hesitated a moment as he stared at Peter. He mouthed the words "I'm sorry" to the man before he let the flames lick at the logs under Peter's feet.
He stepped back and addressed the crowd, "Sorcery has been driven from Camelot, and we will continue to be free from the evil of magic."
Merlin winced and turned away from the flames.
Arthur gripped his shoulders. "Look at him," he ordered.
He handed the torch back over to the executioner and stood still, arms crossed as the flames danced around Peter's body.
They reached up at his legs.
Peter kept his stance, held his head high until the flames nearly consumed him. Then the screams began.
Arthur's heart stirred.
If magic was evil, why hadn't Peter fought and used magic to harm us to free himself?
The strange tingle in his chest sharpened. Arthur's heart reached out to the man. He didn't deserve this death. I do, for condemning him to this fate. He found himself pleading inwardly, If there are gods, take away this man's pain. Give him peace even in death.
The screams all at once stopped so suddenly that Merlin next to him jerked.
Peter's head sagged forward and Arthur watched as the flames consumed him, turning his body into ash.
He didn't know how long he stood, but most of the crowd had left. The fire continued and Arthur gestured for it to be put out.
He was surprised to find Merlin still standing there.
There was no emotion in his manservant's face. Arthur felt like Merlin's innocence and happiness burned in that fire.
His gaze finally turned to Arthur and he winced at how empty they were. "Sire?" he asked, his voice monotone.
"You're dismissed," Arthur said.
Merlin walked away, without purpose.
Arthur was worse than his father.
One of Uther's knights approached him, "Sire, your father..."
He brushed the man's words away as he stormed off. He didn't want to see his father. He noticed Morgana coming down the stairs from the main castle entryway. He immediately changed course and leaped down to another passageway.
He needed to get away, he needed to get out, away from everyone. He was so close to breaking, he didn't know how he was still together. He stole a cape from behind a cart and draped it over to hide himself.
He stopped as he saw one of Peter's children, Cian, standing in his path. There was so much hatred and hurt as he glared at Arthur.
"You killed my father," the boy said, his lips trembling.
Arthur said nothing. Bile reached his mouth.
"I'm going to kill you," the boy said with utter conviction.
The boy ran off and Arthur watched his fleeing form.
"I hope so," Arthur whispered after him.
By the time the sun was high in the sky, Arthur was far outside of Camelot, the castle small in the distance. He rubbed his hands across his face and groaned as he smelt the smoke.
He ripped off the peasant's cape and knelt near the water, scrubbing the smoke and ashes off. Peter's screams continued to echo in his ears.
No. Those nightmares stay in Camelot.
Out here, in the wild, he was free.
He was simply Arthur.
Out here, there were no obligations, no masks to wear, no fears. He could be as he was.
His arms shook, yet he forced himself to wash his face, to rid the grime on it.
He breathed again. Steady breaths.
He cupped his hands and drank water from the creek.
The tingle in his chest pricked and a warmth grew within him in warning. He scanned his surroundings. Something was coming.
His breath caught in his throat as the creature leaped into the clearing.
The sun sparkled off its white coat, the silver hair matted around the horn on its head. What was it doing back here?
Arthur rose from the creek, staring at it in awe.
The unicorn nickered and stomped its feet before it moved closer to him.
Arthur stood, rigid.
As it neared him, the unicorn bowed its head in greeting.
Arthur reached out his hand and touched its neck. That feeling like with Merlin and Morgana blossomed within. He felt a wave of innocence and a desire to run filled him.
Why was the unicorn letting Arthur touch it? Merlin had almost touched one once before Arthur killed...he pushed the harsh memories from his mind.
"I'm sorry..." he whispered to the unicorn through the lump in his throat.
He didn't know why, but he knew, he knew this was the one he had killed a couple months ago.
He blinked in surprise as the unicorn lowered itself to the ground. The creature wanted him to get on? It trusted him? His father's words of how dangerous magic was played in his mind.
Eirian, a voice purred inside Arthur's head, heightening the feeling of innocence within Arthur, the feeling of freedom.
"I'd be honored to ride with you, Eirian," Arthur said.
He lifted his legs over and settled into a seating position. He never road without a saddle before. He knew he would be safe on Eirian, a strange gut feeling told him.
Besides, Arthur wanted nothing in that moment than to be free, to escape, to no longer be a prince, no longer be the warrior and protector of Camelot. To just be Arthur.
Eirian straightened his legs. Arthur steadied himself as Eirian rose. The unicorn nickered once before it took off for the woods.
He was one of the fastest horse Arthur had ever rode on. The world blurred by him, and somehow the sky above always seemed so still. The wind whipped in his hair and against his clothes.
Arthur found himself spreading his arms, with no fear of falling off, and released a laugh of glee.
His whole life was consisted of restraining himself. He never really knew a childhood, he never got the chance to run around and explore like the others did. "Everyone always watching", his father told him, "You must always act like the prince."
This was so freeing.
He never laughed like this.
Never took caution to the wind.
His doubts and fears blew away behind him the further the unicorn ran.
At Arthur's laugh, Eirian ran faster, leaping over logs and down hills, galloping so quickly. Not once did Arthur drop his arms to catch himself.
If he closed his eyes, he could pretend that he was flying.
He didn't know how long Eirian ran, but soon, he slowed to a brisk walk, and Arthur found that they were at the ocean, where he nearly sacrificed himself for Merlin by drinking poison. Or at least, he thought it was poison. The lengths he was willing to go for Merlin...it scared him sometimes.
At the shores, Eirian lowered himself and Arthur stroked the side of his neck before he jumped down.
He scratched under Eirian's snout. "Thank you..."
Arthur found himself once again enraptured by the unicorn's beauty. He couldn't believe he was so proud of himself when he killed Eirian, he was so eager to reveal his kill to his father, so eager for Uther to declare how proud he was. Funny, how it took killing things to win his father's favor.
Arthur was beginning to learn he no longer had the heart for it...or perhaps he never did.
He sat into the sand next to Eirian, watching the water smack against the shores.
Why did the unicorn offer him a ride? And why he, Arthur Pendragon, easily accepted it?
"So, it has begun."
Arthur placed his hand where his sword was to be and mentally berated himself for venturing off into the wild without one. Was he such a fool? He got to his knees and whirled around.
The Keeper of Unicorns. What was his name? Aurora? Adora?
The dirty, moth-eaten cloak draped over the older man, the hood rested on his shoulder. He leaned against his long staff with two angled tips. The man smiled. "We meet again, Arthur Pendragon."
Did Eirian ride him out here for this? To be attacked again by this sorcerer? This man made his people suffer.
Arthur swallowed back his pride, berating himself. He'd done it, not the old sorcerer. Arthur had done it by killing the very creature next to him. What type of man was Arthur? Then the man's words, Anhora, that's his name, dawned on him. "What's begun?"
"The effects of the Old Religion has stirred the dormant powers within you. It is starting to awaken."
"Powers?" Arthur scoffed. "I have no powers." Plus, why would Arthur want it? Nothing good ever came out of magic.
"Don't deny what you've felt in your heart." He gestured to Eirian. "What you felt from your unicorn."
The strange tingle of warmth? He can't have magic. He can't be a sorcerer. If his father ever found out...he didn't dare complete that thought. Wait, did Anhora say, "My unicorn?"
Anhora didn't answer that. "You must seek out the man who lays at the heart of the Old Religion, the one who brought you back."
The bite ached in reminder. Arthur realized that he wasn't in pain. It was gone.
When Arthur had woken from that coma, he knew, he knew he should be dead. He had a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, one that didn't quite leave until Merlin and Gaius returned from their trip.
"Why are you here?" Arthur pressed. "Is this another trail?"
Anhora shook his head. "It is not I who sought you out. It was Eirian."
Arthur glanced at the unicorn laying in the sand next to him, content.
"He can sense the magic within you, you who were born of magic."
"Sorcerers are liars, manipulators, you must never trust them", he heard his father's voice in his head, "they'll say anything to ensnare you into their trap."
Arthur snarled. "My mother died giving birth to me. Don't dishonor her memory with lies of magic."
Anhora sighed. "Don't tell me you've already forgotten your lesson with the unicorn. Your ignorance destroyed the creature," his voice turned soft, "and your pure heart brought it back."
Arthur averted his gaze, ashamed.
"The unicorn came to remind you of that lesson, to urge you to stop hiding behind your veil of ignorance. He showed the beauty of magic, did he not?"
How could Arthur forget that freeing, exhilarating ride? That was magic? If he broke free from the veil of ignorance he hid behind, his entire life would've been a lie. His father would be wrong, it would mean that his father, his king, was a tyrant. If that were true, what did that make Arthur? He obeyed his father, even when his heart questioned it. He didn't want to break the veil because how he could he face the horrors of what he'd done, the blood that he'd spilt, the judgement that he threw at others?
His ignorance brought suffering to others. It was easier for Arthur to live in ignorance rather than face what he'd done.
He didn't want to face the monster he'd become.
Arthur glanced back at Anhora.
Anhora smiled sadly at him. "Don't forget, Arthur, you are pure-hearted, like the unicorn. Accept that part of yourself, accept what you've done, and accept the man you will be."
"You're a better man than your father. Always were."
"You are going to live to be the man I've seen inside you, Arthur. I can see a Camelot that is fair and just."
"Well, I know you. And you're a great warrior. One day, you'll be a great king."
Morgana, Guinevere, and Merlin. They all saw and believed in a man that Arthur had yet to see.
"Accept the magic that is inside of you, Arthur," Anhora said.
Magic? He can't have it. He'd just burned a man for using it. He'd be a hypocrite to accept that part of him.
"Ask yourself, Arthur, before you return back to Camelot, before anything, ask: what type of king do you want to be?"
I want to be a king that's fair and just. I want Camelot to flourish in peace, not fear. I want a land where people treat others with respect regardless of status. I want a land where everyone is equal and people can be as they are, even magic.
But those were childish dreams and as son of Uther, he couldn't preach that.
Arthur felt Eirian rubbing his head against his hand.
"Do you believe in destiny, Arthur?" Anhora asked.
"I believe a man makes his own destiny," Arthur answered.
Anhora smiled. "Then create one worthy of remembrance."
Arthur stroked Eirian's mane. "You said I was born of magic," Lies, lies his mind screamed, yet his heart was still, "what does that mean?"
"You're of magic, Arthur. You may not be able to create spells or chant enhancements, but like the unicorn, you are a creature of magic and therefore, you have a magical link to all those with magic. Though, there is one that you have the strongest link with."
Suddenly, Arthur knew. He didn't want to admit it. He wanted to hide, pretend it wasn't there, but how could he ignore it?
How could he ignore the rope tightening or the bucket moving of their own accord?
How could he ignore the snakes appearing out of the knight's shield by his words?
How could he ignore the whispers of the wind behind him that used the torch he wielded to defeat the afanc?
How could he ignore the wind storm that saved Ealdor?
How could he ignore the strange goodbye right after he was saved from a bite that should've killed him?
"There's something about you, Merlin, I can't quite put my finger on it."
"Merlin," Arthur whispered. His mind finally agreeing to what his heart had been trying to tell him all along. For a second, he felt betrayed, angered. How could Merlin not trust him?
Then he remembered in Ealdor. Merlin was going to tell him something... "You know how dangerous magic is," Arthur had chided.
And yesterday, he told Merlin that magic was evil, that he believed in that laws of his father.
No wonder Merlin didn't tell him. No wonder Merlin didn't trust him.
"Yes," Anhora confirmed.
"And what do you want me to do? Join forces with Merlin and overthrow my father?" Arthur shook his head. "I can't do that. It'll create a civil war within Camelot. I won't do that to my people."
"Merlin knows that. Trust him, Arthur. I don't think you've realized how much he's done for you."
Arthur tried to swallow.
Merlin, a sorcerer?
Arthur knew. He'd always known.
What the hell was Merlin doing in Camelot?
"I'm happy to be your servant till the day I die."
Why was Merlin going out of the way to protect him? Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther Pendragon, the man who wants to destroy magic?
No. Magic is evil. Merlin is evil. Merlin was using him.
"Don't forget your lesson, Arthur," Anhora said. "Your ignorance will bring the suffering upon your people." He tapped his staff against the sand. "Only your pure heart will save them. Remember that. It is time for you to let it shine forth, let it break your veil."
Eirian still rested nearby him.
"Wait," Arthur cried out. "You can't leave Eirian..."
"He is bound to you. If you deny your magic," Anhora's voice boomed around him, "if you deny your true self, you will grow to become worse than Uther. And all of Albion, all of Camelot will never achieve peace. Seek Merlin out."
Arthur...born of magic?
It couldn't be possible. Yet it explained that feeling in his chest since he woke. The connection he had with the unicorn and Merlin.
He stroked Eirian's neck once more. "Could you ride me to the end of the world, away from all of this?"
Eirian rubbed his snout against Arthur's chest.
Arthur knew he himself would never do it. He loved Camelot, the people, the land. He made an oath, to serve the people of Camelot. He may have servants and was always waited upon, but the truth was he was their servant.
He followed and obeyed Camelot before anyone else.
He couldn't run away.
A land of magic? Could he truly create that?
When has anything good ever come from magic?
Would Merlin be able to answer that for him?
Or would Merlin only prove Uther right?