Sword in Stone
The night grew dark as Arthur tried to recollect himself in Merlin's embrace. His sobs had ceased ten minutes ago and he was reduced to a sniffling mess. Gods, a prince, hell, a future king, was not supposed to break down like this, especially when they had an audience.
His reputation as a tough warrior was diminished to this.
Merlin started to rub circles on Arthur's back once again. Arthur took comfort in that. Merlin knew Arthur better than anyone, and he still believed in him. Screwed what everyone else thought. If Arthur's true self didn't sent Merlin running for the hills, that was all that mattered, wasn't it?
He squeezed Merlin, a signal that he was ready and done with his breakdown.
Merlin released himself and smiled reassuringly at Arthur. There was no judgement, no pity. Just understanding. Is this what it's liked to be loved, flaws and everything? He could get used to this.
"I'm sorry I got snot all over..." Arthur gestured to Merlin's shoulder.
Merlin shrugged. "I'll convince my employer to give me a new shirt."
Arthur glared. He slowly rose to his feet and stretched out the stiff muscles. He felt better, lighter. His chest wasn't so heavy anymore, so constricted. They forgave him. Arthur wouldn't abuse that. He would cherish and honor that.
Arthur sniffled and wiped his nose. So much for saving face, might as well approach the druids and get this over with.
He turned and noticed most of the druid clan had gone into their huts. Only the council and Iseldir remained.
Arthur and Merlin strode over.
"I completed your test," Arthur said.
"So you did," the bearded man said with indifference.
Anger flashed across Merlin's features.
"I still don't trust you," the heavily wrinkled woman said.
Arthur should've known. No matter what happened, they weren't going to change their opinion of him. He found himself chuckling, he didn't know why.
Merlin took a step forward. "Arthur proved his heart to you. The spirits forgave him, why don't you?"
"I've witnessed nobles con their way into the hearts of men, I won't be fooled again," the younger woman said.
"He passed your test!" Merlin growled. "He went through all of that, you put him through torture, and now you're saying it's not enough?"
I don't need their approval, Arthur realized. He thought of his father. Sometimes, no matter what you said or did, some people were unwilling to change, unwilling to part from their perspective. His mother was right. Not everybody had the strength to change. Arthur knew it firsthand. It was easier to stay the same.
He thought of where he was two months ago. He went through so much to become the man he was in this moment. He stared at Merlin. It was worth it. To be standing here, next to someone and witnessed their full strength.
He half-listened to their continued argument. He watched Iseldir, passive, arms folded over his chest. Not once did he spare a glance at Arthur and Merlin, his attention was set on the council.
"How much more does he need to bare?" Merlin snapped.
"Merlin..." Arthur tried.
"Do you need to break him to..."
"Emrys!" Arthur barked. A flare of magic rose within him.
Merlin heaved a sigh and spun to Arthur, still fuming.
"You can't force people's hearts." Arthur tilted his head, a gesture to leave. "Come on. We did what we set out to do." He turned to the druids. "Thank you. I understand your lack of trust."
"Arthur..." Merlin whispered, dejected.
Arthur lightly smacked him on the arm. "Come, Merlin. You allowed me to face my past. I wouldn't have done that without your push. I'm a better man for it."
Merlin stared at him for the longest time. Finally, he allowed a grin to spread. "Don't let it get to your head. Wouldn't want your oversize ego to blow."
"Ha. Funny." Arthur said. They turned from the druids and walked away. "Are you going to help carry my oversize ego back to Camelot?"
Merlin blew raspberries. "Kilgharrah can carry that heavy load and we'll still arrive in Camelot before you."
"Eirian is faster." Arthur smirked. "I wagered he'll beat your dragon."
Merlin raised a playful brow. "I'll take it, and you'll regret it."
Arthur shoved Merlin with a laugh before they charged off through the woods for their rides home.
Iseldir watched as the Once and Future King and Emrys disappear into the night. No sooner had they left, the council already began to bicker.
He continued to stare where the two left.
The council believed Arthur failed because he never completed the walk. They've forgotten the truth. The Walk of Atonement was a misleading name. If a perpetrator walked there and back, it only revealed they were unable to face what they'd done.
Arthur had surrendered himself to the spirits' judgement and actually atoned for what he did. The spirits forgave him. They disappeared of their own accord. They were put at peace.
Besides, he'd seen that spark of magic flare underneath Arthur's skin when he called Merlin by his magic name.
The legends and prophecies were true. The Once and Future King will arise when Albion's need is greatest. Camelot had descended into a darkness, yet there was a deep pit of night that had yet to reveal itself.
He had the gift of foresight. He'd seen many things, many turns of events.
Only Arthur, with Merlin, can save Albion from the Dark Times that would soon be upon them.
For the magic of Albion flooded through both their veins; the most powerful warlock and the most powerful king.
Arthur needed the druids.
Iseldir stroked his chin.
"Have you heard the story of the Sword in Stone?" he suddenly asked.
The chatters died away as the members of the council turned to him.
"Legends tell of a magical sword, where only the one true King of Albion can pull free."
They were listening intently.
Arthur was wise, you can't force people's heart.
But, sometimes, you could string them along.
"He has to be cheating," Gwaine grumbled.
"I knew he was good, but that good?" Elyan mumbled.
"He's as tired as the rest of us," Percival said. "How is it that no one has beaten him yet?"
"You guys go easy on him, right?" Gwaine said, turning to Leon and Kay. "Crowned Prince and all."
Leon chuckled. "Not after that incident."
Kay winced. "We did once, when Leon accidently injured him. He quickly figured it out and rained his anger upon his."
"That's how Bedevere got that limp," Leon said.
"I beat him once," Lancelot said.
All heads snapped to him.
Lancelot shrugged. "How else do you become a knight?"
"Naïve and noble," Kay scoffed with a shake of his head.
"Arthur lets us win if he deems us worthy to join," Leon said.
Gwaine watched the fight more intently. "I still think he's cheating somehow."
Arthur ducked a swing from Tristan and parried a block.
Tristan leaned in. "Don't they realize we can hear them?" he whispered.
Arthur laughed. "I think that's the point."
They stepped back and gaged each other.
"It's true then? You've never lost a fight?" Tristan said.
Their swords clashed and Arthur leaned in. "Oh, I've lost plenty, believe me."
Tristan narrowed his eyes at him, not really believing him.
"Want to know my secret?" Arthur pressed.
Before Tristan could answer, Arthur immediately loosened his pressure on the sword, causing Tristan to tip forward. Arthur used his flat of his blade to smack Tristan's hand.
Tristan dropped his sword and Arthur set the tip of his blade against Tristan's chest, over his heart.
He grinned and Tristan glowered.
"You'll just have to figure it out for yourself," Arthur teased.
Tristan scoffed, but didn't stop the smile that spread. Arthur decided he liked this side of Tristan better. While the man did have his bitter and resentful moments, he was beginning to grow more relaxed and carefree around Arthur.
Arthur never told them how he always won. He'd noticed they always trained and practiced harder after Arthur handed their butts to them.
Caliburn once told Arthur that as a prince, his knights would always go easy on him, even if they weren't aware of it. It would always be an unconscious thought in the back of their minds. Which is why Arthur had to train more than his men. Which was why Arthur loved tournaments and the heat of battle, because in the thick of that, no one ever held back. No wonder princes died young.
He's heard many stories of princes who die in battle, kings who had to bury their sons.
He stole a glance at Merlin who stood at the sidelines, chatting with one of the servants, George—Arthur believed his name was.
Merlin caught his gaze and graced him a smile.
The secret was: Arthur wasn't better than his knights.
It angered him for the longest time. He was okay with that. A true warrior loved the sword, honed his skills, and always prepared himself.
Arthur vowed when he became king, he would make the time to train and dance with his sword. Everything made sense, all his great ideas were born here when it was just him and his sword.
He was at peace here.
Arthur realized he was still staring at Merlin. And maybe when he was with a certain someone, they brought him at peace.
Tristan had joined the other knights, who were still trying to fathom Arthur and his skills out.
He caught sight of Isolde lurking in the background, near the armory. Arthur made a beeline for her. He had an idea, and wanted to run it by her. He couldn't think of anybody else that would be perfect for the job.
"Isolde," Arthur said as he approached her.
She twisted the edge of her ponytail with her fingers. "Arthur."
"You're itching to get out there and fight, aren't you?" he said.
She sighed. "If I don't kick someone's ass right now, I may end up accidently killing someone." Her tone was light, playful.
"I wanted to ask you something," Arthur said. He gestured with his head and they moved a bit away from the others. "Tristan told me you two were planning to stay in Camelot for the time being. The first day after my coronation, I want to begin a female knight squad and have them start training."
Her brows rose in surprise.
"I want them to train with the men, but Morgana suggested training separately for now, ease the idea of female fighting into Camelot."
"Men and their egos," Isolde said.
Arthur chuckled. "That's what Morgana said." He cleared his throat. "I would be honored to have you as my Head Female Knight, if you would like."
Isolde's jaw dropped. She closed it then glanced at Tristan. Tears welled up in her eyes. "You know, I was the one who taught Tristan and Gwaine how to fight. My father and brothers trained me. They said females should learn how to defend themselves. They didn't want me to rely on any Prince Charming to save me."
"You can hold your own," Arthur said, and he meant it. She kept her composure and enjoyed the brawl of the fight just like he did. "You'll be Princess Charming," he teased.
Guinevere was right. Females had a right to fight just like men. It would be a hard transition, but Arthur was willing to work toward equality.
"Guinevere is quite the blacksmith, she can create the swords for your knights." Arthur coughed. "If you accept."
"I'll get back to you on that, by tomorrow," she said.
Arthur nodded. "I'll support your decision either way." He tapped his fist against his palm and pressed his lips together. He jerked a thumb. "I'll be going..."
"You want to know why you always win?" Isolde called out.
Arthur halted, waiting.
"You always take the first initiative. You're aggressive. The others, they don't realize it, but when they fight you, they just dance around and stay on the defensive."
"You've got a good eye," Arthur said.
He grabbed a sword from the rack and tossed it at her.
She caught the hilt and blinked.
Arthur stepped out onto the field and beckoned with his hand. "Show me what you got."
She charged forward and didn't hold back.
Arthur barely managed to defeat her, but damn, she gave him a good fight.
He grinned. "I think I found my new sparring partner."
She wiped the sweat from her brows. "You're stronger than you look. I'll beat you one day."
"I'm sure you will." Arthur smacked the side of her shoulder.
He ran a couple more drills before he called it a day. Arthur decided to change up in his chambers instead of in the armory. Sometimes, he just liked to be alone.
He wasn't surprised to find Merlin in his room, pacing.
"You're going to wear a hole in the floor if you keep that up," Arthur said as he closed the door behind him.
"You sound like my mother," Merlin quipped.
"Your mother is a sharp woman, I'll take that as a compliment," Arthur said as he tossed his gauntlets onto his desk. "What's got you all riled up?"
"I...I got you a new manservant," he blurted out.
Arthur froze. He slowly turned to Merlin.
Merlin grimaced, sheepishly. "I knew you would never have the heart to do it, so I'm doing it for you."
No more of Merlin rising him up in the early mornings with his annoying cheer of 'Rise and Shine'. No more of Merlin bringing him up a regular portion of his meal that was always still warm. No more perfect temperature for his baths. No more of his gentle hands as he dressed Arthur, or placed his armor upon him.
As much as it hurt his heart, Arthur knew he had to let Merlin go. He was to earn a bigger and better position.
"When did you get to know me so well?" Arthur teased.
"Your new manservant...it's George."
Arthur winced. "George? No. He's such a...bootlicker," he whined.
Merlin chuckled. "He's not...Arthur, George serves Lord Sully for crying out loud."
Ah, Lord Sully. Arthur used to be friends with him, or at least, he pretended to. Uther wanted Arthur to be fast friends with him. Sully was arrogant, uptight, and spoiled.
"I think a couple weeks under your service and he'll lighten up a bit," Merlin said.
Arthur sighed. "So, you have three days left as my manservant."
"So it would seem," Merlin said.
Arthur glanced down and shifted on his feet.
"Arthur...trust me, I'll always be by your side."
Arthur felt his cheeks warm. He scratched the left side of his neck. "I recalled you once saying that you'll be my servant until the day you die," he teased.
Merlin's ears grew red. "Yeah, well, I thought I was going to die."
"Oh, so you didn't mean it?" Arthur drew in closer to him.
Merlin stared at Arthur's lips. "Prat...of course I meant it. I may no longer be your manservant, but I'll still be serving you."
Arthur leaned in. "In what ways?"
Merlin's breathing became erratic. He licked his own lips. "Uh...well..."
A knock on the door caused them both to jump backwards.
Arthur blinked and cleared his throat. "Uh...enter."
Sir Leon barged in. "Arthur. Your father wishes to see you."
"Right. Thank you, Leon," Arthur said.
Leon nodded and left.
Merlin took this moment to head for the door. "You do that. I'll go...finish my last duties as your personal manservant."
Arthur watched him leave. He groaned and slumped down into his chair. What was wrong with him? How could he think of Merlin in that manner? Yet how could he go against his heart? It felt so right, so natural.
He charged out the door. He found Merlin heading down the corridor for Gaius' chambers.
"Merlin!" Arthur barked.
Merlin stopped and spun around, confused. "Arthur...what..."
Arthur grabbed Merlin by the scruff of his scarf and yanked him in.
Their lips crashed together, messy and painful. They both panted as their lips drew apart.
Merlin grinned like he never grinned before.
Arthur laughed and tapped his forehead against Merlin's.
"Have you had any luck?"
Merlin's brows creased and then they relaxed when he realized what Arthur meant.
"I just didn't fit in anymore. I wanted to find somewhere that I did."
"Had any luck?"
"Yeah..." Merlin closed his eyes. "Yeah. Right by your side."
Arthur released a quiet laugh.
This time, Merlin roughly pulled Arthur in for another kiss.
A gleeful shout of "Rise and Shine!" woke Arthur from his deep slumber. He emitted a soft groan and burrowed his face further into the pillow.
Sunlight had yet to peer through the window, it was too early.
"Up and at them!" Merlin exclaimed as he yanked the covers off.
Arthur grabbed his pillow and chucked it at Merlin. It smacked into his manservant's head.
Arthur blinked dazedly. Light had pierced the darkness outside, yet the sun hadn't even began its way over the horizon.
"Merlin, I don't have anything until noon. What is it?" Arthur snapped.
"You're going to be crowned king tomorrow, best get used to these early mornings," Merlin said.
"Merlin. Stop being so chipper. And give me my covers back," Arthur ordered.
Merlin's features turned serious. "We need to have your other coronation first."
Arthur pursed his lips. Other? Oh...he ran his fingers through his hair. He'd yet to receive the crown back from the land of Albion.
Since the druids rejected him, Arthur wasn't sure how to feel. Sparring yesterday helped. It cleared his mind. He had to keep moving forward. He smiled at the memory of his mother, Ygraine. She was wise, calm. He wished she was alive, and here with him today. At least he now knew that she watched over him.
"There's no need. I have to earn it," Arthur said.
Merlin smiled. "Clotpole, you've already earned it."
Arthur felt the hum and warmth of his magic underneath his skin like it agreed to Merlin's words. He stared at his hands. The magic of a king.
His eyes finally adjusted to the room and he realized what Merlin was wearing.
"Is that...are you wearing a knight's chainmail?" Arthur asked as he got out of his bed.
Merlin even had the red cape hung from his shoulders. "You did knight me, sire. I cast a spell to make it a bit lighter, how do you fight in this thing?"
"Practice," Arthur said. "I told you I was fighting fit."
Merlin only grinned. "Get dressed. We're already running late."
"Late? Merlin, the king arrives whenever he means to," Arthur said. "Best get used to it."
Merlin rolled his eyes to the heavens. "Royal Prat."
They said nothing as Merlin helped Arthur dress, slipped into his red gambeson, into his silver chainmail. He stopped Merlin as he help up a white cape.
"Whoa, uh... Merlin, no king wears a white cape in any kingdom. It's the way it's always been."
"No king, but the High Ruler of Albion," Merlin said.
Arthur studied him. "Merlin, what's going on? I was only humoring you, are you actually..."
"I thought you said you were learning to listen. I'm taking you to your coronation, for you to swear an oath as the Ruler of Albion."
"It's time, Arthur. You've accepted that role...do you take it back?"
Arthur stared at the cape. Did he? His chest felt light, there were no tension or burden weighing him down. He was calm, ready. "No..." He swallowed. He rubbed a knuckle over his lips. "I guess I have to officially ask you a question then."
"Yes, you have to wear the cape," Merlin said with an over-exaggerated sigh.
Arthur shook his head. "No..." He stared hard into Merlin's blue eyes. "Will you swear to be my right hand man, the Warlock of Albion?"
Merlin's mouth dropped a bit. "You mean..."
"Why am I even asking? You told me you're happy to be my servant until the day you die, so that's an automatic yes," Arthur said.
Merlin smacked him. He smiled. "Yes. I swear."
Arthur's smile grew wide. "Good."
Merlin tapped his chin. "Warlock of Albion. Has a nice ring to it."
"Thought you might like it. It was that or Clumsy Idiot."
"I like your first choice better."
"I thought you would."
Silence drew into the room. They stared at each other, at their lips, then at the floor or ceiling, then back. It wasn't awkwardness...it was just, Arthur had no clue where to go from here. They just shared a bloody kiss the other day. Heck, more than one. There was something there.
Merlin adjusted the cape onto Arthur's shoulders.
Arthur cleared his throat. "Merlin..."
"I know," he said. "Me too."
Arthur's heart swelled. "Did you say we were on a schedule, Emrys?"
"Let's go, Once and Future King."
The first streaks of the sun stretched across the sky. A few servants were out, and people were setting up for the market when Arthur rode Eirian out of Camelot, with Merlin riding behind them.
No one even looked up at them.
Arthur wondered if Merlin cast a spell.
"Where exactly are we going?" Arthur called out over his shoulder.
"Have you ever heard the legend of the Sword in Stone?" Merlin yelled against the wind.
Arthur rose a brow. "Yes, considering I was the one who thrust it into the stone."
He could sense Merlin grinning. "Legends state that when Albion's need is great, the one and true king of the land will pull the sword free and with it, bring back the light of peace."
"Is that the bedtime story they're telling kids these days?" Arthur joked.
He may act arrogant, but the truth was, Arthur hated it when people made a bigger deal of him than he really was. Bring back the light of peace? A dream Arthur wanted to accomplish, but it wasn't one that he could state he'll do with such certainty.
Only Merlin would believe so whole-heartedly in him.
"It's not a lie, just a slightly embellished truth," Merlin said.
Eirian slowed to a slight walk and Arthur shifted on his saddle to get a view of Merlin. "Don't put too much faith in me, Merlin. I may not be able to live up to that dream of yours."
Merlin tilted his head. "You really don't get it, do you? I believe..."
Eirian stopped and Merlin gestured for Arthur to get off.
Rocks and debris crunched under Arthur's boots as he followed Merlin through the forest, with Eirian following behind them like a protective dog.
Merlin stopped and faced Arthur. "I believe in you because you've already lived up to my dream. You're not the man I once thought you were."
Arthur rubbed the back of his neck. "Don't you ever think
that maybe you're the one who gives me courage? You inspire me to be a better
Merlin flushed at that. "Maybe so. But you're the one who made that change yourself."
He led Arthur out into the small clearing, where the morning rays cast a golden light among Excalibur. The gold in the hilt and fuller of the sword glimmered.
Scattered of noises pierced the silence as people filled into the clearing. Arthur gapped as the Knights of the Round Table, all dressed like Merlin, flanked the right: Lancelot, Elyan, Percival, Gwaine, Tristan, Isolde, Guinevere, Kay and Leon.
Gaius and Geoffrey joined their side, with Audrey and her family, and with Ben and Donna with their new kids: Cian and Anna.
Morgana slipped out from the left, dressed in a sparkling black dress.
In front of her, she guided Mordred forward.
Arthur stifled a gasp as the small druid council joined them, dressed in their forest green capes. They looked uncertain, cautious.
"Are you ready to swear your oath, Once and Future King?" a loud voice boomed behind Arthur.
He glanced back at Kilgharrah.
"A dragon!" he heard Cian exclaim then a quick shush from Donna.
Arthur inclined his head.
"Iseldir will perform the ceremony."
Arthur turned back to see the chieftain positioned by the stone, hands clasped together in front of him.
Arthur inhaled a deep breath and took this moment to savor the people who were with him.
Merlin walked up and joined Iseldir on the other side of the rock. Pride twinkled in his eyes.
The birds chirped a loud song and everyone stood at attention as Arthur walked up to the sword in stone. He stopped a foot before it.
Iseldir gestured for Arthur to kneel before the stone, which he did.
"Will you solemnly swear to govern the people of Albion according to their respective laws and customs?"
Not just the kingdom of Camelot, but Albion as a whole. Mercia, Caerlon, Essetir, Nemeth, Gawant, Amata, Svealand, Daobeth...so many kingdoms.
It only took a beat for Arthur to respond what rang so right in his being: "I solemnly swear so to do."
He winced as the sunlight flared a brighter. Was it Arthur or was the forest around him starting to sparkle with light?
"Will you to your power and magic rebuild this world and bring the days of peace?"
Strange choice of wording.
Arthur lifted his chin high and caught Merlin's gaze. "I will."
His magic sparked inside of him and swelled with his chest. A comforting warmth spilled across his body and Arthur blinked as he noticed that his skin glimmered with a soft glow of light.
A tug pulled at Iseldir's lips. "Then by the sacred magic vested in me, I now pronounced you, Arthur, Ruler of Albion. Draw free the blade."
Arthur rose to his feet and wrapped his fingers around the hilt of Excalibur. The blade rung sweetly as Arthur pulled Excalibur free from the stone.
Wings fluttered behind him and a wreath crown sat upon Arthur's head. Birds of all kind, owls, robins, hawks, eagles, ravens, crows, and more lined the trees and chirped loudly.
Merlin was the first to cry out: "Long live Arthur!"
Everyone joined in the choruses.
He caught Morgana wiping a quick tear.
All his knights, his friends, his people, even the druids, all beamed with pride, with relief, with happiness.
"Long live Arthur!"
Kilgharrah released a roar and Eirian stomped his hooves.
Arthur's cape fluttered as a swirl of wind whipped around him. Leaves and flower petals swiveled up.
And the land of Camelot brightened with the light of magic once more.