Rain of Trust
"Sir Leon!" Arthur called out.
From the end of the corridor, Sir Leon glanced up from his conversation with two other knights, Sir Kay and Sir Bedevere. He gave them a nod of dismissal. The other two departed when Arthur approached Leon.
"What it is, sire?"
As much as Arthur pressed it, Leon was still insistent on calling Arthur formally.
"Have you dispatched your selected men to the outlying villages yet?" Arthur asked.
Leon straightened himself. "Not for two days' time." He narrowed his eyes. "Have you changed your mind?"
"No, of course not. I've gathered an idea. I've talked to Jordan, our new blacksmith, he has old weapons he's willing to part with. I want you to issue new orders to these knights. They are to arm and train these civilians in how to defend themselves."
Leon's eyebrows rose. "Is that wise, sire?"
Arthur was glad Leon called him out on it. It was risky. But he'd seen the men and women of Ealdor rise up and defend their homes. He also knew the risk that he might encourage others to use their newfound skills to take up arms against the crown or even against themselves.
"How else can we expect the people to defend themselves? Let's teach them. Let's give them a fighting chance."
"What if they decide to take that chance against our knights, our men?" He lowered his voice. "What if we end up creating an army against Camelot?"
"Then we'll have to ensure we don't give them a reason to," Arthur said as he crossed his arms. He needed Leon to push this, to fight this. Arthur wasn't sure if he was being idiotic.
All his life, he'd been instilled that only knights fought, only nobles fought. Commoners who fought were barbarians.
Ealdor proved him wrong.
Leon's mouth opened, but no protests came out. It hung out for a moment before he closed it. "Are you issuing this decree?"
Arthur's heart pattered. His father would kill him if he ever found out. It'd only been two weeks. All logic, all that he'd been taught told him not to do this. Yet it felt right. "Yes," Arthur found himself saying "Dispatch any additional men you can spare to aid in the training of the civilians. Any weapons that you can depart with, tell the knights to take with them."
A slight tug pulled on the corner of Leon's mouth.
Arthur needed to know. "Do you disagree?"
Leon seemed hesitant to respond. He cleared his throat and answered, "My lord father would agree with you. If this had been issued a year ago, perhaps my brother would still be alive."
Arthur blinked, not expecting anything so personal. He remembered once Leon telling him in a drunk passage that his younger brother had been disowned from the family, Arthur never knew the fine details, but apparently Leon's brother was killed in a raid. He offered Leon a month off to grieve.
Yet Leon responded with, "No man is worth my tears."
Arthur regretted telling his knights that. It's easier to say surrounded by carnage and the massacre of battle. It's harder to agree when it's personal.
"I'll write up a decree and give it to you by the evening," Arthur said. He was doing this. He was rewriting his father's laws. Was he suicidal? Uther would probably revoke it the moment he returned. Arthur hid a smirk. By then, the damage would've already been done.
"By your leave," Leon bowed his head.
"Hold on," Arthur said. "Have you seen Merlin?"
The knight shrugged. "The tavern?"
"Merlin!" Arthur yelled as he slammed opened Merlin's bedroom door.
Boots, shirts, and armored plate collapsed to the ground around Merlin's bed. Merlin sat up on his bed and pressed an open book against his chest. He bit his upper lip in innocence.
Arthur narrowed his eyes. "What were you doing?"
"Nothing," Merlin answered quickly.
Arthur placed a hand on his hip. "Were you using magic?"
Merlin tilted his head to the side. "No?"
"No?" Arthur glanced at the floor to see his boots and a brush, a hammer and his armor, with a needle and thread next to his festive blue shirt. He quickly inspected the book against Merlin's chest. He cocked a brow. "Is that the magic book?"
"It's a cookbook..."
"How have you managed to survive for so long?" Arthur cried. "You're openly using magic and you don't even have the common sense to lock the door!"
"You should have the common sense to lower your voice," Merlin said in a hushed whisper. "You don't know who could be listening."
Arthur huffed. "That's it. You're going to the stocks."
Merlin's eyes bulged. "What? Why?"
"Do you forget where you are? Just because you're friends with the prince doesn't mean it gives you a pardon." He rushed over and yanked the magic book from Merlin's hands.
"Hey! But..." Merlin's words stuttered and he stumbled out of his bed.
Merlin's shoulders slumped.
"It's for your own good. Hopefully a couple of tomatoes will knock some sense into you."
"When you're done, come see me, there's something I need to ask you."
Merlin perked up. "You could ask me now?"
"Nice try, Merlin. You're not getting out of this."
Merlin pouted (seriously, he was nearly the same age as Arthur and he still pouted like a child!) and headed for the door.
"Wait." An evil smirk formed on Arthur's features. "Now that I know you're cheating on your chores, I think I'll double your workload."
"You can't call me that."
Arthur shook his head and smiled.
Later that afternoon, Arthur was in his chambers drawing up the official work order for Sir Leon when Merlin entered, head covered with tomato grime.
Arthur twirled the quill in his fingers. "You've got a piece of tomato in your ears."
Merlin's hand immediately shot up and dug the chunk out from his inner ear lobe. He flopped it on the ground. "You called for me, sire?"
Bitter sarcasm, he loved Merlin like that. Arthur sat up in his seat. "Bolt the doors."
Merlin did just that and hobbled over to Arthur's desk. "Shall I press some chairs against the doors as well, as extra precaution?"
Arthur shook his head in amusement. "Just sit, Merlin."
Arthur thought he heard something squished when Merlin sat in the chair before Arthur's desk. He scrunched his nose up.
Merlin rose his brows, waiting.
Arthur grabbed Merlin's magic book from his stack and waved it in the air. "You need to be more careful with this."
"You need to stop barging into people's rooms, what if I were doing something more personal?" Merlin snapped back.
Arthur clamped his mouth shut at the implications. "I don't need to know what you do in your spare time, Merlin."
"What? No. Not that..."
Arthur waved that away. "Anyway..." He curled his lips inward. Should he ask this of Merlin? He knew Merlin would be more than happy to do it in a heartbeat. It's one thing to do magic in secrecy on your own. It's another thing entirely to be ordered to do it. He set the book down on his desk. "What I'm about to ask you...involves treason."
Merlin's shoulders tensed, and Arthur couldn't tell if it was anticipation or nervousness.
Arthur was still haunted by the sorcerer, Peter, consumed by the flames. He felt like a hypocrite for asking, like he was the lowest of men. He felt like he was betraying Cian and Anna.
He rubbed the top of his knuckles with his thumb and swallowed the lump in his throat. "Can you make it rain?"
Merlin's features dropped in shock. "Wh-what?"
"Could you bring rain to water Camelot's crops?" Arthur scratched the back of his neck. "I don't know how powerful you are, or the limits of your powers but..." he trailed off, not knowing where to go.
He can't believe he was here asking Merlin to use his magic. A year ago, Arthur wouldn't have done this.
"You're...asking me to use magic?" Merlin said.
"I don't know how much more clear I can get," Arthur said.
Merlin grinned. It was one of the biggest grins Arthur had seen. He wondered how Merlin must be feeling. To hide his magic his whole life and told not to use it, and here was the Crowned Prince of Camelot, asking Merlin to use his magic. It was like Arthur being told never to wield his sword and finally be given permission to.
"I don't know how, but I'll find a way, Arthur. Believe me."
Arthur tapped his knuckles against Merlin's magic book. "I'm assuming it involves this?"
Merlin had the grace to wince. "Yes?"
"I'd lock it in here, but I know, somehow, it'll end up back in your room," Arthur said. He knew Merlin well enough that he was too independent, and Arthur couldn't take that away from him. He couldn't control Merlin and force him to hide his powers and his books, and his secrets.
No. He had to trust Merlin to take care of himself.
"There's something else," Arthur pulled a drawer opened and handed Merlin his mother's book: Annals of Magic. "I read most of it, there's some spells, a passage on the elements of nature in there." Arthur traced his middle finger down along the spine. "There's also some notes in there," he graced a soft smile, "it was my mother's, and I want you to have it." He held out the book to Merlin and it felt like he was handing over a part of his heart.
Merlin's eyes widened. He shook his head. "Arthur, I can't take this..."
"Take it," Arthur said. "It'll be more of use to you than to me."
Merlin gently took it from Arthur's hands and stared at the old leather book. He placed a hand on top. "I'll take care of this, you have my word." I'll protect this piece of your heart, Merlin's eyes seemed to say.
Arthur leaned back in his chair and averted his gaze. "Uh, yeah, thank you. Let me know what you find."
Merlin stood and Arthur handed back his magic book.
"Cloak those, don't want anybody seeing them," Arthur warned.
"You're worse than Gaius." Merlin stared at him, almost as if he wanted to say something else. He headed for the door.
Arthur swallowed the lump again. "Merlin."
His manservant turned back.
"If you have any other ideas or find anything, you're more than welcome to come to me about it."
Merlin grinned once again. "I will."
Arthur watched Merlin's eyes lit up in gold as he muttered a spell and the books in his hands changed into different bindings before he left.
Arthur groaned and rubbed his face into his palms. What was he doing? He wasn't king yet, he was acting regent while his father was away. Why was he suddenly starting to change things around here? Issuing new orders and decree?
If his father knew what Arthur had just asked Merlin to do...he couldn't complete that thought. He never realized how much power and control Uther had over him.
There was a sharp twist in his gut. When Uther came back, he would undo all the little work that Arthur had done.
And Arthur knew in his heart that he wouldn't be able to sit on the sidelines and watch it all unravel. He couldn't take a step back especially from all that he's learned. He wouldn't be able to watch Uther rule with an iron-fist.
Knowing that terrified him.
Merlin loved Arthur's book on magic. It was so informative and had more details than his own magic book. Granted, the Annals of Magic wasn't exactly a spell book, but Merlin found more of the Old Religion than anywhere else.
He was shocked that Arthur had given it to him. And honored. There was so much trust and faith that Arthur held in him. He didn't know what Arthur saw, but it made Merlin want to uphold whatever belief Arthur had in him.
He flipped a page, reading a section on the elements of the earth: Water, Fire, Air, and Metal. There were no specific spells on any main subject, but it stated that those who invoke the powers of the Old Religion can invoke the powers of the Earth.
"How?" Merlin cried. He ran his fingers through his hair and then slumped his elbows on the table. He didn't want to let Arthur down.
Never in a million years did he ever expect Arthur to request for Merlin to use magic for Camelot. Sure, he's been using it to save Camelot from evil sorcerers, but using it to make Camelot stronger, this was the first he'd even done it.
He almost wanted to thank Arthur for giving him the book. Even since the incident with Nimueh, Merlin had been frightened by how easily he'd killed her, how the balance of life and death was at the tip of his fingers. The fear heightened when Arthur told him how he was born. Was that what set Uther against magic? Using the Old Religion to conceive Arthur and losing his wife in the process?
Merlin wanted to ask Gaius. Yet his throat clamped every time he tried to summon the urge to ask his mentor. He didn't want to know.
He closed the book shut and rubbed his eyes. It was past nightfall and Gaius still had not return from his rounds.
Merlin bit his lips. There was someone else he could ask.
He was still bitter. Kilgharrah was willing to sacrifice Gaius and Merlin's mother for Arthur.
"It may be naïve and foolish, but over the years, I've come to learn that if you want to know whether or not you can trust someone...trust them anyway."
Merlin sighed. Purehearted Arthur. Merlin had no idea how Arthur could have grown under Uther's wings and still maintain that pure heart.
When Merlin first met Arthur, he'd thought the prat didn't have a speck of good in him. It was only when he unpeeled the layers of masks that Arthur wore that Merlin was able to see Arthur had more good in his heart than most people.
He smiled. And it was Merlin's destiny to serve by his side.
A few minutes later, Merlin snuck down and met with Kilgharrah.
The dragon was half-asleep when Merlin approached. Kilgharrah blinked his eyes and then tilted his head mockingly. "What's this? The great warlock has come to see me once again?"
Merlin decided to just get to the point. "Arthur wants me to make it rain," he blurted out.
Kilgharrah reeled his head back, probably as surprised as Merlin was when Arthur asked that of him. "Already does Arthur wishes to work alongside his other half. Tell me, Merlin, did you ever expect this day to come so soon?"
Merlin chuckled. "I keep pinching myself expecting that it's all a dream. You should see him as regent, with his people..." He trailed off as a dark thought hit him. "And what happens to all of Arthur's progress when Uther returns?"
"Even I cannot foretell that. We must pray that Arthur will have the courage to remain true to himself."
"And if he doesn't?"
Kilgharrah didn't answer.
Merlin exhaled. "I have faith that he will. He has to."
It took all of Arthur's courage to break free from all of the masks, if Uther slammed Arthur back under them, it would take much more for Arthur to break free once again. Merlin couldn't allow that to happen. It wasn't fair for Arthur.
He wondered if anyone else ever realized that Arthur was a prisoner of Camelot, trapped by the iron bindings of Uther. Merlin felt so blind to have never seen it before.
"Is there a reason why you came to see me?" the dragon asked, snapping Merlin out of his thoughts.
"Yes...how do I make it rain? By invoking the Old Religion?"
Kilgharrah laughed. "Merlin, your magic is that of the Old Religion, you don't need a spell to make it rain. For you, all you simply need to do is ask."
Kilgharrah bowed his head. "That's correct."
"For it to rain? Is it that simple?"
"Why is it that humans always want a simple answer, and when they get one, they don't believe it? I'll never figure it out."
Merlin glared. "Right. Fine. I'll try that."
Kilgharrah narrowed his eyes. "There's something else bothering you, young warlock."
Merlin creased his brows. Just trust him, like Arthur did. "Arthur is born of magic. I can sense the magic in him, more and more with each passing day, yet what is Arthur's power?"
"Look at me. I was born of magic, and what do you know of my powers?"
"You can breathe fire?" Merlin guessed.
The dragon chuckled. "Close, Merlin. I can wield magic through the flames within me, but I cannot do what you do. Remember, Merlin, within you lies the magic of a powerful warlock. Within Arthur lies the magic of a king, only when Arthur truly steps into his role as the Once and Future King will he be able to wield the magic inside him."
Merlin shook his head. "He's already rising up into that role."
"He has to accept it in his heart. Arthur has proved he has the character to become a great king, but he'll never become the man we need him to be until he accepts that's what he wants."
Sweat dripped down Arthur's neck and down the spine of his back. His muscles burned with exertion and his heart pounded. The old wound in his shoulder ached, but it was a numb ache. It was finally healing.
He twirled his blunt sword in his hand as he beckoned Sir Kay to come forward with his other.
Arthur blocked the sword and immediately counterattacked.
Kay retreated and stumbled over his own feet to crash onto his back.
Arthur held the tip of his sword against Sir Kay's throat who held in his breath.
Arthur panted. "You have terrible footwork for such a skilled swordsmen, I thought Merlin was clumsy." He pulled back his sword and held out his hand for Kay.
Kay grabbed it and Arthur hoisted him back to his feet. Kay grumbled at himself. "I'm working on it, I promise."
Arthur knew that truth of that statement. He'd seen the testimony of Kay's conviction when the young knight was the first on the practice field and used every spare moment he had practicing his sword and footwork.
"You're thinking too much on it, Kay. You need to have more faith in yourself. You wouldn't be here if you didn't deserve it." He slapped Kay on the back shoulder and squeezed it. "I trust you with my life."
Kay blinked in surprise, he lowered his gaze and rubbed the back of his neck, his shaggy brown hair in his eyes. He knew Arthur didn't toss praise around too often.
Arthur slapped him again. He'd went through it when he first started training, there was a difference between practice and too much practice. "You're to cut your training by half, you hear me?"
"Trust me, you're an able fighter. Better than the lot over there," Arthur gestured over his shoulder to the new recruits that Sir Leon was training.
Kay chuckled then he sobered. He chewed his upper lip and Arthur wiped
the sweat from his forehead, waiting for Kay to gather up his courage. The
younger knight scratched the side of his cheek. "I...I want to be one of
the best, sire. I want to be as well as you are. How were you able to achieve
Arthur was surprised Kay was asking him this. Most knights downplayed it, asked for a certain training regimen, how to swing a sword a certain way, a certain move or footwork. It's been a while since he had a knight ask him for advice. Most of them were just scared shitless of Arthur or in awe of him, or the smaller population that hated him.
How did Arthur become such a great knight? He thought of all the training, practices, drills, sacrifices, bruises, wounds, and heartache he went through to become one of the elite knights by fifteen. He recollected his teacher, Caliburn, and remembered his advices and teachings.
Arthur smacked Kay's shoulder. "My old sword master, Caliburn, once told me, until you know yourself, you will never win any of your battles. Know your strengths, know your weakness, but most importantly," Arthur emphasized his next words so that they could sink in, "you have to have faith in yourself. A sword wields no strength unless that hand that holds it has courage."*
Kay seemed to absorb the words.
Arthur's heart panged in memory of his old teacher. Died of heat stroke of all things. He glanced up at the blue clear sky. His teacher died on a day like this, humid and hot.
He went to the armory and dropped off his sword. He was yanking his gloves off when Merlin poked his head in.
"Hmm?" Arthur began to unstrap his spaulder armor over his left shoulder.
"I figured it out."
Arthur snapped his head to the doorway to see Merlin grinning. It'd been four days since he asked Merlin to do this task and he'd rarely seen his manservant around since then. He got the sense Merlin was avoiding him and Arthur was beginning to feel guilty what he asked of Merlin. He opened his mouth to speak.
Merlin stopped him by gesturing with his head, as if telling Arthur to follow him. Which he did. To the stables.
He reeled in shock as he saw Eirian, his unicorn.
"Merlin," Arthur hissed, "what's he..."
"Don't worry, I enchanted him. Only you and I can see him for who he really is. To everyone else, he's just a horse," Merlin said, waving it away, so matter-of-factly. "Now, come on, let's go."
Arthur cocked a brow. "Did you just give me an order?"
"What? I thought you liked taking orders from lowly servants?"
"Come on," Merlin said. He snapped his fingers. "Chop chop."
Arthur climbed onto Eirian and felt the magical connection with the unicorn the moment he touched his mane. Eirian had missed him. Arthur vowed to take him out more often.
"Alright, Eirian, I don't know where the court idiot is taking us," Arthur said. "But prepare yourself."
They rode an hour out from the castle. Arthur took the time to enjoy the ride, he had a council meeting later, yet he found he didn't care if he missed it. Whimsical thoughts of escaping, riding out and seeing where the world would take him took over his mind. Maybe he'd buy some land and become a farmer.
He stared at Merlin's back. Would Merlin escape with him?
Sometimes he felt that Merlin had a great destiny. His manservant cared so much about people, no matter what. Merlin was smart, quick to read others and see past the bullshit in most situation. Sometimes Arthur found himself wondering why Merlin stayed in Camelot. He felt like Merlin was meant for greater things. He scoffed inwardly. Merlin should've been born into royalty, not Arthur.
Merlin decided to stop his horse in the thickest of the forest, the leaves and branches blocking out most of the afternoon's sun.
Merlin led his horse and Arthur guided Eirian to a small stream before them.
Merlin rubbed his hands together anxiously. His gaze flickered up to Arthur. "Are you sure about this?"
Why lead us all the way out here only to have the doubts stop you now? "Should I be asking you that question?" Arthur pressed. "You don't have to do this, Merlin."
"I want to!" Merlin quickly said. He lowered his gaze and shifted on his feet. "The last time I did magic and caused it to rain..." He trailed off and pressed his lips together, uncertain. Merlin turned to the side. "I can't stop replaying that scene."
Arthur exhaled. "Merlin, I can't help you if you don't let me. You've listened to me and shouldered my burdens as crowned prince. Let me do the same for you and help shouldered your burdens as a warlock. I mean..." Arthur lowered his voice to a whisper, "aren't we equals?"
Merlin's head whipped toward him. "You believe that?"
Arthur's heart panged. "Just...trust me, Merlin. Give me that chance, at least."
Merlin's eyes welled. He turned his back on Arthur and stared at the horse and unicorn, drinking from the stream.
So, that's it, then? If Merlin couldn't trust Arthur... was Arthur not worthy in Merlin's eyes? Was he only viewed as a pathetic prince who constantly needed help?
"You know of Nimueh, correct?" Merlin asked, softly.
Arthur steadied himself. Was this it? Was Merlin finally going to trust him with everything? "Father mentioned her in passing once. I think she was the one that tried to prevent me from getting the Mortaeus flower... was she a sorcerer?"
"She was a high priestess of the Old Religion, I went to her when you were bit by the Questing Beast."
Arthur swallowed, his suspicions were to be proven right.
"You were bitten by a creature of the Old Religion, and only the Old Religion could save you. So, I bargained my life for yours."
"What? Merlin? Your life is worth more than mine!"
"Everything worked out, Arthur..." Merlin said, he fidgeted with the handkerchief around his neck. "She tricked me and tried to take my mother's life instead, and then Gaius'." He turned to Arthur, face stricken. "I invoked the power of the Old Religion and her life was the price to save yours."
How many people died so that I could live? Arthur wondered. Was it worth my mother's? This Nimueh? Is my life so easily bargained for Hunith's, Gaius', or even Merlin's.
Arthur knew the answer to that.
No. Their lives were worth much more than his existence.
Merlin rubbed his arms. "The things I'm willing to do for you, Arthur, it scares me sometimes."
It scares me too, Merlin.
"Anyway, I pulled lightning from the sky and killed Nimueh with such ease, and I didn't even care. I was glad," Merlin shook his head at himself, "and just after I told her I didn't want to join with cruel forces of magic. I'm just like them, Arthur. I'm no different than the sorcerers you and your father hunt. I killed Nimueh out of revenge for killing Gaius."
Merlin's curled his fingers into fists and his arms trembled.
"I have the power to bargain with people's lives. I can chose who lives and who dies."
The power of a king, Arthur realized. They weren't really that much different from one another, were they?
"I can't speak for all sorcerers," Arthur said, "but you're not like the revenge-seeking ones who storm into Camelot. You're Merlin, idiotic, clumsy Merlin."
Merlin's brows creased and he seemed to shrink back into himself.
Arthur gripped the edge of both Merlin's shoulders and felt the spark of their magical connection ignite. "You saved my life, over and over. You are willing to throw yourself in the crossfire for anybody. Gods, Merlin, you're human. Nobody's perfect." Arthur swallowed. "I've done things, unspeakable things, I've abused my own power over life and death. You won't. You're much stronger than I, Merlin. And you have a big heart. You won't succumb to revenge again."
He smiled at Merlin. "You believe that I'll be a great king. Well, I believe you'll be the greatest sorcerer this world has ever seen. An idiotic, clumsy, big-hearted sorcerer."
Merlin's body trembled.
"And I'm willing to aid you from your side until the day you die."
"You stole that line from me," Merlin complained.
Merlin seemed to sober up, and he gave Arthur a strong, intense stare. "There's something about you, Arthur."
"Still haven't quite fathomed me out?" Arthur teased.
"Still haven't quite put my finger on it," Merlin agreed.
The connection between them grew, and Arthur felt a strong emotion rolling off Merlin. Trust...Arthur's knees nearly buckled. Merlin finally trusted him.
"I have to invoke the powers of the Old Religion to make it rain," Merlin said.
Arthur dropped his hands from Merlin's shoulders, the connection dispersed. "You don't need to."
"I want to. You don't need to worry, there's no need for a balance or price. We simply just need to ask."
"Ask?" That's it?
Merlin gave a nod and stepped away from Arthur. He glanced up to the sky and held out his palm, determined. He yelled out an incantation that Arthur couldn't quite decipher, yet it sounded like a plea one would make before a god or goddess.
Gold shimmered across Merlin's eyes.
Clouds rolled in.
Arthur gaped. "Merlin?"
Merlin lowered his arm and smiled at Arthur. "I've also fertilized the soil of the land. It will ensure that the crops grow."
Sprinkles of rain dripped upon them.
Arthur touched the wet drops on his face. Rain. It was rain. Just how powerful was Merlin?
Suddenly, the rain increased and poured down, drenching the both of them.
"You did it!" Arthur cheered.
Arthur gripped Merlin's shoulders and spun him around like a mad fool. "You did it!"
Merlin joined in with Arthur's laughter.
The rain pattered loudly above the two figures hovered in the dark corner of Camelot's castle.
The servant, Lee, cast a quick glance around. "It was a success. I managed to send three ravens out to Uther."
"Good," Fyn Hans said, clasping his hands together.
"Sire, I don't understand, all the messages you've sent, you've praised Arthur. How will that turn Uther against him?"
A part of Fyn's upper lip twitched upward. "Think, Lee, what terrifies you more? A successor lined with faults? Or a successor lined with more caliber than you possess?" He waited a beat for Lee to comprehend his words. "Which messages did you send?"
"Arthur ordering his knights to train civilians' swordsmanship and other weaponry."
"Arthur winning the admiration and love of the people, how he allows them to address him as an equal."
Fyn snorted at that, not understanding why Arthur would scoop so low, especially a man of his high nobility.
Lee continued, "I also added a message of Arthur gambling with his knights. I'm sorry, sire, I understand you wanted to praise..."
"No, that's fine. Too much commendation is suspicious. You did well, Lee. Unfortunately, we need more. This isn't enough."
"I've noticed that Arthur has been spending more time with Merlin, and they've been sneaking off."
"Lover's affair?" Fyn wondered. "Or are they up to something?"
"Should I follow them?"
Fyn smirked. "I knew I picked you for a reason. Stay on them, we're going to need something more concrete, something much bigger that will turn Uther over."
"I've noticed Uther lacks all reason whenever it involves magic," Lee said.
Fyn grabbed Lee's cheeks and squished them together. "You're brilliant. But it has to tie back to Arthur. And we have to make certain it proves Arthur is not under any enchantment, dumb fool's been under a few of those in the past."
Fyn despised Arthur. He didn't understand how a man so weak, who thought himself equal to the people, deserved to be the future king. He was so close to manipulating Arthur by convincing him to bully servants. It'd worked. For a time.
If Arthur became king, Fyn knew he had to treat all those below him with respect. He was better than that. He was of noble and pure blood, he would not be on equal grounds with a commoner.
It was a long shot, but if he became king...oh the things he would do. He would be better than Uther. He would be worthy of the crown.
"I'll find concrete evidence, sire," Lee promised. The man was so devoted to him. All because Fyn saved his measly little life back then. If only Lee knew Fyn was responsible for Lee's near death experience. People were so easily manipulated when they believed they owned you something.
"Good man, Lee." Fyn smirked cruelly.
He would be responsible for Arthur's downfall. And Fyn will rise to the top to create a better Camelot.
It rained for a week.
This morning when Arthur woke, he swore he'd never seen Camelot look so green. It was like magic was sparkling off every nature-like thing, the leaves, the grass, the sky, the dirt, the flowers, everything.
It was one of the most beautiful sights Arthur's ever seen.
There were reports of crops beginning to grow, and that there was a chance for food storage for winter.
He smiled as he continued to gaze out the window, embracing the comfort of the sun's warmth. It was going to be a good day.
That thought immediately plummeted the second he heard banging on the door.
"Sire?" It was Sir Leon. "Are you awake?"
Despite being half-dressed, Arthur barged to the door and yanked it opened.
Ash smeared the side of Leon's face. "There's a fire in the east wing. We've managed to control it yet..."
"Show me the way," Arthur ordered.
A crowd had huddled around the site that the knights had warded off.
"What happened here?" Arthur asked as Leon led him through. He inspected the damage inside the turret. Not too bad. There was no structural damage, the stones in the walls were smeared with ash and smoke. He noticed two of his guards looked pale and stricken.
"Fred and William were on duty. A fire broke out. Luckily, a breath of wind took it out."
Merlin. Arthur searched around for him. "What started it?"
Leon paused before he answered. "The guards posted here on duty were a bit hesitant to say, sire."
Arthur approached Fred and William. He forced his knights to push the crowd at a further distance. "What happened?"
Fred and William shared a terrified look.
"Look, honesty goes a long way. If this was an accident, I assure you, there will be no punishment."
"It's just...we're not sure what we saw," Fred began.
William shivered and crossed his arms.
"What is it?" Arthur pressed. Nervousness pricked his insides.
"A shadow..." William muttered.
Fred's eyes were wide with fear. "A walking shadow, covered in flames."
"It was moaning out a name..." William added. His teeth chattered.
"Yours, sire," Fred said, forehead creased.
That's not good. Arthur pressed his knuckle against his chin. "And where did this flame-covered shadow go?"
"Disappeared with the wind, sire," Fred answered.
"No," William shook his head. "No...the wind took out the flames, but the shadow still walked. It still cried for you. It's coming for you, sire,"
It took time and lots of reassurance that Arthur would be okay before he left William and Fred to find Merlin.
He burst through Gaius' doors to find Merlin and Gaius at the bench, flipping through books.
Gaius stiffened at Arthur's arrival. He turned to him. "Sire?"
"Sorcery?" Arthur asked as he strolled over.
"Most likely, yet I've never seen the likes of this," Gaius said.
Arthur held his chin up high. "What can I do to help?"
Gaius sputtered, "Well, ahem, there's really not much you can do..."
Merlin glanced up from the books as if finally realizing Arthur was in the room. "Did the guards say anything about the shadow?"
"Just that it moaned my name," Arthur answered. He crossed his arms. "Did you use the same type of windstorm you used back in Ealdor to get rid of the flames?"
"Don't worry, they didn't see me."
"I was going to say, quick thinking."
Merlin scoffed. "I nearly caused it to rain inside the castle."
It was then Arthur realized that Gaius had gone very pale and glanced back and forth between the two of them.
"Merlin?" Arthur said, slowly. "Did you tell Gaius I know of your magic?"
Merlin winced and forced a smile at Gaius. "Arthur knows about my magic?"
"You didn't tell him?" Arthur cried.
"He was busy, I didn't want to add any extra burden on him."
"Me knowing is a burden?" Arthur stuck his finger in Merlin's face, "I take offense to that."
"Oh, don't be a dollophead."
Gaius slumped onto the bench seat, clutching his chest.
Arthur steadied him. "Whoa. Gaius..."
Gaius took a deep breath and stared at Arthur, uncertain.
"Gaius, I won't tell my father. Merlin's secret, your secret, is safe with me."
Gaius' brows lifted. "Easy to say when he's not here, what upon his return? Who will you chose then? I know you, Arthur, you're a very loyal man."
You don't know how lucky you are, Merlin, to have someone who cares so much for you like this. I know my own father loves me, but I don't even know the depths of his loyalty to me.
"Gaius," Merlin started.
Arthur held up a hand to stop Merlin. He gave Gaius a soft smile. "I chose Merlin over my father long before I truly knew Merlin had magic."
The day Arthur went against his father's orders to retrieve the antidote for Merlin, that was the day Arthur found out where his true loyalty laid. He covered it up by his constant defense of his father...but he could no longer deny his heart.
Gaius' breathing returned to normal and he smiled, pleased, proud, a look Arthur always yearned from Uther. He'd take it from Gaius, the man he viewed as an uncle. "You'd protect Merlin?"
"With my life," Arthur said.
Gaius shuddered in relief. He grasped one of Arthur's hands. "Did you know that you were a very sensitive child growing up?"
Arthur blinked in surprise.
"You were four at the time, you found a dead bird and you carried its body to your father in tears, asking if you could give it a proper burial." Gaius' eyes grew sad. "I watched as Uther snuffed out every bit of innocence and compassion from you. By the time you were six, you had no childlike innocence left." Tears welled in the man's eyes. "I thought I'd failed you. I was afraid for the day when your protective arrogant facade would turn your heart into steel." A soft smile graced Gaius' features. "I'm glad to see your compassion won over Uther's hardship against you."
A lump formed in Arthur's throat. How do you respond to that?
"Er, he's still a prat," Merlin said.
Thank the gods for Merlin. "I take it back," Arthur said to him. "I don't care what happens to you."
"You need me, Arthur. Who else would help you dress in the morning?"
"I can dress myself..." then he glanced down at his trousers, noticed he was only wearing his socks, and lack of shirt. He glanced at the heavens and sighed. "Gaius, please be the adult here and tell me what's happening."
"You're not wearing a shirt, sire," Gaius said. "Nor boots."
Arthur glared down at Gaius. He took it back. Screw this whole equality thing. No respect was what he got.
A slight smirk tugged the corner of Gaius's lips before he smacked his hand against a page of a book on the table. "I suspected it to be a Wraith of some short, but Merlin expressed heavily that it had no physical body."
Merlin gave a grim nod. "It looked like someone took a shadow and gave it free will," he placed his elbow on the table, "are you sure there are no spells that can that?"
"The shadow had a will," Gaius said as he directed his gaze upon the Crowned Prince, "Arthur."
"My knights stated this shadow was covered in flames, is there a specific reason for that?" Arthur asked.
"Sorcerers are burned on the pyre, could be an act of symbolism," Gaius said.
"Fred and William almost died because this thing was looking for me," Arthur said as he folded his arms. "I'm willing to be bait to lure this creature out."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Of course you are."
Arthur glared at his manservant before he took a seat next to Gaius.
"Could be a spiritual entity," Gaius suggested as he stroked his chin.
Arthur glanced over the pages and read a couple sentences that Gaius' book was opened at. "There was something in my mother's book." Arthur rubbed his lip. What was it? He just read over it recently. "Shadow is the absence of light..." he muttered out.
"And you call me the idiot?" Merlin quipped.
Arthur snapped his fingers. "It's the effect of an illumination being blocked."
Gaius perked up. "A spiritual summoning gone wrong."
Arthur and Merlin both leaned back as Gaius lunged forward and rummaged through his stockade of books. He pulled a smaller one out with black bindings. "A Shade is a soul that is resurrected and pulled from its resting place, they are usually under the necromancer's powers. A Shadow is an attempt to pull a soul from its resting place, but it's blocked by the Spirit World, so you're left with the shadow of the necromancer's intentions, still a terrible creature..." his eyes went over to Merlin, "that are resistance from any attacks by magic."
"Any?" Merlin pursed his lips.
Gaius' brows furrowed as he found the page he was seeking. "Shadows are only stopped if they achieve their objective, or when the caster is killed."
Perfect. The Shadow is only stopped if I'm or the sorcerer is dead. There must be another way.
"Any thoughts on who the caster may be?" Gaius asked.
Merlin sighed heavily. "One of the many sorcerers dying to seek revenge on Camelot?"
Gaius set his lips in a thin line, unamused. He cocked a brow at Arthur. "Have you received any death threats recently?"
Arthur went to say no, but it caught in his throat.
"I will kill you."
"The boy disappears for hours at a time."
His heart twisted tightly. No. It's not Cian. It can't be. Not that little boy.
Though, how could Arthur deny the desperation of revenge in the kid's eyes that day? Who was the one that set the flames to consume Peter's body? His throat went dry. How could he blame the boy? Arthur deserved to die.
"Arthur?" Merlin pressed.
Arthur slowly rose to his feet. "I know who it is."
Merlin scoffed like it was the simplest thing in the world. "Then let's go stop them."
"We can't." He locked eyes with Merlin. "I won't let you."
Merlin's features molded in confusion.
He turned his back to them, about to leave the room when Merlin stopped him.
"We're in this together, Arthur," he cried out. "You asked me to trust you, let me ask the same from you."
Arthur closed his eyes in defeat. Merlin was right. He faced Merlin. "Cian. Peter's son. The sorcerer I..." his voice cracked.
Gaius winced. "Oh dear."
"Are you sure there's no other way to stop this creature?" Arthur demanded.
"The caster may be able to call off the spell," he said.
A commotion stirred outside of Gaius' chambers. There were shouts and screams.
Arthur nearly slipped on the floor as he rushed out with Merlin, who crashed into him as Arthur slammed to a halt in the center of the corridor.
At the end was a faceless shadow figure, flames licking the outline of its person. It turned its head toward Arthur, and even though it didn't have a mouth, it moaned out: "Ar-thur."
Merlin flicked his wrist up and Arthur grabbed his arm.
Too many witnesses. Knights hesitantly poked theirs swords at the shadow, yet kept their distance. Servants and members of the court pressed themselves against the walls, in fear.
"If you want me," Arthur dared as he raised up his hand and beckoned the creature, "come and claim me."
Arthur half-expected the creature to walk over to him, so it was a shock when in a blink, the Shadow was right in front of him.
"Arthur!" Merlin pushed him against the wall.
The flames barely missed him.
Arthur's heart pounded. No!
Sir Kay bounded protectively in front of Arthur, the light from the flames glinted off his armor and blade.
A whirl of wind spun around them.
Merlin! Arthur wanted to chide. Don't reveal yourself.
The shadow flickered in and out of existence.
Kay swung his sword against the shadow. The blade swished across the creature's mid-torso. The shadow shot its hand out and touched Kay's chest.
Kay went stiff and fell back.
Arthur caught him. "Kay!" he cried. He glared up at the figure who reached out for them. Arthur turned and used his body to shield Kay.
A flash of lightning zapped down and the shadow flickered in and out once more before it faded. Arthur's gut told him the creature would be back.
Merlin was suddenly at Arthur's side, helping him adjust with Kay's weight.
"Merlin..." he gritted through his teeth.
"Saved your hide," Merlin whispered harshly. "Besides, no one saw me."
Arthur returned his attention to Kay. The younger knight's expression was twisted in fear. His heart still beat in his chest. Oh, thank the gods. "Gaius!" he called.
He and Merlin lifted Kay's body up and carried him into Gaius' chambers. They laid him on a cot.
Gaius hovered over the knight, cream hair against in his eyes.
"He'll be okay, won't he?" Arthur asked.
"As long as that shadow walks, his life force will drain," Gaius said, laying a hand on Kay's forehead. "Merlin, cloth and a bucket of warm water."
Merlin set out to do said tasks. A few of the knights gathered outside the door, each with their own expression of concern.
Arthur straightened himself. "I'm going to find that sorcerer," he said in snarl.
"Arthur..." Merlin said. He kept his voice low, so the others wouldn't hear. "That shadow is still out there, you're not going alone."
When could he ever? He was Prince of Camelot. His band of knights followed him everywhere, into battle, during investigations, training, everywhere.
Arthur didn't need his knights.
He needed his sorcerer and friend.
Arthur waited and Merlin rushed to his side after he gave what Gaius needed. He brushed his hands and glanced up in anticipation at Arthur.
Merlin didn't even blink, he was ready to dive in, head first with Arthur. He had to be one of the bravest man Arthur ever knew.
"Are you going to confront the sorcerer like that?" Merlin pointed down at Arthur's attire.
"I look less intimidating this way," Arthur shot back.
"Hmmmm...I don't know. Your bulging muscles says otherwise."
Arthur cocked a brow. "You impressed with what you see?"
"Whoa," Merlin held up his hands, "don't need that ego of yours to get any bigger."
Arthur chuckled. His nervousness faded. Merlin had that effect on him before Arthur charged out into the unknown. He jerked his head to the door. "Come on," Arthur said.
Merlin followed him out of the physician's chambers and out into the corridor to find Cian.
A kid sorcerer...
Arthur hoped they found some other alternative to defeating the Shadow, because if it came down to the two choices Gaius told them of, well, there was only one choice.
Arthur would give his life.