Take Me Up
The dream was the same every night.
Morgana would find herself walking through the courtyards of Camelot, except that it wasn't. Instead of an open and empty courtyard, she walked through a lush, vibrant garden.
It sparkled with life, not where sunlight would glint off it, it literally shined and glistened with more than the sun's rays itself. She felt safe and comfort here, which was strange because Camelot only brought her fear.
She ducked under an apple blossom tree, the petals danced down around her, some landed in her lush, black hair.
She beamed as she found the man she was looking for: Arthur.
He looked nothing like the Arthur she was used to. A wreath crown decorated with gold leaves adored his hair. A white cape draped over his chainmail, his usual red gambeson underneath. His skin was luminous, like the garden around him, the very magic radiating from his core. He was rubbing the top of his knuckles, muttering to himself.
Morgana hid a smile. "You can easily face down men in combat, yet your stomach is in knots over this?"
Arthur dropped his hands, a wave of relief flooded his features. "Morgana." He gestured over her. "You look radiant."
"Today isn't about me," she quipped. She flattened the creases in her long-sleeve black dress. "Are you certain you want me to be performing this ceremony?"
"Morgana," he grabbed both of her hands and pressed them against his chest, "you're the High Priestess, and we wouldn't have anyone else."
"That's what Merlin said."
Arthur perked. "You saw Merlin? How is he?"
Morgana laughed. "Handling this better than you."
He cast her a playful glare. It dropped as he averted his gaze, biting his lower lip.
She squeezed his hands. "Arthur...you're high ruler of Albion, you've united the lands. It's time for you to unite your heart."
Red tinted his cheeks. "Look at you, Morgana, your love has turned you into a sappy fool like me."
She gently smacked his shoulder. "I can still turn you into a toad."
He chuckled and then took a deep breath. "I'm glad you're here with me, Morgana."
"I couldn't miss this. You two had a long, difficult road to get here."
Arthur exhaled, trying to calm his nervousness.
Morgana yanked at his hand. "Let's get you married."
She jerked awake to find herself back in her tent, with Gwen hovering over her.
"I'm sorry to wake you, my lady," she said in a whisper.
Morgana shook her head as she slowly raised herself to a sitting position. Ever since she left Camelot, she hadn't had a single nightmare. Instead, every night, she had that dream. The dream of magical Arthur, a great King and a flourishing Camelot.
"I hope your dreams are light."
She remembered the hug Arthur gave her before she left, the strong and warm protectiveness pouring into her. She thought she felt something, yet she wasn't sure.
Was Arthur magic like her?
Regardless whether he was or not, her dream proved that Arthur accepted her and that Camelot was no longer a place to fear.
Was that the future?
She could only hope so.
Morgana cleared her throat. "What is it, Gwen?"
"I noticed more ravens came into the night, I managed to sneak in and get this." Her maidservant held up a tiny scroll of paper.
Morgana took it. Uther had been acting rather strange during this tour. At first, she just decided it was because Uther was far from home and out of his comfort zone. Then she astutely became aware that Uther's shifted whether Arthur was mentioned.
Many of the lords they visited had nothing but praise to sing of Arthur. Most of their sons had trained under Arthur and mentioned to Uther how they would happily follow Arthur when he became king.
The first couple weeks, Uther accepted the compliment of his son with a smile and proud look. Somehow it morphed into one of disdain and fear. Morgana lived with fear for so long, she could easily spot it.
A few of the suitors Uther lined up for her were the ones who had nothing to say about Arthur, or held a grudge against him.
Morgana threatened every one of them to refuse her hand, and mostly to ensure the safety of Arthur. They may not be bound by blood, but Arthur was her brother by heart. She would do everything it took to protect him.
She unrolled the scroll and Gwen held the candlestick closer so Morgana could decipher the words clearly.
It read: "Arthur has distributed leftover food to those in need. He has ensure this rule to be followed in the future."
Morgana blinked. Arthur was distributing food?
"Arthur's already issued a decree for knights to train civilians in the arts of swordsmanship. There's a few others, but I didn't quite catch them."
Morgana read the words again. "This handwriting is familiar."
"Lee, Fyn's manservant," Gwen answered.
"Fyn," Morgana growled. "He's always had it out for Arthur. I've always deduced him to a jealous sniveling little worm. You saying he actually has bite?"
"He could be responsible for Uther's moods."
"Uther's growing afraid of Arthur," Morgana said. If that fear only matched the fear Uther had for magic...she couldn't complete that thought. "Where is he?"
"On a hunting trip," Gwen said.
Hunting? Things were bad.
"We're near Kernahall. Lord Balish will greet us in a day's time."
Balish. Morgana resisted the urge to groan. That man would marry Arthur if he could. He'd been boasting about her brother since he was a kid. It didn't help that he used to be a childhood friend of Ygraine.
"Something's not right, Gwen. We need to change Uther's mood, and we need to do it now," Morgana said, clutching the scroll in her hands.
A strange feeling stirred in her chest. Magic.
She will not allow anything to happen to Arthur, not from Uther.
Under Uther's reign, she was a cowered dog that snapped back.
Under Arthur's reign, she was free and happy.
She believed in that future.
She believed in Arthur.
It was nearing nightfall.
Arthur and Merlin had been attacked at least four more times during the course of the search. Well, mainly Arthur.
Apparently, Merlin's lightning set the Shadow away for the time being. They went to Ben and Donna's home, and only found Anna. They told Arthur that Cian did come home that night, but disappeared early that morning. Ben couldn't find him anywhere.
Arthur reassured them everything was okay, because really, how was reassuring was it to tell them that their new kid summoned a magical creature set to murder Arthur?
They searched Peter's old home and the deceased man's crop field, tall and overgrown. No trace of the boy. Arthur tugged at the chainmail he changed into, the weight of it now beginning to get to him.
They ventured off into the woods nearby the home.
"This is ridiculous. It shouldn't be this hard to find him!" Arthur yelled, kicking a scruff of dirt.
"We'll find him, Arthur," Merlin said.
Arthur wondered how it was possible that his manservant hadn't lost it yet. "Every second we waste brings Kay closer to death. I can't let him down."
Merlin sharply inhaled next to him. "Arthur."
Arthur snapped his head in Merlin's direction.
Cian stood up on a slight hill, the leaves of the trees hovered over him. Arthur's stomach lurched. Cian was flanked by five Shadows, the one on his right lined in flames.
I created this, Arthur realized.
A cold wind brushed against Arthur's back and he glanced over his shoulder to see five more Shadows.
He immediately regretted bringing Merlin along.
Yet next to him didn't stand his clumsy manservant. It was a warlock, fierce determination in his eyes as he stared Cian down. Arthur knew in that moment, Merlin's top priority was to keep Arthur safe.
"Stand down for a second, okay, Merlin? Let me try and reason with him," Arthur said.
Merlin gave no inclination that he heard him, he continued to stare Cian down.
Arthur stepped in front of Merlin, holding his hands up in a placating manner. "Cian, call off your spell."
Cian's fists shook at his side. "Why? You didn't call off the pyre."
Arthur swallowed. Fair enough. "And what do you hope to accomplish with this?" he asked as he waved his finger at the shadows around them. "My death? Then what?"
Cian's brows furrowed.
"After you kill me, what will you do next?"
"I'll kill the king, and every last person in Camelot!"
"Even your sister, Anna?" Arthur said softly.
There was a slight crack in Cian's angry features.
Arthur knew he had to keep pressing. "Your sister loves you, she's worried about you. She's confused why you're not with her."
"I have to do this," Cian said.
"For what? Whatever you do, it won't bring your father back. These shadows, especially that one right there," Arthur pointed to the flame-covered one, "are they your father?"
"You don't understand, he died for me. I have to avenge him!"
Arthur reeled his head back. "For you?"
"Are you blind? He wasn't the sorcerer, I was! I wanted to help him out, it was only our oats, they sell better...and he lied for me!" His lips quivered. "Keep it a secret, don't let anybody find out...and I didn't. Until..." Tears welled in Cian's eyes.
Arthur's eyes mirrored Cian's. How many families have my father and I broken? How many Cians did we create? Is this how Merlin would've felt if Hunith died to protect his secret?
A quick glance to the sorcerer behind to him proved that. Merlin's demeanor had changed, to one of understanding and hurt.
Arthur took a few cautious steps forward. "Your father loved you, even in the end, he wanted to ensure you and Anna were safe."
Tears spilled from Cian's eyes. "You killed him."
"I know," Arthur said, his voice wavering, "and I can't bring him back." He lowered himself onto his knees. "I thought I had no choice, but I did and I chose wrong. For that, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..."
Cian's nose scrunched and he shook his head. "No, you're not. You're lying."
There's nothing I can do to make this right. I'm sorry, Merlin.
"If it gives you sense of peace, then I offer you my life," Arthur said.
"I will take it!" Cian growled. "Kill Arthur!"
The Shadows zipped toward him. Lightning zapped down all around them, and they momentarily disappeared. Thunder clapped so loud that Arthur could feel it in his chest.
He turned to Merlin, his friend's eyes gold. How powerful was Merlin? "You clotpole," Merlin growled at Arthur.
Cian gapped. "You...you're..."
"I'm a sorcerer, and I was just like you, Cian. I had to keep my magic a secret, my mother always pressured me to." Merlin walked up and stood by Arthur's side, pulling him to his feet. "And Arthur accepted me. He accepts you. You won't have to hide for much longer."
Cian blinked, confused. "I..."
A movement caught Arthur's attention and he yanked Merlin back by the scruff of his shirt.
The Shadow covered in flames roared at them.
Merlin held up his hand and lightning zapped the Shadow away, only for the other nine to suddenly appear.
"We can't ward them off like this forever," Arthur snapped.
He could sense that Merlin's strength was draining.
"Cian!" Merlin yelled. "Call them off!"
Rain began to pour down around them.
Cian stood on the hill, hyperventilating.
Lightning flashed and Arthur tried to shake the blurred light from his vision.
Merlin dropped to his knees with a pant.
"Merlin!" Arthur dragged him up.
Cian screamed, he was scrambling down the hill, chased by the flame-shadow, its hand reaching out for the kid. Cian tripped and fell, face-first.
"Cian," Arthur scrambled and pulled the kid against his chest as the Shadow reached out for Cian. Flames burned through his chainmail and a hot scorching pain filled Arthur's left shoulder. He screamed and rolled away, locking Cian in with his arms.
The rain immediately cooled the wound.
Lightning flashed again.
Cian's eyes stared up at Arthur. "You...you're not..."
"You're lucky you're born of magic," Merlin chided Arthur. "It shielded you from that Shadow. For now."
Arthur winced at the pain. "Luckily."
Merlin knelt down toward them. "Cian, you must call off the spell."
"I don't know how..." Unaltered fear brimmed his eyes.
Merlin growled in frustration. "What was your intention when
you set the spell?"
Cian had the grace to look ashamed. "For Prince Arthur to suffer as my father did."
Perfect, that meant Arthur had to burn to death.
One by one, the Shadows returned, surrounding them.
"They're turning against you, Cian," Merlin said. "They sense your heart, you're no longer committed to your intention."
"No..." Cian whined.
"You're not going to die," Arthur said through gritted teeth. He hissed as he tried to move.
Merlin pressed a hand against Arthur's wound and muttered an incantation. A cleansing coolness spread and Arthur's shoulder felt good as new.
Merlin sagged forward.
Arthur caught him. Merlin couldn't keep this up. At this rate, all three of them were going to die. "Take Cian," Arthur ordered. "Get him out of here!"
Merlin's eyes blazed in anger. "It's my destiny to protect you, Arthur." He straightened himself and held out a hand.
"You can't stop them!" Arthur yelled.
Wind whipped and tightened in around Arthur and Cian.
When Arthur blinked next, he was up on the hill with Cian as the Shadows charged for Merlin. All ten, the flamed-one missing its fire.
"NO!" Arthur yelled.
Merlin graced Arthur a soft smile before the Shadows reached him. He stiffened at the impact and his eyes locked in endless stare as he collapsed onto his back.
Knives of grief stabbed throughout Arthur's chest as it constricted and he couldn't draw in a breath. "No," he whispered.
"Run, you clotpole!" he heard Merlin's voice in his head.
He picked up Cian and ran, his heart squeezing with each step he took away from Merlin. That idiotic, lovable...he can't be dead. He can't be.
Branches reached out for him and a few caught in his chainmail and snapped. His sword hung uselessly by his side. What good was it if it couldn't protect Merlin?
The rain came harder and Arthur could barely make out where he was going. He stepped on a log and slipped.
He landed on his back, the air whooshed from his lungs. He groaned as Cian scrambled off him, and Arthur rose onto his elbows.
In a blink, all ten Shadows advanced on them.
"Run, Cian!" Arthur barked. "Go!"
"GO!" Arthur yelled.
Cian took off.
This is it. Looks like I'll be joining you, Merlin. I'm sorry.
A heavy object poked at the palm of Arthur's hands. He quickly glanced down to see a gold pommel and hilt sticking out of a puddle. Was that a sword?
"Draw it, Arthur," he heard Merlin cry.
A blue orb of light hovered in front of Arthur. That light...
"Ar-thur..." the Shadows moaned.
"Pull it free!"
In one fluid motion, Arthur yanked the golden-hilt sword from the ground, the blade slipping out of the rain puddle with ease, as he rose to his feet. Blue light glinted off the gold embedded in the blade as the magical connection from the sword sparked up Arthur's arm.
Arthur swung it against the first Shadow. It exploded in a puff of flames. He dodged the other and slammed the blade against another's torso.
This sword, it felt like it was a missing piece of Arthur that finally rejoined with him. It was perfect in his hands, perfect balance, agility, it was a part of him. It sung sweetly as the blade whistled through the air onto his oncoming enemies. One and by one, he struck them down.
He panted as he stared down the last Shadow, the rain smoldering the flames that outlined its body. It held out its hand and a flamed-blade sword formed in its palm.
"Ar-thur," it called out.
"Shut. Up," Arthur snarled. He drew his sword back and the blade lit up in flames. Arthur held it out in surprise.
"Fight with me," the sword called out.
The Shadow charged for him and Arthur swung his sword.
Both swords clanged against one another, sparks flew and the flames withered against the rain and wind.
The Shadow snarled in Arthur's face.
Arthur's lips curled up in disgust. He leapt back and whipped his sword against the Shadow. They danced and parried throughout the forest, nearly tripping and stumbling over rocks and bushes.
The blue ball of light continued to hover nearby Arthur, giving him light in the growing darkness. Not that the Shadow and swords didn't.
Arthur stumbled over a rock and the Shadow immediately went in for the opening. Arthur spun to his side and thrust the blade of the sword through the Shadow's chest, the flames flickered near Arthur's face.
The Shadow threw its head back with a roar before it dissolved and crumbled into the blue-glowing spirit of Peter.
Arthur immediately pulled his sword free, the blade no longer in flames.
"Peter," Arthur gasped.
A smile graced Peter's features. "Thank you for choosing to protect him," Peter said. "Tell them I love them with all my heart."
His spirit dissolved with the rain.
Arthur heaved and panted. He glanced down at his sword. One edge of the blade read: Take Me Up, and the other: Cast Me Away. How did he get this sword? He jolted. Merlin!
The blue orb of light guided him back to where he left his manservant, panic and fear lining his heart. At the bottom of the hill, Merlin still laid there, frozen, eyes locked to the heavens.
The orb next to him faded.
"Merlin!" Arthur cried. He stormed to Merlin's side and dropped his new sword on the ground next to them. He grabbed Merlin and pulled his body onto his lap.
Merlin's eyes stared at him, unmoving.
"No..." Arthur dropped his head onto Merlin's chest, a sob caught in his throat. "No..." Tears spilled from his eyes and he gripped Merlin's shirt. "You can't...I need you. I can't do anything without you..."
A harsh inhale startled Arthur. He shot his head up and gazed into Merlin's blinking eyes.
His manservant hacked and coughed. His teeth chattered. "You can't get rid of me that easily..."
"Merlin!" Arthur pulled Merlin into a bone-crushing hug, relief flooding him. He dared not let go, for fear he would lose Merlin again. "Don't ever do that again."
"Save your worthless hide? Never again, I promise," Merlin said between coughs. He waited a beat before he realized Arthur wasn't going to let him go. "Arthur?"
Arthur held Merlin tighter. He swore he felt Merlin smile before his manservant raised his unsteady arms and returned the hug.
"I'm right here, Arthur," he said. "I'm right here."
Arthur closed his eyes and issued a small thanks to whatever gods existed for deeming that it was not Merlin's time to go.
Arthur carried Merlin to Gaius' chambers. His manservant was unconscious by the time he arrived back at the castle. He helped Gaius settle Merlin into his own bed and hovered over his manservant like a mother hen.
"He'll be okay, will he, Gaius?"
"From what you told me, he must've have truly overexerted himself. Not to mention being attacked by ten Shadows..." Gaius said, wiping Merlin's head with a cloth.
Arthur wished it was him that was doing it.
"He seems to be in a deep sleep, sire. There's nothing more we can do for him, but wait." Gaius gave him a strong glare. "I suggest you rest up as well."
Arthur stopped by the cot outside Merlin's room and was relieved to find that Kay was awake.
"How you're feeling?" he asked his knight.
"Exhausted, like I trained for five days straight," Kay said, eyes fumbling to stay opened.
Arthur pulled a chair forward and sat next to him. He squeezed his knight's shoulder. "I'm glad to see you're okay, Kay. Just...don't ever do that again?"
Kay looked at Arthur and laughed.
"I don't think you realize how easy you make it for us to like you," Kay said. "You are so willing to lay your life down for anybody and everyone, yet you don't want any to do the same for you."
Arthur's ears heated up. He scratched the side of his neck.
Kay's features fell and he stared past Arthur, far away. "It's a good thing, sire...Arthur. I never wanted to be a knight. Yet King Uther's laws state that all first born must be sent to Camelot and train as knights. It was a dishonor if any failed. I heard rumors of you, Arthur Pendragon, the Crowned Prince, head of the Knights at fifteen, and you were strict. Many of us were afraid of you and hated you, because your acceptance of knights were low."
Arthur shifted in his seat. He did that because he didn't want anybody to become a knight on name alone, he wanted the best to join his ranks, and he wanted someone who wore the knight's code at heart. He didn't realized how that would look from someone in Kay's position. How much dishonor and shame has Arthur brought those he turned away?
"I couldn't shame my father. Even though he was a lord, Uther humiliated him, and most of the people didn't trust him. I had to rebuild that trust. It was so easy to hate you and Uther. Until I came here and found out the kind of man you are." Kay turned to Arthur. "You're the future king, the future of Camelot. I'm willing to lay down my life to protect you and that future. I will gladly do it again."
Arthur smiled, touched by Kay's words. "I'm glad you're my knight. I wish more of my men had your strong conviction and heart."
Kay's eyes sparkled. "They do, sire. Action reflects leadership, and you'll see most of your men follow your example."
After his talk with Kay, Arthur returned to Ben and Donna's home and was relieved to find Cian hugging Anna, tears in his eyes. He was terrified when he saw Arthur. Arthur reassured him that all was forgiven and reminded Cian of Peter's love for them.
"Take care of your sister, Cian," Arthur said. "She needs you now more than ever."
"Why don't you hate me?" Cian suddenly asked when Arthur was at the door. "I tried to kill you."
"I know why you did," Arthur said.
"But I'm a monster," Cian cried out.
Arthur knelt on his knees and gripped Cian's shoulders. "You're not a monster. You are only what you chose to be. Having magic doesn't define you, Cian. It's only defined by what you do with it."
Cian's lips quivered and he bobbed his head.
Arthur headed for the door once again. He paused and turned back to the kid. "Do you still hate me?"
Cian bit his lips. "Yes...but I'm not angry anymore."
Arthur settled for that.
When he finally returned to his chambers, he laid his new sword on the table and hung up his old one. The candlelight reflected of the edge and the gold of the blade.
He wrapped his knuckles around the edge of the table. Arthur thought of Cian's confession, of how Peter died to protect his son's secret. The kid's fear in being a monster. Did Merlin feel like that? Did he ever felt like a monster growing up? Ashamed for who he was? Arthur tried to picture what it would be like hiding a part of yourself that yearned to pour out.
I probably would end up going bitter and crazy.
A new profound respect grew for Merlin. He had no idea how his sorcerer kept his noble intentions and heart.
Arthur chuckled. His sorcerer. It had a fitting ring to it.
He returned his attention to the sword and trailed his fingers along the edge of the blade. The magic in it connected to Arthur's. Most connections, Arthur felt a wave of emotion associated to whoever he connected with. Here, all Arthur felt was a sense of himself, a belonging, a piece of his warrior heart.
Arthur's princely dreams and his heart dreams swirled within him:
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.
I don't want to be King. If this is what it's like...
"I want to unite Albion, unite all the kingdoms under one peaceful banner so that there will be no more Manau, or Ealdor."
And 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.
Who was Arthur kidding?
He was a warrior.
He had a mission, a drive, a focus.
And he had Merlin, a powerful sorcerer and friend at his side.
By gods, he was the Once and Future King.
He gripped his sword and exit his chambers. He slipped past his guards and down the dark corridor that led him to Kilgharrah.
The dragon was sleeping yet he immediately woke when Arthur leapt across the gap and scrambled up the rocks next to him.
"Young Pendragon?" Kilgharrah asked, confusion lined his voice.
"You may not believe I'm ready. But I can't just rest knowing you're rotting down here. I can't allow anybody else to suffer," Arthur said. He found the chains around Kilgharrah's hind leg.
"And how will you free me?" Kilgharrah said with a sigh. He nestled his head back on his lap.
Arthur slammed his new sword down across the chains. The blade clanged against them. Nothing happened.
Arthur glared at his sword. Why wasn't this working? It killed creatures immune to attacks of magic and couldn't break some measly chains forged by the Old Religion.
Arthur stared at the inscription once again: Take Me Up.
I am born of magic, Arthur told himself. Kilgharrah deserves to be free. A jolt jerked up his arm.
"Take me up," the sword whispered to him.
Arthur noticed that his hands glistened in a luminous glow. He took a deep breath. "Excalibur," he called out to his sword. He didn't know where the name came from, it just felt right.
Kilgharrah jerked his head up.
"Free Kilgharrah from his chains," he said.
The luminous glow spilled from his hands and extended all across his body. A tightness Arthur didn't know he had in his chest loosened and a warmth spilled.
Arthur brought Excalibur down and the chains snapped off Kilgharrah. A piece of it still attached to the dragon's leg, but the chains no longer bounded Kilgharrah to Camelot.
"How..." The Great Dragon's eyes were wide with shock.
"You are free," Arthur said, his voice ringing in the air. There was some silky sing-like quality in it. "I pray you uphold your end of the bargain."
Kilgharrah chuckled and bowed his head. "You've accepted your role. I'm in your debt, Once and Future King."
"What would it take to get people to call me Arthur around here?" he grumbled.
Kilgharrah smiled. "Arthur. I don't know how I can repay you."
"Be free," Arthur said. "And uphold your bargain."
"Indeed I will, young Pendragon." He inclined his head before he flapped his wings.
Arthur grinned as he watched the dragon take flight down the cave's corridor and out into the open night.
He glanced down at his hands to see that his skin returned to normal. He knew what he did.
He used magic.
It took Merlin some time before he finally opened his heavy eyes. He stared at the ceiling of his room, trying to recollect what happened.
The Shadows. He'd never felt so cold and stiff in his life. He had stared up into the night sky, feeling his life drain away.
Then Arthur...he had cried over him. Did he think Merlin was dead? Merlin touched his chest. He wasn't. He was very much alive. Sore and exhausted, but alive.
He struggled to sit upright in his bed and froze.
Arthur's upper body was sprawled upon the lower half of Merlin's bed. The prince's lower body was dangerously close to tipping out of the chair.
"You can't...I need you. I can't do anything without you..."
Arthur's confession replayed in Merlin's head. Heat flooded his cheeks. He reached down and gripped Arthur's fingers. "I can't do anything without you either," Merlin whispered.
Arthur believed in him.
Not only as a friend and close advisor.
As a sorcerer.
He trusted Merlin with his life and his kingdom.
Merlin felt like he could take on everything with Arthur at his side. Funny, he always thought the destiny he had was a burden he had to carry alone. He never realized that it was a destiny he was supposed to share with Arthur.
Arthur grumbled in his sleep and lazily lifted his head. He smacked his mouth as he tried to blink himself awake. His gaze settled on Merlin. It took a beat before Arthur sat up. "Merlin! You're awake!" He gripped Merlin's arms.
Merlin reached out and felt Arthur's magic inside him. It was different now. Regal and confident. Something happened.
"How long was I out for?" Merlin said, shifting in his bed. He felt like he didn't get any rest yet he knew he'd been here a while.
"A couple days."
"The Shadows drained a lot out of you," Arthur glared, "as well as your overuse of your magic. Gaius said it may be a little over a week before you're one hundred percent."
Merlin lifted his arm, it felt like lifting Arthur's armor with his pinky, and whispered "Forbearnan." A spark flickered over his palm, but nothing.
Arthur grabbed it and lowered Merlin's arm back to the bed. "Easy."
Merlin turned his gaze at Arthur and smiled. Arthur was alive. That was all that mattered. "How did you stop the Shadows?"
Arthur narrowed his gaze, suspicious. "I was going to ask you. Apparently, I got a little help." He released Merlin's hand and Merlin urged for that connection back. Arthur set something wrapped in cloth on Merlin's bed. He lifted the cloth and Merlin immediately recognized the sword.
"I pulled it out of a rain puddle. Where did you find it?"
Merlin blushed. He scratched the side of his cheek. "I made it, for you and you only. It was forged in dragon's breath and can defeat anything magical."
"And you didn't think to use this while we fought the Shadows?" Arthur cocked a brow.
"It was buried on the bottom of the lake at the time. I'm surprised you drew it out...of a rain puddle?"
"I assume you don't recall making a blue orb of light, do you?"
Merlin furrowed his brows.
Arthur chuckled. "I saw it once when I was in that cave, getting the antidote to save you and was chased by giant spiders." He pursed his lips in thought. "I guess you only do it when you're down for the count?"
Merlin racked his brains to remember. He couldn't exactly recall it, yet his magic tingled within him in response. "I suppose so." He wanted to ask more, but he sagged down in his bed.
"You should get some more rest," Arthur said.
"No, I slept for two days, I can stay up a bit longer."
Arthur stared at him for the longest time. The corner of his mouth tugged upward. He reached inside the vest he was wearing and pulled out a roll of paper. He handed it out to Merlin. "I couldn't sleep, I drafted this up."
Merlin unrolled it and skimmed over the contents. He snapped his head up to Arthur. "This...a law to legalize magic?"
"The only time people will be punished is if they use it for ill, just like a sword."
Merlin's heart swelled. It'd been a bit over a year when Merlin walked into Camelot and watched an execution of a sorcerer. He met Arthur and hated everything about him.
Now, he was close friends with Arthur...or were they more than that? And here Arthur was drafting a law to legalize magic, to free sorcerers from fear of themselves.
"I want to pass this," Arthur said, gaze locked on the scroll. "How many more years will it be before all of my people are free, before there's no more Cian, before my people are judged on their character and not their nobility or lack of." He swallowed and locked eyes with Merlin. "I'm ready, Merlin. I want to be King. Not tomorrow, or years later. Right now, in this moment."
Merlin reached out and squeezed Arthur's hand. "You can be."
"How? How can I force my father to abdicate the throne? What if I start a civil war within Camelot? I don't want blood to be spilled so I can ascend to the throne."
"I don't know," Merlin whispered. "We'll find a way. I promise."
"I supposed the three of you are wondering why you're here," Arthur said.
Here being in Peter's old home with the windows and doors boarded up.
Sir Leon nervously glanced at Gaius and Geoffrey seated at the table next to him. "You're going to teach us some poetry?"
Arthur creased his brows. "What?" What lies had Merlin been spreading about Arthur behind his back? "No." Great, now he lost his train of thought.
"I must ask, sire," Gaius said, "what is up with all this secrecy?"
"We're not plotting to murder someone, are we?" Geoffrey asked, aghast. "Not Lady Caitlin."
"What?" Arthur was flabbergast. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "My fault. I shouldn't have led with that question."
Gaius rose both his brows in agreement.
Arthur held out his hands. "Okay. I summoned you all here for a simple request. It may go against your loyalty, but I'm asking you all to trust me and know that I will not do anything rashly."
"My lo-lord," Leon stuttered out, "now you've got us concerned. What is it?"
Arthur inhaled a deep breath. He was really going to ask it of them. "You can say no and nothing will change. I'm wondering if I may have your support in the council to force my father to abdicate the throne."
Both of the older men's eyes bulged.
"Sire?" Gaius exclaimed.
"That is madness," Geoffrey cried.
Sir Leon remained neutral. Arthur could tell Leon was struggling with some emotion under the surface. He wished he knew what exactly.
Leon said, "Perhaps you should explain yourself, sire."
Right then and there, Arthur knew he had Leon's full support. He wished Merlin were here, but he wanted his sorcerer to rest.
"I believe it's time for a change in Camelot, a good change. While I love my father, it's become clear that King Uther has allowed his emotions to blind himself while ruling from the throne." He stared at Gaius and Geoffrey. "You both know what I'm speaking of. How many more sorcerers will die, how many more families will be torn apart because of magic? How much more blood stained upon Camelot?"
Geoffrey's face was pale. "Sire, your father has brought peace..."
"He has brought victory to Camelot," Arthur said. "Not peace."
Geoffrey's mouth hung opened. He turned to Gaius for help.
Gaius' lips were set in a thin line. He regarded Arthur for the longest time. "What it is that you seek that sets you apart from Uther?"
"It is not victory I seek, it is peace," Arthur said. "I wish to build a land of equality of all things." He stared at Geoffrey. "I remember you taught me the stories of the ancient kings, of how long ago there was a castle where they all gathered together and sat at a round table to build a stronger kingdom. I want to build a land of united kingdoms under peace." He looked at Gaius. "I seek a world where no one should cower in fear for who they are, where they are free." He faced Leon. "I want to have knights protect their kingdom who wish to, not because they are forced to due to their nobility, I want to offer the chance of knighthood to everyone."
He paused for a moment, thinking of his next words.
"I'm asking for your support. If you say no, I'll only appreciate your loyalty to my father and I will not think of you differently. I'm not planning a civil war within Camelot."
"Why now?" Geoffrey asked. "Why not wait a few years? Your father grows old."
Arthur smiled. "I'm a knight first and foremost, Geoffrey. Which means I have to treat each day like it's my last. Today may be my only chance to start a better future for Camelot." And I can no longer sit idly by. My father cares about the people of Camelot, I've seen it. He just choses who to care for instead of everyone.
"What makes you think you'll do better than your father?" Gaius asked.
"Because I won't be alone. I'm learning to listen. You know, better than I, how well my father listens to his counsel."
Gaius' lips tugged a bit, yet he forced the smile down.
"I must stress this isn't an order. You are free to choose what you wish."
Leon stood, hand on the pommel of his sword. "You know as well as I do. There's no other man I wish to fight and die for. You have my allegiance."
Arthur gave him a proud smile. "Thank you, Leon."
"I love your father, Arthur," Gaius said. "He's a dear friend. For once, however, before my time is up, I like to serve a king with pride, to stand next to someone I believe in." He rose to his feet. "I believe you are that man, Arthur."
Arthur forced down his many emotions at Gaius' statement. Gaius' words meant more to him than he would ever know.
Geoffrey threw his hands up. "Ah, what the hell." He rose to his feet. "As much as I like detailing the history and facts of your father's reign." He blew out an exasperated sigh. "I'm ready for a new tale."
Geoffrey crossed his arms. "I pray you remembered your mathematical lessons. You need more than half of the council's support. You'll need to gain the favor of two more."
Arthur hid a grin. One was Audrey's husband who was a head Steward and Castellan, why Uther took Daimon with him, Arthur didn't know. Fyn was out of the question.
He realized he hadn't seen much Fyn lately. Which strange in itself.
He could sway Edmund, but he was a quiet one. He never said much at the council meetings. Owaine, always had something to say and Arthur swore that nobody listened to the man.
He could do it.
His father would return within a few weeks. He and Merlin could figure something out by then.
Today, it was well enough knowing that Arthur had the full support of Gaius, Geoffrey, and Sir Leon.
Meanwhile, Lee entered Fyn's chambers.
Fyn glanced up from the table where he was eating his chicken and cheese.
Lee simpered and held up a paper in his hands.
Fyn took it, glanced over it, and grinned evilly.
"You cheated," Arthur said as Merlin captured his king on the board.
Merlin grinned and leaned back in his bed, tossing Arthur's king piece up and catching it with his magic.
Arthur rolled his eyes at the display. "Show off."
"You're just a sore loser," Merlin said as he reset the chess board. "Again?"
Arthur shook his head. "I have to greet the people in the throne room. I swear if I have to settle one more dispute over whose chicken whose, I'll eat the bloody animal myself."
"Ah, the woes of being regent," Merlin teased. He poked Arthur's side. "Admit it, you're growing to like it."
He was, but he wasn't going to tell Merlin that.
"How's your strength?" Arthur asked.
Merlin held out his hand. "It's slowly returning. Don't expect me to create rain anytime soon."
"I think you're okay. Our storage is filling up. The common people are eating fit. You did well, Merlin. You saved Camelot from a starving winter."
Merlin folded his hands together and shrugged.
Arthur shoved him gently. "Don't be so modest."
Merlin chuckled, he stared down at the sword at Arthur's hip. "I can't believe you freed Kilgharrah."
Arthur curled his lips inward. Merlin was shocked when Arthur told him. He was more surprised that Arthur used magic. Arthur hadn't summon it again yet, but he could feel his powers within his chest. He was nowhere as powerful as Merlin, and Arthur was okay with that. Gods know he has enough power as future King.
"I keep expecting this all to be a dream..." Merlin confessed.
"Too good to be true," Arthur said. "I know. I'm sorry it took me so long to get here."
Merlin huffed. "Arthur...you got here. I have to admit. I like this side of you. Promise me, don't ever change, Arthur. Always be you. Don't ever hide yourself again."
I'm glad you came to Camelot, Merlin. I wouldn't have gathered the courage to do this without you. "I'm growing on you, aren't I? Does this mean you'll stop calling me prat?" Arthur teased.
"You're always be a prat."
"Go, you clotpole. Your people are waiting on you," Merlin said.
Arthur rose and pointed a finger at Merlin. "I demand a rematch when I return." He paused at the door. "Same goes for you, too, Merlin." He locked his gaze on his friend. "I don't want you to change either. All my progress...I couldn't have done it without you."
Merlin smiled. "You'd have done it without me."
Arthur tapped the doorframe. "Maybe. Get some rest. I'll see you afterwards." He bounded down the corridor, on his heels. His hand rested on Excalibur's pommel.
Sir Leon approached from the other end. "Ah, you're on time today."
"I'm always on time," Arthur shot back playfully. "Looks like you're late to the training grounds."
"I'm not late, sire," Leon said as he passed Arthur. "They're just early."
Arthur laughed and added over his shoulder. "Post me on their progress afterwards."
"Of course, my lord," Leon said back.
Arthur skipped up the steps. Merlin's words replaying in his head, it sent a warm feeling in his heart and a burst of confidence. He was walking on the clouds.
He passed the people lined up outside the door and gave them a half-wave. "Good day."
Some of them turned around and responded with "Good day" in kind. Others beamed at him. There was only a few unhappy faces.
What's in store for me today?
Arthur turned the corner and waited for the guards to open the doors into the throne room. He walked in and staggered to a stop.
Uther stood by the throne, hand gripping one of the pikes on top. His back was to Arthur.
Arthur's breath caught in his throat. His father returned? Why hadn't anyone notified him? Unless, if Uther returned without fanfare, that was not a good sign.
He caught sight of Fyn at the front of the room, alongside with Lee and the other members of the council.
Arthur found his voice. "Father. You've returned." Good, at least his voice didn't betray his pattering heart.
"Leave us," Uther ordered.
Fyn and the others headed down around Arthur and exited.
Arthur heard the doors close behind. He did a quick glance over his shoulder. There were still four guards in the room. He didn't miss the fact that they were Uther's guards.
Arthur took a couple steps forward. "How fared your trip?"
"Are you loyal to me, Arthur?" Uther asked so suddenly.
Arthur swallowed. That wasn't his father up there. It was the King. "Sir, my loyalty has always laid with Camelot."
"That's not what I asked," Uther said. He slowly turned his head toward Arthur. "I asked if you were loyal to me."
Say yes, why am I hesitating? Arthur opened his mouth to speak, yet said nothing. When had Uther lost Arthur's loyalty? Arthur knew the answer. When Arthur defied him and retrieved the antidote for Merlin.
"I see," Uther said when the silence lingered too long.
Arthur averted his gaze. "Last we communicated, you were not to return for a couple of weeks."
Uther sneered at him. "You would've liked that, so you would've had time to pass this!" He turned fully to Arthur now and shook a scroll of paper in his hand.
Arthur squinted. What was...his draft to legalize magic...where did...Arthur growled. Fyn. Arthur was a fool to write it up. He took a step forward. "Father, you must understand..."
"You have no right to call me that. I thought you were my son."
"Are you?" Uther stepped forward from the throne. "No son of mine would turn against me for magic! I gave you a chance to prove you were under an enchantment, I can see you're clear as day. You dared plot treason against me?"
Excuses and defense rose up, ready to be used. No. Arthur straightened his back. This will not be a confrontation between a king and prince, this is a one between two kings. "Everything I did, I did in the name of Camelot."
"I sacrificed everything to prepare you to become king. This is how you repay me?"
"I'm not you, father. I can't rule the way you did."
"Magic is evil. Have you learned nothing growing up? Have I not driven the lesson to your heart?"
"How can you be so blind to see the world you're creating? You know as well as I do that magic is not evil. You've only hunted those with magic to ease your guilt."
"Guilt? I've done what is necessary to protect this kingdom."
"What would my mother say to that?" Arthur snapped. He needed to know the truth. And by gods, Uther was going to tell him.
Uther stuttered. "Your...your mother. Don't you dare bring your mother into this."
"To create a life, another life must be taken in exchange," Arthur recited from Ygraine's magic book.
"Tell me. Why were you so eager to give up my mother's life?"
Uther crushed the paper in his hand as he held up a finger. "I never would've sacrificed her. That witch, Nimueh, was going to help me create an heir, she didn't tell me Ygraine was going to be the price."
"You liar," Arthur yelled. "My mother knew very well what the price would be."
"We knew there would be a price. I just didn't know it would be hers! Nimueh tricked us, lied to us!"
"Don't blame this on her! You knew full well the price." Arthur chuckled scornfully. So it was true. Uther and Ygraine used magic to give Arthur life. And this was the outcome of his birth. He should have never been born. "This is what fuels your hatred against magic. Rather than blame yourself, you blame them."
"Those who practice magic will stop at nothing to destroy us!" Uther tossed the crushed paper at Arthur's feet. "And you seek to help them."
"I seek to end all the suffering and pain you have caused."
"You dare go against your king, your father?" Uther challenged, the vein bulging on his forehead.
Arthur held his chin up. "You've always taught me to be true to my heart. You wanted to know what type of king I'll be, well, here's your answer."
Uther stared sadly at him. The way he looked at Arthur reminded him of what his father told him when he took Arthur's place to fight against Sir Tristan de Bois: You are too precious to me. You mean more to me than anything I know, more than this entire kingdom, and certainly more than my own life.
Was that even true?
"You would dare support magic that took your mother's life?" Uther asked, his voice strained.
"Don't you realize that it was magic that gave me life?" Arthur said. He stared hard at Uther. "Don't you realize that I am magic?"
Uther shook his head. "No. No." His lips curled back. "I won't lose you to magic like I lost your mother."
Arthur felt something in his heart break. "I have magic, father. The very thing that gave me life runs through my veins."
Fear flashed across Uther's eyes before anger dominated his features. "I paid a terrible, heavy price for you to be born," Uther said.
Arthur winced, a prick at his heart.
"Magic stole your mother from me. I will not watch the evil of magic consume you like the others."
Arthur's breath caught in his throat. "Father..."
"Guards," Uther beckoned to them and Arthur felt strong hands grasped all around him. Did it really take four guards to drag him to the dungeons?
"Take him out to the courtyard," Uther ordered. "He's to be executed immediately."
Arthur widened his eyes. What? "Father!" He struggled against the guards' hold on him. "Don't do this! I'm your son!"
Uther approached him and cupped his cheek. "I'm sorry. Camelot comes before all else. The magic inside you has already turned you against me and the kingdom. I will free you from its wicked binds. This is the only way."
"I thought I came before all else?" Arthur said, the very world crumbling underneath him, his very view on his father.
Tears welled in Uther's eyes and suddenly Arthur knew. You love me, but your fear and hatred for magic is far greater.
"I fear you're already lost..." Uther gave a brisk nod to his guards. "Take him away."
"Father!" Arthur was lurched back and dragged out of the throne room to be taken to the courtyard and executed before the very people he vowed to serve and protect.