Demand of Sacrifice
"He'll be expecting you," Sir Leon said.
Arthur rested his hands on the mantle above the fireplace. The heat of the flames warmed through his chainmail.
The Knights of the Round Table sat behind him, drawing up plans on how to retake Camelot from Fyn's hands.
"Perhaps your early arrival may throw him off," Leon continued, "but he's no fool. He'll be prepared."
Arthur knew that. Prepared or not, Arthur couldn't allow Camelot to fester under Fyn's hands any longer. Not while Arthur still drew breath.
"My father?" he asked instead.
Leon sighed. "He returned just before Fyn made his
"Caught him off guard," Arthur said, turning to glance over his shoulder.
Leon inclined his head. "Sire, if I may ask...what propelled Uther to order your execution?"
Arthur didn't miss the lack of "King" when Leon addressed his father. The room drew silent. Everyone's that curious, eh? His gaze flickered past Merlin. "Fyn's manipulation," he answered.
Leon glowered. He knew there was more.
Gwen crossed her arms. "Morgana and I were there. Your father grew worried, distrustful of you, but something made him charge home for Camelot. I know Fyn was behind it, but he never lied about your actions."
I may have lied about some of them, Arthur realized. Arthur turned back to the flames and tightened his grip around the edge of the mantle. He cleared his throat. "I may or may have not drafted up a law to legalize magic, which he may or may not have seen."
A few startled gasps filled the room and Arthur didn't dare look back.
"I know my father and I know his weaknesses. I exposed them." I played my deceased mother and my own magic against my father. What did Arthur expect to happen?
"You're...of magic?" Kay muttered. "I saw what you did at your execution. I saw your skin."
Arthur closed his eyes and sighed. I'm the very price that cost all the magic users, all the sorcerers and sorceresses, their lives. "Merlin accidently woke it...back when he saved my life from the Questing Beast." He turned and faced his knights. "But that is not why I drafted up that law."
"You did it for Merlin," Guinevere said, matter-of-factly. Nothing ever gets past her, does it? She turned to Merlin and graced him a soft smile. "You really were in disguise, weren't you?" she teased. Her face fell. "Your confession back then, it was true."
Unshed tears build in Merlin's eyes. "Yes. Your father..."
"It's okay, Merlin. You didn't have a hand in killing him."
Arthur did, somewhat. He arrested her father, and brought him to his death. How can Guinevere look past that?
She glanced up at Arthur. "When did you find out about Merlin's magic?"
Officially? A few weeks ago. Truly? Since their second meeting. Arthur always knew there was something about Merlin. Knew that something strange happened. Arthur never got clumsy. He was a skilled and trained warrior. His sharp eyes caught Merlin's magic. Why he never said anything...
He caught Merlin's gaze. He knew why. Merlin treated Arthur like Arthur deserved to be treated, not because of his name, not because of his father, because Arthur at the time was, well, an ass.
Arthur rubbed the back of his neck.
It was Sir Leon who barked a laugh. "You've always known!"
Gwaine grinned. "You hid a sorcerer from your father?"
"Looks like you're the nobler one," Lancelot added with a wink.
"We're getting off point..." Arthur began, trying to steer it back to their plans on retaking Camelot.
"How long have you had magic?" Guinevere asked Merlin.
Arthur held his breath. That was a personal question. Was it right to ask Merlin that in front of everyone? Then he noticed what Guinevere was trying to do.
Sir Kay shifted in his seat. He was obviously still uncomfortable about magic.
Arthur knew Leon well enough to know he harbored some hatred for it, but he was willing to understand it.
Tristan, Gwaine, Percival, and Isolde, well, they had handlings with magic users and probably smuggled some out of Camelot. They were close with the druids.
Lancelot knew Merlin's secret, and kept it.
Elyan traveled across Camelot, and knew the land better than Arthur, knew the truth of magic.
Guinevere was trying to bring everyone together by using Merlin, their powerful magic user.
Merlin's voice was soft. "I've always had it. My whole life. I've always struggled with it. I never truly found a purpose to use my magic..." His blue eyes landed on Arthur. "Until Arthur."
That statement warmed Arthur's heart, and he quickly realized what Merlin did. He was uniting the bonds of the knights with their purpose in Arthur. Why did Merlin always make it about Arthur?
Kay sighed. "Arthur...if we do take back Camelot...what then?"
He noticed creases formed and brows raised among the others. Kay raised a good point.
"Your execution order still stands. If we retake Camelot, Uther will take the throne once again and I...I cannot follow a man who is so easily manipulated."
Arthur wondered if it was truly his mother's death that destroyed his father, or was his father always a bit mad, controlled by his emotions and need for power? He saw the good in his father, and he still did. He no longer saw Uther as a worthy king, though.
Leon hid a smile behind his gloved hand.
Arthur cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes. "What did you do?"
"As you requested," Leon asked. He tucked his hand inside his undershirt and pulled out a small scroll. He handed it to Arthur. "We managed to accomplish this while your father was out on the hunt for you," Leon said. "I wanted to wait, but this is a good time for you to know."
Arthur un-scrolled the small paper and stared in shock at the signed names. He shot his head up to Leon.
"The full support of the council is behind you, Arthur. When we take Camelot back, the throne is yours, if you still wish it."
"Gaius and Geoffrey were very persuasive." Leon's features turned serious. "But it's all you, Arthur."
It suddenly became all too real for Arthur. When Arthur dealt with Fyn, after Arthur saved his kingdom...
He now had the means to force Uther to abdicate the throne.
Arthur...King of Camelot.
He curled his left hand into a fist, to calm his trembling nerves. He could do this. He may be destined to be King, but this time, he actually wanted it.
"My knights, I can promise you a better future. But I can't get there without you," Arthur said. He laid the scroll down and pressed his knuckles against the table. "We need a plan, a good one to retake Camelot without much bloodshed."
Gwaine's grin grew. "Well, as knights then, I'm sure you've heard of the fool's guard?"
One of Arthur's favorite sword move. You appear to be open for attack by your opponent, yet you able to commit quick defensive strikes when they move in. A perfect way to lure your opponent and get a read of him.
Arthur mirrored Gwaine's expression. "And by what means, do you hope to draw Fyn to attack?"
"It all depends on if you're willing..."
"Willing for what?"
"To be the bait."
Five hours to sunrise, and a half hour before they moved out. The plan they came up with was a good one, with rooms for improvisation. Arthur never liked a fixed plan, as a warrior, it was always best to be ready for a surprise, to expect the unexpected. He liked Gwaine, for someone who was so laidback and carefree, Gwaine had a sharp head, one Arthur liked.
A loose plan, "in case all hell breaks loose" as Gwaine put it.
By gods, he had to ensure he would be king. Camelot needed men like Gwaine who understood the truth of battle, like Percival who closely held kindness behind strength, like Tristan and Isolde who were partners through love, like Lancelot, noble and brave at heart, like Elyan and Guinevere, who looked past the faults and forgave, like Kay who listened and grew with wisdom, and like Merlin who was loyal because he wanted to be, not because he was forced, who showed Arthur true loyalty, and most importantly, what it truly means to be equal to someone.
Arthur grunted and tried to pull the strap of his spaulder underneath his shoulder. His knuckles banged against the metal plate and he hissed.
Calm and steady fingers overtook Arthur's and set the strap correctly.
Arthur stared down at Merlin, dressed in red gambeson and chainmail. "Merlin, you don't have to do this...after all we've been through..." You're more than my servant.
"I like doing this. Getting your armor ready on you was making sure you were well protected when you went into battle, in case I couldn't," Merlin said.
"You protected me well enough," Arthur said.
"Take an easy when you confront Fyn. Don't force the battle."
Arthur creased his brows. "Yes, sire."
Merlin glanced up at him. "I'm serious." He sighed, his fingers still on the strap. He tightened it.
Arthur glanced at his feet. "Merlin...chances are...ahem, whatever happens." He blew out a heavy sigh and stared hard at Merlin, his equal. "One thing I always tell my knights, no man is worth your tears."
Merlin swallowed, he pointed a trembling finger at Arthur. "You're certainly not." He forced a weak laugh and walked behind Arthur to the round table.
Arthur turned to Merlin.
"Nothing is going to happen to you, Arthur. It's my destiny to protect you."
"Oh?" Arthur mocked.
"And, because..." Merlin cleared his throat. "Well, I don't expect you to understand..."
"Warmed up to me, didn't you?"
"Still a prat," Merlin snapped back, teasingly.
The tension in the room lightened. Merlin's words of his destiny echoed in Arthur's mind. "Well, if it's your destiny to protect me. I supposed it's my destiny to protect you."
Merlin's eyes widened. "Arthur..."
"Merlin, you're a brave man, and the most loyal man I've ever met...sometimes I wonder if I deserve that loyalty."
"You do," Merlin was quick to say. "It took time, but you do."
The guilt of when Arthur was on the executioner's stand returned. His old thoughts of the things he'd left unsaid to Merlin. Gods, why was it so hard to do it? What was he afraid of?
The sound of fabric tearing brought Arthur back.
Merlin ripped a strip from his red scarf.
He pursed his lips. What was Merlin doing?
Merlin stepped forward to Arthur's left shoulder, and tied the strip of his scarf around the chainmail of Arthur's upper arm.
Arthur blushed. Merlin was giving him a favor, like women do to knights before tournaments.
Merlin opened his mouth to say something then closed it instead and smiled.
It was that wonderful smile that eased Arthur's worries. That made him feel like he could take on the world, he always looked for it before and during the tournaments his father hosted, before and during battle, before and during a boring council meeting. What was it about Merlin that eased Arthur's worries? What was it about that smile?
Damn, Arthur had it bad, didn't he?
He grabbed Merlin's wrist and pulled an object from his pocket, one that he always carried around and never told anybody.
He placed a copper engraved coin on Merlin's opened palm, one that was engraved with the sigil of his mother's: a falcon.
Ha. Merlin meant falcon. He wondered if somehow Ygraine sent Merlin Arthur's way. Sometimes he would sit back and pretend she watched over him. Other times he'd believed it.
Merlin gazed at the sigil.
"It was my mother's," Arthur said.
"I can't take this," Merlin objected.
"Just...take it." So that my mother can watch over you for me. Arthur grew up among warriors and knights, he wasn't afraid of death. He was afraid of leaving Merlin behind, though.
Why couldn't Arthur bring himself to say this? Why was expressing his true voice so hard?
Merlin smiled again as if he heard Arthur's inner thoughts. "Thank you."
Just like with his mother's book, if there was anyone Arthur trusted with his heart, by gods, it was Merlin.
I love you, he thought. God damn it, I'm in love with you.
"I'm glad you're here with me, Merlin," Arthur said instead, his throat tight.
Merlin's smile lopsided. "Always, until the end of all things."
Arthur gave a friendly smack on Merlin's chest and let his hand linger for a moment. They exit and headed for the remaining Knights of the Round Table and the other knights that managed to escape from Camelot.
Watch yourself, Fyn. You may have an army, but I have one better.
I have Merlin.
Streaks of red stained across Arthur's back as he touched the stoned walls of Camelot, his Camelot.
Behind him were his line of knights, both men and women. Just like at Ealdor, Arthur somehow managed to spark equality. He was ingrained to protect women and treat them as if they were fragile and beautiful beings meant to be protected. They weren't fragile, and damn, they could fight as well as men, perhaps better. When did he start limiting them?
Morgana always kicked his butt growing up. If she were able to train like he did, she probably still would.
Morgana, I'm coming for you. You're not alone.
This wasn't about reclaiming Camelot from Fyn. This was about retaking Camelot and building a better future.
"Leon?" Arthur whispered.
"I will lead Kay and the others through the siege tunnels and free the prisoners. You'll have more knights joining you soon," he said in a hushed tone.
"I know where Morgana and the rest are," she said. She would be joined with Lancelot and Elyan.
Arthur drew in a breath of courage. Whatever happens...
He held out his hands to Gwaine. "Make it damn believable," he said.
Merlin held out a hand and chanted an incantation.
Gwaine reeled his head back and whistled. "Nice one, Merlin. Limp a little, will you, Princess? You look like you took a round of beatings."
Arthur grinned at Merlin. "Good thinking."
"Let's do this," Arthur said. "For the love of Camelot."
The main entrance into Camelot was closed, guarded by five men, dressed in black rags of the Southrons army.
Arthur allowed himself to be dragged forward by Percival, his hands bound in front of him by rope (very loosely of course).
Merlin stumbled forth behind him, guided roughly by Isolde.
Tristan and Gwaine approached the guards.
"May we permit entrance into your city?" Tristan asked, voice tough.
"Camelot is closed. Move along," the one in center with a thick beard said.
Gwaine rose his brows. "Move along?" He forced a fake laugh. "We're here to collect the bounty on him!" He jerked a thumb Arthur's way. "From one mercenary to another, do us a favor and grant us entrance, mate," Gwaine said, his voice smooth.
"King Fyn has no interest in rogue knights," the man said, not in the least bit moved by Gwaine. "Move. Along."
Gwaine leaned forward. "A change in management, eh? I suppose this new King should take notice of this. We're here to collect the bounty on former Prince Arthur."
The men instantly stiffened in alert.
Yet Percival was quick. He placed the tip of a knife against Arthur's throat.
"Sorry, folks, we're planning to collect the bounty, one wrong movement and my friend here will not hesitate to kill Arthur. And I'm sure your precious new King wants him alive. Yay? Nay?"
Tristan twirled two daggers in his hands. "I wouldn't mind taking out a couple men in black either."
The bearded men growled. He motioned to the men stationed at the battlefronts above. They moved and the gates opened.
Gwaine smiled. "Good choice."
Tristan tossed a couple small pouches of coins and a few of the men caught it against their chest. "Rounds of drinks, on us."
They grumbled but easily compiled.
Percival shoved Arthur forward, tip still at the neck.
Arthur was grateful they were on his side. Arthur had always hated mercenaries, yet they were a few that he respected. When Arthur grew up, he often wondered the difference between a mercenary and a knight. Technically, they were both hired by the sword. Knights by good names, land, and gold. Mercenaries by whatever they would take. Who was Arthur to say was more honorable when he met honorable men of many. Names held power, yes, but names and labels don't define a man.
Arthur took this time to gauge the well-being of his people as he and Merlin were manhandled through the streets of the lower town.
He noticed many homes had been ransacked, there were a stack of bodies between alleys of some homes and businesses. A woman hugged a younger one, covered in bruises.
Arthur's blood boiled. Fyn allowed his men to rape the women of Camelot. Fyn allowed his men to butcher Arthur's people. There was nothing more Arthur wanted in that moment than to slam the edge of his blade deep into Fyn's skull. He glanced down at the dagger at his throat, plans already forming on how to barge through.
Merlin caught Arthur's gaze and gave a slight shook of his head. He knew what Arthur was thinking.
Arthur struggled to control his erratic breathing, his blood pounding in his ears.
"Dead man walking," Gwaine bellowed out.
Arthur wondered why Gwaine was directing attention unto them.
A few people glanced their way and released startled gasps. Fingers were pointed, mutters spread like a wildfire, and hope rekindled in his people's eyes.
Arthur had returned.
Instead of playing the part of the captured man, Arthur gave them all a reassuring smile. I'll get our home back. He vowed to slaughter any and every Southron who remained in Camelot after this.
The group made their way to the Citadel. A few times Southrons would come up and demand the meaning of their presence.
Gwaine and Tristan easily conned their way through.
A crowd of Southrons and Camelot's people began to gather near the main tower. Arthur hoped they provided enough distraction for Leon's group and Guinevere's group to achieve success.
As they drew near the throne room, Arthur's battering heart started to calm. Strange. How he always felt calm the second before the blood of battle.
The Southrons opened the throne doors and allowed them entrance.
Heat flooded Arthur's face at the sight of Fyn sitting on the throne, his knees over the armrest. He was smacking on a grape.
"Ah! Arthur! You've returned. Just in time for my coronation," Fyn said as he clapped his hands in glee.
The throne doors shut behind them with a heavy thud.
Arthur's lips curled back. "I'd rather see my sword embedded upon your head than my crown."
Fyn swiveled his feet to the floor. "Your crown?" He caught sight of the wreath-crown upon Arthur's head. "Did you snap and make your own crown? The threat of death broke you, didn't it?"
"Enough chitchat," Tristan grumbled. "We want our money."
Fyn's grin was wide. "Money? Crown's in debt. Consider this a service out of the goodness of your heart."
"Percival," Gwaine barked.
Arthur tried not to wince as Percival pressed the tip of the dagger deeper against his neck. Blood trickled down. Why did he agree to this plan again?
Fyn cackled. "Oh, please. I've wanted Arthur dead for years. I preferably rather torture him until he forgot his own name, but the endgame is always the same, rotting in the dirt with maggots crawling out of his eye sockets."
Gwaine shot Arthur a look as if to say 'is this guy insane?'
"Funny. After your escapade, I was expecting to be attacked by a fire-breathing dragon."
If only Kilgharrah didn't get injured, Arthur would've had the chance to grant that wish. He would love to see Kilgharrah chomping on Fyn's head.
"Calm your emotions, Arthur," a soft feminine voice filled his ears.
Arthur immediately knew it to be Albion...the land talking to him like it did back in the forest.
"You do not wish for blood. There is a reason why I chose you, Arthur. You, and not your previous incarnations."
"...dragons alive," Gwaine said.
"Beside the point," Fyn said, drumming his fingers together. "Are you going to kill him or we're just going to stand around here all day?"
Arthur's instincts rose.
His gaze flicked to Merlin who was surveying the room. They locked eyes. Merlin was worried, there was a tightness around his friend's eyes.
"I'm no fool. Arthur is of magic. He could've escaped your grips if he wanted. Instead he allowed to be paraded in."
Arthur felt Percival tensed behind him. Be on alert, but don't be surprised. Expect the unexpected.
He motioned to Percival to lower the dagger, which the man complied. He stepped forward toward Fyn, adjusting the cuffs of his gambeson underneath his chainmail. "No. You're no fool. You took over Camelot in less than a day. Impressive."
Fyn didn't accept the compliment. His eyelids narrowed in suspicion.
Arthur continued, "Yet I wouldn't get too comfortable in that seat. Your reign will end by midday."
Anger flashed in Fyn's eyes. "I'm glad this was a ruse. I'll enjoy torturing you." He made a motion.
"Arthur!" Merlin shouted.
He glanced over his shoulder in time to see Merlin stop a fireball spiraling toward the group.
The five Southrons by the throne doors were sorcerers. And they were flanked by ten other Southrons.
Fifteen and an unpredictable wannabe-King vs six.
The odds were not good.
"Arthur!" Percival tossed a sword toward Arthur who caught the hilt with his hand.
He twirled it and beckoned the Southrons forth with cocky smirk.
Swords clashed against swords. Fireballs and lightning zapped against Merlin's invisible shield.
Merlin threw his palm out and the five sorcerers slammed against the doors. He muttered another incantation and the door bar lit up in gold.
Good. Arthur could ensure there would be no further company through those doors. For the time being at least.
The sorcerers were quick to get back onto their feet, yet Arthur immediately got distracted by a man with a heavy club.
He ducked and feigned right, causing the man to swing his club down and missed. Arthur smirked. It was easier to bring down a heavy weapon than it was to bring it up. Arthur's sword sliced across the man's chest before he had the chance to lift his weapon back up.
He spun around another charging man and somehow, found himself back to back with Merlin.
"How are the sorcerers coming along?" Arthur yelled over his shoulder.
Merlin shouted an incantation and the ceiling crumbled, raining debris upon the sorcerers. Merlin sighed. "Persistent. The soldiers?"
Arthur punched a man across the jaw with his left hand, knocking the Southron out. "Not earning their gold's worth." He flashed a grin. "Need a hand?"
"Leave the magic to me," Merlin said.
Arthur caught movement behind Merlin and pulled his friend out of harm's way as lightning zapped where he once was.
"Arthur!" Merlin shoved his palm out, eyes flashed gold, sending a charging Southron with a sword hard onto his back.
Sharp cries of pain pierced the air.
Arthur and Merlin turned toward the throne.
Arthur's stomach dropped.
The cream pillars of the room took a life of their own, wrapping around Gwaine, Tristan, Isolde, and Percival's necks.
Fyn stood at the foot of the throne, eyes flared in gold. A dangerous smirk graced his features. He was a sorcerer?
Arthur growled. "Let them go."
The other sorcerers lined up behind Arthur and Merlin.
The few remaining Southrons stayed off to the sidelines.
Fyn cracked his neck. "I'm surprised. You're not of magic, Arthur. It's your lanky manservant."
Arthur didn't rise to the bait.
"Release them," he threatened once more.
"I must say, possessing this worthless body had its perks," Fyn said. "To be able to witness the downfall of Bruta in person."
Bruta? Arthur racked his brain. He was the first King of Camelot, and his ancestor. Hence, one of Uther's reasons for taking control of Camelot twenty years ago.
"Who are you?" Merlin asked in a near a whisper. It wasn't fear, Arthur realized. Something else.
Fyn smirked. "You have many enemies, Arthur. Fyn, especially, he planned all of this, all I had to do was wait in his measly little body for this moment to reveal myself."
"Cornelius Sigan," the voice sounded around Arthur.
The name, it sounded familiar, like from a childhood nightmare.
"I should've known the man constantly attached to your side was Horus," Fyn, or should Arthur call him Sigan now, said. His eyes flashed red as they glared at Merlin.
Merlin glowered back, not the least bit fazed. The corner of his right lip tugged. "Your plan won't succeed." He held up a hand and shouted an incantation.
The pillars turned to dust and the vagabond knights collapsed to the ground. They quickly bounded to their feet.
Sigan only chuckled. "Please, boy. I created Camelot. I can change night into day with the snap of my fingers." He snapped them and suddenly the room darkened, torches aligned on the wall burst into flames, and moonlight spilled in through the open windows above.
Arthur tried to push his growing fear underneath the surface. He will not let this man, whoever he was, to rattle him.
Merlin's lips tightened.
"You don't know my plan," Sigan said. "But it does involve you."
Arthur's hand gripped tighter around the hilt of his sword yet the profuse sweat made his grip weaken.
Sigan chuckled and made a quick gesture that Arthur missed.
Hot scorching pain sliced Arthur's back. The sword clattered from his hands and he dropped to his knees with a cry.
The others were hit as well.
Merlin screamed a chant and the building shook. Dust rained above them.
Sigan cackled and yelled out his own chant. The dust swiveled and wrapped around Merlin, around his ankles, knees, stomach, arms and elbows, and mouth.
"Merlin!" Arthur jumped to his feet. Magic flooded his skin, before he could think to get a pled out to the magic of Albion, lightning zapped through him once again.
He stiffened and dropped to the ground.
Arthur could only watch helplessly as Sigan strolled over to Merlin who struggled to get out of his binds. He groaned and raised out a hand as if that would stop Sigan.
Blue mist slipped out of Sigan's ears and mouth.
Fyn blinked dazedly before he fell onto his back, unconscious. The mist spun in the air before they were suddenly sucked into Merlin's body.
"Merlin!" Arthur groaned and pushed himself up. He caught Merlin as the man dropped toward the floor. "Merlin. Fight it, whatever he's doing..."
Merlin's eyes widened and a dark gold filled them. The dust of rope dropped to the ground and onto Arthur. "All his powers are now, mine."
Arthur grabbed his blade and pressed it against Merlin's neck. "Let him go!"
"I told you once, that tactic will not fool me."
Sigan jerked his head and Arthur went flying back across the room, slamming against the pillar and smacking against the hard floor.
"Merlin!" he heard Gwaine cry.
Sounds of scuffles and fights managed to get through the massive ringing in Arthur's ears. He coughed and blood clotted into his mouth.
He slowly lifted his head toward Merlin, his clumsy, loyal, lovable idiotic Merlin now twisted into a cruel, evil Sigan.
It's my destiny to protect you, Arthur.
And who will protect you, Merlin?
One by one, Sigan flung the others back. The sorcerers and Southrons joined together up by the throne, watching impassively.
Sigan walked slowly to Arthur, laughing all the while at him. "Ah, how the mighty have fallen. You and Horus may have stopped me years ago, but I found a way to be immortal, I sealed my soul, I may have had to wait years, but, oh, it was worth the wait."
Sigan snapped his fingers.
Every single fiber of Arthur's being flared in agonizing pain. In that moment, he forgot everything. It was like being whipped, stabbed, mutilated, burned, every injury all at once. He would cry if he was able.
The pain stopped, but it lingered and Arthur curled himself into a fetal position with a moan. "Merlin," he cried.
Sigan blinked and coughed.
"Arthur..." Merlin whispered. He dropped to his knees. "Get out of here, I can't...I can't..." He screamed and covered his ears.
The scream turned into a maniacal laugh. "Oh, he's powerful, much, much powerful than I thought. If only he gave into it." Sigan glowered at Arthur. "You held him back."
An old training lesson from his sword master, Caliburn, played out in his head: "When you're in the neck of battle, always think of nothing, for a scattered mind sees two targets when there are only one. That was what I trained to do. However, for me, and as you shall do as your duty as Prince, in the neck of battle, think of someone you love and you'll know no fear, for your sword will strike where it needs to be."
Arthur raised his unsteady head toward Merlin, his body taken over by Sigan. How could Arthur hope to beat him? He didn't have magic, well, he did, but it was an ant compared to a giant next to Sigan and Merlin's.
Sigan was still speaking, "...everything I stand for. Now, I will take the kingdom of Camelot and destroyed everything you've built and your future for peace." He scoffed at that.
That was all Arthur ever wanted. A place to settle down, where he could be at peace with himself, content, where he could create a land free of violence and bloodshed, a place where he could be with Merlin where they could banter, tease, and live without a care.
It hit Arthur what he must do.
"You're possessing the wrong person to do that," Arthur said.
"Am I?" Sigan asked in a condescending tone.
"I do have magic," Arthur said. "It's the magic of Albion. Look closely at my crown, the land crowned me herself, it's still intact, hasn't fell off. Merlin may be magic, but I'm the crowned ruler of Albion. Now that's a power you'll never have."
Take the bait, Arthur pleaded. Please, take the bait.
"If he does," the voice of Albion whispered around him like a breath of wind, "than I shall ensnare his soul and banish it...but it will not be easy."
Sigan snorted. "Do you take me for some short of fool?"
Please, Arthur begged, help me convince him.
He tapped into the warm tingling within him. Underneath Arthur's skin, a gold light flared, making it sparkle. Petals of flowers formed around Arthur's body.
Sigan stepped back, watching. "If I possess you, Merlin will stop me, I will not allow that." He lurched forward and gasped. Blood dripped from his nose. He wiped it.
"Merlin's stronger than me. You know that. And I know that."
"Stop trying to convince him. He won't bite. Use your powers," Albion demanded.
And suddenly Arthur knew. He was just as powerful as Merlin.
He held onto the magic within him and rose to his unsteady feet. The glow underneath his skin heightened. Arthur stared Sigan, hard.
"I demand you to possess me," Arthur ordered.
Sigan huffed, about to break out into a laugh when he coughed. His eyes widened. Blue mist slipped out of Merlin's ears and mouth, shooting for Arthur.
Merlin blinked and grabbed his chest, racking in coughs. "Ar...Arthur!"
The blue mist slammed into him.
For a moment, all Arthur could see was blue then it turned to a dark gold.
The room shifted and Arthur found himself standing in the center of a dark gold room, with two windows that revealed the sight of Merlin coughing.
Merlin straightened up. "Arthur?"
Sigan growled and it echoed throughout Arthur's head. "Your pathetic little king is a fool!"
Merlin held up his hands and his eyes flashed a soft gold.
That color gold spilled into the room, filling Arthur with warmth before he was wrapped back in the cold evil.
Sigan raised Arthur's hands and shot Merlin back away from him.
"Merlin!" Arthur shouted, yet it never sounded through his voice box. "I demand you to leave him alone."
Sigan froze in spot. Arthur's outward hand trembled.
Gwaine, Percival, Tristan and Isolde helped Merlin to his feet. They all pointed their weapons at Arthur, eyes uncertain in what they should do.
Arthur felt Sigan smirk.
"I demand you all, save Merlin, to drop over and die," Sigan said through Arthur's body.
Arthur's heart lurched as he watched his knights and Fyn's hired mercenaries collapse to the ground without a breath of life.
"No!" Arthur cried, dropping to his knees as he watched the horror through the two circular windows.
Merlin stared in shock at the fallen bodies before him. He glanced up at Arthur, like a prey afraid of a predator.
"And you little kingly brat, I demand you to shut your trap," Sigan ordered.
Arthur felt a tightness around his throat. He grasped it. No. No. No!
Merlin held out his hands.
Fireballs, lightning, rain, and wind all whipped around the throne room.
Albion! Stop this! Arthur thought out in a pled.
"Sigan...too strong, he's using our magic against us," the soft voice told him, apologetic.
Then I only have two request...
Arthur stared out at Merlin, tears welling.
Kill me. That's an order.
As for the other request...
Merlin's voice was hoarse, his energy draining as he chanted spell after spell to keep up with Sigan.
He couldn't believe that dollophead ordered Sigan to do that! Why would Arthur allow such a powerful sorcerer to possess his body? What was he thinking?
He had to get Sigan out of Arthur. He didn't have time to think of a concise plan when all he could concentrate on was matching Sigan's spell for spell.
Sigan, in Arthur's body, suddenly went rigid. The light that sparkled over Arthur's skin vanished. His eyes twitched and he dropped onto his back, unmoving.
"Arthur!" Merlin charged for him.
He cradled the prince...no, the king's head onto his knees. Blue mist escaped from Arthur's pores and zapped into a clear crystal by Fyn's unconscious body.
Gold light shimmered over the fallen knights.
Mutters and groans echoed in the room as Gwaine, Percival, Tristan and Isolde rose into a sitting position, confused.
Merlin glanced down at Arthur's eyes, gazing straight at Merlin, lifeless and unmoving.
"No..." Merlin rested his forehead against Arthur with a choked sob. "No...I can't lose you."
Not like this. Not after all they've been through. They never got to accomplish their destiny. They never got to have...
"Arthur..." he sobbed. "You self-sacrificing idiot...why..."
There was a groan from the throne doors as they opened, yet Merlin kept his eyes closed, his forehead on Arthur's.
"Camelot is ours!" Kay cried.
"The Southrons ran like the cowards they are," Morgana said.
The cheers and excitement died as Merlin sniffled.
"Arthur!" Leon exclaimed.
Footsteps stormed toward Merlin and Arthur.
Merlin didn't let go and he didn't look up. Arthur wasn't dead. There must be a spell or something...Merlin had all the magic in the world.
Ah-ha! He had the power of life and death. He tapped into it, asking the Gods to take his life for Arthur.
He was still alive.
And Arthur was still dead.
This wasn't supposed to happen. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
"Arthur..." Tears slipped from Merlin and dripped onto Arthur. "Please...You can't be...You can't leave me..."
A hand touched his upper shoulder. "Merlin..."
It was Gaius.
"Let me see him," the old physician said, his voice soft and understanding.
"I was supposed to protect him..." Merlin cried. "He wasn't supposed to give his life for me... his life is worth a hundred of mine!"
"Merlin..." Gaius said and nothing more. What more could
there be said?
Everything Merlin lived for was gone.
A nicker sounded across the room and a horse galloped toward them.
This time, Merlin opened his eyes and glanced up in confusion.
A beautiful white unicorn came strolling through.
A couple of the knights tried to subdue it.
"No!" Merlin released the spell on the unicorn to reveal Eirian's true nature to the others.
The knights, of the round table and of Camelot stepped back with various expressions of surprise.
The unicorn stomped its hooves and lowered itself to the ground before Merlin and Arthur.
"Take my horn, Emrys," the unicorn's voice boomed in Merlin's head.
"What?" Merlin blinked, his world spinning around him. He clutched onto Arthur tighter.
Eirian nuzzled his snout at Arthur's shoulder. "Use my horn. As I am pure of heart, so is Arthur. As he brought me back, so shall I. We are forever connected."
Merlin stared at Eirian, unsure if he understood the unicorn correctly.
"He died to save you, he died with a pure heart. Quickly." This time, Eirian pressed his snout against Merlin's left shoulder.
Merlin raised a shaking hand and gripped the unicorn's horn. It came off with ease.
"Stab it into his heart," Eirian said.
What? No. He could never stab Arthur. What if Merlin killed him for good?
"Trust in me," Eirian said.
What more did Merlin have to lose? He already lost everything.
He swallowed the lump in his throat and thrust the tip of the unicorn's horn into Arthur's heart.
White light blinded him and the horn in Merlin's hand melted into a warm glow.
In a blink, Merlin and Arthur were alone in a pure white endless room.
Arthur heaved in a long breath and his chest rattled.
Merlin blinked and gapped. "Arthur...you're..."
Arthur groaned and moved his head on Merlin's lap to lock his gaze onto Merlin's. A soft smile graced his features.
"If this is the afterlife, it's not so bad," Arthur said.
"You prat, why did you do that? Why would you sacrifice your life like that?" Merlin's body shook with relief. "I almost..."
Arthur weakly raised a hand and caressed Merlin's cheek. "You're the idiot...it's my destiny to protect you."
Hot tears spilled once more from Merlin's eyes.
Arthur blinked, his eyes rolled back and his hand dropped as he fell into unconsciousness.
Merlin rested his forehead against Arthur's chest, thanking whatever gods for Eirian, for their second chance.
It wasn't long before the darkness took him too.
Arthur woke to the sight of the waves crashing against the shores. He groaned as he sat up a bit taller against the hard rock he was propped against. He was at the same ocean where he thought he'd drank poison to save Merlin's life, only for it to turn out to be a sleeping draught.
What was he doing here? The last he remembered was Sigan...
He jolted awake. Where was Merlin? The others? Were they okay?
He felt a heaviness on his lap and glanced down to see Eirian's head resting upon it. The unicorn slept peacefully. Arthur narrowed his gaze. The horn was missing.
"You are not really here, just your spirit," Anhora announced from behind Arthur.
Arthur didn't bother straining his neck to get a view of the Keeper of Unicorn. He kept his eyes on the blue of the ocean.
"I'm officially dead, aren't I?" Arthur said.
He had a vague memory of Merlin, the sight of him hovering over his body with tears and relief. Was that a dream?
"You died, yes. But Eirian brought you back to life."
Arthur glanced down and rubbed the part of the unicorn's head where the horn used to be. "Let me guess. His life was the cost."
How many lives had to be sacrificed to ensure Arthur's life? He was tired of it.
"There was no cost. He returned the favor you bestowed upon him. Your pure heart brought Eirian back to life, thus his pure heart brought yours. The balance is complete."
Arthur ran his fingers through Eirian's mane.
"Merlin?" Arthur asked, scared of the answer.
"He's alive, resting by your bedside."
Good. Now Arthur can get this out of his system.
He turned his head.
Anhora stood in his field of vision, gaze out on the ocean as he leaned against his staff.
"You knew of my powers...the powers of a king," Arthur spat out. "I literally demand people of things and they have to obey me no matter what."
He discovered his true magic during his execution and escape, when the others struggled to disobey him. He just had no idea it was that strong. When Sigan was in him, using his powers. Gods, just one demand from his lips and his friends collapsed to the ground, dead. He didn't want that power.
"When they are orders from the heart, they have no choice but to obey."
"Heart?" Arthur shook his head. "No. My heart wouldn't want my friends dead."
"I didn't say it was from yours. Sigan possessed your body. Your hearts clashed. You eventually won. Your heart of love beat Sigan's heart of evil."
"I don't want these powers..."
Anhora finally turned to Arthur, his features sad. "That is why the land of Albion chose you."
"You don't seek to rule," the soft voice of Albion whispered. "You seek peace."
Arthur sighed. The burden grew heavy, making him feel like he was being suffocated. "Peace...it's not going to be that easy to achieve."
"No," Anhora said. "No, it will not be. It will be easier to carry with Merlin on your side."
"I can't allow Merlin to carry the weight of my burdens. I've already put him through so much."
Anhora chuckled. "You are but two sides of the same coin. It is Merlin's destiny to protect you. However, like you recently discovered for yourself, it is your destiny to protect him. As long as you two strive to hold that balance, your true destiny will take off. Merlin will bring peace to the land with magic. You will bring peace to the land with your heart.
Now that is a sight I've been waiting to see. You already know the truth. You and Merlin are equals."
Arthur smiled at that, yet his heart twisted. Merlin deserved to have peace. He wouldn't achieve that around Arthur, would he?
Anhora exhaled deeply. "Young Pendragon, I've told you once before that there always must be a balance for everything in this world. You and Merlin have found your balance. Don't let your fear tip that over. Merlin is stronger than you give him credit for."
"I know. I know he's strong. That's what I'm afraid of. What if it becomes too much?"
"You're learning to listen. Don't stop. You'll hear it when Merlin needs you, you'll hear it when he's overworking himself, and you'll hear it when he loves you in return."
Arthur swallowed. Merlin didn't view Arthur that way. Did he?
Anhora stared at Arthur for the longest time. He seemed to be debating something. Finally, he took a seat on the sand next to Arthur and stroked Eirian's back. "Your mother, Ygraine..."
"She was nearly six months pregnant with you when she learned what the price of your life would be. She was barren, and Uther was desperate for an heir. Uther turned to a family friend, Nimueh, in secret for help. But your mother was not a woman easily fooled. She knew what they'd done. Your father wasn't expecting her life to be the price, but he knew a life was demanded in return for yours."
Arthur's heart squeezed and he hugged himself, trying to keep the tears at bay.
"She was angry at your father, but she never once regretted your life."
Arthur chuckled mirthlessly. "My birth resulted in the bloodshed of so many."
Anhora smacked the upside of Arthur's head.
Arthur grabbed it and stared at him, appalled.
"Your birth was years ago. What will your life result in? Hmmm? The peace of many."
Arthur hid a smile. Merlin was right. Arthur couldn't change the past, he couldn't change the outcome of what happened with his mother, with Uther's hatred against magic.
He could change the future. Isn't that what was more important?
The second he woke up back in Camelot, the throne was his. That is, if his father backed down easily.
Yet Anhora was right.
With Merlin on his side, he was capable of anything.
The age of Uther brought victory to Camelot, brought fear and bloodshed to magic users, and it brought up Arthur.
What will the age of Arthur bring?
Only time would tell.