Chapter 34 Bitter Sweet Endings
Arthur stood on the top of the steps in Camelot's courtyard; facing the city's citizens and its knights. Surrounding a large wooden prier. However, they were not the only ones there for Merlin's funeral. Druids had shown up as well. Iseldir said the death of Emrys was known to all those who possess magic.
In his arms, he held one of Merlin's cloaks. A dark blue, folded neatly. Arthur spotted Gwenevere as she stood past the line of knights in red. Gwen was wearing a black silk dress, along will the others who wore the color of mourning. Arthur felt heavy as he carried the cloak up to the prier. Being reminded of Lancelot's funeral. Feeling guilty that he wasn't the one who picked out the cloak himself. Arthur had a servant choose it because he didn't wasn't ready to go through Merlin's belongings as if he wasn't there. Raising the cloak onto the wood, Leon handed him a flaming torch. Arthur said no words. Not trusting himself to speak. He quietly lit the prier.
Arthur made sure the fire had a good start, before handing the torch back to Leon. When the unpleasant task was done, Arthur went to sand next to his wife. Glancing at Gwen, he saw she was crying. Silent tears streaking both of her cheeks. Arthur knew she had many losses. First her mother when she was a child. Next came her father, then Lancelot, and then her brother. Not only that, but she also suffered the loss of his own death. Now it was her best friend.
Arthur could tell she was thinking this. Wrapping an arm around her, he tried to offer as much comfort as he could.
The fire burned low. Embers sparked off the crumbling wood as the courtyard was slowly becoming empty. Those left remaining were Arthur, Gwen, Leon, Percival, and Gwaine. The first of them to leave was Gwaine. He needed to drink. To him, that was the only way to fight the guilt. Guilt of being useless the time when Merlin needed him the most. Gwaine knew Merlin didn't blame him. He only blamed himself.
Entering the tavern, Gwaine sat at the bar. Usually he was cheery to the other customers, engaged in conversation. Today would be different. Gwaine drank, and he drank hard. He didn't even notice Leon and Percival enter the tavern until they sat down next to him.
"Gwaine," Leon began. "I know what you're feeling right now; but drinking is not going to solve anything."
Gwaine slammed his pint down hard. The ale sloped over side of the cup. "No you don't Leon." He said angrily, slightly drunk. "Don't think. For one minute. You know what I'm feeling Leon." Gwaine said this slowly, as if to make sure he got his point across. "Neither of you were there when we got captured. I had to watch helplessly as Merlin got dragged out of the cell we shared while Darwin explained his plan to me. I should have done something more. If I had, maybe Merlin would be alive today."
Leon and Percival waited for Gwaine to finish. Letting him get his anger out. "Merlin was my friend too Gwaine. I wish I knew him better the way you did, but I know he doesn't blame you." Leon said to him.
"I know that Leon!" Gwaine almost shouted. "Merlin never blamed anyone. Not even bloody Uther! Did you know Merlin felt sorry for Uther? Sorry! Merlin of all people should have hated Uther." Gwaine quieted back down again after his tyrant "He could here them in his mind Leon. Those that were burning under Uther's law. He heard them suffering. If that didn't make you hate someone… Then I don't know what would."
Leon remained silent as Gwaine drowned the rest of his drink. He was astounded at this new information. No. He hadn't known that about Merlin. He wish had. The man was in a whole new light to him now. The limit of Merlin's grace was unfathomable.
Gwaine's drive to drink suddenly seemed like a good idea.
Arthur still had a hard time accepting Merlin's death. Everywhere he went, he kept expecting to bump into his clumsy friend just around the corner. Arthur hadn't been himself. Without Merlin's guidance or support, he became stressed. Gwen had changed as well. She still attended to her duties as queen of course, but she was quiet. Merlin was her best friend, he helped her the most through Arthur's death. It broke her heart she had to go through another one.
The best way Arthur found to relieve his bent up stress was by knight's training. Or when he went one on one with a training dummy. That's where Arthur found himself now, plummeting Excalibur mercilessly into the straw. That's when Leon came up to him. Arthur stopped his practice, turning to him.
"May I speak to you Arthur?"
Arthur noticed Leon using his name instead of Sire. Which meant it was a personal business. "Yes Leon, what is it?"
Arthur sighed. "What has he done this time?"
"Nothing. At least, nothing yet."
Arthur raised an eyebrow.
"I'm worried about him Arthur. He hasn't been himself lately."
"Can you blame him?"
Leon shook his head. "No. It's just, he's been at the tavern almost full time now. He's been getting into fights as well. Percival and I have had to drag him out on multiple occasions." Leon paused. "He's been thinking about leaving."
"I know. It surprised me too. He says Camelot reminds him too much of Merlin. As you know, Merlin was Gwaine's first friend here."
"I was thinking maybe you'd talk to him. Let him know he's appreciated and needed as a knight of Camelot."
Arthur wasn't sure that was the best way to go. He was never very good at comforting people, usually staying away from mushy emotions like that. Except with Gwenevere of course. She was the exception.
"I'll try," Arthur said surprising himself.
"Thank you Arthur."
Arthur put off the conversation for as long as he could that day. Trying to figure out what he was going to say. Feeling better to plan it out instead of just winging it.
When Arthur was finished with his kingly duties. He decided he couldn't wait any longer. Knowing the situation would keep him up during the night. Arthur didn't want another thing gnawing at him that would deprive him of sleep. Running what he had planned over in his head once more, Arthur found himself at Gwaine's door. Before he could hesitate or think about turning back, Arthur knocked.
Taking a deep breath, Arthur pushed open the door. The knight in question sat at a wooden table over a pitcher, holding a cup in his hand. "Well princess, fancy you coming here. Let me guess, Leon sent you to talk to me. Am I right?"
Arthur sat down the opposite of Gwaine. Glad to see he was drinking water instead of wine. "Yes, he did."
"He told you?"
"I can't help it Arthur." Gwaine began before Arthur said anything more. "Everywhere I look, I expect him to be right there. As if nothing had happened. He'll show up with a goofy smile on his face, and everything will go back to normal."
"I feel the same."
Gwaine looked at him almost relieved. Like he wasn't the only one.
"Yes. I keep expecting to run into him just around the corner."
Gwaine let out a small chuckle, reaching his eyes. Then his face grew sad again.
"It's not the same without him. When we've lost men during a battle and come bake to Camelot, we mourn them, and then we continue on with our own lives. With Merlin, it's different."
"It's harder for us because we knew him personally." Arthur hadn't planned that, but felt it was a good thing to say.
Gwaine nodded in agreement.
"If you did leave, where would you go?"
Gwaine shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I'll probably become a nameless wanderer."
"What can I say to get you to stay?"
Gwaine shrugged his shoulders again. "I didn't know you liked me that much" Gwaine said half heartily joking.
This time Arthur gave a chuckle.
"I know I'm not the best with emotions Gwaine, but you, Leon and Percival are the closest thing to family Gwen and I have. Now with Merlin…" Arthur stopped himself. He still couldn't say the dead. "Gone," he chose instead. The two men stayed silent for a while. Then Arthur spoke again.
"What if I said you're going to be an Uncle?"
Gwaine gaped at him. "You mean. Gwen, is she?"
Arthur smiled at him. She told me last night.
Gwaine laughed, it felt good.
"Congratulations! Have you told anyone yet?"
Arthur shook his head. "So far, only you and Gaius knows. We're going to announce it to the court tomorrow."
"Well I feel honored." Gwaine said meaning it.
Arthur laughed. "So you'll stay?"
Gwaine smiled. "I guess I have to now. Who else is going to teach the young prince or princess the art of pranking?"
Arthur shook his head, slightly worried. Still, he was smiling.
When the baby was announced, Camelot rejoiced, a celebration was held. Gwen had a feast prepared for the people so they could join in the festivities instead of just the nobles. For the first time since coming back to Camelot, Arthur felt lively again. He only wished Merlin could be here to share the moment with them.
The months of Gwen's pregnancy passed quickly for Arthur. A nursery had already been set up close to their own room. Merlin's old room was suggested, but Arthur didn't want that room to be changed. Arthur saw a difference in Gwen too. She became happy again. Helping prepare for the baby's arrival by picking out clothes and busying herself with making some of her own.
All too soon came when Gaius said the baby was due any day now. Arthur became agitated. Wondering if he was ready to become a father yet. He didn't exactly have the best role model to fall back on; but Arthur was determined. He was determined to love his child and let them know they were loved. Instead of them having to try and get it from him. No, he would be different in raising the child as he was raised. Allow them to form their own opinions and beliefs when they grew older. Let them have a childhood instead of being trained in the duties of royalty. Arthur would give them what he could, and he wasn't alone. That much he knew.
A few days later, Arthur stood outside the doors of the chambers he and Gwen shared. With him were Leon, Percival, and Gwaine. Gwenevere was on the other side of the door. In the process of giving birth. Gaius was with her now as were a few other servants assisting with the pregnancy. Arthur paced nervously. Rubbing his hands subconsciously. Leon, Percival, and Gwaine unlike Arthur, waited patiently, Leaning against the wall. Gwenevere suddenly started crying out in pain. Arthur stopped in his tracks, fear in his eyes. Leon saw this. "Everything will be alright Arthur. It is just the pain of child bearing. Gwen is strong, she will get through this."
Gwen's pained cry continued for a few more minutes. Then came a different cry. A child's cry. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief. The crying drifted off, then became silent. They didn't have to wait long for Gaius to let them into the room. Arthur wasted no time, heading straight over to his wife who lay exhausted in the bed. Exhausted, but happy. She smile at Arthur as he stood next to the bed. Arthur saw a wad of black hair poking out of a white blanket in her arms. "It's a boy." Gwenevere said. "A healthy, baby boy."
Gaius excused the servants who helped him. Thanking them as they left. Now they were the only ones left in the room.
"Do you have a name for him yet?" Leon asked.
Gwen looked at Arthur and smiled at him. "Yes, Arthur picked it out. He wanted the name if the baby would be a boy."
"What did you decide?" This time Gwaine asked the question.
"Merlin" Arthur answered.
Surprise appeared on all of their faces.
"You wanted to name the child Merlin?" Gaius said with tears in his eyes. Whether they were tears of sadness or tears of joy, Arthur didn't know.
"Yes. I did."
A smile appeared on his aged face.
"Would you like to hold him?" Gwen asked Arthur.
Arthur beamed as Gwenevere passed his son over to him. His eyes were closed. Sleeping. The child was small. It fit comfortably on Arthur's forearm. Wrapped in a soft blanket, little Merlin tucked closer into Arthur. As if he knew who his father was. Arthur continued to smile, watching Merlin sleep. Being careful of his movements.
Looking up from the sleeping babe, he found Leon, Gwaine, Percival and Gwen, all looking at him happily. When he found Gaius who was on the opposite side of the bed, he had a different look on his face. His forehead wrinkled, it looked like he was concentrating on something; staring at Merlin. "What is it Gaius?"
Gaius looked up, "Nothing my Lord."
"Is there something wrong with my son?" Arthur asked concern.
"No, no, there is nothing wrong with him."
"What is it then? You are welcome to speak freely" Arthur granted.
"It's just, your son reminds me a lot of Merlin."
"He has his name" Arthur said confused.
"No, that's not what I mean." Gaius paused, before continuing. "When Hunith was in labor, I went to Ealdor to assist with the birth. I saw Merlin when he was a babe; and if memory serves me well… your child, looks like the spitting image of him."
"What are you saying Gaius?" Gwen asked, exhaustion leaving her as curiosity took over.
"Do you remember the last line of the prophecy? It said 'Albion's Coin will once again be awoken.' And, I think this is its answer."
Percival's eyes grew wide in realization. "It also said, 'a gift to the barren queen will be given'."
"So, you're saying," Arthur began trying to wrap his head around the theory. "That Merlin, somehow. Came back... as my son?"
"That is what I'm suggesting, yes."
Arthur was dumbfounded. He didn't know whether to reject the idea or accept it. Of course he wanted Merlin back, he just would not have thought in a million years this was what fate was planning.
At that moment, the infant prince opened his eyes. Arthur stared in shock. They were Cobalt blue. They were Merlin's eyes.
The others saw this as well. Arthur asked the first question that came to mind. "Does he have magic Gaius?"
Gaius went over to the pair. Placing his old worn hands on Merlin forehead, Gaius closed his eyes. Arthur waited, anxious for the answer to his question. Gaius opened them again and removed his hand, dropping it to his side. "I cannot sense it. No."
"Will he grow into it?" Arthur asked unsure.
"It is hard to tell. I believe the curse that caused the magic to flee his body, possibly is still purifying itself somewhere. If it will return to him, that I do not know."
"Can I hold him next?" Gwaine looked at Arthur expectantly.
Arthur glanced over to Gaius, silently asking if it was okay. He nodded in approval.
Gwaine almost giddily took Merlin after Arthur handed him over.
Taking turns, Merlin went back to sleep by the time Arthur handed him back to Gwen. She too, soon fell asleep.
Arthur told them quietly to leave, letting Gwen get some well deserved rest. When they were alone, Arthur gently took Merlin from her. Placing him in the crib that was near the fireplace, Arthur covered him over with a blanket to keep him warm.
Remembering what Iseldir said about the two of them being linked, Arthur placed his hand on top Merlin's tiny forehead. Doing the same that Gaius did earlier. Closing his eyes, Arthur searched for any whisper of Merlin's magic. There was nothing. He still couldn't believe Merlin was now his son. His Merlin, but without magic. Merlin without magic seemed strange to him now. Magic was a part of him. At least, before it was.
All Arthur knew, was that this time, Merlin would not grow up living in fear because of a law. This time, he would be prince of Camelot.
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