The Bargain

Chapter 20

Eira awoke, hearing voices in the hallway outside of the chambers. The feeling of Gwaine's warm hands on her bare skin flooded her mind and she found herself smiling. They were engaged. She realized that she was still wrapped in Gwaine's arms, their limbs entangled, and he, of course, was still sleeping. Eira got out of bed, feeling a laziness take over her, and pulled on a large shirt of Gwaine's that was thrown on a chair. Pillows, blankets and even the curtains of the bed were spread out on the floor in a mess. Half empty jugs of ale were on the table from last night. She walked over to the door and unlocked it quietly, feeling a headache push into her head. She sighed, rubbing her forehead. How much had she had to drink last night? She peeked out from the door and saw servants bustling about, running with plates and trays of food. For the meal everyone had midday.

She realized that it was already one hour past noon when she closed the door and looked at the large clock on the tower outside the window. Someone knocked on the door and Eira opened it again, seeing a maid appear, who asked if she could come to clean their chambers.

Eira told her to return in ten minutes; Gwaine would be embarrassed if someone came to clean when he wasn't up, and besides, he was barely wearing anything. Just then, Percival appeared at the door a second after the maid left. He looked at her, confused as to why she was wearing Gwaine's shirt, but then met her exhausted look and grinned.

"Looks like you two had a good night. You missed Leon and Juliana's kiss at the tavern, Sir Blake finally pushed those two shy lovers together! Anyways, I came to tell Gwaine that we're on evening patrol," he said, looking into their room to see if Gwaine was there. Eira nudged him back with the door, not wanting him to see the mess.

"I will tell him, thank you Percival," she replied with a smile, and then shut the door with haste. She climbed back into the warm bed, crawling on top of Gwaine and gently kissing her way down his chest to wake him. She heard him sigh, taking her back to their night for a second, and then his eyes slowly opened. Those brown eyes that meant everything.

"It's past noon already, and Percival just informed me of two things. Leon and Juliana kissed, and, you're on evening patrol," she said with amusement, kissing his neck. He closed his eyes, sighing, and put his hands on her waist.

"Maybe we should get dressed," she said, motioning to his shirt that she was wearing.

"Nah," he said flirtatiously, grinning as she leaned back down to kiss him.

Ten minutes later, Eira and Gwaine still hadn't risen from bed, until the maid knocked and they instantly flew three meters apart, Gwaine pulling on his trousers with panic.

"Five minutes more, please!" Gwaine called and laughed, pulling Eira close to him again.

She smiled, kissed him, and then nudged him away. "I'm going to take a bath," she said. Gwaine picked up some things from the floor, his face twisted in confusion. How had his chambers gotten so untidy all of a sudden? His mind then drifted to their night together, and then to the events at the tavern. Through his still sleepy consciousness, he could sense a negative reminder in the back of his mind. There. It hit him that Eira didn't know what Sir Blake had said. He felt guilty. He had to tell her.

"Eira...I need to tell you something. Yesterday at the tavern, Sir Blake thanked you for helping him talk to Rachelle...but when he did, he mentioned you being a traitor. In the past I mean," he said and swallowed, shifting uncomfortably as he had done the night before. Eira looked up and her enthusiastic, bright look was lowered, and her smile faded. "Exactly what were his words?" she asked him uncertainly.

Gwaine thought about it, "I wasn't drunk yet, luckily, so I remember. He said something about you turning out to be such good company, 'the traitor you were'," Gwaine replied.

Eira pressed her lips together.

"Is that what I'm seen as? My past won't be forgiven?" she asked, sadness coating her voice.

"Why the hell should your past have to be forgiven? You weren't even aware of what you were doing!" Gwaine replied, wanting her to see her own worth.

"They don't all know that!" she shot back, looking ashamed.

"Of course they do! They wouldn't accept me being engaged to some traitor girl otherwise!" he said, a bit too directed at her. He focused on her intensely, realizing that what he had said hadn't been in past tense.

"Some traitor girl?" she asked, giving him a sad, almost disappointed look.

She dropped the garments that she was holding, turning away from him and sitting down at the dressing table, looking into the mirror.

"I'm sorry, that's not what I meant," he apologized, watching her look at herself in the mirror, not moving. "Eira," he said slowly, walking behind her and looking at their reflections.

"Look at what you've gotten through. None of us would be here without you," he told her, trying to comfort her.

"Exactly! You wouldn't have been in this mess without me," she replied, turning his words.

"Does this look like a mess to you?" he said, motioning to the room. More heaps of clothing were visible.

"Yes, it actually does," Eira replied, slightly amused, referring to the actual mess and untidiness of the room.

"That's not what I meant," he managed to say but saw that she was still thinking about her past.

"I should've left Morgana when I had the chance to," she replied, choking on every word.

"It wasn't your fault. Eira, you need to understand that I do not regret a single moment," he said, tilting her head gently to get her to look at him.

"For God's sake, Blake is a blundering idiot. We're engaged! Don't overthink," he continued, smiling at her. She nodded slightly, wrapping her arms around his neck. She had at first felt so fragile in his arms, but now he knew how strong she had become since they had first met, both physically and mentally.

She was a better fighter in a way that he couldn't be.

"Shit, Gaius will kill me for what I did yesterday," Gwaine suddenly mumbled with wide eyes, remembering his little stunt in the marketplace.

"Tell him you feel better! Come on, let's go right now! My bath can wait," she said, all of a sudden excited as she pulled him with her towards the door. When she was halfway into the hallway, Gwaine remembered that she was wearing his shirt with absolutely nothing underneath. He pulled her back through, shutting the door and breathing out.

"Eira, you're not even dressed!" he said, laughing. She looked at him like she hadn't an idea of what he was talking about, but then looked down and burst into laughter, putting a hand to her forehead.

Gwaine and Eira walked to Gaius' chambers, entering carefully.

"Are you angry with me?" was the first thing Gwaine asked, like he was a small boy about to be scolded, and Gaius looked up from where he was sitting and reading a book.

Gaius gave him a disapproving look, "Well jumping from a tall building wasn't the most clever thing to do since you have an injured shoulder," the physician replied.

"Sorry, but some things really couldn't wait," Gwaine replied, giving Gaius a cheeky smile. The physician chuckled to himself, and warmly congratulated them before he looked at Gwaine's wound. Merlin walked out from his chamber, smiling when he saw them.

"Again, thank you so much Eira, Arthur is forever grateful for everything you did for him and the kingdom," Merlin said, smiling with a bit of sadness.

It was Arthur's third day.

"Would you like me to come with you to the lake when it's time?" Eira asked him.

"I think Arthur would prefer to see as little people as possible. Even Gwen doesn't want to go; she told us that she wants to see her husband alive and smiling as a last memory of him. Then it's twelve years," Merlin replied, trying to hide his sorrow, but Eira saw it in every movement he made. And in his eyes.

"Arthur's future child is in our hands," he added so only she could hear him, and she nodded, giving him an understanding gaze.

"But Gaius, how exactly will the aging part impact us?" Eira asked a bit uncertainly, turning to the physician for guidance. Gaius gave Merlin a look, and it was obvious that they knew something more.

"I do not know much about the prophecy, but there are certain things I can confirm. At midnight today, the aging spell will commence. Your appearance will be somewhat frozen, and your age will too. There is a reason that only certain people have this fate, but I do not know it. It will be revealed in the future. When, I cannot say either. But there is a reason you will need your age. To our surprise, Merlin has had some foreshadowing in his dreams which tells us that this freeze isn't going to be entirely smooth. The years you gain will leave traces. I'm afraid I cannot tell you more," Gaius replied.

His words only created even more questions in Eira's mind. She looked at Gwaine, and he nodded although there was still concern on his face.

"The prophecy said something about two returns. Arthur will not only return in twelve years; there will be another moment for his rising, far on in the future," Merlin added, looking confused and thoughtful himself. They nodded.

"But you two must keep this to yourselves. No one outside those involved can know," Gaius warned them. Eira and Gwaine both nodded again.

"The public farewell for Arthur is at seven o'clock. He needs support," Merlin said, and smiled briefly at them before they left the chambers.

They met Areisius in the hallway, who seemed to have a smile on his face very often, and he told them that he had finally done some reading in the library and searched through the archives. He also explained some of what he had discovered about his messenger-like magic to them. Eira felt pleased that he had done what he wanted to do since they had been in Caerleon, and she thought it was right that he had access to the certain things that would help him control his magic, unlike so many people in the kingdom.

Gwaine and Eira then had some food in their chambers, both of them thinking about what they had been told by Gaius and Merlin about their future.

"You'll be twenty-two for twelve years," Gwaine said to her, and she nodded, still not believing it.

"And you twenty-three. But why would we possibly need our ages? And what's this bad omen Merlin's gotten? I still can't believe it. I don't think I want to watch people around us age when we're immune to time," Eira said.

"Well apparently some unpredictable force is leading us into it. I'm just grateful for twelve extra years to have fun," Gwaine said, grinning at her. She smiled at him.

"We have to support Gwen, and protect her child. How much exactly do you know about caring for children, Gwaine?" Eira asked with amusement and Gwaine raised his eyebrows.

"Um...not a lot?" he replied and she laughed at his slightly scared expression.

As they finished eating, there was a knock on the door. Guinevere entered, smiling, and they got up to greet her.

"I just wanted to thank you both again for what you did for the kingdom. Eira, you demonstrated exceptional courage and skill. It seems mad, everything that's happened. So your deal of the original bargain has been upheld; you brought Arthur back. I expect you want to see change and results concerning the ban of magic here in the kingdom, and I am pleased to say that Arthur had already begun to think of altering and reviewing some of the laws on his own before he knew of this agreement. It is difficult work but I promise you, I will continue it," she explained, and Eira felt overjoyed. In a few years, magic could, possibly, become normal to see in the kingdom.

"I understand that your friend, Jetta, is very interested in reinforcing the voice of the citizens of Camelot who don't always have a say in various matters, so she has accepted the offer of receiving a kind of training so she can become a representative of the citizens, perhaps even in the council or the court. I would like to ask you, Eira, if there is anything special you wish for," the Queen finished, and Eira was surprised that her friend had received such great privileges. Then again, Jetta really matched the job she had been given.

Eira had never thought about having some kind of profession or work, and she didn't yet know if she wanted it to be linked with her magic. She thought for a while, and then replied that she would come to see the Queen once she had thought things through. The Queen thanked them again, and then left.

A few minutes before seven o'clock, hundreds of citizens had gathered by the gates of the castle to bid their king farewell. Every person able to was present, and a lot of people were crying, but they tried to keep their tears to themselves so that their Queen could get through it. Some elderly people knew that this was the last time they would see their King, so they joined the many people giving personal goodbyes, face to face with Arthur.

Gwaine was wearing his full armor and red cape, standing proudly among the knights. Eira stood by Jetta, Juliana, Areisius and Matilda, watching as the knights performed a special tribute ceremony, an accolade for the king. Guinevere stood on a raised platform by the gates, looking stable and ready to face her kingdom alone, although Eira wasn't sure it was like that in the Queen's mind. Everyone bent their heads down as the king passed, riding on his horse towards the gates. Merlin followed him on another horse, and it was clear that only the two of them would ride out. Arthur dismounted once he reached the platform. He spoke, but Eira didn't really pay attention to everything he was saying, instead she was watching the Queen stand by his side. She knew that Guinevere was battling her tears. Arthur and Guinevere embraced, and the people bowed their heads again in respect and started singing the song Camelot had sung together for years, the one that was special to only them. The King and Queen leaned in for one last kiss and by then Guinevere was unable to hinder her tears. Arthur stroked her cheek and his hand slowly left hers as he mounted his horse. The gates opened, but his eyes remained on his Queen's.

"I am yours, and only yours, Guinevere. Forever. I will return," was what he said as he turned back to face his magnificent castle one last time, his voice standing out against the unified singing. Eira saw the King whisper 'I love you' to his wife, and Gwen pressed her lips together, wanting to look strong in front of the people. "Long live the king!" Leon shouted with strong and loud support from his knights, and soon the united chant of Camelot echoed against the walls, filling the air. Arthur urged his horse to a gallop and rode through the gates swiftly, Merlin following.

Merlin rode through the gates, his horse's head held low, and his too. There were barely any people left on the streets, just a few friends greeting him with shallow nods. There wasn't a single person in Camelot that didn't know how close he and Arthur were. Had been.

Eira kept watching Merlin from the window of the Queen's personal chambers. Guinevere was on her bed, sleeping after the tears of grief that had flooded her eyes just an hour ago. Eira had been with her since the moment Arthur and Merlin had rode out. Guinevere hadn't stopped crying. How could she have? She had suddenly cried out in pain, telling Eira that she could feel that the world was suddenly different, knowing that Arthur's rest had commenced.

Eira was still trying to grasp the reality of Arthur leaving. Merlin opened the door, entering with Gwaine, so Eira woke Gwen gently, the way she would a child.

Eira could see that Merlin had been crying as he quietly walked into the room, shutting the wooden door behind him carefully and barely looking up from the cold floor. He slumped down in an armchair, placing his hand on his head. Gwen stirred from her sleep, sitting up and wrapping a large blanket around her, curled up. It was all very odd somehow.

Eira sat down next to the Queen on her bed, turning towards Merlin as Gwaine did the same from the windowsill.

''So?'' Gwaine carefully delved into the silence.

''So nothing. He's gone,'' Merlin replied stiffly, shifting in his chair as if it was made of sharp straw. His expression flat and motionless, Merlin trailed his gaze along the floor.

Merlin was grateful when Eira and Gwaine left. Although he wanted them to be a part of when he told Gwen about Arthur's last moments, their presence felt odd to him. No matter how much he wanted them to be there, and no matter how close they had been to the King, this conversation was one that had to be between him and Gwen.

The Queen watched Merlin from her bed, digging her fingers into the blanket. Images flashed past him of when he had first met her, him in the stocks. They had been alone. Now they were alone.

''Everything was how it was supposed to be, Gwen. The water welcomed him, he truly was supposed to be there right then. There was this magical meeting of all beautiful forces of the lake, playing right in front of Arthur's eyes,'' he started, fumbling for words as he saw her eyes tear up again.

''But...why did it have to be...why now?'' she broke, releasing her empty fury into the pillow as she sank down, exhaling as she trembled. She mirrored exactly what he was feeling on the inside. His hand reached up to his eyes and he felt wet tears blur his vision.

''Because, Guinevere...because everything happens for...for a reason...he, he loves you Gwen. If he didn't leave now, then that moment when you see him after these years will be worthless. In that moment when your hand touches his and his eyes breathe promise and fulfilment, you will think back to this and will know that it was worth waiting. It was worth waiting for your King,'' Merlin stuttered, hoping that Gwen could see the truth in his words. He rose from the chair soundlessly, approaching her as she stood in front of him and looked into his eyes. He placed his hands on her shoulders, giving her a smile he knew she would recognize, a smile he knew she would know, a smile that would be mirrored onto her when it appeared on him. It was. She stood up and embraced him, the embrace he knew, the friends they had been for years reflected in the meeting of their beings. He found his eyes closed and a smile covered his face when she spoke.

''So that last second when the empty space between our hands was formed, that space will hold us together?''

''That's what space does, Your Highness. I've learned that,'' Merlin replied with a grin he knew she could see even if they were facing opposite ways, holding her close and letting all of his promise transfer onto her, uniting a hope, creating a heartbeat he knew would never stop beating as strongly as it was in that moment.

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