Disclaimer: I, CapriciousHorseRider aka Scarlett, do not own any of the characters, just the plot. Enjoy!
Eira finished packing, and after checking that they hadn't left anything behind, they mounted the horses.
''Well we still have two or three days left to travel, depending on our speed and how many times we stop to rest.'' Merlin said.
"I’m impressed, that seems tiring!" Eira exclaimed.
''If you think this is tiring, you should have been there when we were riding to the Dark Tower and through the Impenetrable Forest, remember Merlin?'' Gwaine asked.
''That was almost impossible,'' Merlin agreed. "But the inside was worse, we left short of one man."
''Elyan,'' Gwaine identified Merlin’s words. ''He took on the sword that was meant to kill Arthur,'' he finished sadly, remembering Gwen's brother, his fellow knight and close friend.
“So many have died at Morgana's hand.''
''Many more innocent died at Uther's,'' Merlin said, recalling the previous King's reign, Arthur and Morgana's father.
Some parts in the area around Camelot were utterly abandoned. The great need for men at Camlann had left tens of houses empty; many of Camelot’s residents had also moved away from the city in grief of everything they had lost. Help had also been sent to the White Mountains to assist the warriors of the battle, but all traces the help had left seemed invisible. It all looked so dark compared to the merry city that had flourished just weeks ago. Parts of the Lower town were being rebuilt, and many citizens were working hard to restore the kingdom.
The knights were nowhere to be seen, so Merlin, Gwaine and Eira went straight into the castle. They headed for Gaius' chambers and stopped at the door. Percival and Leon came down the hallway and passed them, sending confused looks at the disguised Gwaine and Eira.
''Here goes, remember, Gaius thinks that Eira betrayed Camelot and we're both supposed to be dead, so we'll try not to give the poor old man too much of a shock,'' Gwaine said ironically, chuckling slightly, and Merlin opened the door. Gaius was seated at his table, sorting herbs and potions. He looked tired but busy. His expression turned into a worried smile when he saw Merlin. Eira motioned for Gwaine to go first, so Gwaine took his hat and cloak off and went closer to Gaius.
''Well unfortunately I can't rub off the moustache as that would ruin my disguise,'' Gwaine said cheerfully. Gaius recognized him almost immediately.
''Gwaine! How on earth are you still alive?'' Gaius exclaimed, overwhelmed and hugged Gwaine as he patted Gaius on the back.
''I should ask you the same question,'' Gwaine said and everyone laughed.
''Well,'' he continued, ''It was all thanks to myself and this little lady here.''
He gestured towards Eira and she stepped forward and took off the gray shawl she had wrapped around her head and neck.
''But...Eira?...How...you worked for Morgana... when... did,'' Gaius stuttered, unable to form a coherent sentence, confused when he recognised the girl everyone still knew as a traitor except Gwaine and Merlin.
''Morgana used a Fomorroh to control me. She took advantage of me when she saw how close I was to Gwaine after they rescued me from my village. The awful creature was destroyed when she died,'' Eira explained to Gaius.
''And Eira has magic.'' Merlin said, ''She brought herself and then Gwaine back.''
Everyone was quiet for a minute, and Gaius nodded, understanding.
''So you weren't yourself when you were gathering information and feeding it to Morgana?'' Gaius asked and looked Eira in the eyes.
''No, I was not. I felt so guilty when I realized that I had helped her, and that I had used Gwaine in such a cruel and manipulative way,'' she replied softly.
Gaius nodded again, now with more meaning, and somehow with a touch of developing trust.
''So what exactly is your gift?'' he asked, and Eira explained her healing powers, accompanied by hums of acknowledgement from Gaius.
''That means that your resurrection powers can involve or target anyone?'' Gaius questioned thoughtfully.
''I guess, but I'm not sure. My magic hasn't developed to its full power yet,'' she added.
"Well, I must speak to Merlin for a moment." Gaius said, ''Gwaine, can you go into Merlin's room, remove your shirt, and wash your shoulder thoroughly? Your wound is bleeding heavily and I don't want it to get septic from all the dirt on your shirt.'' Gaius said, in a voice that would tolerate no protests from the young man.
Gwaine took off his shirt slowly and sent a wink towards Eira before entering and closing the door behind him to Merlin's room. Just as Gaius was about to pull Merlin aside and ask him something, Eira said, ''I know Merlin has magic.''
''So you two are aware of each other's gifts? And Gwaine?'' Gaius asked Merlin with an undertone of surprise.
''I haven't told him,'' Merlin answered quietly, secretly wishing he could reveal his secret to his close friend soon.
''Do you two understand what this could mean? Eira can bring anyone back with some help, and Merlin is the greatest sorcerer to ever walk the earth,'' Gaius asked them.
''Arthur!'' Merlin realized eagerly.
''The kingdom is spiralling out of Gwen's control, I've tried to help her as much as possible, but she's so upset about Arthur that she'll barely give orders to the knights so they can help. Arthur was meant to rest during this time and rise when it is time, but things aren’t quite as they were predicted,'' he explained the current and distressing situation in Camelot. "Other kingdoms have heard of this and I'm sure they are planning to attack Camelot soon."
''Bringing Arthur back from the dead would be the only solution if Gwen doesn't snap out of her depression,'' Merlin said. ''We need to talk to her.''
''If she doesn't execute me again first!'' Eira said doubtfully.
''We'll try to explain what we told Gaius to her as well,'' Merlin said hopefully.
''Gwaine could even be a part of this, but you cannot tell him you have magic yet Merlin, not before Gwen is told,'' Gaius warned.
''How long am I supposed to wash this wound for?'' Gwaine yelled from Merlin's room.
''Oh, sorry Gwaine, I almost forgot you,'' Gaius said as he opened the door and ushered Gwaine into a chair.
''What happened? Did you get into a fight? I wouldn't be surprised,'' Gaius said, and Gwaine was given the job of explaining everything that had happened after they had found Merlin, going to Camelot and the bandits attacking them.
''No one else is injured though, just Gwaine. He just has to get himself into trouble,'' Eira teased.
''It's not my fault some massive bandit jumped me from a tree,'' Gwaine answered.
''When you were silent from behind the tree Gwaine and I thought you had been strangled by your corset.'' Merlin said, amused.
''Yes, it's tight. That's the fashion, but it's not tight enough to stop my breathing,'' Eira defended.
Gaius treated Gwaine's shoulder wound and after making sure that his disguise was intact he sent him to rest in Gwaine's old chamber.
Gaius asked Eira to go get some food for Gwaine and Merlin went to talk to the queen.
Gwaine took the longer way around the castle to get to his old chambers. He turned a corner and saw Percival and Leon coming his way. Gwaine felt an ecstatic jolt in his chest when he saw his friends. They looked at him and said something inaudible to each other before they stopped Gwaine.
''And who are you?'' Sir Leon asked suspiciously.
''Well, that depends,'' Gwaine replied, an easy smile on his face.
''And exactly why are you inside the castle? What is your business here?'' Percival questioned.
''Not here, follow me,'' he said in a mysterious voice, and the knights had no other choice than to follow the strange man with a moustache, hat and a cloak.
Percival and Leon soon recognized the hallway that Gwaine was taking them into, and Percival said, ''You aren't allowed to go into those chambers, they belonged to a deceased knight.''
Before they could object any more or stop him, Gwaine had pulled them into his chambers. Leon started to speak but Gwaine put a finger to his own lips, removed his hat and his long cloak. He backed up and stood in front of them for a few moments. Leon just stared at Gwaine, and Percival broke into a smile as recognition crept upon his face.
''Gwaine!'' he screamed and as Gwaine nodded, they ran over to him and Leon started to grip his arm and pat him on the back, but then Percival came and hugged him and the three close friends all hugged and pounded each others' backs.
''How did-you died-we-... What?'' Percival exclaimed.
''Remember Eira?'' Gwaine said and both of the knights expressions turned sour when they remembered her.
''Well, it turned out that she was controlled by Morgana's snake and she was completely unaware of what she was doing,'' Gwaine explained.
''And her execu-'' Leon started, but Gwaine interrupted him.
''I can't explain all that now. She's wearing a disguise for the time being, but just know that she means no harm. Don't tell anyone else that I'm alive yet. Gaius says I have to rest, I'll talk to you later,'' Gwaine said and hurried them out of his chambers before they could ask more.
His head was pounding from all the emotions and his shoulder was giving him a lot of pain, so he dizzily walked around his chambers, familiarised himself with everything again and then lay down on his bed and fell asleep.
Meanwhile, Merlin was making his way to Queen Guinevere's chambers.
He barely recognized the castle; even though most of it had been cleaned up, the various ruined and abandoned parts were yet to be rebuilt and fixed. Gwen was nowhere to be seen, so Merlin knocked on her door before entering her chambers.
Her food hadn't been touched, and she was sitting at her table, staring out into nothing. She looked thinner and paler than she had when Merlin had last seen her a few weeks ago; she barely looked up when Merlin came in.
''Gwen? Are you all right? You haven't eaten,'' Merlin said and sat down on the chair next to her.
''I'm not hungry,'' Gwen said and sighed.
"You have to eat so that you have the strength to stand. Your whole kingdom is chaotic. The knights, guards, builders and craftsmen can do the physical work, like rebuilding things, but only you can do the rest. People are wondering how and where you are."
Merlin informed her, "Neighbouring kingdoms are awake; they're well aware of Camelot's weakness at the time being. And I'm certain that the ones we aren't so friendly with are planning to attack."
''How do you think I feel Merlin? Do you think I'm not aware of the fact that someone might attack Camelot at any minute? Bandits have attacked several of our outlying villages and I don't even know whether our allies will stand for or against us.'' she said, frustrated and on the verge of crying.
''And what are you going to do? When are you planning to take control?'' Merlin asked her calmly.
''I don't know! I wasn't ready to be queen when Arthur… when he... I don't want help from you, or from members of the council, or from Geoffrey of Monmouth, I need Arthur!'' Gwen sobbed, breaking down in front of Merlin's eyes.
Merlin moved closer to her and tried to comfort her, and she cried so hard that she gasped for breath. Two guards came running in when they heard their queen's cries.
''It's all right,'' Merlin ensured. Gwen looked up and nodded slightly. Seeing this, the guards bowed and exited the room.
When Gwen had calmed down a bit, Merlin said, ''I can do something to help.''
Gwen looked at him doubtfully, but then she suddenly said, ''Please answer me truthfully. Do you have magic? You can tell me, I won't tell anyone. You still trust me, right?"
Merlin didn't even think about lying to her. ''Yes.''
''Does…did...Arthur know?'' she said, fighting to hold her tears back when she said her beloved's name.
''Yes. He didn't know until the day that he… passed away,'' Merlin answered.
''Besides him, only Gaius knows,'' he clarified.
''So how exactly can you help him?'' she asked, returning to the topic.
''It is said when Albion's need is greatest, Arthur will rise again.'' Merlin said.
''And is that now? How many times after this will Albion need their king so desperately? I mean it has to be now, doesn't it? When bandits are ransacking our villages and people are starving, and we're getting threats from powerful enemies that they are planning an attack! They need their king. I need my king.'' Gwen said, a forlorn expression on her face.
''This plan requires many steps, great strength, and great magic. I want it to work as much as you, but I cannot ensure that it will,'' Merlin warned.
''We have to try! I am not ready to rule over Camelot alone. He is the only one that can help. I'll do whatever it takes,'' she said, determined.
Merlin took a deep breath. ''Do you remember Eira?''
''Of course I do. Morgana sent that cruel girl to use Gwaine and gather information,'' she replied bitterly.
''They're both alive,'' Merlin said.
''Morgana is alive? No! She can't be! She was kil-you killed her didn't you? Merlin?'' she said, raising her voice, slightly hysterically.
''No, not Morgana! Gwaine and Eira are alive!'' Merlin assured her.
''He is? She is? Where is Gwaine now, I must see him! Throw that girl in the dungeon, she shouldn't be allowed to hurt him again.'' Gwen asked.
''Gwaine is resting in his chambers. Turns out Morgana used a Fomorroh to control Eira. Eira didn't know what she was doing,'' Merlin explained to Gwen.
''You mean that snake that she put in your neck too, that Gaius helped to get out?'' Gwen asked, surprised.
''Yes, and you walked in on Arthur when he wasn't dressed,'' Merlin said and they laughed at the memory.
''Are you sure we can trust her?'' Gwen asked him, turning serious.
''Both Gwaine and I are pretty certain, we were thrown into a pit and she chose to come back and save us instead of leaving us there to die like Morgana would have wanted us to." Merlin then explained everything that had happened since Gwaine and Eira had found him at the tavern to Gwen. They then decided to walk down to Gwaine's chamber and see how he was doing.
Still in her disguise, Eira went down to the kitchens. She looked around, took a plate that looked decently clean, cut a few slices of some ham, added an apple and some bread and just as she was about to grab some vegetables, a hand slapped hers lightly. She looked up with an expression of alarm on her face to see a chubby, round-faced woman with an apron looking at her disapprovingly.
''And what do you think you're doing with all that food missy?'' she asked sternly.
''I...I'm just getting some food for...the court physician,'' Eira replied and smiled nervously.
''And does the physician need that much food?'' the woman continued.
''Yes...it's for him and also a bit for his patient,'' Eira said with more confidence, it wasn't a lie. The woman then looked down at the food and nodded slightly.
''Take it. But bring the plate back. As you know, we have a shortage,'' she said. Eira looked down at the vegetables she had been about to take and guilt tugged at her. There are people here who need them more, she thought, as she withdrew her hand and left, giving the lady a small smile.
Eira still remembered the way she had taken to Gwaine's chambers, and even though it had only been some weeks ago, it felt like a very long time had passed. She still remembered how he found her in her village, how he had kindly taken her back to Camelot, and how Morgana had found her and the slimy feeling of the Fomorroh snake slithering into the back of her neck. Everything after that was blurred, and her memory had returned when she summoned herself after the execution.
She arrived at his door, raised her hand to knock, but then just opened it because she knew he wouldn't wake up if he was sleeping. She closed the door silently behind her and looked at Gwaine sleeping peacefully on his bed. She smiled as she had an idea. Eira set the plate down on the wooden desk, ripped off a piece of the ham, snuck up to him from the other side of his bed and raised her hand, dangling the ham just above Gwaine's nose. She stifled a giggle when he opened his mouth and he ate it as she lowered it into his mouth. Suddenly his hands shot up and he grabbed her wrists, pulled her down, and rolled over on top of her, laughing at her surprised face.
''Never underestimate a knight,'' he said, chuckling.
''I can't imagine who you're talking about,'' Eira said and smiled.
''Me neither,'' Gwaine said seriously. They laughed together and after a long time when their laughter faded, Eira found herself with Gwaine’s deep gaze entangled in her own eyes. She felt him, still on top of her, relax. He leaned an inch closer to her face, and she felt his strong muscles outlined against her body. Gwaine’s soft brown eyes started to close, and hers did too, and soon enough his warm lips were moving against hers with a careful gentleness. She felt him express everything he had found no words for in the meeting and parting of their lips, and understood that this was real. The last time she had kissed him had been those weeks ago when she was enchanted by Morgana, but this, this was an entirely new thing. Gwaine rolled over so that he was next to her as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him again. Then, all of a sudden, the door swung open.
Merlin opened the door to find Gwaine and Eira on the bed, quickly moving away from each other.
''We were just...looking at some papers here,'' Eira said, embarrassed.
''Gwaine!'' Guinevere exclaimed and the two friends hugged. Eira got up and greeted the queen formally.
''I'm pleased to see that that wretched snake creature disappeared with Morgana. Merlin has explained almost everything to me. I see that Gwaine has forgiven you and that you two are so close again,'' Gwen said to Eira, meeting her embarrassed look with a knowing smile.
''Ye..s,'' was all Eira could say.
''But I still don't know how you two are alive,'' Gwen wondered.
''I have magic,'' Eira confessed quickly, almost closing her eyes as if she was expecting the Queen to punish her on the spot.
''You do? Well what can you do?'' Gwen asked, a bit surprised, but so many things were happening that she didn't think much could surprise her anymore.
''A creature called the Diamair gifted me with some of her powers to heal fatal wounds using the will to live and also to regenerate my own being. I’m not sure I can explain it better, it’s taken me a while to get used to actually using it too.''
''And this is what Arthur’s potential return will depend on?'' Gwen asked hopefully.
''We're not sure yet. But following the laws of this kingdom, everyone with magic is supposed to be executed. Arthur didn't have time to change that.'' Merlin said.
''So you're saying what? That I should execute Eira and...I mean Eira?'' Gwen said confusedly, remembering that Gwaine didn't know Merlin had magic.
Everyone looked at the horrified expression on Eira's face.
''No. But all the council members and nearly the whole kingdom is convinced that she's a traitor, and that all magic is evil,'' Merlin reminded her as if she didn't know the law that had stayed in Camelot since King Uther's reign.
''We're here to strike a bargain,'' Gwaine said and smiled.
''What do you want me to do?'' Gwen asked and crossed her arms.
''We're quite sure Arthur won't reinforce the law against magic when we bring him back, but the uncertainty of Camelot’s future prompts us to make official changes in the law book of the kingdom,” Gwaine said. Gwen nodded, slowly wringing her hands together.
''So we need you to speak to Geoffrey of...what mouth is it Merlin?'' Gwaine said, slightly amused.
''Geoffrey of Monmouth,'' Merlin clarified.
''Of course. He seems to be the official sentry in matters like these, so an agreement between him and yourself concerning the use of magic,'' Gwaine explained.
''So your bargain is that you three bring Arthur back, and in return, I let people with magic, including Eira, live, and withdraw the laws against it?'' Gwen asked.