Arthur’s heart sang as Morgana slumped to the floor, choking and gasping, and the knife in front of Gwen clattered to the floor. Gwaine was here now, alive and kicking. Morgana was dead for sure. Everything was going to be alright.
The knight had dropped his knife, Morgana forgotten, and was kneeling next to Merlin.
“You alright, mate?” he said, his light tone betrayed by the concern in his eyes.
Merlin grinned weakly. “I am now, old friend. Is that my knife?”
Gwaine nodded, and looked at Arthur for a moment. “Merlin hid this knife and told me where,” he explained to his king briefly, “It’s one of the only ones with the power to kill Morgana, if she ever returned.” Then his concentration was back on Merlin.
“You have no idea how glad I am to see you,” Merlin said.
Gwaine returned his grin. “I was keeping an eye on you from up there, mate. She wouldn’t have been allowed to hurt you.”
The smile slid off Merlin’s face. “What about Leon?” he asked quietly.
The knight’s face turned sombre. “I’m sorry, Merlin. She was standing in the wrong place, she would’ve killed me before I could get to her. And I couldn’t leave you unprotected.”
Merlin nodded, though the grief was still plain on his face.
Arthur growled behind his gag. He wanted to let them have their moment, but the guards who had been standing around in shock were beginning to re-assemble themselves.
Gwaine turned around with a chuckle. “Alright, princess, I’ll get to you in a min- ”
Gwaine stopped talking abruptly and looked down at the sword that sudddenly protruded from his stomach.
Arthur’s heart stopped, as time seemed to slow down. Gwaine looked up and met Arthur’s eyes, and the king stared at his friend’s shocked expression for what felt like ten years.
Then the moment was broken, and Gwaine fell to the ground, revealing Agravaine. He had forgotten about Agravaine. They all had.
Merlin’s heartrending scream ripped through Arthur like a knife, and he watched, feeling strangely detatched, as the court sorcerer crawled towards his friend.
“No no no no no,” Merlin sobbed, pulling Gwaine onto his lap. “Please, oh God, please!”
Something inside Arthur snapped, and he roared to his feet, pulling himself away from the soldiers and ripping off his gag.
“YOU BASTARD!” he screamed, “YOU COWARDLY BASTARD!”
“Guards!” Agravaine called lazily, and the magically strengthened soldiers pulled Arthur down again in seconds.
“Now, now, Arthur, is that any way to talk to your king?”
“I’ll kill you,” snarled Arthur, “I will KILL you.”
“Of course you will, dear nephew,” smiled Agravaine indulgently, as he stepped over Morgana’s body. Arthur felt a twinge of disgust at how unaffected Agravaine was by his mistress’s death. “Take them to the balcony!”
The guards moved to drag Merlin away from Gwaine’s body. The sorcerer had stopped crying and shouting and was just clinging on to his friend numbly.
“Get your hands off him!” Arthur yelled, “Don’t touch him!”
The guards ignored Arthur and grabbed Merlin, and he didn’t fight them. He just hung limply between them like a doll. Arthur had a sudden thought – what if Morgana’s death meant Merlin’s handcuffs no longer worked?
But it appeared the sorcerer had lost any will to fight, to even remember how to use his magic.
“Merlin,” cried Arthur, “Please, do something!”
Merlin didn’t even turn his head as they dragged him out of the door towards the balcony.
Arthur looked back one last time at the bodies of Leon and Gwaine as he followed Merlin.
“Goodbye, my friends,” he whispered, “and I’m sorry.”
The king closed his eyes against the tears.
Arthur, Gwen, and Merlin stood behind Agravaine, bound and held at knifepoint. The traitor stood at the front of the balcony, looking down at the people gathered in the courtyard.
“Citizens of Camelot,” called Agravaine, “Your king and queen have been captured. Your knights are dead. Your new king stands before you. There is nothing you can do to rescue the king, or restore this kingdom to how it used to be. I am giving you one chance.
“Accept me as your king, and bow before me, and your lives will be the same. You will be allowed to live in peace or you, your families, and your homes will be cut down without mercy. Make your choice carefully.”
Arthur watched the crowd tensely. He knew how loyal his subjects were, and he knew they would never accept Agravaine as king, and he was proud of that. But he didn’t want them to be harmed.
It was inevitable that was what was going to happen. The people would stay loyal to Arthur, and they would all be killed. Arthur cast his eyes down, unable to meet the gaze of the people who were going to die for him.
And a far off call made him jerk his head back up.
From the back of the courtyard, a man was shouting.
“Long live King Agravaine! Long live King Agravaine!”
Arthur frowned in confusion. Surely this was just one madman, one coward...?
The rest of the crowd took up the chant, until it became unbearably loud, echoing and resonating around the castle.
“Long live King Agravaine! LONG LIVE KING AGRAVAINE!”
Arthur couldn’t breath, couldn’t think. He never even considered that his people would abandon him. He looked at the crowd again, and gasped in horror.
They were kneeling now, bowing before the king’s traitorous uncle. Agravaine turned and looked Arthur in the eye, roaring with laughter.
Arthur vaguely heard Gwen’s voice, but it sounded far away.
“They all have famillies...they don’t want their children to die for us...”
Arthur couldn’t take it anymore.
“YOU TRAITORS!” he screamed, “YOU COWARDS, I AM YOUR KING!”
Agravaine strode over to his nephew, and a guard shut the door to the balcony, cutting off the noise of the cheering, traitorous crowd. He put his face very close to Arthur’s.
“Not any more you’re not,” he murmered smugly, “Not any more.”
Arthur pulled his face away violently and twisted round to look at Merlin, who was standing with his head bowed behind him.
“Merlin! Merlin, please!”
Agravaine laughed again.
“Do you really think I would have left him alive if he still had magic, Arthur?”
Arthur stared at him, uncomprehending, and his uncle sighed patronisingly.
“Arthur, a spell of this nature, on the handcuffs – if the original caster of the spell is killed, the spell is not broken. It is made permanent. Even if the handcuffs are removed.”
Arthur whipped his head round to look at Merlin. The sorcerer had finally raised his head, and Arthur could see from his friend’s heartbroken expression that he had expected what Agravaine had just said.
The look on his face sent bolts of fear through Arthur.
“Merlin?” he asked hesistantly, “That’s not true, it it? Merlin! Tell him!”
Merlin looked Arthur in the eye, a horrible look of resignation taking over his face.
The Court Sorcerer spoke to his king for the first time since Gwaine’s death.
“I’m sorry, Arthur. I’m so, so sorry.”
Arthur couldn’t speak. Then Merlin broke eye contact, and hung his head again, hanging limply, and looking for all the world like he was already dead.
“Well, that clears that up,” Agravaine said cheerfully, and Arthur had never wanted to kill anyone more.
“Now on to the official things. Arthur, as King of Camelot, I hereby banish you from Camelot. And to make it safer, you are banished from England. A ship is ready and waiting to take you to the Far East, where you will work till the day you die as a slave, a meaningless nobody.”
Arthur felt as if he’d been punched in the stomach. He had been prepared for a death sentence.
“I suppose you were expecting me to kill you?” Agravaine smiled benignly. “Well I was going to, but I think it would be far more painful for you to live with your demons, don’t you?”
The king couldn’t speak. He was right. Of course he was right.
Agravaine smirked. “That’s what I thought. Now off you go – your carriage awaits!”
And suddenly the reality of the situation hit Arthur, as the guards started to drag him to from the door. There was no way out of this. Merlin could not save the day with his magic as he always had, and even if he did, Gwen would die. He was going to be taken away, and he would never see his best friend or his wife again.
Arthur looked desperately at Merlin, who staring resolutely at his shoes as though that would stop it all from happening.
“Merlin! Merlin, please!” There was no response.
“Merlin, I know it seems hopeless, but you have to do something! I know you can!” The sorcerer didn’t move a muscle. The king had never seen him so despondent.
“Merlin!” Arthur screamed, and he realised vaguely that he was crying. “Merlin, you can’t just give up, I won’t let you! Oh God, please! Please! Merlin! MERLIN!”
“Arthur!” Gwen. He’d almost forgotten her.
“Gwen, I love you! You have to be strong, ok? I’m coming back for you!”
“I love you too, Arthur!” She was sobbing now.
Arthur kept his eyes on her, as though if he kept looking they couldn’t be separated.
But his line of sight was blocked by Agravaine.
“If you ever set foot in England again,” his uncle snarled, “I will kill them both.”
And just before he slammed the door in his face, Arthur saw Merlin raise his head, and look right at Arthur with broken, hopeless eyes.
Arthur heard the voice in his head.
“I’m sorry, my brother. And I love you.”
Then his family were gone, and Arthur’s life crumbled around him.