Innocent Until Declared Guilty
But he knew he couldn't. One reason being that they would catch him before he even reached the gates, as he never was known for his balance. But that didn't matter. The main reason he couldn't run was because he knew he would never be able to leave.
So, instead, he wanted to beg. By the gods, did he want to beg. He wanted to curl on the floor by his feet, frantically murmuring apologies, pleading for an opportunity to explain while all the while begging for a second chance. But he couldn't do that either, and not just because it wouldn't work – but because he knew that would only get him killed sooner, and it would only get him remembered as a whimpering fool.
Merlin's next plan was to hide, but what then? What would he do? Sure, he could stay hidden, or disguised, maybe invisible even, and he would be able to protect… but did he want that? Did he want to watch as he grew old, forgot all about him and moved on? As much as Merlin thought that this was the best option, he knew his heart couldn't take being thought of as non-existent – if he were thought of at all.
So Merlin took the only option left. He didn't even wait for the guards to come and get him. He didn't even wait until Gaius knew what had happened. He simply walked down the stone steps and locked himself in a cell.
Of course, the funny thing was no one knew he was there. They searched the castle, raiding all the rooms and smashing more than a few of Gaius' experiments. Once they were sure Merlin was not in the castle they went out into the town, questioned nearly everyone, searched almost every house. Then the King sent out a couple of search parties to the woods.
Everyone was confused. They knew Merlin. They knew he wouldn't have gotten far – at least, not on foot – even if he wanted to. And he'd seemed so incredibly tired that even sorcery couldn't have gotten him far.
It was Gaius who understood, about a day after the search started. He knew Merlin better than anyone… he knew Merlin would not run away. He knew Merlin would do as the King wished. So he may have murmured a little suggestion into the King's ear and then Merlin was located not thirty seconds afterward.
Merlin was a mess when they found him. He was used to not eating for long time spans, but a night in the dungeons below Camelot was enough to make anyone look pale, malnourished and ashen – even more so than usual. The knights who found him – Gwaine and Percival – immediately unlocked the cell and dragged him to the throne room, only managing to stop Merlin protesting when they told him it was what the King had ordered.
When they deposited him on the floor of the throne room they did it gently, not like how sorcerers were just thrown to the ground during the previous reign. But he didn't get up. He just knelt there, head down, despondent. If they hadn't seen it with their own eyes, no one would believe that he was capable of such feats that they had seen the day before.
The King rose from his throne and walked forward, but stopped several paces away.
The whole room was so quiet; you could have heard a piece of hay drop. The silence was cutting until the King spoke.
Why. Just one little word. One little word that encompassed a question so large it was impossible to answer.
"Why did you do it? Gods, Merlin, Why?"
For the first time, Merlin raised his head, although he kept his gaze at the King's feet.
"I understand that I have done wrong by your laws, sire," he said, "and I am willing to take whatever punishment you deem appropriate."
As Merlin lowered his head again, he did not notice the King widen his eyes, he did not notice all of the Knights flinch, and he did not notice Gaius' face fall.
"What?" exclaimed the King. "You're not even going to defend yourself? You're not even going to… I don't know, apologise?"
Merlin kept his head down. He knew it would not go over well if he said that he would not – could not – apologise for something he did not think was wrong.
"What are you playing at?"
"I am not playing at anything, sire. I will not struggle. I will not fight. No matter what you decide, I will go through with it willingly."
"Damn it, Merlin!" yelled the King. Several people took a step back, but most were too scared to move. They had never seen their King like this… never. But Merlin didn't see any of this. He was too busy looking at the ground.
"Why are you doing this?"
"I will not go against your wishes, sire. Not with this. It's too important."
The King was dumbfounded. He walked back towards his throne and collapsed into it, rubbing his face with his hands.
"Merlin… listen to me. I realise that you're an idiot, but even you should know that when on trial the accused normally presents some sort of defence."
That pretty much stunned everyone in the room. This was a trial? Usually there was never a trial for people accused of sorcery and this wasn't even just an accusation – everyone had seen what Merlin had done. It's kind of hard to miss an epic battle between two sorcerers that had ranged the entire lower town and parts of the castle.
However, Merlin showed no sign of being surprised. He just kept is head down, and spoke in he same dull tone as before.
"I cannot mount a defence when I know I have broken the law. Everyone knows. All that is left is for you to decide my sentence, and everyone already knows what that will be."
The King lost his patience.
"Right. Right! Gwaine, Percival, take Merlin back to the dungeons and lock him in a cell immediately, I can't deal with this right now!"
"WHAT? No way! You can't do this-"
"You may be the king, but I am not going to put my best friend in the dungeon to-
"-with all the mice, and then you'll have to deal with-"
"-Not to mention-"
"I'm warning you!"
"-bloody flea ridden cat!"
"Gwaine." It wasn't the King who had interrupted this time. This voice was quieter, softer.
Gwaine immediately stopped his tirade and looked down at Merlin.
"Don't," whispered the sorcerer.
"How can you-"
"I will not hold a trial with a defendant who refuses to defend himself!" thundered the King. "Take him away!"
Gwaine and Percival still refused, so the King ended up getting two new knights who hadn't really had much to do with Merlin to take him back to the dungeons.
He was only alone for a couple of minutes before footsteps thundered down the stairs.
"Let me through!"
"The King has ordered-"
"I bloody well don't care what the King said, I am a Knight of the realm and you will let me through. If there are repercussions for this, I will take full responsibility!"
The guard seemed to recognise the situation as a hopeless one, as not ten seconds later Gwaine rounded the corner with a set of keys and a loaf of bread.
"Here you go, Merlin."
Merlin didn't reply. He was seated with his back to the door, facing the wall, and made no indication that he realised Gwaine was there.
Gwaine groaned, opened the door, relocked it and then sat down.
"There," he said, "Now you're stuck with me. So you'll just have to talk to me."
Merlin ignored him.
"Merlin. Merlin. Meerrrrrrllllliiiiinnnn. Aw, come on, Merlin. MERLIN!"
Unfortunately, Merlin did not even respond to a poke in the back of the head, and although Gwaine was the stubbornest knight in the realm he knew a lost cause when he saw one. In a different circumstance he might have just stayed there the rest of the night in hope that Merlin would give in eventually, but at that particular moment he didn't have the time. They had a plan in the making, and by the gods he wasn't going to leave little miss Princess in charge. No doubt he would mess everything up.
So Gwaine simply dropped the bread into Merlin's lap (because there was no way he was putting it down on that floor) and then left.
Merlin sighed in both relief and sadness. He didn't want Gwaine getting punished for associating with a sorcerer. But neither did he want to be left alone for another night in those dark, damp dungeons.
When Merlin was once again hauled back up to the throne room the next morning, he looked even worse. This only solidified the decisions made by his friends in the room. They knew that while Merlin might not be innocent of the crime, he had meant well. For all intents and purposes, Merlin had saved Camelot the other day. It was clear to everyone that if he hadn't been there, Morgana would have destroyed it.
It was a curious thing, really, the way that Morgana had attacked the castle that day. She simply walked right up, announcing herself, demanding to fight with some guy called 'Emrys' and then began to destroy things. It wasn't really her style – usually, she would be more secretive and cunning.
And then it hit them. What had Morgana achieved? She had only destroyed a few buildings, nothing particularly expensive or unfixable. She had only injured a few people – none had even died. The only thing she achieved was getting Merlin to reveal his magic…
This only led to more questions. If she had gone to all that trouble, Merlin must be powerful. He must have stopped her enough times before to have become a nuisance, and he must have been able to outwit all her other plans. It is fairly easy to see a desperate last measure when it's right in front of you.
This meant that Morgana had tried many times to kill Merlin, and every time she had failed. This meant that she simply brought him out into the open, and then left the dirty work for someone else…
For all that to be true, for Morgana to go to all that trouble… killing Merlin must be an unavoidable stone in the road to destroying Camelot.
Well, Arthur would be damned before he let that happen. It only made him realise that he had made the right choice.
"Merlin," he said once the servant had been deposited on the floor. "You have been accused of sorcery. Due to the fact that yesterday's trial did not go so well, I have decided to try again. What do you plea?"
Merlin did not say anything.
"Merlin," Arthur groaned, "You have to say something."
"Everybody knows what I have done," said Merlin. "There is nothing I can say that will change that."
"True enough," said Arthur, shrugging. "Right then. I call this trial adjourned, and I will notify everyone of the new date when I deem fit. In the meantime… Gwaine, Percival, take this man to the dungeons."
As he said it, Arthur had a glint in his eye that was very difficult to miss. Gwaine smirked and this time did not protest as he moved over to pull his confused friend off the floor.
"Come on, then Merlin," said Gwaine. Then loudly, he claimed; "We're taking you to the dungeons."
When they reached their destination, Merlin was understandably a little confused. They had not led him to a cell, instead to a small but comfortable looking room.
Now, Camelot has not had a jailor for quite some time, Uther having deemed it unnecessary to pay wages for another man when guards are more than capable ('capable' being used very loosely) of doing their jobs and, well, standing guard. This may have contributed to the many easy escapes from the dungeons over the years.
But the jailor's quarters were still there, and they were technically inside the dungeons.
During the night, Arthur had made sure to have several servants clean out the chamber and make it suitable for living in. There are several requirements for being able to survive down in the dungeons for long periods. As such, when Merlin looked into the room he noticed that the small fireplace was crackling with warmth, the bed looked like it might be remotely comfortable and there was a pitcher of clean water on the nightstand.
"What are you doing?" he asked. "Arthur said-"
"Arthur said to take you to the dungeons," said Gwaine, smiling as Merlin used the king's name rather than the 'sire' he'd been using recently. "This is still the dungeons."
"Listen," said Gwaine, "You could be down here for a long time. Think of us putting you in here as self-preservation, because if we left you in a cell to rot for such an extended period Gaius would no doubt go on a murdering rampage and kill us all."
"He's right, you know," added Percival.
"Never thought I'd hear that," muttered Merlin, causing Gwaine to squeak in indignation. Although, if you ask him, he didn't squeak, not at all, because that would be unmanly and girly. People like Arthur squeak, but not Gwaine. "But why am I going to be here for a while? Surely it doesn't take that long to build a pyre…"
"Oh, Merlin," sighed Gwaine. "For someone with so many great friends you do have so little faith in them."
As it turned out, Gwaine had been right. Gaius showed up not half an hour after the two knights had left and quickly gave him a once over to make sure he was still healthy. Then he told Merlin that if he didn't eat every single scrap of food that came through those doors he was going to be in 'big trouble of a kind even you haven't managed to get into yet, so don't you even think about starving yourself.'
In the days that followed, Merlin had many visitors. The knights often visited, and Gaius came down at least once a day. Even Gwen went to see him when she could, despite the fact that she was the Queen and it was improper for her to be seeing prisoners.
Due to the fact that Merlin was not at all interested in escaping, it took him a week to realise that his door was being left unlocked. He figured this must be Gwaine finding another loophole in Arthur's words – because Arthur never actually said the word 'lock' – but it didn't matter, because he was going to stay there.
But like a single cup of ale placed in front of a man trying to stay sober for them to stare at for days in end, Merlin simply couldn't resist. What harm could it do if he was headed for the pyre anyway?
They hadn't even posted any guards in the entrance to the dungeons. At all.
The first time he made it all the way to Arthur's chambers before he realised what he was doing, and he was so amazed he dropped his guard and got caught.
But it was Leon who found him and he was simply led back to his room with a quick 'try and be more careful, Merlin, Arthur doesn't need any more trouble.'
Then he left. And he didn't lock the door.
Merlin, being not-an-idiot, could very easily read through the lines. He was allowed to wander around… but he should try not to be seen, because that would look bad on Arthur. A king who can't keep one servant (even if he was a sorcerer) contained makes for no king at all.
So he waited a few minutes after Leon left, then tried again.
This time he went to Gaius' rooms. Gaius was very happy to see him, although a little surprised.
"Honestly Merlin, we were all wondering how long it would take for you to figure it out," he said. "You would be the only prisoner to ever stay in Camelot's dungeons for so long and not escape, and you're not even locked in!"
After that, Merlin wandered about quite a bit. He was very skilled in remaining undetected through loads of practice over the years, but he was still caught fairly often. It wasn't a problem or anything, the knights and guards simply put him back into his room and then left, but it was annoying if he was actually trying to get somewhere (especially if that involved heaps of stairs) and he was led all the way back three times in the space of half an hour.
This was great, as it meant that when Gaius came and told him that a small fire-demon was terrorising the lower town a week later, he could simply slip out, solve the problem and then return to the dungeons with no one the wiser. Well, Gwaine, Percival and Elyan did give him a bit of a knowing look the next time he saw them. But that wasn't the point.
Meanwhile, Arthur was kept up to date about his friend's exploits by the knights and guards. He knew he couldn't go and visit himself, because while he was sure all the lords and the council knew exactly why he was doing what he was, he didn't need their suspicions confirmed. That would be bad.
Instead he spent most of his time in the library, talking to Geoffrey or Gaius about the best way to go about his plan or trying to get as many lords on his side as he could. The actual running of Camelot was mostly left to Gwen and he apologised so many times he lost count (which in itself was completely out of character for him) but she completely understood and even offered to help him as well as all the other duties she had removed from his shoulders. But he refused. As much as he knew how much value another's help could have, he wanted to do this for Merlin. Besides, Gwen was already doing enough.
At first he thought it wouldn't take long. Being the king, he should have the power, right? Well, that was partially true. But truth is, the king is a slave to his subjects. Even though after the terror of Uther's reign the words 'rebellion' and 'uprising' were not even in the peasant's vocabulary, he didn't want to be a tyrant like his father. He wanted his people to actually like him, and that meant he had to go about this the proper way, which in turn meant he had to have the support of the council.
Something that was very hard to get.
This is why it was taking so long.
But finally… he succeeded.
It was over a month before Merlin was actually told to leave the room. At the time he had been playing a game of chance with Gwaine, who adamantly claimed that Merlin had to be cheating with his magic because no one was that lucky. But despite that Gwaine had been oddly happy and seemed very excited, although Merlin had no idea why. Gaius had been the same the day before. Was something going on?
He didn't have time to ponder it though, as not long after he'd realised this the door crashed open revealing a large contingent of guards.
"Merlin," called the one in front, "You have been called to trial. Come with us."
Merlin glanced at Gwaine, but the knight only winked at him, causing Merlin to become very confused. Over the past few weeks he had come to the conclusion that Arthur was not going to kill him out of respect for… what ever relationship they had (because neither of them would ever admit to friendship) but due to the laws of land could not set him free and instead had chosen to completely ignore the situation. So why was he calling a trial now?
Well, there was only one way to find out.
This time Merlin was not put on the floor when they entered the throne room, he was allowed to remain standing. He had gained a little bit more confidence over the past month and actually looked around this time. But he was very surprised by what he saw.
All the knights were grinning broadly and Gaius' smile was so large he looked downright evil. Gwen smiled at him encouragingly when his gaze passed over her but the majority of the council, who were all in the room, did not look happy at all.
"Merlin," said Arthur. Merlin nearly rolled his eyes. Was that all anyone ever said to him these days? He could almost predict what Arthur was going to say next… "You have been accused of practising magic."
Yep, word for word.
"What do you have to say about this?"
"Nothing I haven't said before, sire," he sighed.
"At the time of your accusation, the punishment for being found guilty of this crime was death," Arthur announced, and Merlin closed his eyes, defeated. "However, since that time the laws have changed."
Merlin could not believe what he was hearing, and for the first time looked at the king himself. Arthur's face was completely serious, adopting the mask he usually wore whilst dealing with his kingly duties. But for someone who knew him well, someone like Merlin, it was easy to detect the slight sparkle in his eyes. Arthur was happy about this. He was proud of this, and although it looked like he wanted to spurt it out as soon as possible at the same time he was going to hold it in for as long as he could for dramatic effect.
Damn Arthur, couldn't he see Merlin was practically dying of suspense?
Merlin hated himself for the hope that was rising in his chest. He had long ago learnt that the best way to deal with such situations was to not hope, because then if something good happened you were still pleasantly surprised, but if something bad happened you were not disappointed. But he couldn't help it. The way that Arthur was talking made it sound like…
"We have examined all the evidence and have come to the conclusion that you have, in fact, practised magic," continued Arthur. Merlin felt his heart drop a little. This was it.
Then Arthur said that one word that changed everything, and Merlin felt himself swell with hope again.
"But," said the king, smiling, "Since the laws against magic were repealed yesterday, there is no crime for you to be found guilty of. All I see standing in front of me is a man that has saved our city countless times, a man that, when faced with a choice between defending Camelot and risking his own life decided to throw all caution to the wind and protect people who he believed would have him executed without a second thought. I hardly see that kind of loyalty from the knights, and yet here it is being displayed by a mere servant. So why are we trying to punish him? If Merlin were not a sorcerer, he would have been knighted."
Merlin forced himself to not correct that fact. There was no way for Arthur to know the difference between a sorcerer and warlock after all.
"Yet the laws of the land claimed that because of the method Merlin used to save us, he should be executed. I ask you, is this fair? I deem that it isn't, and as such, pleaded with the council for the laws to be changed to something that is fair for all.
"Yesterday, as you all well know—" apart from Merlin "—the law was changed. Now, magic is to be viewed as a tool, and the accused to be judged on their actions, rather than the method they used. As such, I view last month's incident as one of great valour, an act of heroism that deserves to be rewarded, not punished."
Arthur glanced around the room, as if he were daring anyone to protest. He seemed to glare at Merlin the longest, as if he expected Merlin to claim that it wasn't fair and they should still burn him.
Yeah, but Merlin wasn't that stupid.
In fact, Merlin wasn't really anything in that moment because his mind had gone completely blank. He couldn't believe it. He had spent years and years and years worrying about how Arthur would react if he ever found about Merlin's magic. Then it had happened, and he'd spent a whole month down in the dungeons (well, sort of) thinking that he could either be executed at any moment or have to live out his life unable to talk to Arthur ever again. But now he was being told that, actually, Arthur was going to reward him for using magic and that he was glad he had done so…
Later on, Gaius would explain Merlin's reaction as going into shock.
In fact, a lot of things would happen later on. Merlin would receive an annoying lecture from the King of Prats about how he would be punished by way of many frogs, a drunk sheep and a lot of mud if he ever left Arthur with George for that long again. He would also receive many hugs (mostly from Gwen) and get drunk, courtesy of Gwaine, which would result in a whole new set of problems, beginning with the fact that Arthur's cloak would be turned a bright shade of pink. He would continue to live with Gaius but those quarters would become known as Merlin's just as much his, because everyone would go to him if they had a problem requiring magical assistance.
Morgana ended up very angry that her plan didn't work and would attack Camelot many more times, but it didn't matter so much because, well, just think of how well Merlin managed to stop her when he was keeping himself a secret. Now imagine how much he could do when Arthur gave him free reign.
Well, almost. Merlin would, two weeks after being let out of the dungeons, be banned from ever going anywhere near the Tavern ever again. There were too many 'Gwaine' incidents, as Merlin would later refer to them as.
But all that was in the future. At that very moment Merlin was still in shock and still staring at Arthur in disbelief. But that changed when Arthur said the words 'court sorcerer', because who goes from being a lowly servant to being known as a sorcerer to a (kind of) prisoner to the Kings most trusted advisor in such a short time?
Merlin has been through many things in his life, most of them life-threatening. But that was just too much. Maybe it was the stress of the whole month building up and hitting him all at once but at that moment, Merlin took the easy way out.
His mind blanked.
And he passed out.
Arthur stopped his tirade, sighed and ordered Merlin to be taken back to his room (and yes, his room in Gaius' quarters, not the old one in the dungeons) to rest.
Then, as the room cleared out of the happy knights and unhappy council members, he smiled. Because many things had changed in Camelot over the past few weeks, and Arthur was positive they were for the better.
Although, he still wasn't sure that it was a good idea to have appointed his bumbling idiot of a servant as his advisor, but that remained to be seen.
After all, it had been Gwen's idea. If something went wrong, he could leave her to deal with it.
He'd had enough stress to last a lifetime.