“You’re still angry with me, aren’t you?” Merlin asked smirking at Arthur.
“We spend an entire day hunting, catch nothing because every time we got anywhere near anything you sneezed and frightened it away,” Arthur replied, turning to glare at him.
“Not the last time.” Merlin replied, grinning.
“No, that time you fell into a stream,” Arthur laughed, “No one could accuse you of being predictable, Merlin.”
“I think I’m getting a cold.”
“Let’s hope it’s a bad one,” Arthur replied, but there was no edge to it. He ran his fingers through Merlin’s still damp hair.
“You know, you’re complaining about my lack of hunting skills an awful lot considering you insisted I accompany you,” Merlin commented, leaning into Arthur’s touch ever so slightly, “You could have brought one of the knights.”
“Excuse me for wanting to spend the day with you.”
“Well you didn’t have to criticize me the whole time.”
“How else would I amuse myself, Merlin,” Arthur laughed, “Considering I haven’t been able to catch anything.” He didn’t give Merlin a chance to supply his next retort before he was leaning in to kiss him. Arthur couldn’t possibly help it. Merlin’s hair was a spiky, half dried mess and his nose had long since gone pink from the cold.
Before Arthur could press his lips to Merlin’s, there was a scream in the distance. “What was that?” Arthur paused.
“I think it was a bird,” Merlin said, half distracted. There was another scream, “That?” Merlin sighed. “That was definitely a woman screaming. Why couldn’t it have just been a bird? It’s never just a bird.” He muttered, heading in the direction the screams had come from.
Arthur grabbed his arm, “What are you doing?”
“I’m assuming you want to risk our lives and see what’s going on.”
“I never thought I’d say this, Merlin, but you’re learning.” Arthur laughed, pressing a kiss to Merlin’s head as he hurried past. Merlin shook his head before following him.
They reached a small village to see the townspeople gathered around a makeshift pyre. The screams were coming from the woman tied to it. She looked like a frail old woman but she was struggling against her bonds fiercely. She appeared to have beaten before being tied up. The townchief was holding a torch, about to light the pyre when Arthur approached him.
“Let the woman go.” He ordered. Merlin stood just behind him, just in case.
“This woman has been sentenced to death,” The townchief said brusquely, “It does not concern you.”
“I am Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot, and your village is on my lands.” Merlin smirked to himself, biting back a snide comment.
“Her sorcery has brought sickness and suffering to this village.” Arthur saw Merlin stiffen in his peripherals. He may have been working to legalize the use of magic, but the rest of the kingdom didn’t know that yet. Nor did Merlin for that matter. Arthur wanted to surprise him.
“Did she receive a fair trial?” Arthur asked calmly.
“Your father would have shown her no mercy.”
“I’m not my father.” Arthur ground out, “Now cut her down.”
The townchief seemed to hesitate a moment before making up his mind. “I will not endanger the lives of all who live here.” He moved to light the pyre, Merlin moved to stop him but Arthur drew his sword before Merlin could do anything, much to Merlin’s surprise. He knew Arthur was more lenient about magic than he used to be, their own relationship being evidence of that. However, he had assumed it did nothing to change Arthur overall view on magic. Arthur always had a harsh view on magic, though Merlin could hardly blame him for that. He certainly hadn’t expected that to ever change, despite knowing how Arthur felt about him. He thought that would just be one more secret shared between them.
Arthur leveled his sword against the man’s chest. “I said,” Arthur said lowly, glaring, “Cut her down.” Merlin smirked at the shocked expression on the townchief's face as he moved to cut the woman down. Merlin stepped forward to catch her, sharing a look with Arthur as he did. The two of them took the woman with them into the woods, intent on taking her to Camelot in case any of the townspeople tried anything again. Merlin tried to heal her with the supplies he’d brought and, at Arthur’s insistence, even magic but nothing was healing the old woman.
“Is there anything more you can do for her?” Arthur asked softly, turning away from the woman so she wouldn’t hear him.
Merlin shook his head gravelly. “She won’t make it through the night,” He said, dejectedly. Arthur put a hand on his shoulder in reassurance, he knew Merlin did all he could.
“Make her as comfortable as possible,” He said squeezing Merlin’s shoulder. Merlin didn’t look at him entirely as he turned to busy himself again.
“Thank you.” The woman said when Arthur turned to look at her again.
“You should try and get some rest.” Arthur said, softly.
“My time has come.” The woman replied, gravelly, “When you have lived as long as I, you no longer fear the journey to the next world. I have a gift for you. You showed kindness, and compassion. Those are the qualities of a true king.” She reached out to hand Arthur something. Arthur looked at it hesitantly. He could feel Merlin’s eyes on him as well, looking at the parcel confusedly. “Open it,” The woman insisted.
Arthur opened the cloth wrapping to reveal a horn. It was intricately decorated on both ends with silver. “It’s beautiful.”
“It has the power to summon the dead.” The woman told him. She didn’t elaborate much after that. Her condition worsened rapidly and she died shortly after that. Merlin looked dejected, try as Arthur might to reassure him. Merlin tried all he could think of to save the old woman, he knew that, but he couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps there was something that could have saved her. Perhaps something he hadn’t learned already. There was still much he didn’t know about magic, despite the fact that he was supposed to be ‘ the greatest sorcerer to walk the earth ’ or whatever Kilgharrah had said.
They gave the woman a proper burial and Merlin used his magic to make flowers grow in place of a headstone. Arthur decided they’d hunker down for the night, there was no use riding through the night when there was nothing urgent waiting for him in Camelot. Though frankly, Camelot be damned, Arthur wanted to spend a quiet night with Merlin beneath the stars. Even though, Merlin hadn’t spoken much since the woman had died.
He was laying on the ground, staring up at the stars, when Arthur returned from checking on the horses. Arthur settled down next to him. He left some space between them, unsure of how Merlin was feeling at that moment. However he was just fine with that, looking at Merlin. The moonlight illuminated Merlins features in a silver glow. Arthur’s hand found Merlin’s where it lay between them and brought Merlin’s hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to it.
That seemed to get Merlin’s attention properly and he looked over at Arthur. He studied him for a long time. Then he was reaching out to grab Arthur. He kissed him for an even longer time, trying to will everything he wanted to say into the kiss.
When they returned to Camelot, they took the horn straight to Gaius, who inspected it for a moment before pulling out some books, searching for something. He found a book that told them what the purpose of the horn, the Horn of Cathbhadh, Gaius called it. He explained how the Horn was used by the High Priestesses and made Merlin swear to keep it safe before shooing them both off to prepare for the banquet.
That night was the celebration of Arthur’s coronation. There was a dinner in the dining hall for the knights in Arthur’s honour but it was, as usual, a somber affair. Arthur was distracted by grief. Though his coronation was one of the proudest moments of his life, the day marked something else for him as well. The anniversary of his father’s death. His mind kept wandering to the horn, which was hidden in one of the drawers in his chambers.
Arthur had spent much of his life seeking the approval of Uther Pendragon, and now that he was King he couldn’t help but wonder what Uther would think of his time as ruler. While Arthur knew Uther would never approve the legalization of magic in Camelot, he was all too curious to know what his father would have thought of some of his other decisions. Besides, Arthur thought belatedly, his father was blinded by hatred for magic after Arthur’s mother had died. Though Arthur felt that loss too, and had seen the danger magic could cause in the wrong hands, he had also seen a side to magic that Uther had long since forgotten.
Arthur had seen Merlin use magic a few times by that point, often at his own insistence. While he knew Merlin’s magic was equally capable of such destruction, perhaps infinitely more so, he was now perfectly aware of how magic could be used for good, in a way he had never been in his life. He had seen Merlin use magic to heal people, to protect people, usually Arthur, and even to amuse the children of the lower towns as he quietly produced brilliant blue butterflies that flew around their heads. Though he’d deny that whenever Arthur brought it up.
Arthur was still going back and forth over all of this in his head when he went back to his chambers that night. He had dismissed Merlin for the evening, having left the party early, telling him to have fun. Merlin looked worried but Arthur assured him he was fine and pressed a kiss to his cheek in goodnight. Arthur took the horn from its place in his drawer and sat down at the table in his chambers, not bothering to remove his mail, to mull everything over.
Arthur didn’t realize he’d spent the night staring at the horn until Merlin knocked on his door the next morning. He looked up to see the sun peeking through his windows. He hurriedly grabbed a bowl off the table, dumped the fruit out of it, and placed it over the horn. The last thing he needed was Merlin telling him that what he was going to do was a bad decision, as he knew he would. Arthur had finally made up his mind.
The fruit crashed to the floor as Merlin opened the door. “What are you doing?” he exclaimed, bending down to pick up the fruit before it spilled into the hall.
“Nothing,” Arthur said, “Thinking.”
“You, thinking?” Merlin chuckled, setting some of the fruit down onto the table, “Now I’m getting really worried.”
“Shut up.” Arthur’s lips quirked up, despite himself. Merlin went to pick up the bowl but Arthur stopped him, placing a hand on top of it, “Leave it.”
“Because I’m telling you to and I’m the King of Camelot.” Merlin scoffed at him. “Not that that seems to mean anything to you.” Arthur took his hands off the bowl for a second and Merlin tried to make a grab for it, but Arthur was faster. They stared at each other for a moment. “Ready the horses and gather some supplies,” Arthur said, standing up.
“Where are we going?” Merlin questioned, letting go of the bowl.
“You don’t need to know,” Arthur said firmly. He grabbed a spoon off the table and pointed it at Merlin’s face. “Do not breathe a word about this to anyone.” He ordered, trying very hard to keep a straight face.
“You’re threatening me with a spoon?” Merlin asked incredulously. Arthur almost cracked at that and whacked him on the head playfully. “Ow!” Merlin exclaimed loudly. Arthur laughed finally as Merlin rubbed the spot of his head. Arthur really hadn’t hit him that hard, but that was why he loved Merlin. Because he played along with all his stupid jokes.
“Go ready the horses,” Arthur chuckled, “And bring some food, I’m starving.” Merlin scowled at him, but couldn’t help but smile when Arthur laugh loudly in return. Merlin kissed him before he went, smiling softly.
“Arthur. I have a bad feeling about this.” Merlin said as they approached their destination. He could feel the presence of dark magic lingering in the air. “This place is giving me a bad feeling.”
“That is because you’re a coward.” Arthur teased.
“No.” Merlin argued, “It is because I value my life and I don’t want to die horribly.”
“So, are we going to turn back?”
Merlin sighed, looking at the large stones in front of them.
“The Great Stones of Nemeton.”
Merlin whirled around to stare at Arthur in surprise. Arthur handed Merlin the reins of his horse so he could pull the horn out of his bag. “You’re going to use it?”
“This will be the only chance I have to see my father again.” Arthur defended, “I can’t let it pass.”
“This is powerful magic, Arthur.”
“My father was taken from me before his time. Now there isn't a day that passes when I don't think of the things I wish I'd said to him. If you were given the same chance to see your father, talk to him. Wouldn't you do the same?” Merlin nodded solemnly.
He knew he would have done the same thing, if it meant he could see his father again. Especially since they had had so little time together. Arthur knew Merlin couldn’t argue with that, Merlin had told him who his father really was shortly after he had told Arthur about his magic. Then he had gone on to disprove almost every accomplishment Arthur had made in the time they’d known each other, detailing how he had used magic to save him.
The two of them approached the stones together, having left the horses to graze. Merlin hesitated at the opening of the stones, feeling the presence of the High Priestesses of the past. He hadn’t had very good experiences with High Priestesses himself and the place made him uneasy.
Arthur turned to look at him, before backtracking to stand in front of him. He took Merlin’s face in his hands and forced him to look him in the eyes. “Everything is going to be fine, Merlin.” He said softly.
“What if something goes wrong?” Merlin argued, pulling Arthur closer as though that would keep him safe. “This type of magic is tricky.”
“Well then I’ll have you to protect me,” Arthur murmured, before pressing his lips to Merlin’s. “I have to do this.” Arthur said, pulling away. Merlin let him go reluctantly. He watched worriedly as Arthur walked to the middle of the stone circle. Arthur turned to glance back at him reassuringly before bringing the horn to his lips and blowing into it.
A bright light appeared in front of Arthur and he walked into it, disappearing from Merlin’s view. Arthur was surrounded by a blue light. A figure walked toward him. “Father?”
Uther turned to face him. “Arthur.”
“I thought I would never see you again,” Arthur breathed, “There isn’t a day that passes when I don’t think of you.”
“And I, you.” Uther replied.
“There are times when I feel so alone,” Arthur continued, “I wish more than anything that you were by my side.”
“If I were at your side, I fear you would not like all that I have to say.” Uther said solemnly.
“What do you mean?” Arthur questioned.
“Many of the decisions you have made since you have become King go against all that I taught you.”
“I have done what I have believed to be right.” Arthur protested.
“You have ignored our tradition, our ancient laws. You have allowed common men to become knights.” Uther was circling Arthur now.
“They are some of the finest knights that Camelot's ever known.” Arthur defended, “They would gladly give their lives for the kingdom.” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“They question your decisions. They make you look weak.”
“Listening to others is a sign of strength, not weakness.” Arthur was confused, this was not what he expected to hear.
“How do you expect anyone to fear a King who does not know his own mind?”
“I don't want my people to respect me because they fear me.” Arthur quavered.
“Then they will not respect you at all.” Uther snapped. Arthur was taken aback. Uther stopped walking. “Your marriage should have served to form an alliance with another kingdom,” He said calmly, “and you’ve chosen to broadcast to the entire castle that you’ve entered a relationship with your manservant. How can you expect any respectable King to offer his daughter’s hand to you now.
"When I marry,” Arthur steeled himself, matching Uther’s gaze as much as he could, “it will be for love. I love Merlin. More than... I can express.”
“There are some things that are more important than love.” Uther rebuked, “It is your duty to strengthen and protect the kingdom. You have failed.” Arthur took a step back in shock. “And for a serving boy, no less.” Uther hissed.
“I have always strived to make you proud,” Arthur said dejectedly.
“How can I be proud of a son who ignores everything that I taught him?” Uther snapped, “Who is destroying my legacy!”
“I have brought peace to the kingdom…” Arthur stammered.
“At what price? The peace cannot last. If you are not strong, the kingdom will fall.” Uther took a step back. “You must go now,” He turned to walk away.
“I need more time.” Arthur stated, “There is still so much I wish to say.”
“If you stay, you will be forever trapped in the world of the dead.” Uther explained, looking at Arthur. “You must go now. Go.”
“This can't be the last time I will ever see you.” Arthur insisted.
“Think about everything that I have said to you. It isn't too late. Now go.” Arthur turned to walk away, dispirited. Just as Arthur was about to step back through were he came, Uther spoke again. “I will always love you, Arthur.” Uther murmured. Arthur turned once more, to catch a final glimpse of his father’s face, before stepping back through the light.
Arthur appeared in the middle of the stones again and Merlin suppressed the urge to run up to him. “Arthur?” he called. Arthur kept his eyes fixed on the ground. Arthur kept his gaze on the ground he approached Merlin. “Are you alright?” Merlin asked softly when Arthur reached him. Arthur didn’t say anything, dropping his head onto Merlin’s shoulder. Merlin wrapped his arms around him, one hand cradling Arthur’s head. Merlin held Arthur for a moment, before pulling away to look at him. Arthur still wouldn’t meet his gaze. “Come on,” he said gently, “Let’s go set up camp for the night.” He lead Arthur away from the stones with an arm around his shoulders.
It was getting dark by the time Merlin had finished cleaning up after supper. Arthur still hadn’t said a word, only staring into the fire. He had pushed his stew around in his bowl, not eating. Merlin sighed and settled down next to him.
“Do you want to talk about it?” When Merlin received no response, he tried again. “What happened at the stones?”
“It seems my father doesn’t approve of the way I have chosen to rule his kingdom,” Arthur sighed.
“You mean your kingdom,” Merlin nudged him. Arthur looked at him and shrugged.
“The things he said about the knights, about my not marrying for an alliance,” Arthur paused, leaving out his father’s comment about Merlin, “What if he’s right? What if I have weakened Camelot?”
“Do you really believe that?” Merlin prodded, “You have always done what you believed to be right. People respect you.”
Arthur glanced at him again. “Thank you Merlin.”
Merlin watched him stare into the fire again before nudging him again. “Some people still think you’re a foolish, arrogant ass,” he teased.
“Who?” Arthur asked, facing him. Merlin shrugged, smirking. Arthur looked away, rolling his eyes. “Very funny.” Arthur didn’t react further, which worried Merlin. He had hoped that might ease Arthur into a more joking mood. Arthur squinted up at the sky before stating, “We should get some sleep.” Which effectively put an end to the conversation.
“Arthur,” Merlin said, causing Arthur pause and look at him. “Whatever your father’s frustrations may be, Camelot is your kingdom now. You may choose to rule it how you wish. Your father can be as angry as he wants, in his death, but he is gone.”
“Your people believe in you. They trust you, as they never trusted your father. As for the knights, they’re better than your father’s knights ever were and you know that. They trust you, they would follow you anywhere.” He paused, letting it sink in. Arthur was staring into the fire again, thinking. He drew a shaky breath before continuing, “And about your marriage,” Arthur’s gaze snapped back to Merlin, “I love you, Arthur, you know that. I’d do anything you asked. If you… if you feel the need to marry for an alliance, as your father said, you can. I’d let you go.”
Arthur stared at Merlin, shocked. In that moment he was so overwhelmed with feelings that he couldn’t form words. It was Merlin’s turn to stare into the fire now, unable to look at Arthur with what he thought was coming. Arthur saw tears forming in Merlin’s eyes and, unable to form the words, he shifted so he was facing Merlin, taking Merlin’s hands from where he was fidgeting in his lap. Merlin looked up at Arthur and drew another shaky breath, preparing himself for the worst. But the worst never came. Arthur surged forward to kiss Merlin, trying to express everything he was feeling. Merlin was shocked at first, but soon he was kissing Arthur back, with just as much emotion. Arthur’s hands were in Merlin’s hair. Merlin’s arms wrapped around Arthur’s waist, pulling him close.
“I’d never ask that of you, Merlin,” Arthur whispered, pulling away to look Merlin in the eyes, “It’d be the death of me.”
“At least we’re in agreement then.” Merlin laughed, his voice thick with emotion, “Let’s get some sleep, we have a long day tomorrow.” They curled up together, Merlin leaning back against a log with Arthur’s head resting on his shoulder. Merlin pressed his lips to Arthur’s hair, listening to his breath even out before falling asleep.
The next day’s council meeting was a boring affair, even Arthur was hardly listening. Leon, who was giving his report, sounded like he’d rather be doing anything else. “We covered the area from Pawlett down to Meldreth. This includes 30 troops at…” he picked up his parchment to read off, “Bawtry. 15 at Talan. Ten at Chime. Nine at Brune.” The doors to the Council Chambers blew open abruptly, causing everyone to look at them in surprise. Arthur glanced at Merlin, where he was standing off to the side of the room, who shrugged in response. He nodded at Leon to continue. “11 at Burwelle,” Leon started where he left off. Just as soon as he’d finished, the candelabra from above the Round Table came crashing down into the centre of it; causing everyone to jump back in surprise, save for Merlin who moved forward, towards Arthur. He placed a hand on Arthur’s shoulder and Arthur reached up to squeeze it, reassuringly. Everyone sat silently, staring at the candelabra in shock for a moment. Arthur called an end to the meeting after that.
“I want the table repaired before the next council meeting,” Arthur ordered, as him and Merlin walked back to his chambers. When he received no answer he turned to look at Merlin who was trailing behind him, looking back towards the Council Chambers. “Are you listening to me, Merlin.”
“What?” Merlin started, turning to look at Arthur again. “Sorry. I was just thinking about what happened.”
“Did it give you a terrible fright?” Arthur teased, ignoring the fact that it had scared him half to death.
“Yes!” Merlin exclaimed “My heart nearly jumped out through my mouth.” He regarded Arthur concernedly.
“I’m fine, Merlin,” Arthur said softly before the teasing edge crept back in, “Maybe you should take the rest of the day off and put your feet up.”
“Really?” Merlin asked, he’d only been half paying attention, still inspecting Arthur for injury. Arthur turned to stare at him. “You were joking?”
“There really is no limit to your intelligence, is there, Merlin?” He chuckled, walking away. Merlin shook his head and made to follow Arthur but he felt a breeze go by that made him stop in his tracks. It felt as though someone had walked past him, but there was no one. “Merlin?” Arthur called from up ahead. Merlin shook his head and ran after Arthur.
Merlin was summoned to help Gaius before long. Arthur complained, of course, but sent him off all the same. He helped Gaius clean and treat a wound on Percival’s shoulder. “The axe must have fallen off the rack,” Percival explained, as Gaius finished wrapping his shoulder.
“I’m surprised a falling axe would cause such a deep wound,” Gaius replied.
“Not as surprised as I was.”
“Quite,” Gaius agreed, “You were lucky you weren’t more severely injured.”
“It’s strange…” Percival said gravely.
“What’s that?” Merlin questioned, Percival’s tone creating an uneasy pit in his stomach.
“Just before it happened,” Percival explained, “I sensed something, like there was someone there, watching me. I'm sure it was just my mind playing tricks on me.” Merlin tensed, remembering the feeling he’d had earlier.
“Apply a second poultice in the morning,” Gaius told Percival, dismissing him. “And no training.” He added.
“Thank you, Gaius,” Percival said as Merlin helped him put his shirt back on without upsetting his arm.
“Is there something wrong, Merlin?” Gaius asked as Merlin was fiddling with his sleeves. Merlin glanced at him wordlessly. “Merlin, I get the distinct impression there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“No.” Merlin said defensively, “Why would you say that?” He asked glancing over his shoulder.
“Because there usually is.”
Merlin stayed quiet for a moment, a few seconds really, feeling Gaius gaze bore into him. He was very bad at keeping secrets from Gaius “We went to the Stones of Nemeton,” He admitted in a rush of stumbling syllables.
“Merlin!” Gaius exclaimed, “I warned you of the dangers!”
“I tried to stop him! He was insistent.” Merlin thought about watching Arthur disappear in the middle of the stones, about the presence both he and Percival felt.
“What is it, Merlin?” Gaius asked, worriedly.
“After the candelabra fell,” Merlin started, “I was in the corridor, outside the Council Chambers. I could sense something,” he hesitated, “It was like Percival said, a presence of some kind.”
Gaius moved toward his desk, where the books they had looked at earlier were still sitting open. “In the days of the Old Religion,” Gaius said, leaning over the book, “the priestesses trained for years before entering into the spirit world. It was fraught with dangers. There was one thing they were schooled never to do.” Merlin looked up at him when he paused, “As the veil closed, they were never to look back at the spirit.”
“What happened if they did?”
“They’d release the spirit into this world.”
“Arthur must have looked back.” Merlin didn’t give Gaius a chance to respond before he was speeding off to Arthur’s chambers to tell him. He burst into to Arthur’s chambers, without knocking, as Arthur was settling down to eat. He explained about Percival’s shoulder, the presence and what Gaius had told him in a flurry of words, barely pausing for breath.
“What?” Arthur asked, puzzled.
“At the Stones of Nemeton,” Merlin repeated “I think you may have released your father’s spirit.”
“And what makes you think that?”
“Did you look back?” Merlin questioned. Arthur didn’t answer. “As the veil closed, did you look back at your father?” Merlin pressed.
“I may have glanced round for a second,” Arthur admitted, getting up from his chair.
“In that second, you unleashed Uther’s spirit.” Arthur turned to look out the window. “All these strange things that have been happening? The candelabra falling onto the Round Table.”
“Yes, because the chain broke.” Arthur shrugged, facing Merlin again.
“The axe falling on Percival.”
“It was an accident.”
“Was it?” They stared at each other for a moment.
“Do you really expect me to believe that my father’s spirit is responsible for these things?” Arthur scoffed.
“The Round Table represents everything that's changed since you became King.” Merlin argued, walking around the table to stand in front of Arthur, “You told me how Uther disapproved. He's angry with you and that makes him dangerous.”
“I know my father,” Arthur said, his voice wavering, “He wouldn’t do these things.”
“I think he’d do anything to protect his legacy,” Merlin pointed out. He hated to do this to Arthur, but he was certain. “Who knows what he’s capable of?”
“Enough!” Arthur exclaimed. Merlin faltered. “That’s enough.” He wasn’t looking Merlin in the eyes, Merlin knew he’d pressed too hard for one night. “Leave me.” Arthur’s head was swimming. He trusted Merlin more than anyone, and if he said that it was his father’s spirit he was probably right. Gaius said himself that he’d seen the ceremony performed before, he would know. But to think his father would do such things. Merlin was still staring at him and Arthur deflated. “I just have a lot to think about, Merlin,” he sighed. When Merlin didn’t move, Arthur’s resolve broke completely and he moved forward to wrap his arms around Merlin.
“I’m sorry for pushing so much,” Merlin whispered.
“I know.” Arthur said, pulling away, “I just need to think, okay?” Merlin nodded and turned to leave. “Merlin,” Arthur called out, “Be careful. If this really is my father’s spirit… he wasn’t all too pleased about, well, us.” Merlin nodded and crossed the room to the door. He gave Arthur a soft smile as he left.
Merlin walked the halls back to Gaius chambers silently. He took the long way, past the kitchens, to clear his head. He heard a noise, like something falling. “Is someone there?” He called out, but there was no response. He assumed it must have been the wind of the raging storm outside. A set of shutters blew open, making him jump, and he shut and locked them. The door behind him started to rattle and all the shutters started to thump against the window frames. The sound stopped and there was a sound like footsteps going towards the door. He turned to continue down the hall towards the kitchens but his foot caught on something and he fell. He felt something grip at his arms and then he was being dragged down the hall towards the kitchens. He scrambled and thrashed but couldn’t break free. Then the grip was gone and he scrambled to his feet. He started down the hall again and one of the shields ripped from the walls and slammed onto the ground. He started to run and a candle holder smashed into the side of his head, causing him to fall. Things around the hall started flying around and Merlin took off towards the kitchens. He turned back to try and see what was causing this to happen and one of the spears came flying down the hall towards his head. He hurried into the kitchens and slammed the door shut just in time.
He locked the door and backed away, slowly. He looked around kitchen suspiciously. Something flew towards his head and he ducked, letting out a noise of surprise. Something exploded next to him and things started flying off the shelves. He scrambled back, tripping over his own feet. One of the shelves fell down onto his leg, pinning him there. There were still things flying around, narrowly missing his head. He heard a sound behind him and when he turned to look, he saw that there was a fire roaring in the fireplace. He struggled to get his leg free but it was stuck. He yelled loudly, trying to wrench his leg free as the fire started to spread. He started to cough from the smoke.
The door burst open with a bang and Gwaine rushed in. “Merlin!” he shouted. He pulled at the shelf, struggling, until Merlin could get his leg free. Gwaine helped Merlin the rest of the way to Gaius’ chambers.
“Merlin!” Arthur shouted, rushing into Gaius’ chambers. Gaius must have sent for him. Merlin was sitting on his bed. Gaius had inspected his leg, which was fine save for some nasty bruises, applied a poultice and wrapped it so it would heal. He had also wrapped Merlin’s head, which was bleeding from where the candle holder hit it. Gaius had since on to look at Gwaine who’d, ironically, taken an empty flagon to the head. “Merlin are you alright?” Arthur asked, rushing over. He looked Merlin over concernedly. Merlin nodded. “What happened?” He settled down next to Merlin, holding onto his hands tightly.
Merlin relayed the whole story as best he could, keeping his voice quiet so as to not alert Gwaine. “You know this was Uther,” Merlin said after he finished his story.
“We don’t know what happened.” Arthur brushed Merlin’s hair from his eyes as best he could with the thick bandage wrapped around Merlin’s head.
“So things just mysteriously started flying at my head, and I just mysteriously ended up locked in the kitchens, which just mysteriously caught fire,” Merlin scoffed sarcastically. Arthur scowled halfheartedly at him. “You said yourself that Uther disapproved of you being with me.”
“He wouldn’t do this.”
“I know how hard this is for you.” Gaius approached them slowly.
“Gaius how is he?” Merlin started to protest, “How is he really? He’s going to downplay it if I ask.”
“He’s going to be fine,” Gaius chuckled, adjusting the bandage around Merlin’s head, “He’s got a thick skull.” Merlin made a noise at that. “I’m concerned there may be smoke in his lungs, if it were up to me I’d give him a sleeping draught, let him heal. But like I said, he has a thick skull.”
“Gaius!” Merlin protested.
“He’s lucky to have escaped with his life,” Gaius said solemnly, turning to busy himself with something on the table.
“I’ve always known my father could be cruel,” Arthur whispered, “but why would he do this to you? He knows how much I love you.”
“Did you tell him about me?” Merlin questioned, teasingly but Arthur ignored it.
“Gaius,” He said causing Gaius to look at him, “What do you know about ghosts?”
The three of them went out to the table in Gaius’ chamber where Gaius set about inspecting his book again, flipping through a few pages. “We must force Uther's spirit to return to the other world before he does any more harm.” Gaius said, busying himself with gathering things from around the room. “We must use The Horn of Cathbhadh to reopen the veil between the worlds. But we must remember one thing…” He looked at Arthur, “Only the person who summoned the spirit can force it from this world.”
Gaius sent Arthur and Merlin, who insisted on accompanying him despite the fact that both Arthur and Gaius told him not to, back to Arthur’s chambers to retrieve the horn. He told them he’d join them when he had completed a potion they would need. Arthur paced around the room for awhile before setting the horn down on the table, leaning on it. Merlin decided to tidy things up but he was limping slightly and tripped, sending the tray he was carrying to the floor with a crash. Arthur jumped.
“You’re fortunate I’m not easily frightened.” Arthur covered.
“Really? Because it looked like you jumped out of your skin.”
“That's because you’re a clumsy oaf,” Arthur said haughtily. He watched Merlin bend down awkwardly to pick everything up. “Merlin leave it, really, you shouldn’t even be walking around.” Merlin came to join him at the table, pulling out a chair next to Arthur. “Where is Gaius?” Arthur exclaimed, frustratedly “How long does it take to make a potion.”
“These things take time if they’re to be done properly,” Merlin placed a hand on top of Arthur’s soothingly. Merlin heard a noise, off on the other side of Arthur’s chambers and he tensed.
“What is it?” Arthur asked, quietly following Merlin’s gaze.
“I heard something behind the door,” Merlin whispered.
“You’re imagining things, Merlin.” There was another sound, Arthur heard it too. He looked at the door suspiciously.
“What do we do?” Merlin whispered. Arthur moved towards the door. He stopped in front of it and turned to gesture for Merlin to come with him. He used hand signals to explain to Merlin that he was to open the door, so that Arthur could face Uther if he had to. Arthur counted to three and Merlin threw the door open. They found nothing. Turning to look at each other, confused, they both caught sight of something that made them jump. It was only a mouse.
“There’s your ghost, Merlin,” Arthur looked at Merlin who was smiling sheepishly at him. They turned to go sit back down and nearly jumped out of their skin when they saw Gaius standing there. Neither of them had heard him come in.
“The potion will allow you to see Uther in his spirit form.” Gaius explained, gesturing to the two vials he’d placed on the table, “Once you are in his presence, you must blow the horn. It is the only way you can force him to go back to the spirit world.”
“Is it safe?” Arthur asked, inspecting the vial.
Gaius paused. “I can't say I'm entirely sure,” He admitted.
Merlin and Arthur raised the vials but when Merlin went to drink he saw Arthur wasn’t doing the same. “What are you waiting for?”
“To see if it's safe,” Arthur shrugged.
“So, if I don't die, you'll take yours?”
“Precisely.” They both knew that was a lie. Merlin stared at Arthur. “Get on with it.” Merlin rolled his eyes and drank the contents of the vial. It was disgusting, he almost gagged, but he tried to keep a straight face. “Well, at least we know it doesn't kill you instantly,” Arthur commented before draining his own vial. He gagged, not even bothering to hide it. “That…” he coughed, “That is the foulest thing I've ever tasted.”
“Sorry,” Merlin started to cough as well, having held it in, “Did I forget to tell you about that part?”
Once they had thoroughly washed down the disgusting potion, Merlin and Arthur set about searching the castle for Uther’s ghost. Arthur grabbed a torch from the wall outside his chambers, the sound caused Merlin to flinch. Merlin saw something move. “There,” he whispered.
Merlin looked for a moment at the figure he was seeing before realizing it was actually two figures. Then he raised his hand and realized where he went wrong. “Oh, it's just our shadows.” Arthur made a show about playfully smacking Merlin in the back of the head so that you could see it clearly in their shadows. “Ow!” Merlin whispered.
They kept moving through the corridors until they saw movement from behind one of the doors. They stopped and braced themselves, Arthur grabbed hold of the horn.
“Arthur. Merlin.” It was just Leon. They both relaxed.
“Leon.” They both said, awkwardly.
“Is everything all right, my Lord?” Leon asked, glancing at the torch Arthur was carrying.
“It's perfectly fine.” Arthur answered too quickly. Leon seemed unconvinced. “We are…” Arthur was drawing a blank, “Merlin. Tell Leon what we're doing.” He hoped Merlin could come up with something that didn’t sound completely absurd, but alas they were both two sides of the same idiotic coin.
“We're…” Merlin gestured wordlessly, grasping at straws. “I'm teaching him some poetry,” He finally blurted. Arthur faltered. Anything else , he thought, he could have said anything else.
“Poetry?” Leon questioned, disbelieving.
“I...love poetry,” Arthur stammered. Leon was still staring at the in amusement.
“I was as surprised as you are,” Merlin laughed loudly, “He can't get enough of it.”
“I'll leave you to your poetry, then, my Lord,” Leon chuckled and walked away. Arthur waited until he heard the door close behind him before turning to look at Merlin
“Poetry? That's the best you could come up with?”
“What did you want me to say?”
"I don't know. Something that didn't make me sound like a love struck girl.”
“Would you rather I had told him you brought me here to have a midnight picnic?” Merlin prodded, “That would have surely given him a different impression.”
“Shut up, Merlin.” Arthur saw something move over Merlin’s shoulder and stopped.
“What was that?” Merlin asked, hearing a noise. He turned to look but there was nothing.
“It was my father,” Arthur said, moving towards where Uther had appeared. They turned down a corridor, silently before Arthur spoke again. “I never thought the day would come when I would be hunting my own father. When I became King, more than anything, I wanted to make him proud.” Arthur saw Merlin pull a face at that. “What is it?” He questioned.
“You've always done what you believed to be right even if you knew your father would disapprove of it.” Merlin replied, softly, “Do you not see how different you are to him? Camelot is a better place since you became King.”
“My father clearly doesn't think so.”
“The people believe in you, Arthur,” Merlin insisted, “It counts for nothing if you don't believe in yourself.” There was a rush of wind from a room off the corridor. Arthur tilted his head and the two of them turned to the corner quickly but saw nothing. There was a sound from the door behind them, followed by a sound down the corridor.
“Check the storeroom,” Arthur said gesturing to the door behind them.
“Be careful.” Merlin turned towards the storeroom. He opened the door cautiously but saw nothing inside. He moved to investigate but found nothing. A bird flew up from the floor suddenly, startling Merlin. The shelves by the door started to shake and Merlin knew Uther was there. The shelves fell and blocked the door before he could get to it. “Arthur!” he shouted.
Arthur crept through the halls silently. It felt almost like being on a hunting trip, except that he was in the castle, and he was hunting his father. He scanned the corridor for any sign of Uther but found nothing. He heard a sound behind hm and turned to look. His torch went out. “Merlin?” He whispered loudly, “Merlin, is that you?” But he knew that was wishful thinking. “Father.” He felt something pass behind him but he whirled around to face nothing. He dropped the torch, pulling the horn from his belt.
He continued to stalk through the halls until he found his way to the throne room. The door was ajar, creaking quietly. He pushed the door opened cautiously and, upon seeing nothing once again, slowly entered the room. Figures that’s where Uther would go . The door slammed shut behind him and locked. “I know it’s you, Father,” Arthur to the seemingly empty room. He felt a presence behind him and turned to see Uther sitting on the throne. “Why are you doing this?”
“I did not spend my entire life building this kingdom to see my own son destroy it,” Uther sneered.
“You tried to kill Merlin.” Arthur’s grip on the horn tightened
“For your own good,” Uther argued, “How can a serving boy understand what it takes to rule a kingdom. You are a king, Arthur. You need a Queen by your side.”
“Merlin is strong, and smart, and I trust him more than anyone.”
"And that is your weakness,” Uther accused, “You put too much trust in other people. You, and you alone must rule Camelot.”
“I would rather not rule at all, than rule alone.”
“Your whole life, I tried to prepare you for the day you would become King. Did you learn nothing?”
“I watched you rule, and I learnt that if you trust no-one, you will always live in fear. Your hatred came from fear, not strength.
“How dare you!” Uther bellowed, raising from the throne.
“I loved, and respected you. But I have to rule the Kingdom in my own way. I have to do what I believe to be right.” Arthur could hear Merlin’s words from before rattling around in his head. All his life, Arthur wanted to be the kind of king his father would want him to be. But he needed to be better than Uther was.
“I will not allow you destroy all that I built!”
“Then you will have to kill me,” Arthur shrugged, sighing, “I am not you, Father. I can't rule the way you did.”
“Camelot must come before all else.” Uther stated, calmly. “Even you.” Something struck Arthur in the back of the head and everything went dark.
When Merlin had freed himself from the storeroom, he was unsure of which direct Arthur could have gone. He heard a clang, like crashing metal, from the throne room and ran as fast as he could. He entered the room quietly, finding Uther stalking towards Arthur who lay unconscious on the floor.
“Get away from him, Uther!” Merlin commanded lowly. “You’ve caused enough harm. You don’t belong here,” Merlin kept his voice steady, “You must return to the other world.”
“Thing is my kingdom!” Uther hissed, turning to face Merlin slowly, “You think you can drive me from it? You are nothing but a serving boy!”
“I am much more than that.” Merlin ground out. Uther glared and a bench came flying at Merlin’s head. Merlin didn’t flinch as he stopped the bench with nothing more than a flash of his eyes. When he lifted his gaze to meet Uther’s, he was staring at Merlin in disbelief.
“You have magic?”
“I was born with it!” Merlin spat the words out like he had wanted to do for so long while Uther was alive. Every rant Uther went on about sorcery, every needless execution, Merlin had waited for a moment like this.
“I made you Arthur’s servant,” Uther said in disbelief, “You are a sorcerer.”
“Even while you were King, there was magic at the heart of Camelot.” Merlin taunted.
“I will not allow you and your kind to poison my kingdom, my son!” Uther advanced on Merlin, but Merlin didn’t back down.
“You’re wrong. You’re wrong,” Uther stopped in his tracks, “About so much. Arthur is a better, and more worthy, King than you ever were. He will bring peace to Camelot and I will be by his side, like I have always been.”
Uther screamed demonically and Merlin sent him flying back through the doors on the other side of the room. He stopped to check on Arthur, who was breathing evenly and even showing signs of waking, before he peeked out the door to look for Uther. He glanced up and down the halls before deciding on one to go down. He opened the door to the armoury, where Uther had first attacked Percival, and lit the torches using magic. He entered the room slowly, leaving the door open behind him. He walked through the room, finding nothing and stopped to steady one of the maces that was swinging. He heard a rushing sound and turned to see two spears flying towards him. They crashed into the door behind him, pinning him there by his jacket. He tried aimlessly to pull them free before looking up at the sound of Uther’s approaching footsteps.
“It will give me great pleasure killing you.” Uther leveled a sword at Merlin’s chest.
“Father!” Arthur burst through the doors. Uther turned to face him, but Arthur wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at Merlin as he held the horn above his head.
“Arthur?” Uther said uncertainly, “No. Please.” He faltered, “Whatever I have done, I have done for Camelot.”
“You’ve had your turn.” Arthur quavered, “Now it’s mine.” Arthur stared for a moment at his father’s face, tears welling in his eyes before he brought the horn to his lips.
“Merlin has magic!” Uther announced desperately. Arthur lowered the horn.
“I know,” Arthur admitted, looking his father in the eyes. He tried not to falter at the shock and disappointment that crossed Uther’s face. He made eye contact with Merlin over Uther’s shoulder. “I love him anyway.”
“You cannot allow sorcerery to cloud your judgement, Arthur,” Uther protested, “For the sake of Camelot, you mus-”
“I will not allow my kingdom to be blinded by your hatred any longer!” Arthur announced. Uther was taken aback but Arthur was looking at Merlin again. He held Merlin’s gaze and when he spoke, he was speaking to Merlin more that he was Uther. “Magic will once again be welcomed in Camelot, I will make sure of that.” Merlin couldn’t believe what he had heard. Uther apparently couldn’t either, he started to protest but Arthur cut him off. “There is nothing you can do about it, Father.” Uther shouted and advanced toward Arthur, but Arthur was faster. He raised the horn to his lips and blew into it. Uther’s figure wavered and finally disappeared.
Merlin and Arthur stared at each other, a lot of emotions passed between them before Arthur finally moved forward towards Merlin. He’d just as soon freed Merlin from the spears as he had Merlin pinned against the door again, kissing him fiercely.
“Did you mean what you said?” Merlin asked after they’d both slumped down onto the floor in exhaustion. “About magic in Camelot?”
“Of course I did, Merlin,” Arthur chuckled, “As king I can hardly go around harbouring a sorcerer.” He looked up at Merlin. “And as myself, I can hardly banish you, let alone execute you. Seemed like a fair solution.” Arthur shrugged. “Besides, it’s past time that magic was restored to Camelot.” Arthur was going to continue but then Merlin was kissing him again and what could he really say against that.
“I always looked up to my father,” Arthur said as Merlin helped him into his armour. The sun had come up not too long after the two of them had sat down to rest and they both groaned at it before getting up to start their duties. “I admired and respected him more than anyone. I have to accept that I can’t please him, and be true to myself.”
“Uther did what he thought he had to do to protect the kingdom,” Merlin replied, struggling to get Arthur’s chest plate over his head slightly, “That doesn’t mean he was right.”
“I want to build a kingdom that is fair and just.” Arthur continued, “One where everyone is respected, regardless of rank.”
“Does that include me?” Merlin questioned, chuckling.
“Of course,” Arthur faltered, “Actually I wanted to-” But Merlin was on a roll with something.
“So, does that mean you’re not going to hit me anymore?”
“When do I ever hit you?”
“All the time,” Merlin chuckled.
“That’s not hitting, Merlin,” Arthur scoffed, “That’s merely friendly slaps. It’s horseplay.”
“So, can I give you a friendly slap?”
“You can certainly try.” Arthur laughed. Merlin glanced around before picking up Arthur’s glove from the bench behind him. He stared at it for a moment smirking before whirling around and smacking Arthur in the back of the head with it. Arthur stood still for a second and Merlin bit his lip to keep from laughing. Arthur turned to look at Merlin slowly. “What the hell was that?” He asked calmly.
“It was, um…” Merlin was trying very hard not to laugh at the serious expression on Arthur’s face, “Horseplay.” Arthur took the glove from Merlin’s hand slowly.
“No Merlin, you’re doing it all wrong. Arthur pulled the glove on slowly, clenching his fist, “ Why don’t I show you? ”