“What if I am the prince?”
Merlin and Arthur hadn't spoken in a while. And with a while they meant about two hours. It felt like an eternity though.
Arthur had sat down at the lake – trying to catch his breath, while Merlin was panicking because of the sudden confession.
“What will you do then?”
It's not that Arthur wanted to avert the attention from their sudden – situation. But a part of him felt like he didn't really care. This wasn't truly about his feelings. He hadn't even recognized them yet. They were just there. They were suffocating, yes. But Arthur wasn't a possessive person. At least not that he knew of. He had convinced himself he would be fine – as long as Merlin didn't throw him out completely.
And he was certain that Merlin was a better man than the man knew himself. He wouldn't throw Arthur out for maybe being in love with him.
“Why do you even ask that?”, Merlin asked, as he had just arrived at the shore and decided they needed to talk about what happened earlier.
The question itself irritated Arthur. Who wouldn't be? Of course Arthur would be worried. No matter how they moved on from here –
Arthur could be the prince. That much they had already established before they left Gwaine. It had been just a thought then. But it seemed to make more and more sense, the more memories returned.
Arthur needed to know how Merlin's view on him would change should it turn out the truth.
But Merlin was just as irritated about Arthur's question. The answer should be obvious – right? Arthur didn't have to ask a question he already knew the answer to, right?
“Because.”, Arthur said and paused. “The prince of Camelot does not exist. Neither do I.
Everybody forgot everything that has somehow to do with me or the prince.
You are a warlock who has been in Camelot for years and you forgot that you used to be a servant. The only explanation I can come up for that is – that you were a servant to the prince himself. You must have forgotten, because your position doesn't make sense – when the prince doesn't exist – and -”
Arthur closed his mouth and looked at Merlin. His face was twisted painfully. “We've talked about this, Arthur.”
“I know.”, Arthur gave a short response.
“I thought you wanted to talk about what happened earlier?”, Merlin said and pulled his legs closer to himself. The wind rustling through both their hair. The air tasted fresh. But not like salt. The water here was sweet instead.
“I am.” Arthur turned his head to Merlin meaningfully.
“No you're not. This has nothing to do with earlier!”, Merlin replied.
“I am. Merlin – don't you see that who I am has everything to do with the fact that I -”, he paused and inhaled a deep breath as Merlin just rubbed his neck embarrassed.
“I came here to find myself, Merlin. And to figure out who we were together. And this -” he took another deep breath.
“It would make sense, don't you think?”
'It would make sense, if I was the prince.', he didn't say. But Merlin knew what he meant.
Merlin looked down. “I don't want to know.”, he said quietly.
Arthur frowned. “Me neither.” A quiet question passed between them. But the silence was not an answer either of them could live with.
“Didn't you just say -”
“I asked if you think it makes sense. I am scared, Merlin.”, Arthur paused again – waiting for a reaction. Which came in Merlin staring at him with an open mouth. Understandable. Arthur wasn't the easily scared type. And Merlin had a feeling that Arthur wasn't afraid of what Merlin would do, if he was the prince. More of the knowledge himself.
It was confirmed by Arthur's explanation: “If I was the prince – don't you think that would be awful?”, Arthur shook his head a little.
“I would have left the entire kingdom by itself for more than a year. I've always thought of the prince as a coward. Now my head is hinting at the possibility that I AM that coward?
I don't want this. This responsibility - I have no idea about it.
And I could never be sure if that truly is who I am. I have nothing to prove it with. Who would believe me? In the end I would just be turned away from the crown as an impostor. Or killed or framed or something like that. I would be unable to ever change anything. It would torture me for the rest of my life to think I should have saved everyone. And realize I never had a chance. I would never have a choice!
I don't want to be the prince. I really don't.”
Merlin didn't interrupt him. He just listened. And then looked away.
“I don't want you to be either.”, Merlin finally said. And Arthur smiled at that.
“Why not.”, he said. But it wasn't a real question. It was an invitation. Merlin should be able to speak his mind as well. That was a right not only reserved for Arthur himself.
Here they were equals. Merlin should feel okay with sharing his own burdens with Arthur.
This relationship – whatever it was – whatever is might become – it wasn't a one way ticket.
“Isn't it obvious?”, Merlin chuckled.
Arthur sighed. “Pretend it isn't.”
Merlin gave him a look. “I don't want to kill you.”
That did it. Arthur broke out laughing. It wasn't supposed to be funny, really. But it kind of was.
The context was what made it ridiculous. Here Arthur was – practically ripping his heart out and handing it to Merlin.
And Merlin returned the favor by giving it back with a genuine thank you.
“Why the hell are you laughing? It isn't funny!”, Merlin tried not to laugh along. But his twitching grin betrayed him.
“Oh, but it is.”, Arthur said and wiped a tear away.
The thought 'as if Merlin would ever try to kill me' crossed his mind briefly. But Arthur knew who Merlin was. What he could do. And still – a part of him just knew Merlin never would. Not if he was in his right mind.
“It's really not and you know it. I can't disobey my orders. If you really are the prince – than I'd rather not know – because as soon as I believe it – you will be dead.”
What a way to suck the humor from a situation. 'Right. Merlin isn't really in his right mind, is he?'
“You really can't?”, Arthur was serious, but his body was still shaking from the afterthought of his laughing outburst.
“No. If I could – I would have done so already.”, Merlin sighed into his knees. He would have rebelled against the current king. That was strangely a relief.
Arthur considered him for a second. “Why can't you?”
Merlin didn't look up. “I've been enchanted.”, he said matter of factly.
Arthur frowned. “Really?” 'You?' His gaze seemed to say.
Merlin nodded. “Yes. If I had been given the choice – I would never have killed Uther Pendragon.
I tried to get rid of the enchantment. Leon helped me find magic books. Then again – there aren't so many left. I couldn't find the right enchantment. And this particular one is too complicated to just will away with my magic.
I am a tool to the king and his advisors. I have no control over my own decisions.”
Arthur stunned at that. “You wouldn't have killed Uther Pendragon? But – he persecuted your kind.”
Merlin scowled at that. “All I remember is that I never wanted to harm him. I must have had a reason. But that reason vanished. Along with all the other reasons I had for all the fucked up deeds I've done.”
Arthur bit his bottom lip in thought. “I'm sorry.”, he genuinely said.
“It's not your fault.”, Merlin genuinely replied.
“You know what – let's just NOT find out who the prince is. Let's never be sure. What was in the past should stay in the past, alright?”, Arthur said and held out his hand for Merlin to take it.
Merlin looked at his hand than at his face, before his smile set butterflies of in Arthur's chest.
“Deal.”, Merlin said and grabbed Arthur's hand tightly.
For a second they locked eyes. Complicated emotions on display, before Merlin pulled his hand away.
They were silent for a few minutes that stretched into hours – before Merlin spoke up again.
“About earlier -”
Arthur's head sunk slightly. “Do we have to talk about that now?”
“Did you really mean it?”, Merlin ignored him.
Arthur watched the water run gently against the shore, before he decided to answer.
“Honestly – I'm not so sure.”, he said honestly.
Merlin frowned. He almost looked – disappointed. But maybe that was just wishful thinking on Arthur's behalf.
“I mean – I was a bit overwhelmed with memory emotions. I'm not sure if it applies to today as well.” Arthur only half dared to look at Merlin who was playing with the white sand around him now.
Merlin was scowling to himself.
“But I think I'm about to fall for you again.”, Arthur said with a smile.
Merlin's head shot up in his direction. “That was incredibly sappy. Did you do that on purpose?”
Arthur laughed. “I'm just a simple man who likes to be true to his heart.”, he said and put his hand on his heart for emphasize.
“Really.”, Merlin smiled back. Torn in his own emotions. Shouldn't he give Arthur an answer already? Did he even HAVE an answer?
It didn't seem like Arthur was demanding one. He was just stating how he felt.
Arthur truly was simple like that.
“I'll figure it out. Probably. I mean – we haven't even been here for a month. All I know about you is that you are a useless when it comes to building houses. You have an awful sense of humor, you are so clumsy you're borderline a jester -”
“Geez thank you.”, Merlin rolled his eyes but he was laughing anyway.
Arthur grinned back, his eyes so fond it almost made Merlin melt inside.
“But you are also a good man.”, Arthur said softly. “The bravest I ever met, if I dare say so. I mean – I do believe my memory loss could be playing into that impression.”
He rowed back, as Merlin shook his head. Still smiling wildly.
“But I really like your smile.”, Arthur again – lost himself as he kept staring at Merlin. Who in response felt his cheeks flush a bit stronger than he thought possible.
“I – don't really know how to answer that.”, Merlin finally responded, shrinking in his position.
“You don't have to. I'm fine just being here for now. You have all the time you need to tell me what you feel.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.”, Arthur said and smiled.
They sat there together until the world turned dark. Hours upon hours. And yet it felt like minutes as the silence turned more and more comfortable.
It was long passed midnight, when Merlin spoke up again. Hesitating – but determined still.
“I think I might be falling for you too.”, he said.
Because Merlin too, was a simple man like that.
ATTENTION: MAJOR TIME SKIP
“You've got to be kidding me.”, Gwaine said exasperated. He has been back in Camelot for months. Maybe years? Who knew. And yet, he found no sign of Arthur. Or Merlin.
At least no audible sign. It was said that Arthur had disappeared – if not ceased to exist.
And Merlin -
Well – it wasn't like people had never heard of Merlin. But suddenly they talked about him as the court physician's apprentice. Which wasn't wrong – but Merlin was Arthur's manservant.
That was just a fact. And it was the one fact everyone recognized him by.
Nobody really cared about his other job – which was kind of hard to admit.
Because to be able to do both – wasn't just rare. It was freaking extraordinary. And nobody ever seemed to recognize Merlin for it. And now it was all they remembered him by? That was fucking ridiculous.
Instead people kept talking about kind Mordred and his shadow – Emrys. A freaking sorcerer.
Gwaine knew from this moment on: Whoever this shadow guy was – he must have enchanted the kingdom and made Arthur disappear.
Or maybe Arthur just ran away. That must be it. People said that Merlin had disappeared months ago. Long before Gwaine had returned. Maybe Merlin helped the prince?
It would make sense. The two of them running away together until Arthur had a plan to get his kingdom back.
Gwen and Lancelot seemed to have disappeared as well. Maybe the four of them hung out together?
Hanging out – sure.
Gwaine was slowly getting pissed. He's been searching every town (okay – every tavern of every town) for weeks now. And still no sign of them.
That was until today. When he passed through Brieldier. Well – not passed through.... You know – more like drunkenly stumbled through.
How Lancelot knew Gwaine? Funny story. They had both left Camelot for a while after befriending Merlin. Lancelot returned sooner than Gwaine did. Something about a girl he really liked.
But they met in a tavern and bonded over their little shared experience.
It was kind of funny, since they both came from very different background. The very opposite background actually.
Lancelot was a commoner who had trained all his life to become a knight. Not knowing that was an impossible wish.
Gwaine was born a royal. He was supposed to be a knight. Because his father used to be one. Gwaine however – decided against it. Because his moral code was realistic, while Lancelot's was idealistic.
Then again, Lancelot would be the ideal knight, Gwaine had long decided. Lancelot was everything the kinght's code stood for. Honesty, bravery, honor, selflessness.... the list was long.
Sometimes Gwaine wondered if he could just give Lancelot his own title. He had papers. He had the royal seal. And he didn't want the title himself.
It would have been so easy to swap their identities. But Lancelot already made his mistake with Uther. And Lancelot wouldn't betray his moral code a second time.
It would have been so cool though. (A.N.: this is a personal opinion.)
“Lancelot? What the hell are you doing here?”, Gwaine asked, but his tone was cheerful. He practically jumped over to hug his friend. Strange – Gwaine didn't have many friends. But something about Lancelot just *clicked* somehow.
Where did they meet again? Which town was it? Gwaine was pretty sure Lancelot had helped him with a brawl he had with someone...
But Gwaine had been in so many brawls – he couldn't remember which one.
Thinking of which – it had been similar with Merlin.
“I could ask you the same thing!”, Lancelot replied with a smile, hugging him back. But not too close – as he avoided Gwaine's breath. Oh yeah – Lancelot didn't drink as much as Gwaine would prefer him to.
“I asked you first!”, Gwaine said with a bright smile and followed Lancelot's silent invitation to follow him inside his house.
“And this is the woman I left Camelot for. And would do it all over again. This is Gwen, my wife.”
Gwaine's jaw dropped.
“Gwaine?”, Gwen said, looking at him with a mix of confusion and glee.
“What are you doing here?”
“You two know each other?”, Lancelot asked. But Gwaine blinked rapidly.
“Wait – you two are married?”, he asked, pointing from Gwen to Lancelot. And then realization hit him. “And you're -”, he pointed at Gwen vaguely.
“Pregnant? Yes. Again. Charlie is sleeping upstairs.”, Gwen said. It was true. She had a small belly to show already.
“But I thought -”, Gwaine pointed from Gwen to Lancelot.
“What did you think?”, Gwen asked irritated.
“I thought you were in love with Arthur.” Gwaine shook his head. The reason she had rejected his own advances had been Arthur. He had seen it. Had seen it clear as day!
They even talked about it a little!
Gwaine had understood very well why she had been so reluctant to admit it. But when did – THIS happen? Last time he checked Lancelot had been in Camelot before him....
Seriously this didn't add up.
Gwen laughed. “Arthur?”, then her laughter stopped. “Wait – you met Arthur? Did HE tell you that?” She looked noticeably put off by the mere thought. Did Gwaine say something wrong?
Gwaine felt himself sobering. Which was never a good sign.
“Yes – the same day I was in Camelot last time?”, he said and felt even more confused now.
“Wait -”, Lancelot stopped him. Ignoring his earlier comment. “You mean – you remember Arthur? From back then?”
Gwaine seriously wanted to punch someone right now.
“Guys this isn't funny. You know Arthur! Remember? The royal prat that is actually worth dying for?”
“Royal prat? You mean – Arthur is of royal blood?”, Lancelot looked shook.
“Honestly guys – how easy can one forget the prince of Camelot?”
Gwen's eyes widened, then met with Lancelot's. Then she sighed and almost let out a laugh.
“Oh you meant – prince Arthur. I thought you meant our Arthur.”
“Our friend.”, Lancelot added to avoid further confusion.
“I don't – I don't understand.”, Gwaine said – confused anyway. “There are two Arthur's?”
Lancelot opened his mouth to say something – but Gwaine held out both his hands to stop him.
“So you are telling me – prince Arthur is a myth even to those who knew him – and you guys somehow adopted a man with the same name – whom nobody remembers.” Because why else would Lancelot ask how Gwaine managed to remember him from 'back then'.
“Let me guess what he looks like. Tall, blond. Wide shoulders, blue eyes. Strangely honorable with a snarky humor at the side -”
Lancelot blinked. “That does sound like our Arthur, yes.”
“I don't know how you guys see it – but that sounds to me like they are the same person!”
For a drunk person – that was a pretty good guess, actually. But maybe he made that guess, BECAUSE he was drunk. After all – Gwaine was used to blanking out useless information when he drank. He could make objective observations without bothering to consider hundreds of complicated information that might be controversial to the facts.
That made him smart in matters of the heart. It helped him look through other people's tactics. It certainly didn't help him create some of his own. Or pay his bills. Or make friends.
Lancelot opened his mouth and then closed it again.
“Honestly – you've never thought about it? How long are they even gone by now?”
“About – I dunno – two years ago?”, Lancelot said quietly.
Gwen covered her mouth with her hands. “And we let him leave with Emrys? Oh god!”
Lancelot looked just as panicked and Gwaine knew -
it was too late. He was sober now.
“Emrys? You mean -” Gwaine stood straighter now. Hand on his weapon – even though Emrys wasn't even here. It was a reflex.
“YES! Oh god, if we had known what we're risking -” Lancelot began, beginning to pace.
“Where did they go?”
“We don't know!”
“What do you mean you don't know?! You let the prince go away with a known sorcerer? I thought you were a knight!”
“We both know I'm not a knight!”
Gwaine rolled his eyes. “Not on the papers, no. But at heart you are.”
“You don't understand. Emrys is -”
“Guys!”, Gwen finally interrupted. “Katie!”
Gwaine blinked. “Who?”, he asked confused.
“The girl from down the street! We may not meet up with Arthur – but he writes us weekly! I don't know how – but maybe Katie can give us Dave.”
“Who the hell is Dave?”
“A magical Dove who sends messages to Arthur.”, Gwen explained shortly.
Gwaine lifted his finger with his mouth pressed to a thin line. “That girl is a genius....”
Then he stopped. “Wait – did you just say a magical Dove?”
Lancelot blinked rapidly. “Yes – she's a sorceress.”
“A what?”, Gwaine exclaimed in shock.
“She's Arthur's friend.” Gwaine raised his eyebrows as far as he dared. 'A sorceress? Arthur's friend? No fucking way.'
“Oh and what if she's in line with this Emrys guy?”
“She's not.”, Lancelot denied.
“And how are you so certain?”
“She's twelve.”, Lancelot deadpanned. Gwaine blinked. “A twelve year old witch?”
Lancelot opened his mouth confused. “And since when is that a problem?”
Gwaine looked around. “I fear I don't understand.”
Gwaine had grown up in Caerlon. A kingdom similar to Camelot. Their views on magic were much the same as they used to be here.
Lancelot shared a look with Gwen. “Maybe you should sit down.”
“I think we need to explain magic to you.”
“But Emrys -” 'is evil', he wanted to say. But Lancelot seemed to suspect that already.
“Is a sorcerer who did bad things for reasons we don't know about. Arthur trusts him. Which is why we allowed them to leave together.”
Was it possible to have a hangover WHILE you are drunk? Gwaine felt like that was a question he should know the answer to. At least the headache felt familiar.
“Maybe you guys need to tell me from the beginning.”
And so they did. They began with the enchanted chalice and ended with Arthur and the memory Jar.
Not once, however, did they refer to the Shadow as Merlin.
And their vague explanation about how good magic could be, came of a place without education on the matter. It certainly wasn't enough to convince Gwaine of the true nature of magic.
Not yet. That role was reserved for someone else.
Leon was on watch duty. The day Morgana returned, he had sat her down and asked her about what happened with Arthur and Merlin. And naturally – because she was his only hope – he told her everything he knew as well.
About Merlin's memory loss that was influenced by Mordred's orders, about the idea that maybe Arthur was the prince...
“You are telling me – you let my brother go with Emrys of all people – knowing he might be the prince?
Knowing that Emrys was ordered to kill him?”
Needless to say – Morgana was furious.
“Do you have any idea where they are?”
“No! I just send them away! I don't want Emrys anywhere near me.”, she said exasperated.
Let's say it was a little difficult for Leon to speak with her. But he watched her those past two years. And not in a creepy way. They just talked here and there and Leon got an impression from it.
And the impression was – that apart from her appearance, not much had changed.
There was a bitterness in her heart, true.
But at her core she was still the beautiful young lady who cared about the people of this land.
She may not show any remorse for Uther's death – but Leon couldn't tell you the name of a single person who would.
Well – except Merlin perhaps. But only because Uther's death rested on his shoulders.
Like the poor guy didn't have enough to carry.
She had managed to avoid pointless wars that Agravaine suggested – backed up by Kara.
She had survived and prevented hundreds of attacks on Mordred. She had enforced their defenses with magical weapons and shields.
And she made sure the people were well fed.
All in all – Leon doesn't think he's ever seen Morgana flower like this.
Then again, flower was a strangely wrong word for Morgana. She wasn't a flower. Not at all.
But Leon wasn't that creative. All women were flowers, after all.
All of them beautiful in their own unique way.
Anyway – let's just say poetry wasn't exactly his strong suit.
When I say, Leon was on watch duty, I mean he was watching people Morgana had deemed to be her enemies. And naturally – because she was more observant than Mordred, she had realized who her biggest threats were.
Naturally – Kara and Agravaine.
This wasn't the first time Leon had seen them conspire. And he was certain this wasn't the last time he would report them to Morgana for trying to get Mordred's favor.
“She needs to GO!”, Agravaine almost shouted. Seriously – the people in the castle – never shy to speak loudly of their evil plans. It truly was a wonder they managed to get away with it so easily.
“I agree, my Lord.”, Kara stated, her face twisted to a scowl.
“She has Mordred wrapped around her finger! The war against Mercia is necessary! We NEED those lands!”
'What for?', Leon thought. This certainly wasn't the first time they had mentioned something like this. But they never mentioned what they needed it for.
“I know.”, Agravaine pinched his nose with his right hand. “It certainly is annoying. The peace treaty cannot continue like this! We have no resources to fight for more lands. But our resources are handed out to them like donations. Doesn't Morgana know what she's doing?”
'So let me get this straight -', Leon took a moment to sum up what he understood from this conversation. 'They want war with Mercia to gather more resources – for more war? What sense does that make?'
Wasn't it enough they had fought so many battles with Caerlon and Essetir, just to establish dominance. Because 'Mordred was an inexperienced king and not feared enough by his enemies?'
God, Leon hated Agravaine's logic. And that's what Merlin got traumatized for.
Leon really hoped Merlin was still alright.
To have Morgana here was a blessing. At least she could make her own decisions. She could refuse pointless wars. Merlin never could.
“We need to get rid of her.”, Kara finally decided and pulled Leon out of his internal empathy.
“I agree.”, Agravaine said.
“She is a high priestess though. Mortal weapons can't kill her.”
Agravaine smiled at that. “Trust me – there are ways to kill immortals – even Morgana doesn't know about.”
And if his smile alone wasn't indication enough that something was incredibly wrong here – Kara mirrored that evil smirk.
Leon knew was this meant. This meant war in the inner circles of Camelot. He needed to warn Morgana.