‘Merlin.’ Oh no.
‘Yes Sire?’ He even attempted the respectful, genuine title rather than the usual sarcasm.
‘Can you sit still for once!’ They had, in Merlin’s defence, been riding for a very long time. Longer than usual, for a stupid Quest.
If there was one thing Merlin hated, it would be Quests. They never had a purpose, apart from making the Knight that attempted it look like an idiot. This was no different, a Quest to find a blade could kill a necromancer that had been attacking Nemeth for a while. It was something to do with the alliance, and the fact that Mithian and Sir Leon had become quite good friends.
‘It isn’t my fault you’ve got more padding than me.’ He grumbled under his breath, not quiet enough. The Knights all laughed, while a waterskin hit Merlin’s head and he had to scramble to catch it. Trust the King of Camelot to be such a child.
‘One more word from you, and you’ll have to walk.’ He wasn’t quite stupid enough to test that theory, fell silent as he followed the group casually. He wondered what the others in Camelot were doing, whether Morgana was busy with the spells he had given her to practice.
‘…erlin! Are you even listening to me?’ The King was speaking again, probably why Merlin had zoned out.
‘Sorry. You were saying?’
‘We’ll have to go on foot from here, the Valley won’t support the horses.’ He dismounted like the others, tied his horse up and watched as the Knights of Camelot drew their swords. If there was ever a place for an ambush, it would be this valley.
Merlin fell in step with Percival, figuring the big Knight would be a useful shield if a bandit did try and attack.
‘Here he goes again, waking the dead.’ Arthur shot at him, referring to the way Merlin was dragging his feet. In his defence, the King’s bag was quite heavy, and he was carrying his as well.
‘As ever, Sire, it’s an honour to serve.’ He snarked, ignoring the way Arthur glared daggers at him. Leon came to his side, closing in like they were trying to protect him. Cute, he quite liked the friendliness that fell between them.
‘So, Merls.’ If there was one person that annoyed Arthur more than Merlin, it was Gwaine. So, naturally, Merlin utterly adored the Knight.
‘Yes, Gwaine?’ Arthur was scowling again, keeping his eyes peeled as they made it to the bottom of the valley.
‘Fancy a Tavern outing when we get back to Camelot?’ It was not the first time he had asked, and Merlin was always thrilled when he did. Something about the fact that Gwaine was picking him, over everyone else that existed.
‘Merlin’s always in the Tavern.’ Arthur muttered, throwing a scornful look in his direction. Merlin did his best impression of shock, innocence that genuinely was appropriate, because he was never in the Tavern unless it was with Gwaine. Which Gwaine knew, but never questioned.
‘I’d love to.’ Merlin replied cheerfully, and Arthur held up a hand to halt. They did so, Gwaine coming to Merlin’s side and leaning slightly against him.
‘Just a rabbit.’ Arthur concluded, and they continued onwards. When Merlin tripped over a root that he swore hadn't been there a moment before, Arthur’s frown vanished, a smirk replacing it.
‘Trust you to fall over air.’ If there was one thing that could cheer Arthur up, it was making fun of him.
‘Trust you to be a prat.’ Merlin was almost certain he’d said that as a whisper, but when he was cuffed around the head, he figured it probably had not been the case.
‘You wind him up more than anyone I’ve ever met.’ Leon said with a laugh, the others looking just as amused.
‘It isn’t hard.’ Merlin replied, while Arthur returned to his naturally brooding self.
‘Quite clearly that’s because Merlin is an idiot.’
‘Clotpole.’ The King shot back, and Merlin gasped.
‘That’s my word!’
‘You don’t own words, Merlin. If anyone does, it would be a King.’ Arthur looked smug, and so Merlin decided it wouldn’t hurt too much to tease.
‘You own the word stupid.’ Gwaine tugged him out of the way to avoid Arthur’s hit, the Warlock grinning up at his friend and sticking his tongue out at Arthur. The King rolled his eyes, returned to staring at the Valley, and Merlin trotted diligently along with them.
‘Why did you come if you’re just going to complain?’ Arthur questioned, when Merlin shifted the bag higher onto his shoulder. The question was a good one, Arthur had told him he could remain with Morgana, who was acting-Regent in his absence.
‘Because you wouldn’t last a day without me.’ Merlin informed him, ignoring the chuckling from the Knights. All apart from Lancelot, whose smile was genuine. At least somebody understood that he was worth something to the group.
They were not the words that he thought his legacy would be based off of. But when a person suddenly appeared in the clearing in front, danger quickly followed. Arthur rose his sword on instinct, but Merlin’s attention was on the band of people behind.
Sorcerers. Golden eyes, hands outstretched, and suddenly there was a wave of fire rapidly approaching them.
Naturally, there was no way they would have survived. The fire was powerful, far more so than expected, and it would have burned them all where they stood. They would have resembled a pork joint when the Cook left it to roast for too long, or the colour Merlin liked his rat if he had to eat it. Not exactly a good colour for the King of Camelot, and with nothing but a sword to defend himself, he was useless.
Merlin regretted his last words the moment he slammed the shield up in front of them. It was powerful enough to have him skidding back a couple of steps, gasping at the impact of the blow. Behind him, he figured the Knights would be cowering, waiting for the fire to roll over them. Once that had faded, they’d be angry, adrenaline pumping enough to fight. Hopefully, they’d wait until the sorcerers were dead to kill him.
Lancelot was by his side in a flash, the heat of the fire overwhelming, the sound of chanting filling his ears.
‘Go! Go, I can’t hold it!’ Merlin may have screamed the words, utterly panicked and knowing he’d be dead by the end of this regardless.
Arthur may have forgiven Morgana for her deception, but he was nothing more than the manservant of the King.
Lancelot looked pained, but disappeared a moment later, while Merlin dug his heels in and held out against the torrent of fire. He heard footsteps, Lancelot’s shouts for the Knights to retreat, and Merlin was thankful for his friend’s loyalty.
When the fire stopped, he let the shield fall and faced the group of sorcerers.
The next spell was just as deadly, the ground trembling as the roots of the trees began to creep out towards him. Dark Magic, they couldn’t have that much power without sacrificing something to get it, and Merlin hurled fire at the plants coming for him.
When that didn’t work, he figured his best bet was to stop the people in front. He stretched his hand out, didn’t bother hiding the words he was so used to whispering under his breath. Three of the sorcerers didn’t manage to block the spell in time, went flying back faster than he had intended. Another came running, and Merlin turned his attention to the Valley walls.
Starting a rockfall was one of his specialities, as were tree branches, and now they responded to his demands to attack. With the sorcerers focused on them, he sent a fireball hurtling towards them, breaking through their shields and scorching half of the group.
His final spell was the strongest, one that he’d been crafting himself. It took a lot of persuasion for his Magic to work with spells he created, but it sunk into the earth now, agreeing to his ask. The sorcerers froze where they stood, unable to lift their feet from the ground below, and Merlin used another spell to knock them out.
When they were all on the floor, most of them probably dead, Merlin drew back his Magic. He’d spent more than he was planning on, doubled over in pain as he panted.
He spun quickly, readying himself for the sword that would no doubt come slicing through the air towards him, but that didn’t happen.
Lancelot was jogging across, sword sheathed and face in a deep frown. The others had backed away like he had asked, all the way up one of the banks of the Valley. He could just about see Arthur, but he looked away sharply.
‘Merlin! Are you okay?’ A hand fell to his shoulder, the Warlock groaning in a mixture of assurance and pain.
‘Good. Good, just… tired.’ Too much energy at once, plus he had been slightly scorched by the fire that the sorcerers had used. Lancelot’s hands moved towards his own, staring at the burns and wincing.
‘These need cleaned, come on.’ The Knight took a step back towards the others, but Merlin didn’t follow. He stayed very still, watched Lancelot’s confusion.
‘I really don’t fancy walking to my death.’ He watched as Lancelot’s face twisted into hurt, then sympathy and understanding.
‘I told them to give you a chance to talk.’
He didn’t get stabbed. Instead, they made camp for the evening. Merlin hissed as Lancelot cleaned his burns, dressing the wounds as Merlin instructed. Once they were wrapped, the Warlock went to fetch them some firewood, grabbed his flint from his bag and lit them a fire. With that going, he figured he should do his normal routines, beginning to get foods out ready to cook.
It was very quiet. Far too quiet. He began to prepare food, startled when someone came across to help. Gwaine, who offered a brief smile, and they worked in silence. When the food was ready, it was Percival that brought the bowls across to fill, Elyan that came to help hand them out. And when Merlin had finished portioning their food, it was Leon that finally handed him his own bowl.
They ate quietly, the fire crackling between them.
‘Well, I’m going to say it, good job with those sorcerers mate.’ Gwaine cheerfully exclaimed, Merlin raising his head to find the Knight grinning at him.
‘They were some cool spells. I’ve not heard them before.’ Percival added, and Merlin startled slightly. He was hesitant to admit where he’d learned them, in case… No, he had faith.
‘Most of them I learnt by reading.’ He admitted, before Leon spoke.
‘I heard the fire one before. From Morgana.’ Ah yeah, Morgana had been demonstrating her Magic to the others. Lancelot in particular, the two of them had grown quite close.
‘Did she teach you?’ Elyan inquired, his eyes firmly looking at Merlin. The Warlock opted for staring at his stew, which he really didn’t have the stomach to eat anymore.
‘No. I mean, we learn together most of the time, but I taught her the fire one.’ Gwaine snatched at his bread, a cheeky grin on his face. With a mouthful of stew, he kept the chatter going.
‘When did you start learning?’ It came out a bit garbled, but Merlin still understood.
‘I didn’t. I was born with it.’
‘That isn’t possible.’ Arthur’s first words, and it had the entire circle falling silent.
‘I’m a Warlock. Not a sorcerer. Just as Morgana is a Witch.’ He slowly stated, refusing to meet the King’s gaze.
‘You came to Camelot to what, kill me?’
‘Because Gaius was my Uncle. And my Mum thought it wasn’t safe for me in Ealdor.’ Calm, he had to stay calm. There was no reason to defend himself, he had broken Arthur’s trust.
‘Magic is banned in Camelot.’
‘I couldn’t leave you.’
‘Why?’ One word, and it sounded so broken. Merlin dared to look up, found Arthur staring at him with confusion. Hurt, he looked so sad, and Merlin bit his lip to stop tears.
‘There… there’s a prophecy. About you. And to begin with, I had to stay. Everyone kept telling me I was supposed to keep you safe, but it stopped being a job a long time ago. I stayed because you’re my friend.’ Arthur was studying him, trying to seek out the lie in his words.
‘You’re him. Emrys.’ Percival muttered, and Merlin’s attention turned to the large Knight. He gave a singular nod, not at all surprised that he’d heard about him.
‘So that makes Arthur the Once and Future King?’ He questioned, and Merlin smiled sadly.
‘And Guinevere the Once and Future Queen, yes.’ He’d seen their future, knew what would happen. He looked back to Arthur, the King still staring.
‘You could have been burned.’ Arthur whispered, and he knew they were talking about the Pyre. Execution, that was what Merlin would have faced.
‘If you’d told me I had to die, I’d have lit the Pyre myself.’ It was true. And Arthur could tell, if the way his eyes widened was any indication.
‘You think I’d kill you?’ Now? Merlin wasn’t sure.
‘I didn’t want to make you choose, between your Crown and… me.’ He finished lamely, before Arthur nodded.
‘Okay.’ One word, and Merlin halted.
‘I am mad, Merlin. But… I understand. I won’t punish you for it.’ Just like that, the tension in the circle snapped. Gwaine grinned, threw his arm around Merlin’s shoulders in a casual way, while Leon and Elyan perked up.
Questions, hundreds of them, the Knights of Camelot all wanting to know everything. Merlin even found himself laughing, joining in with the chatter and watching as Arthur smiled every so often.
‘Can you show us something?’ The King asked, and Merlin tensed up. A hand slipped into his, Gwaine’s fingers linking with his own in a gesture that was slightly more than the friendship that they’d had before.
He focused on the fire, shifted the flames into a Dragon. When Merlin looked to Gwaine, the Knight was focused entirely on his golden eyes.
‘Alright, you two. Enough flirting.’ Arthur grumbled, and Merlin ducked his head.
Maybe everything would be okay.