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12 February 2012 @ 06:59 pm
Redefined (Merlin/Arthur)  
Title: Redefined
Art here by ravyn_ashling
Fandom: Merlin
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur
Rating: PG
Word Count: 6,734
Summary: Arthur is dead. Merlin is going to change everything so it doesn't happen this way again.Au
Author's Note: Written for merlinreversebb

There is blood on Merlin's hands. The battlefield has been razed. He has seen so much death but nothing can compare to this. He steps around the bodies, carefully. His boots sink into the mud. It hasn't rained in weeks, but thunder rumbles along the horizon.

"Merlin!" It's Leon. He's made it. One of his friends isn't dead. His hand falls on Merlin's shoulder, and Merlin stands very still. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"

Merlin wants to ask him to specify what he means by that. Instead, he says, "I'm not wounded."

Leon smiles, relieved. "At least someone's alright." Leon himself is bleeding from a gash below his ear. Merlin thinks vaguely that he should mend it for him. "Have you found Morgana?"

Merlin nods slowly. "Dead."

"Mordred?"

"Dead."

"The King?"

Merlin pauses. Then: "Dead."

Leon is quiet for a long time. "We have to collect as many men as we can and return to Camelot. The King's body -"

"There's nothing left." Merlin interrupts. "Nothing to bury. He's dust."

“Alright. Let’s go home. There’s much to be done now.”

Merlin doesn’t move. Leon curls his fingers around his wrist and pulls him along. Merlin goes because he has no reason to do anything else.

***

As a king, Arthur should be laid to rest in a coffin, beside his father, the beginning of a long line of Pendragons on the throne. Instead, his clothing is burned on a pyre, all that’s left of him.

There are no more Pendragons. After Mordred killed Arthur, Merlin saw to that. He killed Morgana himself. One hissed spell and she was bound, the earth rising up to collect her. It stilled long enough for her to watch him cut her throat. Her eyes held all of her fear, collected there, facing him, pleading, the blood gurgling up from her lips. She choked and was dead in moments.

In her afterlife, she would remember that Merlin is not one to easily forgive.

***

Camelot is in ruin. Most of Albion is. The outer reaches have not yet had word of their king’s death. Merlin successfully delayed the messengers with weather and then with counsel. Gaius looks far too old in the council room. Like all of them, his hope is lost.

There is no heir. There is nothing.

He joins Merlin in Arthur’s chambers. They sit at the table by the fireplace because there is little else. Looters have taken most of the valuables, even the rugs, the furs on Arthur’s bed. Merlin lights the fire with magic because there’s no flint left.

“What are we going to do, Merlin?” Gaius’s gravelly voice is insistent, fearful. Merlin has never heard him like that. He has always been so sure-footed, so at ease no matter the situation. He wonders if it’s because he’s always had faith in Merlin, that he could save them.

Merlin traces the tip of one of Arthur’s daggers along the grain of the wood. “This wasn’t supposed to happen for years yet,” he murmurs. They’re his first words in days. “It was always a part of the prophecy, that Arthur would fall. He was supposed to be an old man when it happened. I was to see to that.”

“You did everything in your power.”

The words mean little, especially considering the enormous power Merlin has at his disposal. The tight corners of his mouth curve deeply down. “Perhaps I missed something – something I should have done at the beginning.”

Gaius shakes his head. “There is no use dwelling, Merlin. We cannot change things now. The past is done.”

Merlin’s eyes flash at the words. The dagger meets the tabletop with a thud, remains embedded there. He stands and moves toward the fireplace, stares into its depths for a long moment. “The past – if anyone has the power to change what has already happened, it’s me, Gaius. I could change things.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“I could change time,” Merlin insists, turning to look at him. “I could protect Arthur from this. I could make certain of his destiny.”

Gaius pushes himself to his feet, leans heavily on his hands on the table. His back is bowed more now than Merlin has ever seen it, like a tree with under the weight of heavy rain. “Are you suggesting going back in time?”

“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.” Merlin paces the floor, his hands twisting together, eyes bright. His smile is nothing short of manic. “I could do something. I could change the course of Arthur’s life just enough to - oh.” He turns to look at his mentor. “Gaius, I could take him away from Camelot altogether. I could spare him from life at court.”

Gaius frowns deeply at him, the weariness harsh in the droop of skin beneath his eyes. “That’s a very large change to the course of time.”

“Yes, but perhaps it’s the one that we always needed.” Merlin looks almost boyish again, the same young man who walked into Camelot fifteen years ago, the one with no thoughts of destiny and no experience with death. “No one said that we didn’t fail first, Gaius. No one told us that we couldn’t try again.”

***

Gaius retires just before midnight to the bed in the antechamber of Arthur’s rooms. Merlin’s eyes burn, and he presses his fingertips to his eyelids, but soldiers on, flipping through the pages of the ancient books he’s collected over the years, unearthed and revealed and rediscovered after Arthur repealed the ban on magic in his fifth year as king.

Many have spells for traveling through time, but the specifics of each don’t quite meet Merlin’s needs. He’s learned well enough over the years that the wording of various incantations can strongly affect the outcome of the spell. He doesn’t want to mistakenly use a spell intended for travel into the future, or that will only carry him back a few moments or half a day.

He finds several that can reverse the past year, and one that says it can take him back as far as his mother’s birth, but the stipulations of the spell require he only observe; he cannot interfere in any events. His vision is starting to blur, and his head to feel heavy as stone, when just before dawn, he finds the spell he seeks.

He pushes himself to his feet, squeezes his eyes closed, and blinks at the page several times to make sure he’s certain of what he sees. Then he smiles brightly and holds the book to his chest. He can help Arthur. He can save him. He can fulfill both of their destinies after all.

***

He sleeps in Arthur’s bed, his arm curled tight around the book, his nose pressed tight into his pillow, and manages to convince himself, for just tonight, that Arthur isn’t dead.

Tomorrow he won’t be.

***

He doesn’t tell Gaius he’s found the spell. In fact, he doesn’t speak to anyone. He walks through the citadel feeling light, like there’s nothing holding him to the earth anymore. The poor are gathered along the walls, and the knights cared for those who had fallen ill, and to drink and feed them as well as they can, with whatever food is left in the kitchens. In the center of the square, a pyre smolders – the remains of those who died in the night. There were many. There always are, lately. But Merlin is going to change that.

His former bedroom, off of Gaius’s workshop, has long since been converted into a small altar room, where he performs some of his dirtier magic. Arthur always teased him that he had his palace chambers for the pretty magic and this dingy little room for the dark sorcery. Merlin knew that Arthur understood his need to keep the stench of death out of their bed.

He shuts himself into this room now, and takes several deep breaths. He begins immediately.

First: a spell to make his presence accepted wherever he went. A necessary measure, when trying to gain access to royal chambers. He won’t have his employment as the king’s manservant to garner him access and privilege as he has in the past, nor the position as Court Sorcerer that he currently holds (or did until Arthur’s death).

He’s done enough research into the fashions of the times to be able to pass as someone of low court status in the early days of King Uther. It will help cement convictions in the minds of Uther’s people that he belongs there, despite having a face no one recognizes. As long as no one pays him too much attention, the illusion should hold.

Finally, a token to channel the magic, to tell the spell where, and when, to take him. He lays Excalibur on the stone altar, slides his hand over the steel. Merlin has kept it close, the most powerful channel of Arthur’s aura that he had. Looters have threatened him for it more than once. They are all dead now. Merlin feels no remorse for the sharp crack of their necks, the way their bodies crumpled. Arthur was dust. He would not see the last living part of him bartered with or bloodied.

He sighs softly, slides his hand along the blade. There is no reason for further delay. He closes his eyes, whispers the incantation; force will not do here. This is gentle magic, despite its power. He cannot cry his anguish into this spell.

***

It is all surprisingly quick, and Merlin stands on the edge of a Camelot from thirty-five years ago, just as he did when he first arrived himself. Camelot doesn’t look much different now, despite its recent upheaval, Uther’s conquering of this land. The people go on as usual, as if nothing has changed, and Merlin supposes nothing has. They are still the subjects of a king who has promised to take care of them.

He makes his way through the lower town, through the hustle and bustle of farmers and blacksmiths and seamstresses at work. He knows he will see people in this time that he’s known himself, twenty years later. He knows they were happier now, before Arthur was born. He cannot blame his king for his father’s hatred of magic, though. It would be folly, especially when Arthur’s destiny is to restore this land to its glory.

The citadel is not new, but neither does it hold the grim soot of a king with a broken heart. There is happiness here, in this palace, and Merlin knows he is on the precipice of Arthur’s birth. He cannot delay. There are only so many opportunities afforded to him.

No one questions his presence in the palace. He knows this is due to the spell he put on himself, but he wonders if it’s also due slightly to the effect of living in a quieter time, when peace has just settled over the land. These corridors are so familiar to him that he feels an unwarranted, almost ridiculous wave of nostalgia at walking through them. Sadness crashes over him, hard enough to make it difficult to breathe. This is worth it. To save this place, everything will be worth it.

The queen’s chambers are darkened in Merlin’s time, a hallowed space that no one enters. Here they are bright with life and energy. A birth is about to take place, and the midwives and courtiers are rushing to be a part of it. Uther is nowhere to be seen, but that is customary. Even for the love of his life, Uther will not forsake his image, his position as the responsible king. He will be away until the child is born.

Merlin settles on the floor in the corridor, legs crossed, and waits.

***

He wakes well past midnight, and wonders how he fell asleep. Near him, a young handmaiden weeps. The torches along the walls are dim. He can hear Uther close at hand, shouting. It is not the same tone of fury or outrage Merlin has heard before, but anguish. Ygraine is dead. It is time.

A nurse sleeps in a chair beside the bassinet, her mouth hanging open. Merlin wonders where her own children are. He wonders how she feels to be the nurse to the future king. Pride? Fear? It won’t be her worry for long. He leaves a note on her lap.

Arthur, against all odds, is awake, and quiet. His hair is dark, soft and downy, but Merlin knows well enough that will change. He slides a hand under that fragile head and scoops an arm around his back, cradling the little bundle to his chest. This is his destiny, he must remember. This little person will be his everything.

***

It is difficult to ride with an infant. Merlin uses magic where he can, for milk, for comfort, and there are times that Arthur seems to see Merlin as his own, times when that little head tucks up onto his shoulder and that little mouth parts with sleep. It is three days in which Merlin can feel the weariness of this world and this destiny dragging him down. He knows the magic waits only for him to complete his task. He must do so quickly, before it loses patience.

He rides into Ealdor as the sun kisses the horizon. His mother’s house, just as he remembers it, squats quietly in waiting. He considers going inside, waking his mother, kissing her, explaining everything. But he doesn’t have time, and he knows that inside, there is a tiny person who is Arthur’s destiny, and Merlin must not meet him.

There is an empty basket near the door that Hunith uses to collect vegetables from her garden. Merlin sets it up against the door, swaddles Arthur tightly in his blankets. He kisses his forehead. “I wish you well,” he whispers. “I give you all of the faith and love I have for this world. It is yours now, to use as you wish.”

He cradles him close for a moment, then bends to lay him in the basket. Hunith will wake in a matter of moments to begin her day. There is no one better suited to raise a king than Merlin’s mother, not in his opinion anyway. He steps away, and Arthur’s small arm lifts in something resembling a wave. Merlin’s smile is sad.

***

He has one more task, and he completes it quickly.

It was difficult to bring an item with him through to a time when it hasn’t been created yet, but he carries Excalibur now. When he sinks it into the stone, he feels a lightness in his chest that he hasn’t for a long time.

***

Hunith discovers the child as the sun rises, her own babe in her arms. A small Merlin clings to her shoulder and peers into the basket at this new little person.

Another Merlin, who feels very old suddenly, no longer has a place in this world, and turns to dust.

***

The village of Ealdor has a theory that Hunith actually loathes all of them.

That’s why she not only had one son, the conception of whom seemed suspicious enough, but she had a second, the appearance of whom was more of a mystery than anyone could explain.

This in itself would have remained fodder for lively gossip and nothing more, except that the two little boys together are a menace.

They certainly don’t mean to be, of course. In their ways, they’re kind children, who do their utmost to be helpful wherever they can. The problem, of course, is that they’re ten years old.

Arthur is short and just the wrong side of chubby, and has more of a tendency to eat the crops or bread than he has of picking or delivering it. Merlin is already most of the way to six feet tall, and has no idea what to do with his gangly limbs. The livestock is spooked by him on a regular basis, since he trips over his feet most of the time.

But they are kind, and they love each other. Arthur is determined and stubborn and likes to figure things out for himself. He has a strong sense of right, and he keeps the children of the village at peace when they’re at play, making decisions for all of them so that arguments don’t break out. (This only works as long as his decisions suit all of the children, however, and not just his own desires.)

Merlin has a smile for everyone and an unusually strong need to help people. He follows Arthur around more often than not, quiet and admiring, even though he’s older, but when he’s not, he is making himself useful, even if it’s just offering his company to someone who is ill.

They are not the terrors people say, and even when they are, it’s never on purpose.

So today, when, between the two of them, they’ve eaten all of the pies Hunith made for the upcoming festival and startled all of the cows and chickens out of Old Man Simmons’s yard, they’ve been banished to the stream on the edge of town.

Arthur balances on a fallen tree trunk, arms windmilling. “I don’t know why they get so angry,” he murmurs sulkily. “We’re not like Matthew or Will. They’re always trying to make trouble.”

Merlin shrugs, splashes his bare feet in the water. “Maybe it’s because we’re no good at being good. Maybe we should make trouble too.” He beams mischievously up at Arthur, then pushes him off the tree.

Arthur flails and steps down hard, catching his balance before falling. He glares over at him. “It’s not that. It’s because we’re bastards.”

“We’re not,” Merlin disagrees vehemently. “I am. You’re just an orphan.”

Arthur is quiet. He sits beside Merlin, drawing his legs up and resting his chin on his knee. “What if I’m not? What if no one wanted me anymore?”

Merlin slides his arm around his shoulders. “I want you,” he declares, chin raised. “And so does mother. So you might as well get used to it.”

Arthur’s mouth twitches in a little smile, and he butts Merlin off with his shoulder. “Shut up.”

***

When they were six, Arthur teased a dog and it bit his hand. While he cried, a big wobbly sound with big dramatic tears, Merlin took his hand and pressed it tight between his own. When he let it go, the bite was gone.

Neither of them thought this was strange. Magic never came between them.

***

They celebrate Arthur’s birthday on the day he arrived in Ealdor. Hunith has always said it’s close enough, since he could only have been a few days old when he came to them. (She always says that; “when he came to them.” Merlin’s always liked the way it makes the apples of Arthur’s cheeks go pink, like he was a special gift that arrived at their door.)

The day he turns twenty is the day that a rider comes through the village, purely by accident. He stays at the inn, and everyone murmurs about his presence. There are rarely strangers in Ealdor. There’s no reason for anyone to come that doesn’t live here already, especially a man who appears to be from outside of Cenred’s kingdom.

Merlin and Arthur are most of the way to drunk in the tavern when he comes in that evening. He’s tall and well-worn, a knight from Camelot by the looks of his cloak and armor, a man who has status and has seen much. Arthur looks at him with envy. Merlin understands that Arthur has always wanted to be a hero.

He soon has the attention of all in the tavern. His name is Leon, and he is indeed a knight. “I’ve been riding from village to village within King Uther’s kingdom, informing the people of a bit of a challenge the King has issued. I’ve taken a bit of a wrong turn, it seems.”

“Why would he send a knight on that task?” Will interrupts, eyebrows drawn.

“It is an important one,” Leon says patiently. “The King’s son was kidnapped as a babe. His captor left a message that when the boy is of age, he will be able to draw a sword from a stone, positioned in the Darkling Woods. He will be the only person able to do so, and it will declare him the rightful heir to the throne of Camelot.”

The tavern buzzes with excitement, and everyone begins asking questions at once. Merlin frowns, sips his cider. “Why would someone capture a prince, only to return him twenty years later?”

Arthur shrugs, turns back toward the bar. “Perhaps he wasn’t a bad person, the captor.”

Merlin nods distractedly. “Perhaps not.”

***

Six months later, Merlin comes home with a split lip and an eye swollen shut. Hunith fusses, but he refuses to talk about it.

That night, he and Arthur are quiet in the bed they share. Merlin stares at the ceiling, Arthur lays on his arm and stares at Merlin. “Are you going to tell me?” he asks quietly.

Merlin hesitates. “Are you going to tell mother?”

“Probably.”

He huffs out a laugh, softly. “I was in a fight.”

“I can tell. What happened?”

“I used magic.”

“Merlin…”

“I used magic to right a bucket Mary dropped,” Merlin continues, insistent. “I didn’t think about it; it just happened. I didn’t want her to have to walk all the way back down to the stream for more water.”

“You’re such a hero.”

“Shut up.”

“So did she do that to you?”

“No. It was Matthew. He called me a sorcerer, in front of everyone, and started hitting me. No one intervened.” He falls silent. Arthur reaches to curl his hand against his throat, stroking his thumb against his pulse point, and Merlin visibly relaxes. “I don’t think I belong here anymore, Arthur.”

“No,” Arthur agrees. “I think not. You deserve better than this place.”

“Where will I go?”

“Wherever they’ll have us.”

Merlin looks over at him sharply. Arthur’s smile is small, sad, but it draws Merlin in anyway, and they tuck themselves together, Merlin’s face pressed to Arthur’s neck. “We’ll talk about it in the morning,” he decides.

“Yes.”

***

Hunith doesn’t cry when they tell her. Neither of them expected her to. She has always been too strong for that. She writes a letter for them, presses it carefully into Merlin’s hands, and kisses each of them on the cheek.

They set out for Camelot at sunrise the next day. Hunith stands at the door and watches them go.

***

“What if I’m the lost prince of Camelot?” Arthur giggles breathlessly.

They lie on their backs under a canopy of trees, sharing their blankets and their warmth. Their fire crackles merrily beside them, and Merlin grins in its soft glow.

“You’re too common to be royal. Besides, princes are arrogant.”

“You tell me I’m arrogant all the time.”

“Well, yes, when we play football and you gloat after I trip over my feet. That arrogance is just uncalled-for; you know I’m going to lose.”

“That’s true.” Arthur leans up on his elbow, looking down at Merlin. “I’m sorry for pointing out to you how bad you are at football. I won’t do that anymore when I’m king of Camelot.”

“Hush, you.” Merlin pulls a face. “We’re within Camelot’s borders now. That sort of talk is treason.”

“Oh, shut up.”

Merlin laughs softly. “Well, either way, we’re going to start a new life. I hope Gaius can help us.”

“I’m sure he can. Mother trusts him.”

He nods. “Arthur, I’m glad you’ve come with me. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“I know you’re useless without me.”

He smiles indulgently at the teasing. When he lifts his head to press their mouths together, Arthur kisses him back, with all of the solemnity the moment calls for.

***

Gaius is a bent old man with a thickly-lined, weary face. He eyes the two young men standing before him as if they’ve somehow forged the letter he holds in his hands. “You’re looking for work,” he says slowly.

Arthur nods. “Yes.”

“This says that Merlin has experience with medicines.”

“I do,” Merlin pipes up. “I’ve helped the healer in Ealdor on several occasions, when there have been many people ill. I’m good with a mortar and pestle. And I’m clever. I learn quickly.”

Gaius sighs and lets the letter rest on the table. “I could use an assistant.”

Merlin lights up. “I’ll work hard. I promise.” He pauses, looks over at Arthur. “Is – will you find something for Arthur?”

“Perhaps. There is a need for stable hands. Are you any good with horses?”

“Very good.” Merlin has never seen Arthur radiate confidence quite like this. He wonders if he’s just never needed to before now, if Ealdor was always a safe space for him. He wonders if he never felt it within the confines of that small village, and now he feels like a part of the world. “I’d be happy to try, if you might speak with someone for me.”

Gaius nods. “I have a spare room, which can be yours, Merlin.”

Merlin’s face falls. “Arthur can’t stay with me?”

“There’s only one bed.”

“We’re used to sharing. Please, we won’t be a bother.”

Gaius sighs. “Well, alright. As long as you’re hard workers. Hunith is a dear friend, and I’ll happily help her sons in any way I can.”

***

Life in Camelot is difficult but not unpleasant. Merlin makes friends easily, and Arthur, despite his reserve (which Merlin actually thinks is a tendency to be shy), warms quickly to people. They are soon habitually engaged for clandestine dinners in the palace kitchens, where the cooks think Merlin is too skinny, and for drinks at the taverns, where the barmaids think Arthur is too serious.

Merlin is kept constantly busy by Gaius, and he doesn’t mind that, especially since it means he can help people. Gaius knew from the start about his magic, due to Hunith’s disclosure in her letter to him, and he tends to look the other way when Merlin uses his gift to make medicines stronger.

Arthur asks him once why he uses his magic for something so simple. Merlin just blinks at him and says, “Aren’t gifts meant to be shared?” Arthur doesn’t ask again.

He himself works his hands raw in the stables, mucking out stalls, saddling and brushing and washing and shoeing the horses. He likes the labor; he likes to feel useful. Sometimes, he feels an itch under his skin; a need, a pull for something more, but Merlin scratches it out with soft words and gentle hands, and he is satisfied.

They spend most of their leisure hours together, huddled over the books of sorcery that Gaius sneaks their way from time to time, discovering together the full capacity of Merlin’s magic. They’re banished to study magic only in the forest, after one too many fires in their room.

From time to time, murmurs arise about the lost prince of Camelot, the challenge to pull the sword from the stone. Arthur listens intently to these stories, to their results, but no matter how many men say they have claimed it, no one has come forward to declare himself the prince.

Merlin knows Arthur’s eyes well enough at these times, and the sense of unease in the pit of his stomach is difficult to place. He doesn’t know why or how to respond to the desires in Arthur, the ones that tell him that Merlin alone is not enough for Arthur to make a life in Camelot. He doesn’t understand the need for more, because for him, Arthur is enough.

And then he meets the dragon.

***

Merlin is comfortable in his own company now, especially when he is outside the boundaries of the city. His magic is a constant hum under his skin, a reminder of his own power, his own strength, and few things leave him feeling frightened or concerned.

Arthur is not with him today. The King has ridden out on a hunt, and that means Arthur must be at hand at the palace to care for the horses. It also means that Merlin must stay clear of the areas of the forest most likely to be visited by the monarch.

That isn’t difficult though. There are parts of these woods where the magic runs deep into the roots of the trees and up to blossom through their canopies. An enemy of the Old Religion would not feel safe here, and rightly so. Magic is vengeful if nothing else.

Merlin figures that’s why the dragon descends here as well, while he sits in the deep shade of a tall oak tree, the sunshine spilling into the grove just outside of the jab of his folded knees. The dragon’s wings beat ferociously, swirl up the debris of the area, and Merlin hides his face in the crook of his elbow to avoid being heavily pelted with anything.

He feels as if he should be concerned or surprised by this. He’s not sure why he isn’t.

The dragon settles before him, curling his legs beneath him like a cat. “It has been a long time, Merlin.”

He blinks up at him, then scrambles to his feet to face him. “How do you know my name?”

“Because I know you.” The dragon smiles, his eyes crinkling at the corners like those of a kind old man. “Or I did in another life, long gone now.” He draws himself up. “I am Kilgarrah.”

“The last of the dragons,” Merlin murmurs. “You were the only one Uther couldn’t have captured and killed.”

“That is true, young warlock. And fortunate, for you and your destiny.”

“My destiny.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course not.” He’s sure now that Kilgarrah is making fun of him. “No one has been around to tell you, have they?”

“What is it?”

“My young friend, your destiny is to see the lost prince of Camelot restored.”

Merlin’s shoulders tighten, hunch in, and he frowns. “Why?” he blurts out. “Why should I want to see anyone restored to that throne? They want to destroy my kind. Why would I support that?”

“It is true that Uther feels bitterness toward magic.” Kilgarrah dips his head. “But his son, who was not raised to the throne by Uther, will bring magic to the land anew.”

Merlin is quiet, studying the dragon’s face. “So the captors – they knew about his destiny.”

“Indeed.” Kilgarrah smiles again, indulgently, almost affectionately. “He knew it well, and sacrificed a great deal to see it done.”

“Did he know about my destiny?”

“Better than you can ever understand.”

Merlin swallows hard. “Who is he? The lost prince of Camelot? Do you know?”

“Yes. And so do you, if you think about it.”

His mouth hardens. “What are you asking of me?”

“Only one thing, for now, young warlock. You must see to it that the prince finds Excalibur.”

“Excalibur?”

“Yes. A very powerful sword that I forged myself.”

Merlin breathes deeply, peers into the sky. “So I must find a prince and an enchanted sword?”

“It is not so difficult as you may think. You must only look in the right places.” He extends his wings, flutters them twice like he’s stretching. “I shall be only a call away, if you need my assistance. Good luck to you, Merlin. We are depending on you.” He lights into the sky.

Merlin watches him fly away, and continues standing there for a long time afterwards.

***

Arthur stares at him. “You met a dragon.”

“Kilgarrah. Yes. We’ve been over this.”

“But you stood in the forest and conversed with a dragon.”

Arthur.” Merlin sighs impatiently. “I understand that the mythical creature involved here is fascinating, but can we think about what he said?”

They lie on their backs on a hillside outside Camelot. Merlin holds Arthur’s hand to his chest, their fingers laced tightly. Arthur lets his head fall to the side to look at him. “The lost prince,” he says quietly. “Who knew you were so important?”

Merlin laughs softly. “I suppose the magic had to have a purpose other than giving people a reason to loathe me.”

Arthur squeezes his hand gently. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. What does a lost prince look like? And a better question, what does a magic sword look like?”

“I don’t know. But we’ll find out.”

Merlin smiles at him, rolls over to tuck himself into his side, kissing his neck. “I hope so. Imagine the way this land would prosper if magic wasn’t outlawed. I could help the villagers with their crops, and openly heal the ailing.”

Arthur kisses his forehead, the way he does whenever Merlin has said something particularly endearing. “It will be beautiful.”

***

It’s only a few days later that they discover Excalibur.

Arthur comes bursting through the door of their room, breathless, and snatches the book Merlin’s reading from his hands, closing it and tossing it on the bed.

“Arthur what are you-?”

“Excalibur is the sword in the stone,” Arthur manages to say in one breath, his hands on his shoulders. “I heard the knights in the stables talking about it. On the blade, in the Old Language, the sword reads its name: Excalibur.”

Merlin lights up, and stands to clutch Arthur’s hands. “So the prince is the only person who can claim Excalibur, the person who can pull the sword from the stone.”

“Exactly.” He draws him in to kiss him firmly, squeezing his shoulders. “How much easier could our job be?”

Merlin can’t help but hug him, his arms curled tight around his back, his mouth pressed against his shoulder. “I couldn’t do this without you. You’re just as much a part of my destiny as any prince.”

Arthur holds him, noses at his hair. Merlin can feel his smile against his temple. “We’ll succeed together, Merlin. We’ll see it happen.”

***

A year passes, and no one claims the sword.

Merlin and Arthur get frustrated and cross with each other more and more often. Arthur takes to sleeping on the floor, and Merlin takes to not sleeping at all with Arthur so far away.

They are impatient and anxious. The longer the kingdom holds out for an heir, the more susceptible to war Camelot is. Rumors of invasions by Cenred murmur through the people, and the citadel is a tense place. The King’s health is failing, and he cannot ride to battle with his men, if it comes to battle, and there is no one to ride in his place.

Merlin and Arthur haven’t spoken in three days when Merlin finally apologizes. He isn’t sure why he’s apologizing, and neither is Arthur, who frowns at him and asks.

“I don’t know. I’m sorry for not fulfilling my destiny.”

Arthur’s shoulders round out in that soft, hurt way he has sometimes, and he draws Merlin in close. It’s the most contact they’ve had in weeks, both too tense and nervous to give affection before now.

“Let’s go to the Darkling Woods,” Arthur suggests quietly. “Let’s go see the sword. Perhaps it will help.”

Merlin is skeptical, but he nods anyway.

***

They leave at dawn the next morning, after a stable hand gives them permission to borrow two horses. They pack lunch, since the ride is half a day, and the horses wander out of the city sleepy-eyed as their riders.

Their map is crude, and they get lost twice. Arthur snaps at Merlin one too many times when he tries to help, and Merlin, hurt, doesn’t speak again until Arthur apologizes. The clearing is marked out by flags bearing the Pendragon crest, and they tie their horses to a tree to graze, stepping out into the sunshine.

No one is there, which isn’t a surprise. Most of Camelot has given up on the hopes of seeing a prince come forth. The sword itself is stunning. The hilt is gold, embedded with jewels, fit for a prince, the blade sharp to the eye, and sharper to the touch. Merlin confirms that the letters engraved into the steel in the Old Language do indeed spell Excalibur.

The sword is in pristine condition, despite the fact that it has been here for more than twenty-one years. Merlin stands close to the stone, peering up at the blade. “I’m surprised that Uther allows this challenge,” he comments quietly. “Magic is so rich in this place.” He can taste it on his tongue, a sweet cloying presence that makes him want to smack his lips.

“I wonder if he feels he has no other choice.”

“It’s possible.”

Merlin looks over at Arthur then, and his breath catches. His stance, shoulders back, head raised, makes him look more regal than Merlin has ever seen him. His hair catches the sunlight and plays it into woven gold. His solemnity in this moment is contagious, and Merlin swallows, blinks away an image of Arthur decked in red, the flash of a crown at his brow and –

Oh.

“Arthur,” Merlin whispers, touches his arm. “Arthur, take the sword.”

He looks over at him, his brow drawing together. “Me?”

“Yes. Yes, you. It’s always been you. Take the sword, Arthur.”

Arthur licks his lips, takes a deep breath, then steps forward, curls his hand around the hilt. Something inside of Merlin, that has been fluttering for the past year, maybe for the past twenty years, suddenly stills, and his arms hang at his side. He watches Arthur pull the sword from the stone. There is no fanfare. There are no sudden voices from the gods.

There is just Arthur, standing in this clearing with Excalibur in his hand, and Merlin grinning at him.

Arthur meets his eyes, and that longing for more is gone. Merlin wonders if Arthur’s destiny has been writhing inside of him all these years. The prince takes a deep breath. “What do we do now?”

Merlin reaches for his hand, squeezes it tightly. “We go onto our destinies.”

***

Kilgarrah rests in the sun with his head on his paws, his eyes closed. His tail flicks once. “Hello, Merlin.”

Merlin leans heavily on his cane, grumbling. “Must we always meet so far from Camelot? I’m not a young man anymore.”

“I am aware.” He opens his smiles, smiles at him in his reptilian way. “How is our King?”

“He is old,” Merlin says simply. “But he has named his heir. Morgana’s son, Mordred.”

Kilgarrah nods approvingly. “He is a strong sorcerer, and he will be a fair king.” They have long since discussed the role Merlin would have been forced to play concerning Morgana and Mordred, had the world been slightly different.

“Yes. I have taught him all I know. Arthur will be stepping down from the throne, soon enough. He says his days of effective leadership have ended, and he is ready to rest.”

“He has done much to deserve that rest. And what will you do, Merlin?”

“As I have always done.” Merlin draws himself up. “I will stay at Arthur’s side.”

“Indeed.” His eyes crinkle up with affection. “And you have earned your rest as well.”

***

Merlin steps into Arthur’s chambers, closes the door lightly behind him. His king is seated at his desk, his spine as straight as it’s ever been. Merlin moves over toward him, curls his hand around the nape of his neck and kisses his temple.

“How is the dragon?”

“Less cryptic than he’s been in the past.” Merlin smiles, squeezing his neck. “Pleased with the news of your decision.”

“I’m glad to have his blessing. I’m not certain what I’ll do after Mordred’s coronation.”

“We’ll live the rest of our lives at ease,” Merlin promises quietly. “You’ll be here to offer him counsel and to keep me company.”

Arthur snorts, looks up at him with fond exasperation. “The King of Camelot keeping a sorcerer company?”

“I am court sorcerer,” Merlin points out, leans down to kiss him. “And an old man. I need to have you with me.”

Arthur squeezes his hand. “You always will.”
 
 
 
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
mangacat201: arthur's swordmangacat201 on February 13th, 2012 01:57 am (UTC)
FANTASTIC, sharp and to the point and a splendid interpretation of the artwork (I LOVE baby!boys!) The scene where Merlin finally gets the clue was my favourite, so intense and glorious!
Cat
Elizabethbananahater336 on April 30th, 2012 02:05 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it!
kianspo: Arthur/Merlin dreamykianspo on February 13th, 2012 02:41 am (UTC)
This was bittersweet and beautiful. ♥
Elizabethbananahater336 on April 30th, 2012 02:05 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!
archaeologist_d: Merlin destinyarchaeologist_d on February 13th, 2012 02:44 am (UTC)
I loved how Merlin was able to change the timeline and make it so things turned out much better than otherwise. Great job.
Elizabethbananahater336 on April 30th, 2012 02:06 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! ^.^
einahpets: Metal Pendragonreni_m on February 13th, 2012 06:56 am (UTC)
Beautifully done time travel fic.
Elizabethbananahater336 on April 30th, 2012 02:06 am (UTC)
Thank you so much!
Gwyllion: Merlin M/A forevergwylliondream on February 13th, 2012 05:18 pm (UTC)
This was really lovely! I'm so glad Merlin was able to change the outcome so we were spared the horror of the opening scene. Just wonderful!
Elizabethbananahater336 on April 30th, 2012 02:07 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! ^.^
Sofia Ottomansofiaottoman on February 13th, 2012 09:02 pm (UTC)
This was brilliant.
Loved how it ended.
Elizabethbananahater336 on April 30th, 2012 02:07 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!
im_not_a_lizardim_not_a_lizard on February 14th, 2012 02:24 am (UTC)
Oh this was just gorgeous. The initial heartbreak, the rearranging of everything, the very realistic relationship of Merlin and Arthur, and the beautiful conclusion. Bravo, lady.
Elizabethbananahater336 on May 7th, 2012 01:48 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!
On The Turning Away: Merlinotta_ff on February 14th, 2012 02:28 am (UTC)
Fantastic! I love your interpretation of your artist's work. I especially liked this line: “No one said that we didn’t fail first, Gaius. No one told us that we couldn’t try again.”

Well done!

Edited at 2012-02-14 02:35 am (UTC)
Elizabethbananahater336 on May 7th, 2012 01:49 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! <3
magnolia822magnolia822 on February 14th, 2012 03:53 am (UTC)
I. adored. this. From the heartache at the outset to the dear portrayal of the young M/A growing up together and discovering their destiny, to that poignant image at the end of them as old men. Such a brilliant retelling of the story. Well done!
Elizabethbananahater336 on May 7th, 2012 01:50 am (UTC)
Thank you so much!
dk323@LJ: Merlin [in the shadows]dk323 on February 14th, 2012 04:28 am (UTC)
Oh Merlin. :( I enjoyed reading this. Loved the time travel nature of the story and particularly that in the altered world, Merlin and Arthur grew up together. I liked the scene with Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone. Better than the scene on the show (as I'm not too happy with Merlin magically helping Arthur out when it would've been better if Arthur had pulled the sword out on his own).

And it was great to see Arthur and Merlin growing old together and kudos to a universe where Morgana and Mordred are on their side. :) This art prompt was one of my favorites, and you did a brilliant job with this companion fic. ♥
Elizabethbananahater336 on May 7th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
Thank you so much. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. (And I felt the same way about that scene; god, that was stupid. DX)
claudineclaudine on February 14th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
Gorgeous. My favourite lines:

But he doesn’t have time, and he knows that inside, there is a tiny person who is Arthur’s destiny, and Merlin must not meet him.

“I wish you well,” he whispers. “I give you all of the faith and love I have for this world. It is yours now, to use as you wish.”


So poignant and longing and... I just feel the destiny that's brimming in them. Lovely fic.
Elizabethbananahater336 on April 30th, 2012 02:08 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Beckyhalesmoon on February 16th, 2012 12:22 am (UTC)
I love this story! It's beautiful and poignant, and I love the idea of Arthur being raised a peasant and finding solace working in the stables (I have a thing for a rougher Arthur :P ).

Wonderfully done!
Elizabethbananahater336 on May 7th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!
spetzoboe jostleers: ♚ i've been looking all my lifeleviicorpus on February 23rd, 2012 10:42 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful! Really heart-wrenching in the beginning, but I love the way you've imagined their alternate lives and especially the ways in which Arthur is different but still essentially the same.
Elizabethbananahater336 on May 15th, 2012 09:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )