As with so many of the difficulties in Merlin's life, this one could be almost entirely blamed on Kilgarrah.
Even though Kilgarrah and Merlin weren't entirely on the best of terms these days, it seemed Kilgarrah would never tire of coming up with cryptic assignments for Merlin, the success of which apparently would determine life and death for all of Albion. By now, Merlin had learnt to mouth “consequences for the future of Arthur’s reign” at the same time Kilgarrah was pronouncing it in grave tones.
They were standing at a corner of the field, where Merlin had been walking, taking a break from the current preparations for the Yule feast. Merlin kept darting nervous glances towards the path that led to the lower town, for fear someone may stumble upon this clandestine meeting, and then Kilgarrah would feel honour bound to eat any witnesses.
“Arthur needs to give a speech?” Merlin repeated blankly.
“That is what I said, young dragonlord.”
“I thought you had called me here to warn me about a ghoul or something.”
“Is there a ghoul?” Kilgarrah asked.
“I heard some rustling in the upper tower stairs,” Merlin said. “It could have been a ghoul. Perhaps.”
Kilgarrah looked unimpressed. “The ghosts of Camelot are largely harmless,” he said, dismissively. “You would do well to ignore them.”
Merlin shelved the whole ghosts-of-Camelot discussion for another occasion, deciding to press on with why Kilgarrah was getting involved in court politics in the first place. “But you hate Arthur,” Merlin said, and Kilgarrah growled and looked as if he was about to bite off his head. Dragonlord, Merlin reminded himself, you are a dragonlord, dragons don’t eat dragonlords. Then he realised he would probably be better off reminding Kilgarrah instead of himself, but by that time Kilgarrah had visibly calmed down somewhat.
“I do hate the Pendragons,” Kilgarrah conceded, “but Uther is dead and the princeling is now a King. The world is changing, and Arthur must lead the storm and ride the lightning, if he is to unite all of Albion.”
“But – a speech?” Merlin asked, because that was an easier question than how on earth Arthur was meant to ride the lightning.
“Words are one of the first weapons Arthur ever learned to wield,” said Kilgarrah. “Yet Arthur is used to commands and orders, directing his knights and resolving court disputes. He must learn to use words to inspire his people, to heal and unite. He must speak truth and hope into the ears of those who would listen. Arthur will need to build Albion first in the hearts and minds of his people before it can exist on any map.”
So. Just a speech to mark the dawn of a new age. Merlin wished it had been a ghoul.
Once he had finished his deliveries for Gaius, Merlin returned to Arthur’s chambers, picked up a sheet of paper and a quill and proceeded to stare blankly at it.
"Write a speech, he says," Merlin grumbled. "Easy for a dragon to say, they spend all their lives coming up with cryptic phrases and important sounding pronouncements."
After an hour had passed, Merlin had written Today I, Arthur Pendragon, wish to share with you, the people of Camelot, an important message. Merlin chewed the end of his quill thoughtfully.
Not bad. Now he just had to figure out the important message.
Once he got started, though, the words became easier.
The people of Camelot knew Arthur as a prince.
They didn’t know - yet - what he would be like as a king. They had seen Arthur hold court for a few months, witnessed his bravery in battle, but they needed to know what he stood for, what changes he would bring to the kingdom – and what changes he wouldn’t.
The people had respected Uther, for the most part – but Arthur? Arthur was a king they would serve willingly.
Once they glimpsed Arthur’s shining vision for his kingdom, they would follow him anywhere.
The thing was, the speech didn’t need Merlin’s words at all, or Kilgarrah’s. It needed Arthur’s.
And luckily, in his years by Arthur’s side, Merlin had heard Arthur speak enough to know what the words would be.
Some of them were words Arthur had said over a campfire, on an expedition.
Some were words that Arthur had muttered under his breath, not realising anyone was listening.
Some of the words Merlin recalled from a solemn ceremony Arthur had presided at, joined by his closest friends at a round stone table, where he spoke of the future and what it would bring.
Some Arthur had used to rally his men in the heat of battle, some were words he had spoken to a lost child he met in the village, as he walked the town to reunite the little boy with his father.
All of them were Arthur, and of his love for Camelot and its people, and his conviction of what the kingdom could grow to be.
Merlin was reading over what he had written when Arthur walked in, and demanded an explanation of what he was doing.
When Merlin explained about the speech, Arthur looked a bit hesitant so Merlin spun a heartwarming tale of a benevolent headman of Ealdor. In reality the closest thing Ealdor had to such a figure was old Mattias - and Merlin bit back a smile at the idea of old Mattias stringing more than a handful of words together, let alone an inspiring speech to guide the people under his protection into a new year with assurance - instead he focused on widening his eyes innocently at Arthur.
He was thankful that in their brief time in Ealdor Arthur had been too focused on leading a peasant uprising rather than observing the local customs, for if he had Arthur would surely realise that Ealdor was not as far removed from Camelot. If they ever were to return to Ealdor, Merlin would have a lot of explaining to do, for he had fallen back on the habit of attributing anything Arthur considered peculiar to Ealdor, one subject which Arthur did not know enough about to challenge him with any degree of certainty.
Arthur read over the speech with a critical eye, balking at certain phrases, and Merlin bit his tongue to prevent him from pointing out that they were all Arthur’s words to begin with.
By the time Arthur read the speech to the end, he was smiling. “This is Camelot, as it could be,” he said. “This is the future I want. Merlin – how did you know?”
“Of course I knew, you prat,” said Merlin. “You’ve only been telling me about it for the last four years.”