"I wanted to tell you Arthur," Merlin murmured softly. "You have no idea how much I wanted to tell you." He could say what he wanted now; there was no holding back, for he was alone in the cell and he was speaking too softly for the guard posted outside the door to hear.
If he looked out the small window, he would see the wood being gathered and stacked in the courtyard. If he put his face against the bars and sniffed, he would smell the faint aroma of fresh bread and roasting pork.
Uther had always thrown a feast after a sorcerer was burned. It seemed Arthur would do the same now that he was king.
He closed his eyes. There was no use in dwelling on it. He had made his choice a long time ago.
As night began to fall, Merlin heard the heavy footsteps of the guards. The door swung open. "Get up," one of the guards told Merlin, not unkindly. They didn't bother to shackle him as they marched him up to the castle. "Do you want to change?" one asked him.
"Um," Merlin said. "Not really."
The guards looked at each other and shrugged. The procession moved towards the Great Hall, from where sounds of laughter and twirling strands of music were drifting.
"Merlin!" Arthur stood up from where he was sitting at the head of the table. The chatter in the room died away as heads simulataneously swung to face Merlin. Arthur wrinkled his nose. "For god's sake Merlin, what are you wearing!" he exclaimed.
"...My clothes?" Merlin offered tentatively, feeling horribly unbalanced.
"Yes," Arthur said slowly, as if talking to a child. "But those aren't fit for feasting, are they? Have you forgotten the little of proper ettiquette you've managed to learn as my manservant?"
Merlin was speechless. The guests at the table watched him as if this were their entertainment. He felt his heart constrict. He hadn't expected Arthur to do this, to act as if nothing had happened, that he hadn't been revealed as a sorceror, that he wasn't going to be burned for his crime of existing. He hadn't expected Arthur to be so cruel.
"Merlin?" Arthur said and his tone gentled. "Are you alright? You're not angry I threw you in the dungeon are you?" he asked with a touch of anxiety.
In lieu of an answer, Merlin glanced out the window where the wood had been stacked in the courtyard. Arthur followed his gaze. "You...you didn't think," Arthur said, horrified. In an instant, he had thrown away all the "proper ettiquette" that he had just been berating Merlin about and swept Merlin up in a hug. "I would never," he whispered fiercely.
Relief weakened Merlin and he went limp in Arthur's arms. "I thought you didn't do hugs," he said, voice muffled by Arthur's shirt.
Arthur released him. "It seems that even when I'm King, you contradict me," he said loftily. "Perhaps you should spend another night in the dungeon."
Merlin rolled his eyes. "You prat," he said affectionately, ignoring the gapes of some of the people in the hall. "You made me think--!"
Arthur was serious again in an instant. "I admit I was angry, Merlin. But I never meant you to think I would actually order your execution. And it's hardly a noble way to start out one's kingship, is it? 'New King orders former manservant burned at stake for sorcery.'"
"I don't blame you for being angry," Merlin said quietly. "I wanted to tell you. I hated living a life of lies and half-truths. But I was afraid."
Arthur's eyes softened. "Well you don't have to be anymore," he said briskly. "I was going to wait until after the feast for the announcement, but I guess there's no time like the present. Merlin is to be the new Court Sorceror and advisor to the Crown."
There was a shocked silence. Then Lancelot stood up and began to clap. Gwaine was up on his feet a second later and the rest of the knights followed. The other guests hastily began to applaud under the knights' and Arthur's glares.
As Merlin sat down in his place at Arthur's right hand side, Arthur leaned over to whisper, "I always knew though, Merlin, that you were the most honest of us all."