Four years and no heir.
The murmurs began two years ago.
Nowadays, Arthur is lucky if he doesn't field the question of his wife's fertility from a 'concerned council member' at least once a week.
Five years and no heir.
Time is not a kind mistress, and she gives no pause to the concerns of kings and queens and kingdoms that need progeny, need heirs, need the promise of stability.
Not for the first time, Arthur curses the sins of his father.
Seven years and no heir.
"Maybe Merlin could-"
The Old Religion is an even harsher mistress. She demands blood.
Ten years and no heir.
Arthur acknowledges that this is desperation.
A sigh from his queen.
"Gwen, you have to consider."
"Arthur, how can you even begin to think that I could even-" She cuts herself off and glares at Arthur.
"Is it baseless?" Arthur averts his eyes, gaze firmly on the table that separates them. "Tell me, Guinevere. Tell me that the thought is impossible. Tell me you have never once thought of this."
A short silence. "I love you."
Arthur sighs. "That was never in question." He smiles wryly, "I sometimes think this may be easier if it were."
He doesn't look back up until she places her hands over his own, warm if not entirely forgiving.
Arthur stops himself from grabbing Lancelot by the shoulders and shaking him, but only just. "This is not a trick." He cuts off what he is sure is Lancelot's heartfelt protest (and did the man have to be so damned earnest about everything?) with a raised hand. "This is not a question of your loyalty."
"My lord. Arthur, I would never." It looks like it physically hurts Lancelot for Arthur to even be considering this, for Arthur to ask him to consider this.
Arthur runs a hand through his hair in frustration. "Do you love Camelot?"
Arthur holds his best knight's gaze. "Do you love us?"
Lancelot's head bows as if sagging under the weight of his answer. "Yes."
Arthur gives in to the urge to touch Lancelot, placing a hand on Lancelot's shoulder with carefully calculated lightness. "Lancelot, this is not an order."
Arthur walks away moments later feeling sick to his stomach.
"He agreed, didn't he?"
Arthur nods. "Yes."
Guinevere's look is sharp. "Did you command him?"
Arthur flinches at the accusation in her tone. "Gwen, I would never."
She nods, but Arthur can see she does not quite believe him.
Then two. To be sure.
A few more.
Gwen is glowing.
Lancelot tries his best not to beam at everyone.
Arthur, very carefully, does not scowl.
Merlin keeps shooting Arthur careful looks and when Merlin finally asks, all Arthur says is, "No. No magic."
Merlin figures it out the next day and whacks Arthur over the head with the staff the sorceror has taken to carrying of late.
Merlin stumbles out of the room, his entire face overtaken by the grin on his face; it reminds Arthur that Merlin hasn't smiled like that in years.
"A boy, Arthur!"
'A boy.' Arthur thinks to himself.
Arthur holds the baby and studies his face.
He can see Gwen in the shape of his brow. He can see Lancelot in the shape of his nose. He can see Camelot in the boy's eyes.
The smile he gives Gwen is genuine (he tries not to be surprised at this). The hug he gives Lancelot, as well.
The people of Camelot celebrate for two whole weeks. Clean-up is a nightmare.
His council congratulates him as if Arthur had been the one to suffer for nearly a day to bring the boy into this world, as if they hadn't been looking for ways to be rid of Guinevere after the first three years.
His enemies and vassals send him gifts and the best of wishes even as they groan under the promise of more Pendragons.
His knights get him very drunk. Elyan hugs him every time they see each other for a month.
Even Morgana sends a druid with a message of congratulations. She also sends a dagger. The druid swears it's a gift, not a threat. Still, Merlin is the one to receive the bejeweled blade, his eyes gold and wary.
"A boy," he still whispers to himself sometimes, even four months later.
"My son," Arthur tells the quiet sleeping bundle, voice firm and sure.