The first time he heard the name ‘Emrys” It was through the thick council chamber doors as he eavesdropped. Two knights had returned less than an hour before, dirty, bruised and red-faced, but lucky enough to live to tell the tale. The tale of Emrys.
When he started asking around, everyone told him a different story. Some said he was an old man, as quick and cunning as someone half his age, others said he was no more than a teenager like him, that relied on luck and cheap tricks.
He began to train with one goal in mind: to be the one that captures and kills Emrys. Every time Emrys was sighted and Uther dispatched knights after him, Arthur begged to join them and every time Uther flatly refused. He knew it was only a matter of time before the Knights returned empty handed. It just made Uther more furious and Arthur more determined.
He wasn’t sighted for a while after that, and theories floated around regarding the fate of Emrys. It gave Arthur enough time to perfect his skill with every weapon man invented and to prove himself a worthy opponent. He’d also earned his father’s trust enough to be sent out on patrol with his own men, something he always looked forward to.
Out in the forest he could finally hunt for Emrys.
After months of uneventful patrols, Arthur hadn’t been expecting much this time. Stupidly he let his guard down and relaxed with his knights, stopping at a river to cool down. One minute he’s waist deep in icy water and the next he’s standing stark naked on the bank with the tip of a sword against his throat.
“Well, well, well,” An unshaved, unwashed, leather clad bandit leered at him. “What do we have here?”
“Leave now and I won’t kill you,” Arthur replied with his most threatening of voices.
The bandits, standing in a circle around the bound and gagged knights, laughed heavily at the suggestion.
“Leave now, and I won’t kill you.”
Arthur frowned as his words were repeated by an unfamiliar voice.
The leader turned in a circle, scanning the forest around him “Show yourself coward!” He shouts into the trees.
His wish is granted when a man appears, almost as if stepping out of a tree. Arthur blinks at the dark haired, pale skinned man. He’s thin but lithe, all lean muscle and whilst his cheekbones are sharp and handsome, his ears stick out like they belong to a farm animal.
“Do I need to repeat myself?” The man speaks calmly. “Leave now, and I won’t kill you.”
Without warning, the leader pulls his sword away from Arthur’s throat and Arthur watches with wide eyes as it cuts through the air towards the stranger.
Quicker than a flash of silver, the man’s eyes flash bright gold. The bandit is lifted into the air as if he weighs no more than a feather, and thrown across the river into a tree, landing in a heap at the roots, unconscious and defeated.
He doesn’t hesitate with the rest of the bandits and they too are lifted into the air. With a wave of a hand, the men quickly join their leader. When it’s over, and the pile of men have stopped writhing in agony, the man grins at him.
After another flash of gold, the rope binding Arthur’s wrists together are ripped apart.
“Who are you?” Arthur demands.
“I think we both know who I am,” The man responds. His eyes travel up his body from his feet to the top of his head, leaving Arthur’s cheeks as red as his discarded cloak. “I’ll be seeing you soon Arthur.”
He turns and begins to calmly walk away.
“Emrys!” Arthur shouts after him and the man stops mid-step, confirming exactly who he is for just the briefest of moments before the sorcerer disappears into a sudden gust of leaves.
It’s only when he’s fully clothed and on his way back to Camelot that he realises his heart is racing.
The second time they meet, Arthur is fully clothed but once again in need of rescuing.
It was all Gwaine’s fault (as it usually was), dragging him and Leon into a bar fight. They were tired from a long day of hunting and wanted nothing more than a cold tankard of mead. It just so happened that the tavern they walked into was filled with big burly men who Gwaine had swindled out of money.
Outnumbered, the fight had been dirty and painful. Arthur hadn’t been quick enough to dodge the fat fist that landed against his jaw. Dazed and confused, it gave the angry man an opening to continue his assault on Arthur’s face and stomach.
He’s one hit away from unconsciousness when he sees the man’s fist tighten, his bones cracking as he pulls back ready for an almighty swing. But somehow the fist never connects. The reason why becomes clear when an ale filled jug flies through the air and slams against the man’s head. His eyes roll back in his head and his whole body falls backwards, crashing into the stone floor with a thud. The men attacking Gwaine and Leon also seem to be flat on the floor, drooling like idiots.
Arthur looks up and quickly spots Emrys, sitting on the bar, swinging his legs nonchalantly, like he hasn’t just taken out five men twice his size without breaking a sweat.
Arthur eyes his sword, lying at his feet, then back up at Emrys, his mind whirring with options.
“Most people would say thank you, you know,” Emrys speaks first, “For saving their life...for the second time...in less than two weeks.”
“I’ll never thank you,” Arthur growls, “And I’ll never trust you, I’m not stupid enough to fall for your mind games.”
Emrys slides off the bar gracefully, “I don’t play games.”
“I’ll never believe your lies either,” Years of training kick into action and with a flick of his foot, his sword is back in his hand and aimed at Emrys. “You will kneel, now!”
Emrys doesn’t even blink, “I will kneel before you Arthur, but not today.”
Arthur has had enough, he doesn’t want to listen anymore, not when he has a chance to capture the one that no-one else has managed to capture. He lifts his sword into the air and swipes, but it hit nothing but air where Emrys had been standing just seconds before.
The third time they meet, Arthur is injured, having only just escaped from King Cenred’s grasp hours before. Every muscle aches, his ribs are cracked and a deep cut down his thigh is slowing down his escape. It’s only his skill in hiding his tracks which keeps him from being recaptured. All he has to do is keep going until he’s over the border, only then will he be safe.
Thirsty and tired, he risks a few slurps of lake water and a rest against a large oak. When he wakes, the first thing his cloudy vision focuses on is Emrys, standing over him.
“Here to kill me then? Just get it over with will you,” Arthur sighs.
Emrys rolls his eyes. “Yes, I save you from being skinned alive by a horde of bloodthirsty bandits and stop a drunkard from punching your insides out through your mouth, only to kill you weeks later. Your logic is sound.”
“Then why are you here, sorcerer?” Arthur spits out the word sorcerer, like it’s a curse word. “To laugh at me? To remind me how powerful you are? that no-one will ever come close to capturing you? I promise you, when I am healed, I will hunt you down.”
“Hunt me down?” Emrys repeats “Where so many before you have succeeded?”
“I’m not like them.”
Emrys lowers himself to the ground and Arthur flinches back, pressing himself against the tree so hard, the bark patterns leave impressions in his back. Without permission, the raven-haired man presses his hand against the bloody gash, forcing Arthur to cry out in agony.
Once again, Arthur watches his eyes flash gold and heat spreads through his leg and up to his chest. Just moments later, Emrys pulls his hand away, leaving Arthur wide eyed at the newly healed skin where his hand had been. The stabbing pain every time he breathed in was also gone.
“Why?” Arthur gasps. “What do you think you can gain from this?”
Emrys stands slowly. “I’m not like them either,” he says softly.
When Arthur blinks, Emrys is gone and it’s time he made a move. With his leg and ribs healed he knows he’ll make it back in half the time.
“You’re a very lucky young man,” Gaius tells him after a quick once over. His father, standing off to one side has never looked more relieved. “Not a scratch on you,” He adds, sending a look towards Uther.
He never told his father about his first two encounters of Emrys, ordering the accompanying knights to keep quiet and he hadn’t planned to say anything this time either, but there’s blood on his ripped trousers which can’t be explained away.
“Tell me what happened,” Uther orders.
“Emrys,” Arthur admits and listens to the intake of breath from Uther, “He healed me.”
“Gaius, check him again, my son will not leave this room until you are absolutely sure he has not been enchanted by that monster.”
After numerous tests he’s given the all clear, but it doesn’t stop Uther from watching him like a hawk for the next few weeks. He can’t be sure, but he swears his father also has him closely followed.
In the space of five months, Emrys saves his life a total of nine times, which frustrates Arthur to no end. He’s not some damsel in distress. He doesn’t need Emrys.
Okay, so he needed Emrys to escape that love spell that one time.
And he has to admit he would never have escaped the giant spider’s web without help.
But apart from that, Emrys’ help has been completely unneeded. Which is why he can’t understand why that sorcerer is nowhere to be seen now, when he’s been hanging off the edge of a cliff for half an hour. His muscles are screaming and the longer he hangs on, the louder the raging river below him seems to be.
Why would Emrys put so much time and effort into keeping Arthur alive only leave him literally hanging now?
His biceps start to shake at the strain forced on them and he grits his teeth “You going to make me beg?” He shouts. “Emrys!”
Finally, a pair of muddy boots come into view, and his eyes look up at a very familiar face grinning down at him. “I knew you’d call for me eventually.”
“You just going to stand there or are you going to help?” Arthur snaps. It’s all too much and one hand slips off the edge. “I can’t hold on any longer!”
His words spur Emrys into action. He holds out a hand towards Arthur. “Take my hand.”
“What?” Arthur splutters incredulously “Are you crazy? You're a twig, you can't lift me!”
“Now really isn’t the time to argue Arthur,” Emrys rolls his eyes. “Take my hand.”
Arthur grips onto the stone with one hand and reaches up towards Emrys with the other. Their fingers touch, a brief spark of contact before Arthur slips, unable to hold on any longer.
One minute Arthur is falling and the next he’s floating in mid air. Slowly, he rises up, over the edge of the cliff. The magic, supporting him in the air suddenly releases, sending him flying into Emrys and both of them fall to the ground.
For a moment, Arthur is dazed, but the sound of Emrys coughing and gasping beneath him snaps him back to the situation they’re in. He stares down at Emrys, trapped underneath Arthur’s weight, unable to escape. Finally, Arthur has Emrys right where he wants him.
He’ll never be able to explain what makes him roll off Emrys and back away. “I nearly died you idiot!”
“Nearly dying is a recurring theme with you,” Emrys croaks. “Keeping you alive is becoming a full time job.” He breathes heavily and Arthur is reminded that Emrys is not indestructible, no matter how indestructible he might appear.
“Nobody asked you to take that role on.”
Emrys glances at him from his supine position, “Destiny Arthur, destiny asked that of me.”
Arthur frowns, “What are you talking about?”
Emrys sits up and smiles, “You’ll see...soon.” He makes to get up but is stopped by a hand grabbing his wrist.
“You can stop doing that stupid disappearing trick you know...you might have noticed I haven’t tried to kill you in a while.”
Emrys laughs, “Arthur, you haven’t even come close to killing me.”
With his hand still wrapped around Emrys’ wrist, Arthur holds him down and swiftly throws a leg over the sorcerer, straddling him with ease. He grabs Emrys’ free hand and holds both hands above his head, pressed down into the dusty stone. “You were saying?”
Arthur realises this is the first time he’s been up close and personal with Emrys and it makes him wonder who else has got this close. “I could take you apart with one blow.”
“I could take you apart with less than that,” Emrys promises, his eyes flashing gold to remind Arthur of just that.
Arthur shakes his head “There’s something about you Emrys, I just can’t put my finger on it.”
Arthur frowns “What?”
“Emrys is the name given to me by the druids....Merlin, that’s my true name,” he explains softly.
A shiver runs down Arthur’s spine. He tries to tell himself it’s just the shock of nearly dying for the hundredth time, but deep down he knows it’s something else entirely.
“Merlin,” Arthur repeats, “Like the bird.”
He lets go of Merlin and this time they say goodbye before Merlin disappears.
Arthur’s decided he’s the unluckiest person in all of Camelot when he runs into trouble again. It’s a trio of magic users that ambush him and his father during a morning ride in the forest. For the first time, he hopes Merlin won’t appear; the combination of Merlin, three hate-filled sorcerers and Uther Pendragon is a disaster waiting to happen.
Arthur has no such luck and curses under his breath when Merlin steps in between the two royals and the three magicians. Just in the nick of time, Merlin raises a glowing shield against an onslaught of dark spells.
Once again, Arthur is amazed by the power that Merlin wields as he barely breaks a sweat when taking on three sorcerers at once.
It all ends quickly, with Merlin throwing the spells back where they came from. One is hit by a fireball and is thrown into the air, another falls to the ground, screaming in agony as he feels the pain of fire burning him from the inside out and the last is quickly sucked down into the earth below him.
When it’s all over, Merlin turns to face Arthur and the king. Nothing happens for a moment, not until the shock wears off. Uther blinks, his expression morphing into something dark and angry.
“Arthur, kill him!”
Arthur freezes, torn between his father and the man he’s come to know as his guardian angel. Merlin has saved his life more times than he can count and all without demanding anything in return.
“Now Arthur, what are you waiting for!” Uther shouts “Do it or I’ll do it myself!” Uther draws the sword from his belt.
He wants to shout at Merlin to run, to disappear like he usually does and get as far away as possible, but he knows he can’t, not in front of his father.
The decision is taken away from him when the first sorcerer, only winded from being thrown into the air, takes revenge and throws a nasty spell at an unsuspecting Merlin.
Merlin’s eyes go wide and his back arches painfully as the fireball hits him between the shoulder blades. He drops to his knees, his eyes meeting Arthur’s the entire way down.
Arthur doesn’t waste another second and throws his dagger at the rogue sorcerer. It lands satisfyingly square in the man’s chest. He tells himself it’s to save them all from further attacks, but he knows deep down, it’s revenge for hurting Merlin.
Uther raises his sword to attack a weakened Merlin and for a bleak second Arthur’s sure these are the last moments of Merlin’s life that he’s witnessing. As the sword descends, the wind picks up and with what looks like Merlin’s last reserves of strength, he lets the wind take him away to safety. Uther’s sword plunges into the ground where Merlin had been.
He doesn’t hear the end of it when they return to the castle. For hours he is lectured on the evils of magic and the dangers of hesitating. He nods and agrees in all the right places but his mind is on Merlin.
Long after the lecture ends, food has been eaten and the city has gone to sleep, Arthur sneaks out, easily navigating the dark corridors and dodging the night guards. He knows it’s stupid. The forest is large and Merlin could be anywhere, but he can’t sleep without knowing if Merlin is okay.
It takes him less time than expected to find Merlin, almost like he let Arthur find him, in a small clearing, huddled against a fallen tree. Arthur had never seen him look so small before, so weak.
“Are you okay?” Arthur breaks the silence.
Merlin’s response is slow as he lifts his head and meets Arthur’s eyes “You came.”
“I couldn’t not,” Arthur explains as he sits down beside Merlin “Let me check your back.”
Merlin nods and turns away from Arthur. With gentle hands, Arthur lifts Merlin’s tunic, revealing an expanse of pale cool skin.
Merlin certainly took a beating when the fireball hit his back. The skin further up is red and swollen, a round burn mark in the middle that looks painful, but Arthur’s seen worse. He knows it’ll take a lot more than a fireball to take down the mighty Emrys.
“You’ll live,” Arthur breaths, lowering Merlin’s tunic back down. “It’s nice you know.”
“Knowing you’re not perfect, that you’re human like the rest of us.”
“I am human you know, I make mistakes and feel pain just like you.”
“Well I know that now don’t I?”
Merlin manages a weak smile then hisses as a gust of cool air passes through the clearing, leaving him trembling.
“You need a fire,” Arthur announces and begins gathering firewood, never venturing too far away. When he’s built a tower of wood he turns to Merlin nervously. “Can you?”
Merlin looks almost relieved and with a shaking outstretched arm and a flash of gold, the fire bursts to life, instantly creating heat.
An hour passes in silence, their eyes watching the wood slowly burn to ash. Arthur doesn’t know what else to say and is glad when it’s Merlin who speaks first.
“Thank you,” he says softly.
“For saving my life,” Merlin explains.
Arthur smiles, “It’s about time I returned the favour don’t you think?”
When it starts to get light, Arthur reluctantly leaves a sleeping Merlin beside the dying fire. He’s back in his room before his servant arrives with breakfast, unaware that his master had been up all night, helping Camelot’s number one most wanted.
Uther is more determined than ever to kill Emrys after coming face to face with him. The patrols of the forest are doubled and anyone that’s even suspected of knowing Emrys is put to death. Uther forces him to watch every execution, which leaves a bitter taste in Arthur’s mouth every time.
He joins as many patrols as he can without it affecting his training of the younger knights and his need for food and sleep. Luckily, Uther is more than pleased with Arthur’s equal determination to find Emrys and says nothing of the hours Arthur spends out in the woods.
For weeks, Merlin has been around every corner, never far behind and now when Arthur really wants to see him there’s no sign. He almost considers putting himself in danger, riding into Cendred’s kingdom or walking into a cave filled with wilderen, in the hope that Merlin will come save him. But there’s always the chance that Merlin won’t come and he’s not stupid enough to risk his own life like that.
He hates that Merlin is all that he can think about, hates what Merlin has done to him. He should want Merlin dead, but instead the thought of Merlin tied to a stake, fire licking at his feet has become a nightmare that wakes him most nights in a cold sweat.
How can Merlin be evil when all he’s done is save Arthur’s life? When other sorcerers are planning Arthur’s death, it’s Merlin that is standing in between him and the sorcerers, standing against his own kind to save him.
He’s exhausted after long days in the forest, his eyelids so heavy he barely makes it through dinner. He dismisses his servant as soon as the plates are cleared and falls into bed soon after.
It’s late, or very early when there’s a crashing sound, loud enough to wake him up. His eyes snap open and quickly adjust to the dark room. Slowly, his hand slips under his pillow and wraps around the hilt of his dagger, his grip tightening when he hears footsteps. His whole body is tensed, a coiled spring ready to release.
“I hear you’ve been looking for me.”
Arthur’s head snaps around, his eyes landing on Merlin, leaning against the bed post with his arms crossed like he hasn’t got a care in the world, like there isn’t an army searching for him.
“Are you a complete idiot?” Arthur hisses, “What on earth compelled you to come here! My father wants your head on a stick!”
Merlin rolls his eyes and pushes away from the bed. He turns and walks away casually, “Uther has always wanted my head on a stick, that’s not going to change.”
Arthur throws back the covers and climbs out of bed, ignoring the shivers as his feet touch the cold stone floor, “It’s almost like you want to be found.”
Merlin spins around and frowns, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Why else would you be here,” Arthur stalks forward, “Why else would you keep popping up when you think I need help.”
“Think you need help?” Merlin repeats, taking a step back for every step Arthur takes forward. “You would have died months ago if it wasn’t for me!”
“And why is that Merlin? Why are you helping me? Tell me, what exactly do you want?”
“You know what I want? I want to not have to run every minute of every day, I want to be able to visit my parents without risking their lives, I want a home and friends and most of all Arthur, I want to be able to use my magic without being persecuted, something I was born to use, something I was destined to help people with.”
“So not much then” Arthur takes another step forward and Merlin has nowhere else to go. Merlin is sandwiched between the castle wall and the heat of Arthur’s chest pressed against his own “Why me?”
“Because it’s you Arthur,” Merlin says softly, “You will be the once and future King, you will unite all of Albion, under your reign, good magic will return, you-
Arthur cuts Merlin off with his lips, pushing them against Merlin’s. He doesn’t know why he does it, but as soon as their lips touch everything makes sense, they fit like two halves of a whole.
It takes a moment for Merlin to relax into the kiss but once he does, his arms wrap around Arthur’s neck. Merlin drags him in closer until Arthur is surrounded by Merlin’s taste and smell and warmth.
What starts out soft and unsure quickly evolves into something else entirely as they’re caught up in the moment. Arthur frames Merlin’s head, a hand on each cheek, holding him as the kiss turns wet and messy. Meanwhile, Merlin’s hands pull at Arthur’s trousers, pushing them down with shaking hands.
Once Merlin’s own trousers reach the floor, Arthur’s hands reach down and slip under Merlin’s thighs, encouraging Merlin to wrap his legs around Arthur’s waist. Arthur’s weight presses Merlin into the wall and holds him there as their groins meet, leaving them both panting and gasping.
All Merlin can do is hold on tight as Arthur alternates between rolling his hips in slow teasing movements and thrusting so hard Merlin’s back scrapes against the stone wall. Arthur pushes his face into Merlin’s neck and breathes hot air onto the sweat slick skin before sucking on the pale neck available to him.
He knows Merlin is close to release by the way the sorcerer’s fingers dig into his shoulder blades and the way mouth opens and his eyes flutter shut. Arthur follows soon after, tipping over the edge with a jerk of his hips.
Their chests heave as they try to get their breath back and with little energy left, Arthur sags against Merlin, his dead weight keeping Merlin up. Long minutes later, Arthur drags them both to bed, ignoring the sticky mess between them in favour of leaving chaste kisses along Merlin’s collar bone, up the delicate line of Merlin’s neck, over the sharp cheekbones and arriving at his kiss swollen, smiling lips.
“Do you really believe all that?” Arthur whispers later on as they lie tangled up in the covers. “About me?”
Merlin nods, “Every word.”
“What if I don’t become all that you expect of me?” He asks.
Merlin cuts him off with a kiss, “You will” He repeats, his lips brushing against Arthur’s as he speaks. “I should go.”
“I know,” Arthur sighs. He stays in bed as Merlin slips out and walks shamelessly across the room to collect his discarded trousers.
“I’ll see you soon, I promise.”
In the blink of an eye Merlin is gone, but the smell of sex in the air and the drying mess on his stomach reassure him that it wasn’t a dream.
It’s the anniversary of the first time he came face to face with Merlin.
Not that Arthur cares or anything. He certainly doesn’t care that he hasn’t seen Merlin in two months.
He plans a hunting trip with the knights to take his mind of the infuriating sorcerer which turns out to be the best decision he’s made in ages. Out in the forest, away from his father and the ever increasing amount of executions. He can barely watch now as he hears the screams. At first it was because he pictured Merlin tied to the stake as flamed licked at his feet whilst Merlin silently stared in his direction, but now when he watches he sees innocent people.
He sees a man who had used magic to save the life of his child, he sees a woman who was friends with a druid and a couple, accused of sorcery with no evidence to prove it, all burnt alive in Camelot’s main square.
Out in the woods, he can let all the stresses of being the crown prince go. He can just be Arthur, enjoying his favourite past time with those he can call friends. The hunt until the light begins to fade, collecting boar and a small deer.
They work together to set up camp, creating a large fire that lights up the clearing on the moonless night, and clearing away the sharp twigs and stones that circle it so that they can lay out their bedrolls. Once settled, Arthur lies back as close to the fire as possible without burning himself, as his knights prepare dinner, a simple meal of cooked freshly caught boar. The mouth-watering smell rises up with the thick smoke, filling Arthur’s nostrils. His eyes slide shut as a feeling of contentment washes over him.
“God that smells good”
Arthur’s eyes snap open to the sight of Merlin sitting beside him, his face illuminated by the fire.
Arthur wishes he could be surprised, but Merlin’s almost becoming predictable. His lips stretch into a smile. He’ll never admit how much he’s missed Merlin. “Tell me, how on earth have you survived this long?”
“I’m an incredibly powerful sorcerer” Merlin answers simply. The flames dance in Merlin’s sparkling eyes. There are things that he wants to do to Merlin, especially with the way Merlin is looking at him. But there are knights, looking on in amusement, barely phased by Merlin’s sudden appearance.
“You do realise you’re surrounded by five highly trained Knights?”
Gwaine, Leon, Percival and Elyan freeze and even in the low light Arthur noticed flushes cheeks and shifty eyes.
Merlin looks up at his knights and chuckles.
“What?”Arthur frowns “What am I missing?”
“Gwaine?” Merlin looks up at the long-haired knight.
Gwaine sighs “I fell into a well alright?” He admits “I might have been a little bit drunk and Merlin helped me out”
Merlin grins “Percival?”
Percival looks to Arthur reluctantly “Merlin saved my village from destruction by King Cenred and healed my young brother’s leg after falling from a tree”
Elyan sinks down on Arthur’s other side “I owed money I couldn’t repay, Merlin was there when they came to collect”
Finally, Merlin looks to Leon “Leon?”
“I should be dead, but here I am thanks to Merlin. Twice now he has stepped in when a sword has been swung towards my neck” Leon explains, bowing his head in gratitude towards Merlin.
Arthur should be upset that he’s not special, that he shares his guardian angel with others, but he’s not. Instead, a warm feeling runs through him. He bets that if he asked Gwen or Morgana, they too have been saved, even if they don’t know by who. Merlin hasn’t just been looking after him, he’s been looking after those Arthur cares about.
Arthur is getting ready for his birthday feast when his father summons him to the great hall. The king is in conversation with a new face to Camelot when he arrives. The man is older, world weathered but with a strength and a darkness to him. He looks at Arthur with steely eyes, scrutinising him like he’s a suspected criminal, not crown prince.
“Arthur” Uther lays a hand on Arthur’s shoulder and encourages him towards the stranger. “I’d like you to meet Aredian, he’s a hunter”
Arthur holds out his hand politely “Pleasure to meet you.”
“And you” Aredian responds, squeezing Arthur’s hand tightly in his own tough calloused hand.
“It’s a shame you couldn’t make it earlier, we had a successful hunt in the northern woods, felled two deer and a boar”
Uther chuckled. “He’s not that type of hunter Arthur”
“Oh?” Arthur frowns.
“Aredian hunts magic users Arthur, and he’s here with your birthday present from me” Uther motions to the guards and the large double doors swing open. Two more guards enter the room with a chained prisoner between them. The tortured prisoner’s feet drag along the stone floor as he’s pulled into the room against his will before being dropped at Arthur’s feet.
The man is shirtless, but his skin is bruised and bloodied and as he falls, he throws out his hands to break his fall.
Finally the prisoner looks up and Arthur gasps.
“Happy birthday Arthur” Uther grins.
Merlin stares up at him with bloodshot eyes.
Arthur’s first instinct is to drop to his knees to throw his coat over Merlin’s shaking shoulders. Instead, he stands frozen, staring back dumbly.
“Do you like it? Aredian’s been hunting Emrys for over a year now, but a sorcerer has an ego and it was only a matter of time before he was caught. He’s all yours Arthur, to decide how he dies”
“I..”Arthur croaks “I don’t know what to say”
“Ha!” Uther’s smile widens and he pats Arthur on the back proudly “I knew you would like it”
Before Merlin is dragged away, Arthur hears the unmistakable voice of Merlin in his mind.
“Me too” Arthur thinks.
Arthur doesn’t eat at the feast. As entertainers do tricks and prance around the room and as his father and his advisors laugh and drink too much, Arthur picks as his food and thinks of Merlin, hungry and cold below his feet.
He makes his excuses as soon as he can, feigning a headache in order to return to his chambers. He’s not surprised to find his Knights waiting for him inside the room with similar grim expressions on each of their faces.
“What’s the plan Sire?” Leon asks.
“The plan is you all return to the feast”
“You can’t mean that” Gwaine protests “He’s our friend too, I can’t sit and pretend he’s not cold and hungry and hurt below my feet”
“I’m doing this alone” Arthur tells them “When I get him out of there, I want my father to see you all and know you were not involved”
“What about you Sire?” Leon takes a step forward.
“He will never suspect me” Arthur replies confidently. “I promise you all, before the end of tonight, Merlin will be far away from Camelot.
The knights nod reluctantly and start to make their way out of Arthur’s chambers. Arthur reaches out and stops Leon with a hand on his bicep. “There is one thing you can do for me”
“Supplies, and a horse, waiting for me at the tunnel entrance”
“Consider it done”
When Merlin had been presented to him, there had been a collar around his neck, a thick lock on one side holding it tightly around his neck and Arthur is sure that it’s that item that’s suppressing Merlin’s magic and stopping him from escaping.
Arthur is also sure that the key to the lock is tucked away in Aredian’s chambers. Luckily Aredian is still downstairs at the feast, toasting his success with the King and he could slip into the witch-hunter’s chambers without being seen, finding it hidden under the man’s pillow.
It’s harder to slip by the guards in the dungeons but still easier enough. Arthur’s disappointed in the knights that he trains personally. When this is all over, Arthur will let them know how displeased he is with their inattention. Even if it’s that inattention that will save Merlin’s life.
The prince finds Merlin on the hard cold ground inside the cell, back pressed up against the bars, not liking the way the young sorcerers body seemed to be trembling.
“Merlin” He whispers as he curls his hands around the bars.
“Arthur?” Merlin croaks “What are you doing here?” Slowly, like his limbs are lead weights, Merlin turns to face Arthur, leaving Arthur shocked at how quickly Merlin has deteriorated. His eyes sunk and dim, his skin almost translucent. He looks defeated, not something Arthur has every associated with Merlin, even when he had been injured.
“I’m here to save your life you idiot”
Merlin shakes his head “Too dangerous”
“I don’t care, I’m getting you out of here and that’s final” Arthur pulls his own set of keys out of his pocket and unlocks the cell. Once inside he drops to his knees beside Merlin and pulls out the a second key , the one stolen from Aredian’s chambers and pushes it into the lock at Merlin’s neck.
As the key twists and the collar splits open, Merlin is overcome. Arthur watches as the surpressed magic returns and spreads through Merlin like fire. Merlin gasps, as his eyes fill with gold, so bright that Arthur has to shield his eyes and when the gold fades away, Merlin’s eyes sparkle once more, they way they always should. In that moment Arthur vows to do whatever it takes to keep that sparkle in Merlin’s eyes for as long as they both live.
“Come on” Arthur’s hand finds Merlin’s and he pulls them both up to their feet. They leave behind an empty cell and a collar, now forced into a million small pieces by a flash of golden eyes. With their hands glued together, Arthur leads Merlin through the tunnels underneath Camelot, using a glowing blue ball of magic to light the way.
There’s a horses and a satchel full of food and provisions waiting for them outside the tunnel, just like Arthur had requested from his knights. He doesn’t know how they managed it but he will be forever grateful to his friends.
Arthur’s throat tightens as he says “You’ve got to go now, before they find you missing”
Merlin’s hands come up to Arthur’s cheeks, framing his face “I know” He responds softly.
“You can’t come back, you can’t risk it, we can’t risk it”
“I know” Merlin brings Arthur forwards until their foreheads are resting together. “Don’t do anything stupid okay? I haven’t done all this to lose you now, you need to stay alive...for me”
“I will if you will” Arthur promises. They don’t have time for anything but a brief meeting of lips against lips before Arthur helps Merlin onto the horse and watch him gallop away into the darkness.
He returns to the castle unseen and before anyone has even rung the bell signalling an escaped prisoner, Aredian’s key is back where he found it. As he slips into his chambers and closes the door behind him the first ding of the bell rings out.
He knows Merlin is long gone, they won’t be able to find him. All he can do is join his knights in searching for him before returning to the castle empty handed, pouting with disappointment that his ‘present’ had escaped before he’d had a chance to play with it.
It’s near the end of the third year in the middle of winter when Uther dies.
It’s unexpected and a shock to the entire kingdom but Arthur steps up and accepts the crown a week later. As the weight of the metal sits on his head for the first time and he turns to look out on a sea of red cloaks and nobles, there’s one person he wishes was standing there instead.
They shout “Long live the King!” again and again but Arthur’s not listening, instead he's thinking about the task in front of him, the people looking to him for leadership and the enemies waiting for him to show weakness.
His least favourite duty as prince was standing behind his father as he recieved members of the kingdom. He had to listen for hours as farmers and market sellers complained or accused people of wrong doing before waiting for Uther’s judgement. The first time as king he stands rather than sits on the thrown and motions for the first in a long line to stand before him.
As the hooded figure slowly walks towards him, something inside Arthur changes. He doesn’t know what it is until the hood is thrown back and it’s Merlin walking towards him.
Arthur’s eyes widen, his heart beats loudly in his chest and his mouth goes dry. He’s been waiting three long empty years for this moment.
“My King” Merlin says respectfully. “Long ago you asked me to kneel at your feet and I refused. Do you remember what I said?”
Arthur remembers that moment clearly, like he vividly remembers every fleeting moment in Merlin’s presence. “You said you would kneel before me, but not today”
Merlin’s eyes are fixed on Arthur’s as he lowers himself purposefully to his knees. “I...Merlin of Ealdor, pledge my life and my magic to you, my King”
There are gasps and murmurs around the great hall at the use of the m-word but Arthur ignores it all. For so many years he’s been on the precipice of greatness, waiting for his life to really begin and now here he is, with a man so powerful he could take the five kingdoms with no army, kneeling before him. Destiny is the word that sits on the tip of his tongue and almost like Merlin can read his mind, the sorcerer nods and grins at him. Destiny, that’s exactly what it is.
“Rise” He orders and Merlin obeys “And stand beside me as magic is no longer outlawed in Camelot”
Merlin’s eyes flash gold as he takes his rightful place beside Arthur and his hand presses against Arthurs, the King smiles for the first time in too long. He knows the fleeting touch is a promise of so much more.