Rumor had it that Merlin had gotten caught with a spellbook. Others said he had used magic to save the king's life right in front of him. Some said a knight saw him casting enchantments to rid himself of stains in one of Arthur's tunics. It was mutually agreed upon that each scenario was as likely as the last. The next day the entire castle had shown up to the trial only to learn the king had already made the decision privately. Luckily, there would be no execution. Unluckily, Merlin had been banished hours before without any time to say goodbye. Disappointment roamed the halls - nobody argued the king's decree, but a few of the brave muttered if Merlin was so easily discarded then the king clearly did not have the loyalty he demanded of others.
Despite Merlin’s banishment, he went back to Camelot occasionally. Always in disguise, but sometimes he would allow people to see him…Just to mess with them. It was good fun to watch Arthur’s face when he would sporadically appear like a haunting ghost. Gwaine was always good fun as well. They would leave each other notes, planning pranks for when Merlin wasn’t busy.
“I don’t know, princess.” He overheard Gwaine one day “It’s as if… As if some powerful warlock sneaks in here at night and turns your armor pink.”
The entire castle eventually just accepted it. Sometimes the cooks would leave out food and he would return the favor by growing them fresh fruit for the next day. The guards that might come across him would sigh and ask him routinely what he was doing there, but never raised their weapons when Merlin disappeared in a puff a smoke.
“Your sorcerer is back,” They would tell Arthur the next day “He turned my spear into a bouquet of flowers.”
“Get another one from the armory,” Arthur said warily “And give me the flowers – I’ve upset Guinevere and need some.”
The servants started talking to him. While doing their chores they might chat to seemingly nothing, updating him on castle gossip or inform him of any malicious acts the nobles were causing. Sometimes when they revealed particularly juicy information they would walk in the next morning to find their chores finished.
“Please be more careful, Merlin.” Gwen sighed one night after a particularly harsh battle had commenced. Rumors spread that Morgana’s troops had turned to dust on the battlefield. Since that day, there hadn’t been any signs of mischief in the castle. The queen picked up a familiar scrap of cloth and sighed, taking it as a sign her friend was well and alive “Get better soon.”
Children would whisper in the castle, determined to find the hiding warlock. It became a game that even some of the staff began to play. Occasionally a child might come to the throne room, carrying an armful of sweets. When Arthur asked, the child would bow, spilling some of the candy and say they had found the warlock and told to pass on the message. Usually, it would be some silly message that would make all the kids silently giggle before splitting the sweets (‘King Arthur is a prat’ was the most common treasonous phrase). Other times it was something cryptic that people would spend days mulling over.
There were days when a tragedy happened. When a knight would fall in battle and their loved ones would cry and mourn, begging the castle’s warlock to bring them back. That they would pay any price. Any. The pain would awaken the distrust to magic all over again, saying only evil resorted that kind of thing. While nobody was resurrected, usually Merlin did something in honor of the fallen and their family. It eased the suffering sometimes and eventually things would settle down.
Gaius would wake to find his potions made and herbs gathered. Geoffrey might find the library already stocked and sorted – Lord Aggravaine woke up one morning with no hair. It was little things that showed that Merlin was still around and cared for them all.
“What you mean magic is evil?” A visiting noble’s son asked, crossing his arm over his chest during a feast “Everyone says King Arthur’s warlock is super nice!” He pouted and there was an awkward pause.
“King Arthur’s warlock?” His father repeated incredulously, and the room fell silent as he turned to where the queen was covering her mouth to hide laughter and Arthur himself was shifting uncomfortably.
“Uh, I… Well, you see Lord Matton, there is actually-”
“Look papa! I’m doing it!” The boy cried out excitedly and the room’s attention was redirected to where the child’s plate was floating in the air. The lack of gold in his eyes made it clear the spell hadn’t been cast by Lord Matton’s son.
“MERLIN!” Arthur yelled, slamming his hand on the table “Goddamnit – GUARDS!” He called and one of the men actually groaned as he stood up, bidding his plate of chicken goodbye.
“Come on, Merlin!” The guard snapped out, grabbing his weapon “Doesn’t this ever get old? Let me have a meal in peace!” He yelled, grabbing the collar of another guard as he marched out of the room to search the castle. Arthur took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose as he sat down. The noble’s son was still clapping in delight.
“I’m a wizard, papa!”
When the druids were first welcomed into Camelot, they asked about how Camelot’s protector fared. The conversation went as well as expected – Arthur having not known the prophecy of Emrys.
“How very strange,” One of the druids proclaimed, head tilted “He is usually by your side. I feel his presence, but he is cloaked. Has he displeased you?” He asked and Arthur admitted his confusion, saying he knew no Emrys. The druids murmured among themselves at that, clearly disgruntled.
“You must know him by his given name,” The druid decided and one of the maids gasped.
“Merlin!” She declared and the room jumped to life, eyes swiveling around to find the banished member of the court. When the boy did not reveal himself, all eyes went to the maid who had spoken, a wide smile pasted on her face. “He must be the protector.” She decided and Arthur had outright laughed until the druids all nodded.
“Wait – what?” Arthur choked, pretending not to notice Gwaine and Percival subtly exchanging coins behind him. From somewhere outside the throne room, a delighted laugh could be heard.
Eventually, Merlin did reveal himself. Not in his usual pop-in and disappear typical way, but many would say they wished that was what happened. Morgana’s attack on Camelot had entered the castle’s walls, the magical wards that everyone pretended not to notice having shattered. Still, most of Morgana’s forces had already been mysteriously defeated and Arthur’s knights had taken care of the others. It was only Morgana herself who posed a threat, holding out an enchanted sword directly at Arthur. When she lunged, it wasn’t Arthur who hit the ground.
“You,” she whispered and it was all she could say before vanishing. Nobody knew if she died or disappeared of her own volition. With her sword plunged into Merlin’s side, it wasn’t as though she had lost. Some swear it was mercy in her eyes they saw when she vanished, others saw defeat that went beyond that battle.
Merlin had vanished with her.
They held a funeral. After three months of people leaving out food, notes, and prayers that received no answers they held a funeral. Some claim they heard the king himself speaking to empty rooms, trying to deny the fallen sorcerer’s death.
“If he does not answer to Arthur, he surely has passed on.” One knight murmured among the group and Gwaine had slammed his chair back, leaving the room without another word.
The funeral consisted of a boat full of tokens. Servants, cooks, and knights alike all dumped some sort of offering into the boat. Since it was illegal and highly treasonous, nobody said a word aloud. When the king eventually walked up and dropped something in, a few people burst into tears.
Things were quiet after that. More months went by since Merlin’s death and eventually, magic became legalized. Not all at once, but in small bits that allowed magic users to come out of hiding and embrace their abilities.
“King Arthur?” One witch asked after she had been welcomed into court “I must confess my confusion about the stocks,” She admitted, head tilted a bit to the side “Why has Emrys charmed them?”
A murmured went around the room, whispers among counselors. George, the quintessence of grace and poise, almost dropped the pitcher of wine he was holding. Arthur didn’t notice, instead staring at the woman blankly.
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean.” He said and the witch frowned.
“I just… I met Emrys by the stocks. He said he was charming them for you…?” She trailed off, voice overshadowed by yells – some of shock and some of delight. Arthur’s mouth gaped open and closed before he gave a swift shake of his head. While nobody had thought to ask the druids of Merlin’s death, none came forward and corrected the matter.
“Emrys died many months ago.” Arthur frowned “What did this sorcerer charming my castle look like?”
“Black hair, blue eyes, pale.” The witch said, eyes flicking around the room “Sire, I don’t mean to be bold, but my kind are devoted to Emrys. I don’t think I would be mistaken in this regard.” She bit her lip and tilted her head in deference. Arthur stared, but didn’t need to state the order. A few of the guards had already rushed out into the citadel.
“Marina. It’s good to see you again.” A voice said from beside Arthur “Thank you for taking over my duties for me… And getting the guards out of here. I don’t quite fancy a night in the dungeons.”
The room froze. By the king’s side stood Merlin himself, cloak draped over his shoulders, paler with shadows under his eyes, but still Merlin. The witch smiled and curtsied.
“Of course, my lord.” She told him, eyes glittering “I have done my best to keep Camelot safe these months, but I don’t think I have quite the same touch as you. I am honored in your trust in me, nevertheless.”
Merlin smiled at her, stepping away from Arthur’s throne to stand by Marina instead. He knelt, ignoring the ruckus that had exploded across the courtroom. A hush went over the room and the warlock tilted his head up to look up at where the king sat, eyes dancing with joy but… Also darkened in a way that made everyone wondered where he had been.
“My king,” He greeted “I was hoping to humbly request a lift to my banishment.”
Arthur stared. Gwen had a hand over her mouth from where she was sitting by his side, eyes sparkling with unshed tears. The knights varied in their reactions – Leon holding Gwaine back to keep him from running and embracing the man.
“Where have you been?” Arthur asked, voice low enough so that some people had to lean in. Despite how level it was, there was no mistaking the hint of emotion that wavered at the end as he looked down at the warlock. Merlin smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Dying.” He answered and bit his lip “I’m… So sorry. About everything. I know I have explained everything to you already, but-”
“Merlin,” Arthur interrupted “Your banishment is lifted under one condition.”
The court murmured at the proclamation. Marina stiffened a little, eyes flicking between the king and Emrys carefully. For a second nobody spoke, each holding their breath. Merlin tilted his head, waiting for Arthur to continue.
“Don’t leave again.”
Despite this being a public affair, the words were soft and earnest. Arthur’s eyes didn’t leave the warlock and Merlin looked at the floor, obviously trying to hide the relief in his smile.
“I’ll go wherever you go.” He promised, rising.
Gaius was the first to clap. Marina followed suit and soon the entire court was applauding the reunion. Merlin looked around, a bit bewildered. Gwaine could no longer be held back and rushed to greet his friend. Court was quickly dismissed as the queen rose from her throne, ready to push the knight aside for her turn.
The next morning, the new court sorcerer was introduced to all of Camelot. Someone also released three donkeys in the main hall, but Merlin swore on his life he knew nothing about it. When him and Gwaine high fived behind Arthur’s exasperated back, nobody said a word.
All was well.