On the morning of what will prove the final battle, Gwen and Arthur (the two who have always known each other least well of the four) meet together in a small clearing. Mordred’s men are camped on the other side of the battlefield; Arthur’s in this forest. Just for the moment, before the fighting starts, it smells of fresh, damp leaves.
“I was told you wanted to see me,” the king says. “So. What is it that you want, Guinevere?” He is in full armour and a deep red cloak she has never seen him wear before. He raises his chin.
“I wanted to see you,” Gwen explains, which sounds pathetic so she adds, “I was worried about you.” Then, “You look thin, Arthur. Are you eating properly?” Then, “Not that I think you’d stop eating if I didn’t tell you to, I don’t…”
Her voice trails away, but the king laughs off to one side, like he used to whenever something Merlin said amazed him – or rather, as he would have it, whenever something Merlin said was amazingly stupid. The laugh is pure Arthur, and Gwen realises that he looks not simply thin, but how Uther used to look. His pale blonde hair has turned a steely grey, too early.
“I’m fine,” he says. “And I am eating, so don’t worry. Not that what I eat is going to matter for much longer.” He looks back at her, almost slyly, when she doesn’t answer that. “Morgana told me-”
“I know,” Gwen says quickly. “She told me, too. Later.”
“Of course she did.”
There follows an awkward silence. All the things Gwen has prepared to say seem inconsequential in the light of what is going to happen to Arthur today. All that seems worth saying is don’t go, but beneath her fine clothes Gwen is still a maidservant and Arthur is a king who has never taken kindly to being told what to do. If Merlin were here things would be different – Merlin was never a good servant. He would rail against destiny, and call Arthur a stubborn prat and either convince him not to go, or knock him out so he couldn’t. But Merlin is gone, and Morgana (who knew this would happen) is gone, and so brave, stubborn Arthur is going to his death.
“Didn’t work, did it?” Arthur says, as if reading her thoughts.
“Yes, it did,” Gwen says, startled into speaking. Arthur snorts disbelievingly and doesn’t look at her. “It did work,” Gwen repeats. “It worked until it didn’t, like you said, and I know things went wrong, and some of that was my fault, but it did work. We were happy, for a while, and even after all of this, Camelot is still better than it was. You changed things, Arthur. We all did.”
Arthur scrutinises her for a long time and then nods. “True,” he says.
Gwen laughs at his silly Arthur-ness, and then, suddenly, she begins to cry.
Arthur sighs heavily and opens his arms. “Come here.” His armour creaks and the metal of his mail is cold against her face, but Arthur pulls his father’s deep red cloak around them both, and somehow it is comforting.
“Don’t go,” Gwen says into her husband’s shoulder.
Arthur makes an impatient tsk noise. “I have to. I’m the king. I can’t just not go to my own battle, can I?” Gwen shakes her head minutely. “No,” Arthur says for her. He shifts impatiently and then says, “Talking of people not turning up, I notice that slacker, Merlin hasn’t shown his face yet. I thought he’d want to see-... Apparently not. I’m to go out alone.”
“You have your knights,” Gwen says and then wishes she hadn’t because Arthur says, “Yes. What’s left of them,” and draws away, as if remembering what has brought them to this point.
“Arthur,” Gwen begins, as he walks away from her. “I meant to say… about Lancelot, that is… about Lancelot and me, we didn’t-”
“You should go,” Arthur interrupts. “It was good to see you again.”
She almost stays. The king is pinching his bottom lip with the fingers of one hand, as if to stop it trembling, though his wife remembers that this is merely how he stands when he’s thinking.
“Goodbye Arthur,” Gwen says, and tries not to look back as she leaves.
They talk less now. With only two of them, the dynamic feels wrong and the bed too large. Arthur spends more and more time with Mordred and largely abandons the training of the knights, which he used to take such pride in. There, Lancelot, who has emerged the best of the knights, takes over for him. Gwen goes down to the training field sometimes. She claps enthusiastically for anyone who wins a bout, whether she knows them personally or not, and loudest for Lancelot.
Poor Lancelot. He is a good fighter and a kind man, but he is no captain. Many of the knights still look down on his humble birth, no matter how skilled he has become, so, rather than teaching, Lancelot spends all his time fighting to be accepted. Without Arthur's continued presence glueing his Camelot together, the cracks in her ideals begin to show.
On one particularly blustery day, the king fails to appear at a public sword contest. Gwen waves from her seat next to the empty throne and tries not to hear her people muttering their discontent. Then, the wind dies and Mordred strolls onto the field in his long, sea-coloured cloak and begins to perform magic tricks for the crowd. Brightly coloured dragons swoop above the stands and formerly mutinous people find themselves clapping with delight. With a small smile on his pale face, Mordred bows to them and to Gwen, who acknowledges him coolly with a nod.
Arthur continues to create laws that benefit Camelot (his newest decree declares that disputes will henceforth be resolved in a court, rather than with the sword), but these lofty ideas from a largely absent king only incense the knights further. Lancelot whispers to Gwen that Mordred was seen hanging around the training field just before the two biggest public outbursts, but the suggestion that Mordred could be stirring discontent baffles the queen, who has often heard Mordred encouraging Arthur in his ideas. She insists, for his own sake, that Lancelot keep his suspicions to himself, but Merlin’s final warning keeps ringing in her ears.
So, one night, one of the few nights on which she and Arthur are actually alone together, Gwen raises the subject of Mordred.
“Ah - the son I never had,” Arthur says with a fond smile, and Gwen, feeling the reproach in that, even if none is intended, flinches. They had planned for children, but then Morgana disappeared and Gwen found that she was barren. Sometimes she catches accusatory looks from people in the streets, but never, till now, from Arthur. Still, to turn to Mordred as a substitute-
“He's never going to go back to his people, then?" she asks.
Arthur shrugs. “I can’t see why. Why do you ask?” He frowns. “You don’t like him.”
“How could I?” Gwen demands, surprising herself. “Look at what he’s done to you.”
Arthur puts his cutlery down with a clatter. “What has he done to me?” he asks, dangerously.
Gwen leans towards him across the table. “You keep yourself locked away, you only talk to me or to Mordred. Arthur, when was the last time you walked among your people? They’re unhappy, Arthur. Did you know that?”
“It takes a while for new ideas to become acceptable,” Arthur says. “You told me that, remember? I know what I'm doing. More patrols mean a safer country. Rationing means we have more food to send to the outlying villages. The sewage tunnels are almost complete, which should free up more of the knights again. Meanwhile, Mordred is working on bringing magic to-”
“They miss you,” Gwen insists.
Arthur drums his fingers on the table and stares off in a corner of the room, as if this will provide the answer to his wife’s fit of pique. Presumably, it does, for, when he turns back, his expression has softened. “You may be right. I have been – withdrawn. Tell you what, I’ll take part in the next tournament,” he says. He offers her a conciliatory smile. “Someone might even be able to beat me, at last. I haven’t picked up a sword in months.” He raises his eyebrows until Gwen returns his smile, and then returns to his half-eaten dinner. “But I don’t want to hear anything else about Mordred leaving. It’s not Mordred’s fault I’ve grown old and useless.”
“Lancelot thinks he might be spreading discontent,” Gwen says. She feels unable to stop now she has begun. “And, before he left, Merlin-”
“I don’t care,” Arthur says, all patience gone. “Merlin lost the right to advise me when he didn’t come back, and as for Lancelot? He never had it in the first place. Mordred stays.” Which is the end of it, as far as Arthur is concerned. The rest of the evening is quiet and awkward, and Arthur doesn't come to bed.
He keeps his word, though (he is still Arthur). The next sword-contest sees him return to his old shoulder-guard and an only slightly broader mail-shirt. He leaves Excalibur with Gwen, in the box with Mordred, and asks for a sword from the crowd. After he wins (he is still Arthur), he gives it back to its former owner, who looks as though he would happily throw himself on it if the king asked. Arthur bellows his pride in his knights to the stands and apologises for his long absence. It will, he promises, never happen again. In that moment, they love him.
But it is not enough. More new laws bring new outrage from the populace. Inexplicably, knight starts turning on knight and, despite Arthur’s blanket-ban, there is fighting in the streets over silly, personal squabbles. The white city of Camelot no longer sparkles.
One night, as Gwen changes for bed, alone, Lancelot knocks on the door of her dressing room.
“I can’t stay,” he explains, as she ushers him inside. It’s improper, with Gwen in her nightgown and Lancelot unescorted, but better than talking in the doorway. “I just wanted to say goodbye,” he says. “I’m leaving Camelot. Tonight.”
“Leaving? Why?” Gwen asks. She half sits, half collapses in a gold-cushioned chair Morgana had been fond of.
Lancelot draws another over to her and sits. “I caught Mordred suggesting to Kay that Gawain had been seen with his mistress,” he murmurs, “which is ridiculous. Gawain has other,” he raises an eyebrow, “interests. Once I pointed this out to Kay, he admitted that Bors had attacked him in the street over a matter of thirty pounds, which Kay had apparently stolen from him. Mordred had already slithered off by this point and-" He rubs his face. "I know we need proof now, and this isn't proof that Mordred's behind anything at all, but-”
“You suspect,” Gwen supplies blankly.
“I do,” Lancelot nods.
Gwen shakes her head. “Arthur will never agree-”
“I know,” Lancelot says. “That’s why I’m leaving. There aren’t enough men here I could rely on, but I know some. Low-born men like me, who I could bring in and - train as knights. I hope,” he pauses an almost imperceptible moment, “that will force the knights look at themselves, bickering and fighting like children. But, if the situation got worse, my men could… restore peace.” His face darkens. “By getting rid of Mordred – by force, if necessary.”
“What about Arthur?” Gwen asks. “You can’t expect him to sit back and let you take over his kingdom.”
Lancelot flinches. “Gwen, I’m not trying to take over his kingdom. Arthur made me a knight-“
He breaks off at the sound of the door to Gwen’s dressing room opening. There has been no sound of a knock, and both Gwen and Lancelot rise hurriedly as Mordred enters, followed by three guards.
“What’s this?” Mordred asks, in his chiming, childlike voice. “A conspiracy?”
“That’s right,” Lancelot says furiously.
“No, it isn’t,” Gwen says at the same time. “Why would there be a conspiracy? There isn’t a conspiracy. Don’t be ridiculous, Lancelot.” She tries for a laugh, but it falls rather flat.
Mordred smiles. “Arrest him,” he says. “The queen, too.”
As the guards step forward (the one at the back used to leer at Gwen when she was just a maidservant), Lancelot draws his sword and smacks the first man round the head with the flat of his blade.
“Stop,” Gwen shouts as the man falls. “Lancelot – stop, please.” She lays a hand on his arm as she steps forward and feels him tense and angry beneath his mail. She looks Mordred in the eye. “No one is going to die because of this. Get Arthur if you like, but you have no authority to arrest us, Mordred.”
“Just try it,” Lancelot snarls, when the young druid hesitates.
"I’ll return with the king," Mordred promises.
“Thank you,” Gwen says, as he and the still conscious men file sullenly out of the room. Once they’ve gone, she closes the door and turns to Lancelot. “There are really no plans to depose Arthur?” she asks.
“No,” Lancelot says. “I promise. I would never.”
“Then go,” Gwen says, helplessly. She goes to her dressing table, pulls the top draw open and removes a large ring of keys - Arthur’s spares. She pulls the smallest key round the top and off the ring and presses the key into his hand. “Bring back people you can trust. This key opens a secret passageway behind the shield in the armoury. It opens in the lower city. You should be fine from there.” She pushes him towards the door.
“What about you?” Lancelot says, twisting back to face her. “You could come with me.”
“I couldn’t,” Gwen says, shaking her head. “Sorry, but I couldn’t. I’ll cover for you, long enough for you to get away.”
Lancelot nods and slips silently out of the door and down towards the armoury. Gwen returns the keys to their drawer. Then she turns and stands, shivering in her nightdress, to await the arrival of her husband and the son he never had.
and they all
“Are you leaving us?” Gwen asks when she finds him.
Merlin turns around quickly, with obvious guilt. Various objects (three books, a dagger, a pair of worn, brown boots) drop from their position in the air. “Yes,” he says, shielding the half-packed trunks from her with his body. “I sort of have to.”
“Because of what Arthur said?” Gwen says, picking up the nearest boot and handing it to its owner. “Merlin, you know he didn’t mean-”
Merlin makes a face. “I don’t care what Arthur says. He’s an idiot. I know he’s an idiot.”
“Mordred finally told me where Morgana is,” Merlin says. “Yesterday. He said that if I didn’t go and help her, she would die.” He realises that he is still holding the boot and throws it into the nearest trunk. The other boot, the three books and the dagger rise from the ground and fall in line. “He didn't say why, or what I would have to do when I got there, but I have to go, Gwen.”
“Of course,” Gwen says. “Don’t worry about me… if you were worrying about me. I’ll be fine. Really.”
Merlin smiles and lets her pass him the instruments from the mantelpiece. As they pack, Gwen almost says, I could go with you. Morgana has been missing for years, and Gwen still wakes expecting to see her face or a note explaining where she is. Morgana has been missed for years and Gwen can think of few things that she wants more than simply to have Morgana back. But she agreed to play the queen even longer ago and she knows very well that it would be irresponsible to go running off after lost noble women. She would probably get in Merlin’s way if she did. Besides, who would look after Arthur if she left? Gaius, perhaps. Mordred. The thought makes her uneasy.
The young druid has been with them two weeks now. He walked past the guards somehow and straight into the throne room. Astonishingly, Arthur felt this was a delightful trick, rather than an outrage and insisted Mordred sit in Morgana’s place at the dining table that evening. He told them then that Morgana has been staying with the druids. He wouldn't say where, just that they'd become very close before he left to pay his respects to Arthur.
Somehow, Mordred has already worked himself into Arthur’s deepest confidences. There is something unnatural about it. Arthur seldom listens to anyone except Gwen and Merlin, and never asks for advice, but that first evening he leaned across the table and asked Mordred’s thoughts on installing a series of sanitation tunnels beneath the city. When Merlin pointed out that Mordred had been living a forest for the last twenty years and was therefore unlikely to have any thoughts on sanitation tunnels, Arthur snapped at him for being such a know-it-all. There have been more fights in the following weeks, and Mordred seems to stand in the background of all of them, ready to leave with Arthur. Gwen doesn't like to think badly of anyone, but - it's worrying.
Now, she says, ruefully, “Are you sure he wasn’t lying?”
“He probably is,” Merlin says, with a ragged sigh. “You know Mordred.” Having stripped the room of possessions, he shuts the trunks with an absent-minded wave of his hand and a muttered incantation, and crosses to her. Taking her by the shoulders, he peers downwards. The gold is still fading from his eyes. “Be careful, Gwen.” Gwen nods. “I mean it,” Merlin continues. “Someone once told me that Mordred would bring this kingdom to its knees if I didn’t let Uther kill him.” He exhales. “Perhaps I should have.”
“You couldn’t have,” Gwen says, though with a slight uncertainty. Even more than Arthur, Merlin is a killer. At least Arthur challenges men with their own weapons and gives them a warning before he does so. Sometimes Merlin doesn’t seem to notice the dead he leaves in his wake. “You did the right thing,” Gwen tells him now. “He was only a child. You couldn’t have stood by and let him die. Could you?”
Merlin rolls his eyes and kisses her. “Just be on your guard,” he says. “Now, I should be going before Arthur-”
“Before Arthur what?” Arthur says, entering the room with his usual immaculate timing. He leans against the door frame and crosses his arms. “Go on,” he says, waving his upper-most hand. “What were you going to say, Merlin?”
“…I have to go,” Merlin says to Gwen, after a pause that is just long enough to be uncomfortable. He kisses her lightly again. “Bye.”
“Wait,” Arthur growls, holding a hand out to bar the way. “I came here to say,” he pauses, with a grimace, “I’m-” Merlin raises his eyebrows, and Arthur sighs with defeat at the inevitable. “Sorry,” he says. “About what happened. Mordred told me- Anyway. It was my fault. I’m sorry. You know you always have a place here.”
Merlin blinks. “Thank you, Arthur.” Arthur nods, with lips pursed. “I’m still leaving,” Merlin says.
“He’s going after Morgana,” Gwen explains.
“Morgana?” Arthur says. Merlin nods. “You’re going after Morgana?” Arthur repeats. “So, I didn’t need to apologise?” he demands.
Gwen smiles to herself and Merlin laughs. “That’s my cue to leave.” He steps forward and he and Arthur grip forearms, which is the form of greeting and farewell Arthur prefers.
“You’re coming back,” Arthur says, half way between an order and a question.
Merlin nods. “Oh, yes, definitely,” he says.
and they all lived
The single shriek wakes them all. In the darkness, Gwen feels Morgana jerkily patting her legs, in search of the next body over. “Arthur?” Her breath heaves. “Arthur?”
“Hey,” Arthur says, “it’s all right, I’m here.”
Ignoring Gwen’s own quiet, “What is it?”, Morgana scrambles over Gwen and into the safety of Arthur’s arms.
“It’s all right,” he murmurs, as Morgana cries and moans that it isn’t. “It’s all right.” Then in a harsher tone, “Merlin, do you think some light might be helpful?”
“Oh. Right,” Merlin says. He mumbles a magic word and a small ball of light appears just above his head, hovering in front of the headboard. “How’s that?”
Arthur ignores him. He rocks Morgana in his arms, the way he might one day hold their child. Gwen strokes Morgana’s back, through the violet silk of her nightgown, but Morgana’s attention remains fixed on Arthur. “You can’t go,” she whispers to him.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Arthur says firmly.
“No, Arthur, I saw a battle-”
“I don’t think she means right now,” Merlin says. “Obviously, you’re here now.”
“Yes, thank you, Merlin."
Gwen is still watching Morgana. Her stillness is terrifying.
“And snake,” Morgana whispers. Every part of her is held tense. “A tiny snake in the grass. And then – Arthur, you must promise me you won’t go.”
Arthur continues to stroke Morgana’s hair, and talks calmly and rationally, until her claw-like hold on his shirt relaxes and she subsides into sleep.
“No one is to ask her what that was about,” he says quietly.
and they all lived happily
Strangely, there has never been an argument about sleeping arrangements. Arthur, obviously, insists on being in the middle. Morgana gets up in the night and Merlin typically gets up earliest in the morning, so they take the ends, with Merlin on Arthur’s side, because Morgana refuses to be kicked out of bed by him, while Merlin takes it as a sign of affection. This leaves Gwen the space been Morgana and Arthur and she appreciates the security.
One warm morning she wakes to find Morgana staring at her.
She manages a sleepy, “Hmm?” before Morgana shushes her. “Are you all right?” Gwen whispers instead. Morgana nods, smiling. Her hair is spread out in a dark fan against the pillows and sleepy Gwen reaches out for one of the perfect curls. She lets it slides over one of her fingers, like a ring. “Did you dream?” she asks quietly.
“I did,” Morgana says. Her smile grows wider.
“...What about?” Gwen says, struggling to cope with this conversation, so early and with so little information. “Do you want me to wake Merlin?”
"He's already gone,” Morgana says. She rearranges herself, so that her hands are underneath the pillow and she looks even more like a mischievous child. “Try not to disturb Arthur, either-”
“Arthur’s already awake,” Arthur’s voice says, muffled on the other side of Gwen. The bed rocks slightly as he changes position; Morgana rolls her eyes. “So, is this a private conversation?” he asks, propping himself up over Gwen’s body, “or can anyone join?”
“If they have something interesting to add,” Morgana informs him. She frowns, “Oh - I’m afraid you’ll have to go elsewhere.”
“Ha ha,” Arthur says, as Gwen giggles. “Very funny. As it happens, I do,” he says, dropping back onto the bed and pulling Gwen towards him. "You were talking about dreams, correct? I had a dream last night.”
Morgana’s eyes widen with faux astonishment. “Really.”
“Morgana,” Gwen chides.
“Sorry, Arthur,” Morgana says. “Go on. Tell us about your dream.”
“Well,” Arthur says, “I was king-”
“And you woke up and found you were right,” Morgana exclaims, "Arthur, you must have the gift of prophecy, too," before Gwen quiets her with another gentle reproach.
“I wasn’t a king like my father,” Arthur continues. “I didn't take over anything, but I changed things. I changed a lot of things, mostly for the better.” His face rests in the crook of Gwen’s neck and she can feel him talking as well as hear him. His voice thrums in her skin.
“What did you change?” she asks him.
“Well,” Arthur says, “I’m not sure,” which breaks the spell. The girls both laugh and, feeling his dignity compromised, Arthur kneels up, seizes the pillow from under Morgana's head and thumps her with it. "I'm sorry," he says, with another thump, "my dreams aren't as specific," thump, "as yours, Morgana."
As Morgana tries to escape and Gwen laughs, caught between them, Merlin bursts into their bedroom, from the corridor.
“Lancelot’s back,” he informs them, grinning breathlessly. “I just met him in the stables,” he points back out into the corridor, helpfully, as he approaches. “He says he’ll stay as long as he’s welcome, which I think should be indefinitely. I mean, he only left because Uther wouldn't let commoners be knights, and now Arthur's king that shouldn't be a problem.”
“That’s it,” Arthur shouts. “Merlin, you’re a genius.” He grabs Merlin's shoulders over the top of the two girls and pulls him into a hard, fast kiss.
“Oh,” Merlin says, looking pleased. “Am I? I don’t know-“
“Yes, shut up, Merlin," Arthur says. He stands up on the bed, steadying himself on the wooden canopy. He holds out a finger for attention. "We'll invite knights from the rest of the country and beyond, if they want to come, to stay in residence in Camelot."
He looks so pleased with himself that Gwen feels rather bad asking, "...Why?"
"That's what I was going to say," Merlin agrees.
"What do you mean why?" Arthur demands. "To share skills, to talk with like-minded men, to band together and right wrongs across the land. My father conquered this country, but he forgot to unite it. You know there are still factions that refuse to accept my rule. If we invite the knights here they won't be in their own lands turning their people against me, and they'll feel like they're getting something out of the new, united England. Training, position, respect-"
"But Arthur," Gwen says reasonably, "if they hate you, they'll just refuse to come, won't they?"
"Or agree," Merlin says, "and then murder you in your sleep.
"We'll make it a great honour," Arthur says.
"Or they'll murder me. I do sleep next to you."
"Word will get out," Arthur continues, ignoring Merlin. "People will beat down the door to sign up, trust me."
"He's gone mad," Merlin says to no one in particular.
"No," Arthur insists. "This is brilliant. None of you are thinking - I'm going to tell Lancelot. He must have met loads of knights on his travels." He jumps down from the bed and strides over to the door, pulling on breeches as he does so.
Morgana has not objected once to Arthur's new scheme and so when she calls, "Arthur?" now it sounds - odd, loaded. "I was just wondering," she says, as Arthur turns back to her with a weary expression, "when you have all your knights here, you'll want to have meetings about... your policies and how training is going, won't you?"
"...Yes," Arthur says.
"I just wondered," Morgana continues, "do you think there will be disagreements about who gets to sit at the head of the table?"
"Then, it'll be a round table," Arthur says, as though Morgana is an idiot not to have figured this out. Then he opens the door and exits.
"Okay," Merlin says, when he's gone. "Who's for deposing Arthur and giving the crown to someone less insane?"
Morgana smiles, almost impishly. "Oh - this is only the beginning,” she promises.
and they all lived happily ever
The most important thing about being a queen (according to Morgana, who was raised to assume that title) is to always look gorgeous. It’s important to keep the king from making stupid decisions, to suggest improvements to the kingdom, and to court the approval and love of the people and visiting foreign powers, but all these things are easier if you look gorgeous first. Morgana helps Gwen dress now: arranging curls around her face, and tightening the many ribbons holding her gowns in place.
Of course, Gwen continues to dress Morgana, as well. It makes more sense that way. Gwen likes to be useful and, whatever their private arrangements are, it is perhaps better that no servants (apart from Merlin) are allowed into their bedchamber. They kiss lightly after all the curls are arranged and all the ribbons are tied.
Aside from looking nice, Gwen’s main duty is to attend a variety of official functions to which Morgana is invited and Merlin is not – unless there are drinks to pour. Of course, Arthur, being Arthur, tries to rectify this early on. Despite her protests, he takes Gwen (who has successfully turned from servant to courtier) as back-up and bait, and corners Merlin in a corridor. Grandly, he informs his bemused manservant that he will, henceforth, be known as the ‘court magician’, with rooms of his own and an official salary.
Merlin laughs. “Arthur. Think what Uther would say.”
“I’m serious,” Arthur insists. Gwen hides a smile behind her hand.
“So am I,” Merlin says, “and I’m happy being a manservant, Arthur. Really. I get to listen in on important conversations without anyone noticing me and none of the really boring people ever try to talk to me. Besides, what would I do with rooms of my own? Or money? You own everything. I’d end up buying things from you with your own money.”
“Gwen,” Arthur says, impatiently. “Tell him to listen to me.”
“No, I think Merlin’s right,” Gwen says.
“See,” Merlin says. “Gwen thinks I’m right.”
“You’re supposed to be on my side,” Arthur says to Gwen, outraged.
“I know. I just think Merlin has a point, that’s all,” Gwen says, trying not to cower in the face of Arthur’s anger. Arthur is not his father and even Uther would never punish someone for an offence this minor. She stares him down. “Arthur, the people in this kingdom lived under your father for years and they’re coming to terms with your new policies, but many of them think Uther was right about magic. Making Merlin a symbol won’t strengthen your position, it only makes him a target.”
“That’s right,” Merlin says. “A target. I’d be dead in a week and then you’d feel bad forever.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Merlin,” Arthur says. “I’d get over it before you were cold. Ah,” he says, spotting Morgana approaching from behind Merlin, “Morgana, will you tell them-”
“I agree with everyone who isn’t Arthur,” Morgana says serenely and, without breaking her pace, sweeps on down the corridor.
“Is everyone against me?” Arthur exclaims. “I don’t know why I bother to show up. I am still king, aren’t I?” Merlin and Gwen nod, seriously. “Fine,” Arthur says, jabbing a finger at Merlin, “don’t be the court magician. The stables need a good clean.”
“I’ll get right on that, sire,” Merlin says.
“Good,” Arthur snaps and stalks off after Morgana. Merlin winks at Gwen and then he, too, ambles away.
and they all lived happily ever after
“What will happen after we’re married?” Gwen asks on the night of her wedding.
Arthur, Merlin and Morgana exchange looks and then Arthur says, as though it’s obvious, “We’ll all be just like this.”
Merlin gives an odd snort of laughter at the over-simplification (presumably), which makes Arthur lean over and gag him with his hands. The king smiles sweetly at his affianced, while Merlin makes choking sounds and tries to escape. “Did you want something different, or-”
“No, I like it,” Gwen says, frowning a little because Merlin seems to be turning blue, though that could just be his idea of a magical joke. “I just wanted to check,” she continues, glancing at Morgana, who is sitting on the edge of the royal bed as though nobody is suffocating anybody, “because it wasn’t clear what you meant when you asked me, and I don’t know how marriages usually-”
At this point, Merlin bites Arthur’s hand and Arthur yells indignantly. “I don’t think there are rules for this stuff,” Merlin says, panting and grinning, like a large dog, as Arthur shakes his injured hand.
“Of course there are rules,” Morgana says, with an impatient sigh, “but the rules are stupid and don’t matter. That’s the whole point of being the monarch.”
“We’ll make up our own rules,” Arthur declares. “It’ll be all of us, together, and it will work,” he says firmly, with a grim look at Merlin, “until it doesn’t.” He looks at Morgana, who nods agreement, and then Merlin again, and turns back to Gwen. His smile is, as always, reassuringly confident and, when he reaches up to cup her cheek with his bitten hand, Gwen leans into it: reassured. “I asked you to marry me because I didn’t want anything to change.”
“All right, then,” Gwen says and kisses him, Merlin's hand at her back, Morgana's on her ankle.