The banquet hall that night was joyous and lively with laughter and music. Sir Cador sat beside Sir Elyan, not far from the king. Arthur and Merlin had their head bent towards each other, exchanging whispers and occasionally laughing.
Since that day, Sir Cador had gone out on the patrol and to his greatest embarrassment, stumbled upon a very private moment between the king and his court sorcerer, he had started to notice these kind of interactions, occasional touches and glances exchanged between Merlin and Arthur. Given the amount of times he had witnessed those tender moments between the two, Sir Cador was starting to wonder just how oblivious he was.
Cador was startled out of his musings when a drumstick went flying past his head and suddenly Aithusa appeared out of nowhere to snag it off the air.
“Good girl, Aithusa!” Gwaine cheered, from his seat across from him. Sir Cador schooled his face not to give away any of the shock and tried in vain to rein in his palpitating heart.
“Gwaine, I think that’s quite enough drumsticks for Aitthusa.” Elyan said chuckling, but Gwaine just shrugged it away.
“Nonsense. She’s a growing baby.” Gwaine flashed a coy smile before chugging down half of the wine from his cup.
Sir Cador heard Elyan let out a resigned sigh, shaking his head once. Involuntarily, he felt his attention focus back on the long table at the front where the king and the queen dined beside Merlin and Sir Lancelot.
Absentmindedly, he glanced at Merlin who was grinning and looking like his usual cheerful self when all of a sudden, his grin faltered, and midnight blue eyes flashed a deep crimson. Before Sir Cador could even comprehend what was happening, Merlin slumped, his body listing sideways in the chair.
“Merlin... Merlin!” The entire banquet hall quietened at Arthur’s alarmed shout and in the blink of an eye, the knights, Sir Cador included, were out of their seats and rushing forward to where Merlin lay in his chair, boneless.
“What happened, sire? Is he hurt?” Lancelot’s voice was frantic. Sir Cador watched on with dread as Gaius bent down to put his hand upon Merlin’s pulse point.
“His pulse is faint,” Gaius said, a puzzled expression crossing his face. “Quick, bring him to my chambers.”
Arthur lifted Merlin into his arms and rushed out of the banquet hall, Gaius and the knights of the round table in tow. Sir Cador debated on going after them, not wanting to crowd in too much, but finally decided to follow them, to inform Arthur of how Merlin’s eyes turned red. Sir Cador knew for certain that sorcerers' eyes turned gold, after watching Merlin perform magic for so long now. He had never heard of sorcerers’ eyes turning red before and had a suspicion that it had something to do with Merlin falling unconscious.
By the time he reached Gaius chambers, they had Merlin on a cot and Gaius was tending to him. Arthur was standing right beside him, a distraught expression that Cador had only seen once before on his face.
It was when Uther had died.
The rest of the knights stood around him, looking too grim for Sir Cador’s liking.
“Will he be alright?” Arthur asked finally, after a moment of silence.
“I cannot say for sure sire...” Gaius’s words felt like a blow. “This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen...”
“What do you mean? Surely he will wake up in a few minutes, won’t he?” Arthur sounded like he was trying to convince himself and failing.
“I don’t know sire... His pulse is weakening...” Gaius turned back to face them, his browed furrowed in thought.
“He’s... dying?” Arthur’s voice broke at the end.
Gaius didn’t respond to that, but his silence was confirmation enough. Sir Cador could see the grief in everyone’s face, but most of all he couldn’t bear to look at the sorrow in Arthur’s silver lined eyes. He knew that Arthur was trying to hold back his tears, with all he had.
“Arthur, did you notice any strange behavior in these past days?” Gaius asked suddenly.
Arthur sighed, his fingers messaging the bridge of his nose. “No. He was perfectly fine until the moment he collapsed... I saw his eyes flash red though, but it looked like a trick of light... Sorcerers' eyes don’t flash red, do they?” Arthur asked, his haunted gaze still on Merlin’s pale face. Sir Cador inhaled sharply. So, he wasn’t the only one who had seen Merlin’s eyes take a crimson sheen.
“Did you say ‘red eyes’?” Gaius asked in a tone that did not bode well.
“Yes,” Arthur’s response was more confident this time.
“Sire,” Sir Cador interrupted, cutting through the rising tension in the room. Every one’s attention was focused on him now. He met Arthur’s intense stare and plowed on, “Sire... Just before Merlin collapsed... I, too, saw his eyes flash red...”
Gaius expression became even more grave at his words.
“I fear, sire, that this is a working of the Sidhe,” Gaius finally said and the tension increased a notch. Everyone knew how dangerous the Sidhe was.
“Is there a cure for this?” Lancelot asked, finally. Arthur seemed to have been absorbed into his own mind. Sir Cador knew by Arthur’s expression, wiped clean of all emotions that he was suffering at seeing Merlin’s pain more so than he let on.
“The Sidhe’s magic is ancient and the most powerful that I’ve ever known of. They have power over life and death itself. Even though Merlin is powerful, I’m not entirely sure he’ll be able to overpower an enchantment of this much power...”
“So, you’re saying that there isn’t a cure.” Gwaine said, not quite a question.
“I’m afraid so... but I’ll search in my books and try to find one. I don’t want to lose Merlin any more than you do...” Gaius let out a sigh before hobbling over to a pile of books. Sir Cador could feel the pain in his words. He knew Merlin was like a son to Gaius.
“But why would they do this to Merlin?” Leon asked, his voice incredulous.
“That’s a question best asked from the Sidhe themselves.” Gaius said, while riffling through a book coated in dust and cobwebs.
“That’s right!” Everyone in the room startled at Arthur’s loud exclamation after being silent for so long. The tips of his lips pulled up into a slight smile as he gazed around at them with what seemed like relief.
“We’ll seek out the Sidhe and ask them to lift the enchantment.” At Arthur’s words, the room seemed to brighten significantly. “Gaius, how long does he have?”
“Four or five days at best sire…”
“Then we have no time to waste.” Gwaine said, dipping his head in acknowledgment.
“But how do we find them?” Elyan’s tone was skeptical.
Everyone gazed at Gaius expectantly, but surprisingly, the answer came from Arthur. “At the Lake of Avalon.”
Every head turned to Arthur, with identical perplexed expressions on their faces. “Merlin took me there after the great battle. They were the ones who healed me.”
“Yes. But be careful when dealing with them. They are cunning and no friends of Camelot.” Gaius said, his eyebrow arching high, expressing the gravity of the situation.
“We will.” Arthur nodded once before rushing out of the door, the knights in tow towards the stables.
“Prepare my horse,” Arthur said, pointing at the stable boy before turning to the knights, his face set with determination.
“You all are dismissed. I’ll be making this journey alone,” Arthur said just as protests rose from everyone.
“I’m coming with you. Try to stop me.” Gwaine voice sounded slightly threatening, even though Arthur was their king.
“Merlin is our friend, too. I won’t abandon him now.” Lancelot said, his tone firm.
“Gwaine plea-” Arthur was interrupted by Elyan. “Arthur we are coming with you. Whether you like it or not.” Leon and Percival nodded once at that.
Arthur gazed at the knights who stood before him, stubbornness radiating from them. He finally sighed before saying, “All right then.”
Sir Cador gazed at this unified front of knights and a king willing to risk their lives for their friend, feeling awed. In that moment, he knew that he would walk to hell and back for his king and Camelot.
“Sir Cador?” He was pulled into the present by Arthur’s voice. He glanced over his shoulder from where he had been preparing his horse for the journey to find Arthur staring at him, with his brows furrowed in puzzlement. “Are you coming with us?”
“Yes, sire.” Cador said simply.
“Really Cador, you don’t have to-”
“Sire, you don’t know what you’ll be facing there. You’ll need all the help you can get.” Cador’s lips pressed into a determined line as he finished tying the final straps on his saddle.
A slight smile tugged at the corners of Arthur’s lips before huffing out a laugh. Arthur smiled warmly at him, dipping his head once, before swinging himself onto his horse. Sir Cador followed suit and urged his horse forward into a gallop, following the king and his knights.
The Lake of Avalon stretched before them, glittering like thousand diamonds in the noonday sun. It had taken them almost half of the day to get there. Fortunately, they had encountered no trouble during the journey. Sir Cador was in a relatively good mood, considering all the stakes they were facing.
“So where are they? I don’t see a soul in sight.” Gwaine said, squinting at the lake.
Sir Cador saw an island shrouded in mist with what appeared to be a watchtower built upon it. It looked quite ominous, looming like that from the middle of the lake. It gave Sir Cador shivers just be looking at it, even though it was the middle of the day.
Arthur didn’t reply, but he started forward towards the lake, his hand resting upon the pommel of the sword. Sir Cador followed at his heel, his gaze darting around at the dense forest that surrounded them, alert for any danger.
Arthur now stood at the edge of the lake, staring at the expanse of water. After a moment he said in a clear voice, “I seek an audience with the Sidhe.”
His voice, with a deep timbre, echoed in the now silent environment. Sir Cador stared at the lake, his gaze keen and expectant, but nothing happened.
Gwaine finally let out a sigh. “I don’t think staring at an empty lake all day would bring the Sidhe-” Gwaine’s words were suddenly cut off by a gust of wind that appeared out of nowhere. Sir Cador drew his sword, glancing around at the violently shaking tree branches.
All of a sudden, the violent wind died down, not quite disappearing completely and the entire Lake of Avalon shimmered a brilliant blue. Sir Cador let out a gasp as little blue balls of light appeared in front of them and started whizzing all around. Beside him, Arthur and the knights were also gazing at the display with open mouths and wide eyes.
“Who dares to call upon the Sidhe?” A thunderous voice suddenly spoke and one of the blue balls drifted towards them. Which was when Sir Cador saw that it was not a ball at all but a Sidhe!
Cador felt his eyes go wide with disbelief as he gazed at this creature with skin of a ghostly blue tint and sharp canines. The only thing that Cador could think of at that moment was that they looked both ethereal and utterly terrifying.
His attention was once again drawn to Arthur as he stepped forward, an unreadable mask on his face.
“It is I, Arthur Pendragon, who wishes to have an audience with the Sidhe.”
“Arthur Pendragon,” the Sidhe hissed, his lips curled into a vicious grin. “What is it that you seek?”
“I want you to undo the enchantment that you have placed on Merlin.”
“Ah, Merlin,” The Sidhe said. “He once killed a Sidhe elder and foiled our plans to take over Camelot that we had spent years waiting to bear fruit.” Sir Cador felt shock rip through him. He had thought that he knew almost everything there was to know about Merlin by now, but every day, he finds a new secret of how much Merlin had sacrificed for Camelot.
“I know,” Arthur said, his voice quiet. “Is that the reason for this, then?”
“Perhaps, Arthur Pendragon.” Cador felt a shiver run through him as the Sidhe’s lips pulled into a malicious smile. “Perhaps not.”
“Please, I beg you. You have to cure Merlin.” Arthur’s voice took on a desperate tone.
“If I were to heal him, what will you give us in return?” The Sidhe was now hovering right in front of Arthur. Every knight tightened their grip on their swords, but they knew that swords would be useless against magic as powerful as the Sidhe’s.
“What do you mean?” Cautiousness was evident in his voice. Cador knew that all of their minds were going back to the moment Gaius warned them of Sidhe’s cunningness.
“To save a life, a price must be paid. We demand the throne of Camelot as the price for healing Merlin.” Sir Cador reeled back at the words. What they were asking for was impossible!
And yet, he knew Arthur would do anything to have Merlin back. He glanced at Arthur, who was standing before the Sidhe elder, frozen on the spot. When no reply came after a few moments, the Sidhe elder cackled before flying towards where the rest of his kind waited.
“You have two days to decide, Arthur Pendragon. Return here at the end of the two days and we’ll heal your beloved. If you do not return, Merlin will die.” The Sidhe said, his words echoing even after they disappeared in a flash of blue.
For a long moment, no one moved. The environment was still once more. And then one of their horses tied not too far away from them nickered, pulling them out of their stupor.
In the end, the long ride back to Camelot was spent in suffocating silence.
As soon as they reached Camelot, all of them gathered in Gaius’s chambers where Gaius and Guinevere sat beside Merlin’s cot, Aithusa curled up at the cot where Merlin’s feet lay, all three of them looking despondent. Sir Cador’s already bleak heart felt ladened with agony as he glimpsed Merlin’s face, even paler than before. Merlin always had a thin frame, but now he looked like a skeleton, with ashen skin pulled taut over his sharp bones. He couldn’t help but think that Merlin looked dead already.
And when they broke the news to Gaius, blood had drained out of his face. Gwen had let out a sob and gripped Lancelot’s arm in comfort. Sir Cador knew that it would only provide little relief.
“I cannot hand over the kingdom to the Sidhe... It’s my duty to protect the kingdom...” Arthur said, his shoulders slumped as if he held the weight of the world. “And yet I cannot let Merlin die either...” In that moment, Arthur looked like he was trapped in an endless nightmare of pain. Pain was etched in every part of his features.
“Sire, Merlin wouldn’t want you to forsake the kingdom to save him...” Leon’s voice was barely a whisper.
“I know... But-” Arthur’s voice broke at the end. “Gaius, is there no other way to save him?” Sir Cador saw a tear slip down Arthur's cheek.
Gaius stared into distance for a moment before finally answering. “I can think of only one thing, sire... You must take him to the Crystal Cave. If this doesn’t work, nothing else can help him.”
“The Crystal Cave?” Gwen asked the question Sir Cador had been pondering on.
“It’s the birthplace of magic. Just before the battle of Camlann... Morgana made Merlin lose his magic. But he managed to gain it back by going to the Crystal Cave.” Gaius said, his tone grave.
Arthur nodded once before pushing himself off the table he was leaning against to head towards the cot Merlin was lying on.
“Arthur, it’s not wise to go now. You all are tired and there’s no knowing what you’ll have to face in the Valley of the Fallen Kings. You should rest now and make the journey tomorrow.” Gwen said, upon noticing that Arthur was intending to lift Merlin from the cot.
Arthur looked ready to protest, but Lancelot placed an arm on his shoulder, gently holding him in place. “Arthur, we’ll ride out tomorrow at first light.”
Arthur glanced around at his men and finally seemed to agree upon seeing how worn out they all looked.
“Very well then.”
The knights bowed before exiting the room, Sir Cador close behind them. He glanced back once in time to see Arthur take Merlin’s pale hand and press a soft kiss to his knuckles.
The next morning, they rode out at first light, Merlin held securely in Arthur's arms. Arthur set a relentless pace, not stopping for once until they reached the Crystal Cave. The moment Sir Cador saw the Crystal Cave, the first thing that popped into his mind was that it didn’t look like much.
But as they went deeper and deeper into the cave, it became clear to him that this place certainly was much more than it seemed to be. As they drew nearer and nearer to where ghostly light emitted, a strange yet pleasant feeling washed over him. After feeling so deadened since Merlin fell in to a catatonic state, this new feeling felt like a blessing. It was as if this entire place was vibrating. Upon seeing the glowing crystals, he suddenly knew that what he and everyone else, by the looks on their face were feeling was magic. Pure, unrestrained magic.
Sir Cador felt awe wash through him as he realized that this must be how sorcerers felt all the time.
Ahead of him, Arthur had placed Merlin on the floor of the cave, while he glanced around in wonder.
Suddenly, a voice whispered, “Arthur.”
Everyone twisted around, drawing their swords to face a... man. Sir Cador felt his brows furrow as he stared at the pale blue man. He didn’t have any weapon, nor did he look like he was about to attack them. Strangest of all was that he… glowed and Cador could faintly see the outlines of the cave’s wall through him.
“Balinor.” Arthur breathed, staring at the man in disbelief. Sir Cador could relate. All of this felt surreal, and a dead man appearing before them made it worse. “You... died.”
“I’m neither dead nor alive, Arthur Pendragon.” Balinor smiled slightly at Arthur before turning his gaze to Merlin.
“Can you save him?” Arthur asked, upon seeing where Balinor’s gaze was trained on.
“Do not despair. Merlin is magic itself. And magic is the very fabric of this world.” Balinor said. Sir Cador inhaled sharply as he let himself hope once more.
“I have heard those words before.” There was a slight furrow in Arthur’s brow. Sir Cador wondered what Arthur meant by that.
Balinor just smiled before stepping forward and kneeling beside Merlin.
“Merlin will always be as magic will always be.” Balinor touched the tip of his fingers against Merlin’s forehead and Merlin’s body took on a golden sheen. They all waited with bated breath as the glow faded and for a moment, nothing happened.
Then, abruptly, Merlin inhaled deeply before turning to his side, still asleep.
“Will he be alright now?” Arthur asked, anxiousness coating his voice.
“He’s sleeping. He will wake shortly.” Balinor reassured.
Cador felt a wide smile break across his face as Gwaine let out a whoop and the others hugged each other. He could see tears of happiness spilling from Arthur’s eyes.
“Thank you.” Arthur said earnestly, but his gaze was fixed on Merlin’s now peaceful expression.
“Farewell Arthur.” And with that, Balinor vanished right before their eyes, a breeze blowing through the cave in the wake of his disappearance.
Sir Cador’s attention was once again drawn to Merlin when a familiar voice sleepily whispered “Arthur.”
“Merlin,” Arthur dropped to his knees beside Merlin and gathered him into his arms, letting out a relieved laugh. “Gods, Merlin. Don’t ever do that again.”
At Merlin’s cheeky smile, Sir Cador felt his heart lighten with joy.
“Prat. What did I do this time?” Merlin said, his lips tugging into a familiar smirk. The knights surrounding him chuckled at that, joy radiating from them.
But before anyone could say anything, Arthur captured Merlin’s lips in a bruising kiss, filled with thousand unsaid things and more.
The knights, including Sir Cador, politely looked away to give them some privacy, every single one of them with knowing smiles on their faces.
And far away from the Crystal Cave, in the land of eternal youth, the Sidhe cried out in despair.
The throne room was brimming with happiness that day. Arthur and Merlin stood at the front of the throne room, facing each other, their hands clasped before them. Geoffrey of Monmouth presided over the ceremony as he usually did.
“My lords, ladies and gentlemen of Camelot, we are gathered here today to celebrate, by ancient right of handfasting, the union of Arthur Pendragon and Merlin of Ealdor.”
Sir Cador felt his lips tug into a smile as he remembered the day Arthur announced to the council that he had decided to marry Merlin. Arthur had done so with a determined look in his eyes and a stubborn set in his jaws that Sir Cador knew meant that he wouldn’t back down until he achieved what he wanted.
“I almost lost him once. I will not lose him again.” Cador still remembered Arthur uttering those words, a defiant look in his eyes.
It appeared to Cador as if Arthur might have expected protests from the council for marrying a person who had been a servant, much less a man. However, everyone present at the council, including the knights, had voiced their full support. Except Lord Ector, of course. But he was instantly shut down by the rest of the men in the council and had to sit there, his face beet red as the others planned the ceremony.
Arthur had looked dumbfounded, but soon enough a wide smile spread across his face. The truth was that everyone had gotten tired of Arthur and Merlin dancing around each other, and none of them were as oblivious as Sir Cador.
Merlin was not present there as Gaius had confined him to bed with strict orders to rest and recover.
At the end of the meeting, they had everything planned out and here they were, witnessing the very moment.
Sir Cador focused his attention once again on the couple who were clad in vibrant clothes. Arthur was dressed in his chain mail, with a velvet cloak of Camelot red draped over his shoulders and Merlin was dressed in dark blue, with a snow white fur robe draped over his tunic and a silver circlet with figures of dragons curling on either side of it placed upon his raven locks. Cador felt as if he was witnessing a dream.
“Is it your wish, Arthur, to become one with this man?” Geoffrey was saying, glancing at Arthur.
“It is.” Arthur’s smile directed at Merlin in that moment was brighter than hundred suns.
“Is it your wish, Merlin, to become one with this man?”
“It is.” Merlin’s voice was more subdued but, his grin certainly made up for it.
“Do any say nay?” No one uttered a word and looked on with smiles on their faces.
“With this garland, I do tie a knot, and by doing so, bind your hands and your hearts for all eternity.” Geoffrey tied the garland around Arthur’s and Merlin’s joined hands.
“I now pronounce you to be husband and husband.” Geoffrey proclaimed. Sir Cador was entirely surprised to see a smile on the normally stoic man’s face as he clapped alongside everyone else.
The applause reached a crescendo as Arthur and Merlin shared a tender kiss. A roar from Aithusa was heard above all else just before a plume of fire shot upwards, illuminating the embracing couple in sharp angles. Sir Cador pondered on how only a few months prior, the audience would have panicked upon seeing a fire-breathing dragon in the throne room and smiled secretly to himself when no one even gave Aithusa a second glance.
Gazing around at the clapping and whooping audience and the king and his consort standing on the dais with smiles on their lips, Sir Cador finally felt at peace.
All he knew was well at last.