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Albion's Destiny

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Five years later


Arthur was so fucking tired of sneaking about his own damned castle.


Normally, so late after sundown, most of the castle would be asleep. But there were still hundreds of tiny things left to prepare for the celebration the next night, and there were still servants running helter skelter in the courtyard. It was going to be tough to make it to the stables.


Most of the castle didn’t know of the dozen or so people who were going to run away from the castle that night like naughty children off to an adventure. The entire party had been deemed too big to escape unnoticed, so everyone was supposed to leave in twos or threes. The gods had deemed it fit to torture Arthur one last time before giving him immeasurable happiness: he was going to ride with Gwaine, who was already waiting for him in the stables, horses at the ready.


If only he could get out of here.


This wasn’t the first time, of course. Sneaking had sort of become second nature to him, and gained him further appreciation of the way Merlin had kept Camelot safe while lurking in the shadows. His lover’s expertise had been helpful those first few years of their relationship, because Merlin knew all the nooks and crannies to steal kisses in, and he had been gracious enough to show Arthur.


Not that they needed to hide any of it now.


All of Camelot now knew Merlin was Arthur’s consort. They had stopped trying to hide it when they realized even visiting royals had called Merlin “his Highness”. The first time it had happened, Merlin had snorted and inhaled an ungodly amount of wine, but he was used to it now. All the neighbouring kingdoms knew well enough. Most of them were coming to attend the royal wedding the next day. Mithian had already arrived and taken up residence at the castle.


The one he was studiously trying to escape.


It took time, and effort, and gained him new appreciation for Merlin’s skills. But at last, he was in the stables, his horse snorting next to him.


“The princess Mithian is a beautiful woman,” Gwaine said in lieu of a greeting.


Arthur eyed him suspiciously as he swung atop his horse. “Gwaine...”


“What?” Gwaine’s offended look would have worked better if it was genuine, or if Arthur’s suspicion had been unwarranted. “I simply meant it as a compliment! She liked it when I told her,” he said.


“What is the rule, Gwaine?” Arthur whispered as they moved out of the stables and into the shadow of the night.


Gwaine sighed. “Never flirt with visiting nobles,” he recited, with as much enthusiasm as a child reciting a hated lesson. “Easy for you to say,” he continued. “You are getting married. The rest of us still have to find someone, you know?”


“Maybe find someone other than Mithian,” Arthur suggested through gritted teeth. “That woman has been through enough.”


“She thinks I am beautiful too,” Gwaine said cheekily. “Men who are getting a fairytale wedding don’t get to piss on other people’s romance.” He spurred his horse on till they were trotting abreast. “Do you know what she said to me?”


Arthur groaned out loud. This was going to be a long ride. He was not going to survive till the morning.


While they rode, Gwaine talked. Amidst the important pieces of news, like how much the princess Mithian seemed to like his beard, Gwaine also managed to tell Arthur of the news they had received from Amata. Another one of the traitors who had rebelled against him years ago was dead. There were so few left now. They had all been scattered skillfully, exactly as Arthur had commanded. Not all had made their way to Essetir five years ago. Some had been sent to Caerleon, others to Gawant and Nemeth.


As promised, Arthur kept an eye on all of them. Lord Maltyre was currently seeking shelter at a druid village, which amused Arthur to no end.


He shook the matters of state out of his head as they neared their destination. The early morning sun bathed the stones of Nemeton in a fiery, otherworldly light. Arthur had been doubting his decision to perform the ceremony here, but one look at the place was enough to remind him why this was the perfect place to say his vows, the perfect place to promise himself to another.


Tomorrow, he would marry Merlin in an elaborate ceremony where Merlin would be crowned King Consort. Today, he would marry his best friend and his lover in a simple druid ceremony, in front of his closest friends and family. Today, he wanted to be married as equals.


The hours of riding had apparently not agreed with Gaius, for his eyebrow was high and his expression was dour, but he was commanding everyone to their places around the circle with surprising dexterity. There actually was a circle in the middle of the stones, purple wildflowers that grew out of the ground in a perfect circle. Arthur knew Merlin had conjured them, like he knew Merlin had conjured the altar, the tree that had suddenly sprouted in a strange, knotted flat shape in the middle of the circle, dripping with red and gold flowers. It was as if nature itself were serenading the union. Gwaine dismounted and ran to join the circle forming, carefully placing his feet behind the line of purple flowers. Arthur looked around wildly for a glimpse of his betrothed.


He found Merlin shyly standing near the edge of the circle himself, listening to Gaius with a cutely furrowed brow. They had all ridden from the castle, so most of the preparations required for the wedding were Merlin’s magical responsibility.


Arthur took a while to just gaze at the love of his life. The stand up collar of his midnight blue doublet accentuated his cheekbones, giving him the regal look Arthur loved. Merlin caught him staring, and his boyish face split into a grin. Arthur was not a poetic man, but he was sure his heart was full of love in that moment. He couldn’t remember a time when he had been more content.


As Gaius’ eyebrow climbed higher, Heather ran over to grab Arthur’s hand and pull him to take his place at the edge of the sacred circle. She was growing fast… The elaborate floral crown she had, probably woven herself, was brushing Arthur’s neck. He shook his head and followed where she led. Merlin was being similarly dragged by a grinning Dristan. He and Merlin both stood on either side of Gaius as the other guests finished up the circle.


Merlin leaned back to look at Arthur behind Gaius’ back. “Hi,” he said.


“Hello,” Arthur replied with a smile.


Finally, they were all ready. The grooms flanked Gaius. Lancelot stood next to Merlin while Gwaine stood next to Arthur. Gwen, Hunith, Dristan, Arthur’s best knights, Heather and her mum, Cathal and Lord Blackwood completed the circle. There wasn’t a lot of them. It was exactly as Arthur wanted.


Gaius called for silence. For a while, the only sound was the peaceful early morning chirping of the birds. “We gather here in peace for this sacred occasion that is the Rite of Marriage between Merlin and Arthur. As our Circle is woven and consecrated, this moment in time and this place, become blessed. Let each soul truly be here, let the spirits of those gathered be blended in one sacred space, with one purpose and one voice.”


Arthur felt calm. His heart was hammering, but he was acutely aware of every breath he took. He was getting married. To Merlin. This felt like the beginning of the rest of his life.


Gaius was chanting a prayer of purification. Merlin had explained that to him, but Arthur was still intrigued. “Let there be peace in the East, so let it be,” said Gaius as he faced the sun. He continued to face each direction as he named it. “Let there be peace in the South, so let it be. Let there be peace in the West, so let it be. Let there be peace in the North, so let it be.” Finally, he faced the front. “Let there be peace through all the Worlds. So let it be.”


Merlin grinned as he stepped into the circle at Gaius’ bidding. Arthur felt too… dazed to do more than smile. Was this really happening? This was it. No more hiding. Merlin was his now, for everyone to see.


“Spirits of the North,” said Gaius, “powers of winter, guardians of earth and stone, who you teach us of love and loyalty, great bear of the starry skies, the rich soil of creation, I ask that you honour this our Circle as we honour thee. Witness and bless this rite. Hail and welcome!”


As he finished his serenade, a gentle rumbling rocked the ground. The revellers, who had been asked to expect this, forgot the instructions for a second. They looked around, uneasy, and when the wildflowers bloomed their way out of the ground, they laughed at their own skittish behaviour. The flowers settled, a rich red canopy at the northern edge of the circle, and all was silent once more. 


“Spirits of the East,” continued Gaius, “powers of spring, regeneration, vision of falcon and blackbird’s song, swallows’ freedom flight, sylphs of the wind, breath of life, my Lord of the rising sun and all new life, I ask that you honour this our Circle as we honour thee. Witness and bless this rite. Hail and welcome!”


The pleasant early morning winds picked up speed till they were sharp enough to blow the knights’ capes dramatically. It really did seem that the gods were listening to Gaius’ old, experienced voice. There were falcons--Merlins--flying overhead, chasing blackbirds. There was magic in the air. The wind seemed to be flowing in through the East, blowing Heather’s pretty hair into her face. She pouted and tried to control the flowing locks. Arthur smiled and winked at her.


“Spirits of the South,” continued Gaius, his voice rising to be heard over the sudden wind. “Powers of summer, pride of stag and fire wit of fox, dragons of the land, sprites of the dancing flame, you who teach us of courage and the power of truth, I ask that you honour this our Circle as we honour thee. Witness and bless this rite. Hail and welcome!”


Arthur laughed out loud when he heard the dragons roar. Aithusa, in her enthusiasm, was racing towards them, and Arthur knew without being told that Kilgharrah had had trouble keeping her away till it was time to appear. Aithusa had recently rediscovered her great love of flying, when the druid books entrusted to Merlin had finally helped him cure Aithusa. Now she was regularly spotted flying over Albion. And she never shut up.


But tonight she did. It might have been Kilgharrah’s ancient, frail presence by her side that sobered her, or the sanctity of the ritual, but for once, Aithusa was quiet. She winked at Dristan, who grinned wildly.


The dragons took their positions in the South, their majestic wings an impressive backdrop for Hunith and Gwen. They were both crying, beautiful in their riding clothes. He smiled at Hunith. Her returning smile was watery.


“Spirits of the West,” continued Gaius with a nod at Kilgharrah, “powers of autumn, cat who stretches to hunt at dusk, wisdom of salmon and otter’s play, undines of chuckling brook, my Lady of the Seas, tides of being, I ask that you honour this our Circle as we honour thee. Witness and bless this rite. Hail and welcome!”


Heather was giggling by the time the cats sauntered their way over to her. The cats were quiet, happy but solemn, and of every colour imaginable. There were easily a dozen of them, all taking up their positions at the west of the circle. One of them was being followed by an otter. Arthur was really surprised Merlin wasn’t behind any of this. Where was all this magic coming from?


Perhaps it was the special magic of the stones of Nemeton, oozing out of them because the greatest sorcerer ever to walk the Earth was standing in their midst. Arthur lifted his face to the sky and breathed deep. He felt… free.


“It has taken long for Merlin and Arthur to get here,” said Gaius, and Gwaine snorted. “To sacred ground to say the vows that will bind them together. In the name of our gods and the gods of our ancestors, we give thanks for all those who have shared with us their lives, their wisdom and their love. On this sacred day of their wedding, we give thanks especially for the blessings bequeathed to Merlin and Arthur by their ancestors of blood and spirit, both those newly departed and those of old. We honour in particular Hunith, Balinor and Ygraine, ancestors present in this rite in body and in spirit. Acknowledging all that has been given, the sacred gift of life, the hardest lessons taught through love and tears, the bond you share and the individuals that you are, let these ancestors too be honoured at this time.”


Hunith was sobbing now, and she stepped forward to take her gift from the grooms. Her hands were shaking as she held them out to take the gift Merlin and Arthur had toiled over… Arthur had designed the silver tiara , laboring over every elegant line, waking up in the middle of the night to change something until Merlin had feared the design would never be ready. He had been blown away by the finished design when Arthur had shown him, and had waited eagerly for the craftsmen to finish making it. There was magic in there, all the protective spells Merlin knew. Now Dristan was finally handing it over to the grooms, a gift fit for a queen mother.


Hunith’s eyes were wide when she saw what her gift was. Arthur had deliberately kept it simple but elegant, knowing what Hunith would like. The circlet of knotted silver was thin and delicate. The dragons that curled on both sides looked fierce, in direct contrast to the flair of silver that finished off the tiara. It was an acknowledgement of how important she was, in both their lives. How important she was to the kingdom. Since she was shaking too badly, Arthur stepped forward and took it from her, gently placing it on her head. She looked up at him with watery eyes. He smiled and kissed her brow.


The sudden whispers of the gathered crowd alerted him to something strange, and his hand automatically went to the sword he wasn’t wearing around his waist. Merlin snaked a hand around Gaius’ back to stroke his arm soothingly, and Arthur relaxed. He tensed again when he saw what had unsettled the guests.


His mother stood next to the dragons.


Arthur stared, feeling his eyes fill up. He had only ever seen her once. He had never seen a portrait, for Uther had banned all likeness of her. He looked his fill now, his gaze desperate. She smiled at him, her face pale and blue. He nodded at her, swallowing thickly. Arthur turned with the intention of thanking Merlin, but Merlin was staring at Balinor, who was standing next to Kilgharrah. His skin was pale too, and Merlin’s expression as he stared at his father was enough to tell Arthur that he had not summoned their parents. They had come on their own.


Gaius himself was getting emotional. He tried to speak several times, each time stopping because his voice would break. He finally cleared his throat, nodded at both Ygraine and Balinor, and carried on with the ceremony.


“Merlin and Arthur,” he said finally. “Do you come to this place of your own free will?”


With great difficulty, Arthur tore his eyes away from Ygraine. “I do.”


“I do,” said Merlin, and Arthur was glad that he wasn’t steady either.


“Let us honour the four directions of our world,” said Gaius, “that their blessings may be brought to this couple.” He led them both to all four quarters of the circle, one by one.


He led them first towards the falcons that were hopping around the eastern quarter, their gazes uncanny and interested. “Spirits of the east, spirits of air, let us feel your breath!” said Gaius. “Through times of uncertainty,” he asked, “through winds of change, will you still love and honour each other?”


“I will,” said Merlin.


“I will,” echoed Arthur. He had never been surer of anything in his life. He thought the falcon approved.


“Then may you be blessed by the powers of the east,” said Gaius. “May together you find the freedom of flight in the clear mountain air, may your marriage be reborn with each new dawn.”


Next, they moved on to the two dragon who were watching the ceremony with a strange combination of proud amusement. Kilgharrah smiled at Merlin and bowed his head. Aithusa winked at Arthur. “Spirits of the south,” implored Gaius, “spirits of fire, let us feel your power!”


Ygraine and Balinor smiled at them, their hands reaching out to ghost their fingers on their child’s face, their movements in sync as if they were thinking with one mind. Both dragons breathed gently in their faces, and Arthur felt the warmth of Aithusa’s breath instill him with peace. He could feel the ancient magic of the dragon, feel the acceptance and love she felt for him.


“Through the flames of passion,” said Gaius, “and when the fires burn low, will you still love and honour each other?”


Arthur tried not to think of Gaius saying the word passion. “I will,” he said.


Merlin smiled at him. “I will too. I will love you forever.”


“Then may you be blessed by the powers of the south,” said Gaius. “May together you dance the road of courage and vitality. May your home be filled with warmth.”


The cats began purring as Merlin and Arthur were led to them. A pure white one meowed at Merlin. Another, a playful orange one, weaved through Heather’s legs and stared at them. A courageous tabby tried to wrap itself around Gaius’ leg.


Gaius studiously ignored it. “ Spirits of the west, spirits of water, let us feel your flowing energy!” He turned to the grooms. “Through the white water currents and deep still pools of emotion, will you still love and honour each other?”


“I will,” said Arthur.


Merlin’s eyes were misty. “I will,” he echoed solemnly.


Gaius nodded once. “Then may you be blessed by the powers of the west,” he said. “May together you weave and blend your desires, flowing with the beauty of the ocean tides. May your life together be filled with love.”


A furry little badger had claimed the little patch of red flowers by now, his little paws carefully settled in the spread beneath him. He barely spared a glance at them as Gaius led them to the north of the circle.


“Spirits of the north,” said Gaius, “spirits of earth, let us feel your certainty! Through times of cold restriction, when problems seem immovable, will you still love and honour each other?”


“I will,” said Merlin.


With a smile, Arthur echoed his answer. “I will too. Always and forever.”


“Then may you be blessed by the powers of the earth,” said Gaius. “May together you root in sweet fertile soil, that your union may grow strong. May your lives together be rich with that fertility and its perfect fruitfulness.” He led them to the altar, where Gwaine handed him the red ribbon that had been entrusted to him. Gaius took their hands, clasped them together, and tied them. “Merlin and Arthur, are you ready to declare your vows to each other, vows that will bind you together, soul to soul, heart to heart, joining the bloodlines of your ancestors, witnessed by those who have gathered here this day, in spirit and in body, in this sacred Circle?”


“I am,” they said together. Even Arthur felt like he was going to bawl at any moment. It was supposed to be just a simple ceremony, something that was just theirs, and now it felt like his heart was going to leap out of his chest and scamper away. But it couldn’t now, could it? His heart was now promised to Merlin.


“All things in nature are circular,” said Gaius in a clear, carrying voice. “Night becomes day, day leads into night which again gives way to day. Moon waxes and wanes, and waxes again. There is Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, then Spring returns again. These are the flowing rhythms of the Cycle of Existence. Yet in the Centre of the Circle is the stillness of the Source, eternal and brilliant.” He turned to Lancelot, who was again at Merlin’s side. “Merlin and Arthur, do you bring with you this day your symbols of these mysteries of life?”


“We do,” said Merlin as Arthur nodded. Lancelot dutifully stepped forward and handed Gaius the rings. They were identical, simple bands of gold. Each ring was just thick enough to be emblazoned with a dragon along its length. A small, simple ruby winked in the one visible eye.


Gaius took the rings. “Then be they blessed in the name of the old gods of our land, for they are an outward sign and a sacred reminder of your commitment witnessed here this day.” He placed the rings on the altar. “As the sun and moon bring light to the Earth, do you, Merlin and Arthur, vow to bring the light of love and joy to this your union?”


“I do,” they said, together. Within the sweet confines of the ribbon, Merlin flexed his fingers to squeeze Arthur’s hands.


Gaius lit the candle that had been placed on the altar. “Do you vow to honour each other as you honour that which you hold most sacred?”


“I do,” they said again, perfectly in sync. The high winds somehow didn’t affect the flame of the candle at all.


Gaius handed them their rings, and Arthur felt a strange lump in his throat as Merlin placed his ring on his finger. He blinked rapidly, afraid he was going to cry. Merlin looked ready to cry too. He kept staring at the ring that Arthur placed on his finger.


Gaius untied their hands, and Merlin smiled at Arthur’s reluctance to let go of his hand. He squeezed Merlin’s fingers before finally letting go. Gaius picked up the smooth, polished stone that Merlin had found and engraved with their names and the Pendragon crest. He had spent hours at the banks of the lake looking for the perfect wedding stone. Arthur had wanted to use a precious gem. After all, it was a stone. But now he was glad they hadn’t chosen a ruby. The big, white stone felt far more… real. A ruby would have been too pretentious. And pretenses were for the wedding later in the day. Here, they were just a couple in love.


Gaius turned back towards the grooms. ”This sacred Earth is our home,” he said. “It offers us the power of life, nourishing us, body and soul, holding us from birth until we let go once more into the worlds of spirit. Each rock and stone, each pebble and gem contains within it the stories of all time.” He held out their wedding stone. “You have chosen this stone together as a foundation stone of your marriage from this point on,” he said. “Do you now swear upon it, as a symbol of this sacred land and our holy Mother Earth, to keep your vows?”


“We swear,” they said, their hands on the stone that Gaius held.


“Then let the Earth bear witness that Merlin and Arthur are joined in love and joy and freedom. So let it be!”


“So let it be!” said all those gathered, their voices jubilant and loud. Arthur was suddenly aware that there were others here, and he grinned at all the happy faces. His mother blew him a kiss.


“Let your vows be sealed with a kiss,” said Gaius, and he was smiling too.


When Arthur finally pulled Merlin in for their first kiss as a married couple, he finally felt… peace. It was done. Instead of the giddy excitement of a few seconds ago, he felt thankful to be allowed his one true love, to be allowed the chance to get used to these lips, to the beat of this man’s heart against his palm. He was Merlin’s now, as surely Merlin was his. A single tear escaped Merlin’s eyelid, and it’s matching tear rolled down Arthur’s cheek.


“Let all bear witness that Merlin and Arthur are joined in love,” Gaius declared to the cheering circle. “Through this rite of their marriage, witnessed and blessed, may their love partake of the beauty, majesty and power of this sacred Earth.” He hugged both Merlin and Arthur in turn, his expression the closest to happy Arthur had ever seen. “My own blessing,” he said, “and the blessings of all those assembled here be with you. The blessings of your gods and the gods of your ancestors be with you. The blessings of the ancestors be with you. With you and with all that comes of your union. So let it be!”


The revellers bent down to the little baskets of petals that had been placed along the circle. The sounds of jubilant celebration echoed off the plains. Petals rained down upon the newlywed couple.


“The rite is complete,” said Gaius. “May our memories be rich with it. Let us thank the powers of nature for their presence.”


As Gaius thanked the spirits of all four directions, sending the assembled animals on their merry way, Merlin hugged Arthur. Arthur held tight, ignoring Gwaine’s jeering, feeling his heart thud with happiness that seemed too vast to contain.


This was the first day of the rest of his life.


“I love you, clotpole,” said Merlin in his ear.

“I love you too, you idiot,” laughed Arthur.