“One thing I know for certain. That whoever did this lives among us. Whoever did this has betrayed us all. Someone who is free to roam the citadel as they please, someone who has access to the King's stables... the King's prison, even the King's food. There is only one I know of”
Merlin felt a stone of dread drag itself deeper into his stomach as he watched Queen Guinevere pause for a small moment, as if she were taking in all the attention that was focused on her, before she turned to look at the raven haired manservant in the eye.
Merlin couldn’t help but stare at her with disbelief as he let out a strangled sound, wanting nothing more than to walk right up to Gwen, grab her by the arms and shake until sense came into her.
“I would never hurt Arthur” he finally managed to grit out, “I rather die first”
“And yet you did!” Gwen cried out, bringing a hand to her chest in a way that was horrifyingly familiar to how Morgana used to do, “My husband, Merlin!” she added with a sob.
The warlock took his gaze away from her, looking at the Knights in the room, desperately hoping that someone, any of them, will speak up in his defense.
Surely, after the years they’ve been together, through quests, betrayals in court and being at Arthur’s side… they would believe in his innocence?
But… the returning looks did not look kind. Leon sported a troubled expression, Percival’s face betrayed nothing, Mordred looked incredulous and conflicted and Gwaine simply stared at Merlin, mistrustful.
The warlock felt something inside him break.
“I would never” he repeated, shaking his head, “I would never-”
“Don’t think it brings me pleasure to accuse you, old friend” Gwen interrupted with a teary voice, “But you’re the only one with the means”
And now that?
That just fuelled Merlin with anger.
“With all due respect, my Lady” he hissed with the calmest tone he could muster, “I am not, as a matter of fact, the only one with the access to Arthur’s food and drink. You do too, and as I said before; I’d rather die than hurting him”
The Knights were staring at Merlin as if they had never seen him before, and Mordred actually looked slightly terrified.
Good, he thought, let them be intimidated by the man they clearly didn’t trust despite everything they’ve been through.
Gwen looked taken aback for a moment, and then her face constricted into a cold stare before she marched up to him.
In all honesty, the slap was a surprise.
“How dare you” the Queen whispered with a heartbroken look, “How dare you accuse me of harming my own husband”
“How dare you accuse me of harming my friend” Merlin spat back, fighting against the heartache that was trying to take over. The only thing stopping him from succumbing was Arthur’s ragged breathing.
It was something.
It was lifeline.
It meant there still a chance.
“My husband lays dying because of you. Camelot won’t have a king come morrow”
“I’ve been nothing but loyal”
“Morgana and Lord Agravaine went around saying the same thing”
Merlin felt like he had been slapped again.
“I have never conspired against Camelot, nor have I committed treason against Arthur!” he yelled, “If I didn’t know any better, Queen Guinevere” he spat, “I’d say that you’re covering-”
“Enough!” Gwen shrieked as tears fell down her doe-brown eyes, “Guards!”
“Gwen-” Leon and Gwaine said at the same time, but the Queen silenced them with a raised hand.
“Merlin, you really leave me no choice” she whispered, “I don’t know why you’re giving these accusations when all evidence points to you; you were found with Arthur in the scene, I was not in the room. And as Gaius’s apprentice, you have knowledge about poisoning” she sniffled before addressing the guards that were hovering on the door.
“Take this traitor to the dungeons” Gwen said, “He is to hang tomorrow at dawn, for poisoning the King”
The guards seemed to hesitate for a moment, looking between each other in shock.
Merlin looked at the Knights one more time, desperately hoping that at least Leon or, seven hells, Mordred, would say something.
“Please” he pleaded.
And when the guards noticed how no-one was coming to the warlock’s defense, they made their way to him and dragged him out of the room.
Merlin didn’t miss the smirk Gwen sent in his direction before the doors closed.
“How is he?”
If there is anything Merlin hates more than anything, is seeing Arthur in a deathbed. His skin is a very unhealthy pale tone that’s close enough to grey, and there’s barely any rise and fall from his chest.
“His heart is nearly stopped” Gaius said gravely, “I fear he’s close to death”
Gulping, the warlock placed his hand on Arthur’s chest, letting go of his magic to search for the extent of the poison-
And it was horrible. Tears stung behind his eyelids as he felt his magic poke around the cold toxin that had settled itself on the blond.
“The sickness is so deep in him” he whispered, shaking his head as the tears began to flow, “I don’t know if I have the power to bring him back” he croaked.
Memories from the bite from the Questing Beast and his first encounter in the Cristal Cave flooded him.
He was horrible at healing magic.
The absolute worst-
An old wrinkled hand came to rest on his shoulder. Gaius stared at him, face open and confident.
“You can do this, Merlin”
The warlock stared at his mentor with uncertainty, but Gaius simply gave him a little smile and a nudge.
Letting out a breath, Merlin straighten up, wiping his face as he took some calming breaths and he concentrated on his magic.
It hummed under his skin, ready to burst in order to heal his king at his command.
With another breath, Merlin placed his hands over Arthur’s chest and began to chant.
“Ic the thurhaele thinu licsar mid thamsundorcraeft thaere ealdan ae!” he pushed his magic onto Arthur’s body, ancient sorcery searching blood and bone for the poison in order to ensure his king, his friend, lived another day.
He felt as if he was left without breath by the time he was finished.
The raven opened his eyes to a still dead-looking king.
“Arthur...?” he whispered, terrified as he saw no change.
Merlin began to cry again, whispering “Please, please, it had to work-” over and over as he blindly searched for Arthur’ pulse point.
A small movement.
Both Merlin and Gaius held their breaths as they witnessed Arthur twitch in his sleep, and then-
“Merlin…” he mumbled.
Said raven couldn’t help the watery laugh of relief that escaped him and the easiness was enough that he barely registered the “Well done, Merlin!” Gaius was giving him.
Arthur was fine. He was alive-
“-You’d better get back to the cells before you’re missed”
Merlin couldn’t help but tense.
“Arthur is not at death’s door now, the charges must drop so he can give his version of the events” Gaius gently explained to him.
Merlin allowed himself to relax a bit, nodding distractedly as he gently stroke Arthur’s cheek, which was regaining little by little a healthy rosy shade.
“You’re alright now” he murmured to his king before taking a shuddering breath, “And…er, I don’t want to rush you or anything, but could you please wake up soon?”
“Merlin” Gaius was starting to sound apprehensive, “You must return, now”
“Please let me say this?” the raven begged, “I- I think Arthur might be my only friend in Camelot right now”
“I’m sorry my boy, but the Queen and the Knights will probably come in soon to hear about Arthur’s condition”
Merlin bit his lip before nodding and standing up, giving Arthur one last look before climbing down the same way he came in.
And as he made his way back into his murky cell, a thought continued to plague him.
Arthur was alive and well now.
So why did he still felt a stone of dread on his stomach?
Merlin was rudely jerked awake by a stringload of cold water landing on him.
Before he could even properly register what was happening, the guards had seized him painfully by the arms and pulling them behind his back to tie them up with rough rope.
“What- what’s happening?” Merlin couldn’t help the quiver in his voice as he asked.
Had it not worked and his magic simply brought his friend back for a few moments from the brink of death?
Had Gwen seen Arthur survive and poisoned him again?
Both guards looked at each other in a clear state of discomfort, lips pressed thinly and avoiding Merlin’s eyes.
Finally, one of them seemed to take pity on him.
“It’s your execution”
And with that being said, they grabbed Merlin’s arms in a painful grip and dragged him out of the cell.
The supposed most powerful sorcerer to ever walk the earth?
He went into a state of shock.
He barely registered being walked out to the courtyard and lifted onto the platform, the whispers of the onlookers sounding like distant rumbles from a river.
A distant part of him knew, knew that he could only blink and the bindings would turn into braided flower garlands, the platform a small garden, the sword into docile snakes or bouquets of roses. A flash of gold and he could be resting in his mother’s arms, far away in Ealdor and feeling safe and comforted-
-And believed to be an even bigger traitor than already. Honestly, Merlin did still not know which one was worse in Camelot; attempted murder by normal means, or possessing magic. He would spend the rest of his life running away, hated by-
“People of Camelot-”
Merlin blinked back into focus when he felt the necklace of rope being put around his neck, bound tight enough to slightly choke him as a cruel prelude to what came next.
Everything seemed to hit him at once. The platform had not yet fallen, but it suddenly became harder for the raven to breathe as he felt the tears gather in his eyes.
He took in the people in the courtyard, standing still and staring at him with confusion and even pity.
“-For he has made a grievous attempt on the King’s life and accuse nobility of falsehoods-”
Gwen was dressed in her red velvet gown, the perfect picture of the Queen of Camelot. She looked down at him with contempt in her eyes as she announce his ‘crime’ for the people to know. The Knights stood beside her, looking grim….
And avoiding Merlin’s eyes.
“I WOULD NEVER HURT HIM!” he yelled as the tears began falling without his consent, “PLEASE!”
His pleas were ignored.
Arthur. Where was Arthur?
Where was Gaius?
The people jittered nervously.
Gwen finished talking, taking a moment to stare down at him, eyes cold.
“PLEASE!” Merlin sobbed, staring at the Knights, who were still avoiding his eyes, “PLEA-UMF”
A rag had been shoved into his mouth by the executioner.
“Shut up” he growled before looking at the balcony in which the Queen stood.
And all the feelings of heartache that were taking over Merlin were just replaced with a feeling of tiredness.
What was even the point anymore?
Saving himself with magic would only mean being hated and persecuted until captured or killed.
Finding a way to save himself without giving his magic away would only mean that he would still be accused of something else at the first possible opportunity.
Or left behind, and no-one caring.
Merlin's sobs didn’t subside as he watched Gwen raise her hand to deliver the signal.
At least Gaius wasn’t there to see him die.
Or his mother.
The Queen’s hand came down.
Merlin felt his breath be completely knocked out of his lungs and a pressure around his neck tighten painfully. By instinct his hands tugged at his bindings in an attempt to break free and release the pressure on his throat so he could breathe-
And there were black spots in front of his eyes, and he could feel how little he had of his energy being quick to leave him. His magic was frantic yet still humming under his skin, as if it was trying to gently lull him to sleep.
Faintly, Merlin could hear a voice calling his name in the distance.
A pair of rough hands seemingly began pulling his collar of rope with desperation.
There was a pain on the back of his head.
Everything went black.
It hurt to breathe.
The sun was shining directly into his eyes and the inside of his mouth felt as if something had crawled in and died, but the only thing Merlin could concentrate on was how much of a struggle he was having to breathe.
His hands immediately went to claw at his neck in an attempt to try and alleviate the pain where it hurt more, but before they could get there another pair of hands grabbed him by the wrists.
“-op Merlin! Merlin stop!”
The owner of the voice finally registered itself to his sleep-addled brain.
Alive and breathing a looking down at him with worry.
Merlin opened his mouth, but instead of words they only that came out was a croak that left a throbbing in his throat.
The blond let out a curse as he let go of Merlin’s wrists, coming back with a cup of water that Merlin shakily accepted.
“Gaius told me that it’s better if you don’t attempt to speak at the moment” Arthur murmured in explanation as he kept one hand on the back of the cup for support, “He doesn’t know how long it will take your throat to heal”
“-Accuse nobility of falsehoods-”
“-A grievous attempt on the King’s life-”
Trembling, Merlin carefully brought his fingers to his neck, only to withdraw just as quickly when at the small appliance of pressure sent waves of pain.
Swallowing with effort and trying to keep the tears behind his eyes at bay, he turned to look at Arthur, who was staring at him with distress.
His dear friend handled him a small wooden board and parchment alongside a charcoal pen.
Merlin wiped the tears that were brimming in his eyes before starting to write.
“You’ve been unconscious for a sennight”
At this, Arthur went silent for a moment, face hard.
And then surprised Merlin by taking him by the hand and gripping it in a comforting hold.
With a bare restraint to anger, Arthur explains that he was woken up by the sounds of the drums for an execution and to a frantic and terrified Gaius, who was quick to explain what was about to happen; the King ran to the courtyard, dressed in his sleeping clothes and barefoot, just when the platform dropped on Merlin.
“When I got to you… you had begun to stop moving” the blond whispered, “I yelled at the executioner to cut you down… and when you hit the floor you weren’t moving”
Merlin let out a shaky breath (which left him clenching the board and Arthur’s hand in pain) before writing once more.
Knights? And Gwen?
“… I might have yelled at them. A lot” Arthur admitted, running a hand through his face in clear exhaustion, “Mostly about the stupidity in how they handled the situation- they didn’t even look for or tried to confirm your alibi. They didn’t wait for me to wake up to ask me what had occurred- they just- just-”
The blond cut himself off with a weary sigh.
Merlin simply closed his eyes, finally letting the tears slip as he curled into himself.
He thought he didn’t have the energy to sob anymore, but he did. His throat ached, but the pain he felt for the practical betrayal of his friends hurt so much more.
A set of strong arms suddenly wrapped around the raven, briefly making him jump in surprise when he realized it was Arthur (you know, Sir ‘I Wasn’t Heading For a Hug’).
His dear friend didn’t say anything, he simply held on tighter to Merlin while running his hand over his back and hair in comfort as he cried.
They stayed like that for a while, until Merlin simply didn’t have any more tears to cry and he pulled himself away from the blond, feeling slightly mortified.
‘Sorry’ he mouthed, avoiding his friend’s stare.
“Don’t apologize” Arthur whispered softly, fully pulling back to grip Merlin’s hands once again.
The King looked tense now, the raven noticed. He clumsily searched for the board and parchment.
Something else is bothering you.
Arthur stared at the message for a while, face strangely blank and to the point that Merlin was starting to nervously fidget on his bed.
“Can you answer me one question?”
The raven nodded slowly, feeling strangely off-footed as he took in Arthur’s sudden look of sorrow.
“Why didn’t you use your magic to escape?”
Merlin felt as he had been soaked over with another bucket of cold water.
He drew his hands out of the shared hold with Arthur’s as shock and dread began to take over him-
“I heard you healing me” the King quickly rushed out, bringing out the warlock out of his distress, “I- I heard everything that was happening in the room”
Merlin couldn’t only stare at him with wide eyes. A million question went through his head, and the blond must have noticed the internal crisis he was going through, as he hesitantly offered his hand to hold.
The warlock, after a small waver, took it.
“I- I’ll admit to being angry. And feeling betrayed that you never told me. But that didn’t mean I wished you dead”
Arthur had heard him use sorcery. And had still come to save him from the hanging.
Knowing Merlin has magic.
“I began to think back and- well, I don’t blame you for not trusting me. I asked Gaius over what you’ve done all these years with magic and-”
Name of the Mother, now Arthur was the one who was crying.
“I’m sorry” the King finally said, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for the way I’ve treated you, Merlin” he gripped the warlock’s hand, visibly distressed, “You said that I might be the only friend you have left in Camelot at the moment, but I haven’t been any better than them. How can you forgive me for all I’ve done and said to you?”
Merlin exhaled shakily. Hands trembling slightly, he broke the hold with Arthur and took the pen and parchment once again.
May I try something?
He hesitated briefly, turning up to look at questioning sapphire eyes for a moment, almost fearful, before resolving to keep writing.
With my magic?
Arthur’s eyes widened, but he smiled softly.
Merlin shyly returned the smile before closing his eyes for a moment to concentrate.
“Because I know you” he spoke softly in the King’s mind, who startled before gaping in shock, “And even at your worst moments you don’t truly mean it. You try to apologize, in a very prat way, mind you. I know you’re horrible with feelings, and hate being told when someone you trust is betraying you-”
He got a flinch from Arthur at this, and this time is was Merlin who initiated the hand holding.
“But at the end of it all, you still try to do better, be better” Merlin smiled, “Perhaps it makes no sense, and my words could be no different than the ones said by a fool and someone sensible would have packed their bags a long time ago. But I choose to stay”
“And-” the blond looked away, face forlorn, “Would you still stay after-after what happened?” he asked in a whisper, “Because I won’t force you to stay, and-” the king gripped the warlock’s hands, “And you could be free, use your magic in a kingdom where there hasn’t been a purge or become the physician you’ve been training to be. I would write the letter too!”
Merlin bowed down his head, biting his lip.
“I stay for you” he finally admitted, feeling timid as Arthur’s head shot up in slight shock, “I use my magic for you, and I stay for you”
Arthur stayed silent, just staring at Merlin with some semblance of awe and realization in his features. And then, without breaking eye contact, bowed his head to place a kiss on the back of Merlin’s hand, sealing a silent understanding between the two men.
Things were not fixed, and this emotional wound would perhaps never heal or take time to, and Arthur needed to be informed of Gwen’s current predicament-
“Could you show me something?”
-But nonetheless, the warlock, who hadn’t been seeing a clear future for some time, suddenly felt lighter and the future (and perhaps even destiny) seemed to have some semblance of bright hope.
Merlin smiled while at the same time, an orb of beautiful blue light formed in his hand palm.