“What the hell is this Arthur?” Uther stormed as he slapped the newspaper on his table, his face purple with rage.
Before Arthur could scrape together an explanation, Uther continued. “He was there that night? He’s one of them?”
“Father, it’s not what you think…” Arthur tried halfheartedly, knowing it was futile.
“Don’t you dare speak to me unless you address me as Your Majesty. You must control your manservant in the future. It was bad enough he was a sorcerer but this” he jammed his finger at the article, “is shameful. Queers are not allowed in Camelot under any circumstances. Dismiss him today quietly, or he will have the entire Armed Forces of Camelot at his door in the morning.” With that, Uther stormed out of the room with and slammed the door with a bang.
From his hiding place behind the curtains, Merlin emerged. He had a black eye and a few cuts on his arms but looked relatively unscathed. He immediately went to Arthur, standing at the table, and wrapped his arms around him. Arthur relaxed in his embrace, sighed and laid his forehead on Merlin’s shoulder.
Merlin mumbled I love you into Arthur's hair.
Arthur mumbled how sorry he was, for his father, for his laws, for this war—
“No” Merlin adamantly denied that it was not his fault, as he drew back and looked fiercely at Arthur.
Arthur looked skeptical, but didn’t try to argue. Softly, he asked “How was it?”
With a faraway look in his eyes, Merlin’s gaze wandered to the other side of the room, yet he had a smile on his face. “It was terrifying. And… exhilarating. Finally we were fighting back Arthur!” He looked at his lover, who was hanging on to every word “There were bricks flying and fireballs and banners… the guards never saw it coming.”
“It was bound to happen sometime,” Arthur whispered.
Merlin nodded. “With everything going on, this war has been the catalyst. We have a generation ready for the revolution Arthur!” He looked up at Arthur who looked exhausted, but prepared for the inevitable. The two walked over to the fireplace in Arthur’s room and sat in front of it, with Merlin in Arthur’s lap, head against his chest.
The past few years have been chaos. Mercia was strong, under the dictatorial leader of Bayard and Essetir was weak after the coup that sent Cenred off the throne. His nephew was coronated and is naive, weak. Uther feared an alliance between Mercia and Essetir, one that could destroy him. The king was paranoid and scared so he sent “peacekeeping troops” to Essetir in an effort to contain the threat of Bayard’s Kingdom of Mercia taking over Camelot. The sovereign of Camelot needs the Council’s approval to declare war and the last thing the Council wanted was war with Essetir, whose army was brutal and included sorcerers as well as swordsmen. Uther ignored them, however and kept sending troops until the Council had no choice but to declare war on Essetir. While Merlin and Arthur sat in front of the fire, it had been five years since the beginning of the war. No man was safe from it, either. Every man in Camelot fifteen to forty five had been drafted into active service, and Arthur was on temporary leave from the front lines. Uther forbade Arthur from going, but Arthur would not allow any of his men to die on the field without him there to protect them.
Merlin on the other hand, was involved in something much bigger. The king had gathered every magic user he could find, every sorcerer, every witch, had coerced the Druids to bring destruction to Essetir. They brought down fireballs, explosives, and lightening to Essetir’s lands in what was recorded as Operation Rolling Thunder. Uther had not been surprised when Morgana was outed as a sorcerer, as her mother was as well, and sent her to the front lines along with Arthur. She was just as skilled with a sword as with magic and Merlin was awed at her tenacity even thought it was on the battlefield. Even Guinevere travelled with them, capable of taking out an entire pack of Essetirian soldiers with her bare hands, while Gwaine and Percival and the knights joined Arthur in this crusade.
The war had major impacts on Camelot back home as well. It had instigated riots and violence and anti-war demonstrations across the country. Young people everywhere despised the war for its cruelty and were not afraid of showing it. For days on end, people, even (especially) Arthur’s knights, marched into the courtyard to prevent the king from leaving and were seen often shouting, marching, burning—anything to get the attention of the government that put them in this position. Merlin, Morgana, Gwen, Leon, Gwaine and Percy and Elyan, even Arthur were often seen with them. Arthur was a leader on the battlefield and in the courtroom, but in the streets he was one of them, one of the many who wanted it to end soon.
The country’s young people also experienced something the scribe Geoffrey would go on to call “the Sexual Liberation” as they discarded the previous rules by The Church about sex and relationships. Men and women freely enjoyed premarital sex and casual relationships. In Camelot’s youth, hallucinogens and recreational drugs were widespread as well, and to Uther’s dismay, this included his son.
By his people, Arthur was not seen as a foolish, loose Crown Prince, he was seen as a symbol of disobedience in the face of oppression. Arthur represented how the nobility could be one with the people, how he did not agree with his father’s dictatorial policies. Arthur was the Once and Future King, who would unite the kingdoms of Albion, unite his people, and return magic to the land. He was a beautiful, golden king borne of prophesy, not unlike the Christian Messiah.
Pulled abruptly from his musings, by Arthur kissing his neck, Merlin suddenly remembers where he is. Camelot. Arthur’s room. In front of the fireplace. Arthur behind him, his arms around him, kissing his neck.
“I’m so sorry, Merlin. I don’t think I can convince my father to keep you in the royal household. After the riot…”
Merlin sighed. “I know. But how will I be able to protect you if I’m not there?”
Arthur tightened his hold on the warlock. “You could leave. To Ealdor, it’s nowhere near the battlefields, and you would be safe.”
“My safety is not a priority.”
“It is to me.”
Merlin nodded and tried for a smile. “I know. But still, you must live to be the Once and Future King Arthur, to bring peace to this land. That is our destiny…”
“One we must accomplish together, so stay with me.”
“Yes of course,” and moving to the side table, Merlin put a record on the player. Holding out his hand he challenged Arthur: “Dance with me.”
Smiling softly, Arthur put his right hand on Merlin’s hip and his other met Merlin’s, who intertwined their hands. To the sounds of John Lennon, they swayed in the moonlight shafting through the open window. Merlin’s chin rested on Arthur’s shoulder, knowing in the morning, Arthur would again be sent into battle. The music in the background drifted through the room, and Arthur was content here with his lover. Arthur knew the next morning he would send Merlin to Ealdor to be with his mother, yet Merlin would stubbornly follow Arthur to the front lines. And Arthur would be grateful, even though he would worry endlessly over Merlin, Merlin would still be at his side.
Arthur did not know how long they were there in the middle of the room but he mused how fitting the music was.
“Imagine there's no countries… nothing to kill or die for…” Arthur sighed, dreaming about an Albion at peace. When no more boys go to war. When people like him and Merlin can live without fear, and a time when magic is united with the land once more.
The end of the era of blood. Uther’s time as king has brought death and destruction to the land. Brought a war with violent protests in the streets and no end in sight. A war that turned sorcerers into weapons. A Dark Age. Arthur dreamed of that world living as one that night. And that night, he promised, to Merlin, to his people, to his country, he will bring that peace he is destined to do. And so, the song ended, and he turned to Merlin and breathed, “Take me to bed.”