Title: Rule of Law
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: In the end, it's Arthur who counsels Merlin.
Warnings: Mild gore.
Word Count: 369
Author's Notes: No spoilers, but this is inspired by a certain sympathy I feel for Arthur lately.
He weaves forward one trembling stumble at a time. The remnants of his power are shifting inside him like broken bones, their edges jagged and uncomfortable. The wind is a long scream, shattering the air into chaos and multitudes. The snow before his eyes is dark with the churning of booted feet and the blood of the fallen. Where it has been scraped away to reveal the flagstones of the courtyard, the stone seems like an emptiness that could swallow an unwary step.
He reaches the impromptu court before the sword falls, and he thinks he is in time. It is his duty to counsel his king, after all. In the past, he has moved Arthur's heart to mercy, guiding the terrible weight of his justice to those deserving of wrath. He will listen. He must.
Eyes meet his, pale and battle-weary. Merlin opens his mouth to speak, but Arthur just shakes his head, almost imperceptibly. There is an iron silence blanketing the gathered knights, their faces crimson with the blood of enemies and allies alike. Merlin wants to argue, but he sees the red-cloaked corpses of men who have ridden at his side, knights of Albion's round table, and their blood can never be washed away.
Arthur's mouth is grimly set, and there is a sorrow in the lines of his face that will never leave him. He does not relish this day as a victory. It is a harsh duty he performs, as inexorable as the rising and setting of the sun. The world he has built does not allow him to indulge his sympathies. To unbind himself from the law is to shackle his people to his will, and he would die before subjecting them to even a benevolent tyranny.
The king raises his own battle-scarred blade, and the sorcerer's head tumbles into the crimson slush. Merlin tries to feel some grief for the life he tried so hard to save, but the boy's own crimes are strewn across the ground in a tangled mess of frozen viscera, and it is hard not to feel that it always had to end this way, in the mourning wail of the north wind and the relentlessly rising drifts.