Judin Attery (judin) wrote in camelot_drabble,
Judin Attery
judin
camelot_drabble

Frozen Stars: Ch 21: The fall

Author: judin
Title: The fall
Rating: PG-13 (Series rating: Nc-17)
Pairing/s: Arthur/Merlin
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Gaius, Mordred, Gwen, Elena, knights.
Summary: Arthur summons the Round Table, but the meeting is interrupted.
Warnings: Violence and angst
Word Count: 5303
Prompt: #58 Announcement
Author's Notes: It's been eight weeks since last I posted, partly for personal reasons, and partly because this chapter gave me no end of trouble. The next one will come quicker.

You can find the rest of this series on AO3, or here at Camelot Drabble.




There have been times in the past when Gaius and Merlin were certain that their secrets were about to be discovered. When the only solution seemed to be to throw themselves at Uther’s mercy, and more recently, at Arthur’s. What they feel now, as they embrace each other amidst the familiar furniture of their home, is more like inevitability. Everything that has happened since Arthur went to Ismere to rescue his men, has led them all, stumbling and rushing, closer to the edge of the cliff.

As Merlin stands at the foot of Mordred’s cot and studies the boy’s unreadable, sleeping face, he can feel a mighty wind roaring at his back, threatening at any moment to topple him into the abyss. There is nothing remarkable about Mordred’s face; no violence in the sweep of his lashes, no rage in the soft line of his jaw, but in his open, resting hands lies the strength that will wield the sword that will send Arthur to his knees. When Mordred’s eyes open, Arthur’s will close, and for all his innocence now, Mordred is certainly capable, both of the steely determination and the impassionate fury that Merlin saw in the vision; he has seen it before, when Mordred was a child. Everything points towards the same end. Kilgharrah was right, years ago, when he said Mordred must not be allowed to live.

Merlin lifts his hand, fingers curling, like he would smash Mordred to a pulp with his bare fists.

“I should just ... I should just ...”

For what other solution is there? When has Merlin ever managed to divert destiny from its path?

Gaius’ hands, infinitely patient, kind and capable, settle on his shoulders. “Merlin, look at him. He is as much a victim of his destiny as you and Arthur. You are brothers.”

“What do you suggest then?” Merlin asks, even as Gaius takes his trembling hand in both of his and pulls it down. “Should I do nothing?”

Gaius does not answer immediately. “I think we ought to focus on our most pressing problem: how to keep the King from discovering your true identity.”

Merlin shakes his head. “I’m not sure we can. When the news spreads that Emrys is a young man, everyone will start looking around, judging, speculating. All it will take is for one person to let their eyes linger on me, to imagine for a moment that I might be him. Then all the pieces will fall into place.”

Gaius sighs. He sits down heavily on a chair next to Mordred. There is a basin of water placed nearby, and the physician takes from it a cloth, wrings it out and uses it to dab Mordred’s brow. It makes Merlin’s insides crawl with anger to see his mentor take such care of Arthur’s murderer, but he says nothing; he knows that Gaius cannot judge Mordred the way Merlin does, because Gaius does not love Arthur the way Merlin does. No one loves Arthur like Merlin. He knows that it makes him cruel, and it scares him. Did Morgana’s fall begin this way, with the same desperate need?

“I do not believe it will be that simple,” Gaius says finally, his silence having been spent thinking carefully. Then he looks up at Merlin’s face, and, alarmed, he leaves Mordred’s side. “You frighten me, my boy. You look half wild.”

Merlin shakes his head, looks away. “Sorry.”

Gaius pats him on the shoulder, a little awkwardly. “It’s been a difficult couple of days. You should be resting, but there’s no need to give me that look; I won’t try to prescribe you what I know you will refuse to take. Besides, I think you need to be by Arthur’s side when he speaks to the round table. As for your secret, do not forget, Merlin, that in their eyes, you are only Arthur's servant. Even for those who know you well, it would be quite a leap to imagine you as the most powerful sorcerer of our time. Not to mention, they would have to accept that you've kept the wool pulled over their eyes for years. Few men are humble enough to think themselves so easily fooled. If we are lucky, it will seem so farfetched that the idea won’t even enter their minds.”

Merlin nods slowly. “But what will you do,” he asks. “If the worst happens today?”

The old man ponders for a moment. “I like to believe that I would stay and face the King's judgement, and I can only hope that my long service to him and to Uther will earn me some mercy.”

“I would never let them hurt you,” Merlin promises.

“I know. Thank you.” Gaius smiles. “Now, you had better go summon the knights, as you were supposed to. Meanwhile, I will try to come up with a plan. It will take a couple of hours to get everyone together, so there is still time.”

On his way out, Merlin stops, and looks back at Mordred. Sunlight is standing down from the window high on the wall, haloing Mordred like a holy knight in a tapestry.

“If my secret is discovered today, I will come back for you,” Merlin thinks. Perhaps that is the true nature of the abyss before his feet; a fall like the one Morgana took. But it is worth the fall, to save Arthur. “There is nothing I will not do.”

Almost two hours later, Gaius catches up with Merlin on his way to the throne room. The physician has the cloak with him. The knights have been assembled from horseback, bed and training room, and most of them will be seated at the table by now.

“I have a plan,” the old man murmurs, handing the cloak over to Merlin.

“What is it?” Merlin asks eagerly, having not come up with a single solution himself, for all that he has wrung his tired, frightened mind.

But Gaius shakes his head. “I believe it will work best if you do not know. Just remember what we decided earlier: you have only actually met Emrys once or twice, and then only when he was an old man.”

Merlin had told Gaius everything that had happened this morning, as well as described his visions from last night, and explained his decision to go undisguised to meet Arthur’s party on the road, in order that he might have strength enough for the healing spell. They had quickly decided that they needed to make up a single story that kept Merlin as far from Emrys as possible. Gaius had already admitted to Arthur that he knew the old man, of course, but if anyone asked, their story would be that Emrys rarely came to see Gaius at his home, and when he did, it was always at night, or when Merlin was away with Arthur. It seemed logical enough that Gaius would do his best to keep his beloved ward out of his own treasonous affair, although there was no getting around that Merlin must at least have known that it was going on. Regardless, it seems that Arthur is not as concerned with who had known whom, or even consorted with whom, as he is with Emrys’ actions and intentions.

The throne room is busy. Chairs scrape across the floor as knights in trailing capes find their seats, and servants run around with goblets and pitchers of wine. There are more knights than there are chairs today, and though additional seats are being brought in, some will have to stand. Elena and Guinevere are seated already, next to each other on what will be Arthur’s left hand side. Caradoc is filling two seats on Arthur’s eventual right.

Arthur himself is standing off to the side with Sir Leon. Merlin parts from Gaius with a last look and a nod that means more than words, and goes to his lord. He has a second to wonder what Arthur’s narrowed eyes mean before Arthur’s sword hand shoots out and grabs Merlin cruelly by the neck, dragging him closer and shaking him.

“I thought I told you to return quickly,” Arthur says through closed teeth. “Didn’t it penetrate your thick skull at all, or did the breeze blow it in one ear and out the other?”

Fear and lust mingle to create dark heat in Merlin’s stomach. He shudders, goosebumps racing across his skin “I was unaware that my lord needed me that badly,” he hears himself replying, voice low.

Arthur pushes him away with a huff, but his pupils are dilated, his eyes hungry, affirming. “What I need is a competent servant.”

Merlin rubs his smarting neck. “Or a good spanking.”

“I’m glad to see you are friends again.” Leon says. He smiles at Merlin. “His majesty has been an absolute pain without you to manage him.”

Arthur’s jaw drops in outrage, even as his face colours. “Leon!”

The knight clears his throat. “I’ll just go sit down.” He winks as he leaves, though.

Arthur crosses his arms over his chest and pouts. “I was not a pain.” He glances at Merlin.

Merlin ducks his head, smiling despite everything. He can’t help himself; being with Arthur, knowing they are confessed to each other, makes him giddy with happiness, like he is some besotted girl. “Sounds like you made yourself sick with missing me,” he says.

Arthur makes a move as if he would grab him again, but he restrains himself. He gives Merlin a tight and somewhat threatening smile, but after a moment, his eyes soften, as does his mouth. Merlin’s licks his own lips, remembering kisses. Arthur draws a quick breath and looks away, as if he needs to compose himself. He looks out over the crowd of men whose swords are pledged to him. The men whose violence and mercy he is the master of.

“You know, sometimes I almost wish we could trade places, you and I. You could rule the country, and I could scrub floors and polish boots.”

Merlin scrunches up his nose. “I’d be a rubbish ruler.”

Arthur nods. “True. I, on the other hand, would no doubt discover myself a superior floor-scrubber.” The jest is lost as pain and uncertainty flickers in his expression. He glances at Merlin like there is something he wants to say, but can't.

Merlin wants to comfort him. Wants to tell him that he is still Arthur, royal prat extraordinaire, and that being born of magic has nothing to do with that. Neither his bravery nor his wisdom are of magical origin.

Instead, Merlin exaggerates a sigh. “Well, you'll find out soon enough, I suppose. Until George can return to duty, you'll be getting your own breakfast, washing your own clothes, and ...” He gives Arthur a sympathetic look. “Scrubbing your own floors, which is actually much harder than it looks.”

Arthur raises an eyebrow. “You think you're the only one who can work on his knees?”

Just like that, desire comes flooding back. Merlin bites his lower lip and fights the urge to push Arthur up against the wall. His intentions must show on his face, because Arthur’s eyes darken again.

“When this is over …” Arthur says, but for all their warm promise, the words make Merlin go cold again.

He bows his head quickly. “I think your men are ready, Sire.”

Arthur’s eyes linger for a moment, before he squares his shoulders and strides to his chair at the round table. Knights and nobles alike quiet down as the King approaches, and those seated rise to receive him. Arthur does not sit down, but gestures graciously for everyone else to do so.

Merlin finds himself inching sideways along the wall, his need to see Arthur’s face fighting his need to be invisible in turn. He tries to catch Gaius’ eyes, but the old man is busy watching Arthur.

For a long moment, Arthur frowns silently at the table top, seemingly gathering his thoughts. A vast stillness fills the great hall, but some of the knights shift restlessly, attuned to their King’s mood.

Finally, Arthur lifts his eyes. They sweep the table.

“I don’t know how to begin,” the King says at length, his words slow and disconnected. His eyes continue to travel up and down the circle of men. “It seems to me now that the beginning of this story belongs to a time before I was born, when forces beyond our comprehension roamed freely on this island. All my life I believed that they had been curbed, that my father’s iron will and the strength of the knights of Camelot had driven them into the ground.”

“Hear, hear!” Sir Hewen says foolishly, immediately silenced by the oppressive weight of Arthur’s sharp eyes.

“More than that, I believed for a long time that they should be curbed, that magic was a plague, a curse upon the world.” He frowns again, lips curling in frustration. “Perhaps it is. And perhaps we had nearly won the war when Morgana rose against my father. Perhaps the druids, the sorcerers, had nearly been destroyed. Or perhaps they were laughing at us all along.”

Merlin’s heart is beginning to pound harder in his breast. He wants this to be over, for it all to disappear on a stray wind, so that he can take Arthur to bed and kiss him until nightfall. The cliff before his feet seems to echo his heartbeats back to him, promising that the fall will be long. Will Arthur be the one to push him over the edge? Will it happen now?

All it will take is for one pair of eyes to linger, and they will know, and his life will be uprooted, and Arthur will never again look at him with love.

Arthur’s eyes lock on his. “Merlin.”

Merlin startles, dragging the cloak up in front of him like a shield. Arthur’s brow furrows. He extends his hand. “Bring me the cloak.”

It costs him pain to move forward, to draw every eye that way, but he goes. To Arthur.

Arthur takes the cloak and unfurls it in a whirl, throwing it out on the table. “This belongs to a man the druids call Emrys. They say he is the most powerful sorcerer of our time. It is to him that I owe my health today.” Arthur touches his shoulder briefly, like he is remembering the way teeth parted the flesh there. The other hand strays to the edge of the cloak, fingering the light, blue material. “It was found in the castle this morning.”

There are a few gasps, as the brighter of the knights realise the implication.

“In the castle?” Leon echoes. “You mean he is still here?”

Arthur doesn’t answer. He curls his fingers around the edge of the cloak, curls them into a fist. “You will remember him from a few years back, when he took the blame for an enchantment placed upon me that caused me to fall in love with Lady Guinevere.” He looks up at her briefly. “I can tell you now that there was never any enchantment, and yet Emrys took the blame, sparing Guinevere her life.”

“He also attempted, upon my request, to heal my father of his deadly wound, but Morgana, and my treacherous uncle, thwarted the attempt.” He draws breath, steels himself. “Emrys’ services to me cannot be repaid in gold, nor with my blood. He has saved my life, the lives of my loved ones, and even given me my kingdom back when I thought I must surely lose her. As a man, I would welcome Emrys with open arms, into my home and my heart.” He stares and stares at the edge of the cloak, where his thumb is rubbing and rubbing the embroidered cloth.

Leon, ever understanding, comes to his King’s rescue, helping Arthur say the thing that must be said. “The ends do not justify the means, Sire. Emrys has practiced magic within the borders of Camelot. He has broken the law.”

“Yes.” Arthur closes his eyes, a minute sigh of relief ghosting past his lips. Merlin wants to feel that sigh caress his own mouth. He wants to devour and be devoured, to escape the flesh that is standing here invisibly at its own trial.

Arthur speaks, slowly. “Also against him there is the issue of Sir Mordred, who, you will have heard, lies injured in the physician’s chambers. It is unlikely that he will live much longer without the aid of a healer.” The King’s expression hardens. “Emrys denied him that aid, twice. My debt to him means little next to the life of my knight, and he will be made to answer for it.”

He looks around, but no one wants to speak. No one dissents.

“Gaius.”

Gaius does not pretend that he does not know what is coming. “Yes, Sire.” His voice is tired.

Arthur seems to have to fight to turn his head and look at him. “No doubt Merlin has already told you what else we discovered this morning, that apparently, the old man is but the disguise of a younger man. I will have Emrys’ true identity from you now, Gaius, and his whereabouts, or you will be arrested for treason against the crown.”

Merlin takes an automatic step forward, sounds of protest rising.

Arthur’s arm snaps out like a whip, an accusing finger pinning Merlin in place. “DO NOT OPEN YOUR MOUTH!”

Merlin freezes, a chill flooding his body.

Arthur's teeth are clenched, but his eyes are wide, fearful. “I have accepted your word, and Gaius’ word, that you have not been involved. Do not push me.”

Merlin doesn’t move.

Slowly, Arthur lowers his hand, nostrils flaring. “Gaius,” he says, commands, without taking his eyes from Merlin.

The silence is like a weight, pressing Merlin towards the floor. Now. Now it ends.

Gaius folds his hands on the table top. “As for her whereabouts, Sire, I hardly know, for she rarely comes to see me. I suspect she will be sleeping somewhere. The healing spell will have drained her greatly.”

Arthur turns his head in sheer bewilderment.

Oh, Merlin thinks, unsure if Gaius is being a genius or just digging them into a deeper hole.

“You speak nonsense,” Arthur grits out, and he is at the end of his patience now, that much is clear. “Emrys is a man. It’s a man’s name, for god’s sake!”

Gaius seems to grow calmer the more upset Arthur becomes. “Emrys is a title, given by the druids to their prophesied saviour.”

“Gaius,” Leon interrupts, a glance at Arthur betraying his mounting worry. “Emrys ... the old man ... is a young woman?”

Gaius inclines his head. A restless murmur travels around the table.

“Is that even possible?” Sir Sagramore asks. “Transforming oneself from one gender to the other?”

Gwaine has his chin in hand and is rubbing his beard thoughtfully, eyes sharp and interested on Gaius. “That is powerful magic indeed. If it were a lesser sorcerer, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Arthur all but falls into his chair, like his legs won’t hold him up anymore.

“Why, though?” Percival asks. “Who wants to be an old man? In that body, she can’t even mount her horse.”

Gwaine, Leon and Elyan suddenly find great interest in the tabletop.

“He found a way,” Gwaine says eventually, tugging at his hair and not looking at anyone. “With four knights of Camelot between him and the horse too.”

Elyan clears his throat. Percival goes red.

“I understand her,” Princess Elena says suddenly, surprising everyone. “If I could change myself into a man, I would do it every day. Then I wouldn’t need an escort to go riding. I wouldn’t have to rely on others for my protection.” She looks around. “I wouldn’t have to change my clothes for every meal, or wear shoes that hurt my feet. To be a man is to be free.”

Merlin realises with a start that both Elena and Guinevere are wearing different, finer dresses than they did this morning, and that Guinevere has let her hair down.

Absolute, embarrassed silence reigns for a long moment. Merlin isn’t the only one who has barely spared a thought to the chore etiquette must be for the women of the court. He has certainly never considered how little choice they have in the matter, unless they wish to be ostracised.

Leon laughs. “Look how surprised you all are to be reminded there are women at the table. Women who can speak.”

Most of the men have the grace to look shamed.

Guinevere smiles her clever little smile, but puts on a more serious face when she speaks. “If Emrys is the saviour of the druid people, then the changes she is trying to affect are on a political scale. Women are not allowed to make politics.” She looks at Arthur. “Not outside of Camelot, which would also explain why she is here, and not at some other court. And age has always been equated with wisdom. If Emrys is a young woman, then it makes perfect sense that she should disguise herself as an old man.”

“Now you know the truth, my lord,” Gaius says to Arthur.

Arthur’s brows slope down over his blue eyes. “Perhaps. Or perhaps you are spinning further lies.”

It is Gaius’ turn to get angry. “For twenty years I have been torn between the innocent people I betrayed, and the innocent people who now bear the brunt of their revenge. No one wants peace more fervently than I.”

Arthur meets his gaze, and they challenge each other.

“If you cannot believe my words,” Gaius continues, “then believe that my heart is pure. I work for the good of Camelot, and so does Emrys. I have kept secrets from you, Sire, but I would never betray you.”

Arthur expels a frustrated breath through his nose. “Before the king’s law, even the king is but a man.” He stands again and addresses the table. “And yet ... my heart tells me the law must withhold its judgement until all these matters are made clear. If Gaius will give us his word that Emrys will appear before the throne within a fortnight, in his or her natural body, then I will grant Gaius his freedom until then, and I will also grant him the innocence of his heart.”

Merlin looks around. Most of the knights are nodding. His heart flutters, something like hope swooping in his breast, a careening butterfly. He is so nearly safe.

“However, there is a condition to my temporary pardon.”

“Name it,” Gaius says, and Merlin fervently agrees.

“Emrys must heal Mordred.”

Gaius hesitates for just a second too long, and before he is allowed to answer, Arthur slams his hands onto the table.

“WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?”

Everyone startles back, but not as hard as Merlin, who feels tears stand in his eyes.

Arthur’s frustration has boiled over. “Why must Mordred die? What has he done to make Emrys hate him?”

Gaius grows pale, and closes his eyes like he is terribly weary.

“Does the madman think I will reconsider my opinion on senseless murder along with magic?” Arthur asks, voice loud and unhinged.

Gaius is helpless, for what can he say? The prophecy, and Mordred’s role in it, is so tangled up with Emrys, with Merlin, that it is hard to speak of it without revealing too much. And how would Arthur take the knowledge of his own imminent death? He must be spared.

Arthur snarls furiously, gathers the cloak in his fists, turns around and shoves the garment into Merlin’s chest, and then he freezes, eyes wide, caught on something behind Merlin’s back.

“Mordred?”

Merlin turns around.

In the white light from the closest window, a knight of Camelot is standing, armed and armoured, his red cape hooded, and the hood drawn up, obscuring his eyes. Only his gentle lips, and the dark hair curling against his soft jaw, give away his identity.

“Mordred?” Arthur says again. He steps towards the stark, still figure.

Elyan rises swiftly from his seat and comes around the table. “Do not go near him, Sire. That’s not Mordred. Not in physical form.”

Merlin can feel the very air thrumming with power. Whatever magic Mordred is using, it is incredibly strong.

“Elyan is right,” Gaius says. “This is magic.”

Elyan approaches Mordred cautiously. “Mordred? Can you hear me? Can you speak?”

Gwen stands up anxiously. “Elyan, be careful!”

Mordred does not move, however, one hand resting quietly on the hilt of his sword.

“Is Emrys doing this?” Leon asks, but Gaius shakes his head.

“I do not think so.”

Elyan reaches for the edge of Mordred’s hood, but before he can touch it, it falls back on its own, and Mordred looks up, into Elyan’s eyes.

“There is a shadow lying over me,” the young knight says, voice slow as if he is standing outside of time. “It steals my breath with its weight.”

“You are asleep, Mordred,” Elyan tells him. “You were wounded.”

Mordred nods, eyes narrowing as if he is only now remembering. “That place … It would not suffer itself to be disturbed. The ancient world has mighty defences.” He draws a sharp breath suddenly, perhaps for the first time since he appeared, and urgency lends vitality to his expression. “How is the King? Does he live?”

Elyan takes a step to the side and sweeps his free hand out towards Arthur.

Mordred’s face lights up, and he steps eagerly forward, moving quick as a thought.

Merlin takes a reflexive step forward as well, breath frozen in his chest, heart hammering, but Mordred merely kneels down, and his face is joyful.

Arthur stands rigid, uncertain.

“It’s a miracle,” Mordred says.

“It was magic,” Arthur replies slowly. “Emrys healed me. Mordred, do you know … her?”

For a moment, Mordred’s eyes cloud over with confusion, and Merlin’s fear spikes into panic because this is where Gaius’ clever trick will be proven a lie, and then it really will be over.

“There is a shadow lying over me,” Mordred chants again. “It steals my breath with its weight. I believe she has come to watch me die.”

Arthur tries to catch the young man’s eyes. “Why does she want you dead? Mordred.”

Mordred refocuses. “I want to thank you, Sire. All my life I have lived in shadow. The shadow of Uther’s grasping hand, the shadow of secrecy …” His eyes narrow. “And in the shadow of Emrys’ power. My destiny was never as great, my magic never as strong. Wait for Emrys, they said, Emrys will set us free.”

Merlin feels sick with guilt.

But Mordred’s brow gentles again, and he smiles brilliantly at Arthur. “Only in your company have I stood free of the darkness. For you are the sun, Arthur, and Camelot thrives in your light.”

Arthur coughs, turning red. “Rise, Mordred. Please. I still don’t understand. This is your doing? You have magic? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Mordred rises. “Would you have made me your knight if I had, my lord?”

“Magic is banned from my kingdom upon pain of death ... and yet you show only love for me. How?”

Mordred shrugs. “I believed the elders, that it would only be a matter of time before Emrys opened your eyes to the truth.”

“My eyes are opening,” Arthur says. “Slowly. But you said “believed”. You do not believe anymore? Why didn’t Emrys heal you?”

Arthur's insistent question accomplishes Merlin's great fear at last. Awareness flashes in Mordred’s expression. He disappears, only to reappear behind Merlin, who whirls to meet him.

Mordred stands very still, but his eyes hold Merlin’s ruthlessly.

“I wanted to prove myself to you, but you didn't even give me a chance. I would have been your friend, fought your battles, stood beside you as a brother in secrecy. Why do you shun me? Why do you hate me?”

The voice rings in Merlin's head, and he flinches at the strength, the desperation and anger in it.

“I'm sorry! This isn’t what I wanted either. It wasn't my choice, Mordred!”

“No!” The voice snarls. “I will be content with your superiority no longer! I know there are answers, and if you will not give them to me, then I will take them.”

“Merlin?” Arthur places a hand on Merlin’s shoulder. “What is happening?”

Mordred stretches out a hand, fingers curling, and Merlin cries out as Mordred’s mind pries into his own, burrowing deep in search of his secrets. Merlin has no idea how to stop him. He hears Arthur’s voice, distantly, shouting something.

Unbidden, the red battlefield rises to the forefront of his mind. Upon that bloody plane, Mordred and Arthur face each other eternally. The murder is but the act of a moment. Together, Merlin and Mordred watch as Arthur falls.

Mordred’s ghost reels back, mind gone from Merlin’s, his eyes as wide as the sky. “No, no that is not my fate!” He looks at Merlin, uncomprehending. “That is NOT MY FATE!”

Merlin says nothing, for what can he say? And apparently, that is enough.

Mordred howls his despair, draws his sword and throws himself at Merlin, as if he can vanquish foe and fate in a single blow.

Merlin has no chance to react before he is shoved out of the way by Arthur, who has Excalibur in hand.

Mordred’s sword plunges home in Arthur’s abdomen.

For a moment there is absolutely silence.

Merlin screams.

Arthur looks down at himself. Merlin can see his strong frame shaking.

Then Arthur takes a step forward and drives Excalibur into Mordred’s heart in turn.

Mordred coughs bloodlessly. He sinks to his knees.

Before their eyes, Mordred disappears like a mist on the air: hood and chainmail, hide and hair and sword.

Arthur stands. Unharmed.

For a dizzy second Merlin hardly knows himself, but then he is in Arthur’s arms and Arthur is hauling him in, almost off his feet, to clutch at him and breathe him in. Merlin is weeping, his heart racing as it catches up to the peril and the miracle of a scant few seconds.

Leon is ordering men to go to Gaius’ chambers, to see if Mordred is there. Gaius goes with them.

Arthur and Merlin do not let go of each other for a long time.

~

Mordred wakes abruptly and immediately reaches for his chest, but there is no sword wound, only the pains of the old injuries, and a pounding ache in his head. A noise pulls his eyes to the window high above, where the light is being blocked by a creature on the sill outside.

It is a raven. It pecks on the window, impatient. Mordred understands.

She did not come to watch him die, but rather to take him away. Yes, Camelot is no home for him now. Arthur made his choice. No doubt the soldiers are coming for Mordred this very minute.

He thinks of the druid elders, grave and silent. Did they know to what end Mordred was going? Were they grooming him for the cruel task of murdering his King? Bitterness wells up in him. They must have known!

Mordred struggles into a sitting position, pain and fury making him breathe hard.

He will follow the raven, and it will take him to Morgana. He understands her now. He is walking down the same path as she. Cast out by those who claim to love them, what can they do, but let destiny take its course?

The raven raps at the window.

“I come,” Mordred says, and with the tenacity of the lost and the doomed, he pushes himself to his feet, and climbs towards the darkened glass.
Tags: *c:judin, c:arthur, c:gaius, c:merlin, c:mordred, p:arthur/merlin, pt 058:announcement, rating:pg-13, type:drabble
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