Title: Dawn and Dusk
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: When Arthur slips away, Merlin follows.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Enjoy!
The night before his coronation, Arthur spent the time with his father. Merlin never knew what was said, but his new king had a sense of purpose when he had let dawn spill in and bathe everything in a golden light.
But as the sun set on the day of his crowning, Arthur slipped from the castle. At least, he attempted to. Plagued by the guilt of the role he had played in Uther’s death, Merlin was keeping a closer eye on Arthur than normal. He didn’t want the man to do something stupid in his grief, not when he knew Arthur would be feeling the weight of his new responsibilities. As soon as he saw the flash of the pale blue cloak, Merlin knew Arthur didn’t want to be seen.
So, naturally, that was his cue to follow the king.
Arthur slipped down the steps, keeping to the shadows. The sun was setting, glinting off the statues and stonework and flooding the area in a golden-red glow. Arthur’s shadow cut long across the cobbles and Merlin had no trouble keeping up. But when Arthur avoided the stables and slipped around the side of the castle, Merlin felt his confusion grow. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Arthur was slipping away for a ride to clear his head. Now, however, he had no idea what Arthur was doing. Speeding up, Merlin no longer cared about whether he was seen or not; he wanted to keep Arthur in his sight.
He didn’t have to follow for long. For all of his years in Camelot, he had never been here before. Arthur had slipped through a small archway and Merlin followed. It was only once he was through he realised it was a small clearing and there was nowhere for him to hide. He froze, but Arthur didn’t register his presence. He had moved to the centre of the opening, a place covered in soft grass and an apple tree growing tall and proud in the centre. The last lights of day were hitting it and Merlin shut his eyes briefly as the trapped sun warmed him.
Opening his eyes again, he saw Arthur had moved further in. His hand rested on the tree briefly before he bent down and began brushing fallen leaves to the side. Merlin edged closer. He knew Arthur would be aware of his presence; there was no point pretending.
“Where are we?” He asked softly. There was something about the place that made him feel it was sacred. It might have been its positioning – nowhere else in the castle was a suntrap at this time of day the way this clearing was. But it was also Arthur’s body language. His movements were soft and careful, none of the briskness he could show during the day.
“With my mother,” Arthur replied. His voice was just as quiet but Merlin started as if the man had shouted it.
“But… I thought…” Merlin didn’t know what to say. He had always assumed the late queen was in the crypts with the rest of the royals. Then again, he had never looked and certainly never asked Arthur about it. The topic was too sensitive.
“It was too dark down there, too cold. My father didn’t want her buried away like that. So he cleared this area. He hasn’t been here for years, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him here. But I come.”
Merlin didn’t need to ask when. He knew. Arthur came when he was troubled, when he was feeling the weight of his destiny. Merlin wondered how many times the young man had slipped out after dismissing his servant for the night, coming to the last place where he would find the sun in the castle and spending time with a woman who meant so much to him but he had never spoken to. Not properly.
“Do you think I’m a fool?”
Merlin had never heard such uncertainty in Arthur’s voice. The new king had remained crouched where he was, his hand resting over what seemed to Merlin to be some sort of plaque. He was sure if he moved closer, the wording would inform him precisely who the tree had been planted in honour for. Merlin moved closer, resting his hand on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Never.” He crouched down next to him. Without saying anything else, he continued Arthur’s actions, clearing the leaves away and using his sleeve to wipe some dirt of the plaque.
“How am I king, Merlin?”
Merlin knew Arthur’s confidence when the crown had been rested on his head had just been a pretence.
“It is who you are destined to be. It’s who you are.”
“I’m not sure I can do this.” Arthur’s eyes were locked on the tree, but his hands were clenched into fists. Merlin knew this was the only place where the king would show such vulnerability and Merlin was honoured that Arthur was still prepared to let down his defences even with his servant present. It was obvious this was the place he felt safe enough to do it, even if he was usually alone.
“You can. You have faithful knights and friends by your side. You have me, Arthur. You’re not alone in this, I swear to you.”
“My father was alone.”
“That was his choice.” Merlin placed his hand back on Arthur’s shoulder. “You don’t have to make the same decisions that he did. You’re not your father, Arthur. You don’t have to push people away.”
Arthur didn’t answer but Merlin could feel the tension draining away from him. They stayed there in silence until the sun had finally set. Eventually, Merlin couldn’t hide his shivers as the warmth disappeared along with the light. Arthur glanced at him and even in the darkness, Merlin could see the fondness in his expression.
“Come on,” the king said. He stood and cast a lingering glance at the tree. Then he turned and walked away and Merlin knew he wouldn’t look back.