Title: Out of darkness into light
Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur (background Lancelot/Gwen)
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, knights, Gwen
Summary: Merlin kneels before his King.
Word Count: 998
Prompt: #11 Temptation
Author's Notes: Sequel to “Threshold” (#9 Tears) and “In Ruin” (#10 Tangled).
Cold, blue light pushes back the darkness. It draws Arthur out of the numbing deep that he has fled to, and he resists feebly as the roaring, hollow feeling of loss inside him makes itself known again. When he opens his eyes, he finds himself in bed. Above him floats an orb filled with wisps of light. He thinks he has seen it before, but he cannot recall where, the memory dancing just out of reach.
The orb floats away towards the door, and Arthur scrambles out of bed to follow it, grabbing his long coat on the way and throwing it over his clothes. He pretends not to see Excalibur on the table, or hear the way it calls out longingly to him.
In the hallway outside, Leon and Elyan lie asleep. As Arthur watches, the orb floats down and briefly touches their foreheads. They awaken immediately and look around in wonder. Arthur helps them stand while the orb sails leisurely down the corridor.
“What happened?” Leon asks.
“Sorcery,” Arthur replies darkly. “Lend me your sword.”
He feels better with a sword in hand. The orb leads them down stairs, towards the throne room. Everywhere, guards lie asleep, but the orb leaves them there, unconcerned.
“Come on, Merlin. What do you want with me?” Arthur mutters to himself.
The question is much bigger than he meant it to be. Merlin is not like other sorcerers; he does not want Arthur’s life, for if he did he could have had it a hundred times by now, which means he is either more ambitious than that, or ... The other alternative is too painfully sweet to contemplate. Magic is a perversion, twisting the fabric of nature and corrupting any heart that lets it in. It cannot be used for good, or by good people. Arthur can almost see his father smiling proudly from the shadows between the pillars.
The doors to the throne room are wide open. The orb floats through. Inside, Merlin stands surrounded by Gwaine, Percival, Lancelot and Guinevere. In Merlin’s hand, another orb glows, smaller than the one that led Arthur here and is now hovering in the ceiling above, lighting up the room in tones of blue. Merlin’s eyes are swirling with gold.
Arthur moves towards the silent tableau on less steady legs, feeling like a hollow shell that a moaning, raging wind is tearing through.
Gwaine is frowning like a thundercloud, Percival is clearly uncomfortable, and Lancelot and Guinevere look pale and worried. Lancelot has his arm around his wife’s shoulders.
“Has he enchanted you all, then?” Arthur asks, ignoring Merlin, who extinguishes the orb in his hand with a whisper, but leaves the bigger orb above to give them light. “Or did no one think to place the sorcerer in the dungeons where he belongs?.”
“The dungeons cannot hold me,” Merlin says quietly. Up close, he looks drawn and tired, the skin around his eyes bruised, but his eyes are determined when they settle, blue now, on Arthur’s.
Arthur’s hand clenches around the hilt of Leon’s sword. “Then you should have run away.”
Merlin smiles without joy. “I tried, but it turns out I am not free to go.” Slowly, painstakingly, he kneels down in front of Arthur, bowing his head.
The gesture is so unexpected that Arthur forgets everything but how much he loves this man, how Merlin continues to astonish him after all these years, in little things and in big things.
“What are you doing?”
Merlin looks up steadily. “I am kneeling before my King.”
Merlin’s hair has grown long, Arthur realises. It has begun to curl at his nape and around his ears, hanging over his forehead and making his skin whiter, his eyes more startlingly clear. He sits there on his knees, guilty and treasonous and beautiful, and Arthur has never hated him like this, or loved him so much.
“What did you mean you are not free to go?”
Merlin shrugs. “Where would I go? Here is my destiny, and my loved ones. I would live, if I ran, but not be alive.” He licks his lips and takes a breath, determined but uncertain about whatever end he is planning.
“I ...” Merlin glances up, then away, and then up again, making an effort to maintain eye-contact this time. “I am in your hands, Sire. No dungeon can hold me, but you do, and I will not fight it.”
Only the watchful eyes of his knights keep Arthur from swaying on his feet. Bright visions of the future assault his inner eye. There would be love and peace, sunlit days and nights brighter still, and Arthur would never be lonely again.
Then the immeasurably heavy hand of duty finds his shoulder.
The words he speaks next are the hardest he has ever spoken. “The laws of Camelot apply to all its citizens, including its King ... and according to the law, I must execute you for sorcery.”
Guinevere moans, and Gwaine growls, but Merlin smiles, suddenly and genuinely, as if he is pleased with Arthur. “I know. It was my destiny to see you become King, but I wasn’t promised any more than that, and it’s enough for me, Sire, because I have seen you grow to be a great man.”
I cannot survive this, Arthur thinks despairingly.
Merlin looks up at the windows. “We are just in time. Dawn is here.” As if by magic, warm light spills through every window, pouring across the floor and setting the Pendragon banners on fire, but for the first time, Arthur averts his eyes from them.
Then he suddenly remembers where he has seen the orb of light before, and remembers in the same moment that once upon a time there was nothing he and Merlin would not do to keep each other safe. Dawn has come, but it is for Arthur to decide whether it should blaze wild like the pyre, or be seized and forged into gold.