Fandom: Merlin (BBC)
Summary: Merlin lays his life on the line to save Arthur yet again, only this time there are witnesses, lots of them. Only Arthur prevents him going to the headman's axe straight away, but Arthur alone cannot save him. That is up to both of them.
Word Count: ~45,160
Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7
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Chapter 7 Epilogue
"You need to learn to defend yourself properly."
Merlin looked up from the book on court etiquette that he was reading, quite surprised by that statement.
"I can defend myself," he replied, looking at Arthur who was standing in their archway with a pensive expression on his face.
"Not with magic," Arthur clarified, which made more sense. "You need to be able to defend yourself if your magic is cut off again. I know you say your magic won't let it happen, but I want you to be prepared, just in case."
It was a chilling thought, but one Merlin had considered nonetheless. He was sure his magic would not consciously allow itself to be caged in such a way again unless by Arthur's hand, but if he, for example, was hit on the head, he wasn't sure what the outcome might be.
"I would not be strong enough to lift a sword if it was," he pointed out the obvious flaw in what he thought Arthur was thinking.
"I know," Arthur replied, striding towards him, "that is why you are going to learn to use knives, throwing knives to begin with."
Merlin found the book taken out of his hands and closed.
"Um, are you sure that's a good idea?" he said dubiously, "I'm not really very good with sharp objects."
"Oh that I know only too well," Arthur replied, but smiled. "Never fear, we will improve your sword work as well, but knives now. I have had a target set up in the practice field."
And that was it, the decision was made and Merlin didn't even bother arguing, he just followed Arthur when his prince led the way towards the practice field. As promised there was a straw target set up ten feet or so from a small table, which appeared very out of place in the middle of the open space. On the table there was a box, a quite ornate box and Arthur immediately opened it. Merlin wasn't sure he had ever seen so many perfect blades next to each other, or any such finely crafted handles. He knew for a fact he had never been asked to clean them.
"My father gave me this set for my thirteenth birthday," Arthur said, pulling one of the knives from its velvet bed, "they are well weighted and will be good for a beginner. I am having a set made for you, but these will do until they are ready."
Merlin looked at the set of knives, the one in Arthur's hand and then at Arthur; he was a little overwhelmed.
"A set made?" he asked, very surprised by that.
"Of course," Arthur said and handed him the knife; "under my tutelage you will become an expert and you will need your own blades."
Merlin felt very much out of his depth, but he was nothing if not resilient. He changed his grip on the knife in his hand and felt its weight as well as he could and then squared his shoulders.
"Okay," he said, deciding that he might as well put his mind to learning, because Arthur was determined and there was no point in resisting the irresistible, "what do I do?"
Arthur smiled at him for that response and took one of the other knives and moved them so they were facing the target.
"Hold it quite loosely like this," Arthur instructed him, showing him the proper grip, "then just aim and throw. Look at the target, not what you are throwing and centre yourself on it."
Moving with his usual grace Arthur then demonstrated and hit the target just off centre. It was annoying how easy Arthur made it seem, but Merlin soon found out how difficult it actually was when he threw his knife and missed the target completely. The way Arthur looked at him was not impressed.
"Guess we have a lot of work to do," Arthur finally said and handed him another knife from the box.
When his third knife went to sail past the target as well, admittedly closer, but still not good, Merlin had had enough and flicked it back towards the target with a little bit of magic.
"That's cheating," Arthur said, standing there with his hands on his hips.
"It worked didn't it?" Merlin protested and went to pick up the six knives they had used, just so he didn't have to miss spectacularly again quite so soon.
"Yes, but the idea is to make sure you can do this if you have no magic," Arthur told him and just waited for him to bring the blades back. "Once you can do it without the magic, then you can practice tricks with it. Now let's try again; I think you're holding the knife too tightly."
After three hours of continuous tutelage, Merlin thought his arm might be about to fall off, but he could at least now hit the target, most of the time.
"Good," Arthur actually praised for a change as Merlin buried a knife in the outer part of the target, "there may actually be hope for you yet."
Merlin grinned at that and wondered if Gaius would have any of the salve that he usually used on Arthur. It would be nice to be able to move his arm come the evening.
"Now collect up the knives and put them back in the box," Arthur told him, "we'll move on to light sword work now."
Light sword work was done with straw body protection and lighter than normal blades, but that didn't stop Merlin's mouth from dropping open. His arm felt like it was going to cease at any moment.
"Your father changed his mind didn't he," he said, just standing there rather helplessly, "and you're trying to kill me, right? That has to be it."
Arthur seemed to find that response amusing.
"Stop complaining, Merlin," Arthur told him and began to walk off to the other side of the field, "this is light compared to what I usually put my knights through. I won't ask that of you, just yet."
Sometimes Merlin wondered if destiny hated him, but he eventually shrugged and then went to retrieve the knives. If Arthur knew what was good for him there was going to be a good hot bath in their future once this ridiculous play fighting was done.
Uther stood on the battlements and looked down over the training ground where he could see the two small figures of his son and Merlin. Had one of his councillors suggested, a few weeks ago, that he would suffer a sorcerer in his court he would have had them flogged, but reality was far stranger than imagination it seemed.
The man, little more than a boy really, practising beside Arthur was the most powerful being he had ever met. He had seen Nimueh's power up close and been awed by it, but he had always known that it was magic sought by a human will and likewise it could be overcome by human will, with Merlin he was not so sure. If Merlin had not allowed himself to be bound, Uther was not sure any could have forced it. He was all too aware that he had been allowed to stand in judgement by the will of a boy, not by his will alone.
It was love that had created his hatred of all things magical, love that had revealed the corruption to him, but it had also been love that had shown him there were exceptions to every rule. It was not words that had made him come to his final decision; it was what he had seen in the eyes of those he had spoken to about Merlin and it was what he had seen in Merlin's eyes.
What he had seen was simplicity itself: nearly every person who knew Merlin well loved him, whether they admitted it aloud or not. He had seen it in them and he was not blind, most of all he had seen it in Arthur. He had no doubt that his son would do his duty for Camelot, but it was obvious to all with eyes who held Arthur's heart. Uther remembered a love like that and he could no more bring himself to take it away from his son than he had wanted it taken away from him.
But that was not all. If it had been necessary he would have taken the hard choice, but Merlin seemed to exist outside all rules, natural and unnatural. He had long seen the devotion in Merlin for Arthur, but now he saw it for what it truly was, a love as deep as that which Arthur held for Merlin, a love as deep as his own had been for his beautiful Igraine.
Uther worried for his kingdom, for his people and for his son. It was the burden of the king to do so, but although he would admit it to no man, Merlin's presence lightened that burden a little. Merlin gave him hope that his son would be all that his promise showed, that Arthur would become the great king Merlin proclaimed he would be. So much faith and so much love made his heart a little lighter and he silently wished them well before turning and walking back into the castle.
On the outside he would play the king who tolerated a sorcerer to save his son so that he could keep his kingdom in order, but on the inside he wished them joy and far longer together than he had been permitted with Igraine. His wonderful, beautiful Igraine who had been the victim of his need for a son and the dangerous will of a sorceress. Some things he could never have back, but there were others he was willing to safeguard for the future.