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This story follows Coming of Age.

That Shall Achieve The Sword

by astolat

Arthur had just started to get really irritated, as opposed to the low-grade and permanent Merlin is late again irritation that somehow managed to be endearing—and how exactly Merlin had managed that, Arthur would really have liked to know, mostly so he could work out how to use it on Uther. At any rate, he had gotten used to waiting a good ten minutes longer for his breakfast these days. Merlin did always manage to bring it still piping-hot even though the kitchens were downstairs and on the other side of the castle, so Arthur had decided to be forgiving, but it was nearing the half-hour mark, and his patience had limits.

He was on the verge of ringing for someone to go hunt down his useless excuse of a servant so he could yell at Merlin properly when the pounding came at the door: one of Uther's pages, pale, saying, "Sire, sire, come quick," and Merlin and breakfast were both forgotten.

The messenger in the throne room was only a boy, out of breath, gasping a story of the guards overwhelmed at the sentry post down the road. "It was witchery, my lord, sure as I'm before you," the boy said, gulping. "It was twelve of them, in cloaks, and when Sir Fenimore cried the challenge they didn't say their names, but this black mist came up and rose up around the post. And Sir Fenimore said to me, I was to take the quickest horse and ride like the devil, to tell you, and not worry about leaving them, or else I wouldn't have gone—"

"You did right," Uther said, breaking in on the panting account. Arthur didn't bother listening to the rest: he was already calling for his armor.

He sent six guards to the outer walls, but kept most of the men at the castle. Twelve men wasn't enough to need strategy, and who knew what trick the sorceror might use to slip them around a larger force. They were coming for the king, undoubtedly, another lot looking for revenge; Arthur was going to keep himself and the bulk of the knights right by Uther's side.

He ranged them across the throne room, backs to the dais, and had them lay the great bars of iron-wrapped wood to seal off the side entryways, leaving only the front door to come in by. "Go for the sorceror first," he told the men, keeping his tone as easy as if he were telling them to go for one deer instead of another, on a hunt, "and remember they're only flesh and blood for all their magic."

"Arthur," Morgana called, coming down the stairs, looking pale and wild-eyed and staggering; Gwen was half-carrying her, it looked like.

"Go and stay in your rooms," he said sharply. "This is no time for—"

"Listen to me!" she said. "Where's Merlin?"

"What?" he said blankly. "I haven't the least notion."

"He has to be here," she said, making no sense. "Arthur, you need him."

"I'm sorry, sire," Gwen said, miserably, looking anxious. "She insisted—"

"Get her back upstairs," Arthur said. "Did she take her sleeping draught last night?—all right, Morgana!" he said, as she seized his arm. "Look, I'll send someone to go find him."

But she wouldn't let go of him until she'd watched him send a page out. Arthur would just as soon have left Merlin well out of this; it wasn't as though he'd be any use in a fight, and if it came to sorcery, less so. But just as likely Merlin was wandering out in the fields herb-gathering for Gaius with his head in a cloud, anyway, and once the boy had gone scrambling out, she let Gwen draw her away upstairs.

"Thank God for that much," Arthur said, turning back to the men to give his last orders, and then Sir Polimus from the outer wall came staggering in the door, coughing and choking, trailers of black smoke still wreathed around his neck, and gasped out, "Twelve, twelve—"

"Twelve men, we know," Arthur said, kneeling by his side as Polimus crumpled. "Did you see the sorceror?"

Polimus shook his head and clutched at Arthur's arm. "Twelve sorcerors," he said. "All of them—" and the black smoke suddenly dived back into his throat and he stiffened, mouth and eyes frozen into rictus, and died.

"Right," Arthur said, after a moment, and looked back at his father, who only gave him a small nod: he'd heard, and there was nothing more they could do than they were doing. They laid Polimus straight in the back of the room, to the side of the throne, and made ready.

They'd barricaded the door, and piled benches and chairs across the width of the room, to slow the enemy's advance. Arthur crouched by the side of the door with his men, waiting, but when the attack came, none of it made any difference: the doors shuddered and ground open on their own, shoving them and the furniture aside implacably.

Arthur gave Sir Dinadan, leading on the other side, a quick hand-signal, and they brought both their parties around and made a circle with their backs to the throne as the sorcerors walked in. The one in the lead was a graybeard, leaning on a staff, but he didn't walk like an old man, striding wide until he stopped before them. The sorcerors spread out in a line to either side of him.

"State your business," Arthur said, making the best of a bad lot: if it was going to be a head-on fight, he'd take however long they would give him to get a read on them. The one in front was likely to be the worst of the lot, he supposed—

"Hail Uther Pendragon, King of Camelot," the graybeard said, speaking past him. "Long has it been since I stood in these halls. Do you remember me?"

"I remember you, Craddag," Uther said, cold as ice in midwinter; he hadn't gotten up from the throne, though his hand was clenched around the hilt of his drawn sword. "I thought you had learned your lesson that day, but evidently we will have to teach you a fresh one."

"The fullness of a wizard's power comes with age and increase of wisdom," Craddag said, "while the warrior's wanes with the years. Long have I waited for my revenge to cool, while you slaughtered and burned among our kind, and laid up for yourself a harvest of bitterness."

He gestured to the sorcerors to either side of him, as they pushed back the hoods of their cloaks: all of them older, and mostly men, but two women also. Arthur made a note to say a quick word to the men before they engaged, if he could manage it: it would go against the grain for any knight to kill a woman, but in this case—

"There is little love among sorcerors," Craddag said. "But for you, we gathered here, the twelve greatest wizards left in Albion, would be the bitterest of rivals. It is only thanks to your murderous ways we have united to bring an end to your reign."

"And yet here you stand at the foot of my throne, prattling," Uther said, standing.

"Your death alone will not satisfy the shades of the dead," one of the women said, and raising her hand said a word that scraped at Arthur's ears like a knife. The golden vines carved onto the throne shuddered and leaped up off the surface, throwing loops around Uther's shoulders and waist, dragging him back into the throne—

"Forward!" Arthur shouted, and jumped for Craddag, the knights following him in a rush one and all straight into the teeth of the sorcery. Their courage made his heart leap for a moment, and then it was like he'd run straight into a brick wall and knocked himself brainless. He didn't even quite follow what had just happened—one instant he was swinging a blade at Craddag's ugly face, the next he was sprawling back against the steps of the dais.

The other knights were flung back with him, like nothing more than rag dolls, a clatter of their arms against the stone of the steps. Arthur tried to struggle up, but even as he did, a weight like a huge invisible hand landed on his chest, pressing him back against the steps so he had to struggle for breath.

He looked up: Craddag was standing over him, looking down his hatchet-nose. "Here he is," Craddag said softly. "Arthur Pendragon. Your only son."

"If you dare—" Uther said.

"As you have dared?" another of the wizards said, in a high, bitter voice. "You have not scrupled to rob us of our children."

"You have done more than that," the woman said, stepping up beside Craddag and looking down at Arthur with an expression that suggested he might be some sort of particularly unpleasant bug in her soup. He glared back at her, defiantly.

She never took her eyes off him, but she was speaking to Uther. "You have made us stand by helpless," she said, "helpless, while those we loved died at your hands, in slow torment—" and oh, hell, Arthur was getting a really bad feeling about this, because on second look that wasn't so much an unpleasant soup bug expression as it was an interesting bug I intend to play with expression.

He had just enough time, as she raised her hand, to lock his jaw and remind himself he was Crown Prince of Camelot and he was not under any circumstances to scream, before the agony went blazing down every nerve and wiped him clean of anything but pain. Pain like he'd never felt, not sick unto death of poison or cut to the bone by the sword, not from stomach sickness or from fever. It felt as though she had shoved that hand deep in his guts and was twisting them around her fingers like a skein of thread. The links of his mail were burning like red-hot brands against his skin, and he didn't scream, at first, because he had no breath in his body for it.

She let him draw enough for that, though, in a moment. What came out of him was an ugly rubbed-raw shriek that didn't sound human to his own ears, and still it was less horrible to hear than Uther's crying out his name like it had been torn out of him by the roots. Arthur tried to turn himself over, tried to muffle his face against anything—his arm, the floor—but he couldn't move even that much. He couldn't even close his eyes against the cold glitter of their faces above him, the satisfaction curling the corners of their mouths as they watched him suffer.

The hollow thump meant nothing to him at first, or even the muffled shout of "Arthur—!" His own name had gone strange and meaningless, but between one breath and another, the pain stopped, and he could breathe again, in heaves that he told himself were just short of sobs. The sorcerors were half turning away, looking at the side door, barred with iron and with old heavy wood, and suddenly it shuddered and burst wide open, and Merlin was standing there in the doorway, Guinevere and Morgana frozen behind him, their eyes wide.

And that was just what this cesspit of a situation had been wanting, everyone else Arthur cared for in the world, there to watch him be tortured to death and probably follow after in short order. He was still half-blind with pain, dizzy with it, but he managed to croak out, "Damn you, get out of here."

So naturally Merlin came closer instead. Arthur was struggling to wind himself up for enough of a yell to get him the hell away, and then Craddag said, "You cannot defeat all of us."

It made so little sense Arthur paused and squinted at him, even through the pain. Craddag was looking at Merlin, skinny little Merlin, and there no unexpected army behind him or anything. The idiot didn't even have a sword.

"We'll have to see about that, won't we," Merlin said, just as ludicrously. And then all twelve sorcerors raised their hands and blasted at him across the hall, huge red-golden leaping arcs of flame, and their light glowed yellow on Merlin's face and in his eyes as he raised a hand and all the fire spilled away from him like a river parted by a stone.

The fire died away, but the gold in his eyes didn't. Arthur propped himself up, panting, and stared at him. Merlin's eyes flicked at him for just a moment, and Arthur saw his throat work—his lying, traitorous, sorceror's throat

"Consider, Emyrys," Craddag said. "There is nothing you can win here but death. Even should you defeat us, you will be spent in that victory, unable to defend yourself. Do you think this furious and unjust king will let you live, because you have saved him?"

"They will burn you," the woman added. "Do you know what it is to burn, Emyrys? My daughter burned. They will use seasoned wood, so there will be no smoke to choke you—so you will feel your flesh cook as you die, all the more slowly. My daughter screamed for full near an hour before she fell silent."

Merlin swallowed.

"Stand aside," Craddag said, softly. "Stand aside, Emyrys, and let us rid this land of a monstrous tyrant."

Merlin said, a little unsteadily, "My name's Merlin."

Craddag's face twisted in anger and maybe even something like fear. "So be it," he said, and the twelve sorcerors flung lightning and thunder across the hall.

Merlin staggered back underneath the blows, but he was holding them, holding all of them, dammit, something like an invisible shield pressed out by his hands. The lightning went cascading over it, washing the whole room in the cold blue flares of a thunderstorm. Arthur could feel the pounding of it through the stones, tiny white sparks spilling off and traveling across the floor, stinging on his armor like the brush of nettles.

Abruptly Craddag flung another lash of lightning across the room, and Merlin skidded to one knee, his face twisted up in terrible effort. They started pounding him hard, one after another launching extra blows, and there was no way he could hold them for much longer. Arthur pushed himself up slowly, every movement a stab of pain.

Just sitting there on defense was going to get Merlin turned into a scorched black spot on the floor, and then the whole damned lot of them were going to get right back to what they'd been doing. The idiot needed to have basic strategy beaten into him.

Arthur's sword had been flung somewhere halfway across the room. It was hard to make his fingers wrap around the hilt of his dagger. They were curled tight into a claw, the tough leather of his gauntlets jammed under his fingernails, and he had to think about it to get them to work.

Craddag was standing three paces away from him, which was all to the good, because Arthur wasn't sure he could have walked any further. He limped the three steps slowly and carefully, and then he took Craddag by the shoulder and shoved the dagger into his back, straight up between the ribs and into the heart.

Craddag slid off his blade onto the floor without even making a sound. Arthur staggered one step around as the woman sorceror turned towards him, her eyes widening, and he opened her throat with a single slash of the knife. She sank to her knees, gurgling around the blood. The other wizards were all turning, their hands raised to turn the lightning on him.

Arthur heard Merlin shout, "No!" and the world went into a blur. It took a moment for him to realize he wasn't moving at all. It was the very air that had gone into motion, whirling around him with a whistling teakettle sound. The tapestries and the banners on the walls were snapping in the wind, the sorcerors' cloaks billowing out around them as they staggered. Arthur could barely even feel a breeze on his face, though if he put his hand out to the wind, it was so furious it was nearly a solid wall. It kept spinning faster and faster, and then one by one the wizards were flung against the hard unforgiving stone of the walls, with the final brutal crack of snapping spines.

The wind fell away. Merlin was standing there, bloodlessly pale and staring at him, one shaking hand still outstretched. Arthur stared back, wondering vaguely what to do next.

Merlin sank to his knees with a surprised look on his face, and then toppled over unconscious.

Right, excellent plan.

"No—let me—Arthur!"

He heard Morgana distantly, out in the hallway, and some sort of commotion after, voices he couldn't make out. It died down in a little bit, and he drifted a while, hovering somewhere near sleep. Everything bloody hurt, and he had to roll onto his side and push up, a hand pressed to the hard ache of his belly. His mouth was parched.

He struggled up out of the heap of furs and blankets and limped over to the water basin. He leaned against the window frame while he drank straight from the ewer, pressing his temple against the cool stone, and it took him nearly half the jug to actually focus his eyes enough to see what was going on in the courtyard.

They were piling wood up around a stake. Merlin was tied to it.

Arthur stared down at the scene a little longer, until he managed to make sense of it, and then he dragged himself over to the fireside and put his armor on.

The guards at the door said nervously, "Sire, the king said," trying to stop him, and Arthur really wasn't in the mood for the rest of that conversation, so he knocked them both down and took their swords. No clue what had happened to his own; it was probably lying somewhere in a corner of the throne room, if it wasn't broken into pieces.

Every step was painful, but nothing he couldn't bear. He had new standards now, excitingly. The servants and guards must have seen something in his face, because they cleared out of his way as he passed them in the corridors, and pulled doors open for him as he went.

He came out into the courtyard hearing Uther saying, from the balcony, "—therefore for the practice of these unnatural arts you are condemned to the flame, and may God have mercy—"

He cut off as Arthur came into view. "Arthur, come back from there," he called down sternly.

Arthur ignored him and stalked across the courtyard. A couple of uncertain guards got in his way; he cracked them each a ringing blow across the helm with the flat of his seized swords, and spun them both away.

Uther waved the others in, furiously, but it was more like dancing than fighting, really—they didn't want to hurt him, and he didn't want to hurt them, so it was a lot of stupid waving of swords, keeping them far back enough they couldn't grapple him. Four of them rushed him at once, so he had to get a little more aggressive; he ducked low and heaved one over his shoulder into the others as they charged, and tripped a third. The fourth knight managed to get hold of him, but then realized it was just him alone left, and Arthur just gave him a look and then dumped him on his arse.

"Arthur, that is enough," Uther shouted. Morgana was standing next to him, trying to talk to him, but he was ignoring her.

"Then call them off!" Arthur yelled back, gesturing at the rest of the hesitating guards with his sword.

"He is a sorceror and a danger to the realm," Uther snapped.

"He saved my life—he saved your life!" Arthur said.

"This is not up for discussion," Uther said flatly, and shook Morgana off his arm. "Guard, lower the portcullis! Bar the doors of the castle."

Arthur looked around as the portcullis ground down, clanging—the doors all around the courtyard were slamming shut.

"You are not getting him out of here," Uther said. "There is nothing you can do. Now stop this childish display."

More of the palace guard had come into the courtyard—nearly thirty knights gathered now, men he had trained and led. Sir Dinadan and Sir Kay looked up at the king and looked at him unhappily. If they led a rush they'd overwhelm him, and he knew it and they knew it, and in a moment Uther would order them to do so. The executioner was standing by with the torch.


He turned and looked up—Merlin had lifted his head and was looking down at him from the stake. "It's okay," Merlin said softly. "Thanks."

"Shut up, you idiot," Arthur snapped at him. "I'm going to beat the snot out of you for lying to me."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Merlin said.

"Why the hell haven't you magicked yourself out of this by now?" Arthur said.

"I don't think I could magic up a hot cup of tea at the moment," Merlin said, with a feeble sort of smile. He did look pretty useless, sagging in the ropes with dark circles shadowing his eyes.

"Wonderful," Arthur said, and swallowed hard.

"Executioner, proceed," Uther said. "Knights, if the prince interferes, you will stop him. Come away, Arthur. You have no choice."

Arthur said, "There's always a choice." He thrust one of his swords into the ground, then turned and scrambled up the bonfire, stumbling over the uneven and shifting pile of wood until he got up to the stake.

"Arthur, no," Merlin said, looking at him with those ridiculously blue eyes.

"I'm not talking to you," Arthur said, and put his arms around him. He looked up at Uther. "If you want to burn him, you'll have to burn both of us."

The executioner was right at the edge of the bonfire with the torch, inches from putting it to the wood. The hooded man hesitated, looking up at Uther—and Uther said nothing, too busy glaring at Arthur, his face mottled with anger. Arthur eyed the hovering torch a little anxiously—he was fairly sure his father wasn't going to burn him alive, but the thing was just a bit close for comfort. The wood underfoot was crackling-dry and full of straw and tinder, ready to go up in a flash. But he couldn't exactly say so, how about calling off that executioner now—

Morgana was whispering to Uther urgently, but he kept not saying anything, and then the executioner apparently decided he was meant to follow the last order and started lowering the torch. "Arthur, get out of here," Merlin hissed. "The only point of this was to save you!"

"Then the only point is for me to be worth saving," Arthur said, and tried hard not to think about what it was going to feel like to be burned alive in full armor.

And then Sir Dinadan stepped in front of the executioner, and barred the way with his sword.

Everyone in the court stood frozen a moment, and then one of the other knights, one of Uther's personal guard, sprang forward to challenge Dinadan. Kay and young Gawain jumped and were at Dinadan's side—another three men moved to oppose them --

"Hold there!" Uther shouted, and the men in the courtyard all stopped, like figures in a play. Arthur looked at his father; he didn't remember when he'd seen him look like that, something worse than anger in his face. Uther said nothing for a moment, then he said, in a low and terrible voice, "Put out that flame."

The executioner turned at once, with relieved speed, and doused it in a bucket of water. Swords lowered, and Uther said, "Bring the prince and the warlock to my chambers," and turning swept into the castle, his cloak a scarlet ripple behind him.

Uther took a chair by the window and dismissed the guards, but left them both standing. They were mostly staying up at this point by propping against each other. Arthur's stomach was ungracefully choosing this time to remind him he hadn't had any breakfast two days running now, and his legs didn't very much want to keep him standing. Merlin was even worse off: his head kept tipping over onto Arthur's shoulder, bonking into his armor, and jerking back up again.

"Do you even realize what you have done?" Uther said, turning to look at Arthur. "You have incited open rebellion against the throne—"

"He didn't incite anyone!" Merlin said, dragging his wobbly head up. Wonderful. It was like being defended by a drunk kitten. Arthur jabbed him in the side with an elbow to shut him up.

Uther glared at Merlin. "And for the sake of this snake in the grass?"

"Did you even bother with a trial, or did you just throw him on the pyre as quick as you could to get it done before I woke up?" Arthur said.

"He is too dangerous to be allowed to live!" Uther said. "Do you have any conception—ten years ago, Craddag was the most powerful warlock in Britain, and his power had only grown. This—this stripling defeated him and eleven others, alone!"

"Only with my help!" Arthur said.

"Hey, I had them!" Merlin said, lifting his head.

"Shut up, idiot," Arthur hissed.

Uther rose and came to stand before him. Arthur tried to straighten up to meet that look, but the attempt was somewhat defeated by Merlin listing alarmingly against him. "Did you know?" Uther said, low and coldly. "Did you know he was a sorceror?"

"No," Arthur said, after a moment, and reminded himself he really was going to beat Merlin for that when this was all over.

"Then you know nothing of him," Uther said. "He has lied to you from the moment you met him. He has wormed his way into your confidence so he might undermine the realm and everything that we have built—"

"What, by being a completely rotten manservant?" Arthur said.

"I'm not that bad," Merlin muttered.

"Yes, you are," Arthur said.

Uther's jaw tightened.

"Right, and for the grand finale of his cunning plan to destroy Camelot, he beat off twelve warlocks trying to kill us and then got himself burned at the stake. He's really an amazing conspirator," Arthur said.

"Enough!" Uther roared, and turning away slammed both his fists down upon his desk. After a moment he said over his shoulder, heavily, "Whether you are right about him or not, it makes no difference now. You disobeyed a direct order of your king. And other knights followed you." He turned. "Tell me, what do you imagine will happen to this court if I pardon you?"

Arthur swallowed. "I will endure whatever punishment—"

"I cannot execute those knights who followed you if I give you a lesser sentence," Uther said, "but henceforth, they will be not my knights but yours. And others will follow them, because you are well-loved, and the court will grow divided. Those who take your part will question my orders; those who stay loyal to me will question yours, and worse than that," he added grimly, "they will begin to wonder what their fate will be, when you sit upon the throne."

Arthur looked at Merlin, who looked miserably back at him.

Uther said, "Will you ask forgiveness, and stand aside for his execution?"

"No," Arthur said.

"Arthur," Merlin said.

"Shut up," Arthur said flatly. "No, I'm not, and—" He stopped, trying to find the words. "That you are the king does not make you right," he said slowly. "It makes it your duty to be right, and just, and merciful. Putting Merlin to death would be none of those."

Uther was silent, and then he said heavily, "Then I have no choice."

"The only return for treason can be death," Uther said from the balcony, his face cold and remote, while they stood with Dinadan and Kay and Gawain for judgment below. "So from this day forward, you must be dead to me. You have until nightfall tomorrow to cross the borders of Camelot. From that moment on, should you be seen within this land, you will be outlaws, and every man's hand shall be against you."

The courtyard was silent, the knights in lines around the inner square, many of the townsfolk crowded in behind them; a low murmuring arose after Uther spoke.

Arthur stared up at him. It still didn't seem quite real. But Uther looked down at him, face hard as granite, and said, "Go now and never again return, so long as I am living." He turned and went inside, and the doors closed after him.

Arthur didn't quite know what to do, and no one else seemed to know either. It would be a hard ride of a night and a day to reach the borders in time, but that still gave them just enough time to be confused. He turned, and the knights looked at him with all the same uncertainty he felt and couldn't let them see. "Go and make your farewells, and pack your things," he said, after a moment. "We ride from the southern gate in an hour."

Kay said, "I'll see to supply," quietly, and they went. Arthur turned to look at the other knights, his companions of years, many of them looking almost sick with grief. Slowly, one after another they began to come to him, to clasp his hand, and with them the townspeople came crowding in as well. "God bless and watch over you," an old woman said, and kissed his cheek with dusty lips. "There's a good spring at Haverford, if you take the southern road," Sir Caradoc said quietly. And enough of them whispered conspiratorially, "I'm your man, sire, if you come back," or something like it, that Arthur knew Uther was right, and he never could.

"Never's a long time," Merlin said, later that night. They'd stopped for a few hours of sleep, in the woods outside Haverford. Kay was snoring audibly across the campfire, a familiar noise, and Dinadan and Gawain were still lumps on either side of him, wrapped in their cloaks to sleep—plain grey cloaks, and not the red of Camelot.

Arthur looked up from the small golden cross that Morgana had pressed into his hand, her eyes full of tears, as he'd left his chambers for the last time.

"Are you reading my mind or something?" Arthur said suspiciously.

"What? No!" Merlin said. "I don't really need to, the sighing was pretty obvious."

Arthur shoved him, and then had to tug him back up, because it was just too embarrassing to have the greatest wizard in Albion flailing around on the ground because he was too weak to get himself up into a sitting position. They'd had to tie him onto the horse.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me," he said, except it came out a little plaintive instead of the brooding indignation he'd meant to convey.

"Does it help that—that I wanted to?" Merlin said, after a moment.

"No, it doesn't!" Arthur said, although it did, a little. "What did you think, that I was going to have your head cut off?"

"No!" Merlin said.

Arthur looked at him.

"All right, first of all, considering this morning, you can't blame me for worrying a little," Merlin said, "and second of all—second of all—" He stopped and gulped. "I didn't know if I could bear it. If you."

"Oh," Arthur said. He bumped Merlin's shoulder with his, and then caught him before he fell over again. "Still, if you have so much bloody power, what have you been doing polishing my armor and mucking out my stables and running around in the woods after me, and all of that? Why aren't you off—" he waved a hand—"magicking around with all those other wizards who hate us."

"If I've got all this power," Merlin said, "I want something worth doing with it."

"And that's me?" Arthur said, trying to sound cool and skeptical, and not pathetically hopeful.

"Well," Merlin said, "You have got your moments. From time to time. Not all that often, you understand."

"No, of course," Arthur said dryly, and leaned forward to rub his hands over the fire so Merlin couldn't see his face. It wouldn't do to let him get some sort of inflated ideas of his importance or anything. "And you think—you really think my father will let us come back to Camelot some day?"

Merlin didn't say anything for a moment, and when Arthur turned back to glance at him, there was a strange look on his face—something fey and far-away. Oddly, for all the fire and lightnings, that was the first time it really hit Arthur that Merlin was a wizard, part of some strange and distant world. It was a lonely thought, and Arthur almost wanted to stop him, to put a hand over his mouth, as Merlin turned to him and said, "You will be king in Camelot, my lord," in a voice full of thunder.

Then he shook himself all over and stared at Arthur wide-eyed, still the complete idiot who fell over his own feet more often than not and couldn't boil an egg to save his life. "Er," Merlin said.

"Right, no more prophecies," Arthur said. "That's just creepy."

"Yeah, sorry," Merlin said.

And when matins and the first mass was done, there was seen in the churchyard, against the high altar, a great stone four square, like unto a marble stone; and in midst thereof was like an anvil of steel a foot on high, and therein stuck a fair sword naked by the point, and letters there were written in gold about the sword that said thus:

-- Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.

Then the people marvelled, and told it to the Archbishop. I command, said the Archbishop, that ye keep you within your church and pray unto God still, that no man touch the sword till the high mass be all done. So when all masses were done all the lords went to behold the stone and the sword. And when they saw the scripture some assayed, such as would have been king. But none might stir the sword nor move it.

He is not here, said the Archbishop, that shall achieve the sword, but doubt not God will make him known.

Le Morte D'Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory


This story is followed by An Exile In Albion.


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