Rating: R just to be safe [for violence]
Warnings: Torture, character death (not Arthur or Merlin), battle-type violence, restraint (shackles).
Summary: One person in a battle can make all the difference. Merlin learns that the hard way when Helios joins Agravaine and he’s cornered in the caves. He’s taken to Camelot, where Arthur and the knights lay in chains, waiting as Morgana eagerly anticipates finding out exactly who the mysterious Emrys is.
Notes: This was written before 4.13 so ignore all of that. It also assumes that the cave-ish scene takes place around the same time as the attack on Camelot, so ignore any inaccuracies please! All information used in this fic will be taken from the trailer and there will be no spoilers for the finale. This has only been partially betaed so mistakes are my own. Please feel free to point them out!
The look on Agravaine’s face was haunting and Merlin turned to him, jaw clenched.
“You have magic?” Agravaine said, voice shocked and eyes wide. Merlin almost gave a bitter smile – he’d played his part so well that not even a traitor like Agravaine could ever have suspected him of using magic.
“You have magic,” he said again and Merlin narrowed his eyes. He’d always been a threat before, but Agravaine was even more dangerous now he knew Merlin’s secret.
If he had been wavering on the line of loyalty (and he had, Merlin had seen it in his eyes, how he disagreed with Morgana’s brutality), it was gone now. His eyes were clear, his decision made, and all because Merlin had given him a perfect, vital piece of information. With that information, everything Merlin had worked for, everything he wanted to protect, would shatter – which was why Agravaine could not be allowed to live.
The spell was done before Merlin had fully registered the thought and Agravaine went flying back. A sickening crack was heard as he hit the ground and Merlin moved forward, expression grim. He didn’t like killing people, but for Arthur – for Camelot, for his friends, for the people – he would do anything.
Agravaine wasn’t dead though and he looked up, blood spilling down the side of his cheek.
“You have power,” he said in amazement and Merlin felt panic claw at his stomach. It was one thing for Agravaine to know he had magic, but a completely different matter if he put two and two together and realised that Merlin was Emrys.
“I know what power feels like, but this is more than even Morgana.” Agravaine was smiling now and Merlin stretched out his hand, preparing to end the conversation. He was too late though and hissed in pain as something smacked him around the head.
“He has talent you say?” Merlin heard someone say, voice deep. He turned on the ground, only just conscious, to see a towering man grinning at Agravaine.
“Helios,” Agravaine said, though the rest of his sentence was lost as Merlin felt his body grow heavy. No amount of magic could save him now and he hoped that, if anything, Arthur had at least managed to keep himself safe and out of trouble, if not well on his way to winning the fight.
Everything had crumbled. The great hall was draped in blood and gore, a testament to the fight that Arthur had tried to win and yet failed. Morgana had been too powerful and Helios’ men too numerous. The circumstances had turned when Morgana had wrenched Excalibur from his hand, refusing to back down until Arthur crumpled under her magic. He’d been alone – a foolish, rookie mistake – and there had been no other choice but to surrender.
A captive king was better than a dead one, no matter how much it stung Arthur’s pride. There was no one else who could take Camelot back from Morgana except him and he would make it his life’s work to take back his sword and cut Morgana from his kingdom forever.
“Now, now,” Morgana said, sitting upon his throne in the council rooms. A smug smile was on her face and she shaped her eyebrows into a faux-pitiful look.
“There’s no need to be sad. I’ll make sure you stay alive long enough to see the suffering of your people after all.” She gave a bitter laugh and Arthur wondered how she had become this woman. There was nothing of the Morgana he had loved in her and while it pained him, it would ultimately make things easier.
“Look at you all,” Morgana continued and Arthur resisted the urge to follow her eyes. He was on his knees in a line, amongst the most loyal of his knights and Gaius. They were the people Morgana needed to break and destroy before Camelot would even think of changing her allegiance.
“Down there like dogs.” She gave another bitter laugh, shaking her head and waving her hand dismissively. The guards holding Arthur and the others in place forced them a little lower and Gaius gave a grunt of pain.
“Let him be!” Arthur cried and was forced lower, his back stinging as a hand pushed between his shoulder blades. “He’s an old man.”
Morgana simply laughed and settled back in the throne, sighing deeply.
The only satisfaction Arthur had was that not everyone he loved was here. Leon was missing – if he was smart enough he would have taken those he could back to the forest to regroup – as were Gwen and Merlin. He didn’t know the fates of the others who had fought alongside him and knew that they wouldn’t have had the privilege of being captured.
But if only a handful of people had escaped, if only Gwen or Leon or even Merlin had escaped… Arthur would have been glad. Gwen shouldn’t have come with them and Leon would be needed as a leader and Merlin… even though Merlin had said he’d stay by Arthur’s side until the day he died, Arthur wanted him safe, even if it meant that Arthur was captured and Merlin escaped.
“My lady!” one of Helios’ men called as they entered the room. Morgana was at attention at once, quirking an eyebrow. Arthur didn’t even bother turning to the soldier, his news useless.
“Agravaine and Helios have detained one of their men,” the man stammered out and Morgana was upright in her seat at once.
“It took two of them for one man?” she hissed, lip curling. “Perhaps I have overestimated their usefulness after all.”
“Lord Agravaine said for me to tell you he’s a powerful sorcerer,” the man stammered and Morgana shot out of her seat, smile on her face.
“Emrys,” she whispered, the name gliding off of her tongue.
Morgana looked victorious, as if capturing Emrys was much greater than conquering Camelot. She turned to Arthur with an exhilarating smile before moving to Gaius.
“Did you hear that?” she said, voice smug. “Your last hope, your Emrys,” she spat the name, “is ours now. There is no hope for you now!”
Morgana stalked around her throne until a second messenger arrived, informing them that Agravaine and Helios would be bringing their prisoner in. The doors swung wide open and a bloodied Agravaine was the first to sweep in, cloak blocking the man that Helios was half-dragging in.
Even when he was thrown on the ground, Arthur couldn’t see who exactly Emrys was. Morgana could though and she seemed angered, looking at Agravaine with a furrowed brow.
“Emrys is an old man. I have seen him – fought him – and I do not forget the face of the one who is supposed to be my downfall.” Morgana shifted her leg, kicking the body on the floor. “You propose that he is Emrys?”
“I saw him use magic with my own eyes,” Agravaine countered, shifting so that Arthur could see dark hair. “It was how I received my wound, and I could feel that his power is greater than yours, my Lady.”
Morgana looked to Helios, who inclined his head.
“He has power indeed,” he said, agreeing with Agravaine. “If he took on the appearance of an old man to you before… well, ageing spells aren’t so uncommon.”
Morgana’s head snapped to Gaius and her eyes narrowed.
“You knew then,” she said. Gaius didn’t reply, but it didn’t seem like he needed to. “You were helping him?” Arthur barely got a chance to take in Gaius’ horrified face before Morgana laughed, the sound echoing around the council chambers.
“Of all the people I expected to have magic,” Morgana said, “I never expected someone like him.” She turned to Arthur, smiling viciously as she ordered Agravaine to move.
The man on the floor looked ridiculous. He was filthy, having been dragged from wherever Agravaine and Helios had captured him and he looked as though he could barely wield a knife, let alone be able to use magic.
But then Arthur could see past the dirt and the blood. His stomach dropped as he saw exactly who Agravaine and Helios had dragged in and couldn’t stop the bile rising. He dry-retched, unable to bend over thanks to the guard at his back, but couldn’t look away from Merlin.
“His loyalty is more than commendable,” Morgana said, waving her hand as she sat down heavily in her throne again. “It makes sense now why Merlin goes to such lengths to protect you – and how he’s able to thwart so many of my plans.”
There was a bitter look on Morgana’s face and, for once, Arthur was glad it was there.
“Get him kneeling and chain him up. I want to see his face when I torture him.” She said it so offhandedly that it took Arthur’s distracted mind a moment to register what had been said. And when he had registered it, his body jerked in protest, trying to free itself and get to Merlin, to get him out of here, to save him from what Morgana was about to do – to anything.
But instead, he was forced to watch as Merlin was hauled onto his knees and supported by a team of black-cloaked men. Morgana herself was the one to slip the chains on, making sure his hands and feet were bound together. Just as with Arthur, two guards held him up, but they weren’t there to hold him back – at least not yet.
A look to his left told Arthur that the knights were in similar state of surprise. Gaius looked terrible, tears in his eyes, but there was no doubt on his face. Gaius had known, Gaius wasn’t going to deny it and Gaius was scared. For the first time in his life, Arthur could see how frightened Gaius was.
“Keep hold of him,” Morgana said, gesturing for a waiting guard to her side and whispering something in his ear. “I want him awake before I use the Nathair.”
At his side, Arthur noticed Elyan jolt. His eyes were wide and he shook visibly. There were wounds on Elyan’s neck and it wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion that this Nathair had been used on him too.
Arthur swallowed thickly as Morgana began a spell. Merlin’s body jolted and he sucked in a huge lungful of air, spluttering as he breathed out. He looked around groggily and Arthur could tell that he was hardly aware of things going on, until he saw Arthur that was.
“Arthur…” he whispered, leaning slightly. He was pulled back and only then did he wake properly, trying to break free of the men holding him.
“It all makes sense now,” Morgana said, eyes fixed solely on Merlin.
In reply, Merlin didn’t seem too phased by what Morgana had to say – though from what she’d said, Arthur knew this wasn’t the first confrontation Morgana had had with Merlin.
“Why you go so far, why you do so much…” she shrugged her shoulders and took a box from an approaching guard. “I’ll have you tell me everything though,” Morgana said, stroking the box lovingly.
“I’ll tell you nothing,” Merlin spat, jaw clenched. He was angrier than Arthur had ever seen him and Arthur could believe that this man was a sorcerer, that he was a powerful magic user that even Morgana had feared (and Morgana had never feared anything before).
“Oh you will,” Morgana remarked casually. “In this box is a Nathair. It will torture you beyond human capacity and you will tell me everything.”
Merlin struggled and it drew another laugh from Morgana. “Those chains were made especially for sorcerers. No matter their power, they become simple men when chained up with those.”
Chest heaving, Merlin paused, looking at Morgana with wild emotion in his eyes. Though he hadn’t looked back at Arthur since the first time after he’d woken, Arthur could feel everything Merlin wanted him to.
He understood why Merlin had kept his secret, though he could feel the sting of betrayal and anger. There simply wasn’t time for that now though – Merlin was on the verge of being tortured and Arthur was so very tired. They could shout and he could threaten Merlin with exile later, for now Merlin was his only friend and chained up like an ill-mannered dog.
“So I can’t use my magic,” Merlin said, monotonous and thick. Morgana raised an eyebrow before opening the lid to the box and plucking out a small, black snake.
“No,” Elyan whispered at his side and Arthur looked at him. He was shaking more violently now, hands fisted into tight balls. He’d been tortured too, horrifically by the looks of him, and now it was Merlin’s turn.
“No,” Arthur repeated, voice carrying when Elyan’s hadn’t. “Don’t do this to him.”
Morgana’s gaze was sharp and foreign when she turned to him, outraged.
“Don’t do this to him?” she said, shaking her head. “You have no idea what he’s done; what he’s capable of. He kills mercilessly, all in your name!” The snake in her hand gave a strange hiss as Morgana tightened her grip.
“You should thank me. You know nothing of what he’s done, how much he has betrayed you, and yet it’s me who is the enemy here?” she turned back to Merlin, starting the spell that would undoubtedly control the serpent.
“Merlin would never hurt me!” Arthur called out and Morgana froze. Even Merlin turned to look at him, eyes wide and full of stupid, unmasked hope. “No matter what, I know that much.”
“You place your trust in a sorcerer that would gladly poison his friends?” Morgana said, eyes narrowing. “You’ll thank me when this is done,” she continued, completing her spell and letting the snake do its work.
The snake hovered in the air, sizing up Merlin with its beady eyes. Arthur watched as it hissed, drawing odd shaped fangs from its mouth and lunging forwards. To his credit, Merlin barely flinched as the snake ripped into the flesh on his neck and that was when Arthur knew this was going to be long and painful.
“Stop,” he begged, so un-kingly and yet uncaring of that fact. This was Merlin and Arthur would do anything for Merlin. “Please.”
But Morgana didn’t stop and Arthur could only watch as Merlin’s strength began to waver. His shoulder ached – the guards holding him pushing him against he ground now, pinning Arthur down each time he struggled. Elyan was shaking and Gaius sobbing openly, the other knights caught between struggling for freedom and being pinned too strongly.
The first true gasp of pain slipped from Merlin’s lips. Alongside it was something else, a whisper that could perhaps be a spell.
“Your magic is useless,” Morgana said flippantly, smirking as the serpent twisted and struck again. Still, Merlin wasn’t dissuaded from whatever he was saying and he bent his head back, ending the spell with a roar.
The room shook and the snake quelled its biting, looking at Morgana. Her eyes were narrowed and she looked around the room, as if expecting something to happen. Nothing did, though, and she smiled with a hint of relief.
“It looks like your spells truly do not work,” she said, the relief well hidden, but easy for Arthur to pick out. He had known her for years, there was little she could hide from him now she had chosen to become overconfident and destroy everything he loved.
“I have no need for spells,” Merlin said. His sounded exhausted, but strangely triumphant.
It angered Morgana and she sent the snake in with vigour, not letting up until Merlin has blood spilling from his neck and was writhing on the floor. Every hoarse scream he gave sent a hideous shudder through all of them and Arthur could feel Merlin’s pain resonating in his very bones.
“Tell me why you do so much,” Morgana said, pulling the snake back a moment and looking down at Merlin. She had stepped away from her throne – Arthur’s throne – and towered above them all.
”For a friend,” Merlin retorted dryly, in a tone Arthur had only heard snippets of before. “For the Once and Future King. For Camelot.” Morgana hissed in anger, losing control and kicking Merlin. He grunted in pain, but it was muffled, nothing like the moans Merlin had let out when the snake had bit him.
“You have magic, he is Uther’s son!” Morgana shouted, crouching until she was at Merlin’s level. Arthur held his breath, feeling the atmosphere in the room as Merlin shifted on his knees, tilting his head to look in Morgana’s eyes and smiled.
“I gave Arthur a chance. He is destined to be the greatest king the world has ever seen. Yes he is Uther’s son, but he is not Uther’s image.” Merlin shook his head and Arthur looked on with wide eyes, hardly believing the faith with which Merlin spoke. “Unlike Arthur, you have festered in your hatred, let it shape you and acted in anger. Just like Uther.”
Morgana slapped him this time before she whipped around, hair and dress twirling as she stalked around the throne. She was angered beyond belief, but whether it was because Merlin had called her out as following their father’s footsteps or Merlin in general, Arthur couldn’t say.
“I am nothing like that tyrant,” she spat and Merlin gave a snort of amusement.
“Uther Pendragon murdered thousands of innocents because magic didn’t so what he wished.” Merlin’s voice was tight now, as if he was a string that had been wound too taunt. “And now you do the same – yet your reasons are far from those that Uther stuck to. At least he loved, at least he felt something for his loss.”
It wasn’t a justification, Arthur could see that much. Merlin wasn’t trying to excuse Uther from what he’d done, instead making the point that Uther had a reason whilst Morgana… her reason was unclear.
“You’ve all taken away everything I loved!” Morgana said, eyes wild as her magic began to crackle around her. She was losing composure, but Merlin seemed unfazed. “My sister, my right to the throne, my-“
“You are forgetting yourself Morgana,” came Merlin’s voice, low and harsh. “Arthur would have welcomed you home. Your magic was something you had no choice over and you would have been able to sway Arthur’s stance.” Merlin paused. “I admit that I gave you little choice, but why do you still continue to fight?”
Merlin’s words were useless. Arthur could see nothing of the woman who had been a friend – a sister – to him in her eyes and Morgana would never look back.
“I continue to fight for what is rightfully mine,” she hissed, barking out a spell that left Merlin’s body convulsing, skin looking as if it was rippling under whatever magic Morgana had used.
“You are doing this for your own selfish needs,” Merlin spat back when he’d recovered enough to speak again. He was panting heavily, blood dripping down from his neck from the snake before and Arthur felt nothing but the deepest regret. He’d let this happen to Merlin, let him stray from his sight. He’d let Morgana take the most important things in his life – Camelot and Merlin – and she planned to ruin them both.
Instead of replying, Morgana hurled another spell, and another and another, until the guards holding Merlin were forced to let go. A spell pushed Merlin back, slamming him against the wall by the council chamber doors. Merlin coughed, doubling over as he spat globules of blood on the ground, but he never wavered. Despite the immense pain – and Arthur knew Merlin had to be on his last legs by now – he had never once wavered.
“It’s useless Morgana,” Merlin said, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth against the pain. His hands were still shackled, but he’d moved them to cup his stomach slightly.
“Useless?” Morgana repeated, moving off from her spot of land and walking over to Merlin. “You have no power, the knights of Camelot are shackled at my feet… tell me again who is useless?”
The answering smile on Merlin’s face was blinding, but that wasn’t the full reason that the chambers were suddenly full of light. Something hot and heavy tore through the room, roaring in Arthur’s ears as he instinctively threw his body out of the way. The men holding him were gone, fire crackling along the drape of their robes and Arthur turned wide eyes to the source of the fire.
It was a dragon. Different to the one he’d seen before, but a dragon nonetheless, standing no larger than the biggest hunting hounds. It looked as though it was almost glowing, blue eyes bright in the chaos it had created.
With a strange keening sound, the dragon approached Merlin and touched its nose to the cuffs that held him tight. They fell to the floor with a loud bang and Merlin reached for the dragon as soon as his hands were free, touching its shoulder and looking through the din for Morgana.
“Thank you,” Arthur could hear Merlin say as the flames died down. The dragon responded with what looked like a smile, looking up at Merlin with nothing short of adoration.
“This is not the great dragon,” Morgana said and Arthur turned to her, along with everyone else. She was propped up along one of the pillars of the hall, hand clutching her side. She looked burnt, but not so wounded that she wouldn’t survive with appropriate care.
“His name is Aithusa,” Merlin replied, taking a step towards Morgana. “I summoned him, called the last two remaining dragons from the skies and asked them to protect Camelot.”
The dragon – Aithusa – had slunk away from Merlin now and come to face Arthur. Though he wanted to watch and see what Merlin and Morgana were doing, the dragon was snuffling his arm, distracting him until its nose touched the shackles. They split apart with a loud crack and the dragon looked on in delight before he moved down the line, scampering to unlock Arthur’s knights and loyal friends.
A roar, human this time, sounded to Arthur’s left and he only just had time to grab Excalibur from where Morgana had rested her against the throne and block the blow that was aimed at him. Helios was a huge brute of a man, one who Arthur knew could rival Percival in terms of strength, but he wasn’t about to back down.
Not bothering to keep an eye on Merlin and Morgana – he’d always had faith in Merlin after all, now was no different – Arthur focused on wearing Helios down, swinging his sword and refusing to back down. Merlin had never failed him yet and Arthur couldn’t fail Merlin now, not when the tables had turned and they could finally save Camelot.
Arthur growled as he disarmed Helios. Unlike any worthy opponent, Arthur didn’t wait or offer him mercy. He ran Helios through with his sword, blood spilling down the blade and running to the floor. Helios fell to the floor when Arthur removed Excalibur, dead before his head hit the ground.
Exhausted, Arthur knew he was only just holding onto the last of his strength. He felt someone support him – Elyan or Gwaine perhaps, though they were in no better shape – and they turned him so that he could see Merlin and Morgana, watch as a strange mist ran over Morgana, covering her completely. She slumped to the ground, eyes closed and chest barely moving. Whatever Merlin had done, he had completely sedated her and they could pause, recover and begin to move on.
Even though there was nothing but chaos and betrayal between them now, it didn’t stop Arthur wrenching away from Elyan’s grasp and crossing the fire-scorched floor until his arms were wrapped around Merlin. Merlin who was shaking and looked fit to collapse, but Merlin all the same. Merlin who as bloody and torn, but alive and real and here.
It took a moment, but Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur in return and leant into him, as if there was nothing else in the world and they were the only two.
When they separated, Arthur looked at the observant dragon peering up at him and his heart sang for his kingdom, for his people and for Merlin. They would all sleep safely tonight.
Cleaning up Camelot took a lot of time. Stone masons were called in to do repairs all over the castle and Arthur spent his days overseeing work in both the castle and the land around. The people were ruddy-faced and full of smiles whenever Arthur was out, though he still carried a heavy shroud of guilt from letting Morgana ruin their lives in the first place.
It took time to sort everything out. Bodies had to be removed from all corners of the castle, though the goriest were from the council room. Some were charred – Agravaine a prime example, not having leapt from Aithusa’s fire quick enough – and some were cut clean and deep. No matter how they died (or who they were), Arthur ordered them all to be buried, respectful even though they had been anything but to him.
Merlin was absent for most of Arthur’s days. Occasionally he could be seen helping, but he made sure to stay hidden from Arthur and the others who had been in the council chambers – save for Gaius. It was clear he didn’t want to be found, but Arthur (and the knights had agreed) knew they had to talk about the magic at some point.
There was one time, just after the battle, when Arthur thought they would be able to talk. Merlin had barely been standing, out in the courtyard with the others, leaning against a pillar instead of celebrating. He’d spun around and taken off, retracing their steps and entering the council room, no doubt on the last of his strength.
“You can come out,” Merlin called over his shoulder, looking up at Arthur as he entered the hall. “The spell Aithusa helped me to cast on Morgana is running through her. It’ll be done by the morning and she will wake so before then, we need to deal with her.”
Arthur watched as Merlin cast a spell, letting Morgana’s still body float up to his arms. She hovered ever so slightly, not enough to make it clear that Merlin wasn’t carrying her though, and Merlin set off, exiting the hall by the back.
“You don’t have to come,” Merlin said, but Arthur frowned and drew himself up.
“She is my sister, no matter what she’s become. I need to know what will happen with her.” Even after the cruelty she’d brought upon them, Morgana was still Morgana, the little girl Arthur had chased with wooden swords and laughed with.
“There is a lake that I will ask the dragons to take her to,” Merlin said softly. “There is a lady in the lake, a friend. She will look after Morgana, help to heal her heart and her soul.” Merlin looked down at Morgana, regret etched on his features. “There is too much history between all of us for her to find comfort here now. We will not be able to help her until she lets go of her anger and bitterness.”
“And your friend will help her?” Arthur asked, trusting Merlin’s words.
“She will,” Merlin vowed, with a dip of his head as they exited the city.
“Could you…” Merlin began, stopping and turning around. Arthur caught the words that were stuck in his throat - stay here, I’m not ready, please Arthur - and nodded. He kissed Morgana’s brow and watched as Merlin walked into the woods, never once questioning their trust, despite the heavy secret Merlin had carried.
He was still Merlin, after all.
But they still needed to have that conversation, which was why, one morning, Arthur rose well before the sun. He moved to his table, watching the door for the moment when Merlin would sneak in and lay his breakfast down early. He’d simply trap Merlin in here until he’d received his answers.
When Merlin saw he was awake, he didn’t bolt. Instead he sighed and set down the food, shoulders slumping.
“We need to talk,” Arthur said and Merlin nodded dumbly.
And so they did. Arthur listened (for once in his life, as Merlin would say) as Merlin poured his heart and soul out alongside the bread and cheese for Arthur’s breakfast, laying it all bare for Arthur to see.
In the end there was no choice (was there ever?). To his credit, Merlin looked shocked when Arthur squared his shoulders and rolled his eyes.
“Well I suppose you have to be good at something,” he said, looking at Merlin and inclining his head, hoping he got the message.
I forgive you.
They still had a way to go, for Arthur couldn’t quite match up the smiling Merlin with the one who had been chained and tortured in the council rooms, or the Merlin who had called a dragon to serve them just yet. It would take time to heal, but everything Merlin had done was for Arthur and for Camelot.
“Thank you,” Arthur whispered as the sun broke through the window, pouring into the room. “For everything.”
Arthur stood and walked to Merlin’s side. His knee hit the floor almost without Arthur realising, but he did nothing to change the stance. Merlin shifted in surprise, hands moving to haul Arthur back up, but they stalled when Arthur spoke.
“You have my eternal gratitude,” he said softly.
Merlin let his hands rest on Arthur’s shoulders, feeling as though he was taking some of the weight of the kingdom from Arthur. This was how it was supposed to be, Merlin and Arthur, Arthur and Merlin, Arthur-Merlin-Camelot. Together.
“I am yours,” Merlin said in reply, slipping to the floor. The chair he’d been sitting on crashed to the ground, but they made no move to straighten it. “For now and forever.”
And as the sun rose across Camelot, Arthur met Merlin halfway, kissing him softly and pulling him close. Together, the dawn seemed to whisper, they would do this together.