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Finding King Arthur - Part 21

Title: Finding King Arthur (temporary until I find something better)
Author: [info]elfflame
Fandom: Merlin (BBC)
Rating: NC-17, bebe.
Summary: Things have gone bad in Camelot.  Arthur has been missing for a year, and Uther and Gaius have been poisoned.  Merlin and the knights of Camelot set out to find their Prince before the kingdom can be claimed by Morgana.
Warnings: Death (not Merlin or Arthur), minor spoilers for season 3.
A/N: This is not quite all of it, but the rest will be posted tomorrow.  Nearly there now.  And I'm going to run over to the site and see if I've made it higher by their count.  Word and their count never quite come out the same.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10
Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15
Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20


Thirty-One
One Day More

The next morning, they were up before someone arrived to escort them down to the field. And this time, it wasn't Agravaine. The page that led them down seemed unwilling to answer their questions, but Merlin thought there might be a bit of sour grapes there from losing the day before.

If things had been mad the day before, they were insane now. There weren't as many fighters preparing, but the stands were packed with people, and venders had set up where there were empty spaces from those who had failed to make it this far, and were doing a booming business.

Even with their escort, they got jostled quite a bit as they made their way through the crowd, and only made it to the tent after a long fight to get through. Arthur nodded to the page, then stepped into the tent and sagged into the chair there. "Good god. You'd think I was going to be crowned right on the field."

"Not if Morgana has anything to say about it, you won't," Merlin said, beginning the spells to check Arthur's armor once more.

"No. Even if she doesn't. That's…not the way to do this…" He went silent, watching as Merlin worked, looking as though he wanted to say something, but kept thinking better of it. "But the knights I've talked to have agreed to help out today…regardless of what she tries. And I think that will make all the difference," he finally said.

Merlin nodded, then smiled at him. "I know it will." Arthur's men—at least, those he could trust—were all great men. Merlin had worked with them enough to know that much. "With all of us at your side…you can't lose." He looked at Arthur. "Armor's good. Come on. I'll help you get it put on."

They were silent as they pulled on Arthur's armor, then Merlin gave him a last look over, checking all the buckles himself before stepping back. "You'll do," he said with a smile.

Arthur snorted. "Yeah…thanks for that, Merlin."

"Good luck." He followed Arthur out of the tent, then watched him step onto the field where Lancelot was already waiting. The cheers were deafening. Merlin couldn't help wondering if they were cheering for Arthur or for Lancelot, given his performance the day before.

Merlin had seen them fight before, and either way, he knew the crowd wouldn't go away disappointed. Both were too good swordsmen to give up easily, even if Lancelot did want Arthur to win. Merlin couldn't help wondering if they'd planned how this would go, or if they were just going to play it by ear.

Gwen appeared just as the seneschal announced the beginning of the match, and the two began to circle one another, waiting for an opening. "Oh, good. I didn't miss it." She looked as nervous as Merlin felt. "I didn't sleep a wink last night…" She glanced at Merlin. "What if…"

"Don't. We can't do anything but wait and see, Gwen. We'll manage. Whatever happens." He gave her a squeeze, then turned his attention back to Arthur and Lancelot, wondering who would strike the first blow.

It didn't take long to find out. Lancelot swung, barely missing, and catching the edge of the shield when Arthur brought it up just in time. Arthur returned the blow, then tried to follow it immediately after, though Lancelot managed to avoid both, one with his sword, and the other by stepping out of the way just in time.

Merlin could tell it was going to be a long battle.

An hour into the fight, and still neither of them had managed to hit anything other than shield or sword. If something didn't happen soon…

Gwen frowned. "They can't go on like this forever, can they?" she asked.

Merlin shook his head. "I don't know…" Before he could say more, though, something had shifted, and the whole crowd leaned forward as Arthur began to press the advantage he'd managed to wring from Lancelot.

Merlin knew these battles could be won or lost in moments, but he couldn't have said what made the difference this time. And then, Lancelot was on the ground, and Arthur pointed his sword at him. "Yield."

Lancelot nodded, and Arthur offered his hand to help him up, the two glancing toward the seneschal, waiting for his nod. Merlin tensed when the man glanced up at Morgana, who was glowering down at the two men on the field. He hadn't even realized he was holding his breath until he saw her slight nod, and released it in a gush of relief.

Gwen was bouncing beside him as they went to meet them both when they came off the field. "One more fight, Arthur! You've almost won!"

"Yes…well…we'll see. Come on. Let's go back to the tent." He glanced at Merlin. "Could you watch the next? Just to see?"

Merlin frowned, but nodded. "Of course."

He wanted to ask if he could come with them, but knew it was important to know who Arthur would have to fight, and this was the best way to do so. It was silly to feel left out because Arthur had asked him to stay. They needed the knowledge, after all. He just didn't know why a page couldn't have done the same.

The fight after Arthur and Lancelot's was nowhere near as intense. Both fighters were good, but nothing special, and while it took time for the fight to end, neither particularly stood out as someone for Arthur to be concerned about.

Still, it seemed odd that two so average fighters had made it so far in the tournament. Surely there had to be something special about them to make it over even the knights that had made it into this level of the tournament?

Merlin would worry about it later. First, he wanted to see how Arthur was doing. He made his way back to the tent, where Arthur and the others were sitting and talking quietly.

Gwaine had shown as well. "And where have you been?" Merlin asked when he saw him.

"Morning to you as well," Gwaine answered, grinning.

"Yeah, yeah… But why weren't you at the fight this morning?"

"I had an assignment."

Merlin frowned, then glanced at Arthur, who nodded. "So…who won?"

"Um…I think his name was Drecen…?"

Arthur scowled, then glanced at Gwain. "And you're sure, Gwaine?"

"Not entirely, but…who else would have that sort of entourage? And…well, I think I saw Morgause with him. Why else would she be there? Aren't they known to team up now and again?"

"Damn…" Arthur sighed, nodding. "I had hoped she wouldn't, but…"

Merlin looked between them. Morgause? Team up with who? "What? Who? He didn't seem very spectacular to me…"

"That's because he was trying not to stand out, Merlin…" Arthur met his eyes. "To keep us from stopping him."

"Who? I don't recognize him… I mean…I was standing right there…"

"Cenred." Arthur spat the word, scowling.

"What? You're…kidding. Why?"

"The same reason he's always trying to conquer Camelot," Arthur sighed.

"Well, you can beat him…right?"

"Of course. But I'm sure he's got something hidden up his sleeve," Arthur said. "And I doubt it's going to be simple to deal with."

"Do you…think Morgana is working with him?"

"I wouldn't put it past her. She seems hell-bent on getting Camelot for herself."

"But why would winning matter, Arthur?" Gwen asked. "Everyone knows who you are. Or suspects it. Surely even if you lose…"

"If I lose, they'll assume he's the better man. And if he's the better man, Morgana can declare me an imposter, and then…"

"Take over Camelot," Merlin sighed. "So…what do we do?"

"I fight him."

"What? But that's what he wants!"

"Yes. But I have no choice. If I don't, he wins anyway. So I have to. And I'll just have to make sure if he tries anything, that everyone notices." He looked at Merlin, who flushed.

"In other words, don't interfere?" he asked.

"Exactly. Trust me to have the skill to take care of it myself."

"As you wish," Merlin sighed.

"It will be fine, Merlin. I promise. I think I'm ready. Did they say when the final would be held?"

"After lunch." When they'd announced it, it had seemed ages. Now…he wanted to put it off forever. What if Arthur was hurt?

"Right…well…" Arthur seemed a bit lost for a moment, and Merlin found himself wishing that Uther was there to remind him of who he was, and that he could do this.

Gwen stood. "I'll go find us something to eat. There's plenty out there." She left, and Merlin settled on the floor next to Arthur's chair, not sure what to do now.

"We'll manage, Merlin," Arthur said patting his shoulder. "And then…"

"Then she'll try to find another way to convince them you're unfit," Merlin said softly. There had to be something he could do to prove Arthur deserved the kingdom…


Thirty-Two
The Final Battle

By the time they went out to the field for the final match, Merlin was a bundle of nerves. Arthur seemed stony faced as he stepped out onto the field to face his opponent. Merlin couldn't really blame him. It all felt unreal right now. And if Gwaine was right…

Well, this wasn't going to go well. Merlin just wished he knew what to do to stop it.

The man who stepped onto the field looked nothing like the one who had fought in the previous match, and the audience murmured loudly as he moved to face Arthur. Many of them were glancing toward the stand where Morgana was sitting, but she seemed unphased, as though there were nothing unusual about people taking the place of others in this sort of battle.

The murmurs grew louder, and finally the seneschal had to wave for silence. "This is the final match of the tournament. The man who wins this will be declared Camelot's champion." He looked at each man. "Are you gentlemen ready?"

The crowd began to shout, the sound merging together into one big, angry sound, and the seneschal had to fight to be heard. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please, be quiet. The fight cannot continue until you are all quiet."

The audience quieted, but the reaction gave Merlin hope. Maybe they could do this after all?

The seneschal glanced between the two men once more. "Are you both ready?" Arthur and Cenred nodded. The seneschal stepped back. "Then…begin!"

The crowd went utterly silent as Arthur and Cenred circled each other, waiting for an opening to strike at each other.

Merlin's mouth went dry with nervousness, waiting for something—anything—to happen, and nearly jumped with the first clash of sword on sword. They were so evenly matched, it was hard to say who would get the upper hand.

And the longer it took, the harder it was to watch. What if Arthur lost? What if Cenred used some dirty trick? So many things could go wrong…

Arthur fell to the ground, rolling quickly to the side just before Cenred struck right where he'd been laying, and the whole crowd gasped as he jumped to his feet, sword ready and attacking before Cenred could pull back.

The fight heated up from there, blow after blow landing, with no ending in sight. They couldn't do this forever…could they?

And then Merlin saw Cenred try to sweep Arthur's leg to trip him, and couldn't help but shout out to him, distracting him from the fight for a second. He watched, horrified and stunned as Cenred's blade came down. Arthur caught it with the edge of his shield, then pushed him back and swung at him, barely missing his side in his attack.

Another few blows, and Cenred was on his back, and Arthur looked down at him, his sword pointed at Cenred's throat. "Give. Yield."

Cenred was silent for so long, Merlin was sure he would refuse, but then he nodded. "I yield," he said, loud enough for those watching to hear. And then nothing could be heard for several minutes as they cheered for their prince. There were shouts of 'Prince Arthur!" and "Long live the king!" and even "Ling live King Arthur!" throughout the crowd, and Merlin glanced up to see how Morgana was reacting.

He didn't like what he saw there at all.

She looked amused. Once the seneschal had quieted down, she stood and moved to the front of the box. "Well, truly you are an excellent fighter…sir…?"

Arthur narrowed his eyes, standing where he'd stood through the cheering and moving no closer to her. "I think you know my name…Morgana."

"I don't know why you would say that, good knight," she answered. She seemed far too smug for Merlin's comfort. She had to have something up her sleeve again. The crowd began to murmur around her once more.

Eyes narrowing for a moment, Arthur raised his chin. "I was named Arthur by my father. I'm here to claim my place as king of Camelot."

"King? And how are we to know," Morgana said, her smile widening, "that you are who you claim? After all, Prince Arthur has been missing for over a year. Perhaps you abducted him, and are attempting to pass yourself off as him, when the real Arthur has been dead all this time? Have you proof you are who you say?"

"Have I not just proven myself?" he said, still meeting her eyes.

"Ah, but is that not King Cenred whom you just defeated? How do we not know he was placed there so that you would have an ally to easily defeat in the final battle?"

Merlin's heart sank at the words. He could see that some in the crowd were looking at Arthur differently now. They couldn't believe her, could they?

And then a thought occurred to him. If only he could talk to Arthur.

He nudged Gwaine. "I think we need to get everyone to the courtyard. I have an idea…"

Gwaine frowned. "What sort…?"

"Not now. You'll see. Just…make sure to follow my lead. And stick close to Gwen and Lancelot. All right?"

Gwaine shook his head. "Why?"

"You'll see," Merlin repeated.

Arthur was still glowering up at Morgana. "And what sort of proof would you have me give?"

"Show us that you can beat any other…of my own choosing."

Merlin hopped over the railing and onto the field. "I've a thought, Arthur," he whispered before looking up at Morgana. "Your champion, our choice of task?" he asked her.

She frowned. "And how do we know you won't rig it so that your…" She glanced at Arthur with a disdainful look. "Your…'champion' will win?"

"We will give you as many chances as you wish."

Arthur turned to give Merlin a horrified stare. "What? Merlin… Are you mad?"

"Just trust me," Merlin hissed to Arthur, then glanced up at Morgana once more. "Is it a deal?"

She glanced between them, her eyes narrowed, then nodded. "Very well. If he can win…I will concede that he is, indeed, Prince Arthur. But if he does not…" She smirked. "Well…I would advise you all to leave this kingdom, and never return."

"Yes…well…we will see, my lady." Merlin gave her a half-bow, then tugged at Arthur's arm. "Come on," he muttered under his breath.

"Merlin…what…"

"Shh…not here. I have a plan."

"A plan? Merlin…if you try to trick her…"

"Not here!" he nodded to the others as they passed, dragging Arthur to his tent, then waited for the others to come in before casting spells to prevent others from hearing them talk.

"Merlin, whatever you have up your sleeve…"

"Is nothing more than what she's asking for. You claimed Excalibur, right?"

Arthur narrowed his eyes, then nodded.

"Then you can do it again. It's simple."


Thirty-Three
The Sword in the Stone

A few hours later found much of the crowd gathered around the central stairs leading to the castle from the courtyard.

"Well?" Morgana said, sounding far too sure of herself. "Now what, Merlin?"

It was hard to expose his secret after so many years of hiding it, but Merlin looked at Arthur who nodded. He knew the others would protect him, should anything go wrong. Didn't make it feel any better, though.

Finally, he gathered all his courage, and every impulse that screamed to protect Arthur and Camelot, and let that guide him. "I will need your sword, Arthur…" he said, loud enough for everyone to hear.

Arthur nodded, holding out Excalibur, and Merlin took it, gingerly holding it in both hands, then turned to Morgana, whose eyes narrowed. "Feel free to examine the sword, my lady. I assure you, it is simply a sword. If a special one." He smirked at Cendred, who glowered at him from behind Morgana's shoulder. "I'm sure your…friend there can attest to that."

Morgana didn't seem to want to take his word for it, though, as she reached out to take the sword to test it. She looked over the blade, then raised it as though to strike at someone.

Merlin wasn't sure she would, but he had to make sure. "I would advise not using it on anyone, my lady. The creator of that particular sword is…rather insistent about that." Merlin didn't think any of them wanted to deal with an angry dragon right now.

"Then how am I to test it, hm?" she asked, looking a bit smug.

"That log there should do." Merlin had asked Gwaine to bring it up. He knew Morgana wouldn't be satisfied with his word for it. They'd not been friends for far too long now.

She looked at him for a long moment, then hefted the sword, striking hard against the log, then again, before turning and offering the sword to Merlin. "It seems…normal, as you say, Merlin."

Merlin nodded. "Thank you, my lady." He turned, glancing once at Arthur, then waved for everyone watching in the courtyard to back up. Once they'd made room, he focused on a stone in the centre of the courtyard. His eyes glowed, and he heard gasps from the watching crowd, but he couldn't stop now. This needed to end. The stone rose, then grew, filling the free space of the courtyard, and taking on a more jagged appearance.

Once the stone had settled, he let the sword fly to the stone, using his magic to drive it into the center of the stone.

He'd been ignoring the shouts and gasps while he'd cast the spells, but now he turned to Arthur, who had moved closer, and Merlin could see that he had kept the others from grabbing him while he cast the spells. Merlin turned to look at Morgana, who was looking sour. Had she expected to "out" him as a warlock once this was over? Or was she just annoyed she'd never guessed?

"My lady. The task is a simple one. The one who pulls that sword from that stone…is the one meant to be king."

"An impossible task. I'm sure you've driven it deep enough that no one ever will."

"No? You think not?"

"I think magic is still against the law, and you should watch your tongue, Merlin."

Merlin snorted at that, then turned to Arthur. "I guess you get to try first then, my lord," he said.

"What? That's not...you put it in there for him to pull out, then. That will prove nothing, she exclaimed.

"I assure you I did not. Do you wish your champion to try first?" he asked.

She seemed torn, and scowled at him in her frustration. "Very well. Agravaine!"

Cendred had stepped forward at her first words, and when she called for Agravaine, Merlin watched him scowl at her. Not that he'd expected them to have an easy alliance. Still, it was nice to see the evidence that they would be as likely to turn on each other as Arthur. He filed away the fact for now, and watched as Agravaine approached the stone, examining it from all angles before moving forward to curl his hands around the grip.

He tugged at the sword, and Merlin could feel several people watching him rather than Agravaine, obviously waiting for him to cast a spell to prevent him from getting the sword. He looked out over the crowd, meeting the eyes of those he saw watching him, then glanced back at Agravaine, smiling as he scowled and stepped back.

"It's impossible, my lady. He's enchanted it to keep it from being pulled free. I'm certain of it."

"I've cast no spell but to put the sword into the stone. Perhaps you should see that the sword can be removed?" Merlin asked.

Morgana shook her head. "No…Cenred…you try."

"As you wish, my lady," Cenred said with a smirk. He stepped up to the stone, shooing Agravaine away, then took a good grip on the sword. And tugged. Hard. And tugged again. The sword didn't budge. He let go, and glowered up at Merlin, then looked at Morgana. "It's impossible. The sword might as well be part of the stone. It will never come free."

"So let Arthur try it," Merlin suggested.

Morgana glowered at him. "What, so you can remove whatever spell you have on it and let him take it?"

"I wouldn't…"

"As though we believe you." She looked around. "Lancelot…you try…"

Did Morgana honestly think that if he was holding it, he'd let it go for just anyone? She seemed awfully smug at the idea, and they all watched as Lancelot moved to the stone, meeting first Arthur's eyes, then Merlin's. Merlin nodded to him, then watched as Lancelot tried to tug the sword free.

After several minutes of fruitless tugging, he stepped back and shook his head. "Nothing, my lady."

She huffed. "I still don't believe that you haven't somehow used your magic to keep it in place until Arthur tries."

"Then let him try, then place it back in the stone. If one of your champions can pull it after Arthur has…would that appease you?" Merlin asked her.

She frowned, considering this, then nodded. "Very well. 'Arthur…?'" She looked at him, and though she was trying for smug, Merlin could see that she was forcing it at best.

Arthur met Merlin's eyes, then walked down the steps. Merlin felt it as everyone's eyes turned toward him. There were times when Arthur could remind everyone around him just who he was. Perhaps he did it unconsciously. Perhaps not. Whichever it was, he was doing it now, and everyone seemed unable to look away from him. Even Merlin.

Lancelot stepped aside as Arthur moved to the stone. He glanced up at Merlin, who smiled down at him reassuringly. Arthur had managed to call the sword from the lake. He could do this. No matter how far the sword had been pushed into the stone. The sword was his. It would always come when he needed it.

The moment Arthur gripped the sword, it began to glow pale, the light filling the area around the stone with a radiance that had the crowd around the stone pressing back and away from it.

Even Merlin blinked in astonishment. Had the sword glowed when they'd been at the lake?

"Stop that, Merlin…" Morgana was saying. The words sounded tinny in his ears.

"I'm…not doing anything," he said. He knew his voice sounded awed, but he couldn't stop himself.

Arthur looked up at him, worried, but Merlin shook his head. "Just…do it, Arthur," he said softly, the words still somehow ringing through the square.

Arthur nodded, then tugged at the sword, nearly stumbling as it slid easily free of the stone, then held it up with a smile.

"It's a trick," Morgana growled. "Put it back in. Let Cenred try again."

Smiling more confidently now, Arthur nodded. "Of course, Morgana." He slid the sword back into place, then stepped back and waved Cenred forward. "Your turn," he said with a smirk.

Cenred growled, then pushed his way past Lancelot and Arthur and gripped the sword once more, tugging hard at it. Nothing happened. Merlin glanced At Morgana, who looked to be swelling with anger, her eyes flashing. "What have you done?" she growled.

"Nothing, my lady. The sword merely recognizes it's rightful owner. And that owner is the rightful King of this kingdom."

There was a commotion, and Merlin turned to see that Cenred had climbed onto the stone to try to get a better grip. Before anyone could stop him, he'd tugged hard—and was flying backwards into the crowd around them. And before Merlin could stop them, other knights were now trying for the sword, some familiar, some who seemed to be fighters from the tournament, and some who Merlin didn't recognize at all.

It turned to bedlam, with men fighting to get to the sword to try to pull it from the stone, and Merlin didn't even know he was going to speak until he heard his own voice ringing through the courtyard. "Stop! Let him try again!"

At first everyone went silent, and then people from the crowd began to murmur. "Yes." "Let Arthur try." "No…it's a trick. He couldn't do it again…"

"Let him try," Merlin cried out again, and the crowd's voices rose to agree with him.

Merlin turned to look at Morgana, who looked ready to spit venom if she could. "Oh…very well. Stand back. Let Arthur try again."

Grumbling, the other men began to withdraw from the vicinity of the stone, ringing the area so they could watch as Arthur attempted to draw the sword once more.

Back straight, Arthur walked to the stone and placed his hand on the grip once more. Again, the pale light filled the area, and this time, when Arthur pulled the sword free, Merlin was sure he heard the dragon roar somewhere in the distance.

Before Morgana could protest this time, the crowd began to cheer. They knew a miracle when they saw one.

"Hail, King Arthur! Long live the king!"


Next Part


42368 / 50000 words. 85% done!

Comments

Nov. 27th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
Yayz, now to lock up bad guys, banish the others and get back to the shagging. :D
Nov. 27th, 2010 01:44 am (UTC)
Heh. Something like that, yes. :D
Nov. 28th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
:-D Clever trick, Merlin!
Nov. 28th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
:D