It was a look that Arthur had seen countless times, but one he never understood until now. It was the burden of a secret that would crush the world around him. → 1700w.
notes: my take on a magic reveal. character death, angst. non-canon.
His hands were shaking. He couldn't steady his movements if he wanted to. He silently willed himself to get it together. Not because he didn't want anyone to know he was currently in a state of intense panic, but because he couldn't speak. His throat was dry and even if it wasn't, his voice was nowhere to be found. He just stood there, suddenly drenched in sweat. He was a man who had trained his entire life to have control over his body and emotions. He always believed that his mind was truly that, his. So why was he standing in front of his manservant, his best friend, like a ten year old boy who had just seen his first beheading? Arthur was king. Arthur was a deeply rooted tree in the midst of a hurricane, he was unstoppable and he was a machine. But right now he was being pulled apart. He could feel everything he built being torn from him. It'd happened twice before: with Morgana, Agravaine. He would build himself to be stronger next time. This time he wasn't sure if he could.
Merlin stood right ahead. Slightly taller than Arthur, though you'd never be able to tell without getting extremely close. Merlin's eyes faded from gold to blue. The warm rings within the iris glowed and sparked and dimmed back down to Merlin's regular eye color like a fire extinguished by a storm. And that's what would be coming, a storm. Merlin was sure of it. Arthur had finally witnessed his magic. He was standing there, feet planted in the slightly damp grounds of Ealdor. There was no sound to be heard other than his own heart, there couldn't be. He'd just decimated every enemy warrior in sight. And there he was, looking at Arthur, looking at his king with the eyes of a man. Merlin was no longer a boy warlock, no, he had been hardened by his days of going into war by Arthur's side, and seeing the ones he's loved die. Not just seeing, leading them into their deaths just by pure association with Merlin, by pure association with the throne. When Merlin had learned of his mother's death at the hands of rogues, he'd made it his duty to seek and achieve revenge. He didn't care what the costs were. Not even Arthur seeing his magic. He promised himself that he would see that every single foe died at his own hands.
Arthur turned around to look at the dead bodies scattered through the tiny village. The smell of death was in the air so he figured that some of them weren't their…no, Merlin's doing, some of them were innocent villagers. Still, there was no mistaking the hoods and horses of their enemies. Their bodies were all lifeless. When all is said and done all men bleed red, and anyone can be killed. Arthur lifted his eyes once more to Merlin, his manservant. Well Merlin was always much more than a manservant to Arthur, wasn't he? He was his confidante, his entertainment, his punching bag, he was his — well Arthur thought he was his best friend. Arthur knew how this went, betrayal. His head hurt from trying to make sense of everything in the matter of no more than three minutes, his arms hurt from fighting the soldiers, his bottom hurt from what should've been a fatal blow that was delivered to him and knocked him on his arse. Well, until Merlin stopped time. It appeared that Merlin had been keeping a secret, a monumental secret, from him all of this time. That hurt Arthur the most.
Arthur swallowed and steadied himself. He wanted to lean on something, but there was nothing. There was only open space. There was just Merlin, like there always was. Always Merlin. "Are you —", he croaked. He couldn't believe what he was about to say. An hour earlier he wouldn't have thought to ask Merlin such a question. But now, he didn't know what to ask Merlin or why he was even asking. Some part of him had hope that Merlin would say no. But the look on Merlin's face told him otherwise. It was a look that Arthur had seen countless times, but one he never understood until now. It was the burden of a secret that would crush the world around him. The burden of a great and terrible thing. Arthur was no longer the green prince who always listened to his father, who thought magic was and always would be the root of all evils, who thought that all folk associated with magic deserved to die a most terrible and painful death, no he was king now and while he has suffered firsthand at the hands of it, he has also reaped the rewards of magic too. Arthur's experiences taught him that just like power, magic was only as dangerous as the wielder.
Merlin opened his mouth slightly, lips parched. He nodded softly and looked down at Arthur's feet — a sign of subservience, submission, and shame. "I have…" he opened and closed his mouth looking for the words. How could there be any other way to say it? "…magic." His eyes glittered though his face was pale. His heart hurt but he felt a strange kind of relief. Regardless of how things were to play out he felt that at this moment he was finally letting Arthur see him for who he was, what he stood for, and what he'd given up. Instead of showing Arthur what he could do by throwing an item backward or lighting a fire, something he'd grown used to doing while revealing his magic to an enemy, he just said, "I was born with it".
Arthur had many questions reeling through his head, things that he needed to ask, and things he needed to say. He wasn't as upset as he would expect to be in such a situation. No, he was upset, it's that he wasn't angry. He'd lived his entire life under the thumb of the main enemy to people possessing magic, his father. Arthur had witnessed the terrors and the devastation that mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, women, men, and children had been subjected to. Arthur was a fair and just king, and he would hope to never jump to such conclusions and attempt to annihilate an entire group of people based on the fact that they practiced magic. He especially wouldn't want to cause any harm to his loyal servant of a decade, Merlin. What Arthur felt in his veins wasn't fear or rage, it was disappointment. Merlin could have trusted him with something like this, couldn't he have? But now wasn't the time to have a heart to heart, or for Arthur to complain to Merlin about how hurt his feelings were. The fact of the matter was that Merlin's mother was dead and his only true home, Ealdor had been burned to the ground.
Arthur did what he believed a king should do in that situation. He pulled himself together. He made himself back over, this time out of bricks and mortar, and he decided that the wise thing to do would be to alert Camelot and bring more knights to bring the rest of those oppressive barbarians masquerading as soldiers to justice. He'd recognize the cloths they wore any day, it bared the sigil of a notorious thief that had been known to terrorize Albion, especially in the days Uther was king. Arthur remembered years ago that Sir Leon had gotten word that this thief had been found dead in what used to be Cenred's kingdom, and that his following had died out. Apparently a spark had been lit and a new band of delinquents were pillaging in their name. This was what was important to Arthur. Well, it wasn't, not really. But this is what Arthur would convince himself was most important. He could not let his feelings about Merlin or magic stop him from ruling his kingdom or stop him from taking down those who terrorize and threaten the safety of his people.
Arthur still hadn't spoken to Merlin, or even given him an appropriate reaction. Arthur still stood there trying to push war games and tactics through his mind trying to place Merlin's secret and perceived betrayal to another part of his consciousness. Merlin whispered, "Are you going to have me executed?" His voice was still shaky and unsure. Merlin had been imagining how this moment would go for years, and he wanted to sound powerful, to really show Arthur that he had more knowledge and conviction than the once and future king could ever dream him of having. By now Merlin knows that dreams are for fools.
Arthur scoffed, giving Merlin the satisfaction of seeing an expression that the king quite often wore, "Do you really think I'd have had you killed?" No matter what kind of front Arthur had tried to put up, it really wasn't effective at all. Anyone could tell that he was shaken to his core and that what he wanted to say couldn't be said now. Arthur really didn't know if it could ever be said.
Merlin kept his eyes to the ground and muttered, "Your father would have—".
"I am not my father! I am nothing like him. You of all people should know that.", Arthur raised his voice then lowered it once more. "My father's sins are not mine. I would never…I could never allow such harm to come to you." He wiped his brow and sighed.
There was so much to make sense of but his heart was telling him that he was saying what needed to be said. Arthur knew nothing about magic, he was aware of that. He didn't know why Merlin came to Camelot as a Sorcerer or stayed in Camelot, he didn't know why Merlin helped Arthur enforce Uther's rules over the kingdom, or why Merlin didn't side with Morgana and every other sorcerer they met. But Arthur knew that there was honesty and pain in Merlin's voice. He also knew that Merlin truly believed that Arthur would have had him executed. But what Arthur knew for sure was that Merlin had just saved his life and revealed his most dangerous secret in the process. He sought answers, any man would. But right now he would take them as they came and find a way to avenge Ealdor.