The Girl in Question. (manhattan_blue) wrote in onionsareblue,
The Girl in Question.
manhattan_blue
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Warfare, (1/1)

Warfare.
Merlin/Arthur, 3179 words, R.
Canon AU, future!fic.
Accompaniment to The streets I used to own but could easily be read separately.

Arthur has two weapons: Excalibur and Merlin.
Merlin has been told that his gift is for Arthur, but though his magic seems to wane slightly when he is out of Arthur’s presence, he only truly understands when Arthur is wrapped around him, for then Arthur seems to stoke his powers, sending them storming through him like Arthur’s armies to conquer and to claim, warring, singing through his blood.



A falcon hangs in the sky, a darker shade against the night, gliding on non-existent winds, before coming in silently to land on the ledge of a glassless window, invisible in the shadows. The castle is slate grey and appears grimy, old fashioned, in comparison to the vision that is the pale stone of Camelot, glowing in the high noon sun. The doors in the hall down below swing open, sending a shaft of weak candle light flickering across the cobbled stone floor, revealing a figure sitting, statuesque, upon a roughly hewn throne. His colourless hair gleams silver and the lines upon his face deepen, taking on the appearance of delicate carvings etched into ancient wood.

A young servant scurries tentatively into the room, bobbing respectfully before the king. When he speaks his voice is tremulous.

“M-my lord, we have word from the sorceresses Morgana and Morgause-” The falcon shifts its feathers upon its high stony perch. “-that Arthur’s men have decimated our armies.”

He falters momentarily, as though awaiting a response. He continues.

“They say Camelot will march upon us. They say Arthur intends to unite all of Albion under his banner, that many kingdoms have bowed to his wishes and he will rule over them as High King.”

The boy pauses again before ploughing on.

“My lord. They- they say he is using magic; that his sword is undefeatable and that when his opponent strikes a blow he does not bleed.”

The king stirs for the first time, but does not break his silence.

“There have been rumours of late that Arthur has the protection of a sorcerer – the most powerful sorcerer Albion has ever known; that Arthur alone has his absolute loyalty. It has been said that Arthur lifted his father’s ban on magic for his sorcerer’s sake; that in return the sorcerer advises his king and it is on his word that Arthur seeks to unite Albion.”

“We have nothing to fear from this boy king and his wizard!” the king says, his voice steely as he rises from his seat. “Do not think these whispers are unknown to me – I have heard them and more. There is no truth to them. No man is unkillable and Morgana and Morgause will be more than an adequate match for his boy’s trifling tricks! I will not bow to such audacity; his father is hardly cold in his grave and Arthur is already revoking his laws and waging war upon his allies: it is clear he has no longevity. Gather our remaining forces and send them immediately to Morgause.”

The young servant forgets his propriety in his fear of the king’s anger and hurries from the room without paying his respects. The doors close behind him, the sound echoing thinly through the hall, and the king sinks back down onto his throne.

In the arched window above, the falcon has heard all he needs to know and takes off into the night once more.

***


When Merlin returns to the camp, the thick blackness which had marked the night is fading slowly into a cold, grey dawn, clinging to the horizon as dew cling to the grass beneath his feet. Arthur’s men are sitting awake in tight circles around the fires, and though their faces are drawn with fatigue and their bodies racked with cold, there is an air of quiet conquest and invulnerability cloaking them. Many are readying weapons for further hardships, others simply warming themselves or drinking companionably, their faces flickering in and out of shadow in the light of the flames. The faint sounds of triumphant song drift across from the other side of their settlement to meet Merlin’s ears. He knows that though they have suffered losses, they sing with pride of their last victory and in anticipation of their next. The cheery sound seems almost alien in the harsh chill of the pre-morning as he comes to bear bad tidings to his king.

The tent he shares with Arthur bears no distinguishing outer feature; it is made of the same plain canvas as that of any of Arthur’s knights, though once inside the furs are perhaps a little richer and, when Merlin enters to find Arthur pouring over maps of the surrounding territory, it is lit by a swirling globe of magical blue light that hangs in the air above Arthur’s work. Arthur turns around and gives Merlin a quick once over before asking,

“How goes things with Vortigern?”

“Not well. He will not concede. And it is as I feared – he is in alliance with Morgana and Morgause.”

Arthur gives no sign of having heard the name of someone he once considered as good as a sister, other than a tightening to his jaw.

“But their numbers will be few and your men are in good spirit; they know they will win tomorrow.”

“At what cost?” Arthur demands harshly. “Have we not lost enough men to this cause?”

“I will not let anyone die needlessly, Arthur, you have my word.”

“I know,” Arthur says and it is the closest thing Merlin will get to an apology, for even after the death of his father and in all the years they have known each other, Arthur has never learnt to apologise. But it is enough for Merlin; he knows Arthur like breathing and he needs no sorry words from him.

“It will be worth it. You just have to prove yourself and if that takes a few hard fights, then so be it. Your kingdom will be one that is fair and just; your rule will be one that is remembered and revered. Your people will love you, Arthur, and that is worth fighting for. ”

Arthur seems to hear the unsaid words and his smile, though it is tired and wan, is impossible for Merlin not to return.

“Then we have no choice. If Vortigern will not negotiate, we will ride at first light.”

***


The battlefield seems to stretch on forever, blackened and smoking: a desolate charcoal wasteland for as far as the eye can see, littered with the bodies of the dead. The red of Arthur’s men and the yellow of Vortigern’s so sullied by the mud that it is all but impossible to tell them apart.

Arthur stands, sword bloodied, armour still gleaming in the light of the dying sun that stains the sky scarlet, surveying the wreckage of the battle. It does not yet feel like a victory with the losses so heavy on both sides, but Excalibur sings triumphantly in his hand, glorying in the destruction where Arthur cannot.

Merlin approaches across the grass, ruined with blood and mud, to stand silently at Arthur’s side. The air around him hums with magic that has not yet died down inside him. His eyes are still rimmed with the fierce molten gold that had glowed in his eyes as he fought to protect Arthur’s men, or to mow down their opponents with merely a thought. He appears almost skeletal in the dimming light as he stands beside Arthur, the brush of their arms sending Merlin’s power flowing over his skin as they look out over the devastated land that they have this day claimed.

Arthur smiles and Merlin, power still running close to the surface, can feel the last of the sun’s rays sink below the horizon.

***


“Next I intend to negotiate with Keredic,” says Arthur, surveying a map of his new territory later that night. “He was always on good terms with my father and I do not think we need fight a war to convince him of our cause. Besides, his kingdom has grown weak and an alliance with Camelot would bring great protection and prosperity to his people.”

“Good,” murmurs Merlin, still feeling restless, his magic on edge after the battle. “Very good, sire.”

Arthur’s hand comes to rest on the nape of Merlin’s neck, grounding him inside the tent as his magic thrums heated through his blood.

“It has been long since you called me that,” Arthur says, his voice soft and gaze intent as though he can see the magic running through Merlin’s very veins, as though it remains a glimmer of gold in his eyes, though Merlin is sure it has long since faded. Merlin wonders if Arthur can feel it through his skin as he can, like a second heart beating perfectly in time with his first.

Merlin fists the front of Arthur’s tunic when Arthur’s hand upon his neck ceases to be enough. He suddenly feels as though his magic might wash him away, feels helpless in the face of his own powers. Arthur anticipates his need, has faced it in the aftermath of every great battle, and he moves in the same moment, his other hand coming to rest on Merlin’s hip as he walks him backwards until Merlin’s lower back hits the bench covered in scrolls. His hand at Merlin’s neck slips down his back, pulling them together as he mouths at Merlin’s jaw.

“Say it again,” he commands softly, his lips trailing barely-there kisses down Merlin’s throat that, coupled with his authoritive tone, make his magic crackle and dance upon his skin.
“Sire,” Merlin gasps, feeling breathless with want and dizzying power, as Arthur slips a thigh between Merlin’s own.

Arthur’s answering hum of satisfaction as he bites down on Merlin’s shoulder seems to wash through his entire body. He twists in Arthur’s arms and is grateful, not for the first time, of Arthur’s great physical strength to hold him as the magic dances through him, pooling in his belly and driving him half wild.

Merlin has been told that his gift is for Arthur, but though his magic seems to wane slightly when he is out of Arthur’s presence, he only truly understands when Arthur is wrapped around him, for then Arthur seems to stoke his powers, sending them storming through him like Arthur’s armies to conquer and to claim, warring, singing through his blood.

***


Darkness crept up on them. When Merlin had settled down at the table in Arthur’s chambers that afternoon, expecting a few hours work before heading back to his own rooms, the sun had been shining high in the cobalt sky above the city.

He had felt Arthur’s eyes upon him as he set to work on his armour, buffing the metal, murmuring spells to strengthen and protect the breastplate. A thrill of pleasure had rushed through him at Arthur’s interest and the never mentioned but ever present trust that hung between them. He didn’t look up and let Arthur satisfy his curiosity.

Hours later, after Merlin had lost himself in his work and polished Excalibur until the golden engravings on the blade gleamed; he finally looked up when Arthur moved from his seat by the fire to light the candles. Outside the sky had faded to deep blue and heavy clouds gathered, stormy grey against the heavens, obscuring the stars.

“How long’ve I been going?” Merlin asked, yawning and offering Arthur a sleepy smile as the last candles caught alight and Arthur lowered himself down into the seat opposite.

“A few hours.”

Arthur seemed thoughtful. His eyes were fixed upon the sword and the armour on the table between them. Merlin could not hold back a fond grin and reached out towards Arthur’s gauntlet, sending a lone spark across the now burnished metal, into the heart of the crest upon it.

“You’re going to get yourself killed one of these days,” said Arthur, meeting his gaze for the first time.

Merlin rolled his eyes and Arthur added “idiot” as an afterthought.

“I’m touched by your concern, sire.”

“As you should be.”

They sat in silence for some time, the room getting gradually darker around them as the clouds thickened outside and the sun sank further below the horizon. Eventually, Merlin’s stomach began to rumble and it was Arthur’s turn to roll his eyes.

“Honestly, you just don’t know how to look after yourself, do you?” he said as he got back up and crossed the room, pulling the door open.

“It’s not my fault if you’ve had me slaving away all day whilst you sat around doing nothing.”

Arthur ignored him and Merlin heard him waylay a passing servant and ask her for some food from the kitchens. Merlin thought the girl was probably wondering where the prince’s manservant was, as such tasks where usually his job. He smiled to himself, settling further down into the second fur-lined chair that Arthur had had moved into his rooms. He watched the reflections of the flames played across the armour as Arthur sat back down opposite him.

It was the first time Arthur’s fire had been lit that year. The summer had been short, a season of heavy rain that had passed quickly into autumn. A definite bite had been present in the air when Merlin had awoken that morning with his breath billowing white in the air before him.

“I wish I had a fire in my room,” said Merlin, absent-mindedly. Arthur seemed not to hear him and remained lost in his own contemplations until the serving girl knocked politely before entering.

She set down a jug of wine, the dishes of fruit and meat upon the table, enough for two Merlin noticed happily, and if her gaze upon him belied any curiosity, then he could not see it and, to his surprise, she nodded respectfully to him before curtseying to Arthur and slipping silently from the room.

Merlin glanced at Arthur to see if he had thought her deferential behaviour odd, but it seemed he had not, so he helped himself to a grape before pouring them both a glass of the deep crimson wine.

Arthur took his goblet, but paused before he lifted it to his lips.

“Excalibur,” he said, his eyes remaining fixed upon the dark liquid, as though captivated by it.
Merlin carried on eating, allowing Arthur express whatever it was that was preying on his mind.

“When I face opponents. I mean,” he faltered again, searching for the words. “Do you- do you hear it sing?”

“Yes,” Merlin breathed in wonder. “But I thought- well, I thought it was just because of my magic.”

Arthur set down his goblet and looked at him.

“Does your magic allow you to hear other things?”

“No,” said Merlin, without thinking. “Actually, sometimes I can hear people’s voices in my head. Sort of like hearing their thoughts.” At Arthur’s look of alarm he added, “Only people with magic though, like the druid boy, and I think he could control what I heard.”

Arthur helped himself to some venison they had caught when out hunting the previous day and glanced at Merlin, inviting him to continue.

“Once, when I was little, I lay down in a field – it was in the middle of summer, the cattle were out grazing and it was so hot that no one could get any work done. I remember I felt like I was dying of thirst, so Will and I went looking for a stream to bathe in and to quench our thirst, but we didn’t get any further than a field on the edge of the village. And I lay down with my ear to the ground and I swore I could hear the earth, the roots and water and all the insects and animals in the soil.” He laughed softly. “It was probably just my imagination.”

The memory seemed to stir something in Arthur.

“Will wasn’t really a sorcerer, was he?”

“No,” Merlin admitted.

“How did he find out about your magic?”

“We used to go exploring together – there weren’t any other kids our age, there was a string of harsh winters just after we were born so quite a few didn’t make it. Will’s dad fought for King Cenred to provide money for his family, and my mother always said it was probably my magic that helped me through. Anyway, so we used to go off on our own a lot as soon as we were able. I think the village was probably glad to see the back of us for a while – Will was always causing trouble and quite a few of them were wary of me, so no one missed us. One day we went farther than usual and we came upon a cave in this huge wall of rock in the middle of the forest. The entrance wasn’t very big so at first we just thought it was a little overhang in the cliff, but when you got inside it opened out and went back much further than we expected. Will didn’t like it much and wanted to go back but I- I don’t know. It felt sort of like I needed to go further, like there was something more. A little way in the floor started to slope down a bit, but the roof stayed high. I remember thinking that maybe the whole hill was hollowed out.”

Merlin paused and took a drink of wine to wet his throat. Arthur’s eyes were fixed upon him, dark and intense, and he seemed lost in Merlin’s words, having forgotten about his food.

“Thinking about it now, it seems odd that the cave wasn’t dark, with such a tiny entrance and going further back into the hill like it was, but I didn’t think about it at the time. There was a glow coming from deeper inside, but Will couldn’t see it. The cave opened out and suddenly all the walls were lined with crystals. It was so beautiful - light reflected off them, casting rainbows on the floor. And I- saw things, flashes and pictures in the light. Fire and battles – huge armies going to war; a crown and a- a lake.”

Merlin frowned, his gazing falling upon the sword before him.

“I saw Excalibur,” he murmured, “coming out of the lake. I didn’t realise until now. It was so long ago. And I- I think I saw you.”

“You saw me?”

“I saw the future,” said Merlin, heart pounding in his chest. “I just didn’t know. Will said it was like I went into a trance, he said he called out and I couldn’t hear him; that my eyes glowed golden and it was like I couldn’t see or hear anything. He was terrified.”

“I don’t blame him,” said Arthur and Merlin laughed, his heart beat returning to normal but his head still swimming with realisation. He drained his goblet and shivered, half with the shock from his memory, half with the cold.

“You should stay here tonight,” Arthur told him.

“What?” said Merlin, blankly.

“By the fire,” Arthur explained.

“Oh,” Merlin said, blushing from what he hoped was the wine.

“There should be some spare blankets in the cupboard and the floor can’t be any worse than that bed of yours,” said Arthur, smirking at him.

“Yes,” Merlin replied, rolling his eyes again, but unable to stop the smile that broke across his face. “Thank you, sire.”
Tags: author:manhattan_blue, fandom:merlin, pairing:merlin/arthur
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