After Sam’s visit, Arthur stopped by and called Merlin various names, then promoted him. Merlin could now order other servants to do his more time-consuming tasks, with the exception of maintaining Arthur’s weapons and armour. Arthur insisted that he only trusted Merlin with his sword, but not to let that go to his head.
Merlin’s routine didn’t actually change that much. After a day in bed, Merlin resumed work – getting up early and fetching the King’s breakfast. The only difference was that Arthur had ordered double portions. Once Arthur ate his normal portion, he moved to his desk and begin to go over the day’s work, while Merlin sat in the King’s chair at the table and ate the rest of the breakfast. While he ate, he would offer suggestions for what Arthur could say for each speech or letter, while Arthur made disapproving grumbling noises as usual, but wrote it all down nonetheless.
Merlin was embarrassed by the sudden attention paid to him, because really, things had been fine before. Certainly if he had been a normal servant – if he hadn’t been sneaking out in the middle of the night to kill sorcerers, consult with dragons, and summon ancient warriors, he would have been able to handle his previous workload just fine.
When he complained to Gwen about feeling like a coddled child, Gwen just laughed and asked him how many servants he knew who willingly rode into every single battle or hunt at their master’s side.
“You aren’t just a servant, Merlin,” Gwen had said. “You’re a loyal friend and Arthur is just making up for not formally recognizing so sooner.”
Merlin never could win an argument against Gwen.
Not being exhausted, however, allowed him to indulge in his fascination with the warriors – the hunters – Sam and Dean. While they waited to make sure no further monsters would terrorize Camelot, they trained alongside the knights. Arthur had them spar against each other and his men at least once a day. When the brothers fought together, it was a sight to behold – it would have been fearsome, if not for their continuous smiles and laughter while doing so. They were very well matched in skill.
Sam and Dean weren’t what Merlin had expected. Sam was kind, thoughtful, and somewhat shy. Dean was boisterous, adventurous, quick to anger. They could seem harmless one second and terrifying the next. Merlin realized he had expected them to continue to be like they had been that first night – remote, stoic, mysteriously all knowing. Instead, as the days passed, Merlin had found them to be just like Arthur or Gwaine or Percival... or... people. They were just people.
In the evening, they would drop by Merlin’s room and ask him questions about the magical monsters of his world. And Merlin would tell them stories about Uther marrying a troll, or the Sidhe trying to kill Arthur. In return, they’d sometimes tell him stories from their lives. Sometimes their stories would match the legend and sometimes not.
When they had been there a week without another attack, Sam and Dean told Merlin that it was time for them to go. Merlin nodded, a little sad. He had gotten used to them being around, and he thought they had been enjoying themselves. They seemed to be as much a part of Camelot as any of the other knights, and Merlin felt like his home was safer with the brothers in it.... but he had promised them that he would send them home if they helped and Merlin still remembered what it was like to be on the wrong end of their anger. They made arrangements for the next evening.
On their last day in Camelot, Merlin was not expecting Sam and Dean to arrive in the throne room while Arthur was holding court.
“Sam, Dean, do you have business with the court?” Arthur greeted.
“Is something the matter?” Gwen asked.
“No, My Lady,” Dean replied. “We have come to inform you that we believe that the threat to Camelot has passed and we are no longer needed here. We are very grateful for the hospitality that you have shown us, but we plan to leave this evening.”
“So soon?” Arthur asked.
“We’ve been here over a week, Sire,” Dean smiled. “That’s longer than we stay most places.”
“I only mean... we should have a banquet,” Arthur declared. “I ask you to stay one more day, and we will have a banquet to send you off, so that we can show our appreciation for your help properly.”
“Sire,” Sam said. “You’ve fed and housed us for more than a week; you’ve allowed us to train with your knights. We don’t need a banquet... but thank you for the offer.”
“What do you need?” Arthur asked. “There must be something.”
Merlin watched as Dean and Sam shared a look, and then Dean spoke up.
“Um, there is one thing,” Dean said. “If we could, we would like a private audience with you and the Queen before we go.”
Merlin tried to catch Sam or Dean’s eye, as though they could somehow communicate with him what this was about.
“Merlin should come too,” Sam added, without looking at him.
There was a pause, and then Arthur nodded.
“Very well,” Arthur stated. “After luncheon, I’ll send someone to fetch you.”
“Thank you, Sire,” Dean nodded, and both brothers left the hall.
Merlin would have loved to have followed the brothers out of the room and asked why they wanted a private audience – but he had to attend Arthur. Immediately after court, there was a meeting of council which consisted of Leon reading out the latest tax and grain collections from the countryside while everyone did their best not to fall asleep. Merlin thought Sam and Dean lucky to have not been invited.
Arthur had to lunch with a contingent of nobles, who had been friends of Uther’s, and needed to feel as though they still had the ear of their king. Merlin suffered through it along with Arthur.
Finally, Arthur made his way back to the throne room, where Guinevere was already waiting for him. Merlin had hoped that Arthur would send him to go fetch Sam and Dean, but instead he waved George away with the order.
“Do you know what this could be about, Merlin?” Arthur asked as he sat down.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Merlin answered honestly, taking his place to the right and behind Arthur’s chair.
Arthur made a thoughtful noise.
“Perhaps they have a request of a personal nature,” Gwen guessed. Merlin doubted it.
Before they could speculate any further, the doors opened to allow Sam and Dean into the room. Arthur immediately dismissed the guards in order to grant the brothers the privacy that they had requested.
Merlin watched as the brothers nodded to each other and Dean stepped forward a little bit, shifting on his feet, and Merlin suddenly realized that they were nervous. The great warriors of legend were nervous about whatever was about to happen and that simple fact filled Merlin with apprehension.
“Sire, My Lady,” Dean began, and then he seemed to prepare himself for something. “Okay, so... we’ve been told – warned – that we should not talk to you about uh... what we’re here to talk to you about. But, we’ve spent a week talking with your men, and hearing their stories, and me and Sam thought about it, and we decided... we decided that there’s something that we need to tell you about a friend of yours.”
Merlin’s heart beat rapidly in his chest. They wouldn’t, Merlin thought, Surely, they wouldn’t. Sam had encouraged him to tell Arthur, but Merlin never thought they wouldn’t respect his wishes to keep his magic secret. He tried to catch one of their eyes, succeeding when Sam’s met his briefly. Merlin held Sam’s gaze and shook his head, but Sam just nodded back a ‘yes’ and mouthed ‘it’s okay’ – and what did that even mean.
Arthur stiffened in his seat, turning his head as if he wanted to look at Merlin – and Merlin realized that he had caught the interaction between him and Sam. Gwen did look at him, her brow furrowing at what Merlin could only guess was the obvious panic on Merlin’s face.
“Has one of my friends betrayed me?” Arthur asked, in a calm voice. Merlin winced as he remembered Morgana, Agravaine, and knew how little Arthur could stand yet another betrayal – and that’s how he would see it, if Merlin’s magic were to be revealed by these strangers.
“No, Sire,” Sam said. “It’s the opposite.”
He won’t see it like that, Merlin wanted to scream at Sam – but instead he held his tongue, helpless as he felt his world begin to crumble around him.
“You believe one of your friends betrayed you, when they didn’t,” Dean clarified.
And Merlin... well, Merlin realized that didn’t make any sense. Arthur didn’t believe Merlin had betrayed him.
“The last time you saw Lancelot was the day he stepped into the veil to heal the rift between the worlds,” Dean continued. “The man you believe took his own life in your dungeons was not Lancelot – He wasn’t even a man.”
Gwen stifled a gasp behind her hand, her eyes wide and tear filled. No one had spoken of what happened since she had returned. It was an unwritten rule of the palace that the incident was to be ignored. Merlin was simultaneously both relieved and anxious anew.
“Then what was he?” Arthur asked, his voice like ice.
“We believe he was something called a Shade,” Sam stated, “A being raised by a powerful necromancer to take the form of a deceased person of their choice. And while we cannot speak for the Queen’s affections, we do believe that the Shade was sent to Camelot with the sole purpose of seducing her and preventing your marriage.”
Gwen had closed her eyes now, a tear escaping. Merlin wanted so much to comfort her, just as he had the day he watched her leave Camelot. And just as then, he couldn’t help but think that the betrayal was the same.
“And how do you know this?” Arthur asked.
“Think about Lancelot,” Dean said plainly. “Was he the type of person to... do that to you?”
“I’ve been betrayed by those I trusted before,” Arthur replied bitterly. “He’d hardly be the first I misjudged, as much as it pains me to admit.”
Sam and Dean shared another look that Merlin couldn’t interpret, and then Sam let out a breath.
“When Lancelot returned, he did not know something that the real Lancelot should have known,” Sam said in a rush. Merlin found his heart racing once again.
“And what was that?” Arthur asked.
“Something of a personal nature about a friend,” Sam answered.
“He could have forgotten,” Arthur argued.
“I’m sorry, Sire,” Sam said, “I cannot tell you what the thing was, because it is not my place to tell. However, I can tell you that it was something that no man would forget.”
“I see,” Arthur said. “And could this ‘Shade’... is there a possibility that it may have enchanted the Queen?”
“We don’t know,” Dean answered, looking apologetically at Gwen. “Like Sam said – we just know that Lancelot did not betray you.”
Gwen let out another small sob, and this time Arthur reached over and put his hand on her arm. Merlin wasn’t sure this was helping. If Gwen was indeed the only one who had actually betrayed Arthur, how did that knowledge help? It just reopened old wounds. At least Arthur seemed to be comforting Gwen, stroking her forearm gently, rather than getting angry at her.
Then suddenly Gwen straightened.
“He gave me a bracelet,” Gwen said. “Lance- the Shade... he gave me a bracelet.”
“What?” Merlin heard himself ask. What he wanted to ask is why he didn’t notice, and why hadn’t she said anything at the time – but then, why would she? Opening his mouth at all seemed to have been a mistake, however, because it brought Arthur’s attention to him.
“Merlin,” Arthur said slowly. “Did you know about this?”
“I... had my suspicions, My Lord,” Merlin answered.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Arthur asked, angry now.
“When?!” Merlin shot back. “And with what evidence?! Besides, any time I tried to talk to you about it, you threatened to banish me too!”
“What?” Gwen asked, but didn’t wait for Arthur to confirm before saying, “Oh, Arthur, you didn’t.”
Arthur fidgeted and looked sorry, which was good enough for Merlin.
“Do you still have the bracelet?” Arthur asked, looking back at Gwen.
“No, I threw it away,” Gwen answered. Arthur nodded.
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Arthur stated to Sam and Dean, who were looking somewhat relieved that the conversation might be over. “It... does mean a lot to know that my first knight did not betray me.”
Sam and Dean both nodded.
“I’m sorry, Queen Guinevere,” Sam said softly.
“No, no,” Gwen said, putting on a tear filled smile. “I, too, am thankful to know the truth.”
“That’s what we had hoped,” Dean said, while he shot a look at Merlin. Merlin glared back.
Dean wasn’t expecting a send off. He thought that after the meeting with the king, Arthur would want little to do with them and they could just slip out of the castle and out of town without fuss. He’d been wrong. He found it a bit overwhelming, but definitely awesome, to be standing in the courtyard of Camelot, with the King and Queen standing on the stairs, surrounded by knights in red cloaks, formally thanking Sam and him for their help and wishing them a pleasant journey. The only one missing was Merlin, who, as per the plan, had already left the city under the pretext of gathering herbs.
Arthur had tried to send them away with replacement weapons, clothes, and traveling gear, but Dean and Sam had refused. They had no need of it where they were going, besides, they were already wearing clothes and carrying swords from Camelot. Their refusal of rewards seemed to both confuse and impress Arthur, who kept smiling and shaking his head.
“Who are you really?” Arthur asked, as he clasped Dean’s forearm one final time in farewell.
Dean found himself staring at the kid – and he was a kid – and thinking that maybe Arthur deserved more than just one truth. Dean laughed, clasping Arthur’s arm right back, but looked to Sam with the question on his mind. Sam met his gaze, bit his lip, and then nodded. The exchange took all of two seconds, but Arthur, standing as close as he was, picked up on it. When Dean looked back, it was to find Arthur’s eyes darting from Sam to his, questioning.
“Walk us to the edge of the forest, just you and no one else, and we’ll tell you,” Dean said under his breath. Arthur narrowed his eyes briefly. Dean wondered if he had asked for too much trust, but then Arthur nodded.
“I’ll meet you by the well in the lower town,” Arthur whispered, and they released arms.
Dean and Sam finished their formal goodbyes and walked out of the courtyard.
“You sure about this?” Sam asked.
“Maybe I just feel bad for the guy,” Dean answered. “It’s never nice to be lied to by the person you trust the most.”
“Jesus, Dean, why don’t you pick that scab a little more,” Sam muttered, “I don’t think you’re quite down to the bone yet.”
“Look, I didn’t mean it as a dig, alright,” Dean sighed. “You’re the one that went there. Besides, not like I’ve never done it to you too.”
Sam took a deep breath beside him. At this point, Dean didn’t know if he could actually be accused of holding grudges or if the problem was that Sam never forgave himself, but always forgave Dean too easily – but it all worked out to the same fights in the end.
“No, you’re right,” Sam said, proving Dean’s unspoken point. One of these days, Sam was going to realize that Dean was an asshat and stop forgiving him, but apparently today was not that day.
Before Dean could say anything more, they were joined by a man in a blue cloak who fell in step beside them.
“That was quick,” Dean said.
“Hardly the first time I’ve snuck out of the castle,” Arthur said, a little out of breath, from below the cloak. “I did marry a serving girl quite against my father’s wishes, after all.”
Dean chuckled. The streets were nearly empty with sunset only an hour or two away. Arthur glanced behind him once, and then lowered the hood of his cloak. Dean had to suppress a laugh, the dark blue cloak only managed to make Arthur appear even more blond and striking. It was hardly the most effective disguise.
“So, who are you really?” Arthur repeated his question from earlier.
“What makes you think we’re not exactly who we say we are?” Sam asked in return.
“You’re not mercenaries. You’re not the type. Your manner of speech belies that; you’re too well educated. You claim to have hunted monsters since birth, yet such incidents are rare. You use words that I have never heard in Albion in all my travels. You issue orders like you are used to leading armies. You put fear into Merlin. You could be invaders from across the sea – you are certainly formidable warriors – and yet you come without an army. And why would you help a foreign king save his people? Why would you risk your own life to save mine?”
“Well, you do make some fair points,” Dean shrugged. “And you’re right, we’re not from Albion.”
“Did your father, or your nannies, ever tell you bedtime stories, Sire?” Sam asked.
“Of course,” Arthur replied. “What does that have to do with anything? If you are not from Albion – what land do you hail from?”
“Stick with us here, your Highness,” Dean smiled. “We’re trying to ease you into this.”
“Ease me into what?”
“The monsters we killed in Camelot,” Dean said. “We told you from the jump that they were summoned here from a different world by a sorcerer. We... followed, in a way.”
“We’re not from Albion, because we’re not from this world,” Sam finished.
“What?” Arthur asked, stopping in his tracks. “Are you... magic?”
“No,” Dean said, as he and Sam stopped walking too, “We were summoned by magic though, which was... well, part of the reason we didn’t tell you.”
Arthur seemed to need a minute to absorb the information. He blinked at that a few times, brow furrowed.
“Why did you ask me about bedtime stories?” he asked Sam.
“Elyan recognized us from the stories,” Sam shrugged. “He just didn’t realize he was right.”
Dean could see the moment that realization hit.
“The two brothers,” Arthur said. “You’re... you’re the two brothers.”
Dean nodded. “Um, can you freak out and walk? We kinda have someplace to be...”
“Right,” Arthur said, and started walking again, though Dean could tell that he was very much occupied with whatever was going on in his brain. He kept glancing over at them. Dean couldn’t really read his expression, until Arthur suddenly looked horribly dejected and groaned.
“What is it?” Dean asked, stopping in the road once again.
“I met Deinoil and Sawyl, the two brothers,” Arthur said, “and made a mess of the hunt, and nearly got Sawyl killed! And... you hate me.” Dean had to wonder if everyone in this kingdom had mastered the art of looking like a kicked puppy, because goddamn.
“No,” Sam said. “You already apologized for that – It’s fine. All’s forgiven.”
“Listen, man,” Dean said. “I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t your biggest fan when we met – and especially not when you pulled that boneheaded stunt with Sammy. I thought that you were a pompous idiot and a bully.” Arthur hung his head and nodded. “But, uh, then I saw that I had been wrong... you’re a good guy, Arthur. I’m glad we could help you.”
Arthur raised his head and looked at Dean in confusion, “But what made you change your mind? I’ve barely spoken a word to you in the past week outside of training.”
“When Merlin was attacked,” Dean answered. “If I had told you he had been turned, you would have built him a cage and you would have killed me and anyone else who tried to tell you differently.”
Arthur stared at him and then gave one small nod.
“No one ever uses the west tower room,” Arthur said softly. “Merlin might have been happy there during the full moons.”
“I’d have thought you’d find the idea foolish,” Arthur stated.
“Well, yeah, it’s foolish, but I would do the same if it were Sam,” Dean shrugged, carefully not looking at his brother, because this was verging on do-not-talk-about territory.
“But Sam’s your brother,” Arthur said.
“And Merlin is your... whatever you call it,” Dean said with a wave of his hand.
“Manservant,” Arthur stated.
“Right, whatever you call it,” Dean replied. They resumed walking.
“You were my favourite,” Arthur said as the orchard came into view. When Dean glanced over at him, it was to find him already blushing under Sam’s curious gaze. “Story, I mean – growing up. I thought... we were the same.”
“We ain’t royalty,” Dean laughed.
“No, but... our mothers died,” Arthur said in a tone so different than his confident commanding voice. “And our fathers...”
“Our fathers were overbearing bastards obsessed with revenge,” Sam finished, and looked over at Arthur as though he were seeing him for the first time. Dean scowled, but yeah... it made sense. Arthur even had a stupid destiny just like they did; only at least Arthur’s destiny didn’t involve destroying half the planet.
“Listen, Arthur,” Sam said. “You’re not your father. You have a chance to learn from his mistakes and be a better man – a better king – than he ever was. You’re already doing it. But you have a chance to take it a step farther, to really make a difference... and in order to do that, it’s important that you know that not all magic is bad.”
“Sam, we promised,” Dean said.
“What are you talking about? What did you promise?” Arthur asked, suddenly wary.
“Arthur, who do you think summoned us to come help you?” Sam asked.
“The sorcerer,” Arthur answered.
“Yeah, because that makes sense,” Dean rolled his eyes. “A sorcerer summons monsters to attack Camelot and then turns around and summons monster hunters to save Camelot. I gotta tell you, you’re really making me rethink the whole not-an-idiot thing.”
“Then you followed on your own,” Arthur stated, almost as if he wanted them to lie to him. Dean suddenly understood how easy it must be for Merlin to justify never telling Arthur anything.
“Arthur,” Sam said slowly, as they finally came to the edge of the forest. “You have at least one very powerful sorcerer on your side, and I just think you should know that.” They stopped walking. Arthur couldn’t follow them from here, it was too risky.
“Who? Why?” Arthur asked.
“Good questions,” Dean answered. “Unfortunately, we can’t tell you. This is where we part ways, my friend. We have to use magic to get home, and we have to be far away from anyone else in order to do it safely.”
Arthur blew out a frustrated breath. Dean had sympathy for him – they’d sort of dropped a lot on the guy in a short amount of time.
“Gwaine wanted me to knight you,” Arthur admitted, running a hand through his hair. “I told him if you decided to stay, I would.”
“Dude!” Dean said, grinning. “Really? That’s awesome!”
“It would have been an honour, your Majesty,” Sam smiled, giving a little ridiculous bow.
“I think you’ll find the honour has been mine,” Arthur replied, returning to the commanding voice of the King. “I wish you a safe journey... Dudes.”
Dean laughed, as did Sam, and they both smiled brightly at Arthur.
“For the love of Camelot,” Dean said.
“For the love of Camelot,” Arthur smiled.