19 January 2009 @ 01:04 am
To Be King  
Title: To Be King
Author: [info]lilithilien
Fandom/Characters: Merlin, Arthur/Merlin
Word Count/Rating: 1325 words/R
Summary: Merlin is Camelot, distilled in physical form.
Disclaimer: This incarnation of Merlin belongs to Auntie Beeb. Definitely, definitely not mine.
A/N: Chronicling a fangirl's demise: "No, never -- Merlin is faaar too cheesy. OK, yeah, it's cheesy, but it is fun. And by fun, I of course mean I can't believe there's so much slash! I'll read just this one story on my flist, but I don't have time for another fandom. Look at all the shiny comms! And wow, what great stories there are. But I'll never write in it, ever. Oh, hells." This started out as a short character study of Arthur and somehow turned to smut. I blame Bradley James and that ... thing ... he does with his voice. Huge thanks to [info]sarcastic_jo for beta and enabling. (Posted at merlinxarthur and merlinslash.

Magic is returning to Camelot.

For over two decades, Uther Pendragon has sought to rid it from the kingdom. For a time he seems to succeed. The King's feast days replace the old festivals that celebrated the turn of the seasons, now noting nothing more than a mark on a calendar. Druids no longer set up their odd encampments within Camelot's borders; no more do their eerie songs ride the wings of dragons over the castle walls. Even the executions that King Uther orders are lessening, although there is no greater tolerance for crimes of magic. Punishments are still meted out for the most trivial matters: charms that drive wolves from the livestock or love potions to turn a suitor's eye. For these offences the headman's blade flashes, sharp and swift as lightning, a dazzling reminder of the penalty for any form of sorcery. A price no man wants to pay.

For a time, Camelot bends to the King's will.

For a time, Arthur believes this is so.

Arthur Pendragon was born to serve Camelot. This his father tells him often, usually before decreeing a new levy on an already struggling village or demanding more men be trained for battle. Knowing nothing else, Arthur does not question how the will of Camelot so closely resembles that of the King. It sometimes gives him pause when the condemned accused Uther of betraying Camelot, when they lament the time when King and land were truly one. He sometimes wonders how their families fare, and whether his father's fulgurant justice might not leave on the people's spirits the same charred wounds he finds on hilltops after a lightning storm. But such notions pass quickly. When he ascends to the throne, Arthur is certain he will serve Camelot just as Uther does, dispensing favours with mercy and justice with strength.

And then, one day, that changes.

It is an inauspicious beginning to be sure, a chance meeting with a scrawny peasant who's no doubt headed for the stocks, if not the chopping block. Who could have foretold that the stranger's arrival would augur such upheaval, that with each stumbled step he took down Camelot's broad streets another bit of magic would be unleashed?

The figure beside him shifts in sleep, his murmur indecipherable, but Arthur imagines he is answering the silent question: "Morgana could have… or the dragon… or Nimueh…"

Or perhaps it's simply a slumberous protest that he is not the one who unleashed the magic. Merlin indignant even in sleep would not surprise Arthur. Deference does not come naturally to him. He has learned to avert his eyes before the King, to bow his head when it is expected, but Arthur knows his servant can never blend into the shadows like those born to service. He knows Merlin cannot trust his tongue not to lash out with the certainty that he's the equal of any man, even the heir to the throne; he knows Merlin's voice will never simper with cloying praise. He knows this, and because of this Arthur trusts him above all others.

Because of this, Arthur keeps him safe.

That day had seen another execution. A woman this time, a mother, whose youngest daughter was despoiled by bandits. A sentence that Uther insisted was just punishment for the incurable pox she conjured on the men. Prince Arthur stood beside him in his rightful place as heir, his duty to bear witness to the King's power and the justness of the sentence. Lightning-quick it came, the silver flash of an axe followed by the wail of orphans, and the crisp bite of ozone flooding the back of Arthur's throat. It pained him that he could not even grant the family any dignity in recognising their anguish. He was fighting too hard against his own treasonous thoughts, against the image of Morgana's pale neck flattened against the wood and of Merlin's tattered scarf curling in flame, against his repeated mantra that when I am King it will be different.

When it was over, Uther announced that magic had once more been banished from Camelot. Arthur remembers hearing that many times before, but always it returns.

Arthur knows what Merlin would have said, knows it as well as his fingers know the edge of Merlin's sharp hipbone still jutting out in open defiance of Arthur's insistence that he eat more. His hand curls around Merlin's hip now, the skin surprisingly soft there, such a contrast to the bitterness Arthur feels weighing heavily in his ear. "Magic never left Camelot. Uther just didn't look in the right places," it says in that impudent tone that Arthur brooks for none other. "Neither did you." An affectionate "you prat" slips out as a natural coda; then, realising he's just insulted himself, Arthur squeezes Merlin's hip too hard in retribution.

But he is right; Arthur is sure of that, as Merlin rolls towards him, reaches for him across the covers, his eyes still heavy with sleep. Arthur might be the heir of Pendragon, exalted by birth, tested in trials, proven countless times over, but until Merlin arrived he never understood what it would mean to rule Camelot. The kingdom that his father reigns is little more than lines drawn on a map through treaties signed in ink and blood. Uther has grown too distant from his people, his duty to protect them a mere abstraction. Arthur could have followed in that vein, would have followed, were it not for Merlin.

Merlin is Camelot, distilled in physical form. Not his magic, not just his magic, although in listless moments like this it becomes almost inseparable from his body. It pours through his veins just as it runs in the rivers of Albion; it shines golden in eyes gazing up at Arthur, reflecting the morning light like the glinting mirrors that adorn the farmers' ploughs. Magic thrums, unbridled in repose, tickling Arthur's hand as it glides along Merlin's side. It curves like the boughs of an ancient oak, chasing the line of his thumb along the furrows of ribs under warm skin. It crackles between them as Merlin presses against him, their bodies straight as rowan staffs, entwined like the land and its King.

Merlin slithers a hand under Arthur's night shift and drags it over his head, laughing insolently when the prince gasps at the shockingly cold air on newly bared skin. He gasps again when Merlin's thin fingers encircle his hardness, this touch that commands such power now calling forth the dragon coiled inside Arthur's belly. But this is no conjurer's trick. This is Merlin's length pressed flush against his, their flesh sliding together, thrusting at their too-human pace, irregular and imperfect and magnificent. This is Arthur's hand wrapping around Merlin's, banishing the rift between master and servant, peasant and king, the two of them moving with such symmetry that it's not long before the dragon roars and Arthur shatters. Tucked inside spiking flashes of pleasure he hears his name whispered through Merlin's shuddered climax. The word holds more reverence than it ever has uttered outside his chamber, the weight of the obeisance leaving the most powerful sorcerer this isle has ever known curved bonelessly against his chest.

Arthur drags Merlin closer, the lithe frame fitting within the span of his arms as if Merlin had been custom-made for him. In Merlin, he has discovered the care he must have to rule, the compassion that he has never known before. His sword-callused fingertips slide over skin as familiar as his own, drawn to the blemishes he knows are there. Some are old cicatrices brought from Ealdor before, other scars he has earned fighting by Arthur's side; each serves as a reminder that Merlin is nowhere as frail as he looks.

But each reminds Arthur of what he must protect.

Magic is returning to Camelot, resuming its place alongside the rule of men. With Merlin beside him, Arthur knows what it means to be King.

~~~~~ The End ~~~~~