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Merlin Fic: Five Times Guinevere Saved Arthur 1/1

January 27th, 2011 (03:32 pm)
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Title:  Five Times Guinevere Saved Arthur

Disclaimer:  Not mine.

A/N:  I wrote this last summer when I first discovered Merlin and I'm posting as part of my goal to post something random every Thursday.  For some reason, I became obsessed with Arthur/Gwen, only because I so wanted to like them together but I knew how the legend turned out.  In my random angst, this was one way I dealt with that disparity.  Beta'ed by geminigrl11 .  Spoilers for a few eps in S2, namely The Curse of Cornelius Sigan and Sweet Dreams.  Also, character death does occur at the end of this fic, but it's very much in the future.

Summary:  Her heart fluttered, the adrenaline coursing through her.  To almost die was one thing; to save the man so many dreamed of was entirely another.  To protect the future of Camelot, was more than she could ever hope to aspire to.

1. 

Camelot was burning.

It was neither the first time nor the last, but it was cause for panic all the same.  Sometimes she liked to believe in the invincibility of the fortress walls; that within that familiar harbor, she could find safety, security.  King Uther had many flaws, but he did protect his people.  And where he would fail, his son was always sure to ride to victory.

But the King was hiding and the people were dying and Gaius needed bandages and Prince Arthur was alone in the square, preparing to die.

Such things did not require much thought, not for Guinevere.  Her life was one of a servant; the idea of putting others first was a natural thing to her.  It was why Gaius’ request for more bandages had made going out into the city seem so simple.

It was why pulling the Prince from certain death had been like second nature.

Because he was on the ground, clearly dazed.  She had seen him in the throes of battle before, so she knew what he was capable of, but he was a mere man with a sword against a swarm of beast unlike any she had ever seen.  A mortal fighting the undead, and what chance did he have?

She saw him move, but not fast enough.  His body seemed sluggish, hindered by what she could only imagine was injury.

He would not move fast enough.  His sword would not protect him.  He was going to die.

Camelot was burning, but she could not allow that fate for him.  Not when she believed he was destined for more.

She had seen it in him, after all.  The glimpses beyond the veil, hints behind his armor.  He was proud and strong and had heart where his father only had brawn.  It was not so hard for her envision a day when he would sit upon the throne and make Camelot a much, much better place.

Of course, his tousled blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and strong masculine build had nothing to do with at all.

If she would risk her life for bandages, she would do no less for the man who would be her king.

Lunging, her hands wrapped around the tattered chain mail about his torso, and she pulled with all she had.  It was not much, but enough, and he fumbled to assist, and together they fell clear of the swoop.

Panting, she turned to him, surprised to see him still on his feet and staring at her, blue eyes wide and disbelieving.  “That thing could have killed you,” he said.

Guinevere supposed that much could be true, though she had not thought to be frightened for herself.  She had been more frightened at the prospect of losing him, at the notion of trying to save him and failing.

He was Crown Prince of Camelot, after all.  Any girl, noble or common alike, would love to be in her shoes, swarming beasts notwithstanding.

Her eyes widened as she saw it start its dive again.  “And it still might,” she said, and she threw herself at him.

To save his life, to touch him once again.  To feel his heart pounding against her own.  To save him was to touch him, to touch all that he would become, to touch a dream that could never come true.

He was so real to her then, so close.  Her Prince--and she rather liked the sound of that, the feel of that, the everything of that.

Her heart fluttered, the adrenaline coursing through her.  To almost die was one thing; to save the man so many dreamed of was entirely another.  To protect the future of Camelot, was more than she could ever hope to aspire to.

She was lying on top of him, and he was staring at her, mouth open.  His eyes were dazed, blood smeared on his armor, and she realized belatedly that she could be hurting him.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

He blinked, pupils wide.  “The pleasure is mine,” he mused.

Getting off him, she offered him a hand up, gingerly helping him to his feet.  He swayed a little, unsteady but still standing, and she guided him as best she could through the carnage back toward Gaius.

He leaned against her for support, arm around her shoulder as he limped unevenly over the cobblestone.  She could hear his breathing, feel the heat of his skin.

The pleasure might have been all his, but rest of it was entirely hers, and Guinevere would be a liar if she said she didn’t enjoy that quite a lot.

2.

Guinevere had always known he could be something of a prat, but she had never figured he could be so callous.

To declare his love, to get her hopes up, to set it all in motion, and have it be for nothing--it was almost more than she could bear.

And for him to be so flippant.  He didn’t even tell her, and he expected him to cheer for him, like some girlish fan.

His audacity, his supposition, his utter lack of common sense and courtesy--

He had scorned her.  Led her on and left her to dangle in the wind.  So blase was his manner that it had not been a stretch to believe him to be fanciful in his desires, easily swayed by any pretty girl that passed by.  Princes could be like that, she was sure.  And Arthur was of age.  With so much to choose from, it had to be hard to settle on just one.

No matter the reason, Guinevere counted herself as foolish for ever believing there was a chance.

She was a servant; he was Crown Prince of Camelot.  Such things could not be.  Such things would never pass.  Feelings were variable, easily confined by social regulation and royal privilege.

Merlin’s excuses were just that: excuses.

Guinevere would know.  It was a common pastime for servants to lie for their masters, and Arthur had used Merlin in this regard more than once.  Merlin was her friend, but he was Arthur’s most trusted servant first and foremost, and she did not delude herself to think that he was above lying to her on his royal prattish behalf.

And yet--to search her heart.  To trust her feelings.  To know.

She did know.  So help her, Guinevere knew.

Arthur loved her.

It was why he’d taken her verbal lashing and repaid it with gestures of kindness.  It was why he’s defied his father’s orders and risked life and limb to rescue her.  Arthur loved her.

This Arthur, the one chasing Lady Vivian--it had never seemed like him.  Even if he did fancy her, he would not discard Guinevere so plainly.  If her pride had not been so severely wounded, she might have been able to see how out of character it was.  For Arthur was a prat, but he was not cruel.  Even at his worst, he had been open and teachable, willing to accept fault and criticism in a fashion she had simply not expected.  He had proven himself to her on multiple occasions, which made this turn of events sting even more.

The night she’d first saved his life from Cornelius Sigan’s wrath, she had known it clearly then.  That they were equals in their feelings, even if not their stations.  And she had seen it again when he came for her, the look of pain every time Lancelot touched her, every time her eyes met the would-be knight’s.

Even with all that stood in their way, Arthur loved her.

That was why believing the flowers and the note had been so easy.  Why giving in to the fantasy had seemed so natural.  Because it wasn’t as much a fantasy as she might purport it to be.

And yet--what could come of it?  She could not be his queen.  She would not be his mistress.  And somewhere inside of her, Guinevere still longed for Lancelot.

In some ways--most ways--she was better off not going to Arthur at all.  Because nothing could ever come of it.  The mistake had not been to believe that Arthur could love her, but to entertain a notion that would lead them nowhere.

And yet, the thought of him with another woman--

Was almost more than she could stand.

And the thought of him dying in the name of that love--the thought of him dying at all--

She could no more bear the thought as she could to lose the fantasy entirely.  A part of her was lost in the Crown Prince, and always would be.  He carried part of her heart, and she was too aware that she held much of his.  To stand idle while he faced certain peril was simply not in her, no matter what complications stood in their way.

In the end, it was rather a simple question.  Not of absolutes and undying love, but of what she felt in this moment and what he needed now.  She could not think to the future; she did not want to for fear what she might see. 

This was the restoration of her faith, not in miracles, but in dreams.  She could not promise to be his love, she could not promise to love him back, she could promise nothing, but as long as he was alive, there was hope.  For her, for Camelot.

In this way, the decision was easy, just as Merlin had made it sound.  She could not be sure of her own heart, but she was sure of this:  it was not Arthur’s time to die, especially not for Lady Vivian.

Dabbing at her eyes, Guinevere straightened her apron and headed after Merlin to the field.  Because if not for Arthur, if not for Camelot, then to herself and the possibility of what may someday be.

3.

Guinevere would be a liar if she said she had not thought of this.

Because she had thought of this moment.  Often.

For the years had passed, but Arthur’s affections had not faded.  He grew ever more fond, even more devoted.  Their love was not permitted, but that did not keep the Prince from pursuing her nonetheless. 

Much of the castle’s household knew.  The other servants whispered, and some of the knights turned a blind eye while Gaius winked at their innocent affair.  For it was indeed innocent.  Arthur was the consummate gentleman, chaste and passionate in equal turns, and he did not urge her to defile her honor, a notion she might have entertained if only to appease the growing need within her.

For she was a woman now, full and in her prime.  She was aware of her own needs as she was her own desirability.  In truth, she could have had her pick of others from her class, and she had not be in want for potential suitors.  Yet, as the years went by, she found that none of them enticed her quite the same, none quite caught her fancy.

Because as she was a woman, Arthur was a man.  Broad shouldered and strong, his face grew chiseled and even more handsome with his age.  Wisdom brightened his eyes, and his sense of justice made him even more of the good man she had thought him to be.

And he had had his suitors, too.  Lady Vivian had been a flight of fancy, born of magic and enchantment, but the smartness of such a match did not fade as quickly as his feelings for the Lady Vivian had.

Yet Arthur did not pursue such things, and Uther was patient in this regard.  But when Uther finally passed and Arthur came into the throne, the question of an heir was heavy on the minds of the court and the people.

There were rumors of a match with a noblewoman of the outlaying regions.  There was even discussion of a political posturing by marrying a princess from a neighboring kingdom.  These were smart matches, Guinevere knew, and Arthur was wise to consider them.

But while Arthur was wise, he was also a man of heart.

So while it would surprise the kingdom, it was no surprise to Guinevere when Arthur summoned her to the throne room.

He was not on the throne; he did not have a penchant for such formalities.  Instead, he was by the window, bathed in the sunlight streaming through its opulent frame.  He liked to think there, she knew, and despite his headstrong nature in his youth, his temperament had mellowed somewhat, and he was a thoughtful man.

A good man.  A better king.

There was still a thrill to see him, a tingle of excitement when his eyes graced her, sweeping over her body and locking with hers.  The love she saw there was enough to make her blush, flush with a maiden’s innocence.  He had a certain aura that was hard to deny, and she had long ago ceased trying.

She stopped short, bowing her head in careful deference.  “My lord,” she said, the words selected for the honor they suggested, but her tone carried a note of familiarity that Arthur had always responded to.

He turned, and his face brightened for a moment before he pulled himself back.  With a breath, he nodded.  “Guinevere,” he said.  “It is good to see you.”

“You did call for me,” she said, blinking at him coyly.

His smile was sardonic.  “I did,” he replied.

“Well, I am at your leisure,” she said primly, tossing her hair ever so slightly.

He nodded again, swallowing.  He was posturing, something not entirely in his custom.  It was a rare thing to see him nervous, and he had faced down many threats without such hesitation.

But alone in a room with her, and it was always another story.

He wet his lips, brow furrowing.  “I have made many decisions in my short tenure as the king,” he began.  “And I am not sure if you were aware of the latest decision to come of my hand.”

Curious, she inclined her head.  “I am not,” she said.

He nodded, lips pursed.  “I spent some time reviewing my father’s ordinances on the accessibility of the royal court.  I have rescinded certain orders that require all knights and advisors to be of noble birth.”

Her heart swelled, and she remembered when this was first an issue.  The many years that had passed, and she still remembered Lancelot well.  She smiled warmly.  “That is very wise,” she said.  “And your kingdom will be stronger for it.”

He was looking at her carefully, studying her.  “That is not the only order I rescinded.”

“And what else, my lord?” she asked.

Arthur paused, drawing another full breath.  “I have revoked the restrictions of royal marriage.  No longer is it necessary for an individual of royal blood to limit their choice of a husband or wife by class alone.”

And Guinevere understood.

By law, Arthur was no longer bound to marry a woman of noble blood.  By his choice, he could have the hand of any maiden in the land, be she rich or poor, noble or common, lady or servant.

This was what she had expected.  This was what she had envisioned.  This was what all their years of hidden touches and stolen kisses had amounted to.

She did not dare move.  She did not even trust herself to breathe.

Arthur stepped closer to her, and she could see he was trembling now.  The confidence that so defined him did not extend here, and she could feel the anticipation mounting with every passing second.

“With this decision finalized, I have called you here to ask you--” his voice cut off, and he laughed, a small and boyish sound.  He took a steadying breath, pulling himself back together again as he stepped even closer.  He was close enough to touch her now, but he did not.  He just stood there, looking at her with the look of adoration she’d become so accustomed to.

Her chest swelled.  Her heart thudded within her.

“I called you to ask for your hand in marriage,” he said simply, the vestiges of his royal position gone.  He was nothing more than a man before her, a man in love, asking the woman of his devotion for the one thing he wanted more than anything else.

Her hand in marriage.

Such a thing was what most women aspired to.  To be married was to be safe, secure, spoken for.   And the wife of a king.  Arthur’s Queen.

“I know it is proper to ask permission before making such an offer, but you are of age and I could find no male relative who is charged with your care, so I had hoped that you would not be offended by the lapse in courtesy--”

He was rambling.  Like a nervous boy.  Worried of what she would think.  Worried she would take offense.

Worried she would say no.

Worried she would say no.

It was then that Guinevere came to realize he was waiting for an answer.  Looking at her, expectant and hopeful.  A proposal always needed an answer, and Arthur had laid himself on the line, and it was her decision now.

Her decision.

After years of dreams and possibilities, this was her decision.  To be his wife.  To be his Queen.

And why not?  What kind of woman would say no?

So why were the words lodged in her throat?  Why was it so hard to just say it?  To make his dreams come true?  To make her own fantasies realized?

Guinevere was aware, though, that saying yes to Arthur was saying no to everything else.  Saying no to the possibility of seeing Lancelot again.  Saying no to leading her own life.  Saying no to the thousand other dreams that passed through her head.

What would it be, to be with Arthur day after day?  Would the love in his eyes ever dim?  Would she ever grow tired of seeing how much he loved her?  He was a good and powerful and noble man.  He was a pure soul, a true light.  He fought strong and ruled brave.

But he was just one man.

“Guinevere,” he said, the tremor in his voice more noticeable now.  “If I am too brash--”

She looked at him, really looked at him.  Saw the hope, the fear, the sweet naivete.  How could a man so powerful still be so genuine?

The rejection would crush him.  He would accept it--he was more noble than his vulnerable heart--but it would crush him all the same.  She did not think she could stand that.  To see him broken, day after day.  She could not serve in his house and see the longing in his eyes and knowing she diffused all possibility of a future.

They’d put too much time into the would-be’s to not let it happen.  They had pined too hard to not take the chance that was before them.  She would not kill him, in spirit or in actuality, not even for the doubts and regrets she harbored yet.

She smiled, taking his hand on hers.  Squeezing it, she held it close.  “Yes,” she said.

His face brightened, almost beyond what she had thought was possible.  He still looked so young, and she would always remember him like this, in this moment.  It was not the most dramatic way she’d saved his life, but perhaps the most important yet.

“Yes,” she said again, and her heart fluttered as he leaned over, taking her into his arms and engulfing her with a kiss, stilling her uncertainties even if he could not erase them entirely.

4.

Arthur had said nothing, but Guinevere knew the kingdom was getting restless.  Years of marriage, fruitful in so many ways, and yet Guinevere had still not produced an heir.

She had believed early on that she was more than that, a more integral role in the kingdom than a blessed vessel for the next king.  Guinevere, after all, had a heart for the people since she had always been one of them.  She dedicated herself to humanitarian causes, making a presence for herself amongst them so she would not forget.

Arthur encouraged such things, and took her counsel seriously.  They were a well matched pair, balance in intellect and heart, virtue and nobility, strength and compassion.

And yet, the whispers started.  The questions began.  She was not a girl anymore, and though women older than she still got pregnant, her youth was beginning to fade.  There were wrinkles around her eyes, strands of gray in her hair.

Even Arthur, though he only seemed to grow into his role as King, was not getting any younger.  She could not be so foolish as to believe in their immortality, even if she would wish such things. 

It was not as though they had not tried.  They did try, sometimes in fantastic fashion, romps that left her breathless and laughing.  Arthur was a giving lover, and a devoted husband.  He respected her wishes and doted on her terribly.  She wanted for nothing and had no yearning that he would not fulfill.  In so many ways, perfect.

In so many ways.

But not all.

Guinevere would not give voice to this, even if she could define it.  And it was not just the lack of a child.  In truth, Guinevere knew it was much more than that.  But who was she to say that sometimes when she went to bed, Arthur at her side, she dreamed of another man’s touch?  Who was she to admit that the nights she requested to sleep alone were the ones she enjoyed most?

For she was beloved, but not singularly anymore.  She saw Arthur’s attentions increasingly divided.  When they had been younger, she had flourished in the subterfuge of his attention.  Now that she was his to dote on as he pleased, there was something less about it, if not in his effort then in her reception.

He could no longer make her heart flutter as it once did.  He could no longer make her blush.  He could not fulfill her fantasies, no matter how many crowns or freedoms or responsibilities he granted her.

Arthur was everything he could be, and yet not everything Guinevere could want.

And what did she want?  She hardly knew, but she was sometimes certain it could not be found within the castle walls.  Adventure and romance, excitement and passion.  She craved these things, she yearned for them, more than anything else. 

Her life with Arthur was royal and routine.  Perfect and predictable.  Exceptional and expected.

She wanted more.

Even this, Guinevere knew, Arthur would grant her.  He had refused her nothing over the years, and he would not deny her this.

But to do that--to take his good will and run away with it--was something she was not sure she could do.

For he was a good man.  A good king.  A good husband.  To hurt him in that way went against her very instincts.  She had worked to be the wife he needed, the Queen she’d sworn to be. 

Her heart betrayed her, though.  She was not superstitious by nature, but part of her wondered if her barren womb was her own doing.  Her selfish closing off to keep Arthur from gaining this one last foothold in her life. 

A child would change everything.

Yes, Camelot would have its heir.  Arthur would have his legacy.  And Guinevere would become a mother.  Less than a Queen, more than a wife.  A child would tie her to this life, more than the crown she wore upon her head.

Sometimes she did not want it at all.

Sometimes she dreamed of taking one of the horses and just riding free.  Sometimes she dreamed of her father’s modest home in the lower quarters.  Sometimes she dreamed of Lancelot coming to her rescue, sneaking in her window and taking her far, far away.

Guinevere stilled her thoughts, put a hand to her belly.

Sometimes.

There were ways to deal with such things, she knew.  There were ways to stop a life from growing.  It might be easier that way.  She might yet find the freedom she sought.

Her heart’s desires were strong.

Her desire to do right was stronger still.

She carried Arthur’s child.  She carried the next King of Camelot.  This was a miracle, joyous news.  It would be heralded throughout the land.

She should not deny her subjects this.  She could not refuse her husband this joy.  She could not deprive this precious child of a life for her own whims.

It had been easier in the past.  Pulling him from danger, kissing him to bring him to his senses, even saying yes to a proposal so sincere and hopeful.  This choice was not as easy to conclude, but in the end, just as inevitable.

Decision made, she left word with one of her servants to fetch the king to her chamber.  She had news to share.  Guinevere would share this happy news for what it was, and save her husband’s life yet again.

5. 

Guinevere was a girl of fantasies, but in all of her dreaming, she never foresaw a conclusion quite like this.

Mordred, who held her captive, slain by her husband’s hand.  Lancelot, exiled for his offenses, had not taken his punishment and found death at the hands of the King’s servants.

And the king--her husband--her Arthur--victorious in battle, was dying.

It was Merlin who brought her forth, though by no desire of his own.  She could see it in his eyes; the sorcerer she’d once called a friend held little affection for her now, a turn she did not anticipate but could not deny.  She’d once been friend to many in Camelot, but she forfeited her reputation along with her title when she chose one of her king’s men over Arthur himself.

Still, he brought her here.  It was no castle, and it was as humble an abode as she’d ever been in.  She remembered such things from her youth, but they seemed far removed from her now, with all that had passed in the years.  The hut where Merlin took her was nothing more than an odd assortment of stone and mortar, smaller than her childhood home, and yet it would be where the King of Camelot would breathe his last.

She could imagine why he called her to him.  To curse her, maybe condemn her.  To serve her the death sentence she deserved, if not for her disloyalty to a king, then for her betrayal to their wedding bed.  Her protests were gone, though, and while she did not seek death, she would not run from it now.

He looked worse than she imagined, pale and bloody on the small cot in the corner.  There was a fire burning in the stove, but its meager heat seemed to be doing little to warm him.  Arthur was stripped of his armor, his shirt in shambles.  The sheet covering him was bloody, so messy that she could not identify exactly where the mortal wound was set.

It did not matter.

She said nothing in the entrance of the hut, but Arthur seemed to sense her anyway.  His drawn features settled on her face, and for a moment there was a hesitation, an uncertainty.

She’d last seen him in his anger; she had reason to fear the worst.

But instead, a smile spread tiredly across his face.  “My lady,” he said, and his face was glowing now, brightening with a happiness she recognized from their youth.  “You have returned to me.”

There was hope in that statement, undying even as his life slipped away from them.  She remembered now, how this began.  The romance was still clear to her, his awkward advances, his stifled desires.  She remembered dreaming of his lips against her, her heart fluttering at his attention.  She recalled watching him on the field, watching him fight, govern, and grow.  What a man he had been, the yearning of all women in Camelot.

And she had been his. 

The notion had been too ridiculous to reject, a fanciful dream come true that she would have been so foolish to pass up.  In the glow of his adoration, it had been easy to forsake all others, before she’d understood truly what that had meant.

But he had loved her since the beginning, cherished her with the same unyielding sense with which he pursued all noble things in his life. 

Guinevere understood now.  There was to be no condemnation.  There was no trace of regret in his face.  Just love, as it had always been.

For he had always had the title between them, but it had been Guinevere who had always held the power, ever since she first saved his life so many years ago.

Why that had not been enough--she could not say, could not even fathom.  She did not even know if she would go back and undo the things she’d done, if she would still forsake Lancelot to make Arthur happy.  The laws Arthur had changed to allow Guinevere to be his queen had permitted Lancelot to return to his rightful glory as a knight of Camelot.  She had been overjoyed at his return, and had taken heart at the bond that grew between her husband and the noble knight.

Her joy turned to something else, and she found herself longing for Lancelot’s return more than her husband’s.  It was his touch that brought fire back to her soul, his voice that made her breath catch in her throat.  Even after the time that had passed, the feelings had still been there, as raw and vital as in her youth.

That had been the temptation she could not resist.  Her love for Lancelot was real, too, as was his devotion to her. 

In this way, she had wanted both.  Arthur’s steadiness, Lancelot’s adventure.  For a time, she believed she could share the King’s throne and still bed Lancelot.  To pick one over the other, to love one at the exclusion of the other--was just too hard.  Like choosing between two wayward dreams, each as perfect as the last but neither overlapping.

She could not bear the thought of losing out on either--not then, and not even now.  What she had with Arthur had been wonderful and fruitful.  What she had shared with Lancelot had been invigorating and enlivening.  There was no way to regret taking Arthur’s hand in marriage or Lancelot’s virtue in bed.

And yet, she would give much to spare Arthur this.  She would give all she had to erase the pain from Arthur’s face, to relax the burden she’d created, to temper the fate which her brash choices had caused. 

To think, she had wished for this in her darker moments.  His early death, his untimely demise.  That she might live out her years as his grieving widow, retaining her title and regaining her freedom.

She’d been selfish, from the beginning.  She’d called him prideful and arrogant, but her own actions proved her no better.  For with each mistake he made, he learned and grew.  With every wrong she erred, she simply made the situation worse.  She looked out for herself, her own heart.

Arthur, on the other hand, had always had his heart set on Camelot.

This was her turn, she realized.  He had called her back for her redemption, and she could not fail him now.  Guinevere would be the wife she’d promised to be on their wedding day, the Queen she’d vowed to be the day of her coronation.  Not soon enough, but hopefully not too late.

Gently, she moved to his side, letting a smile grace her face as she knelt by his bed.  She put a hand to his cold cheek, letting her warmth fill him one last time. 

“My lord,” she said.

His expression eased, the dreamy smile settling in weakly.  “Guinevere,” he said.

“Arthur,” she replied, saying his name as she used to, with pride, reverence.  Love.  “I am sorry.”

“As am I,” he returned.  “I loved you so dearly....”

Her heart shattered, for her betrayal seemed so much more cruel like this.  It was one thing to lie to the man on the throne, to turn from his stiff decisions and tough ordinances.  Though he was just and fair, being the king was no easy office, and sometimes if she let herself, she could be angry at the crown without seeing the man beneath it.

That was not possible now.

On the bed before her, he had nothing left.  No pretenses, no titles.  Not even a crown or a speck of armor.  Just a man.  A simple, true man, like the one she’d fallen in love with all those years ago. 

“You have always been too good for me,” she said, working to keep her voice composed.

His expression turned somewhat bleak, and it became apparent that he was not quite as far gone as she’d thought.  “But not good enough to make you wish to stay.”

She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat.  “I stay now, my lord,” she said.  “For as long as you desire.”

The promise was too little, too late, but it still softened the look on his face.  The small smile returned, something of happiness glinting in his eyes.  He blinked slowly.  “Not much longer now,” he said, almost a promise.  “Then in my death, I will grant that which I never could in life.”

She was crying now, her hand clutching his, wishing that it was warm once more.  This was her doing, and she could not hide from that now.  She did not wield the sword that drove him in, but she killed him all the same.  She’s always demanded his love, challenged his devotion, and balked at his commitment to Camelot. 

And to think, it had always been his love of Camelot that had impressed her most.  But while such love was a beautiful thing in a prince, a necessary element of a king, it could be hard in a husband, and that fact wore thin as the years carried on.  She had come second to him, one step below Camelot, and no matter how hard she tried, she had grown to resent it.

How could she not?  She had fallen in love with a man who could still her heart and make her tingle with anticipation.  Devotion was not the same as passion.  Commitment was not the same as excitement.  There was a day when she realized she was no longer the center of his universe; no, Guinevere was just a part, important and valued, but not everything.

But he’d forsaken all the rest to come after her, miles from Camelot’s secure walls, just to die in a forgotten hut in her name. 

She had made many mistakes, but none more grave than this:  to think it was a contest, that she should have had a right to demand more than he had to give.

Guinevere was still a silly girl with silly dreams.  Too foolish to settle her heart on one and therefore forfeiting them both.  Her frustrations with Arthur, they had been trifling things, chosen fights she’d picked to voice the frustrations that were nothing but her own doing.  It was her wayward dreams that were the problem, not Arthur’s steadfast leadership.  It was her desire for what she did not possess that destroyed them, not Arthur’s restrained hand in marriage and lordship.

Arthur would have accepted her rejection with grace.  Lancelot would have remained true without her advances.  But for her indecision, her foolish dreams, she lost them both--and so much more.

“Still I remain,” she said, a truer promise she could not give.

He swallowed with effort, his eyes struggling to focus.  “For Camelot.”

She held his gaze, willing him to hang on just that much longer so he understood.  “For you,” she said firmly, then pressed her lips to his hand.

They stayed like that, just for a moment, before his eyes dimmed.  His breathing hitched roughly, then he shuddered once.  His fingers went limp in her hands before his body stilled completely.

His eyes were open, still blue and clear, but peaceful now, free from the weight of the years.  Free from everything--from expectation, from heartbreak--from life.

The King was dead.  Long live the King.

She held his hand, looking on his face, remembering the moments they’d shared, the memories they’d made.  It had not been a bad life, no matter how many times she’d believed it so.  It seemed to be years ago since she was nothing but a maid to the king’s ward, a mere girl who had the fortune of saving her once and future king.

Over the years, she had been the envy of her people.  Beloved for she was one of them, and her place by Arthur’s side made the kingdom stronger.  She brought humility to his pride, gentleness to his strength, and together they’d made a prosperous and just kingdom.

The limitations, of course, had always been there.  She knew in her heart that their marriage was always second, but where Arthur valued Camelot, she cherished her own possibilities.  The decision to stray was made easier by this, but looking back, it did not seem easy at all to break the trust between them, the implicit love he’d always bestowed upon her.  She had once thought it was her place to teach him unconditional love, but then she’d tied her affections and her faithfulness to strings he could never tend.

How many nights had she spent, watching his sleep, wondering how she was so lucky?

How many more had she spent, wondering if this was really all there was?

Happiness was not in titles or dreams come true.  It was in devotion and commitment and always staying the course.  For in these tedious things, there might be redemption.  Would be salvation.

She had saved his life before; though she could not bring breath back to his body, she wondered it were possible to save it yet still.

With shaking hands, she reached to his face, gently closing his eyes one last time.  Wiping at her tears, she got to her feet, her legs trembling beneath her.  Holding herself upright, she walked toward the door, stepping outside into the fading daylight. 

As expected, Merlin was just outside.  One look, and he did not need to ask how Arthur was.  He already knew.

“Morgana wishes to take him to Avalon, so his soul will find eternal rest,” Merlin said, and his voice was quiet, restrained.  So far from removed from the exuberant boy who had first come to Camelot so many years ago.

Guinevere nodded.  “He deserves that much.”

Merlin paused, pressed his lips together.  “He deserved more.”

Guinevere had to look away, the truth of it heavy in her heart.

She lifted her head again, to look at her friend.  They had been through much together--they all had.  They were a part of each other, a part of Camelot, a part of something larger that she did not yet understand.  They had all been a part of it--Merlin and Arthur and Gaius and Morgana--and there had been a time she had believed it would be enough to save them all. 

She’d been wrong.  About so many things.

And of Arthur’s allies, it was Merlin who had never swayed.  Merlin who had never abandoned.  Merlin who had been there, even when the rest had fallen away.

A true friend.

“I am sorry,” she said, and it was a meager pittance, but it was all she had to offer.

“You do not owe me an apology,” Merlin replied.

Her smile was small.  “I owe many people an apology,” she said.

Merlin took a breath and held it, before nodding thoughtfully.  “You were good for him,” he said.  “In so many ways, you were good for him.”

“Not good enough,” she said.

“I try to remember everything good you brought to him,” Merlin said.  His smile was bittersweet.  “He was quite the prat in the beginning.”

“Until you,” Guinevere pointed out.

Merlin’s eyes held hers.  “Friendship made him wise,” he agreed.  “But love made him complete.”

“I destroyed him,” Guinevere said roughly, fighting back the tears anew.

“Only after you saved him,” Merlin said, simple and honest.  Though he’d grown older as they all had, Merlin still held a belief in goodness, an ability to see brightness even in the darkest of things.  “With your help, we were able to do all that we were meant to do.  This was his time and place to die, and even if I would have changed it if I could, it was not my decision to make.”

And yet, it had been hers, all along.  She could have chosen long ago to rebuff his efforts, to still his pursuit.  When he asked for her hand, all it would have taken was a simple no, and this fate would have been prevented.

But at what cost?

The things she would have missed.  The lives she would never have changed.  The kingdom she would have never helped create.

The child she never would have bore.

The once and future king.

Long live the King.

She could not change the past, but she wondered if it were possible to change the future still.  She destroyed the men she loved, but perhaps she could still retain their legacies.  All they fought for.  All they died for.

“We must go,” she said, her voice sure and ready.

“Where?”

Her reply was simple.  “To Camelot.”

The hesitation was hard to miss.  “Guinevere--”

She shook her head, sighing.  “I am no Queen to Camelot,” she said, knowing well his fears.  “And I do not crave the crown.  But Arthur’s son is not of age, and he should know of his father’s greatness.  He must be taught of the destiny he has yet to fulfill.  For Camelot.”

Merlin was watching her, nodding somewhat.  “For Arthur,” he amended softly.

The idea of it almost made her ache, and though she finally had the freedom she’d craved for so long, she would not take it for she had more important things to do.  She understood it now, the dedication with which Arthur pursued his duty.  Not for his own gain, but for the greater good.  For her, for their son.  For Camelot.

In this way, Guinevere would save Arthur, one last time and forevermore.

Comments

Posted by: i want to cause a ruckus (geminigrl11)
Posted at: January 27th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)

So glad to see this posted! I love all things Merlin and always will, but mostly YOU for getting me to give it a try. I never would have otherwise. So thank you! And lovely. :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 29th, 2011 01:24 pm (UTC)
arthur merlin friends

I'm so glad you fell in love with it as much as I did :) It's certainly a lovely way to pass the time.

Thanks!

Posted by: leavingslowly (leavingslowly)
Posted at: January 28th, 2011 01:41 am (UTC)

This is so good, but so sad. It's kind of depressing to watch the show sometimes and KNOW that Arthur loving Gwen is a mistake that will kill him eventually. They're all stumbling right into it every season!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 29th, 2011 01:26 pm (UTC)
arthur is screwed

For awhile, the whole Arthur/Gwen thing REALLY bothered me. Just knowing how innocent it started and how horrible it ends up...hence why I had to write fic to make peace with it.

Even though it is depressing, I am always impressed by how subtly the show sets up the future--especially in terms of Arthur's eventual downfall. You can see how they are lining up all the dominoes even if we'll never see them fall during the run of the show.

Thanks!

Posted by: ghostfour (ghostfour)
Posted at: February 8th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)

Wow. I was hesitant to read this... I'm not much of a shipper, and I don;t go for romance, but it was Merlin and it was you and so I did... and ...wow.

One of the strangest parts of watching Merlin for me, is how bittersweet it feels sometimes. Seeing how much I *like* these characters... and yet, knowing how it all has to end. This fic captures that ambivalence perfectly. And while I still can't quite like Gwen...I don't quite dislike her either. Very nicly done.

And this broke my heart:

“I destroyed him,” Guinevere said roughly, fighting back the tears anew.

“Only after you saved him,” Merlin said, simple and honest.


because, yes.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 9th, 2011 01:09 am (UTC)
bradley seriously 2

I'm not a diehard shipper most of the time, though I have been known to get behind a canon pairing from time to time, and Gwen/Arthur is by no means my favorite part of this show, but I did go through a period of being totally obsessed with it because of all that it entailed. Because you're right--it is a bittersweet sort of thing. It's a light show a lot of the time, but there's this dark undercurrent that they play out so painfully sometimes. And when I think about the innocence of Arthur and Gwen at the beginning, it's so hard to make it parse with the ending we know is coming.

And part of this is because I want to thwap Gwen sometimes. I can't hate her, but she gets on my nerves from time to time.

Anyway, I'm glad you gave it a chance and liked it anyhow :) Thanks!

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: February 9th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)

this is just so good! I loved this :) I'm new to the Merlin fandom where it seems that Merlin/Arthur slash is huge! So it's nice to read some het fanfic

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 13th, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
arthur pendragon

The amount of slash is overwhelming for those who are more gen/het oriented. I'm glad to help you out a bit :) Thanks!

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: February 14th, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC)

I hate that there is so much slash which then makes finding great gen with no pre-slash harder :(

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: January 4th, 2012 12:29 am (UTC)
LOVELY!

I wanted to explore your other fics so I started with Merlin. You know I love the show and am all fangirlie for Bradley James who fits Arthur perfectly! I admit that I'm not a fan of the Arthur/Guinevere pairing because I'm not feeling the chemistry, but it is their destiny and part of the legend so can't really dispute it, but your story was ever so lovely for this h/c lover!! And Arthur's death...you know I loved that!!

Fav Parts:

He looked worse than she imagined, pale and bloody on the small cot in the corner. There was a fire burning in the stove, but its meager heat seemed to be doing little to warm him. Arthur was stripped of his armor, his shirt in shambles. The sheet covering him was bloody, so messy that she could not identify exactly where the mortal wound was set.

--*sigh! You know why I loved this.

She recalled watching him on the field, watching him fight, govern, and grow. What a man he had been, the yearning of all women in Camelot.

--*double sigh!!

His expression turned somewhat bleak, and it became apparent that he was not quite as far gone as she’d thought. “But not good enough to make you wish to stay.”

--*THUD!

They stayed like that, just for a moment, before his eyes dimmed. His breathing hitched roughly, then he shuddered once. His fingers went limp in her hands before his body stilled completely.

--*double thud!! *SO SOB!!! Bradley would do this so well!!! HAHAHA!

And of Arthur’s allies, it was Merlin who had never swayed. Merlin who had never abandoned. Merlin who had been there, even when the rest had fallen away.

A true friend.

-- Gotta love bromance!



Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 5th, 2012 02:18 pm (UTC)
Re: LOVELY!
arthur prince bw

I wrote this fic before we knew how the Gwen/Arthur/Lancelot triangle would play out. Gwen has never been my favorite because she's just never been quite as committed to Arthur as he is to her.

And I can see how this fic would appeal to you in particular, given the ending I put on :) Sometimes sacrificial and tragic deaths are just satisfying to write and this one in particular seemed somehow right to me, even in its angst.

I'm so glad you liked it!

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