Characters/Pairings: Merlin/Arthur, Gwen/Morgana, some OT4
Summary: A year after Uther dies, Arthur accepts the crown.
Songs of Things We Can But Hope
They were magnificent.
Songs of this night would last for hundreds of years, cross oceans and warm even the coldest of hearts. The preparations had taken months, culminating in ceremony and feasting the likes of which had never been seen before. Nothing came close to the magic of Arthur Pendragon's coronation.
Bards, who had returned to Camelot after King Uther's death, started composing in between bites of the sweetest meat, mouthfuls of the spiciest wine. Gossip ran wild and laughter shook the walls of the great hall.
Merlin sighed and rolled his eyes in his seat next to Arthur. His new robes itched and if one more nobleman or noblewoman propositioned him with barely disguised caclulation, he was going to turn someone into a bunny.
"You look like a stormcloud," Arthur said, his voice low enough for only Merlin to hear.
"I don't see you wearing an overgrown nightshirt for all the world to see."
Arthur hid a grin behind his hand. Wouldn't do to be seen enjoying himself while some visiting knight gave a somber toast. "As new court magician and offical advisor to the crown, you have to look the part."
Merlin contemplated turning his king into a fluffy creature and wondered if it would be the cutest, deadliest rabbit in all the lands. "There's one advantage, at least," Merlin said, clapping for the knight as if he'd heard a word the man had said. "I can get out of it in three seconds."
Arthur swallowed hard, Merlin could see the movement of his adam's apple. He wanted to taste, let his tongue run along the soft skin there, maybe bite a little to mark his territory. Arthur didn't look at him when he spoke, but the sound of his voice made Merlin shiver all over. It made him suddenly glad of the flowing robe.
"I can get you naked faster than that."
On Arthur's other side, Gwen made an undignified squeaking noise.
Gwen squirmed in her seat. "Can you believe the looks King Bayard is throwing Morgana? By the gods, it's as if he's never seen a knight before."
Merlin leaned over, getting up into Arthur's space like he belonged there. Gwen wondered if she'd ever feel the same easy contempt for propriety. "You have to admit," he said, "Sir Dagonet doesn't strike nearly as impressive a figure in his armor."
Gwen's eyes settled on Morgana's new mail and plate - something she'd refused to let anyone else create and Gwen's last chance to prove herself something other than servant or wife - perfectly accentuating said figure, and next to her both men sighed. Gwen could admit to sharing the sentiment. Morgana looked stunning.
Morgana poked Gwen in the ribs. "Hey," she said, "stop that at once, all of you, or I'm going to have to challenge you to a duel."
From the corner of her eye, Gwen could tell that Arthur fought a grin. "Despite my chivalrous nature, I would have to stand by and watch you two girls beat each other, getting all sweaty, possibly rolling in dirt. It's the code, you see."
Merlin nodded, deadpan. "Outrageous, that. But the code must be obeyed."
"How much longer is this feast going to last?" Gwen tried, and failed, fighting intense boredom despite her friends' antics. "It seems time passes even slower when all you can do is sit and let people talk at you."
Arthur chuckled, "Welcome to my life."
Gwen and Merlin shared a look. "You could have warned us."
"I'm sure I did," Arthur said, toasting some knight or dignitary across the room with his goblet, "I distinctly remember saying 'You have no idea what you are getting into.' I also remember you all laughing at me."
Merlin sunk deeper into his chair. "Yeah, well, we were only trying to help."
Morgana started playing with her hair. She'd refused to cut it, seeing as Sir Kay had much longer locks and didn't even braid or tie them. "Those three knights over there are arguing about whether I should be called Lady or Sir, I have half a mind reminding them that I could be in a dress and still take all three of them in a fight."
Her armor felt quite comfortable, more a second skin than a burden. She thought of all the possibilities she'd seen in her future, in all their futures. This one thing had never occured to her.
That she could be happy.
Gwen took her hand under the table, out of sight. Their finger's entwined like their lives had been for some time. "You don't need to prove yourself to anyone, the king and I," Gwen paused at that, glancing over at Arthur, who blushed ever so lightly. "The king and I know your heart, your loyalty is unquestioned."
Morgana knew that this kind of reassurance set her apart from the other three. The fact that she needed it. The fact that she got it.
"Or I could just smash that guy's head in."
Merlin perked up at that. "Can I play? This royal prat never lets me go on quests anymore."
Morgana smiled. "You know, I wouldn't have thought so at the time, but hurting small, defenseless creatures really does wonders for one's disposition." Her eyes found Sir Lionel again, and Sir Gareth, who had the shoulders of an ox.
Gwen squeezed her hand. "Not unless he insults my honor."
It made Morgana smile. They had something here, the beginnings of greatness.
The initial arrangement had taken all of ten seconds, once Arthur realized that the three people who loved him most were not going to abandon him once he was king. Right after Uther's wake, Morgana and Gwen had stormed into his chambers. Merlin had already been there - Merlin had always been there.
"We'll fix this," they'd said - he didn't remember who. He'd been fraying at the edges, thinking of treaties and politics, of Kings and marriages and power.
They'd come to him. They'd offered him all he could ever have wanted and more.
For almost a year, the women and Merlin planned out the coronation. And the wedding. And the knighting. And the legalization of magic and subsequent naming of high advisor and court magician. All Arthur got to decide was how he wanted to decorate the royal chambers.
"Oh dear," Gwen said, "I think the servants are about to pass out from standing around for hours. Look at Jamie, if that column hadn't been there he'd have fallen over twice."
Morgana hid a yawn behind her hand. "C'mon, Arthur, if you get up now, we might all still get some sleep tonight."
And so they did. It took a while to get from the head table to the doors, and by the time they reached the rooms set aside for Camelot's new king and queen, Arthur felt it too. A bone-deep tiredness, the affectations of the day, of ceremony and deception, taking their due.
As the door closed behind him, Arthur could finally breathe again.
"That went well," he said. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."
Merlin snapped his fingers, a showy gesture he'd grown into because otherwise people tended not to notice that he was doing magic. Their clothes fell away like shedding skin. The cold of the room made Arthur shiver.
"Merlin," he whined, "When will you remember to light the fire first? You really are the-"
Merlin just grinned. "I'm really not, though. No more 'worst manservant' for you."
Morgana settled herself on the bed. Arthur's throat was dry, parched at the sight. Then he processed what Merlin had said. "I'm sure I can find someone worse than you."
"Hah," Merlin said, very close to Arthur now, his breath coasting along Arthur's ear. "So you admit I wasn't all bad!"
Arthur crossed his arms. "I admit no such thing."
From the bed, her arms slung around Morgana's stomach, chin on Morgana's shoulder, Gwen laughed. "You two would argue the color of the sky just to needle each other."
"It's blue," Arthur said at the same time as Merlin exclaimed, "it's black!"
Morgana rolled her eyes as Gwen buried her laughing face in Morgana's hair. "And of course, you are both somewhat right."
"Come to bed," Gwen said, one hand turned toward them. Arthur felt something tighten in his stomach.
Merlin's hand settled on the nape of Arthur's neck. "C'mon, we can't have two beautiful ladies waiting like that."
Much later, years upon years, rumors would crawl up the castle wall that the Queen had taken her knight and protector as consort.
Arthur had his hand in Merlin's hair when he heard it the first time. For the sake of the children, he let it be known that if such a thing were the case, the Queen had at least chosen a valiant and honorable member of the court. Both Gwen and Morgana rolled their eyes at him. They let him know that they could very well defend their honor without his help.
Other rumors were harder to combat.
Some people still thought Merlin had bewitched him and there were days when Arthur could see how they might think that. If life without Merlin, the thought of Merlin dead or gone, drove him to distraction, squeezing his heart in an iron grip, he found that he could sympathize with their views. Merlin had certainly cast a spell over him, even if it wasn't the kind of spell that came in a book.
It didn't stop him from putting them in their place.
The most pervasive of all, however, was the idea that his coronation had been a political stunt to impress and cower surrounding Kings and Lords of the realm. A bold, cunning plan, to bind magic to his service, as well as the hearts of the people, and have Morgana's lands on top of that, by making her the first of his knights.
Arthur liked this rumor best.