She bowed her head for a long moment. “As you wish, sire. It ends here.”
She turned gracefully away to kneel at Geoffrey’s feet. Uther took the delicate crown from the historian and placed it on her head himself, kissing her formally on both cheeks as the great hall erupted with cheers.
Dazed, she smiled so hard her cheeks hurt, even as she desperately resisted the urge to shake his heavy hand off of shoulder and erase the taint of his mouth from her skin.
The day after the coronation, the castle was still abuzz with the rise in ascension of the Lady Morgana. For Merlin and Arthur however, it was business as usual—except for one wrench in their plans: Morgana had changed her mind about allowing Merlin to take her bracelet. Nothing he had said would persuade her otherwise, as her dependency on the bracelet overrode any weak arguments he had about the potential dangers of Morgause’s true intent.
Defeated, the warlock had reported back to his master on the sudden change. Frustrated, the prince hauled his servant out to the training field for some staff and bow work—and also so that they could speak without being overheard.
“There’s nothing we can do.” The Prince said finally. “At least we know that Morgana is a potential target for Morgause. We’ll just have to stay vigilant.” He glanced over at his friend’s frustrated expression, and changed the subject. “I hardly see Morgana.” He said, testing the weight and balance of the staff in his hand before choosing another. “How are her lessons going with Gaius?”
True to his word, the king had given the services of the new Princess and her handmaiden over to the physician, who was overjoyed—in his own cantankerous way. Following his own intuition, Merlin had not told his guardian about everything that had transpired between himself and the prince within the past week—Arthur learning about his magic, the fact that he had been behind the plans to make Morgana a princess, or his suspicions about the new princess and her potential relatives. It made him uneasy and went against the grain not to confide in the old man, but the warlock was beginning to realize that, like Arthur, he was going to have to forge his own path into the future—and Gaius was too caught up by his own fears and regrets of the past to see past them. Despite what he said, the physician saw too much of Uther Pendragon in his son, and that hampered his trust of the prince. It wasn’t enough to overcome the years of suppression and fear and guilt that had built up over the time of the Great Purge, Merlin realized sadly.
They were growing up, he and Arthur, and the time of change was creeping ever closer.
“Merlin.” Arthur rolled his eyes, prodding the warlock with the end of his staff. “Focus.”
The younger man shook his head, clearing it of his musings about his old friend, and raised his brows. “Sorry. Was just thinking about Gaius.”
Arthur bumped his shoulder companionably before tossing him another staff. “Here. Try this one, and tell me how Morgana and Guinevere’s lessons are going.”
Merlin caught the staff easily, and grinned. “She tried to pull rank, but Gwen and Gaius ganged up on her.” He said, eyes twinkling.