Merlin returned the look, and held out his hand. Arthur watched, warily entranced, as a familiar blue globe of light shimmered into existence on his palm. “I guess that makes us slightly more even then.”
Arthur gazed at the light, and finally realized why there had been such a spark of familiarity in his heart when it had first appeared in that cave so long ago.
The color was the same fathomless blue as Merlin’s eyes.
And now, looking once more into that steadily trusting gaze, Arthur knew everything was going to be okay.
“I always knew there was something about you, Merlin…”
The warlock grinned at the familiar words. “Finally put your finger on it, then?”
Arthur shoved him lightly, nearly toppling him from his horse, who snorted in protest. “Come on. The sooner we catch something, the sooner we can settle in for the night and talk.”
Merlin groaned as he dismounted and melted into the brush. “You’re already getting ideas, aren’t you?”
Arthur ignored his attempt at levity, already focused on the task at hand, although it was true—his analytical mind was already whirling with possibilities. This was what he excelled at—gauging the enemy, finding their strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when to press forward and when to retreat. History, magic, politics—all different battlefields to step on and learn from.
As long as he treated Kilgarrah as another source of tactical information; as long as he didn’t allow emotion to overwhelm him, kept moving, thinking, planning, looking towards the future, then he would be fine. He had succumbed once only; that night when he had returned alone to his rooms. He had wept, brokenly, for the sacrifices, for the loss of innocence, friendship, love, and faith that his family, and like the aftershocks of an earthquake, the rest of Camelot and the five kingdoms had endured. In the darkness, just before dawn, he had also forced himself to look deep within his own mind, heart, and soul and confront all the shadows within that spoke with his father’s voice, lecturing, patronizing, unyielding. And it was only as the first rays of the sun pierced the horizon that Arthur truly accepted the dual sides of his lineage and destiny, and knew that this was where he would take the first step towards his future as king alone, away from his father.
If everything worked out according to plan, Merlin, Morgana, and Guinevere would be there standing shoulder to shoulder with him at the end.
“Ow! Merlin!” Arthur snarled, rubbing his side where the other man had jabbed him with a stick.
“Arthur!” Merlin mocked, waving two rabbits in front of his face. “If I had known that you finding out about my magic would reduce to you to brooding, almost thoughtful silence while on a hunting trip no less, I would have told you a long time ago.” He walked away to where a fire was already burning brightly, adding over his shoulder, “Come on, mighty hunter. I’ll let you redeem your pride later. Right now I’m hungry, and we don’t have much time before that rain hits.”
Arthur automatically glanced up at the sky, which had turned a dark and ominous grey during their conversation/confrontation, then turned his frown on his servant.
“How in the hell did you do all that already? We haven’t even started the hunt.” He snapped, gesturing at the campsite, the fire, and the rabbits.