Summary: Their destiny is all mapped out, but it doesn't have to be exactly what you think.
The biggest shock of Arthur's life comes when Morgana, over breakfast, between bites, announces that she made up her mind to accept Lot of Orkads and his marriage proposal. (The biggest shock up to date, two months from now Merlin will confess all about his magic. That will show Arthur.)
"We will announce it at the feast," Uther says, rubbing his hands triumphantly under the table at the mere thought of this alliance and tying Orkads to Camelot, preventing any future war. "I'm happy for you," he adds after a long moment, under Morgana's look.
"Have you gone completely insane?" Arthur asks the very moment the doors close on Uther and his billowing cloak. "You think Lot is an utter prat."
"And he still seems a better prospect than you. Think about that," Morgana says, drawing herself up royally and moving towards the exit. Arthur's fingers close around her wrist. Her eyes are bloodshot and darkened, she hadn't been sleeping well for a long while now, everyone knows. No one knows what to say, though.
"I dreamt I'll try to kill you," she says quietly, almost inaudibly."
"You've been trying to kill me for years, ever since we were six and you threw your wooden horse at me. I still have scars."
"You deserved it," she almost smiles, which he was counting on, but the smile vanishes, melts away as the blood runs away from her face, leaving her pale, almost traslucent. For months now she's been changing, into something otherwordly, snowwhite skin and lips blood red and Arthur has no idea what to do with this. "It's different this time," she says. "This time I'll succeed."
The worst thing is, he believes her dreams now.
Morgana shrugs delicately. "Ask me when you're bleeding to death, maybe I'll know then."
When Morgana leaves Camelot, for good as it will turn out, the rain hitting the stones sounds more like a lament than a wedding march.
"Treason is punishable by death," Uther's voice is loud and clear, no hint of hesitation. It's the price you pay for the crown, Arthur knows it already, even if he never wore one, but he feels the phantom weight of it, like a memory of the future. "I have no son now."
"Exile is better than the axe," Merlin says, packing the last of the bags. Arthur isn't so sure.
"You don't have to come with me, you know that."
"Are you kidding me? You wouldn't last a day without me. Round the first corner, a sorcerer would jump out of the bushes and attack you."
"With my luck, round the first corner, you'll trip and impale yourself on a short stick, you idiot."
"You'll come back one day," Merlin says, looking up from the bags, his eyes wide open and completely convinced that what he's saying is the only truth. Morgana is the one who sees the future, but Merlin is whom Arthur believes.
"Not during my father's life." He should say 'king's', he should say 'Uther's', but he can't.
Merlin is silent for a long moment, a rare and strange occasion.
"You should have a grand entrance, once we come back. Showy. Perform a miracle, turn some water into wine, stick a sword into a solid stone, the works."
"Why waste a sword by sticking it into a stone?"
It's been a long while since he was last sneaking out of his own castle, probably still during his father's reign. It's not something a king should be doing.
"Don't stop till you cross the border," he speaks to Lancelot, but he's looking at Guinevere. "I'd prefer it if the guards didn't drag you back."
"I'm sorry," Gwen says, eyes firmly fixed on the ground, like before, when she was his stepsister's maid and he was the prince. It hurts, just a little, and just a little more than it should.
"Guinevere," he says, stressing her name, and she smiles. "You didn't do anything wrong, neither of you."
She doesn't look convinced, and neither does Lancelot. Arthur wants to kill Morgana, for her stupid tricks and games, for that stupid shield. He wants to kill Morgana, who once loved Gwen more than anything, who risked Uther's wrath just to ease Gwen's suffering.
"Take care of her," he tells Lancelot. "Be careful," he tells Gwen.
The entire court is rich with gossip, whispering of a betrayed king and an unfaithful queen, of a knight who broke every oath.
Arthur wipes away Gwen's tear and shakes Lancelot's hand and listens as the sound of horses' hoofs slowly fades.
"I can always throw you in the dungeon," he tells Merlin conversationally, not expecting any results. Maybe if there was no certainty that the shackles would turn into cobwebs or straw the moment there close around Merlin's wrists.
"Is this really the time for fun?" Merlin asks, smiling widely at the mediocre joke. "I promise, once I'm back I'll let you chain me up, for old times' sake."
"Once you come back?" Arthur asks doubtfully. Not many come back from the Isles of the Blessed, and none of them comes back sane.
"I'll meet you at Camlann, you'll recognize me because I'll be the one tripping over my robes."
"Or your long beard," Arthur says. "They say times flows differently beyond the mists."
"Can you imagine me with a beard? I'd look riddiculous."
"You already do."
He silently watches as Merlin places protective cloth over some vials.
"Remember Ealdor?" he asks. "You, me, Morgana, Gwen, some thugs who almost killed us all."
"Good times," Merlin agrees.
The boat sways, even though there's no waves, the lake is clear and calm. Arthur opens his eyes, staring at Morgana, her black hair nor marred by white falling down in waves. She looks like when she was seventeen, her eyes still free from the future.
"Merlin told me to say he's going to kill you for letting yourself be stabbed," she laughs, eyes full of tears.
"Where are we?"
"Almost there. See this, beyond the mists? Glastonbury. We'll be neighbours with Gwen," there's no bitterness in her voice. Arthur can't blame her now, can't hate her, he sees the same little girl who kicked him under the table during feasts and celebrations, he sees the girl who begged him not to go hunting, for she had seen his death in dreams she didn't understand.
"Avalon," he says, fascinated. "Merlin must think himself oh so wise."
"He'll be waiting for us on the shore. He says we'll recognize him because of his beard."