"...and that is why we must act now," Merlin decided, his fist touching the table with sudden force. "Stop Morgan in her tracks before she can do more harm!"
Arthur did not look much like a king, at this moment. His head had sunk between his arms, and he stared at the surface of his great round table. All night, the words had gone back and forth. They must move immediately to secure Morgan's castle -- or they could not, there weren't enough knights. Morgan had sent Arthur a direct threat -- or Morgan would never do such a thing, she had sworn fealty like everyone else. Back and forth, back and forth, Arthur trying again and again to insist the situation was not so urgent he couldn't at least get some sleep.
Now it was well after midnight, and Merlin looked expectant. And riled up. "You must decide, my liege." Of course, Arthur thought bitterly, give me the choice but make it evident I have no power to refuse. King indeed. He was sour in mood. Though he had been crowned more than ten years past, he had not the freedom to deny Merlin his wishes when he was so insistant. It was futile, Arthur knew, to fight Merlin any longer. He would have no rest till he did what the wizard wanted.
"...we shall ride out," Arthur said tiredly. "Tomorrow I shall raise the call, and send messengers to find what knights may join us on the road to Morgan's lands."
"And what shall you do when you reach Morgan's keep?" Merlin asked, his voice coloured with what Arthur felt was entirely undeserved sarcasm. Merlin ever used tones like this, when Arthur tried to negotiate with his half-sister.
"I shall confront her," Arthur said impatiently, his own voice snappish. "And demand an explanation. What else would you have me do? She is my sister."
"Half-sister," Merlin returned quietly, "and not of your father. She will be great trouble for you later."
"Well, you're great trouble to me now!" Arthur retorted, lifting his head to glare at the wizard, who remained impassive and unmoved by the sudden outburst. "When it pleases me, if it pleases me, I shall move in force against Morgan. Until that hour, I shall not."
"Your weakness for her is unaccountable," Merlin said in a low voice, "and dangerous, Arthur."
Arthur's head sunk into his hands exhaustedly, even as he accepting the truth in the statement. Morgan was a dangerous woman, with the power to be both a powerful ally or a dangerous enemy. But he could not explain it to the wizard; how could he say he had a gut feeling that Morgan, somehow, played a great hand in keeping him on the throne?
Or perhaps, Arthur thought distantly, he kept Morgan free and well because Merlin feared her, and Arthur was just the slightest bit afraid of his advisor -- he wanted the edge of life and death over someone the wizard disliked. "I am going to bed," Arthur announced, standing up. "In the morning, when I have rested, I shall send the word we are leaving."
"I'll send it now," Merlin insisted, "and you can leave before the noonday sun tomorrow. Best catch Morgan by surprised, she will expect you to take your time in assembling."
And if, Arthur though bitterly, if she should turn against us when we are there, we can be so disorganized and ill-prepared that she will be able to defeat us singlehandedly, using a broomstick and tossing some newt eyes at us. But he said nothing, pushing his chair in to the table and stalking away towards his bed chambers.
The crown weighed heavy upon Arthur's head, but heavier still than the physical weight was the immensity of rulership. Like a forceful hand settling on him, despair haunted him, as he wondered when he had become afraid to refuse the advice of the very man who had fought so hard to make him king.
The council meeting of knights had been adjoured some time ago, with Arthur telling everyone to go rest, but he was still in council with the wizard Merlin, and dearly wished to be elsewhere. All his knights, even his queen had left him, but Merlin had only used the chance to corner him, like a dog on a fox. Exhausted after the long day, he had no choice but to listen to the sorcerer's words, as his tones were growing more forceful than ever.