And in his hands, a weapon - posted January 30, 2009
Pairing: gen (about as slashy as canon with the sacrificing for
each other and all)
Rating: PG-13 (violence)
Word Count: ~ 5800
Summary: Any weapon can be terrible in the wrong hands.
Disclaimer: Merlin belongs to the BBC (so we should
probably keep the fanfic secret! Sh!)
Posted in a hurry, so if you spot goofs, please don't keep them to
yourself. I'm happy to get any and all feedback. Set after 1.11, but
And in his hands, a weapon
It wasn't a typical request, certainly not one Arthur had ever heard
from Merlin before.
“You want to go with me on patrol?”
not exactly.” Merlin shook his head. “I just thought if you’re going to
the eastern glades, I should be glad to ride out with you.”
“For what reason?” Arthur asked, suspicious.
pleasure of my lord’s company,” Merlin said without missing a beat, and
immediately Arthur knew there was an ulterior motive at work. Merlin
wasn’t a knight and had never shown any interest in the patrols. He
detested hunting with Arthur, although he went along, but he made no
secret of his desire that Arthur should shoot nothing that was not
expressly for food. There had to be another reason.
“You’re a filthy liar, Merlin.”
wound me, sire.” Merlin was trying to look serious, but failing
miserably. The sparkle in his eyes was a dead give-away, and Arthur had
to work to keep his face sober.
“Let me guess. Gaius has set you
a list of herbs to be gathered from the eastern glades, and you thought
it better to ride than to have an hour’s walk each way, right?”
Merlin’s mouth twitched and Arthur felt the thrill of victory. Trust
Merlin to figure a way to get out of doing more work than absolutely
“Your wisdom and insight is truly astounding,” Merlin
grinned as he slid a buckle into place. He truly had gotten better at
getting Arthur into and out of his armour during the last few months;
although Arthur would never admit it, Merlin really wasn’t the worst
manservant he’d ever had, a fact that continued to genuinely surprise
“Enough, Merlin, I’ve already said you can go. Just be sure
you pay heed to your surroundings when we’re there; we’ve had reports
of bandits in that vicinity. It’s why we ride out this morning.” Arthur
reached for his sword and slid it into his scabbard, then did the same
with his dagger. “And you’ll do as I command when we’re away; I’ll not
have your usual cheek in front of my knights.”
“If it pleases
you, sire.” Merlin gave a stuttering half-bow, and Arthur was sure it
was to hide the stupid smile on his face. Even when he was pretending
to be respectful, he was insolent. Arthur resisted the urge to box his
ears; they were entirely too tempting as targets.
Merlin. I can think of nothing that would please me more than to take
four armed knights and escort you on a flower-picking expedition.”
“Good. I’ll meet you at the stables then,” and with that Merlin was out
the door and away before Arthur could say another word.
impudent servant,” Arthur said loudly enough that he knew his voice
would reach Merlin’s ears. He thought he heard the faint response of
laughter echoed back at him, but it didn’t matter. Apparently, he was
going on patrol and Merlin was going with him.
eastern glades were not so much glades as swamp land fed by a river
whose banks had eroded substantially over the years. The horses didn’t
care for the terrain, which was damp and uncertain, their hooves
sticking in soft sponge-like ground as they picked their way along the
paths toward the heavier wooded stands that inter-cut the marshes. They
paused at the point where the path grew wider and the horses stamped
their feet in the sand to clean away soft earth that clung to their
“We’ll leave you here, Merlin,” Arthur said, marking the
place and position of the sun in his mind. “We ride on to Fahrbaern,
but shall return before the sun has reached its zenith.”
Merlin said, sliding down from his mount and tying its reins to a
slender ash. “That should give me plenty of time to find what Gaius
“Just don’t stray too far from the path,” Arthur
cautioned, even as his restless horse shook its head, anxious to ride
on. “Don’t go following any will-o-wisps. I don’t want to return and
find I need to drag you out of a mud-hole.” The knights laughed, and
Merlin looked for a moment as if he might stick his tongue out, but
apparently thought better of it.
“I shall endeavour to stay out of trouble,” Merlin said, “as long as my
lord does the same.”
know me, Merlin,” Arthur replied with a quick quirk of his brows,
before he tugged at the reins of his stallion and led his knights away
at a trot.
“Yeah, that’s the trouble,” Merlin muttered, but
Arthur didn’t bother to turn back. He knew the look of concern well
enough by now, and he knew that Merlin had no cause to worry. He was
the Crown Prince of Camelot, safe in his own lands, accompanied by four
of his knights. There was nothing he could foresee that would
compromise his safety in so short a time.
It was far
easier for Merlin to gather herbs with magic since he’d taught himself
a spell for the Collection of Useful Things. He’d found that once the
words were spoken, it was a simple matter of concentrating on the thing
he wanted—say, the leaf of a certain plant—and those leaves would
divest themselves from their stems and sail towards him, neatly stowing
themselves in the bag that he held. He’d learned early on that it was
extremely important to picture exactly the right plant in his head and
that subtle differences had to be concentrated on lest he mistake
Purple-loosestrife for Rosebay Willowherb. Gaius had been none too
happy with him that time, and had sent him out immediately to correct
his egregious error—after helping clean up the botched potion, of
“Feverfew,” Merlin muttered, and called to mind the pale
green of the stem, its soft white flowers, making sure that he
differentiated between the fuller sturdy blossoms of chamomile and
daisies, that he pictured the centre as flat, not bulbous, the petals
erect, not sloping. He checked the plants as they sorted themselves
into a neat pile in his basket, and satisfied that he’d got enough,
went on to the others on his list. In no time at all, he’d completed
his inventory, and settled himself under a sheltering tree to have a
small nap. It was one of the rare luxuries of being outside the castle,
and there was never time for it when he went with Arthur on a hunt.
Then he was too busy toting dead animals around and trying to keep
Arthur from shooting mythical creatures that weren’t actively
threatening their lives; naps were out of the question.
the sunlight warm his face and coax him towards light sleep. He would
hear if riders approached from either direction, and would have
sufficient time to busy himself so Arthur had no cause to rebuke him
for laziness. Of course, Arthur was likely to do it anyway, but there
was no reason to give him additional ammunition in their little war of
insults. Merlin thought they were generally well-balanced in their
sparring—at least when it came to words—and he took some pleasure in
the fact that he could unbalance the prince with a well-chosen line. It
was rare to see Arthur laugh out loud without worrying about what
people would think, but those times were becoming more frequent all the
time, and Merlin felt that maybe the dragon had been right. Maybe,
inconceivably, his task was to make sure that Arthur, the prat and the
idiot, became something more like a king.
If he survived that
long, of course. Merlin honestly didn’t know how Arthur had lived to
see his age of majority considering how many attempts on his life had
happened within the last few months alone. Either the assassins of
Camelot were simply inept, or Arthur lived a truly blessed life. Merlin
figured the truth lay somewhere between the two.
He drifted sleepily, sunlight dappling his clothes, the soft rustle of
leaves whispering overhead.
was difficult to say what exactly woke him. At first Merlin thought it
must have been the breeze picking up because when he opened his eyes
the sky had noticeably darkened, the air chill and damp where it had
been warm before. He stood and stretched, trying to ascertain the sun’s
position behind the clouds. It hadn’t felt like rain earlier, nor had
the horizon shown the slightest hint of inclemency when they’d started
out. Merlin hurriedly stored his bounty in his saddle-packs and untied
the reins of his unsettled mare.
“Shhh, it’s alright,” he
intoned softly, letting his hand slide down the chestnut slope of the
horse’s neck. It whinnied and shook its head, and Merlin realized that
beyond the rising wind and the shake of the trees, he could hear the
ring of swords coming from the direction that Arthur and his knights
had gone hours ago.
Merlin swung himself onto the mare’s back
and turned her toward the path. Arthur was undoubtedly in some kind of
trouble, and more likely than not it would be up to Merlin to save him.
He touched his feet lightly to the horse’s flanks and urged her on,
following the unmistakable sounds of men engaged in battle.
It was a wholly unexpected sight that Merlin encountered when the trail
opened into a clearing amidst the trees.
and his knights were indeed engaged in battle, but Merlin could not
discern any foe, and immediately he felt the prickle of energy that
accompanied powerful magic. Something ancient and menacing was at work
in this clearing. Merlin dismounted and tied his horse loosely, knowing
she could run if necessary. He spoke a word of assurance as he left her
at the edge of the glade and moved swiftly towards the combatants. Sir
Roderick lay injured, bloody gauntlets pressed against his side, and
Merlin moved first towards him to offer aide.
away,” Arthur called out, his tone harsh. He was holding his sword
firmly and its end was tipped with blood. Near him, Sir Kay stood in
fighting stance, half-turned towards Arthur, his sword clashing against
the blade of Sir Tyraen who seemed determined to fight his compatriot.
ignored Arthur and knelt by Roderick, taking off his neckerchief and
pressing it against the wound to help slow the bleeding. “What’s
happened here?” he asked, watching incredulously as Sir Kay had to turn
to counter a thrust from Arthur’s sword, accompanied by young Sir
Tyraen’s terrified cries of “See? He’ll kill us all. He must be
“The prince is ensorcelled, I fear,” Roderick gasped out as Merlin
applied pressure to his side. “He attacked without warning.”
gave you this wound?” Merlin asked, unbelieving, but he continued to
look on as Kay parried another brutal onslaught from Arthur, and this
time, Tyraen was at Kay’s side, fighting back Arthur.
was the prince.” Roderick closed his eyes and strove to take a deeper
breath. Merlin could see the pain of the task written across his pale
features. “He struck down Sir Gareth in one blow, then went at me. I
managed to deflect the thrust, but not enough to spare a wound.” He
Merlin watched Arthur press his advantage against Kay
and Tyraen, using the slightly higher ground and their proximity to one
another to limit their movements. He easily parried their jabs, and
Merlin heard Kay attempting to reason with Arthur. “Sire! Do you not
know us? We are your knights, your men.”
“I know,” Arthur spat
out in a voice heavy with regret and frustration, seemingly aware but
unable to do anything about his actions. His blade clipped Sir Kay
across the thigh, and he went to one knee, only spared a killing blow
because Tyraen stepped in front of him and swung his sword two-handed
with all his strength. Arthur retreated quickly, but the blade still
rattled across his chainmail ominously.
Kay cried out, “Tyraen,
he is still our prince. You must not harm him.” With obvious effort,
Kay pulled himself to his feet, and now Merlin understood the odd
tableau he’d first come upon. Sir Kay was simultaneously trying to
protect Arthur and defend himself against him.
“Go! All of you,
away from me,” Arthur forced out between clenched teeth even as he
brought the sword to bear on Kay again. “This madness may end if there
is no one to fight.”
“We cannot leave you, my lord,” Sir Kay
replied, his sword ringing against Arthur’s. Tyraen circled warily,
uncertain of the protocols for dealing with a dangerous and probably
“Leave,” Merlin shouted, standing. “I’ll stay with him.”
The men all turned to look at him, even Sir Roderick who’d closed his
eyes from the pain.
take my idiot manservant with you,” Arthur managed to grind out,
although it seemed like every word was costing him something. His face
was flushed, sweat dripping from his brow, although the air had turned
chill around them.
“Sire,” Sir Kay tried once again.
is a royal command,” Arthur shouted, his voice growing hoarse on the
last word, and even as Kay parried another blow, he nodded respectfully
“As you command, my lord. Tyraen, fetch the horses.”
The younger knight sprang away from the field without delay, and Merlin
wrapped Roderick’s arm around his shoulder and hoisted him to his feet.
While Arthur and Kay’s swords continued to clash, Merlin helped settle
Sir Roderick on a horse in front of Tyraen.
“Go,” Merlin told
Tyraen in a low voice. “There’s nothing more you can do, and Roderick
will die if he doesn’t reach Gaius with speed.”
Still, ever the
knight, Tyraen looked to Kay for his orders, and waited until Kay gave
a quick nod before riding away. Merlin grasped the reins of the other
horse Tyraen had led forward, approaching Arthur and Kay cautiously.
“Arthur,” Merlin tried. “What’s happened?”
Arthur choked out, a trickle of blood staining his lip, and both Kay
and Merlin exchanged frightened glances. “Before you cannot!”
did not strike him a blow about his face,” Kay said, beginning to back
away, and Merlin nodded, knowing that he’d been right in thinking
Arthur’s efforts to communicate his desires with them were as much part
of the battle for control as were his sword strokes.
move, swift for a knight with a wounded thigh, Kay had grabbed Merlin
around the waist and pulled him towards the horse. Merlin felt
weightless as a ragdoll as Kay pulled him onto the horse, and turned to
ride out. He struggled against the knight; he couldn’t leave Arthur
like this, alone, the victim of some kind of spell, a danger to others
and possibly himself.
“I can’t leave him,” Merlin said, but Sir
Kay ignored him, managing to turn the horse and spur it onward without
relaxing his grip on Merlin.
“I understand, but there’s nothing
we can do. This is magic, and darker magic than I’ve ever seen. The
prince fights it, but there is little he can do. We must inform the
“No!” Merlin objected, and even though he was faced away
from Sir Kay, he could tell the man’s surprise by the way his muscles
tightened. “Sir Kay, please, let me down.”
“Arthur commanded you
be taken to safety,” Kay said solemnly, speaking into Merlin’s ear to
be heard over the wind and the pounding hooves. There were times when
Merlin wished the knights weren’t quite as chivalrous as the knight’s
code instructed them to be. According to Arthur, they were more like
guidelines anyway, but Merlin didn’t think this was the time to point
that out to Sir Kay as every moment took them further away from Arthur
and whatever sorcerer had got hold of him this time.
needs to stay with him. What if he tries to take his own life?” Merlin
blurted out. He didn’t know if magic could be used that way, but
apparently Sir Kay didn’t know either for he stopped the horse so
suddenly Merlin would have tumbled off if Kay hadn’t been holding him
“You believe this to be the purpose of this magic? To kill the prince?”
don’t know, but I think someone should go back,” Merlin answered
honestly, and then decided it was time to start lying. “I can sneak up
to the clearing and keep an eye on him until you return. He won’t even
know I’m there. I’m very stealthy.” Merlin was glad Kay hadn’t been on
the last hunting expedition where Arthur had gone into a long treatise
on stealth and how Merlin utterly failed at anything resembling it.
looked conflicted and more than a little pale. The wound in his thigh
was no doubt giving him pain, and Merlin knew the knight should be
returning to the castle regardless of whether Uther could offer any
assistance or not. Since they didn’t even have a candidate for
head-chopping, Merlin didn’t see how the king could possibly be any
help, but if it gave Merlin a chance to extricate Arthur from whatever
spell he was under, he was happy for the time.
“You will not attempt to subdue him.” Kay made it a statement rather
than a question.
not,” Merlin promised. “I’ll just keep watch, make sure he doesn’t try
to harm himself.” Merlin made a sort of stabbing motion towards his own
chest, and Kay blanched. “Besides,” Merlin said softly, and his next
words were the truest he could think of, “it’s Arthur. I have to help
him if I can.”
Kay nodded gravely and released his hold so
Merlin could slip down from the horse. “Good luck,” Kay said, and
turned into the wind, spurring his horse to a gallop that must have
been incredibly painful for the rider.
Merlin echoed Kay’s sentiments, then turned and ran back towards the
clearing as fast as he could manage.
As soon as Kay and Merlin were out of sight, Arthur dropped to his
knees in triumphant exhaustion.
cannot have him. He is safely away,” Arthur murmured to the empty air,
and it was almost painless to speak now that he was alone with only the
voice of an unseen sorcerer for company.
“He will return,” the
woman’s voice said confidently. Arthur didn’t know if the voice was in
his head or all around him. He didn’t think the others had heard her in
spite of her constant commentary on the battle, sometimes in English,
sometimes in a language that hissed and slithered in his ears like a
“I commanded Kay to take him away. He will do it, or risk
execution. It is treason to disobey a royal command.” Arthur realized
he couldn’t move from the position on his knees, but for the moment it
was alright. At least he had control over his voice again, and his
limbs were happy for the rest.
“Yet even at this moment, Merlin is arguing his point.”
Of course, he is, Arthur thought. Merlin was the bravest idiot
he’d ever met.
convincing Sir Kay that someone must be here with you. You are the
crown prince of Camelot, after all, and what is Merlin but a servant
boy? His life is worthless compared to yours.”
laughed and it sent ripples of worry down Arthur’s spine. He knew
confidence when he heard it, and this woman seemed to know them both
entirely too well. It was discomforting.
“His life is as valuable as any subject of Camelot, and I would not
laughter again and the chill wind dried the sweat on Arthur’s forehead.
“But he would risk everything for you. Of that, I am certain.”
“Why are you doing this?” Arthur asked. “What possible purpose is
served by this? What use to you is Merlin?”
as the words escaped his lips, Arthur realized he didn’t truly want an
answer. The sorcerer was too bold, too strong in her convictions, and
Arthur knew Sir Kay, brave and loyal as he was, would have difficulty
keeping Merlin on the road to Camelot unless he bound him to the horse
and rode as if the hounds of Hell were after them. Even then, Arthur
wasn’t certain that Merlin wouldn’t find a way back to him—it was just
in his nature to be there whenever Arthur needed him.
looked across the clearing to where the body of Sir Gareth lay and felt
a surge of guilt and anger well up in him at the needless loss of life.
The sword in Arthur's hand was stained with blood, the blood of his own
men, and if Merlin entered this clearing and the sorcerer commanded,
Arthur did not know if he could stand to watch his own sword strike
down someone who had become an unlooked for ally and a firm friend
during the past few months.
“He approaches,” the voice said, tone gleeful. “He fears that with no
opponent, you might turn the sword upon yourself.”
as the words were spoken, Arthur found himself rising to his feet,
drawing the dagger from its place at his side. He shifted his sword to
his left hand, twirled it with practiced rhythm, and pointed the dagger
at his own chest, the tip settling right at the vulnerable part of his
chainmail above his heart, where Tyraen’s initial wild thrusts had
broken a hole in the metal.
“Arthur, stop!” Merlin cried out on
cue, racing towards him, and Arthur fought with every ounce of his
being to shape his lips into letters, push air through his throat, so
that Merlin would know to run away as far and as fast as he could.
that Merlin ever listened to him, Arthur knew, and given the determined
look on Merlin’s face, Arthur figured Merlin wasn’t about to start now.
felt the tip of the dagger pierce the skin of his chest, and he tried
to keep his face from showing anything that might cause Merlin to come
“Merlin, stay away,” Arthur managed to get out, the dagger pressing a
millimetre deeper into his flesh.
him go,” Merlin shouted, stopping about six feet from Arthur, and
directing his voice heavenward. He raised his arms in what Arthur had
no doubt Merlin thought was a menacing stance, but all it did was make
his arms easier targets for a man with a blade. Without hesitation,
Arthur found himself sheathing his dagger, relief flooding through him
only to be replaced by dread as he shifted his sword to his right hand
in preparation for a strike.
“Merlin!” Arthur choked out, but
the fool refused to move and then Arthur lunged and brought the sword
down upon Merlin’s outstretched arms. Arthur closed his eyes as the
sword struck something solid, then passed through as if there’d been no
barrier. He’d seen his share of battles, dealt enough blows to know the
way his sword felt as it swept through bone, hard muscle, the moment
when steel won over flesh.
He felt bile rising in his throat,
couldn’t bear the thought that he’d done this to Merlin. Cut his hands
away. His usefulness. His life, for he would surely bleed to death
before anyone could arrive to aid them.
“Arthur, I’m sorry,”
Merlin was saying, his voice miserable, and Arthur knew Merlin should
be screaming, not apologizing. He forced his eyes open, saw Merlin
still standing with both hands outstretched, a wavering light
shimmering between them like some kind of shield.
his sword against his will, slashed heavily towards the blue light.
Merlin held steady, and the sword seemed to simply disappear at the
edge of the light, then reappear when Arthur stepped away. Merlin was
unharmed, although his face was grim and his eyes seemed gold instead
of their usual blue. Arthur thought it a trick of the strange light,
but he couldn’t explain why Merlin wasn’t dying at his feet.
need more than that, Merlin,” the sorcerer said. Arthur heard the
sibilant chant begin and then his sword began to raise again, flame
curling out around its edges and where they touched the invisible
shield, it disappeared. Merlin shook his hands and stumbled backwards.
He whispered something low and incomprehensible to Arthur, and then the
flames were dying out, disappearing like fireflies in the dawn. Arthur
suddenly realized he was caught in the middle of a duel between two
sorcerers—and one of them was Merlin.
“Nimueh, let him go,”
Merlin called and he sounded more commanding than Arthur had thought
possible. But then Arthur was spinning towards Merlin, sword cutting
sideways through the air, and Merlin made a motion with his hands that
Arthur couldn’t quite comprehend as he tripped over something underfoot
and started to fall backwards. He landed hard, and he knew there was no
way that rock had been there a second ago. Merlin grinned
apologetically, and Arthur blinked.
he said, but he meant it with admiration. At least now he knew how
Merlin had managed to gain the advantage over him in that first fight
with the maces. If they got out of this alive and with all their limbs
intact, he and Merlin were going to have a long chat about making one’s
prince look like a complete arse.
The air grew colder, a slow
drizzle starting to fall, and Arthur knew instinctively that Nimueh was
with them. A young woman with an ageless face stepped out from a bank
of rolling fog and stood watching them.
“A little showy, don’t you think?” Merlin said, and Arthur would have
grinned if he could have.
hold the power of Nature in my hands, Merlin,” Nimueh said. “The power
of life and death. Surely you must want to know what this much power
She raised a slim white hand elegantly and twirled
it once, even as Arthur felt his own sword echoing the motion in his
hand, lunging forward again in a series of strikes and thrusts that
Merlin barely managed to dodge. Arthur’s sword caught him in the
shoulder just as he turned away, and this time Merlin did cry out, hand
going to the wounded place.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Arthur thought as strongly as he could,
tried to make his face, his eyes show it so Merlin would know he would never
hurt him under ordinary circumstances. Never. Not even knowing the
truth of what secrets Merlin had been hiding.
“He would strike you dead, Merlin. Him and his father.”
I’m not my father, Arthur thought, blinking back pride and anger.
not his father,” Merlin echoed as if he’d heard Arthur’s very thoughts,
and Arthur wondered if Merlin believed this to be true why he hadn't
trusted Arthur with his magic.
“For twenty years, they have
killed our kind. Burned, beheaded, drowned as witches. They’ve cut off
the hands of those who’ve helped us, forced us into hiding, made us
deny our very nature.”
“And Uther was wrong,” Merlin said, his
voice never wavering even though the words he uttered were treason.
Arthur now had two reasons to see him put to death, and he wondered how
it was that Merlin had so little sense of self-preservation. “But this
is not the way to set things right.”
At Nimueh’s hissed command,
Arthur pushed forward again, his blade now growing until he had no
choice but to wield it two-handed, and with all his force and weight
behind it he pushed Merlin backwards.
“Fight back,” Arthur said, still struggling to make the words his own.
“Merlin, fight back!”
“I won’t fight you.”
your damn magic!" Arthur meant it, even though he knew now that Merlin
could probably end his life with a spell. Still, he'd put his life in
Merlin's hands so many times, he couldn't stop doing it now. "Merlin,
Merlin shook his head as the wind grew from a breeze to
a sweeping gust and then a whirling cone of earth and air. Arthur held
his ground, barely, and then he felt himself lifted and thrown as if by
a giant hand, all his breath taken when he crashed into the ground.
gulped for air watching Merlin’s hands turn into fireballs that flew
towards Nimueh and then burst as if they were soap bubbles. The woman
laughed even as she called down rain and lightning around her, forcing
Merlin to dodge explosions that tore the ground open and left him
scrambling in mud.
“You think this young Pendragon so different
from his sire, yet he too will use you as Uther used me, then cast you
away when your magic becomes troublesome, when he can’t make it work
the way he wants it to.”
Arthur was soaked now, his hair flat
against his brow, but his sword, shrunk back to normal size, burned
with a bright blue flame.
“It won’t be the same,” Merlin said,
pushing rain and hair out of his eyes. “It doesn’t have to be the
same.” He looked at Arthur, half pleading, half hopeful, and Arthur
tried to answer that trust with his eyes. It wouldn’t be the same. He
would make sure of that; they both would.
“He will make you a
weapon.” Nimueh watched almost lazily now as Arthur moved sure-footed
through the mud, tracking a stumbling Merlin who was trying to keep
track of the lightning, Arthur’s sword, and Nimueh all at once. “He
will forge you in his image and use you to make his kingdom great. When
he is finished, he will cast you away, Merlin. There is no other
“There is,” Arthur spoke, surprised that the
words resonated so clearly in the rising storm. Lightning flashed and
struck the ground beside him. He didn’t move.
“You can defeat
him, Merlin,” Nimueh coaxed. “He’s but a man, flesh and blood, no real
power except what’s been handed to him by frightened peasants and cowed
armies. The Pendragons rule with terror; we must answer them in kind.”
streak of lightning flashed overhead and Arthur felt its electricity
lift his hair. Merlin’s blue shield had reappeared over Arthur. It hung
there and Arthur could see clear sky through it where before there’d
been only clouds.
“I won’t fight Arthur. I’d rather die.”
Merlin’s eyes were pure gold, even through the rain and the muck they
shone with a purity of light, and Arthur wondered how this could make
his father so afraid. All he could see was goodness, bravery, an
unbearable loyalty that Arthur was going to have to talk to him
about—he really didn’t want Merlin to be so keen to die for him. He
wanted a chance to prove Nimueh wrong—about him, about Merlin, about
what their future held.
“Then you are damned, Merlin. Damned for
all eternity, and I will not rest until you and the entire line of your
damnable prince is swept from this earth.”
She clapped her
hands, let fall a deluge upon them, the clearing becoming nothing less
than a lake where there had been none before, and Arthur stayed rooted
to one spot letting the water sweep up and over him, unable to do
anything else until he felt slim arms around his chest, pulling at him.
He and Merlin broke the surface together, both gasping, and Arthur for
the first time in hours felt control of his body return to him as they
half-swam, half-loped towards what was now a kind of rocky shore among
"That is the last time I'm saving you from a gods-damned lake!" Merlin
lay on the rocks, breathing, and Arthur could hear the distant horn
that signalled help was closing in on them. Merlin heard it too, and
got to his feet, attempting to ring water out of his clothes in what
Arthur was sure was a vague attempt to improve his appearance before
being dragged off to the dungeon and execution.
“Why wouldn’t you fight me?” Arthur asked. It was not the question he’d
“I couldn’t use magic against you,” Merlin said, then catching Arthur’s
raised eyebrow, he recanted. “I couldn’t use fighting magic
against you, lethal spells, damaging spells. Making you trip over a
“Or a box.”
a box,” Merlin added, “that’s not exactly harmful. But I couldn’t use
magic to hurt you. It’s what Nimueh wanted, to use us against one
“And it would prove my father right.” Arthur’s voice was soft.
want that,” Merlin said, but Arthur could tell his heart wasn’t in it.
They were both numb with cold and exhaustion, each of them had bleeding
wounds, and the knights of Camelot were fast approaching.
what do we do now?” Merlin asked as Arthur got to his feet. The water
was beginning to recede, but Arthur knew there would be no tangible
signs of what had happened here, save for perhaps Gareth’s body still
at the edge of the trees.
“We keep each other honest,” Arthur
answered. “We fight together. Eventually.” Arthur slung an arm around
Merlin’s shoulder, careful of his wound, but grateful for the warmth
and strength of his friend. “And in the meantime, we keep you safe.”
“You mean secret.”
knew it wasn’t right, but he also knew there was nothing he could do to
change it until his father had passed from his reign. All Arthur could
do was resolve to be a different kind of man, a different king.
“Only until it’s safe, until those who hate magic and hate power have
won’t be a weapon for anyone, not even you,” Merlin said, looking at
the sword that had wrought so much carnage at Arthur’s hand.
wouldn’t ever expect you to,” Arthur promised, and sheathed his weapon,
as the sounds of galloping horses grew closer. “Which means, Merlin,
that we need to double our efforts on the practice grounds so you’ll be
able to mount a passable defense if you need one. That invisible blue
shield thing doesn’t seem all that reliable.”
“It saved you, didn’t it?”
“I think Nimueh just isn’t a very good sorcerer. She’s all flash. Fog
rolling in. Lightning.”
“Lightning that almost killed you,” Merlin pointed out, but he was
grinning as they moved slowly towards the muddy path.
“Bah! She didn’t even get close.”
“And I suppose you could have gotten yourself out of her puppet routine
at any time, sire?”
I recall, that spell was only broken when she left in a huff, and—oh
yeah, a flash of lightning. All you seemed to be good for was
distracting her with shiny bubbles.”
“You’re a real prat, you know that?” Merlin said as the riders came
closer and prepared to dismount.
“Yeah,” Arthur whispered, “but you wouldn’t want me any other way.”
didn’t say anything, and Arthur took that as agreement. It might not be
how his father and Gaius and Nimueh would have settled things twenty
years ago, but Arthur had a feeling that he and Merlin were going to
change everything that had come before.
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