It's Getting Worse
Red blood, spilling from his mouth in a stream. Gushing out from the awful wound in his chest, colouring the ground. Arthur’s blood... That was all Merlin could see in that moment, horrible moment.
Arthur’s eyes were flattering shut as his conscious was slowly fading away. He was dying, his prince was dying. Merlin could hear himself screaming in agony, he could feel the hot tears streaming down his whole face and silently dropping on the floor of the cage he was locked in. His friend, the man he was destined to protect was dying right in front of his eyes. And there was nothing, nothing he could do. The cage was cursed with dark magic and he was completely and utterly powerless.
He wanted to help him, to save him, heal him with his magic and he didn’t even care that he’d reveal himself. He didn’t care about anything but Arthur. He needed to do something, he needed to save him.
Suddenly something roared inside him. He felt his magic reaching towards the surface, swirling and screaming with him. But he didn’t care. He let his magic do what it thought was best. He knew he couldn’t help Arthur. His friend was going to be dead in a few minutes. He’s already lost too much blood. And so Merlin closed his eyes and lost all control. He let his magic do what needed to be done. He let it all out in the biggest wave he’s ever felt.
He couldn’t remember much, he didn’t even know what really happened and what his magic did. But the first thing he could well remember was Arthur’s head in his hands. Arthur’s blood on his fingers was still hot and the bandits around were all suddenly dead.
He grabbed Arthur’s hand in his own and entwined their fingers. He could almost feel Arthur’s soul leaving his body and he knew he could do nothing to make it come back. He let himself wonder if this was really his and Arthur’s destiny after all. If what the destiny had decided was to let Arthur die in Merlin’s arms.
And then he felt something break inside him. He didn’t know if it was his heart or his voice or both. He looked up to the sky and screamed as loud as he could. He wasn’t calling for Kilgharrah, or maybe he was, he didn’t know. He knew he was mumbling his dead friend’s name over and over again. He has just lost his other half, his destiny and the whole purpose of his life. He felt loneliness and sorrow and the loss of the dearest friend he has ever had...
“Arthur!” Merlin’s screams broke the silence of the night. “Arthur! No!” He was screaming in his sleep – he had another nightmare. It was worsening and not even Gaius knew what else to do. The old physician woke up like he did every night for the past two weeks and immediately left his bed to help the young warlock. When he opened the door to Merlin’s little room, he saw him tossing in his bed from one side to the other. His sheets were somewhere in the distant corner of his chamber and little drops of sweat were forming on his forehead. Gaius sighed and bit his lower lip when he saw his ward’s tears streaming down his face. The poor boy was still screaming.
“Arthur!” Merlin yelled on the top of his lungs. “No!” His voice cracked, but he wanted to scream again. Gaius stood there and watched in horror that what they used to call a nightmare grew into something much bigger and scarier. It was about two weeks ago when Merlin came to him and said he had a bad dream. They both thought it wasn’t a big deal – everyone had bad dreams after all. They thought it would be gone after one or two nights. But they were wrong.
His bad dreams soon became nightmares, just like the ones Morgana used to have when she was still a child. The only difference was that Merlin didn’t see the future – at least they both hoped it wasn’t the future. And Merlin didn’t see different dreams every night, it was always the same. It was always about Arthur dying and Merlin not being able to save him. This dream was repeating night after night, driving Merlin crazy. It became more intense and now it was even worse than what Morgana’s ever had. Merlin was sweating, tossing and screaming in his sleep, and he was afraid to go to bed at evenings. He knew the nightmares would come back, and that he wouldn’t get any rest.
Some nights, Merlin was too afraid to even come to his room, so he took a walk throughout the whole castle. Often he found himself in front of Arthur’s chambers and when he came in and saw Arthur soundly asleep, tears formed in his eyes. He wasn’t allowed to sleep. He wasn’t allowed to rest until... until what? He didn’t know. It had to be some kind of spell. None of the potions Gaius gave him helped and he always woke up with dark rings under his eyes. If he was lucky to fall asleep after the nightmares. And of course, because he was Merlin, he tried to hide it from Arthur, all of this. He didn’t want him to get worried.
Gaius hurried to Merlin and shook his shoulder. It didn’t seem Merlin felt it though, he was still tossing and crying, so Gaius grabbed both his trembling shoulders and tried to wake him up again. Merlin’s eyes snapped open, and the boy sat up.
“Again?” Gaius asked gently and Merlin nodded. He hugged the old man and started crying again, sobbing into his guardian’s shoulder. As many nights before, Gaius tried to calm Merlin down. He reassured him that he’s safe and that the nightmare is already over, and after a while Merlin let go of him.
“It’s worsening Gaius...” Merlin sniffed and wiped his tears into his sleeve.
“I know my boy. I know.” The old physician replied and looked at him with sad eyes. “You remind me of Morgana.”
“Don’t ever say it again Gaius,” Merlin answered and closed his eyes. The memories from his nightmare were still so fresh, he could almost feel Arthur’s head in his arms again. “I’m not like her.” He added. “She betrayed us.”
“Your blanket,” Gaius said and stood up to pick it up from the corner of the room. Then he handed it to Merlin. The boy must have used his magic in his sleep and thrown it away, believing it’s an enemy. Merlin sighed and took it. “Thanks,” he mumbled and remained silent. Then he looked at Gaius again. “I’m sorry for waking you up...”
“Don’t worry about it,” Gaius smiled slightly and patted Merlin’s thigh. “Morning is in about twenty minutes anyway.”
“Yeah,” Merlin said sadly. He knew he couldn’t go back to sleep. The nightmare would come back and he’d be late again.
Gaius went out of Merlin’s room, but he didn’t return to his bed. Instead he came to his table and started preparing his medical supplies for his daily routine. Then he started making some breakfast.
In the meantime, Merlin was still lying in his bed, thinking about everything. Mostly about that nightmare and what could be possibly causing it, about how tired he was gonna be today, and about Arthur. About the secret he’s been keeping for so long. Since he was a little baby and his mother had to keep him away from other children. His magic was uncontrollable back then, and she couldn’t let their neighbours know about her son’s gift.
When he was a bit older and able to keep his magic hidden, she let him go and play with other kids in the village. That was when he met Will and they became best friends. Since then they were playing all the time, but then Will found out about Merlin’s magic and Hunith was really mad about it. She sent Merlin to Camelot, to Gaius.
Merlin sighed and sat up again. He had to change into his usual clothes and go to Arthur. He opened his closet and looked at his red tunic. It was red just like Arthur’s blood on his fingers, he just couldn’t get those memories out of his head. He remembered Arthur’s head in his lap, and his magic killing the bandits that killed Arthur, and also his magic releasing him from the cage. He didn’t know how he managed to do that, maybe his magic was still uncontrollable when he was in danger. Or when Arthur was in danger.
He closed his eyes and shook his head, but the tears on his cheeks remained. He simply didn’t care anymore. He took a deep breath and calmed himself down. Then he wiped the tears away at last.
He took off his white tunic and trousers and trembled with cold. Sometimes he wondered if it wouldn’t be easier if Arthur just knew about his magic. If he knew and accepted it. Everything would be so much better. He wouldn’t have to lie to him every day, hiding in shadows when he needed to use his magic and save Arthur’s life.
Merlin left his room and went to the table with breakfast Gaius made. He grabbed a single loaf of bread and headed to the main door.
“Where are you going?” Gaius asked, raising his eyebrow and looking at Merlin through his reading glasses.
“To Arthur,” Merlin simply answered.
“So early? You have plenty of time.” The old man said and took his medical bag.
“It doesn’t matter...” Merlin mumbled and left without any other explanation. On his way to the royal kitchen and Arthur’s chambers, he started wondering again. About his secret, Arthur, that nightmare, his whole life actually. He really, really wanted Arthur to know the truth, and maybe the prince was ready. Maybe Merlin was finally strong enough to actually do it and tell him. And maybe Arthur wouldn’t be that mad about it as he imagined. They were friends after all, for a few years now. He had to understand why he kept it a secret.
Merlin blinked and realized he was already holding a tray with Arthur’s breakfast and that in front of him was standing Mary the cook. He quickly said his thanks and hurried upstairs. It was still really early, the sun hasn’t even risen yet and Merlin was already opening the doors to Arthur’s chambers. It felt a bit strange to be up so early. It certainly wasn’t usual for him. And as he expected, even Arthur was still sleeping when he entered the room. But he couldn’t wake him up now, it was too early for him. He’d be just grumpy again.
So Merlin sat down to the table and started thinking again. He couldn’t help it, he had nothing to do. The bad dreams returned every time he closed his eyes and he just couldn’t get rid of them. Gaius had already tried almost everything. They both searched through many books in Gaius’ quarters, even in the big library in the castle. They couldn’t tell Geoffrey what books they needed of course. But even then, nothing helped so far.
It was just so frustrating. Why did Merlin have those terrible nightmares? Where were they from? And why, for God’s sake, why were they all about Arthur dying and why he wasn’t able to save him? He always had to watch him die.
His eyes filled with tears, but he didn’t care. He wouldn’t be able to stop them anyway, so why should he even try. He covered his mouth as a silent sob escaped. He quickly wiped the tears, but he couldn’t hide his red rimmed eyes. He sighed and closed them.
Arthur stirred in the bed.
Merlin looked at him and slowly stood up. The prince was almost awake now, so Merlin just went to the window and pushed away the curtains. As the light shone at Arthur’s face, he groaned and stirred again. “Merlin?” Merlin just laughed a bit and took away Arthur’s blanket. “Hey!” Arthur yelled and looked at Merlin. He frowned a bit when he saw Merlin eyes. It seemed like he was crying, not a long time ago.
Merlin quickly turned around and went to the closet to look through Arthur’s tunics. He didn’t want Arthur to know that he was crying. And he certainly didn’t want to explain why. Everything was just so complicated. “So,” Merlin cleared his throat. “What shirt do you want to wear today?” He asked.
Arthur sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I haven’t even got up and you already want me to tell you what shirt I want? I haven’t even had my breakfast yet.” He slowly stood up and turned to his servant, but Merlin turned away from him, quickly wiping his tears with his sleeve. Arthur came closer until he was right behind him and touched his shoulder. He felt Merlin tense a bit. What was wrong with him?
“Well,” Merlin said, still facing the closet. “Your father has an audience with that man from the far village. You don’t remember?” Arthur didn’t answer and quickly turned Merlin around so he could finally see his face. Merlin looked into Arthur’s eyes and then quickly looked down, bowing his head.
“What is it with you today?” Arthur asked, still holding Merlin’s shoulders.
“Me?” Merlin asked and tried to smile. He didn’t look up though. “Nothing, what should be wrong? I’m fine.” Arthur rolled his eyes. Typical Merlin - hide everything and pretend that you’re fine.
“Come on, at least look at me when you’re talking to me. It’s annoying.” Arthur said and tried to look into Merlin’s eyes. But Merlin turned around again and started collecting Arthur’s laundry that was (as usual) everywhere on the floor.
“You’re annoying.” Merlin said and walked to the door. “Here’s your breakfast.” He pointed to the table and left. Arthur just stood there, incredulous. Since when was Merlin acting like this? Something was definitely wrong. Merlin seemed upset. And Arthur wanted to know what was the problem, what was wrong with Merlin. Did something bad happen? If something happened to Hunith, Merlin knew he could tell Arthur and he’d let him go to Ealdor. He’d even go there with him to keep an eye on him and to make sure he was alright.
But something was wrong and Merlin didn’t tell him. It hurt Arthur a bit that Merlin didn’t trust him enough to at least admit that he was not alright. His I’m fine was starting to annoy Arthur even more than when he was late in the morning. “Wait,” Arthur stopped and looked at the window. The sun wasn’t even fully risen yet. “Merlin’s never been this early before.” He mumbled out loud. And that meant only one thing. Something had to be seriously wrong. Plus Merlin was crying in the morning, Arthur noticed his red eyes and sad expression. And he certainly wasn’t okay with that. He was going to find out what was wrong with his manservant. Not matter what.
About half an hour later, Arthur was already in the throne room, sitting beside his father. Merlin was right before – Arthur almost forgot about the audience. The villager came to Camelot yesterday and asked for an audience with the King. To be honest, Arthur would much rather do anything else, he didn’t want to sit there right now. It was boring. It was always boring to listen to those villagers, unless it was about something really important. If they had problems, he understood and wanted to help. But this morning, after he saw how sad Merlin looked, all he wanted to do was to go to him and find out what could be so wrong that he had to leave his chambers in such a rush.
Arthur looked around and sighed again. And then he saw him. Right next to Gwen was Merlin, still looking down. Arthur smiled at him, but Merlin couldn’t see it. It seemed like he was seriously thinking about something. Gwen nudged him a bit so Merlin would pay attention again, but that didn’t happen. Merlin smiled at Gwen slightly, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. And judging by Gwen’s expression, she was worried about him and didn’t know what was wrong with Merlin either.
The doors finally opened and the villager walked in. He bowed in front of the king and knelt in the middle of the room in front of the throne. “My king,” he greeted and bowed his head. The man wasn’t very young. His hair was long and white and he had a small beard. According to his clothes it was apparent he had to work hard every day.
“Speak. What is your name?” Uther started and looked at the villager. The old man looked up.
“My name is William, my lord.” He answered with deep voice. Arthur didn’t really pay attention though; he couldn’t take his eyes off of Merlin. He noticed Merlin winced a bit when he heard the name. And Arthur remembered that Merlin’s best friend from Ealdor was Will. He was the one who died. He remembered how much Merlin cried that day.
Arthur shook his head and looked back at the man in front of his father. He was looking at Uther with uncertainty and fear in his eyes as he continued. “I come from a village called Fellindora, my lord. It is not very far away, only two days ride to the south. But lately,” the old man looked at the knights and servants around and then back at his king, whispering, “a monster is threatening us, my lord.”
Uther raised his eyebrows and waved his hand to encourage the man to continue. “In the last two days, it killed almost 4 people. I am the leader of my village and I left my daughter in charge, but I’ve come here to ask for help, my lord.” He said.
“How big is your village?” the king asked and leaned back in his throne.
“Over a hundred of people, my lord.” William quickly answered, hoping the king would agree and help. Fellindora was much larger than Ealdor and it was still inside of Camelot’s borders, unlike Ealdor.
“Two days’ ride, you said?” Uther asked again and the man nodded. “Alright, I’ll send my son to help you.” He said and Arthur smiled. If it was a monster, then it was probably magic and Uther had to get rid of it.
“Thank you, my lord!” The man smiled. “Thank you so much, you are a good king to your people.”
“Very well, guards!” Uther waved his hand again and all the knights by the door turned to him and stepped closer. “Give the man some food and a bed for the night in the castle.” With that, William bowed again and turned to the guards who led him out of the door. When they left, Uther looked at Arthur. “Arthur, take your manservant and go there to take a look at the creature.”
Arthur nodded and without any other word, he went to the door. Merlin bowed to the king and followed the prince. When the two of them were finally out of the throne room, Arthur turned to Merlin. “Merlin, pack our stuff and go to the stables to prepare the horses.”
“What are you going to do?” Merlin asked.
“We’re going in about an hour, so I’m gonna change my clothes already.” He said and turned around to go to his chambers.
“Wow, you can do that? I wasn’t aware.” Merlin teased and grinned when Arthur stopped and turned around again.
“Shut up, Merlin. I’m not an idiot,” he said, but smiled when he turned around again. Merlin smiled too and ran to his room to pack his stuff. Then he’d go back to Arthur’s chambers and in the end to the stables to prepare the horses as Arthur told him. He was smiling, which seemed like a miracle these days. He didn’t even think he’d be able to smile because he hated those nightmares, but when he was around Arthur, he enjoyed their banter.
And then it hit him. He was about to set off on a journey with Arthur and he would have to sleep in the forest! He was glad it was Arthur because there was no other person he would be rather with, but to sleep there? That meant Arthur would find out about his bad dreams. Merlin didn’t know if it was a good or a bad thing.
When he came to his and Gaius’ quarters, the physician wasn’t there, but Merlin supposed he was on one of his errands in the city. He wasn’t on the audience, so Merlin decided to leave there a note with an explanation to where he’d gone.
As soon as he packed his things, he went to the kitchen for some food and then back to Arthur’s chambers. It didn’t take long to pack Arthur’s things and to prepare the horses, so only after about 40 minutes, they were already in the courtyard, sitting on their horses and heading to another adventure together.