Cast Me Away
Morgana ran, her hair whipping in her face as she rushed down the lower streets of Camelot.
Guinevere was a couple feet behind, frantically trying to keep up with her pace.
Morgana shoved two peasants out of her way, the rocks crunched under her boots. She needed to find Arthur.
Three days ago, she woke in Karrenhall to the news that Uther had left during the night, with no word or apologies. During the feast, he'd been silent, brooding and simpering in rage.
A bad feeling sank into her, one that twisted her gut with each passing day. She knew she had to leave right away. She didn't need any nightmares to tell her that Arthur was in danger.
She stormed up the stairs that led them into the heart of Camelot's stronghold.
A bustling servant came down her way. George. She grabbed his arms which caused the tray to spill over. His wide eyes took in her disarray appearance. "My la-lady..."
"Where's Arthur?" she demanded.
Gwen caught up to her and panted, sweat beads covered her head and arms.
"I-in Gaius' chambers," she took off, "last I heard," he muttered after her.
Gwen didn't slow and hurried after.
Morgana burst through the doors which caused Gaius and Merlin to turn to her in alarm from their workbench. Merlin had a blanket draped around him.
He stood, worry flooded him. "Morgana?"
Gwen came in behind her.
"Gwen?" Merlin glanced between the two of them
"Where's Arthur?" Morgana asked.
Merlin's face fell. He dropped his blanket and stumbled over.
"Merlin! You're in no shape..." Gaius started.
"Arthur needs me!" Merlin yelled back. He braced himself against a chair. "He's in the throne room. What's going on?"
"Uther fled back to Camelot without warning."
Merlin's face grew white. "We have..."
They were cut off by shouts and the sounds of bustling feet outside the door. The four of them rushed out into the corridor to see the knights of Camelot charging down like an army was marching onto Camelot's wall.
Morgana caught a familiar sight. "Leon!" she barked.
Sir Leon halted and spun back to them, face stricken. "Uther...he's called for Arthur to be executed."
"Uther would not resort to such rash actions," Gaius said. He began to bustle ahead. "We must talk reason into him."
Morgana took off with the rest of them before she realized Merlin lingered behind.
"Uther can't be reasoned with..."
"He can," she said. Unless it involved magic. Did it?
Merlin glanced down at his palms. "I can't use it...I don't have enough."
She creased her brows. What was he talking about? Use what?
He flicked his gaze up to hers. "Thoughts...I can..."
With strength, Morgana didn't know he possessed, Merlin ran the opposite end, away from the courtyard. She watched after him for a second, wondering if she should follow him.
No. If anyone could talk sense into Uther, only she and Gaius may be able to reach him.
No one was going to be killing her brother today.
The walk to the execution platform was the longest walk Arthur ever took in his life. He had struggled at the throne doors where an additional two guards restrained him.
If he couldn't go down swinging, then by gods, he would go down with some dignity. They paraded him in front of the line of people waiting to be heard in the throne room.
One by one, fear and shock lined their features. He noticed how a couple servants rushed off, leaving behind dropped piles of clothing or trays.
He prayed none of them would find Merlin. He didn't want Merlin to see his death. He didn't want to wish that upon his closest friend, advisor, and gods, the best servant and protector he'd ever had. He knew Merlin would regret himself for this. Let him get over me, Arthur prayed.
He was shoved and manhandled down the stairs. He caught sight of Fyn and Lee, hovering down at the bottom. The noble had a big smirk on his face.
"Dead man walking," he called out as Arthur was pushed past him.
Anger bubbled up within Arthur. What had he done to make Fyn hate him so much? All this trouble just because Arthur dismissed Fyn from his duty as a knight?
Drums rolled and Arthur knew his father must've had this planned all along. Uther never forgave treason, especially in the form of magic.
Regret flooded through him. He wouldn't be able to accomplish his dreams of a better future for Camelot, and for Albion.
He'd failed Merlin.
Arthur found that the executioner waited for him at the raised platform with an axe in his gloved hands. A tree stump was next to the man's feet.
Beheading. At least Arthur wouldn't be burned alive. His father was giving him mercy. A crowd had already gathered and they gasped when they saw who was being brought out.
Uther's knights had stationed themselves around the wooden platform, helms on and swords ready.
Uther himself stood up in the balcony, overlooking the scene below them. Arthur wondered if his impending death would add extra weight to the copper-gold crown that rested upon Uther's head.
Arthur stumbled up the platform steps and the guards twirled him around to face the crowd, Arthur's people.
Arthur stared up at King Uther and held his head high.
Uther looked back, with no love in his eyes, eyebrows set in a line of disapproval.
Arthur grunted as a guard forced him onto his knees before the tree stump. A hand pushed Arthur's head down, however, he still glared up from under his eyebrows in defiance. Uther may beat him, cast him aside, stare down at him like he was the enemy, but his father will never defeat his spirit. Arthur vowed to himself he would last long before that happened. Death would come first.
Uther held up a hand to silence the drums and the mutterings from the crowd. He flicked one last glance at Arthur before he addressed them, "Citizens of Camelot, let this once serve as a reminder that no one, not even blood, are above the law. I am sad to express that Prince Arthur has been found guilty of treason and such punishment for his act is death."
Sticks rolled on the drums and Arthur scoffed at the theatrics.
"For the love of Arthur!" a huge cry bellowed over the sounds of drums.
Arthur stiffened as a wave of his knights led by Sir Leon and Sir Kay charged out. Guinevere was with them, in trousers and a sword in hand. When did she get back? Even Audrey was part of the fray, a frying pan in her hand, ready to use.
Uther's knights braced themselves.
The crowd joined in on the cheer. "For the love of Arthur. For the love of Arthur."
Red flooded Uther's face.
The drums abruptly ceased.
Gaius and Morgana stormed onto the balcony. Uther's guards immediately seized them.
Terror gripped Arthur. No. Camelot was at the brink of an uprising. He struggled to raise to his feet, but the other guards held him down. A warmth bubbled in his chest.
Arthur's knights neared Uther's.
Morgana held a finger at his father and then pointed at Arthur, her arguments muffled by the crowd. He noticed her hand reached for the guard's sheathed sword.
It is not victory I seek.
The warmth in his chest spilled throughout him.
"STAND DOWN!" Arthur's voice thundered out over the crowd.
Everyone halted like a child being reprimanded. They slowly turned to him and gapped in shock. He wondered if his skin was radiant with light.
He forced a reassuring smile on his face as he scanned every one of them. "I appreciate and honor your loyalty. But I can't stand by and watch my people slaughter themselves over me." He took a deep breath and his next words were lined with a sing-like quality, "For the love of Camelot, lower your swords."
Sir Leon squeezed his lips together trying to contain his emotions. He was the first to lower his weapon and the rest followed suit.
Arthur struggled to maintain his composure. He wished he could see Merlin one last time, tell him he was sorry, tell him that he was Arthur's other half. The lump in his throat grew. "Hold your head up high." His gaze trailed over his knights, and lingered on Sir Kay's, "No man is worth your tears, not even me."
He would live on in his people. He could see it now.
He glanced up at Morgana. She would carry on the kingdom. He had to believe in her.
Morgana shook her head back and forth. "No," she mouthed.
"Take him out before he uses his magic on us," Uther yelled.
"No!" Morgana cried.
The guard yanked her back.
Arthur's head was pushed and shoved down against the tree stump. They held him down by his shoulders to ensure he didn't try to escape. He closed his eyes to await the death stroke.
Forgive me, Merlin. I wish we had more time.
An unearthly roar sounded in Arthur's ears, a heavy object crashed next to Arthur and he felt the weight of the guards' hands gone.
Arthur snapped his eyes open and straightened up on his knees.
Kilgharrah released another roar and snarled in Uther's direction. "Uther Pendragon, you have allowed your fear and hatred to blind you into killing your own son!"
Arthur's jaw slacked.
On Kilgharrah's back was Merlin.
"Arthur!" Merlin cried and held out a hand for him.
"Seize him!" Uther yelled. "Kill them!"
Uther's guards scrambled forward.
Arthur rushed to Kilgharrah's side and grabbed Merlin's hand. Merlin grunted and helped pull Arthur onto the Great Dragon's back.
A few of the guards jabbed their swords at Kilgharrah's side. The dragon shot a ball of fire into the air as a warning.
"Kilgharrah, protect yourself!" Merlin said.
"I will not break my bargain with my future king," Kilgharrah said. He roared and frightened the other soldiers back. With one flap of his wings, Kilgharrah shot for the sky.
Arthur released a shout and wrapped his arms around Merlin's waist for safety. He watched as the view of Camelot grew smaller as they drew closer to the clouds.
He began to shiver and tremble. He was so close. Just a few more seconds and...
"Arthur?" Merlin twisted his neck to get a better view of him. "Are you okay?"
Arthur ignored how close he was to death and focused on his other main problem. "You idiot, now my father will hunt you down."
Merlin cocked a grin. "You still don't get it do you? It's my destiny to protect you. Everything we do, we do together." He gripped Arthur's hands that were pressed against Merlin's chest.
Arthur tried not to realize how far from the ground they were and focused on the castle of Camelot, the view of it smaller than his thumbnail now. "Kilgharrah," Arthur demanded, the luminous glow on his skin rose, "take me back to Camelot. My people..."
Kilgharrah groaned and dropped a few feet in his flight. He growled. "Do not use your powers on me, young Pendragon. Not while I'm trying to protect you."
"Powers?" Merlin questioned.
"Merlin, make him take me back. I have to protect my people!" Arthur begged.
Merlin gripped his chest. He panted. "My magic...it's telling me that I should obey you..."
"When his orders are from the heart," Kilgharrah said, "our magic will wish to do everything to obey him. You're lucky you're short in supply, young warlock."
"Arthur, you can't ask that of us," Merlin said.
"There will be an uprising in Camelot. My father will punished the people because I'm not there! I demand to be returned!"
"And sacrifice you?!" Merlin gasped and lurched forward. "No...Arthur! No! I will not do it. Don't make me!"
Arthur released his hold on Merlin. His magic...it was hurting them. He reached through his connection to both Kilgharrah and Merlin. He felt a huge overwhelming need to protect. He swallowed. They wanted to protect him. How could Arthur ask them to betray their heart?
"I'm sorry..." Arthur mumbled. "But I must go back."
"We will," Merlin promised. "Not today."
Kilgharrah released a heavy groan and rapidly descended to the ground. His wings spread opened and they slowed in their descent before Kilgharrah's legs slammed to the ground.
Arthur spun off and collapsed onto the forest grass.
Merlin crashed on top of him. His hands pressed against Arthur's face as he struggled to get up.
"What are you..." Arthur groaned as Merlin's palm dug at his chin. "Merlin!" He shoved his manservant off him. He sat up and noticed Kilgharrah's poor shape.
The Great Dragon was wheezing, the gold of his scales were now an ugly yellow.
Merlin was at the dragon's side, a hand on Kilgharrah's side. "Kilgharrah..." he whispered in concern. He pulled back his hand and blood was stained upon it.
Arthur rose and inspected the wound. Blood seeped through a gap in Kilgharrah's scales.
"I'll heal you," Merlin laid his palm over the wound and his eyes flashed gold as he muttered an incantation. His knees buckled but he held himself upright. "I can't...No..." Merlin tried again.
A tingle of magic prickled under Arthur's feet, the ground underneath glowed in the same light as his skin. What?
"Let me use you, Once and Future King," a soft warble uttered from around him. Arthur sensed a connection deeper than him, regal and strong.
Merlin leaned against the dragon, panting. "My magic...no...Kilgharrah..."
Arthur gently gripped Merlin's shoulder and moved him back. He closed his eyes and felt the connection to the magic of the Earth. "Albion, please help him."
A wave of warm energy surged up from the ground and lurched through Arthur's legs up to his arms then to his hands onto Kilgharrah. Arthur released a gasp at the strange sensation.
The blood around Kilgharrah's wound clotted and a tint of gold returned to the color of his scales.
Arthur dropped to his knees, bracing himself against Kilgharrah.
The Great Dragon gaped at him. "The magic of Albion? It obeyed you?" He inclined his head. "I am in your debt once again."
"No...you saved my life. We're even. Thank you, Kilgharrah."
"Are you alright?" Merlin asked.
Arthur went to state that he was fine when Kilgharrah answered before him. His ears burned. Merlin was asking the dragon, not him.
"I'm afraid I cannot fly you any further," Kilgharrah said. "It's been too long since I've last used my magic. I must recuperate."
Merlin gave a brisk nod. "I understand. We'll be okay. Thank you, Kilgharrah, for answering my call."
"Thank you for placing your trust in me," Kilgharrah said. "I wish you safe journey, young warlock," he turned to Arthur, "and my future king for I'm afraid Uther will not cease in his relentless hunt for you two."
A magical whisper sounded in Arthur's ears, "Cast me away."
Arthur glanced down at Excalibur at his belt. He winced. Merlin had told him the sword would do great damage and evil if in the wrong hands. "Wait, if I get captured..." He unbuckled Excalibur from his belt and held it out to the dragon, "take this."
"You cannot give it to me, but I will ensure it is kept safe." He searched about and blew out a gold puff of breath onto a slab of rock. "Thrust your blade into the stone."
Arthur glanced down at the weapon before he walked over to the stone. He didn't want to part with his new sword, the new piece of him that fitted so well. He bit his lips and drew in a sharp breath before he plunged the tip of the blade into the stone.
A spark of molten wrapped around the blade as it impacted the rock and solidified Excalibur in place.
Arthur stared longingly at it.
"Remember, only you, as the Once and Future King can pull it free," Kilgharrah said. "And only when it's time for your reign to begin."
Arthur turned back to the dragon and lowered his head.
With that Kilgharrah took off, leaving Arthur and Merlin behind with no protection or safety as Uther's men hunted them down as prey.
Arthur didn't know how long they'd been walking for.
Only that they were half a day west of Camelot and that they needed to keep moving west.
That scene kept replaying over and over in Arthur's head. The cries of "For the Love of Arthur". Morgana screaming as he was forced to kneel. Gaius' stricken face. Audrey smacking a guard with her frying pan. Sir Leon and Sir Kay struggling to obey Arthur's orders. His execution sparked an uprising.
What was happening now?
"We have to go back," he said.
Merlin sighed. "Arthur, we've been over this."
Arthur spun on his heels to face his sorcerer. "I can't leave my people behind to face my father's wrath, especially when it's directed upon me!"
Merlin placed a hand on his hips. "And how will you save your people by sacrificing yourself?"
Arthur growled. He had no perfect response for that.
"We need a plan, Arthur. We need to figure out what we're going to do if we're truly to save Camelot."
"A plan?" Arthur chortled bitterly. "A plan?! Damn it, Merlin, did you even have a plan when you dived in to rescue me? No! You dragged me from my kingdom into the middle of nowhere where you have no magic and I have no sword. We're helpless sitting ducks for bandits and my father's men. And you tell me we need a plan?"
"I'm sorry," Merlin shot back. "Next time, I'll let them lop off your bloody head!"
"You should've," Arthur yelled.
"You ungrateful prat!" Merlin threw his hands up and stormed ahead of Arthur. "This'll be the last time I save your royal arse."
Arthur ran his fingers through his hair as he watched Merlin's retreating form.
What else was Arthur supposed to do? Run? Abandon his duties as protector of Camelot? Give up on his kingdom and his dreams? Leave his knights and people behind to Uther's fury?
His knights and men...would Uther execute them for their association with Arthur, for their display at the execution?
Morgana...Arthur's heart seized. He'd left her in Uther's hands.
Gaius and Geoffrey. They swore their allegiance to Arthur. What would they do with Uther's demands to hunt him down?
Everything was a mess.
Merlin was right. They needed a plan.
Yet what plan would fix all this?
How could Arthur become king without victory and bloodshed?
"What are we doing, Merlin?" Arthur asked in a soft voice.
Merlin halted and flicked his gaze to his feet.
"We need each other right now and we're at each other throat."
"That's because someone's being a stubborn dollophead."
Merlin turned back to Arthur, looking so tired and weary. Bags were under his eyes, hair disheveled. When did Merlin get old so quickly?
"I have to rescue my people, Merlin, or die trying. You know that. I can't sit idly by."
"I know," Merlin whispered. He stared hard at Arthur. "Then you must know that I'll be right by your side, protecting you."
"And who'll protect you?" Arthur said.
Merlin cocked a grin. "You've always had my back, Arthur."
Arthur smiled, one of relief. "I'm glad you're here with me, Merlin."
"There's no place I'd rather be."
Arthur never felt so lucky and blessed to have Merlin in his life. Even in the darkest of times, Merlin was there, his shining light.
"One thing we should probably fix is get you out of that chainmail. You look like a knight of Camelot. We can't afford to draw attention to ourselves."
Arthur glanced down over himself. He needed to change and become a simple peasant. "You're right."
Merlin rose his brows. "Excuse me? Could you say that again?"
Arthur glared. "Shut up, Merlin."
He surveyed his surroundings. He could see the top peaks of the White Mountains. If they headed northwest, they would reach the kingdom of Caerleon. King Caerleon was a difficult man, he started war against Camelot after his father died. He lost when Uther's forces caused him to retreat to the Castle of Fyrien and there was when he finally surrendered. He was forced into a treaty and hated Uther with every fiber of his being. Last time Arthur met with him, he noticed the man had mellowed a bit since he married.
His wife, Queen Annis, was the voice of reason and had a strong head. Arthur and Merlin could seek safety in their kingdom. But would Arthur dare risk open war?
If they turned a bit south, they could hide out in the Valley of the Fallen Kings. Druids had sought refuge there and Uther feared that land due to a strong magical presence. That could be their safest passage for now.
Arthur glanced at the sun. Just after mid-day. They had a couple more hours of walk before they reached the Valley of the Fallen Kings. He measured Merlin. Would Merlin be able to make it? They could, if they had Eirian.
Arthur brought his fingers to his lips and released a loud whistle. "Eirian!"
Why hadn't he thought to call out the unicorn earlier? He had stopped glowing a bit after Kilgharrah left but the Eirian still came to him before Arthur tapped into his magic. A couple minutes passed.
"Where is that bloody unicorn?" Arthur muttered.
"In Camelot," Merlin said. "Remember? He's enchanted. Uther must've demanded a lockdown."
Nothing was going his way today!
Merlin suddenly widened his eyes and shoved Arthur to the side. An arrow thudded into the tree trunk where they last stood.
"Hello, boys," a woman's voice greeted.
Arthur and Merlin spun behind them to spot a blonde, her hair braided in a ponytail that draped around the left of her neck. She was dressed in a tight black shirt and trousers. She smirked at them as she pointed the tip of her sword against Arthur's chest. "Knew I spotted something lurking in the woods."
"You have quick reflexes," a man said behind them, though Arthur dare not take his eyes off the threat in front of him. "Tell me," the man stood next to the woman, taller and his eyes less trusting, "what's a knight and his servant doing so far from the main convoy?"
The man nocked his bow and pointed it at Merlin's head.
Merlin answered before Arthur, with a forced laugh. "A knight?" He jerked a thumb at Arthur. "You think he's a knight. Oh!" He grabbed his side and his laughter rose. "Oh...oh..." he wiped a fake tear.
Arthur resisted the temptation to glare at his manservant.
"My friend here is a simpleton..." Merlin said.
What? Arthur opened his mouth to protest yet Merlin continue on, his eyes begging Arthur to go with it,
"I don't know how but he stole that from a camp a couple days ago. I haven't gotten him to get it off since."
The man brought the tip of the arrow closer to Merlin's face. "You think I'm a fool, boy?"
Merlin swallowed. "No! I mean, what kind of knight walks around without a sword? Look!"
Both the man and woman glanced down at Arthur's empty belt.
Arthur wanted to applaud Merlin's quick thinking. He was glad that Merlin wasn't a complete idiot that he tried to pretend that he was.
The woman leaned her head in toward the man's. "We searched the area, they have no horses, no supplies."
The man raised a brow at them. "Like to travel light, don't you?"
Merlin cleared his throat. "That. Or we may have gotten lost."
"Lost? Where're you heading?"
Both the man and woman shared a look.
The man spoke very slowly. "Ealdor? Its further east than where you're heading, near Cenred's kingdom. You're on the opposite side of Camelot."
"Oh..." Merlin said. He rubbed his neck and leaned in at Arthur. "Guess I didn't know where I was going."
"I don't trust you, nor him," he glared at Arthur. "You, boy, speak!"
Arthur forced a ridiculous smile. "Aye."
Merlin shot him a bemused look that seemed to say: That's the best you can come up with?
Arthur leaned his head in a bit and stifled a giggle. "We're lost."
The man's eyes were hard.
"Ah, Tristan, lighten up," a man's voice teased behind Arthur and Merlin. "A noble doesn't have the capacity in his ego to pretend to be a simpleton."
Tristan eyed Arthur a bit closer and Arthur struggled with every ounce of his being to keep the stupid smile on his face. If only I had my sword, or if Merlin had his magic, we would've easily gotten away. Arthur swallowed his pride and kept playing along.
Tristan finally lowered his arrow from Merlin. "Isolde."
Isolde struggled not to smile as she lifted her sword from Arthur's chest. "Honestly, look at him, a knight of Camelot?"
Arthur bit his tongue and forced himself not to bristle.
A man with shoulder-length brown hair smacked Tristan aside and flashed a boyish grin. "Gwaine's the name. You guys?"
"Merlin." Merlin held out his hand.
Arthur stared at the handshake between the two. Play the character. Play the character. I hate myself right now. Arthur bounced on his heels and stuck out his hand, "Wart."
Merlin hid his laugh behind a cough.
Gwaine tilted his head to the side. "Wart? That's familiar. Were you the commoner who won at King Odin's Melee last year?"
Arthur hadn't expected Gwaine to be so well-versed on the tournaments.
"Don't encourage his delusions of being a knight," Merlin said, adding a forceful chuckle. "Well, now that the confusion has been cleared up, Wart and I will be heading east."
Merlin grabbed Arthur by the shoulder who gave the trio a half-wave. They started to head off.
Tristan cleared his throat.
Merlin paused and pointed the other direction. "That way's east?"
"You're not going anywhere," Tristan said.
Gwaine blew raspberries with his lips. "Paranoid much?"
"They're both too clean to have been lost in the woods for a while, especially the simpleton." He leaned in toward Arthur's face. "I don't like your cheekbones."
I don't like you. Arthur forced a pout and turned to Merlin in fake hurt.
He could see the wheels turning in Merlin's head.
Isolde rubbed her hand against Tristan's lower back. "Take an easy, love. I don't think they mean any harm."
"I've been tricked too much, and lost too many," Tristan said.
Her face dropped as if she were mourning what they'd lost. "I know, but do you trust me?"
"Always," he said.
"I have a good feeling about the two of them."
He turned to her. "Fine. But they stay the night and we'll take them to Ealdor ourselves."
Merlin's eyes bulged. "What?"
"Do you have anything to hide?" he asked as he crossed his arms.
That means they would have to walk right past Camelot. Even if they slipped through, their presence will put Merlin's mother, Hunith in danger, and the rest of the town.
And Arthur didn't know if he could play the part of a simpleton for that long. Even he had his limits.
Arthur caught sight of an old sigil patch wrapped on Gwaine's wrist. He narrowed his eyes to inspect it further.
Gwaine noticed. "You like this?" He lifted it up to show it to Arthur and immediately, Arthur recognized the sigil: two swords crossed together to form an X. His stomach dropped. "I don't know if you heard about the stronghold of Manau? Used to rest between the borders of Camelot and Caerleon?"
Arthur curled his lips inward and tilted his head. How could Arthur forget?
Lines formed on Merlin's forehead.
"Destroyed, years ago. We're all that's left, mate." Gwaine stared at it and brushed a thumb over the sigil. He clapped a hand against Arthur's shoulder. "Come, we'll fix up a batch of fresh stew for you two. You must be starving."
He turned to head off and Isolde followed him.
Tristan lingered to survey Arthur and Merlin once again.
"It's a pity," he said. "If Manau was saved, he would be their lord. Instead, he's vagabond like the rest of us."
Back at their camp, Arthur and Merlin met Percival.
The man's sleeveless shirt showed off his bulging biceps as he stirred the pot set up over the fire.
"If you two try anything, especially the simpleton," Tristan warned once more as he jerked a finger at Percival, "that man can crush your skull with one hand."
Arthur almost believed it until Percival flashed them a goofy smile.
"Refugees?" Percival asked, dumping a ladle of stew into a clay bowl. He held it out to Isolde who slumped down on the log next to him.
"Captives," Tristan snapped, seating himself next to Isolde.
Percival didn't press, obviously used to Tristan's antics.
Gwaine approached him. "Make sure you give the lanky one," he raised a brow, "Merlin is it?" Merlin nodded. "Give him extra, he needs it."
The tall man did and Merlin's eyes widened at the sight of the bowl's contents. He'd probably never eaten so much in his life.
Arthur sat on the log next to Merlin and Gwaine.
"Besides them," Percival said, "how fared patrol?"
Gwaine ripped a piece of bark with his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.
Percival handed Arthur a bowl of stew.
"Thank you," Arthur said.
Gwaine sighed. "Found a couple of druid bodies, they've been dead for weeks. I buried them as best as I could remember of their tradition."
Merlin nearly choked on his stew. "Yo-you help magic users?"
Gwaine shrugged. "I like fighting for the underdogs. Odds less in my favor that way, that's how you're supposed to live," he teased. Yet Arthur noticed his eyes didn't match his fake mirth.
This was the type of knight Arthur would want in his kingdom.
Tristan swallowed his stew. "I keep telling these druids that they have more than enough men to rise up against that good-for-nothing King of Camelot."
Arthur forced his chewed contents down.
"They are peaceful people," Isolde reminded him. "They've already lost so much, just like us, love." She squeezed his hand and Arthur noticed Tristan drew comfort from that.
Gwaine said, "How can the druids, how can we hope to fight against King Uther when we don't have anything worth fighting for?"
"We do," Tristan started, "We fight..."
Gwaine stood and tossed his bark down. "I don't want to get into this again." And he stormed off into the forest.
Arthur and Merlin exchanged awkward looks.
"I've heard rumors," Percival muttered quietly, "that this Prince Arthur is worth fighting for."
Tristan growled. "That prince is no better than his father. He'd raided druid villages, didn't you hear of that one where he butchered innocent children?"
The screams echoed in Arthur's head. Arthur winced and nearly threw up his stew. The scattered and lifeless bodies. Arthur standing frozen, unable to command his men. While he allowed Fyn and Uther's knights to butcher the entire village.
He'd failed that day.
The bowl in Merlin's hands almost tipped but Merlin caught himself.
Arthur never told Merlin what he'd did, never told him how much innocent people he'd killed when he first became a knight. All to impress his father, all to prove himself to his men, all to be somebody that he wasn't. All because he was so ignorant.
"He hadn't since then. I heard he saved Ealdor from bandits," Percival said.
"Hold onto your fool's hope," Tristan sneered. "I will no longer place mine in the hands of kings and future kings again. All they yearn is greed and power."
Every time Arthur thought he was moving forward, his past had to come back and entrapped him once more. It was a reminder that Arthur couldn't wipe his past clean, couldn't start over again.
Here was proof that the people didn't truly believe in him.
He didn't want to eat his stew but he forced himself to eat every bite, despite the constant restraint of his stomach.
After the meal, Isolde dragged Arthur to one of their tents. "Come, let's us change you out of that. It wouldn't do anybody good for you to run around looking like that."
The Prince of Camelot was right under their very nose, acting like a simpleton. How far the mighty have fallen.
She helped him out of his chainmail. "You really want to be a knight, don't you?"
I thought I was one worthy of honor. "I...I want to help," Arthur said, trying his best to sound like a small child.
That's all Arthur ever wanted was to help his kingdom and his people. He never should have led that raid when he was fifteen. It was his first, before he dismissed Fyn. He was used to blood and carnage and battle.
He wasn't used to being a commander.
His father whipped him for freezing on the battlefield.
Arthur sought out Gaius, asking for advice on what made a good commander. Gaius told him: "A good commander has confident in himself to lead his men, a great commander has confident in his men, the best commander is a leader with a vision who inspires instead of forcing others to obey him."
Since then, Arthur walked around with arrogant pride, with his ever-growing ego to ensure what happened that day would never happen again.
Isolde's eyebrows folded together into a V. "You seemed angry by what they were saying out there, about Prince Arthur. You look up to him?"
Arthur averted his gaze and shrugged. He placed on the green tunic that she loaned him.
Isolde stared behind Arthur, as if lost in another time. "Tristan didn't always use to be this bitter. He had hope once. He was the one who went to Camelot for help when Manau was under attack. King Uther refused him, but Tristan had overheard young Prince Arthur fight his father against the injustice being done."
Arthur inhaled a shaky breath.
"A pure heart, Tristan said. He believed young Arthur will grow to become the king who will create us a better future." She fixed Arthur's hair. "I think we've all lost hope."
How could Arthur rule in a land where his own people had no faith, no belief in him?
Arthur had left the city of Camelot and her people to the fury of his father. He was on the run, hiding. He needed to return.
Arthur scoffed at himself. Who was he kidding?
He wasn't worthy to be king.
Merlin had offered to clean up the dishes after their meal. Tristan had slipped away and Percival mentioned that he was on first watch tonight.
The sun was making its way below the horizon when Merlin carried the pots and bowls to the stream to wash.
He stared at his hands and willed his magic to return. All he got was a slight tingle. He groaned. It'd been nearly a week and his magic hadn't recuperated at all!
He'd barely arrived in time to save Arthur after he screamed his voice hoarse and telecommunicated with his mind for Kilgharrah.
He'd never forget the terror in his heart as he saw Arthur pushed to his knees before the city of Camelot, his head shoved against the stump. The executioner's axe was seconds away from being brought down onto Arthur's neck.
And now here they were. Merlin still hadn't figured out if they were captives or refugees taken in by this vagabond group of bandits.
He used his hand to rinse out one of the bowls.
What they said about Arthur, about him raiding that village. He heard that story when he first came to Camelot, a couple servants told him when he was assigned as Arthur's manservant. At first, it only deepened Merlin's hatred of Arthur.
Until he truly saw Arthur's heart.
He didn't fail to notice how Arthur cringed at what the others said about him, how green his face got when he tried to force himself to eat. Merlin knew Arthur well enough to know that the guilt still gnawed at the prince.
He'd known Arthur had done terrible things.
But he'd forgiven Arthur for that.
He wondered if Arthur had forgiven himself.
"Ah, mate, you don't have to clean those."
Merlin glanced up to see Gwaine return, a leather canteen in his hands. Merlin shrugged. "You gave us a meal, it's a small way to repay the favor."
Gwaine slumped down next to him and tossed a rock into the river. "You really look out for him, the simpleton, don't you?"
"More than he knows," Merlin said.
Merlin forgot when he went from protecting Arthur because of destiny to protecting Arthur because he loved him. Everything he did, he did for Arthur. He loved Camelot because of Arthur, he loved the fields, the people, the castle, everything within it because of Arthur.
Gwaine stared at him. "You seem like a good guy, Merlin."
Merlin rose his shoulders. "Nah. I like to think so, but I'm not so sure." He dropped them. Merlin noticed Gwaine's faraway stare. "Is everything alright? You and Tristan..." he trailed off, knowing it wasn't his place.
Gwaine released a scornful chuckle. "It's the same fight we've been having for years." He took a swing of his canteen. "You know why I'm still alive? My lord father sent me to King Caerleon to beg him to save our town from bandits. You know what the King told me? "We don't have the manpower." Yet a year later, he has enough when he decides to go to war against Camelot."
"I'm sorry about Manau," Merlin said.
"It's in the past. Nothing can be done about that now. All I ever learned from it was the fact that people in power can't be trusted. There's no king or noble worthy dying for. But...I desperately want to find one. I'm a lord, Merlin. I may have no land, but it's in my blood to follow a king."
Gwaine took another swing and rose to his feet. "There's not one king who is worthy, not in all the land of Albion."
Arthur is, Merlin thought and he believed it with all his heart.
Arthur was right. They couldn't afford to run. He needed to help Arthur retake Camelot. Uther's reign cannot go on for much longer.
Kilgharrah was right all those months ago.
It's time for Arthur's reign to begin.
First, Merlin needed to find out a way to get his magic back.
The following morning, the bandits packed up their camp and headed east with Arthur and Merlin in tow.
They gave Merlin a sword yet they didn't trust Arthur enough to give him any weapon to defend himself. Great. How was he going to protect Merlin?
With your magic, a voice in the back of Arthur's mind said. Right. Arthur didn't even know how to tap into his magic, much less use it.
Gwaine and Percival walked ahead of the party.
Isolde and Tristan rode on the bench on top of the wagon, Isolde using the reins. They whispered to each other, smiles and giggles.
It warmed Arthur's heart to see that. They may have lost hope in the world, but they didn't lose hope in their love. There was nothing more special than that: Love.
It sparked hope even in the darkest of times.
Growing up, Arthur never expected that he would ever find love, one where someone could walk along his side as an equal, one where Arthur could give his whole heart to and the other person would give their whole heart back. Was it possible for Arthur to achieve that?
Arthur glanced over at Merlin who walked alongside him.
Or had Arthur already achieved that and he just didn't know it?
Merlin's head whipped. "What was that?"
Arthur chuckled and said in a low voice, "A bird, would you relax? You're making me nervous."
Merlin smiled sheepishly.
Arthur recollected all the thoughts he had moments before he thought he was going to die, all the regrets. He stared deeply into Merlin's eyes and swallowed.
Merlin must've sensed Arthur's mood shift. "Arthur?" he whispered.
The wagon rolled to a stop and the horse nickered.
Arthur widened his eyes as five knights of Camelot approached them, each on their respective horses. Oh, shit.
Merlin tugged at Arthur's sleeve and the two of them drew close to the shadows of the wagon. Arthur noticed Merlin's red scarf and yanked it off.
"Come to collet your taxes from weary travelers?" Tristan asked.
Arthur saw Gwaine and Percival heading back, both hands on their pommels of their swords.
Nobody is going to die.
"We'd like to search your wagon," one of the knights declared. Arthur narrowed his gaze. Sir Ian, a veteran.
"May I ask why?" Tristan growled.
"There's a fugitive on the run, he's committed treason and must be brought to Camelot to answer for his crimes," Sir Ian declared.
"Ah!" Tristan leaned back. "So, death? Well, I assure you, I'm harboring no fugitive in my wagon, but I'm assuming you're going to look anyway."
One of the other knights jumped off his horse and approached the back of the wagon.
Arthur and Merlin turned their heads, shielding their faces.
Arthur's heart pounded against his chest and he could feel Merlin's erratic breathing against his neck.
There was some ruffles and a clatter, then a crash from inside the wagon.
Gwaine's face went dark. "That'd better not been my mead."
After several moments, the knight jumped back out and gave a shake of his head.
Tristan glared at Sir Ian. "Now that you've destroyed my possessions, may I continue?"
Sir Ian flicked a gaze over Merlin and Arthur.
Sir Ian shifted in his seat in annoyance and glared at Tristan. "Move along."
Isolde flicked the reins and the horse stomped his feet before continuing.
"Wait!" The knight cried out from behind them.
The wagon stopped.
"Oh, for bloody hell," Tristan grumbled, "what?"
Merlin gripped on the sleeves of Arthur's shirt.
The knight inhaled a sharp breath. "It's him! It's..."
Merlin held out a hand and sent a sputter of sparks into the air, spooking the horses around them.
Merlin and Arthur took off for the woods.
There were shouts behind them.
They didn't run very far when four of Camelot's knights stormed toward them, a few acres ahead.
Arthur whirled to a stop. Damn.
Merlin gasped and brought up his sword.
Arthur ducked as Sir Ian slammed his blade against Merlin's right near where his head was at.
More knights swarmed in around them.
A fist crashed into Sir Ian's temple and Percival stood where the veteran collapsed unconscious.
"Whoo!" Gwaine exclaimed as he twirled his sword. "I like these odds."
"Told you they were on the run," Percival barked at Gwaine as he pulled back his fist.
"Stand down," Arthur yelled. "No one is dying over us!"
Gwaine's brows burrowed in confusion at Arthur. He ducked a swing and parried with a knight.
Percival pummeled a charging knight.
Merlin awkwardly sword-fought with another.
Arthur panicked. He felt the familiar tingle of the Earth's magic under his feet. Yes. "Stop those knights!"
Vines exploded from the ground and wrapped around the hands and feet of Camelot's knights, pulling them up into the air.
Gwaine and Percival reeled their heads back and glanced at each in other shock.
Tristan and Isolde joined their side, panting.
"There's more knights approaching from the east," Isolde said.
"I knew you two were trouble." Tristan pointed a finger at them.
"Get to safety," Arthur said. "It's us they're after, we can draw them away. Go."
Tristan blinked at him, surprised by Arthur's change in demeanor. He finally noticed the vines holding the knights up, sparkling with magic in the sun.
"Go!" Arthur cried.
"Screw that, mate," Gwaine said. "Like I said, I like fighting for the underdogs."
Arthur shot Merlin a desperate look where Merlin helplessly shrugged, as if to say: what do you want me to do?
"By gods," Percival gasped. "It's the King."
Arthur twirled on his feet to see his father marching down the hill, slipping between the trees, his eyes locked hard on Arthur.
Arthur's face twisted in determination. He walked forward and stood protectively in front of the odd group behind him. A horde of knights decorated the hill behind Uther.
"You're outmatched. Give it up," Uther said.
"Let those behind me go free. They are not to be harmed," Arthur said.
Uther chortled. "They were found harboring a fugitive. Their actions will not go unpunished."
Arthur took the sword from Merlin. "Merlin, take the others and run. I'll distract them by attacking..."
"You clotpole. We're in this together. I'm not leaving you," Merlin said, ever-so-loyal.
"I won't have you die on my account, Merlin. My fate is sealed, don't let it be yours," Arthur snapped.
"This isn't your fate."
"Gwaine," Arthur barked. "Take him. Go."
The vagabond stared at Arthur, lines crinkled around his eyes. "Who are you?"
"Please..." Arthur begged.
Uther lost his patience and waved to his men. The knights charged for them.
Arthur held up his sword. "Go!"
Gwaine bit his lips and uttered a groan. He grabbed Merlin and yanked him back, hoisting Arthur's manservant over his shoulder.
Tristan, Isolde, and Percival hesitated.
"Go!" Arthur yelled.
"No!" Merlin cried as the bandits made a run for it.
Arthur turned back to the knights and locked eyes with his father. He charged forth with a yell, rushing toward Uther.
One of the knights approached him. Arthur ducked a swing and punched the man with his left hand, before he forced the knight to roll of the back of his shoulders.
He smacked another knight down with the flat of his blade.
He neared Uther and Clash! Their swords clanged together.
The lines around Uther's face deepened. "You dare attack your father?"
"You dare execute your son?" Arthur snarled back.
Guilt flashed through Uther's eyes before it was replaced with rage. With a yell, Uther pulled his blade back and swung for Arthur.
Arthur blocked it, and immediately counterattack.
The knights all gathered around, watching the fight between father and son.
Blades clashed and the steel rang in the air.
Uther gritted his teeth and struggled to keep pace with Arthur. Arthur soon found that he was holding back. There were so many openings where Arthur could have easily slipped his blade through to kill his father.
But he couldn't do it.
He couldn't kill his own father.
He still held onto the rare good memories he had of Uther. The precious moments where his father declared how proud he was of Arthur.
"Albion," Arthur pleaded, his magic tingled inside of him. "help me, help me escape from my father and Camelot's knights."
The ground rumbled and shook.
Arthur threw a punch with his left hand and caught his father in the jaw.
Uther staggered back.
Vines wrapped around his father's torso and pulled him back, locking him in place against a tree trunk. The rest of the knights suffered the same fate.
"Thank you," Arthur whispered, his skin sparkled under the sun. He stared sadly at his father. "I'm sorry," he said.
He turned and ran through the forest, rushing to catch up with Merlin and the others.
After several minutes, he found Merlin rushing toward him.
"Arthur!" he exclaimed. He crashed into him and wrapped Arthur in a tight hug. "You arse. I'm supposed to protect you."
"I'm always going to have your back," Arthur said. "Get used to it."
Gwaine ran and staggered to a halt as he noticed them. He blew out a sigh of relief. "You're suicidal and crazy, mate."
Merlin broke apart from Arthur.
"We need to keep moving. I don't know how long the others
will be occupied," Arthur said. He clapped Gwaine's shoulders. "I'm
sorry we got you involved. It wasn't our intention."
Gwaine shrugged. "Eh, I was looking to gather a bit more excitement into my life."
Percival approached from behind Gwaine, as well as Tristan and Isolde.
"You're lucky you're alive," Percival said. "You have more courage than anybody I ever know."
"A simpleton, eh?" Tristan scoffed.
"Love," Isolde started.
"No. I understand. A man's got to do what he can to survive," Tristan pulled his sword free and placed the tip against Arthur's throat, "isn't that right, Arthur Pendragon?"