Leon had just finished training for the day when Arthur found him. He had changed out of his armor and was now polishing his sword, the rest of the knights having left long ago. This was one of the times Leon enjoyed the most. A silent time when he could gather his thoughts. Usually there was no one else in the room, other than Merlin occasionally, but they would work together in a companionable silence.
There was no smile he could offer his king; he knew that Arthur would not be able to offer one in return, but he could tell there was something different in the demeanor of his leader. Arthur looked shaken but hopeful, and Leon inspected him warily.
“Sire.” he greeted solemnly.
“Leon,” Arthur returned the greeting, coming to stand in front of his knight. Leon had already risen to his feet when Arthur entered the room. “New evidence has been brought to light on Merlin’s condition,” Arthur stated, “however, we do not have all the facts. Gaius wishes to return to the dungeon where you found us to search for more clues.”
Leon nodded as Arthur spoke.
“We leave at first light.”
Leon’s mouth opened slightly, and he stared in surprise a moment before answering. “Sire, there is no reason that you need to attend. We do not know of the dangers that may still exist there…”
Arthur held up a hand to stop Leon’s protests. “I have made my decision,” Arthur stated.
Leon’s eyes narrowed, but he knew better than to argue with his king.
“Yes, sire.” he said. Arthur nodded and left the room.
Leon turned, picking up his sheath and slamming his sword into it a little harder than was necessary.
Arthur didn’t actually know how to get back to the dungeon. He had no idea what the outside of the place looked like. He did not even know what the inside looked like other than the small cell he had been in. He wasn’t really even sure why he was there; stubbornness more than anything probably, but if they were going to save Merlin they needed to try everything. Maybe Arthur would recognize something that could help. It was a long shot, but they could not afford to do less.
The outside of the dungeon, he thought, should have looked more ominous. He felt like there should be a permanent set of thunder clouds over the place; that it should be quiet, like death itself. Instead, the rundown building was in the middle of a field, little daisies growing up in a scattered pattern around it. The sun was shining and birds were singing. Arthur cursed the good weather and the dumb birds.
Leon led the way, being the top ranking knight who knew where they were going. Elyan and Percival also attended, along with a smattering of other knights. Gwaine had chosen to stay behind with Merlin, but Gaius came along with the questing party. The journey had taken a little longer as they were forced to move at a pace the old man could manage, but he was the only one who really knew what they were looking for, or would be able to recognize something that might help.
The building looked like it had once been a castle. The upper floors, however, were completely destroyed at this point, only dusty ruins. At first Arthur thought there must be some mistake, but Leon led the way inside and to a wooden door hanging precariously on its hinges. When Arthur peered through the door he saw a spiral staircase leading down. As he followed the knight, he noticed that the lower level underground, unlike the one above, was in remarkably good condition. No one would have guessed, which is why it made this structure a perfect place to hide. Arthur still didn’t feel the horror that he thought he should. The corridors and hallways were foreign and surprisingly clean. It did not feel like a place he should fear, and yet he was afraid.
He followed closely behind Leon who motioned down the hall.
“We found Merlin a couple of turns down that way.” Leon told him. “We found you a little further than that.”
Arthur shivered at the thought of returning to the cell where he had been found.
“I never actually heard how you found us.” Arthur stated.
Leon grimaced slightly. “We did not really find you… at least not without help. We searched but could find no sign or trail. Obviously, we never gave up. It was dusk at the sixth day of our search that the orb revealed itself.”
Arthur felt his heart skip a beat.
“Orb?” he asked, not noticing as Gaius shifted uneasily.
“Yes, an orb with a blue light. It was truly a beautiful thing, though obviously something of magic.” Leon stated uneasily. “At first we thought it was sinister, but it seemed as though it was trying to lead us somewhere. We were not sure if we should follow, thinking it could be leading us into a trap but Gwaine made up our minds when he charged after it. It led us to the dungeon and through the corridors until we found Merlin, and then it disappeared.”
Arthur forced himself to breathe evenly; it was like his guardian angel again. He remembered the orb he had seen when he was searching for the flower to save Merlin’s life. Since then he had kept his eyes open and had seen other strange occurrences, but never knowing where they came from. He was convinced, however, that someone was watching over him. He just didn’t know who … or why.
“Gwaine always was a reckless one.” Arthur mumbled, his head really not in the conversation anymore as his mind wandered in the memory. Of course, he had followed the orb as well, so he could not really fault Gwaine.
Leon smiled slightly at Arthur’s response before stopping at a door. “This is where we found him.” he said. There was a small window in the door with three sturdy iron bars. Arthur hesitated, inspecting the door. There was no damage to it.
“How did you get him out?” he asked.
Leon looked surprised, everything had happened so quickly that he had not really thought of the events until this moment.
“The door was not locked, it was not even closed.” Leon said thoughtfully. “We found it ajar, and when we entered, Merlin was just standing in the middle of the room. He looked like he had seen a ghost, like he was in shock.”
Arthur remembered seeing Merlin when he first woke up, and though he did not remember much, he clearly remembered that Merlin seemed to be fine physically and put together enough to tend to his master. Arthur pushed the door open and walked into the small cell, followed by Leon and Gaius. Gaius walked around the room, inspecting it.
There was a large scorch mark on the floor, huge in fact, and the flames that caused it seemed to have melted the very stone itself. Gaius leaned down and stared at the crater in the floor.
Leon continued to tell the story. “Merlin was standing behind that, staring at it. Gwaine grabbed him and called his name, but he didn’t respond. Gwaine then shook him, and he snapped out of whatever daze he had been in. Merlin said the sorcerer was dead and pointed to the floor.”
Arthur frowned at the floor. “How?” he asked.
Leon looked a little guilty. “Honestly, I do not know, sire. As soon as he told us that, he said he knew where to find you, and we forgot to ask anything else.”
Arthur, though frustrated, did not show any anger towards his knight. Oftentimes he had been easily distracted in similar circumstances. There were many questions he meant to ask later, or forgot to ask at all, because of pressing circumstances… in fact, that seemed to happen a lot with Merlin.
“And you didn’t think to question him later?” Arthur asked, more out of curiosity than accusation. It was strange for Leon to be so lax in his duties. He would have normally followed up just to be sure that the sorcerer was no longer a threat. Guinevere had also seemed to have the same lapse of judgment, Arthur remembered. He frowned as he stored that fact away for later thought.
Leon shifted uneasily from one foot to another, but was saved from answering by an exclamation from Gaius. He was no longer inspecting the floor, but was now looking at the walls of the cell. This room was by far in the worst shape compared to the rest of the dungeons. The walls had chunks missing, and rubble was strewn about the floor. Gaius was trying to pry something out of the wall, and eventually succeeded in working the object loose.
“What is it?” Arthur asked.
Gaius shook his head. “I do not know, sire. It appears to be drained now, but it definitely housed some sort of magical power at some point.” He held it up to see if the king would recognize it. Arthur held out his hand, and Gaius placed the fragment on his open palm.
Arthur gasped slightly and stumbled backwards as memories came rushing back to him. The cell they were in was remarkably similar to the one in which he had been held captive all those days. He remembered the amulet, although it was broken, almost mangled, and a small chunk of it was now missing. He remembered whenever Garlock really wanted to get into his head, implant ideas in his brain (such as his missing arm) or just wanted to whisper things into his mind, he would clutch the amulet in one hand and hold it towards Arthur. The dark stone in the middle would begin to glow, and then the surrounding metal with intricate designs would burn like a sword in a blacksmith’s furnace. Arthur hated that amulet.
When he touched it he heard Garlock’s voice and fell to his knees gasping.
You’re weak! Even you cannot stand against all that I have put you through. Camelot will fall, and it will be your doing.
Arthur jerked back to reality with a shock. Leon had pulled the magical talisman out of his hand and dropped it on the floor where Gaius carefully picked it up. He inspected it and Arthur simultaneously.
Arthur was gasping. When he first heard those words he thought that it was Garlock talking to him. He thought that it was a memory. But the word shouted… the scream “NO!” it had not been his voice… it had been Merlin’s.
Gwaine paced nervously in Merlin’s room. He would walk to the chair and sit down, then stand up and lean against the wall, then pace, then sit in the chair again; a vicious cycle of anxiety and worry. Merlin was asleep, surprisingly, considering how much noise Gwaine was making, and had a peaceful look on his face.
Gwaine almost wished that he had gone with Arthur, Gaius, and the others. It definitely would have been more interesting, but he didn’t trust anyone with his friend, not even Arthur or any of the knights. Not even Gaius himself. It was not that he thought they would purposefully allow Merlin to harm himself, but Gwaine didn’t really trust them not to make a mistake. He finally sat down and leaned over, running his hands through his long hair. Waiting was the worst.
Suddenly a gasp drew Gwaine’s attention back to the patient in bed. Merlin was sitting straight up staring off into space, a panicked look in his eye.
“Merlin?” Gwaine asked concerned.
Merlin stared straight ahead for a long moment, his face less panicked now, but thoughtful. Then his eyes widened and he looked around, finally resting his gaze on Gwaine.
“Gwaine?” he asked, looking confused for a moment. “I’m fine,” he said, relaxing back into his pillow as he continued to look around. “Just a nightmare.”
Now that he was more relaxed Gwaine saw the young man’s lips clamp together, and he started to look queasy. Gwaine knew if he asked Merlin if he was alright, he wouldn’t answer or just say he was fine. Merlin turned his head and looked at Gwaine.
“Is there anything to eat?” he asked weakly.
Gwaine looked surprised. “You want to eat?” he asked. Merlin nodded.
“I’m starving.” he admitted, and Gwaine grimaced at the truth of those words. After all, the man hadn’t eaten in days.
He pulled out a basket sitting next to him that Gwen had brought earlier. It was full of different fruits, cheeses, meats, and bread. Gwaine pulled out a small loaf and tore it, handing the small piece to Merlin. The young man took it thankfully and practically inhaled it.
“Woah there, Merlin, slow down.” Gwaine chuckled, glad to see his friend eating. Merlin gave him a small smile.
“What happened?” Merlin asked. “Was I injured? I feel… weak.”
Now Gwaine was really floored. “You don’t remember?” Gwaine asked.
Merlin shook his head. “I’m trying, but the last thing I remember was being ambushed in the forest. I don’t remember getting hurt though. Is everyone alright?”
There was something strange about the way Merlin spoke, his tone flat, but while still wary, Gwaine decided to hope for the best.
“You and Arthur were captured and held by a sorcerer named Garlock.” Gwaine said seriously. He had not really been able to be his normal joking self since this whole thing had started. When he was, it was completely forced, and he did not feel like forcing himself with Merlin at the moment.
“We rescued you and brought you back to Camelot. Arthur was unconscious a week. He’s fine now,” he said, assuring Merlin, although the man’s widening eyes seemed a little delayed.
“After that…” Gwaine was not sure how much to tell Merlin. “We discovered you had been enchanted.” he stated. “Arthur and Gaius have gone to figure out what the sorcerer did to you.”
Merlin still looked confused and lay back on the pillow.
“Magic?” he asked.
Gwaine swallowed. “Perhaps.”
“What did it make me do?” Merlin asked still staring at the ceiling. “I feel very weak.”
Gwaine dropped his head so that he was staring at the floor. He was not sure how to tell Merlin.
“It made you try to kill yourself.”
Merlin didn’t look as surprised by this as Gwaine thought he should. He just continued to stare at the ceiling before lifting a hand to rub at one of his wrists.
“I thought as much.” he said flatly.
Gwaine looked down again.
“They must have broken the enchantment.” Merlin stated.
Gwaine’s head shot up. “What?”
Merlin looked at him and grinned, though it was a weak attempt.
“I mean, I don’t remember anything, and I no longer am trying to kill myself, so they must have broken the enchantment, right?” he asked.
Gwaine didn’t look convinced. “Maybe… maybe you’ve just returned to yourself for the moment.”
Merlin frowned. He looked frustrated and leaned back.
“Maybe.” he admitted bitterly. “I feel tired.”
“Get some rest.” Gwaine responded, leaning back in his chair.
Merlin looked up at him surprised. “You’re going to stay?” he asked.
Gwaine did not respond, but just nodded and looked at Merlin firmly as if challenging him to change the knight’s mind. Merlin just sighed and rolled over.
“Very well,” he stated.
He slept for a couple hours. When he awoke, Gwaine was still there. He ate a little more food and then began to fidget.
“I feel like I haven’t moved in days.” Merlin complained.
“You haven’t.” Gwaine’s response was short.
Merlin started to get up, and Gwaine pressed a hand to his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Merlin huffed and frowned at him. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll go crazy if I have to lie here one more minute.” Gwaine was hesitant and Merlin gave an exasperated sigh. “What am I, under lock and key?” he asked. Gwaine continued to stare in a scrutinizing manner.
“Look,” Merlin said, frustrated, “if I don’t get out of here, I’m going to die of simple boredom. Seeing as you all have gone through such pains to keep me alive, I doubt you would want that.” Merlin stated.
Gwaine’s eyes flashed with pain and Merlin looked guilty.
“Sorry.” he said. “It’s just …” he ran a shaky hand through his hair. “I need to get out of here.”
Gwaine stared at him a long time and then nodded. He helped Merlin to his feet, and with one hand supporting him under his arm, they walked out of Gaius’ chambers and down to the courtyard.Perhaps a walk would do Merlin some good…