Leon had seen Gwaine rush from the clearing and cursed, half in worry for the man and half in frustration. Gwaine was always running off with little care for his own well being, but he didn’t seem to realize that he was neglecting his own duties when he did this. Now Leon felt the urgency to join Arthur and Merlin by the young woman’s side, but the bandits were numerous and he wasn’t sure he would get there any time soon.
Leon couldn’t help but smile grimly as they slowly overcame the bandits with ease. Gwaine had known when he left that they would most likely win and so hadn’t been worried. Leon just hoped they could defeat them fast enough to chase after the errant knight.
Something hit him suddenly in the side and he cried out in pain. At the same time he heard Percival shout, but this was pushed to the back of his mind as the pain from his ribs took over his thoughts. Elyan shouted his name, jumping forward and blocking a blow from one of the enemy. Leon blinked, the man who had attacked him wasn’t one of the bandits, it was one of the guards.
Leon quickly regained his senses and lifted his sword to block several more attacks from their would-be allies. He felt two others press their backs to his, and he glanced over at Percival to see where he was injured. Leon winced as he realized it was his good arm, but there was little he could do about it now other than fight as hard as he could.
He looked towards Arthur and saw Merlin being held by a man in uniform. The woman was holding an amulet in Arthur’s direction. This was an ambush, Leon realized with dread. His attention was forced back to the battle as the men continued to throw themselves, almost recklessly at the knights. He and his comrades were cutting them down quickly, but the enemy far outnumbered them.
He heard a shout from Merlin, and shortly after heard Gwaine again as the battle progressed, but he couldn’t spare even a glance in their direction.
All at once, the remaining men fell to the ground dead, leaving the knights standing in shock staring at them. He stepped over the many bodies of the fallen enemies and ran towards Gwaine who was kneeling in a circle of bare dirt. The sight caused Leon to pause for just a moment. The ground was devoid of any leaves or twigs and created a perfect circle. Arthur was nowhere to be seen and Leon’s heart seized in dismay. Gwaine was facing him when the woman lying on the ground behind him moved weakly, but she was covered in blood and Leon knew she was not long for this world.
“Gwaine!” Leon shouted, meaning to question the knight further, but before he could get out another word, Gwaine seemed to snap to his senses. His eyes met Leon’s briefly, full of confusion and utter sorrow before an angry fire lit within them, and rage became the predominant emotion on his facial features. He stood up quickly, turning around and kneeling beside the now dying woman.
Leon now stood beside Gwaine, looking over his shoulder at the woman. She had minutes, if not seconds, to live, guessing from the large, gruesome wound stretching across her torso. When Leon had first seen her he thought her to be beautiful. Now, whether because she was pale and dying or because he knew her true intentions, she looked plain. Not ugly, but not nearly as enchanting as he had first made her out to be… perhaps she actually had been enchanting them. She coughed and gasped, but still smirked at the knights surrounding her, focusing her attention on Gwaine who crouched next to her.
“Where are they?” Gwaine demanded, and it was at this moment that Leon ashamedly realized that Merlin was missing as well. He watched her reaction carefully, knowing she most likely would not give them the answer they desired, but knowing that whatever information she did give could be vital.
“Somewhere you will never find them.” she choked out.
Leon spoke up. “Who are you?” he asked. Gwaine sent him a look that Leon couldn’t decipher, but he focused his attention on the dying woman in front of them.
“My name is Lorraine.” she said weakly, staring at the sky above her. She smiled, her teeth covered in blood. “But you don’t really care about that.” Her coughing and wheezing had ceased. Now she was just bleeding out, losing her strength. “You want to know about us.” she said, motioning to the people around her. Leon didn’t say anything. He just watched her anxiously, knowing time was ticking away. “We are a group of people who have been wronged by Arthur Pendragon.” she finally said.
“Sorcerers?” Gwaine demanded.
Her bloody smiled closed but there was still a hint of morbid amusement in her eyes. “Only two of us.” she told them. “My master and I.”
“Who is your master?” Leon asked.
Lorraine’s eyes got a faraway look. “A man of great vision and strength. Someone who has practiced magic secretly for many years in the hopes that someday those of our kind would be freed from tyranny.”
“And the others?” Leon asked.
Her eyes skipped over to a headless body a few feet away. “Jax and Redd…” she whispered. “They couldn’t use magic, but they had their own reasons for revenge, just the same.”
Leon looked at the men dead on the ground. “What about the rest of them?” he asked.
She smiled weakly. “Merely controlled pawns at our fingertips. Now dead pawns. You’ll find nothing from them.” She looked first at Gwaine and then her eyes focused on Leon’s, sending shivers up and down his spine. “My master will break him, and then he will destroy him. My part in this is complete.”
The cold shiver disappeared in a rush of fiery anger, but Leon could not get to her before Gwaine.
The angry knight grabbed her by her shoulders, lifting her off the ground and shaking her. “Tell us where they are!” he demanded, but when the shaking stopped her eyes were staring blankly into the air.
She was dead, and they had no answers to go on.
Leon approached Gwaine carefully to where the man leaned against the wall of the building. He did indeed look like an ordinary man now and not a knight. He didn’t wear his chainmail, just his plain clothes. Leon had just come from Gaius’ quarters. He knew exactly what Gwaine was feeling.
“It was not your fault, Gwaine.” he said. He had approached loudly so as to not startle the distraught knight. Gwaine was still staring at the ground but now raised his eyes to look at Leon sadly.
“That’s where you’re wrong, my friend. If I had stayed with them, done what I was supposed to, none of this would have happened.” Gwaine sighed sadly.
Leon did not have a response to that. He himself had reprimanded Gwaine severely before realizing that there was nothing he could say to the man that was not already tearing him apart inside. Gwaine felt the guilt more strongly than any of the other knights, and with good reason. However, Leon knew that was not what he needed to hear right now.
Leon turned away from the wall, breathing in the brisk air and turning his face towards the sky. “I thought we had lost him that day.” he admitted.
Gwaine didn’t respond for a moment. “In a way we did… we lost both of them.” he finally mumbled.
Leon’s gaze dropped to his feet, and he sighed sadly before turning back to Gwaine. He placed a hand on his shoulder, “Whatever happened in the past, we cannot let it affect how we act in the future. Merlin and Arthur need you now.” Gwaine didn’t meet Leon’s eyes but nodded. Leon gave him one final pat on the shoulder before heading back to the physician’s chambers.
When he entered, Arthur had already been persuaded to go to his own bed. Merlin wouldn’t wake for some time as his body fought off the poison. Gaius was already asleep at a table. Leon sat down quietly next to Merlin, staring down at the young man.
He had never known Merlin all that well, but they had bonded in a unique way. Merlin and Leon were both driven by the same desire to protect Arthur and Camelot. Because of that desire they had an intense respect for each other.
Leon had great regard for Merlin, and hated to see him like this. He had seen more suicidal men than anyone else other than Gaius or perhaps Arthur. He knew how these stories usually played out.
Leon took Merlin’s limp hand in his and clasped it. The grasp was sloppy and uncomfortable, not nearly as satisfying as Leon would hope it to be. He frowned when he noticed a piece of cloth wrapped around Merlin’s hand and then chuckled. When they had first found Merlin, this had been his only injury…a small cut to his palm. It was a minor injury and they had forgotten about it in their rush to leave the prison. It wasn’t until they were halfway home that Leon noticed it hadn’t been bandaged. Merlin was known for ignoring things like that. Leon had taken a piece of cloth and wrapped it around the hand hastily, and then they had continued home. The same bandage was wrapped Merlin’s hand now. Either he had never taken it off or he had simply put it back on every time he had need to. Leon unwound the cloth and saw that the cut was nothing more than a triangular shaped scar now. He stared at it a moment absentmindedly before laying Merlin’s hand down on the bed again. His mind wandering, his eyes haunted with memories, both good and bad.
Leon remembered a similar time when Merlin had taken a tumble down a hill. Arthur really wasn’t exaggerating when he teased Merlin about his clumsiness. He had cut his arm and wrapped his neckerchief around it and then forgotten about it for several days. Leon smiled as he remembered the way the knights had teased him after the fall, once they knew he was alright. Merlin had acted grumpy but eventually took the teasing graciously. It was something Leon had always admired about Merlin. He knew how to take a joke, even when it was at his own expense.
Leon leaned back, dragging his hands across his face. He hadn’t had to deal with something like this since Uther’s reign, and in some ways this was so much different than all the ones before. He wondered what it was about Merlin that made him feel a bond almost closer than that of other knights from the past.
Two days later, Arthur returned to Gaius’ chambers and found him asleep in his bed, probably having stayed up most of the night. The man was old and didn’t have the energy he used too. Gaius must have known that he was better off renewing his energy to face Merlin when he was awake rather than watching him sleep.
Merlin had been moved back to his room, apparently out of danger for the moment and safer in more familiar surroundings away from dangerous objects like the poisons scattered around the room.
Arthur moved carefully through the main room so as not to wake the sleeping physician. He felt much better. Two days ago he hadn’t thought he would be able to sleep. However, after getting into bed and lying with Guinevere stroking his hair and humming a sweet song, exhaustion had overtaken him. He had fallen into a deep and thankfully dreamless sleep.
Arthur had returned the next morning, but Merlin had not stirred throughout the day, and Gaius had assured him he would continue to sleep through the night. So Arthur had left again that evening, albeit reluctantly. However his sleep had been plagued with nightmares causing Arthur to wake early and seek out Gaius’ chambers.
As he entered the room, Gwaine sat by Merlin’s side, exhausted but vigilant. He had been sitting all night and most of the day before. Arthur knew that as a man of action, the sitting must be near torture. He moved to the chair on the other side of Merlin.
“Has he woken at all?” he asked.
The knight looked up at him blearily, but then shook his head and returned his gaze to Merlin. Despite being fogged with exhaustion, Gwaine still seemed as though he was searching for something. Answers, Arthur guessed. It was the same thing Arthur searched for in the young man’s face. Merlin’s brow was slightly furrowed, his hands clenched into fists.
Feeling slightly un-kingly, Arthur reached out a hand and rested it on Merlin’s head. Merlin immediately relaxed under the pressure and went back to a peaceful sleep.
Arthur remembered Merlin’s scream in that still vivid dream. What if that nightmare had been a warning for what was to come? He hadn’t told anyone of the dream, not even Guinevere. It was too painful and too real to relive.
“Why?” Gwaine’s voice croaked out, and Arthur realized it was the first time the knight had spoken since he arrived. “You were there. What did they do to him?” The man’s voice was close to breaking as he turned his searching eyes to Arthur. The effects of a silent night with so many questions were evident upon his face, questions whose answers lay right in front of him, but were still out of reach.
Arthur shook his head. “We were separated the entire time. I know what Garlock did to me.” He tensed even thinking about it. “I heard screams… or thought I did… but I have no idea what they did to him.”
They were silent for a long while, watching their friend, the implications of those screams weighing heavily on both of them.
“He’s always doing things for others. He never seeks praise. He just does what he thinks is best for everyone else,” Gwaine said, a smile on his face. He looked up at Arthur, his expression turning to one of anger, though Arthur knew the anger was not directed at him.
“Why would he be so selfish now?”
Arthur opened his mouth but had no answers. “I don’t know,” he said. “I wish I did. I wish I had answers. I wish I had a cure to fix him…but I have nothing.”
They sat for a long time in silence and finally Gwaine leaned back in his chair bringing his hands up to his face and dragging them through his hair before standing up.
“Gaius says he shouldn’t wake up for a few more hours. I’m going to get breakfast. Do you want anything?” he asked.
Arthur shook his head. Gwaine left, leaving him to his thoughts. He stared at the door for a long while after watching the man leave, pondering all his questions, wondering what the answers could be. When he looked back at Merlin, he was startled to see two brilliant blue eyes staring back at him.
“Merlin!” Arthur stated in surprise.
Merlin said nothing at first, just stared at Arthur with an almost angry look in his eyes. His mouth opened, and his voice croaked with effort when he spoke.
“Why couldn’t you just let me die?”