Chapter 30 A Safe Refuge
Arthur moved slowly across the plain. Keeping an eye out for any archers that were perched, hidden from sight. Iseldir stayed next to him, ready to block any attack, magical or not. Leon and Percival wearily eyed the fortress they were advancing on. Ready to push Arthur out of the way at any moment. At the base of the crumbling citadel, an entrance was quickly revealed. Once inside, a strong sense of mildew and rotting vegetation overcame them. Clearly, the small citadel had fallen a long time ago. In some places, there was just an open space where the ceiling should have been. Vines were crawling down where hardly any wall was left. Arthur wondered what this castle stood for and who had once occupied it. Besides the smell, something else was nagging at him. It was too quiet. From past experiences, Arthur knew they should have run into someone by now. There was no one. Arthur didn't like it, this was too easy.
Arthur suddenly had a sinking feeling. There was another thing wrong; and it had to do with Merlin. The magic began to feel different. He couldn't describe it, before, Merlin's magic felt, wholesome and righteous. Now, it almost feels like it was, contaminated. Yes, that was it. Arthur knew what magic was to Merlin. He knew how much Merlin depended upon it. Arthur quickened his pace, wanting to get to Merlin.
After a few more minutes, Arthur stumbled onto a large, heavy wooden door. He could tell they were close now. The trail leading behind it. Trying to be quiet as possible, Arthur was able to pull the door open. A quick series of steps led into an undamaged, stone hallway. Which Arthur figured directed to the dungeon. Keeping a firm hold on Excalibur, Arthur followed the darkened passage. Soon enough, Arthur spotted an arrangement of cells on their left side. Coming up to the first one, Arthur stepped in front of it; sighing in relief. "Gwaine!"
Gwaine lifted his head up. "Arthur! Thank God! Hurry, something's wrong with Merlin!"
At the end of those words, Arthur's relief quickly turned to dread. He saw Merlin lying on the hard floor. Unmoving. Iseldir quickly moved to the cell door. Placing his hand towards the lock, Iseldir muttered a spell. After his eyes flashed gold, the cell door swung open loudly on its hinges. Arthur was the first one to reach Merlin as Iseldir swiftly snapped open Gwaine's cuffs. Once free, Gwaine gave a quick nod of thanks before rushing over to Merlin. Grateful to see Merlin's chest move up and down. Though it was shallow.
"We need to get him back to Camelot." Arthur stated after seeing Merlin was breathing. Arthur moved to pick up the warlock when Gwaine stopped him.
"Wait," Gwaine pulled back Merlin's right sleeve, reveling the cuff. Iseldir's face grew hard, "Cold Iron."
Gwaine nodded, "That's what Merlin said. What is it?"
"Cold Iron, is dangerous to any with those who have magic." While he was speaking, Iseldir placed his hand over the metal, careful not to touch it. "It represses the magic so a sorcerer cannot use it." When Iseldir finished, Arthur clenched his teeth, pushing down the righteous anger swelling up inside him. Iseldir managed to get the cruel cuffs off of Merlin. Once he did, Merlin drew in a long breath of air. As if he was deprived of it. Arthur watched him wearily, hoping he would wake up. Merlin never made any other movement besdes his easier breathing. Sighing inwardly, Arthur picked the younger man off the cold floor. Wanting to get back to Camelot as quickly as possible.
Reaching their horses, Arthur still eyed the silent fortress. Afraid of a surprise attack even though it clearly had been empty. "Why would they leave?" Arthur heard Gwaine muttering under his breath "bloody cowards." Shooting the knight a look of confusion, Gwaine waved him off; clearly saying "tell you later." There was no debate as to who would take Merlin. With some help from Percival, they got Merlin onto Arthur's horse. Arthur climbing on behind to support him. Camelot was a day's ride from here. It was still night, but dawn would be rising in a few hours. No doubt everyone was exhausted from the few hours of sleep they managed. Arthur having none. Arthur wanted to get as far away from this place as he could. However, they had still not fully recovered horses either. Arthur worried it might take them longer to get back to Camelot.
They left the forsaken ruins behind. The horses going at a slow trot. Gwaine rode with Percival, it wasn't missed how he kept looking at Merlin worriedly. Riding for about a full hour, Arthur felt a safe distance away to set up another camp for the rest of the night. They didn't bother making a fire, after getting some water into Merlin, the knights and Iseldir climbed into their bed roles quickly falling asleep. Arthur stayed next to Merlin. Sleep not coming easily for him even though he too was exhausted. Worry gnawing into his thoughts. Merlin appeared to be physically fine on the outside; but it wasn't the outside Arthur was worrying about. Now that they had Merlin back, Arthur could tell there was something incredibly wrong with his magic. Arthur wouldn't admit it out loud, but he was scared for his incredibly loyal friend. He couldn't lose Merlin too. Arthur had lost everyone that was related to him by blood, and he was closer to Merlin than anyone. He could sense his magic for crying out loud! Arthur almost chuckled darkly to himself. A Pendragon becoming familiar with magic! He never thought he would see the day. Until Merlin came along. Merlin his manservant, became friend, became brother, became to Court Sorcerer! If he could tell his younger self what would happen in the future, even he wouldn't have believed him. Arthur gave a deep sigh to himself, trying to dislodge his depressing thoughts. He couldn't think like this. Not now, not when Merlin was still breathing, when Merlin needed him. Arthur sighed again before closing his eyes. Merlin would be alright.
Arthur had just started to fall asleep when a deep rumbling noise caught his attention. Arthur sat straight up , on full alert. His eyes first going over to Merlin. Exhaling with relief, Merlin was the same. Arthur continued to listen to the noise. It sounded almost like hoof beats. With the sound advancing, the knights were waking up, immediately surrounding Arthur and Merlin. Arthur took out Excalibur, its blade almost gleaming against the still dark sky. Three beautiful horses came into view. A gorgeous white stallion was in the lead with two chestnuts following closely behind on either side. "It's alright," Iseldir suddenly spoke up. "They're friends."
Their blades didn't lower until a face could be identified. Arthur immediately recognized he was an elf. Placing Excalibur back in the sheath, Arthur went over to greet him. The elf dismounted his steed as did the other two. "My Lord," the elf said with a bow. "My name is Aldras. I am Thondiair's second in command."
"Welcome Aldras, to my company" Arthur said after the introduction. The other two elves remained silent although they did bow to him. "We have been sent to find you by Thondiair himself. Emry's cry had been reached to all those who possess magic." Aldras glances over Arthur to where Merlin laid. "Thondiair wishes to aid you in helping him, and we wish to shelter you from unfriendly eyes."
"I am grateful to Thondiair for his assistance." Arthur replied. "However we must return to Camelot as soon as possible. We need to get Merlin to our court physician."
"Sire, if I may, Camelot is still some distance away. Our healers are greatly experienced and will do whatever we can for Merlin. The curse placed upon him is a devastating one."
"Merlin's cursed?" Arthur just barely managed to keep the panic out of his voice. Aldras nodded.
"There is only one thing that could cause Emrys such pain. His magic is in danger, and he is dying."
Only years and years of practice did Arthur manage to keep himself in control. Merlin was dying, Merlin was dying. Arthur ran a hand through his hair. This couldn't be happening. Merlin and dying did not belong in the same sentence. Arthur wanted so much for this to be a horrible dream. He wanted this to be a nightmare and Merlin would walk into his room and say "Wake up lazy daisy!" He would take George waking him up like the proper way a servant should wake up the King. Arthur didn't notice everyone was staring at him, waiting for his decision. "How far away is your city?"
"Not far from here my lord. We are surprisingly close."
"Alright" Arthur finally decided. "We will take refuge with you for the time being."
Aldras bowed once more. Arthur turned back towards Merlin. The knights quickly paced up their bed rolls, strapping them to their horses. Arthur stood above Merlin, "We'll get you better Merlin. I promise." Arthur bent down to pick Merlin up once more. Merlin stayed limp in his arms all the way to his horse. With Percival's help again, they managed to get Merlin into the saddle. Arthur quickly climbing behind him. Making sure he was supported, Arthur led his horse to follow behind the elves. Merlin didn't wake during the entire ride.