Lost, Both in Thought and The Woods
Merlin lead the way through the woods, his tight bandages hurting his burning muscles, but he paid no attention to them. Close behind, Arthur followed, sore but otherwise quite alright.
It had been no more than half an hour when Merlin realized that he had absolutely no idea where they were. This became obvious when the sun rose, because they had never even seen the place where they currently were before. It was quite obvious that Arthur was very deeply peeved about how long it was taking.
As they picked their way back through the woods, searching for some place that they recognized, Arthur suddenly stopped moving. He held up a hand to signal to Merlin that he should stop too, and turned his head and put a finger over his lips.
After a few seconds, they heard crunching leaves, and they turned around to see about 10 bandits behind them. Upon sight, the bandits let out a terrifying roar and charged.
Arthur pulled out his sword and held it steady. Merlin didn’t have any weapons, so he picked up a heavy branch to deflect any swords if he could. The two tired, injured young men were a pitiful sight until Arthur started to fight as well.
The first bandit and Arthur matched swords, above their heads, and then Arthur forced his sword out of his hands and slashed his side as the next bandit came to attack. As soon as he got the chance, he picked up the first bandit’s sword and threw it to Merlin, who caught it and tried to defend himself as best he could.
Soon, there were only about three bandits left, two of them fighting Arthur at the same time. One was doggedly pursuing Merlin, who was doing his best to keep himself alive. Meanwhile, Arthur was doing well against the two men, who were admittedly not bad swordsmen.
The bandit who was chasing Merlin soon locked swords with him, and they pushed their swords against each other with all their might. Looking away, Merlin’s eyes flashed gold, and he found the strength to push the bandit’s sword aside. Momentarily distracted, the bandit was forced back, where Merlin hit him in the forehead with the sword handle. Once he was down, Merlin stabbed his side and put him out of action, but reluctantly so.
Arthur, who was looking in his direction, was both proud and confused about his manservant. Since when was he good with a sword? But his preoccupation with Merlin cost him precious moments in the fight, and soon the two were triumphing over him.
Merlin tried to run, but he knew it would be to no avail; he would not get there in time to save Arthur. So, instead, his eyes flashed gold again, and one of the bandit’s swords missed and hit the other bandit, who fell to the ground. Taking advantage of the second that this happened, Arthur stabbed the second bandit and he joined his comrade on the ground.
Merlin jogged over to where Arthur stood over many bandits. “I - I can’t believe we just did that,” Merlin laughed, a bit out of breath.
Arthur chuckled. “Yeah.” After a few seconds, he said: “Where are we?”
Merlin bit his lip. “About that...”
Arthur looked up at him. “You, you incompetent fool, have gotten us lost, haven’t you?”
Merlin looked unbelieving. “Me? It’s not all my fault!”
Arthur picked up his bags and stuffed them into Merlin’s arms. “Well, if you’re not so stupid that you got us lost in the middle of the woods, then you can find us a way out, can’t you?”
Merlin sighed, straightened his mouth into an annoyed but determined expression, and started walking. The sun was at its highest point, and it was easier to see. He hoped he could find his way back soon enough, but since it was the late autumn, it was quite cold and Merlin couldn’t think perfectly straight.
After a long time of guiding horses and lugging bags around, Merlin finally found a place he recognized. As soon as he had seen the rock, which he knew was on the way to Lake Avalon, he slumped against a tree in exhaustion. It had taken almost all day to find it, and the sun was setting in his tired eyes.
Arthur was annoyed, and considered kicking Merlin until he woke and made them dinner, but remembered the burns running all over his body and decided that his manservant was injured, and shouldn’t have even been outside of his room. It was cruel enough to wake him up, let alone kick him awake. He left him and ate some fruit instead.
Arthur looked at Merlin’s face. He had definitely lost some weight over the last few months, and his cheeks were more hollow and suddenly he looked old. His best friend was upset, and he would do anything to help him, even if it meant consorting with sorcerers.
He wondered if this Freya girl was really worth it: worth the danger, worth the treason, worth the time. She was only a girl, after all, and to risk so much for so little... and then Arthur remembered. His and Guinevere’s relationship was not, strictly speaking, legal. To ruin whatever Merlin had with Freya would be like ruining what he and Gwen had, and he would not do it.
After a couple minutes, he began to feel restless, so he got up and went for a walk. The woods were beautiful at this time of night, but also dark, so Arthur had to light a fire to mark where their camp was.
As he strolled through the woods, he began to think about his manservant. He was lazy, forgetful, and spent most of his time at the tavern, but he soon realized that perhaps this wasn’t strictly true. Truth be told, Merlin was loyal, brave, kind, and meant well. He just felt that Merlin’s actions didn’t show it, though his nature bore all the signs of pure character.
Suddenly confused, he started to think harder. Merlin was of the quiet, awkward sort, not the kind of person you would expect to see in a tavern all the time, drinking away his money. But whenever Merlin wasn’t there when he should have been, Gaius had said he was at the tavern. It just didn’t add up. Eventually, he resolved that he would go into the tavern and ask the bartender if he knew him.
He furrowed his brow, deep in thought. Why would Gaius ever lie about where Merlin was? Was there something Merlin wasn’t telling him? And then he remembered: Freya. He would have been sneaking out to see Freya. Yet he wasn’t sure... wouldn’t Merlin have said that he wasn’t in the tavern, that he was going to see Freya every time Gaius had covered up for him? Wouldn’t he have wanted to clear that up?
And he redoubled on his efforts in remembering again, thinking about the events of the past three months. Merlin had indeed gone out for a day or a couple hours, and Gaius had said that he was at the tavern. He hadn’t needed to, and yet he said he was at the tavern. He could have just said that he was visiting Freya, and Merlin had been somewhat open to talking about her, so he wouldn’t lie about visiting her. So that meant that he was doing something else...
Ever since he had met Merlin, there had been something about him that Arthur just couldn’t put his finger on. Perhaps this was it, his big secret of sorts... he just couldn’t figure out what it was. Arthur promised to himself that he would pay more attention to Merlin, figure out where he was going every time that he was missing.
His head reeling with his memories of Merlin, he went back to the campsite. Merlin’s blank, pale, tired face was still leaning against the tree. It was strange to think that this person was hiding some big secret, that there was more about him than met the eye, and yet, what met the eye convinced him that perhaps Arthur was overthinking things. Merlin’s thin face just seemed so real, and he told himself that maybe all of the things he was thinking weren’t true. Merlin was just a regular boy.After a couple minutes, Arthur fell asleep.