The Bargain

Chapter 12

″Gwaine!″ Percival called him as he fastened his packing to his horse. It was nearly dawn and they were all very tired, especially Merlin.

″You’ve got some...″ Percival said, cleared his throat and motioned to Gwaine’s neck.

Gwaine rubbed his neck quickly, hoping that no one had seen the marks left by Eira’s lipcolor. He gave Percival a wink, grabbed Eira and pulled her towards him, but she gasped and gave him a look laced with irritation.

″Someone’s jumpy today,″ he commented and she glared at him. She turned around without a word and continued trying to fix the servant’s sloppy way of fastening her packing to her white horse.

″We can’t let down our guard. Eh, Merlin?″ Gwaine said and Merlin yawned.

″At least I was up all night doing something useful,″ he replied and turned to look accusingly at Gwaine.

″Oh, I was teaching her sword tricks,″ Gwaine replied and gave Merlin a wink. He recalled the night before, almost once again feeling the warmth of Eira’s body close to his. But she hadn’t wanted to go too far, and Gwaine hadn’t wanted to push her, especially since he knew that she hadn’t been able to relax completely or enjoy anything. He didn’t mind though, cuddling with her hadn’t been boring.

″I’m still here you know,″ Eira said and crossed her arms. Gwaine uncrossed them. She crossed them again. ″You can’t mount a horse with your arms crossed, can you?″ he teased and started playing with her hair. ″Just watch me,″ she said, turned away from him to her horse and mounted it gracefully, her arms still crossed.

Gwaine walked over to his horse and did the same, exaggerating her movements and pretending to lift his imaginary skirt. The other knights and Merlin laughed, and Eira just looked at him.

″You’re so childish Gwaine. It’s pathetic,″ she said. Gwaine tried to think of something clever to reply but before he could, Guinevere came down the steps.

″I just wanted to wish you all luck. This is a brave journey that you are deciding to make and it is difficult. Please remember that you will not only be serving Camelot,″ she stated and directed her gaze towards Eira. ″You will be serving me.″ She smiled and waved goodbye to them as the rest of the group mounted their horses and they started riding towards the gates.

Throughout the ride, Gwaine noticed that Eira wasn’t responding like she usually did to his jokes, and she only spoke when she had to. There was something troubling her. He hoped that it was just something in the beginning of the journey that she would get over, because he wasn’t quite sure how to help her.

And not being able to help someone he loved so much was hard.

Eira hadn’t seen any traces or signs of the bandits yet, and for that she was glad. She hadn’t seen the bird, but she knew that after a warning like that, sent straight to the castle, they couldn’t be far behind. From what she had learned from Gwaine about tactics, she knew that the bandits would only strike right when the group had led them to the Helix. Then they would snatch the item, use it for their power and not allow the mission to continue, leaving a weak and vulnerable Camelot with a depressed leader in their hands.

To her dismay, Percival announced that the group would take frequent breaks to make sure that everyone was well rested and prepared for a possible ambush. Eira just wanted to continue to the safety of Queen Annis’ castle.

The group stopped to rest at around midday, and Gwaine carefully approached Eira.

She was sitting on a log, so he sat down next to her and after some hesitation he put his arm around her.

″How are you feeling?″ he asked softly.

She sighed, ″Fine, I guess,″ she replied, staring blankly in front of her.

″I can see that you’re not fine. Something is bothering you,″ he said and searched for her look.

She met his gentle eyes and took his hand. ″I can’t explain it right now.″

″Can you explain it when we’re alone?″ he asked.

″No.″

″Can you explain in a week?″

″No.″

″Can you even explain at all?″

″No,″ she said and sighed unhappily.

″I will wait as long as it takes, well almost,″ he said and smiled, stroking her back soothingly.

″This thing is exactly as complicated as explaining why I love you.″ She tried to smile back.

″It must be important then,″ he replied.

″More than you think,″ she said mysteriously. Merlin handed them some water and Eira struggled to drink, her healing arm had starting hurting again. Gwaine helped her and started to gently massage her back and shoulders.

″Why are you being so nice to me?″ the words quietly slipped out of her mouth before she could stop them. Gwaine didn’t reply. She wasn’t even sure if he’d heard her, but his hands on her back became softer, so she knew that he was listening.

″There’s something that I can’t tell you and you aren’t losing your temper or demanding answers,″ she added seriously.

″Maybe it’s because I’ve already done it and learned from my mistakes,″ he said.

″Maybe it’s because I love you.″ He smiled his irresistible smile so then she smiled as she kissed him, his face in her hands.

″Being distressed isn’t going to help your arm heal,″ he added and she nodded slightly.

He smiled as he got up, still holding her hands, and went to see to his horse.

She sighed, feeling better and all warm inside. No matter how upset she was, Gwaine would always be there.

She sighed, leaned back against another tree behind her, looked up, and her stomach immediately turned. The raven was sitting on a branch a few trees away. It was looking at her in a menacing way, and its eyes pierced through her, just like the leader bandit’s eyes. She understood the warning instantly. They were urging her to hurry her group up. She jumped up and tried to calm herself down by stroking her horse. The bird followed her until it was sitting very close to her, not blinking. A wave of stress hit her and she tried to relax her anxious breathing.

She tore her eyes away from it, ″Maybe we should get going now, so that we’re closer to the village when we make camp and settle down for the night.″ She anxiously looked around, but Merlin was the only one close to her. He was sharpening the knights’ swords, and if he had noticed her quick mood change, he didn’t show it. The others were a few steps away.

″I agree, we still have a while ahead of us,″ Percival said with slight surprise in his voice, walked towards Eira and Merlin, and gathered the group.

Merlin was getting uneasy. Something wasn’t right. He could sense magic nearby, but it wasn’t coming from Eira. Her mood swings were happening more often than usual. He knew that she was generally like that, but he had noticed her behaviour change right after Gwaine had calmed her. There was something worrying her, but he couldn’t quite tell what it was. The knights didn’t seem to notice, just Gwaine, but he seemed content after he had talked to her.

The horses were also getting restless. They didn’t trot ahead happily like they used to, and even small noises from animals moving around in leaves scared them. Merlin had also seen a strange, black bird flying over them at times, and Eira looked like the only one in the group who saw it.

He decided to stay alert, even though it was difficult for him after the night he had spent worrying about the journey. He had slept for a few moments and dreamt about piercing blue eyes, but for once he couldn’t make any sense of the dream. He snapped out of his thoughts when he heard Percival declaring that it would be dark in an hour, and that they had to try to get as far as possible before they stopped for the night. Eira immediately gathered her horse in a gallop and rode ahead, and everyone else followed. Percival sent Gwaine a confused expression, and Gwaine shrugged.

The horses’ gallop was faster than usual, and Eira shared their thoughts that seemed as if they were being chased. She had no idea where the bandits would stop and make their camp for the night, but as rushed as they were, she didn’t even think they needed to rest. She tried to smile and seem alright, but it was nearly impossible. Merlin kept glancing at her, so he had obviously noticed her behaviour. She couldn’t tell anyone about the bandits or let them find out, because she knew that they would hurt one member of the group to show the rest that they were being serious. There was also the possibility of them taking someone hostage and demanding the Helix in return. It would probably be her, because the bandits knew that Gwaine cared for her especially, and he was the leader of the group along with Percival.

It started to get dark, and the group stopped in the forest. They would have to sleep in sleeping bags and blankets on the ground, which Eira hadn’t done before.

″Where do you want to sleep?″ Gwaine asked her as she watered the horses.

″Close to you. And the fire,″ she replied and tried to smile gratefully.

He set down their sleeping bags as close to the fire as possible, and told one of the other knights to get some more wood. Merlin started making stew, so Eira helped him.

″You seem very tired,″ she commented.

″And you seem very tense,″ he replied and met her eyes.

She didn’t reply, so instead Merlin looked up to make sure that they were alone, and then looked at her.

He murmured something, his eyes flashed gold, and the vegetables started flying into the stew over the fire.

Eira smiled. She had nearly forgotten about his magic.

″Can you teach me?″ she asked, and he nodded. She closed her eyes, said the incantation completely wrong, and laughed when the vegetables started rolling around inside the bag instead. She smiled, glad to have one of her own kind so close to her. They could understand each other like no one else could.

The knights walked back into camp, so Eira stood up to greet Gwaine. It was completely dark except for the warm light that the fire brought. He went to sit down on his sleeping bag and she walked over to her horse. She took her packing, and went to sit with him. When she struggled, he helped her put on some more clothes and she took out a big, warm blanket that she had sneaked from Camelot. Gwaine smiled and wrapped the entire thing around them so that none of them could move.

″Now we’re stuck with each other,″ he said and laughed. She kissed his cheek, ″I don’t mind.″ He smiled and they looked up as Percival cleared his throat. ″We will get going early tomorrow morning so I suggest that you all sleep now,″ he directed those words towards Gwaine and Eira and they laughed. ″I’ll take first watch,″ he said and then stated the order that the knights would take to stay awake and guard. Percival, the other knights and Merlin set out their sleeping bags around the fire, and Percival went to sit on a log a bit further away after saying goodnight.

Eira, with her chin on her knees, prepared to lay down but forgot about being stuck to Gwaine. He looked at her, shifted his weight and made her tip sideways so that he fell on her.

″Thanks.″

″At least most of my weight is muscle. You wouldn’t want that tavern owner we saw yesterday to fall on you,″ Gwaine said. Eira turned her head up and tried to look at him, but she was stuck so instead a strange, unintended laugh that she hadn’t even heard before slipped from her mouth. Gwaine turned to look at her, surprised that she could even make a noise like that. Then he laughed at her laugh, and she laughed because of his chuckle, and then they both laughed until they couldn’t breathe. Eira managed to get loose from the blanket and pulled it off Gwaine too.

She couldn’t stand the cold night air for long, so she shook the blanket so that it spread out evenly, and let it fall over them as she crawled on top of Gwaine and sat on him. ″I demand thanks. You should worship me for bringing this blanket. You would be freezing your bottom off if it weren’t for me.″

“Oh I worship you all right,” he said with a flirtatious grin.

Instead of saying something more, he stroked her hair and kissed her. She smiled and kissed him back as she lowered herself so that she was next to him, biting at his lower lip gently. He put his arm around her and she suddenly remembered that the rest of the group was probably looking in awe at them together underneath a blanket so openly. She didn’t care. Eira loved Gwaine so much. When she was with him, they were isolated from the rest of the world and she forgot about all of her worries.

That was when she remembered them. Another wave of anxiety hit her and Gwaine noticed.

His body became tense and he searched for her eyes, but she didn’t look up at him.

″Is there something wrong? Did you hear something?″ he asked, worried.

″No, it’s nothing. I just thought of something,″ she replied and started to kiss him again.

He stopped her. ″No, Eira, what did you think of?″.

″I just felt really ill all of a sudden. It’s passed,″ she said and smiled to assure him. She couldn’t tell him, she had no choice. Even if she was protected, under a large blanket with Gwaine, the bandits could strike without warning. It was easier to be with him and enjoy her time rather than to worry. She stroked his hair and then his cheek. ″We have a long day ahead of us, we should get to sleep,″ he said. She lay down, holding his hand for comfort.

He almost immediately fell asleep and started snoring. He calmed her and oddly enough his snoring too, so she drifted into a light sleep.

Suddenly, she woke up because of loud noises and the clash of swords. She wasn’t next to Gwaine or his comforting warmth anymore, but with one of the bandits pressing her body to a tree, tying her to it. How come she hadn’t woken up? She felt the bark scraping against her back as she tried to move but ignored the pain. She looked up, terrified, and saw Percival, Merlin and the other knights tied up as well. Next to the leader bandit by the fire was Gwaine on his knees, looking strong and stable, held by four men. ″Where is it?″ the leader asked gruffly and pressed the flat side of his sword against Gwaine’s neck.

″I’m not telling you,″ Gwaine replied.

″Your little group is taking too long. You are much too slow. I want the map to the Helix, and I want it now!″ the leader bandit shouted.

″I told you, I won’t say a word. How did you know where we were?″ Gwaine asked, his face unreadable, but Eira knew that he was confused inside.

″Oh, we had a little help from your lady. Didn’t we?″ he asked and looked at Eira. She tried to protest, but the knife on her hands behind the tree, not in sight for Gwaine, told her otherwise.

Gwaine didn’t need to say anything, his expression replaced all words and accusations.

″Give us the map.″ The leader bandit stepped closer to Gwaine, Gwaine’s eyes still on Eira as he stubbornly shook his head. She met his eyes and tried to get loose and screamed as loud as she could. Merlin and the knights tried to move as well, but the ropes were too strong. The fire suddenly went out and all that was visible was Gwaine. ″Well then,″ the leader said, raised his sharp sword, powerfully struck it towards Gwaine, and stabbed him.

Eira couldn’t tear her eyes off him, horrified, as the betrayed, sorrowful expression in Gwaine’s eyes faded.

Eira sat up and screamed with all her voice. ″No! No! Gwaine! No!″ she screamed and cried and the entire camp woke up. Merlin and the knights flew up from their beds and drew their swords, surprised. Gwaine sat up next to her, alarmed and immediately drew his sword too. They looked around for any intruders and Eira stared in front of her, realizing that it had been a dream.

A nightmare.

″Eira, what’s happening?″ Percival asked and she looked up.

″I...I...don’t know...nothing. I had a terrible nightmare,″ she replied and to her surprise the knight on watch nodded. ″I saw you turning and fighting in your sleep and I suspected that you were having a bad dream. I didn’t dare wake you.″

Eira wasn’t sure if she was supposed to smile, but she apologized sadly, many times, and thanked them as they settled down again, irritated expressions that they tried to hide on their faces. Gwaine stuck his sword in the ground next to him, lay down by her side, and pulled the blanket over them.

″What was that all about? Why didn’t you wake up and tell me?″ Gwaine whispered.

″You can’t wake up or escape from nightmares Gwaine. In my dream...you died...you were killed by someone,″ she replied, tears running down her cheeks. He dried them with his hands. ″Do you want to tell me more? I always feel better after talking,″ he said and protectively placed his arms around her and stroked her arms.

″You looked at me...″ she stammered, ″...and the light in your eyes faded. I can’t even describe it,″ she sobbed.

″Then don’t. Did your dream have anything to do with your magic, or was it just like any other dream?″ he asked calmly.

″I don’t know. Just...it didn’t feel like a vision,″ she replied. His opinion led her thoughts onto another idea. What if the leader bandit had somehow sent this nightmare to her? To implicitly tell her to hurry up?

″I won’t leave you,″ he said and continued trying to calm her. He kissed her forehead and continued stroking her until he had made sure that she was asleep.

A few minutes later, Eira woke up again after seeing the bandit’s piercing blue eyes in another short dream, but this dream revealed only his eyes. Eira gasped and opened her eyes. Gwaine was fast asleep, and her eyes turned look into the crackling fire. On the other side of it was Merlin on watch, and he got up when he saw her wide awake eyes on him. He walked around and made sure that all of the knights were in a deep sleep before murmuring something as he sat back down on a log. Once again, his eyes flashed gold and the fire starting swirling into beautiful shapes, designs and patterns. He smiled at Eira and she smiled back, grateful for his effort to soothe her. When she fell asleep again, her dreams weren’t disturbed by the bandits and she was almost able to sleep through the rest of the night.

Gwaine carefully woke her up just before dawn, and asked her how she was feeling. The other knights didn’t pay attention to her or talk to her, and she had a feeling that they thought that she just brought trouble to the journey. Merlin talked to her and she started to quite like him, it was easier for her with her magic when he was around. He seemed very experienced with it, even though he never got to show it. Hopefully, their journey would change that. Eira couldn’t even guess what Percival thought. Even though he knew her quite well, he was one of the main knights and his opinion could affect everybody greatly, especially Gwaine.

Eira couldn’t stop thinking about the dream. Her inability to show Gwaine that she wanted to tell him about the bandits. His betrayed eyes would have felt less severe if he had known in the dream that she wasn’t siding or working with the bandits. But the bandit that had been behind her had forced her to keep quiet and Gwaine had died, his only thoughts being that she had betrayed him.

Once again.

She felt sick thinking about the dream so she fastened her packing to the horse and Gwaine brought her the blanket. She smiled as she held it.

A small child cried and Eira saw the shadow of a woman standing over her and wrapping her in a blanket as she felt the warmth of her younger sister next to her.

She snapped out of her old memory, rolled up the blanket, and tied it to her horse. She hadn’t thought about her family for a long time, she had had so much going on in Camelot. When her entire village was destroyed and burnt down, family had been the only thing that she had known. Her younger sister and her mother were gone. Gwaine never talked about his family either, she knew that his father was dead but that his mother and sister were still alive. She admired him for leaving home and going on his own adventures alone, something she could never do. She looked up and away from her thoughts.

Gwaine was behind her, but he quickly trotted up alongside her and smiled. ″Is your horse bothering you?″ he asked and motioned to Eira’s jumpy and nervous white mare.

″I think I’m the one bothering. Sending out anxious energy to an already nervous horse isn’t the best thing to do,″ Eira replied and stroked her horse. ″Yours seems fine,″ she said. Gwaine’s dark horse walked steadily and stably, not twitching at any movement in the bushes like Eira’s did. ″I guess it feels like me,″ he said. Eira bit her lip and smiled flirtatiously, ″No, you have more muscle.″

Gwaine laughed and looked at her. ″Any more nightmares last night?″ he asked. She shook her head. Suddenly, Percival raised his hand and the group fell silent and came to a stop. Eira panicked. She knew it. The bandits were coming for her. She looked at Gwaine, prepared to feel a sword or an arrow piercing through her at any moment.

″There!″ Percival whispered and pointed to some bushes. A misty figure came into view. Percival, Gwaine and the knights dismounted and drew their swords.

Eira almost screamed at them to back away, but she couldn’t. She was frozen. She couldn’t move her lips. She couldn’t move her eyes.

″Show yourself,″ Gwaine declared and the figure stepped out into the light from the cover of the bushes.

It was a girl who looked about the same age as him. She looked strangely familiar. He doubted his memories for a moment, but when he saw her eyes he knew.

She had chestnut hair and dark eyes, and she was wearing dark pants and a black tunic along with a brown belt. Even though she was quite short, she looked fierce. She was holding a bag in one hand and a sword in the other. She grasped the handle harder. ″Who are you?″ Percival asked and the knights surrounded her. Gwaine decided not to say anything yet. Her eyes traveled to each face of the group, and she stopped at Gwaine’s and he met her fearless eyes. ″Same question,″ the small girl replied aggressively. Gwaine gave her a look, and after she realized that she stood no chance against them, she spoke. ″My name is Ina. I’m traveling to Caerleon to find my mother. I don’t mean any harm.″ She smirked. ″Only if you hurt me.″

Her name felt as obvious as an intruder in clear daylight.

Her voice as familiar to him as his sword.

She was his sister.

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