''Even th-'' Eira started, but stopped speaking abruptly when Gwaine walked into the room.
''You two seem very close,'' he said suspiciously as he watched them.
''And?'' Eira replied defensively.
''Gwaine...I don't think you know, but I killed Morgana. She's dead,'' Merlin said.
Gwaine looked at him. He had never expected Merlin to be the one to kill her. Everyone in Camelot always used to talk about how good she was to everyone before she turned evil and Merlin had obviously liked her a lot. He didn't want to go down that road now.
''I just came to tell you that the 'food' in the other room is gone, I kind of ate it.'' Gwaine declared.
''You ate everything?'' Merlin asked, impressed.
''Even the stale bread?'' Eira wondered.
''It tasted horrible, but I didn't have dinner last night.''
''Neither did we.'' Eira fired back.
''Oh no, I'm not that stupid. I saw you in the middle of the night, sneaking into the other room, grabbing an apple. You thought I was sleeping. And you thought I was cute, the way you looked at me when you lay down again with your apple.'' Gwaine said and laughed.
He knew that even though she ate like a bird in public, she liked to snack during the night. He felt pleased with himself that he had managed to get to know her more impulsive side and how she acted when she thought no one was watching.
Merlin joined in laughing when he saw Eira's face.
''That apple bit reminds me of the time when we were with the knights and Arthur, and we were walking around in that destroyed village. It was pitch black and quiet, until Gwaine took an ear-deafening bite out of an apple and scared the wits out of everyone, even the 'brave knights of Camelot'.'' Merlin said and smiled, remembering the memories they shared with Arthur and the knights.
Eira, Gwaine and Merlin laughed together, and Merlin didn't look like the drunk and depressed man they had found yesterday at the tavern. As the laughter stopped a few moments later, Merlin turned to Gwaine.
''They miss you,'' he said, his face serious and sad now. ''Even Gwen. She is too upset about Arthur to talk to anyone these days. We all are." Gwaine noticed Eira flinch when Merlin mentioned Gwen, but then her body relaxed when she remembered that Gwen was married to Arthur.
Something in his heart sank and his entire body stiffened.
“You don’t know, do you?” Merlin asked him, swallowing hard. Gwaine shook his head. He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to know.
Half an hour later, when Merlin had pulled himself together after explaining everything that happened to Arthur, Gwaine could still feel his heart pounding. Arthur.
He needed to grapple with the thought of Arthur being gone but swiftly avoided it, thinking about Merlin who would break down again if he tried to talk about it. The three were sat at the table, facing each other again. Merlin took a deep breath.
''I miss Camelot. Percival's face was the last thing I saw before I slipped into darkness and Eira saved me,'' Gwaine said sadly but sent a grateful look towards Eira.
''You should go see them,'' Merlin said suddenly, excited. Gwaine couldn’t comprehend how Merlin had dragged himself out of his mourning in a few seconds. He guessed that that mourning would return shortly as a stubborn ache drumming in his body. Gwaine was familiar with it.
''But everyone thinks I'm dead, how will we even get into Camelot?'' he asked, shifting his focus to the conversation in front of him.
''Well, you and Eira did it yesterday when you went to the tavern, and besides, everyone is too busy recovering from the war to notice you,'' Merlin said hopefully.
''I think we should go,'' Eira joined in.
''So you two are coming with me?'' Gwaine asked.
Eira nodded happily and Merlin said, smiling, ''It's like you say, Gwaine: I wouldn't miss it for the world.''
Merlin had his doubts about bringing Eira, and even though Gwaine was quite certain that she was herself again, Merlin thought that they should be wary of her. Gwaine agreed; he didn't want to be that hurt again, after what she did to him.
He could never forget the pain he felt when he thought he found out that Eira didn't love him, it hurt more than a battle wound, or even being stabbed repetitively with a sword, two things Gwaine was pretty familiar with. Then watching her execution from his bedroom window with only Percival, his best friend, to comfort him had been a hard blow. Then, after he nearly died, he was revived by her and found out that she wasn't aware of herself or how much pain she was inflicting on him.
The group agreed to go to Camelot already the next morning, Merlin had some horses in a stable that they could use for the journey. When they were close to Camelot, Gwaine and Eira would disguise themselves as Merlin's old friends and he would take them into the kingdom. Eira packed clothes for herself and Gwaine, and they decided to wear the same clothes that they wore at the tavern as their disguises. She packed all of her belongings as well, since they would probably stay in Camelot, considering the Queen's need for comfort. They didn't have a lot of food to bring since Gwaine had eaten everything that was easy to bring on their journey, but he offered to hunt as compensation.
Merlin spoke up as they saddled and bridled their horses, ''I think it would be better if we used one of the horses for the package."
''But then one of us has to walk,'' Gwaine said.
''No, Duke here can take two, he's stronger than you would think,'' Merlin said as he fondly stroked the dark gelding.
''I'll sacrifice myself and walk,'' Gwaine said, putting his two swords in his belt.
''Oh no you won't,'' Eira argued, ''We need your strength in case something happens. You can ride with me,'' she sent Gwaine a wink, patting the horse's back.
Gwaine knew couldn't resist an offer like that and smiled. Eira checked the little house to make sure that they hadn't left any of their belongings behind, locked it, and gave the key to a family with four young children arguing with a tavern owner that they wanted a room. ''Take this, it leads to this little house. You can live in it without being disturbed for as long as you want until my...my Gwaine and I come back,'' she smiled as the family just stared at her.
Then, suddenly the mother took Eira's face in her hands and kissed her cheeks. ''Oh thank you! You don't know how long we have searched to find a temporary home!'' she exclaimed and handed her a pouch with coins. Gwaine laughed quietly to himself, as Eira turned back to him and Merlin.
''My Gwaine and I?'' Gwaine said, amused.
''Thank me later, '' she said proudly.
A couple of hours later, when it started to get dark the group stopped at a place in the woods where they could spend the night.
''We have a one or two day's journey ahead of us, but there are quite a few villages spread out in this area, so I think you two should change into your disguises,'' Merlin said.
''What, you mean sleep here out in the open? I thought that we would at least stay in a tavern somewhere,'' Eira asked, surprised.
''No, staying in a tavern is too risky. And we know Gwaine. Put him in a tavern all by himself and you never know what will happen. We can't travel with a drunk Gwaine the next day,'' Merlin said and laughed.
''I agree with Merlin. Or are you scared of the dark, Eira?'' Gwaine challenged.
''Of course I'm not. We'll sleep right here. I can handle that, I mean it's not like one of us isn't going to be on guard, right?'' Eira defended herself.
''Typical Eira. Trying to prove herself to us and also that she's not afraid of the dark, and all the strange things lurking in the shadows,'' Gwaine said, teasing her.
Eira ignored him and dismounted Duke gracefully, as if to show that she wasn't completely helpless. She opened the bag with hers and Gwaine's clothes and took out the gray dress she had worn a few days before. ''Can you please turn your backs?'' Eira made a shooing gesture towards them.
''Just change behind that tree, pretend that it's the screen you have at home, we won't look,'' Gwaine assured her.
''All right, just...give me some privacy,'' she said and went to change behind the thick tree.
Gwaine and Merlin turned the horses around and faced the other way. Gwaine jumped off Duke and pulled his shirt over his head. He put the gray one on and remembered another significant part of his disguise, ''Eira? Can you draw a moustache on me when you finish changing?''
There was no answer from behind the tree.
''Eira? Did your tight corset stop your breathing?'' Gwaine said, joking at first, but they were met with bare silence.
Merlin and Gwaine exchanged worried looks.
''Do you think it did?'' Merlin asked.
''Ok, whatever you're wearing or not wearing I'll try not to look, I'm coming,'' Gwaine warned as he went behind the tree.
''That's strange. Her clothes are back there, but she's not,'' Gwaine said, but as he turned back to Merlin he saw that some men had grabbed Merlin and covered his mouth so he couldn't scream. Bandits. Gwaine realized that there was another man behind him, ready to grab him too, but he drew his sword and kicked the man in the stomach as he bashed the handle of his sword on the bandit's head at the same time. Another bandit jumped out of a tree and landed roughly on Gwaine so that he fell to the ground. Gwaine's shoulder hit a big rock on the ground but he got up and fought the bandit until he backed away.
''Gwaine!'' Eira shouted as she struggled loose from another man's grip.
She was wearing only wearing a thin chemise but instead of running and grabbing her other clothes like the ladylike side of Eira would have done, she motioned for Gwaine to give her the sword he had in his second scabbard. Gwaine threw it to her and to his surprise, she caught it. Just as she did four bandits grabbed him from behind, but their grip on him was too strong to wriggle loose from. The other bandits' grip on Merlin as they pulled him off his horse weakened for one second and Merlin managed to scream to Eira to run, and she did before any more bandits managed to grab hold of her. She ran faster than Gwaine had seen her run before.
The bandits didn't bother to go after her, and started digging through Gwaine and Merlins' packing and pockets instead. When they found nothing of their satisfaction except a few coins, they just threw the two friends into a pit that was too deep for them to get out of. Gwaine heard the bandits' footsteps retreat farther and farther away from them until he couldn't hear them at all.
''Well that was great,'' Gwaine said.
''Is this where they put all their victims? At least Eira managed to break free. You do realize that she could just leave us to die here. It's what Morgana would have wanted.'' Merlin replied.
''She wouldn't go through all this to leave us here now. I just hope she comes back for us, and that she's not hurt,'' Gwaine said.
''If she does, I know that I can trust her, and take her into Camelot,'' Merlin said hopefully.
''And if not...I'll track her down and ask her what the hell she was doing,'' Gwaine said, determined not to lose her.
''Yeah, if and when we get out of this pit.''
Nightfall came, and Gwaine and Merlin took turns sleeping and listening for footsteps. A few hours later, Merlin was so tired that he was drifting into sleep when he suddenly heard light footsteps approaching.
''Merlin? Gwaine? Are you two alive?'' Eira whispered and leaned over so she could see into the pit in the ground.
Merlin sighed, relieved that it was her. ''We're both fine, Gwaine's sleeping. He's been a bit worried about you, but you seem fine as well,'' Merlin answered quietly. He didn't mention what way Gwaine had been worrying about her.
''Yes, but I can't see a thing, is it alright for you to stay down there for the remaining hours of the night? I've found the horses, they are a bit startled but fine now. I'll just sleep by them, it's safer and warmer. I promise I'll get you out tomorrow. Goodnight,'' Eira said and then got up and went to the horses, probably just a few metres away from the pit.
In the morning Merlin had to shake Gwaine awake. ''Where am I?'' Gwaine asked as he stood up and stretched, wincing when he touched his shoulder.
''In a pit. Eira came yesterday late at night when you were sleeping and promised to get us out,'' Merlin explained.
Just then, Eira appeared at the top of the pit. Her hair was all tousled and she hadn't changed, only a cloak was wrapped around her.
''Why are you still-'' Gwaine started to ask her.
''Those good for nothing idiots took and spread out our things all over the place on purpose, they even made sure to move my clothes that were behind the tree. I still haven't found all of our things,'' Eira explained.
''Then let's get us out of this pit so we can get going towards Camelot,'' Merlin said.
Eira nodded. ''I have an idea,'' She walked over to Duke to retrieve something from his saddle.
She threw down a rope and said, ''Merlin can go first, he’s not as big as Gwaine, so he's lighter,'' Eira said, giving them a cheeky smile.
"Thanks!" Merlin and Gwaine said at the same time, but with very different tones of voice.
Eira fastened her end of the rope to Duke's bridle as Merlin held on to his end of the rope. Eira held Duke and started backing up with the strong horse. Merlin was pulled out of the pit and barely had enough time to let go of the rope before Eira hugged him.
''Hello? You haven't forgotten me, have you?'' Gwaine said impatiently.
Eira let go of Merlin, tossed down the rope to Gwaine and they started backing up with Duke. Eira told him to pull and he did. Quickly and almost effortlessly, Gwaine was out of the pit too.
Eira rushed to help him, his shoulder wound had started bleeding again where it had hit the rock, but otherwise everyone was fine, if not still a bit startled. Eira helped Gwaine to stand, and hugged him, and Gwaine returned her embrace. She hugged him more tightly and for a much longer time than she had Merlin. When after a while she let go, she looked Gwaine deep in the eyes and they both forgot that Merlin was there and watching. Gwaine put his hand around Eira's waist, pulled her closer to him, stroked a stray hair from her face and slowly leaned in until their faces were inches apart. They stood there for a long time, and Merlin just gave up trying to talk to them and went to find the rest of their packing.
A while later when Merlin came back Gwaine and Eira were sitting on the ground and talking, hypnotised by each other.
''Hello?'' Merlin tried.
Eira looked up at him and slowly stood up. ''I refuse to go around like this anymore, only in my undergown. I'm going to go and look for my clothes,'' she decided and walked away with determined footsteps.
''Well you two really helped look for the other stuff,'' Merlin said ironically.
''We...we just...I don't know, we click, I guess,'' Gwaine said and sighed happily.
''I found all of our stuff except for the rest of Eira's clothes,'' Merlin continued.
''Well then there isn't really anything for me to look for, is there? I still don't think she wants you or me to touch her clothes,'' Gwaine said.
''No, but who knows how much stuff that girl wears and how much of it the bandits spread out,'' Merlin replied.
"Good news. I've found all my clothing, nothing's missing!" Eira interrupted, she had already returned. ''They actually did quite a bad job at spreading out.'' She smiled happily, picked her empty bag up from the ground next to where Gwaine was seated and started putting her clothes into it.
"That's a shame, isn't it?" Gwaine said flirtatiously, grinning at Eira. She glared at him playfully and reached over to slap his arm.
"Oh that's enough of you Gwaine!"