The forest was cold and silent, Gwaine pulled his cloak around him tightly, no one was talking. Usually it would be him that broke up these long trips with conversation, and if failing that, just talking to anyone that would listen. He didn't feel like that today though, he was still thinking about the moment they were preparing to leave. They had just been loading the horses with their basic provisions, when Ira had stumbled out of the castle fully dressed demanding to come with them. They had obviously said no but still she insisted, if it hadn't been for her nearly collapsing again she probably would've come with them injured side or no injured side. A rustle up ahead of them brought him back to reality, they had all stopped and were listening to see if it continued. The noise was slowly getting closer to them, Arthur quietly drew his sword but before the others had a chance a deer’s head came into view. Sighing slightly relieved Arthur sheathed his sword.
"Only a deer" he announced ridding on, the others followed.
It was late afternoon when the knights finally arrived at the village of Willowsdale, having encountered no problems they rode into the village and dismounted. It was silent, eerily silent.
"Hello?" Arthur tried calling out, there was no reply. Leon walked to a small house and tried knocking on the door, there was no answer.
"There are people here but they won't come out sire, I think they are afraid" Arthur nodded looking around.
"Hello, I am King Arthur. I have heard about the village raids and am here to help" he shouted, nothing happened, then slowly a door opened. The knights turned to see an elderly man walk out towards them.
"King Arthur?" He nodded, the elderly man smiled broadly. "It is you, you have come" he said before shouting, "it is him, it is the king, he has come to save us!" At first there was silence then doors started opening and the villagers started appearing, some were armed with scythes and spades, a few had old swords and others only pieces of wood.
"Why were you hiding?" Arthur asked the villagers, "did you know you were going to be attacked tonight?" The elderly man shook his head.
"No sire, since the first two villages were attacked, we have lived in fear, hiding at night, praying that it will not be us next, but there is a pattern and as soon as the sun sets tonight we will be attacked." Arthur nodded sincerely.
"I will do everything within my power to put an end to this unneeded bloodshed" he promised, "but to do this I will need the help of every abled person here."
"We will do everything we can to protect our village, sire we are in your debt" Arthur shook his head.
"It is not over yet" then turning to his knights he said, "Elyan, Percival and Gwaine I want you to scout out this area, we also need to find more things to use as weapons, Merlin I want you to organise that, Leon, with me we need to start making a plan." Knowing they had limited time they all hurried away to prepare.
The sun was just setting as they got into position, those that were unable to fight had taken refuge in the forest, Arthur had had to turn away at least three boys aged about eight who were convinced that they would be able to help. The few that could fight, and there were only a few, were in the houses ready to spring out on the, hopefully, unsuspecting bandits. The sun was fully set and tension settled over the village. Gwaine didn't know how long they would have to wait, what was probably only a couple of minutes felt like hours. Finally he heard a noise and peered out from his hiding place. A group of three bandits were sneaking into the village, he remembered what Arthur had said, as soon as you see them attack, he waited for them to pass then giving a yell he jumped out to kill them, but they were gone. He looked around confused, he could've sworn he had just seen them, deciding to go back to his hiding place he turned around a bandit was standing with his sword in the air about to kill him. He just managed to get his sword up in time before it fell, only to be knocked out by one he didn't see.
Elyan could hear the sound of swords clashing, and made up his mind to go and help. He peered out of the door he was hiding behind. It looked clear, silently stepping out he made his way towards where he had heard the noise. A shadowy figure stepped out behind him, turning too late they brought the end of their sword down and knocked him out.
Arthur was in the centre of the village when five bandits came running through, he jumped out of his hiding place along with one or two of the villagers to meet them, they managed to dispose of two of them before another group came up behind them, Arthur started to circle around to keep them all in view. There were too many for just him and the two villagers to fight.
"Give up" he heard a gruff voice say, behind him he saw a movement and a figure that he recognised to be Percival.
"To the likes of you, never" he threw back, and Percival attacked. He was leading another small group of villagers, the fighting wore on. Arthur had to admit they weren't bad, they were organised and worked well together. He found himself being pushed back towards one of the buildings. Out of nowhere a great weight landed on him pushing him to the ground. He lay there winded and realised that they were on the roofs. Looking across the small area which was filled with light, thanks to the bandits torches, Arthur saw the same thing happen to Percival, but Percival being a lot bigger and stronger than Arthur managed to throw them off.
Thinking that Arthur had been knock out, the bandits ran over to help. Arthur felt someone tugging him up, he looked up to see Merlin, managing to get his legs under control he stood up.
"We've got to go" Merlin said hurriedly pulling him away from the fighting, Arthur stumbled along beside him completely disorientated.
"No what about Percival" he mumbled.
"He'll be fine" Merlin tried to convince him, but at that moment he heard Percival cry out, he looked back to see him clutching his arm, he had been shot and was slowly being dragged down.
"I can't leave my men" Arthur managed to say.
"Arthur you are in no state to fight" he pulled him away further.
"Merlin! Arthur!" Merlin looked up to see Leon running towards them.
"Leon!" He greeted him gratefully, "we have to get Arthur out of here."
"What happened?" He asked.
"I think they knew we were going to be here" a shout came from behind them, "Leon you have to get the king to safety" Merlin urged quickly him passing him over.
"But what about you?"
"I can create a diversion, but you have to go now!" Leon still looked hesitant, "go now!" He nearly shouted. Leon took Arthur and started to practically drag him away, around a corner. The shout came again slightly louder, Merlin turned to see a bandit running towards him, he fled in the opposite direction to Leon and Arthur, trying to outrun him. He didn't know where he was going and somehow ended up back in the centre of the village surrounded by bandits. By now the fight was over, looking around Merlin could see that they were piling up the dead bodies. Merlin thought about using magic, he could easily stun them all. Reaching within himself for his store of magic, preparing to send it out he slowly raised his hands. The bandits were closing in on him, he closed his eyes.
"Merlin" he heard a shout his eyes flew open and locked onto Gwaines, and then nothing, his world went black.
Gwaine watched as Merlin fell to the ground, shouting as many threats as he could think of he tried to struggle free of his captors, but was punched in the face and stomach for his attempts.
"Bring them over here" the command cut across all noise and silently the bandits started dragging forward the survivors. They were forced to kneel in a line as the man in charge walked down it examining them. He looked at the villagers first.
"Well this is a nice treat" he remarked cruelly, "they are all strong and healthy looking, they will make perfect slaves" his voice was low and quiet but somehow seemed to echo around the village. "But where are the women and the children?" He beckoned forward a bandit, "I want you to take a couple of men and search the surrounding area, I want them here before midnight." Whilst he was talking his eyes roamed up the line to where the knights were. "Oh, on second thoughts don't bother" he walked towards them. "Knights of Camelot, it is an honour to finally be...acquainted with you."
"The honour is all yours I can assure you" Gwaine said struggling against the rope that held his hands behind his back.
"And so polite."
"You don't seem surprised to see us" Elyan commented.
"Oh that, Sir Knight, is correct, I'm not surprised and do you know why?" Elyan stayed silent, "no answer? I'm not surprised because someone told me you would be here."
"Who?" He asked, the leader beckoned forward another guard, this one however was dragging a small figure. It was one of the boys Arthur had sent away.
"You see as we were preparing to raid this village, we found him wandering about, a small interrogation later and he told us that King Arthur and his knights were here. Of course we didn't believe him but, just in case we changed our attack slightly, and well it worked. Although I am disappointed that the king isn't here," he looked around to see if he would magically appear, but he didn't. "Anyway what does that matter, I have you, and with you I can ransom you" he grinned and his eyes fell on Merlin who was lying on the ground still knocked out. "Just maybe not you, kill him I don't want him slowing us down" with that he turned away. Taking out a knife a bandit stepped forward.
"Wait stop!" Gwaine shouted, the leader turned and faced him, "you can't kill him." He looked from side to side.
"I think you will find I can" he sneered.
"But...but he's the kings personal manservant."
"So the king will pay a lot of money for his return" the bandit thought for a moment and a greedy look settled on his face.
"Very well, if you are so keen for him to live, you will carry him. But be warned if you, or him when he wakes up, does not keep up I will kill you both" Gwaine nodded to show he understood.
They were all hauled to their feet, Gwaines hands were untied then tied in front of him, he picked up Merlin carefully and followed the others out of the village.
Leon didn't know what to do, he had got Arthur out of the village and was deciding whether to return for his friends or get Arthur to Camelot then return for them with help. He had followed them silently out of the village back to the bandits hideout, Percival was injured and being supported by Elyan and Gwaine was carrying Merlin who was unconscious. The bandits hideout turned out to be an abandoned watch tower about a mile from any other village. There was no way he and Arthur were going to be able to take that on their own. Racing back to where he had left Arthur, he made up his mind. It's just under a day to travel back to Camelot, if they ride hard they could get there sooner, get some more horses and men then return to free the others. Arthur had recovered and was still adamant that they should free them.
“We can’t” Leon said, “we need more help.
“All we have to do is draw them out of the watchtower whilst one of us slips in and frees them, they can fight their way out.”
“Arthur, there are too many of them, it wouldn’t work.” Arthur as reluctant to agree but eventually gave in and helped Leon find two horses. Soon he and Arthur were racing back to Camelot.
Ira was up and walking around the castle. Her side, even though it wasn't fully healed, was healed enough for her not to be stuck in bed. Hearing the clatter of horses she walked over to a window wondering if perhaps they were back yet, looking down she saw Arthur and Leon, she started to panic, why were they back and not the others? Hurrying down to the courtyard she bumped into them just as they were entering the castle.
"What happened?" She demanded.
"They've been taken" was the only reply she got, they started to walk away but she followed them.
"This doesn't concern you" Leon said.
"Doesn't concern me! I was the one who told you about the raids, and if you hadn't noticed my brother was amongst you when you left, so unfortunately for you it does concern me."
They had walked into the council rooms, Arthur started pulling out maps. Gaius walked in.
"Sire you sent for me, where's Merlin?" He asked noticing it was only them in the room.
"He was caught along with Percival, Elyan and Gwaine, we've come back for fresh provisions and men."
"Sire I am sorry to say that that's not possible."
"After you had left, those that stayed behind decided to go hunting with Lord Venatus."
"When will they be back?" Arthur asked trying not to scream with frustration.
"A few days."
"I. Don't. Have. A. Few. Days."
"I can come" Ira spoke up.
"We can't take the tower with just three people" Leon said.
"Well if anything, the less people the better, that way we can pass undetected" Arthur had sat down.
"She's got a point" he admitted.
"But she's injured," Arthur looked at Gaius who sighed.
"Normally I would say no, but, this is a dire need, I believe her side is healed just enough to go if she is needed."
"My lord you can't be serious?"
"What other choice do we have?" Arthur said.