When all of them reached the courtyard Merlin saw that the auburn mare that he had used whenever he was going out with Arthur was already saddled and waiting, Merlin had already told Arthur that he like to saddle his own horse and he allowed no one else to do it for him "Arthur you prat." Merlin said shaking his head Ailya asked teasingly "What did he do now?" "He knows I like to saddle my own horse and that I will let no one else do it for me and I have saddled his and the knights as well as my own for four years. But today he had the nerve to have someone saddle my horse for me." Merlin replied
With a small smile Ailya said "You know that you do allow only two people to saddle your horse other than yourself." Merlin chuckled and said "And you know that I only allow you to do it because I love you and because the one time I told you not to you practically bit my head off. You know I can't deny my little sister anything especially when she does that doe eyed puppy dog look that she disarms me with every time. Anyone else tries to saddle my horse, I get pay back. Arthur though I know is just trying to make it easier for me tonight because of what is going on so I will let it pass this one time but if he does it again he going to get some really bad bruising and sore muscles the next time we spar as payback. Let's go." Ailya planted a kiss on Merlin's left cheek and started to walk towards her horse as Merlin did the same with his. After he mounted his horse he turned to his knights, his friends, and said "All of you be careful and stay safe I don't want to lose any of you not so soon after getting you back. So just try and be careful tonight. Move out." Merlin took the lead setting his horse into a slow trot, Ailya falling in behind him as his second in command then the others making two lines of two right behind them. They made it to the gate where Arthur and Leon were waiting as they passed them Arthur fell in right next the Merlin while Leon was right next to Ailya as he was Arthur's second in command.
Once they reached the tree line Merlin heard Leon whisper something to Ailya and a second later the fell back a few paces to give Arthur and Merlin some privacy Merlin knew that Arthur wanted to talk to him just by that movement. Sure enough two minutes later Arthur spoke "Merlin just in case we don't make it through this there is something I need to tell you." Merlin was tense and already had a lot on his mind and as usual he tired to shut Arthur down with a short terse answer "Why couldn't you have told me earlier if it is so important." Arthur caught on to what Merlin was doing and said "Merlin don't do that, I know your tense but I need you to hear this so please don't shut me out not this time. You don't have to do this alone anymore and don't have to hide from me. Please just listen that is all I ask."
Merlin sighed nodding his head which Arthur took as a sign to keep going "Before I met you Merlin I was an arrogant, self centered bully but most of that was just a mask to hid how insecure I felt all the time. You saw right through that mask, you challenged me every step of the way. You treated me like anyone else you did not treat me like I was the prince or gave me respect I did not deserve. You saw me as just another person and you became my first true friend, one who did not want anything from me, you were not friends with the crown prince you were friends with the person behind the title. I knew after a while I could turn to you with anything my problems, my insecurities, I could vent on you and then you would give would give me advice on what to do or you would know just what to say to put my mind at ease and get my life back on track. After a while you grew into something more than just a best friend. It took me all day to figure it out because you know how bad I am about figuring out feelings especially my own and I found that with you I found my first true sense of family, I found a brother in all blood. But now after tonight if we win you'll be leaving and might never see you again and that hurt me more than anything because you are the only person I trust and more than anything it hurts that I am going to lose you. I just had to let you know that no matter where you go you will always have a place here and I will never forget everything you have done for me because I think of you as family to me, as a little brother even though you are only a year younger than me, and no matter what that will never change. I am glad that I met you because you changed me for the better and I am glad of it and If given the chance I would not change a thing because you made me who I am today you made me want be a better person than I was and I thank you for that."
Merlin smiled and asked "Arthur I made you a promise not three years ago do you remember what that was?" Merlin looked at Arthur as he said "Truthfully no I don't." Merlin chuckled saying "I promised you that I would be happy to be your servant to the day I died. Only one thing has changed with that promise and that is the servant part because I do not have to hide who I really am anymore. But when we win tonight yes I will be going home but I will not be going without you. Tonight I make you a new promise that I will never leave you because I think of you as a brother as well and Camelot had become as much my home as Anelya is. I promise you I will always be there whether it here in Camelot or in Anelya I will always be at your side. I already have a plan I am going to set into motion after tonight and when I go home you'll be coming with me. You can think of me as your glorified body guard or at least we can let your father think that but behind closed doors it will be as it always has been." Arthur smiled, looked at Merlin and said "Well I am guess you're stuck with me now idiot." Merlin just smiled back and said "I would not have it any other way prat."
(Thirty minutes later)
Arthur pulled his horse to a stop signaling for Merlin to do the same. After the group had stopped Arthur said "The clearing is just up ahead that path to our right leading into the trees will lead us right to it. We should hide the horses here that way they won't get spooked and bolt and that way your cousin won't know anyone else it here because the only other way into the clearing is on the other side of it. you should get into place Merlin I lead the others to their places it you follow that path it will lead you right to the center of the clearing and it is big enough for this fight. I will get the others into place you have my word." Merlin took a deep breath then said everyone else "Alright listen up I am going on ahead to get into place Arthur will lead you where you need to go do as he says and keep to the plan we are the ones who are coming out of this alive. And if we die tonight, we die fighting, but not before we give my cousin hell. Stay safe all of you and good luck." Merlin got off his horse and handed his reigns to Arthur then went towards the path that Arthur had pointed out and about ten minutes later he was in the clearing. Not long after he sensed everyone was in place and ready. Merlin drew his sword and rested it on his shoulder all they could do now was wait.
(Ten minutes after sundown.)
Night had fallen and Merlin was scanning the area with his magic searching for his cousin just as he was about to pull his magic back for the third time he felt it. To lure his cousin to his trap he sent out a burst of magic that would lead his cousin to him like a beacon and sure enough five minutes later his cousin, three sorcerers, and the one Cota he had came into the clearing.
Merlin's eyes narrowed at the sight of his cousin who had stopped five paces away from him. Merlin's cousin sneered "Hello Merlin seems I was right you did come alone and you will die alone. You look exactly the same just a little taller your still no match for me." Merlin's voice was cold and hard when he spoke "Malith you have not changed a bit still power hungry and spiteful. You think you are still dealing with the same naïve boy I used to be and because of that if I win will spare you but you are wrong. You crossed too many lines and because of that I have trained myself into the ground while in hiding so when this day came I would be strong enough to take you and you have no idea who I really am. If you recall the druids prophecy about Emrys and who and what he is then you will know who I really am and what you are up against. If I die here tonight I promise you I will take you down with me."
Arthur was listening to the whole thing but what scared him was the cold hard tone that Merlin was using it seemed wrong when coming from him when he is usually care free and happy Arthur could not help but hope that he never crossed Merlin and have that tone directed at himself. Malith looked at Merlin for a moment and then laughed saying "Your bluffing if Emrys was here then the once and future king would be here as well and he is not so you can't be Emrys and there's three of us and a Cota and one of you. You will die here tonight and then I will take you head home to your father and take the throne again with him and your mother and sister in the dungeons for their lives as a example." Malith laughed manically until Merlin spoke up and said threateningly "You will not touch my family Malith and who said I was alone."
Arthur heard the signal and came to stand at Merlin's right sword drawn while Ailya did the same on his right. The others fell into place as well surrounding Malith and his force. once everyone was in place Merlin spoke again "As I said Malith I am Emrys and Arthur Pendragon is the once and future king. Now you are outnumbered and outclassed you will be the one die here tonight and you will never harm another living soul again." Malith paled a little but said menacingly "If I die then I will take your destiny and love with me." Merlin smiled deviously saying "You will not be able to touch them I can promise you that." Just then the battle started by Malith sending a spell meant to kill at Arthur but Merlin instantly put a magic shield around them and Malith's spell hit it and was harmless. the battle commenced Merlin put a shield around Leon and Arthur so that they could not be harmed by the spells flying around and swords would not harm them. the shields only took a fraction of his concentration. Arthur was hitting Malith with everything he had while Malith was too busy trying to send killing spells at Merlin which Merlin was blocking with relative ease and then attacking back but not kill him yet but weaken him.
The battle raged for a good thirty minutes before two of the sorcerers on Malith's side were killed and the Cota was under Ailya's control. Ailya had the Cota kill the other sorcerer and then when she was about to destroy it, it rushed at her and just as she destroyed it she was bitten on her arm. She cried out and fell to the ground writhing in pain Merlin cried out her name but she yelled through the pain she was in "Finish it then you can worry about me!" Arthur had Malith on his knees bleeding from multiple wounds and many of them were deep. Merlin stood tall, sword drawn, face set as he walked over to Malith. He looked down at his cousin and asked "Do you have any last words before you die." Malith looked up at him and said "I was wrong about you, you are a great warrior, and you are Emrys. you will make a fine king and your father would be proud. I am nothing compared to you so kill me and get it over with."
Merlin looked down at his cousin and said "Malith of Anelya you have committed treason and murder multiple times in the last eight years and as prince of Anelya I sentence you to death by the sword. May your soul find rest and repentance in Avalon." With that Merlin put his hand in Malith's neck and ran his sword through his heart in for a quick death. He pulled his sword out, letting his cousins body fall to the ground. His trial was over his cousin was dead he did not have to hide ever again.
Ailya was on the ground trying to keep still but the pain rushing through her from the venom of the Cota's bite was excruciating she cried out and Merlin rushed to her side. He looked at the wound and knew it was beyond his ability to heal because healing spells were never his strong point but he knew that Alith was the best healer in their group that was one of his strongest points in magic "Alith get over here!" Merlin yelled Alith ran to his side. Once he was there Merlin said "The Cota bit her just as she destroyed you need to heal her. You are the only one here who knows the healing spell and has the knowledge to do it right you know that I was never any good at healing spells please heal her." Alith looked at Merlin and said "I will do all I can but a tooth is broken off inside the wound I will need to remove it first which should only take a minute but I will do everything I can to save her once I am done we can move her and find a safe place to rest for the night." Merlin nodded "Do what you have to." Merlin looked at Ailya who was looking at him with tear filled eyes as Merlin took her uninjured hand and said "You'll be just fine and I will be right here I won't leave so don't leave me ok."
Ailya just nodded not trusting herself to speak." Alith took a good ten minutes doing the spell to remove the tooth, cleanse the wound, then remove the venom, and seal the wound. By that time Ailya had passed out Merlin still held her hand as he turned to Alith and asked "Will she be ok?" "She will be fine by morning the venom had been purged from her system, and she will make a full recovery her arm will just be sore for a few days." Alith informed him Merlin let out a sigh of relief.
Arthur came back from scouting the area for a nearby safe place to rest just as Merlin sighed. Arthur kneeled down beside Merlin and said "I found a cave not far from here it is big enough for all of us I already lit a fire inside it and I already moved the horses there are right outside the cave we should get moving." he paused then looked at Ailya and asked "Will she be alright?" Merlin looked at Arthur and put a hand on his shoulder saying "She will be just fine. Thank you for standing by me tonight whenever I thought I had no strength left you kept me going you gave me the strength to keep fighting so thank you for being here." Arthur clapped Merlin on the back and said "Isn't that what brothers are supposed to do? I will always be there Merlin you won't get rid of me that easy. Now let's get out of here you idiot." Merlin just laughed and nodded.
Merlin carried Ailya in his arms to the cave that Arthur found once everyone was there and their bedrolls had been set up and some food eaten. All but Arthur and Merlin were asleep. Merlin was sitting next to Arthur watching over Ailya he knew he would get no sleep tonight. Merlin was stood to go to the fire to put some more wood into it while trying to hid his injury that he had not asked anyone to tend to because he thought it was not that bad. But as he stood he let out a gasp of pain and clutched his side, he stood straight after a second and pulled his hand away it was covered in blood Arthur noticed right away and said "Merlin your wounded why didn't you tell anyone?" Merlin tried to play it off saying "It is a superficial wound it's nothing." Arthur crossed his arms over his chest and said incredulously "Your hand is covered in blood and now blood is seeping through you shirt that is not superficial now sit down while I wake Alith and get him to look at it." Merlin said "Arthur I'm fine I have dealt with worse than this before."
Arthur looked at Merlin and said "I don't care, now you sit down and let Alith look at that wound and heal it do you understand me. I will not lose you because of blood loss because are too self sacrificing to let someone care for your wound. Now sit." Merlin was impressed by Arthurs insistence and protectiveness but grudgingly sat while Arthur woke Alith telling him what was wrong. Alith shot awake when he heard that Merlin was wounded and as he worked on Merlin's wound was scolding him for being such an idiot and not telling him earlier, much to Arthur's amusement and Merlin's chagrin.
Merlin was sitting next to Ailya when she woke the next morning everyone else was already breaking camp but Merlin had refused the leave Ailya's side. Ailya say up looking at Merlin who pulled her into his embrace the second she sat up saying "Thank the gods you are alright. I was worried about you." He pulled back to look into her eyes as she cheekily responded "You won't get rid of me that easy even if I did die I would haunt you till you joined me in Avalon." Merlin smiled and kissed her lightly at first the deepened the kiss for a long moment till the broke apart for need of air. Ailya chuckled and blushed as Merlin smiled lovingly at her then said "We have to go everything is already done. Once we talk to Uther I want to talk to you alone alright." Ailya nodded as Merlin helped her up. Soon everyone was on their horses and heading back to Camelot.
Merlin had never felt more free than he did at that moment he had face his past and won, now he could build a future for himself where he had everyone he cared about in it and would not have to lose them. Merlin could not help the smile that spread across his face at the liberation, relief, and freedom he felt. That fire that had burned in him all those years ago that had burned out after he had to flee was burning again brighter and stronger than it ever had been and he knew it would never die out again.