Lucas was disorientated again. He had absolutely no idea where he was, only that it was pretty certain that he was no longer anywhere near Morgana's hovel. His awareness returned somewhat and he could feel a soft mattress beneath him, a pillow under his head and blankets draped over him. Morgana's shack had not been containing any of these.
But what was unknown was also feared. He remembered Russia all too well. Sometimes they would be nicer to him to soften him up and then suddenly become more violent and somehow that hurt all the more after the little kindness they had shown. And Morgana did have an ally in the court of Camelot, so maybe she could afford to take him to such a place with such a bed.
The shivers ran down his spine and he could not control it. The few months he had been out of Russia now had not sufficed to protect him from breaking down in less than a day after the torture had begun anew. His body was sore, painful even, and there were spasms he did not have any control over either. Morgana had not lied when she had said this snake, this Nathair, could cause pain beyond all imagination. He had truly believed he had seen and felt it all there, but Morgana had proven him wrong almost without effort.
He tried to remember something, anything beyond the pain and agony he had experienced, even if he was loath to place himself back there willingly. Something told him this was important. There was mostly a lot of pain that had him shudder again only because of the horrible memory, but when he dug deeper he also recalled a man with dark hair, who had been talking to Morgana at one point. It could be important, but he could not force himself to fully remember that ordeal already. Not yet. Maybe it was self-protection.
Lucas forced himself to take deep breaths and ban those memories from his mind. Those memories were not the ones he was looking for. There had to be something that could explain why he had ended up where he had. He did not dare open his eyes for fear of disappointment and to be quite honest, he was not sure he could find the energy yet to as much as move a finger, never mind wake up fully. He was exhausted, in spite of lying in a comfortable bed, where he had presumably been asleep for quite some time.
The last thing he could remember was being bitten by that cursed snake again. There was just nothing else. He recalled writhing in agony, screaming, begging for mercy that he knew would never be granted to him. His body trembled in both anticipation and memory, but he pushed through, somehow feeling that something had been different then.
At some point during the torture Morgana had left. It returned to him with all the effect of lightning striking him and suddenly he could think clearly again. She had heard something outside – what that had been, Lucas would never know – and she had left. She had not even spared her prisoner another glance as she had stalked out of the house, abandoning him. As much as he hated Morgana's very presence now, to be alone was even worse than having her in the room, gloating over her own achievements and his weakened state. There had not even been anyone left to plead with.
He could feel his fists clench of their own volition as he remembered the loneliness, the pain and the flashbacks. It had been worse than Russia had ever been. He was almost sure that if he were to return to that horrid place it would feel like a walk in the park to him after having been Morgana's prisoner. He would even choose to spend another eight years in that hellhole if it meant he could buy himself out of being Morgana's honoured guest for less than a day. Or at least he thought it had only been a day. With the number of times he had passed out it was hard to tell for certain.
For a while the memory consisted of only more suffering and Morgana did not return. But there was a recollection of suddenly falling to the ground because the chains around his wrists had disappeared. By that point in time he had mostly kept his eyes shut, but when he realised that someone had caught him before he could hit the ground, he had opened his eyes again, only to find himself staring into the well-known eyes of the Section Chief. And that had to be too good to be true. There was no way she could have broken into Morgana's poor excuse for a house.
And it still felt too good to be true, but evidently someone had taken him from there to wherever it was that he was now. And he had been feverish then, so it was well possible for him to mistake whoever that person that took him was for his colleague.
He heard movements in the room. Someone was moving objects around and this put Lucas back on full alert. He was a spook and wanting to know what was going on around him had become second nature to him. In his line of work knowing or not knowing could mean the difference between life and death, not only for yourself, but quite possibly for dozens of other people as well.
He forced his eyes open by sheer force of will and blinked a few time to adjust to the sudden light. The room he was in was bathing in it. It was the bright light of day, not the filtered almost twilight kind of light that had filled Morgana's hovel. The air wasn't as damp in here either. He could breathe again, something that might have something to do with his hands no longer being tied above his head as well.
Lucas blinked another few times, willing himself to see something. There was a blurry shape at the end of his bed that, for a moment, reminded him of Merlin. Whoever this person was, he dressed in exactly the same colours as the warlock always did. He soon realised that this most definitely was not Merlin as his vision cleared, although this person dressed a lot like the sorcerer, with the minor change that his clothes were neat and properly cared for, which could not be said for Merlin's original outfit.
But the fact remained that this person had shown up in this room, wherever he was, and he had still no clue as to who he actually was, that was enough to cause Lucas to shot up in one fluid motion that nonetheless caused his body to loudly protest the abuse of his sore muscles. He felt dizzy too, but his hands were unbound now and he could still be in danger. And he was not about to be tormented again if he could help it.
'Who are you?' he demanded. He hated the way his voice sounded, hoarse and hardly audible at all.
It didn't seem to bother the other man at all. He met Lucas's question with a smile that could only be described as dazzling. 'I am your new manservant, sir,' he announced.
Lucas blinked. And blinked again. Manservant? Maybe he should not yet dismiss the notion that this was all a hallucination induced by his fever, even if he didn't feel particularly feverish anymore. But he could not come up with one rational explanation as to how he could possibly have ended up in a very medieval looking room – indicating that Harry had not yet gotten to him, or else he'd have found himself in hospital – with a man claiming to be his servant talking to him.
'I beg your pardon?' The words were a little louder now, his voice winning in strength now that he was using it again properly, not just for screaming. It was a pleasant change, but one he could not allow himself to trust just yet. If he allowed himself to hope and it was in fault, then the disappointment would be that much harder to swallow when Morgana renewed her attempts to get him to talk.
And that was something he had been able to avoid thus far. He had held out, had not leaked one single secret to the witch. He doubted he would have been able to even if he had wanted, because the venom of the Nathair had him screaming all the time, leaving no room in his mind for anything else, not even Morgana's repeated questions, which were somewhere in the background of every memory he had of the time he had been forced to spend in that hovel of hers.
'Your manservant, sir,' the man repeated, misinterpreting Lucas's question, even though he had not been entirely sure what he had been asking for. An explanation as to how he had come to be here would not have gone amiss though. He still drew a total blank when it came to that particular question.
'What are you doing here?' It seemed a logical thing to be asking next. It was a better thing to be asking anyway than 'What the bloody hell am I supposed to do with a manservant?' That question presented itself to him as well, but it was a far less urgent one than all the others he could be asking, and he needed to be asking. Whatever it was that Morgana had thought up for him, he had to be cautious.
If the rude tone bothered the other at all, he did not show it. The only indication that he did not like the way in which Lucas addressed him was the disappearance of the smile. Yet the tone remained perfectly polite, extremely so even. 'I have selected your clothes, polished your boots and retrieved your medicine from the court physician. There's a slight chill in the air, sir, and now, if you would allow me, I would like to serve you breakfast.' All of this came out in one single breath.
But it did not make any sense to Lucas, none of it did. Selected clothes, polished boots – he had not even worn boots to start with – medicines retrieved from a court physician? Well, that at least ruled out the option of him being in heaven, because he seriously doubted that people needed medicines there and his body was still sore as hell as well. He had to be alive still, but he did not think that Morgana would be as kind as to have medicines retrieved for him, never mind the fact that she least of all would be in the position to get them from the court physician.
'Where am I?' he blurted out. Normally he would have thought twice about speaking before thinking, but normally he did not find himself in such confusing situations either. And he needed, desperately needed answers. Whether it was a reassurance or another disappointment, he needed certainties. On certainties he could build, but without them he was feeling as if he was going into free fall all over again. The not knowing was often as bad as any torture he had ever been subjected to.
The servant arched an eyebrow, but quickly got his face in that neutral expression that revealed nothing when he realised he was doing it. 'You are in Camelot, sir, as a personal and honoured guest of the king.'
Most of these words did not make sense either, but one word registered in Lucas's mind: Camelot. He was in Camelot and that could only mean one thing. He had indeed been rescued. He was no longer Morgana's prisoner. He was free. The witch could no longer get to him. Someone had got him out. The relief washed over him and for a short while he was overwhelmed by it, the realisation that he was no longer in danger of being tortured within an inch of his life bringing tears to his eyes. He tried to bite them back; he could already hear Ros scolding him for showing emotions in public, the worst crime an MI-5 officer could possibly commit. But the emotions were too strong now. He had felt the same thing when he had been hauled out of the boot of that car and he had seen Harry there waiting for him. The sheer relief of realising that he had been released and not been taken for another round of torture had robbed him of his ability to form coherent sentences then as well.
In the end he could not help but let out a loud bark of laughter that visibly startled the man that had been sent to look after him. If he was truly in Camelot and Lucas was truly an honoured guest of the king, he could only conclude that Arthur was to thank – or to blame – for the servant's presence.
'Arthur brought me here?' That was yet another question that had escaped his mouth without his permission. Careful, North, you're going sloppy, a voice in the back of his mind warned him. It sounded remarkably like the Section Chief's.
'I believe so, sir,' the servant replied with a politeness that would give every British gentleman worth his salt a run for his money. 'Would you like breakfast, sir?'
It had indeed been a long while since he had eaten something. The last time he could recall was just before leaving his flat for the last time, before he had gone with Arthur to meet Morgana and Hogan without back-up and without authorisation. A lot of time must have passed since then, if his stomach's growling was anything to go by. 'Yes,' he replied. His eyes wandered to the table in the middle of the room. Food had been piled up on it and Lucas stupidly wondered who else would be joining him. It was only when he realised that the servant had only set out one plate that he realised that for one reason or the other this was all meant for him.
'Is that for me?' he asked incredulously. He could almost hear Ros make remarks about wasting good food.
The man still remained perfectly composed. 'Yes, sir.'
'You could feed a sodding army on that amount of food. Twice.' He was definitely not on top of his game or else he would have thought twice about blurting out every thought that popped up in his head. He'd better pull himself together before he saw Ros again, because having been abducted and tormented by Morgana or not, she would never let him live that down.
The thought of the Section Chief brought back the memory of seeing her face shortly before passing out that last time. It had not been a hallucination. It had been very real. There was a faint memory of the words she had spoken as well. 'Colleagues are okay, remember?' For some reason this made him want to smile like a lunatic. Best not do it; this servant already seemed to think he had lost his wits, even if he was far too polite to say so.
'Would you like ham or cheese to go with the bread, sir?' he asked. The accompanying sir started to become a little annoying by now.
A smile that Merlin would have called creepy crept onto his face. 'Would both be a problem, …?' He sent the man a questioning glance.
'George, sir.' He was already loading both the cheese and the ham on the plate. 'Anything else, sir?'
Lucas let himself fall back against the pillows – why were there multiple pillows? – and took a deep breath. The relief in combination with his half-disbelief that it really was all over had caused a rather strange mood. But he might as well enjoy it while it lasted. 'I'll leave that to your good tastes, George.'
It was just another day in the life of Merlin, the now not-so-secret-anymore save-the-day-behind-the-scenes-warlock of Camelot. He had been up the entire night, talking to the Home Secretary, ploughing through reports and assisting Malcolm as he loaded the necessary equipment in the van, along with a collection of batteries that made his eyes as wide as the wheels of that car they had been stuffed into. Almost all of Section D, with the exception of Ben and Connie along with most of the desk officers who were keeping an eye on things in London, had moved to Camelot in the span of one single night. Yet this did not mean that he was excused from his normal duties, it would seem. He had hardly been back in the castle when Percival had found him, asking his help in dragging a very drunk Gwaine out of the tavern. When he had done that, Gaius had made him help in preparing some medicines for Lucas and when that task had been completed, the first rays of sunlight had crept over the horizon and he had to run to the kitchens to get Arthur's breakfast.
As far as Arthur was concerned, things were back to normal now that they were back in Camelot and that meant that Merlin had to be up at the crack of dawn to make sure the king was well looked after, regardless of the fact if Merlin himself had been able to get some sleep before then. He may have revealed his magic and that may have led to them becoming a bit more equal, but it had not made him Arthur's servant any less than he had been before. There was something oddly reassuring about that, no matter how annoying it also was. Maybe it was caused by the familiarity of it all, the fact that nothing had truly changed. The basic things had remained unchanged.
'Merlin, what is going on?' He was almost out of the kitchen when he found himself cornered by Guinevere. She too was holding someone's breakfast and she did not appear to be overly pleased with that. Gwen was a kind girl, not a nasty bone in her, but she was a force to be reckoned with when angered. And she did have far more common sense than Arthur.
'Gwen!' Merlin conjured up his most dazzling smile. 'How are you?'
Gwen raised an eyebrow at him. Her position in the castle had been greatly improved since they had defeated Morgana's immortal army. Arthur had been insisting she became a lady of the court, but Gwen herself had insisted on remaining a servant until the day she really could marry Arthur. Merlin admired her for that, for remaining true to herself, he supposed. With Morgana gone Guinevere had first become a glorified nurse for Uther and after his death had been promoted to the one who was in charge of most of the servants. So for her to be carrying someone's plate as if she was still a maidservant, that was actually surprising.
'I am bringing the Lady Rosalind her breakfast,' she replied. For a moment Merlin believed he had successfully distracted her, but he would not get away so easily. 'Merlin, who is she? Who are all these people? Elyan doesn't know and Arthur won't tell me.' So now I'm asking you and I am demanding answers. When she was talking like this, it wasn't too hard to imagine her as a queen.
'You are trying to serve Ros?' he exclaimed, temporarily side-tracked by that notion. Gwen probably had no idea who it was that she was dealing with, but Merlin had. And the Section Chief was not in the best of moods these last few days. She had also been the first one to dismiss the idea of having servants waiting on people hand and foot as a 'sodding medieval practise' and Merlin did not think she would appreciate the gesture much. 'Can't you let me do it?' he offered. At least he knew how to deal with Ros's fiery temper. And Gwen was such a gentle soul. Ros would break her down in seconds.
'You are not a maidservant,' Gwen pointed out. 'You can't dress a woman. Or bathe her.'
That was something he hadn't thought about, but he coloured bright red at the mere idea. 'Ah…'
'Indeed,' Gwen said. She was trying and failing to hold back her laughter. 'So, who is she?'
'She's a… woman.' It was the most lame excuse he had ever come up with and he knew in advance it wasn't going to work. He might have been able to distract Arthur with it, but Gwen was too intelligent to allow herself to be side-tracked. For once, Merlin regretted that.
'Merlin…' This was the future queen in action again and for a split second Merlin wondered if they should not have let her interrogate Hogan. Now that was something he would like to see.
'It's crazy, Gwen,' he warned her, giving up on the idea of holding out on her. It wasn't working anyway.
The serving girl remained wholly unimpressed. 'I am getting used to that,' she countered.
Merlin took a deep breath. 'She's from the future. Morgana created some portal to get there and Arthur and I accidentally ended up there as well. And then we met Ros and her colleagues, but Morgana got Lucas and abducted him, so we worked together to get him back.' It was a very brief version of events, leaving out pretty much everything, and the words came out far too fast too.
It spoke for Gwen that she remained calm and watched him with only an arched eyebrow, a gesture she must have copied from her husband-to-be. 'Lucas is the ill man?' It half surprised Merlin that she had been able to make that out at all.
Merlin nodded. 'He is.'
The worry now dominated her face. 'Will he be all right, Merlin? The servants are saying that he looked like he was already dead when he was brought in.' This was pure Gwen; worrying about a complete stranger's life. There weren't many who would have done the same.
The warlock shook his head. 'Gaius says that he will make a full recovery,' he reassured her. 'He just needs to rest.'
A relieved smile graced Gwen's features. 'That's good to hear. I hope Morgana didn't do anything too bad.'
But she had. Merlin had seen that for himself and he was quite sure that it showed on his face.
'What did she do?' his friend asked.
'Bad things,' he said, not wanting to answer that question very truthfully. He still remembered Lucas's screaming and he wasn't sure he could deal with that memory, especially knowing that it had been his failure that had allowed Morgana to do such horrible things. 'But I've got to run.' He needed an escape from here. 'Arthur is going to kill me if I'm late!' He sprinted away, trying to keep the tray with Arthur's breakfast balanced.
And trying was the operative word. He had only ran for a minute or two before he tripped – over his own feet – and fell, sending Arthur's breakfast all over the place. He muttered one of Harry's best curses, making the nearby guards look at him in what appeared to be bewilderment. He was forced to go back to the kitchens to get another breakfast. Fortunately Gwen was gone by the time he was back, although he did get an earful from Mary the cook, who yelled at him for ten minutes straight because he had been so careless with her precious food. By the time he was allowed to leave again he was sure he would soon be going deaf from all the noise she had unleashed on his poor ears. Why on earth he had ever presumed that Arthur shouted loudest in Camelot, he'd never know. Or perhaps he might. After all, he was running rather late and Arthur wasn't known to react well to that.
But he was in luck today. The king of Camelot was still merrily snoring the day away, not in the very least aware of the time. Merlin had half expected him to be up just after dawn with all the things that were going on at the moment, but it would seem that the lack of sleep from the last days had finally caught up with the king.
Well, he would not be sleeping for much longer. If Merlin didn't get any sleep, he saw no reason why his king should have any. 'Rise and shine!' he announced in his most happy voice.
A low grumbling sound emerged from underneath the blankets, indicating that Arthur was awake. It was also a tell-tale sign that the king did not at all feel like getting up again. It was one of those days again, wasn't it? Merlin internally moaned. This was going to be a drag-the-king-out-of-bed-and-get-a-goblet-thrown-a t-the-head-for-the-trouble-day. And if there was one thing Merlin hated, then it was that. He may have been hoping that Arthur would be a tad bit nicer now that he knew about his servant's magic, but it would seem not. Well, at least he had the option of magically levitating the king out of bed now. That thought brightened his mood considerably.
'We don't have time for this,' Merlin said in exasperation as he drew open the curtains, flooding the room with light. 'You've got a busy day ahead of you.' As per usual. 'Come on, Arthur, you really need to get out now.' His voice was almost cajoling now.
He had just remembered that using magic on the king might not warm him to the idea of magic in general or Merlin in particular. Arthur had been downright shocked by what Morgana's magic had done to Lucas. And he had not exactly been pleased about the station bombing and his half-sister's magical disappearances. His attitude towards magic was at the very least ambivalent now, because he had asked Merlin to shield the castle and the town in a similar way as he had done Thames House to prevent Morgana from spying as she was prone to do. It led the warlock to believe that Arthur was at the very least not about to scream murder and tie him to a burning pyre, but the repeal of the ban on magic was quite probably not anytime in the foreseeable future. And that was a disappointment, because just after the market bombing it had looked like a real possibility. He would need to keep his secret a little longer.
'What for?' Arthur's voice was muffled by the pillows.
'A bath,' Merlin pointed out. 'You haven't taken a shower in days.' That was a future innovation he would sorely miss here, that was for sure. No going down to the well several times, no heating the water slowly over the fire, no bath tub to fill. Well, he was determined to at least use magic for this. He doubted Arthur would mind as long as it was for his comfort. 'And then you need to consult with Harry. And Lord Agravaine said Queen Annis's envoy would arrive today and you're expected to give a speech at the feast tonight.'
That piqued Arthur's interest. 'What speech?' His head came out from above the blankets, hair in complete disarray.
Merlin however did not even dare to hope this interest would last long. 'You still need to write it,' he announced. And if there was one thing Arthur hated, then it was writing speeches. And Merlin would spend most of his day with Section D, which meant that he would not be able to do it for the king this time, as he usually did.
The reaction was as predicted. The king threw himself back onto the pillows, moaning as if Merlin had just told him he was expected to spend the entire day mucking out the stables or something equally disgusting. To an onlooker it was probably hilarious, but this was Merlin's job and to him it was nothing short of a nightmare.
'No, you don't,' he said decisively. 'We really do not have the time for this.' And he did not feel like explaining to Harry that he was late just because he was unable to get the king out of bed. Now there was something that was embarrassing. 'Come on, Arthur. I brought breakfast.' Sometimes that would work. Arthur still did most of his thinking with his belly, so he would stand a chance.
Apparently not today. Arthur buried his head under the pillows and moaned something along the lines of how he never ever seemed to be able to get the day off. Well, Merlin knew exactly what that felt like.
He took a deep breath and marched up to the bed with every intention of doing whatever necessary to make sure that the king would arrive in time for his appointment with Harry. He idly wondered if Arthur had behaved like this when he had been staying at Lucas's flat, but he seriously doubted it. He could for the life of him not imagining the spook dragging Arthur out of bed. Arthur probably had been on his best behaviour then. He surely wasn't so now.
The king voiced his protest when Merlin removed the blankets. 'Merlin!' he complained. 'Put them back!'
But Merlin wasn't known for obeying orders. Arthur should have known that by now. No, he was definitely not obeying and Arthur found that out the next second when his servant grabbed his arm and started dragging him out of bed. The king's free hand took hold of the nearest object he could find – a goblet – and was clearly intending for it to hit Merlin's head. But Merlin had become used to that, so he ducked in time, making the object sail right over his head and across the room, only to end up somewhere under a cupboard or something like it. That was what always happened.
But not today. 'What the bloody hell is going on in here?' a sharp voice demanded.
Merlin swivelled around, dropping Arthur in the process. 'Ros!'
The Section Chief stood near the door, the renegade goblet underneath her feet, as if she had just conquered it. She was still in her twenty-first century attire, including the high-heeled boots, but wearing a tunic in Camelot fashion because her own blouse had gotten dirty during the operation yesterday. The expression on her face was incredulous, but mingled with firm disapproval, which seemed to be copied from her boss.
Arthur had crashed to the floor when Merlin had let go of him. His dignity had been dented rather spectacular in that way, but he still managed to conjure up a polite smile. 'Good morning,' he greeted. 'Will you join me for breakfast?' Why anyone in his senses would want Ros around, never mind have breakfast with her, was a complete mystery to Merlin. Her presence usually gave him the desperate urge to run in the opposite direction as fast as his legs could carry him. But Arthur and Ros had been allies of sorts, so maybe she was easier to bear then. He wouldn't know.
'No time for that,' Ros said dismissively. 'And get your bloody self out of bed, will you?'
Her words succeeded in doing what Merlin so far had failed to achieve; the king got to his feet as if he had been stung by a wasp. Some part of his sleepy brain must react to the commander tone the female spook used. 'Did something happen?' he inquired. 'Since you're up so early.'
Ros fixed him with her sternest gaze. 'You're late,' she countered. 'And Lucas has woken.'