This whole hunting idea was a bad idea. Merlin had known it from the start. There was always something that went wrong and today was no exception. He had developed a cold over the last few days, making him sneeze at the least opportune moments, like when Arthur was about to shoot a deer. They hadn't caught anything all day, his bottom was protesting against another day of doing nothing but sitting on a horse and his throat was sore as well. He wanted nothing more than to return to Camelot, where it was warm and where they could get a decent meal. But no, of course Arthur had found another deer trail and here they were, fifty meters away from their prey and he just had to sneeze again, effectively scaring the animal, causing it to run away as fast as it could.
'Merlin!' Arthur wailed loudly, the volume no longer a problem now that the deer had already fled. 'You scared it away!'
He wanted to deny that, but that would be pointless anyway, so he settled for the more truthful 'I can't help it!' Although, if he was really honest, he could have stopped himself without too much effort. But the deer had been looking at him with those wide innocent eyes and he had decided that it didn't deserve to be killed for the king's fun. If Arthur's anger was the price he needed to pay, then so be it. He was used to it, after all.
'Yes, you can,' Arthur argued. 'That was the fifth time today!' He had actually kept count?
He opened his mouth and then shut it again, failing to come up with an answer that would please his royal prattishness. He wondered if it would be any use to ask if they could return to Camelot now, but he suspected that would only result in him having thrown something at his head again.
'You're doing it deliberately, aren't you?' Arthur asked in a threatening voice, which usually meant that he ended up in the stocks.
'No!' he exclaimed. It wasn't that he didn't like the stocks, but he had seen them a little too often of late.
Arthur clearly disagreed, but before he could say something they were distracted by a woman's voice: 'Police! Show yourself!'
Arthur's automatic reaction was to get off his horse and grab his sword, sneaking towards the clearing from where the noise had come, leaving Merlin with no choice but to follow. If there was something dangerous there, it was his job to keep Arthur safe, even if Arthur believed that he didn't need saving.
The sight that met them when they finally saw the people that had demanded of them to show themselves, was one Merlin had not been expecting. It were the dark-haired men and the green-eyed woman they had encountered in this exact spot almost three weeks ago. Both were pointing their weapons, those strange iron devices he had seen last time as well, at their chests. The man's faced betrayed that he was very surprised to see them, but the woman's face showed no emotion at all. Her expression was neutral and focused. If there was anything he could say about it, then maybe it was icy. He had never met someone that cold, with the possible exception of Morgana.
'You!' Arthur exclaimed.
'Drop the sword,' the woman said slowly. Merlin searched his memory for her name and it came up with something like Ros. He frowned. That wasn't even a name, right? And if it was, then surely not a woman's name.
'I'm sorry?' Arthur said in his very own indignant way.
'You heard me,' she said. 'Drop the sword or I will have to shoot you.'
She did have some nerve, Merlin had to give her that. If he remembered correctly, he was the only one to have commanded Arthur like this before and that was only before he had learned his identity. This woman Ros knew who she was talking to and yet she still treated him as if he was below her. Merlin wondered who she was.
Arthur obviously thought it wiser not to push his luck. He must remember what those weapons of theirs could do, too. He dropped the sword.
The woman cracked a sarcastic smile. 'Now step away from it.' She glanced at the man and he nodded, pointing his weapon away from Arthur, directing it to Merlin instead.
'Do not move unless I tell you to,' he said. He had a low voice, one that could sound reassuring as well as threatening. Unfortunately for them, it was the latter today and Merlin made a mental note not to underestimate him. He had not spoken much when they had first met him, except to make a joke to his friend, and Merlin had initially thought he didn't present much of a danger, despite all his muscles. He really had to learn not to let himself be fooled by first impressions.
'Now, hang on!' Arthur said, really angry now. 'What do you think you're doing?'
'You're going to come with us for a bit,' the woman announced. 'Then you can tell us the little story in which you are going to explain to me exactly what the point is in dressing up as knights, go to the extremes to avoid being seen by CCTV and show up at the exact time a major terrorist is trying to make a run for it.'
Merlin had heard strange things in his life, an awful lot of them, but this beat it all. He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Dressing up as knights, avoid being seen by CCTV? What was CCTV anyway? And what was a terrorist? In short, Merlin was very confused. He couldn't say he liked the feeling.
Arthur's eyes also showed confusion as well as fear and anger, with anger having the upper hand. 'I am the king of Camelot!' he protested, maybe not the wisest thing to say in a situation like this. For all they knew these people could be in league with Morgana. 'And I demand to know who you are and who you're working for.' Merlin knew that he meant Morgana.
The woman gave him another sarcastic smile. 'How about the British government? Would that be good enough, "your highness"?' You didn't need to be good at reading people to know that she was irritated, very irritated. 'Now, if I have to repeat myself one more time, I might get really annoyed, so step away from the sword before I lose my temper.'
Arthur wasn't an idiot, despite what Merlin tended to say about him. His eyes told their attackers that they were going to pay for this, but at the moment there wasn't much that he, or Merlin for that matter, could do. He was sorely tempted to use his magic and get out of here as fast as he could, but he had seen enough of their weapons to know that there was no way he could outrun them. He'd have to wait for an opportune moment. And while he was waiting for that moment to arrive, he might as well try to figure out who they were and what they wanted with them.
They weren't your average bandits. Their weapons and their choice of clothing were proof enough of that. In fact, he couldn't say that he had seen either of those items before in all the Five Kingdoms. No woman with a shred of self-respect would go walking around in that kind of clothing.
He pondered if he could rule them out as Morgana's accomplices. They didn't look like they were from around here, so how would Morgana have found them? Besides, didn't the woman not mention that they were working for the British government, whatever that might be? But Morgana had employed unlikely people before, so he didn't want to remove that option already, not when he knew so little of what was actually going on here.
Both of them were cuffed, their arms behind their backs. Merlin briefly considered struggling, but the weapon held against his head convinced him that that would be a very bad idea indeed. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt so powerless or so confused. Merlin, who had done a great deal of spying over the years, had grown used to the fact that he was better informed and aware of what was going on at the moment than the people around him. That he, for once, was just as clueless as Arthur was not a feeling he had ever experienced before or wanted to experience again.
The woman gripped Arthur's shoulder and, after picking up his sword, began to march him away from the clearing. Her friend did the same with him and Merlin had no choice but to obey.
Merlin kept his eyes wide open, looking for opportunities to get out of here, but he also studied his surroundings very well. And very soon they were in a place he did not recognise at all. He had come to know the forests around Camelot very well in the last few years, but this was not a part of the forests around Camelot. Even the air felt different here. This was magic at work here. He could feel it in his bones.
'Check for signal,' the woman snapped at her friend once they were out of the woods, crossing a meadow towards a town in the distance.
The man checked something. 'It's back again,' he reported. 'Do you want me to call Harry?'
'I'll do it,' she said, before grudgingly adding: 'Good job, Leon. You were right.' She plugged something in her ear and touched one of the buttons on her jacket. 'Control, this is Alfa One.'
Merlin had to try his hardest and use a small listening spell that fortunately nobody noticed, but then he could hear a male voice that apparently was coming from the woman's ear: 'Ros, thank God! Where were you?'
So, he had her name right.
She frowned. 'Where I'd said we'd be,' she said.
'We tried to make contact, but you were off comms again.' The voice in her ear sounded like he was more worried than angry.
The frown deepened. 'Shit!' she hissed. 'There really is something wrong with that place. Right, I want some back-up. We've picked up two terror suspects and I want to bring them in for interrogation.'
'I can have a van there in ten minutes,' the voice said.
Merlin had no idea what terror suspects were, but he did know the word interrogation, and so did Arthur. This might be precisely the right moment to try and make a run for it. He risked a quick glance at the king, who gave him a hardly visible nod. Ros was too busy arranging a time and place to meet with some of her other friends to pay much attention and her friend Leon, although he looked absolutely nothing like the Leon he knew, was distracted by her conversation. A better moment was not going to come.
'Now!' Arthur mouthed.
Merlin didn't watch what Arthur was doing. He just shook off the hand that was guiding him more than holding him and broke into a run.
'If you think of doing that one more time, Rosalind…' Harry threatened her, which Ros believed to be unfair. After all, it wasn't her fault that their mobiles had refused to get a signal. But when Harry was in a mood like this, angry, worried and moody, there was no talking reason into him.
'And what the hell would you have wanted me to do?' she snapped. 'Would you have wanted to come here to hold my bloody hand, Harry?' She knew that she was being unfair as well, but the Ros Myers code dictated that she never admitted such a thing. Harry felt guilty for what he called his inability to save her from Juliet's supposedly lethal injection, which Ros thought was rather ridiculous. It was her fault he ended up tied to that chair in the first place. 'Listen, I'll need to brief the team as soon as we're back on the Grid and I'll need two separate interrogation rooms to… Shit!'
The two men had taken the advantage of her temporary distraction. Ros saw the blonde one she was holding give an almost invisible nod. It might have passed her by if she was anyone else than who she was. But she was a spy and she noticed everything. But he had escaped her grasp before she could strengthen it.
She ignored Harry's frustrated 'What's happening?' and turned, only to learn that the dark-haired young man Lucas had been guarding had broken free as well. She cursed her own stupidity in thinking that there would be no need to guard these two very well after it had taken them almost no effort at all to catch them.
'Get them!' she shouted at Lucas, setting the example by running after them at full speed herself. The blonde one was quick, but he was also slowed down by his chainmail, which was a stroke of luck. The other man, now, he was fast, really fast. He didn't look it, but he was. Ros hadn't exactly thought of him as a threat. In the time it had taken them to get here he had tripped over his own feet at least three times.
There was no tripping now. The man should have become an athlete. Fortunately Ros was a fast runner, too. She watched Lucas tackle "king Arthur" from the corner of her eyes and concentrated on getting his accomplice "Merlin". What was the point of using names from the sodding Arthurian legend anyway? When she would have time to think again, that was on top of her list.
"Merlin" tripped and fell, so maybe his clumsiness wasn't an act. And Ros didn't care. All that she cared about was that in those few precious seconds she caught up to him, literally jumping on his back, pinning him down to the ground.
'Ow!' he exclaimed, almost indignantly, as if she would have no right whatsoever to treat him that way.
He struggled to break free and Ros was surprised to notice that there was more to this guy than met the eye. He did have some strength, but Ros was used to dealing with strong suspects and this one still had his hands cuffed behind his back, which didn't make fighting her any easier. She turned him over, half sitting on his windpipe the way she had done to Samir.
She held her gun against his forehead and he stopped his resistance. 'Listen to me, "Merlin",' she said in a hushed voice that everyone who knew her knew meant that they were in big trouble. 'Do that again and I can make your life extremely difficult and painful. Cooperate and we might just go easy on you.'
His blue eyes showed some panic, but determination also. In a strange way he reminded Ros of herself. This one didn't give up, ever. He may not look like a fighter, but he was one.
Nonetheless he gave a nod, or something that came close to it. 'I understand,' he managed to say, although he had a little difficulty breathing by now.
'You'd better,' Ros said. 'Or I might get really annoyed.'
'Ros!' Harry was yelling in her ear. 'What is going on there?'
'Small problem with stray luggage, Control,' she reported. 'But we've tracked it down and will get it back to base as scheduled.' She glanced over to where Lucas was busy restraining a still very uncooperative wanna-be king, who was yelling his displeasure on top of his lungs, threatening the pair of them with dire consequences if they didn't let him go immediately.
Ros scowled. 'You might want to gag him, Leon,' she said sarcastically. 'Or else our dear Mrs Bishop might hear him yelling over the sound of her noisy neighbour.' It wasn't a joke completely. Attracting attention was the worst sin an intelligence officer could commit and Ros had to admit that this operation wasn't going as smoothly as she would have liked.
He gave her his charismatic smile. 'Maybe I should charm him into shutting up.'
She felt the corners of her mouth curling up. 'Yeah, sure. I thought that only worked on every female in existence?' What the bloody hell do you think you're doing, Rosalind? she asked herself a second later. Was she allowing him to charm her as well? Apart from the fact that she wasn't in the habit of letting that ever happen to her, this was most definitely not the time and place for that. They were in the middle of an operation, and she was sitting on one of their suspects necks while Lucas was yanking the other one to his feet.
Lucas chuckled. 'Well, he screams like a girl,' he said, shrugging.
'Yeah, sure.' She followed his example, forcing her own suspect to get up as well, giving him the standard Ros Myers death glare to tell him that he had better not try anything stupid again, although the real stupidity here was hers, letting him escape in the first place.
Lucas looked at her. 'Harry okay?' he asked.
'Just furious,' she replied. 'But we'll deal with that once we get these two morons back to London.' She used the plural form almost automatically and only second later she found herself wondering why she had done that. She was the Section Chief here and therefore it should be her responsibility to deal with Harry. We was something she might have said if she had been on an operation with Adam, not bloody Lucas North. The strangest part of it was that it felt like the right thing to be saying.
The choice of words wasn't lost on Lucas. His smile widened into a grin as they marched their captives across the field. 'It's a deal, boss.'