The door wouldn't give in and the panic was slowly building up in him again, making it difficult to breathe, difficult to focus. Whatever this door was made of, it was stronger than anything he had ever encountered before. The best result he had gotten up till now was the dent in the middle, but that was hardly going to get him out.
Focus, Merlin! he ordered himself. He had been in this kind of situation before. Back then it had taken him all night and a few hours of the morning to blow away the blockade the troll had set up for him, but he had made it in the end. Maybe this was like that time. Maybe he just needed to keep trying until that door finally yielded.
He lost all track of time. That was hard to determine in here anyway, with no windows available to him. He guessed he had been here no longer than a few hours, half a day at most, which meant that it would be sometime during the evening now. In Camelot they would start getting worried for them now, he guessed. Agravaine might send out some guards to search for them, he thought hopefully, but that was a fool's hope really. If he knew Agravaine at all he would tell the council that things had taken longer than they had anticipated, forcing Arthur to stay in the village for the night. If there were going to be any search parties, it wouldn't be until morning.
He held out his hand again and took a deep breath. There was nothing else to be done but keep trying. He doubted there would be anyone here to check on him before morning, giving him more than enough time to come up with a plan.
Just as he was about to speak the spell, the door suddenly opened, letting in Ros and Leon. The latter was carrying a stack of paper that made the pile on Arthur's desk look like nothing in comparison. Merlin quickly dropped his hand, backing away a few paces.
'Merlin,' Ros acknowledged in a tone that was supposed to be friendly. Merlin knew that tone all too well. Not too long ago Morgana had spoken to him like that, shortly before she tried to enchant him into assassinating Arthur. 'Sit down.' The following 'please' came just a second too late, letting him know that this was not a friendly request, but just an order in disguise.
He eyed them warily as he sat down. Resisting would gain him nothing at the moment, but he wasn't going to let his guard down either. As far as he knew, he was as trapped as that man they had been chasing a month ago. Merlin briefly wondered what had become of him, but he didn't allow himself to dwell on that thought. He didn't think he really wanted to know anyway.
Ros sat herself down opposite him, while Leon remained standing, leaning casually against the door. Neither of their faces betrayed anything. Only Leon's eyes revealed a flicker of unease.
'I believe we haven't been introduced properly,' Ros said with a very insincere smile. Her eyes were cold and suspecting, reminding him all too much of Morgana's eyes, which wasn't helping at all. 'I'm Rebecca Moore, and this is my colleague Leon Nolan.'
'You're lying,' Merlin blurted out. 'Your name's Ros.'
Ros didn't even blink and even the smile remained firmly in place. 'You didn't think we used our real names around suspects, did you?' she asked. 'As for here, well, you're not going anywhere, so we might as well drop the pretence, don't you think?'
He frowned. Rebecca was not the sort of name he thought fitting for this snappy cold woman. On second thought, Ros was probably just right for her. Rebecca was the kind of name he thought a nice girl might have.
'So, moving on from the boring subject of names, we thought you might be able to tell us what exactly happened in the woods today,' Leon said. His smile appeared to a bit more sincere than Ros's, correction, Rebecca's, but not much.
'We were hunting,' Merlin replied curtly. This was not a dangerous subject, but he would be watching his tongue carefully. 'Arthur was about to shoot a deer, but then I had to sneeze and I scared it away.'
'Wrong answer, I'm afraid,' Rebecca said, smiling still. It was a threatening kind of smile, one that made him want to run for cover as fast as he could, except that there wasn't any cover here to run for. 'Let's pose this question differently. Why were you in the forest today?'
'We were hunting,' he repeated. 'Arthur was bored. He had a lot of duties, but he didn't feel like doing them, so he tricked Agravaine into standing in for him so that he could do as he wanted.' The words came out quicker now as the panic was once again fighting to take over completely. They obviously didn't believe him and he didn't understand why. It was perfectly natural for Arthur to go out hunting. Why did they even want to know what they were doing there anyway?
At least he was now fairly certain that they were not working for Morgana. She wouldn't be interested in why they were there. All that mattered to her was that they were there so that she could take them. These people were concerned with completely different things. If anything, the way they talked to him made him feel like a criminal who had committed a crime of some kind. Could it be that they had them messed up with other people?
'You're not working for Morgana, are you?' he blurted out before he could stop himself. Inside his head he could almost hear Gaius scolding him for giving away so much.
Rebecca's mask of indifference finally slipped, making way for barely controlled irritation. 'For heaven's sake, do we have to endure this endless chatter about the sodding Arthurian legend?' she snapped, anger sparking in her eyes. 'Who else are you going to mention? Did you have a bloody sir Lancelot hidden away as well?'
A shiver went down his spine. How did they know about Lancelot? 'Lancelot is dead,' he replied stiffly, trying to swallow away the lump in his throat. The memory of Lancelot stepping through that veil, smiling encouragingly at him as he did so, still caused him to feel the grief over his death as freshly as if had happened only yesterday.
If Rebecca saw anything of his inner turmoil, she didn't comment on it. 'Too right, he bloody well is,' she sneered. 'And so he has been for the last ten centuries or so.'
And so he has been for the last ten centuries or so. Her words echoed in his head, the realisation of what was going on finally dawning on him. If Lancelot had been dead for so long, then the only reasonable explanation, the only one that would make even the slightest bit of sense, was that they had somehow ended up in the future. It would explain why Rebecca had such trouble believing him. She had obviously heard about them, but the way she had spoken their names had made it sound like she was not going to believe that those were their real names. What if the reason for that behaviour was that she knew them from, what had she called it again, the Arthurian legend? No wonder she didn't believe him, not if he was supposed to have been dead for ages.
'What's the year?' he stammered, not exactly sure that he wanted to know.
Rebecca snorted. 'Bit confused, are you? Does the year of 2008 ring any bells?' She didn't wait for an answer, but just went on. 'But I'm the one asking the questions here. Leon.'
Her colleague walked over to where they were sitting, placing some kind of device on the table, which Rebecca opened. He was slightly reassured by the fact that it didn't look like an object of torture, but if he had truly landed himself in the year 2008, that wasn't saying anything. His short experience in this place, or was he supposed to say time, had already taught him that there was very little like it was in his own time.
'So, you obviously don't want to tell us what you were doing in the woods today,' Leon said. 'But maybe you want to offer us some kind of explanation for this.' After those words he turned the device.
And Merlin's heart nearly stopped. He had no idea what this thing was, whether it was magical or not, but he did know that he had not been as alone as he'd thought he was. The thing showed him, doing magic. He could hear his own voice, although sounding like he was speaking from inside Arthur's armour, yelling spells at the door that refused to yield to him.
He looked up at them, blood drained from his face. His secret was out now. He could feel himself go all cold inside. Merlin had no idea what the view on magic was in this time and place, but Rebecca's expression was still less than amused. Something told him she would much rather kill him and be done with him than have this conversation.
Leon shut the device, picking it up again. 'So, Merlin,' he said. It didn't escape Merlin's notice that the name was spoken with some mocking. 'What was that all about?' He glanced at the dent in the door. 'You were doing something.'
Yes, he was, but if there was one thing he was sure of, it was that he wasn't going to tell them. So he remained silent.
Rebecca smiled again. 'Of course we can always go and ask your friend next door,' she said matter-of-factly.
'Arthur can't know!' he burst out. The words had left his mouth before he had given them permission to do so, the panic almost drowning him.
The triumphant look in Rebecca's eyes told him she had him exactly where she wanted him and he wanted to bang his head against a wall for not realising sooner that she had been setting a trap for him. Now he had given her something to use against him and use it she would.
'Then you better start talking,' she advised him in that too-friendly voice. 'Or I'm going to pay Arthur a visit, see what he thinks about this charming display of…?' She looked at him expectantly.
'Magic,' Merlin whispered. 'I have magic.' It was the first time that he ever admitted it like that and it felt all wrong. They weren't supposed to find out. No one was supposed to find out. What if Arthur heard about this? Would he accuse him of lying to him for years, exile him, maybe even kill him?
He may have been expecting loathing, anger or hatred even. What he didn't expect was for Rebecca to snort, almost dismissively. 'That's ridiculous,' she said. 'I know you have probably talked yourself into believing that you are the actual Merlin, but don't you think it's a bit far-fetched to think that you are capable of doing magic as well? Pathetic,' she added under her breath.
Merlin risked a quick glance at Leon. He had gone very still and thoughtful after Merlin's confession. Merlin could see something in his eyes; a realisation dawning, maybe even comprehension. But it was only for a second and then his mask was on again.
'I think we're done here,' he said. 'This one's not going anywhere tonight.'
Rebecca got up. 'You're right,' she said. 'I have better things to do than wasting my time on this bloody moron.' She marched more than she walked to the door, hitting the numbers on the device next to the door. Merlin tried to see the code, but she was standing right in front of it, so he couldn't see a thing.
He briefly considered trying to run out after them, or trying to keep the door open using magic, but before he could decide on either option, the door had already slammed shut. He sank back in his chair, trying to think of something, anything he could do.
It struck him then: a listening spell. Maybe there were guards outside. There had to be, because this was a prison of some kind. And guards talked, because they had nothing else to do until their shift was over. If anything could be learned about this place and its weaknesses, then they were his best chance.
At first he thought the spell had not worked. There was complete silence in the corridor outside his cell. But then he could hear Rebecca's voice as loud and clear as if she were standing right next to him: 'That is ridiculous!'
Lucas was on to something, Ros could tell that much. There had been a moment during the interrogation that he had become very thoughtful. She could not pinpoint when it had begun; she had been too focused on "Merlin" to pay much attention to her colleague.
Well, she was glad that Lucas seemed to have an idea, because she had none. "Merlin" had gone on and on about Arthur, who wasn't supposed to know that he could do "magic", Morgana, who they were not working for, and Lancelot, who was dead. That was about the only sane thing she had heard him say. So now she was frustrated, irritated and in a very bad mood. The investigation seemed to be going nowhere before they had even properly started.
'What?' she demanded as soon as the door had closed behind them.
Lucas seemed uneasy. He started pacing the corridor, unable to stand still. 'I think he could be telling the truth,' he said.
She snorted. 'The truth as in that is the truth in his deranged mind, yes,' she said sarcastically.
Lucas shook his head. 'No, the truth as in he is as sane as you and I and he is telling us exactly what happened.'
Her brain failed to grasp the meaning of those words right away. Surely he could not be saying what she thought he was saying. But Lucas didn't look like he was joking now. If he was, there would be some kind of twinkle in his eyes and there wasn't.
'That is ridiculous!' she exclaimed.
He grimaced. 'Is it? Did you see his face when you told him what the year was?'
As a matter of fact, she had. For a moment she had feared he would pass out there and then. Yes, that was strange, but then, they had him locked up in one of their interrogation rooms, asking him questions he clearly didn't want to answer. He felt trapped and that could be a far more logical reason to feel uncomfortable.
'So, you're telling me that we have the actual king Arthur and bloody Merlin locked up in our interrogation rooms?' she asked sceptically.
He shrugged. 'Possible,' he said.
'This is ridiculous,' she repeated. The very idea that they would have two legendary figures arrested as terrorists was so far-fetched that it wasn't even believable. And surely Lucas must know that. Besides, she wasn't even sure what she was supposed to think about the whole magic thing. Because if this really was Merlin, then he would be a real wizard and Ros wasn't sure she was ready to believe in something as absurd as that.
Get a grip, Myers! she berated herself, shaking her head. Why are you even considering this?
'It would make sense,' he insisted.
She moaned. 'Lucas, I do not have the bloody time for this and to tell you the truth, neither do you. We wait and see what Six and the CIA can come up with.'
'And if they do not come up with something?'
She frowned. Why was he so insistent about this? 'Then you go talk to Elizabeta and see what the FSB can tell us.'
'I don't think that will turn up anything,' he admitted. 'Listen to me, Ros.'
'Do you now propose I start believing in magic?' she snapped. She knew she was taking her frustration over the failed interrogation out on him and she knew it wasn't fair to him, but right now, she couldn't bring herself to care.
'I propose you let me explain what I think without interrupting,' he shot back, his own voice rising in anger as well.
She leaned against the wall, her most sceptical expression on her face, thus telling him to go ahead. She probably wouldn't have any rest until he had told her his sodding theory anyway.
'Do you remember Mrs Bishop saying that she had never seen a knight in the village?' he began, waiting until she had nodded before he continued. 'And you said yourself that the ground in the forest was dry, while we know it had been raining only this morning. So it could be that we were in a different place altogether.'
She knew what he was trying to say. 'So, according to you we went through some magic portal straight into king Arthur's kingdom?' she summarised. She tried and failed to keep the disbelieving tone out of her voice, earning her one of Lucas's rare glares.
'They looked at us as if we were aliens,' he went on. She could hear he was hurt by her refusal to take this seriously. Was he craving her approval now as well as Harry's? When had that happened? 'Arthur looked at the van as if it was some monster about to attack him.'
'We were arresting him,' she reminded him. 'He was bound not to be pleased. He knew there was no way he could escape once we had him in the van.' She shrugged. 'There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, Lucas.'
She bit back some less than nice comments about why he was probably thinking this. He had admitted himself that he had been doing very little else besides reading whilst in prison. Apparently he had been reading too much, retreating into his fantasy world to block out the much crueller real one. And he was too easy to influence right now. Russia had made him vulnerable and, to a certain extent, that compromised him, even though he was probably the last person to admit it.
He ignored her comment. 'Did you see Merlin's face when he told us that Lancelot was dead and then his shocked expression when you told him that Lancelot had been dead for centuries?' he pressed. 'Would you look like that if you knew that person had been dead for ages? You know you don't.' He didn't have to mention Adam's name to let her know that that was who he was talking about. 'Come on, Ros, you're trained in recognising lies. Did he look like he was lying to you? Did he look like anything else except a frightened young man?'
She sighed. 'No.' She had been paying attention to that above all else and for all she knew he had spoken the truth. The only problem with that was that what he said could not possibly be true, so she had concluded that he was just a better liar than the ones she usually dealt with.
Lucas nodded. 'Exactly. And I've been thinking, but what he was doing when we were watching him on the security camera, there is no way that only shouting could cause such a dent in that door.'
'So, you do propose that I start believing in magic?' she said warily.
He shrugged. 'There don't seem to be that many other options. Listen, Ros, if I am right, there should be clues to be found in that forest.' The words came out fast now. 'If you are right and there is no magic, then if the team investigating there should be able to reach the other end of the woods within ten minutes. Just ask them to check it out, please?' His voice had become pleading.
Ros frowned. She didn't like to admit it, which meant that she would probably never say it out loud, but if Lucas's strange theory was true, that would explain a lot of things that previously made no sense at all. But still, her mind protested against the very idea of Arthur and Merlin coming through a magical portal into twenty-first century England.
She gave him a stern look. 'All right,' she said, causing him to unleash his widest smile on her. 'I'll ask them, but if you're wrong, this is the last time we ever speak about this. We don't tell the rest of the team and we certainly don't tell Harry. Understood?'
The smile never left his face. He knew as well as she did who had won this round. 'Fair enough, boss,' he said. 'But if I am right?'
She glared at him. 'Then we'll treat it as a plausible lead.'