Merlin had quite a lot to think about after his interrogators had left. The first feeling he had was one of triumph. He had not been wrong about the woman's name and somehow he had always known that. And apparently Leon wasn't the man's real name either. Well, no big surprise there.
The second feeling was one of relief. The man called Lucas had realised what had happened and, even better, was one hundred per cent convinced that he was right. Ros was more sceptical. She struck Merlin as a very down-to-earth type, not the type to even believe in things like magic. She had said so herself. That had surprised and even worried him. He knew that Arthur was prophesised to bring back magic to the land, but people here didn't even believe in it anymore. What had happened to cause that?
Lucas didn't really believe in the existence of magic either, but he at least was trying to in order to understand what was happening. But it wasn't really up to him. It was all too obvious that the woman Ros was in charge and she had mentioned someone called Harry who, by the sound of it, was above her. That would be the one that needed convincing.
No, if he decided to wait until they had worked out that Arthur and he were not terrorists, whatever those were supposed to be, it could be days later, weeks even. They did not have that much time. Heaven knows how much damage Agravaine could cause in that amount of time. A few days wouldn't be a problem, but not much longer. And so he had, after some deliberation, resumed his attempts to blast that door off its hinges. The effect was almost non-existent, but Merlin tried to not let that fact discourage him. Sooner or later, with later being the most likely option, he would get them out of here. And no one would come check up on him before morning. He had the time.
Or so he thought. It was only an hour or two, or so he thought, later that the door opened again, revealing four men in dark clothing. All of them were armed with the same kind of weapons Lucas and Ros had been carrying.
'Come with us, please,' the first man said. He had said please, but who was he fooling? Merlin had heard that tone often enough to know that this was just another order and not a question he could say no to.
But he didn't want to say no. It was almost impossible to escape from within this cell, but outside was another matter entirely. And this time they didn't even try to bind his hands. Merlin considered that a good sign.
He left the cell and was pointed in the right direction, the guards so close that he could almost literally feel them breathing down his neck. It gave him the unpleasant feeling of being chased.
They turned a corner and to his surprise Merlin saw Arthur there waiting for him, also flanked by four guards. His expression of fearful irritation made way for one of relief when he spotted his manservant. 'Merlin, thank God!'
Merlin cracked a smile. 'Is that your way of saying that you actually care?' he teased.
Arthur reacted to the banter. 'What on earth gave you that idea?'
The guards began to march them through the building, but made no attempt to separate them or shut them up. That was a good sign, too, so Merlin used the opportunity to tell Arthur what he had learned from his "conversation" with Ros and Lucas, leaving out the minor detail where they had witnessed him doing magic.
'2008?' Arthur echoed loudly when Merlin informed him of the date, explaining that that was why the surroundings looked so strange to them.
Merlin grimaced. 'Ros said so. Thought I was a complete idiot for asking, too.'
Arthur laughed. 'She's not completely unobservant then,' he stated, before he became serious again. 'But how could it happen that we're here?'
Merlin shrugged. 'Magic, I suppose,' he said, knowing that this conclusion was unlikely to warm Arthur to the idea of magic in general.
'Morgana,' Arthur growled.
'I don't think so. They had never heard of her.' He hesitated a moment, before adding: 'Except in legend.'
'Legend?!' Arthur echoed.
'We're in it, too,' he added wryly. 'That's why they don't believe us, I think. We're supposed to have died centuries ago.'
Arthur was clearly lost for words, which was probably just as well, because they had come to a series of doors. The guards beckoned that they should go through them and Merlin frowned, because he didn't see a handle.
'How…?' he started to ask, but the answer presented itself. The door opened out of itself, as if by magic.
'What on earth!' Arthur exclaimed, backing away.
'Walk on!' the guards snapped. Their faces showed no emotions at all. If Merlin had to mention any, he would say that they looked stern.
He did as he was told, although he was hugely uncomfortable with it. Once he had stepped through the door it slid shut behind him and he found himself trapped in a small space. There was a similar door before him, but he had no idea how to make it open. He briefly considered magic, but then it opened out of itself just like its twin. He stepped out of the space between doors as fast as he could.
He was greeted by a constant low buzzing and when he looked around him to see what was causing it, his jaw dropped. The place was filled with desks on which devices similar to the one Lucas had been carrying around were placed. He guessed that was what made the buzzing noise. Once again, he wondered what they were.
'Move on,' the guards urged him. Some of them had just emerged from the doors while he was taking in the huge windowless room he now found himself in, too amazed for a minute to wonder what this place was and why he was here.
'Where are we?' Arthur asked in a whisper. His bravado had been cut short by the strange things that had happened to him. Merlin was less easy to shock, but then, he had a great deal of experience in dealing with strange things.
'I have no idea,' Merlin confessed as they were directed to a corridor, which led to a simple wooden door.
One of the guards passed them and knocked on the door. No one replied, but the guard let himself, and them, in anyway, beckoning them in before him. Merlin was liking this less and less by the second, but he didn't have much choice in this.
The room was not much bigger than the cell he had been kept in for the last few hours, but it was a lot more crowded. Five people were seated around a table that dominated the room and a sixth was standing, leaning against the wall.
Three of the occupants of the room were women. Ros was one of them, looking at them with an expression of mild interest. Merlin also recognised the woman with the short blonde hair and the blue eyes he had seen when she and her colleagues were chasing Samir. She looked at them with barely concealed curiosity, and smiled when she caught him looking at her. The last woman was older, with short grey hair, eyeing them with interest. She was intelligent, Merlin noticed. She may be older, but she was not stupid.
Lucas was the only man standing in the room. The other two were seated. They were about the same age as the grey-haired woman. Merlin only looked at the man seated at the head of the table. From the way he looked Merlin knew that he was in charge. He wondered if this was the man Ros and Lucas had called Harry.
'Here they are, sir,' the guard announced, before leaving the room and shutting the door behind him.
Merlin had no idea what he was supposed to say, but he didn't have to worry. Arthur had more than enough to say for the both of them. 'I demand to know what is going on!' he said, correction, shouted. If he used that tone in Camelot Merlin knew he could better keep all heavy objects out of his reach, or else they would end up against his head.
'Be seated, your highness,' the man he thought was Harry said.
Merlin remained standing while Arthur, although reluctantly, took a chair. It had certain advantages to stand, he had learned over the years. It was easier if the need arose to make a quick escape for one. You could also see the other people better for another.
'Take a seat, Merlin,' Lucas said. Merlin noticed he didn't say his name no longer as if it was too ridiculous to believe. But then, this man had been the first to suggest to these people that they were who they claimed to be.
The atmosphere in the room was awkward. There really was no other word for it. The only one who did not seem affected by it was Ros. Merlin started to wonder if she was affected by anything at all. She seemed too cold to be moved.
Unfortunately the only chair that remained empty was next to her. He didn't like sitting there at all, but Lucas had made it clear that not doing as he asked was not an option.
'We apologise for the manner of your arrest,' Harry said when he sat down. 'But I'm sure you'll understand that we could not take any risks with potentially dangerous men.' He smiled at them, betraying that he had years and years of experience of persuading people to see his point.
Arthur wasn't an idiot either. Merlin knew he knew just as well what this man was doing, but there was very little that he could do about it. 'I am sure that you will let us go back to where we came from, then,' he said.
'Naturally,' Harry said. 'Although I am afraid I will have to ask you to sign the Official Secrets Act first.'
Merlin frowned. 'The what?'
Ros handed him a piece of paper. Merlin looked over the text that made him promise not to mention anything he had heard or seen in this place to other people.
'What is this?' he asked warily. Most people who wanted him to keep a secret were up to something bad and if his experiences of this day were anything to go by, these people were no different.
'Something you need to sign,' Ros replied. 'Unless you want to spend the rest of your days in that charming room you just came from.'
If he needed any confirmation for his suspicions, she had just given it to him.
'Now, hang on!' Arthur exclaimed. 'I am the king of Camelot!'
'There we go again,' Lucas muttered under his breath.
'We just ask you to keep our secrets,' the woman with the short blonde hair said soothingly. 'As we will keep yours. We do you a favour, you do one to us in return.'
She sounded nice and honest. There didn't seem to be another meaning to her words. And this was 2008, after all. Maybe this was just the way things were done here. Ros handed him some kind of pencil and he wrote his name on the document.
Arthur was still hesitating. 'How can I know that your intentions are honourable?' he demanded.
'We're spies,' Harry said. 'We protect innocent lives. We need to do that in secret.'
Merlin raised his eyebrows. These people were professional spies? They spied for the country they lived in to protect its people? That was what Harry had been saying, right?
An idea popped up in his mind and he had translated it into words before he could think it through. 'Arthur signs this if you make us a promise in return,' he said.
Ros's face darkened. She looked as if she desperately wanted to slap his face, but a warning glance from Harry stopped her. 'What promise would you want?' he asked interestedly.
Ros's expression made him almost regret speaking up in the first place, but there was no way out of this now. So he mustered his courage and answered: 'We have a traitor in Camelot. If Arthur signs that paper, you'll help us to find him.'
'Merlin!' Arthur exclaimed indignantly. He could tell the king was none too pleased with Merlin making the decisions, but he was almost too easy to ignore.
'You abducted us,' Merlin pointed out. 'You owe us for that.' And seeing that Harry wasn't too pleased with the idea, he added: 'And I could help you. I've done quite a bit of spying over the years.' Heaven knew how true that was. He had lost count of how many times he had sneaked through corridors, searched suspicious people's rooms and eavesdropped on conversations not meant for his ears.
And this could be the answer to their prayers. Merlin knew it was Agravaine betraying Arthur, but he also knew Arthur was never going to believe it, not if he was the one saying it anyway. But if strangers, completely unbiased in the matter, would reach the conclusion that Arthur's uncle was up to no good, then he just might have to listen. Maybe something good would come from this mess after all.
It was the last few words that did the trick. Merlin could swear he saw something, a spark of some kind, in Harry's eyes. 'Based on what we've already seen from you, I have no doubt that arrangement could work,' he said. Something told Merlin he had also seen the magic, but for some reason he chose not to tell Arthur.
'Merlin! What on earth do you think you're doing?' Arthur protested.
Saving Camelot, as per usual. 'If we help them, they deal with the traitor,' Merlin replied. He knew everyone could hear him loud and clear, but he didn't really care now. This could really work. These people were professional spies. If anyone could reveal Agravaine for the traitor that he was, it would be them. And if the price for that help was that he would use some of his talents to help them clear up their mess, then that was a price he was prepared to pay.
Arthur glanced around the room, trying to decide whether these people were trustworthy. But, to be honest, that wasn't really the matter here. They were relying on them to let them go home anyway.
'I'll sign, you'll help us find the traitor in my kingdom,' he stated.
Harry nodded. 'After we've dealt with the threat at hand. We could use Merlin's help on that operation.'
Arthur looked at Merlin, disbelieving. 'I can't think what you want with Merlin,' he told the group of spies. 'He's a complete idiot most of the time.'
'It is our price,' Lucas pointed out. Merlin saw some kind of spark in his eyes. If he was not mistaken, Lucas was very eager to get his help on this one.
'Fine,' Arthur agreed. 'I'll sign.' He pulled out his royal seal.
The elderly woman made a disapproving noise. 'Just your signature will do, thank you,' she told him.
Arthur frowned, not understanding.
The man next to the woman leaned towards her, muttering 'I think that is his signature' under his breath.
Merlin suddenly wasn't so sure anymore that they could help each other. He had a feeling that this was only the first of many misunderstandings.
'What were you thinking, Harry?' Ros demanded, storming into her boss's office without knocking.
Harry was seated behind his desk, indulging in a glass of whisky whilst reading the latest reports on Nadif Abdul Rashid, the leader of the Al-Qaeda cell they were currently keeping under very tight surveillance.
'Knock!' he snapped at her. 'Honestly, people, do I need to keep asking?'
She ignored that, holding up the two documents with the signatures of their apparently not-so-dangerous men. 'How on earth are we going to explain this?' The names Merlin and Arthur Pendragon were written on the dotted lines, Arthur's name being accompanied by his sodding royal seal. Somehow she doubted that would go down well. 'And why do I suddenly have characters from the Arthurian legend on the Grid acting like spies?'
'Merlin is a spy,' Harry said, sighing. 'Take a chair, Ros.'
She sat down, although reluctantly. This situation didn't please her at all. She liked to plan things all out, no liabilities and if anything, these two intruders were. They knew next to nothing about them, except that which the legends said about them and even legend seemed to be wrong on more than one point. She could not recall one single version in which Merlin was a spy in Camelot, let alone that he was king Arthur's manservant.
'I don't bloody like it, Harry,' she repeated.
'Merlin's magic might come in handy, Ros,' Harry pointed out. 'This coming attack could get very big and very dirty. His magic will give us an advantage.'
There was not much arguing with that, really. As much as Ros failed to comprehend the fact that magic apparently was real (although the very proof for that was currently on the Grid), she had to admit that this dark-haired clumsy young man knew how to use powers that were not normal at the very least.
Harry could see she was about to protest. 'This is non-negotiable, Ros.'
'He's keeping secrets,' she argued. 'He was almost scared out of his wits when I threatened him to tell Arthur about his magical activities. Arthur obviously doesn't know.'
'He's a spy,' Harry countered. 'Our lot is made of secrets.'
Something still wasn't right about this. She looked over her shoulder through the window of Harry's office. Merlin, now dressed in some of Ben's clothes that Jo had fetched for him, was sitting next to Malcolm, listening intently as the computer expert brought him up to speed with the modern technologies he would need in the field. She had to admit that she had no longer any reasonable doubts about the truth of his story. Any doubts that she still might have left had vanished when she had listened to the conversation of the two legendary figures as they were escorted to the meeting room. They had no idea that they were being listened to, so they had spoken without too much reservations. And Ros knew when people were being genuine. That wasn't the problem now.
She couldn't pinpoint what exactly the problem was and that was what was bothering her. Maybe it was the vague notion in the back of her head that Merlin was supposed to be an old man with a long white beard. And maybe she couldn't just help but being wary. She was a spook, after all. It was in her nature.
She looked at Arthur, now dressed in some of Lucas's clothes. Somehow they didn't suit him and the fact that the Once and Future King looked more than a little uncomfortable didn't help either. He gave the, probable very accurate, impression of someone who doesn't want to be here.
Her first impression of Arthur Pendragon was a loud-mouthed, arrogant king, but his panic and shouting masked an intellect that she had almost overlooked. He genuinely cared for his servant, no matter how hard he tried to disguise it. It made her like him just a little bit better.
Merlin was the complete opposite. On first sight he was charming and as open as one could be, but that cheerful behaviour hid a man that was apparently, as Harry had so eloquently phrased it, made of secrets. And people that were keeping secrets were almost always up to something bad. So she promised herself to keep a close eye on him, at least until she had determined that he truly was no threat to them.
'Are you going to tell the Home Secretary about them?' she asked.
'And give him a real heart attack this time?' Harry scoffed.
Ros snorted. 'Bloody politicians.'
'Take Merlin with you to your meet with Adam's old asset,' he ordered. 'It might be useful.'
Somehow Ros seriously doubted that.