|The Strongest of us All
Author: Old Man Merlin PM
Camelot is ruled by King Uther; those with magic are persecuted. Within the walls of his castle, a prince with an unknown and incurable illness, a princess who has taken the role of the prince, and other colorful characters are forced to live together. When Merlin is thrown into the chaos known as Camelot, can he still fulfill a destiny that seems downright impossible (and insane)?Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Hurt/Comfort - Merlin - Words: 6,985 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 3 - Published: 12-22-12 - id: 8822717
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: An idea I want to try. That is all. I don't own Merlin.
The Strongest of Us All
Chapter One: The Prince and The Princess
The long walk to Camelot had excited him. The sight of Camelot's city and fortress from afar had given him further reason to smile. But the moment he entered the town, the young seventeen year old Merlin – a lanky fellow with raggy clothes, a red scarf, short black hair and blue eyes – felt an even greater excitement swell within him.
The smells wafting from the marketplace, the sounds and sights from the people and the town – it was very overwhelming, and each new intermediate experience excited him. He had never seen this many people before – not all in one bustling spot. It was a sight to behold compared to Ealdor. He knew, however, he needed to find the physician his mother had told him about, and hurried on his way towards the castle.
Merlin was a tad bit surprised to be let through the gates unchecked, but judging from the swath of other townsfolk streaming in, he surmised that something must be going on. I wonder what, though? I didn't think there was cause for celebration at this time of year … But he could tell that it was no celebration; few were smiling, most were grim. As he walked into the main courtyard he could see the commoners pausing at the center, all looking up towards the castle. At a side glance, he could see a man being dragged out to the front, clad in shackles and rags. Being not quite as tall as some of the other citizens, he worked his way towards the front until he could catch the sight of the object of everyone's attention. The King of Camelot.
He stood proudly on one of the balconies. Merlin admitted there had been few times he saw anyone so richly clad, and the King surpassed all of them. His robes dyed of the deep Camelot burgundies and reds, lined in silver threads and gold emblems, the fine red cloak slung over one of the man's shoulders. The chainmail looked near flawless and the crown on his head shone in the sunlight. All in all, it gave the appearance of a far younger man than the King likely was. Flanked on his sides were two guards, each looking more rugged and brute, and by comparison more poorly clad than the King. But they all appeared glorious atop the balcony, carved in intricate emblems of the kingdom they ruled.
The horns and the drums continued their beats as a rather portly guard pushed the chained man with sunken cheeks and ragged clothes forward, where he glared up with hatred at the king. The whispers of the crowd grew silent. Suddenly, the excitement of the townsfolk and marketplace vanished in an instant, and Merlin was left with a foreboding sense of what was to come.
"Let this serve as a lesson to all," the King's voice boomed over the courtyard, hushing even the gossips in the crowd. "This man – Thomas James Collins – has been judged guilty of conspiring to use enchantments and magic."
Merlin felt the mood sink, particularly so within himself. He felt the reminder of what Camelot was – what it could spell out for him. Though he kept quiet, doing his best not to look guilty in a crowd that might guess as to what he was. So he tightened his lips and waited to hear more.
"And so in the laws of Camelot, I, Uther Pendragon, have decreed that such practices are banned – on penalty of death. I pride myself as a fair and just King, but for the crime of sorcery there is but one penalty I can pass."
The King did not voice his answer, but he instead gave a nod; the crowd's gaze shifted to the executioner, all knowing what would come. The portly knight pushed the prisoner down on the chopping block. The hooded execution came around the man, raised an axe up high, as did the King. After a moment of tactical suspense, the King threw his arm down – and the ax swung down with it.
Suddenly the crowd looked away, closing their eyes, turning their heads or shaking them, no longer standing on the tips of their toes to see; only a morbid few continued to watch the gruesome scene.
"When I came to this land, this Kingdom was mired in chaos." The King continued in almost a softer voice, a justification of what had just transpired. "But with the people's help, magic was driven from the realm. So I declare a festival to celebrate twenty years since the Great Dragon was captured and when the Kingdom was freed from sorcery." He opened his arms up wide as of to embrace the crowd, and many were accepting of his gesture. Merlin remained where he was, his throat dry and his excitement gone. I have to remember where I am. I am in Camelot now … the lion's den.
"Let the celebrations begin," he declared as he turned, and the crowd of townsfolk began to chatter once more though it was hushed. A woman's mournful cries rung out over the crowd. People began to scoot away from her, and even the King's attention was caught, as he turned to look at the source of the cries. Clearly it was not an anticipated reaction.
The source was an old, haggard woman, clutching the hem of her ragged dress as she glared up at the King. "There's only one evil in this land and it is not magic!" She spat, her voice ringing in a mournful hatred as she took a few frail steps forward. "It is you!"
The King approached the banister, resting his hand firmly on the rail as he glared back down at her. The King would not take an insult from anyone, even an old woman.
"With your hatred, and your ignorance," her voice shook as her trembling hand pointed back at the site of the execution, where several knights were removing the body. "You took my son!"
Merlin could feel compassion for this woman, truly he could. Though he would not come forward and condemn himself for the sake of her. He had no intention to start a rebellion upon his arrival, especially after all of the years his mother had sacrificed trying to hide his abilities from the world. He would not give himself away that easily. The crowd seemed sympathetic as well, for a mother losing a son for any cause was heartbreaking enough.
"I promise you," she continued with spite, "before these celebrations are over, you'll share my tears! An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a child for a child!"
King Uther registered the threat, so he pointed at the woman. "Seize her!" The woman glanced around as the knights advanced on her, and with a mournful cry a blast of magic spewed forth from her, throwing the knights backwards as she disappeared in a whirlwind of rags and dust. The crowd moved away from the winds as they glanced back, seeing the woman had vanished entirely.
A teleportation spell. Merlin could tell it was such, though he had never attempted it. He didn't know any spells, and the day he randomly transported would be frightful.
The King's face grimaced at the fact that a witch had slipped away, and he kept her face in his mind. He had no doubt the witch would attempt to carry out her threat. He turned to retreat back inside, though did so with pride – a boldness that conveyed belief that he could defeat the witch's petty threats.
Merlin did not know what to expect, so after looking around at the retreating crowds, he swallowed, trying to get some courage back. You came this far, Merlin. Get a little bit farther. With this in mind he pushed himself forward towards the steps of the castle, pulling out the slip of paper that a man named Gaius had sent to his mother. They were instructions to find his chambers within the castle. But they were jumbled and the handwriting near illegible, so he found one of the guards. "Umm, where would I find Gaius, the court physician?"
The guard seemed to think Merlin was innocent enough – a boy in rags was not an uncommon sight, and Merlin knew he looked like an open book to many others. So the guard jerked his thumb backwards, and Merlin gave his thanks as he went along his way.
After going through a series of narrow halls, he found a partially open wooden door. As he pushed it open along with the creeaaak of un-oiled hinges, a waft of all kinds of scents hit him. They were unlike the scents of the streets and the markets, but nevertheless smelled of herbs and brews and many other scents that he could not easily identify. The sheer array of objects strewn about had immense variety and questionable properties, and revealed a lot – and yet nothing at all – about the man he was supposed to find. So he curiously wandered in, clearing his throat as he eventually spied an old man in brown robes on a small perch above. Merlin cleared his throat. "Sorry, are you Gaius?"
The old man responded, turning around to see who had come; but in doing so the banister broke under the old man's weight, and he started to topple backwards. Merlin felt his instincts come alive, and his eyes flashed a gold as the old man's fall slowed; in an instant, Merlin eyed the bed across the room, and with another flash it shot its way across the room to catch the old man before he fell onto the floor.
The old man let out a cry of surprise as he hit the bed and the wood cluttered about him, but he seemed far more surprised to hit the back of his bed than he did at the fall or even surviving it. "W-what did you just do?!"
For an instant, Merlin had to wonder if his mother informed Gaius of his abilities. And if this old man wasn't Gaius – which he had yet to receive confirmation of - he could very well end up like that man in the common area today. So he instinctively pulled himself together and began to stutter out a denial. "U-umm, I, uhh -! I have no idea what happened!"
"Tell me!" The old man huffed in surprise, quite agile in his old age as he hopped off the bed and quickly walked towards Merlin as the younger sought an explanation. "If anyone had seen that-!"
"O-oh, no no, that was nothing to do with me-!"
"Don't mess with me boy I know what it was! I just want to know where you learned to do it!" The old man stared him down eye to eye, and for a moment Merlin could not tell if it was concern or fear. He hoped it would not be the latter.
"I – I don't …"
"Where did you study magic?" The old man continued to pester.
"I don't know h- I never studied -!" The fear was building up in him. "I was born like this!"
"That's impossible!" Came the prompt huff. The old man was still in disbelief, but at seeing the terror in the younger's eyes, he had to find more answers. Namely … "Who are you?"
Merlin felt some relief that the old man had switched topics. Maybe he's okay with it …? "Oh, um …" He quickly disheveled his pack and began to dig around inside of it. "I have this letter." He presented it to him, but the old man made an excuse. "I don't have my glasses."
He must be the court physician. He hasn't given me reason to believe otherwise. Merlin decided, and figured the old man already knew his abilities and reasonably shrugged it off – so a name shouldn't hurt. "I'm Merlin."
The old man's eyes widened. "Hunith's son?"
Yes, it is Gaius! He felt relieved. "Yes."
"But you're not meant to be here until Wednesday!"
Merlin's relieved smile fell at the partial senility of the court physician. "It is Wednesday."
"Ah … right then." Gaius nodded, accepting this for the time being. "You better put your bag in there." He pointed to a back room.
Merlin proceeded back to the door, but then turned to look at Gaius concerned. "You won't say anything about … umm …" his eyes trailed up to the banister. He did not want to be accused of sorcery in the heart of a kingdom that would see him executed. Like the man in the common area.
"No. But I should say thank you." Gaius became tight lipped. It seemed Merlin had an ally, and he felt relief once more. He began to settle in the back room, though Gaius came in for a while to light some candles and work out some last-minute boxes and things (as he had forgotten Merlin's arrival was today) and dotter about the room. The two didn't share too much conversation. For a while, Gaius vanished to take care of rounds, as he called it. But as Merlin settled in more, he began to feel the eagerness and excitement of being in such a bustling town, the heart of Camelot – a completely different world from the one he knew in Ealdor. Gaius settled in his office area, re-reading the letters from Hunith, feeling the depths of the words from his friend in Ealdor. He could feel the weight of the burden Hunith was entrusting him with, and had little idea of what might come.
A young woman strode the hallways of the castle, taking stride in each step. Her chain mail rattled, her armor was dirtied and her boots entrenched in mud; her hair was greased with the sweat from the work. Nevertheless, she kept her stance straight and her eyes set forward, giving the passing guards at times a brief nod. Most accepted her, some still did not. It did not matter how many years passed, a woman doing a knight's work – or the work she was often given – was rarely acceptable.
She had returned from training with the knights. A rather ordinary day, but nonetheless she still felt her heart sinking inside her chest. She meant to amble back to her chambers time and time again, but each time she would scowl and again take a different turn, wandering about the halls in the ways that she pleased. It was her way of wasting time. However, time had a funny way of catching up.
"Morgana," a rather loving voice called to her, and she turned her head and stopped her walk to see the King approaching her. His crown gleamed in the candlelight and his cloak swept the ground, and their eyes met as predators usually do.
"Father," she acknowledged, but she returned neither smile nor love in her words.
"What is this?" He chuckled, looking her up and down. "Has the knight's training really gone on this long? You're expected at the celebrations."
She had heard of the celebrations when the training had ended, and it was what had sent her into her grim mood. "I do not believe that chopping someone's head off is cause for celebration."
Uther sighed, his smile now gone as well. He should have guessed Morgana would bring up the day's events, as so often she did. "It is justice done –"
"To whom?" She retorted sharply. "He practiced magic. He harmed no one –"
"You were not around twenty years ago." He sternly replied back. "You have no idea what magic does –"
"When will you be satisfied? How long do you intend to punish them for the past? Twenty years is enough time for them to realize-" She did not wish to allow him to have the final words.
"Until they realize there is no room for magic in my Kingdom!" He grew frustrated at being questioned, particularly by his own daughter. But he held his tongue further, not wishing to provoke the fires he could see growing in her eyes. "I will grant you pardon for missing the celebrations today, as you were training – but come to the celebrations tomorrow. Lady Helen will be arriving and you should at least show respect to her."
With that, Uther sternly turned and walked away, knowing his daughter was glaring at his back. He heard her call to him: "The more brutal you are, the more enemies you will create!", but he knew better than to continue to argue with her. Being a father meant letting a child learn on its own, and having a stubborn child meant giving more room than one parent normally allowed. She may be rebellious, but she was the one he had to rely on – she had to carry the burdens of Camelot. And he had to ensure she understood why he did what he did if he expected Camelot to remain peaceful. He knew she would soon appear at the celebrations. After all, she knew her reputation was at stake.
Merlin was startled awake, rubbing his head. I must have fallen asleep… he realized, seeing that the night had turned into day. Funny, he didn't remember willing himself to sleep. Perhaps the excitement of the town wore him out. He stretched and yawned, rubbing his head. He had had the oddest of dreams … something was continually growling beneath the floors, calling out his name. it wasn't the strangest of things to happen to him, so he shrugged it off and hobbled out of bed into the main room. But there was no sight of the old man. "Gaius?" No answer, either. Clueless as to what he ought to do, he began to poke and prod about the vials on the shelves, his curiosity getting the better of him. About an hour later the main door opened and Merlin turned to see Gaius walk in.
"Sorry, Merlin." Gaius apologized, walking back into the room carrying a basket of vials. "I was making rounds."
Merlin nodded slowly, and his curiosity returning. "How often do you make rounds?"
"As often as I need to," Gaius answered with a chuckle. "I was needed this morning. I trust you slept well enough?"
Merlin nodded with a grin. It was a different experience to wake up warm, unlike Ealdor where the winds and drafts always woke him. No wonder he slept in.
"I got you water. You didn't wash last night." Gaius pointed at a bucket on the table, walking over to it.
Merlin's smile fell. "Wait, you got that on your own? When?"
"Before I made my rounds." Gaius answered, and Merlin began to feel some guilt at not waking earlier. The old man seemed to understand that it was Merlin's first day waking up in Camelot and did not persist. "Help yourself to breakfast."
The boy quietly sat at the table, spooning at the stew in his bowl with a slight wince of disgust. Gaius appeared to not be a great cook, certainly not like his mother's cooking. But he'd eat it – this was the man who was taking him in and providing him with shelter, and keeping his secret a secret. He could find it within himself to accept the stew without complaint.
Merlin was so busy trying to figure out what exactly Gaius had stuck in the breakfast that he didn't see the sly old man purposely knock the bucket over. But in his peripheral vision he saw the bucket fall, and with a sharp turn of his head his eyes flashed gold and the bucket – and the water spilling out of it – froze in midair. The two exchanged glances of shock before the bucket and the water proceeded to fall and spill out onto the floor.
"How did you do that? Did you incant a spell in your mind?" It seemed the old man was curious as well, but more curious about Merlin himself.
"I don't know any spells," Merlin shook his head.
"Then what did you do?" Gaius was baffled. This must have been what Hunith had been trying to describe to him all these years – her boy performing magic without meaning to. This meant Gaius would have his hands full. "There must be something."
"It – it just happens." Merlin admitted, and feeling guilt once more rushed over to where he had seen a mop earlier and proceeded to clean up the mess.
Gaius was still shaking his head, but decided to accept the answers. He doubted Hunith's boy would lie to him. "Well, we better keep you out of trouble. You can help me out until we find you some work. You can help me out with rounds."
"Rounds? Again?" Merlin raised an eyebrow. Was Gaius really this busy of a man?
"Yes, again." Gaius nodded. "I do not cover everyone in one go you know."
That makes more sense. Merlin listened carefully as Gaius set various vials on the table and described what they were and who they were for; it seemed Gaius had predetermined that Merlin would help him out, for there were pieces of parchment tied around each so Merlin wouldn't forget who they were for. But they were interrupted as a guard came knocking at Gaius's doors, opening it to look at the court physician with a worry that appeared to be too common.
"Gaius," the guard spoke, catching the court physician's attention. "He's coughing it up again."
"Again?" It seemed that this problem was often reoccurring, for Gaius did not appear too shocked. The guard vanished, and Gaius quickly went over to one of the cabinets to grab something or another and shoving it into a basket.
"Wait, what -?" Merlin began to ask, but Gaius waved at him. "Grab those medicines. You'll come with me for a while – chances are I'll be sending you to take care of this task sooner or later."
"What task?" Merlin continued. The situation was nagging at him. It seemed both urgent and yet common. Gaius was in a hurry, yet seemed used to it.
"You'll see." Gaius replied. "I advise you to pay attention and know that the situation is a delicate one. Take those medicines we were going over, I will send you on those rounds once this task is done."
A bit irked at the lack of answer, he complied with Gaius's orders and followed the old man out of the door and through the maze of the castle. As they walked through at a rushed pace, Merlin paid close attention to where they were going so he himself would not end up lost at a later time. "Soo, you're not even going to give me a clue as to what we're doing?"
"Patience, Merlin." Gaius advised, and for the duration of their journey that was all Merlin got out of him. Sure must be a 'delicate' situation. Even if I haven't known him that long I doubt he'd keep this quiet. He was hungry, too – the breakfast forgotten at the 'urgent' interruption.
They came to a larger hall and went to a door where one guard stood. The door was open and Gaius entered, Merlin quickly looking around to take in the scene.
Merlin spied two figures near a large canopy bed. A knight was holding a bowl under a young man's head, and the young man was coughing something up into it. Gaius quickly made his way over, Merlin following. The young man was far from youthful; he seemed big, but he was very pale, very sickly, very hollow about some of the bones and little to no muscle at all. He was bare chested and appeared to be in his night clothes, and it looked as if he hadn't been moved from that bed in a long, long time. He had blond hair and blue eyes, but what the heck was that that he was coughing up?
"I'll take care of it from here," Gaius told the knight, and the knight nodded and left the room. "Sire, go ahead and get all that you can out of your system. Fighting it will only burn your throat."
The sickly man was gagging, and something was dripping out of his mouth. Merlin didn't look, but he had to when Gaius took the bowl and patted the sick man on the back, as if to make sure it was finished.
"Merlin, take this and dump it out." Gaius pushed the bowl into Merlin's hands. His nose turned and his stomach coiled at the sight of it; blood, stomach fluids and something with a lot of big, fleshy black masses was swirling around inside of it.
Merlin was glad he hadn't the chance to eat his breakfast.
He quickly took it from the room and after asking the guards where to dispose of it, ran to the window adjacent to a chute – a chute that led to who knew where – and dumped its contents. He returned at a quickened pace, opening the door to hear the man accusing Gaius.
"Can't you be more careful?!" The sick man hissed. "It hurts!"
"I know Sire but I have to find out what prompted this. We have to find out what's causing you to throw up that bile." Gaius answered, but the younger wrestled the physicians' hands away.
Merlin approached them cautiously, not all too happy with this man's mood. Yes, he might be sick, but taking it out on Gaius? He let it slide for the moment. Gaius had told him to be patient, right? And he did not wish to do anything that might potentially get either of them into trouble.
More complaints came forward when Gaius tended to what Merlin knew to be bed sores – he knew of them because some of the elderly back in Ealdor had them, and his Mother sometimes would help with them – and later again when Gaius looked inside his mouth and inspected the rest. It was when Gaius took a vial and tried to get the man to drink it that the man's temper broke loose.
"It doesn't help!" He hoarsely shouted at Gaius, shoving away the vial and spilling its contents on the covers. "It doesn't stop this!" He gestured towards the bowl full of blood and whatever the hell that stuff was. "Just get away from me you old goat!"
Okay. This was the last straw. "You know, you could be less of a prat to Gaius." Merlin spoke. He was growing irritated by this guy's attitude. He was extraordinarily bitter and – and very rude. This guy was probably one of the knight's sons or something, and the King had been nice enough to put him somewhere where he could receive the court physician's care. The nerve …!
Gaius's eyes, however, were wider than saucers and he appeared horrified at what Merlin said. The sickly man appeared baffled as well.
"… What did you call me?" He strained, almost growling at Merlin.
"A prat. You know, someone who is inconsiderate of others. Like what you're doing to Gaius. He's trying to help you and you are insulting him." Merlin answered. Maybe Will has been a bad influence on me … he thought of his childhood friend and what his mother said about staying away from Will. This is probably what she was talking about: the foot-in-mouth syndrome.
The sickly man looked ready to throw something at Merlin or condemn him to some painful fate, but Gaius quickly interrupted. "I am sorry Sire, my assistant is not used to respecting others yet." Gaius flashed Merlin a warning glare, and Merlin decided he would shut up.
Surprisingly, so did the sick man. He didn't say another word as Gaius continued to prod. When he was finished, he helped the man lie back down and pulled the blankets back up. The sick man was coughing again, and sweating, his breathing a bit raspy but not too restrained. Gaius was still sending Merlin warning glares and each one made Merlin wish he could crawl further into a shell.
When they appeared finished, Merlin was told to pack up the vials and Gaius motioned to one of the guards. "Keep an eye on his breathing. If it becomes too pained roll him onto his side and call for me again." The guard nodded, and the two of them resumed their normal duties. Gaius yanked Merlin from the room.
The moment they exited the chambers and were far enough away from the guards, Gaius's attitude changed.
"Merlin, they may as well hang you!" Gaius whacked the younger on the head, catching Merlin off guard. "You'd probably stick your own head in the noose for them!"
"What?" Merlin was taken aback by the sudden flip in the older man. "Oh, you mean telling him off? Well he's some noble's kid that's been spoiled, that's al—"
"No, Merlin!" Gaius huffed. "That's Prince Arthur!"
It took Merlin a moment to register what Gaius was saying. "… Prince?" Camelot had a Prince? A Prince Arthur? Wait, what? Growing up in Ealdor, he was pretty sure he only heard of a Princess!
"I don't get it. I thought there was only a Princess –" Merlin knew little of Camelot, but he knew of King Uther, and a Princess, but –
"The Prince is a very ill man, Merlin. So much so that I'm only able to fix the smaller problems and remove some of the pain. All his insults are understandable and acceptable, he is just trying to redirect that pain!" Gaius spoke as a warning to him, as if not to question it too far. "He doesn't get the chance to attend very many social events so few know he even exists! He suffers more than enough humiliation already! I advise you not to taunt him like that again. I would not be surprised if the King hears about it later."
Merlin bit his lip, wanting to retort and remain silent at the same time. So he decided to keep his tongue in check and allowed Gaius to shove him off towards his other duties. He got the feeling that Gaius picked up a rather paternal protection for this prince he just learned of, and it would not surprise him if Gaius was miffed by Merlin's actions. After all, he didn't just talk back to a sick man, he talked back to a sick Prince. There may be repercussions for that later … pushing those thoughts aside, he went on his way to try to find the room of a near blind man who needed medication from the yellow vial …
Morgana was in a fury. Normally she would have the bitter argument with her father or converse with her handmaiden Guinevere about the events that riled her so, but they were not in sight at the moment. So that morning she had dressed herself and promptly walked down to one of the armory's chambers, practicing her target practice at one of the mounted spheres on the walls.
THUD! Slightly off center.
She hated the social events. She was who she was and enjoyed being a knight, but when it was brought to her attention that she was both a woman and a knight, there was nothing but bitterness. A princess clad in knight's clothing? Hah! Even at the social events she was expected to be the rising soldier; Camelot had to appear strong in the eyes of their enemies, and a sick son and a 'girly' daughter would not cut it. Since they could not fix her half-brother, their father chose to focus on her. She was never given the choice, though she enjoyed the privileges that came with the knight's standings more than she thought she'd enjoy being a dainty woman in the castle. She was never given the chance to wear a dress, although she had several gathering dust in her closet.
THUD! Slightly off center again, but in the other direction.
She didn't just hate the social events because of her 'reputation.' Oh no. The fact that this was celebrating the death of so many irked her. Yes, magical people were considered enemies, but she felt that far too many were executed when she knew fewer who had actually attempted to cause harm. Plenty of enemies surrounded their borders; wouldn't it be more prudent to attack them than drag out their own citizens and accuse them of sorcery? Her father's priorities seemed very wrong. Her father's priorities weren't just wrong because of this, either. He seemed out of touch and far too stubborn – probably where she got it from.
Perhaps the most infuriating of all was the fact that her father did not listen to her. Oh, he'd hear her. But he never listened. He was far too pig-headed for that. She never could tell if it was because he felt his own opinions were the right ones, or if he was doubtful of a woman's word even if she had been raised to fill the role a Prince normally took. It was probably some odd combination of the two. Nevertheless, it felt as if this celebration was to spite her and her ideas.
As she prepared to throw the next dagger, she did not notice the door nearest to the target open and a bumbling man come out; the dagger slid across her fingers as she realized the fool was walking right in front of the target. There was no time to warn whoever it was.
He jumped back as a dagger landed inches away from his face into the target behind him, reverberating as the boy's eyes stared open at it.
Across the hall, Morgana's mouth opened a little. Had she hit him? She didn't …? No, she didn't. Morgana confirmed with a relieved sigh, but saw the boy sink down in shock. Figures. It was not the first time she almost impaled a servant with her weapons, and she knew they were not used to that kind of lifestyle. Who was this servant?
Merlin was catching his breath, sinking down low to make sure no more daggers would suddenly whiz past him. He wasn't used to projectiles aimed like that – he was happy, though, his magic hadn't decided to activate then and there because of it. Great. I get lost after I finish the rounds, I enter this place, and I nearly get attacked with a flying dagger. I think someone is out to get me today. That or I am just attracting the worst kind of luck.
"I apologize," a woman replied, walking over to where Merlin was crouching. In truth, he still felt shocked from the dagger landing inches away from his face. "I was not paying attention to who was entering."
Merlin forced a chuckle, slowly bringing himself to his feet. "That's alright, today has been full of surprises." He admitted, smiling back at the woman. Now that the near-death fright was vanishing, he could get a good look of her. Yes, her attire shocked him – it was not everyday a woman was found donning a knight's uniform. But it wasn't unheard of, at least not back in Ealdor. The nobles who did not have sons often sent a daughter in place to keep track of the knights' movements, but they were rare and few, mainly because Cenred's army was brutal and only the ogre-like women ever made it. No, what caught him was this woman's beauty; her skin somehow remained fair, and she had long locks of dark hair – most of which was currently bunched up in a ponytail. And her eyes were a shocking green. She seemed very beautiful, almost too beautiful to be in a knight's uniform. Realizing that he was staring, he shook himself out of the daze.
She raised an eyebrow and placed her hands on her hips. "Are you new?"
"Err, yes – Gaius, I'm assisting Gaius," Merlin reached an answer. "Though right now I'm not sure if I am his assistant or not. Yet."
"That is not surprising. Gaius has had need of an assistant for quite some time."
Maybe that's why he accepted me from Mother. But he ignored his stray thoughts. He tilted his head with that all-too-Merlin grin, the curiosity getting the better of him once more. "Are you a knight?"
"What of it?" Her voice turned stingy and reproachful, as if she were preparing for an insult. She seemed angry enough when I came in. Merlin caught this and shook his head. "I mean nothing bad my Lady, it's just rare to find anyone that throws that well. Are you practicing for something?"
Morgana did not really know what to do about this boy. He was talking to her … well, normally. Perhaps he did not know who she was? Even so, a servant speaking to a knight in this manner was not considered appropriate. In a way it was refreshing, and in another way, downright annoying. "It is simply practice and nothing more."
"Aaah, well, I could swear you were imagining someone's head as the target." He chuckled, and then inwardly wished he could kick himself. Crap, my mouth is running again. No wonder his mother always told him to be quiet in the presence of others. Expecting an angry rebuttal, he was surprised to see a sly grin.
"Perhaps I am." She answered, toying with another dagger between her fingers. "Care to be part of the target practice?"
No. Merlin wanted to say, but she tossed him a nearby shield and it took him a few moments to figure out how to hold it. Great. Commandeered for training. "So, what do I do?" He asked warily. He had never had daggers intentionally thrown at him. Will – a childhood friend – sometimes had thrown rocks at him for fun, just to see what 'Merlin's eyes' would do with them.
Her grin turned even slyer. That could not be good. "Move however you wish – just hold the shield up so it faces me if you do not wish to get hurt."
The first dagger caught him off guard and he fell backwards, landing with an oof! on the floor. She appeared bemused, and he caught that look.
"Glad I could entertain you," Merlin muttered, quickly climbing back onto his feet.
"You're not very respectful, are you?" She mused.
Merlin shrugged. "So I've been told." By my mother, everyone in Ealdor, and recently Gaius. I need to work on that.
"So you work for Gaius," she continued, readying the next dagger. "What's your name?"
"Merlin –" he answered, but quickly put up the shield when he saw the dagger zoom towards him. Again, the THUNK! scared him out of his skin.
A few daggers later – or, ten minutes – Merlin felt frightened enough. Every time the daggers thunked against the wooden shield, his heart felt as if it stopped as he checked himself over to make sure it had not hit him instead. Why was he doing this? Because servants can't easily refuse, I guess, and I guess I am considered a servant if I am assisting Gaius. He reasoned numbly. But they were interrupted after the short session.
"You!" A knight's voice boomed, and Merlin turned his head to look at the source, Morgana hesitating in throwing the next knife. Two knights walked in, neither looking too happy. "Are you the boy under Gaius's care?" He asked.
"Err, yes?" Merlin answered hesitantly. The knights nodded to one another and took a hold of Merlin, causing him to drop the shield.
"Sorry Lady Morgana," the knight replied, roughly grabbing Merlin's shoulder. "We have orders to take him to the stocks."
Merlin's jaw nearly dropped. Lady Morgana? Oooh, she's the Princess Morgana. Wait, what? The Princess? Weren't princesses supposed to be in pretty gowns and sweet talking and everything?
Why did everything in Camelot seem so … for lack of a better word, backwards? Merlin had to wonder. A physician, someone who prefers to work with physical worldly plants and beings, is intrigued by his magic; a Prince that is deathly ill; and now a Princess dressed in chainmail and throwing large knives at the targets. Yes, everything seemed the opposite of what he had imagined.
Then the second problem hit him. The stocks? "Hey, come on, I don't even know what I did!" Merlin protested. Morgana too was curious. "What has he done?" She inquired.
"He insulted the Prince earlier. The King has asked we do this."
Morgana raised an eyebrow yet again and Merlin shrugged to her in response, grinning sheepishly. He couldn't deny what he technically did. But he felt his heart sink, remembering Gaius warning that the King would likely hear of it later. Today just can't get much worse, can it? So he let himself be dragged off, wondering how long he'd be left in the stocks and what exactly they were. Little did he realize it involved rotten fruit.