.

.

Cowering was not Merlin's favorite decision to make, but with the mud-splattered, weeping child against to his chest, he was limited on options.

One of the raiders thrust around a ragged-curtain separating the backrooms, roaring as he spied Merlin and brandished his axe.

"Bryne!" Merlin shouted, yellow flaring his irises.

A flame began to sprout onto the man's breeches, growing hotter and quickly up his leg.

The masked raider screeched inhumanly loud, panicking and flailing—

.

.

Patrol never ventured low or far in the west, and raiders were never this desperate for attention.

Sacking a village took only a small score of men, and benefited greatly in the cover of night. Depending on who was on guard, it could take a brief while for the people to surrender. But to attack a village on purpose, in daylight, and to apprehend the involvement of Arthur and the Knights of Camelot nearby? What sort of trap was this?

No one would likely believe him, but Merlin couldn't shake off a terrible, foreboding sensation.

.

.

The slightest tingle hovered up Merlin's arms first, giving way to lightheadedness. Kickstarting his heart.

Merlin woke to fresh, burial dirt seeping through his opened mouth and nostrils, expelling it violently.

With shaking, pale fingers, he crawled his way out the blackened, earthy void.

.

.

"Swefe nu!"

and then the raider crumbled onto the floorboards with a thud, seemingly boneless and deep asleep.

Merlin lowered a hand, glancing at the child staring wide-eyed at him, no longer terrified but enthralled.

He tapped a forefinger to his mouth.

"Let's just keep that between us, alright?" Merlin whispered, nodding and smiling as the boy mimicked him, tapping his own stubby finger. "There's a good lad. Where's your Mum?"

.

.

The boy.

The boy.

Boy.

He was a boy?

Merlin rubbed his eyes furiously, trying to pry the ground-dirt from beneath his eyelids.

What was…

.

.

With the raiders now killed, or half-killed and choking on their own bile (with the exception of two or three men appearing to be engaging Elyan and Arthur in fruitless combat)… it felt too easy. Percival clapped Merlin on the shoulder, having witnessed Merlin return the small boy into the arms of two equally mud-splattered women beginning to cry.

"Good lad," he said, ruffling Merlin's dark hair.

Merlin shot him a wordless look, feigning annoyance.

.

.

happening to him?

.

.

A pained yell sounded out, whipping their heads round. Elyan echoed the yell, more in fury, driving a raider's knife across the throat of the last one standing.

As soon as Arthur's knees slammed into the dirt, total hush fell over everything else.

Merlin's head pounded silently with blood and vibration of his magic.

Something in the current of the air shifted, dampened. Felt like a wet, heavy cloth stuffed inside his lungs, overgrown with mold.

He ran.

Legs on automatic movement, thoughts whirling. His lips tasting Arthur's name, and unable to indulge or release it.

.

.

Merlin found what was a lump of his brown coat abandoned, perhaps a mile off the road.

A light rain steadily pattered, clinging to his lashes.

The crimson-stain material already drenched completely through.

.

.

"Stop moving, you'll upset the wound."

The ghastly pale of Arthur's face scrunched up.

"Upset the wound, is that it?" he questioned, softly.

Merlin bunched his coat in one hand, preparing to use it to staunch the blood-flow.

"Keep talking and you'll drive it mad off the cliff," he spoke up, teeth flashing a crooked grin. "Some of us wish we already had when we first met you." Even in this moment of playfulness, Merlin caught the harsh quality of Arthur's breathing, how it rattled.

"There's still… time, I'm sure…"

"I expect it would be a lot more satisfying than listening to your pompous arse, sire," Merlin said.

Arthur gave a noisy, amused laugh, before cutting off with a gasping whimper.

.

.

Walking came at a price.

Merlin swayed at each forward motion he pushed himself towards, agony ripping at his belly. The sun climbing higher, and higher still.

His heart intermittently beating, but strong as ever.

.

.

Gwaine's leather-gloved hand squeezed onto his nape.

"How bad is it?"

Merlin wiped his cheeks and forehead, his sweaty bangs sticking up. Eyes bright with moisture.

"His… it's all spilling out," he said, gulping down a tremble in his voice. Merlin avoided the other man's gaze. "He'll die in an hour… less if he's not treated."

"Then I know you'll do everything you possibly can, Merlin."

.

.

Arthur's intestines gleamed, shiny and exposed. He…

No, he was fine. Going to be fine.

Thankful his king had taken the liberty of passing out, Merlin wriggled two fingers under Arthur's mail-collar, pressing on his neck. Weak pulse, but there.

He summoned every ounce of his energy, blue eyes lidding.

"Þurhhæle dolgbenn," Merlin chanted under his breath, letting his magic absorb into the unconscious man.

But did nothing. Not even a flicker of life on Arthur's expression.

"Wel cene hole!" he said, gritting his jaw.

Merlin's palms went to his temples, fear gnawing harder at him.

Arthur couldn't die like this.

.

.

Strangers in wagons passed him, eyeing curiously but retreating from staring directly into Merlin's eyes.

They burned.

"Min æ for hine."

.

.

Not like this.

Merlin held his breath, drawing in what felt like the core of magic itself.

"… Min æ for hine."

And he never drew in another.

Gwaine was shouting over the haze…

.

.

The syllables left him in remembrance.

Merlin died. He exchanged his life for Arthur's in doing the enchantment.

He died.

Of course they buried him!

Merlin glimpsed down at his blood-flaked, dirtied hands, watching his powers glimmer light, ethereal and rejuvenating, from his fingertips.

"Alive, then," he murmured.

… …Camelot would be another day's march.

.

.

He found another missing item—this time, his raggedy neckerchief tied loosely to Arthur's upper arm.

Merlin knew he looked a fright. Carrying the stench of wet dirt. A ghoul of legend; an unchristened, walking corpse.

Perhaps in a manner he was.

But Arthur felt real, living and perfectly solid and whole, his skin blessedly warm where he cupped Merlin's grimy face. The rolls of parchment fluttering and unraveling to the floor. Years of unanswered questions, and untold suspicions, and all he heard Arthur cry out with was: "You're a rubbish sorcerer—you died!"

"Happy to see you, too," Merlin said, deadpanning.

Arthur inspected him closely, quiet for a few minutes, lips thinning.

"Your eyes, Merlin…"

"They hurt," the warlock complained, rubbing the back of his head. "A lot. Dunno what I did."

"Will you look at them, for god's sake!" Arthur presented him with an empty platter. Its surface polished to a sheen.

Merlin's eyes reflected back to him, bleeding, glowing, luminous gold.

"You can't be alive."

At the utter disbelief in Arthur's tone—and to combat his own shock and confusion, Merlin scowled, frowning.

"Sorry, I'll just go back and bury myself, yea?" he asked, derisive. "Wait it out there?"

"Don't you—"

Merlin's hands grabbed onto Arthur's shoulders, fiercely, smearing the dark soil of his grave onto Arthur's vermilion tunic.

"I'm NOT going to apologize for saving your life!" Merlin dragged his fingers over Arthur's jaw, blond stubble prickling at him. His voice lowering. "Never… Arthur, never."

His king pulled one of Merlin's hands away, holding onto it tightly. Hesitating, Arthur peered back into yellow-gold eyes, before touching his and Merlin's hand over the left side of Merlin's chest. Right over where his heart pounded fast against his ribcage. The shudder of relief worked out of Arthur's next exhale.

"If the cells weren't overflowing, I'd have you strung up for this," he mumbled.

Merlin responded, solemnly, "Take my chances."

The tingling returned, full-force and benevolent, and it started with Arthur's lips fumbling to part against his.

.

.


Done for the second week of The Merlin Arts Fest 2014! I picked the three word prompt: "Light. Rejuvenated. Romance." Also this is a collab piece with art done by Mari (themarilives on Tumblr) that you can view here: themarilives dot tumblr dot com slash post slash 91604546838 slash merlin-arts-fest-prompt-2-three-words-light

Spell translations:

"Bryne!" - Burn!

"Swef nu!" - Sleep now!

"Þurhhæle dolgbenn" - Heal thoroughly the wound

"Wel cene hole" - Do good to the peroration (healing spell used first by Taliesin)

"Min æ for hine" - My life for him