Waking to an aching body, Merlin opened his eyes. He ogled the ceiling to his bedroom with wide eyed confusion. It took him a moment, his mind muddled and lost, but he eventually became aware of the sound of his own breath. He was gasping, choking for breath that wouldn't come. It felt as though his ribs were curling around his lungs and crushing them. Then, with horror, he remembered that that was exactly what was happening to him.
It had taken Arthur an entire fortnight to track down his servant. It was one of the few occasions when Arthur was thankful for his father's illness. He was able to play off his search for a commoner as an extended hunting trip with the king none the wiser. Uther would have never permitted such a large party of men to waste time on something so inconsequential to himself for such a long time had he been more aware.
The tracks were difficult to follow. All kinds of huntsmen and trackers were amongst Arthur's knights, and yet none of them were sure as to where Merlin was taken from.
The foolish young boy had been out picking herbs for Gaius (and he truly was picking herbs on this one occasion) and his mentor became quite concerned when he had not returned that night. Arthur had shrugged it off, it being a rather common occurrence for his servant to wonder off for a few days. However, as the days dragged on, it became apparent that something out of the ordinary must have happened. So, he banded together the best of his knights and set out.
To say that they were surprised at the state he was in when they found him would be an understatement.
At long last, their tracking and guessing led them to the Mountains of Andor, northwest of Camelot. They scoured the rocky terrain for days before they had found him. It was his captor that led them to his whereabouts, the witch having been spotted picking fruits from a plumb tree that resided in one of the few grassy areas amongst the cliffs and caves.
She vanished before they could challenge her, leaving them with no tell of where Merlin might be. However, it was easy to guess where she had been hiding out as there was a cavern close by, within easy living distance of the plumb tree.
They all hiked their way to it, all eager to find their missing friend. And there he was, in the back of the cave, curled up in a crevice too small and shrouded by frail, moldy blankets.
Gaius burst into the room with a surprising vigor for a man his age. He quickly helped Merlin into a sitting position to relieve some of the weight from his chest and instructed him on how to breathe.
After he was somewhat settled, Gaius coaxed a potion down Merlin's throat for the pain that seemed to never leave him.
According to the physician, Merlin's bones had grown far too quickly over the days he had been missing. Therefore, his ribcage had grown longer but not wider, encasing his lungs in a tight prison.
The remedy was simple; break his ribs so that they could heal again with wider span. But the process was slow and painful and Merlin's body was alive with pain already without the added stress. But Gaius said it was necessary and he was almost through with it. Just a few more days and he promised that his ribs would have settled.
He sighed as Gaius looked him over, eyes going distant as he stared down at his feet, hanging over the far edge of the bed.
Arthur had been too stunned to move. All they could see of Merlin was his face and a long, bare arm that held the blankets close. He was shaking, cold and tired beneath the tethered sheets, and his eyes were scrunched up in pain. His skin seemed to glow against the torchlight, he was so pale, and his cheeks were sunken in, bones jutting out in all directions. He looked deformed. He looked changed.
It was Lancelot who took the brave step forwards and pulled the blankets down to Merlin's waist. Arthur could hear some of his knights stifle a gag at the sight. Merlin had grown. His torso was long and thin, ribs poking through and clearly visible through his greyish skin. He watched as they grotesquely moved in and out with each ragged, struggling breath, mocking the appearance of a fish's gills.
A shiver rocked his frame after the sheets had been removed and he groaned as he turned into the cave, pressing his face against the course wall, his face pinching in pain. The sound startled Arthur out of his shock and he pushed himself forwards to put a hesitant hand on Merlin's shoulder.
The boy's back arched against the warm touch of Arthur's hand. He flinched at first, but soon eased into the heat, his bony shoulder pressing into gratefully. His face went lax and he sighed contently.
"Merlin," Arthur said warily, not knowing what to expect.
Merlin's pale eyes opened slowly and he looked along the wall in front of him.
"Merlin," Arthur said again, pleading that the boy was not blind or mad.
To his relief, Merlin turned his head and faced him. His eyes went wide at the sight of Arthur and his breath caught in his throat. He began to breathe panicked breaths, his ribs prodding out with each frantic intake.
"Merlin! Merlin, it's alright!" Arthur assured, grabbing Merlin's other shoulder and turning him to face him. "Look at me! We're going to get you out of here. We're going to get you to Gaius."
His breathing calmed a bit and he nodded numbly. He pulled the blankets around his waist, clutching them there and attempting to compose himself. Lancelot stepped forwards and took one of the blankets from him before draping it about his shoulders and letting Merlin's hand hold it in place like a coat. Then he aided Merlin in tying another about his hips. It was frightening how easily the fabric held its place, strung about the jagged bones that kept it up.
Then, with the help of Arthur and the knights, Merlin stood.
Gwen came to visit and, to his delight, brought him fresh clothes, made especially for him. He thanked her, utterly grateful, but decided that he had not yet had enough of his bed and remained under the covers whilst she talked to him.
"Arthur's trying to get you a room with a larger bed, but I think it will have to specially made. Perhaps we can put two together and you can sleep on it sideways!"
Merlin smiled at her jest, skin crinkling around the eyes a bit more than they ought to at his young age.
"Gaius is working on a cure," she informed, "but he's not sure if he'll be able to figure this all out without any knowledge of what exactly the witch did to you. Percival is still leading some knights on a search but they haven't found anything yet. All of her belongings seem to have vanished with her death."
"Something tells me they won't be found," Merlin sighed, tugging at his blankets in an attempt to make them cover his body.
Merlin swayed where he stood, looking down at the knights with round, puzzled eyes.
Arthur stared back up at him, expression of shock and momentarily frozen in awe. Merlin towered above them. He was taller than any man Arthur had ever seen. He reached heights beyond even Percival's reach. He reckoned he ought to be at nine feet tall. And yet, despite his leverage, he still looked small, what with how thin he was. His stomach was flat and slender, spine mapped out on his back. His skin stretched across his bones like a deformed canvas. His limbs were wiry and it was a miracle that he could even stand, though his legs were shaking violently under the weight.
He looked confused, as if not even he had known how large he was. His bewildered gaze remained as they led him out of the dark, squinting against the sun he hadn't seen for so long a time.
When Gwen left, Merlin climbed out of bed and slipped into his new attire. He was thankful that they fit, having become far too acquainted with wearing nothing but his small clothes. He liked the warmth they offered, the way they felt more permanent than the blankets that were too small.
He sat back down on his bed, knees in the air due to his long legs. He pursed his lips as he noticed that he was still shoeless, his feet having grown a deal as well. He put his hands on his knees and eyed how long his fingers were and how stretched out his palm appeared. Like the rest of him, it was long but thin. Nothing was right with him. He was too tall and not nearly as thick as he should be. Gaius prescribed almost too much food for his small stomach to take. He was always met with great meals and massive dishes.
Arthur interrupted his musings, nervously edging into the room.
"Arthur?" Merlin questioned, acknowledging that he knew that he was there.
"Merlin," Arthur addressed. "How are you feeling?"
Merlin scoffed. "What? Are you worried about me?"
Arthur grinned. "Heavens no! I just need to be sure that you'll be returning to work soon!"
Merlin's smile fell at that. "Gaius isn't sure if there's a cure," he mumbled, hunching over his bony legs.
"Have you remembered anything?" Arthur questioned hesitantly.
Merlin sighed. "Yes, but it wasn't anything of use, I don't think."
He had only paused for a moment to rest his weary legs when a gnarly hand wrapped itself about his mouth and pulled him into someone's chest.
A voice hushed his muffled protest and a woman's face entered his vision. "You're perfect," she cooed, holding onto his tighter. "You should work. Yes, you should be fine."
He watched as her eyes burned gold before he blacked out and went limp in her arms.
Gaius checked in on the boys and, after some pleading, permitted that Merlin would be allowed to leave his rooms, so long as they were careful.
It was the first time Merlin had left Gaius's chambers and a wave of different emotions pushed him over as the day went on. He was relieved when he stepped into the corridor and he could stand up straight without his head bumping into the ceiling. He stretched and his joints cracked, all of them. He suddenly became self-conscious and eyed every passage way they passed, hoping that no one would have to see him.
They went to Arthur's chambers, the prince having offered that they have breakfast together. After all, Merlin had been eating like royalty ever since he was brought back from the mountains.
Merlin sat on the floor, legs crossed and toes sticking out from under them. He ate as much as Arthur did, a plate piled high with meats and cheeses. Arthur even insisted that he eat his own leftovers.
"Gaius said you were to eat as much as possible," Arthur argued, pushing his plate towards the end of the table, "and it'll go to waste if you don't eat it."
"I have eaten as much as possible!" Merlin countered. "I feel like my stomach's about to burst!"
"Well you don't look like it! And, until you do, you are to eat all that you are given." He smiled triumphantly as Merlin reluctantly took the food. Arthur knew that Merlin's stomach had apparently been stretched along with the rest of him. Gaius had said that the boy would feel full far sooner than he had actually eaten all that he could. Knowing this, he made Merlin eat, regardless of how much he would whine about stomachaches later.
When they left for a walk in the woods, requested by Merlin because oh, it felt good to stretch, it was later in the day. Therefore, there were far more people about.
Merlin's kept his eyes downcast as the maids and servants gawked at him, watching in gruesome fascination as he ducked under archways and crouched beneath low ceilings.
Unfortunately, to get to the woods, they would have to walk through the lower town.
All eyes were either on him or kept off of him with every fiber of the owner's being. He was a sight difficult not to look at. It wasn't every day that you saw a nine foot man strolling through your neighborhood. Arthur did what he could to pretend that all was normal, but, when your friend was taller than some of the houses, it was hard not to notice.
Rumors had already stirred the castle when Merlin was first brought home, barely conscious and entirely stunned by his own transformation. They had only warped since then.
It had taken a long while to get Merlin back to Camelot. No horse could carry him and he was weak on his feet. Eventually, some of the knights were able to trade some skins and meat for a carriage in a village on their path whilst Arthur and Gwaine kept Merlin company in the forest. When they returned, they mounted a few horses to the wagon and settled Merlin inside, supplying him with nearly every blanket they had to keep him warm and dignified.
When they finally breached the city walls, all eyes were on them, rumors being born on the lips of prying townsfolk. Though Merlin was fairly well covered, it was no secret that some tragic mutilation had befallen him.
Whispered words spread throughout the castle, people claiming that Merlin had all sorts of disfigurements. One rather popular story was that he'd been taken away by a mad man and put in a stretcher. Another tale told of wendigos keeping him captive and forcefully feeding him human flesh until he became as deformed and decrepit as they were. There were all kinds of ridiculous notions, people saying that he'd grown a tale, scales, wings, claws, anything to fuel the people's imagination.
It irked Arthur, and he hoped that it would all die out by the time Merlin had recuperated.
"I could have sworn it was a body they brought back!"
"So he was put in a stretcher!"
"Gods! He's ginormous!"
"What is that thing?"
"That's the prince's servant?"
"It's not even human."
The voices brushed past Merlin's ears and he wondered humorlessly if they thought he was up too high to hear them. He let out a thankful sigh as they reached the seclusion of the forest and left behind the telltales of what had happened to him.
They walked on a little while longer in silence. Merlin looked down at Arthur, who was only about as tall as his elbow, wondering what he was thinking.
Eventually, they settled in a small clearing. Arthur made sure that Merlin was alright being left alone before he left to hunt for lunch (adding that Merlin would only terrify the game, of course).
That left Merlin, alone in a clearing, slumped against a tree and feeling far more tired than he thought he ought to. He supposed it had something to do with how wiry he had become. His muscles were already sore after such a short walk in comparison to some far longer treks he'd made in the past.
He woke up in the cave, alone and shackled to a wall. He tried to break free using magic but, like Morgause's chains, that only resulted in his bindings tightening around his wrists.
An unnerving coo echoed through the dark tunnel before a light appeared, followed by an absolutely giddy looking witch, practically hoping over to where Merlin was shackled.
"You're awake!" she cheered. "Good! I can't wait!"
Merlin eyed her skeptically.
"Don't worry. I'm not going to harm you," she promised, hobbling over, her light hair falling over her eyes. She was old but agile, fit for her age. She smiled a toothy grin and her eyes lit up. "I was beginning to think that I'd never find anyone who would work!"
"Work for what?" Merlin asked, letting his irritation be known through his voice.
"All the other people never worked," she tutted. "Most of them had no effect. Some of the ones with magic died!" She sighed, looking surprisingly remorseful. "But you, you're different! I reckon you've got enough power to make it work!"
Merlin's brow furrowed, becoming honest to goodness entirely confused.
"Magic is needed of course!" she explained, though she still wasn't making much sense. "I thought all it would need was my magic, but apparently it has to be internal as well. It needs a lot of it too!"
"What does?" Merlin growled, becoming frustrated.
"Oh!" she peeped, realizing that she hadn't fully clarified her intentions. "The giant's blood!"
Merlin's eyes widened with additional confusion at the revelation and his brow furrowed as far as it could go. "Giant's blood?"
"Yes!" the woman cried, practically dancing with excitement. "I've found some! It's very hard to come by, you know! Giants are extinct after all. But I will be the one to bring them back!"
"I've found a way!" she exclaimed, conjuring a fire with her magic and brewing something that looked vile. "All I need is a potion and some giant's blood! And you! It needs you! There needs to be enough magic within the patient in order for the potion to work. The magic will force the giant's blood through your veins, as it did the others! Only the others did not have enough and the process killed them." Again, she sighed as if the death of an innocent was but a small mistake that put a damper on her joy. "But I reckon you have enough power to pull through, don't ya?"
Then, she did what almost seemed to be a jig as she approached him, a small vial clasped in her aged hands. "I'm afraid it tastes rather bland so . . ." she trailed off as she grasped Merlin's jaw, forcing his mouth open and dumping the foul liquid down his throat.
Merlin sputtered awake, gasping and shaking, the memory of the mad woman running through his mind. His blurred vision could barely make out the image of Arthur before him and, as it cleared, it became certain that the prince was concerned.
"You alright?" Arthur asked after Merlin seemed to have calmed down.
Numbly, Merlin nodded and let go of the grass that he had unknowingly clutched onto in his dreams.
"Did you remember something?" Arthur asked hesitantly, sitting down next to Merlin against the protruding root of the tree.
Merlin nodded, looking down at his legs, vaguely noticing that his were about a third larger than Arthur's, played out in the grass as they were.
"Well," Arthur sighed, throwing two dead rabbits onto the boy's lap, "these aren't going to cook themselves."
Merlin rolled his eyes as he got up and built a fire.
As he set the rabbits out to cook, he could feel the effects of Gaius's pain medicine wearing off, his bones beginning to ache. He groaned as he stood back up, standing taller than a few of the younger trees. Arthur looked up at him, poorly masked concern evident on his face.
After stretching, Merlin sat back down to tend to the fire, only his arm shook slightly. He tried to ignore the throb of his muscles and the trebling of his bones but it was difficult not to notice. With a sense of dread, he realized that he had not taken any of Gaius's medicine with him and he would have to walk back in this state.
It was his chest that was the worst. His ribs were still recovering from being broken and it was still excruciating to take a breath too deep. Gaius said that it was only temporary, explaining that his lungs would become more expandable over time once his ribcage was big enough for them, but, for now, they were still tight and restrained against heavy breathing.
"Done," Merlin mumbled as he took the rabbits off of the fire. He dished out the food but left his serving on the ground, opting rather to lie down and extend himself some more.
"You alright, Merlin?" Arthur asked after taking a few bites of his food.
Merlin huffed and closed his eyes, feeling utterly exhausted.
"We can head back," Arthur suggested, trying to sound nonchalant.
Merlin didn't answer except to breath slowly through his nose, trying to ease the constricting pain in his chest.
It went on for days. The woman would return from picking plumbs or hunting game and would immediately administer another dose of the revolting giant's blood potion. Merlin couldn't be sure as to what a giant was, but he figured it was some large beast, given the name. He could feel his body changing over time, but, after the first week of it, he could hardly tell exactly what was happening to him. All he knew was that the potion caused him pain, ever present, drawn out pain.
He barely noticed when the shackles were removed. He wondered if the witch knew how weak he was or if it truly was because, "you've grown far too large for these now, I'm afraid."
The witch continued to speak to him as if he were willing to go through with the transformation. She talked as if he were her child and it churned his stomach.
One day, Merlin was feeling incredibly terrible, his lungs pressing against his ribs whenever he tried to take a deep breath, and he hated that purplish potion more than ever. So, when the witch made to give it to him, he turned his head into the wall, clamping his mouth shut.
"Oh, come now!" she sighed. "We're nearly halfway done! When we're finished you'll be twenty feet tall!"
Merlin groaned and buried his face even further into his crevice, not wanting to even look at the witch or her stupid potion. But the woman would have none of it. Like a parent trying to feed her child vegetables, she slid her hand under Merlin's cheek and turned his face around.
He flinched, pushing away from her and trying to dig his face back into the wall. She began to holler and scold him as if he had broken a house rule. He simply held out his hands and tried to keep her at bay, but she kept coming, swatting his feeble arms with little effort.
But Merlin kept kicking and growling, trying and failing to get away. Eventually, the witch won, gripping his jaw in her weathered hands and forcing the thick, foul liquid down his throat.
He gagged. His heart was pounding and his breath came short. His body shook and jittered and his eyes grew wide as he found breath escaping him.
The witch panicked, ringing out her impossibly long hair and turning her head on a swivel as if she could find something to stop her giant's hyperventilating. Upon giving up hope, she left the cave, leaving Merlin alone to suffer.
Arthur's head shot up when he heard Merlin gasp. Across the clearing he could see the boy, chest bumping up and down with each quick intake of breath that never seemed to be enough.
In an instant, Arthur was beside him, tapping his face until his eyes fluttered open. Merlin seemed to realize what was happening to him and his eyes went wide. He clawed at the ground and choked on air, willing his breathing to go back to normal.
He needed to sit up. He tilted his head up and leaned forwards but Arthur put a hand on his shoulder, keeping him down. Merlin panicked, trying and failing to push against Arthur's weight as the prince tried to assure him that everything would be alright. Little did he know that he was one of the obstacles keeping Merlin from breathing.
In a fit of fear, Merlin stuck out his arm and swiped Arthur away, sending him tumbling across the grass. Then, Merlin shot upright and took in a large gulp of air that made his chest sting.
Realization seemed to dawn on Arthur's face as he looked up to see Merlin breathing easier. Guilt took over his features and he became resigned, not wanting to cause any more harm.
Merlin tried to make Arthur known to the fact that he held no fault with him. How was he to know what to do when a giant of a man was fussing for breath on the ground? Merlin had to lean on the trees as they walked back, his pains getting the better of him. Eventually he found a felled tree and broke it in half, using the sturdier bit of it as a sort of cane to put his weight on.
Never had Merlin wanted to disappear more than he did when they arrived back in the lower town. Not only was he in pain, but he was at the peak of insecurity. He hunched over his cane, looking like knobby old man the size of a house.
Arthur led him through the castle. He leaned heavily on the walls, having abandoned his tree outside, and staggered with every step. Finally, Arthur reached his destination, but it was not Gaius's chambers.
"Arthur," Merlin sighed, feeling fit to fall apart.
The prince shushed him and, to Merlin's surprise, did not open the door to his chambers, but the one next to it.
Merlin ducked through the doorframe and stood up inside. Like Arthur's chambers, the room had a ceiling high enough that he could stand, but only just, his hair tickling against the stones above. In the far corner of the room there was a bed, larger than Merlin had ever seen before. It stretched across the entire wall, measuring at ten feet, at least!
In the center of the room, there was a table and beside it was an odd looking chair with extremely short legs. Arthur noticed Merlin staring at it and stepped forwards to explain.
"This was the best we could do," he said, leaning on the back of it. "We figured that if we accommodated the height of the table to fit your knees, then the chair would have been too tall and your head would bump the ceiling." He laughed nervously, and then continued. "We made the table long so that your legs would fit under it." He nodded to a few extra, ordinary chairs that were stationed about the table. "Those are for guests, which is another reason why we left the table at its normal height."
Arthur bit his lip as he watched Merlin gaze about the room. His eyes landed on the fireplace, where a large skin rug was splayed out, looking comfortably warm. Already the fire was blazing.
Then he looked back to Arthur. These chambers were as big as his own and yet he was offering them up to a peasant. He smiled down at him and walked passed towards the bed, where he sat down and sunk into the soft fabrics.
There was a long silence in which Arthur looked incredibly awkward as Merlin marveled at the room. "Thank you," he finally said, closing his eyes and letting the comfort of the room ease his aches a bit.
Arthur smiled, knowing that there was great chance of Merlin remaining as he was forever.
Merlin opened his eyes and looked apologetically towards Arthur. "Could you get Gaius?" he asked, voice tired.
Arthur's eyes widened. "Of course!" He left and returned with the physician moments later.
Gaius asked Arthur for some privacy, after praising the man for his efforts in making Merlin comfortable, and was left alone with his patient.
"I remembered a lot more," Merlin told him as he gulped down the pain draught, greedy for it despite its foul taste.
Merlin proceeded to relay the information Gaius needed to assess the situation, cringing and oddly twitching at some of the memories. When he finished, Gaius sat back in one of the spare chairs, eyebrow raised in thought.
"Giant's blood?" he question, eyebrow climbing even higher.
"What are they, Gaius?" Merlin asked. "The giants, I mean."
Gaius huffed. "Well I would have thought that would be obvious! Giants were ancient beings that once lived in the mountains. They were towering men, lived in deep caves, only coming out for food. Come to think of it, this might explain some of your fatigue, Merlin. Giants tend to sleep for great amounts of time, only waking when hungry or angered.
"They died out many years ago. Why this woman would want to bring them back, I cannot fathom. They were utterly useless creatures, if I am honest. They had a fascination for shiny things, would keep them hidden in their caves. Often men would try to steal away with their treasures, causing the giant to become enraged and attack. They were strong beings but not very smart. That, I believe, led to their downfall."
"Why were they killed?" Merlin questioned curiously. "Why did the people not just leave them be?"
Gaius sighed. "This was before my time, Merlin. I cannot be sure. However, there is some tell of giants stealing crop and livestock. As I said, they were not very intelligent. When they were hungry, they would often just wonder into villages and take the first thing they saw. People lost food and wealth because of them."
Merlin seemed to contemplate this. Then, hesitantly, he said, "Is there a cure?"
Gaius shook his head. "I don't know. I've never heard of someone ever doing what this woman tried to achieve. You may very well remain as a half giant forever."
As it turned out, there was no cure. Hours and hours of research on everyone's part (even Arthur's) led to numerous dead ends. The witch was mad and the treatment she had been using could have very well killed Merlin had she continued on with it as it had her other patients. On the other hand, Gaius mused, it might have worked, resulting in an all powerful twenty to thirty foot warlock!
Merlin's lungs healed with relative success, though he had to be careful on hot summer days when he was more prone to having trouble. Arthur was informed about the giant's blood and accepted his servant's fate wholeheartedly, even if he knew the coming months would be difficult.
He fattened up, not as much as Gaius would have like, but enough that he wasn't a skeletal map anymore. Gwen helped him make new boots and more clothes. He continued to be Arthur's servant, even accompanying him on hunts and quests.
It was easy to say that he was intimidating. Any mortal who challenged Arthur was met with a lumbering Merlin giving them a death glare. And no one wanted to be on the receiving end of Merlin's anger. His temper became quite short, Gaius attributing this to the effects of the witch's potion. In a fit of anger, when a sorcerer approached them in the woods and was rambling on about how unworthy Arthur was of becoming king, a red faced Merlin swatted the man, throwing him against a tree and knocking his brains about in his head.
Arthur came to like his pet giant, not that he actually saw Merlin as a pet. He often lightheartedly teased Merlin about his height or his strength. Sometimes he would even poke fun at how skinny he still was. And, if Arthur caught Merlin staring at his newly polished sword with awe and a hint of want, he let the moment pass without comment.
Gwen did, however, catch Merlin with a chest full of small shiny trinkets, mostly loose buttons and bent spoons. She giggled at him and he blushed tremendously before she assured him that it wasn't his fault and that he couldn't help it.
There were days when Merlin had trouble waking up, especially in the winter when the solid walls and soft blankets shielded him from the elements. Gaius would sometimes prescribe a day in bed or offer him a stimulant to help him get his day going.
It's needless to say that Merlin became Camelot's prized oddity. Even after Uther had passed and Arthur became king, people were still gawking at him in the streets. But he was used to it now and smiled back at them with his usual gleam.
Luckily for him, the potion didn't falter Merlin's intelligence (not that Arthur wouldn't claim that it did whenever Merlin displayed an act of stupidity). He continued to help Gaius when he was needed, though hobbling around in a room as small as his did not always favor good fortune. He also continued to discreetly advise Arthur. That is, until his secret was out.
Arthur took it surprisingly well, possibly due to the fact that Merlin was already a half giant so adding another surprise to the list was only a bit numbing at the most. He was angry, of course, but the hateful feelings soon faded as he became known to Merlin's sacrifices.
It had been during a scuffle with Morgana. She had, like everyone else, gawked at Merlin's condition and, whilst she was distracted, he kicked her across the woods. That did not stop her, however, being a high priestess as she was, and she retaliated with a shriek, sending both him and Arthur flying back and tumbling down a gully.
Merlin had awoken first, having been large enough to plow through most of the obstacles that met him in his fall, landing with a thud on the ground below. His eyes darted around in search of Arthur, but he was quickly distracted by something shining in the distance.
It was the dark shimmering scales of a serket.
Merlin bounded up to them and began batting them away with the backs of his hands. He furiously swatted them away from the gully, where he knew Arthur would be lying somewhere. It wasn't until he heard a soft groan that he realized one had slipped past him.
The half giant spun to see Arthur on his hands and knees, having just recovered from his fall. Merlin smiled, seeing that Arthur was alright, but his grin quickly faded as he spotted one of the serkets crawling up to his king.
"Arthur!" he cried.
Arthur's head shot up to look at Merlin just as the serket's stinger plunged into his back. The king grunted and stumbled, falling to the ground once more.
"No!" Merlin screamed, sending the beasts flying in all directions with the magic that flashed in his eyes. He ran over to Arthur and cradled him in his arms before climbing out of the gully, racing Arthur to safety.
He stopped in a clearing, lying Arthur down gently, built a fire, and waited. When Arthur finally stirred, Merlin had to swallow his fears.
"What happened?" he asked groggily, looking up at Merlin with pained eyes.
"You were stung by a serket," Merlin said flatly, not meeting his eyes.
"Oh," Arthur said quietly. It was common knowledge that one could not recover from a serket sting, and he was no fool to believe that he would be an exception.
"It's alright," Merlin sniffled. "It's fine. You'll be fine. I'll fix you up."
Arthur shook his head. "No," he countered, pushing Merlin's hands away as they tried to help. "No, Merlin. There's nothing you can do. No one has ever survived a serket sting."
"You're wrong," Merlin said, face tight with the pain of the situation.
"What do you mean?" Arthur questioned, sensing the resignation behind Merlin's words.
"I have," Merlin said simply, barely above a whisper.
"What?" Arthur questioned. "No, that's impossible."
"No, no, look," Merlin mumbled, pressing Arthur's shoulders into the ground and closing his eyes. When he had been stung by the serket, he had been too weak to heal himself, but he was strong now, and had learnt more about his magic. He knew he could heal Arthur. "Gehælan," he uttered, eyes burning gold. Arthur stares as they fade back to blue, feeling the wound close on his back and the venom leave his body in cold chill.
"You," Arthur breathed, suddenly feeling incredibly exhausted, "You have magic."
Merlin nodded, tears pricking at his eyes, as he watched Arthur fall asleep.
Merlin carried Arthur home, numb with sorrow and anticipation. He slept for two days whilst Merlin worried, pacing his room and twiddling his thumbs whenever he was allowed to visit Arthur.
Gaius tried to keep Merlin calm, assure him that all would be well, but it did nothing to battle the boy's anxiety. Standing at nine feet tall, he never felt so small. The physician often made Merlin leave when his emotions got the best of him and, though he wanted to be at Arthur's side when he woke, he was forced to stay in his chambers.
When the king did wake, he was met with Gaius's worried face. He immediately panicked, looking at Gaius wide eyed. He didn't know what to do. He kept his mouth shut and got lost in his own thoughts. He had no idea whether or not Gaius knew of Merlin's magic and, if he didn't, he wasn't sure if he even wanted to warn him. Was it even something to warn about? He was so confused that he just sat there, eyes wide and gawking at Gaius as so many did Merlin.
The old man broke the silence. "You know."
So Gaius was aware. Silently, he nodded, feeling numb all over.
Gaius took his time in explaining to Arthur that Merlin was born with magic and, as much as he initially claimed it was impossible, he accepted it. He then went on to recall when Merlin was captured by the witch, explaining why he was chosen for such a cruel experiment.
When Gaius led Arthur back to his own rooms, he was indifferent. He had not voiced his opinion on the matter at all, simply taking in what Gaius had to say. When he was settled, seated cozily in the bench by his fire, he turned to Gaius before he could leave and said, "Could you send for Merlin to come in here?"
Gaius nodded. "Of course, sire."
Merlin was shaking out of his skin when he crouched through the doorway, eyes wide and anxious. Arthur bid him to sit and he settled on the king's rug before the hearth, legs crossed in front of him. He doubled over, holing his feet in his hands and staring down at the furs beneath him.
Arthur stared at him. And it remained like that for a long time, both of them silent and unmoving. Finally, Arthur cleared his throat and leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands, propped up by his elbows on his knees. "Tell me," he said.
Merlin looked up and proceeded to recall all of his adventures since he arrived in Camelot. And Arthur listened, quietly taking in all that he could be told before passing judgment on his friend.
Because Merlin was still his friend, his giant, magical, ridiculously loyal friend.