Lands outside of Camelot are being attacked in broad daylight.

The official reports flood in about mysterious tribes of warriors, banded along with sorcerers. The little villages in Esetir and Anglia raided and slaughtered. Reports about missing persons scattered these same lands, and then entire missing families.

There's rumours of them having been eaten alive, while still begging for mercy.

Uther does nothing until a patrol of Camelot's knight vanish into thin air, without warning from the borders of the Darkling Woods.

In a full month, they reappear injured and dying, long having since passed the territory of Cenred's kingdom. Prince and Arthur and some of the best knights accompany him, to rescue those who can be saved, along with information-gathering and dispelling the rumours on the bizarre phenomena and flesh-eaters.

Anglia is dense with forest to the west, and appears to have little running water. Even less are human faces.

Merlin jolts in place, head whipping around at the noise of a low, animal growl.

He then snaps back to attention, visibly wincing. A heavy, bulging satchel flies out and smacks him right in the face. The brown rawhide-tie on the satchel breaks apart, as it tumbles onto the ground, spilling out two pewter cups.

"Carry this for me, boy," one of Uther's knights shouts, expression hideous with a grin.

Merlin ignores the urge to rub at his aching, throbbing left eye. It will only give them satisfaction.

"Sir Brennis," Arthur calls out loudly, from nearby. "Tell me, are you lacking arms?"

A confused, murmuring shuffle among the men.

"I beg pardon, my lord?"

"I said… are you lacking arms?" Arthur drawls, self-satisfied. He takes a step back and runs his eyes over the other knight, sizing him up. "You're not? Good, then you may pick up your belongings and return to your horse."

Sir Brennis chuckles nervously, moss-green eyes flicking to Merlin busying himself with a saddle.

"My lord—"

Arthur raises his eyebrows, his smile widening.

"Are you deaf as well?" he asks, pointedly. When no further argument issues, and the rest of Uther's knights grimly avoid his stare, Arthur nods. "You have your orders. Pick it up."

Fury overcomes the older knight, in his motion, but he obeys, kneeling in the mud for the pewter cups and satchel.

"Merlin, carry this for me, won't you," Arthur says idly, coming up to Merlin's horse, gloved hand holding up a strap of leather-bag.

"Prat," Merlin grumbles, adjusting the buckles of his saddle.

He hears Arthur snort in obvious amusement, and then it's fingers in Merlin's hair, playfully messing with dark curls. Merlin bats Arthur's hand away, semi-glaring at him. "Stop being useless. You're setting a bad example—what would happen if we were ambushed?"

Merlin shrugs, petting his speckled mare nudging on his shoulder for attention.

"Let you get yourself killed, I expect," he says. "So you brought me on this dangerous quest because I am useless in battle…?"

Arthur scoffs, lips twisting.

"No—who else is going to cook for me?"

"Of course." Merlin then announces in a whisper, rolling his eyes, "I forgot you're too thick for sarcasm—ow!" He yelps as an expressionless Arthur punches his upper arm. "… Have you ever considered that YOU are the one setting a bad example?"



The campfire needs kindling.

As usual, Merlin feels like he's doing all the work. The knights lay about and swing their swords at nothing. He's got an armful of the kindling when Arthur marches up, summer sunlight glinting his yellow-gold hair and off his plated armour. The understory of the forest is partly shrubs and honeysuckle, and Merlin doesn't mind distance from the others.

"Can't you do that any faster?" Arthur says blandly, cocking his head.

Merlin smiles in menacing nature, all his teeth exposed.

"Maybe then you would like to help?"

After a moment of thoughtful silence, Arthur stoops down and picks up a broken branch. He twirls its weight absently, examining the leafy tip, and tosses the branch forgetfully. Merlin, however, continues picking up the dry kindling and adding it to his pile. He mutters, "Out here on my own, gathering woods for a punch of pisspots—"

"—Oi!" Arthur squawks, indignantly.

"—when there's flesh-eating madmen roaming everywhere—"

"Don't be ridiculous, Merlin," Arthur says doubtfully. "No one could ever credit you as a brave man."

Even with the jab, Merlin feels his mouth relax into a genuine half-smile.

"At least I'm not a pisspot," he comments, meeting Arthur's eyes. "Or in your case, a dollophead." To his surprise, Arthur smiles back, quietly. Sometimes—sometimes, Arthur wasn't so bad. When he wasn't badgered by the men, or when his head wasn't up his arse.

A rustling in the deep, dark thicket.

Merlin lurches backwards, nearly dropping his armful. Arthur's hand closes around the pommel of his sword. A twitchy, fluffy animal peeks out, hopping in a wild frenzy.

They let out a collective and relieved sigh.

"Was there not any rabbits in Ealdor?" Arthur says with a sneer, releasing his belt.

Merlin laughs, trying to not sound so uneasy. He nods, walking on, edging towards a clearing. "It was my favorite when we—ohmygod," Merlin's voice comes out murmury. This time, the kindling strewn at his feet. One of Arthur's hand grasps at Merlin's coat, tugging him fiercely.

"What on earth are you…?"

Arthur's fingers slip free of the ratty material.

On the opposite end of the clearing is a great hollow tree, and it's bleeding. What looks to be a young, pale woman contorted, naked, shoved in and left abandoned in the hole. Her cheeks ripped open without the meat. Gore tangling her mousy, limp hair.

A ragged gag suddenly escapes Merlin's throat.

He covers his mouth with a sleeve, careening back. Arthur pulls him in close, adrenaline heightened and blaring, using his own body as a shield from the grotesque display.

"Are you going to be alright?" he asks solemnly, hands gripping tight to Merlin's shoulders. Arthur's gaze darts.

Merlin swallows and gasps for air, removing his sleeve.

"Yes," he rasps, eyes watery and blinking rapidly. His head lowering. "The stench… it…"

"We need to get back to the knights," Arthur commands, softly. He glances behind them, urging the other man to follow.

Merlin looks up quickly, as if pleading.

"Shouldn't we…?" he trails off.

Without having to hear all of it, he understands Merlin wants to bury her. Unlike Arthur who is conflicted in this situation, Merlin always has the best intentions of the heart, especially when it came to those in need. His father called it being a "simpleton"… but there's nothing truly simple about Merlin. Not at all.

"We need to go," is the curt response and Arthur drags him, rushing towards the campgrounds.



Nightfall is met with uneasiness and pacing.

Arthur appoints Leon as guard for the first watch, along with two other knights. Merlin hunkers down on his bedroll, shivering not from the cold, but a bone-reaching fear. He curls up to himself, hugging in his knees.

No one pays mind to him, either lying asleep in their own bedrolls or watching the shadows.

Sleep does claim him eventually, drifting like a humming of bees. Except it does sound like humming.

And it's getting nearer.

Merlin opens his eyes, frowning.


In the distance, howling and womanly screeches punctuating the ever-steady chanting of voices. He settles himself up on an elbow, heart pounding. The embers of the fire-light then blow out without any wind. Stomping feet. Men yelling. Clashing swords.

He spins out of the way of two unidentifiable figures wrestling each other, crawling in the dirt for the brush. Merlin's eyes are strong and perceptive, but not enough to locate friend from foe in this darkness. This is someone else's magic at work.

"Arthur!" Merlin yells, listening to the warfare, to pained cries and strangled, blood-thick gurgling.




Uther's knights are dead.

Left behind is hunks of rotting flesh and maggoty jaws. Sliced, pink-shining innards against the crimson-bathed earth. Shards of teeth gleaming, having been shattered from blunt force. Decapitated heads leaking colorless fluid from their bulging, marble-dull eyes.

Human bite-marks all over faces and necks.

Merlin discovers Arthur, untouched, a minor wound to his temple. He's weakly breathing and unresponsive when Merlin slaps an open palm across his cheek. He summons his magic to aid him in carrying Arthur to a horse.

Their enemies have vanished.



Their horses rode hard for what feels like a day, towards Camelot, before the sun fades on the horizon.

The air smells faintly like rain, but none comes. Which is fortunate. Clear skies will bode well for their journey. "We'll rest here for the night," Merlin speaks aloud, circling the glade on his mare and eyeing where they can stretch out for rest. A fire will attract attention, so he will need to be quick about it.

He jumps off his saddle, opening some knapsacks and preparing a dinner. Stew will be on the menu for a while.

Arthur, still unconscious, hangs off his saddle. Merlin pinches him, pulls his hair, anything to wake him. The wound has healed with no complications, so it should be any minute now. He unhooks the cooking pot, and Merlin sets out rocks and grabs his flint.

Merlin's eyes stare over the firewood for a long time, and then the item in his hand. He sighs, tucking the flint back into his pocket.

Listening for Arthur, Merlin extends a hand. Fingers uncurling.

He murmurs, "Forbearnan."

A warm rush of energy. The flames burst and crackles strong.

Merlin lowers his hand to his side, the corners of his mouth quirking.

Somewhere behind him, a twig snaps. His features tighten.

"Hello?" he calls out. With no immediate answer, Merlin rises from the felled tree he sits on. "I'm armed so you better… stay back," he says a bit more loudly, hand reaching out for Arthur's sword he had thrust into the ground.

{{We come to speak with you, Emrys.}}

Merlin's skull rings with the newly formed words inside him. He winces, clapping a hand over his face.


{Who are you…?} he asks, letting his uncertainty into the telepathic link.

Before Merlin can learn the identities, Arthur crashes into his hearing, startling him. "THERE you are!" he yells. "Did you not HEAR me, you idiot? What are you doing daydreaming?"

He… what?

Merlin stares, eyebrows furrowing as the other man kneels down.

"What's the matter with you?"

"Besides the fact everyone we know has been killed and we're lost?" Merlin snaps.

Arthur's face darkens.

"We're not lost," he says, rumbling. "We're headed to the White Mountains and why are you doing that?"

Shit, Merlin still has his fingers to his forehead. He lowers them, straightening himself up. "Mm'fine, just an ache." He gives Arthur a feigned, sunny smile. "Shall I start dinner? You said yourself you can't cook worth a damn."

"I never said that."

"Oh, you did."



The usual banter seems lackluster. Merlin assumes it's to do with all the horrible death happening around them.

He washes out the cooking pot after eating and bundles their things together. He thinks about finding a spot to lie down. Arthur decides to rest before the second watch, dozing off by the smoking ashes. The moon washes silvery into the tree-canopy.

Blue eyes gaze into the distance, before Merlin's body shifts in place.


The same voices.


Merlin peers over at Camelot's prince, regarding him in silent contemplation, and then casts a protection spell. He dives into the woods for the summoning whispers of his presence.

{I am here.}

Out from the abyssal sort of darkness, a handful of men and women in states of ragged clothing approach him, solemn-faced and apprehensive. On some of their necks are the tattooed markings of Druids people. Merlin levels his shoulders, nodding. {Why have you called me?}

{{These are treacherous times, Emrys. Many of our kind have been slaughtered. We needed your protection.}}

{I've already seen it. I don't know what to do.}

{{We understand.}}

From behind the group, a dirtied-face little girl parades around them. Merlin looks down at her, beginning to smile cautiously, as she beams cheerfully and holds out her hands. A cloth-covered object, it appears to be. The little girl delicately unwinds the cloth from it.

{{Your sacrifice is for us all.}}

Merlin cries out wordlessly as his forearm is caught by her. The child roughly presses a lump of black stone to his skin, A heat, like flamelight, crawls over him and surges up his entire arm, growing hotter. Growing increasingly more painful.

He chokes on a gasp, bending in and wrenching back his arm as the little girl retreats, having dropped the wool cloth.

Sweat flows on Merlin's nape.

"… what have you done to me?" he whispers, clutching his wrist, eyes getting rounder.

{{It's for the good of us all, Emrys. Releasing us from your curse. Destiny must be fulfilled.}}


The voices go quiet, until the eve's shadows greet him.

Merlin gawks at his own skin, at the blackened, puffing scarring. And then, he does at his empty surroundings.

{WAIT!} he hollers.

Teeth gritting, Merlin yanks down his tunic sleeve, discovering his legs trembling and his neck still damp. Merlin wipes at it absently, turning around for the direction he came.

The sun will be rising soon.



As the hours progress on, the pain in Merlin's arm dwindles off.

Merlin returns to the clearing, the outskirts of it, leading the horses where he can feed and water them. But then, he had available light and can see anyone coming. He strokes the flank of the dark stallion, absently clicking his tongue at him as he whinnies for some oat, butting Merlin's hand.

His mouth feels like cotton.

Merlin runs it against the back of his hand, dry and cracked lips smacking. He needs a drink.

With care, he crouches down besides a running brook, cupping his hands for water. As it slides down his throat, Merlin spits it back up, falling into a sit. It's like shards of glass. The curse on him—or whatever the renegade Druids have done. Merlin's heart drums in his chest, pain flaring down his arm.

Merlin clutches at it, grimacing but silent.

"Is this going to be a habit? You wandering off?" Arthur tells him, scowling.

He shushes the horses, petting them consolingly. Ignoring the flash of anger and twisted expression on Arthur's face, Merlin does his best to look calm. "Went to the horses," Merlin says, voice wrecked. He clears his throat, disregarding the sensation of raw, bloody ache in it.

"They needed watering," he adds, forcing his lips to quirk. "Sorry if it alarmed you. Take yours."

As Merlin passes the reins, Arthur's eyes land downward.

"What the HELL is this?" he demands, grasping Merlin's wrists and pushing up the rest of his tunic.

"That… is my own fault," Merlin lies, good-naturedly. "It'll heal." He purposely slips out of Arthur's hands. "But, if you would like to help before we leave … you can find meadowsweet and roots for a tincture. The meadowsweet will have three leaves on it and gold flowers. And the roots are a dark colour, nearly violet."

"I'm sure you can do that on your own." Arthur says informatively, "I'll bring the horses."



Merlin takes a water-skin with him.

He opens his mouth for a drink and it feels the same. Like hot shards of glass waiting to go down his throat. Merlin gags out his mouthful. What sort of curse is this? Obviously it's going to kill him with time. Only… it seems different.

Quickly, he crushes the roots and meadowsweet, scooping the mashed remnants with his fingers and chewing them dry.

His teeth hurt. Merlin quietly spits out what's left, and there's blood gleaming in his saliva.

"We should reach the White Mountains by nightfall," he tells Arthur, going to his own saddle and heaving himself on. He doesn't like keeping anything from Arthur. Their destiny, or Merlin's sorcery, or this. But there has to be… anything to slow the process. Long enough for a reversal spell or even a cure.

For now, Merlin would treat it like a poisoning.

With a small, nudging kick, Merlin signals his horse to gallop.

The oscillating motion quickly becomes hellish. It's dizzying, nauseating. Merlin's mouth tastes both a sour and metallic, and still dry. He remains upright, playing off his own unsteady rocking with the fierce motions of the journey on horseback.

Fresh air helps, filling Merlin's lungs.

But, the wind picks up, making the rocking worse. The weather is cool, and Merlin only feels a terrible heat on him, more sweat to his neck and trickling down his back. They are nearly to the mountains. He can barely keep his eyes ahead or focusing. Merlin blinks, gulping in a loud breath.

And then, the nausea strikes him in the gut.

He bends over in his saddle, vomiting towards the forest ground. Somewhere in the haze, Merlin feels Arthur's hands grip on and keep him from sliding from his horse.

"Merlin?" Arthur helps him straighten. "Merlin, listen to me. We're close to Ealdor. I'm taking you to your mother."

Arthur remains solid, not hazy. Arthur's hand cupping he side of his face.

Despite his frustration, Merlin nearly keens to gentle touch.

He manages to keep himself from getting violently ill again, enduring the long and hard ride until the little village is in sight. Several of the farmers glance in their direction, but go back to their business. There certainly isn't time to waste on strangers.


He hears his mother call out, at first joyously until he tips sideways. Hunith catches him by the shoulders, watching her son pass out before almost tumbling out of his saddle.

"My god, what has happened—?" She stares around at Arthur, fear clouding his expression. "He has a fever—!"

"I'm not sure. We were attacked these past days, and he has a strange mark."

"Help me get him inside," Hunith pleads, taking one of Merlin's arms. She lets go, amazed, when Arthur hauls the other man effortlessly over his shoulder.

Inside the newly swept hut, she clears items from the table, pretending to appear busy and glancing out of the corner of her eye as Arthur lays her son out on her bed. So gently and so carefully. It's not so hard to see how the young prince seems restrained and uncomfortable despite this, but then, his friend has taken ill. It seems natural to be worried.

She wishes to check over Merlin herself, but gives Arthur another moment alone with him. Arthur's hand touches to her son's brow. Hunith smiles to herself, gladdened before walking over to join him.

"I'm sorry about this, Hunith."

"You have nothing to be sorry for, my lord," she whispers back, dismissing impulse to touch his arm comfortingly. It wouldn't be proper for a commoner such as herself to offer that.

Hunith feels for Merlin's neck, finding his pulse to be steady, but his colouring off. His skin is damp, but without any heat.

"Do not trouble yourself so," she says. "My boy has made it a habit in the past to keep silent about afflictions. He only thought of not worrying you."

Hunith stares into Arthur's eyes, this time smiling kindly. "I may need to ask another villager for a blanket when night falls. It will be rather cold," she adimts. "If I may ask, sire… what has brought your journey so far from Camelot? I am always happy to see Myrddin, but—"

A rattling cough startles her. Merlin wakes with it on his spit-shined lips, eyes fluttering open.

"Whhs…?" he asks, dazedly.

Waking up hurt. His teeth. His gums. Merlin tastes more blood in his mouth.

"Merlin, can you hear me?" Arthur says down on him, eyes narrowed. "You've been laying about on the job again. Your mother is here."

Thankful for the jokes, Merlin wheezes out a laugh. A thought slips into his still muddled consciousness.

"Mother," he mumbles out, his dazed, blue eyes on her. Hunith hovers in close, placing a gentle kiss to his brow and stroking her callused, sun-browned fingers into his hair.

"What is it, my boy?"

"Need… those flowers. The ones by where the farmer's son Derrick was buried. They're called Verbena. Bring them back here." Merlin gives her a little half-smile when she begins to protest, despite how weak he seems. "Don't worry, Arthur'll keep me company. He's rubbish at it, because it… doesn't involve hunting innocent animals for sport—"

To shut him up, Hunith taps Merlin's open mouth with her palm.

"Enough out of you," she says, lips twitching. "Rest. I'll be back shortly."

She heads towards the door, gesturing Arthur to her.

"If something happens while I'm gone," Hunith whispers, imploring, "you must get help. Do not wait, please. He's all I have."

Arthur nods, eyes softening.

Merlin stares up at the ceiling, breathing through another surge of pain traveling up his body, stomach churning and throat closing as his mother exits the front door.

He waits until Arthur joins him by his side to shift a little, raising one arm and pushing up his tunic sleeve. "Didn't want my mother to see this," Merlin explains, softly. The blackened, puffy marking no longer just covering his wrist. It's growing up his entire arm.

"… s'curse," he says, glancing down at it without expression. "Think it's meant to kill me." Merlin's tongue slides between his lips, nervously wetting. "There were sorcerers near our camp. Probably followed us. Tricked me." He gazes at Arthur. "Little girl held a stone to my arm… it was black and shining," he says, eyes widening in recognition, trying to get up. "Left it in my satchel. It could help us… identify this. Maybe we could—"

"When we get back to Camelot, you will be strung up," Arthur barks out, nostrils flaring. "You can't keep doing this."

The emotions filtering through Arthur, revealing to Merlin, they only solidify the burn of guilt in him. Arthur doesn't deserve this. He doesn't deserve further lies when so many had laid a path to each other. It hurts Merlin's bones, though all he feels and tastes is steely blood and perspiration.

"M'sorry," is all Merlin manages to say, a new, agonizing surge racking through him. He grunts, keeping his lips sealed of any escaping noise. Eyelids closing, heavier than they should be. "Need… the stone first," he breathes.

"What happens if you die, Merlin?"

The quiver in Arthur's voice is unmistakable.

"If I… leave you," Merlin tells him, despite the pain thudding in him, amusement laces his words, "who will cook your… meals, prat?"

Arthur shakes his head.

"We're… losing time arguing, please…"

"Don't you dare go anywhere."

"… Ll'do my best," Merlin announces.

As Arthur hurries for the door, he whispers his name.

"Hurry," Merlin says, face scrunching, his uninjured arm tightening over his stomach, leaving the other arm, and its cursed mark, dangling on the edge of the cot.

With the hut's door shut, and Arthur's footsteps gone, he succumbs his body's aches and tremours, crying out noisily. He finally lets go of everything desperately held in to face Arthur bravely and unafraid, at least for his prince's sake.

Another guttural noise escapes Merlin's mouth as he writhes and sucks air through his teeth, chest heaving. On his side, Merlin curls into himself.

His blood feels like molten silver-heat in his veins. A thin, runny film of blood dripping out of one of his nostrils. Merlin ends up on his back when his throat clenches up, and Merlin's hand flits for his neck, panicky.

Oxygen sucks into his mouth, but can't release, strangling.

Hunith steps inside, eyes anxious, carrying in a heap of wool blankets. "My boy, there were no flowers. I went to fetch supplies Johanna…" She pauses in the doorway, watching her son choking. "Myrddin, oh—!"

Arthur races in past her, and then stops with her, horrified.

"What is this? Where have you been!" she says, voice raising. At any other time Hunith may have felt a stark, foreboding awareness of her irate nature towards a noble, but this is her son's life in the balance.

At another stifled, ugly gasp across the hut, she drops everything in her hands, letting the items clatter to her feet. Hunith goes to Merlin's side, trying to soothe him with a hand touching his forehead and then forcing open his mouth to look in.

"There's nothing blocking his airway," she tells Arthur, giving him a stern and uneasy glance. Merlin's coloring begins to ashen. He gives another weak, rattling gasp, fingers clenching to his throat and neck arching.

Arthur moves her aside, opening up one of his gloved hands. A little black lump of a stone.

"I've got it. I've got you, hold on, Merlin," he says.

He hears Arthur talking to him, hovering in close, and wants to answer. Only tight, soundless heaves from Merlin's lips. Blue eyes lock to Arthur's face above him. He's afraid. The edges of Merlin's vision getting floaty, darker. It feels as if he is breathing through damp soil, instead of the precious air around them.

The hand to Merlin's throat pries away, entwining with large, tanned fingers. A sudden, unexplained sensation, like the blazing heat inside him has been doused with cool water, and Merlin's windpipe loosens.


Merlin gasps in, and coughs up his inhale. He gasps again, and again, getting big mouthfuls, eyes watering with relief.

High off of it, out of the rush of oxygen and Arthur's touch, Merlin pulls his hands free, grabbing onto Arthur's face and kissing him furiously, kissing him hard enough to see stars and breathing in his scent. Arthur's scent, like the horses, like the last remnants of sunlight. Merlin whimpers low into it, eyes closed, hands trembling.

Sparks of thrill and desire inside Merlin's veins, kindling a pleasant fire in his belly. The angle for kissing is all wrong, wrong, wrong with Arthur's mouth sliding sideways against Merlin's. He tries to correct it, lips parting, but Arthur's mouth breaks away. Merlin's hands clench on the other man, and he pants heavy against Arthur's chin.

"You're feeling better…?" Arthur murmurs, lips parting in shock.

"I think so," he replies.

The stone in Merlin's other hand pulse faintly, now falling to rhythm with Merlin's own heart.

"You're an idiot."

It's a chastising remark, but Merlin lets a small, humored smile lift his lips.

"I know you wouldn't get on without me," he murmurs, sucking into another deep breath against Arthur's mouth, feeling no resistance. Merlin pressing little, devout kisses along Arthur's warm mouth, to each corner, top and bottom. "You're perfectly useless without me around…"

"Mm, would I?" Arthur whispers, humming pleasantly.

As much as he wants to pull Arthur over him, risk being crushed by the weight of the plated armour and unstable body weight, Merlin remembers in fact that he is still on his mother's bed. And that Hunith stands at the foot, observing in silence.

"I need to speak with my son, please."

Merlin let out a nervous giggle, still lying on his back, as a red-faced Arthur gapes and heads out the door. Shit.

He clasps the black stone to him, sitting up.


Hunith raises a hand to him, palm-side up. Merlin hesitates, red-raw lips scrunched together. Her expression softens.

"Whatever you have gotten yourself into, you must fix it," she says. "You must get yourself to Gaius and take care. You worried both of us terribly. When I saw you…"

Merlin's heart stutters in alarm. A film of visible tears building in her eyes.

He reaches for Hunith's weathered hand. Merlin kisses the back of it lightly, holding it to his face and shaking his head wildly. "… I never meant to make you worry, Mother."

"And what about Prince Arthur?"

Merlin glances down at his own curled-up fist, his heart and the pulse in the stone thudding in rhythm.

"He knows I'm alive."

Hunith shoots him a glaring look. "Merlin, I'm not daft," she says. "I've seen you both. You might even grow to love this man."

The very mention of his reality both stuns Merlin and made him soar.

"I'm sorry," he mumbles, gazing down.

His mother looks outraged by the apology, "My love, what ever for?"

Merlin slams his fist to the cot, face twisting up in self-loathing.

"I didn't mean for this! We nearly died! Arthur… god, he's a prince and I'm just a servant! How could that ever be?" He then stares up at her, blue eyes wide and sorrowful. "And coming to Ealdor drags you into it and I'm sorry, and…" His voice catches in his throat. Merlin's shoulders falling. "I'm not the son I was meant to be, was I?"

Hunith clucks her tongue at him, sitting in front of him, covering his hand.

"My boy, ever since you were swaddled, I knew you were special," she says, fondly. "You sought to defy every tradition and every convention there ever was." His mother snorts a laugh, pushing her thumb against one of Merlin's cheekbones, as if rubbing off a bit of dirt from his skin. "I am proud of you, never forget this."

"… I'm not sure what to do," he admits, murmury.

"Loves makes fools of us all, Merlin." Hunith cups his face, pulling him forward and kissing his hairline. "What is most important is your health. Prince Arthur knows that." She smiles. "He's been good to you."

Merlin smiles back a little. "Except for mucking out his stables…"

"Myrddin," she says, teasingly slapping his arm and laughing again. It's so good to hear his name in their language.

He laughs with her, eyebrows drawn in. "Ugh, he's such a prat. Condescending and supercilious, and never listens to me, and won't clear his plate, and… I don't want to know what my life would be like without him."

"Then he's very fortunate," Hunith says, beaming.



Merlin gratefully takes food and drink from his mother, encouraged by the fact she doesn't threaten to have Arthur come in and force him to eat. Arthur would have likely tried to force it straight down his throat.

He steps outside, wrapped up in his coat, breathing in deep.

"Oi!" Merlin cheerfully waves over to Arthur who waits by the horses. He takes a step forward and nearly lost his footing in the mud, but shrugs it off, waving to his mother who sees them off,. He still fists the stone.



It's another day or so before they encounter any real trouble.

Merlin's thoughts are in a disarray and he's brought back to the present by the whinnying of Arthur's horse and them stopping.

"Let's rest here," Arthur says, getting down from his saddle.

He nods. The other man aids him off his own horse, but takes no care in releasing him. Merlin leans him when given the chance, embracing his arms to Arthur's neck and burying his face to the crook between Arthur's shoulder and throat.



Arthur can sense something is amiss and Merlin does nothing to deter it, stretching out on the oversized bedroll, curling into it. Merlin's hands clasps in front, the black stone pulsing against his fingers.

Curled on his side, he watches Arthur remove his own armour piece-by-piece by the fire.

With a long sigh, Merlin turns to his opposite side, eyelids closing slightly. He's tired. So tired. Frightened and ashamed, and relieved his mother doesn't think ill of him, and frightened even more of returning to Camelot… Merlin doesn't think his head could take much more.

"Anything you want to talk about?"

"No," Merlin says, sullenly.

"Not even the fact that you kissed me?" Arthur says blankly, rolling his shoulders.

Merlin's face contorts.

"I thought you would want to forget it," he says, lowly.

"… I thought I would too," Arthur says, musingly.



He awakens, the fire low. Everything still dark except dots of bright stars.

Merlin's bladder complains adamantly as he shuffles out of the bedroll. After he's done, lacing up his breeches, Merlin glances around. "Arthur?" he calls out, knowing he's supposed to be on watch.

That tingling sensation returns.

Merlin tenses when he hears a sharp inhale and prepares to lash out. Before he can think of a spell, the edge of a pearly dagger presses the bob of Merlin's neck.

{{Wouldn't do that if I were you, Emrys.}}

The voice of a unfamiliar man thuds in Merlin's skull.

He arches his head back, starting to breath hard, avoiding the blade digging to his skin.

{{You found the stone, have you?}}

Merlin's eyes dart sideways to Arthur who is sound asleep… how?

The voice chuckles.

{{The spell won't work on sorcerers. The little prince of Camelot won't be able to hear anything now.}}

The dagger blade is intensely cold to Merlin's throat, but not as much as the horror of seeing another cloaked man emerge from the thicket. {{But if I hear a peep outta you, you will regret it, boy.}}

{You're a Druid,} Merlin says, the stone in his left fist thudding harder with his racing heart. {Why are you doing this? They want to see magic return and accepted in Camelot.}

Another chuckle, but with less heart and sincerity in it.

{{Piss on Camelot,}} the man's voice says gruffly.

With a forward shove, Merlin is bent over, arms yanked behind him. He fights against it, cheek scraping to the dirt, before receiving a kick, teeth gritting and breathing hard.

"No!" he shouts as the other cloaked Druid takes up Arthur's sword, holding its point over Arthur's head. Merlin yelps at other kick, and the man's hand grabbing his hair, lifting his head and slamming it down.

{{I told you. Not a peep.}}

"Leave him," Merlin whispers, eyes stinging with a new gleam of tears. "Take me, but leave him…"

{{Get up when I say, boy. Or he dies.}}

Gulping in, Merlin waits, face to the dirt. His hands being knotted behind him. He closes his eyes, summoning his magic though weakened by the Druid's spell.

He reaches for Arthur with it.



A tingle. Like an itch, deep and irritating.

His nose wrinkles in his sleep and Arthur wipes his face, groaning and coming back to life. He stares up at a hooded figure with his sword above him.

(But where is Merlin?)

Weighting his options, Arthur springs onto his feet, grabbing the blade with leather-gloved hands and jamming his sword's pommel into the Druid's face, hard enough to break bone. His hands now cut open, dripping.

He aims his sword to the other Druid with Merlin.

"Let my servant go, or you will be felled on the spot."

The moment Arthur is up, free of the bedroll and pushing the other man back, palms gleaming red with his own blood, Merlin thinks he would pass out from the startling amount of relief and terror.

Merlin squirms in place, feeling the man who knotted his hands pressing him down to the ground. Arthur's words hold pure venom in them, as much royal conviction as he possibly has, and he wants to be free. To be at Arthur's side to face their enemies.

"Arthur—" he says, panting loudly in the dirt.

Merlin hisses sharply as the dagger nicks the surface of his throat. A thin run of dark blood visible on pale skin.

{{That's a warning, Emrys. Next cut will be your princeling's neck.}}

His magic ripples against the Druid's spell, but he knows it would be useless. He can't protect Arthur like this. The cloaked druid man begins to groan, waking up from the deafening hit to his skull.

{… I'll do what you ask,} Merlin says finally, blinking out noiseless, hot tears.

{{Get up and face him.}}

The man at his back yanks Merlin by his sable curls, lifting his head up and pushing him onto his knees. Instead of the dagger at Merlin's throat, it presses into Merlin's spine, urging him to stand on his feet. {{Tell him exactly what I tell you…}}

A long pause of silence.

Merlin's dirt and tear-stained face goes expressionless, stony of what he's feeling in that moment.

"I'm leaving your service, sire," he says, red-rimmed eyes on Arthur's. Merlin's voice shaky but empty. "They… are short on hands and their camp needs men. For your own safety, it would be best if… if you would let us safe passage."

It's such a weakly veiled lie, everyone can see that, but made dangerously real.

"Yes, and I'll be lending you a royal title while we're at it," Arthur says, cruelly smiling. "I know that's not you, Merlin. Even you couldn't be so stupid."

Merlin's gut roils and twists at the stubborn, furious look on Arthur's face. But he smiles back, cheeks dimpling.

Of course he won't let Merlin go. Merlin knew that in his heart.

Behind Arthur, a cloaked Druid makes for a discarded sword, rearing his arm to shove it through Arthur's shoulder-blades. Arthur must have read something on Merlin's expression because the point slams into dirt as he rolls out of its path.

"NO!" Merlin roars in a long, thunderous voice, his magic swelling inside him, burning hot.

For all the Druids' effort and preparation, they could not match him in strength or Merlin's blinding emotions. He rips free of the knotted rope, Merlin thrusting out a hand not gripping the cursed, black stone. Eyes a molten gold. The cloaked Druid flies backwards as if by an invisible wind, cracking his head to a tree.

The other Druid retreats, muttering an deadly enchantment. Merlin turns and deflects it with a blink of those same gold eyes.

"If you ever come near us again," the warlock says, with all of his dirtied clothes and splotched red face, eerily calm. "I WILL kill you."

Trembling on his feet, the man flees.

Merlin releases a breath, his magic hovering to a settle, his eyes their familiar blue colour. He runs to Arthur in a few paces, latching onto him clumsily and sobbing with great heaves into Arthur's shirt.

Being overpowered by relief and the need to reaffirm touch, to have Arthur wrap his arms around him and know Arthur was safe and alive… idles Merlin's thought process, the consequences of his actions.

"You have magic."

Merlin's black stone-heart thuds harder and harder in his fist.

He backs out of Arthur's grasp, mouth slightly dropping open, eyes wide. There it is. The fear. The ugly knowledge. It isn't supposed to happen like this. Arthur isn't supposed to learn his magic like this.

Merlin's shoulders hold themselves in as he holds Arthur's gaze, and then nods.

"… I was born like this. For as long as I can remember," he explains, keeping his voice low, knowing it couldn't make everything okay. "But I use it for you, Arthur. Only for you."

"I knew," Arthur says, and Merlin's entire world stops moving.

"You… knew?"

"Yes, and that you've been lying to me. You may be a buffoon, but I trusted you."

He wouldn't dare understand what could be going through Arthur's mind, as the man in front of him tightens up his features and stiffly walks away. Merlin's chest squeezes painfully in its centre, seeing Arthur avoid his gaze, seeing the flat emotion replace his doubts.

"… We're still going back to Camelot?" Merlin asks. He can feel his knees quivering under his own weight.

Of course they are going back. To face judgment.

Merlin would… face treason. Face Uther's judgment and… likely be put to death.

His cracked, dirt-smudged lips open.

"Beheaded," he murmurs.

Merlin should at least have a say in what method they would condemn him. He sinks to his knees, prostrating himself to his friend and his prince. It's the less painful choice than by the fire. To be tied alive to his own pyre. Merlin bows his head, breathing hard. "I want to be beheaded—"

Arthur's jaw twitches.

"Just, shut up," he interrupts. "It's not your magic that puts me in a difficult position, Merlin. It's your decisions." Arthur doesn't even look at him, his eyes suspiciously bright. "You had so little trust in me. Do you honestly believe I would let…?" He faces Merlin, gesturing angrily. "If I wanted you executed, I would have told my father who you were, instead of keeping it a secret from him, do you understand?"

Merlin's face scrunches up, more hot tears streaming down his cheeks. He inhales audibly, nose too clogged with snot. Merlin bows his head further, wiping at his sweaty brow with one hand, and then wiping hard at his red-rimmed eyes.

"We're going home, Merlin. Pick yourself up."

There's no point in further crying, in needlessly explaining himself.

Arthur has given him an order.

And Merlin doesn't want to think of the fragility of their relationship.



The rest of the trip back to Camelot is unsteady, foggy.



Going up stairs is more of a problem than Merlin anticipates, but Arthur's grip on him keeps him upright.

Gaius' chambers are empty but as soon Arthur fetches a maidservant to summon Gaius, Merlin knows it won't be for long. He fists the black stone-heart a little closer to his chest, eyes unfocused, staring away.

"Is there any other secrets I should know about?"

Merlin's head jerks back as the blond man speaks up. The look of soft prying assures Merlin's nerves.

He bites on his lower lip, clutching his other hand.

"Gaius and my mother know," Merlin says after a moment, figuring that is most important. "And Lancelot figured it out on his own. I used magic to save you from the enchanted dagger. I used magic to fight the gryffin, not Lancelot. Saved you when Sophia tried to drown you in Avalon's waters. Tried to exchange my life when the Questing Beast bit you."

"And… Will wasn't the sorcerer. He was protecting me." Merlin laughs bitterly. "He was always trying to protect me…"

"That glowing orb?" Arthur says, astonished, "That was you, wasn't it?"

"You refused to leave the damn cave even when my light was trying to guide you out." Merlin grins suddenly, mouth stretching, eyes alight. "You stubborn, pigheaded—" he breathes out, grasping at Arthur's chin and making to gently kiss his lips but remembers himself, hesitating.

"Oh," he says, expression starting to relax as Arthur's own grows perplexed, "there's a dragon under the castle. But he only talks to me—"

Someone nearby clears their throat.

He yanks himself away from Arthur, flushing shamefully as Gaius raises a skeptical eyebrow. "It is good to see you both well and returned, Merlin, Sire," he says, patiently. "But I was led to believe something dire was occurring…"

Merlin holds out the pulsing stone and starts from the beginning.

"Might I take this for a better examination?" Gaius asks.

"Right, yes." Merlin hands it off, and regrets it instantly as everything becomes heavier, his insides, his limbs. He inclines into the chair, dizzy. Merlin rubs at his chest, eyes lidded, taking in deep breathes.

His head falls back against the carved headboard of the chair, eyelids falling shut. The fingers to one hand clenching loosely at his tunic, and the other slipping in Arthur's perspiring grasp, squeezing his fingers before going limp.

"This object certainly has a dark enchantment in it," Gaius says, white eyebrows furrowing together in worry. "I've never seen anything like this, sire. It consumes a person's life force, slowly eating away at it. I wouldn't know where to begin finding a remedy… Merlin, what else did the Druids say about it? Is there a counter-curse that exists?"

He gazes up from his looking glass, turning to Merlin whose chest barely appears to be moving.

"Merlin?" Gaius moves over to him, patting Merlin's cheek roughly. "Merlin, my boy?" At no response, the physician reaches for his throat, seeking a pulse and finding it weak and fluttering.

Arthur seizes the stone from Gaius, closing it into Merlin's fist.

There's a dragon under the castle.

At the contact of the black stone on Merlin's skin, the warlock's colour evens out, his lips parting and sucking in more air. He utters a sleepy noise, as Arthur lifts him into his arms, cradling him and setting Merlin in his bed.

He never hears Arthur and Gaius' exchange.

"Do something! You have all these books!"

The physician says gravely, as Arthur's temper rears its head, "Believe me, sire… I will do all I can to save Merlin. It is, however, best you leave me to my work."

"Gaius, keep an eye on him. There's got to be something," Arthur orders, heading for the chamber-door.

And somewhere below the castle, a very large dragon chuckles on his slimy rocks, flexing his claws and waiting.



With time, Arthur locates the hidden entrance.

He steels himself for the possibility of Merlin being right, and it's far worse than he imagines. The beast is huge and chained at the neck. Arthur's torch nearly flutters out of existence.

"Hello, young king of Camelot." The great dragon smiles to Arthur, his yellowed teeth and fangs as large as sword-points. "What a pleasure it is to finally meet you at last. Though I fear it is not glad tidings."

"I don't know if you will speak with me, but I need your help. It's Merlin… he's dying."

The magical creature listens, casually wagging his beastly, scaly tail.

"You are aware this came to pass because Uther Pendragon banned magic and sought to kill every association of it, including the lives of innocents, do you not? People and creatures with magic will begin to revolt. Overthrow this kingdom and slaughter its people." The dragon narrows huge, luminous eyes critically. "Unless you and Merlin change that."

"But I suppose Merlin cannot help you while he suffers." A loud, growling purr. "What will you offer me, young Pendragon?"

Offer? What Arthur had to offer him?

"… What is it you think I can give you?" Arthur says aloud, skeptically.

"Nothing quite so complicated as one might think." A booming laugh echoes the cavern, rattling the pebbles and small stones around them. "I wish for peace. I want to see you both rule Albion. Not that witch."

A bit of fire emerges from the dragon's nostrils, as he snarls.

"Merlin carries a fondness for you. It is unbreakable. Never give him a reason to doubt this. You both are meant for great things, and for each other."

A thoughtful growl.

"There is also the matter of my chains," the dragon adds, clacking them around his hindquarters. "I wish to be released."

"I… I don't think I can…"

The magical creature watches conflicted emotion waver over Arthur's face. He laughs again, thunderous, clearly amused.

"You can do nothing with petty tools, boy. It was magic that bound me here. It will be magic that sets me free." He hisses between his fangs, smiling widely until Arthur could see all the rows. "You will give me your word to bring Merlin to me, and for him to rid of my chains."

"And on the matter of arguing further compromises… I believe yours have run out." A haughty beastly look. "But I can assure you that I wish you and Merlin no harm. I am quite fond of the boy."

A growl lets itself free from Arthur's throat.

"If what you say is true and you help me… I swear on my honour that Merlin and I will free you for this prison."

"Then consider it a deal."

The dragon flexes his claws against the drier bit of the stone, sending up hot sparks. "What you need is a crystal from your vaults. It will be very small, and clear-coloured. If you crush the stone and crystal together, and let Merlin inhale the dust, he will be cured of his ills. So remember your promise, or there will be consequences…"

Arthur nods, stiffly.

Before he leaves, he announces, "If you have lied to me, and Merlin dies, I'll leave you down here to rot."

"So be it," the dragon replies, eerily.



Merlin has no idea how long he had been unconscious, but eventually becomes aware of himself, of his pained aches and hurried breathing. He groans, wincing up his body on his cot, hearing a distant rattling and what sounded like Gaius being very, very irritated. Someone is sitting next to him, pressing their hand down on his left shoulder.

"...Wh'ss going on?" he murmurs, opening his eyes a little wider. Merlin glances at Arthur looking down on him carefully, protectively. He keens into the soft touch to his brow, Arthur's fingers pushing away his hair.

"You're going to be alright, just wait. Gaius, sit him up."

Merlin's eyebrows bunch together.

"How?" he croaks out, but obliged in going upright, handing off the black, pulsing stone to Arthur's hand.

The dizziness and searing pain returns to Merlin's injured arm as he does. But keeps still, closing his eyes and trying to not heave up his stomach. "I need something in your workshop to crush stones," Arthur says, looking to Gaius.

"I believe I may have just the thing."


Arthur passes him he crystal and enchanted stone, watching as he grinds them to a fine powder, placed into a bowl.

Merlin cries out at the pain of his arm and the sudden onset of dizziness, but is steadied by Arthur's body pressing beside him.

"I need you to breathe this in, all of it, Merlin."

He sucks it in, at first retching dry, unable to continue, and then fights for another breath. It takes a couple more minutes but Merlin inhales the remains, cheeks red, eyes glossy. He sinks against Arthur's side, coughing faintly. The purple-blackened mark on Merlin's arm shrinks from creeping.

But, Merlin goes slump against him, head lolling.

"What's happening?" Arthur asks, panic increasing in his voice. "He's freezing."

"Let him rest, sire," Gaius says. He encourages Arthur to lie Merlin back on his cot. "It's been a trying journey…"

Despite his instinct screaming at him, Arthur steps away, eyes on his paled companion.

"I want to know the moment he's on his feet."



Flesh-eating warriors… rogue Druids…

But nothing's more unforgivable than having magic.



Warm, freshly spilled blood pools at Merlin's bare feet.



Arthur, dressed in a blue tunic, glances up as Merlin enters his bed-chambers. His riding bags half-full.

"Where are the guards?" he asks, stupefied.

Merlin claps his hands softly, the veins in his cheeks and forehead a striking, ice-blue hue.

"Sleeping on the job, it seems."

"We need to get you out of here, Merlin," Arthur says grimly, cramming another fur blanket into a satchel.

Merlin's greyish-pink lips perk into a faint, toothy smile.

"I don't want to leave."

"No, you don't understandmy father has sentenced you to death." Arthur approaches him, staring outright. Body shuddering. "You're going to be executed. They know you have magic, you…"

"Arthur," Merlin whispers, fondly. His hands reach up, cradling Arthur's face, as if he's going to kiss him.

Instead, Arthur drowns, mesmorised by Merlin's irises turning a bleeding red.

"You can't kill what's already dead."

He remains blissfully unaware of Merlin's front teeth elongating. What it feels like when they bury completely into his neck.



More stories, rumours, flood into Camelot.

A greatand terrible dragon in the skies. The murdering warrior tribes defeated, every single throat ripped out, and Anglia knights report this back. In Escetir, Druids are found long since dead in their tents, with old, blunted swords and various sharp weapons plunged in their guts and their hearts.



Uther is dying.

Slowly and painfully.

New court physicians are introduced, after Gaius's disappearance, leeching away the king's already low blood count. When the results do not provide, they are privately executed by his order. It becomes somewhat a weekly affair.

He demands Arthur, for his presence, for his reassurance.

Uther never receives it.

Arthur's greyish-pink, cold mouth drags along Merlin's collarbone, sucking away the droplet of blood. "Mmore," he whines, bearing down his dhamhiri fangs on Merlin's veined flesh, as if impatient. "Mmmerlin."

Merlin shushes him, laughing, his own fangs exposing.

He thrusts against Arthur's naked, veined thigh, cockhead rubbing sensually. "Take it easy, sire. It's your first time," Merlin says, as if chiding him, kissing into blood-speckled yellow locks. "It's mine too, Arthur… let's enjoy this."

It's answered with a warm, hungry kiss.

The king dies tonight.

Arthur will rule.

They will show no mercy to those who stand in their way.



BBC Merlin is not mine. MY ENTRY FOR MERLIN_HORROR THIS YEAR! Helping out with the modding has been fun, and I'm so glad to be able to participate this year! I hope you guys enjoy this little bit of creepy-filled, dark!Merthur joy to your October season! :D Any comments/thoughts will make my life right now, yess!