You wonderful, patient people. You deserve all the virtual gooey brownies in the world. And you also more than deserve this update. It's not abandoned, I swear. Just...not worked on for a long time. *sheepish face*

Arthur took Merlin back to camp and collapsed after stirring up the fire. Gawaine and Dinadan dragged in on horseback a half-hour later, their greetings glad and relieved and weighed with exhaustion. Merlin saw the dark circles under his companions' eyes, stark in the firelight, and felt sorry for their long searching. They told him that Lady Isobel vanished when he did, and neither Gawaine nor Dinadin found any sign of her when they ranged to the south and east of the lake. Terence had not yet returned from his journey into the forest.

Merlin scavenged wild vegetables and herbs while they rested, and found two rabbits caught in snares set near the camp. He filled the cooking pot and started a stew before anyone roused themselves enough to try to stop him.

"You walked all day," he told Dinadan, shoving the other boy back onto the log where he sat. "I've been sleeping."

Partway through his bowl of stew, Merlin realized he was siting on a smooth log like the other three, rather than tucked at the prince's feet. Arthur's eyes flickered with a knowing smile.

Fireflies danced in the trees, and Merlin thought he heard the distant sound of music and faery song. Terence came in late and saddle sore. He brightened to see Merlin before his whole attention fixed on the cooking pot.

"You weren't hurt?" he asked, scooping stew into a bowl.

The sounds of eating faded as everyone's eyes fixed curiously on Merlin, the question clearly thought but not uttered until now. He let his bowl rest on his knee.

"I came across the lake and stayed by a big rock three days. There were many plants; I was not hungry at all. On the third day, my old master came."

"The bad one?" Dinadan asked.

"Bad one."

All sound seemed to cease, and Arthur leaned forward, gaze burning. "Did he hurt you?"

"He tried." Merlin drew a breath, the reality settling in on him. "I killed him." His chest clenched as he struggled with the immense satisfaction in the realization. "He will not hurt anyone else ever again."

The others stared at him with admiration and approval, and Merlin ducked his head back down to his bowl. He did not wish to gloat or come to enjoy such a lethal use of his powers.

"How did you come to be in the cave?" his master asked.

Merlin tried to remember what happened after he killed the two guards and not-master, but could only recall being abruptly overwhelmed with a sense of warmth and peace - and nothing else until he woke up beside his lord. "I do not know." Knowing of the gap in time made him uncomfortable. "Did you see any sign of Lady Isobel?" he asked Terence.

The squire shook his head. "I spoke with the selkie king this morning; no one drowned in the lake. She is alive at least. I hope she is safe wherever she is."

Merlin woke to a squirming in his gut and screaming instinct. Arthur sprawled next to him, mouth gaped open and drooling slightly. A thin green mist crawled over the camp, smothering the embers of the fire. Merlin slid free of his blankets, muttering a ward over his prince as he scanned the trees. No lights danced in the branches, and he heard no music. Gawaine and Dinadan still slept heavily underneath the green mist. Terence's bedroll lay open and empty, and Merlin could not spot him in the mist and darkness.

A fireball burst from somewhere in the trees and struck Arthur. The ward stopped it, and Merlin averted his eyes, blinded by the flash of light. He saw shadows in his spotted vision, heard scuttling, ringing steel. Terence appeared inches from his shoulder, slashing through a goblin as it lunged for Merlin's face. The night went eerily quiet in the wake of its death-cry.

Merlin flung his magelight into the air to illuminate the camp. Terence crouched warily, green blood running down his sword. Their companions slept on, their breathing unnaturally slow and heavy. And something waited just outside the light, wary because of their swift response, and Merlin stood to meet it, shivering with the ripple of power. Two to protect three, and they did not know who attacked them.

"Terence," he whispered. "Form the cosp."

"I don't want to drain you."

Merlin shoved his magic at the other. "I've enough for us both; just bond me."

Terence claimed a share of Merlin's power reluctantly, and the warlock shoved more at him until he could feel a drain.


"Take it." He saw movement in the shadows beyond the magelight, most of it low to the ground, one, perhaps two larger masses of shadow with eyes that flashed and gleamed.

The goblins swarmed forward with a shriek, and a man-wolf leaped from the darkness with them, teeth barred, claws reaching. Merlin flung it away with a burst of power. It staggered, then turned back to him with a snarl. Goblins clutched at his legs, clawing, biting, and dragging him towards the ground. Merlin saw a hooded figure at the edge of the light, weaving fire in its hands. Fear overwhelmed him for a moment: the struggle to stay upright, teeth and pain and the rotting breath of the wolf-man that carried its own magic, dark and vile and full of bad memories.

The hooded figure dropped its firespell as he staggered, and a moment later, the need not to fight overwhelmed him. The goblins ceased their biting, and the wolf-man held back. Merlin thought that this did not need to hurt or be difficult, and was none of his business; he was just an attendant, and there would be no need to kill him if he would just be quiet.

A very good spell, the more for being appealing, because he was not a warrior. Merlin shook his head, and it fell free like cobwebs. Not a warrior - but a warlock.

"Draede," he whispered. The goblins loosened their hold, and Merlin kicked them away. The suggestion of surrender vanished, and the hooded figure stumbled a little, then spoke into Merlin's mind.

Have it your way, then.

Terence's shoulder pressed back against his, and Merlin tapped his own power freely, letting it sweep into him, telling him of spells and gestures. Behind him, Terence cut into something with a fierce cry. The squire wanted shielding magic and wards; he seemed to prefer his sword for the attack. Merlin took back a little power for himself and filled his hands with blue fire. He swept it across the goblins, and they fled towards the lake, shrieking. The wolf-man rolled, beating out the flames in its fur, and threw itself at him with devilish eagerness. Merlin raised his eyes and gathered his spells. If it did not fear him, well, he did not fear it either.

Arthur woke to howls and screaming. His sword lay beside him, but neither arms nor legs listened to his commands to rise, to move and defend himself. He lay helpless beneath his blanket, staring up at a sheen of gold. With great effort, he turned his head to the side and saw a werewolf crouched in the remains of their fire, slashing wildly at someone Arthur could not see. It stopped with a squeal and fell smoldering, angry red eyes fading and falling shut. A young man stepped over its corpse, dark haired, face shadowed with magelight and the bloody joy of battle. His hard eyes fixed on something outside Arthur's vision, and blue fire sparked in his hands.

Merlin. No meekness hunched his shoulders; he stood tall and defiant - in his element and in control. He strode forward without hesitation, caught a spell and slapped it away with the back of his hand like a troublesome gnat. The next spells flew thick as arrows, and he caught them and turned them aside, not without difficulty, but never breaking his stride or his blazing focus on his attacker.

On the other side of the camp, Terence cut down goblins like a farmer in a field of ripe wheat. Green-gold magic glowed around him, absorbing the small spells the goblins flung in their desperate attempts to bring down the squire. The enchantment holding Arthur cut off abruptly, and he sprang to his feet, sword in hand quicker than thought. He spun, searching for an opponent and saw Merlin, wreathed in magic and fire, battling two figures in cloaks and hoods. Terence cut down the last few goblins that did not flee before him, and the camp held nothing else but the dead.

One sorcerer dropped; the other exploded into ash. Merlin stood over them, panting, then turned back to the camp, his steps heavy with exhaustion. He seemed to collapse back into himself as Arthur watched, and by the time he stood beside his prince, the warlock looked small again. He showed no hint of the power he carried. Arthur searched in vain for the fierce spark in his eyes.

"What?" Gawaine muttered as he emerged from the enchanted sleep.

"Unseelie," Terence replied.

The red-haired prince came awake instantly and drew his sword as quick as thought.

"All dead," the squire amended, almost sheepishly, Arthur thought.

"I prefer to be awake for these sorts of things."

"We tried; you were enchanted."

Gawaine cursed a little petulantly, then crouched over the body of the werewolf. "Damn black magic." He looked up at Terence, grim. "Could these have found Isobel?"

"I pray not."

"Unseelie?" Arthur asked.

"There are two factions of the Fey," Gawaine explained. "Seelie is ruled from Avalon; they do not harm humans. Unseelie-" he poked the werewolf- "is ruled lately by Morgause, who killed the last Enchantress not long before you came to Orkney. They have one goal: power. And they will know to attack you wherever you might be found."

"The more reason why we must find Isobel." Arthur shoved the werewolf out of the firepit with his foot. "But no one should go out alone anymore."

They passed the rest of the night in restless silence, watching every shadow. Dawn came as a relief, washing the lakeshore in golden light. They ate a quick breakfast of cold meat, and their camp was packed for them to leave when two knights on horseback emerged from the trees. They rode matched white horses and approached at a walk, visors up and swords sheathed. Both dismounted a little ways off and saluted the party.

Arthur gripped the hilt of his sword, chills running down his spine as he saw identical faces smiling from beneath the two helms.

"Stay!" he called. "Name yourselves."

The knights stopped. "I am Balin," one said, bowing, "and this is my brother, Balan. We are knights of Avalon, sent by our lord to provide the Duke with safe escort - but it seems, sir knight, that he is already well-attended."

Before Arthur could protest that they must have the wrong camp - or ill-intent - since there was no duke here, Terence stepped out to greet the knights, who acknowledged him with bows, and murmurs of Your Grace.

Beside Arthur, Gawaine sighed, and the prince turned slowly to his cousin, head spinning. "Your Grace?" he whispered. Confusion and the fear of betrayal rolled in his gut.

"Not withstanding his position in my service, Terence is a prince among his own people. His father is the lord of a kingdom of Fae. It surprised us both too," he added, as it it might make Arthur feel less confused.

Arthur stared at the squire, and back at Gawaine, who smiled apologetically. Merlin merely looked curious.

"I'm afraid I must send you back to Ganscotter with no more than a message," Terence was saying. "A lady of our company disappeared on the journey over, and we cannot leave here until we find her."

"Nay, Your Grace," Sir Balin laughed, "but it was Lady Isobel who told us where best to find you. The enchantresses found her washed ashore and took her to Avalon." The knight glanced at them over Terence's shoulder, taking in their tired faces. "I am sorry we did not find you sooner; it seems we would have spared you a great deal of worry and trouble."

"What's done is done." Terence turned back to the group. "Sire, Milord - may I present two of my father's knights, Sir Balan and Sir Balin, both of Avalon."

The knights bowed as he named them, and Arthur relaxed slightly.

"Sir knights, my lord Prince Gawaine of Orkney, and our liegelord, Prince Arthur Pendragon. Merlin and Dinadan are our companions."

Sir Balan blanched as Terence introduced Arthur. "Forgive me that your name does not fall well on my ears, Your Highness. Our villages and townships are beset by servants of the Enchantress, and every man and boy by the name of Arthur that they have laid hands upon they have killed. It is in my mind that they hunt thee, Prince Arthur. I insist that you come to Avalon; there you shall find safe haven."

Arthur shook his head. "I thank you, and your noble lord, but I must return to my people."

"You do not yet know what you face," Sir Balin protested. "Or has Camelot any craft in fighting magic?" He looked at Arthur shrewdly, and the prince suppressed a flare of shame as he wondered what kind of rumor of horror his kingdom might be to these people.

"My lord." Terence drew startled looks from the twin knights as he addressed Arthur with head half-bowed. "My father is both powerful and wise. I do not think you would regret seeking out his council."

Arthur hesitated, torn. He wanted to return to Camelot as quickly as possible, but Morgause would not be defeated in one battle, and one sword was too little to defeat an entire army of the undead.

"Very well. To Avalon, then."