This was originally intended as a one-shot, but the response was so great that I was persuaded to continue it. There will be 10 chapters in total.
In Your Honour
There's no time to stop him, of course.
Arthur doesn't see the sudden movement of Cador's arm across the Hall, doesn't see the flash of the knife as it hurtles through the air. He sees Merlin though, body nimble-quick and steady as he pushes himself between Prince and dagger.
Merlin's hands are on his shoulders as the knife impacts, whipping across the air and sinking into his back, and his eyes widen ever so slightly. Arthur knows that his own are filled with shock, but Merlin on the other hand makes no show – and for a second, the Prince can't work out what's going on but then he wraps an arm around Merlin's back to support him and feels the hilt sticking out between his ribs.
Only then do Merlin's knees buckle and his eyes squeeze shut, face spasming as the pain kicks in. He would drop like a stone to the cold floor but Arthur's arms are around him, so instead he feels himself being lowered gently onto his side. Arthur has one hand on hi neck and one hand on his back, and he's roaring out orders that Merlin can't quite understand. He just stares at Arthur's leg where the Prince is sat on the floor beside him.
And then Arthur's face is hovering over his, and he looks terrified and affectionate and despairing all at once, and Merlin can't help but smile.
"It's my job to protect you," he whispers, anticipating Arthur's next comment, and his smile fades. "Is it bad?" he asks, his breath catching slightly as another spike of pain shoots up his back and he sees the answer in Arthur's eyes before he's had time to make up a lie.
"I'm sending for Gaius," he replies instead, standing but keeping his foot pressed against Merlin's stomach for reassurance (he's not sure whose). He looks around as he straightens and sees Gwen hurrying toward them, eyes wide with fear.
"Is he going to be OK?" she asks anxiously, and Arthur looks down at the warlock.
"Run to Gaius and tell him what's happened. Bring him here."
Thankfully she doesn't question him, merely nods then gathers her dress in both hands and disappears through the door. Arthur catches Morgana's eye from across the room. She is unreadable.
"You're going to be fine, Merlin," Arthur says soothingly, one hand rubbing gentle circles on his shoulder. "Gaius will be here shortly."
He looks up and realises that the guests are still crowded around, some staring in horror at the blood pooling slowly beneath the warlock, some at the obvious concern that the Prince is showing to his manservant. He's about to say something when Morgana steps in.
"Clear the room," she calls briskly, sweeping through the crowds and physically pushing some of them backward. "Guards, please escort all the guests to their chambers."
Arthur's tone is cold and unfeeling, and the guards momentarily hesitate but then follow his orders anyway. Cador doesn't resist or complain.
Gaius bursts through the door as Cador is dragged out of the opposite one, eyes worried, and he immediately settles himself on the cold stone floor beside them. Arthur stares at him and knows that he's being a bit intense, but reckons he has a good enough reason. Merlin's shuddering now, and he's stopped talking.
"Tell me he'll be fine, Gaius," Arthur says quietly, holding Merlin in place as the elderly physician inspects the wound. Merlin's face is white and blood is seeping onto the floor beneath him – his breath is coming out in choked sobs and his eyes are pressed shut. He's shaking; so is Arthur.
"He's lost a lot of blood already," Gaius replies, and Arthur's hand moves to Merlin's head, pushing his fingers into the mop of dark hair. Merlin's tremors ease slightly.
"Is there anything that I can do?"
"Just keep talking to him."
"I mean something to help save him," Arthur says shortly, pulling his gaze from Merlin to the physician. He's stopped inspecting the wound and has moved back slightly, away from the young man. Arthur feels his heart clench and dreads what will be said next.
"You can't save him, sire. And neither can I."
Arthur's face falls and he's aware of the people surrounding him, of Uther somewhere standing nearby, but he doesn't care. He leans right down and presses his lips to Merlin's temple, and it's cold and damp beneath him. His eyes squeeze shut and he rests his forehead against the warlock's hair, taking Merlin's face in his hands.
"Stay with me, Merlin," he whispers, and the warlock's eyes open just enough that Arthur can see his irises shining gold and bright and full of warmth. He probably should be scared.
"Keep it secret," the other man whispers, so quietly that he has to lean in to hear him – then Merlin suddenly reaches up and grabs the Prince's wrists, and his eyes are burning bright and uncontrolled. Then there's an immense searing pain in his lower arms as something thunders between them, exiting Merlin and flowing to him, and he's quite sure he can feel sparks between their skin but maybe he's imagining it. The bright light fades from Merlin's eyes and he releases the Prince, eyes closing and pulse slowing and breathing lessening.
"No," Arthur murmurs, his hands still gripping Merlin's face a little too tightly. "No."
"It's OK, really," the warlock replies. "I've been ready to die for you before."
"No. I won't let you die for me," he growls in return, moving to grip his manservant's hand with one of his, and he can feel an incredible warmth thrumming through him now, one that he's never experienced before. Merlin smiles, a little sadly, and his whole body relaxes.
"Just be careful, and keep it secret," he whispers, his voice strained and thin, and his eyes slip shut. And Arthur understands, maybe a little too well. His eyes feel as though they're glowing as Gaius moves closer, laying one hand on Merlin's still shoulder.
"I'm sorry, sire," he says slowly, awkwardly, as though it's painful just to admit it. "Merlin is dead."
Arthur shakes his head, lips moving but making no sound as he grips Merlin's hand even tighter. Merlin doesn't squeeze back this time.
"Arthur, come on," Morgana whispers, but he ignores her. He's too busy staring at his manservant, the bloody floor beneath him.
"Arthur, come on."
"Arthur? What are you doing?"
He stands in a whirl, dropping Merlin's cold hand and glaring at his father, then Gaius, and finally Morgana. He takes a deep breath and then something resolves in his eyes, and he turns back to the physician. He's stopped shaking.
"Gaius, take Merlin to his room, then lock the door. I don't want anybody disturbing him until I get back."
"Arthur, what do you think –"
"Don't question me, Morgana. I'll be back in a few days, Gaius. Thank you."
Uther doesn't say anything as his son walks away from his manservant – he's learnt by now that whatever he says, Arthur will usually ignore when it comes to Merlin. Morgana looks as though she wants to follow him but Gwen's hand on her arm stops the Lady, and instead she just looks at Uther as though waiting for him to do something. He doesn't. The door shut behind the Prince with a thud.
Arthur's face is set, his eyes flashing gold as he strides down the corridor. He doesn't care how he'll do it, but he'll use this new magic if he has to.
He's going to save Merlin.
In your honour, I would die tonight
For you to feel alive