This Merlin fic is possibly set during Series 1. Also, there will be no slash in this fic.
Title: The Amulet of Avalon
Chapter 1: Merlin's Plight
A cloaked figure dashed through a swirling mist of fog, occasionally tripping and stumbling upon foliage along the dark barriers of the forest. He weaved through a scatter of mutilated bodies that blocked his path. There was no time to stop and wonder what caused the untimely demise of these people. The young warlock had something way more important to do. He was on a mission. Staggering and reeling from the blistering pain caused by his wounds, he forced himself to press onward. He was on the verge of collapse, but he couldn't do that – not when he was so close. There would be plenty of time to collapse later. Right now, it was imperative that he reached the castle as quickly as his legs could carry him. The whole well-being of Camelot depended on him and him alone – a big burden for such a young man.
Swathed in a ratty old hooded woolen cloak, he ignored the massive amount of blood that gushed out of several deep wounds. He was extremely dizzy from the blood loss and questioned himself many times if he was even going in the right direction. But his doubts were relieved when he remembered what Gaius taught him on countless nature lessons. Moss grew on the side of the tree facing north and north was where he needed to go.
New blood trickled down his face from a gash on the side of his head where it had recently came into contact with the pommel of a sword. Wet and dried blood matted his mousy black hair against the side of his head. Scrapes and bruises from being whipped by branches itched and burned his face. He quickly wiped the blood away from his eyes with the back of his hand. Images around him swam in slow circles as he greedily drew in the cold brisk midnight air. The air was not crisp and minty as it should be under normal circumstances. On the contrary, the air was tainted with the charred smell of smoldering wood and burnt human flesh. Breathing in the fumes brought an uncomfortable stinging sensation to his lungs and added miserably to his already ailing health.
The young man drew his hood up tighter hoping to avoid being pelted by the rain of embers that appeared to be falling from the sky. In dodging the debris, he tripped over a thick twisted root that protruded from the ground. Just as he was about to tumble head first into the earth, he grabbed the trunk of a nearby tree to steady him from falling. The impact sent a bolt of excruciating pain throughout his body, causing him to cry out. The pain was so intense that he thought he was going to pass out for sure. He breathed and willed himself to keep from fainting.
A quick roll of thunder rumbled somewhere over the mountains, like a reminder that he needed to keep moving. He lifted his head and surveyed the sky for a minute, then forced himself to run. There was nothing in the realm of magic that could help him now. His power diminished tremendously when he used it to defeat an evil sorcerer named Blais. Blais was strong and it took a great deal of power to do what he did. He grew weaker and weaker as he bled out.
He put a good distance between him and King Badon's army of knights as well. But he wasn't worried about them. They were human and he could handle them blindfolded with hands tied behind his back. It was the winged, fire-breathing, sharp-clawed gargoyles that gave him reason to worry. Just as Blais expired, he sent his gargoyles after him in retribution. They've done their damage and would no doubt catch up to finish him off eventually. Full of determination, he gathered up all his strength and picked up his pace. Every now and then, he would anxiously check on the small leather pouch that was strapped securely to his wrist. His bloodied hand trembled as he groped for its content to confirm that it hadn't fallen out during the length of his escape. He breathed a sigh of relief when he realized the object was still there.
Off in the distance, as if by magic, he saw the familiar red and gold Pendragon flag on the tip of the northern towers of Camelot flapping about in the night wind. He sprinted towards the castle with all his might and came to a stop when he reached the entrance. It was heavily protected by a multitude of King Uther's guards and patrolmen. Security was so tight that not even a fly could squeeze passed them without being noticed. It was rightly so that they should be concerned about security with the escalating clash between King Uther and King Badon. Uther had put up twice as many guards to better secure the perimeter of thieves, spies, and seedy people.
A spread of guards stood thick and tall with feet firmly rooted to the ground like oak trees, setting about six feet apart from each other. They wore the standard issue helmets of Camelot and were protected from head to foot with armor. Atop their chainmail, they wore tunics that proudly bore the red and gold Pendragon crest. Armed with spears in their hands and other weapons strapped to their belts, the guards looked strong and intimidating. They were attentive and on the lookout for any suspicious activity on their watch.
The young warlock saw beyond the guards and set his eyes on the sturdy iron gates of the castle and raced towards it. He stumbled into the clearing, oblivious to the fact that it was dark and the guards could mistake him for an intruder. It didn't take too long for the two guards to notice the unsteady figure tear out from the forest. They gave a short whistle to the nearby guards to alert them that something was amiss. With spears in hand, they stood ready to attack.
"Who goes there?" The first burly guard demanded firmly, squinting into the darkness.
"Please – I need to see King Uther." The young warlock begged urgently, failing to identify himself. Out of breath, he staggered towards the guards. Slightly slouched with one hand holding his wound and the other firmly clutching the small leather pouch, he winced and groaned. He was in so much pain that he could barely stand.
"I ask again. Who goes there?" The burly guard repeated. By then, a few of the other guards had arrived to the scene. They started approaching the cloaked figure with extreme caution.
"Please…" The boy cried in distress. There was no time for lengthy explanations. Besides he didn't have the strength to stand there and go into details. He needed to get into the castle.
"Stop. That's far enough!" The burly guard yelled when the warlock dashed forward. They were under strict orders to be cautious of anyone entering or exiting Camelot.
"You don't understand." The boy cried. His head was reeling. "I need to see King Uther. It's important."
"No one is allowed to see the King." The second guard shouted. "State your purpose. Who are you?"
"It is Merlin." The boy said finally. He pulled down the hood of his cloak down to reveal a bloodied face. "I am Prince Arthur's manservant." He stammered. The flowing length of the cloak hid the rest of the injuries from sight.
With spears still drawn, the two guards inched closer to get a good look at this boy with a face covered in blood. There was so much pain in Merlin's river blue eyes. His body was dying and he needed so much to do one last thing before it happened. He hoped the guards would show some mercy to a battered Pendragon servant and grant him his dying wish.
"I really need to see King Uther." Merlin begged. "Please take me to Arthur then."
"It was King Uther's orders to not let anyone belonging to Camelot out of these gates without permission. How did you manage to slip pass us?" The guard challenged suspiciously.
"It doesn't matter anymore. I have to see Arthur." Merlin did not have the strength to keep this up.
He figured there was no use in reasoning with these thick, stubborn guards, when they were only capable of doing one thing – following orders. From the looks of things, it was highly unlikely that they were going to let him pass the gate without giving him a hard time. Merlin ignored their cold stares and took a few earnest steps forward, only to be threatened by the sharp ends of two spears.
Merlin's river blue eyes flashed a fiery gold for a split second as he muttered words of enchantment. And just as he said those words, the two bulky guards were sent spiraling backwards and landed flat on their backs. It was like as if a rug was pulled right out from under them. In doing this, another ounce of magic had left Merlin's body and he felt even weaker than before. Dizziness swept over him as he tried to maintain balance on his feet. The diversion was Merlin's opportunity to run and he took it. Gaius had told Merlin a thousand times not to use magic unless absolutely necessary. Under the circumstances, Merlin felt it was very necessary. However, Merlin did not get far.
He barely reached the gate when two other guards grabbed him by the nape of his neck and pulled him back. It was something Merlin hadn't expected. The pressure was too much and he screamed out in pain. The painful distraction rendered it close to impossible to conjure up any defensive spells. Magic was leaving him, as was his life force.
"What did you do?" A guard roared in anger.
"I didn't do anything. They just slipped." Merlin said with jaws clenched, trying to be strong.
"Prince Arthur's manservant, eh?" Another guard said. "Come to think of it, he does look a little familiar." His threatening face was about three inches away from Merlin. "I've seen him mucking out the stables a few times." He sounded like he was about to let out a chuckle. "He's harmless, mates." The burly guard called to the others.
"It was punishment for being tardy." Merlin said. A few guards within earshot laughed and mumbled a few amusing words to each other.
"No one was supposed to leave the castle. What should we do with this boy?" A guard questioned with a threatening look on his creased face.
"He wants to see Uther. Let's bring him to Uther." Another guard suggested. "Maybe this time, he'll get punished for breaking the rules. Perhaps, Uther will throw him in the dungeon for a week." He cackled, trying to scare Merlin. "How would you like that, Merlin? You can make friends with the rats!" Laughter bellowed after these harsh words.
And soon, the decision was unanimous among the guards. It was easy for them to tease and bully Merlin. They were bigger, stronger, and definitely out-ranked a simple manservant. Merlin was still new to the world of Camelot and things need getting used to. Merlin always seemed to set himself up for such consequences. He had that sort of an innocent, push-over demeanor about him that made him a likely target. People often underestimated him. Unaware of Merlin's injuries, a guard on each side scooped him up by the armpits and dragged him through the iron gates. Exhausted, Merlin allowed the burly guards to haul him wherever they wished, just so as long as he was going into the castle.
King Uther, his trusted court advisors, Prince Arthur, and a handful of the head knights were in the war room plotting battle strategies and counter-attacks. They had to prepare themselves in the event of an outbreak of war against King Badon. War was something they had to resort to if they failed to come to a peaceful resolution. In addition to a possibility of war, they had to deal with the sorcerer Blais, which could not have come at a more inconvenient time for Camelot. He was not interested in the trade disputes between Uther and Badon, nor did he care about the coming of war. Blais, apparently, had his own selfish evil plans of destruction. Uther and the others worked hard. Being one step ahead of the game and constantly designing clever tactics was time consuming and irksome. Fatigue left Uther often in an irritable and foul mood.
Scrolls of maps and diagrams of all sizes were scattered across the tables, chairs and floor. The men stood around the rectangular pine table discussing in-depth procedures and pointing to areas on the map in front of them. Quills, ink bottles, used candle stubs, and newly lit candles were everywhere. On the end of the table was a half empty pitcher of ale with mugs spread all around. They talked simultaneously to one another expressing new schemes when the door swung open with a loud bang. Everyone stopped talking at once and turned to face the source of the noise. The two guards with Merlin in tow entered past the threshold.
The two hefty guards were similar in height, size and appearance. Perhaps the only trait different about them were their voices. They could have easily passed off as clones of each other. A frail and feeble Merlin was sandwiched in between them. The young man's health was rapidly failing. Slumping forward, Merlin was glad the two guards were holding him up (even if it was by the armpits) because he would surely fall over if they hadn't. Their big hands had a tight hold around his skinny biceps.
"What is the meaning of this?" King Uther demanded from afar.
"Sire, we caught this boy trying to enter the castle grounds." The guard said. "He says he has something important to tell you."
"Bring him here." Uther's solid voice rang out.
The guards obeyed and dragged Merlin towards the men at the table. At last, the two guards let go of poor Merlin. His legs could no long support the weight of his body. And like a spineless creature, he slid to the floor and landed at King Uther's feet. Merlin's face nearly hit the floor but he managed to pull himself up to a seated position. He looked up pitifully at King Uther. The men in the room were silent and stared at this blood-covered boy wrapped in a peasant's cloak.
"Merlin? Is that you?" Prince Arthur said as he suddenly recognized his manservant, whose face hid behind a mask of blood. Arthur quickly made his way around the table and knelt down to confirm that his eyes were not deceiving him. "What happened to you?"
"It's alright Arthur. I – I brought it back." Merlin rambled and flinched when Arthur reached out to touch him. Arthur was shocked at the sight before him. He couldn't stop staring at the horrible-looking bloody wound on Merlin's head.
"Your head…there's so much blood." Arthur said in alarm. "Quick, someone send for Gaius." He demanded.
"Arthur, Camelot is safe now. I took it back. I – I took it back." Merlin spoke in deep hard breaths. He seemed disoriented and sick while his face had gone a shade paler. Although the throbbing pain from his head injury pounded, he still managed a weak smile. Merlin's trembling hand stuck out of the opening in the front of the cloak and presented Arthur with the small leather pouch that had been strapped to his wrist. He motioned Arthur to take it.
"Your hand, Merlin. You've got blood on your hand." Arthur noticed.
"It's nothing. I'm fine." Merlin lied. "Here, take this." He instructed while pushing forth the leather pouch.
"What is it?" Arthur questioned curiously.
As the others looked on, Arthur took the semi-bloodied pouch, opened the drawstring, and poured the contents onto his palm. Everyone was surprised and flabbergasted to see the familiar valuable relic that dropped into Prince Arthur's hand. On the end of a strong, thick chain was a beautiful amulet in the shape of a large fig. Through the gaps of four polished vertical rows of molded silver, a round milky white crystal could be seen glowing softly, almost pulsating. The warm magical light radiated the room and caused appalling gasps and small chatter among the crowd.
"It's the Amulet of Avalon! Where did you get this?" Arthur pressed in amazement. He looked seriously at his servant. But Merlin only smiled satisfactorily. Seeing all those surprised yet relieved faces, he knew he had finally done something right in his life. Gaining the approval of his master and the king was all he ever wanted. For the price he paid, it was worth it.
"How is that possible?" King Uther's bewildered tone echoed around the room. "Blais took it from the Temple of Grace and vanished. There was no trace of him after the incident. How is a simple manservant able to steal back the amulet from an evil sorcerer?"
King Uther Pendragon was not a man who accepted magic easily. In his life, he had more than just physical battle scars. He knew what it was like to be burned by the wrath of magic. His extensive history with sorcerers and witches had led him to the belief that the world was a better place without magic. He ordered death to all those who practiced magic. But as much as he wished to bury his head in the sand and deny magic, he knew deep down that it existed. He forbade the use of magic in his kingdom because it was much easier to oppose it than to welcome it.
Gaius, the highly knowledgeable and respected court physician, was King Uther's trusted confidant. The king often sought advice from Gaius, but whether or not the advice was taken, was an entirely different issue. King Uther had a feeling that Gaius was more than just an old physician with scientific ways of curing ailments. Because of the fact that he knew Gaius for so many years and have grown to trust him, he often turned a blind eye whenever Gaius made a miraculous cure. In return, Gaius was always extremely discreet about it and did not flaunt what he was able to do.
"It was my fault. I was the one who let him in there." Merlin's voice grew weak.
"But it was an accident. You didn't mean to. You didn't know." Arthur swallowed. He defended his servant because he knew how unforgiving his father could be sometimes. Uther didn't really have to think too hard about dispensing punishment or execution. "You didn't know who he really was. He tricked you."
"I had to get it back...because it was my fault." Merlin insisted. "I had to make things right."
"Incredible." King Uther muttered. He paid very little notice to the injured servant, but his main attention was on the glowing amulet in his son's hand.
"You could have gotten yourself killed, you idiot." Arthur blurted insensitively to Merlin. He wanted to sound like his usual mean self, but his voice cracked so badly that it made him appear more troubled than anything else.
Some people were able to stand expressing heartfelt feelings – not Arthur. He was a prince and most everyone had a certain stereotype of how princes were expected to act. He dared not show too much compassion for the hired help. It would not please his father if he did. Uther brought Arthur up with the notion that he ought to get whatever he wished because of the simple fact that he was the royal heir. He was supposed to be superior and should not feel sorry for servants or maids. Servants were there to serve and that was their only function. It was hard for Arthur to admit that although Merlin was his servant, he was starting to enjoy his company and would even go so far as to consider him a "best" friend. He often had an odd way of expressing his affection through insults.
"And what's become of Blais?" King Uther demanded.
"He's dead." Merlin faltered. "At least I think he's dead, Sire. I saw him burn up and all that was left of him were ashes."
"Ashes, you say?" King Uther said. His voice was skeptical.
"It - it must be the amulet." Merlin answered. What Merlin really wanted to say was that it was he who confronted and destroyed Blais. It took nearly all the power he had in his body to defeat such a dominant sorcerer. Blais was strong but Merlin liked to believe that he was stronger. Of course, Merlin couldn't tell Uther the truth. He had to remain a modest hero and accept none of the credit.
"The amulet indeed." King Uther rubbed his chin in astonished revelation. Arthur handed the amulet to his father. At that point, Arthur seemed to be more concerned about his servant than a precious artifact like the Amulet of Avalon.
"Merlin, are you alright? Nasty wound on your head." Arthur observed. He noticed Merlin's eyelids drooped lower and lower as he stared at a single spot on the floor.
Merlin gave no reply and appeared not have heard Arthur's words. His hold on consciousness was slipping away. Numbness spread limb by limb. In a matter of seconds he collapsed, falling forward. Arthur's quick reflexes reached out and caught Merlin before he hit the floor. As Merlin fell into Arthur's arms, his old cloak flew open to reveal a gory wound.
"Oh no, Merlin!" Arthur gasped in horror. It was only then that Arthur realized what had happened to his friend. The full front of Merlin's rust colored tunic was bloodied and mutilated. Wet and clotted blood absorbed nearly every square inch of his tattered clothing. In between the rips of fabric, Arthur could see the openings in the flesh. Three large gashes ran from the side to the just above the navel. Fresh blood seeped in the wounds. Arthur noticed that the peculiar looking cuts were not neat. Rather, the flesh appeared to have been shredded to ribbons.
Being a knight, Arthur knew something about painful injuries. He'd seen it all – from lacerations to amputations, scabs to scars, fractures to sprains. But for him to see it happen to someone so close to him, well, it just wasn't comprehensible. The horrible wounds were proof of the suffrage. He could only image what it was like to be badly injured, running through the dark night with nothing but an old cloak for warmth, bleeding profusely and desperately trying to keep from falling unconscious, all the while avoiding King Badon's men. It just wasn't possible for someone of Merlin's passive nature to have the power to pull off such a victory.
The men of the high court took a step closer to catch a glimpse of Merlin's injury. They all frowned to each other in dismay, like as if they were witnessing some sort of dead rodent on the floor that had been mauled to death by a cat. It didn't affect them at the very least. To royals and people of nobility, servants were considered expendable and replaceable so it wasn't unnatural for the people of the high court to care very little for these people. No one was too concerned about a dying servant. It was more likely that they cared more about the blood dripping all over the floor than the life of the servant. The men succumbed to whispered conversation.
"Where is Gaius?" Arthur hollered nervously as Merlin lay with the back of his neck resting comfortably on the crook of Arthur's arm. Perhaps Arthur was the only one in the high court who gave a damn about Merlin. He didn't want to acknowledge it, but he was truly different from them. He come off as harsh sometimes, but he didn't have a heart of stone. He cared about things and sometimes, he cared too much. So afraid to show this side of himself, he could not admit that Merlin was his friend - a friend that saved his life on many occasions.
Merlin's eyes fluttered open. He saw hazy fog surrounding Arthur's worried face. For the first time, he noticed how much Arthur's facial features resembled his father. They both possessed the same handsomeness. But the stamp of likeness was in the majestic cheekbones and imperial nose. However, the difference was in the eyes. Uther's eyes were always strict and perhaps callous whereas Arthur's were gentle and compassionate. He often wondered if it was true that the window into one's soul was through his eyes.
"Arthur." Merlin whispered, barely able to speak.
"Gaius is coming. He will make you well. I know he will." Arthur implored. He tried to wipe the blood away from Merlin's cheek.
"Please don't be afraid for me." Merlin pleaded and forced a wiry smile. "If this helps Camelot, then it's all been worth it.
"Your heroic deeds won't be done in vain. I promise." Arthur said in comfort and held Merlin tighter.
"Arthur, remember – remember when I said I would be happy to be your servant until the day I die?" Merlin said.
"Yes." Arthur said and swallowed the salty lump in his throat. As much as he wanted to cry, he forced himself to be emotionally strong. Of course, it would not be advisable for a prince to cry over the death of his servant and become the scrutiny among all these important men in the room. He was trying so hard to bottle his feelings.
"It'll always be true….no matter wha..." Merlin's voice trailed off and his body got heavier in Arthur's arms. His eyelids drooped to a close as he welcomed the comfort of the darkness.
"Merlin." Arthur called earnestly. His voice trembled. He shook Merlin gently in hopes of reviving him, but Merlin remained unresponsive. "No, Merlin! You'll be alright. Please don't die. You're not going to die." He said with anguish in his tone.
"What has happened?" A thin robed old man with long silver strands for hair materialized at the doorway with one of King Uther's advisors, who had gone to fetch the old physician.
"Gaius! Help Merlin. He's been hurt." Arthur cried at the old man.
Gaius had been busy alternating between the castle infirmary tending to injured men and concocting remedies in his chambers. He hadn't had the time to keep track of his young ward's whereabouts and clock his disappearance. The last time he'd seen Merlin was during dinner. But he figured Merlin was occupied with doing some special chores for Arthur, which was not so unusual. Merlin's routine changed from day to day and his work hours varied. Some days, he finished early and other days, he worked late. When news came to Gaius about Merlin, he dropped everything and rushed to the war room.
Gaius rushed over and knelt down next to Arthur and the ever so pale Merlin. He quickly inspected Merlin's injuries and looked up at once. "We need to get him to my chambers immediately and care for these wounds." He said.
King Uther ordered the guard to assist with the removal of Merlin from the war room. The burly guard came forth and scooped up Merlin, cradling him easily with one arm behind his knees and the other across the shoulders. Limp and oblivious to his surroundings, Merlin flopped like a ragged doll in the guard's muscular arms.
"Take it easy." Arthur advised when he felt the guard was being a little too rough with the unconscious body he was carrying. The guard nodded and bowed respectfully at the prince's request.
Gaius and the guard left the room in haste. Arthur was about to follow them out when King Uther stopped him.
"Arthur, your duty is here." Uther's voice said firmly.
"But father..." Arthur said.
"I will not have you fawn over a servant. There are more important matters that need attending to." Uther said.
"Father, it is quite known that I fawn over no one. I understand that it is duly my responsibility to you and to Camelot to be ready and prepared should we engage in battle." Arthur said. "But need I remind you that it was Merlin, my manservant, who brought the Amulet of Avalon back to us. It was he who risked his life for the sake of Camelot. Should he not deserve a little kind attention and compassion?"
Uther was almost impressed by his son's sense of righteousness and justification. Sometimes, he thought Arthur had what it took to be king one day, then there were times where he felt Arthur lacked the character. Uther believed a king needed to stand his ground, establish leadership and strict laws, be authoritative, as well as fair - no matter how ruthless he may appear to be. Arthur was at times, too merciful and forgiving. This needed work.
"Alright." Uther said after a moment's thought. "You may go see about your servant. I will grant you fifteen minutes." He said with a turn of his back. He went to the table to talk to his advisors about the amulet. Arthur sped down the torch lit corridors and made his way to Gaius' chamber.
The old room reeked of herbs and exotic roots. It was quite the science lab. There were endless shelves containing jars and baskets of tonics, spices, powders, and dried remedies. Wooden bowls, clay mortars and pestles were left all over the table along with other apparatus that looked absolutely foreign to Arthur. Gaius also kept an impressive library. It was nothing compared to the court library, but it was impressive to say the least. There were rows and rows of leather bound books that looked like they've had their share of wear and tear. He glanced around and spotted Gaius by the fireplace tending to an unconscious Merlin, who was reclined in a small bed.
"Is he going to be alright?" Arthur inquired anxiously. He knelt down by Merlin's bedside.
"He's breathing, but very shallow." Gaius said as he applied a temporary poultice to the bruise on Merlin's head. "He's lost a great deal of blood."
Gaius proceeded to remove Merlin's tattered shirt by cutting through it with a knife. They both drew back instantly when they saw the extent of the wounds exposed entirely across Merlin's torso. Even Arthur had to turn away for a second so he could grasp his bearings. Being a physician, there was nothing the Gaius had not seen. He'd definitely seen worse, but for him to see the bloody mess that became of his young ward, it was too alarming. It finally dawned on Gaius what this boy had endured.
"Who did this to you? Tell me who did this to you and I will make him pay." Arthur said to Merlin with clenched teeth and eyes full of grief. Seeing the awful disfiguring cuts on his friend's body was too much. It was just not right. It wasn't fair. Merlin, of all people, did not deserve this. He should not have to go through so much pain and suffering. Arthur wanted justice. He wanted retaliation. He needed to do something, yet he knew nothing of what happened. Not knowing anything was torturing him.
Merlin gave no response and remained absolutely still. His head was turned slightly facing the blazing fire going in the fireplace. Gone was the glow of rosy cheeks, as was the radiant look of health. It was replaced with dark circles under his eyes and a deathly white complexion. His consciousness drifted farther and farther away. He heard nothing and felt nothing. Death was inviting him.
"It's not who, Arthur. It's what." Gaius said patiently. He reached over to the table for some cottonseed to absorb the blood. Confused, Arthur looked up to meet Gaius' all-knowing stare.
End of Chapter 1
Author's Note: Thank you for reading! Please sign a review if you get a chance!