Chapter 12: A Blais of Un-Glory

Prince Arthur Pendragon was not the type to panic and lose control. He always believed that there was a way out of everything. Answers were there, one just had to know where to look. In all his years of training, nothing could've prepared him for this. Not only did he throw himself into impending danger, he also caused Merlin to do the same. He was taught and trained to battle any creature or beast, and in all cases, he triumphed as long as his opponent was tangible. Magic was something he had absolutely no control over.

He thought about Merlin. The bumbling idiot of a servant drove Arthur up the walls sometimes, but the same bumbling idiot was also his one true friend. He hated to admit it but he had grown rather attached to Merlin after all they've been through together. There was a brotherly bond between the two that neither one could explain. Arthur somehow inherited the role of older brother to Merlin. And having acquired such a status not only gave Arthur the right to tease and ridicule Merlin on whim, but it also made him protective of Merlin. It was only alright when Arthur threw insults and pushed Merlin around. But when someone else tried to do the same, Arthur found himself engulfed with rage and lashed out at anyone who abused his manservant. He never meant to drag Merlin into any of this. He felt guilty and angry for not being able to better protect Merlin. It truly pained him to see how much Merlin suffered. He wondered what was happening to Merlin. For all he knew, Merlin could be hurt, or tortured, or worse - dead. The image caused a panic to stir in his mind.

Arthur needed to find a way out of the darkness. Time was wasting and he needed to save Merlin from whatever perils that lie in his path. Finding his consciousness was so important right then. He could hear the heaviness of his own breath become louder and louder as he ran – or at least he thought he was running. It was the ultimate hamster wheel effect – no matter how he tried to run, he remained stationary in the darkness. Arthur couldn't even see his hands in front of him. He only saw an abyss that resembled darker than the blackest night and a feeling that left him completely blind. Clawing his way in the inky darkness rendered him helpless. He felt defeated but he couldn't give up – not by a long shot. All he needed was a sign that he was going in the right direction.

Suddenly, he felt something wet fall against his cheek. The warm droplet had an odd texture to it. It was definitely thicker than water and yet it did not resemble the slippery feel of oil. The bothersome sticky droplets were sporadic and seemed to fall one at a time at uneven intervals. It was like as if they were annoying Arthur on purpose, yet at the same time, it was trying to lure him back to reality. It drove Arthur mad not being able to know what it was.

Another drop struck his cheek. This time, he was able to swat at it and wipe it off his face with the back of his hand. His head pounded and he let out a small groan. Eventually, he was starting to feel the blistering pain across his chest and the soreness in his shoulders when he hit the ground. Oh yes, he was regaining consciousness. The cruel sense of feeling was coming back to him and it wasn't pleasant. His eyes fluttered open and he squinted to figure out where he was. There was a glaring bright orange-yellow light. It gave off an artificial sort of warmth. There was nothing organic about it. Arthur knew he was in some sort of cave by the moisture in the air and an overpowering rusty smell of fresh dirt. Getting himself to sit up was a challenge, especially since everything hurt, but it was the first response.

"What the…" Arthur gasped in horror when he saw a wet smudge of blood across the back of his hand. He panicked, believing for a moment that he was staring at his own blood. Was he hurt? Did the blood belong to him? But as far as he knew, aside from the soreness, he had no open wounds.

As soon as the thoughts surrounded Arthur's mind, another one of those droplets hit him square on the crown of his head. Confused, he looked up with eyes still readjusting to the brightness of the mysterious light. Arthur's heart immediately sank when he witnessed the ghastly sight above him. It took another few seconds for the word "Merlin" to come out of the horrified grimace that formed on his lips. The blood that dripped on him belonged to Merlin. Accepting that it was Merlin's warm blood he felt on his cheek, was hard to swallow. He refused to believe it. Feelings of horror, shock, revulsion, panic, disgust, and grief all consumed Arthur. He could not speak or move for the immediate emotions were overwhelming. But one look into his eyes, one would know the utter chaos and rage that gradually consumed his soul.

Merlin's thin figure was suspended a few feet above where Arthur sat by what appeared to be three rows of lassos across his torso pinning the young warlock's arms to his sides. The orange lassos glowed with an intense ring of electricity, holding Merlin up magically in the air. He must've been hit pretty hard because his eyes were unfocused and he seemed to be weaving in and out of consciousness. The shackle around his neck was gone, only to be replaced by a light blotchy red bruise. Arthur starred at the blood coming out of a fresh gash on Merlin's cheek. Gravity pulled the blood droplets down his face, slithering slowly off Merlin's chin and landed upon Arthur. It was truly ironic that even in Merlin's defeated state, he was still able to help Arthur come out of his unconsciousness. Perhaps, deep down inside, Arthur knew it was Merlin's warm blood that touched his face.

Arthur was definitely not the type who grew faint at the sight of blood. Blood was a daily fixture in the life of a knight. Arthur was used to the idea of blood spill at an early age from the battle field and as seen on the training grounds. He may have been immune to the sight of gore, but he was not prepared to see Merlin strung up and tortured. No one deserved such treatment – especially one as innocent as Merlin. It nearly brought tears to the corners of Arthur's eyes to see what Blais had done to his friend. Arthur felt the anguish yet shared the pain. Merlin's head bobbed like as if he was regaining consciousness.

"Ah, now that we are all awake, shall we get the party started?" Blais said with a hint of mockery in his evil tone. He had parted his cape to reveal a stoic figure. His clothing consisted of a simple black tunic and black pants. Arthur often had a misconception of how an evil sorcerer should look. He should have a frightfully ugly appearance with some sort of deformity. Perhaps all the dark stories told to him as a child painted this surreal picture in his mind. However, much to Arthur's surprise, Blais didn't look anything at all like what he imagined. Instead, this one was quite fashionable, chiseled and rather well-built. He could've easily passed for a nobleman.

"Let Merlin go." Arthur demanded. "He has done nothing to you."

"Oh but you are wrong. He has done more damage than you think. And he will pay the price by watching you die a slow and painful death." Blais informed. Out of habit, Arthur reached for the hilt of his sword at his side, but soon realized it was not there.

"Are you looking for this?" Blais asked, summoning the sword with a single hand movement. The sword flew across the cave, came to a stop and spun around several times, taunting Arthur, before Blais set it down telepathically on a plateau behind him. As Arthur's gaze followed the sword travelling in the air, he noticed the three small windows in the wall forming a triangular pattern.

It was only then that Arthur realized they were back in the cave the Kayaruvians used for worship. The room was much darker since the sun passed over the sky. The light from a fire pit was roaring and surprisingly, the warmth did Arthur some good. His fingers were no longer numb from the bitter cold. Arthur's eyes immediately swept around the room trying to find something he could use against Blais. He was powerless without his sword and even more powerless with Merlin being used as a pawn. It was very unlike Arthur to not have a plan. He often had a backup plan, even if it was spur-of-the-moment. But right then, he had nothing. In battle, he always had a Plan B for every Plan A that had gone wrong. It was common sense to be prepared. But this was somehow different. He was not going up against flesh and blood. Blais was a sorcerer, which made him almost inhuman. To outsmart a sorcerer was going to take some special talent. One thing was for sure, he was not going to leave Merlin behind.

"There is no way out of this one, your Highness." Blais taunted. He had the advantage and Arthur knew it.

"You…you can't do this." Merlin drawled with voice raspy and weak.

"Oh, but I already have." Blais answered coolly. "Did you think you were going to get away from me so easily?" Suddenly, Blais levitated into the air, looking like a giant bat, and in a split second, he appeared inches away from Merlin's ear. "I know what you are." Blais whispered threateningly, words that only Merlin was meant to hear. Merlin flinched back.

"Leave him alone!" Arthur warned a little too defensively. He bolted up and stood on wobbly legs. Perhaps his nerves were starting to become frayed and just the idea of anyone threatening Merlin in any way was not acceptable.

Blais turned his attention to Arthur and descended to a few feet away from the prince. The sorcerer studied the angered yet pained expression on Arthur's face for a moment and then smiled. "Ah, so you care about this one. Why are you so protective of this boy? Why do you care if I should kill him? Tell me why, Arthur Pendragon."

The words "…kill him" echoed wildly in Arthur's head. All rational thinking seemed to disappear in an instant and replaced by a blinding whirlwind of rage and anger. He told himself to remain calm, regroup his thoughts and calculate his options. But every fiber of his being wanted to attack his adversary right then and tear his head off.

"He means nothing to you. He's just a servant." Arthur spewed harshly and his tone softened. "Just…just let him go. Let him go and you can take me instead. I'm worth more than him." He bargained.

"No, Arthur." Merlin gasped. His voice was hoarse and weak. The electricity from the lassos burnt slits through the fabric of his clothing and chafed against his skin. It felt hot and searing, like as if he came into contact with a branding iron. The amount of pain was so horrible that he wanted to scream, but he held back with all his might. He did not want to give Blais the satisfaction of seeing him suffer.

"Are you willing to trade your life for that of a lowly servant?" Blais asked Arthur curiously. "They are usually the first ones tossed into the flame by the likes of you."

Perhaps in the beginning, Arthur considered Merlin nothing but a common servant, and sometimes even as low as a slave. But as the weeks turned into months, and the months into years, Arthur had grown close to this so-called slave. Merlin had unyielding faith in him and always supported him, even in the harshest and most vulnerable of times. And all the events that led up to this day have shown Arthur that Merlin was way more than a servant. No servant on the face of the earth would've done what Merlin did. He risked his life for Camelot and therefore risked his life for Arthur. Arthur may never admit it, but he remembered all the times the idiot saved his life. Merlin's undying loyalty to Arthur often got him into trouble and more often than not, his adamant behavior surprised Arthur.

All citizens of Camelot shall be protected. The words echoed in his head. It was the code of ethics that was often preached, but not really exercised by the high court. There were a lot of politically correct ways that Uther used to, as he put it, "keep the people happy." But Arthur was a man of his word. He did not say things he didn't mean or make broken promises. Arthur could not deny his own code of ethics. He knew that if Uther were here, he wouldn't give a rat's ass about what happened to a servant like Merlin. Merlin might mean nothing to Uther and the noblemen of the high court, but to Arthur, Merlin was a human being. He deserved mercy just as much as the next person. It was enough to be plagued with the image of a blood-covered Merlin because he had gone off and done something meaningful.

Arthur was silent but he didn't have to say much for Blais to understand what was going on in Arthur's mind. Blais suddenly cracked a wicked all-knowing smile.

"I think the plan is about to be changed." The sorcerer marveled as he rubbed his hands together in eagerness. "We have ourselves an interesting situation. Let's just see how much this stupid servant means to you."

"What do you mean? What are you going to do?" Arthur tried to remain calm.

Blais raised his arm up towards the roof of the cave and muttered a few words in an odd language that Arthur couldn't decipher. Just as the sorcerer did this, Arthur heard a grunt from Merlin. He turned his head to face Merlin and to his horror, he saw what the orange lassos were doing to his poor servant's lanky frame. As the orange lassos pulsed and turned a blood-red color, the loops tightened around Merlin's body. The rips in the fabric widened to expose a burn marks upon his pale skin. The expression on Merlin's white face told Arthur just how much pain was inflicted. Arthur wondered how it was possible for Merlin to not even let out a sob for the amount of pain he must've been in. Only a soft moan passed the servant's lips as he teetered on the brink of consciousness.

If only I can free my arms. Merlin thought, even though his scattered mind made it nearly impossible to focus on a good defense spell. He tried to conjure up something – anything – but he had trouble summoning his magic. He figured it must be something in the lassos that prohibited him from tapping into his magic source.

"Stop it! Stop! You'll kill him." Arthur bellowed.

"Do you care?" Blais questioned. He loosened the lassos around Merlin's body. And just as he did this, Arthur could hear Merlin's raspy breath struggling for oxygen.

"Y-yes." It took Arthur a moment's thought to give Blais a frank answer. Arthur was ashamed that he even hesitated before replying. It was a simple question and to it, an easy answer. He cared about Merlin and that was the truth. So, why was he so torn by admitting it and revealing the fact that, unlike Uther, he had a sense of compassion? Was he afraid of letting his father down by caring for someone so low in class? Or did he feel somehow threatened by that question because he was so caught up in keeping his image?

"Ah well, this is a first." Blais said in a bemused tone.

"You won't gain anything by killing him." Arthur suggested.

"Who said I was going to kill anyone…right away?" Blais chuckled lightly. He rubbed his chin lightly with his forefinger and thumb. "Hmm, I was going to let this foolish boy have the pleasure of watching your life slip away, inch by inch. But that was before I realized how much this one means to you. The tables are turned suddenly and I think I'll have more fun this way."

"What do you hope to achieve by doing this?" Arthur blurted.

"I will have the satisfaction of seeing both of you suffer a painful death, Arthur Pendragon. And eventually, Camelot will fall into my hands and all will be mine." Blais revealed. "See, in the end, I always get what I want."

"It's not going to happen." Arthur said stubbornly.

"Oh, you are wrong." Blais responded. He clenched his fist and the lassos tightened around Merlin again. Merlin felt the fiery bands dig into his torso. It was so bad this time that he couldn't help but cry out in pain.

"Don't!" Arthur pleaded. "What do you want? Just tell me what you want. Name your price." The slight quiver in his voice indicated a sort of apprehensiveness that gave away his desperation.

Blais loosened the lassos once again, leaving Merlin gasping greedily for air. "See, that's the problem with you rich folk. Do you think you can put a price tag on everything? This is not about money – well, not really. Money can't buy what I want."

Merlin fought the tears that were forming behind his eyes. He knew what extremes Blais was capable of and therefore, he had to do something before it was too late. Merlin had been brave all his life and dealt with whatever situations were thrown at him, but never had he ever felt so scared and unsure of what to do right then. He needed to save Arthur.

"I must admit that I am impressed yet, at the same time, baffled in your undying loyalty to someone of his kind." Blais scoffed with a tone teeming with anger and scorn. "I fail to understand you. Perhaps you are more unlike your father than I thought. Or maybe you do it to spite your father. Nevertheless, Uther is a man of rules. So, do yourself a favor, admirable Prince, and allow this foolish boy to die by my hands. It'll be far less painful than what's planned for him."

Arthur couldn't explain it, but the words his kind bounced around in his head, like as if it was supposed to contain some sort of significant meaning. He wondered what Blais meant by that. Caught in a tangle of confusion, Arthur found it most peculiar and at the same time, rather curious. But there was no time to dwell upon the enigmatic words that came out of the sorcerer's mouth. He had to think of a way out of this mess and perhaps stalling was his only option right now.

"It's not up to you to decide someone's fate, regardless of class." Arthur said, feeling sick to his stomach.

"Oh, I think we can both agree that he's a little more than just a servant." Blais corrected calmly, voice laced with a hint of sarcasm. "Quite frankly, I'm a bit flabbergasted that son of Uther would make such a rare exception for the likes of his sort."

Blais was going to reveal Merlin and there was nothing the young warlock could do. He didn't want Arthur to find out this way. If anything, he wanted to be the one to tell him face to face. Merlin spent hours mustering up the courage and weighing out the different scenarios on how Arthur should learn the truth about his magic. He couldn't - no, he wouldn't – let Blais be the one to uncover the secret. Merlin figured if he was going to die anyway, Arthur needed to hear the words come out of his own mouth – even if it was the last thing he was ever going to do.

"It's the amulet you're after." Merlin found his voice.

"He does have a point there." Blais spewed.

Although shaky, Merlin managed to make known that he was still going to defend and stand up for his cause. "And you shall never have it."

"Tsk, tsk. That attitude only makes things worse for you. Now, I might have to hurt you again." Blais said. His words sizzled like a hot bolt of electricity.

"No, don't." Arthur stammered. "Please don't."

It wasn't like Arthur to say "please" to anyone. He never had to say "please". Whatever he wanted, he always got – but only because he was the crowned prince. People were used to his every beck and call. He did not accept the word "no" among his subjects. In fact, no one had ever had the guts to say "no" to his face, that is, until Merlin came along. Merlin was the only one brave enough to ever object to Arthur. This made Arthur furious, yet at the same time, having someone disagree with him was the only thing that made him feel human.

"Just – just let him go." Arthur said desperately. "You've proven your point. I'll – I'll get you what you want. You don't need him. You win."

"Damn right I win." Blais blurted, savoring his success. "No one can help either of you now. But if it's a game you want to play, I'm all for it. I've deteriorated Merlin's health so much that I doubt he could help you even if he tried."

The words burned in Arthur's ears. He wanted to tear Blais apart, but he had to control the rage pulsing in his veins. There had to be a right time to fight, and now probably wasn't the best time – especially since both their lives were in Blais' hands. It was pretty evident that Blais was the over proud, over confident type who found extreme pleasure in basking in his own glory. He was utterly arrogant and truly believed that he could not be defeated. Triumph was his vanity and it fed his ego to the fullest.

Arthur had seen it befell many a great king with zealous personalities of this sort. Being too sure, too prematurely of something often bred grave and undesirable consequences. Arthur knew that it was only a matter of time when opportunity would arise. Anticipating Blais' next move drove Arthur crazy, but it was something he had to do. He watched in horror as Blais reached his hand out towards Merlin once again. He knew what was coming.

As Blais curled his fingers into a fist, the fiery orange lassos tightened around Merlin's torso, practically squeezing the very life out of him. Before Arthur could make a new plea for Merlin's life, Blais opened his hand. In a single command, the glowing bands vanished, releasing Merlin in the process. The smoldering lassos that dug into Merlin's flesh had been too much for him to bear. The young warlock let out a sharp, painful gasp before falling listlessly to the ground. Sprawled on his stomach, Merlin remained in an unconscious heap. Arthur wasted no time in rushing to the side of his fallen friend.

Arthur ogled grotesquely at the bloody rips on the back of Merlin's tunic. The winter fabric had been tattered to near shreds. Arthur could not tear his eyes from the mix of the coagulated blood and fresh blood that seeped in three distinctive welts across Merlin's back. Arthur shot a quick glance over Merlin's wounds. Although there was a substantial drawing of blood, he decided that the wounds were not extremely deep, or then again perhaps Arthur was just fooling himself into thinking it for the sake of sanity.

"Merlin." Arthur whispered and touched Merlin's shoulder. In response, Merlin stirred and let out a soft groan, showing signs that he was coming around.

"Ar-thur." Merlin murmured weakly. "You mustn't." He tried to reason, but the pain was so great.

"I'll get us out of this." Arthur mumbled loud only enough for Merlin to hear.

Arthur surveyed his surroundings trying to figure out if there was anything he could use against Blais. Something caught his attention as his eyes traveled upwards to the three openings in the high end of the cave. The signs of dawn breaking were peeking through with misty shafts of light. Those three small windows were the only contact with the outside world for Arthur and Merlin. Without it, they failed to realize just how fast time slipped away since their arrival. It was comforting to see the crack of light reaching into the cave, perhaps like a ray of hope.

Merlin was gradually regaining consciousness. He became aware of his surroundings and focused his eyes on Arthur. The expression on the prince's chiseled face told Merlin that he was indeed planning on doing something. The more Merlin moved, the more the welts on his torso burned. Regardless of the pain, he pushed himself up to a seated position. He didn't feel as cold as he should because of the shared warmth in the fire pit. Apparently, even someone as cold-blooded as Blais still needed the fire to keep warm.

The prince's eyes then zeroed in on his sword lying peacefully on the plateau behind Blais. Even if he retrieved his sword, what would he do with it? It was probably no match for a sorcerer. But he liked to think that the sword was the answer and that the least he could do, was make an effort. It was highly unlikely that their captor would somehow set them free.

Arthur suddenly dove for his sword. Blais' eyes flashed and the sword moved out of Arthur's reach. The cape around Blais billowed around his body making him appear all powerful and commanding. He muttered a string of foreign words and a serpent of fire sprang out from the palm of his hand. It was suspended in midair, hissing and slithering about like a real serpent.

Orange and red flames trailed the snake as Blais sent it hurling towards Arthur. Merlin reached out his hand to counter a spell, but before he could breathe a word, the serpent struck Arthur squarely in the chest. Merlin watched in slow motion as Arthur was thrown back. The heat of the fiery serpent was so strong that it burnt through a spot on Arthur's chainmail. A thin swirl of gray smoke sizzled out of the melted intricate wiring. The serpent then twirled in the air before returning to Blais and disappearing into the same palm it came out of.

The prince lay on his back dazed but surprisingly conscious, feeling a rather excruciating burning sensation emanating from his chest. The odd smell of molten metal mixed with burnt flesh filled his nostrils and scared him. Of all the injuries he suffered on quests and battles, he never felt this much pain before. It was almost intolerable. He felt darkness drawing over his eyes. It was inviting and would be so easy to just let the darkness fall around him. He would be free of pain, if even for a brief moment. He heard Merlin's defenseless voice cry his name and it was probably then that he decided to fight the darkness.

Merlin could tell the injuries were quite serious by looking at the singed blood staining Arthur's clothing and smoking armor. His eyes soon narrowed onto Blais. Magic stirred in his body and he could feel it tingling in his blood. Merlin wanted to summon up all his strength and attack, but he knew the extent of his wounds. He was weak and his magic would only go so far. Nonetheless, he had to try. His river blue eyes turned fiery gold. Holding out his hand and without muttering a word, he created a force that would stun the evil sorcerer. But before he could knock Blais off his feet, Blais blocked it. Merlin nearly passed out. He reminded himself to reserve his energy, which he would need later.

Before Blais could think of another way to inflict more pain onto Arthur and Merlin, something changed. Bright beams of light came through the three windows in the cave, illuminating the area. Merlin watched the three beams quickly converge into a spot on the adjacent wall. When they aligned, a sudden mist appeared. The mist changed into a dense golden fog. It wasn't overpowering and an odd warm breeze came with it. Merlin squinted at the brightness of the light.

Merlin ought to be frightened, but he wasn't. There was something friendly and reassuring about this phenomenon. Perhaps it was the magic in Merlin's body responding to his surroundings. Every nerve in his body was telling him to relax and that somehow, everything was going to be alright. Merlin wanted to believe it, he really did, but he couldn't, not when there was Arthur to worry about. Arthur was also staring at the haze that formed, though he reacted to it differently than Merlin. Arthur clearly didn't feel as calm or as relaxed. It wasn't fear in his eyes and body language. It was more like preparing for the worse. He scampered towards Merlin in every effort to protect the manservant.

A strange figure came out of the golden sunlight and floated at the exact spot where the light aligned. The willowy man had a long prickly beard and hard wrinkled eyes. His attire was quite simple and easy, which consisted of a long glossy robe that seemed to sparkle when the light hit it a certain way. He carried a long ivory staff.

"Who are you?" Blais exclaimed to the figure, ready to attack. Bushy rings of fire were dancing in his hands, ready to be dispersed vehemently. "Speak or feel the wrath of my power." He boldly demanded.

The figure turned his head and looked at the evil sorcerer. Blais must've decided that the man was an immediate threat, because he unleashed the ring of fire towards the bearded figure. The ring of fire grew tenfold and turned into a roaring blaze. Even Merlin and Arthur had to shield their eyes from the intensity of the heat and light.

Without saying a word, the bearded man raised his staff and a growing ball of white and gray formed in front of him. It took a while for Merlin to figure out that it was air. A gust of wind suddenly kicked up soil and debris all around. The bearded man cast the ball forward. Arthur and Merlin watched it twirl and collide with the approaching wave of fire, blowing it out like a candle. The force was so great that it knocked Blais to the ground. There was a deep rumble within the mountain after the impact. It felt like a small earthquake. Stones and debris were crumbling from the ceiling of the cave. Merlin cast a spell protecting himself and Arthur from the falling debris. Arthur hadn't realized why the jagged rocks and soil barely touched him. He hadn't made the connection since his attention was on the astonishing episode unfolding right before his eyes.

With a raise of his ivory staff, the bearded man created a whirlwind, spinning inside the cave taking up rubble. The current of air pulled everything into its path. This included Blais. Merlin watched the sorcerer being hurled into the twister and flung around in circles. Although everything in that cave seemed to be caught in complete chaos, Merlin realized that he and Arthur were stationary and safe. The bearded man murmured some foreign words, words that even Merlin didn't recognize, and a tall hazy translucent portal appeared. The opening had an opaque color, making it impossible to see through.

Everything happened so fast. The bearded man raised his staff higher and the tornado containing Blais got sucked into the portal. As soon as Blais disappeared, the portal vanished. All the wind-blowing settled. Bearded man remained levitating in midair at the spot where the sunlight from the three windows aligned. His robe was still sparkling in the light like a diamond. He stared at the two humans quizzically.

"What's happened?" Arthur whispered breathlessly to Merlin, like as if Merlin had an explanation for everything.

"N-not sure." Merlin croaked. He let go of the shield that was protecting them. Using that bit of magic left him exhausted. The nasty wound on Arthur's chest caught his attention. "Ar-thur, you're hurt."

"So are you." Arthur replied, lowered his head back down. His head was spinning and he wanted to close his eyes.

"You will not be harmed, man of the future." The bearded man spoke to no one in particular, for he knew that both humans before him will play a changing role in the future.

Man of the future. It was a statement that described both Merlin and Arthur accurately. Prince Arthur will rise to become the powerful once and future King of Camelot. And the manservant Merlin will become the most prominent wizard in history. Indeed, they were both men of the future.

"It's The Great One." Merlin gasped, as it dawned on him.

"What are you talking about?" Arthur pelted in an almost annoyed tone, but only because he was feeling quite awful and had no patience.

"It's the one that the Kayaruvians all worshipped. It makes sense. Think about it, Arthur. The three windows on the side of the cave. The sunlight hitting it just the right way." Merlin sounded quite amazed. "You said yourself that the people would sit here all day waiting to see The Great One appear."

Arthur had no words. He only stared at the bearded man in amazement. Merlin was right. He knew Merlin was right. He never would have believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes. He listened to the stories casually and only considered them to be myths. The Great One didn't always appear and there were instances where he wouldn't appear for lifetimes. But the Kayaruvians believed this Great One existed and passed the tradition down from generation to generation.

"You saved us from the sorcerer, Great One. Thank you." Merlin said while crawling painfully towards the bearded man. His eyes turned downwards in deep respect.

"He who dares to disturb a place of devotion and tarnish it with evil shall answer to me." The Great One responded. Merlin could not begin to imagine what that meant.

"What did you do to Blais?" Merlin asked curiously.

"He will not bother you hence forth. He has been sent into The Abyss, where he will remain for eternity." The Great One replied. "You both have done no wrong and are free to go."

"Thank you. We are humbled." Merlin said. He shot a glance at Arthur's direction and noticed how still he had gotten. Arthur was struggling to stay awake, and from the looks of things, he was gradually losing the battle. "My friend is hurt badly. Can you help him?"

"I have the power to condemn as I see fit. Not to mend what is broken." The Great One explained. "I am bound to the light in this cave. Therefore, my time is limited." The sun's rays were moving and the three beams of light that collided with one another were starting to break. The Great One flickered, like as if he was about to vanish. "However Emrys, there is something I'll do before I go."

Merlin jumped at the word "Emrys" and swung his head around to see if Arthur heard. Apparently, Arthur hadn't because he had fallen unconscious. "Do not look so surprised. I'm a prophet after all. I know who you are and what you will do. Though, the time for explanation is not now." The Great One said no more on the subject. Merlin could have pressed on for details, but he didn't. He knew better than to do that.

"I will transport you and your friend to your horses at the base of the valley. And from there, you will have to make your journey home. It is the most that I can do." The Great One said and flickered once again at the waning light.

"We are most grateful at whatever help you can give us." Merlin dipped his head. The Great One raised his staff.

M.M.M.

Before Merlin could express his thanks, the solitude of the cave was replaced with the open valley in front of the mountain. Merlin was still on his knees and a few feet away from him Arthur lay unconscious. The frosty winter air was nipping at Merlin's bare skin. He'd lost his cloak somewhere along the way and was suddenly feeling the brunt of the weather. The horses were as they left them, watering by the stream and grazing on some patches of dried grass.

Merlin crawled to Arthur and called his name several times before a soft groan can be heard passing the prince's lips. Merlin surveyed the messy wound on Arthur's chest. It was quite a serious injury, one that needed immediate attention. Gaius was the medicine man and had many ways of curing ailments. He would know what to do, but the old physician was not there. Merlin, also quite injured himself, was starting to panic. His heart raced and palpitated uncomfortably against his chest. There was only one thing left for him to do.

Merlin was not skilled at healing spells. It was the one part of magic that Merlin felt inexperienced with and often failed at it, no matter how hard he tried. In fact, healing spells were the toughest characteristic of magic to master. Merlin understood that to conjure an effective heal, it was both physically and mentally demanding. Power was not enough for even the most experienced sorcerer to do a heal if he didn't have control. Otherwise, it would consume all his energy and he would die. Merlin was aware that the extent of his injuries weakened his magic but he had to try.

The young warlock pressed the palm of his hand onto the bloody wound. He summoned forth whatever magic he had left in his body. Before long, his river blue eyes turned into a fiery gold color. In deep concentration, the foreign words Þurhhæle dolgbenn rolled off his tongue with conviction. When it was done, he felt drained. Even his breathing was labored. He took his hand away from Arthur's wound and inspected his handy work. Much to his dismay, it didn't quite work as well as he'd like. The wound was only partially healed and even at partially healed, it was still pretty bad. Merlin couldn't afford to try the spell again. He had already used up all the power he had and to try something like that again would surely kill him.

Merlin pulled off his neckerchief and used it as a bandage for Arthur's wound. He felt cold, hungry, tired, and just plain awful. The new injuries were extremely painful, making it a difficult task to move the slightest without a spasm of pain erupting, but he had to push onward.

"Mer-lin?" Arthur drawled. Merlin's healing spell may not have healed Arthur completely but at least he was well enough to regain consciousness. Arthur opened his eyes to find sunlight falling on his face. The last thing he remembered was being in the cave and The Great One vanquishing Blais.

"We have to get out of here." Merlin said as he proceeded to pull Arthur up by the armpits. He swung Arthur's arm over his shoulder and they staggered towards the horses like a couple of drunken fellows.

Getting Arthur onto his horse was easier than Merlin thought. Even in his poor condition, Arthur somehow managed to hoist himself up onto the horse without much help. Merlin was concerned that Arthur would fall off his horse, but Arthur waved him off, saying that he was fine. Bent over from extreme pain and fatigue, it was quite obvious that he couldn't take charge of his horse. Merlin tied the reigns of Arthur's horse onto the saddle of his own before mounting and riding off into the direction in which they came.

M.M.M.

The sun had set in the East by the time they reached the opening of the Allerian Woodlands. The vastness of the forest was intimidating but only so in Merlin's mind. He figured if they kept going, they would make it back to Camelot by dawn. He was growing weary of the travels but he needed to press forward, for Arthur's sake. They made a short stop for some water and a bite of old bread. Merlin's silence worried Arthur a great deal. It wasn't in the servant's character to remain wordless for such a long period of time. Usually by now, the idiot would be rattling off on some nonsense, completely annoying the hell out of Arthur. But the healing spell took a lot out of him and Merlin's health was gradually failing.

Soon, the moonlight lit the trail in which servant led master through the woods in single file. The air became colder with the night closing in. It was so cold that Arthur could see his breath smoking before him when he exhaled. His teeth chattered and his hands were numbing so much that he had to pull his undershirt out to cover it. But he was still wearing his chainmail and armor, which provided some defense against the cold. Merlin, however, had nothing but his old tattered coat. As Merlin led Arthur's horse, the prince couldn't help but stare at Merlin for a while – anything that would help him stay awake.

He must be freezing. The exposure to this weather can't be good for him. Arthur thought pitifully. His gaze soon fixed upon Merlin's back, where rips in the clothing exposed the horrific bloodied welts across his back. Merlin appeared to be nearly slumped over on his horse. It was getting so bad that there was a moment where it really looked like he was about to fall off his horse completely. Arthur must've called his name several times before Merlin finally answered.

"We must stop." Arthur said. "You need rest."

"No, Arthur. We can't. We have to keep moving. Just a few more miles." Merlin's voice shook. He seemed to straighten up a bit after hearing Arthur's voice. He couldn't let Arthur see how weak he was. His job was to protect and serve his prince. It was his duty to get Arthur back to Camelot alive. The longer they lingered, the slimmer the chances were of that happening.

"We should get a fire going – warm up. And rest." Arthur suggested, barely able to feel his fingers. It was more for Merlin's sake than for himself.

"We have to keep moving." Merlin repeated. There was too much determination in him to give into any temptation.

"Your – your wounds need tending." Arthur said.

"I'm fine. It's not as bad as it looks." Merlin lied.

And with that, no more words were exchanged for a long time. The scenery remained unchanged for many hours as they followed the path through the Allerian Woodlands. The ground to the left and right of them were knotted with thick roots and vines. Their horses provided a steady pace down the narrow trail. A glimmer of silver moonlight through the tree tops supplied them with the only form of light. There were many miles between the Allerian Woodlands and Camelot. Even the density of bare trees became claustrophobic to a point where they felt they would never reach the other side of the wood. Sounds of nightly forest creatures were their only sense of comfort along their journey, making them feel less lonely in the darkness of the woods. There was a soft hooting of an owl followed by a flutter of wings.

By the time Arthur and Merlin reached the wonderful and inviting gates of Camelot, it was the break of morning. The sun had only just begun to peek through the frosty horizon. Most people were merely starting to wake from their slumber. Seeing the tower flags of Camelot flapping against the breeze lifted Arthur's spirits and heartened him tremendously. He knew he and Merlin were in the arms of safety at last. Even from afar, the guards on patrol in the towers had already spotted the travelers drawing near and the news soon reached the gatekeepers and those around the castle grounds.

Merlin broke his horse into a jog and led Arthur's horse quickly through the gates. It was still very early and only a handful of people were up and about going to their jobs. As they headed towards the grand entrance of the castle, a trail of such people sped after them in curiosity and awe. Whispers and murmurs erupted in the growing crowd. Everyone longed to know what happened and to offer help to their beloved prince. Arthur looked terribly beaten – like he'd been through a meat grinder. The Prince of Camelot usually came out unscathed upon returning from quests and battles, but only because he was a champion at his trade and everyone believed Arthur to be invincible. They used to sing songs in taverns about him being "made of iron." His defeated appearance frightened the people, both for the security of their prince and for their kingdom.

The open atrium was slowly filled by a handful of knights, several entrance guards, a couple of servants and maids, and some other professionals who happened to be passing through. Merlin's and Arthur's horses came to a stop in front of the grand staircase entrance. Soon, they were flooded with a chatter of people wanting to offer assistance and trying to decide what was best for their prince in this state of emergency. Arthur rolled off his horse and into the arms of two strong knights. There were shouts of orders from the knights and the sound of running feet spread throughout the square from people trying to carry out those instructions.

Dazed, Arthur heard a mixture of voices around him, most of which inquired about his health. He looked around frantically for Merlin. Give the prince some room. Move back! Move back! He heard someone yell.

"Help Merlin. He's hurt too." Arthur slurred, not sure who he was talking to.

"Sire, you are not well. Lean on me. We will get you to Gaius." A knight stammered, and turned around to throw a few commands. "Oi, Stable boy! Take care of the horses." A thin lad of about fifteen, clad in a brown winter cloak, appeared on spot and proceeded to take Arthur's horse away.

Arthur suddenly caught sight of his servant's pale face. Merlin had already dismounted his horse and stood there facing him in a stupor. He appeared to be slightly swaying on his heels and the hollow look in his glassy eyes convinced Arthur that there was something terribly wrong with the servant. Arthur wanted to get to Merlin, but Merlin's face grew farther and farther away, replaced by the worried multiplying faces of strangers blocking his line of vision.

"Please." Arthur begged. He wondered why everyone was fussing over him when there was someone in greater need of attention. "Merlin. He needs help."

People rushed pass Merlin to get to the prince, forgetting about the servant altogether. They treated Merlin like as if he was invisible and unimportant. Merlin showed disinterest and indifference. He understood the well-being of the prince was the first and foremost priority. Everybody else came second. The people had a right to be worried about their prince. After all, the look of Arthur's wound was enough to show that he'd been through a malicious deal. And so Merlin understood that servants didn't matter and he felt no inferiority towards the people for their actions.

Faces and voices swarmed around Merlin. His head felt heavy and breathing quite shallow. There was an odd detached feeling in his body, like as if he was floating on air. Exhaustion from the long chain of events and the overexposure to extreme cold had taken its toll on Merlin. He could cry for help, but somehow, he couldn't speak. Something robbed him of his voice. Unexplainable black dots began to dance in his vision. The sounds around him grew farther and farther away, like as if he was listening to an echo. Merlin thought he was fine, mostly because he wanted to be fine. He figured a good night's sleep and a few pain eradicating draughts prescribed by Gaius would bring him back to his usual self in no time. He had no idea how wrong he was.

Merlin caught a glimpse of Arthur's blond head amidst the people and it seemed for a second, they locked eyes. Then without warning, Merlin's whole world went black. He fell unconscious even before hitting the ground. This finally prompted some attention from the bystanders. A broad-shouldered blacksmith was nearest to Merlin. He knelt down and proceeded to check the boy's vital signs.

"We must get him to Gaius. This boy barely has a pulse!" The blacksmith exclaimed to another man, who was looking over the collapsed servant. Arthur may have been sluggish and incoherent, but he somehow heard what the blacksmith said regarding Merlin. This gave Arthur a shock. The only words that caught his ears were – This boy barely has a pulse.

"Merlin!" Arthur cried out hysterically as he crawled over all the people to get to Merlin. Some knights tried to hold him back, while others called his name and mumbled speech that he didn't register. But he had his way. When he reached the spot, the blacksmith had already scooped Merlin up in his hefty arms.

"Arthur." An authoritative, yet concerned voice thundered through the crowd and suddenly all the people were silent. Arthur looked up and noticed all the people had their heads turned downwards and eyes cast steadfastly at the cobblestones. Only one person could have such an effect on the people – it was King Uther.

The royal highness was still dressed in his sleep robes save a long warm fur cloak draped majestically over his shoulders. He was not properly groomed when the news of his son's return reached him and sparked haste. "Are you alright, my son? They told me you were injured. What happened? Oh heavens! Look at your chest!" Uther rambled upon seeing Arthur at first glance. "Guard, prepare Gaius for receiving Arthur at once!"

"Someone has gone on the errand already, Sire." The guard answered.

"I'm fine, father. It is Merlin who needs help." Arthur said, ignoring Uther's fuss. Arthur stared at the near lifeless body the blacksmith carried and hardly believed that it was Merlin. All the color had left Merlin's face. Arthur glanced over the bloody tatters of Merlin's clothes and his eyes soon travelled to the deep red bruise that encircled his neck from the shackle. Blood had already clotted on the bruise on the side of his cheek. It was the first time Arthur really took a good look at his manservant. He was quite taken by Merlin's injuries and broken appearance. Something compelled him to touch Merlin's hand. It was icy.

"I will take him to Gaius, my Lord." The blacksmith said and dipped his head. He turned and was about to make his way towards the commoner's entrance.

"No, take the front entrance. It's faster." Arthur instructed.

"Arthur! He will do no such thing." Uther objected. It was not customary for the hired help to use the front entrance. The front entrance, which led into the Great Hall, was meant only for the noblemen and royalty as invited by the King. Servants and other lowly helps were not allowed to come and go via the front entrance. They always had to use the commoner's entrance, which was located in the rear of the castle. Basically, it was the long way with many hallways and staircases.

"Please, father! There is no time for formalities. He saved my life and now we need to try and save his. I never would've made it back had it not been for him. We suffered greatly at the hands of Blais in the Kayas, but as injured as Merlin was, it was he who led my horse back to Camelot throughout the night. I owe Merlin my life!" Arthur blurted. He sounded devastated and frenzied enough for Uther to become concerned with his son's well-being.

After a slight moment's thought and hesitation, Uther reluctantly gave a wave of his hand and said to the blacksmith, "Go and take the front entrance." The blacksmith bowed deeply.

"Tell Gaius to help Merlin first, before coming to me." Arthur demanded before sending the blacksmith on his way.

"Arthur…." Uther began to object again.

"It's alright, father. I'm fine. Merlin needs to be looked at first." Arthur interrupted softly. He intently watched Merlin's limp body being carried away.

Arthur needed to know if his friend was going to be alright. He couldn't put negative thoughts into his head now, even though he feared for the worse. He felt lost and unable to move from his spot. Disoriented and in shock, it was like as if he didn't know what to do or where to go. Arthur would've stood there all day had it not been for Uther. The King threw a bunch of demands to people around him and personally led Arthur into the castle. Amidst the noise of people scurrying alongside, Arthur obediently followed Uther. Arthur's face was etched with a tired and bewildered countenance.

End of Chapter 12

Author's Note: Thank you for reading! Please sign a review?