Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin.

Merlin paced nervously up and down the floors of his living quarters. The time was nearly an hour past midnight, but Merlin had no intention of sleeping. He rubbed at his eyes tiredly, and then shook his head; it would be unfair to rest when Prince Arthur was in such desperate circumstances. Merlin had spent nine days in this pattern of lethargy and worry; his conscience not allowing him rest until Arthur's safety was assured. Merlin yearned to run into the forest and save the prince, but King Uther had ordered against it. He had said any action taken to retrieve Arthur would be assumed as a threat to the bandits, and the Prince would be killed immediately. So, the citizens of Camelot were forced to wait idly, as the king collected the gold from his vaults in eastern Albion; nearly a week long horse ride away.

"You look like an old man, when you shuffle around so tiredly, Merlin" Gaius's caring face entered Merlin's line of sight unexpectedly; because of his worried musings he'd not heard he physician open his door, and enter his messy room.

"Keeps my mind off things, walking around", Merlin stated with a barely suppressed yawn. Gaius looked disbelieving and he strode towards Merlin, guiding the still dressed teen onto his unused bed.

"I would have to politely disagree with your statement", Gaius countered calmly, placing a comforting arm around the boy, and then extracting a phial from a deep pocket on his nightgown. "Not resting, tends to keep your mind on things", the alchemist nudged the small beaker into Merlin's hand.

"What's in here", Merlin asked, twirling the bottle softly in his palm. Gaius smiled gently down at him. "It's a mild sleeping draught; I know you are worried about Arthur, but this potion will calm your mind and allow you to rest easily."

Merlin looked longingly at the round bottle before handing it back to Gaius. "It- it wouldn't be fair Gaius! Arthur is out there alone, injured."Merlin broke off suddenly and looked down, his uncombed hair falling in his eyes. "I won't do it anymore Gaius." Merlin began, his voice rising in frustration, "I will not stand by while my friend is tortured." He clenched his jaw angrily. "Tomorrow," Merlin started, raising his eyes to meet the physicians. "I will go after Arthur".

Gaius nodded, solemnly agreeing. He handed the vial back to Merlin, and patted his leg, "You'll need your rest, then."

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Arthur limped past the large, crooked oak tree for the third time this hour. Despite his initial progress, Arthur now found himself undoubtedly… "Lost", the blond haired teen exclaimed in distress. "How in the world does a person escape this damn forest"? Plopping down on a nearby tree stump Arthur heaved a sigh; his only consolation was the small, nearly brackish, pond he'd found less than a mile back. "At least", he muttered, "I won't die of dehydration". His stomach twisted and rolled rudely, starvation was another matter entirely.

Kicking his foot in annoyance, Arthur once again rose, and started forward, this time heading down a dark looking path he dared not enter before. At first his stride was faltering and nervous; the gloom of the trees and the strange ominous noises putting him on guard. After a time though, he fell into a rhythm, and the noises he once thought dangerous became a chorus of typical forest wildlife. What was more, almost an hour had passed, and Arthur had yet to pass that annoying, knobby oak. Keeping a solid, yet draining pace, the prince soon reached a place in the woods he was semi-familiar with. Though rarely used, Arthur would occasionally ride out this way for navigation practice with his knights.

Smiling delightedly he dropped to his knees, almost kissing the known ground. He was still far, but he knew that eventually he'd be home in Camelot. He stayed in this position for a while, resting his muscles and enjoying the soft, leaf covered forest floor. Content to fall asleep in this place, Arthur had to visibly shake himself out of his reverie. Nightfall was approaching quickly, and to his east thunder roared. Without a shelter, or even tunic, Arthur knew surviving this unseasonably cold day would be unlikely. Shuddering slightly at the prospect of death by rainstorm, Arthur began frantically scanning the area for a shelter. After moments of searching, and being faced with the same tall trees and damp wood, Arthur decided moving forward was his only option. If he ran, there was a chance, a slim chance he could outrun the rainstorm, or at the least, find shelter.

The prospect of running was an unattractive thought, to say the least. His muscles, sore and weak from abuse, already maintained a constant tremor; and his torso was laced with so many bruises and cuts, the slightest twitch of his chest made his eyes water. In spite of this he was nothing but determined, so he hitched himself up, groaning audibly, and propelled his body forward, trying in vain to focus solely on the warm bath that would greet him upon his return.

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Merlin had left to find Arthur well before dawn, and though he only slept a few hours, an energy potion from Gaius ensured his alertness. Now he found himself walking quickly through a deep part of Camelot's, western woods. Merlin didn't mind the walk at all; In fact he relished the cheery sounds of wildlife, and the hum of natural energy. Perhaps the magic coursing through his veins enhanced his connection with the wild. He paused for a second and his nose twitched slightly, smelling an oncoming rainstorm. He noted the lowering sun as well, and decided now would be an opportune time to build camp, start a fire, and eat his dinner.

An hour or so later Merlin's chores were finished, and he sat down near the happily roaring fire pit, to look over Gaius's map once more.

"The bandit camp is located to the east, Merlin," at this Gaius pointed a finger at a particularly dense shrouding of trees. "You", he gazed at Merlin seriously;"would do well to stay away from there for as long as possible".

"But Gaius" Merlin announced confused "If I don't head East how will I reach Arthur?" Gaius shuffled a bit in mock exasperation. "Daft boy", he tapped the teen's skull playfully. "You must, of course, arrive at the bandit camp eventually. But I, for one, don't want you to be murdered when you barge expectedly into their clutches .No no", Gaius shook his head, "the east will not do". He quieted before continuing. "You will come in from the North. There is a path few travel on beginning in the Western part of the woods. It is windy and oppressing but it poses no real threat." He looked at Merlin until the boy nodded to show his understanding. "Once the path ends, you will be five or so miles from the eastern part of the woods. The camp is hidden, so you will have to navigate by yourself". Merlin looked disquieted at this, but shook his head in confirmation.

"I'm ready Gaius", he stated, fidgeting slightly with his shirt. The physician stared at him fondly before embracing the boy in a soft hug. Merlin turned to leave, but Gaius's voice halted him. He spun around and faced his mentor, smiling slightly.

Gaius, looked once more at the teen, before clearing his throat emotionally, "Do be careful Merlin".

Merlin beamed down at him, "Aren't I always?"

Munching on a hunk of cheese, Merlin looked over the map. His route for tomorrow was fairly simple. He'd hike straight ahead until he reached the dark path marked with a circle on his chart; he would follow that path until it ended, at which point he would stop for the night, and then save Arthur the next morning.

Content with tomorrow's schedule, Merlin doused the fire, climbed into his leather tent, and awaited the rainstorm that was now imminent.

The inside of his tent was cozy, and warm. Merlin had situated it close to the fire, and the light from the flames danced playfully on the back wall. Yawning, he carefully spread his sleeping mat on the floor, and crawled inside; wrapping his covers tightly around his body. Merlin was asleep before the first drop of rain fell.

"Crash", Merlin awoke with a start several hours later, the rainstorm was at its peak now, and the booms of the thunder were continuing in a succinct, scary beat. He clutched his covers closer around him, and tried to ignore the pitch blackness he was immersed in. "It's just thunder," he chastised himself. "No need to be a baby". Merlin listened to the pounding of rain for a few moments more, before lying back down. "Crunch", Merlin shot back up immediately. That sound was decidedly abnormal, rain didn't sound like…"Crunch". Merlin breathed heavily, sweat trickling down his face, and stomach clenching in fear... something was outside of his tent.