Bearing Water, Clouds, Sky.
The man is tall and dark, his skin bronze-like, his eyes rimmed with kohl. He bows low, his vibrant blues and golds clothes clashing with the quiet, serene colors people at Uther's court wear. Indrajal moves with a cadence Merlin has never seen anyone posses before, a way to his limbs that makes him seem almost liquid.
"I've come from distant lands to offer you, Uther Pendragon, one of the greatest creatures that exist upon the oceans," he calls, a slithering to the tongue that Merlin almost thinks he remembers. But Uther is enthralled and he bows his head, allowing Indrajal to uncover that which he brought.
With another bow, Indrajal uncovers it and the gasp runs through the whole court at the conception of glass and water, and the creature that waits inside it.
"My king, I give to you, the nereid."
She's the most beautiful creature that Merlin has ever seen. Her skin is bronze-like, warm and soft looking even despite the water, the scales of her tail emerald green, her eyes the deepest, truest green that has ever existed. Her hair floats freely in the water, dark and heavy like storm clouds. There are jewels on her arms, blue topaz and red rubies and golden threads darker than her hair waving themselves through her arms. She has coral colored gills on her neck and small budding breasts that are barely covered by heavy collars. She looks young and terrified as the people look at her.
When she looks at him, Merlin thinks of kingdoms destroyed, of families lost. He thinks of Will, dying for him, and he thinks about his mother, and then he thinks about Arthur dying. He thinks about home being lost for good.
"She's magnificent," Uther adds in a quiet murmur of voice, standing up, going towards the container. His gloved hands touch the glass where the nereid is trapped, but she doesn't look at him, her ever so green eyes still focused on him. "What do you want for her?"
Indrajal bows again. "My lord, knowing that she pleases you is the biggest reward I could ask for. But if I could ask for anything, it would be for the pleasure of playing some music for my lord and the prince."
"Done," Uther says with a smile. He touches the glass again for a moment. "Make sure he has a good room for a few days, and take this creature to the garden. It will look lovely among the flowers."
Merlin, finally tearing his eyes away from the nereid, looks towards the king. Uther is still smiling as he sits down again, a hand to his lips, but Morgana looks pained, her eyes sad, her expression broken hearted, which Merlin was expecting. What he wasn't expecting, however, was for Arthur to look sad as well.
The thing with Arthur, Merlin has discovered, is that you have to prompt him. Either into doing what he should or for him to tell you things. So later that day, when Arthur has kept mostly quiet - except for giving orders, that's it, but Arthur could give orders in his sleep - Merlin starts talking.
"Beautiful, wasn't she?" he asks, making Arthur look at him. Merlin smiles. "The nereid, sire. Wasn't she beautiful?"
Arthur huffs, turning his eyes back to the soldiers' drills. "You have a thing for fish, now, Merlin?"
Merlin rolls his eyes, and as he tries to think in some other approach for him to be able to approach her, Arthur adds:
"She could have been beautiful, but she was too sad for me to think so. If anything, she was tragic."
Sad. Arthur had thought that she was sad as well.
"Lady Morgana seemed interested in her," Merlin offers. "I heard Gwen say that hadn't moved from her side since she was put in the rose garden."
Arthur nods, but acting as if he isn't paying much attention. Merlin wonders if it's actually the fact that Arthur doesn't care as much as Merlin thought he did, or if he's simply trying to pretend he doesn't. Sometimes, the difference is quite subtle with Arthur, and he has to know just how to make sure that his questions won't cause the opposite effect on him.
"Knowing her, she'll stay by the creature's side all day long," Arthur says. "Merlin, I think I'll have my lunch at the rose garden. Make sure there's enough for Morgana as well."
Merlin very carefully doesn't grin. Much.
The rose garden, Merlin had been told, had belonged to Queen Igraine, but after her death it had been abandoned for years. When Uther took Morgana in, Morgana had slowly started working on it, and - in what the castle service said with smart looking smiles on their faces was a long line of allowances for the lady Morgana - Uther had allowed her to keep it, eventually even joining Morgana for a stroll in it.
The nereid and it's jail had been put by the shadow, and there sit Morgana and Gwen, both of their eyes sad. Gaius is with them, shaking his head.
"As far as I can tell from here, milady, she's healthy, but it's hard to be sure when I depend only in my eyes," Gaius is saying as Merlin approaches.
Morgana sighs. "Thank you for obeying my whim, Gaius. I just... think there is something else."
"That is because you're a generous and kind person," Gaius says with a smile, bowing, though he raises an eyebrow at him. In that gesture, Gaius is telling him not to stick his nose in other people's business, which Merlin thinks is rather unfair, when most of the times it's other people's business that go on pulling him until he has to stick his nose or lose it.
... except for one or two occasions, that is.
"Did you come to see her, Merlin?" Gwen asks.
"Isn't she lovely?" Morgana smiles, but her voice sounds sad. "It pains me that she's trapped in there... do you think we could get her something bigger?"
"I honestly don't know," Merlin says, shrugging. "I've never known of glass this big or resistant."
And in his book it says that only magic can trap a magical creature, but he can't quite check up the container with Gwen and Morgana there, to see if there are hidden runes or traces of spells.
"Milady, Arthur said he was having lunch as well, and he hoped you'd join him."
And just with that, Morgana's easy, soft smile turns as she rolls her eyes, standing up from the blanket where she and Gwen had been sitting down.
"And have him go on and on about how he could capture a nereid for sure? No, thank you," Gwen bites her lips, carefully not smiling, but she looks at Merlin so that he knows she's trying not to laugh. Before they start walking, Morgana looks at Merlin, an eyebrow raised. "And do tell him, Merlin, that those things he has to ask them himself."
So Arthur will be angry about that, but once he's alone Merlin takes advantage to touch the cage, trying to feel anything that might be odd. There is magic humming there, but he can't quite identify it. He gasps as the creature's hand touches his through the glass, finding himself literally lost in her eyes.
He finds himself within a river, with huge gray animals bathing, and there more nereids, sitting by the rocks sometimes, but mostly underwater. Merlin can almost hear music.
"Who are you?" he asks, not quite expecting the answer that comes from.
The voice comes from nowhere. But as he looks at the nereid she speaks again, though it sounds like music.
Please, please help me.
Merlin looks around frantically, lowering his voice as much as he can. Of course she wanted his help, he thought a bit cynically. When would it be any different?
"How?" He glances around again. "Please, don't ask me to take you out, how would I do that? I don't even know where's your home to take you there or--"
There is no home, she whispers in his mind, barely a ripple of sweet, sweet voice. Not anymore.
As he sees in her eyes again, Merlin sees the same place he saw before, with it's blue water and the nereids, and then he sees monsters, half human and half snake the way the nereids were half and half, but somehow these were more terrible. They attacked the nereids, killing them, torturing them. The water was painted red, until Abhra was the only one left.
Merlin blinks tears away. "... what do you want me to do?"
He put his poison in the water, she tells him. So I have to obey him.
"Obey him? What does he..." Merlin closes his eyes. "Oh, no."
My song, he attempts to use it so that he can kill the prince with the kind eyes, Abhra says. I knew I had to come here and meet him and you, but you cannot let him kill the prince.
"What? I mean..." Merlin shakes his head. Her song, her voice, as sweet as it is, clouds his mind a little. He has to remember to look around, and make sure they remain alone. "You know Arthur?"
I know of him. The water that today is in this land, tomorrow will be in my land. I know of him, and you.
Of course, Merlin thinks again.
Look behind you.
Before he can even think clearly again, Merlin turns around, just in time to see Arthur coming inside, looking around. He glances at the nereid, but she has moved away from the glass, as much as her prison allows her.
"I was wondering what took you so long," Arthur says, an eyebrow raised that means a completely different thing than it does with Gaius. Here it is annoyance - not completely true, but a good mask anyway - and a not-quite-subtle glance around.
"I'm sorry, sire" Merlin says. "I'm afraid that lady Morgana wasn't here when I arrived."
"I can see that on my own, Merlin," Arthur rolls his eyes, but he looks towards the nereid. For Merlin's surprise, Abhra is looking back at Arthur, even smiling. Arthur walks towards her, and Merlin, now knowing that she is, well, meant to spell him so that a serpent monster can kill him, isn't quite willing to leave him alone with her.
But Abhra actually stops looking at Arthur enough to look at Merlin.
There is a moment of absolutely stillness, before Arthur asks in a tone of voice that is quite calmly approaching hysterics.
"Merlin," he says in a pleasant enough tone of voice. "Did you just hear that?"
It's alright, the nereid says before Merlin can literally make the earth swallow him or something like that to avoid answering that question. She's smiling, and she presses both hands to the glass. Please, prince. Do not fear me.
Saved! Merlin puts his most confused, most innocent expression, looking around.
Arthur looks at him before he shakes his head, just a tad too fast.
"Nothing! Nothing. Go and bring me my lunch, Merlin."
The nereid smiles and nods her head while Arthur is not looking. Merlin bites his lip before he walks out slowly out of the garden and then dashes towards the kitchens in what he hopes will be record time.
This is one of those occasions in which Merlin wishes he still talked with the dragon, and ask his opinion about this. What is he supposed to do? He has absolutely no idea where the place that Abhra showed him is, if he's supposed to take her there, for not mentioning that there is the fact that Abhra is absolutely sure that she is supposed to be there.
And what about stopping that snake-man? How is he supposed to do that? Who to tell?
He trips against someone, barely avoiding to trip against someone.
"I am so sorry, I was rushing and--"
Indrajal's yellow eyes look at him, and the man smiles as he looks at him. His eyes show him blood and war and disease, Camelot destroyed until there is no stone over stone standing still. He shows him poisoning Arthur, sinking fangs deep against his neck, Albion surrounded by flames.
"No need to apologize, Emrys," Indrajal says, hissing a bit, even flicking his forked tongue at him, and Merlin's eyes go wide. "We of the kin need no apologies to each other."
And then he goes away, and Merlin decides to retreat his steps, rushing to the garden just as fast, telling a maid he finds in the way to please send Arthur's food at the rose garden.
Abhra is singing, when he arrives. Merlin is not sure what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn't Abhra's song, nor Arthur's eyes closed, his head leaning against her container. He looks so quiet, so still, and from where he is, Merlin can't see if he is breathing.
"Screaming like that, what were you thinking, Merlin?!" Arthur huffs, walking twice as fast since he's angry. "Scared the hell out of that poor girl!" for not mentioning that he woke up his majesty, the crowned prince of Camelot of what had been his first nap since he stopped needing a nursemaid, scaring him as well.
"I'm sorry, sire," Merlin apologizes, walking behind him. "I told you, I was sure I had seen a snake nearby."
"Merlin, somehow I doubt that you could know the difference between a snake and a worm, much less an actual dangerous one," Arthur says, still irritated. Merlin is quite grateful that he doesn't think of looking back or he'd notice Merlin rolling his eyes, because talk about irony...
Once at his room, Arthur pushes the door open, and Merlin gets inside as well, already dreading whatever Arthur will make him do as a payback for having caught him in a moment of unexpected vulnerability and surprising him.
But Arthur, somehow, doesn't start giving up orders like usual. Instead he leans against the chimney, a hand to his chin, and he's frowning.
"Close the door, Merlin."
"Merlin, I need you to swear that you won't repeat what I tell you here, not even to Gaius."
Merlin stares for a moment, surprised by the request, before he nods.
"Of course, sire, I swear."
Arthur looks at him for long, long seconds before he nods, apparently surprised. He sits down, motioning to another chair to Merlin, who sits down hesitantly.
The prince remains quite for a few more moments before he murmurs:
"That girl... the creature, talked to me."
That, Merlin knew. But he didn't expect Arthur to tell him that at all, so his surprise is mostly genuine. Arthur nods at his expression.
"I know, I wasn't expecting it either," Arthur says, grim-faced and serious. "She asked me to trust her."
It's only then that Merlin realizes that Arthur has been talking about Abhra as a girl rather than as a animal.
"I know, I know!" Arthur stands up and paces. "She's a magical creature! And if she can talk, I should tell my father so that we can deal with it, and maybe that man is dangerous as well, but..."
And then he sighs.
"I don't know, Merlin. I want to trust her, and that doesn't make sense. That'd go against everything I know."
I should tell him, Merlin think. This is the time to tell him. Instead, he asks:
"What did she show you?"
Arthur's eyes go soft, the way they do when he talks about Camelot. It's something that Merlin has seen before, how much love Arthur has for this land, for this kingdom, for his people.
"She showed me... Camelot. But not as it is now. It was more beautiful, peaceful. A time with no executions, no wars. The Camelot I know my father will bring, the one I want to help create."
Arthur sighs, but then he shakes his head. "Nevermind, I'm being stupid. I have to go and tell my father about Ab--... about the creature, and Indrajal. Forget this conversation, Merlin."
And he's walking towards the door, so Merlin blurts out the first thing that comes to his mind.
"Sire, I think I did hear her."
Arthur whips around, eyes wide. Merlin keeps on babbling.
"Before you arrived, I heard a voice. And when you asked, I did hear her, but I was afraid you would think I could do magic or something so I lied. I'm sorry, sire."
Arthur's face closes, the previous expression gone. He looks away, his jaw clenching the way it does after Uther tells him off. He's hurt. Merlin feels ice pouring down his throat.
"I don't need you anymore for the moment, Merlin. You can go."
The ice settles on his stomach, but Arthur's expression remains closed. Merlin bites his lip before he bows his head, walking out Arthur's room. He stays out there for a moment before he rushes towards his room and the book that will, hopefully, tell him about Indrajal. He can't allow himself to think too much about this right now. First he has to find a way to stop Indrajal from killing Uther and Arthur, and then he has to find a way to get Abhra away.
The book had miserably little information about the serpent-men. The naga, as they were called, were a powerful demonic tribe, with a powerful poison that in low quantities could control someone's will but if they bit anyone, the death would be slow and painful and imminent. Their only known enemy were the griffins.
"And who takes care of the bloody griffin afterwards, eh?!" Merlin yells in frustration, closing his eyes, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes, hard enough that he sees white spots behind his eyelids. In a few hours, Indrajal will be allowed into the court, and he will have Abhra sing, and then while everyone is under her spell, he'll kill them all, and Merlin doesn't know what to do.
The dragon would know, he thinks. Maybe he should...
But no. No! Absolutely not! Not after the way the dragon thinks that human lives are expendable, with the way he seemed to think it was okay to kill his mother, kill Gaius. He won't go to the dragon. He just... has to think about what to do.
"Okay, Merlin, think," he whispers to himself.
Snakes. Snakes have other natural enemies that are easier to deal with than another blood-thirsty monsters. Even if they are monsters themselves.
Hawks. Hawks eat snakes, right?
"If only we had a nest of giant eagles, everything would be perfect," Merlin mutters again. He rubs his forehead, flipping through the book just to keep himself distracted, and then he ends up seeing a transmutation spell.
Humans transforming into animals. He hadn't quite tried that yet - because, frankly, he didn't fancy suddenly ending up in half an animal if he made a mistake - but if there was a way to transform a man into an animal, surely there'd be a way to transform an animal into a man.
And what about cutting the animal off a person? The naga, said the book, were half human and half snake. Indrajal had certainly proven to be part snake. So if he could somehow take the snake away from the human, then...
"Merlin?" Arthur sounded carefully neutral as he knocked, not barging in. Merlin's stomach twisted and he hurried to put the book underneath his bed.
"One moment, sire!" once sure that the book is hidden, he goes to open the door. Arthur is still looking at him oddly, and Merlin knows him enough that this very well could mean that he's about to be dismissed for good.
"Abhra said that it's likely that Indrajal will attack today, while we're gathered."
"Did she say how?"
"Did she tell you?"
Merlin hesitates for a moment. He should say no: he doesn't know what Arthur will do, if he finds out. He might have Abhra killed as well, but...
He closes his eyes, apologizing to Abhra. But he swore to protect Arthur first.
"Indrajal put something to control her in the water. Abhra will sing and while everyone is in her trance, he'll attack."
Arthur sighs, but then his expression goes back to normal, that mix of fond annoyance.
"That's what she said."
It takes Merlin a few moments to understand what's going on.
"You were testing me!"
"Can you blame me?" Arthur rolls his eyes before he shakes his head, eyes serious once more. "If possible, I want to save her, Merlin. Although she is a magical creature, she didn't come here on her own. Thus, she shouldn't have to pay for a crime that someone else broke."
Merlin feels himself grinning, because this is the reason why he wants to be by Arthur's side, the promise he makes for a defenseless creature, even with the odds against him.
"But if my father finds out, I'm afraid there'll be nothing I can do about it," Arthur grimaces. "Just keeping quiet about this is treason."
"I swear, sire."
"I'll form a small guard, so in case Indrajal tries something, they'll be ready."
"What are you going to do with Abhra's song?" Merlin asks, confused.
Arthur smirks before he takes out a handkerchief from his jacket. Inside there are bits of wax, pressed together. Merlin frowns for a moment, before Arthur rolls his eyes, picks one and puts it inside Merlin's ear.
"I proved them already," Arthur says with a grin. "They work. My father won't use them with no proof, We'll capture Indrajal. But, Abhra..."
Once Uther finds out about Indrajal being a magical being, Merlin knows that his gift won't be as well received. Uther errs on the side of precaution, and rather than try to decide if she's innocent or not, he will kill her.
"Merlin, would you be able to take Abrah somewhere safe, while the confusion lasts?" Arthur asks, apparently worrying about the same thing. "It'd be even better if you don't tell me where it is"
Chances are that, with some spells, he could. But he'd be leaving Arthur alone, and he somehow doubts that Indrajal's only plan is Abhra. So Merlin shakes his head no.
"I don't think so, sire. But... perhaps if..."
"Could you take care of Indrajal on your own, sire?"
Arthur looks at him as if he was offended, almost as if he had asked an elemental truth as if the sun would go out every day. Merlin grins, unrepentant, before he adds.
"If you do, then... maybe we could have Abhra's song put everyone at the castle in trance, and then we'll take care and come back before the spell is broken."
"Are you asking me to put the king and the whole court under a spell?" Arthur asks, serious.
Merlin nods, looking straight at him. "I think this might be the only way, if you also want to save her. "
Arthur keeps on looking at him before he sighs, nodding. "Alright. Get ready two horses, Merlin, and stay outside. If anything happens, take Abhra and run, you hear me? And that's an order."
Outside might be a little bit trickier to get access to Indrajal and make sure that the spell he has yet to completely define to separate Indrajal's human and snake parts, but he nods. Arthur gives him another wax piece, turning towards the door. But then, he adds, looking at him.
"Merlin, don't lie to me again. I need to be able to trust those around me. I already expect enough betrayals as it is."
It's not a perfect 'I trust you', perhaps, but it's still plenty enough for Merlin, who just nods, glad that Arthur doesn't seem to be expecting an actual answer. Satisfied, Arthur nods before going out the door.
Merlin takes a deep breath, before he kneels to take out his book.
Time to create that spell.
Abhra gives Merlin her soft sad smile as he approaches, pressing a hand to the glass as a way to say hello. There is almost no-one there, everyone interested in hearing the foreigner's music.
"Will he come here to talk to you?"
He can order me from wherever he is, since his poison is inside me. Abhra shakes her head. He and his kind hate my people. This is why they killed us. They only kept me to come here. He plans on killing me, once he succeeds.
"And why here?"
This land owns great powers, the ones few other lands have heard of. Even in my land, we heard about the golden kingdom, and we mourned when the kin's magic was spilt.
"Just how old are you?"
Her laughter comes in the form of bubbles. Thirteen springs.
"Aren't you afraid?" Merlin asks, still frowning. "Arthur and I, we'll try, but it's not sure it'll work. You could still die. And... your family..."
Pain crosses through her young face, and she folds her hands above her heart.
I carry their names within me, so that they remain, Abhra whispers, her song a sad murmur. I cannot undo what the naga did. But even if they hadn't killed my people and trapped me, I know that I would have found a way to come here. That's my destiny.
"You said that before," Merlin asks. "Just what is it you are looking for. You mentioned it had to do with Arthur."
I do not now it yet. I haven't tasted clear water in a long, long time, if he had to guess, Merlin would say that she was crying, from her expression. She shakes her head, perhaps a little desperate. The water told me before, that it needed a guardian, someone from the kin. That it needed to be protected by water and earth, but I do not know what.
They'll have to figure out just what it is that Abhra's searching for later, once she's free.
Merlin stands up. "I have to go and help Arthur. We'll be back, okay?"
Abhra smiles again, and nods, her hand to the glass, not saying a thing. Merlin puts the wax in his ears, and then scurries inside, hoping not to run into anyone.
Even though he's not listening, he knows when Abhra starts her song. A soldier that was walking past him suddenly sighs, leaning against a wall, his smile soft and dreamy, a maid drops her laundry and sits down, arms wrapped around her knees. Merlin feels calm enough to run, rushing towards the door that was pushed open as the soldiers stopped paying attention, luckily enough.
Indrajal is playing, as it happens to be, a weird instrument that resembles a lute a little, but he's already putting it aside. Uther's eyes are half open but not really there, Morgana's are closed, her smile soft and sweet. Arthur is playing well his part, as if he was in the trance as well. And, before Merlin's eyes, Indrajal starts transforming, the legs merging together, forming the lower body of a snake, the colors in black and red.
Merlin starts whispering the spell before the transformation is done, trying to picture it the way the transmutation spells said. But this time he has to picture not just a human, not just a snake, but the two of them breaking apart. And as he brings forth his magic, he can almost see it: the human's soul and the animal's soul, intertwined, as if there was a thread keeping them together.
Arthur has stopped pretending, and he's fighting against Indrajal. Indrajal is talking, but neither of them can listen to him, and Merlin has to focus on this. If he could just find the place where the two merge, then he could just...
There. It's almost visible, for him, the place. The heart. Merlin murmurs the spell over and over, imagines fire against that place, by Indrajal's heart, where the snake's heart and the human's heart beats like one and he doesn't hear Indrajal's scream once it breaks apart, but he can see it as he twists, vomiting blood. The red and black of the snake falls apart, a big, fat snake, five feet at least and as thick as a log twisting, bleeding, and Indrajal bleeding as well as if he had been cut in half.
Arthur cuts the head of the snake, and Indrajal drops to the floor as well, either unconscious or dead, Merlin doesn't know, and he can't stay to check. He rushes back outside, where Abhra is still singing. Merlin puts his hand against the glass and her eyes open, as deep and green as the ocean, magic shining deep inside them.
And then she stops with a sigh.
Their dream should last for the night, she says. I apologize. I'm still young, and my chant is weak.
"That's more than enough!" Merlin says with a grin. "Now, we just need Arthur to--"
"'Arthur to' what, Merlin?"
He grins, relieved, even though he knew he was alright before. It still means a lot, being able to see him like this.
"To get here so that we can go, sire."
Arthur nods. "Everyone seems to be..."
"Abhra said that it'll last for the night. If we hurry, we could come back and pretend that it all just happened."
"You make it sound so easy, fooling my father," Arthur murmurs, shaking his head. He then turns towards Abhra, his voice serious. "I don't know if he's dead. He broke in two, human and snake. I killed the snake and he became unresponsive. I tied him up anyway, but..."
I thank you, prince. You did not need to avenge me, but I am thankful.
Arthur clears his throat as the nereid bows her head, and Merlin hides her grin in his hand.
"Any ideas where to take her, Merlin?" Arthur asks. "We need to take her to a lake, far enough for no-one to find her, and deep enough for her to be able to hide herself and survive."
Merlin tries to think and for one brief, panic-ridden moment thinks, again, about going to the dragon. But thinking about the dragon makes him remember another thing, and he also remembers what Abhra said about coming to protect something and he looks at Arthur, feeling his blood rushing.
"I know a lake," he starts, and then he keeps on speaking. "No-one goes there, I'm sure, and it's deep and there are rumors about a magical creature existing there already, so not many people dare to go, in case they get cursed. It takes half a day to get there by foot, I'd say about three hours at least by horse."
"Do you think you can handle it?" Arthur asks Abhra. She nods.
The easiest way to get her out is smashing it: the three of them wince as Arthur's sword hits the glass, and for a moment nothing happens. Then the glass starts cracking, spreading, and then it's gone, the water soaking him and Arthur. Abhra screeches an horrible sound in fright, unable to speak to them now that she's out of the water, even as he and Arthur try to wrap her in soaked blankets, hoping it'll help her keep her wet enough until they get there.
"I'll take her." Arthur interrupts him, leaving him with the wet package that is Abhra so that he can get up his horse, checking that Abhra is still breathing, his face grim at the way she looks, at the way she's gasping for air despite her best attempts to stay calm. "You'll have to go as fast as you can to show me the way. Hold on to me," he adds to the nereid, who wraps her arms around Arthur's neck, shivering.
Merlin is not the best rider even in the best days, but he nods. He begs for Albion to aid their way to the lake as he gets on his horse, spurring it, hearing Arthur running just a little behind, by his side.
The last time he was here, it took him the best part of the day to find the lake. He's glad that Arthur can't see the way his eyes are alight with magic as their horses rush through the forests, as the trees move their branches away for them to pass through. He doesn't dare turn to look and see how Arthur and Abhra are doing, but he thinks that he hears Arthur humming, a hushed little melody that he thinks Morgana has sang before.
The sun is coming up through the mountains when they arrive, the forest dark and alive, as if it was staying it's breath, waiting with them. When they're near the lake, Merlin slows his horse and gets off it.
"Here!" Merlin screams at Arthur. "Sire, it's here!"
But Arthur doesn't slow down: instead he takes his horse into the water with a firm order, and once they're in there he does jump off. Abhra is not holding unto him anymore. Merlin gets inside the water as well, staying by Arthur's side.
There is barely enough light to see, even as Arthur puts her inside the water. Her gills do not move. Her mouth is open, lax. Even in the darkness, Merlin can see the pain etched on Arthur's face.
"Please," Merlin asks, begs. "Please breathe."
Arthur's jaw clenches, but even as he keeps holding her he moves a hand, touching carefully careful Abhra's dark, dark hair, as he keeps her under the water. She remains quiet, gone, her skin pale now, clammy, and Merlin closes his eyes in grief. But then, as the sun breaks free of the mountains, shining upon the lake, there is a gasp, and it's followed by Arthur's own and when Merlin opens his eyes Abhra breathes, the gills by the side of her neck moving against the water. Arthur lets go and Abhra sinks beneath the murky water, but she jumps once out of the water before she swims down below, where a sword enchanted by a dragon (unbestowed by her lord) awaits.
Thank you, thank you, Abhra chants from inside the lake, even though Merlin can't see her anymore, but he can feel her in the ripples of the lake. I'll take care of it for you, for when it's time for you to wield it. Thank you, thank you.
Arthur blinks. "Take care of that for whom?"
Merlin thinks about it for a moment, about his promise not to keep any secrets to Arthur and then to the old promise he made to the dragon... and then he shrugs and smiles. "I'm sure we'll find out eventually."
Arthur looks at him for a moment before he shakes his head. "Let's go, I want to take a bath. I stink like fish."
But Arthur had dared to disobey Uther's orders for that creature, had grieved for her and he had cheered for her. He is going to have to try harder to make Merlin believe he is even remotely upset about this.
"And if Morgana finds out about this, Merlin, I swear that I'll make you pay," Arthur threatens as he pulls himself up on the wet horse before turning it around, running out of it.
Merlin waddles in the water, trying to hurry.
"Sire! Wait for me!"