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The Inherent Dangers of Shortcuts and Projectiles

Chapter 4

Arthur began each day at an early hour for training and his other royal duties. This meant that Merlin got up at an earlier hour to make sure the prince was able to begin his duties with breakfast served and equipment prepared. As such, Merlin woke up first.

He blinked up into the dawn sun where it peaked over the edge of the hole above. They'd fallen farther than he thought. His eyes drifted along the clay wall until they fell on Arthur, who sat across from him, still asleep with his head resting on his shoulder, mouth open, and drool gathering in the corner.

Merlin stood, slowly, body aching and bruised, and he winced at the pull of stiff muscles and the stretch of scratched skin. Looking around, he found Arthur's assumptions from the night before to be correct. That there were no handholds in the smooth wall of earth and no roots for leverage were readily apparent. He sighed softly and resigned himself to the use of magic to free them of their predicament. He would've rather revealed himself to be a sorcerer in a much grander fashion, such as battling the manticore, saving Arthur from the wild beast instead of like this, saving Arthur from…mud.

He wearily raised his hand and debated on whether to move the earth or try some levitation.

"Not thinking of trying to climb were you?" Arthur asked.

Merlin jumped, staring for a moment like a frightened deer before finding his voice.

"I, uh, thought I'd try. We're not going to get out by just standing here."

"You are by far the clumsiest person I know and would only end up hurting yourself. But you're right," Arthur conceded, rising to his feet, sucking in air as he stretched out the aches that wracked his body. Once standing he looked around, surmising the situation in the daylight. "Looks like we're going to have to work together. Make a step with your hands."

"Make a what?"

"A step," Arthur explained, "I'm going to climb on your shoulders and try to reach the top."

Merlin's puzzled expression quickly transformed to one of unease as he held his hands up, decidedly not in the shape of a step much to Arthur's irritation.

"I don't think I can hold your weight," Merlin protested.

"Come on, Merlin, you're always saying that you're stronger than you look."

"You do remember what happened last time I said that?"

Arthur crossed his arms, glaring pointedly, "Well you don't expect me to allow you climb on my shoulders, do you?"

"I am lighter," Merlin offered in defense.

"And you're also my manservant," Arthur concluded. He waved his hand in a dismissal of Merlin's inevitable next complaint. "Step," he commanded.

Reluctantly, Merlin wove his fingers together and braced his back against the earthen wall. Arthur took a high footed step into Merlin's hands and propelled himself upward. Merlin caved slightly under the sudden weight but managed, face taught with exertion. Using Merlin's head for leverage with one hand, keeping the other flat against the wall for balance, Arthur swung his other leg upward to Merlin's shoulder, not without kicking him painfully in the ear.

"Ow!" Merlin shouted.

Arthur ignored it, and balancing on Merlin's thin shoulders he stood straight, arms stretched toward the top of the wall. His fingertips brushed the very edge.

"Arthur, I don't think this is going to work," Merlin gasped, struggling to keep from collapsing.

"Quiet, Merlin, I think I can reach the top, if I can just get a little higher."

"That's not what I mean," Merlin groaned as he watched his legs slide out from under himself. Trying to reposition his legs proved a fatal mistake. His knees buckled and then everything happened fast and painfully.

Arthur grappled with the wall but his hands found no purchase and he fell in a graceless sprawl on top of his manservant. He could feel Merlin's bony knee pressing into the small of his back and knew that from the pain radiating from his elbow he had connected with something of Merlin.

"Geroffofme," Merlin yelled, muffled.

"If you could just do your job for once," Arthur griped as he rolled off the flailing body beneath him.

Merlin gasped in air once Arthur's weight was off his ribs. "I told you it wouldn't work," he retorted.

"Well what now?" Arthur asked as he sat up.

Merlin, not quite ready to test his strength after breaking Arthur's fall, seemingly ignored him and continued lying in the dirt.

"Merlin!" Arthur yelled, prodding him with the toe of his boot. It earned Arthur an annoyed glare.

"You could make a step."

Arthur glared back a look that clearly said he'd consider throwing Merlin out of the hole or a number of other pit extraction plans before he'd make a step and let Merlin use him as a human ladder.

"It's the only way," Merlin added, forcing away a grin that threatened his lips over the prince's stubbornness.

"And then what, Merlin? How would you get me out?"

"I'd think of something."

"You'd run off and get eaten by the manticore, more like."

"Glad you have so much faith in me, sire."

Arthur shook his head and opened his mouth to respond when he stopped, eyes flicking upwards as he titled his head.

"Do you hear voices?"

Merlin considered commenting on Arthur's mental health until, yes, he heard voices somewhere.

They both scrambled to their feet, ears straining for the sound. It became louder and mixed with the voices they could hear the stamp of horse hooves, the crunch of underbrush, and the wheels of a cart rambling across a rocky path.

Merlin turned to point out their good luck when Arthur's voice rattled his eardrums.

"Get us out of here! I'm Arthur Pendragon and I order you to help us!"

Merlin rolled his eyes but joined in shouting, adding "help" and "please" to Arthur's orders. It wasn't much later that they heard approaching footsteps and Arthur turned to Merlin flashing him a triumphant grin. Soon, a man's head peered over the edge, blocking out the rising sun, his features hard to discern in the sudden absence of light.

"Hello down there," the man's voice fell on them heavily.

"I am Arthur Pendragon and as you can see," Arthur stated, blinking as he tried to make out their potential rescuer's features, "we require some assistance."

"Of course, your highness," the voice rang as the head pulled away and a rope snaked down over the edge to the boys' feet.

Turning to Merlin, Arthur lowered his voice, "Let me do the talking. If we're lucky my father won't hear of this."

Arthur grabbed the rope and made quick work of climbing out of the hole. Once Arthur neared the top, Merlin spied large hands grabbing his arms and hefting him over the lip. His own hands wrapped around the rope, he gave it a quick jerk to test its strength, just to make sure, before he too clambered up the slick side of the ditch taking only slightly a little more time than Arthur. He reached the top, fingers digging into mud and undergrowth, head bowed, muscles straining as he pulled himself up while he felt large hands digging into his biceps. He was unceremoniously hauled to his feet.

Before Merlin could utter his thanks or register the crumpled form of Arthur on the ground or magic could spring to his fingertips, pain exploded behind his skull and his world suddenly went black.


Merlin opened his eyes, watched the torch lit bricks pass by in hazy succession, dreamlike, as he was dragged down a castle corridor with what felt like a bag of rocks crammed into his skull. The weight was unbearable and he slipped under before any realization crossed him.

Groaning as he opened his eyes again, cheek pressed on hay strewn stone, pain spiking down his neck but senses recovered and grasping at his damp surroundings, Merlin blinked painfully against the torchlight. His head hurt. A lot. As his vision cleared he saw Arthur gripping the iron bars with his back to him.

"Arthur?" Merlin managed groggily.

"You're awake," Arthur responded, turning into the cell. Merlin's head pulsed achingly and he fell back into the rotten hay.

"Come on, Merlin," he heard Arthur coax. "Let me know they didn't addle your brain more than it already was."

"Where are we," he asked unwilling to attempt sitting up again.

"A dungeon," Arthur answered.

Merlin smiled despite the situation, spurred upright with his quip, "Stating the obvious, Sire?"

He was dizzy but he was vertical and once the black spots and the fuzzy edges faded from his vision he was able to see Arthur clearly.

He held in a gasp, his smile vanished, swallowed with nausea. Blood trickled freely from a gash near Arthur's hairline and from his nose, twin trails of rusted crimson staining his lips and chin and cheek. His right eye was swollen, ringed with an ugly bruise, already purpling.

Merlin looked closer, eyes squinting in the darkness, and noted the way Arthur stood, almost gingerly, tentative, not the usual posture of the prince, but shoulders curled inward, hinting at injuries Merlin couldn't see.

"Are you," he hesitated, gulping down the bile rising in his throat, "alright?"

"I'm fine," Arthur replied flatly.

Merlin did his best to look skeptical. It hurt.

"You look horrible."

Arthur straightened and hid his wince poorly. "You don't capture a prince of Camelot without a fight." He frowned. "Take a look in the mirror, you're pretty bad off yourself."

"Remind me when we get back to Camelot."

Arthur grunted.

"If we get back to Camelot," Merlin muttered, rubbing a hand across his eyes.

"Have faith, Merlin. We'll think of something. I'm sure my father has sent out the knights already."

Merlin was surprised at Arthur's candor in light of recent events but he was glad that Arthur was stalwart. They'd get out, Merlin knew, whether Uther's doing or Merlin's magic. Hopefully for his sake the king would beat him to it.