Summer. Hot and very sticky. Camelot was in the midst of a long heat wave.
Merlin lay on his bed covers, unable to sleep. Arthur had put him through six hours of training, but tired as his body was, his thoughts wouldn't quiet down enough for sleep. And with the heat, he was down to his bares. Anything that came into contact with his skin was immediately soaked.
Arthur wasn't much better off. On the other side of the castle, he too lay on his bed, in nothing but a pair of shortened pants. He, unlike Merlin, was sleeping deeply, despite the heat.
Every window in the castle was wide open. Merlin envied the night guards in the jails. It was cool down there, even in the heat of the day. For once, Merlin wished Arthur would find an excuse to toss him into a cell, just to get away from the heat.
No luck. Instead, he spent his time sweating out his salts on the training field in the heat of the day.
Groaning, Merlin rolled onto his side and closed his eyes, willing sleep to come. Even his magic couldn't make the heat go away.
He sighed. It was going to be a very long night.
He woke with a snort and a groan. The sun was streaming through his open window and the day was already hot . . . not that it cooled much the night before.
"Merlin, get up!"
Groaning again, he pulled himself away from his bed covers and dressed.
"Morning Gaius," he mumbled a few minutes later, coming down the stairs to the main room, where Gaius had his bed and kept his books.
The court physician was already bent over a thick leather book, even though it was early. At the look on Merlin's face, his face broke into an affectionate smile.
"Let me guess," the old man said, dipping his quill into a pot of ink and poising it over a piece of parchment next to the book. "No sleep last night?"
Merlin yawned and slowly ate his breakfast: dry bread. "No. I actually considered sleeping down in the jails. It was just too hot in there." He gestured with his bread toward his open door.
"Well hurry up and eat. Hot or not, I imagine Arthur will want to practice again this morning," Gaius smirked, and went back to his writing.
Merlin glared at his mentor, but said nothing.
Swallowing the rest of his bread, he gulped down a glass of water and left Gaius's chambers for Arthur's.
As usual, the prince was impatient at Merlin's lateness. He was about to go and find him when said servant came in the door, looking as exhausted as Arthur had ever seen him.
Merlin said nothing as he tidied Arthur's bed covers. The prince was staring into the dark fireplace, his arms crossed, tapping one foot against the flagstone floor, a frown set into his face.
He blinked and the prince was on his feet, his breathing fast. The colour rose in his face, but Merlin assumed it was from the heat and so he ignored it. Tentatively, he tried again. "Arthur?"
The prince put a hand on his shoulder and Merlin winced a little at the tight squeeze. "Merlin . . . I can't — help . . ." The colour vanished so quickly Merlin didn't see it go. Arthur was deathly pale now and Merlin wondered if he was going to get sick.
"Right, sit down, before you keel over," Merlin said firmly and gently lowered Arthur back into his chair. With a heavy sigh, his head went between his knees.
Merlin stood behind the chair, and listened worriedly to Arthur's deep pants as he fought his body's urge to faint. After a few minutes, the prince looked up, his colour returning to normal.
"Thanks, Merlin," he said.
It was a few minutes more before Arthur rose from his chair, slowly this time. As he turned to put on his sword, Merlin said, "Are we going hunting?"
Arthur turned slowly with an evil smirk that made Merlin squirm. "Yes we are. My father knows we'll be gone overnight and yes, you're coming. I won't have a servant as bad as you go skivvying off because he hates carrying my stuff."
Merlin glared. The only other thing he hated besides hunting was mucking out the stables. Other than in winter, it was always hot in there. At least by going hunting, he was getting out of it . . . this time.
Arthur grinned. "Stop looking like a trapped skunk, Merlin. We're not leaving for another few hours yet." He looked out the window. "It's still early. Time enough for you to get me dressed. I'm breakfasting with my father and while I'm doing that, you can go muck out the stables."
Damn! So much for skipping that particular chore.
Cursing Arthur under his breath, Merlin stormed from the prince's chambers, out of the castle and into the stables, where a hundred or so stalls awaited his attentions.
In an hour or so, half the stalls would be empty, as Arthur would be taking the knights for their usual patrol. Merlin was glad he never went along. Going hunting was bad enough. A potential skirmish with a neighbouring kingdom or bandits was something he did not want to get involved in.
It got hotter as the morning stretched on. By the time Merlin allowed himself his first break, he'd been working for over two hours. The knights had come and gone and the heat generating off the sun-drenched metal doors did nothing to help the weather conditions.
By lunchtime, Arthur was beginning to wonder whether Merlin was finished. As soon as his father allowed him to leave, he made straight for the stables.
Merlin was laid flat out in a freshly cleaned stall, his pitchfork laying in the walkway.
Trying to ignore the flash of anger he felt, Arthur cleared his throat. Loudly. Two nearby horses tossed their heads at the noise.
Merlin didn't move.
Arthur grabbed a bucket of water and dumped the whole thing on Merlin's head. He woke with a yell.
"I told you not to skivvy off," Arthur growled, turning away. Merlin followed, his clothes sopping wet.
"I'm sorry! It's just, it's so hot and I didn't sleep last night —"
Arthur turned round so suddenly, Merlin nearly knocked them both over. "Don't give me excuses Merlin!" He snapped. "Now go get my stuff we're leaving!"
Twenty minutes later, Merlin returned to the stables, bowing forward with the weight of a heavy spear, a quiver of arrows, and an enormous mahogany bow, which weighed more than the spear. Besides the weapons, he was also carrying two two-person tents and a large sack of food.
Four knights stood waiting with their horses. Arthur was there too, holding the reins of Praeneuf, his prized bay stallion.
Merlin staggered over. His grip was slick with sweat and he dropped the bow. Arthur picked it up and managed to clock Merlin under the chin as he bent to retrieve the dropped weapon.
"Where's my — " he began, looking around for a sixth horse.
"No," said Arthur, mounting and glaring hard at Merlin. "You're going to walk."
"What!" Merlin shouted, unable to believe what he'd heard. "You can't be serious! It's a long way into —"
"Exactly," said Arthur with a satisfied smirk. "It's what you get for skivvying off." Without another word, he wheeled Praeneuf around and trotted away. The knights followed and didn't look back once at Merlin, who was left standing in the middle of the stable yard.
Arthur didn't look back until they'd reached the edge of the forest. By the time the horses had been looked after, Merlin was just visible on the horizon with his heavy load.
When he finally reached them, he collapsed, but Arthur, who was still simmering with annoyance, snatched up his bow, quiver and spear and stalked into the trees, muttering about slowpokes.
Ignoring him again, the four knights trooped after their prince and disappeared from sight within seconds.
Moving to the shade of a large tree, Merlin deposited the tents and food and leaned against the trunk and closed his eyes.
He had no idea that hidden in the branches above him, a predator waited.
The moment he saw the deer, Arthur knew he would be bringing it back to Camelot. A fine specimen it was too, at least a six pointer.
"Merlin?" He looked around only to realize his servant was nowhere to be seen.
"Idiot," he muttered, and turned his attention back to the deer.
But it had noticed his movement and disappeared. "Curse you Merlin," Arthur snarled and made his way back to where the horses had been left.
Fifty feet from the tree line, a blood-curdling scream rent the air.
Recognizing the voice as Merlin's, Arthur drew his sword and raced back the way they'd come. Behind him, the knights did the same.
By the time they reached the drop off site, the screaming had stopped. The horses were ready to bolt, straining at their leads and Merlin lay in a bloodied heap at the base of a tree.
"Merlin!" Arthur shouted in panic, horror seizing him. Terrified he was dead, he snatched up their provisions and draped Merlin over Praeneuf. In seconds they were on their way back to Camelot.
Gaius was making his way across the courtyard to his chambers when the frantic clatter of hooves made him look up. He froze with horror at the sight of Merlin's bloodied body.
"Sire, what happened?"
Arthur ordered the knights to look after the horses and told a guard to fetch a wooden plank to take Merlin inside. "I don't know, Gaius. He was looking after the horses at camp . . . we weren't that far away and then we heard screaming . . ." He gazed helplessly at his friend. "We found him like this."
The guard returned with his board and together he and Arthur loaded Merlin onto it and carried him into the castle with Gaius following hastily behind.
Arthur had a lot of time to think as Gaius worked on Merlin. If his father learned of this — which he very likely would even if Arthur didn't tell him — he would throw a fit and nothing would stop him from purging the kingdom of magic . . . again.
Although Arthur knew Merlin was magic, he'd not yet told him. He knew the only reason his servant hadn't yet said so himself was because Arthur knew he was afraid he would die. Merlin thought Arthur took the same stance on magic that Uther did.
"There," Gaius said, cleaning the last of the blood from Merlin's pale body. His eyes were half open and hooded. His breath was faint, but at least he was alive. Arthur breathed a huge sigh of relief.
All of a sudden, Merlin screamed.
Gaius and Arthur rushed to Merlin's side. The screams stopped, but then the panting began. Merlin was breathing fast and shallow through his mouth and somehow, hearing the deep breaths were worse than the screaming had been. His eyes were open all the way now and he stared at the ceiling, but both men knew he wasn't seeing anything. The look on his face was the same look Arthur had seen on men who got impaled and it made his stomach contract.
"What's wrong with him?" Arthur asked, barely able to talk through the sudden clog in his throat.
Gaius saw the prince was close to tears of hysteria. "Maybe you should go out for a while Sire, I —"
"No." A tiny, two letter word, and Arthur spat it out with such poisonous vehemency that Gaius backed away. From past experience, he knew the future king would not leave his friend while he was in trouble.
Giving up on that matter, Gaius sat on Merlin's left side to monitor his breathing. Arthur grabbed a nearby stool and seated himself on Merlin's right.
It was a very long vigil. By the next morning, having not come to breakfast, Uther barged in, and found Arthur asleep on his stool beside Merlin, his head resting on his arms.
"What are you doing?" He thundered, waking his son up.
Gaius, who was already awake, asked Uther what the matter was. The two men went out into the corridor to talk, away from the sick man in bed. Arthur ignored his father and instead, focused on Merlin, who was moving about clumsily.
"Arthur!" Unable to see or speak, Merlin reverted to instinct, sweeping his hands in front of him, trying to find his friend. Finally, Arthur grabbed his hand and he calmed down.
"Wolf." Merlin mouthed, in Arthur's general direction, writing the word on the back of the prince's hand.
The king had left and Gaius returned, looking weary. Sensing his return, Merlin turned in the direction of Gaius's footsteps. "Moon." He mouthed.
Gaius's hand flew to his mouth as the horror of the situation sunk in. "Outside," he said to Arthur.
For a moment, Arthur didn't move and simply stared at the physician's retreating back. Something was very wrong. He'd never in all his life seen the old man so intense . . . orderly. He almost never ordered anyone around.
Giving Merlin a reassuring pat, he went out into the main room, where Gaius was pacing.
"Tell me what's going on." The prince demanded. "Right now. I need to know."
"A werewolf." Gaius's voice was tired. "When Merlin waited for you in the forest, a werewolf attacked him."
For a few moments, he was lost for words and when he turned to stare the royal in the face, Arthur felt his tortured emotions rip him apart. The hopeless look on Gaius's face made Arthur's heart sink.
The raw truth was there. Merlin was doomed.
"He's cursed isn't he?" The prince's voice came out as barely a whisper.
Gaius nodded. "There's no cure for cursed bites like those. I'm sorry Arthur, there's nothing that can be done. The best thing we could do would be to put him out of his misery. The transformation is very painful and he would not be himself." His voice was hard. "He would attack and kill anyone. Even you."
"What about his magic? Couldn't —"
"While I'm glad you finally know about that, I doubt his magic would help in this situation."
He motioned Arthur back toward Merlin's door. "I suggest you — or one of the knights — put him out of his misery."
Arthur refused to cede so easily. "Surely something can be done! It's Merlin we're talking about here Gaius, we can't just . . . leave him to die!"
The old man's gaze hardened to stone. "You can deny it all you want to, Sire, but in the end, what's been done cannot be fixed. The creature should be carefully hunted and killed. No one else needs to get hurt."
Arthur turned to go, but Gaius's voice stopped him. "As for Merlin," he glanced briefly at the closed door before looking back at Arthur. "Not even you can save him."
Arthur refused to heed Gaius's warning. After leaving Merlin with the firm reassurance that he would look in on him later, he went in search of an astronomer.
He found a retired one who lived down the street from Gwen in the lower town.
Yana Tabern was elderly, but he was happy to welcome the prince into his humble home. Arthur had had exposure to this sort of place before. After all, it was the sort of home Hunith, Merlin's mother, lived in.
Hunith. What would she do if she heard what had happened to her beloved son? But Arthur had more important things on his mind and refused to entertain that train of thought.
"So what may I do for you?" Yana asked, pouring Arthur a generous mug of tea. "You look like you went through a storm, Sire."
"I think I did," Arthur said quietly, and before he knew it, the whole story tumbled out. Throughout, Yana nodded and made sympathetic noises and when Arthur was done, he smiled up at him, a gleam in his eye.
"You will need a chart," he said, getting up and digging around in an old wooden chest in the corner. "Tis the best way to track the lunar cycle. Although . . ." he stared thoughtfully into his mug. "I've seen your servant around and he's a different boy. Maybe the phases will be affected. You never can tell."
Arthur nearly choked on a gulp of tea. "What do you mean?"
The old man smiled. "There was a moonwolf scare when your father was young. It's hard to forget the panic that caused. People were too afraid to leave their homes. Not that it helped much. The wolf is a powerful creature. True wolves are admirable, but people are in awe of the moonwolf. Because it's a hybrid, it's got the qualities of both true wolves and humans."
Yana chuckled darkly. "The people who hid at home were no better off than those in the streets. The hybrid just tore through the walls. The first ones in recorded history were creatures of magic . . . until they realized they could procreate by biting humans. It depends on the will of the victim, but those who were bitten either went completely mad during the full moon or they were utterly docile. Now which category does your servant fall into?"
"The docile one, I hope." Thanking Yana, he got up to leave.
"Sire," the old man called, stopping him at the door. "Don't forget your chart. Oh and by the way, it's magical. It will change month to month. The dates for the full moon are never the same."
Arthur took the chart with a nod. "And how long will the enchantment last?"
"Forever. That chart was created by my great great grandfather. He too had trouble with a moonwolf."
"Yana, I bid you many thanks."
"I will pray for him, Sire," said Yana gravely as the door closed.
The sky was darkening by the time Arthur returned to Merlin's bedside. Gaius was keeping vigil.
Merlin was fussing with the bed covers, trying to get comfortable. At the sound of footsteps, he froze.
"Arthur?" he mouthed silently and began sweeping the air.
"I'm here, Merlin," he said as he sat down. "Any change?" he asked Gaius.
Gaius shook his head. "He's still unable to speak, but his vision's slowly returning. What's that?"
He was pointing to the rolled up map in Arthur's pocket.
"Oh, I went to see an astronomer this morning after I left here and —"
"Sire I told you, there's nothing you can do!" said Gaius in an exasperated tone. "Every werewolf victim has transformed and hurt people!"
Merlin slapped at Gaius's knee. "I'm not the same as everyone else!" He mouthed, annoyed that Gaius, of all people would give up on him. "Maybe my magic will help. Who knows?"
"Well let me know how that goes!" said Gaius, sarcasm dripping from every syllable. Annoyed with the both of them, he stormed out of Merlin's room.
"What's gotten into him?" asked Merlin, confusion knitting his brow.
Arthur just shrugged.
The next morning, Arthur begged off breakfast with his father and dined alone in his room. While he ate, he studied the chart Yana had given him.
The next full moon was a week from tomorrow. Great. He had less than two weeks to try and reverse the process.
But something told him it wasn't going to be easy. Deep down, he had a feeling that Merlin's magic came into the equation, but he couldn't see where.
He knew of the subconscious link between them. So did Merlin. Would that be enough?
They'd find out.
Merlin was restless. Arthur sensed it the moment he stepped in the door. Last night, he'd dreamt badly. Normally he had good dreams, or none at all. But last night was horrible.
They had mostly been about Merlin and wolves. He'd woken up in the early morning hours to Merlin, moaning. Although they'd been on opposite sides of the castle, he could still hear him.
"I heard you last night," he said as he sat down beside his friend. Merlin was sitting up today, which was a good sign. Despite what Gaius had said, Merlin was anxious to get back to familiar routine.
"I saw your dreams," said Merlin, frowning a little as he gazed at Arthur's arm. "My eyes are better. Things are still shadowy, but at least I'm not blind anymore."
Despite being able to converse, he was still mute. Arthur chalked up his ability to read Merlin based on how well he knew him and also on their link.
"What did you see?"
"Me. And black shadows that had four legs and red eyes. Wolves have yellow eyes, Arthur, not red."
"I'm afraid all right! There, I admit it! I'm scared that you're going to die or something and leave me . . . empty."
"We are two sides of the same coin, Arthur," Merlin said, reassuring him. "I can't leave you alone. If I do that, what kind of king will you be? You need me to keep you on a straight path, keep you from being a complete and utter prat . . ."
"Shut up idiot," said Arthur teasingly.
Merlin shook his head. "Prat," he said again. Arthur ignored him.
By the next afternoon, Merlin was up and about, much to Gaius's annoyance. He was still ticked off with both boys, and kept giving Merlin dark looks, as if expecting him to do something out of character.
Arthur and Merlin couldn't blame Gaius. Not really. He was only trying to help.
Time seemed to melt. Suspecting something, Uther kept Arthur so busy during the day that he was too tired in the evenings to visit with Merlin.
Before anyone knew it, it was just two days to the full moon.
When he realized this, Arthur raced to consult his lunar chart. "Damn!" he snarled. He'd not done a thing, no research, no hunting of the wild wolf, nothing. What was he going to do? Would Merlin really hurt him?
He went to bed, but was unable to sleep that night. The same questions kept him awake. What would the next few days bring? Peace or destruction?
Merlin had been a part of his life for only a year. In that time they'd saved each other's lives so many times. Would fate really ask the Prince of Camelot to kill his friend?
Merlin couldn't sleep. As it had been at the beginning of the week, the weather was hot, but now he didn't mind it so much. No, it wasn't the weather that was keeping him awake.
It was something else. He could feel it inside him, snarling and snapping, aching to be let out.
It started at midnight. For once, Merlin had managed to fall asleep and now he woke to gut-stabbing pains and the sensation of a million needles piercing his skin. He tried to scream, but it didn't come. Instead, a savage snarl exploded from his throat.
Out in the main room, Gaius woke, his heart hammering with fear and dread.
The terror had begun.
In his rooms, Arthur woke with a cry. The pain was diluted, but he could feel Merlin's transformation as if it were his own.
Uther, Morgana and Gwen were blissfully unaware of what was happening.
Within moments, Gaius barged into the prince's chambers without knocking. Arthur was too busy trying to deal with the pain to notice.
"Gaius . . ." he gasped when he finally noticed him. "Merlin . . . what's happen —" His words ended in a shriek and he clutched his stomach.
Gaius couldn't do anything other than hold the prince down as he writhed in pain and struggled to breathe.
Finally, the terrible pain subsided and slowly faded to nothing. Arthur slowly sat up, his body covered with sweat.
"What's going to happen?" he asked in a whisper, and Gaius knew he was afraid to go out of his room.
Before Gaius could answer, there came a mighty crash against the door. Arthur jerked off the bed with a squeak.
Arthur!! Merlin's frantic voice echoed through the room, but it didn't sound any different than usual.
"Did you hear that?" Arthur asked Gaius.
The physician raised his eyebrows. "Hear what?" Doubt drowned his words.
Arthur made for the door. "It's Merlin."
"No! Don't open it! If you do, he'll kill you." Gaius, despite being older, somehow managed to jump in front of Arthur, barring the door. "Think of Uther, he doesn't know what's going on. How would he feel if his son did something stupid and ended up dead?"
But Arthur refused to back away. Going around Gaius, he leaned against the door. "Merlin?" he whispered
I'm on the other side of the door. Arthur, please let me in.
"What's going on Merlin? Are you —?"
I'm . . . different. Something happened.
"What do you mean 'something happened'?" Arthur asked, incredulous. "It's not even the full moon yet!"
I don't know.
Behind the prince, Gaius's face hardened, but Arthur ignored him. Taking a deep breath, he slowly opened the door.
A huge black shape bounded over the threshold.
Gaius leapt to his left, toward the bed as the black monster bounded toward the window.
The creature slowed at Arthur's voice and turned. Both men gasped.
Bright yellow eyes gazed back at them with pupils that were vertical, like a cat's. A long muzzle of lethal white teeth. The beast was the size of a small horse with paws the size of plates and Arthur briefly wondered if he and Gaius were going to be a late night snack.
But then it pounded closer and to their surprise, rubbed affectionately against Arthur's leg.
"Get off," Arthur snapped, backing away a few steps. "What are you doing?"
"So you are Merlin then?" said Gaius nervously, from where he was hovering near the bed.
The wolf-like bear of a canine gave him a confused look. Who else would I be?
"He can't hear you, Merlin," said Arthur and repeated the question.
"Oh, I don't know," said Gaius, his voice sarcastic again. "A great big werewolf out to murder?"
"Merlin, don't you think Gaius ought to go back to bed?" Arthur said pointedly.
Yep. He looks really tired. And he's grumpy.
Catching the look on Arthur's face, the physician bowed out.
When the door had closed, Arthur flopped down onto the bed. Merlin sat at his knee. After a moment, he broke the silence.
"When you . . . turned, I felt it. Is it always going to hurt that much?"
I don't know. If it was bad for you, it was a hundred times worse for me.
"I'm sorry Merlin."
Too tired to talk much more, Arthur settled back under his covers. Merlin curled up at the foot of the bed, his intense yellow eyes fixed on the orange embers of the dying fire.
The next morning dawned warm. It seemed the heat wave was moving on. Arthur woke to the feel of Merlin nudging his arm.
Arthur get up. I have to go out.
"Mph? Merlin, it's early! The sun's barely up."
Merlin was already at the door. You don't have a canine bladder, and be thankful for that, prat, he said.
"Why don't you just use magic to open the door?"
Merlin scratched the floor, to no effect. I already tried that but it seems that while my magic keeps me sane during the moon, I can't physically use it when I'm in this form.
"Shame, that," said Arthur, but he quickly dressed and, opening the door, led the way out of the castle to the grounds.
People were already moving about their daily business. Some stared nervously as Merlin passed them, but then quickly returned to what they were doing.
"You scare people," said Arthur quietly, so no one could hear him.
Merlin growled at him.
Even though it was early in the morning, they didn't stay out long. Shortly after he had relieved himself, Merlin suggested they go back, as the daylight was beginning to wear on him.
They went to Gaius, hoping he would be a little more cordial and maybe provide some answers.
He did so grudgingly.
"So," he said, turning to a page in a large black volume. "It seems that while you stay a dog during the entirety of the full moon cycle, you can't use your magic during that time."
"Yes, we already knew about the magic part," said Arthur impatiently, tapping a foot. "Anything else?"
"Yes. Merlin's magic keeps him sane, but also curbs bodily needs. Do you need to have that expanded Sire?" he asked, glaring beadily at the prince.
Arthur cleared his throat uncomfortably. "No. So, his trip outside was from when he was human?"
What else does the book say?
Arthur repeated the question.
"While you're in canine form, you'll have to stay out of direct sunlight." At Arthur's confused look, he clarified, "I think it's because the werewolf is traditionally a nighttime creature, so its senses are better in the dark. It's not really a daytime animal."
Arthur grinned wickedly. "I think I should get you a collar, Merlin. Otherwise, people will either run away or they might try and hurt you."
Do that and I'll bite you, I don't care that you are the prince, I swear, I'll do it.
Gaius cleared his throat. Arthur repeated Merlin's words.
"That wouldn't work. You can't turn anyone else, Merlin. Your magic forbids it."
"Looks like you're stuck."
Shut up Arthur, said Merlin.
Thanking Gaius, Merlin returned to his room while Arthur went to locate his father and explain — without mentioning magic — that their hunting group had been followed by a dog.
Arthur knew it was a bad lie, but he didn't know what else to say. How could he explain that the 'dog' would only show up once a month?
Morgana and Gwen, meanwhile, having heard rumours of a strange black beast, came to investigate. Gaius reluctantly told them what had happened. Sympathetic, they assured Merlin that it was only for a few days a month, and wasn't really that bad. Arthur could get along without him during that time.
But that wasn't what worried the prince.
What bothered him was that he could hear Merlin but no one else could. In the end, when Arthur mentioned his concern to Merlin, he chalked it up to their unique mental bond.
The Dragon said we're connected. Something about how our destinies are one and that we're special.
"You're special," Arthur pointed out, his voice barely detectable, but Merlin heard him perfectly. "I'm just a prince at the mercy of his father."
Will you stop being so down? Merlin asked, eyeing Gwen, who'd come into view. She smiled and when someone called her name, she winked and turned away.
They were out in the lower town, but as it was dusk, they didn't stay long. The Great Bell would sound shortly, and Arthur was there to make sure everyone was at home before it went off.
Uther had called another curfew. Last year, he'd called one when Camelot's entire water supply was poisoned. He'd called a second one after a 'curse' was laid on the city. Supposedly, that had been the work of magic, but only Gaius, Merlin and Arthur knew the real cause.
It had been Arthur's fault because he'd killed a unicorn.
This time, his father's mind had jumped to conclusions — again — and he insisted the city be locked down. No one was allowed out after the Bell and it was Arthur's job to make sure they stayed at home.
A flash of blue light near a house caught Merlin's attention. Arthur! Over there!
"Where?" Arthur asked, spinning to see.
Merlin began heading in the direction of the light.
"Get back here!" cried Arthur, but he was ignored. Before he could say anything else, Merlin had disappeared around the corner.
He looked around, checking to make sure they were alone. He started after Merlin, but froze as the terrible sound of snarling rent the quiet night.
The noise was paralyzing. Overwhelmed, the prince dropped to his knees, hands over his ears. Squinting his eyes shut, he tried to block out the noise, but when he connected to Merlin, he let out a howl of his own and dropped to the ground.
Merlin felt Arthur fall. He wanted to go back to him, but the creature in his jaws was none other than the one that had bitten him.
So for Arthur's sake, he fought for his life.
Hours, or maybe minutes later, the wolf lay dead.
Ignoring the vicious cuts that marred his body, Merlin rushed back to Arthur.
There was no one around. The bell had gone and everyone was inside. Nudging the prince urgently, Merlin tried to make him get up.
Nothing, he didn't move. Frustrated, Merlin tried again. After five tries, he gave up and changed tatics. As he was maneuvering Arthur into a new position, a horrible thought crossed his mind.
What would Uther do if he was here right now?
Uther stared at Arthur, refusing to believe his ears.
It was the next morning. After what had felt like hours, Merlin had managed to get Artur into the castle. He took him to Gaius, who, after checking the prince, stated that while his senses had been overloaded, he simply needed rest.
Merlin suspected there was more to it, but decided not to press the issue, for now. Instead, he kept vigil by Arthur's bedside.
When he didn't show up for his fourth meal in a row, Uther came looking. From his place in the bed, Arthur explained what had happened, but did not implicate Merlin, who was curled up loyally beside the bed.
He would not regain human form until the next time the moon rose. Until then, and it was imperative that he was kept away from the king, lest Uther discover the secret behind the 'monthly dog'.
". . . well, while I was out last night during curfew, a wolf showed up and tried to attack some people. I fought it off and sent Merlin to check early this morning. He confirmed it had died."
The king beamed a wide smile. "Well done! Now that the creature is dead, we can lift the curfew."
Arthur tried not to look at Merlin, who was watching the exchange with a resentful look in his eyes. He failed and his blue eyes met sharp yellow ones.
Don't give yourself away. Don't let him see —
"Arthur," said Uther suddenly, his sharp grey eyes going to Merlin. "Where did that dog come from?"
Clearing his throat, Arthur glanced hastily away from his friend. "I told you, he followed us from the woods. He's a stray. Just comes and goes as he pleases . . ."
Watch what you say, Merlin growled.
"Well he seems to have taken a liking to you. I suppose you can keep him."
As Uther strode out, Merlin snarled, Of course you're keeping me. What would happen if he said you couldn't?
"You'd probably get castrated."
He wouldn't dare!
"He's my father, Merlin, of course he would."
The two of them spent the day experimenting to see what chores Merlin would be able to do while in canine form. As it turned out, he was only able to do about half.
"Well," said Arthur, looking around the mess that littered the floor of his room. "Not great, but it's a start."
Merlin was laying on his side beside the bed. At least I won't be completely useless.
"You're always useless, Merlin," Arthur said, his voice affectionate.
There wasn't much else Merlin could do over the next few days. After examining the lunar chart from Yana, Gaius said Merlin ought to regain his regular form two days after the full moon's last cycle.
Arthur frowned at that. "Why two days after?"
"Logic dictates that having transformed two days before the moon, it makes sense that it would happen again two days after too," said Gaius. "Well just have to wait and see."
He was right. Two mornings after the full moon, Merlin emerged from his room, back in human form and grinning.
"Glad to be back?" Gaius asked with a big smile of his own.
"Yes I am," said Merlin. "but it wasn't so bad really, being a dog for a few days."
"So are you going to be okay with it then?"
"Yeah," said Merlin, grabbing a sandwich off the table and wolfing it down in less than four bites. "I think I'll manage. We know what's what, so I'm okay with it."
And giving Gaius one last smile, he disappeared out the door in search of Arthur.