A/N: Hello everyone! I am SO sorry that this chapter took so long to push out. I promise that I haven't forgotten about it - or you! I received so many kind messages and reviews, and would like you to know that I appreciate them all. I hope that this chapter comes as a nice surprise! I am continuing to write this story and can't wait to catch up on the new season for inspiration! Enjoy!
For the second time, Merlin watched the dawn dance around the trunks of the big, thick trees in the forest that he walked through. Even after the few hours of sleep he had allowed himself, he was exhausted. It had been a day since he had left Camelot, and he still had to find the root he had come searching for.
He had searched late into the night, using his magic to illuminate the dense shadows that captivated the forest after dark. There was no such luck, however, and he marked yet another area off of the map that Gaius had provided him with.
Now, after another short sleep, he was moving westward, which was further away from Camelot than he wanted to be.
Merlin found himself missing Arthur's companionship. Even if the warlock was only the man's servant, they spent most of their days together, whether it be training, entertaining, or in the forest hunting. In fact, being in the woods now just didn't seem right without the prince. Arthur was a natural-born hunter and all-around sportsman, and his talents extended into the often difficult forte for tracking and survival in the wild. Not that Merlin was so bad away from civilization himself. Although he and the uneven ground of the woods were often at odds, he could find his way and keep safe easily enough.
Someday, even, he wished he had the opportunity to show Arthur that he wasn't completely helpless in anything other than bring the prince his afternoon lunch.
Merlin felt a bout of protectiveness ring through him as he wondered who was taking care of the prince now, and whether or not that person was doing it properly. Merlin was not the best caretaker in the world, and he felt a sting at the thought of Arthur finding someone better in his absence.
No, couldn't happen, Merlin reassured himself as he brushed away some moss from the ground so that he could get a better look at the dirt. No matter how well a servant performed, he could never surpass the bond that Merlin and Arthur had, destiny or no destiny. Sometimes Merlin thought that the prince even enjoyed being told off and picked on, more than he enjoyed being feared.
Whatever was happening back and Camelot—and Merlin hoped against hope that all was going as well as could be managed back home – this was Merlin's chance to show Arthur that he wasn't just a clumsy muck-up. He was not going to let the prince down.
It had been a long night for Gaius. His heart pounded in his brain for most of the hours that went by, the noise ticking down the moments that led to the arrival of the slave trader. The thought of what Uther was about to do to his own son – sell him into slavery, for heaven's sake!—made the physician downright sick to his stomach. There had to be something that he could do.
Not long after Gaius had returned to his home, Sir Leon had slipped quietly through the front door. He had removed all of his knightly attire as if he were retiring for the evening, and he peered at the physician after closing the door behind him with dark, troubled eyes.
"Sir Leon," the physician began with a tinge of relief – although he had not been officially expecting the knight, he wasn't surprised by his appearance, only at the sudden opening of his chamber door.
"Gaius," the knight greeted back. He sighed, his eyes flitting around the room as if suddenly searching for what it was he was there for. The multitude of trinkets, vials and books flickered in the light given off by the physician's candles and fireplace.
"What of the knights?" Gaius prodded.
"The guard is ready to take action, Gaius, whenever it may be. We just do not know when—or what—opportunity shall arise."
The older man nodded and sat down at his table, motioning for the knight to do the same. "I don't think that a mutiny will be necessary yet, but I am relieved to hear that the guard is willing to do what is right to save Camelot."
"What shall we do, then?" With Arthur detained and Uther out of his mind, Sir Leon did not have anyone else to turn to. He trusted this man, though, with his experience and his knowledge, just as the rulers of Camelot trusted him.
"My charge should be back within a day with the ingredient I need for the antidote to Katrina's enchantment," Gaius informed him. "By tomorrow night, the king's mentality should be restored to its rightful state."
Leon drunk in the words, pondering, nodding. "And what of Arthur?"
That Gaius wasn't so sure of. He knew that something needed to be done, as did Sir Leon—it was why he was there. But what could be done, without letting the king and queen know?
"I'm afraid, that for now, we must do as the king asks." Their eyes met, much like earlier, their worry no less than before. Sir Leon nodded his agreement, albeit begrudgingly. Both of their thoughts swept to the dark fate that had fallen upon the prince. It was their duty, and their driving need, to help Arthur reclaim Camelot.
"Can you spare any of your men, without the king and queen noticing?" Gaius asked after a moment.
Sir Leon nodded. "It is not hard to get things by the king these days, my friend."
"I think that it may be a good idea to send a few knights after Arthur. As much as I want them to overtake those—animals—he will be with, word will be sent back to the king if that happens. Have your men follow the prince and make sure that we know where he is at all times. Keep open lines of communication. We may have to wait until Uther is back to his old self to move, but at least then we shall know what's become of Arthur."
Sir Leon readily agreed and swiftly got up from the table. "I shall prepare a small troupe at once, to wait outside of the town until the traders leave Camelot. From there they can follow as far as they need to."
Gaius got up and shook the knight's hand. "Thank you, Sir Leon, for remaining loyal to the crown. Even though it doesn't really feel that way, at the moment."
The knight squeezed the old man's hand back. "I'll do anything for Camelot, my friend. As I know you would."
"Good luck, and be safe."
The bells of the clock tower were chiming their way to eight. It was a deep, chilling sound, unwarmed by the rising sun and heard by all. The castle towered over the courtyard, preventing the morning's glow from dissolving away the night's dew.
There was a rather large assortment of citizens gathered around the courtyard; word of the morning's unholy visitors had spread like wildfire. Although many had expected a cruel joke or a rashly exaggerated tale spread by word-of-mouth, most were shocked to discover that in the heart of Camelot, there was indeed a carriage made of a cage, and three unruly-looking men who did not belong.
King Uther was selling Prince Arthur to slave traders.
If the people of Camelot hadn't already feared magic, then the fact that a disgusting troll was now at the heart of the town's rulings would have sent hate through their hearts. But they did fear magic, and hate it, and above all, never wanted to speak of it again.
Word-of-mouth had brought the tale of the slave traders to the people, but it had also brought something else to them. Rumour had it that there was an agenda to overthrow the stinking, ugly troll that sat in the queen's seat, and to bring peace back to the town.
When news of this new hope-inspiring tale reached Gaius' ears, he couldn't help but smile despite himself. If nothing else in life could be certain, then one could always count on the gossip of the townsfolk. It was a much-needed conversation in a kingdom currently plagued by strife.
The physician stood at the castle doors, at the top of the staircase, standing respectfully with his hands together as the royal guard escorted Arthur past him. The sight of the prince pierced his heart with sadness. As he had been told to do, Gaius had prepared a draft for Arthur late into the night after Sir Leon had left. When he had received word that the traders had arrived in town, he went to Arthur's chambers and insisted that he drink the concoction, for his nerves. The young man was still extremely passive, and did not think to dispute the trusted physician.
Looking at him now, it was obvious that the drug had taken effect. Sluggishly he made his way down the steps, two knights leading him by the arms. He was dressed in his favorite jacket and a handsome blue shirt, looking to all as a prince should. But his hair was unruly, and his eyes were sleepy yet wild. Shackles kept his hands bound together in front of him, and it was an awful sight to see.
Even though Arthur most likely knew by now what was happening to him, he had neither the strength nor the support to do anything about it.
Gaius prayed that one day the prince would forgive him for what he had done.
Uther followed the escorts out into the courtyard, Katrina by his side. The only thing keeping the physician from killing her himself was the fact that Merlin would be home at any moment, and they could then finish the potion to break Uther's enchantment.
The king would want to take his own vengeance, afterall.
But if all else failed, Gaius wasn't the only person willing to take matters into his own hand, and forcibly remove the queen from her throne.
The troupe of knights and royalty met the traders in the middle of the courtyard. The king shook hands with one of the men, a movement that sent a bolt of rage through Gaius' being.
"Your invitation has taken us by surprise, sire," the trader spoke. He was a tall and wide man with black curly hair and an equally black and curly beard. He had a large scar on his forehead and dark eyes, which flicked curiously to the troll standing by Uther's side.
"Yes, well," Uther, for some reason, seemed to hesitate a little bit. At that moment, Gaius caught sight of something that flashed red on the king's chest – his medallion? "Times are changing, and our kingdom must change along with it. Who might you be?"
"I am Nigel Stoel, and these two are my helpers, Than and Duncan." He motioned to the other two traders; one was dark-haired and handsome, with sharp green eyes, and the other was a bit older and darker-skinned, with one blind eye and a completely bald head. Both were staring unabashedly at Katrina and her unhidden ugliness.
"This—" Uther said pointedly to the two traders, noticing their looks, "is my wife Katrina. It was her idea to bring you to Camelot."
Stoel frowned in confusion, but wisely did not comment on the king's odd choice of a bride. "It must be a hard decision to give up a son, especially one so talented and well-known." The trader looked over at Arthur, who was blearily staring at the ground, just behind the king. "He must have done something horrible to the kingdom."
"Indeed." Uther took Arthur by the arm and led him forward. The prince nearly tripped on his own feet, but even after righted, his eyes remained unfocussed and lowered. "He has been sedated, he should give you no trouble."
"And he should fetch a very handsome price, my lord." Stoel bowed. "I thank you for this honour."
Uther ignored him and turned to Arthur. He took his son's hand and shook it, holding it as he spoke. "I hope that one day you see that what I am doing is what is best for you, my son."
"Yes, yes, he will!" Katrina's pig-like voice cut through the air, and she pushed Arthur away from Uther's grasp and towards the traders. "Let's get on with it, shall we?"
Gaius frowned as he noticed a look of pain shoot onto Uther's face; it looked as if he were about to protest. But just like before, the king's hesitation was only for a moment, and his composure returned as if nothing had happened.
The physician knew he had just seen the workings of the enchantment.
Uther nodded to the traders. "Leave these lands, and do not come back. This has been a one time deal; your services will no longer be required."
Stoel bowed once more. "Of course, my lord." He motioned towards his men. "Get him into the back."
One of the men - Than, the younger one - pulled something from off of the carriage and stepped forward towards Arthur. It was a collar, intricate in detail and made of steel and bronze. The man lifted the prince's chin and snapped the ring in place, teeth-like clamps locking the closure from being removed by anything but a key.
This was actually happening. Arthur was being taken from them.
Oh please Merlin, Gaius begged in his mind, please hurry.