B L U E B E L L S
written for crazyaboutremmy for camelots_closet fic exchange.
Standalone sequel to "Faith".
Life was much simpler when Arthur wasn't six inches tall.
Simpler, meaning that Merlin's only occupation was looking out for evil (usually magical) beings that were out to eat/kill/maim Arthur. Now, Merlin had to watch out for Arthur jumping off the table, Arthur jumping off the bed, Arthur somehow getting onto one of the shelves and disappearing for half an hour, Arthur almost getting eaten by a cat.
Sometimes, Merlin felt as if the stress of it all would make his head explode.
But the curse had been cast over two months ago, and still there was no change.
Merlin bent over his creation carefully, blowing the wood dust from its surface and running a finger over the edge. He squinted at it, holding it up against the afternoon light streaming through the dirty window, and decided the edges needed to be sanded down a little more. Tipping it up-side-down, Merlin tested the strength of the glue; pleased that everything stuck fast. It wouldn't do if it collapsed with Arthur in it.
Merlin picked up the rough cloth and resumed sanding.
"I hope that's part of the cure you're working on," came a voice from Merlin's bedroom door and Merlin hastily stuck his project behind a pile of books. Arthur was standing on the floor, hair sticking up, a curious expression on his tiny face.
"How did you get down from the bed?" asked Merlin, trying to distract the prince's attention away from His Present.
"How I always get down. I made a rope ladder at the end of your bed."
Merlin pushed back his chair, walking over and crouching down to the ground. He offered a hand, palms open flat, and Arthur stepped onto it without a fuss. It was almost routine now. To begin with, Arthur had argued and sulked every time he'd had to be picked up, lecturing about dignity and status and clumsiness. But time passed, and Arthur grew quieter and quieter, walking onto Merlin's palm without comment now.
The fact that Merlin was the only person Arthur deigned to hold him made Merlin feel warm and fuzzy and really quite ridiculous somewhere in his chest.
"Breakfast?" asked Merlin, carefully carrying Arthur around the tower of books so he wouldn't see what Merlin was working on. Letting Arthur jump down from his fingers, Merlin pushed a small saucer in front of Arthur. On it were several crumbs of bread, diamond-cut pieces of ham, and a crumb of cheese. Arthur sat down on his usual silver snuff box and began to eat. Merlin surreptitiously stuffed the wooden carving into his pocket, with some difficulty.
Arthur swallowed, glaring up at Merlin.
"I saw that," he said suspiciously. "What are you up to?"
"Saw what?" asked Merlin, trying to look innocent. He shuffled around the edge of the table, picking up a stray apple from a bowel and rubbing it against his shirt. He was about to take a bite when Arthur said,
Merlin lowered the apple with a sigh.
"You don't even like apple juice," he complained, fetching a small knife and proceeding to cut the apple into small slices.
"Of course I do," said Arthur, picking up the wedge of cheese and biting down.
"You didn't like apples before," protested Merlin, "You always gave them to me!"
"That's because I'm a fair and generous prince, and you, Merlin, are far too spoilt."
Merlin rolled his eyes. Inside, he relaxed a little, the familiar easy banter creating the illusion that nothing had changed. It was a source of comfort, these days, after sleepless nights of searching the library in vain. The curse did not wane and Merlin was becoming desperate. He was grateful for Arthur's calm demeanor, though he'd never admit it out loud.
Carefully, Merlin put the pieces of apple between two rounded metal plates. One of the plates had holes in its surface, the other had grooves. By pressing them against each other, Merlin squeezed out the juice from the apple, which ran into a tin cup which Merlin then transferred to a tiny polished nut shell. Ever since the first sticky disaster of Arthur trying to eat an apple, Merlin had been forced to squeeze fresh juice from whatever fruit Arthur fancied. It was simply easier that way, because washing miniature clothes soon lost its novelty.
Arthur took the shell-cup in both hands, gulping down the juice.
"If we let that sit, we might create some cider," said Arthur thoughtfully, finishing off the last of the juice and holding out the shell for more. Merlin obliged. "Since you won't let me have any wine, we might as well make some cider."
"That's the same thing," said Merlin.
"I'm sorry, did you just disagree? I'll have you know, peasant, cider is nothing like-"
"You'll probably get drunk either way, and I am not dealing with you drunk. It will be a nightmare."
"I've never gotten drunk!"
Arthur pouted. This expression was not intimidating on a good day. With Arthur standing shorter than the goblet beside Merlin's hand, it was downright endearing. Merlin smirked.
"Perhaps. But you've never been so small. I think one sip would knock you out."
"Argh!" said Arthur, standing up, "It's Beltane tonight. I demand some form of alcohol."
When Arthur was preoccupied with his papers (he had resumed nearly all his former duties, protesting that just because he was smaller than usual didn't mean he was an invalid) Merlin quickly put together Arthur's Beltane present; covering the feather stuffed pouch with a thick blanket made from one of Merlin's own neckerchiefs. It was the only thing that matched in colour, because Merlin really didn't want to cut up one of Arthur's shirts and risk a tragedy happening.
He dug about his pockets for the smaller-feather pouches and pulled the covers that Gwen had sewn over them carefully. Merlin grinned.
Arthur didn't get drunk.
Of course, he never got drunk. Ever. But then Merlin, Morgana, Gwen, Gaius and even his father had conspired against Arthur having even the faintest chances of drinking wine. He had to sit through the feast, disgustingly sober, trying to ignore the stares of the nobles in the hall as he ate. Arthur sat at the king's right hand, as normal, but to eat, he had to perch on the silver plate and more or less walk between his food.
It was strange enough being in Merlin and Gaius' presence. Even after weeks and weeks, Arthur still didn't get used to the sight of Merlin, taller than a tower. He had grown remarkably familiar with Merlin's hands however; the grooves between fingers, the little scar that ran between pinky and wrist. It was infinitely strange, the way that Arthur was now aware of details that had always escaped him before.
But being the smallest thing in the room did not settle his nerves. Everyone, from his father and Morgana to the latest kitchen maid, was huge. Arthur could only see their faces if he craned his neck back and that was just undignified, so Arthur stared straight ahead. If anyone wanted to talk to him, they would have to sit or crouch down.
Arthur angrily speared a piece of meat with his sword (made from one of Morgana's sturdier sewing needles), eyeing the goblet of wine at his Father's left.
"More apple juice?" asked Merlin.
"This is really uncomfortable," came Arthur's voice, muffled against Merlin's fingers which were curled into a cavern around the little figure. "Your hand smells."
"Be patient, okay?" said Merlin, trying to put everything in its place with only his right hand. He set the creation onto the wide window ledge, so Arthur could see the night sky and the starts. He straightened the neckerchief-blanket.
"Okay," said Merlin, holding up his hand so it was level with the windowsill, "Look." And he uncurled his fingers.
Arthur blinked in the candle light.
He stared for a moment in silence. Then:
"What is that?"
"It's a bed! I made it for you. I thought you'd be sick of sleeping on my pillow so I made you a-"
"Yes, bed. I heard you the first time."
Merlin's smile slipped a little. Arthur was still staring at the bed, his expression rather blank. Then, without comment, he walked off Merlin's palm and onto the window sill, moving around the further side near the window. Merlin could see a frown beginning to form on Arthur's little face. A little ball of disappointment dropped into the pit of Merlin's stomach.
"…don't you like it?" he asked, tentatively.
Arthur looked up as if startled, one hand on the blanket.
"Why am I on the window?" he asked, seemingly out of the blue.
"I thought you'd like to see the Beltane moon," he said, "But I can move it to the table if you'd ra-"
"No," snapped Arthur, "This is fine."
There was an awkward pause, then Arthur added stiffly, "Thank you for the gift."
Merlin sank down onto his own bed. He realised Arthur still hadn't answered his first question.
"You don't like it," said Merlin, slowly.
Arthur had stripped and changed into a shrunk nightshirt. He paused at Merlin's words.
"No, I do," said Arthur, but not even he sounded convinced. Merlin tried to ignore the hurt feeling in his chest – he had hand carved the bed, each little wooden leg and the patterned grooves on the miniature headboard, so it would match Arthur's real bed. Gwen had helped sew replica pillow covers and Merlin didn't know why Arthur was being so…prattish about it all.
"Look, if you hate it that much you can sleep back here," said Merlin, "I thought you'd like a bed your size, you know, so I-"
"I don't hate it-"
"Then why are you looking at that blanket like its flea infested?"
"I'd rather have a cure than a bed," said Arthur, not looking up.
Merlin felt like someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over his head. Arthur looked a little taken aback as well, but he didn't meet Merlin's searching gaze. For a moment, it looked like he was going to say something; Merlin saw his mouth open, then close. Silence stretched between them.
"I'm so- I know you're trying. I just-" Pulling aside the blanket, Arthur clambered onto the small feather mattress. He turned onto his side, facing towards the window, back to the room. Merlin could see the tiny rise and fall of Arthur's breaths, a tiny circular patch of condensation forming on the glass.
"Don't talk to me right now, Merlin."
Merlin blew out the candle.
Arthur woke in the middle of the night.
He stayed very still on his pillow, feigning sleep as he heard something make a strange, click click sound. He listened harder, and realised it was something tapping on the window panes. The sound made the hair at the back of his neck stand on end.
His eyes shot open as something gave a loud, metallic clack there was a sudden gust of cold wind as the window swung open, outwards. With a practiced movement, Arthur reached for his sword under the bed; a gesture familiar and practiced. His hand closed on air.
The air seemed to shimmer before his eyes, as if the wind were concentrated, making the starlight waver uncertainly. The moon was a huge, pale globe in the ink sky, and Arthur could smell the scent of something like flowers and water.
Then the beings materialized beside his bed; so close Arthur gave a shout of surprise. He wanted to warn Merlin, wanted to ask "Who are you?" and "What are you?"
But no sound came from his mouth.
Arthur tried to move, but his muscles were relaxed out of his control, like a sleepwalker trapped in a dream. The three figures were as big as Arthur was; perhaps a little taller, their clothes spun out of something like silk and moonbeams, their hair adorned with autumn and summer leaves. They had spindly looking hands, tapered ears and their faces looked as if an artist had taken someone's likeness and sharpened them, made them ethereal and beautiful. They also had wings upon their backs.
Arthur, they said, voices reverberating in the ether, Arthur son of Ygraine.
Arthur could only blink at them, his fingers twitching for a blade that wasn't there. He was unable to look away, their eyes glowing like wishful thinking. They spoke of summer, youth and something very old and very dark.
Beautiful prince, they said, and one reached for Arthur's face. He gasped when they touched, his breath ripped from his throat. It's time to come with us! Time to come with us!
Arthur dug in his metaphorical heels, resisting the allure and glitter of their eyes as one drew a pattern on Arthur's cheek. The air around them moved as if they were underwater, as if the fabric of reality were shifting, shifting. Arthur thought he caught a glimpse of something beyond that thin barrier; something that was at once Merlin's room…and altogether someplace else. Merlin. The window swung as if the night wind were growing angry, slamming once, twice against the side of its wooden frame.
Come, come with us, they sang, voices lilting and out of place. Arthur tried to cover his ears, but his hands were paralyzed. The figure in front of him was so close, Arthur had the absurd urge to lean forwards and-
We will love you Arthur, you know it's true. Give you more love than you ever knew. Forget your mortal realm and see a life we offer for eternity.
"No. I will not," said Arthur, trying to hold on to the thread that anchored him. But once again, he had no voice.
Arthur had always feared being helpless. Helpless, as the strange, magical –surely they must be- beings surged forwards, gossamer wings flickering, warm cold hands on Arthur's legs, arms, face. He saw himself being pulled from the bed as if he were watching from above, head disoriented. The window banged open wide and they leapt into the night, clutching Arthur's limp form. Desperate, Arthur screamed, trapped inside his own head.
"Merlin! MERLIN, WAKE-"
Then everything faded to white.
The next morning, Arthur was gone.
Merlin woke to the sound of something falling over in Gaius' workshop. Sunlight was already streaming through the window, painting checkered squares on Merlin's blanket – and he turned towards the brightness, squinting. A cold draft meandered into the room with the sunlight, making Merlin shiver a little. There was a little blot of shadow that was the bed on the sill. Belatedly, Merlin realised Arthur would be pissed off because he hated being woken up by the sun. Hence, Merlin had always woken Arthur up via pulling aside his curtains in a dramatic gesture.
"-rthur?" said Merlin, groggy. He squinted at the window. The lump on the sill didn't move. Lazy prat.
Chewing the inside of his cheek, Merlin got out of bed, pulling on the clean shirt thrown over the back of his chair. He yawned as he walked over to the window, reaching over the bed to close it again. It was really getting quite chill-
The window. The window was open. Merlin stared at the empty bed, the blanket a little sleep rumpled, miniature pillow dented as if Arthur had just been there. Then he looked back at the latch of the window, hanging loose. Dashing to look over the ledge, Merlin had to suppress the urge to throw up; it was a long way down. Panic bubbled in his throat like poison.
"Arthur!" cried Merlin, turning around desperately, eyes scanning the room. "Arthur, where are you?"
Perhaps he was sulking, or in a bad mood, thought Merlin, dropping to his knees and scanning along the floor. He began taking out all the drawers, flinging the objects from them. Perhaps Arthur had simply left for breakfast early, or perhaps he was hiding in order to get Merlin worked up in a panic. For some reason, he had seemed rather offended at the bed the night before. But Merlin knew Arthur wouldn't do that, not since the time he had wandered off to explore his own chambers and Merlin had nearly passed out from fright. No, Arthur wouldn't do that.
Merlin pulled his own blankets from his bed with a flurry. His pillows landed on the floor as Merlin gently patted down the sheets, frantic yet scared of accidently hitting Arthur- or worse.
"Arthur? Arthur, this isn't funny. Where are you?"
There was no reply.
Merlin began tearing out the drawers, ripping the sheets from his bed while his magic flung open all the cabinet doors on the wall one by one, bang bang bang, lifting aside books and clothing strewn about the room.
Oh gods, thought Merlin, imagination spiraling out of control, magic flaring inside him hot and terrible, what if I forgot to latch the window properly? What if the wind blew it open and Arthur fell-
Merlin threw up.
There was the sound of footsteps then the door flew open to reveal Gaius, test-tube in hand, eyes wide as he surveyed the mess of the room, Merlin half on the ground.
"My goodness!" he exclaimed, "Are you feeling alright? What is all the shou-"
"Arthur's gone, Arthur's gone," babbled Merlin. "I don't know where he is, Gaius, he wasn't too happy last night but I thought it wasn't anything serious and he's gone, he's-"
Gaius' hands grasped Merlin's shoulders and hauled him upright, shaking him.
"Merlin. You need to calm down. Merlin, your magic!"
With a gulp of air, Merlin forced himself to still. At once, all the objects that had been spinning about the room, jumping from cabinets and open drawers, fell to the ground with clatters and thuds. Merlin pulled Gaius towards the open window. He picked up the tiny bed and showed it to Gaius.
"He was in here."
Gaius ran a finger over the window ledge.
"I'm sure I locked the window, Gaius, I'm sure of it," said Merlin, clutching the bed tightly in his hands, "but this morning, it was open and Arthur was gone!"
Gaius bent down closer to the window sill, brushing something Merlin had missed into the palm of one hand. Pulling out a magnifying glass from one pocket, Gaius peered through at the small, blue flecks in his hands. Merlin moved closer, staring.
They looked like tiny flower petals.
"Gaius?" breathed Merlin, fear a tight fist around his heart.
Gaius looked grim, eyebrows drawn tightly together.
"Blue bells," he said.
Waking felt like falling asleep, everything slowly becoming out of focus until the world shifted and changed. Arthur resisted the urge to blink, to give himself away, but a voice to his right said:
"The prince is awake."
Arthur opened his eyes. For a moment, he thought he was back in the castle, in his own rooms. There was smooth softness underneath him, like a bed, familiar hangings and swords displayed on the walls around him. There was even a desk just like Arthur's, covered with rolls of parchment and a smart feather quill.
Perhaps it had all been a rather bad, bizarre, wine-induced dream. Perhaps Arthur had never been cursed at all, and had never slept in a bed the size of his palm and had never been kidnapped by strange fairy creatures. Perhaps.
"Prince Arthur," the voice said again, "Can you hear me?"
Arthur turned his head, then sat bolt upright.
The creature drew back slightly, long white-blonde hair flowing to its waist. Arthur guessed it was female because of its voice, high and lyrical; otherwise it looked just like the others. She was holding a cup of water in her hands, which she offered with a dip of the head.
Suddenly realizing that he was parched, Arthur reached for the cup warily. It was a smooth, wooden cup, inlaid with some sparkling jewels and vine-patterns. He examined the contents, dipping a finger within the clear liquid. It was cool, but did not seem to be poisoned.
Then again, with magic, one never knew.
Arthur drank thirstily. After all, if these creatures had taken the trouble of taking him from the castle and holding him hostage, then they were unlikely to poison him as soon as he woke. No, more likely he would be held for some form of ransom, then perhaps tortured to make a diplomatic point.
Arthur put the cup back down.
"Where am I?" he asked, voice a little dry, but he got his voice back. Arthur cleared his throat. "Why am I here?"
The woman said nothing, refilling the cup with water from a crystal jug. Arthur watched her warily, unnerved by the fluidity of her movements. He cast his eyes about the room, noting the wide wooden doors and another, smaller door leading to what he presumed was an antechamber.
There were no windows.
On closer inspection, Arthur began noticing differences between what at first look like an exact replica of his room. The walls were not of stone, but some strange, panelled material. Wood? It had an odd texture that seemed to bend light, unfocusing the eyes. The tapestries were rich in colour, but they were not made of cloth; living vines, leaves, and silk strands wove in an out to form pictures of a knight upon a horse with wings and a beautiful woman with a silver crown.
"My absence will not go unnoticed," said Arthur. "I am the crown Prince of Camelot, and your trespass will not be taken lightly."
Before the creature could answer, the large double doors opened with a soft thud-click. Two guards, dressed in leaf-spun clothes and silk, held them open. They were not holding spikes, but rather long, slender rapiers. But Arthur's eyes were drawn to the woman between them, a being that seemed to float rather than walk, with wings of a faint lavender colour and dark curls that reminded Arthur of Morgana.
She was wearing a gown made of some shimmering material, leaves and curling vines patterned into the silk, coming alive at the sleeves and twisting artfully around her bare arms. There was a circlet of gold and silver upon her head. When she spoke, her voice was very human.
"Prince Arthur," she said, gliding forward until she was by his side. Arthur wanted to get out of the bed so he could stand, but he was hemmed in on both sides. He felt horribly naked.
"You know my name," he said, trying to keep his voice as level as possible, "but I do not know yours."
A tinkling laughter. Her eyes seemed to gleam, although there were no visible sources of light in the room to illuminate those irises. She tilted her head and regarded him, eyes sweeping over his face and downwards. Arthur resisted the urge to pull the sheets up. Her lips pulled up into a smile.
"I am Queen Titania."
Inevitably, Uther found out.
Merlin pressed his back gingerly against the stone wall of his cell, letting the coolness numb the pain. It was probably not wise, infections, dirt – but Merlin didn't care. Each cut was burning hot, and although most did not break skin, there were a few deep gashes that made his mind spark with pain every time he moved.
He blinked to clear his vision, sniffling, hands slack at his sides. The locks were not the problem; Merlin knew how to magic himself out of those since forever. The problem was, even if Merlin wasn't currently locked up in the castle dungeons, he still didn't know where Arthur was.
Merlin ran a finger over a link in the chain, tracing the grooves worn into it. He felt sick to the stomach. The worry for Arthur was a constant ache inside his chest, all consuming. It pushed even the pain of the flogging to the back of Merlin's mind, his magic curling and uncurling in search of Arthur's presence.
And the thing was, he could still feel Arthur; golden as he always was. But it was strangely out of reach, distorted, not-quite-there. It jarred Merlin's magic to the bone, and he shivered, drawing his knees to his chest.
An hour passed – or was it two? Merlin didn't know. He only had the slow trickle-drop of water to count time, but it he had almost fallen asleep when there came shuffling footsteps along the dark corridor. Careful not to jingle his chains, Merlin tried to sit up straighter; wincing involuntarily when his back scraped across the stone.
The glow of a flame spilled the water stained floor moments before a figure came into view. Merlin breathed a sigh of relief.
"Gaius!" he said, voice hoarse with hours of silence. Gaius made a shushing gesture. There was the rustling of cloth, then a chink.
Merlin edged towards the door as Gaius crouch down, pushing a small glass bottle through the bars. He had to roll the bottle on the ground towards Merlin, as the chains prevented him from reaching.
"Whats-" began Merlin, but Gaius waved him into silence.
"Drink that," he said in hushed tones, "I will explain later."
"What will it-"
"Just do it, we don't have much time," said Gaius urgently.
Merlin picked up the bottle. Inside, there was a light blue liquid which stuck to the sides of the glass. It seemed to glow a little in the dark, and Merlin uncorked it with his teeth.
"You must drink all of it," said Gaius, "Quickly now."
Merlin gave Gaius a worried look (he didn't trust glowing potions,) but obediently threw back the bottle. The contents took a long time to drop down his throat; as if it didn't want to be swallowed. It seemed to stick to the sides of Merlin's throat, the back of his mouth, and he coughed a little.
"Gaius?" said Merlin, clutching the empty bottle in his hand.
Gaius was staring at him intently, terrible eyebrows angling down in an angry furrow.
"Oh dear," said Gaius.
Merlin's eyes widened. He looked down at the bottle in his hand, then back at Gaius.
"What?" he asked, voice rising, "What's supposed to-"
Then he felt as if someone had taken hold of his spine and pulled, downwards, inwards – Merlin gasped as his magic exploded inside of him as if battling the effects of the potion and he tried to keep it in check, willing whatever was meant to happen to happen already. His fingers felt like they were made of jelly, and the bottle fell the floor and bounced away. Merlin shuddered uncontrollably, eyes rolling back in his head-
When he next blinked, everything was very dark and very strange.
There was a voice, calling:
"Gaius?" Merlin called back, trying to find his way out of the strange tent he had found himself. The fabric was warm and odd but after a few minutes, Merlin finally pulled himself out –naked- into the open air. What he saw made him sway uncertainly on his feet.
He was no longer in the dungeon. No, correction, he was still in the dungeon, in his cell to be exact – but now, there were great grooves in the rough, uneven ground. In the distance, straight pillars rose up into the darkness and Gaius was humongous.
Merlin's eyes felt as if they were going to pop out of his head.
"Gaius!" he exclaimed, "What did you do?"
"I will tell you once we're out of here," said Gaius, rummaging in his pockets. At least, Merlin assumed that's what he was doing, "For now, you need clothes. Come here."
Gaius had shrunk him. Gaius, had shrunk Merlin.
How did Arthur not run around screaming all day every time he opened his eyes?
Taking a deep breath, Merlin turned towards the mountain of brown cloth he was standing on. His breeches, no doubt. Holding out one hand and trying to recall the spell he had used to shrink Arthur's clothes, Merlin squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated. He could feel a headache forming behind his eyes. His magic rushed to his hand.
He opened his eyes. In front of him, were his breeches: but twenty times smaller. Merlin pulled them on gratefully, gathering his neckerchief (which was still far too large) into his hands and repeating the spell.
"Oh," said Gaius, holding what looked like a cut-up pillow case.
Merlin shivered as he made his way across to the door, clambering over the chains on the floor and tripping over loose stones in the paving. It was no trouble, in this new size, to walk straight through the bars.
"Here," said Gaius, holding out one hand flat upon the floor, "I need to put you in my pocket."
"I can walk, thanks," he said, eyeing the huge hand warily. His heart was beating like a trapped sparrow inside his ribcage. Simultaneously, he also felt a surge of warmth: Arthur had trusted him enough to let Merlin hold him. Right now, riding in someone's hand seemed to be the scariest, most ridiculous and dangerous thing that Merlin had ever heard of. And Merlin had heard and done some pretty ridiculous and dangerous things.
He wasn't brave as Arthur.
"Don't be difficult, Merlin," said Gaius, fingers twitching. Merlin could see each vein on the wrinkly skin. "The guards will be awake soon. The sleeping draft wasn't too strong."
Well. If anything should happen, Merlin had his magic. He should be alright. It would be alright.
Everything was going to be fine.
"I really don't think-"
There was the sound of someone coughing, and without warning, Gaius scooped Merlin up. The next thing he knew, Merlin was tumbling onto his back, limbs tangled and head disorientated. It was pitch dark, and smelt of mothballs, there was rough wool against his skin and everything swayed alarmingly. Merlin felt horribly nauseous, and he fisted his hands in the fabric walls (pocket?) and tried to haul himself into a sitting position. The pocket swung in time with Gaius' footsteps, thump, thump, thump and Merlin strained to hear any voices, any guards…
The pocket tipped backwards and Merlin almost broke his neck trying to stay upright. His back screamed in agony and he tried to curl himself into a ball, avoid any contact between the cuts and the pocket. What was Gaius doing?
Although Merlin had never been to the sea, and never sailed on any ships, he had heard stories like everyone else. The travelling merchants would sometimes regale the villagers about stories of angry storms, the way a ship would be tossed about on froffing waves. Merlin imagined this was what it felt like to sail on the ocean.
There was the banging of a door, then Gaius was muttering, voice muted.
"I'm getting you some supplies and clothes. We will be out of the castle soon. Be quiet now."
More movements which translated into the pocket and Merlin being swung this way and that. Merlin was never going to make Arthur ride his pocket. Ever. He closed his eyes and pretended everything was just a dream, feeling claustrophobic at the dark, stuffy space and the stifling smell of wool and herbs.
Gaius didn't take him out of his pocket anytime soon. There was a disconcerting moment when everything lurched sickeningly, and Merlin had a moment of panic before he heard the snort of an animal, then the soft clatter of hooves on cobbles. Gaius was riding out.
Throwing caution to the wind, Merlin called out tentatively.
"Gaius? Gaius, what are we doing?"
There was no reply.
"Gaius!" shouted Merlin.
"Shh! It's not yet safe. Wait."
"But Gaius, Arthur-"
"We're going to him now."
"We have waited very long for this day," said the maid, laying out some kind of costume upon the bed beside Arthur. The Queen had gone, for the moment, with a promise to meet him in half a star-shine (whatever that was), and Arthur felt as if he was trapped in a dream.
"What is this?" he asked, as civilly as he could.
The woman looked up, with large, unblinking amber eyes. It was the same with the queen; Arthur found himself unable to look away, as if he could fall into the depths of their irises, ringed in violets and golds. With a mental shake, Arthur looked back to the concoction of leaves and silk. A horrible thought crossed his mind.
"Are these clothes?" he asked, picked up one corner of it gingerly. It felt weightless, unlike any fabric Arthur had ever worn.
"The Queen had them especially sung for you," said the Fae woman, setting out what looked like gold jewelry on the table next to the bed. Arthur shook his head, scooting backwards.
"Tell your Queen I want my old clothes back: I'm not wearing leaves."
The fae stared at Arthur, standing much too close. He hoped Merl- someone would come and save him from this madness. And then Arthur remembered his Father's dark promise to have Merlin hanged should any harm come to Arthur and the thought made the prince flinch. No. He had to make his escape as soon as possible to make sure Merlin did not lose his head.
"These are the finest, made from my Queen's own gardens," she replied, gliding back to his bedside, "You offend Her Magesty if you do not wear it."
Arthur glanced at the Fae's own clothes; simpler than the one laid out for him, but covering…very little. He had to look determinedly at her face.
"And your clothes have been burned," she added with a trace of smugness, "you will not need your mortal possessions now that you are to be The Consort."
"The Fae, or Unseelie folk are strange creatures, Merlin. They are of the old religion, but do not live in this realm."
"What do you mean?" asked Merlin. He pulled on his shirt, newly shrunk by magic, and winced as his back rubbed against the rough cloth.
"Reality is made up of multiple layers, Merlin," explained Gaius, "Some hidden away from mortal eyes. The Fae live in such a world. There is a spell, a potion that allows mortals passage into this realm. I believe it's where Arthur has been taken."
"The blue bell flowers?"
"Blue bells have always had much potency in magic, especially fairy magic. I believe they have taken Arthur as a prize, for his soul. The Fae have been known to kidnap people, fair maidens usually, for their beauty or magic or the havoc their absence may cause. That's why people lay out offerings for them. Such practices, of course, have been banned in Camelot for they're too tied to the Old Religion, which Uther hates. The Fae took their chance, last night, Beltane eve being the time where the passage between the worlds stretches thinnest."
"But I don't understand," said Merlin, frowning, "why did I have to be shrunk?"
Gaius pulled out a large silver cross from a pocket.
"That's because the Unseelie realm are not like our own, our mortal bodies are usually too cumbersome to pass through the barrier," said Gaius, digging a hole in the hard dirt beside Merlin with the point of a knife. Merlin watched as his guardian buried the silver cross; replacing the dirt until only the leather cord could be seen poking through the ground. For Merlin, the mound of dirt came up to his chest.
"Silver will anchor you to this world," Gaius explained, "As will your magic. Now, Merlin, you must cast this spell, first to enter the realm, then once more to leave it."
Gaius laid out a piece of ripped parchment before Merlin on the ground. The inky letters were bigger than Merlin's head, and he had to walk along sideways to read the spell out loud. Merlin paced back and forth several times, committing the spell to memory before taking a deep breath.
"How will I save Arthur?" asked Merlin.
"Walk with me," said the Queen.
She stood with her back turned towards Arthur, staring out over what seemed to be a garden. The two guards flanking Arthur retreated into the shadows. He could still see them in his peripheral vision; their rapiers gleaming silver as if there were a thousand candles alight.
Arthur remained where he was.
"I would like to know why I am here," said Arthur, keeping his tone neutral and polite. No doubt they would use magic against him if they saw him as a threat; and Arthur didn't know how to fight magical beings. Magical monsters were relatively simple: cut off their heads. But he had a feeling that chopping off the queen's head would not work to his advantage right now. He felt naked and vulnerable in his leafy clothes: there were no where to stash hypothetical weaponry.
Queen Titania half turned away from the balcony, her face glowing in profile and Arthur blinked to stop himself from being drawn in. Vaguely, he remembered one of his nurses talking about fairy glamour and how the magic could trap men in their own minds, making them slaves.
"One of your…servants-"
"Lassina is not a servant," interrupted the Queen, "We have no servants here. Only companions and friends."
Arthur inclined his head, "My mistake. But she said I was to be a Consort."
"Come walk with me," repeated the Queen, and Arthur felt irritation at the tip of his tongue. He bit back the retorts and demands and walked forwards. Perhaps he would get some sensible answers soon.
Up-close, the Queen smelt of summer and orchid flowers. Her wings were pale, almost transparent, of no distinguishable colour. If the light did not pass through it at an angle, Arthur could not tell it was even there, arching high above her hair. She laid one, cool hand on his arm and Arthur was jolted back to earth.
She guided them down the steps and into the garden, and Arthur realised that it wasn't sky that was above his head. The walls arched up, seemingly forever, disappearing into a shroud of darkness that mimicked the night. He could see the structure of the building, curved and graceful, unlike the stone towers of Camelot. It was all very surreal: a garden within a great hall?
Arthur stared at a rose, blooming blood red in a line of others. The petals glowed. Unable to help himself, Arthur reached out and brushed a finger curiously over the petal. Where his skin touched, the petals glowed brighter, like the sun through closed eyelids.
"These are but small wonders," said the Queen, her voice soft like a breeze.
Arthur drew his hand back, sharply.
"Your Majesty," Arthur began, but Titania interrupted.
"I thought I should let you see the realm you are to rule, first," she said with a smile, "And there is much to see."
Arthur struggled to remain pleasant.
"I am the Prince of Camelot, your Majesty. I cannot rule elsewhere."
The Queen's smile grew.
"Camelot is no longer your concern," she said, leading him down another path, but Arthur dug in his heels. Consort. He was to be the consort to the Queen? These…creatures had taken him from the castle to be their ruling consort? It made no sense, but then again, Arthur wasn't even sure Fairies existed until now.
"You cannot be serious," he protested, "I can't-"
Perhaps it was his imagination, but the Queen's smile grew cold at his words; eyes flashing. His words seemed to die in his throat, as if some unseen force had rendered Arthur silent. He gasped, trying to draw the next breath. Then Queen Titania tilted her head, and the sensation vanished. Arthur remained frozen where he stood.
"Why don't we leave such matters for later discussion, my Prince?" she asked, voice sweet as honeysuckle, "There are so much more to see."
Arthur had no choice but to follow.
"The Fae will try to trick you: they are infinitely clever and twice as cunning. Trust your magic and your instincts; it should protect you for their glamour and illusions."
"But how do I save Arthur?" asked Merlin, standing in the middle of the symbol Gaius had drawn. He wasn't quite sure what it was, because everything looked out of proportion from this height; but Gaius had poured precious ink into the grooves in the ground, staining the words and runes dark like blood.
Merlin shivered as Gaius lit a candle beside him.
"I believe that the Fae – possibly the Elders-"
"They are like royalty, and rule over the Unseelie realms. There have been stories of the Fae taking certain souls, as a keepsake or trophy. Arthur, being a prince and a keystone in your destiny…I believe now that he is so small, the Fae would have targeted him."
"And it was Beltane too," said Merlin, guilt welling up inside him, "I can't believe I was so foolish as to put him by the window, I only wanted to-"
"It's not your fault," said Gaius, gently, but Merlin wasn't convinced. A moment of silence passed between them.
"You must be careful. Your magic is powerful and that would make you a valuable trophy in the Fae's eyes. They're likely to try to trick you into staying. You must not let that happen. Once you have reached Arthur, come back to the silver and cast the spell. Don't delay for anything, do you understand?"
Merlin nodded mutely. The candle guttered with the wind, and Merlin fed it with his magic until it grew strong again.
"The window is open from now until dawn. If you miss it, you will have to wait another day."
"How will know when it is dawn?"
Gaius pressed a flower into Merlin's hand. The stem was as thick as Merlin's arm, and Merlin tried to shrink it with his magic. The flower shifted slightly, and without fanfare, it vanished. In Merlin's palm lay a tiny blossom, pale violet petals velvety soft against the pads of his fingers.
"The flower will die within a few hours of being picked. When it does, the colour from its petals will be drained. Be sure to return here before the flower is completely white."
Merlin nodded and tucked the blossom into his pocket, careful not to crush it.
"Is it just me, or are we rushing into this blind?" he asked, trying to keep his tone light. It probably didn't work: worry was seeping through all the gaps in Merlin's mental blocks like melting cheese.
"It's the best chance that we have. That Arthur has," said Gaius.
"Yes. Well. Let's hope this works. See you soon….I hope."
Merlin took several deep breaths, then began chanting the spell.
It was almost a relief to be back in surroundings that did not dwarf him, thought Arthur, pacing his room. After his reluctance to play along with the Queen's tour and The Consort Business, he had been escorted back to this room. Arthur had shouted at the guards, even succeeding in disarming one of them and taking their rapier. But then Lassina had arrived, along with her Mistress, and the next thing Arthur knew, he was waking and it was morning.
He knocked a bejeweled goblet from the table in frustration, annoyed when it did nothing but bounce on the polished wooden floor.
He had no idea how much time had passed, how long he had been held prisoner by these magical beings. He didn't know whether it was truly morning, only that the light in the room was brighter and his body told him it was a new day. Arthur paused by the door, listening hard for footsteps – but could hear nothing. He was beginning to suspect that magic had sealed him in.
The argument with the Queen had not gone at all well.
"I cannot be your consort," Arthur had said, bowing in the most apologetic fashion he knew, "For I must take the place of my Father when it is my time."
"Camelot is no longer your concern," Queen Titania repeated, voice stiff with displeasure, "Your mortal troubles no more, sweet prince, I offer you wonders, a kingdom which will never end. I offer you immortality, Arthur."
Arthur didn't even hesitate.
"My duty is to Camelot. I'm sure a great sovereign such as yourself must understand. I cannot abandon-"
"You have no choice!" hissed the Queen, and her rage was suddenly overwhelming, all trace of sweet politeness gone. And when she next spoke, it was as if her voice was not one, but a choir, discordant and strangely resonant.
"You have no choice," she repeated, "You are mine. I have claimed you."
The trees around them creaked and swayed in an invisible wind, the darkness rushing towards Arthur as if conjured. He could hear the burbling of a brook slow and stop, and when Arthur glanced at the fountain, he saw it had been frozen over with ice.
He took a step back away from the Queen, but she was suddenly beside him, taking him by the arm. Arthur could not move, could not speak, he was drowning in the sudden green of her eyes. And perhaps it wouldn't be too terrible to live here, a world full of strange and magical things that Arthur had never seen. He wouldn't have to worry about the curse anymore, since everything was his size, he did not have to try to meet the expectations of his Father, knowing that he would never be quite good enough. Arthur wouldn't have to rely on Merlin anymore, wouldn't be such a burden, and-
Something familiar tugged at Arthur's mind.
The Queen's eyes glowed brighter than the night-roses, clutched in a fist.
Who was Merlin again?
Arthur jerked himself away from her touch, the air rushing back into his lungs. He stared at Titania, hand automatically reaching for the hilt of a sword that wasn't there. He was powerless.
"Do not bespell me," he snarled, every trace of compliance gone, "Do you have no honor? Who are you that, you can kidnap a prince and force him to your will? Consort? I will die first."
"I am Queen Titania, and I rule over the immortals. I have magic you can only dream of, Arthur Pendragon."
"My father has outlawed magic in Camelot," Arthur said, fish clenching and unclenching. Perhaps he could find a sharp branch somewhere. "You will be tried for treason."
"You are no longer in Camelot, little prince," said the Queen, her skin pale as ivory, eyes bright in comparison, "your mortal laws have no place here. You are mine. Not even Emrys has a claim on you."
At this, Arthur faltered.
The Queen tilted her head. She was really quite beautiful; red lips, a heart shaped face. Her hair was plaited in some complicated knot, curls cascading down her shoulders. Arthur took a step towards her, unconsciously. He watched the way her lips moved when she talked (he couldn't quite decipher what she was saying, but it didn't matter), her voice flowing over him, around him, seeping into his very pores. Vaguely, Arthur was aware of climbing staircases that twined around each other, walking through archways and past more beautiful fae. They bowed and curtseyed to Arthur, and he wanted wings so he would-
Titania did not lift the spell until Arthur was back inside his room. And by the time he could move, the doors had been closed and locked and there was no way out.
There came a brief knock, and Lassina slipped through the door, footsteps silent.
Arthur had given up on trying to ambush anyone that came through the door: he could not hear when they came and even if he overpowered Lassina, she had magic, and could freeze him with a thought. He had tried this earlier and had simply been knocked out for his troubles.
The maid set down a tray of food on Arthur's table, along with a glass pitcher full of some red liquid. Wine?
"I wish to speak with your Mistress," he said, trying to be as imposing as one could be clad in leaves.
Lassina inclined her head.
"I will pass on the message, sire," she said. "Meanwhile, won't you have some food? The guards have informed me that you did not eat breakfast."
Arthur scowled. He had refused to touch the fruit and breads sent up for him earlier for the fear that they may have been enchanted. Who knew what would happen if he ate those strange, colourful looking berries. Arthur wasn't taking the risk. Refusing outright, however, may result in more spells being cast upon him, so Arthur took a rare course of action.
He remained silent.
Lassina seemed a little put out.
Arthur smirked, inwardly. One to Arthur, ten thousand to the fairies.
"You have not eaten for three days," said Lassina, "The magic will not sustain you forever."
"What?" exclaimed Arthur, and there went his resolution to remain silent, "Three days? I was unconscious for three days?"
"Your body needed time to get used to our magic," explained Lassina mysteriously, "mortal flesh was not meant for these halls."
"Then let me go," said Arthur.
Lassina smiled a pretty, meaningless smile. Her eyes were blue today.
"I'm afraid you'll have to speak with the Queen."
"Summon her!" snapped Arthur, not caring that he was being rude. Three days? Mortal flesh? He didn't understand any of this, but it did not sound like good news. What had happened in those three days? Had his father sent knights out searching for him? Did he know it was the Fae at all? Something cold twisted in his stomach at the image of the King's fury. It took a moment for Arthur to register the feeling: terror.
Was Merlin still alive?
"Pretty prince," said Lassina, almost cooing, "You'll come to like your place here."
"How many times must I say this?" cried Arthur, "I don't want to become your King!"
But Lassina wasn't listening. In one, sweeping movement, she was by Arthur's side, easing him into a chair in front of the large platter of food. The sweet scent of the berries hit Arthur full in the face, coiling around his senses. He dug his fingernails painfully into the palm of his hand to keep himself awake, he mustn't fall under their magic again.
"Come now, try some," coaxed Lassina, hands fluttering around Arthur.
A wave of magic pulsed from her like an aura, and Arthur tried to hold his breath, tried desperately to cling onto the clarity of the world…before it sunk into the spell like magic. Everything seemed brighter, more beautiful, every surface a pleasant reflection. Lassina looked…positively stunning.
She held a red fruit between her fingers, one hand at the base of Arthur's neck. Something warm pulsed from her fingertips, making the muscles in Arthur's shoulders relax. Distantly, as if it was happening to someone else's body, Arthur slumped in his hair in a lazy sprawl. He felt warm and comfortable.
"This is my favourite," said Lassina, her face very close to his, "Won't you take a bite?"
It did look rather tempting.
Her fingers tightened at his nape.
Arthur opened his mouth, and the fruit burst open on his tongue, staining his teeth bright red.
As soon as Merlin finished saying the last word of the spell, he felt the world change.
Around him was no longer night, but the glow of twilight. Instead of a dirt strewn clearing, Merlin was standing in a field of blue bells. For a moment, he could not pin point what was so wrong about the picture.
Then he realised.
The blue bells were smaller than he was. More specifically, the flowers must be miniscule to be seem normal when Merlin himself was only several inches high. This wasn't the same forest he had been standing in, moments before. Walking forwards, Merlin stumbled over something in the ground.
Looking down, he saw the bump in the earth, and the black leather cord poking through the dirt. He smiled. It seemed that Gaius had been correct; the silver amulet had not changed even though Merlin was now in a different dimension.
A butterfly the size of a horse flew past Merlin's head.
Hesitantly, Merlin began walking away from the silver, wading through the blue bell flowers. And as he walked, they seemed to grow, larger and larger until the petals were up to his waist, his chest, his eyes- The silver essence was an echo at the back of Merlin's mind, and the flowers wavered in the wind like heat on a hot summer's day.
Merlin had no idea where he was going.
Pulling aside a particularly thick clump of flowers, Merlin looked towards the far end of the clearing, where the indistinct silhouette of a castle could be seen. On closer inspection, Merlin realised it was not a castle, but a towering oak tree, its branches incredibly thick, snaking off into the dark canopy above. There were no stars to be seen.
Merlin started in the direction of the tree, thinking that it was as good a direction as any. Around him was the endless sea of blue bells, the scent of them curling around his magic like tiny hands, pulling him in all directions. The thought of Arthur kept him walking, even though he was constantly being distracted by shadows and lights flitting in between the flower steps. There!
Remembering what Gaius had said about Fae magic, Merlin pulled the small violet flower from his pocket. The petals still had their colour, but the tips were fading into cream. He had to hurry.
Merlin walked on.
And he realised the tree was not coming any nearer; remaining just out of reach, it's size never changing. Dread crept up Merlin's spine and he broke into a run, the tendrils of flowers and leaves twisting themselves about his ankles and wrists, trying to trip him, slow him, what is the rush, Emrys? There is time. There is all the time in the world…A green fern tangled itself about Merlin's neck and he gasped, tearing the plant away with his magic. The blue bells were growing around him, shooting upwards before Merlins' eyes. The faster he ran, the more he wrenched their stems aside, the faster they grew until Merlin couldn't see anything beyond the petals over his head, the tree obscured.
"Arthur!" cried Merlin, "Arthur!"
His voice was swallowed up by the blue bells and the earth. Merlin stumbled his way through another identical looking patch of blue-bell forest, breaking stems in half, his hands getting coated in sticky juice. His magic was thrumming beneath his skin.
"Well, really," came a voice from behind Merlin.
Merlin spun around.
"Is that the only word you know?" said the boy – well. Merlin assumed it was a boy. He was a little shorter than Merlin, skin pale green and eyes the colour of almonds. They looked altogether too big for his head, which was framed with a shock of wild, tangled hair and two pointed years. He had dirt smudged all over his face and hands, giving him a rather feral look.
"Who are you?" asked Merlin, taking a step backwards.
The bow swept Merlin an elaborate bow.
"The name is Puck," he said, "Honored to be meeting you at last, Emrys."