The Duke knelt down in order to get a better view of the Princes face, "So we finally have you at last. I was none too happy with your little excursion from my plan, but you're here now so I will let that pass". He grabbed Merlin's (Arthur's) chin and brought it closer to his. "You don't know how long I have been waiting to get my revenge. You are probably not aware of the history between our two families".
Merlin held his gaze on the Duke, but was struggling to maintain it as he thought about what the Duke had just said. So there was some kind of history with him and Arthur's family. There was one thing he knew for certain now, and that was that this man was not who had claimed to be. The history between the two families must have been spanned a great length of time because the King would never had offered his help if there had been some kind of feud between them.
The Duke could tell the prince was not paying total attention to him. He squeezed his chin until he was satisfied he had his full attention. "I'm going to guess that you don't really know who I am, do you. Well I will tell you who I am. Your father stole something from my family, from me and I want it back. You are going to help me get it back".
Merlin wished Arthur was here. He had no idea what this man was talking about, but he figured that Arthur wouldn't have known anymore that he did. The Duke had not been viewed as a threat when he had asked for help. He had been viewed as an ally to the kingdom and someone that deserved the king's help. This realization only confirmed his earlier thoughts. Whatever it was may have happened before Arthur had been born.
The Duke stood up and motioned for his men to haul Merlin to his feet. "So, do you have nothing to say to me?"
Merlin chose his words carefully before speaking, "I don't know what to say since I don't know what was stolen from you".
A smile came across the Duke face, "You will know soon enough, but for now you will stay here until I need you".
Merlin was once again pushed down to the floor by the guards. The Duke opened the door, and without glancing back walked out with his guards in tow.
Merlin looked at the closed door and realized that he was no closer to escape than he had been before. If anything, he had more questions that needed answers if he was to get out of here alive. He thought of Arthur and hoped that he was having better luck that he was. He knew Arthur would do everything he could to find him and get him out of here. After all he had what Arthur wanted most, his body, but he was also his friend and he knew he would not be forgotten.
Arthur and Simon were left in the care of Gaius, while the kings guards were posted outside the room.
Now that Gaius was alone with the two men, he checked the wound on Arthur's (Merlin's) leg. He was pleased to see it was healing nicely, but put some extra salve on it anyway before redressing it.
The trio had remained silent while Gaius tended to Arthur, but now that the wound had been tended to, the questions began. Simon was the first to get his question out.
"How long am I to remain here?" Simon had been looking at Gaius but turned his gaze to Arthur, "And you, who exactly are you anyway. You tell me your name is Arthur and they tell me your name is Merlin, so which is it?"
Arthur didn't know how to respond, especially with Gaius in the room. He wanted to tell this man the truth, but that would expose the use of magic and he could not afford to have this information get back to his father. He knew that he father would never understand that the switch was not of their doing. Magic was magic and it didn't matter who was behind it.
Arthur looked at Gaius and then back to Simon, knowing that he had to say something, "My name is Merlin and I am the Prince's servant. What I told the king is all true".
Simon wasn't convinced, "Then why did you tell me your name was Arthur?"
Arthur closed his eyes, hoping a suitable explanation to satisfy this man would come. He waited a few more moments before opening his eyes, "I told you my name was Arthur in hopes of throwing off whoever was after the real Arthur. I thought that by telling you I was Arthur it would help the real one get away. If they thought Arthur was hiding out at someone's house, they would stop looking for him in the forest".
Simon was furious after hearing the explanation. "You purposely put my family in danger just so the real Arthur could get away? We took you in and took care of you all the while my family was in danger".
Arthur didn't mean to anger the man but it was the only explanation he could think of, "I would never have let anything happen to your family".
"Oh, you can say that now, but you would not have been in any condition to help us after we found you that day. You would not have been able to stop any threat to my family. You, a mere servant, no matter what shape you were in could not have kept us safe?"
Gaius finally stepped in between the two men, "I am sure your family was in no real danger. Perhaps a little rest and food will help calm the situation. The both of you must be exhausted from your travels".
Simon had to admit he was hungry and the old man did have a point. "Perhaps you are right".
Gaius gave Arthur a small smile as he led Simon to the table. Within a few minutes Gaius had produced a small bowl of soup that had been cooking over the fire.
Arthur used the time to think about his current problem, which was getting back to Merlin and getting his own body back. He was still in his own thoughts when he felt a hand grasp his shoulder.
"I think you should have some food as well, you must be starving".
Arthur turned around and faced Gaius. He saw the concern on his face and knew the king's healer was only looking out for him, or rather Merlin. "I'll eat later Gaius; right now I'm worried about Arthur". He was glad he said the correct name. He didn't have time to explain a name mix-up.
Gaius's hand never left Arthur's shoulder, "perhaps you should lie down, and I won't take no for an answer".
Arthur was tired and a chance to close his eyes while he thought of his next step may be just what the doctor ordered. "Of course Gaius, a little rest would be good".
Gaius helped Arthur to his feet and led him to Merlin's room. He made sure the young man was seated before he spoke, "Now are you sure you would not like something to eat Arthur?"
Arthur was instantly confused and concerned by the last word in the question, "What did you just call me?"
Gaius took a seat next to Arthur, "I called you by your rightful name Arthur. I know who you really are and I am here to help you".
"How could you know that I am not Merlin?"
A grandfatherly calm came over Gaius, "Merlin told me what happened before you went off with the Duke. And before you ask, I will not tell the king of your predicament".
This was easier than he thought it would be, but then again he had to make sure this was not a trap. He knew that the healer was very loyal to his father, but he was also loyal to Merlin so why would he try and trick him. "I don't remember telling you any such thing. Perhaps you heard wrong".
"It wasn't you who told me, it was Merlin who told me. I know that something caused you to switch bodies and it was most definitely magic that did it. I told Merlin that I would do what I could to help but then you were summoned away. Now that the two of you are separated, it makes the matter more difficult to correct".
Arthur wanted this burden of truth to be lifted so he took a chance and confided in the man, who if he wanted, could change his whole world by telling the king of this deception. "Merlin spoke the truth. We woke up the morning we came back to the castle to find that we no longer lived in the bodies we were born to. We were going to try and figure out what happened right after we helped the Duke, but now it has all changed".
"I know you are worried your father will find out, but I can assure you that he will not hear it from me. And if I can help put your mind at ease, he will never find out".
Arthur was suddenly desperate to get back into his own body, "I need you to help me out of the castle. I need to go and find out where they have Merlin so that we can continue our journey".
"You cannot do it alone Sire. You will need my help as well as your fathers. Let me talk to him on your behalf".
Out of desperation, Arthur grabbed Gaius's arm. "This has to be done soon".
"Why is that Sire?"
"I don't know, but I feel like I am losing myself. I feel like if we don't hurry it will be too late to switch back".
"How would you know that? We don't really know much of anything at this point".
"I don't know how to explain it, but ever since the switch I was able to feel when things were happening to my body. At first I thought nothing of it; I just assumed there was something wrong with Merlin's body. But when I felt myself getting hit in the face and saw that my real body was being hit at the exact same time, it made me realize that I was still connected to my old self. But now, that feeling is not as strong. What could that mean Gaius?"
The king's healer was concerned by what he was hearing. If the sensations Arthur had been feeling were not as strong as they once were, the reason could be several things, but there was only one outcome, and it was this fact that bothered Gaius the most. If they did not find Merlin and discover the way to reverse the magic, the switch may become permanent. After Merlin had told him what had happened he started looking through all of his books. He came across a few body switching spells, but the ones he found were only temporary and required no further spells to reverse its affects. He didn't want to scare the prince, nor did he want to lie to him, but time was not something they had a lot of. "I don't want you to worry about it right now Arthur. We will find Merlin and will figure out how to make the switch. But right now I want you to lie down and get some rest. I will go and speak to your father".
Arthur lay down in Merlin's bed. His constant thoughts about everything that had occurred and were still occurring made it difficult for him to get comfortable. The fact that this was Merlin's bed also didn't help the situation.
"No Gaius, he cannot come along. He was of no help to my son before and he would be of no help to him now".
Gaius had spent the last 30 minutes trying to get the king to agree to taking Merlin and himself along on the rescue party for Arthur. If the two young men were really running out of time to reverse their predicament, then the only rational thing was to get the king to agree to take his son's servant along. If only the king knew that his son was actually safe and well in his own kingdom, then he may not have been so stubborn in his decision. "Sire, he is the only one who really knows where the Prince might be. It would be foolish to leave him behind".
Uther stood up rather abruptly, "I have made my decision and Merlin is to stay here with you. I am taking the other man that came back with him to show us where we might find the Duke. He knows the area better than Merlin".
There was no changing the King's mind at this point. He decided to let Uther cool down while he went back to prepare for the trip. Regardless of what decision the King had made, both he and Arthur would be going along. It was the only way to ensure that they didn't run out of time.
By the time Gaius got back, Arthur had already been told of the plan. Several of the king's guard's had taken Simon from the room while he was made to wait behind.
"Gaius, I thought you were going to talk to my father. We need to go along".
"Yes I know Sire, and we will be going. The king just doesn't know about it yet".
Arthur didn't know what the healer had in mind, but he knew he could be very persuasive when he wanted to be. "Then what are we waiting for. I overheard one of the guards talking about leaving soon. We don't have much time".
"We must be patient Sire. We will wait until they leave and then follow them".
If this was the best that Gaius could come up with then he knew he was in trouble.
Arthur nervously paced back and forth while Gaius gathered up their provisions for the trip. As soon as they knew the king and his men had left they quickly and quietly made their way out of the kingdom. It had taken Gaius a little time to convince the guards to let Arthur leave the room, but he had told them the king wanted him to prepare the princes room for their return. The guards seemed more than happy to not have to stand and wait outside the room.
Before long they were following behind the king and his men on their way to find their missing prince. If they only knew he was right behind them the whole time.
Luckily Arthur was well trained in tracking. They traveled for the next few hours with just enough distance to keep them from being exposed. He also knew how these men worked as he was the one who trained many of them. But not all the men were his. He knew that his father had some of his most loyal and trusted men with him, men who had been the ones to train him when he had come of age. He knew he had to be careful as all the men would be on extra alert to their surroundings.
The sky grew darker with every step. It was not long into the night before they realized that the party ahead of them had stopped. He knew his father would not want to travel by moonlight. He knew they would have until dawn to rest before his father would set out again.
They had packed lightly, but Gaius had managed to bring enough food to satisfy them both. They sat in the dark listening to the sounds of the night as they ate their cold food. A fire would have been nice but the chances that it would have drawn attention to the fact that they were here was too great a risk.
"Gaius, do you have any idea how to fix this. Do you have a plan once we reach Merlin?"
Gaius knew this question was going to come about sooner or later, "I am not sure Sire. I need more time to think about this, but to answer your questions, the answers would be no".
Arthur had been afraid that this would be his answer. If magic was the cause of this, then it would stand to reason that magic was the only thing that could reverse it. But thanks to his father's eradication of all things magic, there was no left in Camelot who could help.