A/N (PLEASE READ): This chapter is long! The scary thing is that it could have been longer, as there were a few more scenes I could have done. But anyway, this is the last chapter.
There is a much longer author's note at the end, as I have a lot I'd like to say :)
Title: Healing Spells
Rating: T for violence and bloodshed.
Characters/pairings: Only friendship here :) Lots of Merlin and Arthur, and quite a bit of Gaius.
Spoilers: Um...lets just say everything up through 2x07, just to be safe.
Warnings: Self-harm (though just mentions of it from now on), violence, and blood.
Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just a poor college graduate, though thankfully I am not a starving one :)
Well, here we go. I give you the final chapter :)
The forest was almost eerily silent as the warlock followed Linneth, the fading twilight the only thing lighting their path. The two of them had set out immediately, not wanting to waste any time, especially since the sorceress had claimed it would take a few hours to get there. They had been walking for quite a long time already, and soon the sun would vanish completely, casting them into darkness. However, it didn't seem like she even needed the light to navigate her way through the forest. There was no path, no road, nothing to indicate where they were or where they were going, but she simply seemed to know what turns to make and how far each stretch went.
Needless to say, if she weren't guiding him, he would never be able to find his way. She could have told him where the source was time and time again, and he never would have been able to find it, not if it was truly this deep into the forest. He was still getting accustomed to navigating the ones outside of Camelot, and he had travelled those plenty of times with Arthur. He knew of all the good places for picking herbs, of course, but aside from that he was still learning. He was pretty sure that if he travelled deep enough into any forest that he would likely end up lost eventually.
Thank goodness his magic would always be there to help him. He couldn't help but wonder if that was how Linneth was finding her way, although he got the feeling it was more likely due to the fact that she knew the area. Greenswood wasn't her home, simply a temporary one, but her village was less than an hour away, and therefore this was the same forest she traversed to collect herbs. She knew it well, could probably navigate through it in the dead of night. He just hoped that they wouldn't run into anything too dangerous. Magic or not, it wasn't safe to travel at night.
When the sun finally did sink below the horizon, Merlin made sure to stay close to Linneth, keeping her in sight at all times. The forest was getting thicker, making it even harder to see, so he really needed to be careful and remain alert.
"It's not far now," she said softly as if detecting his unease. "We should reach the clearing soon."
He just nodded even though he knew she couldn't see the action. She didn't glance back or anything, just kept walking, brushing her hands occasionally over the trunks of the trees they were passing. She did so almost reverently and not so much to keep balance or help her move around obstacles (which was the only reason for him to do it). It was a little confusing, because each touch was light, an almost fond caress, but then again, Linneth was a relatively confusing person at times, so it really wasn't anything worth pondering. He surely had plenty of odd mannerisms as well.
The two of them kept ambling through the forest which was growing more silent and still the further they went. Other than their own footsteps and the occasional rustling of leaves, there was nothing. It was as if everything was avoiding this particular area of the forest, as if nothing wanted to tread this far in or was avoiding it for some reason. That thought only served to make him feel even more uneasy, because something was here that even the animals didn't want to approach. A silent and still forest often warned of danger, and it suddenly dawned on him that Linneth had never actually told any of them what the vessel was.
Of course, it couldn't possibly be something dangerous. There was no way she would be leading him to the vessel like this if it were a beast of some kind. She seemed perfectly relaxed in her stride, and so clearly it wasn't something that could actually do them harm. It likely wasn't a person either since what they were looking for was clearly fixed to the forest, otherwise she wouldn't be able to take him to it.
So then what was the vessel? Just what was she leading him towards?
The deeper they went, the more nervous he found himself getting, but this fear was something different. It had nothing to do with thoughts of getting lost or worries about the vessel. Instead he was nervous about what he would have to do to destroy it. He was aware that his magic was strong, that it was different, like an extension of his body instead of simply a weapon. It was a living part of him, as essential as breathing, and perhaps that was why he was considered powerful, because he didn't simply have magic; he was magic. It was just as much a part of him and just as vital as the blood flowing through his veins.
He could only hope that that would allow it to be enough to destroy the vessel and end this. A lot of his magic was still healing him, keeping his wounds closed and free of infection. What was left needed to be enough, but if it wasn't, he would do what was necessary. The illness had to end, because if it didn't, Arthur would die, and that wasn't an option.
That would never be an option.
"Merlin, I know you're worried about Arthur, but please be reasonable. You're still healing."
"There isn't time for that, Gaius. I have to do this."
"And what if it's not enough? You could get yourself killed, Merlin. Please… think this through."
"I have. I'm sorry, Gaius, but this is a risk I have to take. I can't let Arthur die."
He kept walking in quiet contemplation, following the sorceress in front of him without even having to think about it. His mind was elsewhere as the words of his last conversation with Gaius filtered in. His mentor had been worried, both for him and for Arthur. It couldn't have been easy, knowing that he could lose one or both of them and that the odds of everyone surviving this weren't all that great.
They were the last words exchanged between the two of them, and the thought that they may truly be the last made him feel sick.
"…Then at least wait until morning before you go."
"Will he last that long?"
"Gaius, can you guarantee that he'll last long enough?"
"Then I'm going."
"…Be careful, Merlin."
Merlin stopped just before he would have bumped into Linneth. She had finally stopped walking, standing at the opening of what appeared to be a large clearing. He couldn't see much of it due to the fact that she was blocking a good portion of his view, but what he could see baffled him.
The clearing was lit. There was no light in the sky aside from the moon, and yet the whole clearing seemed to glow with a soft light. It didn't waver like the light from a torch or a campfire, nor did it flicker like the lights of fireflies. It was constant and gentle but bright enough to illuminate the clearing.
It was magic, plain and simple.
Linneth finally began to walk into the clearing, and Merlin stayed close, looking for the source of the light. It didn't take long to find it, and when his eyes fell upon the reason that the clearing was so well lit, he froze in place, staring up in awe.
In the center of the clearing was possibly the largest tree he had ever seen.
The trunk was wide enough for three people to stand around it with their arms spread and still be unable to grasp each other's hands. It was a bit stocky despite its size as he could easily grab hold of the lower branches and quite easily climb the thing if he wanted, although there was a lot about the tree that made him hesitant to even approach it. Clearly it was ancient, its branches tall and long with moss growing everywhere, coating the light-colored wood in a gentle layer of green. It looked old and majestic, standing tall and proud at the center of the clearing. There was also something very magical about it, something beyond just the light that it was giving off.
It was hard to tell if the magic was good or not. There seemed to be layers and layers of it. He could feel his own magic thrumming beneath his skin, reacting to it, almost as if it were reaching out. Perhaps some of the magic of the tree was linked to the old magic, the very thing that made him so different to other practitioners. Both Gaius and the dragon had said it before. He wasn't just a sorcerer. He was a creature of magic. The old magic, the very magic of the earth, was a part of him, and he could feel it resonating in the clearing. The very essence of the massive tree before him was rooted in the magic of the Old Religion, something entirely natural and untainted, the magic of the earth itself.
He kept his eyes on the tree as Linneth walked right up to it, laying her hand gently against the trunk, stroking the bark as it glowed with that soft white light. She turned to look at him, and he finally began to move forward, never taking his eyes off the massive tree.
"This is a yew," she said, gaining his attention. "It's the largest and oldest tree in this forest, and I'm sure you've already noticed, but it also happens to be covered in magic."
He said nothing, only watched as she continued to run her hand along the bark, the light never fading or faltering. There was a very soft smile on her face, something fond yet sad, remorseful and reminiscent.
"I really love this place," she told him as she walked around the yew, her hand never leaving it. "I used to come here all the time. There's just something very soothing about this tree and the magic in it. It's extremely old, far older than the rest of the forest, and the light it gives off is all its own. The very magic that gives it life allows it to glow like this.
"Yews are very sacred and very magical, and some of them have a tendency to draw magic to them, like this one. Every spell ever cast on it has become a part of it."
She stopped walking, her smile vanishing completely, replaced with a look of regret and something very resigned.
"This is the source of my father's spell. This is the vessel."
From the very moment he had entered the clearing, Merlin had had a feeling that that was the case, that the majestic manifestation of nature and magic was what harbored a spell that was dangerous and malicious.
He couldn't help but feel sorry for it, that something so pure in essence had been tainted by hatred.
And now he was going to have to destroy it. He was going to have to kill something that had been around for ages, that had never done any harm to anyone. Despite how little he knew about herbs and trees, he did know a little about yews. They were indeed considered to be sacred, a tree that symbolized both life and death, something that involved both healing and protecting.
The closer he came to it, the more of its magic he could feel. The light it was giving off wasn't just to illuminate the clearing. It was something powerful but still very soft and almost kind. It was a shield of sorts, something that existed to both protect the tree and anything around it. He could feel it extending towards him, and he stopped just a few feet away, letting the feeling wash over him. If he concentrated, he could feel the natural magic in the tree as well as the spells that had been used on it.
Curious, he reached out a hand and placed it gently on the trunk, and it was almost as if the yew had a pulse. He could feel the magic thrumming through it, protecting it, keeping it safe and healthy, but he could also feel the foreign magic that had been forced into it. The illness was there, right at its center, like a slow spreading poison that the tree couldn't fight off, couldn't remove without help.
He briefly wondered if the magic in it understood what was going on, what it was being forced to do. He wondered if it hurt, being a vessel for such a spell.
The warlock pulled his hand away and turned to Linneth, drawing her attention.
"When you first tried to stop the illness," he began, "what exactly did you do?"
"…I tried to remove the spell," she said sadly. "I didn't want to hurt the tree if I could help it, and so I tried to break the spell apart, but my magic wasn't enough to erase it. Even if I had tried to attack the yew itself, I still couldn't have stopped it. This tree is protected. I probably wouldn't have been able to even scratch it."
"You know a lot about this tree, right?"
"Would it be easier to destroy the spell or the tree?"
"I…I don't know. I suppose it would depend. If you're used to breaking past shields, then the tree, probably, but whatever spell you use, you'd have to be careful. Yews are very poisonous, and there is no cure outside of magic, and even then it's very difficult to make. You wouldn't be able to burn it, as even the ash and dust would be enough to poison us. Besides, it's considered bad luck to burn a yew."
"It's not like my luck can really get any worse," he mumbled, but at the same time he had no desire to test whether or not it could, so fire was out of the question. In fact, most spells were out the question, as destroying the tree would likely result in some form of air-born residue. All it would take is one breath and he'd be dying again. That didn't really leave him with many options.
It looked like destroying the spell was the only choice he had. Linneth's father had really chosen to make this difficult. He picked a tree that was already infused with magic, making it harder to get to the spell, plus the tree itself was poisonous and thus dangerous to destroy.
Nothing could ever just be easy for them, could it?
"I suppose I'll have to remove the spell then," he said, turning his attention back to the tree.
"Can you?" asked Linneth. "Have you ever tried something like that before?"
"No, but I'm sure I can figure it out." Not knowing what I'm doing has never stopped me before.
He took a few steps closer and once again placed his hand upon the tree. The magic within it almost seemed to resonate with him. Just like before, he could feel the difference between the natural magic, something that simply existed, and the spells that had been cast, the ones related to the illness. He wondered if it was perhaps easier for him to make the distinction than others since the Old Religion was a part of him just like it was a part of the yew, something entirely natural and untainted.
He was almost certain that he'd be able to do this if he could just figure out what kind of spell to use.
Then again, maybe he didn't really need a spell. There had been plenty of times where his magic had simply done what he wanted, relying only on his will for direction. His magic was instinctive and an extension of himself. Perhaps that would be enough. Maybe the words weren't needed.
It was worth a try.
Merlin took a deep breath and grounded himself before he began to reach out with his magic, just like he did whenever he tried to stop something from falling or slowed down time. It was something that would always be comfortable and familiar for him, the gentle pull and the rush of power, a type of burn that didn't hurt but that he could feel, his eyes bright with it, making them flare with golden light. He pushed his magic into the tree, and it didn't reject him. It simply allowed him to keep reaching, heading for the foreign magic at its center.
The further he went, the more it seemed to take from him and the more the tree's own magic resonated with his. That soft white light began to spread, moving up his arm and over his body, but it didn't hurt nor was he afraid of it. The light was welcoming, embracing, as if it understood his intent and was offering what little encouragement it could. It was cool and relaxing, gentle, safe, comforting, almost like the flow of water as it moved over him.
It was more than enough to spur him onwards, to help him reach further, and before long he could feel the touch of malice that was the illness, something that burned with so much anger and pain that he almost pulled his hand away as if it were an actual fire. It needed to be removed. He had to find a way to break it apart, no matter what. If he could wrap his magic around it, push into it, then perhaps that would be enough to smother it. It was the only thing he could think of and probably the safest thing to try. Pulling it out was likely beyond him, especially since he'd probably end up pulling it into himself, and that wouldn't do anyone any good.
If he could help it, he would greatly prefer not to die. Arthur was already going to kill him for doing this, so it was a good idea to make sure there was still something of him left to kill. He would never be forgiven if there wasn't.
Taking another deep breath, he closed his eyes and began to focus. He reached out and grabbed at the spell, letting his magic wash over it, surround it, before he began trying to crush it. He willed his magic to move into it, to break it down into pieces, but nothing was happening, and he realized that it wasn't enough. He pushed more in, gave as much as he could, but it made little difference. It still burned like fire, the feeling only having died down a little but not nearly enough for it to be destroyed.
It was no wonder Linneth hadn't been able to do anything other than make it worse. He had probably only gotten this far because his magic was similar to the magic in the yew. It was letting him in, trying to help, but it wasn't enough. He was going to have to use more.
He pushed harder still, focusing his magic, and it didn't take long before there was a familiar pull (something he really wished wasn't familiar). He tried not to let it distract him, tried to ignore the stinging pain that shot through his hand, because he couldn't let himself lose control of his magic. However, he could feel the magic leaving, and so he whispered the words that would end the spells, because this would be easier than trying to redirect the magic. He felt the wound open, and although it was nowhere near as bad as last time, it still hurt.
Unfortunately, it didn't make a huge difference. The flame clutched tightly in his magic was still burning bright, still every bit as malevolent as before, so he did the only thing he could. He ended the spells that were healing his shoulder as well.
The pain got worse, but it still wasn't as bad as before, was nowhere near as bad as having the magic forcibly ripped out. It still hurt though, and it took a lot not to pull his hand away, not to stop what he was doing. If he did, it would all be over. He wasn't going to get another chance like this.
He kept his eyes tightly closed, knowing that both wounds were bleeding. They weren't serious or life-threatening, and so he didn't need to worry about them for now. Instead he pushed further, and this time he did manage to break through. He could feel the spell, feel it shrinking, the flame dying, but it was still as hot as ever, still strong despite his progress.
The harder he tried, the more it burned. His hand and shoulder felt like they were on fire, and the pain was more than a little distracting. Soon it would likely be bordering on excruciating, and he wasn't sure if he'd be able to stay focused if that happened. He had to keep trying though. He had to end this.
With his eyes closed, he was unable to see what was happening around him, but he heard the footsteps approaching him as well as the moment they stopped. He also felt the gentle touch against the back of his hand that was accompanied by a string of very familiar words.
His eyes shot open and he turned his head to see Linneth standing next to him, her arm outstretched towards his, her fingers pressing against the open wound. He could feel the pain receding as the bleeding stopped and the skin began to mend itself, closing up to nothing more than a very thin scabbed line.
She was healing him.
She was also doing a much better job of it than he had.
"It's not much," she began, "but at the very least, I can make sure your wounds stay closed. I've caused all of you so many problems, and it's time I made up for it. I can't fix my mistakes, but I can make sure that you don't die because of them."
She gave him a small smile and moved her hand over the arrow wound, the words flowing effortlessly once more as the bleeding stopped and the flesh sealed shut.
"Thank you." He smiled in return before giving his full attention back to the tree. He closed his eyes once more, and with no more distractions, he shoved his magic in further. The illness was dying, becoming smaller and smaller as he continued to break off pieces of it, whittling it down, but the spell was resilient and refused to be snuffed out entirely. In some ways he couldn't help but marvel at the ingenuity of it all. That man had gone to extreme lengths to make sure his spell wouldn't end, that it would outlive him no matter what. He had buried it in the yew, pushed it into the very center of the tree's own magic, hiding it away from anyone who wasn't looking for it. The source of the illness was protected not only by a tree that couldn't be easily destroyed due to its own natural poison but by magic that had the purpose of protection.
He had really thought his plan through well, taking everything into account aside from two things: the possibility of his demise and the feelings of his daughter.
In the end, his actions were his own downfall. The illness would end, here and now, because of such a simple oversight.
It was almost over. He knew what had to be done to finish this, and he only hoped that the pain wouldn't be bad enough to immediately render him unconscious.
With one last deep, calming breath, he whispered the few words needed and then felt the rush of magic as it seeped out and was then forced into the yew. He felt the wound on his stomach tear open, bleeding freely once more, and this one hurt just as badly as before. It was almost too much, and he was starting to get tired, but he gave one last mental push and felt the spell finally give way. He could almost picture it shattering, each tiny shard of the flame being snuffed out as if dowsed with water. The magic in the yew was practically singing with relief, no longer tainted, no longer being forced to cause harm.
The illness was gone.
He had really stopped it.
As what little of his magic remained rushed back to him, he suddenly found himself exhausted, dizzy with both pain and undeniable relief. He didn't even fight the pull of the earth nor the darkness that suddenly encompassed him. He could still feel the magic flowing over him, cool and comforting like flowing water, and it was enough to leave him feeling safe and satisfied.
The illness was gone.
Arthur was safe.
With his head in his hands, his eyes open but not truly seeing, Gaius sat silently at Arthur's bedside. He was watching over the prince, checking every once in a while to make sure he wasn't getting worse, but otherwise his mind was elsewhere. He was praying for the safety of his ward, hoping that whatever had to be done wouldn't come with too high a cost.
Yes, he wanted the illness to end. He wanted Arthur to live, knew that he had to for so many reasons. He just didn't want to lose Merlin because of it, and he knew that the prince would agree, that Arthur would be furious at them all for allowing it to happen. He was likely going to be furious anyway, because two of the things the prince really couldn't stand were people trying to die for him and someone breaking their word.
Merlin and Linneth had just done both.
Gaius only hoped the two of them would actually be able to face their prince's wrath, because if both of them returned, they would certainly deserve it. He wouldn't even try to defend them.
There weren't words to express how greatly he wished for such a scenario.
It was starting to really get late, the night having set in hours ago. He had no idea where they were heading other than towards the center of the forest. The vessel was supposed to be at the heart of it, but Linneth had divulged nothing more than that. He wouldn't be able to follow them even if he wanted to. There was nothing he could do besides wait for their return or for some sign that they were successful. He had no idea what would happen when the source was destroyed, whether it would be obvious or not or whether the effect would be immediate. He hoped it was. He couldn't stand the uncertainty of it all.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, praying for something to change, watching as Arthur took shallow and very forced breaths, each one sounding worse than the last. The last time he had seen the prince look so close to death had been when he was bitten by the Questing Beast. For some reason, this was so much worse. Arthur was flushed instead of pale, unable to feel anything aside from heat and fire, his body incapable of registering anything else. He was completely still aside from each breath, and even then the movements were small, barely there.
He wouldn't last the night. He likely had only a few hours left.
He wasn't sure what he was pleading for exactly. He just wanted this all to end, wanted to return to Camelot with both Arthur and Merlin as well as all four of the knights, two of which were still fighting for their lives.
He just wanted it to end.
The physician was so caught up in his thoughts that he almost didn't notice the slight change. Something in the air shifted, sending a slight shiver down his spine. It was a strange sensation, not at all uncomfortable, followed by a sharp intake of breath. His attention snapped to Arthur, and he watched in complete silence and awe as the prince took another sharp breath, deeper and more at ease than any of the ones before. For the briefest moment, his whole body gave off a soft white light, and when it faded, so too did the flush from the fever, his skin no longer tinted red.
Not sure if he was actually seeing what he thought he was, Gaius quickly stood up and placed a hand on the prince's forehead, and sure enough it was cool to the touch, back to a normal temperature. The fever was gone and his breathing was no longer labored or shallow.
Arthur was perfectly fine.
The illness was gone.
He almost couldn't quite believe it, almost wanted to check everything again to be absolutely sure, but he knew there was no need, that this really was the end of it. The relief flooded him, forcing him back into the chair before his legs gave out from the sheer force of it. It was over. This whole mess was over. For the first time in months, he felt true relief, the worry abating. All those people at the infirmary would live. No one else would have to die. There would be no more struggling against something they couldn't fight, no more waiting in fear for the next person to fall ill or watching people suffer while knowing there was nothing any of them could do about it.
All of them were finally safe once again, free from both the illness and the fear.
There weren't words for the strength of that realization or the pure joy that came with it, but there was still one thing left on his mind, one more thing that needed to be resolved before he could truly rest easy and experience the fullness of his relief.
He had to know what fate had befallen Merlin.
A low groan came from the bed followed by a good deal of rustling, drawing the physician's attention back to the prince. He watched as two blue eyes opened and Arthur forced himself into a sitting position, one hand coming up to rub at the side of his head. He looked quite tired and probably had a bit of a headache, but otherwise the prince was perfectly fine. He was glancing around rather groggily, eyes still just partially opened. Eventually he turned to the physician, a confused frown crossing his face.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice low and a bit hoarse, which was understandable given the state he'd been in only moments before.
"You were ill, sire," said Gaius. When the prince simply looked at him, seeming even more confused than before, he heaved a sigh and decided he may as well get this over with. "You collapsed earlier, quite a few hours ago. You had a high fever, and nothing I tried could rouse you."
"I remember that everything felt too hot, but I can't recall anything after that."
"I'm afraid the illness hit you harder than I expected. You likely would not have survived the night."
Arthur didn't say anything to that, but he was starting to wake up a bit more, no longer rubbing his head or squinting. His eyes were a bit wide and almost thoughtful as he took in exactly what he'd been told, and when a frown spread across his face, the physician was pretty sure he knew what was coming.
"So, wait…I was dying? But if I was that ill, then how…?"
Gaius knew that both he and Merlin had often thought of Arthur as being somewhat oblivious and unobservant, but the prince was rather good at putting things together and had gotten a lot better at it as of late. He was a leader and a strategist and therefore was fairly good at analyzing situations and drawing conclusions, and now that he was aware of Merlin's magic, most of those conclusions ended up being right.
He watched as Arthur's thoughts raced, those blue eyes widening as the reality of his situation dawned on him. He quickly glanced around the room before turning back to Gaius, barely hiding the worry he obviously had to be feeling.
"Where's Merlin?" he demanded.
He had known this would be coming. That didn't make it any easier.
"Gaius, where is he?"
Gaius could hear it in his voice, could tell that Arthur already knew the answer but wanted to believe otherwise. It was the idea that as long as it wasn't said, it wouldn't be true. As long as no one said the words, they could keep believing that everything was fine. It was a pointless concept and entirely unfounded, but that didn't stop people from doing it, wishing it were true. He knew he couldn't put this off any longer.
"I believe you already know the answer," the physician said with a heavy-hearted sigh. "When I told him that you didn't have much time left, he asked Linneth to take him to the source of the illness."
It went without saying that she had agreed, and he watched the emotions shifting across Arthur's face until they settled into a mix of fear and anger, the kind that stemmed from worry.
"No," he said, shaking his head a bit, his voice rising with each word. "No, I told her not to. She promised me she wouldn't! She wasn't supposed to take him until he finished healing!"
"Arthur, you would have died before then…"
"No! She promised! Damn it, that idiot! He's not supposed to die for me!"
The prince got out of bed, swaying only briefly before raising himself to his full height, turning the full force of his glare onto the physician.
"Where are they?" he demanded, his voice low and seething, his fists clenched at his sides. His whole demeanor clearly stated that not answering wasn't an option.
"Sire, please, you can't go running after them. It's too dark out, and you've only just recovered."
"I don't care. Tell me right now, Gaius. Where are they?"
"…They went into the forest. The source was at the heart of it."
Before he could say anything more, Arthur took off. He tried to call him back, but the sound of the front door being thrown open was the only reply he got. He just sighed and sunk further down into his chair, placing his head in his hands. As foolish as it was to run off into the woods in the middle of the night…he couldn't help wishing that he could follow, and he prayed against all odds that Arthur would find them.
Arthur ran as fast as he could through the village, heading right for the forest. He had only one thing on his mind: finding Merlin so he could yell at him for being such an insufferable, reckless idiot! How dare they? How dare they run off like that after both of them had agreed to wait? The warlock was still healing. He hadn't recovered yet. He hadn't recovered.
Merlin was indeed a powerful warlock, capable of doing things that other sorcerers could only dream of. He could throw people across clearings without a word, disarm an opponent simply by looking at them. He was capable of so much, probably even more than he realized, but he was still only human, made of flesh and blood just like anyone else.
He was still very capable of dying.
When the prince reached the edge of the forest, he came to a stop, because despite his desperation and the need to find his missing friend, he wasn't a fool. He knew that running off into an unfamiliar forest in the middle of the night was a bad idea and that he could easily get lost. He had no idea what direction the two of them had gone off in, and no matter how good his tracking skills were, it was too dark to see much of anything.
Frustrated, he ran a hand through his hair and looked around, trying to find something, anything, that could give him a hint as to which way the two magic users had gone.
If he hadn't learned early on in his training not to dismiss even the smallest of signs, no matter how insignificant or unlikely they seemed, he probably would have missed it. He swept his eyes over the area once more to make certain he hadn't been seeing things, but it was still there. Upon the trunk of one of the trees was a small pinprick of light, something hidden enough to be glanced over but bright enough not to be missed if one were looking for it.
Without hesitation, he ran towards the tree to get a closer look, and sure enough there really was a light attached to it. Curious, he brushed a hand over it, and the light flared brighter…and he soon found that it wasn't the only one. From the corner of his eye, he saw more lights, each one the same size, scattered on the trees further in.
A while back, he would have hesitated. He would have stood there and examined it, trying to figure out what the light was for, what it was, and how it was happening. He may even have left and found someone else to take a look to make sure they really were there and to get someone else's opinion.
Now though, he simply ran.
Those lights were magic. They had been created by someone, marking a path deep into the forest, and he followed it without hesitation. Each one had been deliberately placed, and he knew who was responsible for it. This had to be the work of Linneth, because he was certain that Merlin would have never thought to do something like this. She had somehow marked almost every tree she had passed, each tiny light shining brightly in the dark forest.
He wasn't sure how long he spent running, slowing down only when necessary in order to maneuver down narrow paths and avoid obstacles. He had likely been going for at least an hour, maybe even two, but he had no intentions of stopping. He wouldn't stop until he found the two of them, and when he did, there would be no escape for them.
He knew for certain that he would find Linneth, but Merlin…
Merlin hadn't finished healing.
Damn you, Merlin.
If you aren't still breathing when I get there, I'll make you regret it!
It wasn't long before he could see a clearing of some sort up ahead, awash with a soft white light. He didn't even bother trying to question it or wonder what it was. Most unexplainable things could easily be summed up as magic, and he was no longer uneasy about it. Most of his uncertainty had vanished in those three days between finding out about Merlin's magic and the boy's return to consciousness.
He was no longer unreasonably suspicious or afraid.
Without slowing down, he ran into the clearing, but he came to a stop at what he saw before him. In the center of the clearing was a large tree covered in a layer of light. It was illuminating the entire clearing, casting it in a glow similar to moonlight.
For a brief moment, all his previous anxiety and anger vanished. He simply stared at it, because he had never seen anything like this before. This was magic at its finest, the way it was meant to be, something majestic and beautiful, completely natural. Magic was neither good nor evil. It simply was. It was something that just existed, a force that could be called on if needed.
Cool and comforting, flowing like water. Even from such a distance, he could practically feel it rolling off the tree. That was magic.
It was just like Merlin's magic.
He lowered his gaze, and it didn't take him long to find what he was looking for. At the base of the tree were two familiar figures, and when he registered what he was seeing, all the fear and anxiety returned full force, urging him forward.
Sitting with her back against the tree was Linneth, and Merlin was lying in front of her on the forest floor, unmoving.
He watched as her head snapped up when he was only a few yards away. He tried to judge her expression, but she only seemed a bit startled. Eventually her lips curved upwards into a small smile.
"Arthur," she greeted when he finally reached them. "I had a feeling you'd probably find us sooner or later."
He spared her a quick glance before he knelt down next to Merlin. The first thing he noticed was the blood. The second was that the warlock was still breathing.
"He's alive," said Linneth, helping to reassure what he was seeing. "He's just exhausted. Destroying the illness took a lot out of him."
"Did the wounds reopen?" He was pretty sure the answer was yes judging by the blood. It wasn't much, but it was still cause for concern.
"Yes, but I was able to close them. Healing is the one thing I'm really good at."
Her expression changed a bit, shifting into something thoughtful if not just the slightest bit confused.
"What is it?" he asked.
"It's just…I closed the one on his hand as well as the arrow wound, but that stab wound…"
Suddenly feeling a bit worried again, he went to take a look at the wound…and found nothing. There was nothing there aside from unmarred flesh, pale but untouched. There wasn't even a scar.
It was simply gone.
"I'm not sure, but I think…" She glanced upwards at the tree behind her, its branches hanging over them as if it were shielding them. "…I think this had something to do with it. Yews are very sacred trees. They deal with protection and healing, and this one is filled with the very essence of magic. It truly was the perfect vessel for my father's spell…"
"This was the vessel?"
"But then…why is it still here?"
"Because Merlin chose to destroy the spell without destroying the tree. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. He was covered in the light from the yew, and when the illness was destroyed, that light filled the entire clearing. I don't think I could even begin to describe it. It was almost as if the whole forest were suddenly alive, filled with magic. It took a while for the light to fade, and by the time it did, Merlin had collapsed. I went to heal the wound…but it was completely gone."
Her eyes softened, a fond smile crossing her face as she leant back into the tree.
"I know that light was responsible for it, as I can think of no other explanation. Perhaps healing Merlin was the yew's way of thanking him."
He wanted to scoff at that. He wanted to find the whole idea of a tree being able to thank someone as being utterly ridiculous, but he just couldn't, because this was magic. Magic had a way of making the impossible possible. At the very heart of magic was something pure and fair, something without a shred of malice or ill intent.
All his life he had been taught that the heart of magic was evil, that it sought only destruction.
Oh how very wrong that was, because the magic inside of the yew and the magic in Merlin were the same.
How could something so pure and untainted and kind ever be evil?
He took one last look at the yew and then Merlin before he gave his attention to Linneth. Now that every last trace of worry had vanished, he found himself feeling rather irritated and indignant instead. His expression slipped into a scowl, and it seemed that the sorceress already had a good idea about why he was angry.
"You led Merlin here," he said, the statement coming out like an accusation, which was perfectly fine, because that's exactly what it was.
"You broke your word."
She raised her head a bit, meeting his stare firmly with her own.
"Because the two of you…your desperation was the same. He wanted to save you, no matter what the cost. He wanted you to live, and I…"
She stopped and looked away, almost as if she were embarrassed, but he was having none of that. He wanted an answer, because he rather hated being lied to. He also didn't like people keeping things from him.
"…I decided that I wanted you to live as well," she said. "You're a good man, Arthur, and someday you'll be a great king. I wasn't about to watch you die. I didn't want to see you die."
…He honestly wasn't sure what to say to that.
Really, how was he supposed to berate her for breaking her word now after something like that?
There was the sound of chuckling coming from somewhere near the ground, soft and tired but undeniably amused.
"Wasn't sure if I'd live to see the day that you were finally rendered speechless."
Both he and Linneth looked down at the warlock lying between them, his eyes open and a smirk on his face.
There were so many things he wanted to say to the idiot he had for a servant, but he found that none of the words would come out and that he couldn't quite keep a smile off his face from seeing the boy alive and just as insolent as ever. There would be time to yell at him later. For now he just wanted to bask in the fact that once again they had both made it out alive, that everything was finally over.
"I think so. Bit tired, but I'll live."
"Good. Think you can stand?"
With their help, the warlock was able to get to his feet, and even though he didn't appear to be too steady, he wasn't likely to fall.
And if he did, they'd be there to catch him.
"Let's head back."
It needed to be said.
Sometimes there weren't words.
This wasn't one of those times.
"…I'm glad you're alright."
Thank you for saving my life.
They were going home.
Finally, they were going home.
The three of them were sitting astride their horses, flanked by Leon and Kay as well as a recovered Gareth and Edric. They were at the edge of Greenswood, most of the villagers standing there to see them off with Linneth as their spokesperson.
Merlin couldn't help but smile as he saw all the people before them, each one smiling, some cheerfully waving to their small party. Everyone who had fallen ill had recovered. He had saved all these people…not that any of them would ever know it.
It was actually kind of funny how nicely everything had wrapped up for a change. They hadn't had to invent some sort of story as to why the illness had disappeared. He, Arthur, and Linneth had wasted all that time talking it over only to find that there hadn't been a need. Sir Leon had come bursting into their residence to see Gaius, telling them that everyone who had fallen ill had recovered thanks to his and Linneth's efforts.
In the end, the potion they had distributed was what received all the credit.
Honestly, it couldn't have gone better even if they had planned it.
"Thank you," said Linneth as she bowed to all of them and rather deeply at that. It was the first proper bow she had given in all the days they'd spent with her. "We'll be forever in your debt."
"Not at all," said Arthur.
The herbalist raised her head, something between a smile and a smirk on her face.
All of them were playing their parts, acting properly, and they all knew it.
"I won't forget this," she said.
"Neither will we."
"Please take care, and I wish you well on your journey back."
"Thank you for all your help, Linneth," said Gaius.
"There's no need. I was happy to help."
"If you ever have need of our assistance again, you only have to ask," said Arthur.
"Thank you, sire."
The prince simply nodded to the villagers before signaling the knights to head out. The four of them departed first, followed by Gaius, allowing the three of them to drop the formalities. They were all a bit beyond that by this point.
"Take care of yourself, Linneth," said Merlin.
"If you ever decide to head towards Camelot, make sure you stop by to see us."
"I will, and the same goes for you. I intend to remain in Greenswood, so you'll know where to find me."
"Linneth, I meant it earlier," said Arthur. "I won't forget this."
"I meant it as well. I feel I've learned a lot…from all of you. I'm sorry for the trouble I've caused you, and I thank you for choosing to trust me in spite of it."
The three of them couldn't help but smile, letting everything wash over them and knowing that this wasn't the end. Someday they would all meet again.
Hopefully it would be under better circumstances.
"Farewell," said Arthur as he turned his horse towards the road.
"Bye, Linneth," called Merlin as he followed after.
Finally they were going home.
"Goodbye," she called back, waving as the two of them headed off into the forest, away from Greenswood and back to Camelot. She kept watching until she could no longer see them.
Goodbye, and thank you…for everything.
"It is good to be home," said Merlin as he shoved open the door and strode into Gaius' chambers, the physician only a few steps behind. The warlock went right up to his room and dropped his pack on the floor before walking back out. He'd sort it out later. Right now all he wanted was something to eat.
"Don't get too comfortable, Merlin," Gaius told him as the warlock sat down at the table. "It's not even midday, and I'm certain that Arthur didn't relieve you of your duties."
No, he hadn't, that royal prat. Instead he had gone with his knights to give a report to his father (something that Gaius would likely be doing later after having rested a bit) but not before informing Merlin that he wanted his lunch brought up in an hour.
Was one day off really so much to ask for, especially after everything they had been through?
"I'll make us something to eat," said Gaius as he pulled out what remained of the food they'd received from Greenswood (some bread, dried meet, and nuts), "but after that, you'll need to get to work."
The warlock sighed and lowered his head to the table. All he wanted was some food followed by some sleep so that he could start putting this whole thing behind him. Of course, he had no intentions of forgetting any of it, but there were certain parts he wanted to leave in the past.
His practicing, for one.
He had learned enough about healing magic for now, and as soon as he made a few more notes, he would put them away and never perform another experiment again. In the future he was going to be a lot more careful, but at least it was all over now. He had definitely learned his lessen, and now he could move on and pretend it hadn't happened.
They would never speak of it again.
He raised his head and turned towards Gaius…and promptly froze.
Gaius was looking at his small knife rack.
His very empty knife rack.
"What happened to my knife?"
Well, so much for that plan.
The warlock sighed. He probably wasn't going to be getting any lunch today…or any rest, for that matter.
And Gaius was looking at him again.
He let his head hit the table with a resounding thud. He was actually marginally disappointed that he hadn't managed to knock himself out.
So much for putting this all behind him. Yes, Gaius knew part of the story already, but only a small part.
Guess I better get this over with.
"It's a funny story, really…"
"Oh is it now?"
Oh, there went the eyebrow.
Heaving another sigh, he prepared himself for what would likely be one of the most awkward and uncomfortable conversations of his life. There was no way he was going to be able to forget this anytime soon.
My life is never going to be fair, is it?
It was truly unfortunate that he already knew the answer.
"I'm waiting, Merlin."
The warlock let his head hit the table once again, wondering for about the hundredth time what he had ever done to deserve this. Clearly someone had cursed him.
With one last sigh, he raised his head and resigned himself to his fate.
"I think you better sit down. This could take a while."
A/N: There you have it :) I hope it was worth the wait and satisfactory. I had known for a long time how I wanted to end this. I had most of it planned out in my head. I really wanted to end sort of the same way I started, with something a little bit humorous and light hearted compared to the majority of the fic, and I hope it worked out.
I really want to say thank you. There really aren't words to say how much I apreciate all of it, all the reviews, the alerts, the favorites, the hits...you guys are wonderful, and thank you so much for reading my fic :) I never expected this kind of reception, and I'm so glad I just sucked it up and posted this. This has been one of the most enjoyable writing experiences ever for me, even though I was extremely worried since I hadn't written anything in over 2 years, and I'm very grateful for all the encouragement and kind words. It all means a great deal to me :)
So, I've been asked a few times what my future plans are. I do intend to write more fics. I have a ton of ideas, and I really don't see my obsession with this series fading anytime soon, so I'll likely start working on something after November is over (I'm failing NaNoWriMo at the moment, so I really need to get working on that).
I have every intention of writing out the reveal as soon as I figure out how I want to go about doing it. It'll likely only be 4 or 5 chapters, depending on how much I feel like showing from Merlin's POV. When it does go up, it'll likely be titled "Umbrage" or something along those lines.
I also would like to write more in this particular 'verse, as there were quite a few things I wanted to do with the healing magic that just didn't fit in to this storyline. I suppose that would qualify as being a sequel, so tell me what you think. Would love to hear your opinions on the idea :)
Also, I wanted to say that to anyone who may be interested, I don't mind handing over the rights to this 'verse. If there was anything anyone wanted to play with, feel free, just ask first. It doesn't bother me, and I would actually be quite honored :) There are a lot of scenes that I could have shown but chose not to for my own reasons, and I don't mind if someone wants to play with them.
I suppose that's it. Again, thank you so much to everyone who gave me a chance :) And since I won't be able to respond this time around, thank you for all the reviews :) You always give me something to look forward to after work.
Thank you, and take care! :)