Sometimes Merlin really did wish Arthur would not drag him along on these hunting trips. On some occasions they would be fun, other times a little bit frightening, but more often than not, they were terribly boring as Merlin watched Arthur and his knights skulk around looking for any signs of the animal they sought.
This particular hunt was prompted by reports from a nearby village of a giant beast terrorizing the villagers and eating their livestock. King Uther immediately ordered a hunting party of a half dozen knights, lead by Arthur. It had been described as a beast twice the size of a normal wolf, with horns and enormous fangs. The king feared the beast may be magical in nature based on the reports, and wanted it taken care of immediately.
So there they were, traveling in the woods on a hot, summer day with no sign of the beast they hunted. The air was damp and buzzing with various insects; Merlin longed to be back at home in his bed. He hadn't been allowed much sleep, as he had been ordered to gather and prepare Arthur's hunting supplies late last night.
Merlin attempted to stifle a yawn as they rode on, but Arthur inevitably noticed. "Don't leave your mouth open like that, you look like a fish."
"Better than looking like you, I suppose," Merlin replied back with a grin and trying not to yawn again.
Arthur lightly slapped his shoulder in mock offense. "What on earth are you talking about? You only wish you could look like me."
Merlin laughed and shook his head.
Arthur simply smiled in return before looking serious once more. "So what do you think, Merlin? We've been at this for hours and there's not even a hint of a animal large enough to attack livestock."
"Maybe it left the area," Merlin suggested.
"Maybe." Arthur sighed, seeming to have come to a decision. "This hunt is useless" Arthur said loudly for the benefit of the knights behind him. "There's nothing here. Let's have a break and then head back to Camelot."
The knights nodded and murmured their agreement. Merlin was thankful to finally be off his horse. Almost a full day of riding left him a bit a sore.
He took the opportunity to relieve himself before digging through their supplies for some food to snack on. He pulled out some fresh apples along with aged cheese and bread baked fresh this morning.
Arthur was sitting on a nearby log, he took a sip of water before pouring some on his face to cool off. He wasn't wearing his heavy mail and armor today, regardless, the heat was still a bit overwhelming. Merlin, himself, only wore his red tunic, his favorite scarf and jacket being a little too warm for today.
Arthur's face was dripping wet when Merlin made his way over and sat down next to him. Merlin place a portion of bread, cheese, and fruit on a napkin next to Arthur before digging into his own share.
"No meat?" Arthur asked as he took a bite out of his bread.
"I didn't think we'd be gone so long," Merlin said once he finished chewing his bit of apple, juice dripping from his chin.
"No matter, if we hurry, we may make it back before nightfall."
"Do you think your father will be upset that we have not found the creature?"
Arthur shrugged and took another bite from his food. Sir Geoffrey sat down next to them, sipping his own water. "I don't know about you, Sire, but I wonder if this beast actually exists."
"The farmer was convincing enough," Arthur replied. "And we can't ignore the people if they need our help."
"True, though I was hoping for a little more excitement, a challenging ki-" Geoffrey did not have a chance to finish his words as an arrow shaft was now protruding from his throat and blood flowed freely from his nose and mouth.
"Ambush!" Arthur cried as he immediately jumped to his feet, reaching for his sword while the other knights did the same. Sir Edmund was the next to fall with an arrow in his chest.
Arrows whizzed by from all directions. Merlin tried to locate any of the archers, his mind racing as he attempted to think of a spell that would help them. He managed to stop an arrow from landing in Sir Hubert's back with a flash of his golden eyes, only to have another one slam into the knight's lung from the front. Merlin just couldn't find an opening, they were all well hidden in the forest, and they kept shooting a heavy barrage of arrows from all directions. The best Merlin could do was take cover by his horse and watch as each knight fell with their swords in their hands.
Merlin looked for Arthur, fearful he may have already been shot. He saw him on the other side of the camp, he was looking around frantically, trying to find an enemy to engage. However, the arrows were simply too much. He was forced to take cover behind a large oak before the barrage of arrows finally ceased.
"You are surrounded, my prince." A voice said from the trees beyond. "Surrender now!"
"Show yourself, you coward!" Arthur shook his sword in challenge. "Face me like a man!"
"I assure you, Prince Arthur, we have no intention to fight you."
"Then why did you slaughter my men?" Arthur demanded, his face tinged red with rage and frustration. Merlin knew Arthur hated to lose his men in battle and this disaster must be weighing heavily on his heart.
A large figure emerged from the trees, a smile on his face. He was a middle aged man, with a grizzled salt and pepper beard. He seemed rather muscular, though he wore plane clothing and no armor. He did have a sword by his side and a crossbow in his hands. "It was necessary."
Arthur emerged from behind the tree and pointed his sword directly at the man. "I will kill you for what you did!"
The man smiled and two arrows shot from the trees in response, one at Arthur's feet, and one at Merlin's. Merlin gasped in surprise and stepped back half a step.
"I would watch my mouth if I were you," the man said, "I could have you and your servant killed before you took two steps forward."
"And why don't you kill us?" Arthur spat back.
The man ignored Arthur and instead looked pointedly at Merlin. "Surrender now, or I'll kill your servant first."
Arthur hesitated a moment, glancing at Merlin before letting his sword drop to the ground. As soon as Arthur was defenseless, a group of men came from the trees and advanced on both of them.
Merlin backed away slowly as the men approached, but they were on him in seconds. They forced his arms behind his back, causing the warlock to yelp in pain. Merlin felt leather straps bite into his skin as they bound him securely. Merlin looked over at Arthur to see he was getting the same rough treatment.
I can't let this happen, Merlin thought desperately. He was supposed to protect Arthur, it was his destiny! He couldn't help the feeling that if he let Arthur get taken that they both would not make it out of this alive. With his hands tied behind his back, he tried to think of something. This might be the moment he would have to reveal himself to Arthur, but what choice did he have?
"Bring the servant here," the bearded man said, and Merlin's mind came to halt.
The men surrounding him grabbed him by the arms and dragged him forth as Arthur struggled with the men holding him down. "Leave him alone! I did what you asked!"
"Don't worry," The man replied, "Your manservant will not be killed."
Arthur continued to struggle as Merlin was forced to kneel down before the bearded man. Merlin felt his body shaking as he waited for the man to do something, anything.
A moment later he saw a figure coming from woods beyond. As it came closer, Merlin saw that it was a girl. She had long brown hair and wore a ragged brown dress. She was much younger than the men she accompanied, probably close in age to Merlin and Arthur.
It took a few seconds before Merlin realized she was carrying a metal ring. Slowly she approached until she was standing next to the bearded man. Silently she took the ring in her hand and opened. Merlin had no idea what the ring was for until she gently placed it around his neck.
"Eac þes sigle ic ásælan þé" she whispered, her bright blue eyes flashing gold as she spoke the words of magic.
Pain shot through his body as the magic settled in, ripping an anguished scream from his throat.
"Merlin!" Arthur cried. "What are you doing to him?"
Merlin barely heard his prince as his senses were overwhelmed. Everything seemed to go white, and his skin felt like it was on fire. When the pain finally subsided, something felt wrong. Something felt horribly wrong.
"What did you do to me?" Merlin gasped, his throat felt raw from the scream.
The man smiled and knelt down beside Merlin. He moved closer to the servant and whispered into his ear. "It takes extra measures to bind a sorcerer."
Merlin's eyes widened as he finally understood. They knew. They knew he had magic, and what was worse, they had just taken it away.
They travelled well into the night, though Merlin was barely aware. Their mysterious captives had proceeded to gag and blindfold Merlin and Arthur before hoisting them onto a couple of horses. Merlin felt a man sit behind him, holding him in place. He eventually realized, from the orders he barked out, that is was the bearded man. Merlin despised being so close to him, but the suppression of his powers left him lightheaded, and a distant pain thrummed in his neck from the collar.
Merlin fought through the haze of his exhaustion and the pain the collar caused to try and stay awake, but it wasn't long before the battle was lost. When they finally stopped, Merlin found himself wake with a start. He had no sense of where he was or what was going on. He wished he could see Arthur and make sure he was alright, but instead he was manhandled off the horse and led blindly.
After walking for a few minutes, the men took off his blindfold, gag, and wrist bindings. They allowed him to relieve himself before holding him by the wrists and leading him back to what seemed to be small settlement that must have existed for some time. There were quite a few tents and a smaller amount of freshly built wooden shacks. The place was buzzing with movement, and Merlin noticed some children playing by a small well.
He was forced into a shabby structure, made with wooden boards and straw for a roof. Inside he saw Arthur was already there, bound to one of the walls with iron chains. He noticed a couple other sets of chains attached to the walls, which led Merlin to believe this was some sort of makeshift prison.
Merlin was shoved down onto the ground and pulled back towards the wall opposite of Arthur. He didn't fight as they secured the manacles on his wrists. The chains were probably about three feet in length on each side, allowing for some room to move. Once he was securely in place, the men left, letting the door slam shut. Outside he heard keys jangle as a lock was also placed on the door. There was no source of light inside their dingy prison, however light filtered in through the cracks in the wall from the torches outside.
Merlin leaned his head against the wall, ready to let exhaustion claim him once more, but Arthur would not let him. "Merlin, you idiot! Wake up, now is not the time to sleep!"
"Sorry," Merlin said, surprised at how weak his voice sounded.
He forced his eyes open once more and looked over at Arthur. In the low light, his face was only shadows, but he could still see Arthur's scowl turn into a look of concern. "Merlin, are you okay? What did they do to you?"
"I'm alright," Merlin answer, avoiding Arthur's second question. "It just hurts a little."
"What did they do?" Arthur asked again.
Merlin felt his stomach drop as he considered, for just a moment, being honest with Arthur about his magic. Merlin pushed that thought from his head as he feigned ignorance, something he had become better and better at doing since he became Arthur's servant. "I don't know. It just hurts."
"I'm sorry. They're probably doing it to get to me," Arthur said.
"What do you think they want?"
Arthur was silent for a moment before answering. "They obviously want me alive, but to what end, I'm not sure. Could be a ransom, or to divulge any secrets of Camelot and my father."
"Will you tell them anything?" Merlin was glad to have the conversation move off him and on to Arthur. He also found it a bit soothing to distract his mind from the pain in the collar.
"Of course not! Don't be daft."
"Sorry, I didn't mean..." Merlin's voice trailed off. If these men wanted something from Arthur, and he would refuse, was Merlin dispensable? Was the only reason he was kept alive was to ensure Arthur's cooperation? Merlin's mind drifted to the Labyrinth of Gedref, when Arthur was willing to poison himself to save Merlin.
"It's alright, Merlin. We'll get out of this." Arthur paused. "Somehow."
Merlin tried to think of a response when a lock clicked outside and the door opened, the bearded man standing in the doorway. He had a small candle in his hand providing some illumination in the prison. "I see my men have made you both comfortable. I hope you find your accommodations to your liking."
"Who are you?" Arthur asked. Merlin could tell he was trying to control his voice and keep himself from yelling.
"My name is William," the man answered, a taunting smile on his face. "And I'm sure next you'll want to know where you are and why we have taken you. Let me save you the trouble. Where you are is not important, I can't very well tell you if we're to ransom you back to your father, I'm sure you understand."
"So that's why you killed my knights?" Merlin could sense Arthur's anger in his words.
"Well, they were in the way."
"And what have you done to my servant?"
William smiled, and Merlin felt his chest constrict with fear. "Well, the best way to fight magic is with magic, is it not?"
Merlin felt his blood run cold as William spoke. He couldn't be saying this, not now. Arthur wouldn't understand, this wasn't the right time.
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh it's rather simple, I think you can put the pieces together," William replied as he looked pointedly at Merlin.
Merlin looked right back at him, his eyes pleading, don't.
"Merlin is not a sorcerer, don't be ridiculous," Arthur said in disbelief.
Merlin then felt Arthur's eyes on him, and he tried desperately to remain calm. He couldn't speak, afraid that anything he said would only make the situation worse.
"What reason would I have to lie to you about this?" William asked, feigning innocence.
"Oh I don't know," Arthur yelled back. "You killed my men, kidnapped us, you plan to ransom me back to my father. Why should I believe anything you say?"
"You don't believe me? You wound me, my prince," William said in mocking offence, then inclined his head towards Merlin. "Why don't you ask Merlin yourself? He has been rather silent right now, hasn't he?" William leaned down and placed the candle on the dirt floor. "I'll have some food brought to you shortly." He then turned and exited without another word.
As soon as the door was locked and it seemed William was no longer near the prison, Arthur turned his head to Merlin. "That man is ridiculous. He captures us and then accuses you of sorcery! What could he possibly be getting at?"
"I don't know." Merlin's voice was low and hollow, wondering if Arthur really was dismissing the claim.
"Well it's absurd, isn't it?"
Merlin flinched, hesitating for just a moment before responding. "Of course."
"Why did you flinch?" Arthur asked, his tone now more serious.
"I didn't flinch," Merlin replied, a little too quickly. Merlin grasped his head, the pain in the collar was building up again, and now he had a severe headache. He couldn't believe this was happening, he needed his wits about him, but whatever magic was binding, was also throwing everything about his mind and body into confusion.
"Merlin, is what he said true?" Arthur was looking at him, his eyes narrowed and face still. He was watching everything Merlin did, which further added to Merlin's discomfort.
Merlin had lived with Arthur for more than a year now. He had gotten used to finding ways to deceive the prince, but Arthur wasn't an idiot. Merlin always knew Arthur suspected something was a little different about him, but could never place it. Now, everything about Merlin felt so exposed, he feared those suspicions were falling into place. With the world feeling so confused and painful, he couldn't maintain his usual facade of feigning ignorance.
"Merlin, answer me!" Arthur was on the verge of yelling, which only made Merlin more nervous.
"I-" Words failed him, he remembered the time in Ealdor, when he almost exposed himself to Arthur, only to be saved by Will the next moment. He had wanted to tell Arthur then, hoping he would understand. Yet time and again, he saw that Arthur wasn't ready to know. He was torn, deeply, but he knew he had to continue the lie. "I'm not," Merlin finished weakly, knowing it probably wasn't enough anyway.
"You're lying to me."
"You're lying to me, I can tell!" Arthur yelled, hand rising to his head in disbelief. "God, how could I be so stupid? All this time you were a sorcerer!"
Merlin closed his eyes, wishing this moment wasn't really happening. He always knew someday Arthur would find out, but not like this. He wouldn't understand, couldn't understand, not now. Regardless, they were in this mess together, he had to get through to Arthur, or at least try. "Arthur, I swear-"
"No!" Arthur cut him off again. "All this time I told you how evil sorcery was, how sorcerers couldn't be trusted, how they deceive you...but you! All this time you were a sorcerer, deceiving me, gaining my trust!"
"No," Merlin pleaded, "It wasn't like that."
"You weren't lying to me?"
"I didn't want to!" The fear and pain Merlin had been feeling suddenly turned to anger. "What would you expect me to do? Tell you I'm a sorcerer when your father is king? When you father would have me killed if he ever found out! I did what I had to do, what your father forces me and my kind to do every day!"
Arthur had nothing to say to that, and even refused to look at Merlin. The ground received his undivided intention.
Merlin took a deep breath, and continued in a calm voice. "I don't want to die, Arthur. Not for something I had no control over. I wanted to tell you so many times, but I couldn't. You're always saying magic is evil and the people who wield it, but I'm not. I swear to you, I'm not. I have always tried to use it for good, but I just couldn't tell you. I had no idea what you would do, I couldn't expect you to keep it from your father."
"You didn't trust me," Arthur said in a low voice, his eyes still focused on the ground.
"No." Arthur put his hand up to stop Merlin from speaking, the chains on his manacles clinking lightly from the movement. "I don't want to hear it. I've heard enough. I don't want you to ever speak to me again."
The words were like a dagger in Merlin's heart. Reluctantly he conceded to Arthur's request and remained silent, though the air was heavy with everything that remained unsaid. Now was the perfect time to sink into a restless sleep to avoid this awkward and painful situation, but his nerves wouldn't let him. His deepest secret had been revealed and now he had no idea what was in his future. Would they make it out of this place alive? And if they did, would Arthur let him live much longer after that?
The door was opened again only to reveal one of the nameless bandits that had captured them in the forest. He held two bowls of porridge and two small mugs of water. He placed the food next to them and then left without a word.
Merlin glanced at his food and then looked away in disgust. The pain from the collar and resulting headache had left him nauseous. He couldn't imagine trying to eat that without throwing up only moments later. Merlin pulled his knees up to his chest and hugged them close, laying his head down on top. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine he was away from here. He wished fervently that he was back in his room, that Gaius was in his own chamber making stew for dinner and that Arthur was safe in his own room and was none the wiser about Merlin's magic. Everything was fine, this wasn't real.
Merlin's heart clenched as realization came rushing back. He thought he might cry, but he forced himself to hold back. It wouldn't do for Arthur to hear him crying, especially with what had just happened. He had to be strong if he was ever going to make it out alive.
Merlin woke the next day, having eventually managed to fall into a fitful sleep last night. He was a bit sore from the rough ground and the discomfort the chains caused. Merlin spared a glance over at Arthur. He was awake, perhaps never having slept. His back was turned to Merlin, and it was then that he noticed a slight scratching noise. Apparently Arthur was trying to chip away at the wood to get the bolts out that attached the chains.
Merlin slowly lifted himself off the ground into a sitting position, still feeling a bit of a headache from the collar. He managed to reach for the cup of water he left untouched the night before and had a sip. It soothed his dry mouth, though swallowing was a little uncomfortable with the metal against his throat.
By now Arthur must have noticed that Merlin was awake but he said nothing as he continued to work on the bolt. Merlin felt his stomach sink as he realized Arthur was trying to escape and had no intention of letting Merlin in on it.
Suddenly, the sound of keys outside and the click of the door being unlocked caused Arthur to abandon his task and turn around, covering his work with his back.
William entered the room, a fresh set of mugs in his hands and a couple pieces of bread. He placed the food on the ground and walked over to Arthur. Before Arthur could even say anything he delivered a swift kick to his face. Arthur cried out in pain and fell to the ground, leaving his work in plain sight.
"Not bad," William said as he bent down to test the bolt. It was already a bit loose, a little more work and it would be free. "My men heard your scratching last night and took bets as to whether you'd break free before dawn. I have won three copper coins thanks to you."
Arther rubbed his cheek where William had kicked him. "Had to try, didn't I?"
"I suppose." William grabbed the chain near the bolt and ripped it out of the wooden plank with a strong yank. With the chain loop in hand he pulled Arthur to his feet and dragged him to the wall facing the door where another set of chains was bolted to a plank. He attached the new chains first before he removed the other ones. Once Arthur was secured again he brought the mug and plate of bread over to him. "Eat, and no more of this stupidity. You're in the heart of our village with guards posted everywhere, including this prison. Besides, you have no idea where you are and wouldn't last a day without food, water, and weapons."
Arthur said nothing and just watched as William now turned to Merlin and knelt by his side. "You never ate your supper, are you going to eat your breakfast?"
"I'm not hungry." The nausea from last night was still with him, and the thought of eat anything, even bread, was unsettling.
"Is it the collar?" William asked as he touched the metal lightly.
Merlin found the sudden concern for his well being a little disconcerting and he flinched at the contact, but nodded in response.
"Alright. The spell may be too strong, let's have it looked at." William took out his keys and removed the shackles. He then offered his hand to help lift him up. Merlin took it with hesitation and once he was on his feet he felt so dizzy that he nearly fell over. William held onto him and supported his weight.
Merlin kept his eyes straight ahead, refusing to look over at Arthur. William gently led him out of the shack; Merlin was barely aware of the guard locking the door behind him. They walked for a short while, passing a few tents and a shack on the way until they made it to rather larger building, which was a little bit more than just a shack. William opened the door and guided Merlin in. Once inside, he laid Merlin down on a small bed. It was nice laying on something soft after a night on the hard ground.
Merlin looked around and saw that it was a fairly sizable room with a couple tables and chairs with various odds and ends on them such as books, candles, and food. There where a few pelts on the wall and a door at the far end leading into another room.
"Margareta!" William called out as he poured a cup of water.
A few seconds later the young girl who had first place the collar on his neck came into the room from the door at the other end. She yawned slightly as she walked in, though when she noticed Merlin she put her hand down quickly. "What is he doing here?"
"The spell is too strong." William took a sip of water. "He can't eat or stand. Can you do something about it without removing the spell?"
Margareta hesited. "I-I can try."
"That's my girl." William smiled at the young girl, and Merlin wondered if this girl was his daughter. They certainly looked like they could be related.
Margareta walked over to the bed and sat lightly on the edge. Merlin felt William's hand on his shoulder as soon as she sat down. "Try anything, boy, and you will regret it."
Merlin nodded in understanding and stayed as still has he could while the young girl gently touched the collar.
"álynian þes ágælan ac árænan sé hæft"
Immediately as the words washed over him, he felt the hold the collar had on his magic loosen, though it was still just out of reach. At least the constant pain that he had felt went away. He still had a little headache and nausea, but that would probably leave him soon enough. "That's better, thank you."
Margareta looked sad for a moment before bowing her head, letting her bangs cover her face. "You're welcome."
"Margareta why don't you get some breakfast, I need to talk to Merlin."
Margareta nodded and hurried out of the room. Merlin was sad to see her go; he wanted to know more about her. She seemed like a shy but nice girl despite the spell she placed on him that took away his magic. He was certain William was forcing her to do it.
"She is my daughter, if you were wondering." William offered a cup of water to Merlin.
Merlin sat up and took the cup in hand, taking a few sips and saying nothing.
"A few of the people in this village are sorcerers." William pulled a chair over and sat down by the bed. "We have made a home here, hiding from Uther and his executioner's block."
Merlin frowned, feeling a bit angry at this revelation. "If you protect magic users, why did you reveal my secret to Arthur? How did you even know?"
William placed a hand on Merlin's shoulder. He flinched away from it, but it remained anyway. "I had to." Merlin gave him a disbelieving look, and so William continued. "Many have suffered under King Uther's relentless war on magic, myself included. When I heard you were in Camelot, serving under Prince Arthur, I had to find a way to get you away from him."
Merlin eyes widened. "What do you mean? Who are you?"
"I knew you, Merlin, as a child. I once lived in Ealdor as well. It was so long ago, I'm not surprised you don't remember."
"You knew my mother?" Merlin asked, barely able to take all this in. Was this kidnapping really about him and not Arthur? Why take Arthur at all, where they still trying to ransom him? His head was swimming with so many questions, it made him feel dizzy once more.
"I knew your mother and your father," William said before he adjusted the pillow and guided Merlin back down onto the bed. "You're sick, you must rest."
"You knew my father? Balinor?"
"Yes, we were friends when he came to our village in refuge."
"So that's how you knew I had magic."
It wasn't a question, but William answered anyway. "Yes."
"But what made you think I needed saving? Everything was fine until you told Arthur!" Anger was starting to rise once more in Merlin's throat.
"Merlin, I had to. You were too close to the King and his son. It was only a matter of time before you were put on the executioner's block. Uther would have found out eventually."
"So this whole thing was about me?" Merlin's voice was raising to a yell. "You killed good knights!"
"Shh." William put a hand on Merlin's chest, attempting to calm him down. "It couldn't be helped. That wasn't the only reason we attacked. I truly am going to ransom the prince. The opportunity to take you from Camelot and gain funds this village so desperately needs was too good to pass up."
Merlin put his hand to his head, feeling his headache coming back even worse. "This doesn't make sense. You say you saved me, but you have taken away my magic, bound me up like you've done Arther and told him about me being a sorcerer. Your actions conflict greatly with what you say."
"I know it seems that way," William said, "but Merlin, you are loyal to the prince. We know that. You would try to save him if you could, escape back to Camelot with him. We can't let you do that. You have to know that Arthur truly doesn't care for you, not now that he knows. You are better off here where your magic is accepted and you can practice it freely. I had to reveal your magic to Arthur so I could break the hold he has over you."
"Arthur does not have a hold over me, he is my friend!"
"A true friend wouldn't hate you for being a sorcerer. You can't hide it from me, I heard the argument last night. He wouldn't speak to you, he wants nothing to do with you now and he tried to escape without informing you."
Merlin did not respond; he had nothing he could say to that. He felt hurt and anger in the pit of his stomach. He always knew Arthur would have trouble with his magic if he ever found out, but the realization that Arthur now hated him was too much to bear. He felt betrayed and discarded at the same time. "You want me to stay here with you," Merlin eventually said, trying to make sense of the situation.
"Yes," William answered eagerly. "Once Arthur is gone and you've accepted your place here, we will remove the collar and you will be free to live with us and practice your magic."
Arthur. Gone. Free. The words filled his head and he couldn't help but revel in the idea of being able to practice his magic, to not have to hide and live in fear that one day Uther may find out. It was a wonderful thought, but then suddenly he remembered words of the Great Dragon.
"Your 'gift', Merlin, was given to you for a reason. Arthur is the once and future king who will unite the land of Albion...Without you, Arthur will never succeed. Without you, there will be no Albion."
Merlin closed his eyes. The destruction the dragon had done to Camelot was devastating, but despite the dragon's desire for revenge, he knew the words he had spoken when they first met were true. It was his destiny to protect Arthur. Arthur would forgive him, he knew it. He simply had to.
"No," Merlin said, his voice resolute. "I will not leave Arthur, so you may as well send me back with him."
"Merlin, don't be stupid-"
"No, I will not stay!" Merlin raised his voice in determination. "Arthur is my friend and he will get past this, I know he will. It's my destiny to protect him, and I will not stop now."
"He will tell Uther and have you killed! And what then of your Destiny?" William stood up so suddenly that he knocked his chair over. "Don't be a fool, Merlin."
Merlin glared back at William. "As long as Arthur lives, I will never abandon him."
"Is that so?"
William leaned over and grabbed Merlin painfully by the hair. Merlin yelped in pain and grasped the man's arm, trying to get free. "Did you honestly think we intended to give Arthur back to Uther alive?"
Merlin's eyes widened as he gasped in pain. "What?"
"We will get a ransom from Uther, that much is true, but what he takes home will be in a coffin. Uther has taken too much from every one of us here to let his son go safely back."
"You can't! Arthur hasn't done anything to you!"
"This isn't about what he has done, but what his father has done and what Arthur will do when he his king!"
"You can't know that he will be like Uther!"
"It doesn't matter! I told you, boy, everyone here has paid the price for Uther's war. Everyone has had to hide or lost a loved one due to his hatred of magic. My wife-" William hesitated, clearly overwhelmed by emotion. "My wife was eight months pregnant when they took her, burned her at the stake. They took her and our unborn child. It was not long before they suspected Margareta and we had to flee. This is what Uther has done, and what he will do to you if Arthur ever tells him. Do you understand now?"
Merlin could do nothing but gasp in pain as William shook him angrily, still holding him by the hair. "Please stop!" Merlin thought his hair might rip from his scalp the way William was yanking it so hard.
William hesitated and then let Merlin go. Merlin rubbed his scalp gingerly trying to massage away the burning feeling. William turned his back to him, head in his hand.
"I apologize, Merlin, I did not mean to hurt you."
Merlin said nothing.
"Do you at least understand now? What we're doing, why we must do it?"
"I understand," Merlin said slowly. "But I don't agree."
William just shook his head, and that's when Merlin saw it, his opportunity. He felt stronger now that the collar's spell had been weakened, and he was not bound at the moment. He knew he'd never escape, but if he could just make it to the prison, he could warn Arthur of their plans. Maybe Arthur could figure something out if he knew what he was dealing with. Merlin knew Arthur was resourceful, and he had to do anything, anything at all to try and save Arthur, no matter what Arthur thought of him now.
Plan set, he just needed a little distraction. "I-I think I could eat right now."
William looked up. "Are you sure?"
Merlin nodded, and watched carefully as William went over to a table in the far right corner and picked out some fruit. When Merlin was sure he wasn't looking, he bolted off the bed as fast as possible, aiming for the door that he knew was unlocked. William immediately reacted, the plate of fruit crashed on the floor as he jumped over the bed to catch Merlin.
He only had precious seconds to outrun the larger man and when he went for the door he pushed, realizing in that agonizing second that he had to pull. He pulled as hard as he could, but it was too late. William grabbed Merlin, wrapping his arms around his waist as he pulled him back. Merlin kicked, screamed, and flailed, but he was no match for the larger, muscular man. Merlin was thrown onto the floor; he hit the ground hard.
Merlin tried desperately to get back up and make it past the man, but William was ready for him this time. He grabbed Merlin by the arm and yanked it roughly behind him before grabbing the other arm and doing the same. Pain shot through both his shoulders as he was pinned in place and then pulled to the center beam of the small house.
Merlin barely struggled as he was forced into a sitting position and tied to the beam. He had wasted all his energy in that one attempt, he knew if he tried again he might possibly faint. Merlin silently cursed his uselessness. Without his magic he had no way of fighting these men. He was at their mercy, and so was Arthur.
However, Merlin knew this man wanted Merlin to stay with him willingly. Maybe that was the only bargaining chip he had left. "Why do you want me to stay here so badly?" Merlin asked as William tightened the ropes around him.
"You're like us." William secured the final knots in place then looked at Merlin. "I had hoped you would join us. We need more people like you so that one day we may end Uther's reign."
Ahh, that was it. He was building an army and he wanted magic users. Merlin could only hope that his desire to end Uther's reign was greater than his desire for revenge.
"I will stay," Merlin said, and William cocked an eyebrow in response. "I will stay, and I will do anything you ask if you just ransom Arthur off alive."
William was silent for a moment, considering the offer. He seemed be studying Merlin, valuing the worth of having a willing warlock over a defiant one for the price of a prince. "Do you swear to it?"
"I swear, on my mother's life, I will do anything you ask if you let Arthur live." Merlin swallowed, letting the gravity of his words sink in. He was giving away his freedom for Arthur's life, but he knew it was the right thing to do. They both had to live if there was any way of fulfilling his destiny.
"Alright then," William said, seeming to have considered Merlin's words and judging them honorable. "I swear, on my daughter's life, I will ransom Arthur alive for your compliance. You word is your bond, and so is mine."
Merlin nodded, a sense of relief overwhelming him. He hoped it was true, that this man would stick to his word. It was all Merlin had and it had to be enough.
"Though, until such time you will remain in here," William said as he stood up, leaving Merlin on the floor, bound to the beam.
"But once he is gone?" Merlin could not help but ask.
"You will be allowed to walk freely in the village, your collar removed," William answered.
Merlin nodded in response while silently hoping that this man's word really was his bond.
A/N: I read somewhere that the words used for magic was based on Old English so I used an Old English translator to roughly translates what Margareta is doing into Old English. I figured it's close enough. Anyway, no beta, so please forgive any mistakes. I hope you enjoyed it and I would love to know what you thought.