Eyes Wide Open
Summary: After witnessing Merlin using magic, Arthur is faced with a series of hard decisions. Can he decide where his loyalties lie in time to defeat a new enemy that quickly approaches Camelot?
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin or any of the characters. All I have are my words and my squees of rabid fangirlishness.
A/N: I'm late to the party, I know. I've only just discovered how unbelievably awesome Merlin is (what the hell took me so long?) and now I found myself obsessed (yeah, thanks for that Gen :P). The muse has awoken and is determined to write and I know this has been done many times before but hopefully I can add my own twist. This will be my first Merlin fanfic so I hope I don't disappoint. It's actually quite scary venturing outside of the Supernatural fandom but here goes. Thank you in advance for reading.
Arthur slid the sword from its sheath with ease and raised the tip so it was level with Merlin's chest. His servant merely rolled his eyes in response, his head tilting slightly to the side as he opened his mouth again to argue. But Arthur wasn't having it. "You're staying here and that's final." He felt like he was talking to a small child.
"You can't be serious about going after that thing." And still he protested, as if he wasn't even aware of the deadly weapon that was all but touching his chest. "It's suicide!"
"No," Arthur explained, drawing the word out in a low tone while thrusting the sword into the ground beside him, growing tired of pointing it at Merlin. It might as well have been a stick or a rabbit for the use it was in intimidating him. "The beast is injured; therefore the logical decision is to hunt it down before it has time to recover."
Merlin nodded, his jaw clenched, and Arthur almost breathed out in relief that the imbecile finally understood. But then, this was Merlin. "Fine, then I'm coming with you."
"Merlin," he all but growled through a tight smile, "how many times do I have to say that you are staying here?"
"You can say it as many times as you want but I still won't listen to you." Stubborn, always so stupidly stubborn. It was a quality that Arthur both admired and found infuriating at the same time. Only Merlin could provoke such a reaction.
Leaving the sword where it was, Arthur gripped Merlin's shoulder instead and guided him back to the dying fire, forcing him to sit between the two knights that were already there. There were six knights in total, or there had been before they were attacked by the creature that they were supposed to be hunting. It turned out to be hunting them in return. One of his knights had been killed during the attack and another two, the two by the fire, had been injured. But the creature was injured now too.
"Restrain him if you must but make sure he does not leave this camp," he ordered the knights, knowing that whilst Merlin seemed to have a mental affliction that kept him from following orders, his knights did not.
He moved away to retrieve his sword, watching Merlin from the corner of his eye. The manservant made an attempt to rise from his position but a gentle hand placed on his shoulder, courtesy of the knight to his right, kept him where he was. He didn't agree with what Arthur was doing but even he was smart enough to realise he couldn't take on Arthur and five knights.
"Let's go!" Arthur ordered, finally satisfied that his manservant wouldn't follow him and the remaining three knights that had avoided injury thus far. "I want this creature dead before the sun has fully risen."
It had taken them a day to track the creature this far into the woods and only the imposing darkness had stopped them from tracking it any further. That had been the previous night, when they had set up camp, deciding to continue their search in the morning. Dawn barely an hour away, the creature had found them and attacked before fleeing after Arthur had managed to get close enough to do harm. Arthur intended to set off immediately after it to finish the job, the only problem was Merlin…
He had been on watch when the creature had attacked and Arthur could clearly see the bags under his manservant's eyes and the way Merlin swayed just ever so slightly from lack of sleep. Then there were Sir Henry and Fredrick to consider, their wounds too extensive for them to continue battle so soon. None of them would have stood a chance against the creature. It would be safer for them to remain behind. Besides, now wide awake and fully aware, Arthur was sure he could take the creature down with the three knights that now strode beside him through the woods. If they dealt with it quickly, then perhaps they would make it back to the castle in time for a late feast.
A noise up ahead pulled him from his thoughts and he stilled, eyes searching the bushes in front. The creature was fast and aggressive, deadly from the sharpened teeth in its mouth to the barbed stings that laced the tip of its tail. He turned his head to the side, one eye still aware of the brush up ahead and the other taking in his men. Quick and silent, he signalled for Sir Kay and Philip to circle around behind the creature whilst he and Sir Ivan advanced forward.
Though it seemed the beast didn't agree with his plan. It emerged from its cover and darted straight for Philip, talons ripping into the young knight's lower leg. He cried out in pain and swung his sword wildly. The metal scraped against the scales on the beast's chest but refused to draw blood. Its entire length, which was nearly twice as long as Arthur was tall, was covered in those scales, all except for the wings that branched out from the creatures sides. It put Arthur in mind of the type of creature that would be produced should a snake and a bird ever mate.
Arthur rushed forward, already eyeing up the wings for his target. It had been there he had struck before and judging by the way the creature now tried to keep them out of sword's reach, they were its most vulnerable point. Sir Ivan clearly thought so too, approaching from the opposite side in an attempt to distract the creature.
The tail swung out and round, throwing Ivan from his feet and backwards until he collided with the trunk of a tree. Arthur barely had time to roll to the side before it tried to do the same to him, the cloth of his trouser leg catching and ripping on one of the many stingers. By the time he was back on his feet, so was Ivan, though the same could not be said of Philip. The creature abandoned him, discarding him and his now limp body in favour of a meatier Sir Kay who approached cautiously with a spear firmly in his grasp.
Wings spread out, it thrust itself into the air and Kay aimed the spear. He had a powerful arm, Arthur had seen him both in training and in battle, but he was slow at judging his aim. Despite that, had he been facing any other opponent, the spear would have surely hit its target. But the creature was quick on the ground and even quicker in flight. The spear soared past and to the ground, taking out nothing more than a harmless leaf at the same time the creature took out Kay.
Arthur abandoned his sword, taking up the spear in his right hand instead. The creature paid him no heed which he didn't mind at all. In fact, it worked out better than way. It meant that while it moved in on Ivan, it never saw it coming. The point of the spear pierced its wing and it cried out in agony, a shriek that had Arthur on his knees and covering his ears. He looked across the small clearing to see Ivan in a similar position, a grimace planted on his face.
It wasn't until the creature shot skyward once more, almost dragging itself through the air and away from both Arthur and Ivan, that Arthur found he could move again. And move he did. Sword back in his hand, he raced forward, his chest aching and heart hammering, giving chase. Only this time, each step held more desperation.
The beast was heading straight for the camp, straight for the injured knights and for Merlin. And Arthur had just left them there unable to truly defend themselves against the vicious attack that was coming their way.
Merlin stared into the flames of the fire unseeing, his attention focused on the forest instead. He strained his ears, listening. But all he heard was the crackling from the fire and the soft noises of chirping birds and buzzing insects. The light snoring from Sir Fredrick joined with the noises of the forest and Merlin felt some envy that the man could sleep so easily. Sir Henry on the other hand was wide awake and watching him with the eyes of a hawk, or more appropriately a sparrow as his eyes were much softer than many of the other knights. Kind or not, the air still felt awkward and tense.
The Prat was as determined as ever to get himself killed. Oh, Merlin was sure that he didn't see it that way. It was his duty to Camelot and to the people to hunt down beasts that disturbed the kingdom. Didn't matter that the beast was magical or that it preferred the taste of man rather than the taste of livestock or that it could kill faster than any of Arthur's knights or even Arthur himself. After all, why would Arthur let a little thing like that bother him?
He huffed. It was a small huff but loud enough and clearly a huff enough to garner a short laugh from Sir Henry. The knight was amused by him. Well that was something. If he failed in his destiny to protect Arthur then he could always turn to being a court jester. He could use his magic for parlour tricks like Trickler and his fiery breath and display of butterfl—
The sound of whooshing and feel of a sudden wind dragged his eyes away from the fire and thoughts away from butterflies, and instead he looked toward Sir Fredrick. Or where Sir Fredrick had been.
Sir Henry was already on his feet, sword drawn. His left shoulder was badly hurt and he favoured his right leg but he was a knight of Camelot. He would rather die fighting than lie down like a coward. Merlin joined him in standing, moving toward the tree that Sir Fredrick had been using as a pillow only moments before, coming to a stop a second too late to dodge the blow that came his way.
He was aware of falling or possibly floating, he wasn't sure which until he realised he was on the forest floor and somewhere beyond that buzzing in his head, there was another sound. It made him think of panic and the colour red. Something heavy landed across his chest and he looked down, finding himself making his own version of that sound as talons scraped his skin. A scream, that's what it was called… A cry of pain.
He managed to stop long enough to utter a spell that caused roots to shoot up from the ground and wrap around the creature's leg. It wasn't much but it bought him enough of a distraction to roll himself out from under those sharp claws and back to his feet. He staggered at first, trying to find his footing as his eyes searched the camp for the knights. He almost wished he hadn't.
The creature cried out, immediately catching Merlin's attention. He barely had time to use his magic to guide the nearest and sharpest object toward the beast as it charged at him. His tongue twisted around the familiar words that he had used before the kill the griffin, coating the sword that had belonged to Sir Henry in thick, glowing magic. It tore into the creature before him, bringing it to a violent stop as it writhed on the floor.
And as he felt himself falling back toward the ground, his legs refusing to hold him and mind refusing to stay conscious, he was almost sure he heard someone say his name…
Arthur forced himself forward toward the camp, somewhat aware that Sir Ivan was behind him, attempting to match his pace. Deep in the pit of his stomach, he felt something twist, guilt and fear already sweeping in. He had underestimated the creature and in turn had endangered the lives of his men. He could hear screaming now and the twisting grew. They would be slaughtered and he was too far away to stop it.
Pushing himself harder, he broke free of the dense brush, barely aware of the crashing that followed him. His eyes were focused on the figure he could make out ahead. Merlin. He was standing there, back to Arthur and eyes no doubt locked on the creature. "MERLIN!" He cried the name out, knowing it wouldn't help his manservant in the least from the attack that was about to come. But he needed to shout it all the same. He needed to do something but he was still too far away.
The beast launched itself forward and Arthur came to a stop, his entire body freezing. It wasn't fear that gripped him or grief over the loss of the friend that he was too far away to save. It was the foreign words he heard and the sword that moved by itself, sheathed in a brilliant blue. It was magic and in the middle of it all… Merlin?
His mind spun, trying to comprehend what he had just seen and what that meant, his body still and unable to move. But then Merlin was falling forward and his feet were moving again as if they had suddenly remembered how to run. He felt as if he wasn't truly in control, as if he were in some half-dream that he didn't have any say in. "Merlin!"
Dropping at Merlin's side, he turned him onto his back. His brow furrowed, eyes wandering over the shirt that he was sure had been blue before this hunting trip started and yet now it was red. But the chest beneath the shirt still moved. It rose and fell even though the eyes didn't flutter open and Arthur thought that was best. He didn't trust his tongue in that moment or the words he would say when given the chance to confront his manservant about what he had just witnessed.
There was a shuffle beside him, a movement and Arthur looked up, his hand moving to the sword that had fallen from his grasp. He didn't raise it, eyes meeting Ivan's. The sight cleared the fog that clouded his mind, allowing him to think more clearly about what needed to be done.
"Check on the others," he ordered, turning his attention back to Merlin.
"Sire?" the knight questioned and though he didn't expand on what that question was, Arthur knew. The tone confirmed his own thoughts. There was no doubt, the magic had belonged to Merlin.
Rather than answer though, he raised his eyes to glare at the young man before him, no words needed, and Sir Ivan moved off. The others were dead. He knew as much already. And if he didn't get Merlin back to Camelot, to Gaius, then he would be dead too. As for the magic… he was still trying to figure that part out.
"Prepare the horses," Arthur said when Ivan returned, dragging himself and Merlin up from the ground. "We ride back immediately."
"But Sire…" They were the only words that Arthur allowed to leave his mouth before he swung to glare at the knight again, his eyebrows raised in warning and jaw clenched.
"Speak of this to no one or I will have your head."
And that's the end of chapter 1... thank you for your time.