M-E-R-L-I-N

Deciding that the best course of action for now was to carry on as if nothing was wrong so as not to alert Uther to their troubles, Gaius had managed, after a long argument, to convince Artemis to stay with himself and Merlin whilst Arthur was out training the knights. But though he'd agreed to stay put, the genie refused to answer any questions that were asked of him. He was quite determined, it seemed, not to give away any secrets that may lead to his being sent back to his lamp. He had also warned that if Arthur was to make a wish even outside of his presence, that he would still know and be able to grant it.

Gaius kept a close watch on the genie as he and Merlin thumbed through some of his books, trying desperately to find any information that might help them send him back into his lamp where he belonged.

"There must be something in these." Merlin said as he looked through yet another dusty volume.

Gaius sighed as he turned page after page, his eyes immediately gliding over what was written. Suddenly something caught his attention, "Oh no." he said.

"What is it?" Merlin said and leaned across so that he could see what it was that Gaius was sounding so alarmed about.

Gaius pointed to one section of the ancient text, "Here is something interesting, though I'm afraid it doesn't much help us. In fact, it seems things are far worse then we first suspected. It states here that the person who frees a genie will become overpowered with the urge to make his or her wishes, born of an enchantment that takes hold of them from the moment that the genie is free, growing stronger as time goes by."

Merlin had that bad feeling again, "So that means..."

"That Arthur will become consumed by an intense greed to get exactly what he wants." Artemis interrupted from the other side of the table.

Gaius glowered across the table at the genie from over the rims of his glasses, "You'd do well to keep your mouth shut if you knew what was good for you."

"This is bad." Merlin added solemnly.

"Well that all depends on what Arthur chooses to wish for." Artemis chuckled.

"Gaius shook his head in frustration, "I will certainly be glad to see the back of this wretched creature once we discover a way to be rid of him."

"If you can find a way to be rid of me!"

"What if Arthur was to wish him back into the lamp?" Merlin asked Gaius.

"Ha! Doesn't work!" Artemis exclaimed with glee.

Merlin met Artemis's eyes, "Not that you would tell us if it would. I think we should try it anyway."

"As much as I hate to say this, Merlin, but he's probably right. If it were that easy then I'd have probably heard or read as much. No, we need to continue looking for another answer."

"But we've almost finished going through all of your books. Where else can we hope to find answers?"

Just then, the door opened, and in marched Arthur in his armour, sweat glistening on his forehead. His whole posture was somehow uncomfortable.

"Gaius, have you managed to find a way for us to deal with my situation?" he asked as he approached the table.

Gaius looked up from his book, "No. I'm afraid not."

Arthur seated himself beside the older man. "I think that something else is wrong." he said quietly.

"Gaius looked at him, "What?"

"I feel a little...strange."

"You're unwell, sire?" Gaius said, transforming into his physician self.

"No. I don't know, it's hard to describe. It's like I feel impatient, and somehow in need to do something incredibly spontaneous."

Merlin and Gaius exchanged a quick worried glance.

"The genie is effecting you, Arthur. The moment that you freed him, you fell under an enchantment which will make it harder for you to keep from making your wishes. It will compel you to do so, in fact. I fear this is what you are starting to feel."

"And it will get worse." Artemis added.

Arthur looked troubled by this new development, "I will not allow that to happen."

"But, Master. Think of all of the things that you could have. No doubt a young man of your standing has worked hard and always put the need of the people of your kingdom first. Is it not time for you to be rewarded for all of your effort and sacrifices?" Artemis said, "More wealth, perhaps? Or a beautiful fair maiden with whom you could share the joy of true love with?"

"Stop it!" Merlin yelled at the genie, then turned to face Arthur once more, "Don't listen to him, Arthur. You can fight this. You must!"

Arthur remained silent for a few moments, a thoughtful expression on his face.

"Maybe I do deserve a little something..." he finally said.

"Of course you do, Master." Artemis encouraged.

"No, Arthur! As Merlin has said, you must fight what you are feeling for the sake of us all!" Gaius said.

Arthur looked from Artemis to Gaius, his features suddenly becoming hostile within a very instant, "Are you saying that I do not deserve to be rewarded! I protect all of you! Keep Camelot safe so that you might go about your miserable little lives! And this is what I get in return!"

Gaius and Merlin were startled at Arthur's shift in mood. They had certainly not expected the temptation to take control of the prince quite this soon.

"Arthur, please! You must listen to us!" Gaius pleaded.

"I will do no such thing!" Arthur yelled once more as he got to his feet.

"You must try to think reasonably about this!" Gaius continued as he stood and moved away from the table and took a step towards the prince.

Arthur glared at the physician, his eyes somehow projecting a darkness from within. It was as if he had suddenly become a complete stranger.

"You just have to hold on for a little while longer, we'll find a way to help you!" Gaius said, not giving up in his attempt to persuade Arthur to see sense.

Arthur shook his head in frustration, "Oh Gaius! I really do wish that you'd shut up!"

"Arthur! No!" Merlin started.

But it was already too late.

With a click of his fingers, Artemis said, "Your wish is my command."

Merlin watched in horror as a layer of membrane and skin quickly grew across his friends lips, spreading like a highly infectious fungus until his mouth no longer existed. Gaius was clutching desperately at his face and trying in vain to make sounds, only to have them come out as a muffled cry.

"What have you done?" Merlin shouted at Arthur before rushing to Gaius's aid.

"He was getting on my last nerve." Arthur said callously, "Though I have to admit, it was a bit of a waste. I could have used that wish for something a little more exciting. Oh well, never mind. I have two more."

Merlin guided the wary Gaius back to the table and got him seated. The old man was shaking with the shock of what had just happened and was still surveying the newly formed layer of skin franticly, not yet coming to terms with the fact that there was no longer anything there. Though he now lacked the facial features to create a full expression, his eyes alone showed the fear that he was feeling.

"Ah! It is most unfortunate that he should suffer such a misfortune, but it was the only way to fulfil my Master's desire." Artemis said smugly as he stood at Arthur's side.

"I'll get you you for this!" Merlin promised.

"Be careful, Merlin. You wouldn't want to meet the same fate as your friend there." Artemis joked.

"Luckily for him, he isn't worth using up my second wish. He's just a useless servant." Arthur said, his cruel words slashing through the air like a sharp blade.

It was hard for Merlin to hear Arthur speak in such a way, but he reminded himself that it was only the magic talking, and that his friend was still there underneath somewhere, trapped within the enchantment that consumed him. He was just as much a victim in this as Gaius was. And above all else, he knew that no matter how badly Arthur was acting, or how much worse he was to become, that it was, as usual, up to him to save him. He could only hope that he would be able to restore Gaius's mouth in the process. He couldn't let either of them down.

"Now, I think it's time to have myself a little fun." Arthur exclaimed, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.

Merlin bravely approached the prince, "Is what Gaius has suffered not enough to prove that this could only end in disaster? Arthur, I know you, deep down I know you feel this is wrong. I'm your friend, so you have to trust what I am saying."

Arthur looked utterly disgusted, "You are not my friend, Merlin. When will you ever realise that? You mean nothing to me!" he said coldly.

"I refuse to believe that." Merlin said, his voice cracking into almost a whisper.

Arthur closed the small space between them, "You mean nothing, because you are nothing!" he laughed before turning to walk out of the room, Artemis following at his heels like a loyal dog.

Merlin watched as the door slammed behind them, unable to comprehend the change in Arthur's character.

Turning, he made his way back over to Gaius, "I'll find a way to help you, even if it is the last thing that I do."

Gaius leaned over and retrieved his quill from the ink well. On a spare piece of parchment he wrote:

Help Arthur first. He needs you more than I, Merlin.

"But..." Merlin started, but Gaius shook his head stubbornly and started to write once more;

Remember your destiny. Go. Now!

Merlin wrestled with the uneasy feelings that he had about leaving Gaius on his own. He was reluctant to go, but as usual, his friend was right. He knew he had to go after Arthur and Artemis and put a stop to all of this before things got even worse.

"I'll be back soon." the young magician promised sincerely.

Gaius nodded in acknowledgement, and Merlin rushed out of their chambers to begin his work.

M-E-R-L-I-N

"You suggested that I might like to meet a fair maiden." Arthur said.

"Yes, Master." Artemis said as the pair walked aimlessly across the courtyard and toward the lower town.

"That does sound like rather a good idea. Of course, I will need to find someone worthy to be at my side when I one day become king. It would take someone of a rather special quality though, I fear."

"If I may, Master. Wishing for the perfect love for a king would deliver just that. She would be all that you could ever dream of in a future wife."

As they had arrived at a secluded spot near to the stables, Arthur stopped for a moment and considered the genie's words, "I admit, there have been times when I have felt rather lonesome."

"But now you do not have to be." Artemis beamed, "Just one simple wish, and here she will be."

A wide smile spread across Arthur's face, "In that case, I wish to meet my perfect love, worthy to be the wife of a king."

Artemis clicked his fingers, "Your wish is my command."

After a few uneventful moments had passed, Arthur grew restless, "Well. Where is she?" he demanded impatiently.

"I believe she is on her way now." Artemis smiled, pointing around the side of the wooden structure into the direction that proceeded them.

Walking through a crowd of busy villagers, Arthur gazed upon the most wondrous sight that his eyes had ever looked upon.

A beautiful lady of the same age as himself was walking through a group of people. Her dark wavy hair rippled around her red cloak as she walked daintily, a pale, perfectly elegant face searching about her as she went.

Arthur was instantly drawn to her, she was truly perfect in every way. It left him breathless with desire.

"Is she to your liking, Master?" Artemis enquired.

"Yes, she is all I could have ever hoped for." Arthur replied, still unable to tear his eyes away from her, "And then some."

"Maybe, Master, you should introduce yourself."

"Of course, yes." Arthur said as he slipped past the side of the stable, and made his way over to her.

As her stepped in front of the beauty, she looked him right in the eye, but at first, Arthur could only see that she was troubled.

"May I be of assistance to you? You look lost." Arthur asked her conversationally.

"Yes, but I...I'm afraid that my dilemma might sound rather silly. You see, I am not really sure how I got here, and for that matter, I do not seem to recall who I am. I have never felt so alone and confused." she explained, her puzzlement clear on face.

"I am sorry to hear that, but do not fear," Arthur told her quite genuinely, "I am the king's son, and I will personally help you to recover your lost memories and make sure that you are well taken care of. You shall not want for anything whilst here in Camelot."

The lady then smiled, thankful of encountering such a helpful and handsome soul, "I thank you in advance, kind sir."

"Please, call me Arthur." he said reaching for her hand, bringing it gently up to his lips to softly kiss.

"I...I am truly grateful." she said when he'd finally released her hand, her eyes firmly locked on his.

"It is my pleasure."

An intense moment was shared between the two of them then, and Arthur could see, much to his delight, that she was as captivated by him, as he was her. It felt as if the world had stopped and that everything in the entire universe was focusing on them.

Arthur had heard stories about love at first sight, but had then thought such things impossible. But here as he stood with this nameless beauty, he knew that it really could happen after all.

"Arthur?" a voice suddenly sounded from behind the prince, he turned to see Guinevere trundling through the mud towards him holding a bucket of water. She looked hurt and shocked at what she saw before her. But strangely, he didn't care. Maybe he would have once.

"Gwen." Arthur replied simply, but Gwen shook her head in disgust and quickly headed away from them so fast, that the water came sloshing over the sides of the bucket.

"I fear that you may have broken her heart." his new love observed.

"Nothing would have ever become of her feelings for me. She is just another useless servant."

M-E-R-L-I-N

Uther was seated on his throne when he heard the commotion outside. He sat bolt upright as the door to the council chambers flew open, two knights leading a procession of people approached hurriedly, the sounds of their footsteps echoing around the vast room.

As the knights stepped to the side, Uther saw King Hannavah emerge from between his own personal guards and step up to the front.

"Sirus!" Uther exclaimed happily, "it is a pleasure to see you again!"

"As it is, you, Uther."

"I hope that your journey here was pleasant." Uther continued, but Sirus looked deeply troubled, his shoulder length caramel hair falling lank either side of the young man's flustered face. "What...what is it?"

"I am afraid we ran into a problem on our approach to Camelot. My wife, the Lady Jayne, she was taken from me." was the worrying reply.

Uther rose to his feet with urgency, and addressed his men, "Knights! Find Arthur and organise a search party right away. We must find Lady Jayne and bring her to the safety of the citadel immediately."

As some of the knights left to carry out the king's orders, Sirus continued, "Uther, before your men leave the grounds, I feel that I must tell you; I suspect that what has happened may be the work of a sorcerer."

"What has lead you to this conclusion?" Uther asked.

"One moment, we were all upon our horses, and then Lady Jayne...she just vanished without a trace! Such a thing could surely only be made possible by the use of magic."

Uther was utterly furious, "You can be rest assured that we will find the one responsible for this despicable act, and when we do, they will be executed immediately! As you are aware, I have absolutely no tolerance for those who use magic within my kingdom."

"And I am grateful for your help. Hopefully we can reach Lady Jayne before any harm befalls her."

"I am just sorry that you have had to endure such an thing." Uther sighed, "You must tell me if you can think of anything that will help us to find your wife. And perhaps you might describe the Lady Jayne to my knights so that they may recognise her if they are able to discover her whereabouts should she be in a position that she cannot make herself known."

Uther waved a few more of the knights forward so that they might listen to Sirus.

"Of course, anything that will bring about her safe return." Sirus agreed, turning to speak to the knights, "My wife has long brown hair, and when she was last with us, she wore a cloak of red."

TO BE CONTINUED...