Hey y'all :):):).
Whoa, I've had lots of Merlin writing muse recently (finally! It's taken years!) and I decided to write another relatively angsty fic.
Summary: In the depths of the forest, a hunt is underway for a dangerous fugitive - one who had dared to call himself a 'friend of Camelot': "Until then, chase me."
I know the summary's a bit vague (intended as a way of adding a little mystery ;]) but it is bromantic! It's set in the time frame of the seasons (e.g. when Merlin and Arthur are young), but it is before Arthur becomes King.
Unfortunately, I do not own Merlin (both in show and character), but I am gonna steal the characters for a while - let's see what I can do to them in a one-shot... :P
I hope you enjoy it! :D.
It was such a simple action, but one that had been the pinnacle of his life for weeks now. The thin chest heaved with each new intake of breath, his body screaming at him to stop but his mind ordering him to persevere. And so he did, because for one such as himself, his mind would always have a much greater hold over him than his physical being ever could.
He wasn't entirely sure of his present location. Trees surrounded him on every side; a natural protection from what he knew to be hunting him mere paces away. The hope that his surroundings would serve to shelter him were fast becoming only lingering thoughts.
If he had stopped to pause, he would have been able to hear the barking of hounds as they raced eagerly on his bloody heels.
Suddenly, he stumbled, limbs haphazardly looping over one another and causing him to slam bodily into the nearest tree trunk. He gasped, fingernails digging desperately into the bark as he struggled to control his rapidly beating heart.
Unkempt locks fell into his eyes, much longer than he had once kept them, but he hadn't the energy to brush them aside. His knees buckled and he slid slightly down the tree, nails cracking and tearing as he struggled to support his own weight. His feet stung from abuse, his boots long since worn down and discarded through overuse. The soles of them were bleeding, beginning to swell into cruel looking appendages prone to infection.
These numerous aches and pains had become his constant.
Muscles straining, he pulled himself upright, chapped lips parched for air. The sounds of his pursuers pricked in his ears and he pushed away from his only support. Once again managing to find what was left of his stride, he began sprinting, lunging over the various roots that threatened to be his undoing.
A hound howled behind him and he knew that he had been found. With an extra burst of speed, the fugitive leapt over a fallen log and dodged through the straining branches. He felt them cut into the soft flesh on his face and mentally added the wounds to what was becoming a never-ending list.
Human voices cried out from within the forest and he turned, changing direction away from any approaching noises. Internally, he found that he was now cursing the very same surroundings that he had thought would be his protection. In fact, they were soon to be his downfall.
Hitching in his breaths, the fugitive twisted despite the twinge in his ribs. His back thumped against the coarse bark and he froze, remaining perfectly still as heavy footsteps neared him. Judging by the overlapping cracking of twigs beneath boots, he could conclude that at least four men were heading in his direction. As for the hounds, other than their incessant howling, they posed no threat to him other than to track his steps.
"Do you see him?"
"No, but he's here. I know it." The cockiness of the second man's tone was needless; there was a high probability that everyone in the kingdom knew exactly where he was. After their last unpleasant encounter, the trail of blood he had left in his frantic escape was almost too easy to follow. That had been two days ago and the effects of excessive blood loss were beginning to take their toll.
A wave of dizziness swept over the fugitive and he swayed where he stood, praying desperately that his knees would hold strong for a moment longer. When they eventually managed to lock in place, he let out a sigh of relief, head thumping back against the broad trunk.
He found himself soaking in the serenity of the woodland, its soothing silence managing to soften the pieces of his fragmented soul. Bitterly, he doubted that it would ever truly be fixed. But for now, with eyelids subconsciously closing, he wanted to be comforted.
Silence... He had missed being able to spend time in absolute quiet with no-one to disturb him. As of late, he had no time for such pleasures, constantly on guard from attack. Silence… He frowned, uncertain as to what was so unnerving about that one word.
With a startled inhale, azure orbs opened wide just in time to see the sharp glint of a blade swinging towards his neck. On instinct his eyes flashed a brilliant gold and time slowed down. He ducked deftly beneath the lethal weapon and out of arm's reach, the steady thrum of magic humming within. Then, with the natural burst of power complete, he released his hold on it, too drained to maintain it indefinitely. He watched as the sword buried itself in the bark, the man that was holding it yelling out in furious disbelief.
The distinctive echo of numerous swords being unsheathed forced him to tense and he pivoted on one blood-soaked foot, gazing at the remaining three soldiers. Their eyes were brimming with hate and, he realised, a hint of fear. Over time, these men had learned to take him seriously, but only after disregarding him as useless the first time they had fought. Within seconds, he had disarmed them and escaped: they had never underestimated him again.
Circling him as predators would their prey, they hissed as one.
Even he couldn't deny how the word sounded vile when spat from these men's lips. He almost found it significant to point out that he technically wasn't a sorcerer; he was a warlock. But, judging on the loathsome expressions of the men encircling him, he realised that it was probably not the best time to do so.
"If you surrender," the fugitive swung his head round to one side, fixing the man who had spoken with an intense look, "we shall not kill you where you stand."
He almost laughed at that. Even in his weakened state, he could dispatch these four men without even blinking and, judging by the shocked looks the others had sent to the man who had spoken, they knew it.
He frowned at the use of his name, turning to a familiar knight with a gentle smile on his face. Sir Leon had previously been someone he had liked and respected – someone that Camelot could be proud to call its knight. His face appeared anguished as he addressed the young warlock, clearly remembering past times when life had been so much simpler for them both.
"Merlin," Leon spoke again, aiming his sword's tip towards the ground in a non-threatening way. "Please… let us not do this anymore. There has been enough grief. The fighting and suffering can end now, if you allow it."
"You want me to surrender."
The statement was not a question and, in retrospect, Merlin realised that he should have been humbled. He knew that the other knights of Camelot had no desire to show 'the traitor' such leniency and would rather chop off his head than even propose it. But surrender meant returning to Camelot, and returning would mean public execution.
I cannot do that to Gaius or Gwen, he thought solemnly, knowing the pain that seeing his death would cause his friends. The only comfort he could find was that his mother would not have been present at his death. By the time she would have arrived in Camelot, her son would already be dead.
Piercing blue eyes held the knight's gaze as he spoke, "You wish for me to walk with complacence, hands bound, to my death." Merlin shook his head, his calm tone proceeding throughout. "You must know that you ask too much, Sir Leon."
"If you do not surrender, sorcerer," spat the audacious man – Merlin had never bothered to learn his name as the knight had never tried to learn his - from before, "then you will die right here."
"I believe your threats are wasted on me, Sir Knight," Merlin replied with mocking politeness, directing a withering glance towards him. "Unless such words are merely overcompensating for your lack of, shall we say skills?"
With a weak sense of amusement, too troubled to recognise further delight, the young warlock watched as the knight's face turned a startling red. His eyes began to glimmer with hate, and with an expression as scarlet as the tomatoes that Merlin had often been pelted with, he hurtled forth.
The sword shimmered in the crimson light of the setting sun; an obvious reflection of the blood it was yearning to spill. Merlin watched it with still composure, studying the smooth arc made as the blade fell towards his brow, intent on cleaving him in two.
Sapphire eyes shone gold once more and the sword froze inches from his face. The knight holding it struggled desperately, wrenching at the weapon in an effort to free it. But, after failed attempts, he found himself locked securely in place by the force of Merlin's magic. The fury from his red-tinged face was gone; now only fear remained. After all, not many who had openly attacked a sorcerer had then lived to tell the tale.
The other knights surged forth then, as expected. Merlin had learnt long ago that to threaten one member of a pack is to threaten them all. He felt no anger towards the other soldiers, knowing that were solely determined on saving one of their own. A few weeks earlier and he would have had no qualms in doing the same for them… and for Arthur.
The whisper of the spell weaved its way around the four warriors, their eyelids fluttering violently as sleep bade them. And as though performing part of an intricate dance, they fell in synchronisation around him. The clatter of their swords broke the tranquillity that nightfall had granted. The moment swiftly passed and all fell back into an uneasy silence.
Merlin gasped, shoulders slumping as he allowed his façade to slip. His entire frame trembled with pain and exertion as he hesitantly pressed a hand to the wound on his side. The piercing agony was almost as intense as it had been when he had first been stabbed and he felt ashamed for not being able to think of a more effective healing spell. As it was, he had only just managed to close the bleeding wound to a degree that meant he wouldn't die instantly. The spell for reducing pain, however, had been beyond his exhausted mind by that point.
His knees threatened to buckle again but he forced them to lock into place. Sheens of sweat had broken out along his brow and he winced when he increased the pressure on his side. Of all of his wounds, it was the only one in need of serious medical attention and he knew that if he remained where he was, he would not survive another encounter. His only chance was to flee and take the time to recover.
Otherwise, the chase that the knights of Camelot seemed so fond of would be disappointingly cut short.
Stumbling onwards, Merlin focussed his mind on the task ahead. He knew the task of racing away would be an arduous one indeed, particularly due to the fact that his sleeping spell would not last for long. He had not had the strength to enforce a more powerful enchantment and, regardless, it was a certainty that there would be more knights prowling the forest for him.
He found himself noticing - with an almost detached sense of realism - that the soles of his feet had begun to tingle. For now, he considered it a blessing that they had stopped smarting and it allowed him to move with a little more agility than before. However, as the apprentice of a highly renowned physician, he knew that the lack of any kind of pain was not a good thing if the wounds were not healed. If he was developing an infection, he feared the worst.
Limping through the trees, the young warlock felt his head beginning to spin and knew that an escape option may have been a little harder than he had first anticipated. With the dizziness and general fatigue bearing down hard upon his scrawny figure, he keeled forwards. Shuddering knees slammed deep into the soil, the boy's body curling forwards until his forehead touched the floor.
Something close to a sob rent from his face, but he stubbornly refused to shed a tear. He needed this moment to feel utterly overwhelmed, to remind him that he was still human, that he still felt. But to cry, to weep so openly would break him. This resilience was necessary when he was, without a doubt, abandoned.
The sound of slow footsteps made him freeze, his breath catching. He wondered which action he should take: catch the man off guard and try to make a run for it, perhaps try to stall until he had the strength to find his feet again, or do nothing.
Merlin knew which of the three seemed the most appealing in his forlorn state.
With one hand still gripping the weeping gash, the other slithered out in front of him. The footsteps immediately stopped and the warlock heard another sword being dragged out. He sighed, forcing the thin limb to bend at the elbow and push upward. His arm shook awfully with exertion as he raised himself from his bowed position and he hoped beyond hope that it would hold for a moment longer.
Agonisingly slowly, Merlin managed to sit back on his heels, arm thudding dejectedly onto his lap. His downcast eyes blinked heavily as he fought to find purchase on his surroundings. He was just so tired of it all.
Sorrowful sapphire orbs snapped upwards and they instantly widened in surprise. Merlin's mouth gaped open for a moment, before closing again when any form of speech betrayed him. He was not sure what he could possibly say to his master, the Prince, to make this situation all right again.
Arthur was as he remembered him. He still looked to be a proud, strong, arrogant Prince, but still a master that Merlin had been most grateful to be assigned to. Over their time spent together, they had gotten close and, although neither had ever voiced it, they had become friends.
The two stared at each other across the forest clearing, neither intending to speak. Merlin realised then that he had not seen Arthur since the day he had escaped; the fateful day when he had first been discovered. Even then, no words had been spoken. The pair had simply shared a long, conflicted look before the younger had turned to run and the older was forced to chase him.
That was how it had been for weeks now.
"I should have known you were the one leading the search," the warlock finally spoke, a tentative smile forming that didn't quite reach his eyes. "How else would your knights have been able to keep up?"
The prince didn't reply, his face expressionless as he began to walk closer. The sword by his side raised slightly, its tip aiming clearly at Merlin's chest in clear warning. For his part, Merlin did not react, gaze locked solely upon Arthur's own.
There were so many other questions that the young warlock wished to ask, but he knew that the answers would always be beyond him. He did not need to know everything; all that mattered was that it had brought the two of them to this exact moment at this exact time.
It was time to discover the truth of their destinies.
The scarlet shade of the setting sun enveloped the two, painting their complexions a deep red. Arthur paused before Merlin's knelt form, towering over his servant with a fearful kind of authority. The shadowed outlines of branches entwined their mystical patterns along the warlock's features, his eyes sparkling brightly as he waited for the hand of fate to pass judgement.
Time ticked on in a slow pace, as it always does when something incredibly consequential was about to pass.
With a frighteningly fast movement, Arthur raised the sword and swung it at the boy's slender neck. Merlin remained perfectly still, knowing that he could easily slow down time and dodge out of the way if he so desired. But he wouldn't. He had always known that if one day he was caught and his death was to be forced upon him, it would always be by Arthur's hand.
It was the best gift he could receive in his situation.
There was a sharp sting as the blade cut into his skin, before it instantly stopped. Merlin blinked, finally releasing the intense stare he had on the Prince's face before lowering it to his neck. The sword had stopped just as it had cut into his flesh, a line of fresh blood already beginning to weave its way towards his collarbone. But it was not a fatal wound and he most certainly was not dead.
It was then that he noted the sword was shaking and, after following it upward towards the hand of its owner, Merlin realised why. Arthur Pendragon, fearless warrior of Camelot, was wavering where he stood. His knuckles had turned a bleached white with the forceful hold he had on the sword's handle, while his cerulean eyes stormed over in a chaotic maelstrom.
The warlock frowned, trying to determine the man's expression. Had he been hurt? The thought worried Merlin, but he knew that he had not used any form of magic to defend himself. Perhaps another sorcerer had come to his aid and prevented the killing blow. Disregarding the fact that he could sense no-one else present, he knew it could be a definite possibility. And if that was the case, Arthur could have been seriously injured.
"Arthur?" Merlin whispered with uncertainty, unable to draw the Prince's attention away from his neck. His concern heightened when the sword eventually dropped away and fell with a dull thud to the ground: "Sire?"
As the title fell unusually from Merlin's lips, Arthur's gaze snapped to his servant's with startling clarity and Merlin found himself wishing that he had just remained quiet. The disbelief and anger he saw reflected in those familiar depths made him recoil, slumping further into his huddled position. He jumped in surprise at the sound of Arthur's enraged voice, wincing as he gripped his wound hard.
"What was that? What the hell did you think you were doing?"
As confused as he was, Merlin remained silent. He ignored the tug in his chest when Arthur's voice cracked on the words; he had to be resilient if he wanted a chance of surviving on his own. A part of him wished that whoever had interrupted Arthur's attack had simply not bothered.
Perhaps things would have been easier that way.
"Are you even listening to me?" The tone was said in such a familiar way that Merlin dragged himself from his troubled thoughts. He flinched as he realised he was face-to-face with a beyond livid Prince, his heavy breathing even managing to blow back the overgrown hair from the warlock's face.
"I… I don't know what happened."
Apparently, that was not the right thing to say as Arthur's eyebrows rose, "Really?" He dropped into a neat crouch, inches away from his pale servant who glanced nervously towards him. "Do you want to know what I think?"
The young warlock said nothing, trying to remain impassive as Arthur leaned in until their noses were almost touching. Fury still rolled off the Prince in suffocating waves, but, as Merlin was forced once again to hold a terrifying gaze, he caught a flash of something else. However, before he could identify it, it vanished again.
"I think that you are a complete idiot."
Merlin's brow creased as the words registered in his muddled mind, the exhaustion still a burden upon his shoulders. "What?"
The Prince flicked his stare to the small injury on the boy's neck and he shook his head. "Why didn't you stop my sword? You know as well as I do that you could have."
"What?" repeated the warlock, his expression now a picture of perplexity. He raised his free hand to the cut, pulling it back quickly to study the flecks of blood. After determining that what had happened was real, he sent Arthur a weary look. "You wanted me to stop your attack?"
His master sighed, traces of anger vanishing as he rose back to his feet. His fingers carded through his golden locks, as they often did when the young man was distressed, before he began pacing back and forth. Merlin observed him, leaning to one side unwittingly. His head felt like it was being submerged underwater and he knew that his chances of finding somewhere adequate to rest were becoming slimmer with each moment he waited.
Yet, he refused to move. Arthur was, to him, more important than his own survival.
Abruptly, Arthur stopped pacing and fixed a glare upon him. He had seemed to come to the conclusion that Merlin, as usual, was in the wrong. It had only been his quick reflexes that had managed to stop the blade's destination in time, "Why didn't you do anything?"
"Why does it matter?"
The Prince snarled, storming forward towards the hunched figure. "Answer my question."
"I have magic, remember?" Merlin snapped, deep eyes lifting to his friend's… his previous master's face. "According to the laws of Camelot, we are enemies now. Surely you should be glad that I am giving you the opportunity to kill me."
And, peculiar as it was, Arthur actually looked stunned. His hands dropped limply back to his sides and he seemed to deflate at the defeated words spoken by the younger boy. A light breeze whipped past them and the Prince watched as Merlin shuddered, the attire of servants hardly being enough to stave off the cold. His eyes lingered on the familiar red neckerchief and, fondly, he found that he had missed the sight of it and his clumsy manservant around the castle.
He came back to full awareness as he watched Merlin sway where he knelt. The slim body pitched forwards and Arthur was instantly dropping, supporting his shaking servant with as much tenderness as he could muster. He felt the boy's forehead rest tiredly against his shoulder and shifted on his knees so as to better support the limp figure before him.
"Merlin?" He asked softly, realising that it was the first time he had spoken the warlock's name in weeks. He felt the body before him twitch, felt strained muscles tense when Merlin tried to force himself upright. "No," he soothed, wrapping an arm around the boy's back and securing him. "It's alright, just… rest for a moment."
With his sweat sleeked brow burying deep into the cold chainmail, Merlin found the tension beginning to leave him. He slumped further into Arthur's hold, feeling both arms clutch at him and hold him close. He realised that this was apparently the closest the two would ever have come to an actual embrace. And he felt comforted: this was something that friends did, that family did with one another.
Light fingers tenderly peeled back his shirt from the injury on his side and he heard Arthur hiss in sympathy. "My knights told me that they'd managed to wound you. I just didn't think it would be this bad." Arthur pressed at the gash again, causing Merlin to wince in agony. "Sorry. Merlin, you need a physician."
"No, it's bearable, I can manage."
"Arthur," the warlock interrupted, struggling to raise his weary head. Eventually, he was blinking directly at Arthur's face, his expression somehow serious despite his drained physique. "I can manage."
The blonde prince narrowed his eyes before after obvious deliberation, he relented. He sat back slightly, hands now holding Merlin's biceps in case he fell again. Their knees were touching, postures exactly identical as they studied each other, trying to solve the riddle that made them both. They were exact opposites and, even after everything, still two sides of the same coin.
Arthur was the first to break the silence that the woodland had cast upon them. "I'm sorry, Merlin."
"What for?" the warlock's tone even sounded fatigued, his lids heavy and weighing down upon mystical orbs. "None of this was your fault."
"I didn't help you."
The servant smiled lightly, shrugging his bony shoulders. "I never gave you reason to. I had lied to you from the day I first met you and since then, constantly betrayed your trust. I still don't really know why you are talking to me now."
"Would you rather I wasn't?" Arthur asked, sharing a teasing look with the troubled warlock. "I understand why you lied. My father's laws are… ruthless. It took me some time to realise it, but I know that you have only ever used your magic for good. There were so many times when impossible situations were resolved, seemingly by a single strike of a sword." He grinned. "Despite what you may think, Merlin, I am not stupid. I know that many of those situations were resolved by you."
A smile, so like earlier times when he had appeared to be just a cheery servant, lit up Merlin's face. His hands rose slowly to grasp at Arthur's elbows, almost mirroring the hold the older man had on him. "To know that you understand is… Thank you."
The tearful look in his servant's eyes speared his heart and he merely inclined his head. All Arthur could hope was that his acceptance would give Merlin something to fight for, to keep him going. Nothing he could say would lift his father's decision to hunt down 'the despicable traitor'.
"It isn't fair."
Dark locks fell into Merlin's eyes as he nodded, lowering his gaze. "I know."
"There must be something that I…"
"No," the young warlock stopped him. "You have already done enough, Arthur. But you know what we both must do now and you must be prepared."
The crown Prince of Camelot freed his hold on his friend's slim arms, shaking his head. He knew what Merlin was asking of him and, although comparing it to the unthinkable alternative made it easier, he wasn't sure that he could continue.
For until the laws of the kingdom changed, he would be forced to hunt Merlin down. And eventually, he knew from past experiences that their hunting ground would deteriorate until there was nowhere left to hunt. One day, Merlin would be the cornered prey and he would ultimately be beaten.
The Prince raised his golden head, glancing around the crimson coloured woodland. This is the hunting ground, he realised bitterly, hoping that Merlin knew enough of his surroundings to know where to hide. As it was, the trees could either be his greatest asset or his most fearsome adversary. He hoped, with every fibre of his being, that they would never become the latter.
With hesitation, he rose gracefully to his feet, Merlin's grip relinquishing on his arms. Offering a hand to the warlock, he watched as Merlin took it with unwavering loyalty. Arthur pulled him swiftly to his feet, steadying the thin boy when he stumbled, bloodied feet throbbing. They stood for a moment, hands still grasped tightly together in an affectionate handshake.
The colour drained from Merlin's face at the sound of approaching voices, his spare hand once again clutching at his side. Somehow, despite his obvious fear, the corners of his mouth twitched upwards and Arthur instantly grasped his friend's hand tighter.
"I guess I'll see you again, you know, sooner or later."
"Sire!" The master and servant both flinched as the knights neared them, but refused to lose what could be their final few minutes together. Nothing could take that away for them.
Arthur bowed his head, eyes bright with concern and fondness. "Make it later, Merlin. Run and don't ever stop running." He let out a long exhale, resting his other hand on the warlock's shoulder, "If you must, defend yourself. They will show you no mercy, Merlin."
The warlock nodded, dark hair flitting about him as the wind passed them. The sun had almost completely set, but sill continued to bathe them in crimson waves. They entwined in the Prince's golden hair and contrasted with the magical sapphire of Merlin's eyes, making them even more prominent.
"You must keep chasing me, Arthur," Merlin finally spoke, aware that he could now hear the thundering footsteps and the whine of the hounds. "No matter what, you have to because it is what must be done. One day, when you become the great King that I know you will be, that may change."
"Until then," continued the warlock, heart lifting at the assertiveness of the Prince's statement, "chase me."
With blue eyes linked together in a goodbye between friends, the clasped hands separated. Merlin heaved in a deep lungful of air, drawing on energy that had not been there before and ran. Dodging around the Prince's motionless form, his long legs strode forth, almost eating up the ground. Even though his bones creaked and he knew that when he finally did come to a stop it would most likely be in a dead faint, he sprinted with impressive speed.
Behind him, he knew that Arthur would stall for a few moments before leading the hunt again. It was his role to play in their twisted little performance and the young warlock had no doubt that Arthur would perform it perfectly. They were servant and master, warlock and prince, the hunted and the hunter.
But, with sincere conviction, they knew that their gruelling production would eventually draw to a close. After that, they could simply be Merlin and Arthur, just as their destinies had already proclaimed.
Until that time, Arthur would continue to chase, fervently hoping that his quarry would never be caught. Merlin paused, panting, before sending a glance back at the way he had come. The dying light of day urged him onwards with fading ruby rays through the trees and he dipped his head in acknowledgement: Until then…
So, what did you think? Please review and let me know - I'd love to hear what you think! :)
Also, the spell "swefe nu" was taken from 2x10 when Merlin makes the Lady Vivian fall asleep in Arthur's chambers.
Thanks for reading! :D.
Hugs, Ami-Rose x x x x x ;)