Merlin ran through the forest, dropping the leather pack into the small nook at the base of a large oak tree. Tucking it down he grabbed the spare sword, the two rabbits and one pheasant that Arthur had hunted that morning and shrugging the pack with the spare equipment in it onto his back, continued running. He crested a small rise, muttering in irritation, panting a little as he did so.
Days like this were getting typical. They were going to have to notice soon surely? Merlin snarled to himself. Actually trying to get a single word in edgeways between Arthur and Gaius was impossible, so he was left running between the two. As he ran he stumbled, and catching his foot on something, he went pitching forward down the small incline. He crashed down into the base of the small gully; there was a bright flash and a loud bang, and then; well to Merlin, it all felt rather strange.
Arthur looked up at the sound.
"What was that?" he asked, then paused and looked around. Merlin was no where in sight. Arthur sighed and rolled his eyes. "Skirting the trail does not mean going right round the far side of the forest."
Even as he muttered under his breath he realised the sound had come from what should have been Merlin's general location. Should have been, but meant he probably wasn't over there, that or he was and of course, had ended up getting himself into some sort of mess.
With a huff Arthur shifted the crossbow in his grip and started to jog in the general direction the sound had come from.
Gaius jumped as the crash echoed through the forest, sending the birds above him flapping away in panic. He looked around sharply. The sound hadn't come from too far away. Straitening up he hefted the basket he was carrying and looked around.
"Merlin?" he called. "Oh, what is he up to now?"
Forgetting all about the herbs he was collecting Gaius headed in the direction of the sound, sighing heavily, and hoping that Merlin hadn't got himself into any sort of bother. He'd only just managed to get himself out of his last scrape.
"I'm getting to old for this," Gaius told himself, and then frowned as he caught a flicker of movement in the forest, moving swiftly.
Gaius stomped as fast as he could in the direction of the movement and it met him quite rapidly, almost pitching him over.
"Merlin! Be more careful for heavens sake!"
"Gaius?" he was kept steady by a strong grip. Gaius blinked and looked, with some surprise, up at Arthur.
"Sire, I'm sorry, I thought you were Merlin."
"I guessed that," Arthur said. "He was hunting with me, well, when I say hunting," Arthur left that hanging, with a shrug, and turned to look around. He turned back as Gaius said.
"No, he was with me, collecting herbs. We've spent the morning restocking some of my supplies."
They looked at each other for a moment, processing that, then Arthur said.
"But he came out hunting with me," Arthur said.
"He said he was setting off ahead of me to get started, I thought he seemed a little over enthusiastic."
"He certainly wasn't about hunting, disappeared off the first chance he got."
"I met him gathering yarrow from the meadow."
They looked at each other again. Arthur blinked.
"Why didn't he just tell me you needed to do that?"
"Why didn't he tell me that you wanted him to go hunting?"
Again they looked at each other, both not wanting to ask the other if they had actually given Merlin a chance to point that out. Arthur looked around again.
"And on that subject, where exactly is he? And what was that noise?"
Gaius didn't want to point out that was two subjects, even if they could be highly connected. Instead he looked around and frowned as he spotted something and pointed.
Arthur looked where Gaius indicated, stepping over a thick tree root he crouched down and picked up the leather pack. Gaius moved behind him and lifted it from Arthur's hands as he held it up.
"It's Merlin's." Opening it Gaius peered at the contents, looking at the herbs that had already been collected. Closing it again Gaius put the pack in his shoulder and looked down at Arthur, who was examining the little hollow and then he turned, still crouched down, and looked at the forest floor.
"Someone came this way recently, ran in from that direction," Arthur mused, pointing in the direction Gaius had come from. "Paused here, picking something up by the look of it, and then they went that way." Arthur pointed in the direction he had travelled from. "They were running, and they went that way over the crest. Merlin!"
Gaius jumped a little as Arthur bellowed. Straightening up the prince glanced at the physician.
Arthur turned away so he didn't see Gaius frown. After a moment Gaius followed Arthur as he headed through the forest, following the less than subtle trail. Merlin was going for speed, not stealth. Arthur chose not to give that information to Gaius, instead he stepped up the small incline and paused, looking around.
"Sire?" Gaius said, nodding at something in the small gully. Arthur looked at the scattering of equipment which was spread around a small area of undergrowth. He almost stepped forward but then Gaius suddenly grabbed his arm and hauled him back. Arthur swayed back with the movement, turning to frown at the older man.
"Careful Sire," Gaius warned. Arthur followed his gaze, looking down at the low brush in front of them; tilting his head Arthur saw the faintest glimpse of metal. He crouched slowly, followed by Gaius. Reaching out one hand Arthur carefully parted the brush and looked at the length of silvery wire running through it. Putting his other hand on Gaius' shoulder to warn him to stay down Arthur flicked the wire. It vibrated with a low humming sound. Arthur raised his eyebrows.
Gaius shifted, slowly getting up and following the taut line of metal. Arthur watched him, and then crept after him. They went a few metres around the clearing. Both pausing as something shifted in the middle. Gaius' eyes continued moving around the clearing, focussing on a tree opposite them, which seemed to have some sort of symbol painted on it.
"This is not any trap I know," Arthur said, twanging the wire again and hearing the hum. Gaius shushed Arthur down and pointed at the large bush again it shivered a little. Very slowly, Arthur stood up and drew his sword, looking down at the wire he glanced at Gaius, nodding at it in an unspoken question. Arthur didn't know what it was, he didn't know if it was safe.
The physician inclined his head and then moved around the circle, following the band of wire. With a nod at Arthur he indicated that the prince should move in the opposite direction, keeping his eye on the shrubbery, and Merlin's equipment that was dropped there. Arthur paused and slowly crouched down again. Over by a tree, Gaius was inspecting the symbols that had been etched into the bark.
Arthur picked up the end of the wire he had found. The silver was blackened at the end and sniffing it Arthur picked up the smell of burning. Checking the ground, he found the other end of the wire, the connection had clearly been broken. Gaius shuffled around to him.
"I think whatever it was has run its course. It's broken in two other places," Gaius said.
Arthur straightened up again stepped over the boundary of the circle and headed into the centre. Sniffing he caught the smell of burning in the air but there was no further sign of fire. His jaw hardened and he tensed his hands on his sword hilt.
"Merlin?" Arthur asked. The large bush shivered again. Arthur moved towards it, frowning as he saw a clump of material caught in the bush. Reaching out he used the point of his sword to catch it up and pull it clear of the foliage, blinking in surprise as he looked at Merlin's trousers. Further inspection located his boots.
"Merlin?" he demanded again and then jumped, almost toppling Gaius, who had come up behind him. They both stared at the little head that popped out for a moment, clocked them both and disappeared back into the shrubbery with a squeak.
"Was that -?" Gaius asked.
"I think so," Arthur replied, trying to catch other glimpse. A few leaves parted and two wide blue eyes looked out at them. The little boy, occupying Merlin's shirt blinked at them and waited.
"What the f - !" Arthur started and Gaius ended by sighing heavily.