After re-reading the previous version of this story I felt it needed a rewrite (should never have checked Google for the spelling of Gwaine – sorry about that). Some slight tweaks and additions here and there. Hope this reads better than the original!
The fever had worsened, had taken hold of the badly wounded Prince and was ravaging his already weakened body. He lay on the cold hard ground, body wracked by chills that were in stark contrast to the sweat that soaked his thick-blond hair.
Merlin tried desperately to comfort him, to offer re-assurance, to bathe his hot-flushed face, to cover his too cold body with his woefully thin cloak. What he really needed was magic – of that he was certain. With the right healing spell he would be able to heal his friend and master. But whilst Gwaine sat nearby he could not chance it; could not reveal his secret, even if this man was a friend.
So he looked for a diversion, a way to gain time alone with Arthur. He found it in a request for more firewood. Gwaine was a practical man, would quickly see the need to maintain their source of heat and protection. And he did - after a short period of playful objections he willingly set off on the allotted quest; leaving Merlin alone with the gravely ill Prince.
Instantly the young magician was at Arthur's side; was whispering the incantations he felt sure would revive his friend.
But it was soon evident his spells were not working – they were either not powerful enough or, as Merlin now feared, Arthur was too far gone; was now too sick and beyond help.
"C'mon ... Arthur c'mon," he murmured, despairing, fighting back tears that threatened to fall.
Arthur, his fever worsening, shivered violently. "Must ... do my duty," he moaned, delirious. "Help ... my ... people." He opened his eyes then and stared wildly around, stared past Merlin, failing to even recognize the presence of his servant. He struggled to his knees, gritting his teeth in his determination to stand, to continue the quest he did not realize had failed.
Merlin, afraid his master would re-open the badly infected wound, wrapped a supportive arm around Arthur, spoke quietly to the disorientated man, coaxed him back to the ground.
"Everything will be alright," he whispered, pulling his cloak over the shivering man. "We'll look for the cup ... we'll save Camelot. But right now - you need to rest."
If Arthur had heard the words the young magician could not tell. The Prince, teeth clenched against the pain moaned in his fevered sleep, shivering uncontrollably as the poison ran its debilitating course.
Merlin, desperate to keep this sick man warm, nestled beside his friend – his body providing the additional heat that Arthur so badly needed. He wrapped his arm protectively around the shivering frame, whispered words of reassurance as he stroked sweat-soaked locks from the fevered face. Reacting to the gentle touch Arthur opened his eyes.
"Merlin," he murmured, momentarily recognizing his young servant. "What … happened?"
"You got shot remember … the arrow was poisoned … you're running a fever."
"I … got … shot?" the Prince questioned, words slurred. "I … don't … remember." And he drifted away again then, shivering uncontrollably; body wracked with pain.
When Gwaine finally returned with the firewood Merlin quickly helped the warrior to stoke up the dying flames of their fire. Arthur would benefit from the additional heat and together they pulled him closer to the revitalised flames. The Prince moaned softly as he began to feel the warmth of the fire, tossing his head from side to side, fighting to push away the cloak that enwrapped him – face flushed; fever-hot. Merlin pulled the makeshift blanket back in place, it was important that his master did not become chilled.
He dampened a cloth and wiped Arthur's sweat-drenched brow. Tears that for so long had threatened to fall now trickled down his face. Gwaine, noticing his friend's distress, squeezed Merlin's shoulder.
"He'll be alright," he said quietly, offering reassurance. "You'll see."
"He's getting worse," Merlin murmured as he wiped his face on his sleeve. "You know he is."
The warrior nodded – could not deny it, even for the sake of his friend. It was clear that the boy was immensely fond of the Prince. From their first meeting he had seen the devotion; had witnessed the loyalty but still could not understand it.
"Why do you put up with him?" he asked quietly.
"Because he's my friend," Merlin answered matter of fact.
"But how can you think of him as a friend? ... I've seen how he treats you. He clearly sees you as his servant and not his friend."
"You don't know him," the boy grinned, wiping away unshed tears. "His bark's so much worse than his bite. Since I've been with him I've seen him change ... seen what a great warrior he's become, how much he cares for his people. One day I know he will become a great king."
"Not if we don't get that cup," Gwaine reminded his young companion. "And unless we get him some help soon I don't think he'll last much longer."
"We need to get his fever down ... help me lift him, there is one more thing we could try. I have a potion that Gaius gave me before we left ... in case we ran into trouble. I think that might help - temporarily at least."
The rugged warrior knelt behind the sick Prince and gently lifted his sweat-soaked torso into a sitting position, supporting his shivering body as Merlin lifted a small vial to Arthur's quivering lips. Slowly they coaxed him to drink, to swallow the much needed medication. Finally the vial was empty and they lowered the wounded man to the ground. Merlin re-soaked a cloth and used it to cool his master's too-hot brow, whilst Gwaine threw the last of the wood on their fire.
Satisfied they had done all they could, they settled on the cold, hard ground, lying close to the seriously wounded Prince; praying he would survive the night.
They were still asleep when Arthur, fever abated, finally awoke.