Struggling to unsteady feet Merlin staggered over to a nearby stream. He fell to his knees, greedily drinking handfuls of cool, refreshing water. Sated he scooped up more and splashed handfuls onto his face –instantly receiving the wakeup call that he needed. This was not the time to feel sorry for himself, not whilst Arthur lay sick and (he dared not think it) dying back in that cave.

Remembering the task allotted he began searching for the yarrow that Gaius needed He knew what it looked like, had been with the old physician long enough to recognize its lacey, fern-like leaves. And he knew where to find it too, so it didn't take long for him to locate a bumper crop. Pulling away the newest shoots, the ones that would have the best healing properties he soon had enough to make several batches of Gaius' special poultice.

It was as he turned to make his way back that he heard it – heard them. The unmistakable sound of human feet trudging through the undergrowth nearby, judging by the noise being made it was a large group, probably Morgana's men; probably immortals.

Instantly he knew what he had to do – he had to get them away from the cave, away from Arthur. Sprinting into the undergrowth he headed straight towards the approaching group ensuring that he made as much noise as possible as he ran. Moments later he crashed into a large clearing straight into the path of a hoard of heavily armoured warriors. Only startled for a moment they were soon in pursuit of the young magician as he raced away from his master's hiding place.

x-x-x

"Gaius he's getting worse," Elyan murmured as he knelt beside his trembling Prince, bathing his sweat-soaked face with a dampened cloth.

"I know ... it's as I feared. That was no ordinary arrow ... no ordinary poison. I'm afraid dark magic is at work here."

The Prince lost in a fever induced nightmare thrashed his head from side to side as Elyan continued to offer reassurance.

Crying out Arthur suddenly opened his eyes, looked around at his concerned friends. Confused – disorientated.

"Where?" He didn't need to complete the sentence as Elyan leaned forward to convey an answer.

"You're at the hideout, Sire," the young knight murmured. "You're safe ... we are safe."

Unfocussed eyes searched the cave for the owner of the voice. "Elyan?" Arthur questioned.

"Yes Arthur ... it is I."

"I'm ... sorry ... I failed ... you," the young Prince whispered, hand outstretched seeking a physical contact with his friend.

Elyan shocked by the statement stared up at Gwaine, seeking guidance.

The Irish knight could offer none, shrugged shoulders to say as much.

"You could never fail me, Arthur," Elyan murmured clasping Arthur's outstretched hand. "You saved me so many times ... you saved your people so many times."

"Gwen ... I should've ... protected ... her ... I am sorry," the young Prince murmured as his head lolled to one side, his body convulsing.

Elyan looked up in despair at Gaius. "Help him," he pleaded.

In response the elderly physician crouched next to his trembling patient, gently lifting Arthur's head; coaxing another dose of elixir into the dangerously ill man.

"The infection is getting worse," Gaius informed the worried knights as he peered beneath the soiled dressing. "It is time to change the poultice," he stared with concern at the cave entrance. "Where is Merlin?" he murmured.

x-x-x

To be continued

Hope this is making sense – any feedback good or bad would be greatly appreciated (please).