It appeared in my brain as the whole 'Scheme Of Things' stories continued that it wove well into series 3, so this kind of reworks the finale with the 'Exiles', bits of the story that happen as they did in the ep I'm not planning to write, just the new bits, anything else may be summerized for convenience. But it will eventually follow on after the end of the series, I have more ideas for that coming up... Enjoy
The four druids ran through the forest, one of the women reached out to grab the boy's hand, pulling him along as he started to flag. He stumbled over a tree root and tried to keep up. The sounds of horses and men were closing in around them. The second women in their quartet moved closer to the boy, trying to take his other hand. They tumbled together, landing on the mulch of the forest floor as a horse crashed out to their right. Two soldiers on foot followed behind, swords in their hands.
More soldiers ran out from the other side, hemming the group in. The man in the lead turned, yelping as a nearby soldier lashed out at him with a sword catching him on the thigh, sending him stumbling back. He fell heavily, looking in concern at the men surrounding them. One of the women screamed as she was pulled from the prone group and pinned down by two men as another pulled her cloak aside and yanked at her skirts. She kicked out and the boy tried to run forward to help her. He was grabbed around the waist by one of the soldiers and thrown back, landing heavily.
"Kill the brat, we can have some fun with the women before we kill them."
The other woman screamed as she tried to get to the boy, who lay on the floor looking up at the soldier wielding the sword. He raised the weapon ready to strike, when suddenly he was hurled backwards as someone burst through the trees, slamming into him and sending him crashing to the ground. As the soldier landed heavily Arthur used his momentum to fly over, rolling and coming to his feet in one smooth movement.
The injured druid looked their rescuer up and down. He was young, blond haired, with a light trace of stubble on his jaw. The clothes he wore were of a good quality, but looked a little worn, he was dressed in a blue shirt, and leather jerkin, and leather gauntlet gloves covered his hands and forearms, scuffed and dirty with regular wear. His trousers and boots were in the same worn state. However, the sword he pulled from his belt was clean and sharp, the metal glittering in the sunlight.
Arthur's jaw set and he glared at the soldier, swinging his sword and balancing his feet carefully.
"You want to try picking on someone your own size," Arthur told the soldier pleasantly. "And see how far it gets you."
He blocked a blow as the soldier attacked him. The one who had been pulling at the woman's clothes left her and swept his sword up, running to charge Arthur from behind. The solider was distracted as Jonas and Gareth came running out from Arthur's left and Rupert and Gwaine came from the other direction tackling the soldiers threatening the injured man. The man lay still, trying to keep clear of the melee, shuffling backwards, using his good leg to propel himself. Glancing over he watched Merlin skulk out to help the others off the floor, pulling them clear of the fight, Robert ran forward to assist the prone women, kicking the man still holding her down in the face to knock him away and pulling her up.
The injured man scanned the group; the soldiers were no match for the renegade knights. None of them had lapsed their training over the last few months, they cut through the soldiers easily. Another soldier suddenly burst from the undergrowth and ran at Arthur. The inured man watched as Merlin's attention turned that way, his eyes flashed gold and a fallen branch flew through the air and slammed into him. Arthur concentrated on the fight he was faced with, but a slight shifting of his shoulders indicated that he was aware of what was happening and he gave Merlin a brief glance.
Minutes later the soldiers were dealt with. Arthur paused, panting heavily, while the knights checked the women were uninjured and Rupert knelt by the man's side looking at the deep cut on his leg.
He called across the clearing and Merlin turned his head, realising what was happening. He swung his pack off his shoulder and ran across to them, kneeling down by the druid, who looked at Merlin carefully, now realising who he was. Merlin blinked as he felt the brush of another mind against his, then he started pulling things from his pack. The injured man looked up realising that if this was Emrys, then the young blond man who led the attack was in fact none other than the lost prince of Camelot.
Merlin pulled a linen bandage from his pack and pressed it against the wound, looking at the flow of blood. The cut was deep, but looked clean enough.
"I need a fire, and some water, and that honey," Merlin said. Without even discussing it, Gareth went off to find some wood, Jonas and Robert disappeared of to collect their belongings, coming back a few minutes later. They put everything down and Robert pulled out the small jar of honey he had stored and looked at it longingly.
"Aw, I was going to make honey cakes," he complained. All the knights groaned a little in sympathy.
"Damn, I was looking forward to that," Gareth said, coming back with the firewood. He started to set up the fire, while Jonas brought Merlin some water.
"What else do you need?"
"I need the herb packs to make a poultice. We haven't got any thread to stitch it with have we?" Merlin rummaged a little more and then looked apologetically at his patient. "Sorry."
"Here." One of the women stepped forward, pulling on a thread on her bodice of her dress, carefully unspooling it, and tugging it free when there was enough length. She held it out to Merlin.
"It should suffice."
Merlin raised his eyebrows, carefully taking the delicate thread and shrugging. "Okay," he said, getting the needle. Gwaine grimaced.
"Can't watch this bit," he announced disappearing off to check over the bodies, removing a knife from one and a coin purse from another. Arthur watched him with narrow eyes, before leaving him alone and heading over to check Merlin's progress. Gareth lit the fire and set a pot of water to boil, Rupert and Jonas headed off to get the horses. The group of druids watched them as they worked, all of them moved around like they knew exactly what they were doing. Eventually Gwaine broke the silence, looking at Arthur.
"Try picking on someone your own size?" he asked the prince. Arthur shrugged.
"I think I'm spending way too much time training with you, you're rubbing off, and not in a good way."
Gwaine looked down at the dead soldier.
"It was a fair point though, and it didn't get him very far."
Arthur smirked, and then turned his full attention to how Merlin was getting on. The two women and the boy had clustered around the prone man, who was trying not to grimace as Merlin stitched. He was getting better at it, but his work compared to Gaius' did leave something to be desired.
"So, why were they hunting you?" Arthur asked.
"People seem to need very little reason to hunt druids," one of the women said quietly. Arthur raised his eyebrows, looking at her curiously.
"Cara," the man admonished. She looked a little embarrassed but met Arthur's gaze boldly.
"That doesn't answer my question, from the tracks and bodies we found, it looks like they had been hunting you down. Besides, they're Cenred's men; they don't put that much effort into something without a reason. So why were they hunting you?"
"Cenred required something we had."
Arthur rolled his eyes a little, before he could ask anything further he felt a tug on his sleeve, he turned and looked down at the druid boy, who stared up at him.
"You're Prince Arthur," the boy said.
"Yes, I am," Arthur said. Now and again it just wasn't worth the effort of trying to conceal himself. No druid was going to go to Camelot to inform Uther of his whereabouts.
"You gave up the throne for a sorcerer, why did you do that?"
The boy sounded genuinely curious, as if the stories that he had heard, didn't equate with that. Arthur raised his eyebrows, gaze straying to Merlin.
"There are times I really wonder," Arthur drawled cynically.
"Ha, ha, ha," Merlin snapped back, not looking up from his stitching. "Is that poultice nearly ready?" he asked Robert.
"Getting there," Robert said. Arthur waited for silence to fall again before saying.
"And I haven't given up the throne, I am still the rightful heir," Arthur said.
"And the time you will be needed is dawning," the druid man said.
"So I've heard," Arthur said. "So, what did you have that Cenred wanted so badly?"
"The Cup of Life."
"What?" Merlin said, bringing his head up and jabbing the man a little too hard in the leg. He winced but said nothing. "Sorry," Merlin said. "But I thought that was destroyed."
"When?" Arthur asked. Merlin chewed his lower lip.
"When I battled Nimueh," Merlin mumbled. "I thought it was destroyed in the lightening blast."
"No article of such power can be destroyed; the balance of the world will not allow it. It was placed in our care after it was removed from the Isle Of The Blessed. Cenred heard of its whereabouts and came to claim it," the druid told him.
"How did he hear of it?"
"He slaughtered a patrol of Camelot's soldiers, they violated the border of his lands," he said gently, looking sympathetic as Arthur went pale. Merlin stopped stitching and slowly the knights ceased moving as they took in what the druid was saying.
"The ones we skirted to avoid," Arthur said. "I didn't think they would take the risk."
"We have heard rumours about the orders that the soldiers of Camelot have," the druid said. "They are to take you by any means they can, and Emrys killed on sight."
Merlin winced, Arthur shrugged.
"I think it's you more than me we need to keep out of harm's way," Arthur said to him.
"One of the men was not beyond our help, we used the cup to restore him," one of the women said. Arthur frowned.
"His name was Leon," she said. Arthur gave a visible sigh of relief. "We led him to the border of Camelot, and we presumed he returned. He must have told the king of what occurred."
"And somehow Cenred heard of it," Jonas said. "We know we have an enemy in Camelot, they must be close to Uther to have learnt that. It would not be something he would want known."
Merlin looked down, smearing the poultice on the wound, packing it around it before starting to bandage it. The druid looked at him intently, and Merlin shook his head, jaw tensing as he did so.
"I though you had to offer one life in exchange for another," Merlin said. "That's how it works, isn't it?"
"There was death surrounding him, there was enough of an exchange to restore the knight. We save lives if we can, but not to the detriment of others."
Merlin winced inwardly, and said nothing. Arthur pondered the idea.
"It hardly seems something that Cenred would be interested in. Saving lives is not something he worries about."
"The cup can be used for darker purposes, there must be a balance to everything, even the magic that is created," the druid man told him. Arthur tilted his eyes upwards.
"Great," he said. "Honestly Merlin, you wonder why I get so angry. Why do you create these things and then never seem to be able to look after them properly when they can be so damn dangerous."
"The balance has to be kept, it is the nature of people that is to blame for the evil, not the magic and its tools."
Arthur looked down at the druid, wondering if he was defending the cup or Merlin with those words.
"Most of the time, I don't find sorcerers particularly well natured."
"That is because the old religion has been destroyed by your lack of understanding," the druid answered calmly. Arthur rolled his eyes again.
"So what exactly can this cup do that is less than good?"
"It has happened before, place a drop of someone's blood into the cup and the person will become immune to death. An army was created, and used against lesser nations."
Arthur ran the fingers of one hand through his hair and then rubbed his chin. He was getting to the point he needed to shave, and he wanted to do it soon.
"And again, I point out, why create and use these things if they are so dangerous?"
"You wouldn't understand," the druid said.
"Clearly not," Arthur said. As Merlin finished the bandaging the knights clustered around the prince.
"Whether we understand it or not," Jonas said. "If Cenred has the means to create an immortal army, then you know which way he will turn it."
"Will he know how to use the cup to do so?" Gareth asked.
"If he's still in league with Morgause, then I don't doubt she'll be able to do it," Arthur said. "We have no choice, we have to take the risk, and return to Camelot; somehow."
Gwaine rounded up the horse that Cenred's scout had been riding and the group escorted the druids to the kingdom's border, sending them in the direction of one of the outlying villages where they could get help. They didn't particularly thank them, but cast the prince and the knights lingering looks. Merlin stared at the injured man sat on the back of the horse, as he felt the man's mind touch his. Again Merlin shook his head before catching up with the group. He hung back a little. Gwaine who was also lingering at the back, kept casting him looks of concern but Merlin ignored him for a moment, as he listened to the discussion the others were having.
"We need to try and get a message to Olwen, if he could meet us, maybe we could find out who the traitor is. Somebody within the court has to be feeding Cenred information and more to the point, this person would have to be pretty close to the king," Jonas said.
"And whoever it was knew about Merlin."
They glanced back to look at him, trailing along behind. Arthur paused, pulling his horse to a halt, they were walking rather than riding for the moment, but they would need to pick up pace soon.
"You have no idea Merlin?" Arthur demanded, frowning as Merlin hesitated and he passed the reins he was holding to Jonas, so he could walk back through the group to look at Merlin, reading his face and the worry in his eyes. "Merlin?"
Everyone's eyes fixed on him. Merlin looked around, his discomfort growing. He really did not want to have this conversation. It was starting to get very inevitable that it was about to happen. Merlin wasn't sure if Arthur would even believe it, and it would entail explaining what he had done over eighteen months ago.
"Merlin?" Arthur's voice hardened in a way that they all knew well enough. Merlin flinched and shifted, but he eventually nodded.
"You knew who is was and you never said?" Jonas said. "Why not?"
"Because you won't believe me and I don't have any clear proof to back it up."
Arthur rolled his eyes, "why wouldn't we believe you? We've gone all this time, we've left Olwen in danger trying to track any information he can, and you could have told us all along!"
Merlin backed up a step, and then paused sensing Gwaine behind him. He wasn't hemming him in for Arthur, he was stepping up to get between them if he had to.
"It's complicated," Merlin said quietly, Arthur frowned and Merlin could sense his anger peaking. There was no choice now, he would have to say something and it would probably be better to get it over with, rather than force Arthur to now drag it out of him.
"It's Morgana," Merlin said, hearing the gasps of surprise, shock and disbelief from the group. Arthur stepped back, giving a sharp breath, he folded his arms and glared at Merlin.
"Morgana? You are telling me, Morgana has turned against my father, and me, and everyone else. Merlin, she is family!"
Merlin jerked his head up, a direct blood link wasn't what Arthur meant, but it made Merlin react all the same. He stared into Arthur's increasingly angry face.
"You see, how on earth could I tell you? You don't believe it. When she was kidnapped, it was Morgause that took her, who also happens to be Morgana's sister, through their mother. They have been plotting since Morgana returned, who do you think performed that spell on your father? It all started when Morgana came back!"
Arthur frowned, his shoulders tensing. "Are you saying Morgana came back in that state deliberately. You saw her!"
"Yes, I did and she's a very good actress, and she knew full well I couldn't tell you."
"It's complicated," Merlin said, shrinking into himself a little as Arthur stepped forward, eyes flashing with anger. Gwaine stepped forward, putting a light hand on Arthur's arm. With lightening response Arthur knocked him away, also pushing him back from Merlin. Merlin looked down at Arthur's chest. No one else heard what Merlin said as he mumbled at Arthur, confessing what he had done to Morgana, from taking her to the druids, to things that had happened later.
None of the knights heard the conversation but all of them jumped in shock as Arthur suddenly lunged forward and punched Merlin hard, sending him reeling backwards. Arthur would have dived forward for another go but Rupert and Jonas dropped their reins and grabbed Arthur, taking an arm each and dragging him back. The two others knights frantically tried to control the horses, which reacted skittishly to the sudden noise. Gwaine lifted Merlin off the ground, keeping a protective arm around him, drawing him back from Arthur's anger and getting prepared to push him back if Arthur broke free.
"You poisoned her!" Arthur roared at Merlin, who cringed. Gwaine kept hold of him, while his eyes stayed on Arthur. The knights all held their positions but froze at the accusation.
"There wasn't anything else I could do, she was the vessel for the spell, the knights and Morgause would have taken the castle, killed both you and Uther. The dragon said it was the only way."
"And you believed him?" Arthur said. "And then you let that witch take her!"
"She said she could save her. I didn't want to do it, Morgana was my friend."
"You don't poison your friends," Arthur snarled and then struggled against the two men. "I'm fine, I'm fine."
They released him but kept a careful eye on proceedings. Gwaine didn't let Merlin go, he could feel him trembling with tension and fear, two things that didn't often show up when Merlin was faced with Arthur.
"Whether or not you want to believe it," Gwaine said. "She's close enough to Uther to get the information. Did she know about you, Merlin?"
Merlin shook his head, "not that I'm aware of, but both her and Morgause knew I was onto them, there is a good chance they were watching me close enough to see something. Even a suspicion would be enough for them to act on it. Quite possibly we just did the rest."
"Giving them a perfect position," Gwaine concluded. He turned to look at Arthur, who was breathing heavily, and trying to get himself under control. His eyes blazed, giving everything he was feeling away. Merlin couldn't help but think it was a little bit justified.
"And with an immortal army, they can take the kingdom," Jonas said.
"Neither of them have any right to the throne," Arthur snapped back.
"I doubt that will concern them," Rupert reasoned.
"Merlin?" Gwaine asked. They all turned back again to look at Merlin, who had, at Arthur's argument, closed his eyes looking increasingly pained. His jaw tightened a moment before he slowly opened his eyes, looking up at Arthur. All of them could see the emotional pain Merlin was in at having to tell Arthur what he needed to know.
"I overheard Uther talking to Gaius, when Morgana was injured."
"Was that anything to do with you?" Arthur snarled.
"It was an accident, I was just trying to stop things happening, and I only made it worse. Uther said, he told Gaius, that Morgana was his daughter. He also told Gaius to use any means necessary to save her, by which I presume he meant sorcery," Merlin added.
"How did Gaius save her?" Gwaine asked. Merlin turned his head slightly to address Gwaine directly.
"He didn't, I forced the dragon to give me a healing spell, which he did. I saved her."
"Why?" Robert asked. Arthur lifted his head, glaring at him. "I mean… if you knew that she was… you know… why?"
"I couldn't stand to see everyone's pain," Merlin said. Arthur snorted, Merlin flinched, and then added. "And I though, maybe if she saw how much everyone cared, maybe she'd think twice before hurting anyone."
Silence fell over them. No one dared move, Arthur stayed frozen for a moment, glaring at Merlin. Merlin looked at the floor, Gwaine glared at Arthur and the knights shared increasingly confused and panicked looks. Eventually Arthur broke the tense silence.
And with that, they hurried on.