Follow the Leader by Emachinescat
A Merlin Fan-Fiction
SUMMARY: Takes place during the events of "The Tears of Uther Pendragon." When Merlin follows Morgana into the woods where she meets Morgause, he doesn't realize that he, too, is being followed. Arthur is there to witness everything – what will he do when he finds out everything? Will he be able to rescue Merlin and come to terms with the truth before it's too late?
A/N: Yes, I know, I was supposed to have the next chapter of "Your Kiss" out today, but I was struck with the idea for this story and couldn't let it go… I'll post the next chapter of "Your Kiss" tomorrow, promise. :) It's another quick fic, a 3-parter this time, and it, along with my other one should be finished within the week. :) This is another "what-if" type fic… the scenario: What if, in 3-1, Arthur followed Merlin who was following Morgana out of the castle to meet Morgause? What if he found out… everything? Pease review! :)
Follow the Leader
Part One: The First Revelation
Arthur had been on his way back to his own chambers from dealing with matters of the court in the stead of his ill father when he spotted Merlin skirting around a corner. At first, Arthur was content to leave him be – Merlin was always sneaking around, doing things he wasn't supposed to be, following Arthur when he was supposed to stay behind. This wasn't necessarily unlike him. But something compelled him to find out more.
Merlin was jogging quickly, more quietly than Arthur had ever seen him move. His eyes seemed to be focused on something ahead, almost as if he was following something… or someone. Increasingly irritated at the insufferable idiot, Arthur made a spur of the moment decision. He didn't know what Merlin was up to, but he intended to find out. Goodness knows these were dangerous times and it would be just like Merlin to run off and get himself into some kind of trouble.
Although Merlin much more light on his feet than his surprised master was used to, Arthur crept quieter still. After years of hunting, stalking prey, and sneaking up on enemies, Arthur was a master of stealth. Although the prince preferred to be moving and in action, he could crouch still, unseen, unheard, in the shadows for minutes, maybe even hours. It was something he had to be able to do as a hunter and a warrior. Sometimes strategy and stealth was a more valuable asset than brute strength and attack. Now, it seemed, was one of those moments.
Merlin had no idea the prince was following him.
Arthur grew increasingly curious and confused as he trailed Merlin through the town and out the gates of Camelot toward the Darkling Woods. His brow creased fractionally as he noted that Merlin hadn't looked back even once. He was very intent on something ahead of him and once again Arthur was struck with the suspicion that perhaps Merlin wasn't just taking a midnight stroll. Maybe he didn't even have any idea of where he was going. Could it be that Merlin, too, was following someone into the midst of the dangerous Darkling Woods in the middle of the night?
His answer was confirmed moments later when Merlin stopped, ducked down behind a tree, and tried to steady his breathing. He was still quite far off from the prince but Arthur could see that something had spooked the servant. Creeping forward silently, taking great care not to step on any twigs or branches or even a fallen leaf, Arthur drew closer, still unseen by Merlin – and the two people currently meeting in the small clearing.
Arthur's jaw dropped as he recognized the two women. At the top of a small incline, two well-muscled, cloaked men stood at attention. Arthur could barely see them because of their dark cloaks but the soft moonlight filtering eerily through the canopy of trees offered a dim view of all that was going on. Arthur made sure he was completely concealed in a cluster of trees, both from Merlin and the people in the clearing. He couldn't believe his eyes.
Morgana was talking to the woman who had tried to bring about the end of Camelot twice. Arthur tried to clear his head but more questions continued to assault him. What was this? He a hot pressure at the back of his eyes and throat as he continued to listen to the same conversation he knew his servant was eavesdropping on at the same time.
"Your visit was successful?" Morgana asked, smiling warmly at Morgause. Arthur felt his gut twist unpleasantly. He knew that Morgause had taken Morgana away for a year – what all had the witch done to corrupt the girl that had become like a sister to him? A nearly overwhelming bout of anger overcame him and it took all his self-preservation not to jump out and attack Morgause then and there. He held his ground, however, and rolled his eyes as Merlin moved closer, knowing that if the idiot got caught he would probably be in a world of trouble. He really needed to stay where he was. Cursing mentally, Arthur returned to the situation at hand, aghast at what he was hearing.
"Cenred's army ride for Camelot at my command." Fear began twisting its way through Arthur's heart. What was Morgana doing? How could she betray Camelot like this? Surely… surely there was an explanation… maybe she was enchanted by Morgause?
"There is nothing you cannot do."
Morgause smiled. "It is you who gives me strength, sister."
Arthur's world stopped spinning for a few seconds as he processed this new information. Sister? Even as he watched the scene unfolding before him, his mind began to piece together parts of the puzzle as the answer to his questions became clear. Morgana had been the only one unaffected by Morgause's spell a year ago. Morgause had called off the attack when Morgana had been injured, real worry and pain in her eyes as she held Morgana in her arms. The unfeigned affection and admiration gleaming for the blonde woman in Morgana's eyes brought all these observations into perspective. Morgause had called Morgana "sister" because they were sisters. Morgana wasn't under a spell. She was doing this of her own free will.
The thought sickened him.
"How goes the battle for Uther's mind?" Morgana had been a part of that too? Arthur nearly blew his cover then and there. He heard a leaf rustle and realized Merlin was shifting again. He'd almost forgotten the servant was there, too, even though it was Merlin he had followed here.
Morgana smirked, something Arthur suddenly realized she'd been doing quite a bit of lately, but he'd simply assumed she was very happy to be home. What a fool he had been! "When Cenred's army marches on Camelot, they will find a kingdom without a leader."
Why, Morgana? How could you do this? She may be of the same blood but she is not your family, not who you have grown up with, the one who has cared for you all your life! How could you? Tears were pricking the prince's eyes and as ashamed of them as he was, he couldn't risk moving to wipe them away. This was madness! His heart thumped as he processed the rest of what he had heard. He needed to get back to Camelot – he had to warn knights, everyone, about the impending attack. He would have to be the leader!
But he wasn't going to leave Merlin hear alone – bloody idiot would probably trip over a worm and expose himself – and he might get caught if he moved at all. He forced himself to stay still. The first chance he got, he would grab his servant and get the hell out of here. They – well, he, Merlin just usually sprawled on the ground and did nothing in a battle so he didn't count – would fight their way out if they had to, but Arthur didn't fancy that prospect. Not only did he not want to face Morgana right now, but Morgause was a powerful sorceress and those two goons with her looked fierce. Although he was itching for action, the strategic part of him knew that he needed to stay put for now.
Arthur winced as Merlin moved again, moving closer and crouching behind a boulder. Didn't that nitwit understand that in order to spy on someone, you needed to be still and quiet? Morgause grinned at her ally and Arthur fought the urge to be ill. What on earth had prompted Morgana to turn on her friends, family, and kingdom – sister or no sister? It just didn't make sense! The witch was speaking again. "Finally, we are ready."
Morgana took a pace away, her voice almost giddy. "Not quite." Merlin barely managed to duck behind the rock as she turned around. Arthur wanted to smack the moron. The next words out of the woman's mouth made Arthur's own mouth go dry and his heart beat faster. He kept his breathing slow and shallow as fear for his servant crept over him. "Merlin," she spat the name like poison, "suspects me." No, no, no… Merlin stay where you are, don't make a sound…
Morgause seemed mildly concerned. "Has he told Arthur?" Arthur almost smirked. Obviously not, he thought sarcastically, although he's going to get an earful about coming straight to me about these things when all this is over… In honesty, though, Arthur knew exactly why Merlin hadn't come to him with his suspicions. Morgana was his friend, the king's ward, and Merlin was just a servant. How would Arthur have reacted if Merlin had told him without any proof? The prince honestly didn't know but he was sure he would not have been happy.
"Not yet, but he will."
"We must stop him." Arthur fumed. Not if I have anything to say about it…
Morgana's voice was more sinister and mocking than Arthur had ever heard it. He felt his stomach clench in rage and worry as the stench of her betrayal burned his senses. "That will not be difficult."
Morgana's next words sent chills throughout the prince's body. "Because he's already here."
No, no, no – damn it, Merlin, how do you get yourself into these situations? He didn't know what to do, other than stay still and hidden, keep an eye on the situation in case it got out of hand, and try to find a way to help the servant. He wouldn't let them hurt Merlin, but it was best if he remained out of sight for now – if they discovered him here and Morgause used her powers to overcome him, the prince, the heir to the throne of Camelot… well, considering their plans, he didn't think that would bode well for his kingdom. For now he would wait and watch.
He was slightly surprised as the servant bravely popped into view. His face was unreadable although a bit of fear and… something else flickered rapidly in his eyes. Arthur watched the drama unfold with bated breath, wanting to intervene but knowing it was in the best interest of Camelot and ultimately themselves if he stayed out of it for now.
He wouldn't reveal himself until it was either necessary (although he sincerely hoped it wouldn't come to that point) or Morgause and Morgana were either distracted or gone. He was not going to let them take Merlin away or hurt him, however. But… if it came to a choice between Merlin's life and Camelot? He knew the decision he'd have to make, but he didn't have to like it. He could only hope that staying hidden would remain an option so that he would never have to make that kind of choice.
Morgana smirked again. "Did you really think I was that stupid, Merlin?" Arthur wanted to shake her – Merlin was her friend! Arthur was, Gwen was, Gaius and Uther were… at least they had been. Now it looked like Morgana had found some new friends. And these new friends apparently didn't know how to play nicely.
Merlin didn't answer. Instead he stood there, stock-still, for several seconds, eyes darting around before he took off at a run. Arthur watched, hoping and praying he'd get away. They obviously had no idea that Arthur was here, if Merlin escaped then Arthur could follow quietly, get the idiot back to Camelot, where they would warn the knights that an army was headed for Camelot. As Merlin darted off through the trees, Arthur couldn't help but let a small ray of hope flash through him. Maybe they would get out of this after all.
That's when everything went wrong.
The two muscular cronies had given chase to the servant as soon as he'd tried to run. Merlin had almost gotten clear of them – or so he probably thought – but what he hadn't realized was that the men had tricked him, surrounded him. Trapped him. Arthur winced as one of the men's fists lashed out and caught Merlin across the jaw, knocking him unconscious. Arthur literally had to force himself not to move from where he was crouching – he wasn't just going to sit by and let them hurt his fr—servant.
Merlin slumped forward into the man's arms and together the two goons carried him back to the clearing. The sky was lightening marginally and Arthur could see a bit better than he had been able to before. His heart pumped blood furiously and he realized that his fingernails were digging into the palms of his hands. He kept watching, something telling him not to intervene – at least not when Morgause was here. As much as he loathed to admit it, she had powerful magic. He could take her, probably, but maybe not – and he couldn't risk it. Not yet. Merlin was relatively unharmed.
He couldn't help but let out a small smirk. They hadn't even considered that someone else might be watching them as well. Quietly, Arthur lowered himself to the ground and huddled in the small alcove of trees he was concealed in and watched as the men took a long chain and wound it around Merlin, securing his arms to his sides and his legs tightly together. Arthur gritted his teeth at the sight of his servant chained up, unconscious, in a heap on the ground.
This wasn't right. This was so wrong.
His eyes scanned the clearing for any sign of what the witch and Morgana might be up to, hoping they would leave, if only for a moment, so Arthur could grab Merlin and run. About fifteen minutes passed before Morgause muttered something unintelligible to her sister and Morgana nodded reluctantly. Arthur's anger and sadness reached another crescendo at the reminder of her betrayal as she glared venomously down at the bound Merlin before hugging Morgause and disappearing into the woods, presumably back to Camelot.
Arthur needed to get back. He needed to warn them. But he was stuck here, stuck because of his idiotic manservant. The idiotic manservant that was at the mercy of a witch. From what they had said earlier, Cenred's army was still quite a distance away. Arthur would be back in plenty of time. He couldn't jeopardize leaving just yet, though. Especially not with Morgause eyeing Merlin like that, with the predatory gleam in her brown eyes. He could almost feel the raw power rolling off of her in waves.
Morgause sat across the clearing, eyes never leaving Merlin's still, restrained form. The men stood dutifully at either side of him, as if itching for him to wake up so they could go about their next orders. Until Merlin came to, it seemed that every single one of them – Morgause and her minions and the silent prince hidden among the trees – could only do one thing.
A/N: I'll update this within the next few days. It'll be a three-parter and I hope to have it done within the week (it's my spring break, more time for stories; yay!)... Please REVIEW and that'll just about guarantee I'll get it up faster because reviews inspire me to write more! :)