There was no time. No time to scream, no time to move, certainly no time for anyone to push him out of the way. And yet here he was, suddenly on the floor, with the weight that had pushed him lying heavy on his chest. His head was squashed uncomfortably between a chair leg and his father's knee. He shifted himself up, brushing off his father's worried words; he felt fine. The knife seemed to have missed him, whatever it was that had knocked him sideways, that was currently lying on-top of his lower torso, had saved his life. He looked down. There, panting and bleeding all over his chainmail was the boy from the marketplace: Merlin.
Arthur didn't know what to think. It took him a while to get the facts straight in his mind: The witch had been pretending to be Lady Helen, she had made the whole room fall asleep, but something had interrupted her, the chandelier. She had been dying, so she went back to her original form, but still had enough energy to throw the knife. It had been going straight for Arthur, he had been sure that he was going to die, but then Merlin, the cocky, clumsy, mysterious boy who had seemed to loathe Arthur earlier that afternoon, had pushed him over towards his father in the nick of time, and had been struck by the blade himself. He was dying. Merlin was dying...for him? It wasn't right. Arthur shook his head, as he cradled the boy's head, listening to his last rasping breaths. Gaius the physician had come over, quickly seen that there was nothing to be done, and bent his head. If Arthur had been conscious of anything but the dying boy in his arms, he would have noticed a tear falling down the old mans face. But Arthur didn't notice. He was in shock. He didn't notice his father's angry, nervous barks, or the whimpering of a noblewoman at the back of the room, or Gwen the serving girl's horrified sobs, or the fact that the rest of the hall was standing in shocked silence. All he knew was that this strange boy, who had dared to contradict him, even when he knew of Arthur's status, who had dared to insult him when he was fully aware of the consequences, who had dared to fight him when he knew he could not win; this boy had sacrificed his own life for Arthur's.
Later, his father would explain to him that it was what was expected of the people: to die for their prince. He would try to make Arthur see that this was unfortunate, but that it was what anyone else would have done, it was something to be expected. But Arthur never understood. He never knew why Merlin had given so much for a man that he hated, or why this great deed was treated as a normal occurrence by the rest of the royal court. He later learnt that Merlin had been living with the physician after Gaius travelled back to Ealdor for the burial. Arthur longed to follow him; to learn more about Merlin, what he was like, where he was from, and what had driven him to save his life. But he couldn't. It was below him, or so his father said, to care for peasants in such a way. So Arthur never knew why Merlin died for him, but in the short time that he had known Merlin, the boy had changed his way of thinking, and maybe even his whole life.