Author's Note: Oh wow. I am so sorry for having such a late update. I realize it's way overdue (half a year!?). But The spring semester in College had me scrambling, and I have been very enthusiastic about summer vacation time… and work. So many things have happened these past few months; more than enough to keep me busy. And to be honest, I just recently decided to revisit the site. And am glad I did. I do want this story to keep going—and I'm so happy and flattered that a good number of ya'll share that hope. As always, hope ya'll enjoy. Always open to feedback/criticism. R&R, lovelies!
The cold stone floor beneath her knees battled with the warmth of the sun's rays that filtered through the barred window. Damp air clogged her lungs. Her temple throbbed where she'd been struck. She could feel her jaw swelling from the haphazard lashing she had received. Her wrists worn raw from her stubborn struggles against steadfast shackles.
Boots raring for another go at Halig's groin.
The scuffing of footfalls descending into the dungeon mocked her with the false promise of just that opportunity.
She scrambled to her feet and peered out of her cell. Two more guards made their entrance—dipping their heads to acknowledge the pair that stood vigilant at her door. A disgruntled Halig followed after them, dragging a lanky young man after him.
Merlin. But of course.
The empty cell across from her was made occupied with Halig throwing the serving boy against the far wall. Frustration? Anger? Who knew what inspired the actions of that foul buffoon?
A groan from Merlin upon impact. More like a gasp.
"Do the boy harm and I'll gut you to be served like the half-baked swine you are," came Raivierra's immediate threat. Instinct… smart move? Not her concern.
That's when Merlin noticed her. A look of confusion crossed his face when his eyes met hers. Then guilt upon recognizing he was the reason for her being there. Bruised and bloodied as she was.
Halig spared her a spiteful look and spat out, "You'll get your due for your part in this, you little tart." Plenty of spittle with that.
"Don't—" Merlin's protest was cut short with a rough shove to ground.
"Where is she, boy!?" Halig demanded as he menacingly unraveled a chain coil. His tool Raivierra had earlier become acquainted with herself.
"I don't—who do you mean?" Merlin stammered, warily eyeing the length of metal.
"My prisoner." Halig hissed in the young man's face. "The nasty little druid girl that you …" He spun briefly on his heel to point accusingly at Raivierra, "and you set free."
"I have no idea…what girl?" Merlin asked with feigned bafflement.
"No? Then what's this?" Halig snarled disdainfully as he snatched away the pitcher Merlin carried. Seems the poor boy was just off duty to the prince when he was found.
The overturned jug produced a small waterfall of meats, cheeses, and bread. Raivierra licked her lips. Delectable. Now if only Merlin would smuggle Arthur's food back for her sometime.
"I-I was taking that for my supper." Merlin quickly responded. He flinched away afterwards as Halig raised a chain-knuckled fist.
"Back off!" Raivierra barked, pressing against the bars to her cage. Like a restrained beast yearning for a fight.
"Halig! What's going on here?" A stern, commanding voice carried over to them from the bottom of the stairwell. Arthur. Arriving just at the right moment. For once.
Raivierra caught the look of alarm that emerged on Halig's face. And of the relief that flooded Merlin's.
"Prince Arthur!" Halig exclaimed—looking back and forth from his two adversaries to the Prince. Taking a moment to calm himself. Careful with what to say next. "These two—"
Arthur didn't give him a chance. "Why have my knights taken two of my subjects into custody without orders to do so?" The Prince demanded, causing Halig to wince.
"They're harboring the druid girl. They stole the gift meant for Uther." The bounty hunter hurriedly explained, pulling away from Merlin as he did so.
"I take offense at that implication." Raivierra argued matter-of-factly, drawing attention to herself. She matched Arthur's gaze- slightly irritated when he looked upon her. Though his hostility had waned over the months. She had earned her keep. And enough of his trust. "He keeps going on about us freeing some druid girl he'd caught. Man's a loon if you ask me."
"Loon!?" Halig fumed, charging across to meet her at her cell. "You struck me over the head! Put me down for your dirty thief friend!"
"Did I?" Raivierra plastered a bewildered look on her face. "Strange then, how I don't recall." That warranted a roll of the eyes from the ape-like man before her. "I do however, recall you being drunk off your arse down at the tavern last night." She continued saucily, reveling in the man's barely-contained outrage. "It's a wonder how you can even claim to remember the night's events."
"Why you!—" Halig started.
"That's enough." Arthur interrupted with the sort of cool, collected composure that would have put Halig to shame… and would have Raivierra as well, had she any. "Merlin has my complete and utter trust." Arthur announced, bringing about a smug look for Merlin. He's to be released at once." His eyes dropped to something by Merlin's feet. His stolen breakfast.
Raivierra cleared her throat expectantly.
"Hmm?" Arthur looked up from the distraction. He stared her down for a brief moment. As if silently communicating the known fact that he still bore an aversion to the woman. After all, through all she'd done, if Merlin didn't get credit for saving the kingdom, she didn't come close.
"Arthur…" Merlin prodded as the guards allowed him to step over the threshold to his cell.
"Ah yes, her as well. Release her." Arthur spoke dismissively; as if reluctant to do so.
"Much obliged." Raivierra flippantly thanked the guard that removed her iron cuffs. The moment she was free, she trotted out of her jail to join Merlin.
"Guards, you're dismissed." The blonde man's words sent the four men in chain mail out of the dungeon. He turned his attention to the vile man that gave reason for his presence. "If you have any more problems Halig, I expect you'll bring them to me." Arthur instructed the grimy brute; arms crossed and all.
"Of course, sire." Halig muttered under his breath; head lowered as he took his leave. Though making the effort to shoot a glare in Raivierra's direction.
He'd be sure to give them trouble later. Or at least try to.
Arthur eyed the remaining duo. Scrutinizing the pair. When he spoke, it was to Raivierra. "Making friends as always, Rai?" He questioned—just managing to withhold a cringe at her battered state.
Wait. Was that… Arthur was concerned for her?
"What can I say? I'm practically a lodestone." Raivierra returned smartly with a smirk and a wink.
As expected, Arthur grimaced in answer. Though the tell-tale signs of amusement lingered in his eyes. He turned to Merlin. "And you. You'll be explaining that," he gestured at the would-be meal that littered the floor, "after you polish my armor, sharpen my sword, and muck the stalls."
"Right. Will do." Merlin beamed reassuringly—glad to have gotten off so easily. He grasped Raivierra's hand and led her around Arthur; making their getaway by the staircase.
"You know it'd be nice if the two of you managed to stay out of trouble for oh—I don't know, a couple days?" Arthur called after the pair.
"Are you alright?" Merlin inquired as they ascended the steps. He reached for her discolored jaw as he did so. "I'm sorry. I never should've gotten you involved."
Raivierra gave him a sideways glance. He sounded sincere. She knew he was. It's just that this wasn't exactly the first time she'd taken the fall on his behalf. There was Katrina, Aredian, accompanying the boy and the crown prince to confront Morgause… and she highly doubted this druid girl was to be the last on the list.
She slapped the man's hand away and fixed him with a solid look. "Oh please, Merlin. There's no reason for worry. I'm bred tough." She flashed a winning smile and slapped her friend on the back—causing him to stumble. Reinforcing her words.
Merlin grinned back, "And I'm grateful for it. Every time."
They had reached the top of the stairwell; preparing to part ways.
Raivierra rested a tired hand on Merlin's shoulder. "Do me a favor and take care with this one, Merlin." She hesitated before going on, taking on a more serious tone. "I've encountered these 'druid' people in my… travels. Keep mind that magic is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Not to be trifled with. Get rid of it-Get her out of here. For all our sakes." She noted an abrupt change in the man's demeanor.
His face went blank. Lips parted. Shoulders sagged ever so slightly. Arms limp. Shocked. Crestfallen.
"Right. I'll get right on that." Merlin's responded absently. "I'll be going now." He avoided meeting her gaze as he turned away and jogged down the opposite hall.
She watched him go. Watched him hurt as he hustled away. Part of her wanted to go after him. Give him her shoulder—as she normally would.
But she had other priorities.
Her bleeding wrists. Still throbbing temple. Sore jaw. Aching body. Mead waiting to be served at that tavern. All things to be tended to.
This time, Merlin would have to wait.
Raivierra surveyed her surroundings—keen eyes watching for the slightest of movements against the black of the night. It wasn't fear that had her on edge, but rather, a healthy caution.
She knew of the recent attacks. Hell, she'd seen the carnage first-hand. Done by some unknown assailant. A beast that left no tracks. No witnesses. A creature that struck in the dead of night. Preying on those that meandered about alone in the Lower Town.
As she was now.
A beating of wings made her jump.
Okay, perhaps she was a bit skittish. To be startled by only a night bird; thankfully no one was around to see it. Letting out a calming breath, she hiked up her skirt once again and set back on the trek to the clinic. It'd been a long night at the tavern. Groping hands, collecting tabs from reluctant patrons, scrubbing ale-soaked floors… the works. All that and the morning's episode had her craving the luxury of that flimsy bedroll.
A scream. A man in agony. Another. A plea for help.
For all her worries, common sense shrieked at her to take shelter. Hide. Run.
So she did. Her skirt dragged and tore as she sprinted with abandon. Though her legs betrayed her. They'd brought her to the would-be-deserted market square. Where the cry for aid had originated from.
The scene before her had her reeling back. Two of the castle's guards lay unmoving in the middle of the path. Flaming torches lay discarded by their sides. Illuminating crimson splatters that decorated the ground, speckled their armor, and coated the legs of surrounding market stalls. Swords only halfway drawn.
A dark shadow prowled towards the fallen men. Presumably to feed on its victims. The dying glow of the torches threw light upon the creature. Raivierra stifled a cry of surprise behind a cupped hand. Now she'd seen it all. A giant black wildcat… with leathery wings sprouted from its feline back. Gaius was right. Magic.
Raivierra was in no shape to face such a monster. Unarmed as she was. And it had yet to notice her. She was just about to slink back into the shadows when some movement caught her eye. A feeble twitch of torn hand. A choked gurgle of a groan. The guards were still alive.
The Catbeast dropped its head to finish off its prey.
"Here kitty, kitty." Raivierra called in a teasing tone. Making light of the situation. Calming her own heightened nerves.
It worked. The creature's massive head jerked up sharply. Its deadly fangs clicked on air. Two yellow orbs stared her down. 'Kitty' stalked around the bodies of the knights. A low guttural sound erupted from its throat. A chilling yowl. A black mass of feline fury hurtled at her.
Oh shit. It worked.
Her hand went to her boot. Found her knife. A flick of her wrist embedded it high in the Catbeast's left shoulder. Just as the creature closed on her.
A hiss from 'Kitty' misted her face with its spittle. Her eyes stung with its contact. Forced closed from the agonizing irritation. A hoarse cry came from her singed throat. Venom.
Then it was on top of her.
A writhing mass of muscle and fur. Ripping. Tearing. No armor. No resistance. Fangs gnashing. Claws shredding.
Raivierra bucked wildly. Her legs lashed out. Pummeling the beast's underbelly with the fervor of those twenty oxen she boasted.
Raivierra weakened. Tired. Her foe did not.
A cluster of what felt like shivs tore into her abdomen. Slashing across her middle from left hip to the bottom of the opposite ribcage. Trying to tear her in half, it seemed. Whiskers tickled her neck. A pair of ivory stilettos dug into her right deltoid. Another just below that collarbone. A furious mouth wrestled there until a sharp pop satisfied it. Raivierra yelped— tears leaked from closed lids, mingling with coppery taste already settled on her tongue.
Still she struggled. Her arms flailed wildly at an unseen enemy. Batting the cat's face—poking at its eyes. Hips working for the throw.
The pain began to daze her. Fear—not panic, was all that animated her.
Tapered teeth snapped near her face. Cutting small troughs from the left corner of her mouth to her cheekbone.
She felt nothing.
Luck, overdue as it was, paid her a visit. Her swatting hands found the knife hilt. Buried deep in the monster's shoulder. Deeper now as she pushed with what scraps of strength her body could muster.
'Kitty' pitched back and screamed. This quarry proved stubborn.
The alarm bell. Shouts. Stampeding footsteps. Clanking of weapons. Chinking of armor.
A thrashing of wings. The weight of the beast. Claws. Teeth. All gone.
About damn time.
On-duty guards stormed the marketplace. A cluster continued on in pursuit "Don't let it get away!" She'd never been so relieved to hear Sir Leon's voice. "Check them."
It was him that knelt beside her and felt her pulse. Staining his fingers with her blood.
"…one!...Physician. Get… Gaius!"
It was cold. With the adrenaline dying down, her senses returned to her. Throat burned. Wounded eyes never stopped tormenting her. Waves of pain emanated from her middle. Her leg. Her arms—scathed by her attempts to protect herself. Permeating her every fiber. Her breathing quickened alarmingly. Then slowed along with the beating of her heart. Weakening as liquid life flowed from her ruptured and broken body.
Loud oscillations—originating from inside her head. Rough hands lifted her onto a stretcher. The canvas sagged beneath her.
She thought to call for help. The notion slipped from her mind; as her mind itself fell…
When she awoke, she saw nothing but black. Her eyes wouldn't open (not that it'd matter—what with the bandages obscuring her vision). Felt… everything. She clenched her jaw against the biting pain that radiated from… everywhere. Dressings drenched in poultices and salves caked her abdomen, wrapped her chest, and compressed her gashed thigh and arms. Herbal aromas mingled with one another; tickling her nostrils. Heard muffled voices. Coming from the end of the bed that she lay in. Her hearing seemed to have dodged the suffering the rest of her endured.
"How is she?" A low voice that she couldn't quite place inquired in a hushed tone.
"Honestly, sire?" Muted as it was, the quaking inflections gave Gaius away. The old man hesitated—whether to catch his breath or for emphasis, she couldn't tell. "Her body is broken in ways I've not seen since the war. I can't keep her conscious for more than hour at a time, and even then, she's in constant pain… nor does she remember those times." A sigh escaped the physician's lips, "It's nothing short of a miracle that she's even lasted through the night."
"But she can recover?" The first voice prodded with mounting concern.
"She…may." came Gaius' hesitant reply. Uncertainty. "Her will is strong." A hint of fondness touched that statement. "But even so her body might mend, I cannot promise what she once was."
"Merlin?" Raivierra croaked out in a rough voice. Her call brought both men shuffling to either side.
"Not quite." Arthur spoke up, resuming his naturally authoritative pitch.
"Arthur?" She rumbled. Why was he here? A memory from the night before sparked in her mind. More painful than anything. "What about the guards?"
"Raivierra, the knights…" Gaius began, speaking with thorough deliberation.
"Will pull through." Arthur finished for him. "They live by your intervention." Something in his voice was different. Something off by the way he made his claim. If she had her eyes back to their former glory, she'd have known by the look that passed between the two.
"That's… good." Raivierra breathed out in relief; finding solace in his words. So it hadn't been for naught.
"Merlin told me your heart is nobler than you'd care to admit." Arthur seated himself on the stool at her bedside. "I was a fool for doubting it."
Raivierra was silent for a moment. Letting it soak in. Giving her strained throat reprieve. When she huffed out, it was with, "Still are a fool."
She heard him scoff. Incredulity. Could have sworn he stifled a snort. He should have expected that from her. Even now her moxie refused to cower.
"As such, you have but to ask and you'll have what you need to assuage your distress." Arthur rose, preparing to take his leave. He had a kingdom to look after.
She wouldn't grant him a response. Her heart grew jealous of her throat; demanding a repose of its own. As did the rest of her. Perpetually tired.
Even so, she considered his offer as she drifted back into her slumber. She could think of one thing she could use now. A surefire thing to lift her spirits. To ease her anguish. Just the one. And it had been found scarce over the past few days.
Where was Merlin?
Author's Note: Hope ya'll liked it! Yes there is quite a large time-gap between this and the previous chapter. The reason(s) being that I just had no inspiration for picking up right where I left off; and that I have a long way to go. I've got the rest of season 2 to work through, season 3, I plan to have some of Raivierra's story will be fleshed out, and then season 4… dunno where I'll go from there. I'll either go with BBC's season 5, or just draw it to a close. Also, I know it's a bit short… and I should give ya'll more than that after such a long delay. So I'll have ya'll know that I'm currently working on the next chapter. Should be out soon!
Also, for the followers commenting about the way I write the characters… I'm glad ya'll think I'm doing a decent enough job! I love playing with the series characters—it's been fun trying to get them down, and pitting them with/against my own OC.