The prince ripped the St. John's wart from Harvey's grip, annoyed, and threw it onto the nearby bench where Percival picked it up and absently began toying with the bundle. "Every last creature, sire," the knight whispered. "How are we supposed to defend ourselves against that?"
"With piss and luck," Gwaine replied. Harvey huffed out a laugh. Since his entrance, Gwaine had done nothing but alternate between fussing over him and sharing bawdy, off-color anecdotes, but Harvey could see now that there was much more to the roguish knight. He was loyal and courageous and Harvey couldn't help but admire him.
Arthur sighed. "We'll need more than luck to battle that which is already dead."
"We've done it before," argued Lancelot. He had a hand resting on his sword, ready and willing to go into battle at that very moment. It seemed a common character trait amongst the knights.
Nodding, Arthur began to pace the floor of Gaius's work shop in such an insufferable way that Harvey had repeatedly step out of the way every time the prince made a new loop around the room. "Aye," Arthur agreed. "We've done it before, but they were a different sort of creature then. Those men of Cenred's were still men, real and solid and when I went to slay them my sword actually stuck. These…ghosts and wights, as Merlin called them—"
"I never said that!"
"Shut up, Merlin, of course you did," Arthur snipped. "As I was saying, these creatures are ghosts. No more solid than mist."
"But, sire, I myself have touched Eni!" Percival argued.
Harvey looked up at the prince, who seemed momentarily nonplussed. "Cross-eyed with confusion" as his fath—as Odowould have said. He watched as Arthur paced another loop around the room and when Harvey could not move out of the way quickly enough that time, he stopped in front of him, staring into his eyes with a look both frustrated and forlorn. His hand fluttered, briefly, at Harvey's temple before it dropped back to his side. "He cried out, didn't he?" the prince asked Percival, never taking his eyes off Harvey.
"Aye, sire," the knight replied. "When I struck him."
"Bully," Harvey spat.
Gaius took a step forward, settling in front of the massive knight. "Let me see your hand, Sir Percival—the one you struck Eni with." Percival offered up his hand and everyone watched silently as the old leech turned it over and over, studying it with as much curiosity as some specimen from a magical creature. Harvey knew from experience that there was nothing remarkable about it, save that it was large, the man's fingers being able to wrap entirely around his forearm. Gaius, though, seemed interested in something else. "How long have you had this?" he asked, indicating a little chain around Percival's wrist. It was a plain braided chain with a crudely carved charm dangling from one of the links. Looking at it, Harvey could feel a dull throb underneath his skin, something that he'd missed before, and he wondered, briefly, what it would feel like to touch the little charm.
Percival looked away, drawing a breath. "It was my wife's. It'd been a gift from her mother; she'd had it since she was a child. When she was—when she died, I couldn't bear to think that I would have nothing to remember her by, so I took it." Looking up at the physician, he asked, "Why?"
"The charm is made of iron. It's a common belief that iron can repel evil spirits," Gaius replied. "Perhaps this Enifelt you strike him because you were wearing the charm."
Harvey nodded. "Yes, it's true! Aldith always hung iron objects about the house." He remembered when he'd still been bedridden, his body aching and thoughts muzzy, seeing a horseshoe hung over the little house's door, sitting slightly askew on a rusty nail. During those times, Aldith had looked at him with such an expression of concern that it scared him; once, after changing the bandages around his head, she'd hung a pair of iron scissors over his bed and made a gesture to him which he later understand to mean protect. "Herbs help, too."
"Right," said Arthur. "So, all we have to do is—" A warning bell began ringing outside. "Damn." The door was suddenly flung open, cutting off the prince as Gwen stumbled into the room, gasping for breath. "Gwen?"
"Arthur," she gasped, hurrying forward and taking his hand. "There are men outside, thousands of men with horrible faces. They just appeared outside the walls, gathered together like mist." She cast a glance over at Merlin where he sat looking up at her with wide eyes. "There's a woman, like the one you described, she's screaming out there, sire, screaming for the death of the traitor."
The man moved strode across the room, tugging the other knights to their feet. "Gather all the iron you can, anything you can use as a weapon," he ordered. "And gather the men, they need to know what we're up against." When none of them rushed to do as commanded, he turned on them, shouting, "Quickly!" As they rushed out of the room, Arthur turned to Gwen. "Stay here. Protect Gaius and Merlin."
Turning to follow his knights, Harvey reached out and dared to grab hold of his arm. "Wait! What about my family?"
"They're not your family, Merlin. They can wait."
Arthur marched out of Gaius' chamber, shouting orders for his knights to gather all the iron implements they could find. "And bring herbs as well! Bring the blacksmiths, have them melt the metals down."
"Sire?" Leon asked, eyebrow arched. "I don't understand."
"If those creatures are injured with iron, then we'll give them iron, all right," replied the prince. "Tell the servants they'll be needed to create a perimeter with the iron. The leftover melt will be used to make arrowheads. Those ghosts will not set foot inside this castle."
The men nodded, dashing off down various corridors to collect iron from the castle's occupants. Word of the strange orders swept quickly through the castle and soon servants could be found collecting keys, scissors, charms, skillets and even the locks from their doors. Suddenly, charms and runes, which had been so carefully hidden from sight since the time of the Great Purge, were hung above windows and carved into doorposts as Camelot prepared to fight an army for which they had little defense.
Elyan began organizing the town's blacksmiths, gathering the men together in the bowels of Camelot castle where they created impromptu forges from long-abandoned hearths, rushing to create fires hot enough to melt the metals brought to them. Men pumped great bellows in front of the fire, and desperately broke apart the abandoned furniture they found there in the dark to build the flames higher and raise the temperature. The room soon became almost too hot to bear; the smoke thick and smell abominable so that servants coughed and wheezed when they rushed to bring the men basketfuls of iron objects. Still, the men carried on, beating household items into crude little dirks and arrowheads which they quickly doused in cool water and threw into the corridor to be collected.
"Certainly isn't my best work," Elyan shouted over the din of hammer pounding metal, "but it might just kill the dead!"
The knights, guards and able-bodied servants all stood along the ramparts and lined themselves in front of the city gates, waiting for their ghostly enemy to come sweeping in like a Western wind. The young men shivered in fear while the Christians crossed themselves and the pagans kissed their icons and charms. It seemed, for a moment, that the entirety of Camelot was holding its breath.
In the courtyard, everyone watched as a woman, wrists and neck bedecked in tarnished jewels and old charms made from feather and bone, stood and screamed out threats and promises towards the battlements. She pointed a long, crooked finger towards where Arthur stood. "You protect the traitor, all of you! But no longer! Camelot will suffer for what it has done to magic, and he shall burn—the boy shall burn like those he condemned as he stood by and watched. Murderer! Traitor!"
Atop the battlements, Arthur calmly turned towards Sir Leon. "Tell the archers to ready their bows."
"Sire? It's just one woman."
Arthur shook his head. "No, I don't believe it will be so simple."
Down below, inside the Castle, Harvey-who-was-now-Merlin coughed once to disguise a simple sleeping spell he'd managed to recall. He watched Gwen and Gaius yawned and sunk down where they stood to fall asleep on the dusty floor.
Ten seconds passed, then thirty. He held his breath but nothing happened. After nearly a full minute, he was satisfied with the spell enough to dare to leave the physician's chambers. He snatched a little paring knife and a pair of iron scissors that felt hot in his palm before racing out the door.
He didn't care if Odo wasn't his proper father or Aldith his real sister—he was going save them.