Title: The Next Seven Days
Summary: Arthur is told a series of events that will occur over the space of a week. The seventh day will end with magic returning to Camelot, ushered in by the warlock Emrys, either to save the kingdom or destroy it. Arthur has a plan, though. Sort of.
WARNINGS: FOR ENTIRE SERIES
Disclaimer: I own nothing, Merlin belongs to Shine and BBC
AN – I hope this ends up as cool as it is in my head. This chappie's a bit shorter than the rest will be, as it is only a prologue. Enjoy!
Prologue: The Dawn
"This is stupid," Merlin said. It wasn't the first time.
Arthur rolled his eyes. He counted silently to ten, and…no, he was still annoyed. He turned and jabbed his finger in his servant's face. Merlin went slightly cross eyed watching. "If you say that one more time," Arthur said, "I will slap you. With God as my witness, I will slap you in the face. Do you understand?"
"Good," Arthur said, and turned to keep walking, "Now shut up, and let's keep moving."
It was silent, for a moment. A short moment. And then Merlin sighed. He huffed. Arthur fought down the urge to rub the bridge of his nose. Merlin sighed again, this time much louder and exaggerated to a ridiculous degree.
Arthur whirled around, and hissed, "What is it now?"
"Nothing," Merlin said, "It's just that this is st – uh, this is silly."
"What part of 'I will slap you in the face' didn't get through to you?"
"The part where you'd actually slap me," Merlin said with a smile, and added, "But anyway, you said you'd slap me if I said this was stupid. I didn't say that, I said it was silly."
Arthur just shook his head, and kept walking. Merlin plodded along behind him. Ever since Morgana's attack on Camelot, he and the knights had taken rotating shifts on night patrols. So, naturally, when it was Arthur's turn to wander about the woods at night, Merlin came along as well. However, that didn't mean that Merlin liked it. It also didn't mean that Merlin was any quieter than usual.
"I mean," Merlin continued, "We're running about the woods at night. What on earth could this possible accomplish, besides exhaustion and death. There're wolves out here, Arthur."
"Wolves? Who told you there were wolves?"
"Well, Gwaine's an idiot. Rule of thumb, don't listen to Gwaine. Whenever he talks, just plug your ears and sing loudly," said Arthur, and Merlin snorted, "There aren't any wolves, not this close to the city."
"Yeah, but," Merlin said, drawing the second word out in a whine, "There are bandits, and even if we did somehow manage to stumble across Morgana or some other never-do-wells, what would you propose we'd do? Yawn them into submission? Or, oh, I know, we could snore them to death."
"We would warn the city and take action," Arthur answered, "Now be quiet. If there is anyone out here, we don't want to give away our position." Then Arthur put his foot down where he thought was solid ground, but ended up being a bit of a hole.
What happened next, when retold, had two vaguely different renditions. In Arthur's version, he fell soundlessly and quietly, bouncing down the cliff to the bottom, where he landed on his stomach and took a few moments to regain his bearings. In Merlin's version, Arthur shrieked like a child, flailed quite a bit, and then tumbled away, yelping the entire way down until the prince faded from view into the darkness.
Whichever tale you choose to believe is your own business. In the end, it doesn't especially matter. What matters is that Arthur ended up alone in the woods, at night, cut off from Merlin by a rather steep cliff.
"Arthur?" Merlin's voice came from above, layered with anxiety and worry.
Arthur pushed himself up, and called, "I'm alright." Of course, then he tried to stand, and collapsed back down to the damp earth with a hiss. "Less alright!" he yelled up to Merlin.
"Stay there," Merlin answered, "I'll come to you."
"Great," Arthur muttered, and massaged his ankle. He didn't think it was broken, only a little twisted, "I'm going to be here all night then."
He settled in for a long wait of boredom tinged with annoyance. Merlin, though Arthur was at loathe to admit it, did have some vaguely useful talents. However, navigating a forest filled with roots and bushes and bandits at night was not one of them. Arthur didn't have to wait very long for his boredom to end, though, but it had very little to do with Merlin.
"Arthur Pendragon," a woman's voice said from behind him.
She was made entirely of leaves and sticks, all swaying like she might fly apart at any moment. "I must speak with you."
Arthur drew his sword and stumbled backwards and to his feet, bad ankle almost giving out on him, and said, "Stay back."
It turned out to be the wrong move.
Roots sprung from the ground, twining around Arthur's legs and jerking him to the ground. As soon as he hit the ground, more roots stabbed upwards and wound around his arms and torso, effectively tying him to the more than a little muddy ground.
"I said," the woman repeated, "I must speak with you."
"What are you? What is this?" Arthur said, wiggling against his bonds, "Release me!"
"I am a dryad, a spirit of the trees. I am here to help you," she said, "But you have to listen!"
"Let me go!"
"Listen, Arthur Pendragon, listen," the dryad said, "For I bring you warning, and my sisters and I wish only good for Camelot, I beg of you, listen to me!"
Then she crouched down in front of him, and laid a hand on his hurt ankle. There was a rush of heat, and then any signs of injury were gone. All that was left was a dull ache. "You owe me a boon, now," she said, "If you listen, I will release you from your debt."
"Alright," Arthur said, "I'll listen."
"On the first day, two prophets shall enter the gates of Camelot," she said, "One is false, the other true, though none know which is which, not even themselves, for we have come to a crossroads, my Lord, both magic and non-magic alike. Both futures are possible, and it all depends upon the next seven days. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Arthur said, his breath fogging into the air.
"On the second day, you shall be guided to a sword," the dryad continued, "It is embedded in stone. Take it. It was forged by dragon fire and loyalty to be wielded by you, and only you. But go alone, with only one other to guide you. If anyone else bears witness, then they shall try and take the blade from you. On the third day, you will be forced between duty and love, mind and heart. Choose wisely."
"Gwen?" he asked, heart hammering wildly, "Are you talking about Guinivere?"
The dryad held up a finger, silencing him. "On the fourth day, one of your knights will be struck down. A trusted friend will be accused. You will have to decide if he is responsible or not. Again, I council you to choose wisely, for it may cement your undoing. On the fifth day, Camelot shall fall under attack from the witch Morgana at dawn, and she shall uncover a secret, discover what the one you trust the most has hidden from you, and she shall use it to her own advantage," she said, and glanced towards the sky where the moon hung, and then continued, "On the sixth day, he who will bring magic to Camelot will be given power beyond anything this world has ever seen or will ever see again. He shall make his decision, and your actions will be what sways him."
"On the seventh day, for good or for ill, magic will be restored to the land," the dryad said, "It will return with the rising sun. If he comes in the east with the light, then embrace the magic, Arthur Pendragon, for the old religion stands with you. However, if he rides with the darkness, and chases away the light, then run. Run as fast and far as you can. Leave this land, and take a boat across the sea. I fear even that will not be far enough. For if he rides with the darkness, he shall enslave us all, and he shall use you to do so. Will you heed my words, Arthur Pendragon? Will you remember them?"
"Yes," he said, "Yes, of course I will."
The roots unwound from around him, drawing back down into the earth, "Good luck, my King," the dryad whispered, beginning to fade into wispy leaves, "I have done what I can."
She was gone, and Arthur was left alone, lying in the dewy grass, staring up at the sky. It was coated with the pale, thin light of the extremely early morning, the sun just barely above the trees. He could hear Merlin somewhere off in the distance, calling his name and tramping through the woods. Arthur stood, and took note of how the tree roots had severed the belt that held his scabbard to him.
"Wonderful," he muttered, and, grasping his sword, went off to get Merlin so they could return to Camelot. After all, it appeared that they had something of a busy week ahead.