A/N: Hello! So, this is my first Merlin story. It was only a few weeks ago that I watched my first episode of this series and I was immediately hooked and began thinking about writing a story. I'm not sure how long this one is gonna be yet, but I do have it all plotted out and hope I don't run into the serious case of writer's block I've been having with my other stories from Supernatural and Stargate. Anyhoo, I hope you enjoy and I'd love to hear from you about what you think of this. Thanks for reading! :D
When all of this was over and they were home once again, Merlin swore to himself that he would never, ever, ever voluntarily set foot on another boat again.
The constant and never ending rocking, the all-pervasive dampness saturating his clothing and the smell... the awful, acrid stench of unwashed sailors, rancid waste and God knows what else, combined down below in the hold were he sat on a crate, cradling his head and praying for some kind of relief from the chronic nausea assaulting him was more than enough for him to swear off sailing now and forever.
He was a farm-boy, through and through. Born on the land and raised as far from the sea as possible, he was convinced with every wave that cashed against the hull of the ship and sent it lolling from side to side that sailing was a profession that could only be taken up by either the stupid or the insane.
He managed to lift his aching head enough to glance about the cabin. It was cramped inside with all of the cargo stacked and crammed into almost every available space, but his hopes of finding some kind of refuge down there where he couldn't actually see the waves bouncing them about were dashed as a his head and stomach refused to settle down.
His eyes landed on the hammock across from him where his master, Prince Arthur slept soundly, swaying back in forth with the motion of the ship. He wondered jealously how the young prince could relax enough to actually sleep during the interminable voyage. On top of that, Arthur had actually seemed happy and excited to be traveling in this moronic fashion and showed absolutely no signs of the sickness that plagued Merlin.
It just wasn't fair.
At least, Merlin thought, they should be back on land soon. It had been a long fortnight of traveling first on horseback and then by sea to Neustria to meet with Landric, the Majordomo, in order to secure trade with their people. In truth, it hadn't been the grandest embassy ever with only a handful of knights accompanying he and Arthur on the journey, but it had been necessary. Camelot and Neustria had enjoyed many years of peaceful trading; Camelot supplying the Gaulish nation with wool and fine cloth while in return importing their rich wine and exotic spices back to their kingdom. However, a recent disease amongst several of the sheep herds within Camelot had cut wool and cloth production by almost a third that year and prices would have to be raised in order to make up the short fall.
Uther had insisted on Arthur leading this mission to learn the value of negotiations and trade with foreign nations, something for which Arthur had been less than enthusiastic about as he'd much rather brandish a sword against a thousand-man army than talk to foreign administrators about wool prices. But being the ever devoted son looking for his father's approval, he did as he was instructed and took on the journey over land and sea to settle a new trade agreement, dragging poor Merlin along with him.
Sitting on his crate while the ship bobbed from side to side, Merlin felt another wave of nausea strike as his mouth began to water in a disconcerting way that once again signaled a new and impending bodily disaster.
He bolted for the ladder that would take him topside to the deck and raced for the nearest rail just in time for his stomach contents to make their way up, out and into the water below. He heaved until it hurt and their was nothing left for him to bring back up.
When it was all finally over, he collapsed against the railing, letting his head hang, closing his eyes against the sight of the blue-green churning of the waves below.
"What a waste of perfectly fine food." A voice spoke up behind of him. Merlin didn't bother to look up nor turn around, instead he lifted his head only marginally so he could rest his cheek on the rough plank of wood.
"Food?" He answered wearily, in no mood for the haughty prince's jabs at his misery. "I haven't been able to eat a damned thing since we came on board this bloody boat."
Merlin felt a hand grab him by the collar and haul him back. The sudden movement did little to quell the storm that continued to rage within his belly. "Don't be such a baby, Merlin. It's not that bad. We've got a beautiful view of the ocean, clean, salty air to breathe and I've just secured a major trade agreement for Camelot. You should be happy."
"Happy?" Merlin shot back incredulously. "Happy to be puking my guts out? I'll be happy just to make it back to shore alive. I don't trust this thing not to sink into the sea and kill us all."
"Don't worry. We've only another day or so before we reach land and you'll survive. Besides, we've got one of the best crews taking care of us." Arthur gestured towards the large, bearded captain standing across the deck from them. With one hand on the ship's great, wooden wheel, he used his other to poke a finger into his bulbous nose, pulling it out before inspecting what had come out of it and then wiping it onto his already stained and filthy shirt.
Merlin pulled a face. "You're right, what could we possibly have to worry about." He moaned sarcastically.
"Here..." Arthur thrust a heavy, sloshing jug into his hands. "Drink this. It'll make you feel better."
Merlin took the jug without a thought, his mouth was so parched and dry from all of the heaving that any sort of liquid to slake his thirst was making his mouth water in desperate need of relief. Bringing the lip of the jug to his mouth, he tipped it up and let the semi-cool liquid hit his tongue, taking in a large gulp and swallowing quickly.
Immediately, he regretted taking such a huge draught without being more cautious about what he was putting in his mouth. Fire struck his throat, burning all of the way down into his already traumatized stomach. He coughed and sputtered, gagging on the foul, fiery aftertaste.
"That's... not... water!" He rasped and wheezed. "What is this?"
Arthur laughed uproariously at his plight. "I don't rightly know...I saw the sailors drinking it and thought I'd give it a try."
Arthur grabbed the jug back and took a swig then belched in a very un-royal manner. "Not so bad once you get over the initial pain." he grinned lopsidedly, his eyelids drooping ever so slightly.
Now Merlin understood a little better how Arthur had managed to get a nap in while on this blasted, bobbing boat; he was half-drunk.
Arthur took another swig from the jug then turned his backside to the rail and hopped up, sitting as comfortably upon it as one would a trestle bench. Merlin was instantly uneasy. Now besides being in a constant state of physical infirmary, he had the added burden of ensuring that the young, besotted Prince wouldn't accidentally fall off his perch and into the sea.
"Don't you think you should come down from there before you fall in?" Merlin asked, then added almost as an afterthought. "You're majesty."
"Oh please, Merlin. Don't be such a nagging, old mother hen."
"I'm just saying that if you fall in, I'm not coming after to you. I can't swim."
"Oh no!" Arthur came back mockingly. "Merlin won't be able to save me...now, there's a surprise."
Merlin would have rolled his eyes at that knowing just how many times he had been the one to pull the prince's arse out of the fire, but he knew that even that small action would only reward him with more pain lancing through his head.
"Oi!" The booming voice of the captain sounded off as he took notice of the two young men on his deck. He handed the wheel of the vessel off to another sailor and approached them. "M'lord...It'd be best if y'two headed below. See that out there?" He pointed out to the horizon where a swirling mass of black clouds was visible along with the occasional flash of lightning. "Looks like we got a mean storm headin' this way. Ye'd both be better off in the hold."
Merlin had no wish to go back into that stinking hole below the deck, but as a clap of thunder sounded and the ship suddenly lurched when a wave crashed into the port side, he wasn't going to argue with the wisdom of the captain.
Two hours later and Merlin was certain that he had never been so terrified for his life before. Rain poured in torrents into the hold while men, even Arthur's knights, desperately used every available bucket and basin to bale water out, handing each one over to the next man in a chain until the last man could dump it back into the ocean. Merlin too had been drafted into the work, but it was pretty much a hopeless endeavor- the ship was taking on much more water than they could get out. They were sinking; no doubt about it.
The ship rocked violently, water sloshed around, knee deep. At times it seemed as though the whole entire boat would completely tip over as men and cargo were tossed about at the whim of the angry sea. Helpless to do much more than hold on for dear life in those moments, Merlin could see clearly the frustration mounting in Arthur. The young man who would be king of Camelot one day was unused to being so out of control of his situation and it wasn't enough for him to continue the fruitless effort of baling out the water down below deck.
In the time it took for Merlin to hand over one more bucket of water over to the next man in line, Arthur had disappeared from his view. With a muttered curse, he realized that the man he was destined to protect and keep safe had gone above to brave the ugly tempest on the deck above where getting swept overboard was not only a hazard, but almost a given.
Merlin offered no apologies for abandoning his space in the baling chain and pushing his way through the flooded hold to the ladder that lead to the upper deck.
As soon as his head emerged from below, his face was struck by the wind like a hammer to an anvil. He squinted his eyes hard against the stinging, salty spay assailing him and fought to keep himself from being bowled over entirely as he made his way onto the slippery boards.
Merlin charged ahead. His place a by Arthur's side even if the fool had decided to head for the most dangerous part of the ship. He had no idea what Arthur thought he could do to help the situation; he may be an excellent fighter and leader of men, but he was no sailor. Despite that, Merlin knew Arthur's character and he wasn't one to sit on his thumbs when danger was present.
Even over the din of crashing waves, tumultuous winds and roaring thunder, Merlin could hear the captain barking orders to his men and not far from him he could just make out Arthur approaching the burly man, his feet sliding across the deck as wave after wave buffeted the vessel.
Soon enough, but not without substantial help from holding onto anything that might keep him from tipping over, Merlin had made his way across the deck to find Arthur holding tight to the rail surrounding the wheel where the captain fought for control of the ship, both of them shouting in order to hear each other over the noise. Mid-conversation, Merlin could just barely make out what was being said between the two of them, the captain pointing up and ranting.
"...Can't get the mainsail to drop...she's stuck...sent two men up to cut'er 'way...but they were swept out...we're bein' blown off course, but even worse, the strain's causin' the mast t'crack."
"What can we do?" Arthur shouted.
"Need to cut it down, but no man'll go up there now. S'too dangerous!"
"I'll go up." Arthur valiantly offered, to Merlin's great disdain. There wasn't anyway he could allow him to go up there, not when two had already perished in the attempt. He had to do something now. He searched his brain, quickly trying to flip through the catalog of spells he had memorized, but there weren't many that applied to this situation. However, one popped up that he thought might work.
Given the conditions of the weather and the low visibility, Merlin didn't bother to use stealth while working his magic this time as he could barely hear himself begin to chant the spell over the wind and he was confident that no one was paying him any mind, they all had more urgent things to tend to, such as keeping the ship afloat.
It was always a curious sensation when he used his magic, but a natural one. Like breathing or sleeping, it wasn't something he learned, but with the use of the spells he had mastered thus far since the day Gaius had given him his old spell-book, it was a part of himself he was beginning to understand better and a skill he was just starting to embrace and control. He just prayed that this time, he would get it right or they all were doomed to a watery death.
Feeling a surge of power burst forth from his toes up to his fingertips, Merlin let it flow over him and explode outward.
He looked up to the sky to the swirling mass of clouds, letting the rain beat into his face as he let the last two words of the spell loose from his tongue. He felt the power within him rise in a mighty crescendo and release.
It was a much more powerful spell than any he had ever tried before and when the last of the energy had fled from him he nearly fell to his knees as a wave of dizziness took hold.
However, his efforts were rewarded as a bolt of lighting, the one he had summoned with his magic, streaked across the sky and arced directly towards the stubbornly stuck mainsail. The rope that had snagged on the sail and kept it from coming down, suddenly snapped in a bright explosion of sparks and fire, causing it to begin to fall.
Merlin was overjoyed that it had worked, that is until he realized that his efforts had been a bit more powerful than he was hoping for. The stress from the sail tugging on the mast had already done it's damage and now the lighting bolt had not only brought the sail down, but was taking the entire boom that held it across the mast with it.
"Oh Shit!" He swore as he saw his mistake play out. Once again, he had managed to screw everything up, but he hadn't much time dwell on it when a massive and unexpected wave slammed into the ship and sent him sprawling.
His hands desperately shot out to grab hold of something, anything to stop his slide across the deck, but he could find no purchase. Eventually, his momentum was brought to a sudden and painful halt by the railing, slamming his back and shoulder into the wood, immediately sending the joint out of it's socket just as a thunderous and ominous crack reverberated from above.
It all seemed to happen in slow-motion after that. Time stood still as he watched the mast begin to fall.
He saw Arthur and the captain look up in horrified surprise.
He saw the boom, sail and mast heading straight for them both and he was unable to move fast enough to do anything about it, the pain too great.
Instinct took over from there. The magic inside of him shot out without his control, pushing against the massive pole. His only thought was to direct it away from Arthur, to keep him safe no matter what.
Splintering, the mast began to fall backward rather than forward where it would have crushed the Prince and he sighed in relief as it crashed, boom and all, into the ocean far from the man he swore to protect.
All he could do after that was breathe until the pain in his shoulder finally made even that a difficult task. Arthur looked about him, his expression stunned, but his eyes landed on Merlin as though noticing that he was there for the first time and his face took on a new emotion.
Was that concern Merlin saw, or was he just imagining things? He wondered.
In answer to his unasked question, Arthur left the dumbfounded captain's side and began to head towards Merlin, who still lay awkwardly against the railing, but now grasped his dislocated arm nearly in tears from the stabbing agony shooting through his limb.
"Merlin!" Arthur shouted as he finally reached his servant's side. "How bad?" He asked frankly, seeing the unnatural position of his arm.
Merlin never got a chance to answer. One moment they were together and the next the boat suddenly lurched to the side, sending them both over the edge.
To Be Continued...