A/N: Sorry once again for being so terrible about responding personally to all of your reviews, I really have no excuse other than plain 'ol laziness. Plus, I've been more than frustrated with writing this chapter- I think I started and stopped then rewrote this more times than I can count and I still feel nervous about it not being good enough. Anyway, I hope you like it and let me know your honest opinion of it- good or bad, I appreciate the feedback. :D
Making her way back up the cliffs had been difficult and exhausting, even when she followed the less steep path Hammet had shown her on their way to the cave and Bronwyn was quite out of breath and scratched up by the brambles and thorns scattered along the trail by the time she made it back to her little house.
Despite all of that, she had a single-minded determination to help the boys her sons had rescued. She wasn't normally so altruistic, but there was something about that boy, Merlin. She felt it the moment she touched him; it was like a scent that stirred up long-forgotten memories and when he mistook her for his mother, she knew then that there was a mother out there somewhere who would feel the pain of his loss should he die and she knew then that she had no choice but to help in any way that she could.
That also made the decision to use the one thing she had promised herself never to use again a sure thing: her magic skills.
She had just barely made it out of her teens the last time she had conjured. She could still remember it so clearly: the day she had been out picking herbs for her mother. The forest had been strangely quiet as she made her way through the trees, so perhaps that is why she could hear the quiet groaning when she bent down to pick a sprig of rosemary.
Curious about the sound coming from the banks of a small brook only a few feet away from her, she followed it and discovered him laying on the ground, one hand clutching at an arrow that had pierced his shoulder.
He had been out hunting, he explained later on, when from out of nowhere, the arrow had come flying towards him and struck him down, another hunter must have mistaken him for a deer as he moved amongst the brush.
She acted quickly and without much forethought she, as gently as she could, pulled out the arrow and using a healing spell her mother had taught her, she simply sealed up the wound. He had been a little scared and frightened of her at first for using magic on him, but a moment later when his shoulder was no longer bleeding and in pain, he looked on at her in wonder.
It wasn't long after that they were both 'accidentally meeting' in the woods quite often and soon she was madly in love with him and he with her. Of course, telling her mother that she was going off to marry him and leaving their little, tight-knit village had been almost unbearably sad. Outsiders like Aedoc were never accepted into their village and those that wanted to marry outside of their society were shunned. Her only option in order to stay with him, was to abandon all that she had known.
Her mother had been beside herself with worry for her safety and before she would consent to their marriage she made her and Aedoc promise that she wouldn't use her magic outside of her home village or tell anyone of where she came from, not even her children. To do so would raise suspicion amoung those they would live near and might direct the king's mistrust of magic on to them, leading either to their expulsion from the kingdon or worse, to their deaths.
For many years after that she kept her promise as did Aedoc and neither of them spoke about it. However, when he fell ill just over a year ago now, she had come so very close to breaking that promise. She would have done just about anything to keep him with her, just like she had the first time she met him.
He had started out a healthy big and strong man and over the course of just a few weeks he had lost weight, complained of terrible stomach pains and was soon too weak and frail to even leave bed. She had begged him to let her try healing him with the magic her mother had taught her, but he refused to allow it. He had said that a miraculous cure would only leave their neighbors questioning how it had come about and he wasn't willing to let her take the risk.
"It's my only wish that you and our sons be safe." He had told her her that last day as he lay dying and she was so close to losing her resolve. Facing the possibility of life without him, she had been tempted to heal him with or without his permission, but the pleading look in his tear-filled eyes had stopped her and when he made her promise not to heal him.
She had reluctantly agreed then and had to watch as he slipped away from her. Perhaps that was another reason she was willing to even think about using her magic now. She had been unable to save him and since then she had lived with the guilt of knowing that she might have helped him, but hadn't. She wouldn't allow this boy to die when she could help; the remorse would be too much to bear all over again.
So, with that conviction, she entered her home and went directly to the little strongbox she kept safely hidden under her bed. She hadn't opened it since her marriage to Aedoc, but she had held onto it all of these years as it was the last gift her mother had given her before she left her childhood home.
"Take this to remember me by." Her mother explained as she placed the little book into Bronwyn's hands before drawing her in close for one last embrace before she left with the man that would become her husband.
She had kept it secret all of these years, but now she needed it. She blew off the layer of dust covering the box, then placing it on her table, she went to her cupboard and found the key. Wasting little time, she slid the key into the lock and turned, opening the box and pulling the little book inside out.
It was a spell-book, passed down for what had to be generations. Her mother had memorized it after it had been given to her just as her grandmother before her had. Bronwyn certainly hadn't memorized anything in it, that's why she needed it now; the cure for the pleurisy afflicting the ill boy was in there, she just needed to find it.
She flipped through the soft, vellum pages, lovingly hand-copied and colorfully illustrated with care until she finally found the potion and spell that might do the trick. There was no guarantee that it would work as she was extremely rusty at magic, but she had to try at the very least.
After reading through the ingredients list, she set about her cupboard to fetch them then mixed them together as instructed, heating the potion over the fire in her little kettle. Before long, it was a bubbling, roiling concoction that filled the small house with a foul stench, but one she hoped meant that it was potent enough to bring about a cure.
When she felt it had been cooked enough, she pulled the kettle out of the fire and placed the mixture back on her table, letting it cool until she could touch the pot. Taking a deep breath, she concentrated on the swirling potion, placing her hands on either side of the kettle, then looked over the words in the little book that she needed to say.
With more than just a little trepidation, she began to speak, the language of the spell, long unspoken by her, spilling from her tongue in a stilted voice until she felt a stirring in her breast. Her heartbeat quickened as the energy she could feel building inside grew and grew, her voice becoming more confident with each word of the spell she delivered until the power that had built up within her suddenly broke free with the last word, bursting forth from her hand and through her fingertips, the magic flowing across the metal of the pot and into the potion.
She watched with baited breath, waiting for some sign that the spell had worked when all at once, the now cool mixture began to bubble and froth with renewed vigor.
She hoped this meant that she had performed the spell right, but the true test would come when she tried to feed the potion to the ailing boy. She wouldn't know for certain that it worked until then.
Relaxing a little in relief, she sighed before taking her little book and placing it back on the table. She sought out a little jar and filled it with the potion so she could safely transport it back to the cave where the boys waited for her return and after that she left her home, closing the door behind her.
As far as she knew, she had done everything correctly and had forgotten nothing, however later she would find out that there was one thing she neglected to take care of.
He had been floating for a while until he felt a tug on his leg. He tried to fight it off, kicking his leg in order to throw off the unseen force, but it's hold was firm and unshakable and soon his head was going under, enveloped by the waves as he sank further down, down, down. There seemed to be no end to his descent and all the while, the light from above him faded until there was only darkness.
His lungs begged for breath, the pressure on them increasing as he descended. If only he could get to the surface and get his head above water...if only he could breathe...
He could hear sounds coming from above the surface, muffled and unclear through the water- voices perhaps, but he couldn't reach them, they were too far away and the pull of the ocean was growing stronger, dragging him down further the more he fought
Blackness swirled around the corners of his sight as the pain in his chest became almost unbearable, to the point where he didn't think he could hold on much longer...he needed air...
He needed to breathe!
"Merlin!" He heard distantly, but distinctly. "Wake up!"
It was Arthur's voice he recognized, but he couldn't fathom how he could hear him so clearly when he was so far below him under the water.
"Wake up, Merlin...it's just a dream...c'mon. Open your eyes."
A dream, he says? Merlin isn't certain that it's true. He can feel the water surrounding him and the ever growing pressure in his chest, but he trusts the voice. If Arthur says it's a dream, then perhaps it was.
That's when reality started to encroach on his senses. The ocean's cold embrace let him go, replaced by the sensation of laying down on hard, stone, but the tightness in his lungs remained, stabbing him with sharp pain every time he attempted to breathe in.
He found himself now thrust from one nightmare into another as he tried unsuccessfully to tamp down the panic flaring throughout him. His eyes flew open as he gasped, trying to draw in air, but try as he might, his seemed as though his lungs were trapped in a vice.
Suddenly he could feel a hand tapping his face and his attention was drawn upwards, meeting Arthur's concerned face.
"Calm down, Merlin...just breathe...deep breaths.
Merlin shook his head. Didn't he understand how much it hurt? "Can't..." was all he was able to wheeze out.
"Yes you can and you will. Do you understand me? Just do what you're told for once."
Arthur wasn't taking 'no' for an answer as he took a hand behind Merlin's neck and began to lift his head up until he could get his arm behind his shoulders and haul him the rest of the way into sitting position, patting him on the back in an effort to loosen some of the phlegm that blocked Merlin's breathing.
The actions Arthur took along with his emphatic chorus of orders to relax and breathe began to have an effect and after a round of wet, hoarse coughing, hawking and gasping, Merlin began to feel some of the pain in his chest give way and he was able to get a few good, deep breaths in. While he still had to labour hard in order to get any air into his lungs, it was much better than the frightening feeling that he couldn't breathe at all.
Merlin slowly began to become more aware of his surroundings, but he was too exhausted to do much more than note the other two boys watching him with concerned eyes and the fact that Arthur had scooted behind him and he had Merlin leaning back to rest his heavy head on his shoulder.
Merlin could feel his eyes growing heavy soon after that and he might have drifted off for a moment or two, but a voice from the other end of the cave had him forcing himself to keep them open to see what was happening and before he knew it a face was filling his view and a hand was touching his brow. He thought she seemed familiar, but he couldn't be certain, but she did remind him somewhat of his mother. She had the same colour of hair as she, but her piercing green eyes were far different from hers. Even so, he felt a little tug on his heart wishing it was his own mother there instead. She always knew how to make him feel better.
"His fever is still very high." She observed just as Merlin fought for another inhale and found his breath catching. Ragged coughs wracked his chest, echoing off the cave walls and for a moment, he was sure that they would never stop, but when they did, the woman used a plain piece of cloth to wipe at his mouth. It came away red and smeared with blood and if he hadn't been so damned tired at the time, the sight of that might have made him frightened, but as it was, he just couldn't summon the energy to really care and he let himself fall backward against Arthur's shoulder once again.
"Do something, please." He heard Arthur plead, but surely Arthur wouldn't be debasing himself in such a way just for him. He had to be imagining that part.
"I have an herbal remedy that I've made, but I'm going to need you boys to do some things for me while I work: Jack, I need you to fetch some water. Hammet, we're going to need more wood for the fire. And you, Arthur- I need you to help them."
"What?" Merlin could swear he could almost feel the indignant frown Arthur had to be wearing then when the woman mentioned that he should help the other boys and he actually felt himself snort a little at the thought of Arthur doing any kind of menial labour. "No. I'm staying here with Merlin." He was adamant.
"Afraid... you might... pull a muscle?" Merlin found the strength to pant out.
"Look..." The woman started in. "I'll be able to work much better without the lot of you hovering over me, alright? So just go and help my boys, that's the best way you can be of help to your friend right now."
Merlin sort of wished he could see Arthur's face then. It wasn't very often that the prince was talked to like that, not that she knew that he was a prince, but still...
"Alright...fine." Arthur relented reluctantly and Merlin felt him push him off of his shoulder and helped him to lay back once again on the ground, taking care to place the rolled up blanket under his head to prop him up somewhat. "I won't be too far, Merlin." He told him and went off to join the other two boys, leaving Merlin alone with the woman.
She opened a little pouch she had in her hand and pulled out a small stoppered bottle, pulling out the cork that sealed it and even with a congested nose, Merlin could smell its pungent aroma from where he lay.
"I know. It smells bad and probably tastes even worse, but I need you to drink all of this and hopefully, you'll be feeling better soon."
Merlin was more than a little leery of the concoction, but before he could protest, she had brought the bottle up to his lips and began pouring it into his mouth. She was right about one thing, it certainly did taste far worse than it smelled and he nearly gagged on it. Sputtering, he somehow made the liquid go down his throat and almost as soon as it hit his stomach he felt a tingling warmth spread all throughout his body from his belly outward to his fingertips and toes
Things began to grow fuzzy then and as the space surrounding him grew dim and started to melt away, so did the pain. He was marginally aware of the woman watching him, he could see her lips moving as if she was speaking, but he was disconnected from her words and couldn't piece together what she was saying.
It was almost impossible to keep awake much longer as every muscle in his body relaxed and went limp and his eyes grew heavier and heavier, the weight of them too much for him to bear much longer. He blinked slowly one last time, the promise of peaceful rest too tempting to ignore, but just before his eyes closed all of the way, he thought he caught sight of the woman's eyes radiate a golden glow.
Mabyn was already irritated with having to walk more than a half mile to the mid-wife's house and was none too pleased to find that no one was at home when she knocked on the door.
She huffed shortly, cross that she had wasted so much effort just to see if she could pick up something to calm her whiny, daughter-in-law's irritable stomach.
The poor girl was only into her sixth month of pregnancy but already had complained more than any woman she had ever known. Every ache, pain, bout of nausea or case of heartburn saw Breaca moaning in her bed and refusing to get up. If it wasn't for the promise she had made her son to take of his new wife while he went off to the castle to serve the king, she would have told the girl to just get over it already and deal with the symptoms like every other woman in the history of childbirth had done before her. But, here she was, wasting the day for a little bit of herbs when she could be doing something more constructive with her time.
And now as she stood in front of the door to the house, she really didn't want to leave empty handed and have to deal with the complaints Breaca would be sure to unleash if she should come home without, so after she knocked one last time and received no answer, she tested the door and found it open, poking her head inside.
Bronwyn would understand her predicament and wouldn't mind if she popped in for just a second to find the stomach aid she had given her last time Breaca had indigestion. She would just borrow the bottle and make sure that she came back tomorrow to return it along with some of her hen's eggs for payment, she told herself.
"Bronwyn?" She called out one last time before she stepped into the small house, but just as she thought, no one was home. Even though she was alone, she still crept quietly inside as she headed for the mid-wife's medicinal supplies. Mabyn was not a very good reader, but she recalled what the little bottle of powder looked like and headed right for it, picking it up then dropping it into the little purse she carried across her shoulder.
It was on her way out when Mabyn made the discovery. Sitting on the table was a small, open book and she was drawn to it by the colorful designs displayed on the page, but once she got a closer look at it, she knew it was no ordinary book. She may not have been completely literate, but she was more than old enough to be familiar with the runes that belonged to the Druids.
Besides being shocked to find the Druid book in Bronwyn's house, Mabyn felt a deep sense of betrayal. She knew that Bronwyn had come from another village somewhere, but over the years, she had grown to trust the woman as had many others in their community, yet here was proof that she had been cavorting with Druids and perhaps even practicing magic, a crime that could have serious repercussions for their village should the king's men come to believe that their community had been knowingly harbouring her.
Well, this could not stand, she would have none of it!
Snapping the book closed and dropping it into her purse along with the medicine, Mabyn knew the only way to keep the King's men from ransacking their village, or even worse, targeting her or her family was to turn it and Bronwyn into the authorities at the castle. Her son worked their as a gate-keeper there and would know what to do with it and who to bring it to. Perhaps by doing this, there would even be some kind of reward for her actions.