A/N: Hehe... *scratches back of neck awkwardly* Hi there. Long time no see. That would be my fault. Sorry about that. *gulps* Don't hate me :) I has chapter for you!
"You know, I never really wanted to be an evil villain's sidekick," Strumpet observed casually as he strolled alongside Arthur's horse, making sure the prince was tied nice and tightly to the back of it.
"Really?" Arthur muttered, not in the least bit interested in the response, instead trying to take in the environment around him and plot some sort of escape route in spite of the fact that his hands were bound and his captor appeared to be incredibly powerful.
"I always fancied being a cart-puller, myself. My mother always said I had the arms for it."
No, not that captor. The other one. The big, tall, scary-looking one on the horse in front with the pointy boots and the cape and the hooked nose who seemed as if he could very possibly have eyes in the back of his head.
"But then, when I was, ooh, let me think, I wasn't very old, a little lad, can't have been more than twelve, I think, some real nasty men came pillaging our village and said we could join them or die. So, of course, I joined."
"I'd rather die," Arthur declared haughtily, sticking his head up in as proud a manner as is possible when it's bound to a horse.
"Well then, you wouldn't have lived long."
"Better to live a short, honest life than a long, devious one."
Strumpet frowned and considered this, scuffing the leather of his well-worn shoes into the muddy path as he did so. "Meh. You have your opinion, I have mine. Shall we leave it at that? Apple?" he reached into his bag an offered an apple to the prince.
"No we shall not 'leave it at that', you wretch!" Arthur shrieked indignantly, his shriek somewhat muffled by the horse's mane, but still causing Strumpet to jump in alarm. "You have to see that you are wrong and I am right! You're the one who kidnapped me!"
Strumpet shrugged. "I think morality's a little more relative than that, Arthur."
Prince Arthur Pendragon didn't know what to object to first: the buffoon's use of apparently appropriate intelligent vocabulary or his addressing him by his first name.
"Or that's what a man I met in a tavern told me, anyway. Do you want the apple or not?"
Arthur inspected the apple. "Why are you feeding me?"
"Master told me to. I'm supposed to keep you fit and healthy until we get you back to the cave and then we can boil you up and put you in the potion."
"Boil me up?" Arthur squeaked, and Arthur very rarely squeaked. "You're going to eat me?"
"Oh no, I'm not going to eat you. I never get to eat the proper food," Strumpet grumbled, frowning down at his feet. "It's only ever scraps off the table and leftover bits of ingredients for Strumpet. It's a wonder I'm still alive and healthy." He tapped his protruding, wobbly stomach as apparent evidence of this and Arthur raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
"Well that's truly terrible but I think my problem is a little worse than yours. You claim to be undernourished, and I'm about to be eaten!"
Strumpet scowled at Arthur and plodded off, muttering under his breath about how royalty always thought their problems were bigger than everybody else's.
Arthur tried desperately to wriggle off his horse for the umpteenth time that day, to no avail. He really, really hoped the knights were close, because he did not fancy being eaten.
Sir Robin dismounted in disbelief as the tracks they were following stopped abruptly upon reaching a large, grey rock.
"Sir Ethan!" he hollered, trying to get the attention of the rider a little way behind him, who was happily clip-clopping along through treacherous enemy territory in his bright red cloak. "The tracks just stop! What now?"
Sir Ethan drew to a halt next to him and frowned, and several other knights (whose names I shan't bother to mention, because they shall only die soon and naming them is a great deal of effort) stopped beside him, appearing equally bemused and useless. "No they don't."
"What do you mean, 'No they don't'," asked Sir Robin, looking impatient, and wearing his 'If I had my lance in my hand I'd wallop you over the head with it, you prat' face.
"The tracks," Sir Ethan explained patiently. "They don't stop." He pointed at the vertical surface of the rock with a bemused expression on his face, where the tracks did indeed continue.
"How could anybody walk up the side of a rock?" asked Sir Robin, tentatively touching the footprints over his head.
"The same kind of person who leaves footprints in rock," Sir Ethan answered gravely. "Someone who uses magic."
All the knights shared a very solemn silence, before setting about forming a group huddle, trying to decide what to do about the situation and eventually deciding to clamber up on one another's backs and try to climb on top of the rock.
It was quite the feat, involving much ramming of feet into one another's faces and sticking of fingers into each other's ears. Not pretty. Several knights even got their cloaks in a twist. When they reached the top, had all helped each other up and dusted themselves off, they really wished they hadn't.
The giant, flesh-eating monster that had been napping happily at the top of the rock, not disturbing anybody, stirred.
"Nom nom nom," it thought. "Meals on wheels."
Sir Robin and Sir Ethan quickly fell back down the side of the rock, hearing the screams of their comrades quickly fading into satisfied crunching sounds behind them. They declared the journey ahead 'too perilous' and turned back to Camelot to re-group and come up with a new plan.
Sir Leon came through the trees behind them, fastening his trousers.
"Everything alright, men?"
Sir Robin and Sir Ethan stopped riding away, and looked ashamed of themselves.
"Men?" repeated Sir Leon, looking baffled. "Where are the rest of the knights?"
"Err…" Ethan coughed.
A person's jaw bone was spat down from on top of the rock hanging over their heads.
"Does that answer your question?" asked Sir Robin, eyeing the jaw bone with a queasy look on his face.
Merlin winced and snapped his knuckles in that way Hunith was always telling him not to.
"STRUMPET! YOU CANNOT ESCAPE ME!"
"Merlin? Are you alright? Merlin?" Gwen reached out to her friend, who was currently clutching at his forehead in what would have been a poor imitation of Harry Potter, if Harry Potter hadn't been copyrighted.
"Ah!" Merlin yelped. "Kilgharrah! It's Kilgharrah! I can hear him! He's close! Gaius! Gaius - get my blanket!"
Gwen slapped Merlin across the face (not too hard, mind you. She didn't have much practice at slapping people, and wouldn't have wanted to slap him hard anyway) "Merlin! Snap out of it!"
"Wh-what?" Merlin opened his eyes dazedly, and stared at Gwen in a quaintly bemused fashion. "Where's Gaius? Where's my blanket?"
Gwen chose to follow the excellent advice her father had given her: answer questions you don't want to answer with more questions. "Who is Kilgharrah, Merlin? I've never heard of him. And why is he close?"
"Uh… There is no Kilgharrah."
Gwen smiled knowingly. "I think you're a little old for imaginary friends, Merlin. And comfort blankets."
Merlin opened his mouth to defend himself, but she shushed him.
"It's okay Merlin, I won't tell Arthur."
Merlin supposed that was alright, then.
She patted him on the shoulder and they shared a friendly moment. "Right… Which way, then, Merlin?"
He stared at the glaringly obvious magical glow pointing up the hill (that she clearly couldn't see) and took her hand. "This way."
"I don't mean to be rude, Merlin," Gwen began, as she followed him, "but how do you know this?"
"Oh…" he waved a hand in the air nonchalantly. "I spend so much time tracking things with Arthur, I suppose I've got rather good at it."
Gwen raised an eyebrow at him, but said nothing more.
Kilgharrah swept through the sky, putting no end of majestic birds of prey to shame. In fact, they were sitting in their nests and on top of hedgerows, munching on voles, and looking seriously put out.
"Who is this guy anyway?" they were chirping sullenly to themselves.
"Just a big, scaly show-off," decided the vultures, determined to think no more about it, and not let it bruise their egos.
The Great Dragon was unaware of this, and wouldn't have cared if he was aware of it. He was focused on only one thing: finding Strumpet. And then spit-roasting him. Not far away in the distance he could sniff the Young Warlock, and he knew the irritating little whippersnapper was reading his mind, but there wasn't much to be done about that, unless he ate him. And that just didn't seem cool. After all, last dragons and last Dragon Lords probably ought to stick by each other.
There were no such restraints keeping him from mauling that horrible little rat, Strumpet, and Strumpet had seriously offended Kilgharrah.
The time had come for him to pay for his crimes. And he might just scoff that Master of his, too. He was a right git, in Kilgharrah's distinguished opinion.
He was getting closer, he could tell by the unbearable stench.
There was no way they'd be prepared for him.
Kilgharrah glanced down at the ground, and was mildly confused at seeing a large gathering of druids falling over each other. But he didn't really care enough to investigate.
"I say it's this way!"
"And I'm certain they went this way!"
"No, no: they definitely went this way!"
"And what way would that be?"
The direction-chooser stopped to consider this. "I'm not entirely sure. The way I'm pointing."
The druid elder groaned. "And what way would that be?"
"I haven't the first clue."
"Well I think it's this way!" insisted the tracker. "After all, I am supposed to be the tracker."
"Well, have you found any tracks?" demanded the druid elder.
"I don't know… It does smell pretty awful, doesn't it?"
They all appeared to be in agreement about this, and were also generally surprised at how few of them there were. Clearly some of them had got lost along the way (not that that was particularly unusual, but still).
"Then that will be Strumpet!" concluded the sniffer. "He never bathes."
"Ah… yes," the druid elder was pretty sure he was grinning evilly. "Follow that stench!"
"Do we have to?" asked Tim, who was holding his nose (or at least he thought it was him holding his nose, you can never be quite sure about these things).
"Yes, if we wish to have our revenge, then we must! Onward, eyeless druids! Let us get Strumpet!"
They all chanted heartily and promptly wandered off in different directions.