A Game Well Played by Emachinescat

A Merlin Fan-Fiction

SUMMARY: AU to 3x7. A terrified Gwen stumbles into Camelot after being missing for a day, tears streaming down her face, bearing grim news that sends Arthur on a quest through the enemy's territory to save his stolen manservant, no matter the cost. And the cost will be great.

Word Count: 35,986

A/N: Hello, Merlin fans! :) As some of you probably know, I just finished "Your Kiss" and to celebrate… here's a new story. It's another What Would Happen If? fic like "Follow the Leader" and "He Should Wear Armor," this one stemming from The Castle of Fyrien. What if Merlin had been with Gwen the night she got captured? What if they both became pawns to get at Arthur? And what would happen if Arthur went on this quest with Gwen and Morgana… without Merlin to watch his back? And so this story was born. :) Not sure of the length, probably about five to eight chapters. I'll try to update every Wednesday, if not twice a week. This particular plotline has been festering in my mind for quite some time now, so I figured it was about time to give it a go. No slash, Arwen – although the Merlin/Arthur bromance is the focus of this fic, not Gwen/Arthur romance although it will be featured. :) Please review. XD

A Game Well Played

Chapter One: Falling Inside the Black


Gwen gasped and covered her heart with her hand in surprise as a familiar chipper voice chirped beside her. She turned to glare good-naturedly at her fellow servant, Merlin, who had seemingly melted out of the shadows as she walked across the courtyard in the darkening dusk toward her home after a long day of work. "Merlin," she sighed in fond exasperation, "I'll never understand how someone so… clumsy… can be so sneaky!"

Even in the dim light of the moon, Gwen could see her friend's quirky grin as he moved to walk in step with her. "I told you the day we met," he said, leaning closer as if he were about to reveal a juicy secret. "I'm in disguise."

Gwen chuckled as she continued to walk in the direction of her small home, Merlin right beside her. "Ah," she said teasingly, "and clumsiness is just part of your façade?"

Merlin started to agree before nearly falling flat on his face courtesy of a rather sizeable crack on the ground. They were out of the courtyard and in the lower town now; the road was less reliable and not as well-cared for. She tried and failed to hold back an amused giggle and he laughed. "Well, no… the clumsiness just kind of happens."

Gwen shook her head, her dark curls tickling her forehead as she did so. "I thought so." She paused. "Why are you walking me home, Merlin?"

Merlin glanced at her. "Are you afraid Arthur will get jealous?"

Gwen blushed furiously, thankful for the night to cover up her flushed cheeks. "Of course not."

"I saw you leaving and I figured I'd make sure you got home safely," Merlin answered as they approached her house.

She smiled at her friend, grateful to have someone as sweet as Merlin looking out for her. As much as she hated being fawned over like she was a child by the males in her life, it warmed her life to know they cared. Suddenly struck by a thought, she paused in the process of opening her door to glance over her shoulder at her dark-haired companion. "Did Arthur put you up to this?" she asked, eyebrows raised.

Merlin shook his head. "No – honest, Gwen, although I have a feeling he wouldn't mind me keeping an eye on you."

Gwen rolled her eyes. "I think he worries too much – you both do."

Merlin shrugged. "Well, you are the future queen of Camelot, are you not?"

Gwen blushed so brightly that she was sure Merlin could see it even with the mask of evening blanketing her face. "Merlin!" she scolded in a whisper, aghast at her friend's bluntness, even if he had been teasing her. "Of course not!" She couldn't hide the tendril of hope in her voice as she objected. Maybe, someday, when he is king…

"Gwen, Arthur loves you," Merlin smiled warmly. "Don't worry – when he's king, things will change." There was a pause and when Merlin spoke again, his voice was more serious and determined than she had ever heard. "He'll make a great king."

Gwen murmured her agreement and a friendly silence followed, only to be broken moments later by Merlin shivering and commenting, "It's getting chilly out here, what are you doing standing outside?"

Gwen grinned. "Sorry." Pushing open the door, she asked, "Would you like to come in and warm up?" Merlin frowned and his eyes darted back and forth, almost as if he were looking for something. He didn't seem to have heard her and the look on his face made Gwen think that something was bothering him. "Merlin?" she tried again.

He snapped out of whatever daze he was in and nodded, moving to follow her into the house. "Just for a moment," he said.

Gwen had expected a silly remark about how Arthur would get the wrong idea or how he didn't want to make the "royal prat" jealous, but there was nothing. He seemed nervous, tense. Gwen frowned and began to walk into the house, Merlin's hand on her shoulder.

It hit her then, a wave of paranoia, the feeling of being watched – and it wasn't Merlin whose eyes were on her, either. She heard a soft footstep from somewhere within her house. Merlin's hand was still on her shoulder so it wasn't him.

She nearly jumped out of her skin when Merlin's voice tickled her ear, his breath warm on her neck. "Gwen – get out of here. Run!"

She knew he wouldn't accept any arguments and she spun around, dashing for the door, but she didn't make it. A huge, burly man stepped out of the shadows near the door and blocked her way. He reached for her and she tried to dodge his muscled arms but before she could so much as scream, a sickeningly sweet smelling cloth was over her mouth and nose. She inhaled instinctively and her head swam. She was unconscious in seconds.

Her last semi-coherent thought was, What happened to Merlin?

Merlin had had a feeling that something wasn't right all day.

He hadn't been able to place it exactly; he just knew that something was off. It was the same kind of feeling that he tended to get before something bad happened. He didn't know if it was his magic or merely his instincts, but either way, this feeling had rarely been wrong before.

During breakfast as he and Gwen served Arthur, Morgana, and the king, Merlin had kept a close eye on the king's ward, noticing how her blue-grey eyes flickered between Arthur and Gwen. The dark glances she kept sending Gwen's way when she thought no one was looking unnerved Merlin to the core. He knew no one else noticed – because they never did – and he resolved to keep a close eye on Gwen because the look on Morgana's face said that she was planning something.

He had waited for Gwen behind one of the statues in the courtyard, determined to walk her home to make sure she got there safely. Whatever Morgana was planning – if she was indeed planning anything – was looking as if it involved Gwen and Merlin was going to protect his friend no matter what.

When they arrived at her home and he and Gwen walked into her house, the feeling that something was wrong intensified severely. Merlin's heart had thudded wildly behind his rib cage, his stomach twisting itself into knots. He could sense eyes boring into him and he knew someone was there, lurking in the shadows of Gwen's house, waiting for her.

He kept his lanky hand on her tensed shoulder and whispered, "Gwen. Get out of here." When she hadn't moved – from fright or hesitation to leave him he didn't know – he hissed firmly, "Run!"

And she had. But she hadn't made it. Before either of them could comprehend what had happened, Gwen was slumped unconscious in the man's arms. Merlin's eyes flashed gold as he sent her attacker flying across the room and into a wall. Gwen herself floated gently to the floor, unhurt other than whatever the intruder had done to her, thanks to Merlin's magic.

Breathing a sigh of relief that the man was gone, Merlin started for his friend, a prickle of unease still nagging at his gut. He pushed it aside, sure it was just nerves from what had happened, and moved to kneel beside his unconscious friend.

That was when a thick arm wrapped around his neck and a cloth drenched in something sweet-smelling was pressed against his face. He took a deep breath, preparing to fill himself up with magic, and instead found his head pounding and fuzzy, white dots flashing in front of his eyes. He heard a surprised chuckled from very, very far away and barely understood it when the man whose arms he was sinking deeper into said excitedly, "Sorcerer!"

And then the white dots turned crimson and then gray, his remaining vision blurring together as he fell into the black abyss of unconsciousness.

He knew no more.

A/N: In case you're curious, the title of this chapter was derived from the name of a song by my favorite band, Skillet. The song is called Falling inside the Black… and it kind of fit this story. :) Please review! XD

~Emachinescat ^..^