Disclaimer: Obviously I don't own BBC's Merlin.

Time: This story takes place at the beginning of Season 4 (but no spoilers).

Summary: Arthur, Merlin and the knights go on a rescue mission to save Gaius. When they are trapped with no hope of escape, Merlin is forced to reveal his magic, but at what cost? Now Arthur must go on a journey that will take him to a cursed land in order to regain Merlin's friendship. Will Merlin accept to return? Please read and review!


Chapter 1: Missing

They hadn't stopped. They hadn't slept. They were riding against the wilderness and the wind. The horses were showing signs of exhaustion. The riders were sore and tired. But nothing of that sort could slow them down. If they didn't hurry, if they lost a couple of hours resting, then Gaius was certain to die.

Stupid, stupid Merlin, thought the young warlock with anger in his heart as his brown stallion sped pass Prince Arthur's white mare.

He would never forgive himself for not following his mentor to the outskirts villages almost four days ago. It was supposed to be an uneventful routine check, but he should have foreseen that something of the sort would happen. He should have known that Morgause would seek revenge. She had seen Gaius use magic in their attempt to destroy the Cup of Life. Her plans had always been thwarted by a mysterious sorcerer, but now she had found him. However unlikely, the old man had outwitted and stumped her in her insurrection to put Morgana on the throne. Such were her thoughts, and now the physician was going to pay.

Don't think about that, thought Merlin despairingly. The deception about his powers was so complete that now Gaius was suffering yet again in his place. He couldn't bear it anymore. How much longer was this going to last? How long was he supposed to keep up the lies and the pretence? How long until it drove him mad? It seemed a question without answer and without hope, one that was haunting him in his dreams as well as his waking hours.

"Merlin! Stop!"

Arthur's warning came not a moment too soon. Merlin pulled his mount to a halt in front of a large tree trunk that had fallen across the path. His horse paced anxiously as the others joined him.

"Easy, Merlin," said Gwaine while stepping closer to him. "You can't do much good if you're dead."

Arthur, Lancelot, Percival and Elyan also came to a stop. The decision to bring only a small group for this rescue mission was mainly due to the fact that Uther was not entirely aware of the danger they were facing. The look on the king's face ever since Morgana's betrayal was enough to give shivers to any that knew him. His eyes had sadness and madness in them all at once. He would have put Arthur in the dungeons rather than allow him take such a risk. But Arthur, unlike his father, wasn't going to let one innocent man suffer, even if that meant putting his own life in danger. Innocent, thought Merlin wearily and feeling a pang of guilt in his stomach. Gaius is innocent. I'm the one. It's me they want. I'm the sorcerer.

The knights were looking around nervously. On each side of the road was a steep climb. The tree trunk was too large for the horses to jump over. They were trapped.

"What are you thinking, Sire?" asked Lancelot to Arthur. "Did we take a wrong turn?"

Arthur said nothing; instead, he drew his sword.

"Perfect place for an ambush," said Gwaine, agreeing, and then he drew his sword as well.

But the young warlock didn't care. He was restless and the idea of waiting around on this path was unacceptable. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Lancelot was watching him worriedly. Merlin sighed deeply, letting out some of the frustration.

"Do you have any idea how easily I could get this trunk out of the way?" he whispered to Lancelot.

The newly appointed knight glanced around to make sure they were not overheard.

"Gaius wouldn't want you to reveal yourself so."

"When, Lancelot? Tell me how and when?" replied Merlin as low as he could.

His friend managed a weak smile. "It's a mystery."

Suddenly, Arthur bellowed in alarm. "We're not alone. Lancelot, stay with Merlin. Keep him from doing anything stupid. Swords!"

They came from both side of the road; men in black, tumbling down abruptly with their swords held high. They were twelve at least. Arthur killed the first one that crashed into him. A second assailant tried to jump on the prince's horse, but he was pierced by Gwaine's quick and agile sword and he fell on the ground on top of the first dead body. Percival and Elyan had already killed one attacker each. Two were now advancing towards Lancelot and Merlin. The young warlock immediately recognized the crest: a red tree. The remnants of Cenred's men were now Morgause's men.

Lancelot had brought his horse directly in front of Merlin to fight off the attackers. The young warlock was perfectly concealed. The opportunity was too good and time was too short.

He cried "Astrice!" and watched both men fall to the ground with a groan of pain.

Lancelot threw him an accusing look but he did not care. He could not let Gaius die. It simply wasn't going to happen.

"Nice one, Lancelot," cried Elyan as he was giving a final blow to the last of the assailant.

Gwaine was wiping the blood off his sword.

"Well, this is certainly a change from training."

"We cannot linger," Arthur said forcefully. Then, he addressed his knights with his most commanding voice. "See if we can get the horses around that trunk. This is the shortest road and we must stay on it."

They were all stepping down from their horses now. As his feet touch the ground, Merlin felt the full extend of what four days of riding and little sleep could do to a person. His knees almost gave out and his head was on fire. He was fighting hard not to let a wave of discouragement and hopelessness take over.

Lancelot's anxious expression did nothing to improve his mood.

"What?" he snapped angrily at the knight.

"You cannot continue like this. You need to rest."

Merlin took his horse's reins firmly in his hands. "I'll rest when Gaius is safe in Camelot."

"Gaius would not want you to die in his stead. It was what will happen if you face the witch with a clouded mind."

Merlin was about to reply when they heard Elyan cry out.

"There's a path here. There's room for the horses between those trees, but we'll have to go on foot."

"Good! Let's go!" said Merlin before even Arthur could reply, but not even the prince dared to argue with him.

He took off at a fast pace to get ahead of Lancelot. He was not in a mood for the reproachful glare and the faces full of concern. He didn't want to worry about his tired eyes or worn out limbs. He just wanted to see Gaius alive again.

"Leave him be. He needs to keep a clear head," said Arthur behind his back. Merlin pretended not to hear.

"What he needs is a good night's sleep," replied Lancelot stubbornly as he led his horse between the trees. They were entering a darker and fuller part of the woods.

"That time will come. It took me this long to understand my father's hatred for those who possess magic."

This is going to be good, thought Merlin as he tried to focus his tired mind on Arthur's voice.

"It was not Morgana who betrayed us," continued the prince. "She was corrupted by power. Magic turned her against us. That is why those who use such powers must pay for their crimes. I will make it my mission so that the people of Camelot can live without suffering at the hand of those with magic."

"Not all magic is the same," replied Lancelot. Merlin could almost feel the knight's stare on his back. "Surely there are some kinds of magic that can be claimed good."

There was a short silence.

"I don't believe that anymore, Lancelot. We mustn't let it deceive us or else we risk the same fate as Morgana. You must trust me when I tell you this: magic is altogether evil."

Merlin shivered but it wasn't from the growing cold. He shut his eyes and did not even hear Lancelot's feeble reply. There were going deeper into the woods. The light of the day was fading and Arthur's comment was ringing in his head. Magic is altogether evil. What does that make me?

But he couldn't think about that now. Gaius needed his help. There was no time for tears.