Hey everyone! As a few of you may know, I very recently finished another Merlin fic, but I was thinking up this idea while writing it, and decided to just get the first chapter up :D

Warnings: You can happily (or guiltily) expect some whump in this story, although not quite yet :s

Disclaimer: I don't get disclaimers... I swear the whole point of fanfiction was that we own NOTHING, we just drool over the work of others? But hey ho, I DIDN'T CREATE MERLIN!

Please enjoy and review :)

Chapter 1

Everyone was asleep except Merlin, and the guards outside, when the bells chimed midnight. Merlin snuggled deeper beneath his blanket, his hand running back and forth over the lit candle on his bedside table. It flickered, twinkling at him. His eyes melted to gold and the flame split into two, so it looked like it had a conjoined twin. Merlin watched it for a moment longer, then relaxed the spell, allowing the flames to join together once more. Outside his room, he heard Gaius snore. He sighed and then rolled onto his back, frowning up at the ceiling. Arthur had only let him slope off to bed, feeling desperately sorry for himself, half an hour ago. The Prince had taken it upon himself to patrol the town till way into the night, towing his servant along with him: all over Camelot there had been disappearances. People would fall asleep in their beds and then, the next morning, they'd be gone. It hadn't been too worrying at first: maybe two people missing in a month. But the number had gradually risen. That week, ten people had apparently been stolen in the night.

Merlin could see how much it had been troubling Arthur: over time, he had become a lot more agitated, pacing back and forth in his chambers, making it impossible for Merlin to help him dress. He just stood there, watching helplessly, as his master would walk, stop to peer out the window, and then set off again. Merlin wasn't naive enough to think Arthur was worried for himself: maybe that's what he would've thought a few years ago, but now he knew better. Arthur cared only for the people of Camelot.

So, that night, they had had left to march down the streets, on the constant look out for unusual activity. Merlin usually wouldn't have minded. He was only resentful because he felt, if Arthur was going to keep him awake till eleven o'clock, he shouldn't have forced him into target practice during the day. As Merlin thought about it, he remembered the ache in his shoulders where the target had rested... it suddenly returned, thudding hotly. Merlin sighed and squeezed his eyes shut, reminding himself that he would have to get up in less than six hours. He was just beginning to doze off, however, when something interrupted him. There was a peculiar noise coming from his bedroom door. He sat bold upright, squinting at the gap between the bottom of his door and the floor. Through this gap was sliding an envelope. Merlin jumped out of bed and scurried to pick it up but, before he could grasp it, it flew into the air, and hovered above his head. Merlin's heart froze for a moment, before he straightened up, and the name on the envelope was level with his eyes: Emrys. For a moment he couldn't breathe. This was magic, even if just a small trick to make the paper fly. He hesitated, gazing at the envelope, and then snatched it out of the air. Then he crept to the door and opened it, peering outside.

"Hello," he whispered, "anyone there?" Gaius snorted in his sleep. The room was empty apart from the old physician. Merlin withdrew back into his room and sat on his bed.

He gingerly turned the envelope over in his fingers, aware that he was looking at it as if it might explode. He mentally shook himself: since when had he been someone to instantly expect a magic object to be dangerous? That was Arthur and Uther rubbing off on him. Ignoring these new, unwelcome, instincts, he tore the envelope open... or, at least, he tried to; he was sure he had heard it rip apart, but it was still firmly shut. He frowned and then tried again. When it still didn't open he cast an anxious glance through his open door to where Gaius was sleeping and then instructed the envelope to unfold, in the tongue that came so naturally to him. He felt the magic burn, gently, behind his eyes, and the envelope suddenly fell apart. He allowed himself a quick smile, which vanished into a look of curiosity. He took the letter from within the envelope and settled back to read.

It was an invitation. He stared at the words:

Dear Emrys,

You have been acknowledged as one of the greatest Warlocks in Camelot. It is for this reason that you have been invited to the Circus of Sorcery. To find us, just follow the path. It will become clear to you the moment you leave the castle. You have three days, Emrys. We hope to see you presently.

With regards from ***

Where a name should be, at the end of the letter, there was a seal with the image of a carousel, moulded into the blood red wax. Merlin couldn't explain why looking at it made him shiver.

When Merlin got up the next day, woken by Gaius, he considered showing him the letter, and asking if he knew anything about the circus, but he held back. He had a desire to leave the castle and seek out this path the invitation had talked about, but he had a feeling Gaius would stop him from going. It was a strong feeling. In the end, he decided to casually mention the circus, just to find out what Gaius knew.

"Gaius," he said, in a voice laid thick with nonchalance... perhaps a bit too much.

"Yes?" Gaius turned to look at his ward, his voice already filled with suspicion.

"Well," Merlin sat down at the table and pulled his bowl of porridge towards him, half lifting the spoon to his mouth, "have you ever heard of any... um... magic circuses?" Gaius raised his eyebrows.

"Of course," he said, surprising Merlin, "I have even been to some. Many, in fact, when I was younger. They used to be very popular, even in Camelot, before the great purge..." he trailed off, sadly.

"What were they like?" Merlin pressed, eagerly. Gaius sat down opposite Merlin and frowned into his own breakfast.

"They were... well, they were marvellous. Called things like 'the Magician's Marquee' and 'the Warlock's Spectacle'. You usually had to be invited to attend... I was known to be practicing magic at the time, so I received the odd invitation when a show was in town. Sometimes they would be open to the public, for a small entrance fee, and they were worth every penny. The things I saw, Merlin!"

"What? What did you see?" Merlin instinctively moved forwards, leaning closer to Gaius. The physician shook his head, as though remembering where he was.

"Never you mind," he said, getting to his feet, "haven't you better be getting to work?" Merlin sighed and said,

"Yeah, I suppose," and walked towards the door. Before he left, however, he peeked back round the door and said,

"Did you ever go to the Circus of Sorcery?" Gaius stared.

"No... no I didn't. Merlin, where are all these questions coming from?"

"Nowhere, it's nothing," Merlin replied, quickly, trying to hide his disappointment, before dashing off to find Arthur: he was all ready late.

"Merlin, you are so useless" Arthur grumbled, when Merlin offered him a cheery 'good morning!'

"What is it now, sire?" Merlin asked, dancing around the room, pulling Arthur's clothes from his cupboard, "did I not polish you're armour right? Is one pair of your boots still scuffed? Did you not have enough to eat yesterday? Did I not run fast enough during training-" Merlin had another fifteen of these, ready to round off, but Arthur cut across him.

"You're late." He said, crossly.

"By seven minutes," Merlin cried, exasperated. Arthur cast him a dark look and Merlin rolled his eyes before saying, "I am sorry your highness. I shall not be late again." Arthur gave a derisive snort,

"Like that's going to happen," he said, no longer sounding annoyed, just a little resigned to the fact that he had a servant who was simply never going to be on time.

"It might," Merlin sniffed, trying to sound appear disdainful, but failing terribly when he tripped over one of Arthur's belts which what trailing from his hands on the floor. He fell in a heap, with the clothes he'd been holding strewn around him.

"For crying out loud, Merlin!" Arthur exclaimed, after he'd finished laughing, "could you please try and stay upright for more than a few seconds?" Merlin got to his feet, blushing, and gathered up the clothes.

Merlin was a little more than distracted that day, meaning that he was being constantly scolded and reprimanded by a bemused Arthur. He poured the bath water too hot and served lunch too cold. He fell over no less than eleven times while trying to take Arthur's armour to the armoury. He got boot polish on Arthur's robe. And all because of a hole the invitation seemed to be burning in his pocket. Merlin constantly pulled it out and reread it when Arthur wasn't looking, revelling in the words: 'You have been acknowledged as one of the greatest Warlocks in Camelot'. It felt unbelievably good to be recognised, although it was slightly unsettling: he had no clue who these people were. What if they were bounty hunters, disguised as this 'circus'? What if he was leaving only to be delivered straight back to Uther. But the envelope had been magic. Maybe this really was just something good, for a change. An opportunity to be accredited by his own people.

Also, Merlin had always had a childhood dream of running away and joining a circus, back in Ealdor, before he had truly come to terms with his powers. Then, there was always the option of turning his back on that life, and starting afresh with new people, constantly on the move.

So, when night fell, Merlin found his old canvas rucksack and stuffed it with his few possessions. He hesitated, often, thinking of Arthur, who it was his destiny to protect. But Merlin's curiosity was something that could never be controlled, and he told himself that he would be back before long: Arthur could cope for a few days, couldn't he? And then there was Gaius. Merlin considered leaving him some kind of letter, but the old man would know he was lying. It would probably not take him long to fathom where Merlin had really gone, after their conversation that morning.

In the end, Merlin simply shook his head, grabbed his bag and left, deciding to, for now, damn the consequences of his actions.

The next morning, Arthur waited for over half an hour for his servant, before getting up to search for him. When Merlin was not found in his chambers, only a worried Gaius, Arthur set about searching the whole castle, and then the houses outside. Finally, he came to awful conclusion, that Merlin was just the latest to be spirited away, taken from right under his nose. Arthur's stomach clenched with the guilt that he had come to associate with Merlin, and prayed to the Gods that the idiot would be back soon. In the back of his mind, he was already putting together a rescue mission. He noted, irritably, that, till Merlin had come into his life, planning to save a servant would have been completely out of the question.

I know that this chapter wasn't exactly thrilling, but I just wanted to set the scene for you all :D I hope you liked it all the same. Would lovelovelove to know what you think *hopeful smile*