A/N: Thanks for the reviews! I hope that the second part meets expectations… By the way, anything faintly medical Arthur does in this chapter… Don't try it at home. You'd probably kill who you were trying it on. I know as little as Arthur does :) And I want to thank Alaia Skyhawk for giving me some advice on which herbs and stuff to use. By the way, this is set before the end of Season 3 sometime.
Shadows wasn't able to beta this chapter, so it's unbeta'd. Sorry about that. Either excuse or point out mistakes.
It was getting dark. Arthur hadn't noticed before, but as he approached the physician's chambers, getting as close as he could on horseback, it got harder and harder to see. The whole world was gray by the time he got to the castle.
Arthur swung his leg over the horse and climbed down, using his arm to keep Merlin sitting up in the saddle.
"You," he called to a nearby stable boy. "Put the horses up," he ordered, not bothering to be polite about it.
"Yes, Sire," mumbled the boy, rushing forward to take the reins of the leading horse.
The prince took the pack off of the horse and slung it around his shoulder, and then Arthur reached up with his other arm and pulled Merlin down off the horse into his arms. Merlin didn't move. Looking up, Arthur saw Guinevere come running up the street, coming to help, and he found a certain relief in the knowledge as he started down the outside hall of the castle and climbed the stairs to Gaius's chambers.
He knew people were watching as their prince carried the manservant with the brown jacket draped over him. He knew they were wondering. He didn't care.
Using his back, Arthur opened the door to the chambers and came in. It looked as he remembered it— tables covered in papers and vials, a place for mixing medicine, stairs in the back leading up to Merlin's room. The only difference: no Gaius. The tall wooden table used as the patient bed was covered in knick-knacks and trash, so Arthur just stood and waited for Gwen's help. He had no place to put Merlin while he waited, but he wished that he did. Sharp pain was shooting up his shaking arms, and Arthur's head was spinning.
I hope I don't drop him.
He didn't, but it was a close thing.
Gwen came running in the room, pushing the cloak that she wore over her dress out of the way as she carelessly pushed everything off of the patient bed and onto the ground. Why did Gaius keep leaving things lying about on it anyway?
Arthur put Merlin down on the bed, straightened out his legs, and then sighed in relief. He put his hands on the edge of the bed and let his head sag for a moment. By Camelot, he was tired! His eyes closed, and he could have slept right there, standing up, but he couldn't let himself.
The sharp pains went away (but the lightheadedness remained for a bit, and Arthur remembered that he'd only eaten a small breakfast early that morning), and Arthur lifted his head, alert again.
"We're going to need to clean the wounds as best we can," he said to Gwen. "We don't want them to get infected."
"And then what?" asked Gwen as she took off her cloak and put it in the corner.
Arthur took off the pack and dropped it on the ground. "Um… I suppose we'll need to close the wounds."
"You mean… stitches?" Gwen looked faintly horrified.
In that moment, Arthur finally admitted to himself that he had no idea what he was doing. Gwen probably knew too. But it would do no good to just stand there and stare at her helplessly. He stopped himself from shrugging. I'll have to bluff my way through it. Oh, Merlin will laugh at me when he wakes up…
"Yes," he told Guinevere. "That's what I mean. I think… if we can just keep them from getting infected, then the wounds aren't life-threatening." He leaned forward and took the jacket off of Merlin's torso. He winced at the mess of makeshift bandages. The blood had soaked through some of them and dried. When he removed them, the bleeding would start up again. But he had to remove them. Didn't he?
"No," corrected Gwen. "Gaius would just bandage it. Not sew it up… Any infection there wouldn't drain that way. I think I remember hearing that once."
"Okay," said Arthur. So much for bluffing.
"We'll wash them out with soap and water," decided Gwen.
"Honey?" suggested Arthur, vaguely remembering that Gaius had mentioned honey fighting off infection once.
Gwen nodded slowly and drifted towards the shelf which held the medicines. "There has to be some kind of herb… I think I heard Gaius once ask for some…" She closed her eyes and shook her head. "It's on the tip of my tongue."
"We'll have to just start with the soap, water, and honey," Arthur said. "I wish Merlin would wake up… He knew these sorts of things. Guinevere, I'll get the soap and the honey…"
"There are bandages and cloths in that drawer," Gwen said, pointing. "I'll get some water."
"Where are the blankets again?" asked Arthur
Gwen pointed as she left the room, and Arthur went to collect everything. The blanket was easy to find, and Arthur put it over Merlin. It was probably chilly in here for him… Plus, this way, Arthur didn't have to look at him lying there, injured. The soap… he knew where that was… Honey was in a jar over there, if he remembered correctly. Arthur reached for it.
Arthur turned around to face Sir Leon.
"I heard that you were back from hunting," said Leon. "But you didn't send word to your father."
Arthur gave a small moan. "I forgot," he admitted.
Leon's light-brown hair swished over his shoulder as he turned his eyes to Merlin's form. His forehead furrowed. "What happened?"
"An accident," said Arthur.
Sir Leon looked up at the prince.
"I shot him."
Leon nodded slowly, and if he was shocked, he didn't show it. Arthur was grateful for that. It was hard enough thinking about what had happened to himself. He didn't need to be shocking his knights along with it.
"If there's anything I can do to help, Sire…"
"Just… apologize to my father for me, send word to him now that I've returned. I'll see him when I get the chance. Make an excuse or something. Just now, I can't…" He trailed off and looked towards Merlin. Was it his imagination, or was his face getting paler?
"Yes, Sire," said Sir Leon. "It's getting dark," he added. "Would you like me to light some of the candles?"
Arthur nodded. "Yes, thank you." He went back to reaching for the honey, and put it back by the rest of the things he would use to (hopefully) heal Merlin. He didn't see Leon leave.
Turning to Merlin, Arthur said out loud, "Don't worry. We'll get you healed."
Merlin, he imagined (hoped), agreed.
"Yarrow!" Gwen announced as she came rushing back into the room a minute later, trying desperately not to spill the water out of her bucket.
"Yarrow. That's the herb Gaius would want us to use if we can't stop the bleeding. It stops bleeding. I remembered it." She put the bucket down by Arthur's feet and made her way back to the vials and jars. She picked up one larger, clear jar, and held it up triumphantly… Only to have her small smile fade into a frown. "Almost none left," she said. "Barely any at all."
Arthur frowned. "We'll collect more or something," he said. "Do you know what it looks like?"
"I think so," she said. "I know where to find it."
"We'll get some more after we clean out his cuts… and… the honey." As he spoke, Arthur pulled the blanket back off of Merlin. He was having trouble catching his breath. I need to sleep, his body informed him. Later, he said back. But all the same, he had to stop and take deep breaths.
"We can't today," Gwen pointed out practically, but her face twisted in worry. "It's too dark."
"First thing tomorrow, then, if the bleeding is still a problem," he said.
"Alright… Arthur, you look tired."
"I am tired," he answered with a small smile. "But we have bigger problems right now." He quickly set about untying the strips of cloth around Merlin's middle, and put them away on the side table. Then he put his hand to the one covering the cut, took a deep breath, and pulled it off.
The skin stuck to it at first, but with a small ripping sound it peeled off and took the dried blood with it. Merlin's pale face twitched as he gave a small cry of protest, jerking. Fresh blood welled up from where the blanket-bandage had been.
"Disgusting," was Arthur's comment, but the lump in his throat made the word sound weak and shaky.
Gwen gave a small gasp as she took in the wound. "The boar?" she guessed.
The horror in her voice nearly did Arthur in. This is all my fault. "Yes," he said shortly. "Guinevere, hand me that cloth."
She dunked it in water and wrung it out, then handed the clean cloth to Arthur.
He took it and held it over the gash on Merlin's middle. "Sorry, Merlin." Sorry that I have no idea what I'm doing.
He wiped at the injury, trying to be gentle, and Guinevere bit her lip and handed him the bar of soap.
"I imagine this will sting," he said.
It did. Arthur ran the soap up and down the injury – wondering if he was doing this all wrong – faintly disgusted by the deepness of the cut. Merlin didn't wake up, but he still made unhappy noises. Arthur could almost imagine what he'd be saying if he was well enough to talk. "Hey, cut that out! That hurts!" Or maybe he wouldn't say anything at all. Maybe he'd just sit there tight-lipped and white-faced. It was always so hard to tell with Merlin.
Arthur discarded the red-tinted soap and washed it off the cut with water, getting the soap out and washing away the blood that was still oozing from the cut. Pink water with bubbles in it spilled down Merlin's chest in a waterfall; his entire abdomen and the waistline of his trousers were soaked. Dropping the wet cloth next to the soap and the dirty bandages, Arthur grabbed up a dry cloth from near his feet and used it to dry the excess water. The blood kept coming though. (Not as fast as it had been when he first saw Merlin lying there, though—oh, no! He wouldn't think about that.)
"Honey?" said Arthur, but it sounded like a question. He was trying to keep the confusion (more like complete desperation) out of his voice; Arthur wasn't used to questioning himself… but maybe I wasn't the best person to do this.
"But won't it just bleed out?"
Arthur turned to face Guinevere. She was staring at Merlin, the fear apparent in her dark, dark eyes.
"We don't really have a choice. I wish we had that yarrow."
He took the honey… Now what to do with it? Should he pour it on? Around the wound? Smear it? Get a brush, or…? In the end he used his hand. Dipping his hand into the jar, Arthur drew out a gooey, golden mess. Raising his eyebrows, Arthur set about applying it. He spread the substance onto the slice, watching as it dripped down into the injury and around the edges, and for a brief moment, Arthur wondered what kinds of sadistic powers-that-be decided it would amusing to land him in this situation. He had no idea what he was doing. For heaven's sake, he could have been killing Merlin!
Arthur was a prince. He wasn't a doctor. He wasn't supposed to be without resources. He was not supposed to be standing next to one servant and tending to another, worried for his friend's life. Politics is so easy compared to this. I'll never let Gaius leave Camelot again.
Bluff, he reminded himself again. Just like in negotiations and battles.
"Should we just bandage it up now?" suggested Gwen nervously.
Arthur took the clean bandages and did, setting up the bandage similar to how he had last time. He doubled the layer, though, because the bleeding was faster now.
"I think the honey is keeping the honey down a bit," said Guinevere. Arthur shrugged.
"Ready to do that again?" he asked with just a touch of humor, and they repeated the process with the wound in Merlin's shoulder.
Merlin woke up this time.
Someone up there hates me, Arthur decided, but on the outside he was stoic and kept going about his business.
Merlin's eyes were glazed. He didn't know what was going on… but he knew it hurt. "Stop!" he gasped, reaching for his shoulder with his opposite hand.
Arthur slapped his hand away and passed the soap over the wound one more time.
A strangled groan came from Merlin, and he tried to jerk away. Arthur ordered him to cease moving, but Merlin wasn't listening this time. He nearly knocked himself off the table, twisted even though the wound stretched and bled more, reached to move Arthur's hand again… "Stop, hurts," he begged.
"Guinevere!" Arthur snapped, and the brown-skinned maid came around Arthur to hold Merlin down while whispering faint words of comfort to him.
She was stronger than she looked, because Merlin couldn't shift away from her, and after a few moments, he stopped trying. Arthur rushed to wash out the soap with the wet rag, and again the bleeding came back worse than before. Merlin stopped complaining, but Arthur could see the sweat standing out on his skin. Were those tears in his eyes? Oh, gods, please say that wasn't what they were...
I wish he wouldn't fight us, Arthur thought as he coated on the honey, not knowing that his thoughts were mirroring Gwen's. You'd think we were the enemy, not his friends. Arthur was trained to deal with a lot of things. A hysterical, half-asleep Merlin was not one of them.
Merlin settled down, going back to sleep as Arthur bandaged the wound for the second time.
"What now?" asked Guinevere, and Arthur turned to look at her with a grim smile.
"I suppose now we wait until it's light enough to find the yarrow and pick it, stop the bleeding… And then do the whole thing again. And then we wait for Gaius to return."
Arthur nodded, wiping his straight blond hair out of his face with his forearm and looking back towards Merlin. "At least he's asleep."
Arthur realized his legs were shaking, and once more he leaned against the patient bed with his hands, taking deep breaths as he closed his eyes. His stomach felt collapsed, his head had begun spinning yet again. He hadn't even noticed that it had stopped.
Guinevere's warm, calloused hand was on the chainmail (he was still wearing that?) of his shoulder.
"Arthur, I think you need to sleep."
He shook his head, blinking several times and putting his head back up. "No, I can't."
"You can't go on like this for much longer. How far did you travel today anyway?" Gwen was in mother-mode as she leaned close. She smells nice. Is that Morgana's soap?
"Merlin needs to be watched in case something—"
"I'll watch him while you sleep. You don't even have to leave the room. You can sleep in a chair."
"I can't let you do that," he argued, leaning back. He thought he would fall down. He needed to sit.
"We'll take turns."
Arthur smiled and started to give in, but his stomach rumbled so loud that he as sure Guinevere could hear it. "No, I'd need to eat something first," he admitted.
She looked him up and down, scrutinizing him for a second. "I'll get you some food from the kitchens, if you think you can keep watch over Merlin that long without dropping off…"
"Of course I can!" he said, affronted (but not very).
"And while I'm at it, I think I'll grab you a shirt so you can change out of that chainmail shirt," she said, her voice taking on a tone of command. It sounded so natural on her, and yet so strange, that Arthur had to smile despite everything.
"Guinevere," he told her, "you're wonderful." Suddenly, he swooped down and gave her a quick, possessive kiss. But he didn't put his arms around her, because his hands were stained with Merlin's blood.
Kilgharrah had always told Merlin that he had a great destiny ahead of him. There were prophecies about him. Mordred had let Merlin know that those prophecies were well-known among the magical folk, along with the name Emyrs. The things Gaius said (or even the expressions on his face) let Merlin know he was so different from most magical people and creatures that he was in a category of his own. Between all that and the things Merlin had done on his own (defeating Nimueh, becoming a dragonlord, and seeing things in the Crystal, to name just a few), Merlin had begun to get the idea that he was all-powerful. Or at least the most powerful of all. He had worked to make sure he didn't get a big head over that, but he couldn't help but know it. He was the most powerful.
There was one little thing that Merlin couldn't seem to master. It was rather concerning, actually, that he just wasn't any good at this. Surely one day, when magic had returned to Camelot, he would find someone to teach him this little thing. But until then, Merlin just had to make do with this fact:
He couldn't heal to save his life.
In the most literal way possible, it was beginning to seem. Ever since Merlin sleepily discovered that he was stuck unconscious, he'd been trying to wake up. When that seemed too hard to do, he resorted to trying his magic, only to discover once more that he couldn't heal.
He kept trying, worry somewhere deep inside of him. In the little part of himself that he was still aware, he realized that he was getting close to waking up occasionally, and he could tell because he could feel the pain. But since the last time he'd awoken, which was awhile ago, he couldn't propel himself out of unconsciousness.
As he got used to the darkness, Merlin got less and less concerned. Really, what was the big deal if he was sleeping anyway? It wasn't like he had any emergency to take care of at the moment. As far as he knew, anyway. And Merlin got to rest so infrequently.
So Merlin stopped worrying about it so darn much and let the little bit of him that kept thinking be snuffed out. He went to sleep.
Now, Merlin's magic wasn't exactly a living thing. It was tied up with his life-force, but it in itself was just a very important aspect of Merlin. It certainly couldn't think. It couldn't feel.
However… If Merlin's magic could feel, it was a pretty safe bet to say that it would have been feeling exasperated. And tired, yes; sick and tired of its master's idiocy and ill-luck.
First, Merlin had somehow gotten injured. That still wasn't quite clear, but since Arthur was the last person that Merlin had seen, it was probably Arthur's fault. (Merlin would argue that it usually was Arthur's fault.)
Then, Merlin couldn't get up and do anything about him being hurt. His whole body felt like it was made of lead, and he couldn't move it very much in either direction except for the brief times in which he'd awoken.
And on top of it all, Merlin's body was not getting proper medical care. Infection was creeping up on him; his body could just tell. And Merlin would be hopeless at healing that.
Yes, if Merlin's magic had been alive, it would be fair to say that it had gotten fed up. Natural reaction to his body's plight… maybe that's what it was. But nonetheless there was a certain air of irritation and fond exasperation in the way Merlin's magic set about banishing the infection from his body.
The bow was pulled back, ready to be released. The arrow was sharp and wicked. And the prey was ready, standing there, almost asking to be shot… Merlin…
What? No. It was a boar. A boar. Wasn't that a boar? It had tusks, didn't it? Tusks, a snout, a neckerchief, a petulant expression… Merlin?
But that was quite wrong. Arthur should not have been shooting at Merlin. He liked Merlin. It was the boar he didn't like. But somehow he found himself smiling slightly as he pulled back the bow even more, watching the back of the arrow's head touch against the string. He was glad that he was about to shoot the prey. It didn't make any sense, but somehow he found that he was smiling as he sent the arrow whizzing towards the man who'd never been anything but loyal and helpful – and annoying, naturally – to Arthur.
He couldn't move, or maybe he didn't want to move, as the arrow struck Merlin.
Merlin fell, the boar jumped on him, and Arthur wasn't moving.
Yes, the scream sounded just like it had when this actually happened… Actually happened? It wasn't happening now?
No, no it wasn't… This was just a dream.
Now Merlin was calling Arthur; he wanted his help, but Arthur couldn't help because it was his fault in the first place…
Stop calling, Merlin; I can't help you!
Arthur woke up.
"Wha…?" He looked around groggily. He was in the physician's chambers, sitting slumped in a chair by Merlin's bedside. His chainmail was gone, and Gwen leaned over him with her hair falling in her face and her eyes locked on his.
"Arthur, are you awake?" she asked gently.
"Y-yeah. Yeah, I am. What happened?" He rubbed his eyes and looked around for some sort of trouble. Merlin was sleeping deeply. Gwen had cleaned up, Arthur noticed with a pang of guilt. He'd forgotten he should do that and not wait for a servant.
"I think you were having a nightmare," she told him, speaking in a whisper, and Arthur wondered if she did that because of Merlin or because it was the middle of the night. "I didn't want to wake you up, but…" She bit her lip and turned her face away, and Arthur saw that she was embarrassed to be waking the prince up from a nightmare.
Not as embarrassed as he was to be having a nightmare, though. "Oh, right. Thank you, Guinevere." He casually reached his hand up to his eyes to run away some more sleep and was relieved to find them dry. He would have died of humiliation. He looked at Merlin. "Has he woken up?"
Arthur looked at the window. "How long until day?"
Gwen sighed and reached her hand out to take a hold of Merlin's had in a motherly gesture. She'd gotten him a pillow, probably the one from his bed. "Hours yet."
Arthur sank back into his hard chair with disappointment. "He doesn't look worse, though. That's good. I'm not tired anymore, Guinevere; I'll take a turn watching after Merlin."
Gwen seemed rather interested in Merlin's hand, even going as far as to examine his nails. And then she took a deep breath, turned to Arthur, and asked bluntly, "What happened while you were hunting?" Then, as she always did after she was blunt, she blushed.
Arthur stopped. "I told you that."
"Not exactly. That's what the nightmare was about, wasn't it?"
Sighing, Arthur sat forward and clasped his hands. He'd like to be angry, as Gwen clearly expected him to be, but he just couldn't. His voice was low as he told her the story. "We'd been following a boar. Merlin was being annoying… but, well, when isn't he being annoying? I sent him to flush out the boar. I was going to wait for it to run my way, but then it started coming towards me, and I got distracted by it… and I forgot Merlin was there. I didn't mean to shoot him, Gwen. Truly."
Gwen closed her eyes.
"And he hit the boar when he fell, and it got angry. I killed it, but not quickly enough."
There was a moment of silence, and Arthur couldn't explain why he felt like a criminal waiting for the ax to fall on his neck. He couldn't explain why Gwen's opinion of him mattered so much.
"Oh, Arthur," she said at last, and then he was engulfed in a warm, soft, and comforting hug.
Arthur had never really liked being touched. But Gwen was the exception.
Gwen took another turn watching Merlin near the morning. When dawn banished night beyond the horizon, turning the sky pink, she woke Arthur to stay with Merlin, and she went to collect the yarrow.
They would probably need it if they ever wanted Merlin to heal… Before she'd left, she'd checked on Merlin. The blood was oozing through the blanket, and the bandages were just a red mess. Slowing down, but the bleeding didn't stop. Merlin was as pale as death and sleepily uneasily, muttering under his breath.
Arthur assured her that he would put on more honey and change the bandages, and so she went off alone to collect the yarrow.
She went into the woods, her cloak pulled tight about herself, her worry for Merlin pushing out anything else. That's why she didn't worry about being late for work, didn't worry about being a young woman walking alone in the woods, didn't worry about anything but her hurt friend.
Thus preoccupied, she headed for a familiar little clearing (though she hadn't been there in a year), where light cast speckled patterns on the ground through the trees, and there she recognized the yarrow she was looking for. Weedy looking, feathery leaves, small white flowers at the top.
She smiled to herself triumphantly and went after the plant. Gwen hadn't thought to bring a basket… She would just pull a plant up by the roots and carry it back to Camelot, she decided. A hopeful light in her eye, she reached for the plant with two brown hands…
An arrow sliced through the still air of the green clearing and buried itself in the trunk by Gwen's head.
She jerked up and her back straightened like a poker as she whipped around to face the attacker.
"Stupid!" a voice was chiding. "She was reaching for the plant! She wasn't looking for us!"
"How do you know that?"
Two big, muscular, and dirty men faced her. Bare swords hung at their sides – Gwen, daughter of a blacksmith, would never treat a weapon so cavalierly – and crossbows were at the ready in their large, meaty hands.
Why were there always bandits? The knights needed to be more vigilant…
She watched them warily, and at last the proper fears found their way to her brain. A woman alone in the forest with no weapon. How stupid of her. "I only want that yarrow," she told them quietly, setting her feet apart. Gwen didn't have the nature of a fighter. But she did have muscles from years of hard work.
"Chris said no one comes near here," the second bandit said, either to her or to his companion.
"She's not a knight or a guard," said the first.
"But now she knows where we are," argued the second.
"Because you shot at her!"
A bandits' hideout was nearby, Gwen guessed. Just her luck. As they spoke, the men were inching their way closer to Gwen, and she found herself stepping back.
"L-look," she stuttered, trying to get control. "I have no interest in telling anyone about you." Except maybe Arthur. "I just need that plant… My friend's life may depend on it."
They studied her for a second. Gwen's hands were fists, and she had them at the ready, but not actually out in front of her. If they grab me, maybe I can get their swords… Or even one of their swords…
"Chris said no one was allowed to come here and leave alive," insisted the second as he raised his crossbow and pointed it at Gwen. Her breath hitched.
The first shrugged. "You're right there," he agreed, and pointed his own bow.
Gwen felt panic blare up in her mind. I'm in deep trouble.
"Look," she repeated. "I just want that plant. The prince of Camelot is waiting for me to come back with it, and he knows where I am. If I don't come back…"
"What's going on?" asked a new voice, and a third, scarred, and big man stepped into the clearing. "Who's she?"
"Lying little intruder, Chris," said the second man. "Found us hiding here. We were just about to take care of her."
"What's that about the prince of Camelot?"
"Nothing," the first man told him, rolling his eyes.
Gwen began sliding her feet towards the way she'd come in the clearing. "R-really, I won't tell anyone… I just need… I… The prince…"
The second man prepared to release the bow. Gwen tensed.
Gwen ducked and ran.
Arrows littered the ground and the trees around her, but she ducked around the trees and roots, almost diving for the path. She put her head down and sprinted as fast as a very scared and very healthy serving girl can.
The door crashed open and feet pattered against the ground, and Arthur recognized Guinevere just from her running and breathing.
He didn't even look up from where his eyes were trained on Merlin and his fresh bandages and new blanket, instead just beginning to talk, filling Gwen in on what had happened since she left: "He woke up briefly while you were gone. He didn't say much, though." He spoke like he was giving a report to his father. "He had a bit of a fever, and I thought that might be a sign of infection, but I didn't see anything, and I looked well. Maybe it's the blood loss… Leon had to watch him for a while; I had to go talk to my father. Leon gave him some water and he procured some soup for him, which he kept down, but… Guinevere? Where's the yarrow?"
Arthur turned around and stared at Gwen's disheveled figure. Her hair was falling down. Her eyes were wide, her face pale behind the dark tone, and she was breathing hard.
"What happened, Gwen?" He came forward and took her shoulders in his hands.
It took just moments for Gwen to gasp out her story, staring at the floor, and when she looked up, Arthur's blue eyes were dark with rage.
"Did they hurt you?"
"No; no, they didn't get the chance."
He dropped her shoulders and turned away, staring towards Merlin's unconscious body.
"Alright then," said Arthur, walking over to his chainmail and beginning to put it on. Good thing Gwen hadn't moved it. He'd like to wear all of his armor, of course, but since Merlin couldn't help, it would take too long. His sword, still sheathed, was on the ground by his chainmail. He put that on too.
"Arthur," said Gwen in a low voice, "what are you going to do?"
For the past day, every feeling in Arthur had been negative. Guilt. Pain. Fear. Self-disgust. He didn't know what to do with those emotions, so he ignored them for the most part to do something more useful. But anger… Anger he could vent. And he could vent it productively.
"I'm going. Where was the clearing, again?"
"Arthur, you aren't going alone… There are three men!"
Arthur thought this over. "I'll take Leon, if he'll come. I'm sure he'd be glad to help." He started for the door, feeling his face harden like stone, but then Gwen was in front of him, grabbing him and stopping him.
"Arthur." She repeated his name desperately. "You aren't just going to charge in there and kill them?"
He smiled at her. It didn't reach his eyes. "Of course not. I'm going to charge and there and tell them I want the yarrow. If they don't let me take it peacefully, then I'll kill them."
Gwen stepped away but wrung her hands nervously. There was no way they would let Arthur alone. They'd be too afraid of being arrested. But Arthur could defeat them; of course he could… unless they snuck up on him, or… No. No, Gwen had to trust Arthur. This would work out. She told him where the clearing was.
Arthur stopped right before the door. "Guinevere, Gaius might be back as early as tomorrow. In case…" He stopped. That sounded too pessimistic. "Watch after Merlin until then. I'll be back."
He left quickly in search of Leon, leaving Gwen feeling like she'd been punched in the stomach. 'In case…'? In case he died?
Arthur would win, of course, but Gwen was a natural-born worrier. She couldn't help herself.
Leon kept his hand on his sword as he stepped into the clearing in front of the prince, looking around. The prince only had on chain mail, and it made Leon nervous. He, Leon, was in full armor, since when Arthur found him he'd been preparing for the training, which he knew would carry on even if Arthur was too busy to participate today. All of the knights figured he would be. The news of Merlin's injury had spread throughout Camelot, thanks to the people who had seen Merlin when Arthur rode in. Everyone had taken a gander of Arthur then, too, and the rumors spread like wildfire. They ranged from an attack by another kingdom's men to a furious assault on the servant by Arthur himself. Sure, whispered the gossip-mongers, Arthur and Merlin seemed to like each other, but no one could deny that Merlin could be very annoying on occasion, and Arthur was known to have a temper.
Leon had to shut up one such talker himself. But still. Leon knew the prince rather well. He'd seen the look of guilt on Arthur's face when he looked at the injured Merlin. But Arthur hadn't chosen to tell Leon what happened... not exactly, anyway, and so Leon wasn't ever going to ask.
"Is that the herb Gwen wanted?" asked Leon, pointing to the feather-covered stalk.
Arthur nodded. "Yarrow." He looked around the clearing, his eye out for bandits with arrows. He stopped for a moment, his eyebrows starting to rise, and then he began to walk forward. "I'll get it," he said louder.
Arthur approached the plant slowly, with a look towards Leon that the knight recognized. The prince leaned over the plant, his eyes flickering upward—and then he was gone. Leon had blinked and missed it, but he knew that Arthur had ducked behind a tree, and he followed the prince's example when two arrows sliced through the air where Arthur had just been standing.
Back against a tree's bark, Leon turned his head to the side to take in the attackers. Three bandits. Like they had thought.
"I told you more would come if we let the girl go," growled one of the men to another as all three stepped forward.
"We didn't let her go," groused another. "He's behind that tree there."
Arthur's voice lifted above the two bandits. "We just want the yarrow. Then we'll leave. We didn't come to fight." Not that he would turn one down, either. Arthur could feel his muscles tensing, preparing, ready to fight and liking the way it felt.
The bandit who hadn't talked yet laughed disbelievingly.
Oh, well, it was a nice try, Sire, thought Leon. He drew his sword and could hear Arthur doing the same. If he looked forward and strained his neck, Leon could just see Arthur pressed up against another tree. The prince made a few one-handed gestures, and Leon got the picture.
"Get behind them."
How? He didn't want to get shot.
Leon shrugged and slipped out from behind his tree, staying out of sight beyond the clearing. He'd sneak up behind them… and… then he'd just improvise. He could do that.
He went as quietly as he could, watching his feet to make sure they didn't step on anything loud. The bandits were still watching the trees where Arthur and supposedly Leon were hiding. Two of the bandits (the ones that talked) discarded their bows for more short-distance weapons, their swords. They slowly came forward, one on either side of Arthur's tree, planning to ambush him. The third bandit kept his arrow nocked and ready. Leon kept slowly moving behind them.
Arthur could doubtless hear them coming, but all the same, once Leon was directly behind the bandit and the two others were just about to jump Arthur, Sir Leon called out the warning, "Sire! On both sides!"
The third bandit spun around at once, nearly releasing the arrow in surprise, and Leon knocked the bow out of his hands with the knight's sword, breaking the wooden thing. The bandit pulled out his sword and threw himself at the knight. Leon parried him easily and struck back, looking at Arthur. Somehow the prince had already killed one of the bandits and was busy fending off the other.
Leon knocked a blow to this side and threw his opponent off balance, and then quickly dispatched the man with a stab to his chest. He looked back up at Arthur and noticed something moving in the woods behind the prince.
There was a fourth bandit. Arthur didn't see him; he was still fighting his attacker.
The fourth crept up behind Arthur with his blade drawn. This one didn't have a bow. That was something to be thankful for.
"Sire, behind you!"
Arthur blocked another blow from the front as he turned to avoid the strike from behind him. Leon rushed forward to engage the newcomer in battle.
When the dust settled, Arthur and Leon still stood.
"Well," said Arthur, wiping his bloodied sword on the ground to clean it. Leon did the same before sheathing his. "There's the yarrow, then."
Walking forward, he took a grip near the bottom of it and pulled it up by its roots. He turned back to Leon and smiled as though he was a child making a clever discovery, but no child Leon knew had a smile that cold or business-like.
Sometimes, the prince of Camelot was quite scary. Like when he was angry.
"Good, Sire," Leon agreed. "We should get back, then."
Gwen looked up as a tired and bloodied but triumphant Arthur walked in with the meter tall stalk.
"They wouldn't let me just take it peacefully," he said.
She nodded and took the plant, choosing not to comment on what he'd said. "This should slow the bleeding. He's been awfully lucky to avoid infection, and this way we can keep the honey in the wounds. His fever has even gone down… All I know to do know is to just keep changing the bandages so they are fresh." She bit her lip. "I hope we're doing right."
Arthur kissed her again, and she felt herself calm down. "We're doing all we can. I'll be back soon; I'm going to wash up." It was about time he got some of the blood off of his hands anyway.
Two days later, the wounds were not bleeding. Merlin hadn't woken up for more than ten minutes at a time, but each time he opened his eyes they were dark with pain and… was that concentration? He didn't talk. He wasn't getting any better. But he wasn't getting worse. The fever came and went. Somehow there was no infection. (Arthur apologized to whatever higher power he had accused of having fun with his distress.) Merlin was watched like a hawk.
And they were out of honey, too.
And then Gaius returned.
It turned out, Arthur didn't need to explain anything to him. Gaius reported to the king the news that the outbreak was subsiding, and then, as he made his way to his chambers, Sir Leon stopped him in the halls.
Arthur was holding Merlin's head off of the bed while Gwen poured a small stream of water into Merlin's mouth when Gaius threw the door open and rushed in.
"Gaius!" yelped Gwen, dropping the cup. At least Arthur didn't drop Merlin, just put him down carefully.
"We're so glad you're here, Gaius," Gwen babbled. "We didn't know what else to do… We did our best, but there was no replacement physician…"
Gaius ignored her, placing one hand on Merlin's wrist and the other on his forehead. His lips were pressed against each other tightly, and his face was still and drawn.
"Gaius?" questioned Arthur.
The white-haired doctor looked up, his eyes worried. "I need you two to leave, Sire."
"We want to help, Gaius," argued Gwen.
"No, you've done very well while I was gone. Gwen, please fetch me more water, and then leave me alone with my patient." His all-business tone nearly broke on the word patient. "You can explain what has happened to him later."
That shut up any protests Arthur would have made, and he left the room after Gwen, who had gone scurrying after the water.
"Gaius," he said softly before he left, and the medical man looked up. Their eyes met. "Please heal him."
"I'll do my best."
Arthur had to look away.
"What the hell is Gaius doing in there, anyway?"
One. Week. Seven days. Half a fortnight.
That's how long Gaius had remained in there with Merlin. He'd only come out to make his rounds or to go buy or gather something (though Gwen or Arthur always stopped him at the door in the latter case to insist on doing it for him). He only let patients in, or occasionally Gwen to deliver water. He let another servant in to bring him food when it was needed. Arthur usually cut that servant off to deliver it himself (forget pride), but he caught very few glimpses of Merlin, because the man had been moved to his own room.
Arthur was about to go crazy.
During the day Arthur and Gwen both had their duties. Training. Laundry. Councils. Cleaning. Paperwork. Sewing. Reporting to Arthur's father. Picking up. During the night they both had to sleep. But every single moment of free time they had was spent loitering outside Gaius's chambers in hope of some news or the chance to be helpful. They weren't the only ones, either. Leon and a few other servants kept showing up and offering to be of assistance, but Gwen and Arthur took any jobs they might have gotten with an aggression that was to be expected in the prince but that was quite alarming in the maid. Gwen would openly admit to spending a night or two standing around or dozing outside. Arthur wouldn't admit to it, and if Gwen ever tripped over his sleeping body in that hall, she never told anyone.
And now, at last, as Arthur paced before the door with his arms crossed and Gwen sat on the floor by the wall, the door opened wide and invited them in.
"He's in his room," Gaius told them when they tentatively came in. "You can only stay a few minutes. You'll tire him out."
Merlin was sitting up in his bed when they came in, and he was smiling. His top half was bare but for the bandages Gaius had expertly put on, and he was looking quite comfortable under a blanket that looked a lot like the one Arthur had torn up more than a week ago. He was still a bit pale and looked tired, but he was obviously better than he had been a week ago.
"Merlin!" squealed Gwen, eyes wet, looking like she wanted to throw her arms around him.
"You can hug me," he told her kindly. "But gently."
She did so, wiping at her eyes. "I'm so glad you're going to be okay!"
He smiled at her, and then looked up to meet Arthur's eyes. Arthur stood near the door, awkward and dry-eyed, face blank.
Merlin's smile became strained.
"Yeah," said Arthur, desperate for a joke. "You may be the worst servant I've ever had, but it would be a pain to find a new one."
Merlin nodded, accepting the jibe as the expected response to the situation, but though he grinned, he didn't look like he meant it.
"I'm hard to get rid of," he said, studying Arthur. He'd remembered what happened.
"I know," said Arthur, and cleared his throat. The tension in the room was nearly painful.
Gwen sensed it and took charge, sitting carefully on the edge of Merlin's bed as she began to chatter about what was happening around the castle. "Only a week, and you miss so much," she told Merlin a little too fast, her eyes flickering between Arthur and Merlin. The two men didn't look at her. "Amy's going to have a baby," she continued. "Joseph is so excited…"
Merlin tore his eyes from Arthur and looked instead to Gwen. "I'll bet he is," he said. "I'll bet he's already coming up with names for boys."
They stayed for a minute. Arthur and Merlin barely spoke, and meanwhile Arthur could feel his heart sinking lower and lower in his chest. He can't forgive me.
Well, what had he expected?
When Merlin began to yawn, they excused themselves and went out to talk to Gaius.
"He was very lucky," said Gaius, "that they didn't get infected. Thank you for keeping the wounds so clean and still, Arthur. That might have saved his life. When I got here, I just had to worry about keeping the infection away and the blood he'd lost."
Arthur nodded. He remembered the blood Merlin had lost. It had flowed where he'd fallen, soaked into the shirt, dripped onto the forest floor, stained the patient bed…
"We'll be back to visit him often, Gaius," Gwen told the old man with a laugh back in her shining eyes. "When do you think he'll be well enough to walk around?"
"A few days," said Gaius, "and he'll be on his feet for short amounts of time. But it will be weeks before he's well enough to return to work full-time, Sire. And he'll need those bandages for quite a while."
Arthur nodded. "Of course. He can have all the time he needs."
Gaius looked faintly surprised.
Arthur smiled slightly.
When Gwen bid Gaius goodbye and walked towards the door, Arthur started to follow, but Gaius called him back. "Sire?"
"Yes, Gaius?" he asked, coming back, and hearing the door close, which meant Gwen was gone.
"I want to know what happened."
Arthur took a deep breath. He'd expected that. But why did he have to go through it again? He met Gaius's eyes and hoped the man couldn't read everything in them – the guilt, the nightmares, the sorrow – and told the truth.
"I shot him, Gaius. I didn't see him and I shot him. And then that boar tried to kill him before I could reach him and get rid of it."
Gaius looked tired; even his long white hair seemed to sag.
Arthur looked to the floor as he continued, "I shot him, Gaius. And I don't think he'll ever forgive me."
Not looking up to see Gaius's flabbergasted, disappointed expression, and not waiting to be corrected, Arthur left the room and shut the door behind him.
"They were both worried," Gaius said to Merlin, standing at the door and folding his hands before his robe.
Merlin stared at the wall. "I know. They've been waiting outside all week, haven't they?"
"Mostly. And they did their best before I got here. But I can tell you, the prince is not cut out to have a job in the medical profession."
"Good thing he's a prince, then." Merlin looked at Gaius for a second, and then away again. "I scared everyone. Sorry."
"It was hardly your fault."
Merlin laughed. "I suppose not." He was too used to apologizing. "Thanks for… patching me up, Gaius."
Gaius's eyebrow twitched, but he looked like he was thinking about smiling. "I really only had to care for the blood loss and make sure there was no infection… There really should have been some."
"But there wasn't?"
"Not at all, surprisingly. Even though you had a fever."
"How do you explain that?"
Gaius shrugged and smiled. "Where you are involved, Merlin, I rarely can explain."
"You mean… magic?" Merlin looked away from the wall and back at Gaius.
There was a moment of silence. "Merlin, before Arthur left, he said to me…"
"I don't want to hear it." Merlin's voice became sharp. "I don't want to hear about it."
"Merlin, what happened was an accident." Gaius looked worried as he walked towards his ward and placed his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"I know," said Merlin, a little softer. "It'll all work out, Gaius. Trust me." He didn't tell Gaius, but in his mind, Merlin knew just what he wanted to happen.
"I do trust you, Merlin."
"Thank you, Gaius."
Arthur had been into see Merlin five times now. Twice with Gwen and three times alone. They were short visits. Merlin didn't speak unless Arthur spoke first. When he did speak, his words were strained.
Usually when Arthur did something wrong, he just knew when he was forgiven. It never took long.
But Arthur hadn't been forgiven, not yet, and that hurt. A lot. He'd done so much to keep Merlin alive… But he couldn't deny that if Merlin didn't want to forgive him, he would deserve it.
Maybe it would just take time, he thought to himself. Time until Merlin was ready to say the words Arthur wanted to hear. I forgive you for shooting me.
Or maybe not.
An ache settled in Arthur's stomach. Perhaps the ache had already been there, actually. It just wasn't until now, when the mind-numbing fear and gut-twisting worry went away, that he actually noticed the ache.
Merlin, please forgive me. It'll be easier to forgive myself, then. He kept thinking that. But he couldn't bring himself to say it, because that sounded desperate.
The sixth time he went to visit Merlin, no one was there. There was no servant around. Guinevere wasn't visiting. Gaius was out. He looked around and called out a tentative hello, but when he heard nothing, he went ahead up to Merlin's room in the back.
The door opened when his knuckles hit it, so instead of knocking (which he usually didn't do anyway), he just went ahead and went in.
Merlin was on his back, sleeping, his head leaning against his pillow and his blanket pulled up. His hands were outstretched, hanging over the edge of the bed. His hair was in disarray, his mouth was open, and Arthur felt the sudden urge to laugh. They said people looked younger when they slept. Merlin did, but he also looked slightly goofy. But then, Merlin always looked slightly goofy.
Smiling, Arthur turned. He would come back later. As he reached for the door, he stepped on a floorboard that let out a complaining crrrreeeeeeeeeeeak.
An intake of breath from the bed. "Arthur?"
Arthur turned around to see Merlin blinking at him blearily, sitting up.
"I didn't know you were such a light sleeper," said Arthur almost apologetically.
Merlin rubbed his eyes and yawned. "I think I was waking up anyway."
"How are you?"
There was an awkward silence. "I… I just came to see how you were. You look… better."
"Thank you, Sire. I feel a bit better."
Merlin didn't seem to feel how tense the atmosphere was. He just stared at Arthur in a way almost… challenging. Arthur thought about looking away, but frankly, he was rather tired of being ashamed.
"I'm glad about that," he brazened on. "I worked pretty hard to keep you alive, after all."
"How kind of you." That was sarcasm, or Arthur would eat his no-longer-shined boots.
"Well, I try."
Arthur's face twisted a bit. "You're… pretty friendly today." Two could use sarcasm.
"I could just be in pain."
Arthur felt rather like yelling. He glared at Merlin. "What do you want from me, Merlin?"
Merlin smiled in confusion. "Me? You're the one who came in! I don't want anything."
"That's not what I meant and you know it. You can't even look at me without glaring at me now, Merlin, and I know what I did to you… But if you… if you hate me, and you can't forgive me, why don't you just say so, and I'll leave you alone? I've already apologized, what else can I do?" Arthur stopped himself and bit his cheek, looking away. This wasn't Merlin's fault; he had no right to be yelling at him. No yelling at the invalid.
"No, you haven't."
"What?" Arthur's eyes darted back to Merlin.
"You haven't apologized," Merlin clarified.
"No, you haven't."
Arthur paused and then threw his pride to the wind. Might as well. He'd already embarrassed himself. "I'm sorry, then. I'm sorry I shot you. It was an accident, but I should have been more careful, and it was my fault."
"I forgive you."
"What?" Arthur stared at him incredulously. Merlin was smiling now, and there was real warmth in it. His eyes danced like only Merlin's cheery blue eyes could do.
Merlin had already forgiven Arthur. Of course he had; almost as soon as he'd awoken he'd forgiven him for what happened. It was hardly the worst thing that Arthur had ever accidentally done to him. But Merlin couldn't help thinking to himself that, really, a bit of humility wouldn't be too bad for his master.
Not the nicest thing Merlin had ever done, but he found that he just didn't care.
"I said, I forgive you, Arthur."
There was a moment where neither talked. Arthur blinked and Merlin smiled so brightly that the sun couldn't compete.
"Oh…" said Arthur. "Okay, then. Thank you. I guess." The ache evaporated. Arthur suddenly felt like forgiving himself for what had happened wouldn't be such an impossible task.
"Don't do it again, if you please."
Arthur grinned, but answered solemnly, "I can promise you that."
Merlin laughed, and suddenly everything was all right in the world.
"Hey," Merlin cried, sitting up straighter in bed. "Did you ever get that boar?"
"I killed it, alright, but I left it there."
"Along with my only spare shirt?"
"Yeah, around there. I didn't really care enough to drag the animal along."
"Shame to have wasted the hunt, though," Merlin ruminated, and Arthur chuckled. "I suppose you'll drag me along on another one soon because of that."
Nodding at Merlin and reaching for the door, Arthur bid him goodbye. "Well, you need to rest up, Merlin. Tomorrow, bright and early, I expect you back at work. My chambers are a mess, my armor is dull, my stables—"
"What?" Merlin's eyes widened in horror. "Tomorrow? You're joking!"
Arthur grinned crookedly at him. "Of course I'm joking, Merlin. Go to sleep."
As Arthur pushed the door open and left the room with his step lighter than before, the sound of Merlin's relieved laughter followed him down the stairs, and Arthur joined in with some relieved laughter of his own.
A/N: Oh. My. Gosh. SO LONG! Thank you for reading this far. I hope you enjoyed the story! Please review my hard work and tell me what you thought, and for those Bonanza fans out there, how did I do at Merlinifying the episode My Brother's Keeper?
By the way, if you'd vote on the poll on my profile, that would be nice :) Love you all, Merlin fans! (Sorry, Bradley James moment.)