AN: Two days! *Spoiler for 4x03 trailer* I so can't wait to see old-Merlin! He cracks me up. That one second shot in the preview had me cacking myself laughing. *End spoiler for 4x03 trailer*
Summary: Merlin will follow Arthur anywhere. Even into insanity. Oneshot. Really rather dark. Not quite M, but I would discourage younger readers.
WARNINGS: A descriptive post-battle scene, character death, dark themes. Not a happy fic, people.
Where Thine Master Goes
The girl before them – kneeling in the dirt, her breath coming in gasping sobs of terror – couldn't have seen more than nineteen summers, and they clearly hadn't been a very plentiful nineteen summers.
Her dress was thin, the skirt short and ragged, and the sleeves had long since torn away and left nothing but thin, weak looking strips of cloth clinging to her shoulders to keep the whole arrangement precariously in place.
Behind her was a mess of children – seven of them, at least, ranging in ages from about nine to eighteen – all kneeling in the dirt, some crying, some shaking silently with fear. The girl's skin was nearly translucent it was so pale, her filthy blonde hair hung limp over her shoulders and her arms and thighs were not much more than skin-covered bones.
She was exactly the kind of person who would once have attracted the King's concerned attention before being treated to a sack of wheat from the royal stores to help both her and her family – her whole village – make it comfortably through the winter.
But that was before.
"We didn't know," the girl sobbed, her words barely discernible through her terrified sobbing. "I swear – we didn't know!"
"They were dressed as Knights of Camelot!" the King snarled, looking nothing like the warm, kingly man he had once been. "And she... she was dressed in the kind of finery that only a Queen would wear. Do not tell me you did not know."
"We didn't! I swear to you – we didn't see who they were until afterwards – when it was too late! Please – please your highness – I can explain!"
"I sincerely doubt that," replied the dark-haired man standing beside the King, his voice sounding like the most potent venom and his bright blue eyes hard, cold and merciless as the air around him swirled and crackled with a furious energy. "But why don't you give it a go anyway."
The girl glanced up for a moment, breath hitching in her throat in her terror, but she quickly looked away and back at the ground; the dirt there that met her eyes was a far less frightening sight than that of the King and his warlock, standing over her like a pair of avenging angels bent on justice.
"We've d-done it b-before," she started, closing her eyes as though that would help alleviate the weight of their stares on her back. "N-not often, b-but we need to eat, you know? Our parents are dead – there's e-eight of us. And, we're t-too weak to work and n-not anywhere st-strong enough to actually f-fight anyone, so w-we... we set a t-trap. The... whoever is coming down the r-road – they set off the bells and we fire. W-we can't look first – they m-might see us a-and attack back. It's happened before – w-we had an o-older brother once. S-so we just f-fire. Three... three arrows each – that's t-twenty four total. Most will miss but enough will hit; p-people are e-easy to rob when they're d-dead. We didn't know who it was until we c-came d-down the hill. And then... and then we saw the banner, and – "
She cut herself off suddenly, her whole body shaking with the force of her renewed sobs.
"And, what?" the warlock snarled after a while, utterly devoid of any kind of sympathy, determined to find out what had happened.
The girl took a few moments to compose herself enough to force the words out of her throat, and all the while the King and his warlock stared down at her, like stone statues made up entirely of righteous vengeance.
"I... I g-guessed who they must have been as soon as I s-saw the banners, and the Knight's cloaks. One – one of them was already dead. The other – the long haired one – he was still alive, though o-only barely. He... he tried to... he tried to crawl to her – to the Queen. B-but she was already..."
She broke off into sobs again, the full realisation of what she and her siblings had done crashing down on her.
"Describe it," the King said, his voice whipping out at her like a vicious snake.
The girl quailed under the demand and her sobs increased dramatically, and the warlock stepped up to her sharply and pressed a hand against her forehead, his eyes burning gold.
"Sir Lancelot," he said after a moment, his face a blank mask and his voice sounding detached and mechanical as the girl under his hand stilled as though frozen, her sobbing gasp caught in her throat and her eyes wide as Camelot's Court Sorcerer brought the scene to the front of her mind and watched it. "He's been hit by three – one in his arm, one in his chest, the third through his throat. He's dead. Sir Gwaine is... still alive. Barely. One straight through his collar bone; a second's pierced his lung. He's got minutes, if that. He's trying to get to the Queen. It's... it's too late. She is dead. Two in her back, one in her leg. They never stood a chance. "
He stepped back from her and she slumped to the ground, gasping, as the gold faded from his eyes and the anger and grief returned to his features.
"It was an ambush, Sire," he snarled to the King, standing stiff and enraged and grief-struck beside him. "They had no warning. Their shields were still tied to their saddles."
The King's eyes could have frozen the sun and all the stars in the sky as he glared down at the girl, the jumble of emotions storming through him (furyragegriefangerdevastation) giving weight to his gaze and pressing her further down into the dirt.
His right hand moved slowly, towards his left hip, and the girl cringed away from the sound of a blade being drawn before she felt something cold and sharp press under her chin and forced her gaze up.
"Do you know the worst thing?" he asked, and somehow that quiet whisper was the most terrifying thing the girl had heard all day.
"They were coming to help you," the King continued, the maelstrom of emotions clear in his voice. "We heard about you – about this village. About the fact that you consider yourselves fortunate if only five people die every winter. She was coming to help you, and you killed her."
The girl sobbed again, realisation hitting her hard that she had not only killed the two knights and the Queen of Camelot, but the only chance she may have had at getting her whole family through the winter.
Neither the King nor the warlock had ever seen a more pitiful sight than that of a nineteen year old murderer kneeling in front of her starving siblings begging for mercy at the King's feet, and yet it stirred nothing in them but more anger.
The king moved suddenly and the girl shrieked and cringed, but the sound that followed was not that of a head being cleaved from its shoulders; rather, that of a sword being returned to its sheath.
Hardly daring to hope, the girl looked up fearfully.
"The Queen's father made this sword," the King said in a voice of deadly calm, his hand still on Excalibur's pommel and his eyes like flint. "I will not dirty Tom's blade with the blood of the one who killed his daughter."
"What..." the girl started, glancing back to her siblings once before looking back to the king and the warlock. "What do you plan to do to us?"
The King considered her for a long moment.
"The Lady Guinevere was a compassionate person," he said eventually. "She loved her people. She was coming here to help you and your family – your village. She would not want me to seek vengeance by killing you."
The girl gasped again, her eyes brimming with tears of gratefulness.
"My lord!" she said, unbelievably thankful to her just and understanding king. "Thank you my lord – thank you!"
The King turned away, the grateful words still spilling from the girl's mouth spinning in the air around him and falling at his feet, and the warlock was the only one who saw how hard his eyes were.
"But the Lady Guinevere is not here," he continued tonelessly, deaf to the worried intake of breath behind him as the girl cut herself off mid-thanks.
And then, two simple words.
The warlock raised his hand, his once warm eyes hard and cold and utterly merciless.
The King walked away.
The air crackled and the warlock's eyes flashed gold.
And then the screams started.
AN: Please review and tell me what you think; I've never done such a dark piece before, so I'm really interested to hear what you thought of it.