Well, mates, this is it. You've made it to the end. I would like to thank you for your support and hope you found this legitimately interesting ;) There is the sequel called The Knight's Mare that you may enjoy :)
Again, thank you, LunaShadowWolf13, for introducing this site to me. I hope you are faring well.
~14~ Close, Close Enough
The triumphant expression on Morgana's face quickly turned to fear as Merlin, yelling like a madman, pounced on her in a flurry of vengeance. There was a look in his eye she had never seen before – murderous, full of hate and fury.
It was frightening.
But then, he was no match for her newly acquired power, channelled by the Feather. The youth barely touched her before he was thrown aside, smashed into a tree and left dazed on the snow. His head moved once and he groaned, and then he began to stand. Morgana couldn't help but feel astounded at his strength and determination.
"Why can't you just stay where you belong," she hissed as he faced her, breathing heavily, "at my feet?"
Merlin leaped to the side to avoid the sorceress's fresh attack with lightning swiftness. The stream of flame engulfed the tree, devouring the frozen branches despite the cold. Black smoke ballooned skyward, but Merlin did not flee.
"You have no idea what I can do now, do you?" said Morgana. There was still no fear in the servant's eyes. "I could tear you apart from the inside out. I could call down a storm to smite you to dust. I could order the earth to split and swallow you whole, and no one would know. No one would care because you're just a servant, a dog whose master is dead."
"You knew him. You know him, better than most. How could you do this to him?"
"My little brother," Morgana smirked. "The pampered prince of Camelot. He stole my rightful place as heir to the throne – I'm ashamed to have shared the same father. I have lost nothing this day. But you will lose much more than just a master." She raised the Feather.
Scouting trumpets blared not far away. Morgana hesitated.
"Arthur didn't steal anything," said Merlin, hands up, his voice pleading to make her understand. It was pathetic. "He was as ignorant of your birth as you were. He was your friend, Morgana."
"My friend. I thought you were my friend, Merlin. My mistake got me poisoned."
More trumpets, closer this time. The sorceress noticed the smoke still bellowing from the tree, a beacon for Camelot scouts. The ruddy flames devouring the tree cast Merlin's face in shadow, but she could sense his pain. And his growing weakness.
"Look," he said. "You have the Feather. Arthur and I are at your mercy. You've won. Just lift the curse. You've put thousands of people at risk, innocent people, Morgana. There was time when you would do whatever it took to help innocents—"
"That was long ago, Merlin. Things have changed. I've changed. But I am still a woman of my word." She could hear the communicating trumpets and howling dogs more clearly now. Merlin was gritting his teeth. She thought that peculiar until she figured that being trapped against a burning tree can't be all that comfortable.
"Just go, Morgana," Merlin finally said, face beaded with sweat. "No one will follow you."
Morgana smirked. "Are you trying to reassure me? Or yourself?"
The servant merely stared.
"It isn't over, Merlin," she said, upholding the Phoenix Feather. "It's never over."
Merlin threw an arm over his face as smoke bellowed from around Morgana's feet and wind blustered the snow like a blizzard. A few moments later, the air fell still. He uncovered to see a melted patch where she once stood. Morgana was gone, the Phoenix Feather with her.
He gave himself some time to recover, but then memory barged its way into reality, and he turned towards Arthur, still lying static in the snow.
Half walking, half running up the slope, he reached the still prince and crashed down on his knees beside him. "Oi, clotpole." Arthur didn't move. The warlock shook him, and then slapped him. "Wake up you arrogant, overrated, pompous toady dollop-head."
Arthur sighed, eyes closed. "Who you callin' dollop-head, you useless buffoon."
Merlin snorted. "Prat."
Merlin reluctantly swallowed the nauseatingly bitter-tasting concoction, pinching his nose to dull the foulness. He shuddered, and winced as his side stretched in protest. Somewhere behind him, Arthur blanched at the taste of his own mixture. Gaius held the potion to the prince's mouth until he finished every last drop, despite his resistance.
"There should be a law against nasty substances like this," said Arthur blandly, grimacing as the flavour refused to leave his tongue.
Gaius ignored that, passing him a vial of deep yellow goop. "Apply this to your chest every night for a week. I will have more for you by the end of seven days."
"Yay," Arthur muttered flatly.
Merlin grinned and reached for his shirt. He tried to put his bandaged arm through first, and then his unharmed one right after, but the shirt got tangled over his head. The more he tried to free himself, the messier it got.
Arthur snorted but smiled, shaking his head. He stood and straightened out the shirt, pulling it down for his friend. He couldn't help but wince at the sight of the stitched wound on Merlin's side, blood seeping through the bandages.
"I should never have dragged you into that," he said.
"You dragged me into it?" Merlin adjusted the sleeve over his bandaged arm.
Again the prince snorted. "Yeah. You always get so scared on those expeditions—"
"I wasn't scared!"
"Yes, you were," Arthur insisted, raising his eyebrows.
"No, I wasn't. I was terrified."
"But you'll have to admit – you wouldn't have gotten far without me," Merlin added, smirking lightly. It was impossible not to hear the rushing water outside. The snow was melting, fast.
"This is true." Arthur grinned, then reached out and ruffled Merlin's hair.
The door opened, and the Pendragon turned. "Ah, Gwaine. Good to see you."
"Oh. Arthur. Thought we were finally rid of your ugly mug." They chuckled and embraced like brothers as Percival, Elyan, and finally Lancelot entered. They patted their prince on the shoulder.
Lancelot wandered over to Merlin. "Still breathing. That's good."
"Yep, pretty much." Merlin smiled, but it was forced.
The knight could see the worry swimming in the warlock's eyes. "Morgana got what she wanted, then."
Merlin nodded. "I couldn't stop her. I tried, but...If I had been faster, or stronger...And not only that, there's that cave creature still wandering about—"
"You doubt yourself too much, Merlin. You can only fight tomorrow if you live through today." He clapped a hand down on Merlin's shoulder and joined the other knights.
"Who's hungry? I could eat a dragon," bellowed Gwaine, throwing one arm around Elyan and another around Arthur and leading them out the door. Arthur's voice grew fainter as they departed.
"You're always hungry, Gwaine..."
Lancelot nodded once at Merlin and followed Percival out.
Gaius came up behind the warlock, eyes on the empty doorway. "Well, that was close to a 'thank you.'"
Merlin smiled. "Close," he said. "Close enough."