Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin, dammit. *Sobs*. It belongs to BBC. And the songs used, and occasional quote belong to Disney and whoever wrote the script and lyrics.
Notes: SO SORRY! SERIOUSLY SORRY! I THROW MYSELF AT YOUR FEET IN PENANCE! My only excuse is that I finish uni (completely – as in I graduate) in May and have been working to the limit to try and get everything done. Now that the end is nigh, I am allowing myself to get back into writing. I will try to update all my stories.
On another note, I am thinking of writing a dark, Hannibal-Inspired fic. With Merlin as a Will Graham-esque character, and Arthur as Hannibal-ish. What do you think?
"Don't interrupt me! You're very clever to have found our little hideaway. Unfortunately for you, you won't live to tell the tale." – Clopin
The graveyard was eerie. The moon cowered behind wisps of cloud overhead, a sparse silver light that just barely allowed Arthur to pick out the rough tombstones. An owl hooted in a nearby tree, and a whisper of a breeze rustled the leaves and the grass.
The archdeacon was surprisingly spry for his age, easily keeping pace and stealthier than Arthur was comfortable with. It brought back the fears of his youth when he believed that yes, the archdeacon truly did know every little sneaky thing he did because he had eyes everywhere.
"I do have eyes everywhere," Gaius commented quietly, his voice still carrying on the light wind. His amusement was clear. Arthur just pulled a face, glancing down at the woven band he clutched tightly. Gaius was certain they were in a right place, but he himself couldn't shake a sense of wrongness, a taint in the atmosphere that set him on edge, his back tense with vigilance.
"Where are we meant to go?" Arthur asked, eyes scanning the gloom and the many gravestones and freestanding tombs.
"Patience, Arthur," Gaius answered placidly, without the usual tone of chastisement. He too was staring into the black, stepping lightly over to examine the odd tomb, brows frowned in concentration. Arthur stopped, tongue running across the front of his teeth – an unattractive habit, the cook had once said to him. His jaw was gritted, the muscle jumping with the strain.
"Patience may cost lives right now," he reminds with venom, but the anger deflated when Gaius peered at him from around the tomb. Arthur couldn't see clearly, but he was certain that infamous brow was raised in distinct displeasure.
"You are not the only one who risks losing a dear friend, my boy." His head disappeared again before it popped back. "This one."
Arthur marched over, ignoring the pull of his wound and glares at the tomb. "How do you know?"
Gaius tapped a small picture etched into the iron work on the wooden door, barely there but clearly deliberate. It was a miniature etching of the woven band and Arthur smiled grimly. What a place to house the mouth of the Court of Miracles. But then, he supposed, where better to hide than amongst the bodies of the forgotten?
"Are you certain?" The idea of unintentionally breaking into a poor person's final resting place did not sit easy with him. Gaius looked a little affronted.
"I would not have said anything if I was not," he said. Before turning back to the door, he pushed it but of course it did not shift. The gypsies would not be so lax with their own security.
"There is no lock," Arthur observed and then felt instantly idiotic, even without Gaius' look. Of course the gypsies would not rely on something so easily defeated to keep those who wish them harm out. Not when they had access to far greater measures than the ordinary man.
"No." How the archdeacon could make a single syllable word hold the entirety of his condescension Arthur would never know. "This requires a little something extra. Of course, I have only read of such things, and never practice." This was almost spoken to himself and Arthur puzzled a moment, watching carefully as the older gentleman rested his fingers over the mark and closed his eyes.
They waited in silence, and Arthur wanted to say something, but as he opened his mouth to question, the atmosphere grew heavy – like an iron cloak settling around his shoulders. Arthur winced against the pressure to his shoulder, the pain shuttling through his veins in jabs. He felt the wound start to ooze a sluggish thickness and he grimaced.
Then, almost with a pop, the feeling dissipated, leaving Arthur free to breathe and the imprinted ghost of that weight. "What did you do?" His hand curled around his shoulder and his words were almost hissed.
"Applied a little theory," Gaius replied, faint pride lacing his words. "I have read, of course, of Merlin's talents. I am a man of God, but I am also a student of all things." He made a solemn cross, and Arthur caught a murmured prayer, before the older man pushed open the door.
Arthur had been bracing himself for an almost obscenely loud creak, but the door was as silent as the graveyard they found themselves in. Inside was dark, as was to be expected and Arthur stepped in after Gaius.
"How are we going to-?"
Gaius shut the heavy door and the darkness was absolute for all but a second before a torch, before unseen, flickered into life. The flame flickered slightly, splaying their shadows long across the room. And there, in the centre was square cut out of the stone floor, with roughly cut steps leading down into the dark dankness below. Arthur could smell the water and filth of below, but didn't hesitate to grab the now lit torch.
Gaius glanced up from where he had been staring down into the abyss and smiled. "After you."
The tunnel was as bleak as a tunnel could be. A permanent chill had settled into the air, and, upon glancing back to his comrade, Arthur saw Gaius suffered a fine tremor. He kept a steady but slow pace. His wound had closed once more, and as long as he didn't jolt his arm or move it sharply, he found the background ache was easy to ignore.
What wasn't was that cloying sense of something that has haunted him since entering the graveyard. It was thick, like a musk perfume, and clinging. His eyes kept sweeping as far forward as the flame would allow but there was nothing he could make out.
A pebble or something skittered from the side and landed with a plop into the ankle high water the pair was wading through. Arthur tensed and Gaius' sharp intake of breath was quickly suppressed. Silence and stillness reigned. Seconds stretched into what seemed like hours but in reality could only have been a minute or so.
Relaxing only minutely, Arthur shifted from his defensive position and took a step forward.
He had forgotten, with the threat of Uther and his men, that the gypsy folk themselves may not take kindly to their arrival – his especially – that that his skills would be no match in what was clearly their territory.
Arthur took that step and then he was stumbling, torch dropping and hissing in the water before he was joining it, unable to distinguish the black of the tunnel against the black of his own eyelids before it was far too late.
Arthur came around to a racket. So many different voices were catcalling and yelling and cheering. He himself appeared to be bound, his wrists tied in front of him and, alarmingly, a rope around his throat. His blue eyes widen in a slight panic, and his head jerked left and right, to find the archdeacon seated, bound as well, just to the left of him.
Unharmed. That was good. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief.
"So he awakes." Arthur's gazes flicked towards the previously unnoticed presence, and at the words, quiet falls across what Arthur realises is a wonderful hall. A large square room seemingly segregated into thirds, the farthest third to him, the right top corner, a mountain of blankets and pillows and cushions and rugs. There was padding and silks and cottons, lace and satin and embroidered covers. A few baskets for children were stacked in a corner, woven and delicate as he had seen in use by the many women of the city. Then in the opposite direction, the lower right corner and up to the platform upon which Arthur was displayed upon, was a wealth of books and chests and trunks, there were strange concoctions lined on a book case and odd unrecognisable equipment piled high on heavy oak tables, event he chairs – mahogany and red velvet – were piled with precarious stacked of parchments and leather books.
And then there was the expanse in front of him, a wide space full now of the colourful gypsy people, all with hateful eyes glaring at him, as he stood, bound upon a wooden platform which Arthur knew was a makeshift gallows.
He looked to the man who had spoken. Half of his face was almost pleasant to look at, but the other was a mess of thick, leather scars. Arthur recognised him as the man who sold tinctures and potions in the street.
The man strokes his right cheek, feels the heavily scarred skin, before smirking cruelly. "Courtesy of your father," the gypsy told him quietly, before staring out to the gathered crowd. "Brothers! Sisters! Look what rats we found scurrying in the tunnels, scuttling towards us with their poison and plague."
The gypsies all yelled then in their anger, and Arthur closed his eyes.
"The son of the great Judge Uther Pendragon himself! And Uther's little lamb the Archdeacon." The scars pull as the man grinned. "And what shall we do with them? They know our secret after all! And they have the ear of the judge." There was more racket, a cascade of voices all demanding the same thing, their safety and the silence of Arthur and Gaius – permanent, preferably. Even the children were joining in, most anyway.
Arthur stared out into the scene, searching for that one face – those unforgettable eyes and mouth and cheekbones. He spotted the dark hand man who introduced Merlin onto the stage. He watched the proceedings with a conflicted frown. Arthur spotted the fortune telling girls, faces blank but eyes intense in their scrutiny. The blonde dropped a whisper into the dark haired woman's ear and she nodded, finally turning those eyes away. Beside Arthur, the man worked up the crowd with vitriol against him but Arthur kept searching.
His eyes dropped to the bracelet seller, so young looking and similar to Merlin that they could be brother and sister, clutching the arm of the dark skinned dancer. They both looked terrified for him, eyes large and childlike as the gypsies around them condemned him. He offered a small smile in their direction, one he hoped was at least a little reassuring, and the dancer nodded back before she too was glazing searchingly around the room.
So he had a handful of allies in the room, but even with them, Arthur knew his chances were severely limited. Gaius was a holy man, and no one, not even a gypsy would harm him – but Arthur? He was a soldier and the son of their persecutor.
He was fair game.
"Shall I pull the lever, my dears? End this now before the rat can return to the nest and bring the cats?" The reply was uproarious and Arthur closed his eyes as the man beside him laughed gleefully and there was a crack and an unpleasant wrench to Arthur's neck, a drop that turned his stomach even before he registered that he had landed with a smack onto the floor, his shoulder groaning pityingly and his breathe shoved out of his lungs.
"Edwin!" Arthur knew that outraged tone, he had had it directed at him in their first meeting. He opened his eyes, but can only see the ceiling through the hole he had fallen through. He coughed, shifting onto his back when Merlin, face whiter than white peered down at him as if to assess the damage.
"Not dead then?" Merlin grinned.
"Not through lack of trying," Arthur wheezed, struggling to sit. The two girls from before, the dark haired bracelet maker and the dancer, have shifted through the crowd and ducked under the gallows.
"You're alright," the dancer breathed in relief. Her smile is beautiful, and her eyes glitter. If Merlin hadn't thoroughly caught his attention, Arthur thought he could every much see himself falling for this girls' sensual innocence. "Are you hurt?"
"Just my shoulder," Arthur answers, allowing the girls to help him crawl out from under the wooden structure.
"Ah yes," the dark haired girl answered softly, the hand hovering over the bloodied patch of clothing. "The wound you received saving Merlin." She smiles as softly as she spoke. "We are forever in your debt."
"It was nothing."
"To you maybe," the girl countered. "Not to us." They turned then, the three of them, to watch the heated, hissed argument between the scarred man – Edwin? – and Merlin. The former looked mulish and Merlin furious. The dark haired fortune teller had seen to Gaius, ands he and her partner was tended to any wounds the clergyman may have had. He looked calm and relaxed in their presence and Arthur felt no need to worry.
After all, that dark haired one had tested him long ago at the Festival of Fools. He was sure he had passed. The other gypsies were also staring up at the argument, murmuring among themselves like a hive of agitated bees. Arthur caught the sandy-haired man was still in his seat, watching the scene with that same frown as before. As if sensing his gaze, the man looked at Arthur, and glared at him until Arthur looked away. Although, the reason he looked away was, of course, because he had noticed that Merlin had cut the argument off and was jumping down from the gallows.
"Arthur," he smiled, arms outstretched to clasp his shoulders, before remembering the injury and dropping them. "Sorry about that," he whispered. "Didn't get here in time to jam the mechanism and so had to cut the rope. Speaking of which, did none of you girls think to take this off him or untie him?"
Their resulting laughter were like wind chimes, and the dark haired girl was almost sly. "I would we deprive of you of an excuse, Merlin," she answered with wide eyes before the giggling dancer dragged her away.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Freya and Gwen is the dancer," he supplied, touching the rope and watching it slither off from around Arthur's neck, untied. The rope on his wrist did the same. A single touch. Arthur smiled.
"Why are you here?" Merlin questioned softly, a hand on Arthur's cheek. And Arthur jolted back to himself, to why he was here, what was going to happen.
"Oh god, Merlin!" Arthur grabbed the gypsy's arms. "I don't know how he knows but he knows how to get here. He is coming at sunrise with a thousand men!"
Merlin's eyes widen and he spun away from Arthur. "Everyone! Everyone we need to move, the judge knows where we are and he is coming with a thousand men!" There was stillness, during which Merlin climbed the gallows once more. And then –
Chaos. The gypsies were panicking spilling into all parts of the room to grab this and that, to fill bags, or to just to cry and hold their children in instant fear.
Merlin yelled over the top of them. "Take only what you need and can carry, we have until sunrise! I will not lose any of you so get going, you all know the plan!" the gypsies seemed to be a scurrying, scuttling mess of panicking bodies, but Merlin glanced over to the sandy haired fellow, who had stepped forward and nodded and disappeared into the frantic crowd. Arthur couldn't see the other allies in the room as he climbed the gallows again to reach Merlin.
"Thank you," Merlin said, kissing Arthur gently. "Thank you for coming to tell us." They kissed again, chaste but long, the press of lips comfortable and sweet.
"I could have done it without Gaius over there," Arthur said, waving to the archdeacon who was now lending a hand to a family to pack bits and pieces and offering sanctuary to all who had no other place to go.
Cutting through the noise and panic the door slams open and there stand Uther Pendragon in all his terrible glory.
"After twenty years of searching, the Court of Miracles is mine at last! Dear Quasimodo, I always knew that someday you would be of use to me." – Frollo
Erugh. Not sure that this is any good. Sorry about the typos, I'll go over them soon.