Chapter One: Remembering
Merlin was following Arthur through the forest, nothing too unusual, going through the trees and various undergrowth as quietly as possible and still getting irritated looks from King Prat when he apparently fails at it. The unusual part about all of this is that Sir Percival is the one leading this hunt instead of Arthur... Well, not too unusual; ever since Arthur became King and that whole Lancelot/Gwen thing became public knowledge, the knights had either treated Arthur with more care than they normally did after hearing how he reacted to seeing Gwen and Lancelot together, or they made it their business to put themselves between Arthur and any other 'potential danger' in a rather vain attempt to pretend that everything was normal.
Which it wasn't and you had to look no farther than Camelot's King to tell.
Merlin's heart ached for Arthur; he had tried to stop Lancelot, had known that Morgana was planning something horrible and hated that she was using his friend to do so, that she was using someone so close to the three of them-Arthur, Gwen, and him-because she knew that would make the betrayal all the more heartbreaking... That was all that Merlin could see on Arthur's face when he had rushed into the council room moments too late; it seemed like Arthur believed that if he could just kill Lancelot, he could wake up from the dream he was in, for with every cry that left Arthur's lips and every swing of his sword seemed to ring with one desperate plea: No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no...!
Anything but this!
The following confrontation had been part of one of the worst days of Merlin's life; he had been dismissed from the hall along with everyone else and he had been half tempted to use magic to make it so that he could stay, making sure that Arthur didn't do anything that he would regret later. Merlin was unable to, for as soon as the guards closed the doors behind him, there was a massive rush of bodies and he ended up being pressed against the door between Sir Elyan and Sir Leon, with Sir Percival's body trapping him there when the man leaned in from behind him. Biting his lip, Merlin decided to chance it and whispered a spell that let him hear what was being said, in case either Arthur or Gwen needed him...
"Pwastrian aet ceallain."
"What was that?" It was unavoidable, as closely pressed in as he was on all sides, that someone would hear Merlin's whispered incantation and bring it to the others' attention. Right as he was going to do the bumbling fool routine and ask 'What?', Gwaine raised a hand to his lips and cut him off.
"Sh! I think I hear something!"
"...am I still just your King? Get up, for goodness sake... I was to be your husband!" The pain reverberating in that voice made Merlin hate Morgana all the more, made him wish that he had listened to the Great Dragon and killed her when he had said that she was a threat instead of trying to find a way to become her friend, wished he had just let the poison kill her instead of letting Morgause heal her, and most of all he wished he had just stopped her when she had come back and killed all hope that there was still a piece of the Lady he had first seen upon his arrival at Camelot in her somewhere...
"Can you hear what they're saying?" Sir Elyan seemed stuck between feeling for his sister, his blood kin despite what he believed she had done, and being angry on Arthur's behalf, the man that had saved his life and made him a Knight, despite the fact that there was no noble blood in his veins. Trying to hear what was being said, Merlin motioned at him to wait and pressed his ear even closer to the door to make it look like he was trying to hear what was going on, reminded that there was others in this tragedy that was quickly unfolding before him.
"What happened, Guinevere? We were happy, I know we were happy..." It was impossible to tell who Arthur was trying to convince, Gwen or himself; he sounded like a man that had just woken up from a life-long dream to see his world in shambles around him and Merlin had to swallow past a lump in his throat when he heard it. "You felt it too...?" Gwen must have nodded, because he didn't hear her answer, "Do you love him? Have you always loved him?"
Gwen found her voice then; had just enough strength to release a single quivering, pain filled word: "No."
Arthur wasn't convinced, because his next question was a quiet snap, as if he was hanging on to his rather volatile temper, all his aching pain, by the most tenderest of threads... "All those times you said you wanted to be with me?"
"I meant every word!" Gwen's voice was starting to sound just as broken as Arthur's and Merlin couldn't help closing his eyes at the fact that two of his closest friends were hurting so badly, that they were becoming two broken halves instead of the happy whole they were suppose to become, and he missed the look of fear that overcame Sir Elyan's face along with the way that Gwaine was staring at him, brows furrowed as if trying to sort out a puzzle in his head.
"Tomorrow was our wedding day."
One day, they were to be married in just one day... If only he could have stopped Lancelot, maybe even distract him for a little while, just long enough for Arthur to come across either a Gwen-only filled room or a completely empty room and Agravaine would finally come under some suspicion. Just long enough for Gwen to either be there by herself and give Merlin time to talk her out of what she was going to do, or for her to go back to her room and still give Merlin time to cure her of whatever was wrong... He knew Gwen, knew how much she loved Arthur, and knew she would never do anything like this if she was in her right mind...
"If you had worries..."
"I wasn't worried." She would have told him if she had.
"If you had doubts..."
"I didn't have any doubts." She would have told Merlin about that.
"Then forgive me, for I must be really stupid! WHAT! WERE! YOU! DOING?" From the way that everyone drew away from the door, including Merlin, he could tell that he hadn't needed his spell to hear that one... Sir Elyan's face was pale, Sir Leon was starting to look worried himself and the rest of the Knights had various looks of fear or disappointment on their features. Every single one of them loved both Arthur and Gwen, would lay down their lives for either of them, and many of them couldn't believe what was happening, that the happy couple was breaking down mere hours before their wedding was suppose to begin, that Gwen was even capable of doing what she appeared to have done...
"Sorry..." That part came to Merlin's ears alone, low and repentant, and he had a good idea of what had happened; Arthur was very different from Uther, something everyone-from peasant to noble-loved about their King, but he did have a bit of his father's temper in him. The incident that happened after he had seen Gwen and Lancelot together was proof of that, so he must have grabbed Gwen or something along those lines before realizing what it was he was doing.
"No, no, no," Sweet, forgiving, completely innocent Gwen had already brushed aside what had happened, had accepted his rage after what the whole Court believed to be her treason-against a King and a man-and was simply trying to beg forgiveness of her own, "It is I who should be sorry... You mean everything to me, Arthur. Once, there was Lancelot... a long time ago! But I haven't considered him that way for many years! I thought he was dead, I thought I would never see him again! And then, when I did... I was... overwhelmed. I was drawn to him. I couldn't stop myself, I don't know why... "
Merlin's heart was breaking for his friends all over again just remembering it, remembering how badly he wanted to admit he had magic right there, that Lancelot was a shade and everything that Gwen had done couldn't possibly be her fault, that he knew how much she loved Arthur and wouldn't possibly betray him like that. He wondered again why he didn't, remembering what had followed after Gwen's confession:
"I love you! You mean everything to me! All these years, I've waited for you..."
"You only had to wait one more day." Arthur had sounded like a man that has seen an angel, has found a pot of gold, was announced the Lord of a large estate or whatever it was nobles wanted these days, and was mere inches away from claiming it to only see someone snatch it away. For Arthur, it had happened; Morgana had snatched the happiness away from Arthur's life and she did it by finally finding Arthur's-the self proclaimed invincible killing machine-weak spot: his heart.
"All I ever wanted is to be your Queen. I still want to be your Queen." Merlin had always been able to tell that, even back when Gwen claimed not to like Arthur, back when he had thought for a little while that she had liked him. It was obvious in the way she talked about Arthur-who calls someone they disliked a 'rough, tough, save-the-world' type of man?-and the way she looked at him, like she had been the one that had seen the unicorn that day in the forest; awed, and with a little bit of reverence. Even back when she had first met Lancelot, had been stuck in Hengist's castle with him, she had been in love with Arthur; sure, she had been upset when Lancelot had left without saying goodbye, but that was because she had thought her dream of being with Arthur was just a dream and the prat hadn't helped anything by claiming that the only reason he had come at all was because Morgana had 'begged him to'...
Do you know what they're saying?" Arthur's voice had lost the heart wrenching pain that had filled it up until now and was quickly being replaced with a raw, seething anger, something that made the hairs on the back of Merlin's neck stand on edge; he had heard that tone before, had seen what had come after that animalistic rage had been unleashed and ran amok unchecked... For a few split seconds, his concern turned from his grieving King-his grieving friend-and was for Gwen alone... "That in my father's day, you would be put to death."
For a moment, Merlin forgot to breathe, making all the Knights look at him in confusion, but he was too preoccupied with making it look like he was listening at the door again. A pause followed that ominous statement that seemed to take forever, a silence so loud that Merlin could swear he heard every beat of his, Arthur's, and Gwen's hearts fill the council chambers and the hallway were they stood. Would one of those hearts stop in the next few hours?
"I don't want to see you dead, Guinevere..."
Merlin exhaled slowly, the confining pain in his chest lessening slightly with the action, before Arthur took all the breath from his lungs with his next words.
"...but I don't want to see you. I can not look on you, every day. You will leave Camelot at first light-"
Both Merlin's heart and Gwen tried to make him change his mind with a single plea, "Arthur..."
"-you return upon pain of death." Arthur was past listening, past all the hurt and pain that had plagued him; he was being merciful, Merlin could see and understand that, he wasn't killing Gwen, after all and he was giving her time to leave... He was also tearing both his and Gwen's hearts out with every single word he uttered, making Merlin raise his gaze to the only other person-currently not locked up-that would be affected by this news; Sir Elyan was looking at him like he was expecting a miracle, but his eyes fell to the floor when Merlin returned the look with a small shake of his head, the rest of the Knights also realizing that the worst was happening and Camelot was going to be a rather morbid place in days to come.
Gwen answer was low, broken and it was only through a sheer force of will and years of keeping his secret that kept Merlin from crumpling onto the floor right then and there, weeping along with the woman on the other side of the door... The pain in her voice made him have to take a steadying breath, even now... "No... No, no, no, no! I can not be without you!"
"That is my decision!" A decision that Merlin knew was hurting Arthur as much as it was Gwen; he could hear it, knew that to anyone and everyone else, it would look like Arthur didn't care or that he wasn't affected by what he was doing at all; Merlin had spent enough time with King Prat to know that whenever he was hurt, he always tried to make himself sound tough and unreachable. Listening to him right now, Merlin knew that if he wasn't a King and a Pendragon, he would be crying as hard as Gwen was... perhaps even harder...
"Where will I go?" Gwen didn't really care, she just wanted to prolong her stay, to try to make Arthur change his mind and at least let her stay near him... Hearing the clunk of Arthur's boots, Merlin came to the unhappy conclusion that she was unsuccessful. Knowing that it was mere seconds before Arthur left the council chamber, Merlin motioned for the Knights to go, speeding down the corridor himself and hearing Arthur's quiet reply, "I am sorry... I am truly sorry."
Merlin made it around a corner right as he heard the creak of the doors, trying to convince himself that the wetness on his face was sweat and not tears... By the time he had made it Gaius' rooms, he must have done a rather lousy job, because his father figure wrapped his arms around Merlin and held him until the sudden case of the shakes that overtook him calmed down to little shivers, never once demanding to know what happened and only waiting until Merlin had started talking to ask any questions...
"Merlin!" Jerked out of his head, Merlin looked up to see that he had fallen behind the rest of the group and they were looking at him funny, Arthur the only exception with his look of mild annoyance. "Are you planning on joining us any time soon, or are you just going to drop down and take a nap?"
Scrabbling to catch up with the rest of the group, Merlin tripped a few times but managed to catch himself before he landed face first on the forest floor; struggling not to blush in embarrassment, Merlin grinned back at the laughter that always followed his characteristic clumsiness, answering Arthur's quip with one of his own. "And miss the chance to see you make an ever bigger prat of yourself than you manage to do already? No, thank you, sire."
Arthur rolled his eyes and the Knights with them laughed as well; they had become used to the way that Arthur and Merlin interacted, had even made a few comments on the 'depth' of their relationship(most of those comments came from Gwaine) and they all agreed that Merlin was a good influence on their King, not that they would admit it to either of their faces, deciding to leave the odd pair alone. There had even been times when they had even defended Merlin when he slipped and acted the way he did with this particular group in front of visiting royalty, surprising the hidden warlock with their loyalty and ferocity when they had put the young Lord in his place...
It had thrown Merlin when they had did that and they had teased him unmercifully for the gobsmacked expression on his face as he watched them take the Lord to task for 'insulting a close friend and confidant of the King'. After correcting them about the confidant and friend part of their speech-which they promptly ignored-Merlin couldn't help but smile at the fact that he had made such an impact on these men...
They traveled in silence for a little while after that, Merlin not letting his mind wander to what had happened a few weeks prior and instead took the time to study the man in front of him; aside from some shadows underneath his eyes, Arthur didn't look like what had happened had affected him in the slightest bit and Merlin wasn't sure that he should feel happy or sad about that, wondering what the people that Arthur loved so much thought of the fact that the King didn't seem to be affected by the betrayal of his intended... Would they appreciate his strength, or believe him heartless?
Speaking of all that had happened during those first few weeks, there was at least one plus to all of this; when Agravaine had made a comment about 'warning Arthur of the ways of serving maids', Merlin had the great pleasure of being there to see him get dressed down for speaking that way about someone 'who was going to be the Queen of Camelot'. It was moments like that which gave Merlin the hope that he might see his friend again, whether it was a few days or even twenty years from now, and that Arthur's heart might be whole again.
"You aren't falling asleep on us again, are you?" Gwaine voice sounded by Merlin's ear, making him jump and spin around so fast that Gwaine had to grab him by the arm to keep him from falling. The Knight's laughter and Merlin's retort were cut off by a sharp whistle that signaled that Sir Percival had seen something and that they needed to be quiet. Looking over at the man, they saw that the lines of his face had tensed and that he had tried to make his rather large frame look even smaller by crouching low to the ground, making the slight bit of humor that had slipped amongst the group slip right back out again.
They weren't hunting game anymore...
Using the hand that had been holding him up to pull Merlin along, Gwaine seemed to read his mind by running up to Arthur and depositing him at the King's side with a wink that had Arthur rolling his eyes again and sent Merlin blushing at the implications in the man's smile as well. Turning away from the pair of fools that landed beside him, Arthur looked out over the clearing that they were current hiding to the top and slightly left of, motioning for everyone to stay low.
It had been a massacre; there were bodies strewn everywhere, purple and silver clashing with gold and white, red stains standing out even more vividly on the latter's flags, banners and armor. Not a spare patch of land was visible under or around all those bodies and Merlin could only pray that whatever this had been wasn't heading toward Camelot; after everything that had happened in the past couple of weeks, and the fact that he had to smooth the feathers of the nobles that had called for Gwen's death, Arthur really didn't need any more stress.
"Spread out, search for survivors, try to figure out what happened here," Arthur's voice was short, terse and his expression wasn't any better; apparently he was thinking along the same lines as Merlin was and was wondering what this could mean for Camelot, of which they were only a few days ride away from, and was already dealing with one crisis. Putting on what Merlin called his 'King Arthur' face, his royal prat leap over the barricade of foliage they were hiding behind and started searching the carnage for clues, Merlin only a few steps behind him.
It was horrible back-breaking work, with the stench of blood and internal organs filling the air whenever one drew breath, but the Knights gamely kept looking for a survivor to help and question or anything that might give them a clue as to what might have happened between the two forces... Long hours passed as they gathered the bodies into a pile to burn and bury, as they scoured the ground for clues as to if this was a normal fight or if there had been any magic done here as well, as they tried not to let the sight of all these bodies so close to Camelot eat at their spirits... Halfway through their laborious work, Gwaine called them all over to the other side of the field they were working on, commenting that he had found 'something interesting' and wanted them to check it out 'just in case he was right'.
Arthur and Merlin made it to where Gwaine was standing at about the same time, both immediately seeing what he was referring to; there was a rather large group of knights from both sides here, gathered in front of what appeared to be a large upturned carriage. It seemed to suggest that they had either died trying to get in or protecting it, making Merlin immediately grow suspicious of whatever was inside that carriage and Arthur immediately think that there might be someone inside that needed their help, to the surprise of no one. He then-of course!-ordered his Knights to open the carriage and see if there was anyone or anything still inside, ignoring Sir Elyan and Sir Leone when they voiced Merlin's thoughts as well as insulting Merlin when he was unable to hold his own tongue and chimed in two seconds later.
With a massive and collective sigh at the stubbornness of their King, the Knights cleared away the bodies in short order and then gathered around the carriage with their swords drawn, stances ready in case whatever it was that was in the carriage was hostile; Merlin standing at the back as he tried to remember every spell he knew that might help if something came barreling out of there before any of the Knights could react. After a few seconds of no on moving, Arthur rolled his eyes at the lot of them, muttering under his breath as he pushed past all of them and pulled the door open with a vicious tug, looking inside as he did so. Apparently there was nothing of import, because his head came back out only a second later, "There's no one in there-"
A sudden hum of magic was Merlin's only warning before there was a screech like an angry hellcat, quickly followed by a body flying over the carriage to land on top of Arthur, knocking his sword out of his hands and making the Knights completely useless; the attacker was too close to Arthur for them to offer any aid without accidentally hurting him the process, something the attacker seem to realize as well, if the crazed smile they gave the Knights was any indication. Pressing the knife that seemed to appear out of nowhere and then was suddenly in their hand against Arthur's neck, the attacker hissed in a voice that was harsh with anger, "Who in the bloody hell are you and what did you do to my Knights?"
Collected despite the fact that death was a hair's breath away from his neck, Arthur met the eyes of his assailant and announced in his most royal filled voice, "I am Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot and these are my Knights. We came upon this scene only a few hours ago and were trying to determine if there was anything we could do for these men, aside from giving them a proper burial. I assure you, my Lady, that we mean you and whoever you are protecting no harm and will even offer what aid we can, provided that you remove your blade from my neck."
The assailant-now identified as a female-eye's went wide and she pressed the knife even closer to Arthur's neck, making the rest of the group tense up even more as their King's skin was mere inches away from being pierced, but she seemed much more scared than threatening now; the hand that held the knife was trembling slightly and the authority in her voice was slowly being replaced by terror, making it sound much less threatening and much more lost. "H-how do I know that I can trust you when I saw you rummaging around in the carriage not two seconds ago? How do you know that I'm protecting someone if you weren't the ones that attacked my party? Tell me the answer to that, Oh Great King Pendragon!"
Arthur placed his own hand over the one that held a knife at his throat, his voice low and calm as he spoke now; knowing that this woman was acting out of fear instead of anger taking away his own fear, making him feel more in control of the situation. "I noticed that there was a catch on the floor as I withdrew my head from the carriage, so I believed that there might be something inside. Given your hostility and the way the men were gathered around the carriage, I simply realized that there was something more important than gold in there..."
There was silence as the woman seemed to consider what Arthur told her, her gaze locked with his, almost as if she was trying to extract the truth from his mind... Merlin kept a close watch on the woman, making sure that the magic flare that he had felt earlier didn't get directed at Arthur as they stood there and watched; he could feel it faintly pulsing, but it did not seem to be emitting from the stranger... Then who...?
The woman pulled away from Arthur then, allowing him to rise up, but kept her knife out and pointed at the rest of them. Now that he wasn't focused on how close Arthur was-yet again-to death, Merlin took in the woman standing in front of them; her hair was a deep, chocolate brown that matched her eyes, a narrow face and full lips that were being chewed by her teeth as she considered the men in front of her. She was thin, but if one took into consideration she just tackled Arthur like she did that every day and even managed to keep him pinned for a few seconds, Merlin was pretty sure that her small frame belied a great strength. "You don't have the same colors as the men that attacked us... Who did you say you were again?"
"Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot. These are my Knights... and my rather useless manservant, Merlin." Arthur replied, retrieving his sword from where it had flown when he had been tackled as he eyed the open door of the carriage, frowning at the woman in front of him and completely ignoring the way Merlin rolled his eyes at him upon his own introduction. "If you pardon my asking, who are you and what's in there that these men were willing to die for, anyway?"
The Lady put her knife away in a simple sheath that hung at her hip as she still silently studied the lot of them, before suddenly turning around to reach into the carriage, popping open the catch Arthur mentioned earlier on the floor and revealing a hidden compartment. A soft smile overcame her features as she fully turned to observe the contents lying inside the floor, making the Knights give each other confused looks behind her as she bent down and wrapped her arms around whatever was inside, talking over her shoulder as she started to lift it up. "You were right the first time, my Lord Pendragon, about this being more precious than gold; that my men were willing to fight for, even die for, something very precious indeed... My name is Lady Rosemonde of Dorian and this-"
Arms reached up and wrapped themselves around Lady Rosemonde's shoulders, giving her a better grip and allowing her to lift out a young woman that rivaled Lady Rosemonde in thinness, face pale with the same features as Lady Rosemonde and hair a vibrant red that fell over the unnamed Lady's shoulders like a waterfall. Turning around, Lady Rosemonde made several of the Knights release shocked gasps as she showed them that the woman's originally beautiful white dress was covered with garnet stains that were starting to dry and turn brown, the worst collecting on her chest, just below her neck. "-is my only kin and sister, who is in a very perilous state... Is your offer of aid still open?"
As they were quickly escorted past him, Merlin caught sight of a pair of sapphire eyes dulled in pain, shocking him when their gaze met for the briefest of glances. It was not because of the shade itself-blue was a common eye color in Camelot and it would have thrown him more if her eyes were any other shade-or that she was conscious despite appearing to be in a lot of pain, but because of what he heard when she passed by him:
It was a small, lost voice that whispered directly into his mind in a soft caress that was only known to those with magic, something that told him that there might be more to these women than what met the eye, and that his earlier suspicion about them might even prove to be true... The only thing that kept him from making his suspicions known was the fact that the voice whispered two pleading words that he had heard once before... a long time ago in a place much closer to home... from someone that also had been hurt almost as badly...
Yet, that someone had ended up becoming a rather dangerous enemy...
A/N: Not mine, all rights go to BBC. I just love Arthur and Merlin and everything that goes with them and I'm impatient for the next episodes, so I decided I would write this while I waited. I have an odd posting schedule-what with all my other stories-so you guys might have to wait a little while for the next chapter. If there is anybody who wants to help me make sure I don't make this too 'American', feel free to comment... politely!
'Pwastrian aet ceallain' basically means 'whisper to shout'. Or at least that's what it's supposed to mean... Stupid Google, I'll work on making the next spell sound more magic-y.