Title: In the Forest of Aesctir

Author: Arisprite

Summary: Merlin's mother had told his stories growing up, of monsters in the forest. Merlin knew now that she was right, and chained and helpless, he was going to die by them. Canon gapfiller.

Rating/Warnings: Rated T for intensity, not graphic.

A/N: Rewatching the Tears of Uther Pendragon, I noticed that in the scene with Merlin and the serkets, he was there, chained up literally all day. I began to think about how scary that would have been, and also why the serkets didn't attack until almost evening. I was also annoyed at Merlin's seemingly weak magic at the end, and so I had to write a gapfiller to scene to make myself feel better. It's a oneshot, and I don't think I will be continuing. I was only interested in this scene. Enjoy!

Merlin woke uncomfortably. That his head pounded was the first thing he was aware of, and then that there was an unpleasant tightness encircling his whole body. His eyelids fluttered, and then squinted upwards in the early morning light. There were trees above him. Gradually the memories from last night came to him. Following Morgana, and being caught. He'd run, the panic sending his steps stumbling, right into the arms of Morgause's massive brutes.

Speaking of...

The two hooded guards came into his line of sight, and manhandled him upwards onto his knees, causing his head to spin. He realised that the tightness he'd felt was chains, wrapped around his torso and thighs, and rendering him completely immobile. The two men, with rough hands on his collar and arms (he'd probably have bruises) forced him forwards to the feet of an armoured person.

Morgause glared down at him.

"You intrigue me, Merlin," She said, her eyes never leaving his face. "Why does a lowly servant continue to risk everything for Arthur and for Camelot?"

Merlin looked down, and away, not wanting her to see anything in his face. Morgause tilted her head, peering at him in outright curiosity.

"You know the answer, but you're not telling me. Why?"

Merlin still did not say anything. Morgause stepped forwards in impatience, and Merlin gave a little flinch, and then chided himself for it. He should not be afraid of this woman. With a few words, he could escape these chains, and show them exactly what they were dealing with. Yet, he kept still.

"Come on. Time and again you put your life on the line," Merlin focussed on staying upright, and not giving away anything, but he couldn't help but shift nervously as she circled him, before coming to kneel right beside his ear. "There must be a reason."

"I believe in a fair and just land." Merlin finally said, giving a reason, if not the whole one. It, at least, was true, which was more than could be said for most of his excuses.

"And you think Arthur will give you that" Morgause' voice was condescending, and Merlin bristled.

"I know it."

Morgause watched him for a moment, with a faint mocking smile on her lips, then Merlin saw her rise out of the corner of his eye. He stared straight ahead as she rose again.

"And then what?" She demanded. "Do you think you'll be recognised, Merlin? It that it?" She whipped around again, her chain mail clinking. Morgause looked down on him, her voice sneering. "All this so you can be a serving boy to the king?"

Merlin felt her eyes on him, almost looking through him, and despite himself, he shifted again. He tried to tell himself that it was because the chains were digging into his legs that he moved, but her gaze pierced him.

"No, there's something more." She read something into his movements, her eyes narrowed. "Something you're not telling me, isn't there?"

Merlin forced himself to meet her stare. "I've told you." He wanted to sound determined and sure, but his voice was barely a whisper.

"Well," And Morgause' seemed to overcome her curiosity, "You can take your secret to your grave. Weorc untoworpenlic!" Her eyes glowed with the spell, one that Merlin had never heard before, though he picked out the word for suffering. Wonderful. He looked forward to finding out that what was. Nothing seemed to happen right away, until the chains which bound him tightened with a ominous clinking. Merlin winced.

Then Morgause stepped up closer, her voice tight. "You chose to poison one of my own. You may regret that."

With that she stepped away, back towards their horse, Merlin guessed. Her men followed her, and Merlin realised that Morgana must have gone back to Camelot while he was unconscious, for she was no where to be found, and hadn't been there since he woke. His brain was fuzzier that he thought. His captors mounted up, and then the clip clop of horses faded away, leaving him alone in the clearing.

He glanced after them, then down at his chains. At first he was confused, for why would they leave him if they had him right where they wanted. Then he remembered what forest they were in.

Merlin's mother had told him stories of the forest of Aesctir, ones that chilled his small child's heart, and prompted him to always tell his mother when he was going into the woods, and to stick to the roads when they travelled through it. There were tales of monsters, giant beasts that attacked helpless creatures, and devoured them alive. Their stings were cure-less, and deadly, paralysing until they came to finish you off. Serkets, his mother had called them. He'd never seen one, but Merlin realised that he'd been left here, chained and helpless, as a morsel for them. Murder, cheap with no cleanup. Just Morgause's style.

But they hadn't taken into account just who they'd chained up. Merlin may not be the best at sword fighting, but his magic could take care of a couple of chains easily.

Merlin struggled a little, in case his captors were still watching. The chains didn't feel loose enough to wriggle out of them, but it never hurt to try. No good. The chains pulled painfully at his clothes and skin, but felt no nearer to coming off that way. Magic is was.

Glancing around again, just to make sure one more time that he was unobserved, he murmured a spell.

"Abricap benda," Instead of breaking, like they were supposed to, the metal links tightened harshly, cutting even further into his skin, and surely causing bruises. Merlin gasped in surprise and pain, his eyebrows raised, and dread sinking into his stomach.

No no no no...

"Abricap benda!" Merlin said again, his voice urgent. The chains flexed and tightened again, and Merlin nearly growled in frustration. Taking a deep breath, he incanted another spell, one more powerful. Morgause's enchantment couldn't guard against every spell, and surely not against his magic.

"Irenfaestnunga onlucap me!" With a gasp, Merlin felt the metal pull even tighter. He clenched his fists. Why would they not come loose?

A sound to the side of him distracted him from his anger, a slight sound, like a rock falling. Merlin whipped his head around, looking towards the noise. There was nothing he could see, but the tension in his chest tightened much like the chains encircling him. He could not stop his mind from retelling those stories of monsters and swinging stinging tails. Merlin looked down at the chains around his chest with new urgency, before another sound, this time cracking, as if giant feet were crushing dry branches, came from the opposite side of the clearing. Merlin's heart began to beat faster. He had to get out of here.

Unfortunately, whatever spell Morgause had put on the chain links surrounding him had other ideas, and whatever magic he threw at them, it would only tighten the metal.

Time passed, during which time Merlin heard more and more stirrings around him in the forest. Not pleasant foresty sounds like bird song, and the scuffling of small creatures under brush. No, these were the sounds of large beasts, whose movements could not help but displace the detritis on the ground. Rocks fell, and branches broke, and with every sound they seemed to come closer. Merlin tried to keep his breathing steady, and stay silent. Perhaps they wouldn't find him...

It was a vain hope.

The sun had moved in the sky before he actually saw anything. Merlin's heart jumped when he first noticed the shifting at the top of the bank around him. Since he was in a bowl shaped depression in the earth, he hadn't been able to see anything coming closer, but now he could see that they were upon him...they were so close. Shifting solidified into a limb, the stinging tails that his mother had told him about. The stingers were large and bulbous, and Merlin felt his heart rise in his throat at the sight.

Desperately, he looked down at his chains again, magically tight and binding as ever.

Merlin squirmed again violently, before taking a deep breath, and saying another spell, one more powerful than the others before.

"Min strangest might hate pe tospringan!" Merlin nearly shouted. The magic jerked the links against him, causing his sore legs, and bruised torso to flare in pain. Merlin cried out. The pain had been worth nothing, however, for he was still bound.

The hissing and clicking of the monsters was growing louder, closer, and Merlin glanced back again to see a glimpse of spider like legs, massive and terribly jointed, over the edge of a rock. He had yet to see a full view of one, but it was almost worse, for his mind made terrible images, creations based on legends and limited information.

More rustling sounded, this time from all around him, and Merlin twisted his head to see a mass of tails springing up from the edges of the bowl. Merlin was sure there were more out of his line of sight as well.

Eyes wide, teeth clenched and panting through his nose, Merlin swallowed and stared at the approaching beasts. He had never felt such fear, never felt so helpless. He blinked back tears, and gasped again as some of the creatures made a sudden lunge closer.

Instinctively, he pushed out a field of power, and the thing halted, clicking in confusion. Merlin straightened. Here, here was something he could do. He may not be able to get out of the chains, but his magic was still at his command. He could hold off the buggers until...until what? No one knew he was out here. Merlin swallowed, deciding not to think about that. He had a defence, that would have to do until he thought of something else.

The hours passed. The chains were not comfortable, biting into his legs and chest even when he wasn't trying to get free. With a grunt, Merlin raised himself upright on his knees again, feeling his muscles protest mightily. Sitting down and resting his weight on his calves made the metal dig further into his legs, while kneeling upright caused his thighs to cramp and tremble. He found himself having to switch back forth, for he could endure neither for very long. His knees and lower legs were completely numb.

But truly, the physical discomfort was nothing to the shaky fear in his gut at the surrounding creatures. The serkets had not left him alone, even in the face of his powers. Magic kept them at bay, for now. Layer after layer of shielding spells, not to mention throwing power at the ones who got too close. More than a few had been slammed into trees and rocks, and scuttled off, the pain too much for a little morsel such as him. But more took their places, and Merlin was beginning to feel the sour taste of despair. He could not go on like this indefinitely. He would tire, fall asleep or pass out, and then he was done for.

Merlin gulped, and looked up at the sun. It was mid afternoon, from what he could tell. He'd been missing all day. Surely someone had noticed! But they would have no idea where to look, and even then Morgana surely would not allow them to come close to him.

Her treachery was something he'd rather not think about at the moment, but now that he'd started it was hard to stop. Morgana had spent the year with Morgause, learning and changing into this sneering evil creature whom he hardly recognised. Merlin remembered the last time he'd seen her, before she disappeared, staring into his eyes with betrayal and fear. He'd poisoned her, he hadn't expected that to be forgiven. When she'd told him it was, happiness near overcome him. Merlin should have known it was a fraud. Shock and betrayal coursed through him, (though he told himself he had no right to feel such, for he'd started it with a vial of Hemlock) and Merlin swallowed back fear and dread for Camelot. Morgana was good at acting, he'd give her that. No one would suspect, not until it was too late, and Merlin would not be there to stop her.

He wondered when he'd started thinking that he was going to die here?

The evening shadows lengthened, and Merlin was tiring. The serkets beat on his magic walls, and one by one they fell, Merlin no longer able to hold them up. He could sense their excitement growing, their clicks and hisses, sounds he'd hear in his dreams if he ever got out of this, getting louder. He could see them clearly now, their bulbous bodies hanging between jutting, knobby legs. Their heads had clicking pincers, hissing menacingly, but by far the scariest was the arched tails, string seeming to drip with venom.

Merlin's body ached, weariness at the stress, at the power draining out of him. They were coming closer than before, and he was unable to hold them off for much longer. Desperation seized him, and he called up his powers again, shouting a spell.

"Awendap eft wansaeliga neatu!" Merlin's voice was harsh, and a serket flew backwards into a rock, weakly waving its legs. But another took its place, approaching again, and Merlin watched with a sinking heart. He turned around, and saw others even closer than before.

"Forletap me a-"

Suddenly, a hiss sounded much too close behind him, and in the same moment, something impacted his lower back hard. He arched his spine back, feeling the pain burst into life burst into life as the stinger was pulled roughly from out of his skin.

He screwed up his face, unable to stop himself from crying out harshly, leaning forwards over his knees. Then anger rose, almost blocking out the worsening pain, and Merlin twisted to scream at the offending serket, and any other that got in the way. A burst of magic left with his scream, and the creature flew backwards, hitting the surrounding rocks with a crack.

But Merlin's attention was already diverted, for his back was on fire. He gasped, eyes wide with fear. He could feel the poison spreading already, agony lacing outwards from the sting site. Panting, he curled himself forwards, his heavy breaths displacing the leaves underneath him. Was this it? Was he truly going to die here?

Denial flooded him, and he worked to still his trembling. He opened his eyes (when had he closed them?) and stared at the forest floor as if it could offer inspiration. Images of his life flashed before his eyes, and Merlin knew he did not want to die here.

Taking a shuddering breath, deep into his lungs, and ignoring the stabs of pain, and weakening sensation in his already numb legs, he straightened up with a growling shout. For there was someone who he hadn't thought of, who could save him, perhaps. Who had to come if he asked.

"O drakon, e male so ftengometta tesd'hup'anankes!" He screamed to the sky, desperation in his voice.

Perhaps it was vain hope, but it was the last one he had. Merlin finished, gasping, wobbly. His legs chose that moment to go completely limb, and he could no longer stay upright, falling to the side to lay, helpless before the encroaching crowd of beasts. His stomach heaved, trying to expel the poison, but his body was too weak to vomit, so he simply twitched in agony. The numbness was taking over from the pain, save for his head, which started pounding in time with his struggling heartbeat. He could not catch his breath, and he thought that the dragon would not make it in time after all.

Yet somehow he lingered, and the serkets did not attack. The night fell slowly, and Merlin lay limp on his side, waiting for death. Still mostly conscious, able to feel the pain in flashes through the dead feeling of the poison. His breath came in stutters, as the numbness reached towards his rib cage. He thought perhaps that this would be how he died. Not from the poison, not from being eaten alive by the serkets, but from the suffocation when he could not force his ribcage to expand any longer, nor his heart to beat. His head ached, and he wanted nothing more than to sink into oblivion, but his eyes stayed open, still stubbornly clinging to life, even as his mind screamed at him to just let go.

Though he could not feel lower than his waist, he still had violent tremors, spasms through his whole body. These caused the sting on his back to flare in pain. He could not keep silent in the face of such agony, and the surrounding but still serkets were witness to his groans, cries and whimpers. Death by such a poison as this had little dignity.

Merlin looked up then, perhaps to see the sky once more, or in some subconscious awareness, just in time to see a shape. The beating of a massive pair of wings filtered through his ringing ears, and happiness flared through him. It was the dragon, Kilhgarrah. He'd come. If only to witness his death. Merlin could not hope for rescue anymore, he felt the poison moving through him. It had been too long. He was dead. But someone would be there, and the thought filled him with comfort.

Fire flared up, and serkets hissed in pain, Merlin jerked back, feeling the heat of the flames on his face. Looking to the side, Merlin saw the rest of the beasts backing off, and he went limp in relief. He would not die under the claws of the serkets. Merlin's eyes fluttered. He was fading. He felt a gust of wind and then a gentle claw lifting him. Then his mind seemed to leave his body, floating far upwards, and into the darkness. His only, last wish was that he could have seen Arthur again. He prayed that he and Camelot would be safe. Then, Merlin knew no more.