Gwaine was livid. Of all the knights he had been the most affected by Merlin's disappearance. Usually cheerful and talkative, Gwaine was now a shadow of his former self. He did his duty as was required, but when that duty was done he would withdraw once again into the shell he had placed around himself. Of course, everyone knew the knight had a soft spot, almost a weakness when it came to Merlin. The two were close friends having helped each other time and again. The other knights had noticed this, all of them becoming worried at Gwaine's increasing visits to the tavern, where he would often drink himself into such a stupor that he had been unable to even stand, let alone get himself home. Several times the other knights had gone to his rescue, but he never thanked them, he never even gave a word of acknowledgement.
It was, of all the knights, Percival who noticed the most disturbing aspect of Gwaine's current state. It wasn't his drunkenness, or even his silence that worried the other knight. It was that now when he looked into his friend's eyes he found them almost lifeless. And it frightened Percival more than anything. For his actions spoke of recklessness, or solitude, but his eyes, they spoke of pain, worry, and a deep unending sadness that now permeated Gwaine's essence. For all intent's Percival realised he was watching the Gwaine he knew slowly dying.
It was one night, about a week after Arthur had called off the search, and after a particularly bad experience at the tavern that Percival had rescued Gwaine again. However, he had been shocked to see the other man was not drunk, not even close. But his manner was utterly foreign to Percival.
The call had come in at around nine in the evening, a disturbance at the Tavern, Percival had been speaking to Leon at the time, and had offered to go and retrieve their wayward friend. Leon had agreed, and so Percival had gone. Upon entering the Tavern he had expected to see Gwaine nearly passed out at one of the tables, as was the norm. What he hadn't expected was to see Gwaine standing over the prone form of Arthur's new manservant, a youngish lad, with ginger hair, and now sporting a bloody nose, and looking up at the knight with a hefty amount of fear in his eyes. Percival had quickly intervened, sending the boy to Gaius, before taking Gwaine outside. Gwaine had remained silent, the anger that had been etched on his face when Percival had entered had been drained away, replaced by… what? Percival couldn't tell. Gwaine's features were always closed now. Slowly he took Gwaine's arm and led him slowly through the streets not towards the Castle, but towards the small town square, which at this time of night would be all but deserted.
Slowly Percival had sat Gwaine down the bench in the centre of the square, before he himself had sat next to him. Gwaine simply stared ahead, Percival just sitting there, offering his friend his support without even speaking.
"I suppose you think I should apologise to him" Gwaine said suddenly. Percival looked at him and shrugged.
"What did he do?" he asked. Gwaine sighed.
"He made a comment about Merlin"
"A comment? You beat him up because of a comment?" asked Percival.
"No one insults Merlin, its one thing to joke, but to insult a man who's not even here to defend himself… No, that's something I'll never overlook" Gwaine said, falling quiet again.
"What did he say?" asked Percival after a few silent moments.
"That Merlin was ultimately useless, disrespectful and that Arthur was well rid of him" Gwaine said. Percival was taken aback, he'd thought Merlin had been well liked. Still. jealousy was a horrid emotion. So instead of replying, he just nodded, as if agreeing with Gwaine's actions. Suddenly Gwaine sighed.
"Merlin's dead isn't he?" Gwaine's voice was soft, sad. Tinged with a raw emotion Percival had never recalled hearing before. Slowly Percival shrugged.
"I hope not" the big knight replied honestly.
"Then why isn't he here?" Gwaine asked. "Why hasn't he come back to us?" he asked, sounding more like a five year old child then a knight of Camelot.
"I don't know Gwaine" Percival had told him gently. Gwaine looked at him, then suddenly stood up, anger beginning to register on his face again.
"Arthur's wrong, am I the only one who can see that?" he demanded. "Everything that man did for him and look, just over a month and he has a bootlicker and everything's back to normal!" he roared.
"Gwaine, We all miss Merlin, even Arthur, but he cannot put his duty on hold" Percival said.
"Duty. Honour. What bullshit is that when you can't act honourably towards someone you care about!" Gwaine said. "Arthur didn't care about Merlin, not ever" Gwaine spat as he sat back down. Percival put his hand on Gwaine's shoulder, the other man looking at him.
"You're wrong Gwaine, you don't give our King enough credit" Percival said.
"What do you know about it? I didn't hear you protesting about the search being called off!"
"Because, as I stated, there were valid reasons, a kingdom cannot stop for one man alone Gwaine, no matter how much he is cared for. And as for how do I know Arthur is suffering? I'll tell you. Its because I see. I'm not one for small talk, not much talk at all actually, and you'd be surprised at how many people forget I'm there when I stay silent" Percival said. "So instead of talking, I watch. I watch people, I watch those I care about" it was admittedly, the longest speech Gwaine could recall hearing Percival make. "and I've watched you, all of you, over the past month, and I can tell you Gwaine, no matter how Arthur acts around us, it is just an act. He's in more pain than any of us can ever realise" Percival told him. Gwaine frowned and shook his head.
"Then why not let us keep looking?" asked Gwaine. Percival smiled at him.
"Because he's just lost someone dear to him, and he gives it the show of not being affected, but deep down I think he's terrified he'll lose someone else he cares about" Percival said.
"I think you're the one who's been drinking" Gwaine muttered.
"I'm serious Gwaine, Arthur cares for all of us, more then he should" Percival told him. Gwaine snorted and stood up.
"You know what? I don't care" he announced. "Tomorrow I'm setting out, by myself I have to and I'm not coming back until I've found Merlin or his body" he said. "But I vow I will not rest until I've found my friend" he added, then stormed off, Percival watching him go. Slowly Percival sighed and stood.
"You won't be alone my friend" he promised.
The next morning, Gwaine was called before an irate King. He entered the audience chamber, feeling the kings glare upon him, yet not caring one bit. The snivelling little git now standing beside Arthur didn't exist to Gwaine, even though he'd been solid enough when Gwaine had decked him.
"Henry, is this the man who assaulted you?" Arthur asked, gesturing to Gwaine.
"He is my lord, and with no reason" Henry replied. Arthur looked at Gwaine, then turned to Henry.
"With no reason?" he asked mildly. "That does not sound like Sir Gwaine" Arthur said.
"I was merle getting a drink sire" Henry replied. Arthur nodded, then sighed.
"And the bar keeper? Was he lying Henry? When he said you were goading Sir Gwaine here?, or the waitress? Or the people from the town? Were they lying Henry?" Arthur demanded. Henry looked shocked and his eyes shot wide.
"You may have your opinions of people Henry, and freedom of speech is something I pride myself on allowing people to have. That courtesy only goes so far, Merlin was important to a lot of people, including me"
"But he's just a servant" Henry protested.
"Wrong Henry, he was much more than that. Now I would suggest you take your belongings and look for work in the town, I will not be needing your services anymore" Arthur said. Henry gaped at him, like a fish out of water, then with an acid glare at Gwaine, and a stiff bow to Arthur the man turned and stormed out. Gwaine watched the entire exchange, mouth open wide, then looked over to see Percival standing just in the doorway, having entered just after him. Slowly Percival nodded at him, then left the room, leaving Arthur and Gwaine alone. Arthur regarded Gwaine, then slowly sat down.
"The rumour mill has it your planning on riding out on some fools quest to find Merlin" Arthur said.
"I plan to yes. I need to know Arthur, if he's alive, or if he'd dead. But I can't go on like this, pretending everything is normal" Gwaine said. Arthur nodded at him.
"And you were planning on telling me when?" Arthur asked.
"After you dressed me down this morning" Gwaine admitted.
"I see. Well, Gwaine, I certainly did not see you and Percival take a horse, I had no idea of where you were going or what you were planning, and I have no idea of what you're actually up to" Arthur said with a sly wink. Gwaine smiled for the first time in over a month and bowed.
"Thank you…. Sire" he said. Arthur had just effectively granted his permission for the search to begin again, but to save face he was being coy. As far as anyone else was aware, Gwaine and Percival would be acting on their own accord. The council would be satisfied that Arthur had put Merlin out of his mind and was getting on with running the kingdom.
"For what?" Arthur asked with a smile. Gwaine nodded and turned, moving towards the door. "And Gwaine" Arthur said. Gwaine turned back to face him. "If you should happen to find a certain person while you two are out doing whatever you're doing, bring him home safely" Arthur said. Gwaine smiled and frowned.
"I don't know what you mean" he replied.
"you were always a little slow" Arthur said. "Go. Find him" he said. Gwaine nodded and quickly left the room, Arthur watching him.
Gwaine found Percival already waiting for him by the stables. Quickly he mounted up and the two left the courtyard.
"Thank you" Gwaine said softly. Beside him Percival smiled.
"You can thank me when we've got Merlin back" Percival said. Gwaine nodded and smiled. He'd been wrong about Arthur, and the last few minuets with him had proven to Gwaine just how correct Percival had been the night before.
As soon as they left the confines of the city, they broke into a gallop.
"Where are they going?" asked Elyan as he stood next to Leon, watching Gwaine and Percival riding out. Leon smiled and looked at him.
"Who would that be? I certainly didn't see anyone going out to look for someone. Are you saying you did?" Leon asked. Elyan smiled and shook his head.
"Must have been a trick of the light" he said.
"Must have been"