*Peeks out from behind the screen* Once again I need to offer a huge apology. I am so sorry for how long this took. This little thing called real life just keeps imposing on my writing time. However, this chapter has actually been done for a week now, but I've been waiting for my betas to read it through for me, and I was actually hoping to get far enough ahead in chapters to the point where i could start doing weekly updates. Unfortunately, that just hasn't been feasible at this time. I should have much more time to work on writing during my Christmas break away from school, so i'm hoping I'll be able to get ahead at that point.
I did notice some of you asking about Ella, and all I can say is, you'll have to wait and see to find out what her true motivations are *rubs hands and cackles evilly*
You all have been fantastic supporters, and I just want to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has reviewed, favorited or followed this story. Although it may not seem like it, they really do help me to write and have given me inspiration to write as well as getting me through some difficult writer's block sessions.
Also, a huge shout out and thank you to my betas,supermegafoxawesomehot and Reka Leaf. Without you two, I would have been lost with my stories long ago :)
Now, without further ado, Chapter 13: The Labyrinth of Gedref
"So where did you come up with all of these titles?" Elyan asked curiously as Ella worked with the crystal.
"What titles?" Ella replied over her shoulder.
"Whenever you tell us what memory is next, you always give a title. Some of them rather strange. I was simply wondering where they came from." Elyan elaborated. Most of the group looked curious at that as well, although Ella couldn't see their faces with her back turned.
"Ah. They're just titles I made up. I had to have some way of distinguishing them in my mind when I put these memories together, and that's how I did it." Ella explained, finishing her work and turning back around. "Are you all ready to go?"
A chorus of 'yes' and nods met her question, so without wasting any more time, she started the memory.
It's another normal day in Camelot. The sun was shining, birds were flying, and Arthur, of course, is on another hunting trip. Arthur's hunting party, which is composed of himself, two knights, and also of course, Merlin, snuck around in the woods, armed with crossbows. A loud crack resounds through the trees , stopping Arthur cold. He raises a hand and motions to the two knights, sending them around another way. Merlin, however, stays back.
"A loud crack is never a good sign." Percival said wryly. "Especially where those two are concerned."
"You aren't joking. Those two are the most danger friendly people that I have ever met." Gaius agreed.
Arthur looks back to where Merlin is standing, and harshly whispers, "Merlin." The two of them meet eyes, and Arthur motions for him to come closer with his head.
"What is it?" Merlin asks as he approaches Arthur's side.
"I don't know." Arthur said thoughtfully. After another moment, he motioned in front of them and told Merlin, "We'll surround it. I want you to go in there and flush it out."
"You want me to go in there? You just said you don't know what it is. It could be dangerous."
Arthur nodded and grinned. "Let's hope so. Now go." He ordered before pushing Merlin out.
"Not only are they danger friendly, they seem to welcome it with open arms." Gwen added, giving her husband a look. Arthur had the good sense to look somewhat sheepish.
"Oi! It's Arthur that's the danger friendly one. I just get caught up because I'm trying to protect him!" Merlin argued.
Gwen and Gaius exchanged looks, and Hunith chuckled lightly. "No, that's not it." Gaius said, and Gwen nodded.
Merlin sneaks through the woods and, after hearing more shuffling noises, picks up a large stick from the forest floor. Coming around a large rock, he sees a unicorn and drops the stick. The unicorn neighs at him as he walks up to it. He hears the hunters coming and his head snaps around.
"It really is a beautiful creature." Gaius murmured.
"Isn't that a unicorn?" Gwen asked.
Gaius nodded. "A very rare creature nowadays, if not extinct. It is a great privilege to see one."
Arthur looked away, knowing what was coming.
"Go. Go!" He hisses, making shooing motions at the unicorn. "Please, go. Shh. They're gonna kill you. Please, go! Arthur, no!"
Arthur shoots the unicorn with the crossbow, looking proud. Merlin goes to it and sniffles softly as he strokes its head while it dies. "I'm sorry. Sorry."
"Ha-ha! A unicorn!" Arthur laughs.
Merlin looks up at his with a stricken expression. "What have you done?"
"Don't be such a girl, Merlin." Arthur taunts, still looking down at his prize. Behind Arthur, Merlin sees a man, wearing a long white cloak and carrying a large wooden staff, standing behind Arthur in the woods.
Merlin and Arthur exchanged looks, remembering this adventure and that sorcerer.
"Who was that?" Leon asked.
"You'll see." Merlin replied.
Gaius looked on curiously, as he had never actually seen the sorcerer. Merlin had described him, but only Arthur and Merlin had actually interacted with him.
Arthur notices Merlin's gaze into the forest behind him, and frowns. "What are you looking at?" he asks, turning to look. He and the other two knights turn around, but the man is gone.
In Camelot's council chambers, Arthur and his knights enter. Merlin walks behind them, carrying the unicorn's horn on a red velvet pillow.
"Father! A unicorn's horn to grace the walls of Camelot." Arthur announces, motioning to the pillow Merlin is carrying.
Uther looks up and grins, sweeping his cape back with a wide motion. "Magnificent. It's the first one I've seen." He takes the horn and turns it towards the councilors. "Gaius, look at this."
Gaius opens and closes his mouth once, struggling with his thoughts, before replying, "It is very impressive, My Lord."
"You don't exactly look very impressed, Gaius." Percival stated with a raised eyebrow.
"There is a good reason for that." Gaius replied succinctly.
Uther very nearly rolls his eyes and gives Gaius a long suffering look. "What is it, Gaius? Speak your mind."
"Unicorns are rare and mystical creatures. There is a legend that says that bad fortune will come to anyone who slays one."
"Nonsense. We will be the envy of every kingdom." Uther insists, laying the horn back on the pillow and clapping Arthur on the shoulder.
Arthur returns his father's smile. "I'm pleased you like it."
"You'd think by now, Uther would realize that there is usually some merit behind legends, especially when they are dealing with magic and curses." Merlin muttered.
"He thought he had defeated magic, that it held no hold over him. So he ignored that which he did not want to hear." Gaius reminded them. "But what he failed to realize is magic is an intrinsic part of this land. It will last far beyond the time of man."
Merlin and Gaius walk through the square. People are carrying baskets of food around, and barrels of apples and grain stand stall, almost foreshadowing the hunger to come.
"I don't understand how Arthur can have taken any pleasure from killing the unicorn." Merlin muttered to Gaius as they walked.
"And I don't see why you can be such a girl." Arthur teased. When Merlin merely raised his eyebrows and looked pointedly around them, he conceded, "Although in this case you may have been right."
"Arthur is a hunter." Gaius reminds him. "It's in his blood. Whereas you are something entirely different."
"And that's not even considering the whole most-powerful-warlock-ever thing going on." Elyan joked.
Merlin looked off into the distance, his mind going back. Gaius stopped as he murmured, "It was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. I wish you'd been there."
"It's a rare privilege. Alas, there are few unicorns still alive."
"I'm glad that I got the chance to see it before its death." Gaius added.
Gwen nodded sadly, breathing, "It was beautiful."
Merlin leaned in closer and replied, "You try telling that to Arthur."
"I can imagine it would be difficult." Gaius called over his shoulder as they separated.
In Arthur's quarters, Arthur sits in front of a large array of meats, bread a fruits, finishing off his meal as he gave Merlin a list of more chores.
"Is something going to happen to the food?" Hunith asked curiously. When everyone turned to her, some with slightly stunned expressions, she blushed lightly and explained, "It's just, these memories seem to focus a lot on food. First, all of the containers and baskets in the courtyard were overflowing with food, and now with Arthur's dinner."
"No, that's how Arthur normally eats." Merlin quipped, although he was impressed that his mother had picked up on that. "There's a reason his belt has needed more holes." Merlin added aside to Percival, who sputtered out his laughter at that reminder.
"Oi!" Arthur exclaimed, smacking him on the back of the head. "I am not fat."
"No, you're not fat. Just… chubby." Merlin mused, laughing under his breath at the enraged look on Arthur's face.
"I think you are very handsome." Gwen assured her husband, patting his arm gently.
"Well, you are his wife. You have to say that." Gwaine added, finally putting his two cents in.
"My horse threw a shoe. Take it to the blacksmith. Make sure he does a good job. And when you've done that, you can polish my s..." Arthur turns around and sees Merlin staring glumly out the window. "...saddle. Merlin? Have you listened to a word I've said?"
Merlin turns back to him and nods.
"You've got a face like a wounded bear ever since we got back from that hunting trip." Arthur says, turning back around in his chair and stares at the grape in his hands. "Don't tell me you're still upset about the unicorn." He pops the grape in his mouth and stood up from the table.
"I don't think you should have killed it." Merlin replies.
"Oh, really? And why is that?" Arthur asked snarkily.
"Terrible curse on anyone who kills one?" Merlin muttered under his breath.
"It was... It was doing no harm." Merlin tilted his head slightly, and asks, "What purpose did you serve by killing it?"
"You really aren't a hunter, are you Merlin?" Leon commented.
"I understand the necessity of hunting for food. I just don't see the purpose of killing animals for no reason other than just to kill." Merlin shrugged.
"We were hunting. That's what you do. Would you have me bring it home as a pet?" Merlin started to turn back to the window when Arthur exclaims, "Look at this."
"What?" Merlin asked, walking around the bed.
"Do you know what that is?"
Arthur grabbed the back of Merlin's head and shoved it towards the floor, forcing him to see what was lying there. "Rat droppings." He let go of Merlin's head. "My chambers are infested. You need to spend less time worrying about unicorns and more time worrying about rats."
"Maybe you could keep the rat as a pet." Elyan jibed.
Someone knocks at the door, and both men look towards the door before Arthur call, "Enter!"
A guard enters, slightly breathless, and explains, "My Lord, the King requests your service as a matter of urgency."
"Find that rat." Arthur orders as he walks out. Merlin looks around the room as he lets a breath out through his teeth.
Uther picks a dead piece of wheat stalk from a field and crushes it between his fingers, looking out over the rest of the fields. Every field is brown and dead, only the trees and bushes on the edges of every field are still green and healthy.
"What happened?" Hunith asked, slightly horrified at the sight of all that food, dead.
"The curse on those who slay a unicorn." Gaius repeated.
"So that is what happened." Gwen mused. "We were all simply told that it was another sorceror's attack, and that Arthur had eventually dealt with it."
"Every single ear has died. We've received reports that it's the same throughout the entire kingdom."
"I rode through this valley only yesterday. The crop looked healthy enough then." Arthur says, motioning towards the dead fields.
"It happened overnight." Uther informs him. "Farmers are at a lost to explain it."
"Is it a disease of some kind?"
"Perhaps. I've asked the court physician to conduct some tests." Both men turn back towards the waiting horses. "We must ration what little food we have left."
"I think I remember this." Hunith said. "We had heard that Camelot suffered a sudden and severe famine and drought. There were many people that passed over the border looking for food and water, as the curse was contained within Camelot's borders. Several passed through Ealdor during that time."
"I heard some of the rumors that Camelot had experienced a severe famine for a short time, but they weren't detailed, and no one knew much." Elyan added.
In Gaius's chambers, a large variety of test tubes and flasks are set out as Gaius tries to determine what killed the crops. "Any ideas what caused the crops to die?" Merlin asks as he comes out of his room.
"I'm here to complete all the tests. No disease I have heard of could spread through the entire kingdom in a single night." Gaius finishes pouring a solution into a flask, and shakes it around some.
"What could kill all the plants other than a disease?"
Percival raised an eyebrow. "This coming from a warlock?" he commented.
"We try not to immediately jump on the 'it's a magical attack' wagon before we check all of the facts. There could be a scientific explanation." Gaius reminded them.
"It is not killing all the plants." Gaius reminds him. "The trees and hedges around the crop fields are unharmed. Unfortunately, you can't eat trees and hedges."
"It's only killing plants we can eat?" Merlin realizes.
"It appears so."
Merlin leans up against Gaius's worktable. "If it's not a disease, it must be magic."
"We can't assume that, Merlin. Perhaps there is something in the soil and water that can explain it. I can't tell the King it's caused by sorcery until I'm completely certain."
"Because Uther will go on the warpath against all sorcerers if you say that magic was causing it." Elyan said.
Outside the castle, villagers stand in a very long queue leading into the palace grounds. A guard rations out grain to the villagers. "Next!"
Uther and Arthur walk down the long line of villagers as Arthur briefs his father on the situation. "The livestock is either dying or has been eaten. Food and water's very scarce and we're distributing rations, but they're very meagre."
Arthur opens a small shaft in the grain store, dumping out the last of the grain onto the already too small pile.
"This is all the grain we have?" Uther asks, sounding shocked.
"Why are the grain stores so small?" Hunith asked curiously. "I would have thought a large castle like Camelot would have a larger store of food."
"Normally, yes." Arthur admitted. "But we were running towards the end of the growing season, at a time when our stores are at their smallest as they had been drained through the year. The harvest was nearly ready, and we had been planning on refilling our stores then. The curse came at the worst possible time for Camelot."
"It wouldn't be a curse if it came at your convenience." Gwaine reminded him.
"The people are growing scared. There's been some looting."
"We must maintain order at all costs. Panic will make the situation worse. I'll issue a decree that looters will be executed." Uther turns with a flourish of his cape, walking out of the grain storage room. "From tonight, Camelot will be under curfew."
"I'll see to it." Arthur replies, following him out.
Outside the castle, Merlin passes Gwen as she heads to the well along the outer wall.
"Merlin." Gwen calls, getting his attention. "Is it true what they're saying about the crops? They're all dead?"
"Afraid so." He confirmed. "We may have to start tightening our belts." He starts to walk away.
"You don't seem as scared by that thought as most would be." Leon noticed.
"Living in Ealdor, we had several periods of very little food. So I have learned to go without, if I need to." Merlin explained.
"As much as I may have wished otherwise." Hunith added quietly.
"I'm sure Arthur will think of something." Gwen calls hopefully.
Merlin pops his head back around the castle wall, and with a manic grin, replies, "Well, and if he doesn't, I will."
Gwen smiles at him and starts pumping for water, but only dry sand comes out. Even after a few more pumps, all that is coming out is sand. "Merlin!" She yells. Merlin pops back around the corner and sees the sand, and both of their scared gazes meet.
"But even when we didn't have food, we almost always had enough water." Merlin added.
Uther and Arthur stand at the well in the Square, Uther sifts sand through his fingers into the well bucket.
"Sand." Uther says softly as he sifts whole handfuls of sand from the well bucket through his hand. "And you say the well is full of it?"
"I sent men down to the underground reservoir. There is no trace of water to be found." Arthur reports.
"First that mud creature that Arthur and Merlin defeated, and now all of the water turning to sand. That reservoir sees a lot of magic." Gwen commented offhandedly.
Merlin raised an eyebrow, and he and Arthur exchanged glances. "She's right." They both said.
"Is there anything you can do about that?" Arthur asked.
"Are you actually asking me to do magic for Camelot?" Merlin asked happily.
Arthur scowled lightly and cuffed his arm. "Keep that up, and I'll remember how much of an idiot you are." Arthur joked, trying to keep the scowl up over his grin.
"First the crops, and now this." Uther murmurs.
"It's the same throughout the kingdom. There's precious little water anywhere."
Uther looks into the bucket, and then up at his physician. "Gaius. Can you offer any explanation for this?"
Gaius leans up against the wall of the well and replies, "I cannot think of a scientific explanation. I can only conclude it's the result of sorcery."
"I believe you're right. It is the work of magic." Uther turns and looks up at the castle. "The kingdom is under attack."
Merlin sits in his rooms with a bucket of sand and his magic book open in front of him. Holding out his hand over the bucket, he chants as Gaius approaches unseen, "Gréot gecymen, lecan. Gecymen gé drýe wæter."
They all turned to Merlin for a translation, who said "Good sand arrived. Water arrived with the sorcerer."
"Really?" Arthur scoffed.
"I didn't write the spell!" Merlin argued.
When he sees Gaius is standing behind him, he starts stuttering out, "I was... I was just, er..."
"Busted!" Gwaine crowed.
"I was hoping you might be trying to turn it back into water." Gaius says grimly. "I know I've cautioned against using magic, but if ever there was a time to use your talents, it's now."
"Well, I wish I knew how. I've tried everything. If it is magic, it's more powerful magic than I possess." Gaius and Merlin exchange bleak looks, and Merlin turns back to his magic book.
In the castle courtyard, Arthur addresses a group of guards. "Patrol the market and the lower town. No one is to leave their homes. Dismissed." The guards turn on heel and begin marching away as Merlin enters the square.
"Merlin." Arthur calls, "You do realize there's a curfew?"
"Yep. I just didn't really care." Merlin chuckled.
"Yeah, I was in your chambers, hunting for the rat." Merlin explains.
"Did you find it?"
Merlin looks towards the ground and shakes his head. "No."
"So you have been outwitted by a rat?"
"They do say rats are very intelligent."
Gwaine groaned. "Really, mate? That's the best you can come up with? I have a lot of work to do." He muttered to himself.
"More intelligent than you, it would seem." Arthur scoffed. "Go home. It'd be embarrassing to have to lock up my own servant for breaking the curfew."
Arthur sees the white cloaked man walk through the courtyard and into the palace. "What was that?"
"That's the same sorcerer from the forest, isn't it?" Gwen asked. Merlin nodded
"What?" Merlin asks, looking in the same direction.
Merlin and Arthur run after the man, and Arthur jumps over the courtyard corridor ledge. They chase the man through the castle, with him always just too far ahead, to the burial vaults where they lose him. When the man is nowhere to be seen, Arthur gives some signs to Merlin. Merlin nods his understanding, then follows Arthur anyways.
The knights chuckled at that. "You follow directions well, Merlin." Leon said.
"That means you go the other way and cut him off." Arthur hisses, pointing in Merlin's face.
"Okay." Merlin agrees before running off.
Arthur walks down the hall opposite directions and meet up back at the back of the hallway without seeing anyone. Then they see a man's silhouette as he briefly rounds the corner. The duo splits ways again, hoping to catch him, but once again they meet up at the stairwell without having seen anyone.
"Wow. That's a pretty impressive getaway." Elyan commented.
"Where is he?" Arthur demands.
"I didn't see anyone." Merlin replies, slightly breathless.
"He was right here! Don't tell me you let him get past you." Arthur growls.
"Arthur, no one passed me."
Arthur looked incredulous. Throwing his hands up, he exclaimed, "Are you blind?!"
"I have better eyesight than even you do, Arthur." Merlin pointed out rather wryly.
"Are you looking for me?" A man's voice interrupts, causing both men to look over. The cloaked man stands near the wall opposite the stairwell. "I am Anhora, Keeper of the Unicorns."
Merlin and Arthur exchange a look, and then Arthur asks in an all-business tone, "Camelot is under curfew. What's your business here?"
Anhora looks off to the side for a moment before bring his eyes back up and stating, "I have come to deliver a message."
"He doesn't really look much like a normal messenger." Gwen added.
"And who is this message for?"
"It is for you, Arthur Pendragon." Anhora replies.
Arthur's mouth became a thin line in his anger, and he strides forward a few steps to ask, "Is it you who's responsible for killing our crops, turning our water into sand?"
"You alone are responsible for the misfortune that has befallen Camelot." Anhora informs Arthur.
"Me?!" Arthur exclaims harshly. "You think I'd bring drought and famine upon my own people?"
"When you killed the unicorn, you unleashed a curse. For this, Camelot will suffer greatly." Anhora tells them gravely.
"If you have put a curse on Camelot, you will lift it, or you will pay with your life." Arthur threatens.
Anhora is insistent. "The curse was not my doing."
Arthur takes a few more threatening steps forward until he is nearly in Anhora's face. "Undo the curse or face execution." He says dangerously.
"Only you can do that. You will be tested."
"Well, he's got enigmatic and lofty down pat." Elyan commented dryly.
"You're under arrest." Arthur states, and reaches for Anhora, but he disappears and Arthur stumbles into the suddenly empty space.
"Neat trick!" Gwaine exclaimed. "Merlin, can you do that?"
"Er, no. Not really." Merlin replied. "I've never really learned how to do any of the transport spells like that."
"Damn. There goes that plan." Gwaine muttered under his breath.
"I don't even want to know what is going on in that head of yours." Percival said dryly.
Anhora reappears on the stairway behind them, forcing both men to turn around to hear Anhora's grave warning. "Until you have proven yourself, and made amends for killing the unicorn, the curse will not be lifted. If you fail any of these tests, Camelot will be damned for all eternity."
"Yep. Definitely enigmatic." Elyan added.
The next morning, Merlin sits at the table in Gaius's chambers, where the two are discussing the current crisis. "And you believe what this Anhora said about the curse to be true?" Gaius confirms looking down at Merlin from where he is standing.
"Well, you said there's a legend that misfortune comes to anyone who slays a unicorn." Merlin reminds him. "It makes sense."
Gaius joins him at the table, setting down two bowls that are fairly empty. "Not much for breakfast, I'm afraid." He apologized. "We're down to our last few scraps of food."
"Where did you get the water to make the tea?" Merlin asked, taking a drink.
"Fortunately, for both of us, you forgot to empty your bath yesterday."
Arthur shudders, and Gwen makes a disgusted face. The other knights look vaguely aghast, while Hunith has a somewhat more accepting look. She knew quite well that in those types of situations, you took what you could get.
Merlin looks disgusted, and promptly spits the tea back into the cup. "You're making tea from my bath water?"
"It's not so bad. Perhaps a little... soapy." Gaius jokes lightly, but Merlin doesn't seem very amused with the joke.
"Nice one, Gaius." Gwaine laughs.
He sighs softly before Gaius asks, "What does Arthur think about the curse?"
Merlin scoffs before setting the cup down. "He doesn't believe it's his fault. He's convinced Anhora's responsible for it."
Gaius leans forward slightly, and says seriously, "If you do not wish to drink bath water, you better make sure Arthur sees sense."
In his chambers, Arthur is putting on his boots when he finds a hole in one of them. "That... rat!" Arthur growls and stands up from the bed he had been sitting on. He turns to Merlin, who is cleaning, and says, "It's eaten through my boot, look at it!"
"I guess the rat must be as hungry as the rest of us!" Merlin quips.
Gwaine snickered at that.
"You think this is funny?"
Trying to hold back a grin, Merlin replies, "Moderately."
Arthur throws the shoe, which hits Merlin in the shoulder and then falls to the floor. "Get it mended. Find that rat."
"Have you given any more thought to what Anhora said last night?" Merlin asks, walking across the room to put laundry away.
"Arthur? Thinking? What a novel concept!" Gwaine laughed, dodging a well-timed smack from Arthur.
"Ah, well, he may have escaped last night, but at least we now know who we're looking for. I told my father I'll find this Anhora and put an end to it."
"What if he was telling the truth about the curse?" Merlin points out.
Arthur gives him an exasperated look, asking, "You think I'm responsible for bringing suffering upon my own people?"
"No, not deliberately." Arthur gives him another look at that. After deliberating for a several long moments, Merlin reveals, "When you killed the unicorn, I saw Anhora in the forest."
That catches Arthur's attention. "Why didn't you say anything?" He exclaims.
"Probably because you would have laughed, called me an idiot for seeing things, smacked me on the arm, and went on your merry way without thinking anything of it." Merlin replied wryly.
"It was just for a second, and then he disappeared. I didn't even...well, I-I thought I was seeing things."Merlin defended. "But he was definitely there."
"That doesn't actually prove anything." Arthur argues.
"Doesn't it make you think he might be telling the truth?"
"Because he was skulking about in the forest? That makes me trust him even less." Arthur scoffs.
"Right, because you never skulk around in the forest, Arthur." Leon chuckled.
"I do not skulk." Arthur insisted.
"Sure looks like skulking to me." Percival threw in.
"No, it is not skulking, it is tracking. There is a difference." Arthur said, holding his head up and trying to look regal. It just made the knights laugh harder.
"Of course, whatever makes you happy, princess." Gwaine chuckled.
Merlin looks slightly exasperated."Why would Anhora appear in Camelot, and then lie to you?"
"We had him cornered." Arthur shrugs. "He was trying to talk his way out of it by blaming me."
"Arthur, he can disappear into thin air. He didn't have to talk his way out of anything." Merlin points out.
The two face each other over Arthur's table. "My father has warned me about sorcerers like him. They will not rest until our kingdom is destroyed."
"Well, I believe he's telling the truth." Merlin replies quietly.
"Then you're a fool. You cannot trust a single word a sorcerer says. You'd do well to remember that." Merlin's face falls slightly when Arthur turns away, but the prince fails to notice as he dons his jacket.
Arthur flinches at those blunt words of his younger self, and gives Merlin an apologetic look, who shifts slightly before nodding. He can only imagine how much words like that must have hurt the secret warlock.
"Now, I think I've figured out what Anhora's next move is going to be, and when he makes it, we're going to be waiting."
That night, in a storage room of the castle, Merlin leans against a pillar near the grain store with his eyes closed, smacking his lips. When Arthur walks in to see him sitting there, he hits him with a broom.
"Well, that's one way to wake him up." Elyan laughed.
"Don't you worry about keeping watch, Merlin. You just make yourself comfortable." Arthur says sarcastically. Merlin sighs and smacks his lips. "Stop smacking your lips. It's annoying." Arthur calls back over his shoulder.
Arthur turns around, and replies exasperatedly, "We're all thirsty, Merlin."
Merlin sighs again before getting up from his perch and moving to the other doorway.
Standing in the opposite doorway, Arthur leans against the wall, looking utterly bored until he sees a light. Catching Merlin's attention, he whispers, "Pst! Someone's coming."
When they see the intruder walk by, Arthur draws his sword and Merlin follows as they stalk the intruder into the grain store. They stop when they see the intruder's silhouette in the storage room. Arthur motions to Merlin, and mouths 'You go over there and come in.'
Merlin nods his understanding, and Arthur slowly walks into the room, holding his sword before him. "Show yourself, before I run you through." He orders the intruder.
"Nice work getting it the message the first time around this time." Leon offered.
As Merlin quietly picks up a scythe hook, a man edges around the corner with a shovel in one hand and a sack of grain in the other. He is dirty, with brown hair and eyes, and wears the cheap and ratty clothes of a peasant.
"Who are you?" Arthur asks.
In a very quiet voice, the man starts to reply, "My name is... My name is..."
"My name is Evan, My Lord." He says in a trembling voice.
"He doesn't seem much like a thief." Elyan commented.
Gwen bit her lip, feeling sorry for the man. She had seen firsthand and could still vividly remember this time, and the effect it had on the peasants of Camelot.
Merlin comes out of hiding to see the fearful man.
"I see you think you can help yourself to our grain reserves. My father has order that looters be executed." Arthur reminds him.
"Please, My Lord. I- I do not steal for myself." Evan replies, his voice soft and shaking. "I have three children they have not eaten for two days. They are hungry."
"It's the same for everyone." Arthur reminds him, his voice laced with sympathy but still hard.
"I- I know that it is wrong to steal. I couldn't bear to see them starve." Evan bows his head with shame.
"And could you bear for your children to see you be executed?"
Evan shakes his head, close to tears.
After deliberating for a long moment, Arthur replies, "Then you should go home." Evan quickly looks up, surprise and shock clear on his face. "If you're caught stealing again, I will not spare you."
Evan smiles. "Yes, My Lord. Thank you." He puts down the sack of grain and shovel, and starts to leave.
"Wait." Arthur calls after him, before picking up the sack of grain and tossing it to Evan.
"That was very kind of you, Arthur." Gwen said softly, giving her husband a kiss on the cheek and squeezing his arm.
"Use it sparingly. It might be the last food you and your family get for some time." Arthur says kindly.
Evan smiles and nods. In a completely different voice, he straightens up and says, "You have shown yourself to be merciful and kind, My Lord. This will bring its own reward." He then turns around and disappears into the darkness.
Many of the knights raised an eyebrow at that last statement. "Well, that was an odd encounter." Percival commented.
Gwen sees a man run past her in the Lower Town, the guards chasing him. When they pass by, Gwen looks over by the well and sees water dripping from the spout. Tilting her head slightly in curiosity, she goes to it, puts a bucket under the spout, and pushes the pump. To her surprise and glee, water gushes out.
"Your reward." Gwen murmured.
In Arthur's chambers, Arthur and Merlin gulp down large mugs of water. "Never knew water could taste so good."Arthur admits, setting his mug on the table.
Merlin looks into his mug, and gasps, "My throat was so dry, I thought I wouldn't be able to talk."
"You say that like it's a bad thing." Elyan chuckled.
"Oi!" Merlin argued.
"Well, at least some good would've come from the drought, then."
Merlin gives him an unamused look, and asks, "More?"
Arthur motions towards his mug as a reply, and Merlin fills it.
"The sand's disappeared. The water returned to the well. It doesn't make any sense." Arthur muses.
'ahem' Merlin coughs, before grabbing his mug from the table. Arthur nearly rolls his eyes before calling after him, "I suppose you have some explanation for this, Merlin? Let's hear it."
Merlin quirks his mouth before replying, "Anhora said you would be tested. And last night, in the grain store, you let that villager go. And he said it would bring its own reward."
"He was merely grateful, and so he should have been."
"Maybe that was your first test. You passed it, so the curse has begun to lift. Perhaps this is your reward." Arthur looks thoughtful, and tilts his cup as he thinks. "I know you don't have to listen to me."
"Glad we agree on something."
Merlin looks exasperated. "If you're tested again, you have a chance to end your people's suffering. I know you want that more than anything. Perhaps we should seek Anhora out." He suggests.
Arthur is quiet for a moment before saying, "I cannot negotiate with sorcerers. My father wouldn't hear of it."
"That hasn't really stopped you so far." Percival points out. "You saved Merlin's life when he was poisoned against your father's orders."
"Not to mention you saved that druid boy's life when he was being hunted by your father." Elyan added.
"Then it's probably best you don't tell him." Merlin replies quickly.
Arthur narrows his eyes slightly, clearly giving Merlin's words some thought, before getting up and saying, "I must go check on the guard. See if you can find me some food."
Merlin mutters "Find some food!" A squeak and rustle catches his attention, and Merlin sees the rat climb out of a hole in Arthur's boot.
With a golden flash of eyes, and a muttered " Swealt déor," the rat squeaks it's last.
Several of the knights whistled in appreciation. "Nice hit. That spell would be really useful on a hunting trip." Leon commented. "At least it would if you weren't so vehemently opposed to hunting."
"I'm not vehemently opposed, per se, I'm just…" Merlin noticed Leon's grin, and rolled his eyes in response.
"What did that spell mean?" Elyan asked, catching Merlin's attention.
"Kill the animal."
"Makes sense. More than that other spell did, at least." Arthur teased, reaching up to rifle Merlin's hair. Merlin shoved him back, and Arthur nearly fell back on his arse. Merlin couldn't hold back the burst of laughter at that.
In the castle courtyard, there is an even larger group of people waiting outside the outside the grain store for food. The queue stretches far beyond the city gates. Walking among them is Arthur and Morgana.
"Who are they?" Morgana asks softly.
"They've come from the outlying villages in search of food. There's not enough rations to feed the people who are already here."
"You shouldn't blame yourself." Morgana tries to comfort him. "I'm sure you're doing everything you can."
A look passes across his face, and he mutters, "It is not enough." Before he walks away.
As Arthur leaves, Gwen approaches with food stolen from the palace kitchens. Wanting to help, Morgana and Gwen pass it out among the waiting people.
"That was so sweet, Gwen." Hunith murmured to the younger woman.
In Arthur's chambers, Merlin pours some meat stew into a bowl.
Gwaine suddenly gave a full out grin, and elbowed Merlin in the side. "Merlin, please tell me that stew is what I think it is." He muttered under his breath, careful to keep everyone else from overhearing.
Merlin met his gaze, and gave a cheeky smile and a quick nod.
Gwaine chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder. "Not bad, mate. Not bad at all."
"Lost my appetite." Arthur says sullenly.
"You have to eat something."
"I can't. Not while my people are starving." He looks up at Merlin. "Do you really believe I'm responsible for the curse?"
"I'm afraid so."
"We're going to the forest, first thing in the morning. Maybe we can pick up Anhora's trail. Whatever it takes."
Merlin laughs happily before he says, "Okay, but you have to eat. You won't be able to help anyone if you're too weak to pass the test." He pushes the bowl forward before stepping away.
Arthur takes a bite of the stew, and makes an odd face. "What kind of meat is this? It has a very strange texture."
Gwaine and Merlin couldn't hold back their snickers, much to the confusion of the others in their group, excluding Arthur who's face had screwed up slightly. However, a look of dawning suspicion was growing on Gwen's face.
"It's pork."Merlin replies.
"This isn't pork. It's far too stringy. What is it? It's, erm..." Arthur puts down his spoon as a thought occurs to him. "It's rat, isn't it?"
"Oooh." Elyan let out slowly. "So that's what happened to the rat."
"I ate some of that!" Gwen cried, slightly disgusted.
Merlin nods before replying, "Try not to think about it."
Arthur takes a long drink of water before starting in sarcastically, "Look at me. I'm being rude. Here I am, stuffing my face with this delicious stew when you're hungry, too."He gets up and pats the chair. "Come on. Take a seat." Arthur forces Merlin down into the chair. "Eat." He commands.
Merlin takes a bite of the stew and makes a disgusted face, while from behind him Arthur can't help but add an, "Mmm." When he hesitates with the next spoonful, Arthur grabs his hand and forces it towards his mouth.
After that bite, Merlin shuts his eyes and screws up his mouth. "It's actually pretty tasty."
"And that was very convincing, Merlin." Gaius commented wryly.
"Well, your cooking is definitely better than that, Gaius, don't worry." Merlin replied.
"Thank you, Merlin." Gaius said happily, until he realized what his cooking was being compared to. "Was that an insult?"
"No, of course not." Merlin replied, unable to help slightly shifting on his feet.
"Mm. Well, I'm glad you like it. Because..." Arthur fetches the pot of stew, and leans over the table menacingly, "...there's plenty more."
A knock at the door interrupts, and Arthur calls out in a low tone, "Enter." He turns to face the door with a surprised, "Morgana?"
"I hate to ask, but I was wondering if you had anything to eat..."
Arthur pauses , looking between the table and Morgana, and Merlin smiles.
The next morning, Merlin and Arthur search through the woods for Anhora.
"I'm not entirely sure what I'm looking for." Merlin calls out.
"At least your tracking skills have gotten better since then." Arthur commented.
Over the sounds of birds cawing, Arthur explains, "You're looking for footprints or broken branches." He studied something on the ground intently. "Anything that would indicate someone passed that..."
Arthur catches sight of Anhora moving away. "Merlin! Merlin! He's here!"
Arthur runs off after the sorcerer, leaving Merlin behind.
"Arthur?!" Merlin yells. Not having seen where he went, Merlin goes down the wrong path seconds after Arthur turns a corner.
"Whoops!" Gwaine chuckled.
Arthur continues chasing Anhora, with Anhora always just ahead of him, when he comes across Evan sitting next to a camp full of horded food.
"You?"Arthur accuses breathlessly. "You're a thief."
"Wasn't that obvious when you caught me stealing your grain?" Evan replies, definitely amused.
Arthur tries to dismiss this, starting to walk away. "Fortunately I have more important things to deal with."
Evan quickly stops him, saying, "You didn't really believe that story about my children, did you?"
"What kind of man lies about starving children to save his own skin?"
"Your people starve because you let thieves steal their grain. That is why they doubt you." Evan muses.
"Uh-oh." Gwen and Merlin breathed, knowing Arthur's pride was one place where he could forget all reason.
"You don't speak for my people." Arthur argues, once again trying to walk away.
"Hey, your father would never have allowed himself to be fooled like that." Evan calls, trying to get a reaction.
Arthur stills, takes a step forward and threatens, "You hold your tongue, or I will make time to teach you some manners."
"Your father would have had me executed, but you didn't have the stomach for it, did you, Arthur?"Evan continues. "And that's why he doubts you'll make a good king."
"This definitely isn't going to end well." Leon said.
"You know nothing of what my father thinks."
"I think he wishes he had another son, one who was worthy of taking his place. You shame him." Evan taunts.
Arthur breathes out harshly through his nose. "Pick up your sword."
Evan does so, chuckling while he does, all the while continuing with his comments. "The King must fear the day when you will take the throne."
Without another word, Arthur attacks Evan. Arthur swings widely a few times and misses, Evan easily jumping out of the way.
"Did it not occur to you that this could be part of another test?" Gwen asks curiously, not judging, simply wanting to know. "You followed Anhora to him. The last time you faced him and passed the test, the water was returned."
"Honestly, no I really wasn't." Arthur admitted. "My temper got the better of me."
"Your family isn't named after certain fire-breathing reptiles for nothing." Gwaine noted humorously.
"He fears you do not have enough strength to defeat his enemies." The two exchange several more blows, with Evan driving Arthur back further into the trees. With a wide circle of his sword, Evan forces Arthur's sword from his grip and up a nearby embankment. Arthur quickly scrambles after it, and Even can't help but add, "The King must wonder if you are even his son."
"I've noticed that when you fight angry, you lose more control of your fighting skills. You aren't exactly fighting at your most capable, sire." Leon noticed.
Arthur starts fighting even more fiercely, anger overwriting everything. After a few more harsh strikes, he gains the upper hand and delivers a fatal blow, but Evan suddenly disappears. Anhora appears behind Arthur.
"This is your doing?" Arthur realizes.
"It was a test to see what is truly in your heart." Anhora replies gravely.
"Your tricks prove nothing!" Arthur exclaims.
"Why did you kill this man?"
Arthur looks outraged. "He insulted my honour!"
"You could have chosen to ignore his taunts. What harm would they do you?"
He ignores Anhora's words, and threatens, "You will lift the curse, Sorcerer."
"It is not in my power."
"Then you will die." Arthur tries to strike him, but Anhora disappears and Arthur falls to the ground.
"Killing me will not help you." Anhora points out reasonably.
Arthur tries to strike at him again, but Anhora disappears once more and Arthur falls to the ground again.
Anhora stands over the fallen Arthur with the grace of an unwilling judge. "You have shown that you would kill a man to defend your pride. You have failed the test. For this, Camelot will pay dearly."
"My people have done nothing!" Arthur yells.
"Your people's suffering is not my doing. It is yours." And with that, Anhora disappears for good. Arthur breathes hard, looking up at where Anhora once stood.
"Arthur?! Arthur?!" Merlin yells, coming up the path behind him.
"Nice timing, Merlin." Elyan noted.
"I only wish I could have gotten there sooner." Merlin lamented. "Maybe I would have been able to help."
"It was Arthur's test, not yours."Gwen reminded them, sounding eerily familiar to Anhora's words on the beach. "You were separated for a reason, there was nothing you could have done."
Back in Camelot's store rooms, Uther sifts rotten grain through his fingers as Arthur enters. "What is it? What's happened?" Arthur demands breathlessly.
"All our remaining supplies have rotted." Uther threw the handful he was holding back onto the pile. "Every last grain."
"I know that everything turned out alright, obviously." Percival commented. "But still, that is a bleak situation."
In Gaius's chambers, Merlin and Gaius are sitting at the table when Merlin comments, "I know Arthur's stubborn and pig-headed and annoying, but he cares about his people. More than he cares about himself. He will not forgive himself for making his people suffer."
"You must make sure he doesn't do anything rash." Gaius advises.
"Are we talking about the same Arthur? Cause I'm not sure that's entirely possible for the princess." Gwaine teased.
Arthur rolled his eyes at the nickname.
"The mood he's in, I don't know what he's going to do."
The two men look towards the table, and then exchange a look, and Gaius asks, "Ready?"
"Sure they're not poisonous?"
Merlin and Gaius pick up giant black beetles. "They say they taste like chicken." Both bring the bugs towards their mouth, and then Gaius adds, "Unless we're to starve, we must hope they're right."
Gwen shuddered slightly. "I know we were out of food at that time, but still. Those look disgusting."
"And they tasted about as good as they looked." Merlin replied, unable to help a small grimace of his own.
They bite into the crunchy insects. There is a snap as Gaius bites into his, and Merlin screws up his face up at the taste. "This tastes nothing like chicken."
In the council room, Arthur is brooding as Uther enters. "There are some supplies left in the palace stores. We are distributing them to the people, but there is not enough to live on. They will not survive for long." Arthur reports.
Uther nods, before saying, "Then you must stop distributing food to the people."
There were several cries of "What?"
"They will starve." Arthur replies slowly.
"We must conserve the food we have for our army."
"We cannot let our people go without food."
"We must defend the kingdom at all cost."
"Uther always was paranoid about being attacked by the surrounding kingdoms." Gaius mused.
"I still can't believe he'd just leave his people to starve like that!" Gwen exclaimed. After a second thought, she added, "Actually, I can. Which just makes it more sad in some way."
"What's the point of defending a kingdom when the people..."
"Well, what would you have me do?!" Uther interrupts harshly.
Arthur carries on determinedly, "... starve to death?! Ask the neighbouring kingdoms for help."
"Ha." Uther snorts.
"They may be able to spare some food." Arthur points out reasonably.
"Out of the question." Uther dismisses, spinning on the spot. "As soon as they realize how we weak we are, our enemies will strike against us."
"He really was that paranoid. Always believing if he showed any weakness at all, that everyone would attack him for it." Percival mused.
"You don't know that for certain!"
"Besides I would rather starve than beg my enemies for help! What of our kingdom's reputation? Have you no pride?"
Arthur looked up at that, a strange expression crossing his face. "I cannot think of my pride when our people go hungry. They're all I can think of."
"And that, Arthur, is why you will be always be a greater king than your father." Merlin murmured under his breath, laying a hand on his shoulder and squeezing it gently.
Uther gets in his face, and orders in a dangerous tone, "Give the order to stop distributing food to the people. Is that understood?"
"You'll have to give that order yourself." Arthur replied quietly, turning on his heal and walking out.
Uther called after him, "Very well. But if you'd caught the sorcerer, I would not have to. That's your responsibility!" Arthur paused at the door, before walking out. "One day you will understand what it takes to be King!"
"I understand, father, now more than I ever did. And I would still make the same decision that I made back then." Arthur said confidently.
People continue queuing in the square, while Arthur and Merlin watch from the balcony.
"They do not know yet know there is worse to come." Arthur says, a hopeless note coloring his voice.
Merlin turns to look at him. "What do you mean?"
"My father is going to stop distributing food to the people." Arthur informed him, his voice still carrying that air of sorrow and regret. "They are to be left to starve. I had a chance to lift the curse. And I failed them."
"You weren't to know you were being tested."
"My people are starving. Camelot is on the verge of collapse. And it is all my doing." Arthur turned and walked away, leaving Merlin standing on the balcony, looking over the crowd of people.
Desperate to do something to help, Merlin heads to the woods to meet with the cloaked sorcerer. "Anhora!" Merlin yells into the trees, his voice echoing slightly. "Show yourself! Anhora!"
"Really, Merlin, I knew that you and trouble went hand in hand, but did you really have to go after the sorcerer?" Arthur asked.
"I had to help somehow. Besides, Anhora hadn't actually hurt us himself. He simply informed us about the curse, and told us of a way for it to be lifted." Merlin reminded him.
Anhora appears silently . "You wanted to talk with me?"
Merlin gave a half sigh of relief and says, "I've come to seek your help. The people are starving. They will soon be dead."
"You must believe me when I say it gives me no pleasure to see your people suffering." Anhora replies.
"If it pains you, put an end to it."
Anhora shakes his head. "It is not in my power to lift the curse."
"Then give Arthur another chance. He has accepted it is his responsibility, and he will prove himself worthy and lift the curse if you give him one more chance."
"I'd wondered how I got another chance at the test." Arthur remembered.
Anhora appears somewhat moved by that plea, and stares him straight in the eyes. "You have faith in Arthur?"
"I trust him with my life."
"Thank you for that, Merlin." Arthur said.
"It's still true, you know." Merlin replied, giving the king a cheeky smile.
That reply appears to have worked, as Anhora thinks it over for a moment before replying, "Arthur must go to the Labyrinth of Gedref. There, he will face a final test." Anhora disappears and reappears behind Merlin, forcing him to spin around. "If he fails, there is no hope." Disappearing and reappearing again, Anhora moved to Merlin's right side. "The curse will destroy Camelot." With that final warning, Anhora disappears once more.
"That was a bit impressive." Elyan admitted.
"I think he was just showing off." Percival added.
"Wait! What kind of test will he face?" Merlin yells.
Anhora's voice is heard, "That is for Arthur alone to discover."
Arthur prepares for the journey in his chambers.
"Let me come with you." Merlin was insisting. "You don't know what form of test will take. I might be able to help."
"You're not coming. I brought this curse upon Camelot. I'm gonna be the one to lift it, or die trying."
"Alright, how does you dying help anyone?" Merlin scoffs.
"Should we be worried, Arthur? You seem awfully determined to give your life." Gwen asked.
Arthur pauses for a moment before sputtering, "I'll die knowing I did everything I can."
"I'm coming with you." Merlin repeats.
"Merlin, you are to stay here, and help the people as best you can. Is that understood?" Arthur orders, before walking out.
"And that will never work with Merlin." Gwaine sniggered. Merlin nodded and gave a manic grin.
"You never do what you're told." Arthur said wryly, shaking his head slightly.
Arthur rides out of Camelot and across the countryside. Merlin, or course, follows.
Arthur rides over the crest of a hill and sees a great labyrinth laid out, with the seas laying beyond the opposite edge. He arrives at the entrance to the labyrinth and enters. Merlin arrives shortly after and follows him in, going the completely opposite direction that Arthur did. Both men follow the twists and turns of the labyrinth, which seems to go on and on, both running into dead ends on several occasions. At least, until Merlin sees Anhora standing in wait in the middle of the labyrinth, holding a rather large sword.
"You said Arthur would face a test." Merlin exclaims, making the sorcerer turn around to face him. "And here you are, preparing a trap for him."
"The trap isn't for Arthur. It is for you." Anhora reveals, before lowering the sword and chanting, "Gehæftan."
Merlin is wrapped in vines from the labyrinth hedges. Struggles prove useless, as the vines are too strong.
"Trap?" Percival guessed.
"Close. It means restrain." Merlin replied.
Arthur runs through the labyrinth and finally finds the exit, which leads out to the rather calm sea and blue skies. Merlin is sitting at a table on the shore, with Anhora standing watch nearby.
"I really should not have been surprised. Merlin never does what he's told." Arthur said, mostly to himself.
"I'm sorry." Merlin says quickly.
Arthur turns to Anhora. "Let him go. I'll take your test, but not till he's released."
"That is not possible. Merlin is part of the test." Anhora reveals, motioning to the table. "Please sit. If you refuse the test, you will have failed and Camelot will be destroyed."
"I thought I told you to stay at home. Let's get on with it."
"There are two goblets before you. One of the goblets contains a deadly poison, the other goblet, a harmless liquid. All the liquid from both goblets must be drunk, but each of you may only drink from a single goblet."
"It almost sounds like a riddle." Gaius realized.
"What kind of ridiculous test is that?" Arthur scoffs. "What does that prove?"
"What it proves is for you to decide. If you pass the test, the curse will be lifted."
Both men turn to the table, and stare at the rather beautiful silver goblets. Both are about half full, containing a clear liquid. "Let's think about this. What if I drink from my goblet first?" Merlin offers.
"If it's poisoned, you'll die." Arthur points out.
"And if it's not, then you'll have to drink from yours, and you'll die. There must be a way around it." Merlin rests his forearms on the table, leaning forward to stare at the cups as if they held the secret of life.
"It is perfectly simple. One of us has to die." Arthur says blankly. "We have to find a way to determine which goblet has the poison. And then I'll drink it."
"I will be the one to drink it." Merlin insists.
"This is my doing. I'm drinking it." Arthur argues.
"It is more important that you live. You're the future king. I'm just a servant."
"This is no time to be a hero, Merlin. It really doesn't suit you."
Arthur couldn't help the snort at his younger self's comment. Being an unsung hero was all Merlin had done since he had arrived at Camelot.
Merlin sighed "What if I drink from mine first, and if that's not poisoned, I will then drink yours?"
"He said each of us is only allowed to drink from a single goblet." Both look over at Anhora, and back at the table. "I had no idea you were so keen to die for me." Arthur jokes.
"Morteus flower, anyone?" Gwaine reminded him.
"Trust me, I can hardly believe it myself." Merlin mutters
Arthur snorts before becoming serious again. "I'm glad you are here, Merlin." He sighs.
Merlin's face relaxes as he comes up with the solution. "I've got it. Right, we pour all the liquid into one goblet and then we can be sure it is poisoned. Then all the liquid can be drunk, and it will be from a single goblet."
"Very good job, Merlin." Gaius said, sounding impressed. "That's a brilliant solution."
"Thanks, Gaius." Merlin replied, smiling slightly.
Arthur looked between the table and his friend, and a slow smile grew on his face. "You never cease to surprise me. You're a lot smarter than you look."
"Is that actually a compliment?"
Arthur looks over to the side, and exclaims, "Look out!" Arthur points and Merlin looks away.
"I can't believe you actually fell for that!" Leon said, shaking his head.
Arthur takes the two goblets and pours all of the liquid into one of them, holding it up to drink.
"No! I will drink it!" Merlin exclaims.
Arthur looks down at the goblet. "As if I'd let you."
"You can't die. This isn't your destiny."
"It seems you're wrong again."
"Listen to me!"
"You know me, Merlin. I never listen to you." Arthur grins and toasts Merlin.
"Ain't that the truth." Merlin grumbled under his breath.
"Arthur!" Merlin tries one last time.
Arthur drinks it.
"No! What have you done?"
Both meet gazes before Arthur wavers. His eyes rolls back into his head, and he slumps to the rocky beach, apparently dead.
Gwen clutched at her husband's arm tighter, as if she was trying to make sure he was still with her. Everyone else twitched or moved slightly on their feet. Almost everyone, with the exception of Merlin, knew that obviously he had survived even if they didn't know how, but seeing their king fall like that was still disconcerting.
"Arthur! No!" Merlin yelled, scrambling to his side and trying to shake Arthur awake.
"Arthur. Arthur. Come on! Arthur, come on. Come on. Come on! No... Come on."
Merlin turns to Anhora. "Please. Please! Just... let me take his place!"
Arthur turned back to Merlin, his eyes fierce, and shoved a finger in his face as he commanded, "Never offer yourself in my place."
"I can't promise that." Merlin replied calmly and gravely, remembering a desperate deal made in the ruins of the Isle with the sorceress Nimueh to save Arthur's life. "If I were ever faced with that choice, I would take it in a heartbeat. You are far too important to lose."
"This was Arthur's test, not yours."
"You've killed him! I was meant to protect him!" Merlin begs, looking distraught.
"He is not dead. He's merely consumed a sleeping draught. He will come round shortly."Anhora reveals.
"Oh." Gwen said succinctly.
"Well, that's handy." Gwaine laughed, somewhat in relief.
Merlin looks gob smacked. "What?"
"A unicorn is pure of heart. If you kill one, you must make amends by proving that you also are pure of heart. Arthur was willing to sacrifice his life to save yours. He has proven what is truly in his heart. The curse will be lifted." Merlin looks back down at the unconscious prince.
"Aww, the princess has the heart of a unicorn. How sweet." Gwaine poked fun at Arthur.
"Gwaine, stop calling me princess." Arthur said, squeezing the bridge of his nose between two fingers.
"No chance, princess." Gwaine replied cheekily.
"You do realize I'm the king, right?" Arthur argued.
"Yep." Gwaine replied insolently. "But no matter what, you will forever be the princess."
Merlin and Arthur ride into Camelot and dismount. Everyone is joyful, the townsfolk are carrying around platters joyously and there is food everywhere.
"Merlin, Arthur, there is good news!" Gaius exclaims, meeting them as they dismount from their horses. "The crops are growing once again! They are bringing in the harvest!"
"You did it." Merlin muttered as an aside to Arthur.
Uther sauntered out to meet them. "Is this your doing? Is the sorcerer dead?"
"He won't be troubling us anymore." Arthur replied.
"Way to lie without actually lying." Leon chuckled.
"Good, make sure the grain reserves are re-stocked." Uther claps him on the back before walking away.
"I'll see to it. There's something we must do first." Arthur says, and he walks off with Merlin following.
In the forest, Arthur lays the unicorn's horn in a burial mound of stones. "I should never have ended your life. I'm sorry." He apologized softly.
Merlin and Arthur begin laying stones over the grave when Merlin looks up and sees a unicorn. "Arthur..." he murmurs, drawing Arthur's attention to the now living unicorn. Both look on with small smiles, while Anhora's voice is heard.
"It's still beautiful." Gwen murmured in appreciation.
"When he who kills a unicorn proves himself to be pure of heart, the unicorn will live again."
As the memory stopped, everyone stood around for a few moments. Ella immediately went over to the memory crystal to end that memory. She was still avoiding Hunith, as she couldn't afford for the older woman to see any more slip ups on her part.
"Alright, two more memories and then we will take a break, and let everyone get some sleep. Does that sound good to everyone?" Murmured confirmations reached her ears as she worked with the crystal. "Next up, To Kill the King."
"Sounds ominous." Percival pointed out. Ella couldn't help the giggle in reply.
I hope everyone liked this chapter. I have started on the next couple, but unfortunately I won't have much time to write over the next few weeks. My last week of classes is this week, and then it's finals. Home stretch, woohoo!
If your not too upset with me about the delay, feel free to leave a review and let me know what you think. I'm hoping next time I come back, it will be the start of weekly updates (at least if you all want them :D)
Until next time!