Arthur starts forward, with fury in his eyes, and Merlin's own eyes shimmer with salty tears Tristan hopes he never has to see shed.
He's already sickened.
His sword rasps like a dying man as he slides it free and puts it between the fool and his knights, and a worthier man than them all.
Arthur flushes red and opens his mouth, expecting everyone to care.
"Shut up." Tristan pre-empts him. Arthur's face screws up in arrogant fury, and he draws his own sword. Gwaine follows his example – and turns to cut the fool down. A swarm of the eager striplings hastily dubbed after both of the interludes Morgana reigned in Camelot swarm him in red cloth and clinking mail. The more seasoned knights take hold of the would-be kingslayer, and he struggles against them. It's good to see that Merlin has one friend who isn't a blind idiot.
Well, not a blind one. Trying to kill a king surrounded by his knights was a bit of a stupid move.
The seven smooth-cheeked, red-cloaked boys move to encircle them both in steel. Tristan laughs. Nothing puts knights off more than someone who might actually be able to beat them.
"I may be twice your age, but I can cut through all of you pups like butter." Tristan jerks his head at Merlin. "And he could do it with a flick of his eyebrows. Stand aside." In the corner of his eye, Merlin flinches. Tristan can hear his power thrumming in the background, a deep, all-pervading note that he didn't notice before because it was always there.
The knights stop in their tracks. A sensible precaution. Merlin's far too nice to actually roast them, but they don't know that. He's an evil sorcerer, after all.
"Now," Tristan continues, "Merlin and I are going to get on our horses and leave. If you want to stop us, then you're welcome to try."
The knights look to their king, who seems on the point of apoplexy, his face an unattractive shade of red and his sword held in a death-grip that surely isn't conducive to keeping his leather gloves in good condition.
"Sire…" Sir Leon says, voice strained from keeping a still-struggling Gwaine in check.
Arthur says nothing. Tristan assumes his most mocking smile and puts himself fully between the king and Merlin, shielding the poor boy from what is probably supposed to be a withering gaze but simply seems petulant.
"Get on a horse, and don't look back." Tristan whispers. Merlin says nothing, but he knows that Merlin knows that he has no other choice.
In one swift movement he slices through the ropes joining the horses together. Merlin hauls himself laboriously up onto the closest one, dejection written in the slump of his shoulders. Tristan slaps another on the rump with the flat of his sword.
The combination of fear, held back by something – Merlin, probably – and the touch of cold steel sends the beast careening toward the knights and the king and queen, with the rest of them – except for Tristan's – right behind.
The fools scatter, and then the two of them are gone, galloping over the high fields with the wind behind them.
Merlin doesn't look back. Good. There's hope for him yet.
He sees Arthur on his knees, and even though he's fading into the distance, he can tell the prat's face has collapsed and any minute now the tears will fall.
Only Merlin won't be around to wipe them away.
Merlin is catatonic for the first few days.
Tristan knows what it's like to mourn; only Merlin is mourning the end of a friendship, although he's had his share of dead friends too.
He's closed up his power, wrapping it around his core rather than letting it free; only on a particularly wet night when flint and tinder are not sufficient for a fire does he raise his head and set their mournful pile of twigs ablaze with a sad flick of his eyes.
They sell the horses after the first week. A good bath and a hot meal in a good tavern later, and some of Merlin's reticence vanishes. Little bits of his essence curls around the common room, little golden strands that incite everyone else to greater merriment. The drink flows freely, and Merlin even smiles a little at a particularly raucous song about a bear and a nubile young woman.
They dodge patrols sleep in ditches. They eat roots and small mammals. Tristan could do with a shave, and though it shouldn't be possible, Merlin gets thinner.
At the end of the third week, they're skipping stones on the pebbled shores of the Great Seas of Meredor.
Like a pair of wings, Merlin is spread out completely, from horizon to horizon, as vast as the sea he stares out at.
Tristan wonders what he sees. Can he see to the far shores, where other lands touch these same waters?
"He'll get over it."
Merlin jerks his head to look at Tristan, even more unfathomable than usual.
He doesn't say anything, but maybe he nods a little.
A/N: And thus ends Hatred. Abrupt ending is abrupt. But I have plans to revisit this and write about Merlin and Tristan's adventures on the road.
At least, after I finish this series, then my other fic, and then do that other fic inspired by ASOIAF.
I hate plot bunnies.