Before we begin:
Hallo! So, it's been a long time since I've dealt with an active fandom (wherein the story/show is still being broadcast). Please bear with me as I work out certain things. I am also not one to keep to an update schedule, so I make no promises as to the frequency of posting new chapters. My life is a busy one.
The story is not designed to be especially romantic: if you ship a particular pair (or trio, or whatever), you'll probably find it here. Concerning when it is set, we begin a few months after the climax of S3. Although this is not an AU, later events are representative of early S4. You'll see what I mean.
I hope you enjoy!
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All That You Need
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If not for the birdsong that surrounded him on all sides, Merlin could have easily believed that he was the only thing in the world. It was a misty morning, the kind that came with a change of seasons, and this early in the day he almost had the forest to himself. With a small pack slung over one shoulder Merlin followed a winding rabbit path through the trees, stopping every so often to collect herbs that Gaius needed. He worked diligently, snipping or tearing as needed, stowing everything in his bag. Some were so familiar that he could have listed off their properties in his sleep, but there were quite a few that he had not collected before. Gaius was searching intensively for something that would aid Uther's depression, or at least give him peace, but Merlin was not convinced that a broken heart could be cured by any tincture or potion. He knew that pain too well.
Somewhere behind him, a little to the right, there came the sharp crack of a branch breaking underfoot. Startled by something so sudden in an otherwise peaceful place, Merlin froze mid-motion before looking carefully over his shoulder. If he was very, very lucky, it would be no more than a deer.
At the sight of a dark-robed figure standing no more than a stone's throw away, Merlin was scrambling to his feet in alarm. As he straightened, task of herb collecting abandoned, he took in what he could – it was a boy, an adolescent, pale under that hood, a little too thin for his own health, and ... Merlin felt the hair on the back of his neck tingle. Magic. A Druid?
"Hello?" he said, tentatively.
Emrys. The answer echoed unevenly in his head and Merlin couldn't help the small wince that passed through him – he would never get used to this way of speaking. It was then that he recognised the voice and he couldn't help the grimace.
Emrys. You must be removed.
Before Merlin could react the Druid boy lifted his hands and with a flash of gold eyes, Merlin was thrown with such force that the air was sucked from him. His world inverted sharply before he hit the ground hard, and blacked out.
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Through the haze of semi-consciousness, Merlin could feel himself shivering. He tried moving, just a little, hoping to find either a blanket or something similar to draw back up over himself. Finding nothing he tucked his arms and legs in a little more, trying in vain to fight the cold off with his own bodyheat. But the longer Merlin stayed there, just barely awake enough to realise that he was not asleep, the more he knew that it was futile. He needed to get up, find warmth or a fire, and huddle around that in spite of Arthur's jeers.
Opening his eyes slowly, Merlin propped himself up on one elbow. Licking his lips to try and help ease an unpleasantly dry throat, the young man found himself in the middle of a clearing, and totally alone. He was soon sitting up much straighter, thoroughly confused.
Was this right?
By the poor light of the half-moon overhead Merlin could just see small puffs of steam rising in front of him as he breathed, and realising that his clothes were slightly damp as well as cold, he got to his feet with a groan. Pulling his jacket tight across his chest and tucking his arms in as well, Merlin shifted erratically from one foot to the other as he cast about for some sign of what had happened.
No bandits, no traders, no traps. Good. No soldiers, no horses, no sign of camp. Not good. Was he very far from Camelot? No, what was more important was how he had come to be here in the first –
Mordred. Magic. What did he do to me?
All at once Merlin's memories came rushing back, allowing him to figuratively retrace the steps that brought him to the middle of the forest in the middle of the night. He scowled. To face Mordred as an enemy was something that Merlin had worried about for a long time, though he had never given up hope that they could somehow … be allies? He wasn't sure, but for as long as Mordred had been just a child, Kilgharrah's warnings had never seemed as important as everything else that Merlin had to take care of.
Look where that got him.
Stiff and cold but aware there was no time to waste, Merlin turned the way he had come that morning, and hastily set out for Camelot. He needed to tell Gaius, and draw up a plan of defence. He'd figure out a way to deal with Arthur later.
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The air was still uncommonly cold for this time of year, but aside from a runny nose Merlin had stopped feeling it as he marched back to Camelot. It wasn't long before dawn broke, for it had been much closer than Merlin anticipated and as he approached Camelot, the early sun was already filtering through the trees. The warmth fell across his shoulders but in the face of the problem presented by Mordred, it was of little comfort.
Somewhere along the way he'd realised that Gaius' herb bag was no longer slung over his shoulder – assuming the strap had broken when Mordred attacked, Merlin had already decided he would just have to retrieve it after he could be certain that Camelot was not under imminent threat.
When the forest gave away to the last clearing before the city began, Merlin stopped short.
There was no clearing.
Where there had once been lush grass there was nothing but salted soil. There were no trees, only a forest of stumps that peppered a great dirt slope, leading up to the walls of the castle. With wide eyes and a pounding heart Merlin looked from left to right – it was the same all along the wall, and with no idea why this had happened, the young man could scarcely believe what he was seeing.
There was movement along the rampart and Merlin instinctively moved back into the cover of the trees, not certain that it was safe to be seen. It was a sentry, he thought, but the uniform was too dark to be Pendragon colours. Was it black, with something red...?
Those were Morgana's colours. Mordred had attacked him – was this another attempt to claim the throne? No, he corrected, not attempt. Success. But when had she had the chance to do any of this? It would have required no less than a small army and now that Cenred was out of the picture, he'd thought that Morgana did not have such allies to call on. He must have missed something.
Whatever had happened, he needed to get in there. Tracking back through the trees, Merlin knew he would require a more subtle way of entering the city. It would be dangerous, but he could not afford to let fear overrule what had to be done.
For Arthur – for Albion, he would fix this.
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To be continued.