As Arthur finally pushed through the door to his room, he instantly made his way to the other side of his bed, searching through the keys hanging next to his bed for the one that would free Merlin of the poisonous shackles. They clanged noisily as he pulled some out of the way, others falling to the ground as he searched.
It wasn't there.
Just as Arthur was beginning a third sweep of all the keys to check, he heard a hesitant 'Sire?' behind him. Spinning around, he was confronted by George carrying a large basket of laundry.
"I am so glad to see you back safely! I took the liberty of washing all your clothes while you were out, and going through your seasonal items and…
Arthur didn't have time to listen, so he began to gather the keys that had fallen to the ground, hoping one of them would be the one he was searching for.
"I also re-stuffed your mattress, had your shield re-painted….
He still couldn't find the right key.
The keys all polished, your curtains washed…."
Suddenly, Arthur jumped to his feet and raced over to the servant.
"What did you do with the keys?"
George had been startled to silence, but at Arthur's had around his arm, he seemed realize the prince was still waiting for a reply.
"I'm sorry, they were all very dirty and needed to be cleaned, so since you were-"
"Where are they!" Arthur was trying not to lose his patience, but his nerves were very frayed.
"I was just bringing the last few back, they are in the basket, here." George reached into the basket of laundry, pulling out a small package. Arthur grabbed it from his hands and ripped off the cloth that was wrapped around four small keys.
There it was. Grabbing the key with a shout, he went to leave the room, but George moved to stand in front of him.
"Surely you also want a new shirt sire, and a warm bath drawn up?"
"I don't have time" Arthur went to walk around him, but George's words stopped him.
"I will send one with you and get the water ready or your return, then. When will you want it sire?"
Arthur just snatched the shirt from his hands and pulled it on as he walked through the door.
At first, he could hide. The darkness went after the information, the memories. They were too important, though, so he pushed them further away – deeper into the well of shimmering blue and gold that he was hiding in. The darkness spread through where he was, though searching for something, anything to grab onto. Flashes of memory came through his vision as they were pulled away from him by the darkness.
Arthur, Will, Morgana, Balinor. All sorts of things were brought up as the darkness spread through, making him run deeper to hide. The darkness pursued him no matter where he went, though. Love, anger, forgiveness, sorrow. He ran deeper, to where the darkness hadn't been yet. It was warm, it was safe here.
That ended soon, though. The darkness came, but this time it was stronger. It wasn't only the darkness that searched through his memories but also a poison that was turning the beautiful and warm gold into a cold and sick black. Hate, hope, guilt, pride. He couldn't get away, so he did the only thing he could. He pulled the magic that was still good, was still his around him like a blanket. He gathered it around himself, making it a wall between him and the darkness.
This was the place the darkness couldn't spread. He was safe here, and the secrets, the important things were hidden here. Hidden doors, emergency plans, secrets. He had to keep them with him, keep them safe. He had to protect them, because then h could protect the others. His friends. He had to keep them safe.
So he hid. He pulled the warmth tighter around him and hid, praying the darkness would go away and someone would save him – though the thought of a savior brought feelings of fear, guilt, and sorrow. Memories of yelled words, of tightness around his throat, of a need to say something but the inability to speak. So he let his magic lull him into warmth and protect him from the onslaught. He was safe here.
Arthur's hands were clenched tight, but he didn't notice the way the pain or the way his knuckles were turning white. Instead, every fiber of his being was focused on watching Merlin as the young man's mentor inserted the key into the Merlin's shackles and slowly turned the key until a distinct 'click' was heard and the metal loosened the slightest bit around Merlin's wrist. With a quick flip of his hand, Gaius had the shackle off from Merlin's right wrist and was moving to the boy's other side. It was only when Arthur heard the second 'click' and saw Gaius straighten with that shackle in his hand that he let out the breath he had been holding. Sir Robert stepped forward and took the two rings of metal from Gaius as Arthur stepped forward expectantly, watching for any response from Merlin. He felt even more guilt as he noticed the red rings around his friend's wrists – the skin was chafed, and there were trails of blood from the metal digging into the skin when he had struggled.
That was the only difference though, no matter how long Arthur waited. Finally, his frustration got the better of him. "Why didn't that fix it!?"
"Sire?" Gaius turned from the table, where he was mixing a new cream and had gathered some more bandages for Merlin's wrists. His tone was confused, though, which drew Arthur to look at him.
"The shackles – removing them should have stopped the poison, right? So why didn't removing them fix it? Why isn't he waking up?" The exhaustion was setting in, and a part of Arthur told him that he should go rest and come back to check on Merlin when he was more in control, but the other, stronger part of him needed to know what was happening – now.
Gaius raised an eyebrow and spoke slowly, watching Arthur carefully.
"The shackles only have that effect on those with magical abilities."
"Yes, I know! That still doesn't answer my question." Arthur stared at Gaius and realized suddenly that the old man still thought he was of the same mind as his father. After all, he had convinced them all that the only reason he was forgiving Merlin was because he didn't think Merlin had magic anymore.
"I'm not sure I understand…"
Arthur sighed and ran a hand over his face, looking around the room. Gwen was over by the fire, curiosity clear in her eyes. Robert had left the room, so it was only Gaius and Gwen who were here to hear him. Could he trust Gwen? He knew he could, but with this? What would she think? Did she already know? Would she understand? Finally, he made up his mind. Gwen was just as much of a friend to Merlin as he was. She deserved to know. And he knew she would be able to keep it secret.
"I know about his…abilities. I just couldn't let my father kill him, so I pretended I didn't." He ignored the small gasp that came from Gwen and the way both of Gaius's eyebrows shot up even while a small, sad smile spread across the man's face.
"I am just now beginning to realize how much he has done – and I need to speak to him, to understand what I learned. He needs to wake up Gaius, I have to talk to him. I have to" – He had been about to say he had to apologize, but didn't want to explain what for. I can't wait to see you burn! He cringed at the idea of Gwen or Gaius learning what he had shouted.
"Why did removing the shackles not change anything? I thought…" He was trying to think what he had expected. For Merlin to suddenly sit up and laugh at him for being so panicked? For his wounds to suddenly begin healing?
"I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear that you are accepting Merlin and his…gifts." Gaius's voice pulled Arthur back to the present, but it sounded too serious. "taking the shackles off will stop them from doing more damage, and it will allow him to fight against the poison that is already there, but I don't know what else has been done. He is in a very…precarious situation. For now, we can only treat his wounds and give him time to heal."
Gaius didn't have the heart to tell Arthur that Merlin might not wake up. He had hardly allowed himself to think it, but the boy was in a very dangerous state. He hadn't reacted at all when the physician had touched his wounds, which should have elicited some response – unless there was some neurologic damage. And usually if someone was taking shallow breaths, they would breath faster to make up for the amount of oxygen. Merlin was not doing this as much as Gaius would have liked, but he didn't know how much blood the boy had lost.
For now, though, he kept that from Arthur. The prince was almost in shock from everything that had happened and though Gaius wanted to know what had made him change his mind, he obviously needed sleep.
So instead, Gaius sent Arthur away to go rest - though he tried to protest, eventually a bath a soft bed sounded too good, plus the physician was more stubborn than he seemed. Then Gaius went to give the king a report of attempted possession, severe damage from torture, and a validated story for the prince. Gwen watched over Merlin while he was gone, and Uther almost apologized for what had happened to Merlin – or as close as an almost apology as a proud king who was still changing his mind about the boy could give. It still warmed Gaius's heart that Uther would try to comfort him, though.
As he walked toward the door to his chambers and the place where his injured ward was lying, he glanced out a window to see the setting sun right below a rising moon. He drank in the calm and the beauty for a moment- the vibrant colors, the red Pendragon flag flapping in the breeze, the gold dragon almost glowing in the last few rays of the sun - before taking a deep breath and walking to open the door. Now came the worst part.
First of all, I am so sorry! I know it has been more than a month since I wrote, and that it was so evil of me to leave you here for so long. I have a list of excuses, including moving, no internet, no computer, new job, and more if you are interested. BUT! you all can thank musicnlyrics for pulling me out of the writer's block and encouraging me to return. So I hope you liked this chapter, and please let me know what you think. You all were so fantastic for getting me above 300 reviews, I am sorry I don't have a better thank you. But thank you for reading! and I will try to update within the week. Not too much left...
P.S. I am glad you liked Sir Robert...may include him more in the story now. what do you think?
Oh, and I still don't own Merlin...but I am waiting for season 5 to come out..and hoping one you wonderful people who lives in Great Britain is kind enough to put it on the internet for us Americans to watch. I don't think I can wait.