Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin
"You know, this is a very honorable thing to do," Gwen said admiringly to Arthur.
He shrugged. "I'm just helping the people. That's all."
"Don't be so modest," Merlin commented. "Coming out to help this village really shows how much you care about the people. You're turning into a great king, Arthur."
It had been a few weeks since Gwen's coronation when they heard of a tiny village on the outskirts of Camelot that had been nearly destroyed during Morgana's short reign. It had been rather small with very few people, and they were having trouble rebuilding it. They had grown weak from lack of food because the sorceress had burnt all their crops. So Arthur, Gwen, the most trusted knights, and Merlin had ridden out to help the village.
Arthur looked slightly troubled at the fact that Merlin was praising him and offering wise comments, but Merlin could make out a slight smile on his face. "Merlin, could you get some water? I feel as if I'm going to catch on fire at any moment," the king asked. Rolling his eyes, Merlin agreed.
Despite being overcast, it was a sweltering day, and completely unexpected. The clouds sat in place over their heads, trapping in the heat and smothering them. Arthur had admitted earlier that he wished they had a way to know and they could have gone a few days sooner, when it wasn't so hot. Merlin, taking Arthur's order, set out for the nearby stream with two buckets. He was dipping them in the water when he heard someone behind him. He turned around and saw a girl from the village, who wore a tattered, brown dress and had light brown hair. She was a few years younger than Merlin and the rest of them. He had noticed that both her and her twin brother had been the most helpful out of all the villagers.
She stepped up to the stream and filled her two buckets. "Hello, I'm Mira," she said politely. They both began walking back at the same time.
"I'm Merlin," he replied.
"So I've heard," she chuckled slightly, "Your king does seem to enjoy shouting your name."
Merlin laughed. "That he does."
"So what's it like? Working for the king?" she pressed on.
Merlin shrugged. "Well, for one, he's a complete dollophead. And he seems to get himself into a lot of trouble."
"What kind of trouble?" she asked playfully.
"Oh, you know. He's always getting attacked by bandits and magical creatures of various kinds."
She paused, then tilted her head. "I could see that."
"And I'm always having to duck to avoid his goblets," he continued.
She raised her eyebrows.
"Just this morning, he threw one at me. After I most kindly added yet another hole to his belt."
She let this sink in, then laughed. "You know, not many kings would be willing to be friends with a servant." They were almost out of the forest, and could see the village. "Or marry one," she said, nodding to Gwen.
They stepped over a fallen tree near the clearing. Merlin nodded. "Yeah, he'll be much better than his father."
Mira frowned. "Yes, in most ways, he already is. In some ways…" she sighed. "Never mind."
"Merlin!" Arthur shouted.
Merlin and Mira glanced at each other, then burst into hysterics, remembering her comment about the king's shouting earlier. "Well, go on. See what he wants," she said, still chuckling.
Merlin approached his shouting king and sat the buckets down, taking in the sight before him. Arthur and some of the villagers had been working on this particular home, and Gwen and the various knights were spread out. The homes, which had been reduced to splinters, were almost entirely rebuilt. Members of the village had been praising Arthur all day, along with Merlin himself, the knights, and Gwen. Merlin couldn't help but feel pride in the king that Arthur was becoming. Speaking of which, Arthur, catching sight of Merlin, bent down and splashed his face with water.
"Arthur! Don't be such a pig! That's for everyone!" Gwen scolded as she stood up and wiped sweat from her brow. She had just added finishing touches to the house next to him after having helped dig up holes in the ground for the new crops. Much of the village had planted them in.
Mira came back with her brother, named Glyn, having dropped her buckets off to another group of villagers across the clearing. Being twins, they looked strikingly alike. "We would like to thank you, your majesties," he said, bowing to both Arthur and Gwen.
"It's my pleasure," Arthur said. "No village is too small to be out of reach for help."
Gwen stood there, looking slightly disturbed. "Yes, thank you," she said. Just then, Mira snickered.
"Sorry," she said, when she caught sight of Arthur frowning.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
Mira shook her head. "Nothing at all, my lord," she said, then she gave a meaningful glance at Gwen, who smiled.
Merlin leaned in next to Gwen and whispered, "I don't know how you're going to get used to all that bowing."
Gwen chuckled and whispered back, "Tell me about it."
"Keeping secrets, Merlin?" Arthur asked.
"It is the one thing I am good at, sire," he responded. The king rolled his eyes.
"Again, I am terribly sorry that the sorceress has destroyed your homes and that I was not able to stop it. Once again, Camelot is reminded of the evils of magic," Arthur stated.
Merlin felt a pang in his chest as he always did when Arthur talked this way. Arthur was back to completely hating magic since Morgana's last takeover. He glanced around at the solemn faces of everyone, including the knights and Gwen. Then he noticed the village girl Mira, who looked troubled. Her brother elbowed her really hard.
"Merlin, are the horses ready?" Arthur asked. Merlin stopped. He hadn't gotten the horses ready. He turned to face them to see… Gwen. Preparing the horses. Arthur noticed, too. "Merlin!" he shouted. Merlin laughed. It was going to take Gwen a long time to get used to not being a servant.
Despite the late hour, the heat was still beating down relentlessly, and there was no breeze to offer any relief. Arthur rolled his eyes and focused his attention back on Mira and her brother. "Again, thank you. In the future, I will do more to ensure that your village won't be harmed by the evils of magic again." He held his hand out to Glyn, who smiled and shook it, but glanced concernedly at his sister. Arthur then shook the hand of Mira, who forced her lips into a smile. Suddenly, her eyes flashed gold and she jumped back and screamed.
Arthur's arm was on fire. The village girl grabbed a bucket of water and threw it on him, but the flames didn't die out. She frantically threw another bucket on him, but the flames roared even more as her eyes glowed again.
"Drysne," Merlin whispered, and the flames ceased. Everyone stared at her, eyes wide in shock. Arthur's eyes were the widest of all. Gradually, he recovered, and seemed to be wavering for a moment. He gave one desperate look at Gwen, who had her hands over her mouth, looking horrified. Merlin held his breath as he waited for Arthur to decide her fate. Merlin could clearly tell that the magic was an accident. This was the moment when Arthur would either recognize that, or blindly condemn her. He felt his heart plummet at Arthur's hard, resolved expression when he turned toward the girl, who appeared paralyzed from fear. Merlin could see the anger boiling through Arthur's veins. In a low, threatening tone, the king narrowed his eyes and commanded, "Arrest her."
The girl bolted into a sprint. Both Percival and Leon were already ahead of her, and they jumped out to block her way. "Ascrencan," Merlin whispered, and the knights both tripped, giving the girl some time to escape. Shortly, Elyan and Gwaine were chasing her. "Ascrencan," Merlin whispered again, and they tumbled face first to the ground. Merlin's heart raced as he watched Mira run. She was incredibly fast, helped both by her strength and the adrenaline rush she could only get from running for her life. With a sick feeling, he noticed that she even seemed practiced. Suddenly, an arrow whizzed past him and hit her in the leg. She cried out and crumpled to the ground. Frantically, she staggered up and began to jog, lopsided. By this time, however, Percival and Leon had caught back up to her and grabbed her by the shoulders.
Merlin whipped around, searching for where the arrow had come from, considering all the knights were in front of him. He glanced around to find… Gwen. Standing there with a crossbow lowered in her arms, glaring at the village girl. He gulped. He knew that Arthur had ordered official training for Gwen ever since they reunited and it was clear that she would become queen. It was too dangerous of a position for her not to know how to fight. He just hadn't realized that she had gotten that… good. That quickly.
"Gwen!" Merlin shouted. He found himself running up to her. Surely, she hadn't meant to. Surely, she could see reason… "Gwen," he breathed. Her face softened, and she looked at him.
"Gwen, you can't, you can't…" he started, but couldn't seem to find any words.
Gwen looked confused.
"You have to see," he said. "She's not… evil. That was a mistake, an accident. Accidents happen, Gwen," he pleaded.
Gwen stared at him, completely befuddled. "Merlin, she's a sorceress. And she just attacked Arthur."
Merlin shook his head. "No, Gwen. Listen to me. If you knew anything about magic-"
"Whose side are you on?" she interrupted, still completely baffled.
Merlin stared at her confused face, his heart pounding. Gwen, one of his best friends, had just… he couldn't think about it. "Yours," he said, pleadingly.
Gwen jerked away, then scowled.
Leon and Percival dragged the injured girl by her arms, who couldn't support any weight on her right leg.
Merlin hurried forward. "Let me treat that," he stated.
Gwen ran up behind him and grabbed his shoulders, stopping him. She jerked him sharply to his left and shoved him forward. "The king first," she snapped.
Merlin glanced at her, feeling a pang of guilt. Caught up in seeing a fellow magic user being convicted, he had, in fact, forgotten about Arthur. Merlin slowly walked over to him, and he was sitting on the ground, wincing. The front of the sleeve on his right arm had been burnt off, and the flesh was fiery red and blistering under the blanket of heat. Merlin walked over to the cart and retrieved some cloth along with his own bag. He reached in and found a tiny amount of an ointment, meant to cool and help soothe pain. He dipped the cloth in the water and dripped what was left of the ointment on it. Unfortunately, the water and his supplies were warm. He draped the cloth over the burn, and Arthur cried out in pain. Merlin stayed there, replacing the cloth several times before finally bandaging it. "That's all I can do for now," he said. Arthur nodded.
Merlin stood up and proceeded toward Mira. Her forehead was drenched in sweat and contorted in pain. He felt all the eyes glaring at him as he bent over with the cloth and a bucket of water. He motioned toward Leon and Percival. "Lay her down," he ordered. They glanced at him defensively, tightening their grasp. "She can't hurt you. She can't even walk," Merlin pointed out. They hesitated, took one look at her limp body, and slowly laid her on her side.
Merlin bent down and pulled the arrow out. Quickly, he wiped the wound clean before bandaging it tightly to stop the bleeding. Once he was finished, he looked up to see the knights scowling at him.
"Are you done?" Leon snapped. Taken aback, Merlin nodded. Before him, Leon and Percival snatched the girl up to her feet again. Over by the cart, Arthur stood up, and made his way to them and stood before her.
"On your knees," he ordered. Merlin winced as the two knights thrust her to the ground.
Arthur hesitated for a moment. Then he focused on Merlin. "Merlin, can you get the rope?" he asked calmly.
Merlin stood there, frozen. No, he couldn't get the rope.
Gwen scowled, then stormed off to the cart, rummaging through it. She came back and handed Arthur the rope.
He passed it to Leon. "Tie her hands," he ordered. "Then we'll ride off to Camelot."
The knights tied her hands tightly behind her back, and began to drag her to the cart.
"No! You can't take her!" someone yelled. Everyone turned to face Glyn. "She's my sister!" he screamed. Gwaine and Elyan were holding him back, restraining him.
"Stay out of this," Gwaine warned.
"Please! Don't take her! It was me! Take me instead!" he pleaded, tears streaming down his face.
"You need to stay back," Elyan pleaded.
"No!" he shrieked. He kicked and struggled hopelessly against the two knights. Finally, Gwaine punched him on the back of the head, knocking him out. The knights left him on the ground as they strode forward and mounted their horses.
Everything happened really fast. Percival and Leon lifted the limp girl into the back of the cart and strapped her down. They and Arthur and Gwen mounted their horses, ready to ride back.
"Merlin? Merlin, are you even listening?" Arthur spoke. Merlin snapped his attention towards Arthur, who rolled his eyes.
"Merlin, we need to get back to Camelot," he said. Shaken, Merlin nodded. He felt Arthur's eyes on him. "Sometime in the next twenty years," the king added.
Merlin glanced around at the villagers, who had backed away. They were mostly avoiding the girl's brother, and either looking away, horrified, or casting evil glances at him and the cart.
Then he caught sight of an elderly man, making his way to Arthur. "My lord, thank you," he said. "We have been suspicious of the girl for a long time."
Merlin watched in horror as Arthur nodded, and the elderly man bowed, along with a large portion of the village. They continued to glare at the cart as they backed further away.
What had just happened? Merlin hadn't felt this much hate towards his kind in… a long time. He had been isolated in the castle, and most people there were at least more… respectful of the subject. No one, not even those who had been long supporters of Uther, ever acted this way towards a sorcerer. They were much more… civilized.
"Merlin, are you coming?" Arthur asked, annoyed. Merlin jerked back to reality. He refused to look anyone in the eye as he mounted his horse and began to ride off with the others.