Standard Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin, please support the official release

Setting the Scene: takes place during season 3, post Crystal Cave

Morgana smirked.

This in itself was not something worth commenting on, it was a semi-permanent expression for her as of late, but this time she was particularly pleased.

Morgause had found the perfect spell.
A spell that would gain her revenge and allies both in one simple recitation.
Oh it would take time, but Morgana would savor it.

The smirk grew into a dark chuckling.

It would be only too easy to draw in their prey, and this time there would be no escape.

Swirling her cloak she strode confidently out into the woods, certain she would not be alone for long.

Merlin was up late, contemplating a visit with the dragon – dreading it, more accurately.

He needed to know what the witch sisters were up to.
He'd watched Morgana's chambers for two weeks now with no sign of her midnight travails, but he knew they were planning something.

He could feel it slowly driving him mad like an itch just beyond reach.

Still, the dragon was just as likely to refuse any real help, choosing instead to put him off with vague riddles and reminding him "the witch must die". Hunched over with head in hands, he sighed.

Nothing would be achieved with this fruitless pondering and so he got up, eyes drawn to the window.
The courtyard was empty but for a few guards and- Morgana.

His expression set, Merlin prepared for his own rather less brazen trip outside the castle walls.

For a moment Morgana feared she may not have made her exit grand enough- until her peripheral vision revealed moonlight reflecting off a pale face, quickly concealed behind a tree.

The smirk tugged at her lips once more as she glided through the forest with renewed purpose.

The two women hugged as Merlin settled down behind a cluster of rocks and bushes.
It was a little bit further away than he would have liked, but he also didn't fancy being chained again.

"Sister, it has been too long." Morgana said gently, a genuine smile on her face.

"Indeed, sister. But it has been worth it." Morgause grinned in return.

"You found it then?" The younger asked eagerly.

"Yes, and soon Uther and his mindless subjects will be bowing at your feet. It is but a matter of-"

Merlin peered carefully between branches to see why the conversation had stopped.
The pair were carefully searching the woods about them with their eyes before Morgause muttered something under her breath.
The servant sat as if rooted in place as he felt a spell radiate out from her, seeming to pass through him and into the woods beyond.

Another moment passed in tense stillness before he saw first Morgause and then Morgana relax.

"We are alone." She announced.

Curious. Mused the eavesdropper. Did the spell fail?

The was no time for further thought however, as the two were now saying their goodbyes.

Merlin crept off into the dark as they indulged in another embrace.

Gaius had fallen asleep at the table, apparently having opted to do some research sometime after his ward's departure.
The aforementioned smiled fondly as he pulled a blanket from the patient bed.

Tucking it around his surrogate father, he gazed at his study material only to discover the man was drooling on one of his precious bestiaries.

A chuckle fought to escape his throat as he tugged the volume out and carefully wiped it clean.

This particular tome must not have seen much use for as Merlin closed it a small cloud of dust puffed out, causing him to sneeze rather spectacularly.

"Sorry Gaius." He whispered, grimacing slightly as he wiped some drops off the poor man's face with the blanket before resettling it about his aging frame.

At least he hadn't woken the man.

Ugh. He hated waking up sore, inevitable as it was after a day of Arthur's extended training sessions with Merlin as the target and part-time sparring partner.

Training dummy more like. He thought, swinging his legs out of the bed and collecting some clothing from the floor – he really should clean this up some time, not now of course.

Staring at the fabric in his hands he considered what he had overheard last night- had the sisters found some sort of artifact?
Their conversation had not revealed nearly enough, he would have to do more spying later today.

He dressed quickly and threw open his bedroom door, pausing briefly in the doorway as a strange sensation gripped him.
It was akin to the odd tingling one feels before shivering, but the shiver never came.

Trying to shake it off he moved toward the table, accepting some bread and cheese from Gaius.

"Is there something wrong?" The man asked him with slight concern.

"No, just– a weird feeling. Not, bad so much as... odd." He responded, a perplexed expression showing the truth behind his words.

"Must be something in the air." Gaius agreed. "I seem to be feeling it as well."
He paused, the concern returning. "Best to be on your toes, my boy."

Merlin grinned "When am I not?" He replied, polishing off the wedge of cheese and shoving the bread in his mouth as he rushed out the door on his way to the kitchens for the prince's decidedly more lavish provender.

"Again Arthur?!" He asked incredulously. Two full days of training was just too much.

"But you seem to love it so much, I'd hate to take that joy from your life." Arthur grinned sadistically.

"I'm still feeling all the 'enjoyment' yesterday brought. I hardly need any more on top of-" a weak cough interrupted his planned rant.

"Honestly Merlin, must you even cough like a girl?" the royal jibed.

"It is a servant's duty to be discreet, your pratliness. I was merely trying to avoid inconveniencing you with such a petty thing as my discomfort."
He shifted his armload of equipment, attempting to cough into his sleeve.

"Discreet?" Arthur's eyebrows threatened to climb off his face "clearly this is another word you do not know the meaning of."

Merlin's scathing retort was cut off by a coughing fit, quickly muffled in his jacket.

Arthur sighed, thumping him on the back and nearly sending him crashing to the floor.

"Come on then, the practice target won't move itself about." He stalked off, leaving the servant to stumble after him.

Another day of being beaten and Merlin was feeling decidedly less than well.

The coughing had subsided, but breathing felt rather more difficult than it ought.

A painful sort of weakness was stealing over his limbs and he marveled that he was even managing to hold the jumble of armor let alone carry it about since his brain told him even holding a kitten might have been too much to ask.

His mind seemed to be floating away from his body, leaving him in a bit of a daze.
Where was he even going? Ah, stairs, he must be climbing them.
Was someone talking? He surely hoped not since words seemed to be beyond him at that point.
No more stairs– where now?

He gasped as his heart gave a great squeeze, paralyzing him for a moment– the entire world seemed to stand still while his heart skipped a beat and darkness seeped in from the edges of his vision. And then it was pumping again, racing furiously as if to make up for the moment's lapse.
With the release of paralysis he felt his wavering muscles give out completely as he teetered on the edge...

"Are you even listening Merlin? Because-" a great crash resounded behind him and he turned around to an empty corridor.

"Merlin?" No response.

Arthur sighed, it had been at least two weeks since his clumsy manservant had last fallen down the stairs so he really should have been expecting it.

Sauntering over to the stairwell he surveyed the damage.
Pieces of his armor scattered along the way, no doubt having been dented by their unceremonious descent, and there, at the bottom was Merlin.
Not moving.

"Merlin?" His voice had gained an edge of urgency.
Merlin should have been up by now, gathering the armor with an embarrassed apology on his lips.

He rushed down the stairs, nearly becoming the second victim as he slipped on one of his gauntlets.

Kneeling by his side, Arthur saw that Merlin's breath was coming in quick, ragged gasps and a small pool of blood was spreading from beneath his dark hair.