A/N ...Hi there. Remember this story? Maybe? Hopefully? Yikes, it's been so long...
I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who has reviewed so far. Even if I didn't respond, I still read your reviews. :)
Gwaine awoke, much to his chagrin. His head pounded. He lay strapped to a table in a red tent, a single torch in the corner. It was daylight outside, but he couldn't tell what time of day it was. He ached all over, and the burns on his chest still stung. Oddly, they had been cleaned and treated, as if to prevent infection. It was clear that Morgana wanted him alive.
Which made him wonder what was going on. He didn't remember being awake much, except for a strange person in a dark cloak to feed him and then to pour some nasty liquid down his throat. And then his vision would get hazy, and he'd fall asleep.
He wasn't the least bit surprised when the dark cloak walked in again, a canteen in hand. The person popped the top open, and poured the liquid into his mouth. His eyes widened in surprise. It was water.
The person leaned down next to his ear and spoke quietly. "Listen. Don't say anything." The voice was female, and oddly, vaguely familiar. Where had he heard that voice before? "I can't put you to sleep again. It's too dangerous. When they come for you, you'll have to pretend."
"Who are you?" he asked. "And why should I trust you?" Wasn't she working for Morgana?
The mystery woman hesitated for a moment, before shaking her head. "I'm a friend." Then, "I don't know what Morgana is going to do to you next, but it won't be... painful. All I know is that she plans to trick you. But if she knows you're awake, she might revert to her other methods." Gwaine frowned. This woman didn't sound like she was working for Morgana. Had she turned traitor? If so, why?
Just then he heard some shuffling outside. His visitor panicked. "Close your eyes, and stay still," she whispered, then backed away. Gwaine obeyed. His head hurt too much to question anything now anyway.
"Still asleep?" a voice said, as the tent flap opened. He shivered. It was Morgana. The last time she had visited him, she had burned his chest.
"Yes, my lady." The person in the dark cloak was speaking now.
"Cut him free."
He felt someone tug on one of the leather straps before he heard a snap and felt it fall to the ground. He presumed it was the woman in the dark cloak. One by one, the straps fell, and he was freed. He didn't dare move.
"You three, lift him and follow me."
"I refuse to take orders from you like that, Morgana."
Who was this man? Gwaine wondered. He remained on the table, his head throbbing.
"Are you questioning me?" Morgana snapped.
"No, I'm just stating."
"If you refuse to follow me, then I'll—"
"Then you'll what? Kill me? Well, too bad. You won't, because you still need my sorcerers. And you still need information on how to complete the spell you're about to do."
Gwaine could feel Morgana's blood boiling. "Those sorcerers follow me now," she said, "I'm the one about to take the throne."
"My, my. I remember you as a scared, yet beautiful young maiden with a hint of magic. When did you grow so arrogant?"
Silence. It took all of Gwaine's willpower not to snicker.
"Just pick him up, would you?"
"As you wish, Morgana."
He felt sets of hands grab underneath his shoulders and legs. He was lifted off the table. They carried him out of the tent. At first he heard the sounds of people chattering. Shortly it faded. He presumed he was being moved away from camp.
It was a long ways before they stopped, and by then his shoulders were aching. He felt the sunlight hot on his skin, and he could hear a stream nearby. The men laid him down on the dirt. At this point he considered getting up and running away. He thought better of it, though. His chances of escaping were almost none.
"Give me the spell, Alvarr."
Alvarr. Merlin had mentioned that name. Supposedly he was a rogue sorcerer, who lead a band of dangerous bandits. He had attemepted to steal the Crystal of Neathid once, with Morgana as his ally. Something told Gwaine that the alliance wouldn't go as smoothly this time around. He heard a crumpling of paper. He remained still with his eyes shut, though he was dying to see what was going on.
There was silence for a moment. Then Morgana began to chant.
His heart raced. The witch was casting a spell on him, and there was nothing he could do. Perhaps he could stand up and fight, but then what? Morgana and Alvarr both had magic, and the other two men likely did too. Suddenly she stopped. He breathed. Nothing seemed to be happening.
He let out a nervous, shaky breath, relieved. It seemed her spell hadn't worked.
Then he felt a sharp pain in his head. He cried out. Images of people he knew flashed through his mind. His family, the knights in Camelot, Arthur, Gwen, Merlin. The images flashed faster and faster until they were a whirring blur.
He felt dizzy. He opened his eyes. It was bright. That's all he could tell.
Where was he? What was happening? What had just happened? He thought he could see the outline of a face as he blacked out.
Gwaine awoke, again. He howled. His head felt as if a knife was stabbing it from the inside, over and over again. It wasn't long before he felt a cool cloth across his forehead. It brought little relief.
"Shhh, Gwaine, you're going to be alright."
He stopped howling. He could hear the rushing of the stream, and a bird singing, his head throbbing to each note. He stared at the person before him, trying to make out his features through his blurred vision. "Merlin?"
The person gave one of his characteristic goofy grins. "It's me."
He breathed a sigh of relief. Finally. Merlin had come to save him. Not long ago, he'd have been almost skeptical of the idea. Not anymore. He sat up, his arms burning as he pressed against the ground. He hadn't realized he had grown so weak. "Merlin," he said, "thank you. A million times. For every time Arthur didn't. And more."
He shrugged. "It's nothing."
Gwaine locked eyes with him. "Merlin. It's not nothing. Seriously, that witch had me strapped to a table and nearly burnt my chest off."
Merlin looked down at the burns. For a moment guilt flashed across his face. Gwaine mentally scolded him. This was not his fault. He shouldn't be thinking like that. Then his friend's face grew serious.
"They look as if they've already been cleaned to prevent infection, which is good... I guess… I'll see what else I can do." Merlin reached for a basket. Gwaine was silently hoping he would get to see some magic. First Merlin poured cool water over the burns. Then he applied some sort of thick, green paste to a cloth and draped it over them. He settled back. "That should do, for now. We'll get you back to Camelot, and Gaius can treat you more."
Ah, so no magic then. Gwaine was slightly disappointed. He wondered about asking him if he could use any spells to heal, but then decided not to press it. From the stories Merlin had told, healing magic sounded exceptionally difficult. "So, mate, you've got to tell me, how'd you do it?" he asked instead.
His friend stared blankly. "Do what?"
He continued to stared, then broke into a fit of laughter. Gwaine winced, as the laughs pounded against his head. "It wasn't easy, that's for sure."
Gwaine shifted, once again feeling the weight on his arms. He would need to make sure he ate enough in the next few days, to gain his strength. "Details. Details."
"Well," he said, then paused. "First off, her camp was hidden with magic. So that was a hassle to find."
The knight grinned. "How'd you find it?"
"I came across some runes scratched onto some rocks, lying in the middle of nowhere. They looked out of place. So I destroyed them, and the camp revealed itself."
Gwaine laughed, this time his own voice beating against his skull. "Clever."
"Then I had to disguise myself, and pass as a sorcerer."
"No problem, eh?"
His eyes widened briefly, as if alarmed, then he grinned. "You know me. Anyway, I managed to find the tent where you were hidden, and I managed to smuggle you out with Alvarr, when Morgana thought she was moving you."
"Wait," Gwaine interrupted, trying to remember the moment he had woken in the tent, but his mind was a fog. He hadn't thought... "You were there?"
Gwaine clutched his head. "Whoa… What happened then? All I remember is Morgana trying to cast a spell, then a bright light, then black."
"Well… Morgana did cast a spell. I'm sorry about that, there was nothing I could do."
"Don't worry about it."
"Then, as it was just a few of us out in the woods, away from camp, I managed to knock them out by surprise. I had that wheelbarrow ready over there—" he pointed to a wooden wheelbarrow, that Gwaine hadn't noticed before—"and managed to drag you onto it. I then ran as fast and as far as I could, and here we are."
Gwaine was silent. The stream rushed on, though the birds were silent. Something was off, he could tell. But his head throbbed, and he could hardly think.
"And don't worry, I've covered our tracks. Morgana won't find us."
Gwaine shifted. His body still ached. "Sounds like quite an escape."
Suddenly a memory struck Gwaine. "Merlin," he began, alarmed. "I remember Morgana mentioning an attempt to kill you and Arthur."
A flash of surprise crossed the sorcerer's face, but then it was gone as soon as it came. "Oh, that? Well… I'm alive, aren't I?"
"Merlin," he said, serious, "what happened?"
He swallowed. "Well… uh... she trapped us in a cave. The birthplace of all magic, to be exact."
"The crystal cave?" He'd heard stories about the place, even before Merlin had told him of his visit there. He'd heard of sorcerers going mad, lost for eternity in the crystals' visions, or forever trying to wield their power. The place sounded beautiful, yet terrifying.
Merlin hesitated. "The one. And she tried to drown us. She enchanted the cave to fill with water."
Gwaine felt his stomach drop. She had tried to drown Merlin?
"But luckily, we had something she didn't know about."
Gwaine relaxed at this. Of course, she didn't know Merlin had magic. It had been her downfall, countless times. He held his head again. Perhaps he should ask if Merlin could help his headache, after all, he thought. Surely he wouldn't be offended.
"Emrys," Merlin said.
A bird sang happily in his silence.
"Emrys, you know? The sorcerer who's on our side."
He gazed at the stream. Merlin wasn't making any sense. Why would he be talking about himself using his name? Better yet, why would he use his druid name at all? He knew his friend wasn't particularly fond of it. A chill rushed through him. Something was wrong.
"Pretty handy, isn't it? To have a sorcerer on our side. And one more powerful than Morgana, too."
Horribly wrong. "Yes, yes it is," Gwaine replied.
The two stared at each other, neither one relenting. Merlin cocked his head to the side. "What's wrong?" he asked.
The knight shrugged. "Nothing. I was just thinking."
"That if Morgana ever found out that Emrys was Alvarr, she'd go mad."
The sorcerer's jaw dropped, then clamped shut. Then his lips grew into a devilish smirk. Gwaine watched as a whirlwind formed around him. He shielded his face as leaves and twigs flew about. When the wind calmed down, he saw Morgana standing before him.
"Well, Sir Gwaine, surprised to see me?"
"That spell I cast on you made you see the person you care about most, no matter the person standing before you. Luckily, it also woke you up. As you've probably figured out, I was hoping to pretend to be someone you trust, and I was hoping you would tell that someone the identity of Emrys if I asked. Luckily for me, you seem to have a strange attachment to the meddlesome servant, as do many. Now that I know the truth about Emrys, Camelot is mine. Emrys will die, and so will Arthur, and so will you, unfortunatley. I'll miss watching you sing for your supper."
Morgana's eyes glowed, and Gwaine screamed as the bones in his lower leg snapped.
"I'll leave you here to die in the forest, all alone."
She grabbed a stick and began to trace in the ground. She then stood back and held out her hand, chanting. The ground cracked, leaving a small opening. Smoke rose out of the ground, along with a hissing, black snake. It stuck out its red, forked tongue, and then darted off. Morgana paused, her eyes on Gwaine. "It's truly a shame. If things were different, you could have been one of my finest knights." She turned and walked away.
Gwaine lay on the ground, with a searing pain in his lower leg, noticing the low, orange sun setting over the horizon, and smirked.