Update galore! Yes, this story gets an update as well, along with some of my other fics~
So. I hate fillers. Did I mention I hate fillers? *sighs* I've been over-and-over-editing this chapter for the Nth time, I think it's 'okay' to post already - though I do admit at one point I was so unhappy with this certain part that I was ready and willing to just throw Lady Lictina out the damn window. LOL.
Nah.. seriously.. Sorry it took so long to get around to this one, some parts proved a bit difficult to tackle. Nonetheless, hope you like it :) Enjoy and let me know what you think~!
He heard the whispers first. They were all around. They were loud, yet silent. Secretive, yet intrusive, swarming around his mind, teasing but still too out of reach for him to get a clear grasp of the words. They sounded mocking; they sounded like they were talking about him; they made him feel exposed and unsafe; yet he had no clue what they were talking about, nor where they were coming from. He heard the splashing of water getting louder and louder, but the whispers were still there. He wanted to call out to ask them, to shout, demand answers, he was about to, but then again they were mere whispers; and they all slowly started to fade.
Come on, Merlin. You need to come up with an excuse. Again. And it better be a good one.. – the young warlock mussed semi-awake, as sounds and scents of his environment started to leak into his consciousness; drop by drop; while the whispers got pushed into the background.
He was aware he was on the ground; aware of the low pounding headache, the torturous nausea and the burning pain in his chest as every breath felt like fire and he also was very much aware that Obert was next to him and that the servant was pretty worried.
Merlin wanted to go back to being unaware of the world, but that wasn't an option, so he figured he had to make up a story; a believable one at that, since it was the second time the Crowholdtian picked him up off the floor in a very short time. - The boy was mute, not stupid. - Anyone would suspect something was up if they saw the manservant lately was spending more time laying on the ground then standing up.
"I think.." he mumbled once he opened his eyes and they managed to focus on the ginger lad, "I think I'll need a potion or two along with that poultice.." Merlin smiled sheepishly.
Obert helped him sit up but didn't let him get to his feet just yet, keeping grip on his shoulders, and somehow Merlin couldn't find the strength in him yet to oppose said hands.
"I'm alright." Merlin said as convincingly as he could, saying it as much to the boy as to himself. "Just my head.. got dizzy all of a sudden." he said motioning to the back of his head, feeling rather embarrassed and the look on the other servant's face led him to think he feels partially guilty for it, because of the scrolls and the box. Merlin decided he's just fine with the boy thinking that; less excuses to make.
"Let's get that fire lit." he said with new resolve, when his glance fell on a piece of wood next to him. He staggered to his feet, stealing a glance around for anything unusual, all the while Obert kept a watch on him.
Damned be that wench. The sooner they make that fireplace crack with flames the sooner he can get on to find a way out of this mess. He was really getting fed up with these guests and ghost and chores and just wanted to be done with it. Done with it!
Damned be Arthur too for practically lending his manservant to least half the guests when they arrived. It was enough to have to run around after the soon-to-be-king and Gaius, now he had these bloody nobles wanting things; didn't they have servants of their own?!
The warlock felt getting furious while picking up the firewood, and gave a glance towards Obert, who was probably the only exception of guests he momentarily wasn't furious at. He felt grateful for his help.
Merlin picked his head up to something moving, not surprised that whatever moved in the corner of his eye wasn't actually there. The ginger boy looked at him with a raised eyebrow, and the manservant just smiled at him shaking his head slightly, picking up another batch of wood, noting to himself that head shaking is not a comfortable way to communicate right now.
He wondered if he could be more open with the Crowholdt man, although a little voice in the back of his mind kept telling him to be careful, - but with his experience in Camelot so far, it had always told him to be careful – yet he couldn't deny that he felt a certain trust towards him, a certain familiarity he couldn't explain.. - Merlin brushed it off thinking he's becoming desperate in his condition.
He did, however make up his mind to talk to Arthur about these extra chores and he felt himself getting worked up again. His anger gave him new strength.
They finished gathering up the spilled firewood and were on their way once again. Their destination was already in eye sight when a servant girl turned onto their corridor from a side-staircase and headed in their direction. She kept her head bowed to the sheets she was carrying and once passing the lads, Merlin spotted she was crying; cheek glistering from tears, her skin red from the wails, eyes shut tight; mouth agape, in a horrible cry yet there was no sound. The manservant picked his head up and turned after her as she passed them by.
"Yes, Merlin?" The girl turned around with a kind smile on her lips. Her cheeks were fair, her green eyes shining. – No trace of tears, no trace of wails.
"Are you alright?" he asked baffled.
"Yes. Why?" she looked at him with furrowed brows.
"Just.. seemed you were upset."
She looked even more confused.
"No, I'm well.."
"Good." Merlin smiled. "Probably the play of the light then." He added as excuse then gave a nod and moved to continue on their way, almost dragging the Crowholdtian after him and ignoring the puzzled look on Mary's face; all the while cursing inwardly at the spell tricking him again, and also trying to ignore Obert's glances that now felt were burning his cheek. Seems Agravaine wasn't the only one wearing a 'different face'.
He should be more careful, he reminded himself. Being with Obert, he again figured he should look if the other servant reacts to something before he goes around asking questions then ending up looking like an awkward idiot.
They reached the guest chamber they were looking for.
He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but he certainly wasn't expecting to see the Lady Lictina in her nightgown to greet them.
A quick glance and Merlin noted with slight satisfaction that the lady was just as irked as he was, but while he was annoyed over the extra pointless chore, the lady was obviously upset about the presence of the other servant boy, and judging from her scanty wears she can't have been all that cold to request the fire to be lit in her chambers. Oh no, she definitely had other plans and the firewood was an obvious and see-through excuse, and it drove Merlin up the walls how he's wasting his precious time with such things, but alas, orders were orders, and as a servant of Camelot, he had to obey.
Obert didn't seem to give much attention to her, he was more preoccupied with something on the table near the fireplace, and once Merlin saw his expression he curiously followed his gaze, noticing a very small cauldron emanating a slight steam and some cups next to it. He had a bad feeling about it and wondered if the boy knows what it is, but looking at his face it showed he knew exactly what it was. – He is from Crowholdt, of course he knows!
He quickly realized the lady wanted a little "fun" and was determined to get it, even if it would require some potions to get the 'right mood' started. Merlin shivered at the thought and couldn't help but wonder if the lady had done this before, to be so confident about turning to the use of such practices, right in the middle of Camelot. He felt his ears burning for some reason, so he rather just hurried to the fireplace, and once they sat the basket down, he made himself busy.
"I would very much like some fruit. You go get me some, boy." The lady motioned towards Obert.
Clever. Merlin thought.
"He.. doesn't know where the kitchens are. He's.. not from around here.." Merlin cut in. It was pathetic. Yes. But he just didn't want to be left alone with the noble woman. If anything was to happen, it would be against his will of course or it would be his word against that of a noble.. so, whatever happens he would end up regretting it. – for a second he wondered why he was so worried about it, when he could just use magic.
The lady's lips squeezed into a thin line. Merlin found he probably would've found her annoyance amusing if he wouldn't be dancing on such thin ice. The lady had a reputation for tantrums, not just dressing up her maid. He had his share of visiting lords and Arthur "lending" him to them. - That sometimes ended up in knife throwing practice, where he was the target to avoid; or other misfortunate events and abuses, but a woman was a different matter. A whole different one. If he got in trouble Arthur would pull him out of it; but he had no idea what the prince could do if the noble woman would go around accusing him of various attacks and attempts; and he had no doubt the Lady Lictina would use any means to protect herself and her reputation, if her plan was to go awry or she wouldn't get what she wants.
Just then Obert put his hand on Merlin's shoulder and motioned that he does know the way to the kitchens and he should just stay put. - No! Merlin panicked and cursed his helpfulness, for it was helping everything but him!
The raven-haired figured it was now or never, and gave the boy a glare and a glance towards the cauldron then a look as pleading as he could muster and prayed he will understand that Merlin doesn't want to be left alone with the woman and her potion. And it seemed Obert understood – amazing how he always understood. – as he knelt back down next to the basket.
"I'll get the fruits for you my lady. We'll just get this fire started up real quick," he said and turned towards the fireplace again, with the wood, but then he froze and glared at it with terror.
"No need to hurry, I suppose" the lady purred standing just behind him and Merlin bit his lip.
Obert's watchful eyes didn't miss the dread and surprise on this paled face and he too looked at the pile of ashes and some leftover wood that looked a lot like, well, just wood. For Merlin, however, they looked like bones and skulls of half burnt half rotten flesh and it was only after a rub of his eyes and a few blinks that his sight revealed what was really in front of him.
Damn it all, he was cornered. He thought for a second to just go along with it, then use a sleeping spell and be done with the whole mess, but then shook his head. That cant be! Merlin just didn't want to be at her whim, not even a short while; to be her plaything; a rather the indecent kind too. And with the ginger servant there he wasn't even sure about casting spells anymore. Maybe he should have let him go to the kitchen to pick up fruits indeed.
Obert figured something was wrong; and for fear of Merlin passing out again or.. whatever that was about to happen, he quickly put one and one together - the cauldron, Merlin and the lady's scanty wear – it gave him a pretty good idea what was at stake, so he started to fill the fireplace with wood with hurry it even surprised the warlock; Merlin didn't stop to think what's the reason for his rush, he took the lighter rocks out to get a the fire started, but then to his surprise a flame started dancing under the firewood and he was pretty sure he hadn't got to even try to start the fire.
Nah.. must be his mind playing tricks on him again, but the heat felt real; and the smell felt real; then realizing how the flame could have appeared, if he himself didn't do anything, he was about to turn to the ginger boy to give him a very questioning look, however the next moment something gave a huge PHOOF and he got thrown back in a sudden burst as ashes and flaming wood flew out of the hearth.
Merlin heard the lady shriek and stumble, but couldn't see a thing from the ash and smoke. He also heard something crash and topple and something splash, followed by another yelp of the woman, and the ripping of fabric; and he barely opened his eyes, painfully gasping for air, when he saw an all too familiar grayish glimmer in the corner of his sight and he got about halfway through thinking that's the last thing he needs right now, when he really started fighting for air; his throat feeling torn and burning as if he would've swallowed the hearth. He found himself falling onto his side and painful coughs ripped his throat. His hand landed on something liquid and suddenly got flooded with the smell of strawberries and a green field of flowers, and in the same time his throat seemed to ease up, letting air pass a little better. Just then he spotted Obert sitting on the ground next to the table, where he obviously had landed from the blow, and Merlin saw through his tears how the cauldron had tipped over and whatever was in it came washing down on the ginger boy's head, making his face turn into a mess of wet ashes. The boy was soundlessly gasping from surprise of the unexpected shower, but eyes fixed somewhere above the warlock and a very much worried look on his face.
The room swam in the scent, almost suffocating and it got the warlock thinking of things, - quite the indecent things - he was pretty sure he wasn't supposed to be thinking about at that moment in time, in their given situation. He thought of Freya and how her dress slipped off her shoulder..
He tried to shake the image. It can't be real. - More so as the smell of something burning seemed to be more real, and once he pushed himself up enough, he saw the curtain of the bed burning ever higher, probably from a piece of firewood that flew out. But just what had happened?
The lady kept screaming at the sight; and Merlin fought for air, the sides of his vision becoming a blur as he pushed himself further to head towards the curtains. Obert tried to stagger up from the slippery ground to do the same. Eventually Merlin ripped the curtains off and along with the ginger servant they threaded on it until the flames were put out.
He was still coughing and felt getting weaker, but he noted with relief that the doors swung open as more servants, alarmed by the sounds coming from the room had entered to see what was going on..
"The… t.. f…irel..fire… pal.. place… ! Fire..plac..e!"Merlincoughed doubling over and falling to his knees in his fit of coughing and his head swam and he felt his tears spill, his throat and chest was just hurting so much, he wouldn't have minded if he just passed out, as embarrassing as that might have been to do in front of so many people. Least the pain would stop.
Two servants rushed to the hearth to check it and put the remains of the fire out, while he felt someone grab his arm and pull him up, and another tried to help the lady to her feet. Merlin recognizing her figure to be the Lady's personal maid and she had a bewildered look upon her face, glancing at Merlin and the damage and her panicked and very much messy mistress.
Merlin noticed the ginger boy staring at the Lady Lictina and he couldn't help but wonder if the young man actually swallowed any of the liquid as it came pouring down his head.
"OUT! OUT! GET OUT!" the woman shrieked in such a high pitched voice, the manservant thought it wasn't actually humanly possible, but he didn't need to be told twice, full aware of the fact that it's both their heads on the line, so he gripped Obert's arm and started to drag him outside, though at first the boy was a little reluctant to follow him.
"You… incompetent fools!" They heard her voice thundering, but by that time they were outside the guest chamber and Merlin was determined to get as far as possible from the 'scene of the crime'. He only started to stumble around the second corridor, and as the fright dimmed a little, it let his mind remember the aches in his body. He had to stop and catch his breath, but didn't loosen his grip on the Crowholdtian's arm. He was going to get him to the physician's chamber and.. and.. well, he'll figure it out when they actually get there. For now he had no idea what to give the boy against a love potion.
Obert was looking at him and didn't move. Merlin only spared him a glance, but then he noticed something in his eyes that made him look twice. The boy was smiling at him and slowly took his arm out of his grasp, and he had the most assuring look on him.
"You.. are you alright?" Merlin asked cautiously.
The young man smiled and put his hand on his shoulder then motioned to his nose with an index finger and winked.
"Mischief?" How the hell did he understand? Merlin wondered once again.
"You weren't really under the effect of that potion, were you?" And the wide smile said it all.
The manservant scoffed. "You lit the fire.." He said in a shushed tone, knowing he doesn't really need to ask more. It somehow seemed self-understood, that someone from Crowholdt should posses magic, but before waiting for confirmation he picked his head up towards the hallway, yet again, fully empty to the ginger servant's eyes, but making Merlin swallow nervously and looking at the ground.
"I should go get that poultice.." The warlock smiled sheepishly and nodded. "I'll be fine" he added and before the servant could protest or offer his help, he headed off on the corridor, soon turning around the corner.
Obert looked after him with concern, then made a run towards Orrick. He didn't know; he didn't see, for it was only for Merlin's eyes, but there was something there, and he dreaded it could make them lose everything.
Merlin wasn't heading towards the physician's chamber. Despite every inch of his body demanding it, he was heading in the opposite direction. He wanted to get to the bottom of this. More so that the image he saw moments before leaving the confused Crowholdtian behind, was that of his beloved Freya..