Merlin knocked on Arthur's door nervously. His memory hit him like a thunderbolt as a flashback of an exact same situation filled his mind. But this time, there was no other way, and he had made sure not to tell Gaius of his plans – the last thing he wanted was for the old father-like figure to put himself in danger for his sake.
"Come in," Arthur said from inside. Merlin's heart was racing in his chest now. He shakily put his hand on the doorknob and opened the familiar door. He walked into the room, closing the door behind him, and just looked around for a second. Arthur's chambers had become so familiar to him now. He had been working as his manservant for a couple of years, and it had started to feel like home.
"Well?" Arthur said, "What do you want?"
"I just wanted to talk to you," Merlin replied nervously.
"And did it have to be during my dinner?" Arthur asked as he bit into his chicken.
"Yes, sire," Merlin replied.
"Well, it can wait till morning, can it not?"
"No, sire," Merlin said. Arthur turned his head to look at his servant and friend. Merlin was obviously nervous about something. He was almost shaking although firm at the same time, and there was a slight blush on his cheek.
"Well, are you going to stand there looking at me like a bloody idiot?"
"I just...I want you to know that it has been an honour serving you, Arthur." Arthur looked back at his plate and shook his head.
"You're not quitting your job," Arthur replied, tossing away a bone and picking up another chicken thigh.
"Arthur, you are going to be the best king Camelot has ever had, and you are going to bring peace and fairness to Albion. I need you to promise me that you will never change."
"Thank you for the praise," Arthur said cheekily, with a lopsided smile, "But I don't know if it's called for or not...are you sleepwalking, Merlin?"
"No, sire, I'm wide awake. If you ever get another servant, don't let him lie to you in the face. Get someone who tells it to you like it is...don't let anyone deceive you, Arthur."
"Merlin, are you really leaving my service?" Arthur asked, looking angrily at his servant before turning away and sipping at his cup.
"Sire, I would be happy to serve you until the hour of my death," Merlin said, flashing his master a wide grin. Arthur's memory shuffled back to the time he had almost died, when Merlin had said something fairly similar. But nothing had come of it. This was probably another of his servant's many ramblings.
"I know that, Merlin," Arthur replied, "Is that all you wanted?"
"Yes, sire," Merlin said.
"Will you cut it out with the sire?"
"Sorry si-Arthur," the servant replied, bowing low before the prince, "Take care of yourself."
"You can tell me that tomorrow before we go hunting."
"Perhaps," Merlin replied, bowing again before going out of the room with tears in his eyes. Arthur looked at the closed door, right at the spot where Merlin had been a few seconds before. There had been something different about Merlin; something just didn't quite fit. And the moment the young servant had left the room, Arthur had started feeling like they had just said goodbye on some level. He scowled at the door and decided to wait until morning to talk to his servant again.
Merlin went back to his chambers. Gaius had already prepared dinner, so he sat down and joined him.
"What's on your mind?" Gaius asked him.
"Nothing," Merlin replied, grinning and trying to hide the tears in his eyes, "This is really good food, Gaius. Thank you."
"It's all right," the old physician replied, "But you usually hate it when I cook you chicken broth."
"It tastes very good today."
"Hmm..." Gaius looked quizzically at Merlin, wondering what on earth had possessed the boy. He looked out of sorts. Without warning, the physician slapped the back of his hand to Merlin's forehead. "You're not running a fever, though."
"I'm fine, Gaius. Promise."
"Very well." They finished their dinner, and Merlin offered to wash the plates. Gaius thanked the boy and changed into his bedclothes. Merlin scrubbed the dishes and put them in place before heading to his own small chamber at the back.
"Goodnight Gaius, and thank you."
Merlin tossed and turned on the bed, still fully clothed, wondering when Gaius would fall asleep. He wanted the old man to drift off and at the same time, he wanted to remain in the comfort of his room. He looked around. He had come to love the tiny space – it had started to feel like home, and he was sure he would miss it. He ran his hand over the wooden frame of his bed and his eyes fell on the book of magic that Gaius had given him. He had to make sure to hide it; Gaius could not be blamed for Merlin's sorcery. Merlin lifted a floorboard and stuck the book in the space beneath it before sticking it back in its place as if nothing had ever happened.
After a while, Merlin heard the loud and familiar snores coming from the room next door. He got up from his bed and smoothed down his jacket before leaving the room and looking around the main chamber. Gaius was fast asleep. Merlin looked at him for one last time, and then left the chamber and walked to the stables with a broken heart. The horses had become used to the servant, what with Arthur making him muck out the stables almost every day, so there was no commotion when he unloosened one of them – the usual black one that he rode – and trotted out of Camelot. He looked back at the city that he had grown to love, but knew that what he was doing was for that city, and mostly for the king that would make it flourish – for Arthur.
Merlin still couldn't believe how fond he had grown of such a royal prat. He could barely stand the sight of the prince when they first met, but now he would do anything to protect his master's life and his future throne. Even this. It took him only three hours to get to the pier, and he tied up the horse and got into the boat.
"Astiere", he said, and the boat started to move on its own. It loomed before him; dark, eerie and broken. The last abandoned remains of the Isle of the Blessed. Merlin was afraid of the fate he would have to face once he got there, but he was willing to do anything for the young prince. The boat came to a halt at the other bank, and Merlin got out of it and walked into the ruins to his own doom. She stood there in the middle, tall and slim and beautiful. Her blonde hair cascaded down her back in curls, and her bright blue eyes shone like sapphires against her pale face. Everything shimmered beneath the moonlight. Her silver dress seemed to be made of jewels as it clung to her body and slowly allowed for some release at the skirts. She was a truly beautiful priestess – even more beautiful than Nimueh had been.
"Young warlock," she said, her voice entrancing, "What brings you to the Isle of the Blessed?"
"I come to ask for a favour," Merlin replied.
"Magic comes with a price, but you of course know this very well already, do you not?"
"Yes," he said, "I am aware."
"What do you ask of me?"
"I have looked into a crystal, and the future was shown to me. Tomorrow, at noon, the prince will be hunting and somebody will shoot an arrow which shall pierce the prince's chest, causing him to lose his life."
"Ah, you speak of Prince Arthur then."
"Yes," Merlin replied, "I came to ask for you to save him from this incident; to change the future."
"The keeper of souls will not be pleased if I deny her the prince at his supposed time of departing."
"Which is why I am willing to trade my life for his. I will die in Arthur's place."
"Once this deal is struck, you cannot back out of it; one soul must pay for another, and those are the terms," the sorceress said.
"I know," Merlin replied, "I will do it."
"Then drink from this cup," she said, producing a golden chalice, "It is the cup of life and death – by drinking its contents, you are taking death upon yourself and giving life to Prince Arthur Pendragon."
Merlin lifted the chalice to his lips and downed its contents. He placed it on the altar and looked at the sorceress.
"You will die a slow and painful death," she said, "Due to an incurable disease that is caused only by magic. And Arthur shall live and prosper as promised. I have not tricked you, young sorcerer."
"I know," Merlin replied, "Thank you." He turned around and walked away, moving back to the boat. A slow and painful death. Nice.
A.N.: This is my first shot at a Merlin Fanfic. I know nothing much has happened in this chapter, but the story will get moving pretty soon. Please review so that I know what you think. It will become exciting soon enough. :) Promise
J. M. Pendragon