He stared into the embers and thought of nothing – just nothing. Because that was all there was now, just nothing.
Just like the fire; his duty and his need to protect his friend had burned deep within him. But now this too seemed to have died; died along with the fire in the grate. The cold crept ever closer but it did not seem to penetrate into to him. Nothing could reach him now, nothing.
It was simple really - he'd got it wrong and Merlin had suffered for it. He'd got arrogant, cocky, above himself and this was the result. He was free and the other was lost. And he did not have a plan or a knight to fight alongside him. Nor did he have his friend and he felt empty and bereft.
It had been his job to guide; to lead and to always protect but he had lost his focus and the fight; and finally he had lost Merlin. Days away from any help or support from Camelot and not due back for a week; Arthur knew that he was the others only hope. But for once he had no idea what to do next.
Merlin out there somewhere; clumsy, alone and helpless. Arthur thought of all the times he had nearly lost him before, how something had always intervened and saved him but this time – nothing. Four days he'd been gone, four days of endless searching. Four days of walking through the forest and the heat. Four day of growing hopelessness. No sign of Merlin, or the slavers.
Watching the dying fire Arthur pulled his cloak tighter around his exhausted body and tried to let sleep take him, but it was no good. His body was bone tired and needed to rest but his mind was so full of worry that it would not – could not – let go. He felt the last of his hope leave with the last of the heat.
"Clotpole" Arthur looked up, eagerly searching for where that welcome insult had come from; only to realise that it had come from within. It made him smile sadly, "Typical, even lost, that idiot gets far enough into my brain to make me imagine him."
"Clotpole!" It was much louder this time and he searched around once more; and once more nothing, just nothing. "I must be going mad" he thought "Great, a mad King of Camelot…again" And this thought made him smile for a second time and a small slither of light entered his shut-down heart and gave him hope.
It was this tiny, fragile emotion that grew as the sun rose and dawn broke. It grew as the birds began to welcome the day and it was fully grown by the time he had set off in search again. One word had been enough to remind him of how important the other was to him and how a King never gives up. It was his duty as a Monarch, and as a friend, to find those he had vowed to protect and he would not fail. And if he lost his way as he searched, he could always count on the voice in his head to correct him and put him back on the right path...
A few miles away Merlin smiled beneath his blindfold as he listened to the slavers making ready to leave. He'd heard them talking last night around the campfire. Most of them were going to a nearby town, leaving him with only two guards. Before there had been too many for Arthur to fight on his own so he had bided his time. But it was safe now for a rescue. As he was pulled to his feet he had but one word constantly repeating in his mind "Clotpole". He knew the King would hear and that he would find him, if only to insult him back!
He knew his King - his friend - was coming. And if Arthur did veer from the path and seemed to be losing his way again; Merlin was there with another thought "Turn left Clotpole"…and Arthur would find him.