Before you start reading this story I have to say I really did love this episode. I thought they did a good job with all the characters and I love the confidence Merlin's gained with his powers, the bandit scene gave me chills. That being said, I am a sucker for Merlin whump and protective Arthur so I wanted to write a little twist on the episode. It bugged me that when Arthur said he was worried Gwen brushed it off and Arthur agreed so I decided to write an AU from that point. Arthur doesn't believe her and decides to go find his wayward servant without the blessings of the queen. Let me know what you think, hate it or love it! Enjoy!
Something about the way his wife had said he had more important things to worry about caught his attention. Merlin is something important, you don't even like this king, his pesky thoughts nagged at him as he made his way to the training grounds. Was it really so important that this man saw him fight? Could it not be arranged for another day? He was supposed to visit until the end of the week, so maybe it would not be such a misstep to ignore him for this training session. Although Arthur had promised to fight his champion, maybe he should just fight. But Merlin has never been missing for this long before. Especially not on one of Gaius' herb hunting trips, something was wrong and he knew it. Grabbing hold of a passing servant he gave him a message to take to the Sarrum. The servant was to apologize for the absence of the king and promise he would make amends the next day but there was a pressing matter of state that had to take precedence over training. His profuse apologies were attached even though he felt no type of apology was necessary.
Turning his feet away from the route to the training ground, Arthur instead went to Gaius, if anyone knew where Merlin had gone, the physician would. He only hoped that it wasn't too far because he had only made the excuse for today, it could be dangerous to leave the kingdom for too long, especially with the Sarrum's reputation.
Thoughts of worry consumed him as he made his way to the room and he found his hand pushing the door open of its own accord, forgetting the customary curtesy of knocking because of the fear churning in his gut. Gaius looked up in surprise. The King was the last person he expected to see.
"Sire", then taking note of his worried expression, "is everything alright?"
Not being one to mince words, the King asked directly, "Gaius do you have any idea where Merlin has gone?" A touch of concern colored the words and Gaius could not help but feel a sense of relief, Arthur would find his wayward ward.
"Last I knew, sire, he was going into the Valley of the Fallen Kings for a particular herb, he was supposed to go quickly during the day to avoid bandits, but I fear what has happened because he has been gone much longer than that."
"Why would the fool go in there?!" Arthur recalled what happened the last time Merlin had gone through the Valley of the Fallen Kings, the bandits had not been so accommodating that time either.
"Unfortunately, sire, he had to, that is why I have been so worried about him."
Arthur was chewing on his lip, he could take a force of men with him, in fact he probably should but how many knights should be bring? Maybe only Leon and Percival, incase Merlin was injured? He would have to hurry to keep them from making it to the training grounds first. He would gather a few soldiers as well, that would make the trip look like a patrol, something that might pull the attention of the King if the area was dangerous enough.
As he was walking out of the room, he called over his shoulder, "We'll find him Gaius, don't worry."
The patrol, as Arthur had taken to calling it, was nearly at the entrance to the Valley and he had to admit, to himself at least, he really was not looking forward to going back into this particular den of thieves. But he led them on anyway, desperate to find his friend.
Daegal was sitting just outside the moldy king statute trying to figure out what to do. Morgana had threatened him with Merlin's fate if he went back to help but could he really let the trusting man die that way? Merlin had offered to help his sister, even if she wasn't actually sick, and that type of trust and willingness to help did not deserve the slow, painful death he was currently experiencing. However, his musings were cut short by the sound of horses' hooves thundering toward him. Thinking they were more bandits, Daegal hid himself behind the giant leg of the statue he was sitting on. Watching as the men passed he realized these men were not bandits, they were knights, of Camelot no less. Maybe they would help Merlin. Stepping out from his hiding spot, Daegal did the bravest thing he had done in his short life.
"Oi, knights of Camelot!" He yelled over the sound of thundering hooves. It was a knight towards the front that turned toward him, calling a stop to the rest of the men. As the leader of the patrol turned around, Daegal recognized him, the king himself!
"What is it boy? We have pressing matters, if this is not important walk away now." It was the King who addressed him, worry evident in his features. Maybe they were looking for Merlin?
"There's a man who needs your help...please...he's been poisoned and I don't think his has much longer."
A look of alarm came over the King's features and he turned to the two knight's next to him before looking back at Daegal.
"What does this man look like? Do you know his name?"
"Yes sire, he's dark haired, pale complected, taller than me, his name is Merlin, my lord."
Without a second thought, "You will show us where he is, and quickly. Leon, allow him to ride with you."
Leon, the knight who had first called the halt, scooted back in the saddle and offered a hand down to Daegal, hoisting him up into the saddle. With Leon now taking the lead, the knights set off at a quick pace and Daegal had to hold on for dear life. They would get to the spot much quicker than he had managed to get away from it.
"He is lying just over there sire." The strange boy, Daefel...Daerus...Daegal, that was his name, was pointing to a place just up around a bend in the road. And something about the way he said lying had Arthur on edge, what had happened to his friend?
He dismounted, not wanting to risk frightening the man if he was awake and handing his reigns over to the boy made his way up and around the bend. What he saw made his blood go cold. Merlin was there alright but he was pale, deathly pale, and his body was held rigid seemingly tensed in pain. As Arthur inched closer he could see his face was screwed up and his eyes were closed. Kneeling down at his side, he shook him, gently at first until he realized it wasn't doing anything, so he shook a little harder. Merlin's eyes moved beneath the lids but he showed no signs of waking. Thinking of the only thing he had left he pulled out his water skin and tried to pour some into the man's mouth, hoping the coolness would wake him.
It got him to open his eyes but he looked around in confusion, working hard to focus. Once he was finally able to focus on Arthur's face, it took him a minute to croak out his name. In fact he made a few confused grunting noises first as if trying to talk past the immense pain he was in, and then the name was said with such a sense of incredulity that it cut Arthur to the quick. Merlin hadn't thought anyone would come for him.
"Arthur..." He seemed to be refocusing his eyes, trying to figure out if this was a dream.
"It's me you clotpole, what have you gotten yourself into this time, I thought you were just supposed to grab a few herbs?"
He made a few gagging noises before responding in a voice, entirely too weak for Arthur's liking, and it strengthened the resolve of the voice in the back of his mind telling him Merlin was dying and the more time he wasted here could hasten that end.
"Well I would have been alright if Morgana had not found me..." Arthur felt his blood boil, his friend was dying because of that witch and he had almost allowed it to happen.
"Alright well, no more lying around, its time we got you back to Gaius, he'll be able to patch you up." Placing his arms under his friend's knees and shoulders, Arthur started to lift him, no sooner had Arthur gotten him half way off the ground that Merlin started to scream, a horrifying, blood-curdling scream that sounded more animalistic than human. Quickly realizing he was the source of the pain, Arthur gently laid him back down.
"Merlin! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, what have I done?"
He was taking short gasping breaths, trying to calm down the screaming nerve endings. He had never felt something so painful, it was like every nerve ending was exposed to the air at the same instant and the effect was horrendous. It took him a while to control his breathing, he figured this is what Morgana had meant. It had been painful before, just lying there but the inability to leave this place for fear of being ripped apart by pain was worse, much worse. Arthur was still hovering over him and he saw more men of Camelot filtering into the clearing.
"Merlin..." It was Arthur again, his voice was filled with worry and anguish that he didn't even bother hiding, he simply wanted to know how badly he had hurt his best friend.
"I'm alright...b..but...I don't think I'll be going back to Camelot like this." He pulled in another breath and Arthur couldn't help but hear the wetness in his breathing. If he didn't do something soon, his friend would die.
It was then that the strange boy stepped up behind them and Merlin's reaction was pure venom. Swallowing, trying to speak past his tensed throat, he looked up at the boy with fury in his eyes. Arthur was still kneeling next to him but tensed at his friend's reaction, had this boy something to do with Merlin's poisoning?.
"You..." it was a venomous greeting. "You came back, why?"
Came back? Arthur's hand moved slowly to his sword, if this boy did have anything to do with this, he would die.
"I couldn't leave you to die."
"You betrayed me." Merlin choked out over the bile rising in his throat, his head dropping back after he made the accusation. This was enough for Arthur, this boy had a role to play in this and he would be, unfortunately for him, the perfect outlet for Arthur's growing fear and anger.
No sooner had the words left Merlin's blue tinged lips, Arthur had the boy on his back with Excalibur at his throat.
"You...you played a role in this? You helped to poison him?" His fury could be seen in his stance, his whole body was vibrating with anger, only his sword arm was steady.
"N...no, it wasn't me I swear, Morgana poisoned him. She...she paid me to bring him to her. I didn't know what she had planned." The last bit of the confession was said in a whisper, the boy obviously regretting what he had done, otherwise why would he have brought the king to this place? Still someone had to pay, but Merlin would get to decide this boy's fate here, Arthur would deal with him in Camelot. Turning his attention to his stricken friend he saw Merlin watching him,
"What do you think Merlin? Shall I punish him now?"
"A..rth..ur, leave him be...please..." a gag stopped Merlin from pleading for the boy but Arthur got the gist, Merlin was too kind for his own good. Pulling the sword away from the boy's throat, he returned to his friend's side. Laying his hand on his shoulder for support he looked at him,
"Merlin, we need to do something. I fear we can't get Gaius here fast enough, do you know of anything we can do? Any herbs? Anything I can do to help?"
Sucking in air past his teeth, trying to keep the pain at bay, Merlin forced himself to think. The pain permeating every place in his body made it difficult but he eventually landed on a cure he thought might work. If nothing else, it should negate the effects of the poison enough for his magic to finish expelling it.
"Tell me what you need, we'll find it I promise..." Arthur felt the boy move up behind him.
Sucking in a few more wet breaths, his body tensing and shifting in pain, Merlin started, "Roo...it's got yellow flowers,"
"And feathery leaves," the boy behind Arthur finished, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing he hadn't spilled his intestines, for now.
"Yarrow..." The boy echoed again, using the more common name for the plant.
"Ground into a tincture."
"Do you know what these things are boy?" Arthur questioned with a bit more venom than he intended.
"Yes sire." Almost hesitant was the answer.
"Good, you will take a group of soldiers, and look for these plants." Motioning at three men he addressed them,
"You three will go with him, do not let him escape and if you find the herbs you bring them straight back, no matter what."
"Yes, sire." They chorused.
Turning to Percival, "Will you accompany them as well?"
"Of course Arthur."
"Leon, I want you to take four men and set up sentries, we don't want any bandits to find our position."
"Yes your highness."
"The rest of you will start a fire, we will have to boil those plants down as soon as they are brought back and I want the water already started."
Turning away as the soldiers set off on their task, Arthur moved back to Merlin and shrugging his cloak from around his shoulders he draped it gently over the struggling man. And he sat down to wait. He knew he could have gone out with the men hunting the herbs but at the same time he did not want to leave his friend's side, afraid of what might happen if he allowed him out of his sight again. As he sat and watched Merlin, he couldn't help but think of what Gwen had said, had she really meant that there were more important things than Merlin? That didn't sound like anything the woman he loved would say, he thought she should have been the one pushing him out the door the second she realized Merlin had been gone for that long, promising to not let Arthur back on until he came back with the clumsy manservant. Something in her had changed, this was just another piece to the puzzle for Arthur. But his attention was turned back to Merlin as the man started to cough, something was wrong.