Each Step

And for all of those times I myself had been blind,
I vowed to see the beauty in life, and appreciate every second that's mine.
-Cheryl L. Costello-Forshey


Merlin decided that today was a beautiful day.

Well, it was a rather normal day. The streets were alive with the hustle and bustle of the people going about their daily routines; the skies were an ethereal shade of light blue with soft white clouds floating past. A cool breeze blew through the air, gently rustling the dancing green leaves on the trees surrounding the city.

And that's what Merlin defined as a beautiful day. His crystal blue eyes alighted with happiness, despite holding a basket of dirty laundry. He had allowed himself to pause at one of the castle's large windows, high up and overlooking the city of Camelot.

Shaking his head at how girlish he sounded, he continued on to the laundry room.

Arthur had a meeting with the council that morning, which to Merlin's relief he was excused from. Not that he was exempt from his daily chores, which consisted of making the bed, doing the laundry, scrubbing the floor, mucking out the stables, polishing armour and several other duties.

Although he was chagrined, it was his job, and he had already resigned himself, so why dwell on things you cannot control?

Anyway, after most of the morning had passed, he finally finished his duties, and headed back to his room in Gaius' chambers to rest.

However, Gaius' definition of rest was work. If that makes sense.

Merlin softly opened the door, peeking inside. Gaius was by the table, mixing up potions, and had his back turned to him. Seeing his chance, he crept quietly across the floor, his goal the door to his room, hopefully without Gaius noticing his prese-

"Ah, you're back."

Or not.

Merlin sighed and rubbed his eyes in mock drowsiness. "I'm feeling so tired Gaius! Just let me rest for this afternoon."

Unsurprisingly, Gaius saw through his ruse with ease. "Well you can relax by helping me gather some herbs."

The dark-haired boy dropped his shoulders in defeat, and held out his hand. Triumphantly, Gaius handed him the list of herbs, and he skimmed over it.

"Myrrh isn't found near here," Merlin noted, "It might take a while to find it."

"Yes, but you have plenty of time until it begins to get dark. If you can't find enough before then, just come back, and we'll get it next time."

Merlin grinned. "And if I do find enough, will you make me my favourite dinner?" he teased.

Gaius chuckled and pushed him towards the door. "Only if you get enough! So you better get a move on!"

The young warlock's eyes gleamed with determination, and he said a quick farewell to his mentor and father-figure as he raced off.

He hummed a little tune as he walked briskly across the courtyard. Little did anyone except people from his hometown know, Merlin had a beautiful voice.

Back in Ealdor, Merlin often found himself singing to the villagers, and especially to young children and babies, as the people had discovered that his clear dulcet voice could calm even the most rowdy of babies into a sleeping angel. The people proclaimed his voice to be from an angel itself, but Merlin would always laugh at that.

Here in Camelot, he had no desire to sing for an audience, especially considering the fact that Arthur would tease him to no end! Merlin shuddered at the imagined humiliation.

"Merlin!"

Speak of the devil… Merlin tuned his attention to the blonde king making his way towards him. Hopefully there would be no important duties Arthur would thrust upon him.

"Please don't tell me I have to do more chores! I'm about to go gather herbs for Gaius," Merlin pleaded, attempting to pull out a puppy-dog-eyed look. Apparently it didn't work, since Arthur just rolled his own eyes in exasperation.

"That's fine, Merlin. If you're busy, since there's nothing important to attend to right now, you can go and collect herbs. Be back by sunset to draw me a bath though!"

Merlin smiled in success, and bowed and uttered a quick 'Yes Sire' before heading off to the entrance.

~~Each Step~~

Weaving his way through the busy market street, Merlin prayed to any god that he would not have to deal with any more interruptions.

"Merlin!"

So naturally, he would have to deal with interruptions.

Merlin stopped and took a deep breath before turning to face Gwaine, who appeared to be very happy to see Merlin and very, very drunk.

"Heeyy Merlin! How 'bout you j-join me for a drink, eh? Ya know, for two friends to bond about the troubles of men…"

Merlin politely shoved off the arm that had been draped over his shoulders, and took a step back from the strong whiff of mead. "Gwaine, it could have only been a short while since the meeting ended. How on Earth did you manage to get so drunk in that short amount of time?"

Gwaine grinned as he listed to the side a bit before righting himself. "I didn't go."

"Of course you didn't," Merlin deadpanned. "Sorry Gwaine, but not today. I have to collect some herbs."

Gwaine's eyes began tearing up, which was not a pleasant sight on a full grown man, who also happened to be a respected knight.

"You hold herbs over your best friend in importance?" Gwaine whined.

"Yup!" Merlin replied happily, leaving the wailing man to himself as he slipped off to his intended destination.

~~Each Step~~

It took much longer than expected for Merlin to get out of the city. It seemed as if everything was trying to prevent him from going. It was ludicrous! A man had nearly dropped a large box on him, a small cat had tripped him over, and of all things, a runaway chicken had flown right into his face, leaving him dazed on the ground.

Yet the promise for his favourite dinner pushed him on, and he finally made it out.

"Right… let's get started…" he muttered to himself and looked at the list. "Elecampane… fennel… well I may as well look for myrrh at the same time."

By mid-afternoon, Merlin had found most of the herbs, and had also found more than enough myrrh to satisfy Gaius. Deciding to rest for a while, he breathed in the fresh air, and sat under the shade of a nearby tree overlooking the small area of grasses.

Really… it was times like this Merlin truly felt thankful for being alive, for being in Camelot and for having the power to protect Arthur, the Once and Future King. Despite the lurking evil in the form of Morgana, now was a time of peace. He closed his eyes, and began to sing.

Of a legion, seven did return
Who once faced Caer Siddi
So bear my token proudly, love,
And fight until the end
I know your banner's carried as
The Prydwen sails again
The Prydwen sails again

It was a song that his mother would sing to him as a child, and it was one of his favourite songs. It wasn't a particularly happy song, but one more of honour and bravery, which Merlin still cherishes.

'It applies to that prat quite a bit,' he mused and kept singing, the melody joining the sounds of the grass swaying and the birds' own whistling.

Lost in his singing, he didn't notice when the birds stopped chirping.

~~Each Step~~

Today, Morholt was irritated. And when Morholt was irritated, you are best to steer clear away from him. The reason Morholt was annoyed? Because he had just lost his most promising catch. A young girl who could dance like an elegant peacock. The little thing had escaped the night before, thanks to one of his incompetent men who wanted to have his way with her in secret.

Morholt growled in remorse. She could have been sold for a handsome amount of money.

So he ordered his men to either find her, or find a replacement entertainer that was equal or better than the escaped girl. He didn't get his hopes up though, since rare gems like her are hard to find.

~~Each Step~~

Vane muttered under his breath as he kicked the dirt.

"This is stupid. She's long gone, how can we hope to find her again!" he sneered, swiping away an offending branch.

"Who says we're gonna try find her?" Bardin, his companion, replied.

Vane looked at him in confusion. "You're not seriously suggesting we try finding a replacement? Where the hell would we even start?"

He didn't get his answer as Bardin suddenly held his hand up and stopped. Vane stopped too, looking around to see what was wrong. After a moment, he finally realised what made him stop.

Faintly, Vane could hear someone singing. It was clearly a male voice, but it was extremely sweet, and easily reached higher notes. Vane and Bardin looked at each other and nodded, silently creeping their way to the source. After all, they had just found the replacement.

~~Each Step~~

It doesn't matter what he blamed it on. Perhaps it was his ignorance, not paying enough attention to his surrounding while alone. Or perhaps his memories of his mother and his hometown that made him unaware. In the end, it was probably due to his singing, drowning out the sounds of footsteps until it was too late.

~~Each Step~~

"Boss, Boss!" a voice called, and Morholt twitched in displeasure. A head poked through the tent opening, grinning like a mad man.

"You better have some good news or you'll be missing a few fingers," Morholt growled out, but it didn't seem to deter Vane.

"Oh yes, I bring you more than news! Come out and see what we caught," Vane replied and drew back his head. Curious, Morholt got up and exited the tent to find most of his men crowding around something.

"Oi, move it!" Morholt shouted, and the crowd instantly backed off to reveal an unconscious body on the floor. A very male body. Morholt sent a deadly glare at Vane.

"This is not the girl," he stated, as if to someone mentally disabled.

Vane remained unfazed. "He's better than the girl," he challenged.

Morholt turned to find Bardin, looking for confirmation that Vane had gone insane. Bardin just sighed.

"Vane's right. This one is better than the girl."

Morholt lifted an eyebrow at that. If even Bardin said so… He took a closer look at the boy. 'Boy' may not have been the correct word, since the body seemed quite tall, but with a slender, almost a girlish physique. He instantly noticed the strange ears, and sharp cheekbones, yet something about the boy seemed unearthly beautiful.

"He dances?" Morholt questioned, a little sceptical.

"No, but he sings like an angel!" Vane said excitedly.

Morholt just huffed and grabbed a water sack before pouring it over the boy's face. He spluttered awake, attempting to get up but unable to properly as his arms were bound behind his back. Two men heaved him up to his knees, blearily taking in his surroundings.

"You," Morholt called out, and the boy snapped his head to him, blue eyes now completely clear. "What's yer name boy?"

He stayed silent, just narrowed his eyes at him and took note of the wooden cages that held men and woman. Morholt knew the boy was getting an idea of what sort of people had kidnapped him. He had to hand it to the boy, he hid his fear well.

"Alright then, I don't need your name. I've been told you sing."

At this, the boy's eyebrows twitched in confusion, unable to comprehend why his kidnapper was talking about singing.

"Tell you what. You sing for me, and I'll let you go. How's that sound?" Morholt bargained.

~~Each Step~~

'Liar,' Merlin uttered in his head, but outwardly just gave the man, evidently the boss, a flat look.

The man just tsked at him. "Now now, boy. We can do this the easy, painless way, or the hard, painful way. Either way, I'll get what I want," he smirked at Merlin, and he felt like shuddering in panic. But he didn't want to give them the satisfaction of that.

He thought about using his magic to get away, but at the moment it seemed impossible. There were too many people, he couldn't possibly get away from all of them, and that's after he got the ropes binding his arms tight behind his back off.

He leaned back warily as the boss crouched down to his eye level. "So what will it be huh? You can sing now, and I won't hurt you. Sounds like a good deal, doesn't it?"

Merlin nodded slowly, not seeing another way out. He would need all his strength if he was going to try escape later. An injury would greatly hinder any attempt.

The man stepped back as Merlin opened his mouth and began to sing, his voice wavering slightly.

Keep your shield before you
And your head held high, my friend
I'll bring my sword to join you when
The Prydwen sails again

It didn't seem to affect his voice too much, since the men seemed engrossed with his song, not even noticing the strange lyrics. The boss was grinning widely, eyes shining as if he'd found long lost treasure. Merlin stopped singing, and there was a moment of silence. It was broken by the leader clapping his hands loudly.

"Well well! You have quite the talent for singing, boy." He marvelled, circling him. "You'll fetch a hefty price."

Merlin stayed still and looked forward, refusing to track his movement.

After making a full circle, he finished in front of Merlin. He bent down and pulled his chin up, staring into his wide blue eyes.

"Nice eyes you got there, boy," Morholt commented, before letting his chin go. "Pity."

He gave a signal with his finger, and someone else grabbed Merlin's face.

A tortured scream pierced through the forest.

~~Each Step~~

A knock on the door made Gaius pause in his pacing, and he replied with a quick 'Come in.' Arthur opened the door, looking around the room and frowning in displeasure.

"I'm looking for Merlin. Have you seen him?" Arthur asked.

"I'm afraid not, Sire. I haven't seen him since he left to gather herbs," Gaius responded, evidently anxious. "I told him to return before it gets dark…"

Arthur furrowed his eyebrows. "Are the herbs important? Perhaps he's trying to find more."

"No Sire, most are quite easy to find, and I told him not to worry if he couldn't find enough."

Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's too dark to send out a search party… we're going to have to wait 'til morning," he said calmly, hiding his inner turmoil. This was Merlin. He was alone when he left, and had no way to protect himself… if he had been attacked.

Gaius also appeared greatly troubled, but nodded in agreement. Arthur returned to his chambers, not seeing anything else he could do.

Gaius spent the night sitting in a chair, waiting for Merlin to return. And he would do this for many nights to come.

~~Each Step~~

He didn't know how long he had been lost in the pain throbbing in his head. Minutes? Hours? Merlin couldn't tell, only now beginning to think a little more clearly. He first became aware of the sounds of whimpering, which he eventually discerned were his own. After that, he noticed that someone was rubbing his back, in what seemed to be an act of comfort. It didn't really help, but Merlin still appreciated it, from whoever it might be.

Then it hit him, the memories of what had taken place, and he felt like wailing in pain and anger. His arms were not bound anymore, and he brought up a hand to his face. Hoping. Praying, that it wasn't true. His fingertips touched cloth, before a hand grabbed his wrist and pulled it away.

"Best not to touch it," a gruff but quiet voice murmured.

Merlin just trembled, the beginnings of shock setting in. The hand on his back continued their ministrations. Merlin was grateful, and pushed away any thoughts about his eyes.

"Where… am I?" Merlin managed to ask, his voice frail.

"You're in one of the wooden cages that hold us," the male voice replied. There was a slight pause. "You've been out of it for a few hours. It's night time."

Ah. So he hadn't been rescued. He reached out a hand, and it landed on the man's leg.

"What's going to happen to us?" he whispered.

The hand on his back moved up, to his head, softly stoking his forehead and hair. It was a woman that replied.

"We're going to be sold," the woman mumbled sadly.

"Slaves are illegal in Camelot," Merlin slurred out. He was getting drowsy, and what seemed to be the start of a fever was making his body shiver. He felt the blanket draped over his body pulled slightly higher to his neck.

"We won't be sold in Camelot," the man replied. "We'll be taken to another kingdom."

Merlin couldn't help feeling the despair creeping through him. 'I can't escape. There's no hope.'

There was stinging pain, and he realised that he was shedding tears into his empty eye sockets.

~~Each Step~~

Merlin awoke slowly, his thoughts sluggish from the feverous sleep. Luckily the fever had passed, and soon the fog lifted from his mind. The throbbing pain had now dulled to a constant ache. He shifted his body, attempting to sit up. A pair of strong arms lifted him up, and Merlin couldn't help the rush of pride coursing through his body. Even captured, the prisoners were kind enough to help a stranger.

"Here, eat this," the woman, who seemed to be beside the man, said. Merlin felt dry bread touched to his lips, but he moaned and shook his head.

"Water…"

There was the sound of movement, and a water sack was brought to his lips. He eagerly gulped it down, but paused, realizing that the water was probably shared by everyone.

"'m sorry," he whispered out, ashamed of his selfish actions. Instead, the water was brought to his lips again.

"Drink. The slave traders provide us with enough food and water to keep us reasonably healthy," the woman said softly, and allowed him to drink some more.

Merlin was only able to eat a few bites of the bread before a voice from outside the cage sounded.

"Well! The angel has awoken!"

Merlin recognized the voice to be from the boss. He heard the clink of chains as someone unlocked the cage, and an arm grabbed his wrist and yanked him out. The cages were on top of wagons, and he landed with a cry onto the floor. He didn't have time to do more as he was dragged further along the ground, and eventually left on hands and knees.

"Angel," the boss cooed. "Why don't you sing for us again?" A few men chuckled at the name.

Merlin turned his head towards where he assumed the man was. "So you can gouge my eyes out again?" he replied in a level but strong voice. The man just laughed.

"Feisty one, eh? I do regret destroying those pretty little eyes, but it had to be done to ensure you wouldn't be able to escape," he said with false regret. "I promise not to harm you anymore. In fact, sing for us all now and I'll reward you with more food and water. After all, we must keep our most prized catch in top shape, right men?" Laughs echoed around Merlin.

Merlin gritted his teeth. 'Very well. I'll sing. But I am not broken.'

The measure of a man
Stands or falls with what he leaves behind
Gather on the sand
Let your voices carry to the sky
Rise in light
Let the gods look down on this and wonder

Merlin was glad that the mere sound of his voice distracted the men from the words. For the words were only meant for Merlin to hear, to comprehend. The slave traders didn't deserve to understand.

True to his word, the boss gave him extra bread and water, and returned him to the cage. Once inside, he broke it in half and held it out, knowing that there were two other people in the cage with him. A hand pushed the bread back towards Merlin's chest.

"No, you earned this," the man said.

Merlin shook his head. "Please…" No matter what they said, they were surely starving.

There was a pause, before hands gently took the offered bread with soft a soft 'Thank you.'

Merlin nodded, and lent back on the wooded bars of the cage. His thoughts strayed towards Arthur, and the city that he might never return to. The stinging began, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

'I can never see them again.'

~~Each Step~~

Arthur whirled around, eyes glaring at one of the council members.

"I'm not giving up!" he bellowed out, to which everyone cringed at.

It had been close to four days now since Merlin disappeared. Arthur was distraught, going out with search parties every day to try and find his missing manservant. But Arthur was the king, and it was getting to the point where the single-minded search was affecting his duties as King.

A hand lay on Arthur's shoulder, and he turned to find Gwaine with a firm mouth and slightly red eyes. He had not smiled since Merlin had gone missing.

"Let me search," he said. "You must stay here. I'll go with a search party, and we won't stop until he is found."

Arthur took a deep breath, hanging his head down. When he brought it back up, his eyes were glistening with unshed tears, desperation marring his face. He looked around at the others, the faces of Leon, Percival, and Elyan, all filled with grim determination.

"Find him," Arthur choked out. "Find him… and bring him home."

~~Each Step~~

Being blind was difficult for Merlin to get used to.

It wasn't the same as being blindfolded, or even closing the eyes. In those circumstances, what appeared to be nothing was still something. It was darkness.

But now, he could not even see darkness, or what he previously thought was darkness. He had no more vision. There was just nothing.

But he could still envision. He knew what people looked like. He knew what trees, animals, the sky and the earth looked like.

And he could still remember the faces of the ones he loved. His mother, the knights, Gwen, Gaius, and of course, Arthur. He could recall every detail, as if he'd only seen them yesterday.

The only way for him to discern when it was night and day was the movement of the slave traders. They would travel the whole day, and camp for the night. They would not tell any of the prisoners where they were going, all Merlin knew was it was outside the Kingdom of Camelot. Away from the city. Away from Arthur.

'I've failed in my destiny.' he murmured in his head as the rocking of the carriage eased him to sleep. 'I've failed Arthur.'

~~Each Step~~

It took a few more days to reach their destination. After over a week of travelling in the forest, the sounds of a bustling city were almost a relief. However, this also signified being sold.

They had all been told that the other slaves would be sold in the market, but Merlin would be sold auction style to the upperclassmen of the city.

It was then that Merlin lost contact with the man and the woman that had been taking care of him for the past week. He was taken out of the cage and led out with a rope binding his wrists. He could hear the buzz of excitement in what he imagined was a rather large crowd as he was led up a few stairs and onto a small platform. A hush descended on the crowd.

"Ladies and gentlemen! I present you with the gem of my collection! I can already see from your faces that you are sceptical about this one. True! He appears weak, and he is! But he is not for manual labour! He is…" The man paused for dramatic effect. "An entertainer."

A ripple of excitement swirled through the crowd, before they were hushed again. Merlin squeezed his hands together, hoping to give himself confidence.

"The boy has the voice of an angel! His singing enchanted even my toughest men! Let me tell you this. You will never again find such a voice in your lifetime."

Before he could continue, the sound of trumpets boomed out, and the crowed started chattering in excitement.

"It's the king! He's here!"

"King Lucan is here!"

The man holding Merlin became absolutely giddy with eagerness, and he lent down to whisper in his ear.

"The king has now become a bidder. If you can't impress him, I'll torture you until you're begging me to kill you."

Merlin flinched, but quickly got himself together. He is not broken. He refused to be broken.

The sounds of hooves became louder, and then stopped.

"Kneel before King Lucan!" A voice commanded, and Merlin was pushed to his knees.

Merlin heard deep laughter, and the clip clop of a single horse making its way closer.

"And what do you have to offer today, Morholt?" The voice, who Merlin guessed was the king, asked.

"An entertainer, my lord!" Morholt said fervently, pulling him back to his feet. "His voice is that of an angel!"

"Oh? Then let me hear it."

Morholt once again whispered into Merlin's ear.

"Go on, sing for your life."

So Merlin took a deep breath, and sang.

Hawthorn tree
Your body burns away the winter's cold
Stand by me
And shade me from the sun
My eyes are old, but still can see
My eyes are old, but still can see

Merlin stopped, and could not tell how the people reacted, as there was only silence. Suddenly, a loud clapping noise as well as laughter sounded.

"Never before have I heard such a voice! You have done well, Morholt. I'll pay £50 for the boy."

Merlin could almost feel the elation emanating from Morholt. It made him sick.

"Sold to King Lucan!"

~~Each Step~~

Merlin was made to walk back to the castle, but he didn't mind. He had spent a long time inside the cage, only let out a few times a day.

The journey to the castle was nostalgic. Without his sight, Merlin found it easy to imagine himself walking the streets of Camelot, since the sounds of people rushing around closely resembled the city. He allowed himself to believe he actually was back home, but the constant tug of the ropes on his wrists pulled him back to reality. He felt like breaking down and crying, right in the middle of the street.

"So what's your name, boy?"

Merlin almost tripped, and turned to try facing the voice.

"Your name," King Lucan repeated.

Merlin didn't respond. After all, the man had just bought him like a slave. Besides his hatred for magic, Uther had been a just king, and had banned slavery in the kingdom. Even in Ealdor, outside of the border of Camelot, Merlin had not encountered many slaves.

King Lucan hummed, but didn't seem bothered. "If you won't give me your name, I'll give you one. You will be called Angel. A fitting name, in my opinion. Since I gave you a name, and I bought you, you belong entirely to me. Be a good little pet, and I'll take care of you. Disobey me and you will be punished."

Merlin needed all of his self-control not to yell back, 'I am not your pet!' He wanted to go home. Back to Camelot. He would rather be King Arthur's lowly servant for the rest of his life than be a pet to this king. Though now that he was blind, even being a servant seemed out of reach.

'I won't lose hope,' he chanted to himself. 'I am not broken.'

~~Each Step~~

Merlin became the king's official 'pet', a title Merlin despised with all his heart. His sole duty was to follow King Lucan around, and singing to him whenever the king commanded it.

He almost became mute, refusing to speak a word to anyone. King Lucan didn't care though; he only wanted a pet that would sing.

Merlin was thankful that his voice was so hypnotic. Because for the three months he was kept, he sang just one song, over and over again. Not for King Lucan. But for King Arthur.

Dry your eyes - each day you're alone
Is one fewer to wait 'til your lover comes home
The world is still round, my compass is true
Each step is a step back to you
Each step is a step back to you

~~Each Step~~

King Arthur never stopped grieving. He didn't want to believe that Merlin was dead. But why else would he be missing for so long? He knew that Merlin would never abandon Camelot. Never abandon him. Each night for Arthur was filled with tears.

Gwaine never stopped looking. Every opportunity he had, he would ride out alone or with others to look for the missing boy. He refused to consider Merlin as dead. He wasn't dead. He wasn't.

The Knights of the Round Table never became what they were. They did their duties, but now without eagerness, without happiness and hope. Their little bumbling brother was gone.

It affected the whole city. Their king was still good, but he had become emotionless and weary, and the atmosphere of the people matched their king. Without Merlin, it seemed as if the entire city had lost its will.

It would take a miracle to restore it.

~~Each Step~~

"Are you sure you are ready to sign the treaty?" Gwen asked in a worried voice. Arthur just sighed.

"No… but I fear I never will. With the peace between our kingdoms beginning to break, it might be my last opportunity to make peace with the Kingdom of Deira. They are relatively small, and a war between us would only bring their doom. Their king knows that."

Guinevere nodded, but her face was still pinched with worry. She spoke hesitantly.

"Arthur… I think you know what I'm going to say."

Arthur frowned, but stayed silent.

"We- no. You… you have to move on."

"I can't," Arthur responded immediately. "I…" he choked.

Gwen bit her lip, and held his hand in her own. They'd had this conversation many times, and it was always the same.

"I'm sorry, Guinevere. I'm sorry…" was all he could say, a single tear sliding down his cheek.

~~Each Step Is a Step Back to You~~

Arthur stood tall on the steps, his fellow knights beside and behind him as the horses and a carriage entered the courtyard, blaring out trumpet noises. Arthur winced at the sound and the extravagant display, both the horses and the large carriage decorated with purple and silver. It must have taken much more time than needed to pull the carriage. Arthur felt like groaning at the inefficiency.

He couldn't see the king, so Arthur guessed he was inside the carriage, away from sight. Arthur detested him already. But he was their guest, so…

The group stopped before Arthur, and the curtain of the carriage was flung open. Out walked King Lucan, clad in profligate robes and a large crown. He stepped down and walked towards him with his head high, and if he was the king instead of Arthur. Arthur resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and instead welcomed him to Camelot.

He found his attention drifting when King Lucan started a speech about it being a pleasure coming here and some other stuff about his own kingdom which Arthur really did not care about. He looked back to the carriage the king had been in, and blinked in surprise. There was someone else in there.

'I'm quite sure King Lucan isn't married…' Arthur mused, and looked a little more closely. He realised that it wasn't a woman after all. The person appeared to be sleeping, leaning against the wall of the carriage. What puzzled him was what appeared to be a large white blindfold on his head, decorated with a purple and silver emblem on the side. He was dressed in long white robes, also decorated with purple and silver. His attention zoomed in on the rope binding the man's wrists, tied to the side of the carriage.

'What on Earth…'

"I believe it's a slave, milord," Leon whispered to him, noticing where he was looking. Arthur instantly narrowed his eyes. The slavery was banned in Camelot before he had been born, but he knew how horribly slaves were usually treated. Nevertheless, King Lucan was his guest. He had no right to argue another kingdom's policies.

He shifted his attention back to the man's face. It was relaxed in slumber, but he did appear to be slightly malnourished. Now that he looked closer, there was something about him-

"King Arthur?"

Arthur yanked his attention back to King Lucan, who was looking at him with an affronted expression. Arthur coughed abashedly and apologized, only partially meaning it, and invited him inside for the welcome feast. He turned and led King Lucan and his knights inside.

~~Each Step Is a Step Back to You~~

"As I was saying, your knights look proper and all, but don't you think you're all wearing a little too much chainmail? It's not all that pleasant to look at."

Gwaine looked positively murderous. Since Merlin had gone, the knight had taken his duty as a knight much more seriously, likely in honour of Merlin. Then here comes this arrogant king insulting them…

Arthur shot him a look, and Gwaine looked away, fuming. Arthur looked back to the other king.

"It is not purely for aesthetics. The armour is there for protection," he replied, barely reigning in the condescension in his voice.

King Lucan just hurumphed, and changed the subject. "Well how 'bout some entertainment? I've brought along my most prized pet for your pleasure," he said.

"Pet?" Arthur questioned. "You brought an animal here?" It was rare for kings to have pets, let alone bring them to another kingdom.

The other just barked out a laugh, and Arthur couldn't help flushing slightly in embarrassment. 'It didn't sound that ridiculous…'

King Lucan gradually stopped, and patting Arthur on the shoulder as if to assure him his question wasn't completely silly. It had the opposite effect.

"Angel is no animal, King Arthur. He is a human."

Arthur almost dropped his wine cup in shock, and he definitely heard a few of his knights choke at the statement.

"My apologies, King Lucan, but I thought I heard you say your pet was a human being," he spoke slowly.

King Lucan just blinked. "You did not mishear. Angel is a human, and my pet."

King Lucan seemed ignorant of the cloud of murderous intent beginning to arise from the knights who had heard this. Even Guinevere was glaring into her wine cup.

Arthur couldn't blame them. He was familiar with the concept of slavery, but owning a human as a pet? He felt disgusted just sitting next to the man.

Meanwhile, King Lucan and ordered one of his servants to bring his 'pet' inside the feast hall, before turning back to Arthur.

"I promise you that Angel will not disappoint! His voice is truly magnificent!" the king praised. Arthur frowned, but acquiesced. He realised that it must be the man he saw in the carriage, and wanted to take a closer look at him.

After a few moments, the servant who left came back, trailing the blindfolded man by the rope, and the hall fell into silence. There wasn't another way to describe him other than beautiful. The silky robes flowed as he walked, and the tails of the blindfold also swayed through the air. The man's skin was pale, almost white, virtually fading into the whiteness of the robes and blindfold.

But… something in the back of Arthur's mind pestered him. Now that he was out of the carriage, Arthur could look at the man clearly. Arthur swore the man was familiar, but the blindfold was preventing him from recalling a face and name. The lips and chin…

The servant stopped the man in front of their table and bowed, leaving him standing there. 'Angel' bowed, though his body was mistakenly angled more towards Arthur's side of the room.

Arthur froze. 'That posture… it can't be!'

"Merlin?"

The man whipped his head up.

"A-Arthur?" he whispered in shock and hope.

The reaction was immediate from Arthur and his knights. They stood up quickly, and Arthur rushed around the table towards Merlin, repeating his name just to make sure it really was him. Around them, the knights of Camelot had all drawn their swords. They weren't certain as to why Merlin was with the other king, but it was evident Merlin was not there of his own accord.

Arthur felt his eyes welling up and he reached Merlin, his hands instantly gripping him tightly in a hug. Merlin eagerly returned it, head burrowing into Arthur's neck and shoulders shaking from sobs. All both of them could seem to articulate were each other's names.

"What is the meaning of this!" King Lucan bellowed out, but was ignored by the pair. Sir Leon turned to face him instead, his sword rising up slightly. King Lucan's knights had also drawn their swords, but the deadly aura stemming from the Knights of Camelot made them shiver with fear.

"Where did you get that boy?" Leon asked in a level voice that was laced with venom.

"I bought him!" King Lucan replied heatedly. "He's been my pet for over three months!"

At that, the knights all snarled in fury, and Gwaine even took a few threatening steps forward. However, they would not act without their king's permission.

Arthur finally released Merlin, bringing shaking hands to the blindfold, needing to see his eyes, but Merlin grabbed his hands before he could take it off.

"No… don't," Merlin pleaded.

Arthur just froze, before yelling out in rage, understanding. He turned his head to the side, looking straight at the other king.

"Kill him."

The knights didn't need to be told twice, and began to move forward.

"Wait! It wasn't him…" a weak voice cried out, stopping them in their tracks. Arthur looked back at Merlin, his hands still clutched around his head.

"He didn't hurt me," Merlin continued. "He treated me well." And it wasn't a lie. Merlin never disobeyed the king, and was never punished. He was always rewarded for good performances.

Arthur gritted his teeth, before signalling the knights to seize them and take them to the dungeons.

~~Each Step Is a Step Back to You~~

Arthur and Gaius gently led Merlin to Gaius' chambers, followed by Gwen. The knights were taking King Lucan and his men to the dungeons.

Merlin was smiling the whole way. He couldn't believe it, couldn't believe that he really was back in Camelot. Back home. He could feel the dampness that signified tears, but they were tears of ecstasy.

Soon he found himself eased into a chair, and he felt the soft hands of Gaius touching his face, softly touching his cheeks.

"Oh my dear boy…" he whispered.

Merlin smiled in delight. "It's ok. I'm ok," he said, trying to convey just how utterly glad he was to be back with them.

"Your eyes…" Gwen's voice said, quivering.

Merlin smiled understandingly. "To ensure I wouldn't escape the slave traders," he told them. Merlin had eventually accepted that he was blind, and would never regain his sight.

The sound of a table being kicked rang out, and Merlin winced. "I'll kill them, I swear! I'll kill the bastards that did this," Arthur roared.

Merlin's smile softened. "I'm alive… and I'm home again. That's all that matters."

Arms suddenly enveloped him, holding him tightly against a warm body.

"Don't leave me ever again," Arthur whispered.

"I won't," Merlin replied.

The End


A/N: Well… that became longer than originally planned! It has been almost a year since I wrote anything, suffering from a long writer's block. But then suddenly POOF, MUSE! And also the news that Merlin was ending pushed me to write a story, in honour of the awesome show that is Merlin.

Anyways, thank you for taking the time to read my first Merlin fic! I really hope you enjoyed, please leave me a review to tell me what you think! Until next time! Love you all.

P.S. I really apologize for bad information. Especially regarding the money, since I don't even know if they used pound, and I live in New Zealand so not even America and Medieval currency rate blah blah. So yeah…

Also un-betad, but I thoroughly proof-read. Hopefully no mistakes…

The names were from a list of Medieval names, and the kingdom Deira was just a random one picked from the list of Kingdoms in Albion.

Don't know anything about herbs either! Just researched Medieval herbs, and chose random ones.

Credits:

Top quote from the poem - The Most Beautiful Flower by Cheryl L. Costello-Forshey. Really beautiful, just Google: The Most Beautiful Flower poem.

All songs in this fic are sung by the amazing Heather Dale, who sings about the Arthurian legends. In order of appearance:

Album – The Trial of Lancelot
The Prydwen Sails Again
Measure of a Man
Hawthorn Tree

Album – Fairytale
Each Step

Please YouTube these and listen to the amazing Heather Dale bring the songs to life. She was my inspiration to write this.

P.S.S. I kept accidently writing King Duncan instead of King Lucan… should have chosen a different name.