Author's Notes: Thanks for the many wonderful story ideas! They really got the creative juices flowing. Keep them coming!

Hurt and Comfort in Camelot

PenPatronus

The Secret Round Table

Part 8

Arthur underestimated Jeer. The slave trader had one eye, one arm and a sword no sharper than a fingernail, but he also had magic. Sorcery doubled his speed and multiplied his strength. Jeer drove Arthur backwards until the small of his back collided with the altar. He ducked then, and Arthur didn't know why until a Dorocha screeched by. A second one grazed Arthur's shoulder and his skin went numb. Another white shadow passed through one of Jeer's henchmen, killing him instantly. Percival disarmed another, then engaged one about to behead Gwaine. Behind Arthur, the Callieach grinned down at Merlin who seemed to be stuck to the floor as if her shadow spell slathered him in tree sap. Suddenly a wyvern knocked her against the eastern wall. At Merlin's command, a second creature lifted a henchman into the sky by the scruff of the neck. His partner, distracted by the sight, fell quickly to Gwaine's sword. More wyverns entered the chamber but a flock of Dorocha froze them in mid-air. Their limbs shattered into ice when they hit the floor. Meanwhile, Arthur dodged Jeer's jab by somersaulting across the altar. Merlin sent a wyvern to help but Arthur accidentally rolled on top of it. The creature squawked and tore at the prince with its claws. Arthur grunted and grabbed his throat. Jeer raised his sword above him.

Merlin unstuck himself and tackled Jeer before he stabbed Arthur. Their legs got tangled up in the prince's. Merlin and Jeer stumbled, spun, lost their balance and, as one, fell into the Veil. "Merlin!" Arthur grabbed his friend's ankle before it disappeared. That didn't stop him, though, and Arthur slid toward the tear. "Gwa—!"

Gwaine dove. He grabbed Arthur's left boot and a moment later Percival grabbed his right. "Pull!" both Gwaine and Percival shouted at each other. They dug their feet into the cobblestones. "Don't let go!" Gwaine gasped through clenched teeth. "Don't – let – WHOA!" Whatever they fought against suddenly weakened. Light flashed. Percival swore he heard Merlin incanting something. Arthur's body slipped back into the world, both of his arms wrapped around Merlin's legs at the knees. Merlin followed and, to the knights' horror, Jeer still had a hold of him.

Percival had to risk letting go of Arthur. He dove over Gwaine, Arthur and Merlin and punched Jeer square in the jaw. Stunned, the sorcerer lost his grip. The Veil enveloped him, and then folded, imploded. All four boys landed in a dog pile – Percival's feet in Gwaine's face, Merlin squished beneath his stomach, Arthur half in Gwaine's lap and half in Merlin's. Arthur's entire body shivered. He tried to speak but couldn't, not because of his chattering teeth but because of the wyvern scratch from his left ear lobe down his throat. It was bloody – deep enough to injure his voice box but, luckily, not too deep to affect his breathing. Merlin, equally chilly from their brief encounter with the spirit world, shed his jacket and wrapped Arthur in it. He then ripped up one sleeve and wrapped it around the prince's neck.

Merlin rubbed Arthur's arms. "Are you all right?" he whispered. Arthur nodded, his chest heaving, his eyes blinking quickly as if to keep the liquid in them from freezing. "Did you see them?" Merlin croaked. "You saw them, didn't you?" Arthur nodded again. He leaned closer to Merlin's arms.

"What did you see?" Gwaine asked. "Who did you see in the spirit world?"

"Later. I'll tell you later." Merlin shook his head back and forth and took a deep, steadying breath. "Come on," he finally said, "let's get Arthur home." Merlin pulled Arthur's arm across his shoulder, took one step forward and, then, noticed the figure standing beside the altar.

"Emrys." The Callieach smiled widely at them. Her wrinkles flattened out and her skin became a healthy shade of pink. She pulled her black hood off, revealing a thick blonde mane. At first glance she seemed to be no older than Morgana.

Merlin knew they'd sealed the Veil but, still, he looked back. The Dorocha were gone. The rip healed. The Callieach should have gone back where she came from. "How?" he demanded. "How did you tether yourself to…" Merlin glanced at Arthur and sighed. "Morgana. You two had a deal. You gave her control over the Dorocha, she gave you a spell to set you free."

"A spell only completed when you sealed the Veil," the Callieach said. She stretched her arms above her head and passed her long fingers over the young, beautiful skin. "Thank you, Emrys." With a last smug smile, the Callieach vanished.

Percival broke the silence. "What did we just unleash?" he wondered.

"We had no choice," said Gwaine. "There's nothing we can do about it now, right, Merlin?"

Merlin only half-heard Gwaine's voice. He gently adjusted the bandage around Arthur's throat and forced a weak smile. "Can't speak at all, can you?" Arthur shook his head. Fear and courage duked it out in his eyes. Merlin shifted his weight and pulled Arthur closer. "It's all right. It will heal," he said. "And if not, well…" Merlin winked at his friend. "I'll be your voice."

Arthur rolled his eyes.

To Be Concluded