I've said it all before really...reviews have been amazing and I've just generally been thrilled! So thankyou!

Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin :( one day...

Here we go, last chapter :(

As Merlin regained consciousness he blearily noted that he was tied down. In a panic, he opened his eyes and struggled to free himself, succeeding in slipping his thin hands through the knots. The horse he was atop snorted at the sudden movement, and Merlin looked down at it in confusion. It was a beautiful creature with a shining brown coat and a glossy black mane, which Merlin knotted his hands through to regain his balance.

Merlin recalled the place between worlds where he had seen Freya again. That sensation of releasing his magic...Merlin closed his eyes as he remembered the delicious feeling of freedom and power. It had obviously worked, because here he was, healed, alive and well and...on a horse.

Merlin looked around him. How had he gotten here? A shallow but wide river gurgled to his right, and he could hear voices from the other bank. Familiar voices. Merlin strained his ears to listen in on the conversation, leaning to the side. He felt a sudden twinge of pain and lurched sideways, losing his balance and landing in a heap on the ground.

Ow, he thought, and pulling up his tunic saw that while greatly healed, there was still a wound on his stomach. It was a lot smaller than before, and the pink skin surrounding it hinted that eventually there would be no scar. For now though, he would have to be more careful.

Merlin shifted onto his knees, still not knowing who was on the other bank. Could it be Arthur? He tried not to get his hopes up. More likely some peasants or travellers who had found him and were taking him to get medical help. It was possible of course that the men weren't friendly, and memories of the last time he'd been kidnapped flashed across Merlin's mind. His hands curled into fists as he tensed up, suddenly wary.

Then, Merlin heard splashing and realised that the men were crossing the river. There were four horses in total, and Merlin crawled around to behind the big one he'd been tied onto. In this state, Merlin really didn't want to fight, especially four probably armed men. He knelt there, waiting to see if they were friends or not.

Straining to hear again, Merlin caught, 'Where's the body?' and immediately recognised the voice. Arthur. Relief flooded through him and he relaxed as he realised that he was being rescued, not taken. But Merlin was shocked by the despair and hopelessness he had heard in Arthur's familiar voice, and even more surprised by the question.

Body? He wondered.

Do they - was I...

He heard another voice, and this time it was Percival.

'I put him here. Look - there's blood on the saddle, he was here, I tied him down!'

This voice was a lot closer, and Merlin realised with a jolt that the man must be only a few metres away.

'Who, me?' He asked, his voice weak, and he shakily stood up.

'MERLIN!' Percival shouted, looking delighted, shocked and confused all at the same time. 'How the hell - Arthur, he's alive!' Percival turned to Merlin as the others raced through the river, excitement and joy on all their faces. The first one to reach Merlin was Arthur.

The king stumbled up the bank towards him, mouth open and...were those tears in his eyes? Merlin blinked, but yes, it looked like Arthur was crying. The men regarded one another, grins spreading across both their faces, then Arthur rushed forward and hugged his best friend.

'You were dead, God Merlin, you were dead - How are you even alive? I'm so sorry- I failed you - I - there was so much blood, it just wasn't -' Arthur broke off from his rambling as he saw the pain flash across Merlin's pale face and he released him immediately, stepping back.

'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! Did I hurt you?' Merlin grimaced then pulled up his tunic and showed Arthur his gash.

'Shit Merlin. That must've hurt, I'm sorry.'

'Stop apologising you clot pole,' Merlin tried teasingly, and Arthur grinned again like he'd had the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders. It was at this point that Gwaine and Leon came rushing towards them, and Merlin had to try not to laugh at the incredulous, overjoyed look on Gwaine's handsome face.

'Merlin!' He yelled, and came running up to grab him, but Arthur stepped in front.

'He's hurt,' the King stated, and Gwaine skidded to a halt, face suddenly freezing with worry, but Merlin just smiled at him.

'I'm alright, Gwaine, really.' Merlin indicated to his stomach, saying, 'I've got a bit of a cut here, but other than that, I feel fine.' The knights all looked at each other, lost for words. Gwaine was grinning like a maniac, and Arthur was just staring at his best friend. It was Leon who spoke next.

'Merlin, you don't know how glad I am that you're okay, but only ten minutes ago I swear you were dead...there was no pulse, and you were so cold.' The older man looked searchingly at the servant, who was now standing next to his King.

'I think that was...um...one of the effects of the healing water!' Merlin improvised wildly. The knights looked at him disbelievingly, so he continued, 'the body simulates death to break the enchantment and then, the patient recovers. Simple really.' Merlin smiled disarmingly, but the men still seemed unsure.

'Its just that there was so much blood...it was everywhere, even in the river,' Arthur definitely didn't look convinced. Merlin just shrugged, and a lopsided grin spread across the King's face once more.

'I'm just glad you're okay. You're a complete idiot for leaving, you know that?' Arthur suddenly looked thunderous, and his tone changed from playful to serious.

'You can't just run off into the forest Merlin. You could have died - I'm still pretty sure you did die! Don't you dare try something like that again.'

'Of course not Sire,' Merlin flashed a cheeky smile and Gwaine, Percival and Leon chuckled but Arthur still looked furious.

'I'm serious. If you ever try that again, I'll...I'll make you personally polish the armour for the entire army.' Arthur's face drained of anger and he just looked at his best friend.

'I thought you were dead, Merlin. I thought that I'd failed you, and you'd been here cold and alone and in pain and -'

Merlin cut in, sensing the growing agitation in his friend's voice. 'It's okay, Arthur. I'm fine. Honestly. But...can we go home now?' Arthur smiled again.

'There's not enough horses, we probably should've thought of that.'

'He can have my horse,' Gwaine immediately volunteered, and Merlin gratefully accepted. The knight helped to lift Merlin into the saddle, then they began the long track back to Camelot, with Gwaine walking alongside.

*M*

'So you found your lake, then?' Arthur asked, twisting in his saddle to raise an eyebrow at his servant.

'Yep, and just in time too.' Merlin lied. He knew the knights were curious about what had happened so he had quickly come up with a story as they trotted through the forest.

'The enchantment was strong and I was just about falling asleep again when I came across it. I half fell in, but it wasn't enough to sever the connection. The lower half of my body was in the water, and the upper half wasn't. She...the sorceress had some fun.'

There was a bad taste in Merlin's mouth as he bitterly muttered, 'she likes to play with her food.' That much was definitely true, and he had to stop himself from reliving all the pain she had caused him. 'But when she gave me this,' he gestured to his injury, 'I spasmed or something, and fell into the water. Then it all went away. The pain just stopped. I think I blacked out or something. I don't know why I didn't drown.'

He frowned, seeing the hole in his story as he told it. The knights all seemed to accept that you couldn't drown in a magical lake, so Merlin guessed that he had gotten away with it.

'When I woke up I knew I had to move: you wouldn't have found me if I'd stayed there, you could only find that lake if you needed it. That was part of the magic. So I ran. I went as far as I could but eventually I just fainted, I guess.'

'But if you had fainted, why did you seem dead when we found you?' Leon questioned. Merlin was ready for this.

'The magic hadn't finished working yet. When I was in the lake it stopped her torturing me and healed the worst of my wounds so I thought that was it. I think that it had temporarily healed me, but not completely broken the spell, and when I fainted the magic started working again, a bit like the enchantment itself I suppose,' he mused.

'Like I said before, the body has to be pretty much dead for the enchantment to be broken. I was at that stage when you found me. The lake didn't properly heal this gash, and that's where the blood all came from,' he clarified.

'When the magic was done, I woke up, and found myself tied to a horse.'

There was silence for a minute. Arthur seemed dissatisfied with the story, and Merlin knew that there'd been a lot of holes in it. But Arthur said nothing, so Merlin just smiled, sat back in his saddle, and spurred on his horse.

*M*

Merlin entered Arthur's chambers without knocking as usual, before laying down a plate piled high with the best the royal kitchens could offer. Arthur turned as he heard someone come in, then sighed in exasperation as he saw who it was.

'Merlin, you are supposed to be recovering.'

'I've been recovering!'

'We've barely been back for an hour.'

'Yes, I spent an hour recovering and now here I am. Someone had to bring you your food or you would get grumpy,' the servant teased. 'I've never seen anyone who loves his food as much as you...'

'We have had this conversation before, Merlin. I am NOT fat!'

'I never said you were, Sire. There is nothing wrong with liking your food.'

'No there isn't,' Arthur growled, 'although you look like you never eat at all. So skinny...'

'I'd rather be skinny than -' Merlin stopped himself before grinning tauntingly at Arthur from across the room. 'Well, you know.'

'Oh I know Merlin. I know that you are a lazy, clumsy, idiot,' the King's expression changed as he looked at his servant. 'I also know that you are my best friend, and I never want lose you again.'

The men shared a look, then Merlin quietly murmured, 'thank you, Arthur.'
Then he had turned to leave, and ruined the moment by taunting, 'there can't be many people willing to be around a royal prat like you!'

The clang could be heard from three floors down as the golden goblet bounced off the back of Merlin's head.

Everything was back to normal once more.

And that is it!

I've had so much fun writing this! So sad to finish it, but its worked out pretty well because I go back to school tomorrow :( yay.
I hope you liked the ending, please let me know what you thought! I've put quite a lot of time into this over the last week and feedback is always very welcome.
Don't know when I'll have time or an idea to get a new story going, but from the experience I've had with this one I hope it's soon!
Thank you so much if you reviewed, followed or favourited this story or me! Bye!
Kalia of Camelot xxx