Disclaimer: I own nothing, all rights belong to their respective owners.
Didn't quite mean to write this one, it just happened and came out of nowhere! Enjoy!
Merlin disappeared behind the rock as fast as he could whilst attempting to not trip over the end of the dress. How on earth did girls do this on a regular basis, every movement was restricted and awkward with the material bunched around his knees. He just had his fingers crossed that Arthur had indeed carried on walking as he was sure that the colourful cursing coming from behind the rock would have brought the king back, wondering what was going on. In hindsight, Merlin knew that he should have taken the potion before trying to get changed; his young body would have no doubt dealt with the dress a lot better than this old, aching one did.
But eventually, he found himself young and decidedly male again. Ducking away from under the rock, Merlin ran as fast as he could back to where he had left the bags, stuffing the garment into the first one he saw before hastily shutting the flap. Only when everything was safely hidden out of sight did the warlock finally breathe a sigh of relief, letting a smile cross his face as tears of happiness pricked the corners of his eyes. This hadn't been about stopping Morgana, not really. This had been about saving Gwen, giving Camelot her Queen back and Arthur his wife. And just this once, Merlin found that he was doing it for him as well. He wanted his friend back.
This time, he had won.
Too many people had fallen by Morgana's hand; Merlin had lost too many dear friends. But to lose Gwen, the one person that had been by his side since the day he found himself in the stocks for insulting the young prince of Camelot… Merlin wasn't sure what that would have done to him. If he was honest, he wasn't sure he wanted to know, his magic was somewhat unpredictable when he was grieving, despite years of learning how to control his gifts.
But he didn't need to worry this time, for it had been a happy ending for once. There was still hope for them yet, and having someone that was actually loyal rather than wanting the king dead sharing Arthur's chambers certainly meant Merlin knew he was going to sleep better when they finally got home. His quick dash from the rock had shown that Arthur had indeed continued on his way and Merlin shouldered the bags again, steeling himself to face the King. He had a feeling that he was about to get a ridiculing of a lifetime – being held hostage against a woman nearly four times their age? That was not something that Arthur was going to let him live down, even if Merlin had tried to drive the point home that he had been helping.
Climbing up the small gulley that he had hidden his belongings in, Merlin sighed as he stared out across what looked like the deserted horizon. Just how far had Arthur already gone? He knew that he had to hurry, he was loathe to leave the king alone with Mordred for any longer than he had to. He might have saved Arthur from the threat of Gwen, but that had done nothing to sort out the problems with the young knight. If only he didn't have a certain charm about it… Merlin knew that if it wasn't for the warning in his heart, then he too would believe that Mordred had changed. Sometimes, Merlin still considered his gifts to be as much as a curse as when he had first stepped into Camelot with no idea how to control himself. He would lead a much happier life if he was ignorant to what could potentially happen, yet Merlin knew that he couldn't afford that luxury. Someone had to keep the Once and Future King safe.
The gulley was far harder to climb out of than it had been to jump into, and Merlin was breathing heavily by the time he finally made it out over the top, his hands scuffed and bleeding from where he had been forced to pull himself upright. He knew that the power of the magic he had just performed coupled with the aging spell would have taken it out of him, he was going to have to go slow. He couldn't let the exhaustion he could feel settling into his bones show, for he had no explanation for it. He knew that if it came to it, he would blame it on the old woman, claim that she did something to him. But Merlin was loathe to, as that would once again mean magic had been used for ill. After everything that he had said so far, Merlin knew he had to fight to get Arthur to accept the magic rather than continuously trying to turn him away from it.
Slowly putting one foot in front of the other, Merlin barely realised that his mind was zoning out as he walked. He knew which way Arthur had gone; all he had to do was catch back up with them. Of course, it would have been nice if the King had remembered about him long enough to actually wait, but the man had just been given his wife back. Merlin supposed this was the one time that he couldn't grumble too much about Arthur's actions. Maybe it was Mordred he should pity, stuck with the love-struck pair as they were reunited. Merlin couldn't help but snort in amusement as he thought about it. It would be enough for anyone want to murder someone seeing how in love the king and queen could be, especially after time apart.
The sun was beating down on his back as Merlin walked, yet he had underestimated just how exhausted he was. His eyes had locked on an odd shaped rock in the distance as he had stumbled, using it to make sure he was going in the right direction. But it didn't seem to matter how many times he put one foot in front of the other, it wasn't getting any closer.
"Well, well, well, what have we here?" Merlin had been so lost in thought that he hadn't heard anyone approach. He certainly hadn't noticed the two Saxons lying in wait just around a small rock. He should have known though, Morgana would have brought some sort of backup in case her plan failed. Whether these two had been given some sort of signal, or whether they had just grown bored, Merlin had no idea. But he certainly wasn't in the mood to deal with them. Letting his magic bubble to the surface, Merlin was prepared to blast them back into the same rock they had just emerged from behind, a message to Morgana that she was fighting the wrong people.
Only nothing happened.
He could feel his magic there, it wasn't as if it was gone or anything like that. But it almost seemed to just sigh and settle back down again. After the amount of raw power that Merlin had just used saving Gwen, the magic wanted a break. His eyes flickered, the merest hint of gold infiltrating his irises before it simply faded away. Trying again, Merlin swallowed hard when absolutely nothing happened. He knew that this had been a possibility, and knew that if he pushed, his magic would obey him again. But he also knew that he would be left with a splitting headache and barely being able to see straight. If he didn't knock them both out, he would be helpless. Still, he knew that he had to try.
Attempting to buy himself some time, Merlin backed away slightly.
"Don't come any closer." He warned, hand groping through the bag as he tried to reach for a sword. Even a dagger would do, he just needed some sort of weapon in order to force them to hesitate and therefore give Merlin a few moments more to get his magic under control. His heart was pounding hard and the roof of his mouth had gone dry. Unable to stop himself, he found that he was glancing around for Arthur. Now would be a really good time for the king to remember about him, for Merlin could feel the way his magic was sparking just out of his reach, almost as if teasing him and daring him to reach even deeper into himself in order to access it.
"Or what?" The first man nodded, and Merlin froze. Why hadn't he noticed that there was a third? He should have known, he should have been more alert. But instead, he knew found a cruel dagger placed across his throat as the bag was torn from his grip and his arm wrenched up his back. It was almost mocking him the way that it was the same hold Arthur put him in a lot, only this time, it was harsh and painful.
"Let go of me!"
"Like I said, or what?"
"Or you will really regret it." Merlin's voice went cold and dangerous as he reached within. He no longer cared if his magic was forcing him to tap into the power that he normally just ignored and left brimming away within. Merlin couldn't let himself be killed, not now. Not when he knew that Morgana was still potentially lying in wait for Arthur, not when he had prophecy's to stop. "You have no idea who you are dealing with."
"Some scrawny boy? Don't think you can frighten us with your big words, you don't even have a weapon."
"I don't need one." This time, Merlin's voice was dark and dangerous, and he knew that using this part of his magic would send him down a path that he wouldn't necessarily be able to come back from. It was focusing on his raw power, something that Gaius had always cautioned against because they weren't sure quite what he was capable of, even after all of these years. Merlin knew that once that reserve of magic was unlocked, there would be no going back.
Before he could tap into it, however, a blow to the head left him seeing stars. His concentration slipped and he gasped, feeling his knees give way. The dagger against his throat disappeared as he dropped, but his arm continued to be bent up his back, almost folding him in half as the Saxons held him down on the ground.
"Spirited one, isn't he? Get some rope, tie him up. I think we'll have a bit of fun first, see how long it takes his big threats to turn into pleas. Bet he squeals before we do anything."
"You really don't want to do that." Merlin warned, grappling for his magic. It wasn't easy when the rocks seemed to be splitting in two and then weaving back together again as his vision swum. Precisely how hard had they hit him?
"And why is that?"
There was something about the man's voice that helped Merlin's head to clear. It was mocking and patronising and he knew that this Saxon, just like the rest of the world, was seeing him as nothing more than a scrawny servant unable to defend himself. Before he could answer, the man yanked his wrist down and held it in the small of his back, pulling Merlin's other arm around at the same time. His balance thrown, Merlin pitched forward, only being held by the man's grasp with their mocking laugh ringing in his ears. The movement was enough for his stomach to curl unpleasantly and that was enough of a sign to Merlin to know that it had been a hard blow. His mind wasn't able to process anything else as he felt his wrists being crossed, held tightly before the burn of coarse rope slid over them and tightened. As soon as he was bound, the Saxon let go.
"Not so high and mighty now, are we?" Merlin glared up at him, trying to regain his balance as he automatically fought with the rope holding his hands.
"What, no comment? No remark about how you are going to make us pay, despite the fact that you don't even have a sword?"
"Actually… that's my line." Merlin's head whipped around just in time to see a dagger flying out of nowhere, hitting one of the Saxons and causing him to drop with a cry. The second pulled his sword, but the one who had been mocking Merlin grabbed hold of him. The dagger was back against his throat and Merlin struggled as he was held against the man's body, effectively used a shield as he pressed his back to a rock.
Sure enough, Arthur quickly appeared, sword in his hand and fury in his eyes. Merlin tried to pull away, but he was held too tightly. His magic was now realising the real threat that he was in and was trying to help, but it was Merlin's turn to force it back. He was too exposed to use magic here; he couldn't very well just send one of the men flying when Arthur was standing right there. If he was honest, Merlin wasn't sure Arthur needed him. The second man was dispatched just as quickly as the first, falling to Arthur's gleaming sword.
"Let him go and you may be spared."
"May? Sorry, Your Highness, this whelp is mine now. Caught my attention and all of that." Merlin squirmed as the knife was pressed closer to his throat.
"How about you drop your sword and I won't slit his throat right here and now?"
"Arthur, don't!" Merlin only just had time to yell before the Saxon's free hand slammed across his mouth. Despite biting down hard, the man didn't let go. Merlin could see the indecision and concern on Arthur's face, and knew the man was about to give in. Cursing Arthur for being too noble, Merlin dropped his eyes to the ground. He pushed his hands back into the man's stomach at the same time as his eyes glowed. He had no idea what he was even doing, just trusting the magic to defend him. To cover up his actions, he stamped as hard as he could on his foot at the same time. Sure enough, the man yelled out, throwing Merlin down to the floor and staring at him. His hands were holding his stomach, but Merlin gazed coolly back from where he was sprawled across the floor. He had tried to warn him, after all.
"Keep down!" Arthur yelled, immediately tightening his grip on his sword and running forward. Merlin didn't even try to argue back, he knew that Arthur could handle himself in a fight. What he did do, however, was stay low and let his magic do the work for him. The Saxon had dropped the knife when Merlin had lashed out, and as Merlin's eyes glowed, it was moved out of his reach. The man had been bending down for it as it moved and was completely thrown off balance as he lunged for it. Arthur rammed into him, sending him flying and landing in a sprawled heap across the rocky ground. The king was instantly over him, sword poised.
"No one touches the manservant of the King of Camelot."
"Why, that good is he?"
"Don't listen to him, Arthur." Merlin cautioned, making it into a kneeling position and wrestling with the ropes. He didn't want Arthur to kill out of anger, knowing that the king might regret it later.
"Stay out of this, Merlin."
"Oh, Merlin is it? Did you know how threatening your servant can be? So much talk…"
"Shut up." The Saxon simply laughed. His hand shot out to the side and Merlin cursed as he realised that he hadn't moved the knife far enough. But the man barely even had time to get it into his grip before Arthur's sword came slamming down. Merlin looked away with a slight grimace as the life left the man, but unsteadily climbed to his feet at the same time.
"I should just leave you tied up and bind you to the horse." Merlin jumped, looking nervously over his shoulder to where Arthur was angrily stalking towards him, sword still out. Without thinking about it, he took a small step away, mind going wild. Had Arthur seen the magic, was that what this was about?
"At least that way, I can keep an eye on you. If it's not Saxons, it's old women. If it's not old women, it's cliffs… Is there anything that doesn't pose a threat to you, Merlin?" Merlin grinned, inwardly breathing a sigh of relief as Arthur cut through his bindings before sheathing Excalibur.
"You sound worried."
"Don't be absurd. I just wasted valuable time coming back for you. So will you please pick up those bags and hurry up?" Arthur's tone might have been scathing, but Merlin could see the look in his eye. Arthur had been coming back for him anyway, that was the only reason why he could have turned up like that. And he had been worried, it was rolling off him in waves. But the day Arthur Pendragon admitted to being worried was the day Merlin truly started to worry, so for now, he just rolled his eyes and bent down to pick up the pack.
He had forgotten the blow to his head though, and found that he was wobbling slightly. Arthur's hand seemed to automatically shoot out, steadying him almost as if the King didn't know what he was doing. Arthur frowned at the rope burns on Merlin's wrist, but his servant grinned.
"It's fine." He muttered, not wanting Arthur angry. He had already killed the men responsible, there was nothing else that could be done.
"Got to keep you on your toes, Sire." Arthur simply rolled his eyes and punched Merlin lightly on the shoulder before turning and walking off. Remembering a conversation from years ago, Merlin grinned as he shouldered the bag and followed his king.
The Saxons had accused him of being all words. Yet in reality, that was all that Arthur was. It didn't matter how many times he insulted or complained about his servant, his words meant nothing. It was his actions that gave him away, and Merlin knew one thing without a doubt. Arthur cared.
After all, why else would he have come back for him?