Disclaimer: Merlin is not mine.
Merlin was such a coward.
Well, that's what Arthur liked to tell him, at least. And it wasn't as though Merlin didn't have his share of particularly affecting fears that Arthur usually learned about at extremely inconvenient times. Arthur understood that Merlin had his fears; who wasn't afraid of something sometimes?
But why did it always have to be sorcery that set Merlin running? Why couldn't it have been spiders? Or a fear of tardiness and overdrinking? This was ridiculous. Arthur swore that Merlin would physically tense whenever the subject came up between them. It was as though Merlin thought that a sorcerer was going to just pop up and curse them into oblivion whenever Arthur would mention the word "magic." Arthur could concede that magic could be a rather frightening prospect to face, but honestly. Arthur didn't pay Merlin to run off every time someone said a word that rhymed with "sorcery."
Not that there were a lot of words that rhymed with sorcery. And Arthur never made this particular argument with Merlin. It wasn't that he was afraid of offending Merlin; it was just that whenever the topic of Merlin's wages arose between them, Merlin tended to grow sulky and unpleasant. Arthur had told him on more than one occasion that if he would just do half of the work expected of him as the king's manservant, Arthur might consider giving him a raise. But Merlin always retaliated by being tardy and dropping things and serving dishes that Arthur was almost positive had not been retrieved from the butcher. Or cook. So they didn't really talk about it. Arthur wasn't too ashamed of the negligence; while it wasn't exactly admirable that such a basic subject couldn't be discussed between them without a few small resultant revenges, Arthur figured that it was excusable. He and Merlin were so good at communicating openly with one another on all other subjects…so what if they just tried to avoid one every once in a while?
Although there were a few subjects that Arthur would like to throw at Merlin just then, most of them rather...unforgiving. Why did he always have to run when Arthur most needed him? Just because this was the first time that it had ever happened didn't make it any more excusable. Although Arthur had still never quite gotten over Merlin absence at the moment of sudden Uther's death, when Arthur truly could have used the friendly support. But why, this time, had he been in such a hurry to make his escape? Would it have killed him to at least lie about where and why he was going? Lacking any given excuse to rationalize Merlin's absence, no matter how weak, of course Arthur had to jump to cowardice. And it wasn't as though Arthur could have just pushed it out of his mind to focus on more important matters than the degree to which his servant was irritating. Despite the urgency of the situation and the very real danger, Arthur was bored out of his mind. He was hiding, of all things, and hiding seemed to involve an awful lot of inactivity. Even his company wasn't doing much to keep him occupied. He supposed that perhaps his current companions were just better suited to sitting quietly and keeping to themselves than he was.
So Arthur paced about the tower, alone save for Guinevere and a pair of guards, cursing Merlin and wishing very much that he were there with them.
It would have helped if it weren't such a very small tower. Of course, he knew that the size of it was what made it so valuable, but the cramped quarters combined with the silence gave an uncomfortably close atmosphere to the single circular room. Arthur, fully armed and in such a small room that he had to check where the others were when he spun around so as to not whack them with the sheathed sword at his hip, was just about dying to do something.
As long as that something didn't involve thinking about the tower. His heart still sped up in distinct unease when he thought of the decision for them to seek refuge in this place. Guinevere had tried to soothe the nerves, and she had almost succeeded. After all, the positives about hiding up in the tower far outnumbered the negatives. It was a small tower, but the highest of all of those connected to the castle. It overlooked on one side the courtyard and the massive iron gates—usually in disuse, although bolted and fortified on this day—and, other the other side, the training field and edge of the forest. Arthur, once he had brought his queen to safety and begrudgingly acknowledged that it was best for him to remain and hide as well, had had a good view that allowed him to watch as his men finished the fortifications closing off and adding last-minute protective measures to the walls around the citadel and then fled with the rest into the forest.
It was a good plan. Arthur knew that. Anyone who dared attack—magical or not—and discovered an abandoned castle would certainly assume that the king and queen would have fled with the rest. This tower was so easily overlooked that even Arthur had never given it half a thought until his father told him of its potential usefulness. He could count on one hand how many people knew of its importance. It was so negligible that it garnered no attention, but upon crossing the threshold of the single unremarkable door, any attackers would have found a very narrow passage of extremely steep stairs, winding a dizzy path up and up and up until they would come across the thick wooden door. This was not a tower that could be easily stormed. It was too high and too smooth for anyone to scale the walls, with only two windows. They would almost certainly last through this trial unscathed, and Arthur would still be at hand when it was all over to give aid to the citizens of the lower town who hadn't had the chance or ability to flee. And they only needed to make it through the rest of the afternoon and then the night. The moon would wane and the spell would be broken and they would certainly be safe until then.
There was one bad thing about the tower, and it was so very bad and had such a very glaring risk that Arthur would have regularly never chanced locking himself up in it. After all, the bad thing was the same as what made the tower so valuable. It was so difficult to get in, but if there were enough enemies, and if they managed to take the corridor…well, then it wouldn't so much be a case of having only one way in as having only one way out.
So that wasn't particularly helping to settle Arthur.
And he felt so strangely…naked. It was one thing to be without Merlin. That was bizarre enough, and to be without Gaius as well made him feel…hollow. Gaius had been available to Arthur since he had been born, and the fact that this whole problem had to do with sorcery, a subject upon which Gaius was probably the most knowledgeable person in the kingdom still living, just made the absence all the more affecting.
But then, if this didn't have to do with sorcery, Arthur wouldn't have had to send Gaius away at all. He'd felt dreadful doing it. Gaius clearly hadn't wanted to leave Arthur's side, but Arthur's gentle insistence was firm. Gaius could use magic, and even if the old physician thought that his powers were insignificant enough to be unaffected by the spell, Arthur couldn't take the chance. So he had given Gaius a horse and supplies and an escort of half a dozen of his men and sent them all to another village until the full moon passed. Still, it had hurt to see Gaius leaving, as though Arthur had banished him…if it hadn't been for Gaius, Arthur wouldn't have even known that there was anything particularly wrong.
But there was something wrong, and Gaius had read the signs that everyone else had missed. Someone, some sorcerer—probably a sorceress, Arthur thought, knowing his history—had cast a spell over Camelot. Gaius hadn't been able to properly explain how he or she had managed it; apparently, the spell would take a great deal of power to cast and maintain. And then he'd gone off on some speech about talismans and totems and death that Arthur stopped listening to, preoccupied by the implications of this spell. Gaius said that it was a spell that forced all those possessing magic to temporarily lose their free will and adhere to that of he—or she—who had cast the spell. The enchantment would be focused so that those affected would be united in a single purpose. In this case, Gaius supposed, those with magic would be manipulated into attacking the citadel. When Arthur had pointed out that, even counting those among his people who had magic but suppressed it in secret for the sake of their own survival, there couldn't be very many who could do any harm to his castle, Gaius had shaken his head, warning Arthur not to think of fighting against sorcerers the same way that he thought of fighting against soldiers. Against magic, swords and spears lacked the same danger that they did against regular men. Gaius couldn't have said what exactly the perimeter would have been for sorcerers within to be affected, but he said that he was sure that the spell could only be in full effect on the last day before and last night of a moon cycle. If they could just last until dawn…
So Arthur had ordered a reluctant evacuation for the day and sent Gaius away, instructing him privately that—if he knew of any servants or knights in the castle who happened to possess magic secretly—he should take them with him, even if he couldn't tell Arthur, for everyone's safety. Gaius had looked so taken aback and truly shaken by Arthur's instruction that Arthur had almost wished that Merlin had been in Camelot for to go with Gaius, just so that the old man might have someone close to lean upon. This stress couldn't have been good for him.
But then again, even if Merlin had been there, if he had returned from his errand to one of the outlying villages before any of this had come to light, Arthur still probably wouldn't have sent Merlin with the physician. Gaius would have escorts…and Arthur would need Merlin. He didn't know how, exactly, but he would need Merlin for something.
As it happened, Arthur was spared the dilemma of allowing Gaius the company of his surrogate son or keeping him by his own side. Merlin returned from his trip to fetch herbs collected and dried specially by a woman in an outlying village shortly after Gaius had departed. From the look on Merlin's face when he returned to Arthur, he'd been fairly confused to see the controlled chaos as people were abandoning their posts and heading for the forest, having left on his errand before the sun had properly risen that morning. Arthur didn't have the chance to ask if Merlin was confused, however. Merlin happened to walk into the council chambers just as Arthur was briefing his chief knights on the particulars of the situation, many of which had been withheld from the public for fear of spreading panic. While most servants probably would have been mortified and apologetic at having barged in on an intimate meeting between the king and his closest advisors, Merlin had just given a mildly conciliatory wave and taken his place behind Arthur, not even bothering to look as though he wasn't eavesdropping. Arthur was past caring. Merlin eavesdropping would save Arthur the trouble of having to repeat it all again to him later in private. The knights were all accustomed to it anyway.
So Merlin had stood in the background, listening intently as Arthur told his men of the spell that had been cast, the spell that would turn the mind of every magic possessor within a certain unknown perimeter against the king and Camelot. He'd sensed Merlin tensing nervously at the information and nearly rolled his eyes. Merlin was such a coward about magic! But Arthur had more important things to do than tease his servant for his fears. He told his men that all sorcerers—even if they happened to live the quiet lives of regular people and did not practice their magic—would attack at full power, whether they liked it or not, voicing Gaius' theory that whoever had cast this spell had chosen it for the purpose of pointedly inflicting upon Arthur the power that the Pendragons had expended so much time and energy eradicating to the most violent of extremes.
His men took it all in stride, although Arthur saw that none of them were particularly inclined to argue in favor of remaining at the castle. Entering into a siege against an army was one thing; entering into a siege against unknown sorcery was a potential disaster. Evacuation of the castle was the safest measure. Arthur had learned to his dismay that being king meant choosing safety; risks were for princes. Yes, everyone seemed to take it all in stride.
That is, they all seemed to take it in stride until Arthur closed the meeting by mentioning that Gaius had said that the spell would take effect at sundown. No sooner had those words left his mouth than did Merlin rush out of the room. From the brief look that he got of his face, Arthur saw that Merlin's eyes were wide and panicky, and it was then that Arthur realized that Merlin hadn't been present when Arthur had mentioned that this all was going to happen today. Arthur had already had time to absorb the danger, and the calmness with which he was addressing the men had apparently lessened the sense of urgency in Merlin. Even the evacuation didn't seem too harried at that point. So when Merlin had heard that they only had until sundown…Arthur supposed that Merlin was allowed a moment of panic. His greatest fear was sorcery, and Arthur couldn't begrudge him the instinct to avoid it altogether. The shock of knowing that these magic attacks would occur in a matter of hours was sure to take him aback. So he'd assumed that Merlin had rushed out to get some fresh air or vomit or scream until he cleared his mind. He'd assumed that Merlin would be back shortly.
Curious, Arthur had trailed after Merlin after dismissing the knights, the briefing concluded anyway. Merlin was not waiting in the anteroom or even walking back. He must have been truly shaken, Arthur realized, not yet frantic enough at the situation to be dismissive of Merlin's state of mind. So he'd walked to the long outdoor corridor that overlooked the castle courtyard, a rarely used hallway in which he knew that Merlin sometimes took the breaks that he decided to allot for himself.
Merlin wasn't there. Arthur had sighed and run his hands through his hair before looking out over the courtyard, watching as the final civilian workers hastened from the semicircle toward the paths that would lead them away from the castle. Even with the headstart of nearly six hours, Arthur was somewhat surprised that there wasn't at least a bit of panicky rushing amongst them. He was oddly proud of their comportment, even as he knew that even he couldn't take credit for their fortitude. He had smiled to himself.
And he had kept smiling to himself for nearly half of a second, before there was a clattering of hooves, somehow amplified into echoes in the emptied courtyard, as a horse was driven hard across the stones and out of the gate, not yet heaved shut. It was Merlin. It was Merlin on Arthur's horse, the poor beast already nearly frothing at the mouth. Arthur had opened his mouth to shout but hadn't even had the chance to get past the inhalation before Merlin was past the wall, the furious pace of the horse having carried him faster than it should have had to. The only time that Merlin turned and gave Arthur a full view of his face, grim and serious and somehow alien in its determination on his face, was when Merlin reined the horse, digging his heels in and turning it. Merlin looked at the gates, still ajar, and seemed to be speaking at them. Arthur didn't know why the hell Merlin would be doing that, although he supposed that he might have mistaken it for Merlin speaking to the horse. The afternoon light was shining into Arthur's eyes and what little lipreading skills that he possessed were failing him; from the way that Merlin's mouth moved, Arthur couldn't identify any of the words. It must have been the sunlight, Arthur told himself. And Merlin was speaking to the horse, surely. Why the hell would Merlin be talking to the gates and walls? Arthur was just tired.
Then Merlin was gone and Arthur didn't have any vision to wonder at.
Arthur hadn't known how he felt about the whole thing. There was the anger at the abandonment, the anger that Merlin would steal Arthur's horse, the anger that Merlin was apparently set on driving the poor thing half to death in his haste to flee the city. There was the disappointment that Merlin, who had stood by his side in so many more dangerous situations, didn't have it in him to stay this time. There was the pity that Merlin had so instinctively fled. And there was a curiosity that Arthur couldn't quite place, a knowledge that none of this fit what he knew of Merlin's character and that there had to be more to what was happening than what it seemed…but that hadn't been the proper time for feeling. So, he'd cursed at an invisible Merlin, said a silent prayer for his horse—which he was certain that Merlin had taken because it was by far the fastest in the stable—and set off to find his wife.
So now they were up in the tower and the sun was blazing the orange that meant that it was on the verge of setting and there wasn't much else to do but feel. Arthur wished that night would hurry up and fall so that he could keep watch for attacking sorcerers without having to think about his feelings.
He wished Merlin was there, and he didn't like thinking about that either.
Fortunately, the orange of the end of the day soon turned into a purpling dimness that meant that soon there would be only starlight for Arthur to be able to see anything. They couldn't even have a torch up in their tower; the light would give away their position immediately. Still, Arthur knew that his eyes would adjust quickly enough.
The sun wasn't wholly set before the first showed up.
Arthur recognized her, and wished with all of his heart that he hadn't. She was a shopkeeper from the lower village. She sold cloth or candles or some other harmless thing. Arthur couldn't recall her name—he'd probably never known it—but he remembered her kind eyes from his tours through the lower village. He couldn't even recall their color...only the kindness with which she had regarded him. The way that she'd looked at him made him ache in a way that made him wish—even now, as a grown man and king—that he had had a mother. Oh, how he wished that he hadn't recognized her…
But her eyes weren't kindly. Not then. They weren't anything that Arthur recognized. They were…gold, and Arthur had shivered. He had seen the glimmer of brightness in the eyes of sorcerers as they had done magic in the past, of course, but it was always fleeting, a sort of unnatural twinkling that was just brief enough to be unsettling rather than frightening. But now…her eyes didn't fade back into brown or blue or whatever they ought to have been. They didn't become kindly. They were just…gold, unchanging and steady. In the darkness, it was one of the eeriest sights that Arthur had ever seen. In the back of his mind, he wondered if he would have thought this beautiful if it had happened in a time before the Purge.
It wasn't long before a handful of others joined her. Fortunately, it was dark enough that Arthur could focus on their silhouettes and unceasingly glowing eyes-some of which seemed brighter than others, which Arthur guessed had to do with levels of power-without trying to recognize who they were. Together, six of them, they stood before the solid iron gates, arms extended with palms at a right angle, staring straight ahead. A few sparks began to jump from the bars and the hinges, and Arthur understood: they couldn't get through the gates. He'd heaved a sigh of relief, exhaling a breath that he hadn't realized that he'd been holding. But something seemed off, and it nagged at him. Why couldn't they get through the gates? He could have understood if maybe the kindly woman hadn't been able to do it on her own. After all, he did know that sorcerers varied in power. But there were half a dozen of them now. Glad as he was that they hadn't breached the wall, Arthur squirmed with a sense of vague discomfort. Why couldn't they break the gate? It was only iron…and even if they couldn't scale the walls, the impromptu spikes erected hurriedly on top apparently serving their intended purpose, they should have made it in by now. This was good, Arthur knew, but it wasn't right…
More came, wandering down the main road of the lower town on unsteady legs, staggering. From what Arthur could see of their garb, they were farmfolk. They had walked from outside the town. The perimeter apparently stretched beyond the town of Camelot.
The greyness of evening turned to the blue of night, and more came, eyes glowing enough to allow Arthur to maintain a sense of their numbers. He looked anxiously for Gaius, hoping that he'd gotten far enough from the citadel to have avoided becoming one of the attackers. Arthur wouldn't have held it against him, but he knew that Gaius wouldn't be quite so forgiving of himself. Fortunately, even as the gaggle of sorcerers attempting to break through the gate grew into a full dozen, Gaius was still absent.
More sparks flew with the twelve working at the same purpose, and he heard the gates rattle on their hinges from time to time. They were assembled with a sort of disarming precision, in three rows of four, forming a solid block of twelve. There was a sort of hushed humming that Arthur couldn't place for nearly half of an hour before it occurred to him that what he was hearing was the language of the Old Religion that the sorcerers were using, speaking in eerie unison the same spell to break the gate. As soon as he made the realization, Arthur wished that he hadn't. Even as he didn't understand them, he could not unhear the repeated streams of words, and he wanted to cover his ears.
He wasn't sure how long he stood there, watching and listening and wishing that he would do the smart thing for once and sit the hell down and hold his wife's hand and wait patiently for the night to end. All he knew was that night had fully fallen and the moon was bright and the stars all apparent by the time that the thirteenth person came upon the scene.
Despite the unlikelihood of the situation, Arthur recognized him at once, even with his face downcast and facing the ground as he walked.
"Merlin," he breathed, somehow terribly uneasy at the reappearance. It wasn't entirely atypical of Merlin to have a change of heart and choose his devotion to Arthur over his own fears, and it certainly shouldn't have surprised him that Merlin would risk sorcery and walk right up to the castle. Arthur could even concede that there was some logic in the straightforwardness of Merlin's return; these sorcerers had been directed to attack Arthur and Camelot and were not permitted deviation. Merlin was probably safe.
But from the way that he walked, his steps determined and even, almost stalking, Merlin didn't look as though he was bothering to even be cautious. Arthur knew that Merlin was loyal to Arthur to the point of stupidity, but a bit of skulking and stealth wouldn't have hurt. Although how Merlin thought that he was going to get into the castle was beyond Arthur…
That wasn't the only thing that was wrong, and it took a moment for Arthur to realize the oddity. Merlin had fled on horseback, but he was now on foot. The horse must have thrown a shoe or gone lame somehow. Just because he was the king's horse and treated with more care and consideration than most of the people in Camelot didn't meant that something could have happen and lamed the poor thing. It wasn't as though Merlin would have dismounted and tied the horse so that he'd have to walk back to Camelot. That would take so much more time, and Merlin would surely make haste if he were to return to Arthur…
What good did Merlin think that he could do? Arthur appreciated the gesture, and it was certainly enough for him to begin thinking about forgiving Merlin the afternoon's flight from the citadel, but it didn't make sense. Despite Arthur's vocal insistences to the contrary, the king knew that Merlin wasn't an idiot. Surely Merlin would have known that he wouldn't have been much help to Arthur at this point, even if he could find a way in without letting any of the sorcerers in as well. What on earth was he thinking?
As Merlin approached the gate, his gait still unwavering, the dozen sorcerers stopped speaking for the first time in hours. As one they all turned to face the approaching Merlin. Arthur's heart turned cold. It was only out of concern for Guinevere and a knowledge that it wouldn't have done any good anyway that Arthur was able to keep himself from breaking cover and shouting out a warning. Yet even in his fear for Merlin, something was wrong. Why were the sorcerers acknowledging Merlin's presence? They'd been impervious to all other interruptions.
Reasons began to fly through Arthur's mind, rationalizing even as he leaned out the window, wanting Merlin to be alright. They sensed someone coming at them from behind and assumed that he meant to do them ill, so they would attack him. They thought that he might be another sorcerer approaching and turned to welcome him, but they would see that he was not and so they would attack him. They would recognize him as Arthur's servant and recall the closeness that had become rather infamous across the five kingdoms and, in lieu of an available king, so they would attack him. They would do this, they would do that, they would do this and that, and so they would attack him, and Arthur couldn't do a damn thing about it beyond lean out that window and wish that somehow his proximity would give Merlin the strength of mind to come to his senses and run.
Then, for the first time since his silhouette had appeared, Merlin looked up. And Arthur nearly fell out of the window.
Merlin's eyes were golden, blazing somehow much more brightly than all of the other sorcerers' eyes, although Arthur distantly thought that he must have just been imagining the difference out of his surprise.
Instantly, Arthur started frantically rationalizing once more. Gaius had been wrong and the spell affected everyone and Merlin had been caught and he was normal and it wasn't his fault. This wasn't Merlin and the sorcerers had conjured up a doppleganger in the hopes that Arthur would open the gates for him and Merlin was normal and it wasn't his fault. This was a trick, designed to frighten Arthur out of hiding, and Merlin was normal and it wasn't his fault. It was too dark and Arthur was wrong and it wasn't Merlin because Merlin was normal and it wasn't his fault. This wasn't Merlin because it couldn't be Merlin because Merlin was normal and this couldn't be his fault. It just couldn't.
But Arthur knew.
The spell hadn't affected any other normal people; Merlin couldn't be the exception. But no sorcerers should have bothered casting this massive spell if they could just make a copy of Merlin; Merlin had practically full access to the king, and a doppleganger Merlin wouldn't have had trouble finding a way to kill Arthur. But it couldn't be a trick, because Arthur wasn't an idiot and, as infamous as was the bond between the pair, no one thought so little of Arthur to assume that he'd open the gate for every wayward servant who chose such an inopportune moment to return. But this couldn't not be Merlin, because Arthur knew Merlin, he knew Merlin, and this was Merlin, and so Merlin wasn't normal and this inopportune return and these glowing eyes must have been his fault.
Merlin had magic. Didn't that eclipse everything else? Wasn't the magic more than Merlin? Everything was changed now, surely. Merlin wasn't the same anymore. Arthur wasn't the same anymore. It was all changed, all different, and there was nothing that anyone could do about it and…
A shiver ran through Arthur's whole body, and he came back to himself enough to inch his way back into the safety of the windowsill. He hadn't been able to blink since he'd first seen the gold in Merlin's eyes, and he was distantly aware that he was tearing up in the cold night air.
Still, Arthur did not blink. And he sure as hell didn't look away.
And because he didn't look away, he saw as the dozen sorcerers parted for Merlin, bowing their heads in something that so resembled an absurd show of respect that Arthur nearly laughed aloud. His heart was beating very quickly.
Merlin stood, flanked by six sorcerers on each side. He hadn't looked at any of them and seemed almost oblivious to their presence as he positioned himself in front of the heavy iron gates. He just remained standing, stock still, and closed his eyes for what felt to Arthur like an eternity.
Then he opened his eyes, and in that instant, Arthur realized why the other sorcerers hadn't been able to break down the gates, and he knew that he had not been wrong when he had seen Merlin speaking to the gates earlier that afternoon. Merlin had enchanted the gates to keep them closed against magic. Arthur was sure of it.
Then, just as Arthur realized the implications of that possibility, Merlin's eyes somehow glowed even more brightly gold. He pointed one hand in front of him, fingertips quivering. He never said a word.
And the gates blasted off of their hinges, screeching with painful volume as they skidded across the courtyard, tearing up chunks of stone and drawing sparks as they did.
"Oh," said Arthur, very softly.
Instantly, Guinevere was at his side at the window, and Arthur felt the two guards hovering behind them. Of course. They had heard the destruction of the gates. Hell, the hiding knights and peasants in the middle of the forest had probably heard it.
"What?" hissed Guinevere, clearly laboring to keep her voice low and not betray their position and she elbowed him for a better look. "What on earth—"
Then she saw Merlin.
"Oh," said Guinevere. She began to shake, but Arthur couldn't bring himself to try to give her any comfort. He just couldn't. Too much else was happening, and his brain was fighting with itself, trying desperately to focus on two very important things at the same time. There was so much danger that he couldn't focus on what was worst...
Merlin has magic, he thought.
The gates are open, he remembered.
Merlin has magic.
The gates are open.
Merlin has magic and the gates are open…
Arthur's breath caught in his throat, and he was just about to give in and weep or shout or curse or throw something or do whatever he needed to do to deal with Merlin having magic, even in the knowledge that Merlin having magic was the less pressing of his issues, when he registered the sight of the first twelve sorcerers streaming past the threshold, all still staggering unsteadily and all heading in random directions across the grounds. But that thirteenth sorcerer, Merlin…he crossed the threshold without so much as swaying, and he strode purposely across the damaged courtyard, magically hurling open the front doors to the palace and entering without a moment's hesitation.
And then, all at once, a single thought overcame all of the others in his mind in an instant of terrible clarity. Merlin knew the castle and Merlin knew Arthur and, even though Arthur could count on one hand all of the people who knew about this tower, Merlin was one of them and he knew where Arthur would go in a situation like this.
Arthur took several deep breaths. It didn't matter that Merlin had magic, even if he was powerful enough to stop all of the others from breaking down the gates and then powerful enough to bust them to pieces with a blink. Well, in a way, that was all that mattered just then, but he could focus on how he hadn't known about Merlin's magic and the lengths to which Merlin must have gone to keep the secret at some later time. Right now, it didn't matter so much that Merlin had broken a few laws and a few confidences. That was hardly the important point just then. The point was that Merlin wasn't himself and Merlin was dangerous.
Guinevere seemed to realize it as well. She turned and looked at Arthur, and he could see out of the corner of his eye the sharpness of her features. The worry. The fear. Then, after a moment of gazing at her husband, her face softened, and she took a deep breath.
"Arthur?" she asked, putting her hand in his. He appreciated the warmth, and he squeezed desperately, needing to hold onto something. "What do you want us to do?"
A rush of gratitude rushed through him, loving her for how she loved him enough to know that the only way that he would be able to get through this was to put on his figurative crown and be a king and be a bossy leader and pretend that he wasn't upset about his friend and too confused to just be a man.
Still, he didn't know how to answer her question. He didn't want them to do anything. Except maybe wake up from a communal dream. But he knew that he was awake and that this was real and he needed to make a decision.
Arthur closed his eyes, knowing that Merlin had enchanted the gates to try to keep him safe, knowing that Merlin had fled that afternoon not to keep his own secret but to protect Arthur from his own powers, knowing that Merlin was on foot because he'd left the horse on purpose to slow any possible return to the castle, knowing that Merlin had done what he could to protect them from himself...and knowing that, just then, Merlin wasn't Merlin. Merlin didn't have his own mind. But Merlin was powerful, Merlin knew where they were, and Merlin was too powerful…
And Merlin was coming for them.
The king opened his eyes.
"Arthur?" said Guinevere, softly prompting once more. "What do we do?"
"What do we do?" repeated Arthur, suddenly very calm. "I suppose that we run."
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