The four dashed through the gorge, hounds baying and armor clinking behind them. Morgana faltered, Mordred and the other druid crouching at her side. She couldn't continue running on her injured leg.
"I'll try to create a diversion." Merlin would do anything he could to lessen this catastrophe he'd created.
"No, Merlin, you can't!"
"You carry on, it's my fault they're here. Go. Go!"
"I'll never forget this," Morgana assured him as the druids helped her to her feet.
As soon as they were on their way the warlock extended a hand and chanted "Bene læg gesweorc!"
Thick mist billowed at his direction, filling the pass and thoroughly obscuring the way. He listened as Arthur and his men drew to a halt, picking their way cautiously. Taking a deep breath he stepped out from his hiding spot, making sure to draw pursuit by kicking up some leaves.
"There!" The prince shouted, a crossbow bolt whistling through the air.
Merlin ran, barely stumbling when the projectile hit its target.
Arthur was well ahead of his men, almost able to see their quarry as more than a faint shadow in the fog. A soft cry sounded and the figure fell out of sight. Arthur put on a new burst of speed, nearly careening over the lip of the small cliff the other man had been victim to.
Seeing that his prey was sprawled out on the ground, the warrior jumped down carefully and pointed his sword at the prone form that was starting to look worryingly familiar.
"Merlin?" He really hoped this was some sort of trick, all the time knowing it wasn't by the gaping void forming in his chest. He'd much rather be enchanted than actually seeing his manservant bleeding out on the forest floor from a bolt he'd ordered fired.
The shaft had pierced his back below the shoulder blades, burying itself at a diagonal nearly past the fletching. How had he run like this? How had he moved at all? But no, Arthur himself had experienced the frenzy that caused men to become unaware of injury in the presence of danger, who is to say that the same hadn't happened here?
More importantly, what was the idiot doing here? Had it simply been another case of Merlin following when he should not? Whatever the reason, Merlin didn't have time for these mental diversions. He was still breathing, but it was clear that wouldn't long be the case.
Dull blue eyes looked up at him, dark red blood dribbling from pale lips. He tried to speak, but all that came out was more blood.
"Shh, shhh, Merlin; you'll be alright, just don't try to speak."
A great bubble of crimson erupted as if the servant had huffed at his denial.
"Hold still, I'll take care of you." The rest of the party chose that moment to start calling for him, apparently having lost their trail.
"Incompetence," he growled to himself, beginning to rise so he could draw their attention.
His head snapped back to the man lying next to him, meaning rife in those frightened eyes.
"I'm not leaving you, I just need to call the men so we can get you some help."
"A-" this attempt at speech resulted in violent coughing that left Merlin another shade whiter, the pain of the barbed head cutting through more of his flesh and leaving him paralyzed afterward.
His words may not have come through, but Arthur could read his meaning loud and clear.
"I'm here, I won't-" he tried in vain to swallow the lump in his throat, "I won't leave you to die alone."
Merlin looked relieved, eyes not quite closing as he relaxed. Arthur, slowly and gently, gathered the younger man into his arms and held him close. He struggled to keep the questions and accusations from his lips- What were you doing here? You always manage to get yourself into the worst trouble, idiot!- instead murmuring soothing words as he combed his fingers through dark hair and rocked back and forth.
As the shallow breaths became few and far between Arthur began to sob, utterances turning to nothing but "Merlin, Merlin, Merlin," over and over again in a heartbroken voice.
A shout rang through the woods, "Lady Morgana has been found! She is safe!"
Merlin seemed to rouse a bit at that, eyes coming back open and lips parting. "Mrraaa..."
"Morgana? Yes, they've found her; all is well. You can- you can rest in peace." Of course that's what the lovesick fool was here for- he'd come to help find Morgana. Idiot.
The news didn't seem to comfort the man, however, and his brow remained furrowed for his last few moments before smoothing out in death.
Arthur wept over the corpse, a single howl of grief being the only reason his men found them.