A Master of Two Servants: Morgana uses the fomorroh to manipulate Arthur into hunting down and killing Emrys. Little do they know the man they are both searching for is much closer than they think … AU of 4x06, 'A Servant of Two Masters'.
Warnings: gore and violence. Spoilers up to and for 4x06, 'A Servant of Two Masters'.
Disclaimer: Merlin is not mine. It belongs to the BBC and Shine.
A Master of Two Servants
It has been so peaceful – almost too peaceful, Arthur would recall later, when the celebratory hunt well and truly went to hell – that he was willing to believe, at first, that Merlin was wrong. His manservant had always been something of a pessimist anyhow, and Arthur was quick to dismiss his 'funny feelings' as foolish superstitions. But a part of him, deep and suppressed and usually ignored, believed him. It seemed, these days, that Merlin was always right.
And that was why, when the mercenaries swept from the trees and trampled down the hills, he was not surprised. He had not expected such a large fight, for such common-looking men. He had not expected them to have well-made weapons and some even thoroughbred horses. He certainly had not expected to be outnumbered to such an extent; but he had been prepared for some kind of disaster – that they would, of course, miraculously escape from unscathed and unaffected, like they always did.
That would not be the case, this time.
Throwing himself almost instantly into the fray, Arthur hadn't spared much of a thought for his own men. They were the best fighters in the land; it should have been easy for them to escape the mercenaries, even when they kept coming in such large numbers. Even Merlin wasn't so useless that he couldn't protect himself. He focused only on fighting, allowing quick glances at the knights when he could afford to.
Soon, they had the upper hand. Some of the mercenaries begun to retreat and those who stayed were cut down easily by the knights or King. The battle was almost won when, over the slamming of swords, Merlin roared his name. Striking down the two men closest to him and thanking whatever force had thrown one of the mounted mercenaries off his stallion, he turned quickly to where Merlin had been, ready to gloat about his victory, but the words caught in his throat.
Merlin lay still on the floor. From where he was standing, Arthur couldn't tell whether he was unconscious, but suspected he was when he caught sight of the man who appeared to have landed a hit on his servant galloping towards him and swinging a bloody mace. The mace was a cruel and sneakily powerful weapon, and Arthur prayed that Merlin was just being a coward, that he had not been injured at all and had instead decided to experiment with the 'play dead' tactic Gwaine was always joking about.
With a cry of both terror and anger, Arthur pulled the man from his horse and threw him to the ground. The mace rolled out of the mercenary's outstretched hand and came to a stop out of his reach. For a moment, Arthur stared at the weapon, at the blood that stained its malicious spikes, and considered using it himself, but that would take longer than a simple sword to the gut and Merlin needed him now.
A quick death was far more than the mercenary deserved, but Arthur delivered it hastily anyway, savoring the brief look of panic and pain that crossed the man's face before he raced towards his fallen friend. The knights gathered around them protectively, fighting the mercenaries back while Arthur kneeled beside Merlin.
Gently and more than a little unsure, Arthur slowly rolled Merlin onto his back to inspect the damage – if there was any damage at all, the denying part of his brain whispered, false hope flooding into his knotted chest when Merlin's eyes fluttered open. But it was short-lived. The king quickly realized that it was only because of his jostling that Merlin had regained consciousness and, upon seeing the pain that clouded those familiar blue irises, Arthur almost wished that he hadn't tried to move his friend.
Arthur placed what he hoped was a reassuring hand on Merlin's shoulder, only for the boy to make a noise that could have been a hiss or a scream and try, feebly, to squirm away. He jerked his hand away and stared wide-eyed at the blood that coated it. A whispered curse and five frantic beats of his heart later, he was by Merlin's side again, pulling his worn jacket away to check the wound. More blood coated his fingertips as he pulled the old garment off, worried by the lack of response from Merlin. He wished Merlin would laugh and make one of his stupid jokes, or call him a prat and a clotpole, but only quiet, barely-aware whimpers broke the unfamiliar silence between them.
Gwaine swore loudly and colorfully when he saw the mace's imprint and Arthur very nearly lost his breakfast again. Four deep puncture wounds dotted Merlin's chest and the skin around them was already purpling, forming a horrible bruise that spanned almost all the way to his right, uninjured shoulder. Blood flowed freely where the mace had broken Merlin's pale skin. Too much of the crimson liquid stained his sodden shirt and Arthur's shaking hands.
"Sire," Leon cried. "There are more!"
Panicked, Arthur looked up briefly from his injured servant and saw that Leon was right. More mercenaries, many of them on horses, were scaling the hills and charging towards them. There were too many. The knights were exhausted. They needed to retreat.
"What now?" Elyan questioned, when Arthur said nothing.
"Split up and head north," Arthur ordered. "We will regroup once we are nearer to Camelot."
"What about Merlin?"
Arthur's attention returned to his servant. The mercenaries had already arrived, the knights having to fight again. Merlin would need Arthur to support him at least, though it was more likely that he would need to be carried. It would slow them down, but he refused to leave Merlin behind. "He's coming with me."
Before anyone protested, Arthur had Merlin's uninjured arm around his shoulders and was already hoisting him off the ground. Merlin cried out, but he was too weak to pull away and, once again drifting out of consciousness, let his head lull limply against Arthur's shoulder. It would be useless to ask him to walk, even with Arthur's support. Without another option, the king lifted him over his shoulders and ran, just as the knights scattered.
Later, deep within the forest, Arthur laid Merlin against a fallen tree and sat beside his friend. Merlin had regained consciousness at some point, only to fall back into the abyss of dreams moments later, after Arthur had made an arrogant joke about his laziness. Now, Arthur wasn't quite sure if he was awake or not. As much as he wanted to speak with Merlin, Arthur would not have minded if he remained blissfully oblivions until they reached Camelot and Gaius could prescribe him something to take away the pain.
Arthur was lost in thought when, sometime later, Merlin finally stirred. He leapt forwards, almost reaching out for him until he remembered the awful injury that he had yet to tend to. Instead, he kneeled patiently in front of Merlin, until two unfocused eyes found his. A frown wrinkled Merlin's forehead and, confused, his hand went to his chest. Arthur curled his fingers into fists at the quiet groan Merlin let out, eyeing the blood now on his servant's fingers with contempt.
"I need to bandage that, before we move again," Arthur murmured, fearing there were mercenaries still near.
Merlin turned his frown downwards, at his bloody chest. "How bad is it?" he asked eventually, voice quiet and strained.
"Just a scratch," he lied, faking a smile. "A night's rest and you'll be polishing my armor."
"Liar," Merlin mumbled, with a slight chuckle that ended in a flinch.
"I'm a dead man."
"You're not going to die, Merlin," Arthur admonished, taking one of the arms of the padded shirt he wore underneath his armour in his right hand and tearing it before Merlin could protest. "Now let me take a look at that scratch of yours."
Merlin didn't protest as Arthur carefully pressed the torn cloth to the puncture hole nearest to his servant's protruding collarbone. Arthur gently cleaned each of the wounds, noting the redness around them and the growing heat of Merlin's skin worriedly and cursing himself for not tending to the wound earlier. Infection was setting in now. They needed to get back to Camelot as soon as possible.
Throughout the process, Merlin barely protested. Sometimes he watched Arthur, other times his gaze drifted to the trees. Arthur thought, occasionally, that he had passed out again, until something seemed to startle the servant awake once more and he would give the king a sheepish grin, before going back to studying the shrubbery. Only the agony in Merlin's glassy eyes gave him away.
When Arthur had finished, satisfied that he had the bleeding stemmed but concerned there was nothing he could do for the fever that was slowly crawling through Merlin's body, he sat down against the trunk and watched his friend. The careful mask was slipping as Merlin's eyes drooped sleepily, each drowsy flinch mirrored by Arthur's. Merlin didn't hide his pain as much now, as the fever took more of a hold and his exhaustion fought for dominance over his fierce determination to stay awake.
"Rest, Merlin," Arthur said softly, and it was all Merlin needed. The servant's eyes fell closed a second later, body relaxing slightly against the fallen tree. Arthur couldn't quite suppress his relief.
Arthur didn't sleep. He kept watch, looking out for mercenaries, wondering if he should wake Merlin. It was obvious that Merlin needed the rest, but he needed a proper physician to treat his wound and see to his fever before he succumbed to it. If Arthur carried him again, the pain would surely wake him, so for now they stayed, he decided. They would move in an hour, perhaps, unless Merlin woke before then, although Arthur didn't think he would.
When Merlin did rouse, moving uncomfortably against the tree and scratching slightly at his chest, Arthur knew then was the best time to move. But Merlin didn't open his eyes. Arthur thought he was unconscious again, until Merlin asked, quietly, jokingly,
"If I do die, will you call me a hero?"
Arthur eyed his servant and swallowed the lump in his throat. "Probably."
"But whilst I'm still alive, I'm a coward?"
"That's the way these things work, I'm afraid. You get the glory when you're not around to appreciate it."
"Unless you're the king."
"Come on, it's-"
A twig snapped in the distance. They both feel silent.
Sword in hand, Arthur was on his feet in an instance. His knuckles whitened angrily as he took up a protective stance in front of Merlin. The mercenaries were close again. Damn them, Arthur thought as he eyed the eerie shadows beneath the canopy of trees.
"Arthur," Merlin hissed behind him, eyes now wide open.
Arthur held his hand up to silence Merlin, shooting an angry look in his direction and momentarily forgetting the state his friend was in. Merlin ignored him, like usual, and said urgently, "It's not the mercenaries, Arthur."
A dark chuckle sounded from the growing darkness. It was answer enough.
"Show yourself!" Arthur yelled.
The laugh came again, cruel and cold.
Suddenly, before Arthur had even blinked, Morgana was standing only meters away from them. Arthur had not seen her since the siege, only heard of her brief, fleeting appearances within his kingdom. They were silent threats and portents of what she was planning, of what Camelot would suffer through next. She had not shown her face, but he knew she had been behind those evils.
Arthur had pictured the Morgana he knew during their hardships, remembered the girl once so full of compassion and love and good, and could not understand why she would do such things. She was not the Morgana he knew; the figure before him only confirmed that. The anger in her green eyes, the cruelty in her smile, gave away nothing of the old Morgana. There was no doubting, now, that she had changed.
"Hello, Arthur," Morgana said, smirking. Then she raised her hand and her eyes glowed the gold of betrayal and corruption.
The world exploded and Arthur went toppling backwards. He wasn't sure what happened first - the cessation of his flight or the impact with the tree trunk. Time jolted wildly, fast one moment then slow the next, and before he could comprehend just how many minutes had passed Morgana was in front of him again, head cocked to the side in fake sympathy as his head pounded and his vision clouded with dark, dancing spots.
Merlin shuffled beside him, trying desperately to move, to do something, but his body was weighed down by pain and blood loss and infection. Morgana chortled at the servant, as though she thought his weak protests were both adorable and pathetic, before her eyes flashed gold once more.
The last thing Arthur saw was Merlin's body convulse, before darkness stole away at his mind.
A/N: this is my first attempt at a multi-chapter fic. This is un-beta'ed, so any mistakes are my own. Hopefully it wasn't too terrible. Reviews and feedback are much appreciated :)