AN: *peeks out from behind the Stargate, Armies of Fae, and piles of dead zombies*
HI! Remember me? It's a short chapter, but it's a chapter!
HUGE, like "OMG I'm gonna die" shout out to Aylass! She made a new trailer for the "Into Hell, Preiddu Annwn" part of the series. *flails* Please be sure to check out my profile for the links to both videos and also the latest updates to my writing status, as well as clear index of my stories in order.
After spending over a year solid on this series with posting nearly every other day, it was a major burn out, and has taken time to find some sort of flow again. No idea when the next chapter will be up, but rest assured this series is NOT abandoned. I will promise that there will be another chapter before the next season of Sherlock. :D
Let me know if you would like me to do a recap of all that has happened at the beginning of the next chapter to help remind you of the highlights!
THANK YOU SO MUCH for all the new readers who have reviewed various chapters, and followed and favorited this series and EXTRA SPECIAL THANK YOU to all those that have been with this series for so long and have put up with my muses doing things like switching gears to other stories.*sends litters of puppies to lick everyone's faces*
Nance, IcarusLSU, Aerist, Matthew72 - you have all been such amazing helps in your own ways towards building these stories. (Even if it's just been to listen to me whine hehe)
As always, please take a moment to leave a comment, if you would be so kind! Reviews really do feed a writer's inspiration!
And now, back to the story!
Drip, drip, drip...
With each tiny splash of water on rock, he felt his eyelashes twitch against his skin.
Drip, drip, drip...
Minuscule droplets broke off from each of the larger ones, and occasionally landed against his cheek. He began to become aware of his surroundings, as his consciousness came back to him.
Blinking and inhaling deeply, Loholt started coughing. His throat and nostrils burned with the rancid odor of the stale air, ripe with mold and feces. His memory filtered back into his mind.
Was he in the dungeon? He could barely recall having been near the cells when his friend was brought out to go face the king. Something was wrong though, but Loholt couldn't tell exactly what.
Sir Leon, his adopted father, had left with Lord Emrys and Sir Gwaine on a mission to retrieve Loholt's Uncle Cai. The castle was preparing for Prince Duran's birthday.
The prince... Something tickled in the back of his mind.
The prince had been kidnapped while Vortimer was on duty. In his anger, the king had ordered Loholt's friend to be taken to the dungeons. He finally remembered why he had gone there. It was to see if his friend needed anything.
There had been a sound, like a snake...and Vortimer hadn't seemed the least bit distraught at being imprisoned. At least, until Sir Percival had come to take him before the king. That was when Vortimer had put on a completely different face - the one Loholt had expected to see. No one had known Loholt was hiding in a nearby cell and watching.
He suddenly realized that his mother was probably worried about him, and wondered how long ago that had been.
Placing his hands underneath him, Loholt pushed himself up to a sitting position. His arms started shaking from the damp, cold stone underneath. He blinked his eyes again, trying to open them.
Everything was dark.
Touching his eyes, he confirmed to himself that they were open, but he still couldn't see anything.
Even the dungeons had torches and air shafts that let in some light. So, obviously he wasn't in the dungeons, he realized. He was startled when he heard the familiar hiss, much closer than he would have imagined. He screamed and jumped up, when the soft silk of the serpent's skin caressed the back of his hand. Scrambling around in fear, he tried feeling for a wall, or a door... something.
He yelled and screamed, but the sound just echoed back to him. He began to understand he was in a much larger cell than any he had seen in the dungeons. Finally, his search was rewarded and he found a wall. But, instead of being the smooth surface of a man-made dungeon, it felt like raw stone the rose vertically higher than his hand could reach and what little purchase he could grasp was sharp and ragged. Layers of moss and algae made it impossible for him to grab a hold of anything.
The hissing sound came from above him, and he jumped back, nearly slipping in a pool of stagnant water. He was reminded of the cave where he had spent the night with a pig, who had turned out to be the Prince of the Southron. At least there, the pig had been more companionable, and there had been starlight filtering through the forest. Plus, he'd had Lord Emrys' dagger.
With a sudden burst of insight, he felt his belt. His own knife, a gift from one of his uncles, was still there, but it did little good when he couldn't even see the end of his own nose in the darkness.
Nine bodies - ten counting Alvarr's - were placed side-by-side, as the sun finally began to rise. Leon's shield arm was wrapped tightly in cloth, and pinned to his chest. Merlin wanted to wait for full light before inspecting the wound more thoroughly, and trying to heal it magically. Gwaine was uninjured, and Cai had mostly superficial scrapes and bruises from the claws of the beasts. Merlin's leg had suffered a bite, as he had turned to assist Gwaine when the chaos had begun, but otherwise, they had all survived.
A few of the wolves had fled into the darkened forest after being wounded in the battle. But, among the deceased enemies who had reverted back into their human form were Sir Tarnin's squire and one of the other servants from Camelot. They had accompanied Bran and his Cauldron to the bridge and disappeared when Bran went to find a way around the first storm, nearly two years before.
Cai had knelt and said a prayer over each one of them, even Alvarr. It was clear from the way Enymira had acted, and Aylass' account of her captivity, that these men-turned-wolves, were simply pawns to the outlaw sorcerer and his lord. However, in death, the burdens the man had carried from his childhood were finally released.
"He's a priest, then?" Aylass asked Merlin, as he checked over the wounds on her neck.
His eyes shifted up from her neck. He looked over at his friend and nodded, "Catha."
The young woman rolled her eyes in disbelief. "Never heard of them."
"Not surprising. They keep mostly to themselves." He touched his fingers to her skin, the knicks were superficial and would heal perfectly well on their own. "Just keep them clean, and there shouldn't be any issues with infection."
"Don't you have magic you could use or something?" She asked in a sharp tone.
Merlin offered her a friendly smile. "I could, if you really wished me to, but they shouldn't even scar." For the first time, he really took a look at her. She was young and he could see the pain she tried to cover with her sharp words. He remembered when he had first met Tristan, after fleeing Camelot. The cynicism in his voice was heavy, and it had taken Isolde's love to pull him out of it enough to offer their swords for the battle.
Aylass rubbed her fingers over the cuts. Looking across the camp, she saw Enymira sleeping, and her eyes softened.
Alone, neither Merlin nor Cai would have been able to bring the wolf-woman back from the edge of death. Together, they had somehow performed a miracle. Cai had the training, while Merlin had the power. The wound was deep, and it would take rest to recover from the blood loss she had suffered.
Shaking her head, Aylass realized how selfish her request had been. Merlin had stayed awake the rest of the night to keep an eye on Enymira's wounds. In the light of day, he assisted in moving the bodies and healing the others, as well as cooking up a meager breakfast for them all. "I'm sorry...I..."
"It's alright. You've been through a lot." His eyes showed her that he held no grudge of malice for her words.
"Merlin." Leon called out.
The warlock looked up and saw the three men gathered across the way, near to the horses. He smiled and squeezed Aylass' shoulder, before joining them.
Leon leaned his shoulder against a nearby tree. He glanced over the ruins of their campsite. Blood on the rocks and bushes; tree bark was scraped away from trunks, leaving bright yellow gashes of raw wood; the rows of bodies nearby - two of them were their own countrymen. "We need to decide our next move," he said. Although, he had already made up his mind on how to proceed, he wanted to hear the opinions of the others before he gave the final order.
"We need to go back to the place where they were keeping Aylass. Merlin and I have been there. We know the layout. We can save Tristan and take care of this beast," Gwaine suggested.
"No, Cernunnos would be more than the four of us could handle. We need to get the women to Camelot. They are the ones with information on what we would be facing." Cai stated definitively.
Gwaine's teeth clenched, "Are you saying we just leave Tristan out there to this animal?"
"Our first duty is to Arthur and Camelot." The taller man reminded him. "Any delay could cost the prince his life! Besides, from what the girl said, her father is probably dead."
"...And what if he isn't? Are we just going to leave him there? What about Bran? I can't stand the man, but I'm not about to leave him to rot in his own dungeon!"
"Enough!" Leon held up his hand to quiet the two men. He looked at Merlin, wondering if the warlock's opinion would mirror his own.
"We split up." Merlin said, softly. He looked at Leon, and saw the agreement in the other man's eyes. They were on the same page, and it was the only logical path to follow. "I'll get what information I can out of Enymira, and have her take me through these tunnels that Aylass escaped through. If Tristan is still alive, I'll find him. Same with Bran."
"You can't go by yourself, Merlin," Gwaine argued. Normally, the rogue prince would be offering to stay with his friend, but his desire to stay at Aylass' side held his tongue.
"Then, I'll go with him." Cai bit back a sigh, as he said the words. He wanted nothing more than to return to Camelot and see his sister, along with her two boys, but as a knight, his duty came first.
Merlin shook his head. "You need to go with them to Camelot. With your magic, you can make sure Aylass, and the information she holds gets to Arthur. I'll have Enymira with me."
"How long until she'll be healed enough to travel?" Leon asked, indicating the redhead.
"A day...maybe two."
"What if she tries to betray you? She is still a wanted fugitive, despite her assistance against Alvarr."
"She won't." Merlin assured him. "Look, even if she does, I can always call the dragons to aid me. This is the best chance we have at getting as much information for Arthur as we can to save the prince. Once I find out Tristan and Bran's fates, I can literally fly back to Camelot faster than you lot can ride. I might even be able to make it back there before you."