Author's Note: Some story details before we begin: This is a Merlin adventure heavy on the bromance and whump, taking place about a month after season 4. Which makes this AU now, I suppose. I started writing this before the show finished, so don't expect this story to fit in with a canon 5. Anyway, whumping will be to both Merlin and Arthur, but mostly Merlin. Mainly because a whumped Merlin brings out a Merlin that kicks butt. No slash, although I am sure if you are determined and wearing slash goggles, you will find a way.

As almost all of the story is already finished, updates will come every three to four days.

Don't mind the OC knights. They are essentially extras and only have names because I can't just refer to them as "that random knight in the background."

And lastly, this isn't a crossover, but the beast at the beginning of this chapter did come from the fabulous J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Chapter One: Prat and Prattle

"Scildan," Merlin whispered from behind a tree as the creature charged towards Arthur.

The creature, a giant purplish bull with a giant humped back and two long golden horns, was a graphorn, according to Gaius. Lived up north, usually, the physician had said. They often migrated for the winter, but he sincerely doubted one would ever come this far south. The fact that it was there before Merlin, however, indicated that the graphorn cared little for Gaius's doubts.

The graphorn's enormous horns deflected off Merlin's invisible shield, veering just inches short of Arthur's face.

Merlin breathed again—that had been so close. He gripped the tree for support and tried another spell. "Forp fleoge."

He winced as the graphorn shrugged his spell off with a snort. Gaius had further warned him that graphorns' hides deflected most magic, but that was turning out to be more true than Merlin had hoped. Every spell he'd thrown at it so far had failed to kill or even do real damage to the beast. At best, he had only made it slower and thus easier to stab.

Not that Arthur or any of the knights were having any luck with stabbing the thing. In addition to deflecting most spells, the graphorn's skin seemed to be thick enough to absorb glancing blows, and the knights had been too preoccupied avoiding its horns to properly attack.

"Surround it, men!" Arthur called, twirling his sword. "We need to find its weakness."

The six other knights—Gwaine, Percival, Elyan, Leon, Vidor, and Caridoc—began to form a circle around the growling graphorn, which lowered its head and stomped, clearly preparing to charge again. Its head rotated from knight to knight as if deciding which one to gore first.

"Slowly, steady…" continued Arthur. Behind his tree, Merlin tensed, eyes trying to catch every single movement, magic ready to burst from him at any moment.

The young king made a running leap and lashed out with his sword, managing to stab the beast's hump. The graphorn reared back, but it was not weakened, just angered. Unfortunately, Arthur's sword was still embedded in its flesh, and when it reared back, the sword left Arthur's hand with it. Arthur himself fell flat on his back and rolled just in time to avoid being impaled by golden horns as the graphorn charged.

Great, Merlin thought bitterly. Now he had to protect six knights and an unarmed Arthur. This wouldn't have happened if Arthur had just brought the perfectly nice magical sword Merlin had told him to take everywhere, but no, his wife had to go give him a sword. Why Gwen had wanted to give Arthur a sword for their one-month anniversary when the king already had one—nay, several—was beyond him. He really needed to have words with Gwen when he got back about giving Arthur replacements for magical, unbeatable swords…If he could get Arthur back in one piece, that is.

"Reform! Surround it!" Arthur ordered, leaping back as the graphorn lunged at him again. The creature missed only because of Merlin's hastily whispered shielding spell that knocked it off course.

"Oi! Beef-brain!" Gwaine shouted as he threw a rock with pinpoint accuracy straight at the graphorn's eye. Roaring, the graphorn whirled and blindly charged towards Gwaine.

"Feoll firgenholt!" Merlin hissed. A large branch snapped off the tree above, crashing down just as the graphorn's head passed beneath. The beast halted at the impact, stunned for a moment, until Elyan snatched Arthur's sword by the hilt and yanked it out.

"Here, sire!" he shouted, tossing the sword back to the king, then running as the graphorn charged at him.

Arthur caught his sword by the hilt and pointed it at the graphorn. "Keep confusing it!"

The knights didn't need the order. The graphorn roared as it veered from Elyan to Vidor, who jabbed it in the foot with his sword, then switched to Leon as he grabbed the fallen branch and tossed it at the beast's head.

Merlin's eyes darted between the fight and Arthur, who was slowly circling until he stood in front of the thickest tree in the vicinity—the one Merlin was currently hiding behind.

"Send it over to me!" Arthur yelled as the graphorn barely missed Percival.

Caridoc, who stood between the king and the graphorn, obediently sliced at the beast's haunches with his sword, then threw himself out of the way as the graphorn whirled to see its latest attacker. Its beady eyes fixed on Arthur, who crouched in anticipation.

Peeking from behind the tree, Merlin watched as the graphorn charged at Arthur. Realizing what Arthur intended, the warlock tensed, ready to shove Arthur out of the way or cast a spell if the king's plan failed…

A second before he was impaled, Arthur dived out of the graphorn's path. The graphorn's enormous horns slammed straight into the tree behind him instead; Merlin, who was leaning against the tree, nearly fell over as the tree shook with the impact.

The knights let out a whoop, but Merlin's eyes widened as he saw the graphorn start to pull back—its horns hadn't lodged in the tree tightly enough.

Tucking himself further behind the tree and out of sight of his friends, Merlin frantically pushed his magic into the bark.

He smiled to himself as the graphorn let out a snort of frustration—its horns were no longer pulling free.

A moment later, he heard the creature's body collapse.

Merlin circled the tree in time to see Arthur triumphantly holding his bloody sword in the air over the graphorn's decapitated body. The knights gathered around him, breathing hard but beaming, congratulating each other on a job well done.

"I sure hope that's not dinner." Merlin said with a grin.

Arthur sheathed his sword and clapped Merlin on the back. "Merlin, there you are! I was beginning to think you'd run all the way back to Camelot."

"Nah, you would have missed me."

"Missed your ceaseless prattle? Never. Get the creature, will you? We'll deliver it to the villagers."

Merlin stared at the graphorn corpse in horror. "How am I supposed to carry that? It's huge."

Arthur, who had already started to walk off, called over his shoulder, "Just the head, then. Better get it out of the tree!"

Merlin gingerly wrapped his hands around the bloody head and gave an ineffectual tug.

"Need some help?" asked Gwaine brightly, taking hold of the other side.

Merlin beamed back at him. "On three, then."

He lowered his gaze to hide the flash in his eyes as he and Gwaine popped the head out.

"Ugly thing, isn't he?" Gwaine asked cheerily, giving it an experimental toss. "Bit heavy. Sure your bony little arms can take it?"

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Just give it here."

Gwaine looked at it again, then tossed it over. "Think it resembles the princess a bit?"

Merlin caught the head and managed to not bend over with the weight. It was heavy. He smirked at Gwaine and raised his voice. "Nah, Arthur's head's too empty to be this heavy."

"I heard that!" Arthur yelled from across the clearing.

Merlin and Gwaine both traded a grin before scamping off after the rest of the knights.

Arthur relieved Merlin of his burden just as they reached the formerly threatened village, where the king grandly lay the head at the village leader's grateful feet, assuring the village that the beast would trouble them no more. The villagers wanted to throw them a feast, but Arthur turned them down. Instead, the knights would be heading back to Camelot immediately.

Merlin beamed at Arthur as he made his speech to the village, telling them to not hesitate to send for the knights should anything else bother them. Arthur was tired and hungry, Merlin knew, but the king also recognized these people would need their food for the fast-approaching winter. And the fact that Arthur was offering assistance to a village even at the furthest reaches of Camelot—almost not even within its borders—spoke volumes to the warlock.

Although, Merlin thought wistfully as he helped the knights prepare their horses for the journey back, he could have used a feast. He hadn't eaten since breakfast several hours before. They wouldn't be able to make it to Camelot until at least tomorrow afternoon, but when they did, maybe Gaius would have something already made. Or maybe he could nick something from the kitchens…

Something prickled at the back of the neck, like a breeze, except that there wasn't any wind today.

Merlin peered over his shoulder suspiciously. He could see the knights, laughing and clapping each other on the back, but none of them were looking at him. Shrugging, he turned back to his own horse and adjusted the saddle. Must have just been a chill. Winter was creeping up on Camelot, after all.

His horse tossed its head and whinnied fearfully, looking over Merlin's shoulder. He turned again, but there was nothing there, just the forest beyond.

Still, Merlin frowned. His magic was drumming in his veins at full alert, warning him that something, somewhere was wrong. Great, just what he needed, something else trying to off the prat on the way home. The prat who'd decided that no, he wasn't going to bring the nice magic sword Merlin had given him. Not that Arthur knew it was magic, but still.

Trying to ignore the creeping feeling gathering in his gut, Merlin mounted his horse along with the other knights. Yes, he was definitely going to need to do something about the sword situation when they got back.

Arthur knew it was still at least another day's ride before they would reach Camelot, but he thought longingly of his nice, warm bed and Guinevere, possibly together. After Merlin got him a bath and some food, of course.

Speaking of Merlin…He looked over his shoulder. There was Merlin, right behind him, like he always was. His horse seemed a bit jumpy, likely because its rider was. Merlin's whole body was tense as his eyes darted about, squinting into the trees and up the slope on their right.

Arthur cast his gaze around as well, but saw nothing unusual. Just trees and boulders and the occasional rabbit. And looking behind Merlin, none of the other knights were showing the slightest bit of concern. He frowned, examining Merlin closer. The servant's hands gripped the reins tightly as his head swiveled, as if fully expecting the monster they'd defeated to pop out from behind a tree.

Arthur smirked. Well, he couldn't have that. He jerked his horse to a stop so suddenly that Merlin's horse nearly ran into his.

Startled, Merlin came up even with Arthur, peering around more frantically. "What? Did you see something?"

"Yes." With a swift, calculated movement, Arthur smacked the side of Merlin's head. "A servant who's jumping at leaves. Stop it before you scare the horses."

"Oh, right, because they haven't already been scared by a great fat prat—"

"I am not—!"

"Yelling," Merlin finished smugly, rubbing the back of his head as they continued on. Well, at least he was smiling now.

"What are you looking for anyway? There's hardly ever bandits in this part of the forest, and we've already defeated the…" What was that thing called? It had a gr sound in it.

"Graphorn. And…" Merlin hesitated, then leaned towards him slightly and lowered his voice. "Don't you feel it?"

Arthur resisted the urge to groan. Not another one of Merlin's funny feelings. Superstition, that's all it was. And Arthur was not in the mood for it. "No, Merlin, all I feel is sick of listening to you complain. What is it this time? Too hungry, too scared, or too tired? Although I hardly see how you're tired, since you hardly did anything."

"Too cold, since you're asking," Merlin shot back before going all quiet and solemn again. "I think we're being watched."

"By what, the rabbits?"

"I don't know. But I think…"

"Well, there's your problem."

"Perhaps we ought to stop and check the woods?"

"You mean camp? Now? If we stop now, we won't make it back to Camelot until tomorrow night instead of tomorrow afternoon. I don't want to spend an extra night out here in the cold; do you?"

Merlin slumped in his saddle, the tension beginning to leave his shoulders. "Yeah, I know. I'll just feel better when we're back."

"Really?" said Arthur in mock bewilderment. "I had no idea doing my laundry and polishing my sword meant that much to you."

"You didn't even bring your sword; how can it need polishing?"

"Actually, I did. You may have missed it while you were cowering like some maiden, but it was big and sharp and did a very fine job of removing the griphook's—"



"Yeah, but what was wrong with the other one, the one you pulled out of the stone?"

Arthur paused. Thing was, while fighting the creature, he had started to wish he had brought the sword from the stone. The sword he had brought instead, the one Guinevere had given him as a one-month anniversary present, was a perfectly good sword: perfectly balanced, perfectly sharpened, and a perfect fit in his hand. But the sword from the stone…he couldn't explain it. The blade almost seemed to sing while he held it, like it belonged in his hand as surely as the sun belonged in the sky.

But that was nonsense, and Arthur knew it.

"Nothing's wrong with it," he replied back to Merlin with a casual indifference, "But I have loads of swords. It doesn't matter which sword is wielded in battle, it's who's wielding it. And as I'm the one wielding it—LOOK OUT!"

He spotted the archer releasing the arrow at the same moment he tackled Merlin off his horse. Both men hit the ground with a grunt just in time as the arrow plunged straight past where Merlin's shoulder had been a mere half-second earlier, straight into his horse's neck. The horse reared in pain and panic, nearly trampling both king and servant as it fled.

"AMBUSH!" Arthur yelled unnecessarily. Around them, mercenaries were suddenly charging through the trees and from behind boulders. He yanked a slightly dazed Merlin upright, shoved the servant towards the relative safety of a nearby tree, drew his sword, and charged along with his other knights into the fray.

The battle, like all others before it, seemed to pass both in an age and a blur. His thoughts were disjointed as years of training took over, possessing his mind and body as he dodged, lunged, parried—strike, block, strike, parry, strike, block—where had that one come from?—block, block, strike…

He managed to defeat all the men nearby and quickly surveyed the battle to check on his men. Percival was fine, Gwaine was fine, Elyan was fine, where was—

Something large crashed to the ground behind him, and Arthur whirled to see one of the mercenaries sprawled on the ground as if he'd tripped, although the ground was clear of obstacles. Arthur stabbed him before he could regain his footing, then ducked as another sword whistled in the air above his head. Another stab and he was free to go help one of his knights…

At the edge of the battle, Arthur spotted one of the mercenaries atop a horse, overseeing the attack, and his eyes narrowed. That one must be the leader. If he could kill him—

He blocked an attack coming from his left, strike, parry, block, strike and finish, and ran full speed towards the man atop the horse.

Obviously the mercenary leader saw him coming, because he stretched out his hand toward Arthur. The king watched in horror as the leader opened his mouth and his eyes flashed gold—

Arthur was blasted onto his back. He dived for his sword and rolled back up to his feet, even more determined to kill the mercenary leader. They were already outnumbered, but if magic was involved, his men might not last for much longer. He needed to end this, and quickly.

He charged again, running full speed at the leader at the same time the thought occurred to him that it might not be wise to blatantly charge a sorcerer a second time.

But to his surprise, the sorcerer actually turned his horse and galloped uphill, away from the fighting, and Arthur felt a surge of perverse satisfaction. He wouldn't let him get away that easily.

Arthur thought he might have heard someone, perhaps Merlin, yell his name over the din of battle, but the king was already chasing after the retreating sorcerer, the thrill and rush of the fight urging him onward. He could feel his heart pounding in his fingertips as he started to gain ground on the sorcerer, who didn't seem to be in a hurry to get away—who was actually getting off his horse—

Arthur realized his mistake too late as the sorcerer smirked and, with a string of words and a wave, summoned a towering wall of fire, cutting himself and Arthur off from the battle. Beyond the wave of crackling heat, Arthur could still make out the sounds of his knights fighting, but it was obvious none of them would be able to get through the flames anytime soon.

The king set his mouth in a line and gave his sword a quick twirl. Just him and the sorcerer, then.

But the next second obliterated even that notion as a wave of at least fifteen more mercenaries erupted from behind the trees and quickly surrounded him. An ambush within an ambush, Arthur realized, to lead him away from the rest of the battle. Clever.

Before he could think any further, he was fighting again in a rhythm drilled into him since childhood: block, lunge, parry, block, block, block

But even Arthur couldn't fight off fifteen men at once, and soon there were hands latching onto his arms, yanking at his hair, knocking the sword from his hand, pulling him farther away from the flames and his friends beyond. Arthur writhed in their grip, elbows and legs flying, but it was no use. He was dragged towards the sorcerer and then forced to his knees.

"Well, look at that, boys," the sorcerer said, grinning wolfishly. "Looks like we've found ourselves a king."

"Who are you?" Arthur snarled up him.

"Name's Trent," he replied, eyes glowing gold as he held a small ball of fire in his palm. He looked as if he was contemplating whether to throw the fire into Arthur's face. "And you're the king I've heard so much about. Arthur, isn't it?"

Arthur glared. "If you've heard of me, then you know that my knights are some of the finest in the land, and they will find you."

Trent shrugged, letting the fire in his hand extinguish. "Bit busy now, aren't they? And I doubt they'll make it through that fire for awhile."

Arthur refused to let his fear show, but he knew Trent was right. Nobody would be coming to help him.


Arthur nearly groaned. Of all people…

Trent turned around and moved aside, providing Arthur with a clear view of Merlin. The servant looked a bit singed but determined as he ran towards the swarm of mercenaries, a sword clutched precariously in his hand. How had he gotten a sword? More to the point, how had he gotten through the fire?

Merlin spotted Arthur and came to a stop. "Let him go!"

"Well, look who's decided to join us," Trent said.

Arthur jerked in the mercenaries' grip. "He's a sorcerer! RUN!"

But Merlin was just standing there, hesitating. What was he doing?! Why wasn't he saving himself?! Why wasn't he running?! Of all the absolute idiotic things—

"Run, you idiot!" Arthur yelled. "That's an order!"

But Merlin didn't turn. He seemed to have come to some sort of decision. The hand not holding the sword reached forward, fingers splayed open, and Merlin opened his mouth as if to speak—

Arthur stopped struggling as a something cold and sharp pressed against his throat. A voice yelled from behind him, "Surrender or we kill your king!"

Merlin froze in place. His eyes met Arthur's, then darted to the mercenaries, then back to Arthur, his mouth set in a grim line. Arthur glared back at him, urging him to run and save himself. But Merlin didn't seem to notice. His head was tilted to the side, not in fear, but as if calculating the odds. As if there was any chance a battle between Merlin and fifteen mercenaries didn't end with a skewered manservant.

Run, Arthur mouthed, since apparently Merlin was too stupid to understand a glare. Merlin frowned at him, but made no attempt to flee. Arthur cursed in his head. Why couldn't Merlin listen to him just this once? If the mercenaries were planning on killing him, they would have done so already. More likely they had been instructed to capture him alive, probably for ransom or even interrogation. None of which they needed Merlin for, so if the idiot wanted to live, he needed to get out of here right now.

Trent stepped out from behind Arthur. The king watched in horror as he advanced towards Merlin, who warily lifted his sword a bit higher.

"Let him go," Arthur said, wincing when his throat pressed into the blade as he spoke. "He's just a servant. He's harmless. And too stupid for his own good. You don't need him, you've got me. He can't do anything, he's useless, so just let him go…" The forced calm in his voice was giving way to panic as Trent neared Merlin. Arthur was babbling, he knew, and kings don't babble and he needed to shut up now, but he didn't have a sword and Merlin was going to die and why wasn't he running?

But Arthur's babbling didn't matter. The mercenaries ignored him. "You deaf?" Trent called, gesturing back towards the captive Arthur. "Surrender, or we kill him!"

Merlin let the sword drop to the ground, and Trent took another step towards him. Arthur's heart was pounding, but Merlin still didn't look even remotely afraid. His gaze passed between Arthur and the slowly approaching Trent, before finally scowling in apparent annoyance.

Arthur was beyond furious with his idiot of a servant now. Didn't Merlin realize these men weren't going to care about capturing a servant? They were just playing with him before they killed him. Why wasn't he running? Did he have a death wish?!

"I will come willingly if you just let him go," Arthur tried again. Trent was pulling a sword from its sheath at his belt, and Merlin wasn't moving, and Arthur's veins were suddenly flooded with terror. "Please. Please don't hurt him. I promise I won't try to fight back if you leave him alone. He's innocent, he's harmless, just let him go…"

His pleas went unheeded. The distant part of his brain not panicking registered Trent leveling the sword's point at Merlin's face.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Merlin spoke finally. His voice was low, with a tone of authority Arthur had never heard from him before. "And I would let him go right now."

"Oh?" said Trent, pausing almost within arm's length of Merlin. "Why's that?"

"Because if any harm comes to Arthur Pendragon, I will kill every last one of you."

Arthur made a sort of choked hysterical sound in the back of his throat. How in Camelot's name did Merlin think trying to bluff instead of running was a good idea? Why did his friend have to be such a complete idiot and not run and save himself, because Arthur was going to have to watch him die, and that would absolutely destroy him.

But to Arthur's great surprise, Trent didn't laugh. Instead, he sheathed his sword and drew out a bottle from a pouch on his belt. He held it out towards Merlin. "I've got a better idea. You drink this, and your precious king keeps his head."

Now Merlin did look frightened; he recoiled from the bottle as if it were a poisonous snake.

Trent grinned. "Now he gets it." The grin turned to a menacing glare as he waved the potion in front of Merlin's face. "Drink it, or we kill him. You might be fast enough to get some of us, but I doubt you'll be fast enough to get all of us before he dies."

Arthur remembered Merlin wearing a ridiculous hat, drinking from a goblet meant for him, how Merlin had collapsed to the floor, and Arthur struggled anew. He felt something hot drip down his neck, and heard one of the men holding him swearing and adjusting his grip, but Arthur didn't care. "Merlin, don't be an idiot! RUN! Just RUN!"

Merlin's eyes met Arthur's, and Arthur watched his friend's fear morph to resignation. Merlin reached out to accept the bottle, uncorked it, and gulped its contents down.

The effect was instant. Merlin's face paled in seconds. The bottle tumbled from his fingers as he gagged, fell to his knees, and made retching sounds, although nothing came out.

"We got him, boys!" Trent crowed, clapping him on the back. Merlin collapsed and seized, his hands clutching at his throat.

"Merlin!" Arthur felt the blade leave his neck and scrambled frantically to reach his friend, but there were just too many hands holding him to break free. Something hit his head hard, making Arthur black out for a moment. By the time he regained his vision, he'd been dragged into the back of a prison cart.

He hit the floor with a grunt, started to get up, and was knocked back to the floor when Merlin was tossed in after him. Arthur had barely rolled out from under him when the door shut and the lock clicked. Seconds later, the cart started moving.

Arthur immediately turned Merlin onto his back. The servant was still shaking, though not as severely, and he was still gasping.

"Breathe, Merlin, breathe!" Arthur ordered. He resisted the urge to hit him. "You idiot. Why didn't you just run? Or at least not drink that poison?! You are by far the stupidest—Merlin? Merlin, breathe, you've got to breathe, just breathe. Breathe, you dollophead—"

He smacked Merlin's chest hard, and Merlin coughed weakly and blinked up at him. His eyes looked oddly glazed, and a thin sheen of sweat covered his pale forehead. "Arthur," he whispered with a faint smile, "You prat. That's my word…"

He broke into more coughing, so Arthur scooped an arm behind his back to help him sit up. "And when—if you ever show at least some modicum of intelligence, you can have it back. What were you even thinking? Oh, let me guess, you weren't!"

"Had to…protect…"

"Protect me? Protect me? If you had run when I told you to, only one of us would be captured! You could have run for help, but no, you had to try to take on fifteen men with a sword that you can't even keep from dropping every two minutes—Merlin, are you listening to me?"

Merlin wasn't. His face was scrunched in concentration as he reached out a hand towards Arthur's face, but the king batted it away. "Focus, Merlin, I'm talking to you!"

"You're wounded…Had to…have to…" Merlin murmured, placing his hand on Arthur's neck. Merlin's eyes drifted shut, and his mouth moved soundlessly.

Arthur, still furious with his idiotic manservant, tried to pull the hand away. "I said, focus, Merlin! You idiot, open your eyes, don't you dare pass out on me! Do you hear me? Merlin…!"

But Merlin only scowled and muttered some more, his hand staying firmly on Arthur's neck no matter how much Arthur tried to move it. The king had to pause to take a breath to continue his furious tirade before Merlin's blue eyes fluttered open.

"It's not working," he said, sounding as if he was about to cry. "It's fading…I can't…But you need…I have to…"

"Stop being such a girl. You're going to be fine, you hear me?...Merlin?"

Merlin closed his eyes again and sucked in a breath, hand not budging from Arthur's neck. When Merlin finally let his hand drop, he seemed even weaker than before. His eyes only half-opened. "Hurts."

"Of course it hurts, you idiot, you drank poison! You're going to die, and I'm going to have to watch, because you were too stupid to run when you had the chance."

"Not gonna die. Just…hurts."

"What a shame. And here I thought I'd finally be rid of the worst servant in all five kingdoms."

Merlin grinned weakly. " 'S okay. Wear off soon…Then we can…I'll get us…Oh…" His eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he slumped in Arthur's arms.

"Merlin?" Arthur shook him gently, then viciously. "Merlin! Wake up! Wake up right now or I will make your life a living hell. Merlin? Merlin!"

But Merlin didn't budge. Arthur pressed his palm to Merlin's chest and felt the steady pulse there, watching the steady rise and fall of the servant's chest. After a long moment, Arthur let out a breath he didn't realized he'd been holding. Merlin was fine. Just unconscious, not dead. And stupidly loyal, emphasis on the stupid—trying to take on all those mercenaries at once, what was he thinking?—but alive. For now, at least.

He slowly lowered Merlin to rest on the floor before removing his cape. He tore a strip off with his teeth, folded the rest in a neat pile, and carefully slid the pile under Merlin's head. Then he took the torn-off strip and pressed it to his own neck with a grimace. If the blood he could feel caking on his chainmail was any indication, he'd been cut rather badly. But when he pulled the cloth away, it was barely spotted. He prodded his neck with his fingers and realized the wound was much shallower than he'd originally thought, so shallow it had already closed off.

Trust Merlin to worry about a scratch, Arthur thought in fond irritation. If they ever—When they got out of this, he was going to force Merlin to rethink his priorities. In the stocks. Every day for a week.

He ran through his mental tally of things to do in case of capture. He'd done all he could for Merlin, and he himself was alright. Next step: get out. Trying not to fall over from the jostling of the cart, Arthur tested the door and the walls. His eyes stayed carefully averted from where Merlin lay, pale, clammy, and horribly still.

His inspection was fruitless. The door and walls all held, and there was nothing inside the cart that could be used as a tool. No way out, then. Certainly no way he could get out and carry Merlin.

He'd have to wait until they stopped, then launch an attack on whoever opened the door. Obtain a sword. Overpower as many men as it took. Grab Merlin and run for it.

He plopped down next to Merlin with a sigh. Not much of a plan, but he would have to make it work. And if he failed, he had faith in his knights. They would find him and Merlin…hopefully sooner rather than later.

He looked back at his motionless manservant. As much as Arthur hated himself for thinking it because it meant they were both in mortal danger, a selfish part of him was glad Merlin was here with him. Because they had both been in worse situations together before, and they had always survived, and Arthur wasn't about to let that change.

Although, he thought with a sigh, Merlin was being useless, as usual. Obviously, it would be up to him to escape.

Next chapter up Saturday. Reviews are appreciated.