Hello everyone! I know it's been a long while again. RL still to tackle, but I'm still around and I'm still writing when I can. I've been going back and forth with the editing on this one, so I think it's about time I just post. So here it is.. the last chapter for this fic!
I want to thank everyone who read the story so far and took time to review and share thoughts about it. This fic has got an incredible response and it made me want to write more and it made me very happy all the way! So thank You for that.. I really hope you will like this one as well and won't be disappointed.
Feedback still welcome, and enjoy~!
Gaius was about to reprimand for the careless use of magic and remind him of the danger should he be discovered, but seeing how pale his ward became all of a sudden, he decided against it. After all, Merlin was not a child anymore. Over the years he has grown cautious and focused; and no longer expressed eagerness to show off his talents in ways that could get him caught; so surely, if Percival had indeed found something out, it could only had been by accident.
"Breathe, Merlin! Breathe!" The physician jumped to aid him.
The young man was gasping for air; eyes wide in growing panic; not even hearing his guardian's words, as the notion that a knight of Camelot knows of his magic became clear and harsh reality.
"Oh Gods.. No.. No…" Merlin sat abruptly. He gave the elderly physician first a fright, and then a hard time to keep him on the bed. Adrenaline pushing passed the effect of potions; swatting away wrinkled hands, the warlock seemed ready to run, but the old man knew he wouldn't even be able to stand long; and proving the physician right, the next moment the warlock yelped and grabbed his shoulder, crashing back on the cot, as pain reminded him of his condition.
"Merlin! Listen to me, Merlin! He hadn't said anything!" The warlock sat up again, but this time he didn't go further than swinging his legs to the floor and holding on to his injured limb. "Merlin!" Gaius kept a hand on his good shoulder, trying to get across to him. "I am sure things would be very different now for you if he would have said anything. Don't you think?" He had to calm his ward down, but reasoning seemed to find deaf ears, and in a moment the warlock had more important things to do; like purging his stomach of that little water he just drank.
Gaius was quick to recognize the signs and shoved a bucket, he kept near just in case, in his ward's lap. Then all he could do is stroke the young man's back in a soothing manner as Merlin crouched over it. He wondered what will come next.
"If.. if he knows.." Merlin heaved and didn't need to finish the sentence.
"We'll figure it out, Merlin.." Gaius said. Indeed, there will be a lot to figure out.
Sir Percival was deemed fit enough for light duty, just the day before, so he rode out with a small patrol. He was out of the castle, getting back to everyday routine, but that also meant Merlin was left with his thoughts and guesses of what the man knew, and what he intended to do, if he indeed had knowledge of the thing no-one was supposed to know about.
Gaius felt helpless in the matter.
All they could do is wait for the knight to return, but even he was clueless as to what will happen then, and if anything will happen at all. There were no signs the king or the queen knowing; nobody was acting strange or suspicious. Every guard and every servant acted the same way as always. Inquiring about Merlin's health, asking this or that of the physician, bringing around supplies he had earlier requested. No word or hint that the king's manservant might be in deep trouble.
By now the elderly man knew, his ward did all he could in the circumstances he was presented with in that moment. He had him tell everything over and over, and make out what might have happened, as Merlin's muddled memories weren't much to go by and the feverish images were at times hard to put in order. He tried not to scold the young man, but couldn't stop himself not to 'remark' how certain spells cast carelessly might have had counter effects and would they have worked full-effect, Merlin would have had more problems on his hands. But then the warlock looked so frightened and pitiful that his guardian resolved to assuring him, that he did what he thought was for the best, and he's happy it worked out as it did, and surely everything will be alright in the end.
Merlin however, wasn't all that convinced.
He was sick. Sick with worry; with nerves; and to his stomach, and the days passing didn't improve with anything. He couldn't move without help, his shoulder felt either too numb or in persisting pain; not to mention the cursed itching under the bandages, he felt at times he could claw his arm off. And whenever he managed to sit, he felt lightheaded and weak. Gaius couldn't get him to eat, and even if he gave in, most times he was retching moments later. He'd wake in a fright, drenched in cold sweat or being roused from nightmares of his own execution, one more gruesome then the other and the more it dragged on the weaker he got.
"Merlin, you have to eat." By the fifth day, his guardian was near begging. "We can't be sure of what Percival knows or meant." And Merlin tried, he really had, but the second he thought about his secret being out, the food seemed to just turn around in his worn stomach and head in the direction it came from.
He listened avidly when footsteps went passed the physician's chamber's door. He remarked, how it sounded so much louder echoing in the silence of the night. His heart beat in his throat every time he recognized the all too familiar clanging of armor coming closer to the door and dreaded it's the guards, that come to take him away; or the king turning up fuming and ready to sentence him to death or kill him on the spot, after long and loud accusations of betrayal of a friend and charges of treason against the kingdom.
So instead of getting better, his condition just got worse by each day.
"What's wrong with him?"
"A.. a relapse I'm afraid, Sire." He heard Gaius's voice as he was coming to. He dozed off not long ago and apparently the king had come to see him.
He wanted to stay in the presence of being asleep, unable to look at Arthur, but his eyes flew open the minute he heard another voice speak.
"But will he be alright?" Sir Percival asked and as the servant's eyes darted at him he saw the knight looking at the physician with honest concern. It confused him for a second, but he was too riled up to give it more thought.
Finally back in Camelot! What took you so long? Merlin wanted to shout at him. To question him if he knows or not? Did he tell the king or not? Does he intend to tell the king or not? Just.. something.. anything.. tell him already because he will go mad and confess it himself if not..!
Then the knight looked at him and once their eyes met the warlock wondered if any of his suspicions were true at all..
"Merlin!" he breathed with relief to see him awake and despite the king being present he stepped closer to the patient's cot.
Arthur just looked at him, waiting for the man to speak. However his servant was silent, sparing the blonde only a moment, unable to hold his glance and looked at the knight instead; avidly searching his face for any clues. Then looking at the blonde again with the same wide-eyed inquiring look. The king didn't seem upset or angry; he wasn't raging about betrayal or getting him dragged off to the executioner, so.. did the knight really know? And what did he intend to do with the information? He was so desperate to find out..
Percival's blue eyes were like he remembered. The tall knight leaned a little close, then to Merlin's surprise he actually sank to one knee beside his bed. The warlock felt it gave him an odd sensation, and involuntarily shrank back a bit, as if the movement wasn't just to be more eye-level with him; as if the movement meant something more. Knights don't usually kneel for servants.
"What's wrong, little man? You've been through worse than this, I'm sure you can get better now too.."
Merlin just stared at him with wide, red rimmed eyes.
"He's still a little feverish, Sire.." Gaius interrupted, turning to the king "I thought of one more potion I could give to him to help,.. however.."
"Yes?" The blonde wasn't too happy about being disrupted in his scrutiny, it surprised him how frightened his servant looked for some reason, but turned towards the physician nonetheless.
"It's on a higher shelf, I'd appreciate it if you could retrieve it for me.. Arthur.." the old man strategically guided the king's attention away from his ward. Perhaps the knight would say whatever his ward needs to hear to get better.
In a loose thought Merlin felt grateful for the old man's talent to maneuver other people's attention away from things; yet he felt a little abandoned in that moment, fearful of what the tall man would say, now that both guardian and king were at the other end of the physician's chamber. Will the knight threaten him? Expose him? Blackmail him? He figured he might as well run him through..
But Percival didn't do either of those. He just looked at the man.
Merlin attempted, but failed at a lopsided grin and a shrug, and no reply came forth. All the questions and maddening thoughts that have been eating him now seemed to shush and vanish and leave him clueless of what to say.
"I know you are much.. much stronger than this.."
There it was! Merlin thought and took a quick breath. He knows! And if he would have had the strength he would have jumped right off the cot. But being in no state to do so he just swallowed and kept on staring, feeling any word he might try to utter would get caught in his throat.
"You need to get better. Arthur is running the other servants into the ground at the training field and he is incredibly grouchy about his breakfasts being on time and his armor being perfectly polished.."
Merlin huffed. "He gets by.."
"Listen, first few days and nights weren't easy for me either, after getting out of that cave. I had a lot to think about, but.. I want you to know, that whatever nightmares you might have.. they aren't real.." Percival said and looked pointedly at the warlock. "Nothing is going to harm you. You are safe in Camelot."
Merlin furrowed his brows at him. Does he mean..?
Merlin breathed out, and Percival smiled with a slight wink and the image of the knight has gotten dim all of a sudden as he noticed his eyes got moist. He felt embarrassed for ever thinking the gentle giant would be capable of anything else.
If the man meant what he thought he meant, and by all means it seemed he did, then he was safe.. knowing or unknowing, the secret remained a secret and the in that instant, the relief Merlin felt was so overwhelming, it made him dizzy.
He reached and wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his nightshirt and laughed a little that was halfway a sob of relief.
Gaius returned with the king by his side and a suspicious bottle in hand, looking with interest at his ward.
"I'll be fine.." he croaked. "Just a bit.. and I'll be fine."
"You better be." Arthur said "I almost fell from that bloody shelf, retrieving a bottle."
The physician let the remark slide, he knew all too well this was Arthur's way of letting Merlin know he would very much like his manservant back; and his friend to be healthy again.
"I'll be fine.." He spoke again. "I think.. I'm hungry.."
Merlin was staring at the forest that lay ahead of them with furrowed brows and tried to make sense of the feeling it gave him. There was magic there. He was certain of that much, but he couldn't pinpoint it, nor could he be sure that their presence was unnoticed or anticipated by the source of said magic.
"I don't think it's a good idea.." he mumbled in frustration as they headed in the direction. The horses too seemed a little agitated.
"Another one of your funny feelings, Merlin?" Arthur picked up on his servant's words.
"Yes, you could say that." The young man snapped. "The same kind of feeling I get when we end up in trouble because of you."
"Don't be such a girl, Merlin. We save two days' worth ride if we cross the forest, instead of riding around the hills."
"It is getting dark, Sire. The horses too could use a rest." Sir Percival spoke all of a sudden and Arthur couldn't help, but jump a little, forgetting the silent knight was riding on his left. It made sense and it was reasonable, and he too was a little uneasy about the path they picked, even if he couldn't explain why. But he wasn't going to admit that to Merlin.
Arthur was about to hold onto his decision to keep riding, when Sir Leon joined the conversation.
"It could be dangerous, Sire. I suggest we make camp and continue tomorrow, by daylight."
"Very well." He halted after a moment though. "We make camp here, and continue tomorrow at first light."
Later in the night, Percival was standing guard, when he noticed movement from the corner of his eye. He realized who it was, as a brown jacket disappeared into the bushes, heading towards the dark of the forest up ahead. He made no move to stop him or call out to the others. As far as Percival was concerned, it must have been a deer; though he felt his heart pounding a little faster and suddenly wondering just how many times they were in similar situations.
The night passed in silence.
In the early hours Arthur woke to rattling of dry leaves and as he picked his head up he saw motion across their camp. He wondered who was on watch and reached for his sword meantime, but then he recognized his servant and sat up.
The warlock flinched when the king spoke, clearly surprised that the blonde was awake.
"Where have you been?"
"I was just.."
"Collecting firewood." Percival spoke from behind the sovereign and it was Arthur's turn to flinch. The tall knight was standing behind the king.
Arthur took a look at their fire that was in need of some wood. "You can go and collect some more." He added and was about to lay down, when something caught his attention once more and he was getting on his feet.
"Merlin, your arm! You're bleeding!" But the servant was ready with an answer this time.
"I tripped and fell." He mumbled and pried at the torn fabric on his left arm, observing the damage. "I'm alright. I just didn't notice it.." he added looking innocent.
"I'll take care of it, Sire." The tall knight stepped up, medicine bag already in hand, and Arthur figured, he might as well make use of what's left of the night.
"Clumsy as always, ey Merlin.." He growled and settled back to sleep.
The knight and the servant stepped away from the camp, not to disturb the others in their sleep, and Percival insisted to bandage his arm, when "just-a-bruise" turned out to be a nasty burnt gash, that no way Merlin could not notice, but he didn't ask questions. The knight again wondered how something of words can cause that, however Merlin seemed calm about it and for some reason he found that to be more disturbing.
"Thank you." The servant spoke quietly, with a pointed look, when the bandage was tied off. Percival gave a nod and a smile and started putting the rest of the bandages and vials back to the medicine bag. Meantime, Merlin maneuvered his arm back into his shirt, then gingerly put his palm over the injury and closed his eyes for a moment.
"Ran into anything dangerous out there?" Percival chanced the question after he stood and watched the servant pull his jacket back on a little clumsily.
"Nothing we'd need to worry about tomorrow." Merlin answered with a signature lopsided grin, and took Percival's extended hand to pull him to his feet. "The king is safe." He added and was about to head towards the bushes when the muscly knight's hand on his chest stopped him. He curiously looked at the noble.
"I'll get that firewood. You get some sleep."
"Thank you.." Merlin nodded, feeling humbled, then headed towards the fireplace to find his discarded blanket.
Sir Percival watched the gangly servant reach the circle and toss a piece of wood between the flames, for safe measure, that started burning surprisingly well, then stopped moving the moment he lay down, quickly falling asleep.
He smiled. It felt risky, but it felt like the right thing to do.
Replies to Guest reviewers:
Guest (Jan 2): Thanks very much! Hope you liked this chapter as well..
Next up: ...surprise oneshot..