I may be rusty, but I really do wish to give Merlin and Arthur's relationship something special. The title of this story is taken from an old poem/song by John Dowland. I thought it was fitting for reasons to be revealed both now and later. The format of this story will be as thus: 12 Chapters, each will have its own theme/event with an accompanying quote or poem. This was written for the Merlin Big Bang 2013 - so is on my LJ too. So, without further ado; here we go...
Weep You No More Sad Fountains
'All this feels strange and untrue
And I won't waste a minute without you
My bones ache, my skin feels cold
And I'm getting so tired and so old'
Open Your Eyes, Snow Patrol
'It's been spotted, Sire!' was the declaration of a knight bursting through the councils' doors with no sense of decorum or regard for the meeting he'd just interrupted; somewhere in his features deep down was the hopeful sighting that the importance of such a message would excuse him from his unbecoming haste.
Merlin's thoughts of an afternoon of chores were hopefully put on hold as he glanced to see the King, his once handsome face falling in the direction of time's compass, indeed ignore the knight's cry and take the news as if it were delivered on a battle field.
Merlin was patiently standing to the right side of Arthur's chair by the pillars behind him, thus, he couldn't see his facial expression (and if this news was of any importance to him) and if it even made sense due to the lack of content. However, spending many hours this way gave Merlin the opportunity, which he took with self-surprising subtle vivacity, to study Arthur's figure and to understand him, in at least matters of the court, without needing to see a face.
Arthur's shoulders indeed did seem to slump and his entire head turned and lifted.
Merlin then realised that he had no idea as to what this news was despite the urgency it swept over the faces of the court and the accompanying atmosphere.
He supposed that he should listen to the further discourse that was bound to follow.
'Where was the beast sighted?'
A beast? Thought Merlin, Threatening Camelot? Surely the King would send a scout patrol at least into the woods or wherever it was meant to be instead of a search party.
'Northwest of the abandoned barracks, just on the outskirts of that forest'
Merlin turned from the panting knight, whose breathing problems must have been due to the hush it was to converse on such a matter, and looked upon the King. He placed a gloved hand around his chin as if to cover a secret from prying eyes and his brow seemed to frown, casting a shadow of sorts over his aged eyes.
Merlin was most intrigued.
'Has the entire party returned?'
Merlin was shocked out of his study of the King by Arthur's sudden voice breaking the tension, Merlin realised, that was occupying the room. Merlin turned his attention to Arthur now and saw in his shoulders a position of muscle, ready to snap into a vigorous movement.
'Yes, we thought it best. Such a beast would need a stronger opposition and there were only five of us in total.' The knight confirmed with his breath fully in his lungs once more; the sweat on his brow now almost completely gone.
What type of beast was this? Merlin pondered in silent wonder.
But before Merlin could list any sort of fantastic beast to join such a fantastic reaction, Arthur's voice once again made itself known, with an edge of authority which gave the perceiver a sense of gentle command.
'Father,' Arthur turned to place full attention on the meditating King, 'I believe I should track the spirit.'
A spirit? Merlin's playfully anticipated thoughts were now graced with a fog of horror. He knew of the King's hatred of magic - if you didn't know you could be considered a simpleton - but there was only one spirit that could cause such uproar and be so elusive. Merlin could only think of one that would fit such a demonstration - and he prayed that Arthur didn't want to hunt it.
He was better than that. Surely a Prince of Camelot knew its ancient symbolism in the least, if the spirit even existed!
From his own apperception, Merlin realised that the King was about to reject Arthur, however, the Prince took on a more rock like voice and an even firmer stance, locked collarbones and persuasive arms outstretched as if to smooth the reason of his next argument.
'The Forest Spirit is a secretive and proud creature, according to its legends. A party larger than five would scare the beast off and the patrol would always be fruitless. If it is responsible for the bad harvests in the outer villages then let only me investigate. My skills are above any others and I won't need any protection. The spirit is a docile creature.'
Merlin was almost stunned. The Prince certainly had given this topic some consideration and the little speech of responsibility did convey his interest.
Bad harvests? Surely this was an excuse just to hunt the spirit. Merlin could now recall from what he read that if the head was severed off the spirit, and someone drank the blood from its neck; immortality would be the result. Merlin realised the danger they were in, for what the others didn't know was that, if such a task was carried out, they would be judged as an omen by the Old Religion and would be disposed of by... "natural occurrences".
Clearly the King wasn't superstitious.
What interest Arthur would have with a magical beast was beyond Merlin at this point. He was still trying to process that the Prince wasn't entirely ignorant to where such delicate matters were considered. Real or not, The Forest Spirit was a firm guardian in the Old Religion and to disturb such a great being, to even consider such an act that was beyond sensibility pouring into the impossible, would cause such outcry.
Uther then spoke with surprising ease, only a small fragmentation of his desperation cleverly concealed behind his grey eyes. Merlin prayed that they weren't truly serious in hunting the spirit.
'You will take your manservant with you.' Merlin tried to hide his bewildered scoff of disbelief with an attempt at a cough. Thankfully nobody seemed to deem his actions worthy of attention.
'Of course.' And Merlin now saw that Arthur's line of back was more relaxed, relieved even. Merlin understood that Arthur would do anything to please the King, but tracking and slaying an innocent beast, just because of fear or greed was injustice, and Merlin had a sinking feeling that maybe Arthur was blinded by his need to please this time, his conscience no longer a factor in such decision-making.
'I'll give you three days before I expect a report. When you find it, kill it by any means necessary. I will not allow such a beacon to caper around my woods causing trouble. Three days, Arthur, and that is all.' Merlin felt a cold flush by the King's sudden turn of attitude and direct proposal.
Arthur thanked him for his trust; the meeting continued as if nothing happened, the lone knight by the doors now being taken away to be comforted back into high society and his normal duties.
Merlin however, could not excuse his mental absence to whether there were too many slacking labourers in the lower town repairing the eastern wall, but to the sheer madness of Arthur's task and the severity of it.
Merlin looked to his master as if he could implore sense and understanding to Arthur, show that this was unwise and would cause more damage than the harm they were trying to 'prevent'; but he was struck by Arthur's shoulder blade movements - especially in the way Arthur restrained them.
It was now the morning after the meeting in the council chambers, and Merlin hadn't been able to shut an eye due to the entire dire situation that he and Arthur now found themselves in. He'd spent most of the evening conversing with Gaius over the stupidity of such actions and the old man agreed with him, pushed that Merlin do something to prevent Arthur if he did in earnest intend to harm the creature; but Merlin had been deliberating over how he could encompass such an action, or even put forward his argument to such a stubborn and headstrong man such as Arthur. Eventually his body won over his mind and he was able to at least spend some hours in the harmony of sleep.
He woke feeling less agitated, the morning sun putting him in good spirits; however feelings of unease were still present within his abdomen.
Currently, Merlin found himself waiting in Arthur's chambers for the Prince to adjust his clothing, secure his belt; their supplies and horses awaiting them in the courtyard.
While Merlin was deep in thought in how to persuade Arthur, the Prince started the very conversation himself.
'What is it, Merlin?'
The young man snapped out of his reverie, looking up to find an amused Prince, correcting the placement of the gear on his belt. A smirk covered the most part of Arthur's face, portraying that maybe Merlin had been staring, somewhat dumbfounded. But there was a hint of seriousness within his pupil that Merlin found directed right into his soul.
Merlin prepared his throat for speech and continued as thus:
'I don't think you'll find my opinion agreeable.'
At this Arthur's face rose with his eyebrows to deliver an expression that Merlin found meant that he should just be out with it. However Arthur spoke next, relaxing his face, returning to his abandoned ministrations.
With an aloof air but fond tone Arthur said, 'But I find your silence more disagreeable and almost disturbing.' He raised an eye to Merlin and the young man found that purposeful demeanour on his Prince, the one that would only be satisfied if Merlin gave himself and his thoughts entirely.
Merlin therefore remained silent, half in jest and half because he hadn't been able to prepare such a speech to articulate he thought this entire expedition was all in favour of the King's own ambition.
But Arthur, as always, would have none of it.
'Come,' he said, playing the part of friendly, 'Tell me. I'm at least trying to be interested.' With this statement the Prince gave Merlin a cheeky grin that he so rarely saw and that a part of Merlin hoped was only saved for him. He praised Arthur's efforts; a Prince shouldn't care about a servant's opinion anyway, but Arthur was being persistent. Merlin had to try something.
He paused, unable to think of something that wouldn't be ruining the juncture completely. Moments with caring Arthur were hard to come by. 'I don't think it wise to pursue the spirit.' Merlin uttered with firm purpose, albeit with tentative design.
Arthur just carried on his actions until he was finished, keeping Merlin waiting until in the courtyard. Reaching to mount his stallion, Arthur's eyes found Merlin's before Arthur could pull himself up. With a lamentable smile, he said quite simply:
'I thought it might be something like that.'
They had been travelling through the forest neighbouring Camelot for about half an hour, had galloped through a couple of meadows for good measure and had stopped by a stream to give both horses time to rest. Again Merlin found opportunity to let light onto what the purpose of this outing was, now that he found Arthur in good humour. Under the forest canopy, everything from the trunks of the trees to the smallest snowdrop, were darkened in a shade of deep green. Where the sunlight did penetrate the treetops were frequent patches of irregular yellows that swayed in the breeze as the leaves danced. Such patches of sunlight passed over Arthur and Merlin as their horses trudged through the shallow undergrowth. Such cobbles of sunlight gave Arthur a pleasing expression and a relaxed brow, his eyes bright, though strangely carefree.
Merlin felt that their riding had come to a natural pause for rest and pursued in his quest.
'You're not still worried about this spirit are you?' Arthur quickly remarked back and threw Merlin a childish glint of eye as if Merlin was exaggerating.
Merlin took offence to this, mildly of course, but the fact Arthur wasn't even paying this ride proper attention irked something within him.
'You do realise what exact legends are connected with The Forest Spirit?' Merlin said with rock sturdiness of manner. Arthur merely sighed.
'I'm sure you're about to enlighten me,'
Merlin frowned where Arthur softened in expression and temper.
'The Forest Spirit is a sacred animal that represents the balance between the Earth and humans. It symbolises harmony itself. To hunt it is disrespectful and insolent. Despite its connection to magic it can do no harm. If we continue like this we are sure to upset that balance and the people who the spirit is held dearest by are sure to revolt. Eternal damnation is for anyone who slays it!' Merlin paused for breath and didn't realise why or how he'd become so angry so quickly. To rectify himself he concluded with a casual beat of, 'Besides, it probably doesn't exist anyway, only true in legend; where it belongs, untouched: you, especially as a Prince, should uphold and respect all that your subjects believe, whether you think them evil or misguided otherwise. And anyway; it only shows itself to those it believes worthy, again, assuming its actuality.'
Arthur's manner hadn't changed much during Merlin's discourse. The Prince's disposition of appearance was shocked that Merlin had outspoken so - his eyes once again wide and his lips drew up as if to stop some laughter. Merlin was just thankful he hadn't been shouted down.
'So you believe one of the knights was lying then?'
Merlin was surprised by this response and tried to gather his derailed wits, expecting a thorough reminder of his place in society, more importantly to Arthur.
'No, No!' he stammered, 'Only mistaken.'
'And that this whole hunt is misguided also? Is my father to be so ill judged, Merlin?'
Merlin tried for words, however when the letters felt right, Arthur continued with a hesitant pause in his air now, which stopped Merlin altogether.
'I didn't realise you worried so much about my conduct, Merlin.' Maybe the statement was meant for a playful tone; however there was a grave something hidden beneath the snow.
What Merlin said next came naturally.
'No, I don't. Only it's affect on the Kingdom. And you.'
Arthur was riding slightly ahead so Merlin could only make out that half of Arthur's face had fallen in thought.
Merlin very rarely found himself in a position where he didn't know what to do.
However Arthur sighed, as if shifting some great weight on his shoulders, and started conversing about what Merlin had in mind for a meal; he certainly wasn't cooking.
The evening and accompanying night was filled with their natural banter and play on words. Arthur seemed entirely unaffected by what they discussed earlier. This troubled Merlin for two reasons: one, he wasn't sure whether what he said had gone through or not, two, if he had offended Arthur to be treated with such normalcy. He knew the latter was preposterous to dwell on, for Merlin felt warm with Arthur's words, however it was dwelled on nonetheless.
Sojourned on so much in fact that the next day it was all Merlin could think about.
That was until, within a glade of thin emerald grass, engulfed in mustard yellow light that carried the dust of life in such a way it glowed, there stood a stag with tree branches for horns, a painted mask for a face and a coat of fur the colour of ermine.
Merlin was caught in a daze, but quickly looked to Arthur, grabbing his wrist before pulling him into the cover of a neighbouring bush, the horses by the nearby stream to water.
He didn't care for social barriers now, only that Arthur realise the good within him, that Arthur see the fatality of this conquest. He didn't know what was going through Arthur's mind but he needed to protect the spirit.
'Arthur, please,' this was said with unhidden panic, pent up unreserved pleas, 'you have to understand that the-' However, before Merlin could continue in this fashion of almost begging, Arthur released himself from Merlin's hold, staring at him with annoyance; not annoyance at Merlin's impertinence, but his complete lack of understanding. In his expression Merlin saw raw feeling of passion.
'Merlin,' Arthur spoke with almost mock symmetry of Merlin's idiom. 'Do you really believe that I'd kill this beast? I know I'm a huntsman Merlin, but do you honestly think that I have no sense of propriety in my character, no judgement of honour? Why do you think I asked to be placed on this quest specifically? I wanted to ensure its safety!'
Merlin saw Arthur's blue eyes earnest, the pupils disbelieving that Merlin could have misjudged him so; Merlin felt that like a twist of a knife.
Of course Arthur was better than that.
For his foolishness and lack of concentration in Arthur, Merlin felt himself flush; feeling an unfathomable urge to plead for Arthur's forgiveness.
Arthur stared at him angrily for a while longer, eyelids then coming down as he sighed and stilled his temper, his jaw relaxed from its stiff posture. He turned away.
'I wanted...' Merlin was further held speechless by Arthur feeling the need to explain himself. Arthur's shoulders were set and even through his chainmail, his posture grand; a complete comparison to the soft, vulnerable voice that was escaping him now.
'I wanted to see it.'
On maybe any other day, Merlin would have been surprised by such a declaration of clarifying character and purpose, but after properly evaluating their current situation, placing all of his judgments of Arthur, rumour dissolving under the gravitating influence of Merlin's own experience with the man; he found himself believing Arthur whole-heartedly, regretting giving into his own anxiety and prejudice.
He must have held such a forlorn look of self-loathing, for the next thing he was conscience of was Arthur's eyes in range and alignment with his own, a couple of metres apart, a sort of sighing superiority in Arthur's gaze which told Merlin to just stop thinking and start feeling. With this unspoken commandment, Arthur walked slowly to the beast and proceeded to treat it as if it were a mare in need of breaking.
The Prince approached cautiously, with a calm temper, unsheathing his sword and placing it on the ground carefully. Once allowed closer contact, Arthur held and touched the spirit's face as if it were a treasure: not a prized horse that he won or the finest silk, but a gift.
By this Merlin felt pleasant tranquillity.
He learned from the Unicorn then.
The idea that the Prince had pre-meditated and subtly gone against the King's wishes put Arthur in a new light for Merlin. This change in heart was only further assured by the consideration, thanks and peace in Arthur's iris, the sheen of his eye, the relaxation in his brow. Merlin understood within his own heart that he knew this was the real Prince, one that he now truly believed Arthur was only exposing to Merlin, not because he had to, but because he trusted him.
With this unspoken gift, Merlin caught himself smiling at the picture; pleased that his estimation of Arthur being honourable and respectable, honest and a man of integrity was heart-warmingly true.
It was during this reflection that the Prince then spoke with an amusement of sorts, 'Do you realise, Merlin, that you look completely ridiculous just gaping? It doesn't bite.' Arthur disarmed Merlin of any remark by flashing him a quick smile to accompany the previous statement. Merlin approached the spirit and Arthur with all the quiet slowness Arthur had shown, still aware that he could scare the beast away. Arthur only scoffed at Merlin's mannerisms.
When he was within a distance so that he could stroke the beast and appreciate the significance of such an encounter, Arthur reached down, clutched Merlin's wrist and began to guide it to touch the other side of the beast's head. The spirit's eyes blinked lazily, the dull sound of the lens moistening echoing imperceptibly. It seemed to radiate an almost ethereal glow of heat, of life. Merlin was so caught in this sudden trance that when he looked up, responding instinctively to an invisible intensity on his face, he found that Arthur was looking at him, almost as if studying him. Merlin was once again speechless, almost breathless, by the way in which Arthur seemed to look at him. It was as if Merlin was blind, unable to see Arthur's concentration; however, his nose was not taught as if looking closer, in fact, Arthur was quite the contrary, with a peaceful blaze beneath his skin, maybe finding something different as to what he expected.
Merlin truly felt at peace within himself in those moments, and, despite Arthur being his master, thought it best to smile something soft.
But abruptly The Forest Spirit dashed for the outskirts of the glade to be seen no more.
Clouds moved over the sun.
Merlin and Arthur were equally confused as to the sudden panicked movements, but all doubts were evaporated to show a clear precipitate.
The dull cries of approaching bandits were heard, twigs snapping underfoot; suddenly the party of two were being encountered by an ambush.
With Arthur's sword abandoned on the forest floor, it was of too great a distance to retrieve it without being hit with a blow, and in Merlin's shock he felt himself outside of time.
However, Arthur, with the same speed of a fleeing doe, grasped Merlin roughly by the shoulder and instructed him with all the haste of authority he could muster for them to run.
Merlin's feet were taken by surprise, but thankfully despite this were able to start a pace that was equal to Arthur's and rivalled that of the bandits. Axes and arrows whizzed through the air, only to be held captive by the ground with a dull thud, or locked in chain by the cracking of trucks.
Merlin's breath came in short, shallow starts, his thighs burning in the agony of being forced to run in vigorous movements when they had been locked so still. The burn extended to his bones by the time he and Arthur burst forth into an area by a cliff that was unseen due to the thick foliage of the vegetation around them, but just as they neared this hanger, both simultaneously trying to figure a way out of their current predicament, Merlin heard a fatal growl of sheer pain vibrate his brain, thus piercing his heart with its own share of fear.
When he looked back he found Arthur collapsed on the meadow, thrusting an arrow that had become so deeply embedded within the layers of his calf muscle. Merlin felt his face break out in a cold sweat upon seeing his Prince crouched in such an agonised position, kneeling with his face contoured as if all the tendrils of his features were being driven inward by a chain.
When the foreign appendage had been removed, Merlin realised the full extent of Arthur's fate: the tip was shrouded with a purple liquid with the transparency of oil - and Merlin saw upon Arthur's damp features that the poison was having instant effect; his limbs became weak and his face as if he was tired, fighting an illness maybe, eyelids fluttering closed and losing the battle to be propelled open. His jaw was lack and lost all life, followed by his almost immediate decent had not Merlin crouched to support him as he tried to stand.
With the bandits only metres away, and the Prince heavy in his arms, Merlin burst forth through all his anxiety as if breaking the surface of water and looked down the cliff to see a welcoming lake. Before reason could restrain his thoughts, Merlin fell back, taking the Prince with him over the edge.
The water was sudden and the same consistency as liquid ice may have. It was all consuming; luckily Merlin was able to navigate through the torrent of fear and not be chilled by despair. He made his eyes open and grabbed Arthur by the pits of his arms, pulling them to break the surface.
He gasped and felt Arthur against his chest try for a similar action, cool air a welcome guest in his lungs despite its bitter gift of stinging sensations. Merlin blinked profusely through the shaking world the water was creating and with all his might tried swimming to the base of the cliff with Arthur safely secured in his torso.
He fought against the feeling of his bones snapping from their sockets at the weight of Arthur; with the added effect the water had; its intention to tease them down and sink them, to keep them in its lair of murky depths. Merlin could only hear the rush of his beating heart, the air escaping his throat to be brought back in with an equal animation one experiences in times of great bewilderment and alarm.
When the bandits seemed to deem joining them in the black depths unacceptable, or that the chase was now unworthy of further attention (and Merlin himself waited as to please his nerves that they would not be seen); Merlin resumed the combined effort of treading water, swimming and labouring Arthur in his arms until they reached the shore.
His clothes clung to him as to draw him down and suffocate his skin, but he prevailed nonetheless. He soon had Arthur safely, quietly gasping on his back while Merlin crouched over him to assess the damage and calm his pumping blood.
With each breath, Arthur seemed to diminish in spirit and colour. Soon he was quiet; his heaving chest the only indication as to his survival.
Merlin now felt completely alone and helpless.
Cold droplets of dread slid down his neck and back, forever reminding him of the uncertain future; Fate taunting him by never allowing him peace of mind, not only internally, but with the exterior ominous silence of the now dark forest.
Merlin knew not what to do in his current state, so decided through fogs of anxiety it be best to find a comfortable situation and station and recalculate possibilities in the morning. While shaking and shivering from the cold water clasping his skin in light catarrh, most heavy where his skin met his clothes, Merlin pulled Arthur again by the pits of his arms, every move he made seeming to exaggerate in sound, by fear or the lack of background disturbances Merlin was unsure, to a nearby overhang of rock and carefully, cautiously laying Arthur's head down where appropriate.
It was now that he took the time to fully analyse the wound on Arthur's calf, finding the wound disconcertingly large and excreting the poison as well as thick, ripe red blood. Merlin understood that if Arthur were to continue in such a fashion then the poison would surely overpower him completely. He made no hesitation in tearing his breeches where needed and placing his lips around the wound, sucking with all his effort, gagging at the metallic combination of blood and the other sour liquid. When his mouth was full to the point of where he could no longer stand it, no longer possessing the capability to increase the volume, he squirted the mixture into the surroundings.
This action he repeated until he was satisfied that the majority of the poison was no longer present and, hoping that minimal was circulating in Arthur's veins, he ripped the underside of his tunic to create a bandage that he fastened with increased need to enhance Arthur's health.
All the while he tried to postpone the inevitable panic and worrying that Arthur was past his care.
When such feelings of dread had chilled his entire body, so much so that his heart was full of pumping not blood but a cold bitterness of ice; Merlin checked Arthur's fever and understood him completely unconscious.
With this assurance, Merlin kept his left hand upon Arthur's forehead, the right above his Prince's heart, and let the crying magic enter the other body. Merlin found his instinctive magic more reliable than any controlled, refined incantation he had learned, despite or maybe because of its raw nature.
Merlin started to feel his chin quaking, lips quivering as salty tears started to burnish his eyes. Full despair was so gratefully not an option; Merlin was most relieved and gravitated to find Arthur's body responding to the warm tendrils of glowing magic.
Appeasing himself thus far, despite his own tiredness, and refusing to congratulate himself for his efforts, refused to also rest, he gathered dry wood to create a fire as to keep his Prince warm through the fast approaching night.
Merlin tried his best to not be tempted to glance at the Prince's face, for to be rewarded with a blank expression as if he was eternally sleeping set his mind to a path that was grave and too dire to be allowed attention.
Thus Merlin locked those demons away, despite their anger at their restriction.
Once the fire was ablaze, and Arthur hopefully comfortable, Merlin leant against the overhang and prayed that the morning sun would bring some answers, and that Arthur and he would be able to return within Uther's deadline.
The bright sunlight did not bring salvation, or even any pleasant salutation. Merlin's temper was still anxious as to his Prince's condition, only marginally improved.
But before any registered emotion in Our Lady of Sorrows' book could be recorded, Merlin found himself eternally famished, consequently knowing Arthur must be too. Merlin checked upon his Prince; finding him in a stable state, he set out to scout out some rabbits, never preying more than a tens of yards away from their site.
It brought Merlin great unease to leave Arthur so, therefore he had to be constantly reminding himself that his venture out had been in his benefit and future health. When the rabbits had been skinned, blood drained and cooked by a renewal on the fire; Merlin felt himself out of sorts due to the stains of blood on his arms, exposed to the world by his previous notion of rolling his sleeves to not get his tunic under the assault. For if Arthur was to wake (and Merlin prayed he would) then greeting him back with a disagreeable countenance of appearance would surely displease him.
Merlin spoke to his Prince for the first time in the several hours of twilight, realising then just how crowded his mind had become;
'Arthur,' he spoke with sweet disposition, 'Please try and eat this, you need it,' then placed the meat against his lips. At no response, Merlin found himself in the bottom of a pit, looking up and seeing a glimmer of light barely away from him, teasing him to always be out of reach. He refused to give in to despair just yet, the events past them so sudden and unexpected, leaving Merlin unprepared and stunned.
However, a thought came to Merlin when there was a ruse of being in Arthur - a groan made from an injured, sick man but a sound indicating life none the same. Merlin froze, in body and movement, but quickly decided this was the only way.
He placed a fair quantity of meat within his mouth, chewing it well, then with his mouth still full, he leaned down to hover over Arthur's feverish face; Merlin's eyes drifted to his lips which were swollen, chapped with a damp fleshy patina. With eyes caring and concerned, Merlin closed those eyes, brought his face closer, brushing his lips across Arthur's as to make them part with kind persuasion, then gently fed Arthur the meat this way, passing the food with his tongue into the mouth of his Prince, whose lips weakly took what was offered.
Merlin then told the Prince to swallow once all was exchanged, pleased to find the command honoured. He then continued this task: of chewing and trading until he was sure Arthur had sufficient amounts. The rest he ate himself; as the sunlight touched his cheek, he found himself not understanding and yet refusing to feel a gentle beating within his breast, to feel a pleasant sensation upon his lip.
After several more attempts of trying to completely revive Arthur with his magic, Merlin was rewarded with a grace of blue eyes and a tired smile.
Merlin could not feel any more, for his heart was full. Arthur's condition seemed to have improved significantly. Merlin was beyond any natural expression of emotion that the Prince was out of danger.
Arthur saw this arrangement of contentment on Merlin's face, his pearly teeth shone for all to view and admire - the very breath that the Prince now took was accustom to escaping him without such permission or deliverance. He spoke:
'Are you alright, Merlin? You seem somewhat happy.'
Merlin felt a gust of air escape him which formed into a laugh, slightly soaked, bearing the marks of someone who went through a great ordeal of patience of mind and effort of heart.
The Prince was able to return the pleasantry, however the intensity of light diminished in action, was made up for in character.
Merlin insisted upon Arthur's resting for the day, recuperating from his exertion and travelling back to Camelot on the morrow, when he would be able to collect all remnants of strength and resume walking normally; the wound had yet to close, however Arthur persisted that his health would be in good temperament, stating that a Prince could relax all he desired as well as better within the comforts of his own castle.
Merlin was appeased, however, by the fact he was allowed to support Arthur by allowing the Prince to lean upon him with an arm slung around Merlin's collar. Merlin felt much gravitated by this action, and he thought himself taking all of Arthur's suffering, from the gasps and pointed silence, and dropping balm in a physical way where he otherwise couldn't.
They were able to complete the hill, a pathway being found at Arthur's knowledgeable instruction. However, once they ascended to the top, upon seeing Arthur's pants and sweat broken brow, Merlin would not relent to Arthur and made him gather himself for some time.
They found the horses where they had been left and Merlin was greatly relieved. Helping position Arthur on his horse, where he may be more comfortable and was able to place less pressure upon the wound, blood slowly permeating through Merlin's makeshift bandage, was close to ecstasy for Merlin's nerves.
They made good time despite Arthur's injury and were in Camelot's inner wall by the twilight hours. Arthur was received with anticipation, but when his leg was seen, curiousity was conquered by concern and he was swiftly escorted to his chambers where Gaius would see to him immediately. With the King sent for, a whole account of their days apart from the city was to be articulated with no detail left unpolished.
Unfortunately for Merlin, his responsibility was to tend to the horses' needs instead of his master's and while he was away, convenience saw he fix any broken gear and muck the stables themselves. By which time these tasks were terminated, Merlin was most apprehensive to see the Prince again to be reassured of his safety by Gaius. However upon nearing the chambers, Merlin was met with his guardian to be instantly looked to himself. Gaius reported all that Merlin had meant to in a motherly way of scolding; Merlin had done well to be guardian of Arthur's injury, however was most foolish for even entertaining the thought of using magic, much more use it.
Merlin had a moment of pure horror that Arthur had told Gaius this fact, but was quickly told that Gaius could identify the unnaturally speedy recovery of such a deep and rude intrusion of metal.
Merlin was also able to understand from Gaius' rambling that Arthur had told the King 'The Forest Spirit' was a grand telling of superstition and an exaggerated personification of many entities from vast generations.
The knight must have been mistaken but was to be pardoned for his theory of sight. The bandit encounter however was unfortunate.
Gaius then left Merlin to tend to his master and make sure he was secure in comfort.
However Merlin did not instantly enter. He was plagued with perplexing thoughts that the Prince had softly deceived the King as to protect the magnificent spirit, also paying no verbal heed to his own desires and ambition to see it for himself.
Merlin understood that only he and the Prince were in awareness of what had really been the outcome of their journey, and thus would have to trust Merlin did not expose one or the other or even both their falsehood.
Merlin didn't know Arthur was capable of such a feat.
When he did enter eventually, Merlin found Arthur in companionable silence with himself, injured leg raised to elevate comfort on an opulent cushion.
Arthur seemed deep in thought, thumb, fore and middle fingers framing his face and he stared captivated into the fire. The hearth seemed to glow with the gradient of no other light sources in the room, the flames licking into the space above them, dancing merrily with only the beat of an occasional crackle as their music.
This glow extended to Arthur; his serious look gave him a firm countenance, brow stiff, the shades expressed over his body accentuated in colour and depth.
When the door closed quietly behind Merlin, was the only time Arthur was brought back from his reverie and his features took on something of a drape falling over a window, however, upon seeing it was his manservant that accepted the space, drew back some of the curtain to show the picture.
'You're a prat!' Merlin almost wanted to laugh, however took this bundle of sudden energy to move slightly forward and to recognise Arthur's eyes rolling, 'and a royal one.' For this addition Arthur's eyes were fixed on his and the proceeding remark was both natural and fond,
'Are you ever going to change?' Arthur seemed amused by Merlin's precise choice of words, and if one were new in acquaintance with Arthur, would most likely assume him wholly accepting Merlin as a sweetly stubborn force, however Merlin saw deeper and found Arthur thankful for them resuming, what was unique to them, normal discourse.
'No, you'd get bored,' Merlin replied ever coolly with warmth unparalleled, head shaking lightly, a hidden smile beneath his lips, as if not wanting to expose such magnitudes of feeling publicly.
Arthur's face turned gravely serious then, as if realising a truth so sudden it required all his body and mind's attention. He broke the contact of their eyes and started looking into the flames again, a ghost of his previous position. Merlin felt it maybe best he leave, Arthur had been through much, but words stopped him with as much force as a hand to his wrist.
'What you did out there Merlin-' Arthur shifted in his core, as if wanting to look at his servant again and Merlin found himself hoping for such a display; the words seemed to be taunting Arthur's lips, things that he felt right to say but due to circumstance and consequence, sense told him to hold such thoughts. He settled for something Merlin suspected a hidden underline of details, 'Not many servants would have done that.'
Merlin felt it immediately necessary that he convey to Arthur that he was worthy of whatever he thought he himself lacked.
He composed all this weight in what only he was allowed to say, 'Of course.'
But then Arthur turned once more to fully engage Merlin in their eyes locking; Merlin felt all his limbs stop completely and utterly. Arthur seemed pained, not due to his injury, and Merlin wanted to soothe where the evil exposed itself. The Prince swallowed:
'I wasn't talking about caring for the wound.' Merlin was choked by tension in the gaze Arthur portrayed, in his voice now low and intimate. Merlin felt as if he should nod, but felt rooted into fixture, then realised:
'No. No, I don't think I was either.' And with the assault of what Merlin accepted as strange sensations trickling through his body, Arthur nodded his sign of Merlin's departure.
Merlin moved mechanically.
When he closed the doors, he let loose a great gust of air that rushed from his lungs, greatly concerned by the pace at which his heart knocked against his ribs, how his hair unfixed itself, and the return of the ghost on his lips.