Author: LadyFromPoland

Disclaimer: I don't own "Merlin". It is a TV show which belongs to BBC.

Warning: SLASH

English is not my mother language.

I'm so sorry for the long delay. I don't have as much free time as I used to so I may not be able to update the story every week, though I'll try. I hope you understand.

Home for their hearts

Chapter 06

"Gwaine and his Merry Men"

Everything seemed perfectly fine. No one interrupted their meal. No one tried to mug them. They didn't even see any other living soul since they had left the village.

Merlin started to feel a little bit better. He started to hope that he had misunderstood the barmaid's behaviour. It seemed that they had more luck than Merlin had thought.

"You look relieved," Arthur said to him.

"Well, I am," Merlin admitted. "We were extremely lucky today. You must know that. These people in the tavern looked at us suspiciously. There were moments when I feared that they knew who you are." He sighed. "I know that you lack in social skills. You don't have an experience... And that's why you should be careful."

"I'm trying," Arthur said shortly.

"I know." Merlin smiled sadly. "It'll come to you in time. You'll see."

"Since when are you an expert in social skills, Merlin?" the dragon asked him, speaking up suddenly. The boys almost forgot that he was there.

"What do you mean, Kilgharrah?" Arthur asked before Merlin had a chance to say anything. "Merlin is quite helpful..."

"I'm sure, he is," said the dragon. "You should know, however, that Merlin finds interacting with other people quite difficult."

Arthur knew that already. After all he had heard the conversation that Merlin had with Kilgharrah last night. However, the prince couldn't let them know that he'd heard everything. He didn't even know why he should make his knowledge a secret but it just felt right and he wanted to do everything in a right way.

"That's not true," Merlin denied. "Don't listen to Kilgharrah. He barely knows me. He's got no idea what he's talking about."

"But you have some issues, Merlin," the dragon told him firmly.

"You've got the issues of your own," the warlock said in his own defence.

"We all have," Arthur spoke up. "It doesn't matter, though. I'll appreciate any help." He sighed lightly. "You know the world better than me. You know how it works."

"You'll learn it," Merlin said reassuringly. He didn't know where the softness in his voice came from.

"Thanks." Arthur truly meant it. Despite the magic, the prince was glad for Merlin's company. Arthur would never admit that but Merlin seemed a very good teacher. A better teacher than Arthur could hope for. There was something about him that Arthur didn't understand but it was a part of his charm. The fear of Merlin started slowly disappearing, being slowly replaced by gratefulness and something close to trust.

Their comfort didn't last long, though. Just when Merlin started believing that they were safe and that no one would disturb their journey, something unpleasant happened. The group of six men surrounded them. One of them was dressed much better and richer than the others and he was the only one who had not been present at the tavern. It seemed that this man was the leader of the group. He came closer to Arthur and smiled nonchalantly.

"Hello, your highness," he said, bowing lightly.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Arthur lied. He had a feeling that it was the best thing to do, though the chances that these men were going to believe him were scant.

"You don't have to hide your true identity from me, prince Arthur," the man told him. "I mean no harm to you. I'm honoured to meet you."

Arthur glanced at Merlin nervously. He wasn't sure what to do. Merlin, however, was bewildered too. Arthur had to think fast and do something himself.

"Who are you?" he decided to ask.

"Pardon, prince Arthur. How rude of me. Where are my manners?" the man said smoothly. "I am Cendred. Lord Cendred," he emphasised.

"I'm sorry but your name doesn't ring a bell. I wasn't around for quite a long time," Arthur told him.

"I know your situation very well. I'm not offended. I understand." Cendred smiled brightly at him. "I'm willing to explain everything to you, prince Arthur. You need to know that I am a close ally and friend of Lady Morgana, your future wife. I was waiting for you to greet you in my land. I knew that you would come this way sooner or later. My men were watching all travellers and they were..."

"You mean your spies," Merlin spoke up suddenly, glancing harshly at Cendred's men. "Why did you even bother?"

"I wasn't addressing you, warlock," Cendred said, looking at Merlin as if he was a piece of dirt.

"Have lady Morgana sent you?" Arthur asked him. He wanted to know why the lord bothered to find him too.

"No, she hasn't," Cendred admitted, using his smooth tone. "It was my idea to meet you here and to accompany you, prince Arthur."

"You want to accompany me?" Arthur asked, frowning slightly. "That's not necessary. I've got a company already."

"Yes, I can see that." Cendred glanced at Merlin and the dragon with unhidden disgust. "I believe, however, that you deserve something better. You deserve a noble company. I can guarantee that. The company of that filthy warlock and a poor excuse for a dragon must be dull to your highness. I'm here to help." Cendred raised his hand in a gesture of friendship.

Arthur looked at his hand very closely. He took a breath and then said, "I like to choose my company by myself," ignoring the hand.

Cendred waited a couple of more seconds before retreating his hand. "You should raise your standards, prince Arthur," he said. "Then you'll see that my offer is a good one."

"It may be a good one but I didn't ask for it," Arthur replied.

"It's a pity." Cendred sighed. "I hoped we'd do it the easy way. You don't let me. I must insist, though," he said, drawing his sword out. "Forcefully."

Merlin was about to use his magic in their defence but one of Cendred's men was faster. He hit Merlin forcefully, making the warlock fall unconscious.

"This filthy warlock won't help you," Cendred told Arthur, smirking.

In the meantime the dragon tried to do something but there were too many men and he was too small. Kilgharrah, however, made enough fuss for Arthur to react somehow. Cendred, his men and the dragon were equally surprised when they saw how fit and fast Arthur truly was. He ran towards one of Cendred's man, kicked him and took his sword in the blink of an eye.

Arthur got the weapon but he was still outnumbered. He knew that his chances were scant. He wasn't stupid. However, that knowledge didn't make him give up. He believed that miracles sometimes happened. He hoped that it was one of such times.

The prince was surrounded. He wasn't worried about himself, though. He was certain that Cendred wouldn't kill him. He was too valuable to lady Morgana and it seemed that Cendred was trying to impress her. Arthur's life was safe. However, the prince was worried about Merlin's life. The warlock was still unconscious. Besides, Cendred's clearly despised him.

As a child, Arthur had seen people like Cendred. They loved harassing and torturing their weak victims. Arthur feared that Merlin would become one of Cendred's pets. He couldn't let such a fate happen to Merlin. He had to stop Cendred. He owed Merlin as much.

Despite his best efforts, Arthur was losing. He fought bravely but he was getting more and more tired with every second. There were too many opponents and too little allies.

When the prince started thinking that it was the end and that he failed, a long awaited miracle happened.

The small group of men jumped out of nowhere and without asking any questions, these men started fighting with Cendred and his people. Arthur could not believe in what he was seeing in front of his eyes. He was weak and tired but it didn't matter. He tried to keep fighting but one of the men pushed him gently towards a tree, shaking his head. Arthur decided not to argue. It required the strength that he lacked at the moment.

In a few moments the fighting was over. Cendred ran away as his men were being defeated. They followed their lord immediately and soon there was no sign of them.

The whole scene amused Arthur. He wanted to laugh but he was too tired. After taking a couple of deep breaths something occurred to him. Merlin was unconscious and he needed help.

"What's wrong with him?" he asked, trying to come closer.

Merlin was surrounded by the group of strangers who helped them. One of the men was kneeling by Merlin's side, checking on him.

"Is he all right?" Arthur kept asking.

The man looked at him. "He will be," he promised. "We just need to take care of him. Percival," the man turned towards the tallest of his companions, "you know what kinds of herbs we need. Find them."

"Who are you anyway?" Arthur asked suspiciously while the tallest man was walking away.

"I'm Gwaine," said the man who was kneeling by Merlin's side. "We are the Merry Men."

"Who?" the prince asked, frowning.

"Surely you must have heard of us. We are Gwaine, Percival, Elyan, Leon and Lancelot. You must have!"

The prince shook his head. "It doesn't matter now, anyway. Merlin is hurt. We need to help him," he said a bit worryingly.

"We're waiting for the herbs, aren't we?" said Gwaine. "How could you not hear about us? We help people in need! We help people like you..."

"Noble people call you robbers and troublemakers" the dragon spoke suddenly, surprising the Merry Men.

"What kind of magic is that?" asked the dark-skinned man whose name was Elyan.

"It's talking?" asked Gwaine.

"My name's Kilgharrah," said the dragon proudly. "And yes, I can talk. Some dragons have such ability."

"I've never heard of that."

"Neither did I."

"Nor me."

"That's not important," said Arthur firmly. He was a little bit annoyed. They were making a fuss over the dragon's ability to speak while Merlin was hurt and unconscious. "Kilgharrah can talk. End of story. We should focus on Merlin."

"Your friend will be fine," Gwaine assured him. "As soon as Percival brings the herbs, we'll take care of his wounds."

"But he's unconscious," Arthur said worryingly. "Why is he unconscious?"

"Believe me, that's better," Gwaine told him. "At least he doesn't feel any pain."

"But is it safe?" the prince insisted. "I owe him a lot. I can't let him die or something..."

"He will not die," said Gwaine, laughing. "The wound is not that deep. His life is not in danger. When we treat his wound, he'll just need to take some rest."

Arthur decided to trust the strangers. After all he had no idea about the healing process. He could only hope that the Merry Men knew what they were doing.

While Percival was looking for the herbs, the others brought some wood and made a fire. It was a wise thing to do as it was a late afternoon and soon it would get dark.

When Percival came back with herbs, they started preparing a hot compress. Arthur wanted to help but after a while he was told to leave it to the others. He was a little sad about it but he understood the reason very well. He had no experience or inborn skills of healing people. He could do more harm than good. It was better to leave the healing to those who knew what they were doing. That was why Arthur moved out of the way, watching the Merry Men closely from the small distance. He felt responsible for Merlin's safety so he had to keep an eye on the strangers.

"He's in good hands," the dragon said to him.

"I hope so," Arthur replied shortly.

Kilgharrah tried to talk to him a little bit more but the prince wasn't in the mood and his answers were short and meaningless. The dragon understood that Arthur was focused on Merlin completely and he let go.

After half an hour, Gwaine nodded towards Arthur. The prince was on his feet immediately.

"What's wrong?" he asked worryingly.

"Nothing," Gwaine said, smiling reassuringly. "He's just sleeping. He should be absolutely fine in the morning. Trust me."

Arthur had no choice. He had to trust him. He had to have faith in the Merry Men's skills. The morning would show if Gwaine was right.

I'm not proud of that chapter. For some reasons it was very difficult to write.

Let me know what you think.