I don't own Merlin.
A/N: Hello! This is was written mostly as an excuse to whump Merlin while he's doing something mundane because he's so good at finding trouble no matter what he does. Poor guy. This is unbeta'd so if you find any mistakes, please don't hesitate to point them out to me. I hope you like it. :)
Herb Picking and Other Dangerous Exploits
"Do you have my list?"
"Yes, Gaius. I got it." Merlin responded for what felt like the tenth time.
"You should take a cloak. My joints are telling me it's going to be a chilly day." Gaius rounded his work bench and walked over to a rack, pulling a heavy, leather cloak down and handing it to his ward. Merlin fought an eyeroll.
"I'll be fine. It's not that cold."
"All the same, you should take it with you." Gaius insisted, shoving the cloak into Merlin's hands.
"I'll be warm enough with just my jacket." Merlin assured him, but Gaius just raised an eyebrow and he knew there would be no arguing with his mentor on this. He was taking the cloak.
"Oh … and if you could collect some horse mushrooms, that would be nice to add to our stew tonight for supper. It helps with my lumbago."
"Good." Gaius patted Merlin's shoulder, then reached for the pack sitting on the table beside him, handing it to him, "Off you go then."
"Okay. I'll be back soon." Merlin assured Gaius, turning and walking towards the door.
Just as he pulled on the door and opened it, Gaius called to him. "Be careful."
Merlin grinned back, "It's just herb gathering, Gaius. It's not anything dangerous like hunting with Arthur. I'll be fine."
"All the same …"
"I know, I know." This time Merlin did roll his eyes. Gaius was being a worse mother hen than even his own mother had ever been. "I'll be careful."
Merlin gave Gaius a little wave and grinned again as he stepped out of the physician's chambers and shut the door behind him. The smile stayed plastered on his face as he made his way out of the castle and into the town, waving and nodding at people he knew. He was in a good mood - the best he had been in for a long time. Gaius had seen to it that Merlin was released from his duties to the prince for the entire day so he could gather as many herbs as was possible before the first frost came and killed all of the plants and for the first time in months, he would have a day pretty much all to himself.
Though he would do just about anything for Arthur, it felt freeing to be out from under him for a whole day - he didn't have to shine armour or clean floors, dodge flying goblets, or get the prat dressed. And once he was alone and out of the city, he had plans to practice a few spells that he had been dying to try, but hadn't had the time or privacy to explore.
All in all – it was going to be a great day and his heart felt light as his feet led him out of the bustling town, through the gates and into the forest. He deeply breathed in the fresh autumn air and delighted in the way the sunlight gently filtered through the reds and yellows of the changing leaves above him as he strolled through the forest, every now and again, finding some of the herbs Gaius had listed for him to gather and collecting them, placing the plants and flowers needed to get them through the winter to come into his pack.
At mid-day, Merlin found a log to sit on and pulled the lunch he had packed for himself out and ate, listening to the birdsongs echoing through the trees. Once his lunch was eaten, Merlin sighed contentedly and he closed his eyes, feeling around with his magic to make sure there was no one around. Once satisfied that there wasn't a soul around for miles, he decided not to waste any more of his time alone he let his magic flow, allowing it travel from his gut and out through his extremities. A wonderful tingling sensation enveloped him and he smiled at the thought of the first spell he wanted to practice.
The spell was a rather simple one, but it was one that he had wanted to try for some time. He looked to the colored leaves scattered about the forest floor and raised his hand towards them, channeling his magic through his fingertips as he softly spoke the words of the spell he had memorized.
With a smile of pure mirth, Merlin watched as his magic left him and entered the leaves. They began to shake and quiver at first and for a second, he wondered if he had messed the spell up somehow until all at once the leaves began to change shape and transform. He laughed as the leaves took to the air, no longer litter for the forest floor, but beautiful butterflies that darted about and flew up towards the canopy.
He watched them flutter and dance about in the sky for several minutes, then let go of the magic possessing them. The butterflies then changed once again back into ordinary leaves and floated down to the ground like a colorful snowstorm.
Merlin practiced several other spells during his time alone, but after an hour he remembered that he still had plenty of herbs and plants on Gaius' list that needed to be gathered. He stood up from his log and grabbed his pack, slinging it over his shoulder as he grabbed the cloak Gaius made him take and draped it over his arm.
He walked forwards and headed out of the forest and towards a meadow where he knew much of the other herbs he had still to gather were growing. The open field was dotted here and there with many of the plants on his list and he made short work of collecting them and after an hour or so, he had an almost full pack. The only thing he couldn't find however, were the horse mushrooms Gaius had wanted for their dinner that evening.
He searched high and low for the elusive fungi and quickly grew frustrated when not a single shroom could be found. His eyes scanned the ground as he walked and looked out for the white-capped mushrooms, his thoughts drifting and shifting between the spells he had practiced and what spells he still wanted to try and daydreaming about the day when he could use his magic openly. After some time he found that he had wandered from the field and when he looked up, he realized that his mindless wanderings had caused him to stray into territory he didn't recognize.
Merlin stopped and looked back at the way he had come. The sun was quite a bit lower in the sky and he hoped that he hadn't gone too far off the beaten path for him to find his way back to Camelot before nightfall. He decided that he would just have to give up on the mushrooms if he wanted to avoid Gaius' wrath for being late.
As he was turning to leave and face the path he had made to this spot, Merlin noted the ruins of what had once been a cottage sitting along the edge of the woods. Just from one look at it, Merlin knew it had long since been abandoned and no one had lived there in years. What had once been a thatched roof had caved in on the old wattle and daub structure and the forest vegetation had taken over, covering the outside walls in ivy so thick that it nearly disappeared into its surroundings.
He was only going to give the cottage a passing glance, determined to get home before it got dark, when his eyes lit on a few specks of white peeking through the ivy at the base of the cottage's door. He felt a grin spread across his face as he recognized them.
Finally – he had found the damned mushrooms. Merlin didn't even particularly like the taste of the things, but they were Gaius' favorite and he was glad that his little venture had panned out and that his mentor wouldn't chew him out for not getting them.
Merlin dropped his pack and the cloak he had been carrying all this time and focused on the mushrooms, paying no heed to where he was placing his feet as he waded into the tall, almost waist high grass that stood between him and the cottage. Later, in hindsight, he would curse himself for not paying more attention to the ground, but without the benefit of such knowledge and being determined to get to the mushrooms, he failed to notice the ring of stones his toes tripped over nor the hole in the ground that they surrounded until it was too late.
The next thing he knew, he was falling and then it was dark.
Gaius was worried.
He had been worried even before Merlin had left for the day, as the boy never failed to find himself in dangerous situations, even while doing the most mundane of tasks. And now that night had fallen and there was still no sign of his charge, he had taken to pacing, hoping that his anxiety was misplaced and that at any moment Merlin would walk through the door with a sheepish look on his face and an apology on his lips.
But after another hour of his aimless and useless rambling about the chambers, Gaius could only conclude that something must have happened to Merlin – and probably nothing good. The boy was a magnet for trouble and he had lost many a nights' sleep since he met the cheeky warlock and it seemed like that night was not going to be any different.
While it was nothing new for the young man to go out and pick herbs for him alone, especially since Gaius' old and sore back made it difficult for him to do it himself, Merlin had promised to be back by nightfall and if there anything Merlin was good at besides magic, it was keeping promises. So, to say that Gaius was worried was an understatement.
Finally, unable to contain his anxiety anymore, Gaius left his chambers and headed for the only other place Merlin might be if he had come back to the castle – Arthur's chambers. Gaius could only hope that the boy had somehow been waylaid by the prince – that perhaps he had come back to the castle on time only to have Arthur see him and drag him off to do some task or another for him. As unlikely as that was since Arthur had granted Gaius permission to have Merlin spend the day harvesting herbs for him, he had to see for himself whether or not this was the case.
Gaius walked with a purpose through the castle and was soon at the prince's door and rapping on it. A moment late, the door opened and Gaius held his breath, hoping that Merlin's face would be the one to greet him. That wasn't to be however, as a young boy, several years younger than his charge peered at him from the other side of the door.
"Good evening, Sir. Can I help you?" the boy asked.
Feeling his heart drop, Gaius tried to compose himself and temper his disappointment. "I wished to inquire after the prince's manservant. Has he been in to see Arthur tonight?"
The boy shook his head, "No sir. I was just told I needed to fill in for him. He wasn't expected to be serving the prince until the morning."
Gaius nodded and sighed heavily. He was about to turn away when a hand grabbed the door above the serving boy's head and pulled it open even further. "Gaius?"
The older man looked up into Arthur's expectant eyes. He hadn't wanted to trouble the prince with worries about Merlin, especially this late at night, but it appeared that Arthur had already picked up on the fact that something was amiss just by studying Gaius' face. "What's wrong?"
Gaius shook his head, "It's probably nothing to worry about, sire, but you know Merlin -"
"Merlin?" The prince questioned with a hint of exasperation. "What did he do now?"
"Well, sire … it wasn't so much what he did as what he didn't do. He hasn't returned yet from gathering herbs for me today. He was due back at sunset and yet it is now almost midnight and he still isn't back."
"Perhaps he's just at the tavern." The prince suggested, "I'll have Phillip here go down and check for you. The idiot probably stopped for a pint and lost track of time."
Gaius knew that wasn't the case. Despite all of the times Gaius had used the excuse of Merlin being in the tavern to explain instances where the boy would disappear to save Camelot over and over again, Merlin hardly every drank and on the rare occasions when he did go to the tavern, he always let Gaius know and he never went alone. But he couldn't tell Arthur that, so he had to play along.
"Thank you, Sire. I hope that you're right."
"I'm sure he's fine, Gaius."
Gaius nodded, the unease in his stomach never letting up as he turned and made the long walk back to his chambers to wait.
Arthur watched Gaius turn and walk back down the corridor, his brow furrowing in frustration.
Couldn't he see how worried he was making Gaius by being so irresponsible? Of all of the idiotic and reckless things to do! Would it really kill him to check in with his guardian before he went and spent all night getting drunk at the Tavern?
Arthur looked towards the serving boy working in Merlin's stead, "Go to the Rising Sun and if you see Merlin there, tell him to see me immediately. Understood?"
The boy nodded his head vigorously, "Yes, Sire."
"Good. Now go … hurry."
Nodding again, the boy took off like an arrow and ran down the corridor. Arthur walked back into his chambers and shut the door behind him, still fuming over his wayward manservant. He took a seat by the fire and stared into the flames, thinking about all of the chores he would pile on Merlin in punishment for being so stupid … again.
Gods, the boy was infuriating. He was useless on a good day, absolute rubbish at being respectful, and sometimes Arthur wondered how he had lasted in his employ this long without the prince absolutely losing his mind. He was never on time, he was sloppy with his chores, he talked back, and never knew when to shut up, and sometimes, like tonight, he would just up and disappear. But at the same time Arthur knew why he kept him as his servant - he was kind, loyal, brave, and was never a boot-licker like so many of his previous servants. One moment he would be tripping over his own feet and the next spouting off sage wisdom and advice that more than once had proved to be correct. Merlin was a living contradiction – a frustrating puzzle while being simple and humble at the same time.
Arthur knew he shouldn't be worried over his bloody servant, but he still couldn't stop the little knot in his stomach from tightening, especially when the boy he had sent to fetch Merlin from the tavern came blustering through the door, winded and minus his manservant.
"I'm sorry, Sire. Merlin wasn't in the tavern and no one has seen him. One of the guards tending the east gate this morning was in the tavern though – he said he saw Merlin leave and head for the forest, but he didn't return during his shift which ended just before sunset."
Arthur gritted his teeth together at the news and the little knot in his stomach grew into a massive tangle. Damn Merlin all over again. The boy just didn't know how to stay out of trouble. He gave him one day off – one day and he disappears! It was pitch-black outside this time at night and trying to go after him now would be nigh on impossible. Arthur had no choice but to wait until morning to go looking for him and he'd never get to sleep now that he knew Merlin was out there somewhere.
Arthur dismissed the serving boy and started to pace, internally cursing his servant over and over again. As the night slowly went by, he tried to occupy his thoughts with anything other than his manservant, but he failed miserably.
He had to believe that Merlin hadn't managed to get himself killed while picking flowers of all things, but who knows what he could have gotten himself into – bandits, wild creatures, and sorcerers had all been known to dwell out in the forest and given his servant's fighting skills and lack of self-preservation instincts, the young man wouldn't stand a chance against any of them.
As he marched up and down his room, Arthur snorted a little to himself, trying to put thoughts of Merlin being in serious trouble out of his mind, imagining that the moron probably just got lost and once it got dark, decided to camp out for the night, which would just be so typical of the idiot. More than likely, he'd come walking back into town with that stupid grin on his face come morning, looking all contrite and apologetic and then – then Arthur would lay into him and give him the tongue lashing of his life.
Oh yes … Merlin was going to be mucking a lot of horse dung after this.
Eventually, Arthur grew tired of pacing and found himself back in the chair beside the fireplace. As he watched the flames slowly die, his eyelids grew increasingly heavy until finally, they closed altogether and he drifted off into sleep.
Light streaming into his face startled him awake some time later. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, but judging by the position of the sun, it was only just after dawn. He heaved himself out of his chair and stretched the kinks out of his stiff shoulders and neck before leaving his chambers and heading towards the physicians chambers.
He didn't bother waiting for Gaius to answer his knock at the door and he opened it to find the older man already up and about, looking as if he too had had a restless night.
"Sire?" Gaius spoke, his voice rough as granite. Arthur didn't need to ask if Merlin had returned, clearly he hadn't. All he could do now was reassure the physician that he would find his lost ward.
"I'll bring him back, Gaius. You have my word."
It was dark.
His eyes were open, but he could see nothing. He wondered at first if he blind, but as he waved a trembling hand in front of his face, he could just make out the outline of his fingers and when he looked up he could make out the tiny, little points of lights that were the stars in the night sky.
It was cold.
A shiver rippled through his body, his hands and legs shaking, but no matter how much he shook and shivered, the chills came unabated and he could find no heat.
It was wet too.
His soaked clothes clung to his skin, chilling him even further. The water came up to his waist as he sat immobile at the bottom of the pit.
There was pain.
A lot of it, actually. His ankle throbbed in time with his pulsing heart and his head hurt, feeling much like he imagine an anvil would as it was constantly being pounded on by a blacksmith. He tried to stand, but the sharp, lance of fire shooting up his leg from his injured ankle kept him from getting far and all he ended up doing was splashing back down in the fetid water, gasping for air.
Merlin wasn't sure how long he had been down there, and even though it had only been moments since he had awoken in this watery pit, it had been far too long. He could almost feel the walls of the hole closing in around him, suffocating him. His hands touched along the walls, feeling rough stone under his fingers. He was unable to extend his arms all of the way out, the space as too narrow. His right knee remained bent, bringing his thigh up to his chest while his other leg was folded underneath it, submerged in the cold water in the only position that allowed Merlin to keep any pressure off his pain-filled ankle.
His thoughts were as muddy as the water he sat in, but he came to realize that this pit was probably a well built for the abandoned cottage. Leave it to him to fall down it, he groused to himself – only he would manage to find possibly the only well within the whole bloody forest and get stuck in it. He cursed his luck and wrapped his arms around his torso trying to conserve his body heat.
Merlin shivered viciously again, his whole body quaking from the cold, his teeth clicking together loudly and echoing off the sides of pit. Right about then, he wished that he hadn't dropped his cloak, but knowing it was too late for that, he resorted to trying to figure a way out of there.
First things first, he realized that he would have to find a way to get warm again and he reached for his magic within and spoke the words of a warming spell. His heart dropped however, when nothing happened. He tried again, but still, his magic failed, feeling like it was trapped within him, bouncing against some kind of invisible barrier, unable to break free.
He growled in frustration and swore out loud. He tried several other spells – ones to light fire, ones to light his dark prison, ones to levitate him out of the dank pit, but nothing worked. His magic was clamped down within him – something was holding it back and keeping it locked inside of him.
Merlin's heart started to pound, racing at a gallop. He had no way out. Everything hurt, it was too dark to see, and calling out for help would be pointless – there was no one around for miles.
Merlin hung his head, near tears. He tried to keep the panic that was building inside of him from taking over, but eventually it did. His shaking grew worse and not all of it was caused by the frigid water. His breathing became shallow and tight like a hand was gripping his throat, cutting off all of his air. He couldn't breathe! He wanted out!
But he couldn't move. He was trapped.
Fear became his only companion as the darkness smothered him.
He was going to die here, deep under the ground where no one would ever find him. Alone.
Arthur kicked his stallion into a gallop as soon as he was through the eastern gate where Merlin was last seen. According to Gaius, there were several fields and meadows just beyond the eastern forest where many of the herbs Merlin was supposed to gather grew.
He travelled alone. As prince and first knight, Arthur had some leeway when it came to ordering his fellow knights into action, but his father would have never approved of him using them to search for one missing servant. In many things Arthur agreed with his father, but this rule of courtly status where servants and ordinary people were found to be less worthy the knights' protection irked him. But there was no fighting against it. If he went to his father to demand a party be formed to search for a lowly servant, the first thing Uther would do after saying no would probably be to lock him up in the dungeons out of fear that he had lost his mind.
Instead, Arthur lied. He explained to his father that he would be spending the next day or two hunting. It was an easy enough excuse to be believed and Uther was too busy that morning with council meetings and the like to really care what his son was actually doing with his time.
It would be harder to find Merlin on his own without extra pairs of eyes to help, but Arthur had confidence in his abilities to track one bumbling, clumsy servant and bring him home again.
Thankfully, the night had been free of rain and Merlin's tracks were rather easy to spot. He found the first footprint not even a mile from the gate and the trail of broken branches and trampled ground was as easy to follow as a Roman road. He even found the remains of an apple core and bread crumbs from what must have been Merlin's lunch in a clearing only about an hour into his ride.
It wasn't long after that that the trail led him to a field. It looked as though Merlin had wandered all over the place here and it was a little more difficult to follow as the trampled grasses and flowers seemed to show that his servant had meandered everywhere. It took some time and Arthur had to dismount his horse and walk, but eventually he found that Merlin must have left the field and ventured towards edge of the forest once again.
Leading his horse, Arthur followed Merlin's zig-zagging trail until he saw something that made his stomach flop. To his right stood a small, dilapidated cottage surrounded by tall grasses and covered in ivy while just ahead he spotted something brown at the end of where Merlin's footprints stopped.
Rushing forward, Arthur dropped to his knees beside the objects, feeling all of the blood in his face drain away.
It was a cloak and more worryingly, Merlin's pack, still full of picked herbs and flowers. His servant wouldn't have just abandoned his things and yet there was still no sign of the man they belonged to.
At some point Merlin must have fallen asleep – either that or he had passed out, he wasn't sure which. Things were too confusing for him to keep anything like when he was awake and asleep straight and his head was pounding so mercilessly that he was barely certain of anything except for how much trouble he was in.
All he knew for sure was that things were getting a little lighter in the pit and when he looked up, he could just make out a round patch of blue sky. He was grateful for the extra light, even if down there, things were still so bloody dark – it made him a little less afraid and eased some of the overwhelming panic that had taken over him earlier. Yet still, the extra bit of light did little to warm the pit and it was unbearably cold sitting within the standing water. His shivering continued unabated and it was wearing him out the longer it went on.
He was so tired and his body was groaning in exhaustion. Closing his eyes and going back to sleep seemed like a really good idea until he made the mistake of trying to shift his position a little and get more comfortable, the movement causing him to accidentally bump his injured ankle against the wall of the well. For a while the injury had become numb while submerged in the water, but now the pain had come back to life with a punishing, angry vengeance and he cried out, tears springing to his eyes without his permission and streaming down his face.
Merlin tried to ride out the pain without losing was little composure he had regained since waking up again in this hell, but he was just too exhausted in too much pain to stop the sobs wracking his thin frame. His body shook as hopelessness and despair took over. He didn't think he could last much longer in this pit – he had no way out – no magic to ease his pain or save him this time.
His teeth clattered and clicked as the tears poured out, but he just couldn't stop crying – he felt like such a baby, but at the same time, it almost felt cathartic and liberating. He wept and wept – not just for his physical pain, but about everything – about how crushing the weight of his destiny was – and about how alone and isolating having magic made him feel even when surrounded by the people he called friends. It all was enough to make him want to give up and just let despair take hold.
But thinking about those friends – about Gaius, Arthur, Gwen – about how he needed to be there to protect them and how he would be failing them if he just gave up – and thinking about all of the people with magic out there that were depending on him to fulfill his destiny and see magic brought back, saw him finding a new sense of purpose and soon his tears dried up, replaced by a wave of calmness coursing through him and soothing his troubled heart.
Though he was hurting, cold, and scared, he knew that there was still hope. By now, Gaius had to be worried that he hadn't come home and he may have even gone to Arthur for help. Then again – when Arthur finds out about how his idiot servant once again managed to disappear, he'd probably throw a temper tantrum and send Merlin to the stocks for a week. On second thought, maybe he wasn't sure he wanted Arthur to find him.
Merlin thought a first that he was just imagining the sound of Arthur's voice calling his name from above him. After all, it seemed highly unlikely that one moment he would be thinking about Arthur swooping in to save him and then suddenly he's there as if he had conjured him. His magic was good – but not that good.
But then he heard it again, only louder this time and he knew it was just his mind playing tricks on him. He looked up and tried to shout, but all that came out was a weak and jittery "Ar-ar–th-thur?" as his teeth continued to chatter. He could barely hear himself speak and he doubted that Arthur heard his pathetic attempt either. He closed his eyes and cleared his throat, bracing himself to try again, forcing his mouth and jaw to work without stuttering, and drawing in as much air as possible.
Seeing Merlin's cloak and pack caused Arthur to immediately begin calling his servant's name even though he hadn't held out much hope of getting an answer in return.
He shouted Merlin's name several times in all directions and then was rather surprised to hear his own name being called back in return. His heart leapt upon hearing Merlin's voice and relief soared through him to know that he was near, but to his confusion, it seemed that his servant's voice was coming from the middle of the grassy field set before the crumbling cottage.
"Merlin? I hear you! Where the hell are you?" He shouted.
Arthur had to strain his hearing in order to pick up on the weak and distant response, "I'm here! D- down h-here!"
Following the sound of Merlin's voice, Arthur waded through the tall grass and then saw how it was possible for his servant to sound so far away yet so near at the same time as he came upon a circular hole in the ground surrounded by a ring of broken masonry that had been almost completely hidden by the grass. If he hadn't been watching the ground as he moved, he might have also stepped into the gap himself, it was so well covered.
Arthur dropped to his knees and looked down into the pit, gasping a little at the sight that met him from the bottom. Merlin's chalk white face stared back up at him in relief, his eyes glassy and tired. In a word, Merlin look terrible; he was covered in mud, had a large bruise on his forehead, and his black hair plastered to his face while the rest of him was soaking wet. He was sitting in at least two feet of dirty water and holding himself tight around his middle as his whole body quaked with tremors.
"Merlin? How in the world …?"
"I f-f-fell." He stuttered, his teeth clattering loud enough for Arthur to hear from above.
"I can see that." Arthur responded dryly, trying to hide his concern at the state of his servant. The drop had to be at least 20 feet or more and it was some kind of miracle that Merlin hadn't killed himself on the way down. "Are you hurt?"
"Ah … m-my ankle. M-m-might be b-broken. H-head hurts."
"Alright. Just hold on. I'm going to get you out of there and then we're going to have a long chat about watching were you are walking."
Merlin just nodded and hugged himself tighter and it concerned Arthur to no end that his servant had no snappy comeback for him or anything else to say. He really must have felt lousy to be so quiet.
"I'll be right back." Arthur called down. He stood back up and headed back to his horse, hopping that the stable boy who had prepared his saddle bag had thought to pack a rope. Thankfully, he had and Arthur made note to thank the boy once he got back, but first he had a servant to rescue.
Taking the coiled up rope, Arthur came back to the hope and hoped to the Gods that it was long enough to reach Merlin. Hanging his head over the hole, Arthur peer down the pit and swore, seeing that Merlin had closed his eyes, his head leaning against the wall and his mouth hanging open.
He shouted down the hole again, hoping that the young man had just fallen asleep and not passed out. "Merlin! Open your eyes! No sleeping just yet, got it?"
Merlin's head shook and he mumbled something Arthur couldn't hear but a moment later, his eyelids lifted and he stared out blankly. But more concerning than that was the fact that Merlin's shivering and teeth chattering had appeared to stop. Arthur had heard of men who had succumbed to the cold before and in most of those stories, the men had stopped shivering just before falling asleep for the very last time. He couldn't let that happen, he had to get Merlin up and warmed up fast.
"Come on, Merlin. Stay awake. You hear me?"
"I know. You can rest soon, but I'm going to lower a rope down to you and you need to tie it around yourself so I can pull you up."
Merlin blinked lazily like he barely comprehended what Arthur was saying, but he nodded and that would just have to be good enough sign that his servant understood what he needed to do.
Arthur took the rope and uncoiled it as he lowered it down, breathing in relief as the rope did indeed reach all of the way down with enough length left for Merlin to tie it around himself. Merlin raised a shaking hand to the rope and seemed at a loss at first as to what he needed to do with it. Arthur not so patiently reminded him to wrap it around his chest and knot it tight. Merlin's hands, however, were quivering so badly and worked with such little coordination that the prince was worried that it wouldn't be tied tight enough and he'd only end up slipping out of it and falling again.
"Tie it tight!" He commanded.
Merlin looked up and gave Arthur a tiny eye roll which eased some of the prince's fears a little. If Merlin was cognizant enough to be insolent, then he could certainly tie a rope around himself. Merlin worked frustratingly slow, but finally he had the rope wrapped around his chest and tied in a decent enough knot so as to not fall.
"Ready?" Arthur asked. Merlin looked up and grabbed the rope with both hands, nodding a little, "Y-yeah … just don't d-drop me … p-prat."
"Hang on!" Arthur responded, ignoring the insult. "I'm going to pull you up now. Don't let go."
Arthur took the rope began to pull. To his surprise, Merlin was much heavier than he looked – then again, he was soaked to the bone and that had to add some substantial weight to his slight frame. That was clearly why Arthur was struggling to haul him up and had absolutely nothing to do with any weakness on Arthur's part, of course.
Pulling with all of his might, Arthur slowly raised Merlin out of the water, his muscles straining under the weight. He grunted and panted and bent his knees to gain more leverage. Finally Merlin's head began to emerge from the hole and Arthur quickly grabbed his by the armpits, wrapping his arms around Merlin's chest to haul him out of the pit the rest of the way. Arthur ended up landing on his backside in a tangle of limbs with his manservant, both of them breathing heavily and gasping for air.
Merlin's eyes were scrunched tight and he groaned in pain, practically a dead weight on compressing on the prince's chest, wetting Arthur with his soaked clothing and shocking him with how cold it felt against his skin. How Merlin had survived in such cold water all night was a question Arthur would save for later, in the meantime, he had to get Merlin warmed up before he the worst happened.
Arthur carefully rolled the younger man off of him and laid him on his back. Merlin gave out a painful whimper as he moved him, but once settled, he suddenly went limp, his eyes rolling into his head.
"Oh no you don't!" Arthur grumbled, patting his servant's cheeks, wincing at how icy his ghastly white skin felt and at how blue the tint of his lips were. "Wake up, Merlin."
Merlin moaned and his head rolled from side to side, but his eyes stayed stubbornly closed. Giving up on trying to rouse his friend, Arthur decided that getting Merlin out of his wet clothes and into something dry and warm was the higher priority. Arthur ran back to his horse and ripped off the bedroll strapped to the saddle bag and on his way back to Merlin, grabbed the cloak that had been sitting on the ground by his servant's pack.
Once he was back by Merlin's side, he began to strip the young man's clothing off, peeling the wet cloth from his chilled skin and tossing it over to the side. Merlin only stirred a little as Arthur worked his pants off and accidentally jarred his swollen and clearly broken ankle. Arthur found himself apologizing for causing Merlin any pain even though the servant wasn't aware enough to acknowledge it. Once he had removed all of the wet clothes, Arthur unrolled his blanket and shifted Merlin onto it, wrapping him up in it like a swaddled baby.
What he needed next was a fire. Arthur crouched and carefully picked his servant up, carrying him towards the dilapidated cottage. Though the house was practically a ruin and had no roof, it most likely had a fireplace and the walls would help contain some heat from the fire and warm Merlin faster. With both arms occupied with his bundled friend, Arthur kicked in the door, causing its rusty hinges to snap as it crashed to the floor. Arthur grunted and crossed over the threshold.
The house was devoid of furniture, which wasn't surprising, but there was quite a lot of straw strewn on the floor from the collapsed thatch roof which provided a somewhat soft bedding for Arthur to lay Merlin down onto. The center of the small cottage held a round firepit rather than a fireplace with a chimney, but for his purposes, Arthur saw it as perfect.
Gathering some of the thrushes from the floor, Arthur tossed them into the fire pit and then ran outside to gather as much wood as he could in just a few minutes. He'd get the fire started first with just the twigs and small branches he found first and then worry about gathering proper logs to keep it going after he had Merlin somewhere near a normal temperature.
Soon Arthur had a fire going and the room began to warm. He pulled Merlin as close to the blaze as he could and checked him over again. His skin was still cold as ice, but during his examination Merlin began to shiver and even in his sleep, his teeth chattered. Arthur saw this as a good sign and he breathed a sigh of relief that the young man's body was finally trying to warm itself.
Arthur focused next on Merlin's ankle. The joint was definitely broken, but the best Arthur could do was bind it for now. He was no physician and as soon as Merlin was warm enough to travel, he'd get him back to Gaius for proper treatment.
Merlin slept on and eventually, the chills wracking his body began to calm and the skin of his face took on a more rosy color. Arthur felt then that he could finally relax a little now, believing that Merlin was out of danger from freezing to death. Arthur stared into the fire thoughtlessly, too tired and exhausted from the day's events to think much of anything.
It was warm.
He had almost forgotten what it was like to not be shivering or fighting the freezing cold and Merlin enjoyed this feeling of warmth, wanting to hang onto it forever.
He wasn't alone.
Merlin sensed someone hovering over him and reluctantly cracked his eyes open, not wanting to escape the comfort of sleep, but needing to see who it was. Arthur's face came into clearer view after a few fuzzy moments of confusion. But then remembered; Arthur had come for him – had saved him from the pit. He was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that his master would go to such lengths for him, a lowly servant. It was a testament to what a great king he would be one day that he would do such a thing for him.
Arthur grinned at him wryly, but his eyes held concern even as he spoke in a derisive tone, "Well, well, well … it's about time you woke up, you lazy idiot."
"You came for me." Merlin spoke with a little hitch in his voice, the warmth in his chest swelling due to more than just the blanket covering him or the fire blazing beside of him.
"Of course, I did. Finding a new manservant would have been much more of a headache than pulling your sorry arse from a well."
"Thank you, Arthur."
"Don't mention it. Really … I mean it. My father thinks I'm out hunting, so none of this is to reach his ears, understood?"
Merlin sighed and nodded, knowing how Uther might react to his son traipsing across the countryside for one, stupid servant who couldn't watch where he was going. Again, Merlin felt a wave of gratefulness given the risk Arthur had taken to find him and he couldn't take the smile off his face.
"What are you grinning at?"
"You." Merlin smiled wider, "You care … about me." He teased, knowing it would rile the prince. Arthur wasn't one to express his feelings easily and it was always fun to try to get him to admit that he actually had them. "It's sweet, really. I appreciate it."
"Shut up, Merlin," Arthur demanded. "I did this more as a favor to Gaius. He was worried about you."
Uh oh … Gaius. Merlin's smile fell. He'd have to go back and explain to his mentor what had happened. Gaius would be angry and disappointed and would probably never let him go anywhere by himself ever again. While he knew Gaius would eventually get over it and forgive him for being so stupid as to get himself hurt while picking herbs, he also knew that he was going to get more than one lecture about being more careful. But Merlin really didn't mind – he deserved it and he'd take his lumps gladly so long as he was home again.
"Well …" Arthur started with a cocky grin, folding his arms across his chest to assert his authority, "now that it looks like you're going to live. We should head back to Camelot so Gaius can get you fixed up. The sooner you get better then the sooner I can assign you a few chores to help reinforce the importance of paying attention to little details like ... oh, I don't know … not falling down abandoned wells."
Merlin groaned – Arthur was never going to let him forget this. Maybe it wasn't too late to jump back into that well.
Gaius indeed gave Merlin a lecture as soon as he was certain that his ward was in no danger any longer, was safely installed in his bed, his ankle properly treated and a dose of pain medicine down his throat. Merlin at least had the good sense to be contrite for the worry he caused the old physician and apologized profusely. Gods help him, but Gaius just couldn't stay angry with the boy - he had been through a tough ordeal and things could have ended much worse than they did.
One thing did bother Gaius, however, and before Merlin could begin to feel the effects of the pain killer he had given him and fall asleep, he decided to address it.
"What I don't understand is why you didn't use your magic to get yourself out or at least do something to keep warm. You could have died from hypothermia down there."
Merlin shrugged, his eyes starting to blink slowly as the drug in his system began to take hold, "I couldn't. I tried, but my magic wouldn't work down there. It felt like something was blocking it. I dunno ... it was weird."
"But your magic is fine now?"
"Yeah ... I think so. I haven't really tried anything since Arthur pulled me out since he was always there, but ..." Merlin turned his head and raised a hand, his eyes flaring to gold causing the cup of water sitting on the table beside his bed to float into his grasp. "Looks like it's fine now."
Gaius took the cup from his ward's hand and looked down into the water rippling within it as he thought. He then recalled something that might explain why Merlin had been unable to use his magic in the well. "I think I know what caused your magic to fail. Before the purge many people would use enchantments on their wells to keep anyone from tampering with their water or using magic to poison their wells. Even before the purge, many people were fearful of magic, but not so much as to not ask a trusted sorcerer to infuse the stones of their wells with a spell to protect their water supply. Even the wells of Camelot had such protections until Uther demanded that they be removed. That old well must have been abandoned before the purge, its previous owners forgetting to lift the spell when they left."
"And, of course, I would be the only person since then to find it and fall into it." Merlin remarked dryly.
"Yes, well ... your penchant for getting into trouble even while doing the simplest of tasks is something that I have come to accept, even if I don't like it."
"M'sorry, Gaius. I promise I won't fall down any more wells." Merlin assured him, his words slightly slurring and eyes glassy.
Gaius laughed softly as Merlin finally gave into sleep and began snoring softly, "I'll certainly hold you to that."
I was thinking about adding more stories about Merlin getting hurt while doing the simplest of tasks as additional chapters, but I'd like your feedback. Does it sound like a good idea or no? Has it been done too much already? Do you have ideas or prompts for what you would like to read? Just let me know, please. :)