Rating: T

Warning: Mentions of rape, abuse, and gore.

Disclaimer: don't own

The Deadly Kinship

Merlin's heart felt light inside his chest, his magic humming softly, contentedly in his chest. The jubilant sound of his friends laughing rang clear in his ears, overwhelming the sense of wariness buried inside the mist flowing over the training grounds. He had a very high tolerance to the cold but even Merlin could not help but admit that there was a chill in the air this morning. His breath appeared before him with each exhale and his nose was a bright red. When Leon had teased him for it, Merlin had retorted accordingly;

"Hey, some of us don't get to pack it on like you guys do."

To which Arthur, who was almost halfway across the field training with Gwaine and should not have heard a thing took the fat-jab almost personally.

"Well, Merlin, why don't we fix that?" he'd said with that cheeky grin of his, striding over and sheathing his sword, "you could use a bit of muscle."

And that was how the raven haired drudge ended up with Arthur's pauldron clutched in one hand and a rag in the other scrubbing desperately in hopes of finishing the job before time was up and he had to serve five knights and Arthur for a full week.

Okay, so maybe the fat jokes were beginning to really rub his prince the wrong way.

And maybe it was a little too soon after Morgana's betrayal to make that kind of joke? The past four months had been stressful and hard on Arthur, who was beginning to take on more and more of his father's responsibilities as King. It was hard for him, knowing that the woman he'd valued as a close sister could so readily betray Uther, and by connection, Arthur as well. And watching his father slowly begin to waste away didn't make it any easier. He'd hardly seen the prince smile once that first month.

Looking at him now though, in one of his rarer moments of true, open joy Merlin couldn't help but think that things were on the mend. And with Uther's control slipping away he could almost see a brighter future glowing on the horizon, one where each day was filled with a little less tension and he could gradually begin giving Arthur the nudges he needed to accept magic.

"Come on, you're slowing down already!" the prince's voice brought Merlin back to the present and he jerked his head up to glance at the timer. The flipped hourglass provided him with a rough estimation, maybe 5 minutes.

Lancelot gave him a hearty slap on the back, the pauldron almost leaping from his hands due to the force of the good natured blow, "better hurry up Merlin, Gwaine's been complaining about his socks again." An expression of appropriate terror flew across the manservant's face and he whipped his head to look at the drunkard perched on the bench beside his.

"Can't remember the last time I had them washed," the knight grinned, "probably why they feel so squishy."

With a renewed vigor Merlin returned to his scrubbing, finishing the pauldron in record time. Practically throwing the piece aside he grabbed the gorget it was attached to and began again. This was all that was left, if he could finish this piece in time then he could forget about the looming stress of having to work for 6 people simultaneously.

The raven haired warlock would never be so thankful that he'd gotten ahead of schedule for once and actually polished said armor the night before. Due to that, shining these damned parts now wasn't nearly so tedious.

At least one thing was right about this; Merlin was definitely not cold anymore. His fingers were still rather close to numb and the metal was biting in his stiff grasp but the rest of his body had begun to warm up nicely.

He was just about to finish, the knights near roaring at the close call, when a familiar voice made him pause, heart leaping into his throat and magic rising in readiness. It was faint, too faint to make out the words, but he'd committed that timbre to memory long, long ago. Jerking his head up and turning it to the direction of the sound he missed the shouts of his friends as the sand ran to the bottom of the hourglass, too busy praying that his mind was playing tricks on him to notice. And yet, at the same time a small, vicious part of his mind hoped that it wasn't.

Merlin peered through the mist with a caution and rigidness to his frame that spoke little of the horrors he felt. It was thick, but not enough to keep him from scouring the opposite side of the training field. He could see other knights peppering the area, each combating their own assigned training regimen for the day. Every now and then he noticed a scurrying squire or serf but nothing much else. But that made the cloaked figure on the other side of the field, talking with one of said drudges, seem all the more suspicious. It was tall with a bow and quiver strapped to its back. The archer was too far away for Merlin to really make out the face, but he could clearly see dark hair and large hands.

Perhaps he's simply being unreasonable.

Yes, he must be; there are plenty of men in Camelot with dark hair and a big, tall build.

His magic shifted.

But how many carried around a bow and quiver?

Something collided with the back of his head and he immediately flinched, setting a palm over the abused section of his skull and turning an offended blue gaze upwards.

"Really Merlin, would it hurt you so much to pay attention just a little bit?" Arthur demanded, his smile completely unaffected by the distracted, nervous air about his servant. His other knights shared the man's expression, save Lancelot, who was giving his friend one of those 'I-know-something-magical-must-be-about-and-I'm-wo rried-for-you' looks. Arthur grabbed Merlin's shoulder and bent down to a more eye-level position, "don't worry, I'm sure the knights will have more than enough for you to do this week."

Merlin searched his mind for some kind of retort but found none. So he glared at his prince instead and chose to shove the newly shined armor into his arms.

"I'd say this is finished enough, or does his majesty need prettier, shinier things in order to train properly?" his heart was clearly not in the words and his attention had gone back to looking around for that strange figure again but he regretted his next words nevertheless, "Or do I need to fetch something from Morga-"

Hurt flung itself through the blonde's eyes and his smile disappeared in an instant. Various expressions of shock took form on the other knights' faces, a somber silence swooping down over them. They all knew not to break the silent rule about Morgana.

"Arthur-" Merlin immediately began to amend, turning his attention back on his friend.

But the prince simply raised a hand to silence him, a ghost in his eyes, "stop, it's alright." He shifted and grabbed his sword, yanking it out of from its sheath and not even bothering to get his armor back on, "I know you didn't mean anything by it," though his words were true his voice was subdued and the mirth in the air was gone.

Frantically trying to think of a way to amend the situation before the prince could round his personal knights up and resume training Merlin didn't notice the figure approach from behind until he spoke, "Merlin?"

Every muscle in his body tensed up and he could swear that his blood became flowing ice, that his magic had begun to boil within him for a moment trapped inside shock.

There was no mistake.

With the recognition came his wrath, memories of nights spent listening to his mother sob inside the house, becoming familiar with the meaty sound of flesh beating flesh while he waited out in the dark for it all to stop surfaced in his mind like bubbles filled with toxic gas rising out of the water. They burst at the surface and released a dry, black hatred within, making his magic grow hard and thick with tension. In the mess of memories his concern for Arthur flew back to the smallest, tiniest crevice of his mind. He could deal with the prince far more effectively later, this was happening right now.

He twisted his upper body around to face the man slowly, movements measured, eyes filled with a malice veiled thinly by disinterest. The man that stood before him was without a doubt the same man from his memories and his appearance had changed little. Long, dark brown hair streaked with silver in some places was pulled into half a ponytail, shiny with a kind of grease that the beginning drizzle could not hope to clean. A bushy mustache tickled his upper lip and ugly sideburns tumbled down from his hairline like carpets so unclean they'd become a muddy shade of brown where they had once been a royal red. Just like his other relatives the man's cheek-bones where prominent. But Merlin had always thought they looked far sharper, as though he could cut his finger on the edges and in this moment they had never appeared more protuberant. His pasty pale face was made even more so than usual by the ankle-long, black cape he wore over his shoulders. From the muddy, haggard look of both man and cape Merlin could guess he'd been traveling for some time. And by the state of his empty quiver it had been quite a while since he'd eaten anything he hadn't killed himself too. There was a faint smell in the air that Merlin knew he was familiar enough with to name but found he cared too little about it to do so.

The man nodded politely to Arthur and his knights but did nothing else, waiting for Merlin to speak. Behind him the grass whispered lightly beneath the knights' feet and a breath passed into Arthur's lungs, signaling his 'I-have-authority' voice was about to be used.

"Capricorn." Merlin's rarely used 'I-hate-you-unconditionally' voice got to it first.

The man winced openly at his malice, Arthur's gaze switching to the back of his servant's head in surprise, and in a weak attempt to lighten the stiff mood he smiled, "come now, is that anyway to address your uncle?"

Realizing how unbridled his rage was and that the only thing restraining his magic was the parchment thin web between it and the outer world, the serf's brow twitched and he took a deep breath to calm himself, knowing his friends were watching. When his magic had been reeled in and his anger subdued, the warlock looked up at the six-foot-five archer. Blinking once he gazed into his uncle's green eyes, watching only for a moment the usually sharp and unpleasant gaze seep resignation and something else he couldn't quite place.

"Uncle," he amended grudgingly and only because he had an audience, "I'm working." Go away.

The smile on his relative's face became even more strained, "haven't forgiven me then, have you? Not even after sixteen years?"

The look on Merlin's face was answer enough to that question. Frowning, his uncle straightened himself a little, Merlin's silent dismissal making him wince.

"I'm sorry, Merlin," he said, suddenly serious, "but I'm afraid this is important. It's about Hunith."

Within seconds the warlock's gaze had hardened dangerously and behind him, Lancelot was sure the only thing keeping him from throwing this mysterious Uncle aside with a wall of magic was Arthur's presence. The others could read the tension in the air as well and thought it better to keep themselves quiet. There would be an opportunity to ask Merlin about it later and it was obvious by the way the knights were eying the cloaked man that they trusted him about as much as Merlin did.

Which, considering Merlin's happy, pacifist nature, made perfect sense because if Merlin didn't trust him then the man had to be bad.

Even Arthur was quiet.

Several heartbeats of silent thought touched the air between them as Merlin weighed his uncle's words for deception. In the end, concern for his mother won over caution and he looked back to Arthur.

"I'll only need a minute," he said.

The prince was somewhat hesitant at first but found himself in a position unable to deny the man a moment with his nephew. After all, it had only been a month ago that his own uncle, Agravaine, had come to Camelot and despite the man's good intentions Arthur had been as skeptical of him as he would be of a stranger at first. The man had been absent for most of his life and while he'd met him before it had been a very long time since his last visit. Yet, in this past month the kind man had been a welcome support and his advice was invaluable. It had come to a point where Arthur was almost mortified of his behavior during their first few days of working together and there was a part of his mind that hoped Merlin could find himself in a similar state should he allow his uncle to talk with him. Since the incident with Morgana the young prince had discovered his personal hatred for family feuds and even though he knew he shouldn't he found himself wanting to help these two make amends, no matter how reluctant Merlin may be. (Though, he'd never even remotely think about expressing that to anyone.)

And this was about his mother…

Pursing his lips just slightly he looked into Merlin's eyes, searching them. Finding only concern and aggression, he nodded, and said, "you can have as much time as necessary." With that said he turned around fully and waved for his men to follow him back towards their section of the training grounds. They did so reluctantly, Gwaine glancing over his shoulder with a frown in place and Lancelot's doubtful, worried gaze lingering with Merlin's reassuring one. Had he stayed perhaps the Pendragon would have noticed the way Capricorn shifted his weight and winced a second time. Maybe he would have recognized the sound that followed from within the folds of his cape.

Perhaps, just perhaps, he could have stopped destiny from what it was about to do.

But he didn't and Merlin was left alone with his terrible uncle.

For several long moments nothing happened between the two of them, no sound save the increasing rain steadily beating a rhythm around them.

Capricorn waited until his nephew stood and began to walk in the other direction. He followed after the silent man, the warlock's rage and mistrust thick in the air as they headed towards the castle. They weaved between weapon stands and skirted around knights diligently training despite the rain, feet gathering dew off the grass beneath them.

Merlin used the time he had during this simple walk to calm himself down, knowing there would be nothing to restrain him when they stopped and needing to reign in his magic. He thought of his mother and the suggested danger that loomed over her with a firm determination not to sock his uncle straight in the jaw with a magic encased fist.

Or maybe turn him into a rat. Or a pig.

That could wait till later.

Taking several deep breaths, feeling the cold caress his skin, the rain patter against his flesh in a methodical way, he focused on the earth's calming rhythm around him. His magic slowed and began to ebb, returning to his core where it would lie in wait for its next use.

He came to a stop outside the outer door to the armory and turned towards his uncle with a stoic expression.

"What happened?" he asked stiffly, "what's happened to my mother?"

But Capricorn simply stood there, staring his nephew up and down. He scrutinized every matured feature of the boy he'd known all those years ago and pieced him together like he was the missing piece to a beloved, although long unfinished, puzzle.

There was a look in his eye that Merlin found he couldn't quite understand, a tint that had never been there before. In his memories those emerald eyes were sharp and brazen. They were cruel and unforgiving. Very distantly, back when he was just learning to walk, he could recall Capricorn being kind. He'd stared into those green eyes and watched the joy in them glow, seen the smile of a proud father-figure light up his face. Once upon a time he'd played silly games with him, loved him like a father. But that had ground to a crashing, heartbreaking halt when he found out what this bastard of a man had been doing to his mother. The kindness he'd seen had been swept away by hatred and jealousy that even now Merlin could not understand. He knew there was nothing left of the man he'd known.

Capricorn was a cruel, abusive, monster of a man.

But now there was none of that. Instead, he realized, extremely confused, that his eyes had been softened by time and they looked upon Merlin with such regret and kindness and something else that he was beginning to wonder if his uncle really hadn't changed after all.

"Look at how much you've grown up, kiddo," he whispered, almost reverently, taking a small step forward and leaning over his brother's son to get a better look. Merlin held his ground and looked up at the towering man, large enough to put a few inches over Percival.

"This has nothing to do with Hunith, does it?" he asked sourly.

His uncle was unaffected by his tone and simply provided Merlin with a small smile, "No, it does." Merlin waited for his explanation patiently and it came slowly, "I visited her, Merlin. –To say sorry!" he amended quickly when the deep cobalt blue of the serf's eyes threatened to change gold, warming and lighting up a few shades in warning. Confusion and suspicion replaced his hatred, but the archer smiled gently, chuckling in his nostalgia, "always were a little magic-twitchy, weren't you?" His nephew did not share his reminiscing and glared, prompting the archer to continue with a soft, resigned sigh, "She said she would not forgive me until I apologized to you as well."

Merlin still seemed suspicious, "she is well?"

Capricorn did not hesitate for a moment and nodded his head, "she is very well."

His brother's son analyzed him carefully, searching his eyes for any miniscule sign of deception. Finding none he nodded his head in a satisfied manner and took a step to the side, as though to rejoin his friends, "then you can leave."

Quick as a striking snake a hand grasped his wrist.

"Merlin, wait, please-"

"I'm not the one in need of your apologies, Capricorn. My mother is the one you need to get on your knees for." But his uncle shook his head, crazed desperation lighting in his eyes.

"No, Merlin, you're wrong. What I did to her affected you just as much, it was beyond cruel and animalistic," he reached out and grabbed his kin by the shoulders, bending down so he could keep eye contact with him and ignoring the way Merlin leaned away from him, "and not a second goes by that I do not spend regretting it." His breath was foul and the stench Merlin had caught from before was notably rancid now, strong and near overpowering. But the intense look in his uncle's eyes distracted every notion he had for it; the guilt in those eyes was so penetrating Merlin fell just a hair short of feeling it himself. "I own not the right to ask you for forgiveness and expect you to feel no such thing for a cowardly fool such as myself but at the least, allow me to explain my actions- however inappropriate they were."

He took Merlin's silence to mean that he was listening and so looked up, waiting for a maid passing beneath the eaves behind them, muttering something about 'blasted Beatrice asking for too much of us two' under her breath as she jogged towards the kitchens, to get out of earshot. When he was sure no-one was there to overhear he looked to his nephew again and taking a deep breath.

"You are aware of the dragonlords?"

Merlin nodded.

"And you are aware that Balinor was the last?"

Another nod.

"That is true. I mean to tell you, our father bequeathed his heritage to your father and passed it over me, the eldest son, because I was too weak to carry the burden. I'm sure you've noticed, Merlin, the weight of that ancient, unshakable power your body harbors now. It rests deep within you, nestled right down into your soul and it cannot be taken away. That burden would have torn my soul apart and I knew this," guilt began seeping into his soft green eyes, "yet seeing my younger brother wield such a friendship with those noble creatures made me jealous and I yearned for it. So much that I began to hate him." Shame clear in his eyes now, he let go of Merlin and the serf stepped back, watching with a new interest, "I did not help him when Uther chased him away, I left my brother to his doom and was filled with contempt for him," Merlin glared heatedly at the archer but allowed him to continue, "but then I learned he had a son and I met you." The smile on his uncle's face sent a wave of nostalgia through the warlock but it disappeared quickly, "too soon I realized that you would become the next dragonlord, finding your soul, your magic," something manic and crazed flashed through the man's eyes, but it was too quick for Merlin to catch,"to be more than strong enough to take such a burden. And again I became jealous. My actions from then on are not excused by this nor do I expect your forgiveness but," Capricorn trailed off and looked at Merlin with that same, strange something in his eyes.

He reached out with one hand and set it upon his nephew's head, an honest smile caught on his face, "But I realize now, how precious a gift you truly are. It was wrong of me to become so petty and Merlin, I cannot tell you enough how sorry I am."

"You are forgiven."

It was as though Merlin had cast a spell; time stopped, the rain faded away, the knights, the clang of swords, it all became nothing. And Capricorn could only stare at him for a very long time.

Merlin took a deep breath and met his eyes, saying clearly, "I forgive you, Uncle."

Caught completely off guard by the very thing he'd been so sure he would never receive the archer stumbled back a step, tears welling up in his eyes. There was a clinking sound but the warlock ignored it, its peculiarity dulled by the numerous other sources of the same sound occurring around him.

Unsure of himself Merlin felt the need to fill the silence, "You are not my father, nor can you ever be. But, there was a time when I truly valued you as one, Uncle. Nothing will happen, not for a very long time, but maybe, someday, I can accept you."

Merlin barely had time to blink before he was engulfed in the archer's arms, his uncle needing to bend down to wrap his arms around the stiffened serf. He could distantly hear someone jogging over the grass from behind them, probably another maid. Unprepared for such contact, he began to struggle, his magic screaming warnings at him that he instinctively attempted to listen to. The stench from earlier was absolutely horrid now, making his hair almost wilt in the grotesque toxin. And his uncle's cloak was wet against him, seeping through his thin shirt as he held him close, grip taught and powerful. A strange buzzing sound touched his ears. He felt trapped and needed to get away, away from the man that had abused him and his mother all those years ago.

And the smell.

Something in his brain finally clicked, this scent was something he'd often encountered with Gaius.

It was decay.

"I love you." The heartfelt words caught Merlin so off guard that he stopped struggling, submitting to the archer's embrace and listening with wide eyes as his uncle continued shakily, "I love you so much, Merlin. I want you to know that." Something wet dripped onto the serf's ear, rolling over the skin and falling into his neckerchief. But Merlin was too busy making other insights to notice.

That something he'd seen in this broken man's eyes was love. His uncle loved him.

"U-Uncle…?" unmasked nervousness and bewilderment touched his voice as he realized the abusive man was crying, shoulders quivering above him. The man sniffled and wrapped his arms around him tighter so he could pull his brother's son closer, as though afraid Merlin might disappear. Too many thoughts were running through his head, too much noise, too much concentration spent on keeping his startled magic down for him to notice the odd shift in his arms, like Capricorn was withdrawing something out of his cloak.

"I just wish," his uncle had to pause and suck in a shaky breath, "I just wish you couldn't have been born as such an abomination." Caught up in a moment of hope, hope that his uncle had changed, hope that maybe Merlin could have an almost proper family again blinded him. He'd let his guard down too soon. It was only a few seconds, not long at all, but it was just enough time for a longsword to be positioned behind him. Merlin registered its tip against his back just as he felt the man smile, breath ruffling his hair. "But it's okay, Merlin," he sighed and suddenly there was something manic and obsessive in his tone, "I won't let you die alone." And with time for nothing, not even a thought, the blade was pushed upward, tearing through flesh and organ.

At first he couldn't register anything, there was a thud against his back and another on his chest but no pain came to him. He saw the tip of the blade glittering out of his uncle's back, a beautiful, sick scarlet dripping off the end.

And then he realized the wetness on his torso had been blood, processed the wincing Capricorn made and the favoring of his left side.

His uncle had already been mortally wounded.

A fly alighted on his shoulder, buzzing and staring at Merlin like he might hold all the answers. An injured archer with no place to go, left alone in the woods for too long and bitten by insanity his dying, delusional thoughts had flipped to this. Judging by the smell it was several days old, degeneration having taken the wound and illness his sense of reason.

"Merlin," his uncle's voice was weak in his ear, the slow whisper of a dying man, "you're magic is inhuman. It is too powerful," he gasped a little and distantly the young warlock registered the sound of a blood curdling scream behind him- ah, the second maid, partner to the first, had finally arrived. "Yo-ou must not b-b-be allowed," he uncle shifted weakly, and there was the sound of someone gurgling, blood pouring out into Merlin's neckerchief, "you cannot be-a-a allowed to…liv-ve, ki-kiddo."

With the last of his strength his Uncle griped the blade a little tighter and, before yanking it out again, whispered one last, crazed thing;

"But at least we can go together."

If Merlin had not been right there he never would have heard the words, as it was everything else was muffled around him.

His body jerked harshly when the blade ripped through him a second time, back arching as it left him and taking a beady thread of his blood with it as it fell. In front of him Capricorn collapsed, dead before he even hit the grass.

Somehow, Merlin was still standing. The rain falling harder around him and creating a misty, confusing film of white that no manner of blinking could clear. Figures where racing towards him but it was too bright to make them out clearly.

And the pain.

Oh, gods the pain.

A fuzzy wall slammed into him, pricking his face and neck. It took several moments for Merlin to realize it was the ground.

His severed organs were near scalding inside of him and his magic had gone into some kind of near silent, subdued state. Yet, despite the situation and despite its near absence some part of Merlin knew that it was still there.

The rest of him was aware of only pain. Pain so obliterating that it created a new world for itself, one where he was alone, completely and utterly alone.

"Merlin!"

"Hey, come on- come on- you're okay, you're okay, you're okay."

A grunting sound, a weight on his chest. A pain that no words were fit to describe.

"It's gunna be alright, we'll get you patched up good as new."

"Hellfire, this is bad."

Who was speaking?

"He's loosing too much blood, sire!"

"Where the bloody Hell is Percival?!"

Percival?

"-orm Gaius!"

"Listen to me Merlin, just for once, listen to me and open your eyes you lazy, lay-about, useless man. Now is not the time for a blasted nap."

Ah, Arthur.

He must have work still to do.

"Open your eyes Merlin, that's an order."

With great effort the serf convinced his eyelids to flutter a little, but was unable to pull the weighted things up sufficiently. Something may have touched his cheek but with the pain through his chest and back so blinding he could hardly make it out.

Off in the distance he could hear someone saying something about being dead and wished with all his might that he could be too.

"-eady?"

Oh gods, he wanted to die so badly.

"B- are-" the words around him were falling away, "-ostle him…-uch."

"It's…-e okay, Merlin. –t's gunna be alright."

He just wanted the pain to stop.

"-ee… two-"

In a moment of impossibility and what Merlin was now convinced was hell, his agony increased. It tore through him like a savage dire wolf, kept from its savory meal for days. It instilled a flame designed by the gods themselves, unquenchable and hotter than anything the world could conjure. Tilting back his head, eyes flying open, and arching in the air he recognized the sound of screaming.

A horrible, painful sound from the distance, one that spoke of the unearthly agony a wounded man was going through. For several moments Merlin suddenly felt guilty, here he was feeling like he wanted to die when there was someone like him suffering just as much pain.

Vaguely he realized something was squeezing his shoulder, there was a soft, warm, thing cushioning the back of his head. Soothing words bleeding into his ears as a wind ruffled his hair.

Each breath was a battle he'd never wanted to face, each heartbeat rattling inside his chest and aggravating the wounds.

Desperate to keep himself distracted from the pain he tried to figure out why he was floating, why the castle walls were flying past him when he wasn't moving. Something cold, yet at the same time warm, pressed against his entire left side and swooped carefully beneath his shoulders and knees.

The clomp of booted feet beating a frantic rhythm beneath him.

"Merlin," the voice was back again and it took several seconds for him to recognize it as Arthur's, "Merlin, can you hear me?"

The prince's voice was breathless and when Merlin dragged his gaze toward him he could dimly see the prince bobbing up and down. In his delirium the serf could not understand why his master felt the need to dance in the corridor.

Perhaps he was drunk again and needed to be redirected to his ch- suddenly his body turned and the walls began moving in a different way. Not a different direction entirely, but at a somewhat different angle.

He sucked in a breath and instantly felt tears prick his eyes, the pain was unbearable. Was he such a horrible person that even his breathing had to cause him unbridled agony?

"That's it Merlin, you'll be alright. Just listen to me, focus on my voice." The hand beneath his head shifted, holding it up carefully and for that Merlin found himself grateful. "I've seen worse than this," no, he hadn't, "you'll be fine. I just need you to stay awake-" Merlin's eyes fluttered, "that's a bloody order, Merlin!"

A new voice joined the first, this time from above him, "we're almost there, okay Merlin? Just hold on a little longer."

"That's right Gaius will patch you up."

"-f you die Merlin I'll follow you to the grave-"… "-drag you back from hell" …. "-can't escape from working that easily."

A distant bang.

Shouting.

The sound of breaking glass, crinkle of paper, clang of metal on stone.

An old, familiar, wrinkled face bending over him.

Voices.

Splitting agony.

And the forgiving arms of darkness.

XXXX

A lone figure stood atop the castle barracks, looking out over the Kingdom he was destined to rule over. Flickering torch lights spotted the city like fireflies and smoke rose from the huts beyond, twisting and dancing in the silver moonlight. The stars above completed the image, spread across from one horizon to the other, uncountable and vast. Looking up Arthur Pendragon felt like it could swallow him whole- rather, he wished that it would.

It looked so peaceful, the stars cradled by a blanket of ebony and twinkling in their mirth like children sharing secrets.

As much as he tried to forget he could not stop himself. He held his breath, waiting for the sound of nearing footfalls. He waited for his servant to come and stand beside him, to ask him why he was brooding.

But no servant came.

His friend did not come to him.

There would be no words of wisdom and no following banter to signify that it was all okay.

Arthur was alone.

A breeze picked up, ruffling the sullen figure's hair. While nature played with his blond locks, tussled his clothing, and pinched his cheeks with a biting chill he fondled something in his pocket.

Swallowing thickly he pulled the blue fabric out and stared at the cloth in his fist. It was thin and covered in purple blood stains but without a doubt it was still Merlin's neckerchief. This ridiculous thing that had spent so much time wrapped around his neck, the object of numerous jokes. The cloth that dabbed up blood and sweat, potions shattered over the stairs and used to clean away the grime when there was nothing else. This was the article of clothing Merlin treasured the most as it was gift given to him by his mother and it showed.

The thing was in desperate need of mending, holes and small tears lining the fabric. Its color had faded to a dull blue over time and if Arthur looked closely he could see old, stubborn stains.

But he didn't.

Instead, he tightened his grip on the cloth and took a deep breath. Taking a single step forward he stretched his arm out over the wall and opened his fist.

A strong gust of wind grabbed the precious neckerchief and lifted it into the air. For a few moments Arthur watched as his keepsake flew away, bobbing up and down in the wind's arms before the blackness of night took it from his view.

There would be no other like him.

No-one that could bring such a vibrant happiness and joy to others. No-one who could make people smile with only a look and a word. And no-one would enjoy the simple sound of laughter like him.

The wind moaned.

His breath puffed out in front of him in a shaky sigh.

A streak of silver rolled down his face and fell off his chin, the drop glittering in the night.

Then Arthur turned away, back to his castle.

Leaving a silent figure to watch him go, missing the phantom flash of gold in the dark.

Halfway to the door he stiffened for a moment and then smiled, ears catching the whisper in the wind.

"I'm going to be there by your side, like I always am."

"Protecting you."

"Of course you are."

And the cogs of destiny still turned

XXXX

This is the stand-alone alternate of chapter four from the drabble series; Dabbling in Gratuitous Merlin-Myths. To read a more uplifting ending, wait a day or so for the next installment to be posted. You will find it on chapter five of the drabble series.

Here is the link: www dot fanfiction dot net / s/9807608/4/Dabbling-in-Gratuitous-Merlin-Myths

Thanks for reading!