Yay! Another Merlin fic! Thanks for all the support on my last one! I just watched Arthur's Bane, so this takes place after that.
Also, I'm sort of nervous about being so close to the end of the series...
Merlin tightened the straps of his saddle bag with extra vigor, his mouth set in a straight, thin line. He was in a foul mood. Apparently, Arthur had picked up on it, because he sauntered over with a slightly concerned look on his face.
"What's the matter with you, Merlin?"
"Nothing," Merlin muttered.
"Oh, come on. You can tell me. I'm a friend."
Merlin looked up at him. "So you keep saying. Over and over. And yet, you still treat me like I'm nothing more than a simple servant." He looked down again, glowering at the ground.
"Oh, come on Merlin. You know I-that's not fair."
"That's not fair? I'm not being fair? You truly are the most dim-witted, insensitive clot-pole I have ever had the displeasure of encountering," Merlin said, his voice tight.
Arthur clapped him on the shoulder in that irritating, sarcastically cheerful way of his. "Come now, you don't mean that. You're just in a foul mood. Now hurry up or we'll leave without you." He strolled away.
Merlin stared at his back, shooting daggers. "I wouldn't be missing out on much," he called after the young king. Arthur just waved at him. Merlin went back to his preparations, still grumbling.
Before long, Merlin, Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table were riding through the woods, off on yet another pointless hunt. And this one was going to be over several days. Obviously, Merlin wasn't the only one getting tired of King Arthur, because Guinevere was the one who had suggested-very strongly-that Arthur and the others "leave for a few days".
Luckily, the weather was fair and the fresh air of the woods a pleasant break from the stony castle walls. Of course, that didn't mean Merlin was any happier about being stuck there, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
And then they reached camp. And then Gawain announced very loudly and dejectedly that he'd lost his saddle bag somewhere in the last half hour, and that he needed it very badly, and that he couldn't go to get it himself.
And then Arthur volunteered Merlin.
Of course he did. Who else would he ask to go do an impossible, ridiculous task? And, of course, Merlin said yes.
He tromped through the undergrowth, muttering curses and blasphemes and threats that, had they been overheard, probably would have gotten him charged with treason and hanged. The sky was beginning to darken, and he'd had no luck. If he didn't find Gawain's missing bag soon, he's be forced to return empty handed. He would never live it down.
No sooner had he had the thought then he spied something out of the corner of his eye that was brown and leather and definitely not a part of the natural scenery. He turned and, with a triumphant cry, grabbed Gawain's saddle bag from the branch it had evidently been caught on. He stomped back toward the camp, feeling very proud of himself.
Once he had the camp in sight, he called out to them. "Hey! Arthur!" He could just see Arthur looking toward him through the trees. He held up the saddle bag. "Found it!"
Just as he started walking again, he heard a faint whistle and suddenly there was a sharp pain in the back of his left shoulder. He let out a startled cry of pain, and then the ground rushed up to meet him and everything faded to black.
"Hey! Arthur!" Arthur looked up. Merlin was a ways off, holding up what must have been Gawain's bag. "Found it!"
He took a few more steps, then yelped and face-planted. Arthur and the knights burst into laughter.
"He's, uh, somewhat clumsy, isn't he?" Gawain said between laughter.
"Oh, yeah. A bit," Arthur replied with a smirk. The smirk faded when a minute passed and Merlin hadn't reappeared. Usually when he tripped, he popped right back up and insisted that he'd done it on purpose. Arthur got to his feet. "I'm going to go make sure he's okay."
Percival stood and followed him. "I'll come, too, just in case there is trouble," he said.
"Thanks," Arthur said. As they got closer, he could see the dark mass that could have been nothing but his servant.
As they got even closer, he could see the arrow protruding from the still body.
"No. No, no, no. Merlin!" Arthur ran to his side, falling to his knees. He put a hand in front of Merlin's mouth, and was relieved to feel his breath.
Percival had shouted for the others, and they came running, crashing through the trees.
"You stay with him, Arthur. We'll go search for whoever did this," Percival offered.
"Thank you," Arthur muttered. He turned back to his fallen friend. "Merlin, come on. Wake up. Wake up!"
Merlin let out a moan and his eyes fluttered open. "Arthur?"
Arthur let out a sigh of relief. "It's about time you did what you're told," he said. He examined the arrow. There was already a growing patch of blood on Merlin's tunic surrounding it. He tore off a strip of cloth from the bottom of his own shirt.
"Okay, Merlin. I've got to take the arrow out. It's going to hurt. A lot."
Merlin managed to nod. Arthur gripped the arrow tightly. Even the small amount of movement made Merlin let out a groan of pain.
"I really am sorry about this," Arthur said, and pulled.
Merlin let out a piercing scream, making Arthur cringe. He pressed the strip of torn cloth against the wound in an attempt to staunch the blood flow. Merlin's face was pale and his forehead was slick with sweat. His eyes began to close.
"No, Merlin. Keep your eyes open. That's an order," Arthur commanded as he tore off another strip of his shirt. "Now, if we're going to get you back to Camelot, I've got to get you up. Do you think you can handle that?"
"Yes, Arthur. I'm not just…some girl's petticoat."
Arthur smiled. He took it as a good sign that Merlin was retaining at least a bit of his tenacity. He put one hand against the wound, holding the cloth in place that was already soaked through with blood, ignoring Merlin's whimpers. His other arm he looped around Merlin's back and under his right arm.
"Ready, Merlin? On three. One…two…three!" He stood, carefully so that Merlin could get his footing. Then, he took the other strip of cloth and tied it around Merlin's left shoulder, making sure it was tight. "Alright. We're going back to Camelot."
"No. Not tonight," Merlin replied with a weak shake of his head.
"Merlin, you're injured. We've got to get you back so that Gaius can fix it. Now come on."
"Not tonight," Merlin insisted. "It'll be dark soon, and if there is someone out there trying to kill us-well, it won't do us much good if he kills us. No, we should go back to the camp and stay there for the night."
Arthur sighed. He wanted to argue, but Merlin was right. Riding blind through the dark was as good as suicide. "Fine. But we're leaving at first light."
"Fair enough," Merlin said before falling silent. As they continued to the camp, Arthur found himself bearing more and more of Merlin's weight, their pace slowing steadily. Merlin's breathing was becoming labored, and Arthur could hear him wheezing. "Merlin, we're nearly there." Merlin didn't respond. "Merlin?"
Merlin tried to take a few more steps, but stumbled and fell, unconscious.
"Damn," Arthur muttered, hauling Merlin into his arms. He carried him the last few feet to the campsite and laid him down. "I'll be right back," he said, then went to gather firewood.
It wasn't long before a fire was roaring in the middle of the clearing. He sat in front of it, watching the flames intently. He heard movement behind him and turned, surprised-and very relieved-to see Merlin sitting up, propped on one elbow. Arthur moved by his side.
"Merlin! How are you feeling? Are you alright?"
Merlin shook his head. "No. I'm not…the arrow. It must have been poisoned. I can feel it-" His voice cracked and he stopped. He took a deep breath, then spoke again, his voice quiet and small and shaking. "I've never been afraid to-to die. But I ca-I can't-not like this."
"Merlin," Arthur said firmly. "You are not going to die."
"How do you know?"
"Because I am the king, and I command you not to die. That's why."
"And if I do anyway?"
"Then I'll put you in the stocks for a week. So you'd best do as I say."
Merlin managed a weak chuckle. "'d like t'see you try," he answered tiredly. His eyes slid shut and his arm began to slip from under his head. Arthur caught him, and set Merlin's head down gently. With a sigh, he leaned against a tree, his sword across his lap, and kept watch over his fallen friend.
Once the sun came up, Arthur-somewhat guiltily-shook Merlin's shoulder.
"Come on, Merlin. Time to go. We've got to get you back. Gaius will have you patched up in no time and then you can get back to your chores."
Merlin's skin was a pale grey, and there were dark circles under his eyes. He hadn't even the strength to muster a smile at the cleverly slotted in mention of chores Arthur had managed. It seemed to tire him just getting to his feet. Arthur did his best not to let his concern show.
"You think you're well enough to ride alone?" Arthur asked. He'd meant it to come off as a joke, a jab at Merlin's manhood, but his voice, betrayed his worry.
Instead of a response, Merlin let out an abrupt cry of pain and collapsed so suddenly that Arthur dropped him. Merlin's eyes rolled around in his head, his limbs jerking. Arthur stood by, feeling absolutely helpless and more than a little terrified.
"Merlin! Merlin, what's happening?" Arthur cried nervously, fairly certain that he wasn't going to receive an answer. He was surprised to find tears welling up in his eyes, and he wiped at them furiously.
A few horrifying and seemingly endless moments later, Merlin stilled. His skin had taken on a frightening greenish hue. Arthur knelt down and put two tentative fingers to Merlin's neck, hoping desperately to feel a pulse there. A lump formed in his throat.
Arthur could hardly contain his cry of relief as, faintly, he felt a pulse against his fingertips. It was weak and unsteady, but Merlin was alive.
Carefully, he lifted Merlin onto his own horse, then mounted after him. Holding onto his dying friend, he charged toward Camelot.