"Is there nothing more you can do for him?" Arthur cried.
"I'm afraid not. I do not know what poison was used on the arrow, and so I have no idea how to treat him. His best hope is for you to find whoever did this and figure out what poison was used," Gaius answered. His voice was pinched, and the lines in his face seemed deeper than ever. "I will do what I can for him."
Arthur took a deep breath. He was the king. He had to keep his head, as difficult as that was. "Thank you, Gaius. I could ask for nothing more." He sighed. He wanted to offer some sort of comfort, but he didn't know what to say. Instead, he gave the physician a squeeze on the shoulder and left.
It wasn't an hour later before he was once again in Gaius's chambers. "Any improvement?" he asked. Gaius looked up at him, sadness etched into his face. "None, sire."
Just then, the door burst open. "Sire."
"Gawain. What news?"
"We found him."
Arthur looked up. "Bring him into the council chambers," he said, and strode to the room himself.
He took deep breaths as he walked. He knew that it would be a challenge for him not to rip the man's throat out as soon as they were in the same room. But if he did that, Merlin would die.
He sat down. It was only a moment later that the knights came in, bringing with them a young, scruffy man. They threw him to the ground at the king's feet. The man looked up at Arthur and smiled. It was all the young king could do not to go wipe the smile from his face. With his sword.
"Why did you attack my servant?" Arthur asked.
"Because my master bid me kill him, that's why."
Arthur straightened. "And who is your master?"
The man smiled again. "What, does your sister keep secrets from you?"
Arthur's heart pounded. "Morgana. What is the poison you used?"
The man's smile broadened. "Oh, the boy is beyond your help. It was your sister that poisoned the arrow, not I. The poison coursing through that servant's veins is of the magical variety. There's nothing to be done now but wait."
Arthur felt himself pale. "There must be a way to stop it. Tell me how!"
The man let out a barking laugh. "There is nothing you can do. Nothing."
Arthur stood and crossed to the man, grabbing the front of his shirt and hauling him up, holding him so their faces were only an inch apart.
"It pains me that the longest and most painful death I can give you while still upholding the laws of Camelot is a hanging," Arthur growled before pushing past him and out. He stormed through the halls, his mood even darker than it had already been, if that was possible.
Gaius hardly looked up when Arthur burst in, though when he did take notice, he looked a bit taken aback at Arthur's glowering mood.
"Sorcery was used. You were a sorcerer once, you can cure him."
Gaius's face fell. "Sire, I'm afraid-if this is Morgana's work, I'm afraid I cannot cure him. My magic is not powerful enough. The best I can do is keep the poison at bay for a short time, and even that's a long shot."
"Do it," Arthur said immediately. As he left the room, he could hear Gaius muttering in the strange language of sorcery.
A shiver ran down his spine.
Percival found the young king crouched behind the stables, something Arthur hadn't done since he was a child and Uther had condemned the action as a sign of weakness.
"Gaius wanted me to tell you that his spell worked, and the poison's stopped spreading, at least for a bit."
Arthur simply nodded. Normally, he would have embarrassed to be found like this, but Percival was a friend, and besides, he was too taken with concern for his friend to be worried about his dignity.
"It's all my fault, Percival. If he dies, his blood will be on my hands, and mine alone. If only I'd been paying more attention, then maybe this wouldn't have happened."
Percival shook his head. "I beg your pardon, Sire, but you're wrong. You are not responsible for this. Morgana and the man she sent alone are to blame. Merlin would say so. It's strange to me, but it seems Merlin is the bravest of us. The best. He's strong. If anyone could pull through this, it's him."
Arthur looked up at him, then lifted his hand. Percival helped him to his feet. "Thank you," he said. Percival was oddly right, he thought. Merlin was, for a dim-witted servant, very brave-almost irrationally so at times. But he was also wrong. Merlin was just a boy. What power did he have against Morgana's magic?
He couldn't sleep that night. The worry kept him wide awake as he stared for hours at the ceiling, trying to think of something, anything, that could help his friend. When the solution came, he was shocked, and a little appalled, that the thought had even occurred to him. And as he considered further, he realized that he didn't have any other choice, and although it went against every belief he held as the king of Camelot, and as the son of Uther.
The ancient sorcerer had promised to save Uther, and he'd failed. But Gaius had trusted him. And more importantly, Merlin believed in him. Although he hated the thought more than anything, Arthur knew what he had to do to save his friend.
Making sure Gwen was asleep, he got carefully out of bed, then crept to his wardrobe. He took out his traveling cloak, pulling it around himself, and pulled the hood over his head so it obscured his face. The sun was just beginning to come up as he mounted his horse and rode into the woods.
Half an hour's hard ride later, he spied the hut through the trees. He slowed the horse to a trot, and dismounted a respectful distance away from the dwelling. It took every ounce of his willpower to walk to the door of the man that he blamed for his father's death.
"Hello?" he called as he got nearer. He was greeted by silence. "Is anyone there?" He peeked in the doorway.
The house (if it could even be called that) was completely abandoned, and looked as though it hadn't been lived in for months. The sorcerer was gone. Arthur had driven him away.
He was suddenly overtaken by an overwhelming wave of emotion, and he dropped to his knees, letting out a shout of frustration and anger and despair and fear. He wiped furiously at the hot tears that landed on his cheeks as he realized that Merlin was going to die.
There was a knock on the door, quiet but insistent.
"Come in," Gaius said, somewhat suspiciously, unsure as to who would be coming at such an hour.
He was surprised to see Mordrid walking in.
"Is there something I can help you with, Sir Mordrid?" Gaius ventured.
"No. But I can help him." He nodded toward Merlin.
Gaius didn't answer, just moved in front of his student's unconscious form defensively.
"Look, Gaius. I know Merlin doesn't trust me, and I know you hold his opinion above anyone else's. But I can save him. I've got the power to do it Gaius, you know I have. You've got to let me try. If I don't, Merlin will die anyway. Please, Gaius. Let me do this. Let me save him."
Gaius's face softened. "Despite Merlin's reservations, I think you're a good man. If you can save him, then do it."
"Good. I need you to guard the door. Make sure no one comes in until I'm done. We wouldn't want my little secret to get out, now would we?"
Gaius seemed a little reluctant, but he went to the door.
Mordrid laid a hand on Merlin's chest, closing his eyes for a moment, searching.
When he opened his eyes, they glowed gold.
"Arthur, where have you been?" Gawain shouted as Arthur rode in.
"Nowhere," Arthur answered shortly. "Why, what's happened?"
"No," Arthur muttered, leaping from his horse and running into the citadel before Gawain could finish. He burst into the infirmary, heart pounding against his ribs-
Only to have Gaius quickly shush him. "He's sleeping, sire."
Arthur stood panting a moment, frowning in confusion. "He-what?"
"It's a miracle, really. Somehow, the poison ran its course without taking his life. He's asleep now. He's still got some recovering to do."
Arthur pushed past him to see for himself, and released a sigh of relief.
Merlin was lying comfortably on the cot, his breathing easy, his face relaxed. His color had returned, and he no longer resembled a corpse.
"You underestimate your abilities I think," Arthur said to Gaius. Merlin stirred, and his eyes opened a crack.
"What happened? And why are you in your pajamas?"
Arthur blushed. In his excitement that morning, he's forgotten to get changed. He quickly recovered, though. "What, you don't think I'd dress myself do you?"
Merlin cracked a smile. "No, I guess that would be too much to expect from a clot-pole such as you."
"For that, you get to polish all my armor. And clean my horse. And muck the stables," Arthur declared good-naturedly.
Merlin scowled and turned over so his back was to the king, then proceeded to feign snoring. Arthur snorted at this display of childish behavior.
"Fine. I suppose you can have the rest of the day off," he conceded.
Merlin turned back over. "Good. I did get shot with a poison arrow, you know." He grinned, but that didn't stop Arthur feeling a twinge of guilt.
"Poison arrow? That's nothing. Don't be such a girl. Now I've got more important things to do than gripe with my servant." And he stormed out of the room.
"Can you believe he actually thinks it's your magic that saved me?" Merlin said, grinning. Gaius shot him a deadly look, and Merlin forced the smile away. "Not that-I mean, I'm sure you could have-I mean-"
Gaius smiled. "Get your rest, Merlin. You've got a lot of chores to do tomorrow, by the sound of it."
Merlin pulled a face. But the truth was, he really didn't mind being Arthur's servant, because he knew he was also Arthur's friend, his confidant, the other side of his same coin.
He was Arthur's destiny.