TITLE: Into the Woods

CHAPTER/TITLE: Forty Three: Destiny

RATING: T (just to be safe)

A/N: Did you really think I'd let Merlin die? Kilgharrah is such a handy little deus ex machine, isn't he? I hope this chapter is okay. I am not very good at getting the dragon's personality and dialogue down. Oh, and I'm rubbish at complicated rescue/escape plans..

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Merlin or Robin Hood.

Chapter Forty Three: Destiny

"Thank you."

They were the first words that passed the reawakened wizard's lips. His voice was dry and weary. Pain remained etched across his features, and yet he still showed selfless gratitude in his eyes.

"Very much longer," Kilgharrah warned, "and you would have been out of even magic's reach to save you."

"But you did save me," Merlin grinned crookedly.

"I healed you as best I could," the great dragon replied. "But, be wary. You were fatally wounded and closer to death than anyone has ever been without dying. You will need time to recover your strength."

"How did you know to come?" Merlin questioned as he struggled to sit up. "I didn't call for you."

"Yes you did," Kilgharrah bowed his head. "Your very being cried out to me. Your magic called me. Even if it had not, I still would have known. You are powerful, Merlin. Your magic is you, and magic itself is interwoven into the very fabric of your world. The earth itself felt you passing into death."

There was a shared silence as the young man tried to comprehend the severity of the dragon's words.

"I need to find my friends," he finally spoke, eyes roaming the small camp.

"You need to not waste the new life that has been granted to you by throwing it away so carelessly and readily."

"I will not throw away their lives either," Merlin heaved himself to his feet, grappling a trunk for support. "I refuse to trade my life for theirs. If magic kept me alive, then it is for a purpose."

"Your purpose, your destiny is -"

"I know what my destiny is!" Merlin straightened as he shouted. "And Arthur is a part of it. As are all of my friends. I need to stop Morgana, but I cannot and will not do it alone. I will not abandon them."

"In all of my years among men, I have never before met a so loyal creature," Kilgharrah shook its large head.

"Then you will help me?"

"This is not my fight," the dragon made to turn away.

"Fine. Then I will go alone. But," Merlin smirked, "that means I have to walk across the forest and search this entire land by myself, in my weakened state. Who knows what could happen to me."

It never ceased to amuse Merlin to watch a dragon visibly sigh and roll its eyes.

"People are going to begin to assume that I am a horse," Kilgharra complained as he lowered his body.

It felt like lifetimes ago that Merlin had soared through the skies on the back of his old friend. Closing his eyes, he surrendered to that absolutely freeing sensation. In those brief moments, it was the most at peace Merlin had been in a long time.

Apart from being in Arthur's arms in those last moment of consciousness.

Despite the emotional weariness, the mental fatigue and the physical agony, in that moment, as he stared up at his best friend, he had found contentment.

That feeling was fleeting though, as the memory sparked other worries. His friends thought him to be dead. What would they do? Recklessly seek out revenge? Would Arthur abandon Robin and the others in his grief? Would he become bitter once more? And then, of course, there was Morgana. Was she on her way to Camelot now? Or would she seek to finish his assigned task herself?

There were far too many questions and worries for him to even attempt to consider. He had to be focused if he was to save his friends.

It hadn't taken long for Kilgharrah to find the correct trail. It was odd. They were neither making their way toward Camelot nor Nottingham. And wherever his friends had taken off toward, they were heading there rather rapidly. There was no sign of stealth or slowness in the broken branches and sloppy footprints.

They were running.

"That's it?" Will questioned skeptically as they peered up at the ramshackle castle.

"This is the path I was told to take," Leon answered.

"I don't see any guards," Gwaine noted.

"This does not feel right," Djaq nodded.

"This, I do not like," Little John agreed. "It's a trap."

"Who care's?" Much moved forward. "It's Robin - and Allan."

Arthur pulled the servant back with a firm hand.

"He's right," the king sighed. "This is a trap. We have to be smart. We can't just charge in."

"We don't know this castle," Will argued. "Entryways, weak points."

"So we find them," Arthur assured him. "Elyan, Percival, Djaq, scout it out. We need to know every way of getting in and out. We also need to know where the guards are. They're here, somewhere. Djaq, see if you can find where Robin and Allan are being held. Be careful."

The trio nodded and disappeared into the darkness of the night.

"We can't just sit here," Much shook his head.

"And we can't go in without a plan," Arthur argued. "How well of a fighter is your prince?"

"I don't think anyone has seen him fight long enough to tell," John grunted.

"He's good," Will nodded. "But he will run if he doesn't think he can win."

"Coward," John and Gwaine mumbled in unison.

"His men are better than the sheriff's," Much warned.

"Not better than the knights of Camelot," Gwaine winked.

"We'll need as many weapons as we can get," Arthur advised. "How much did you take from the camp?"

"All of it," Will answered and then smirked. "But I can make more."