Ordǣl 2/2

Sep. 30th, 2011 10:33 pm
flypaw: (merlin)
[personal profile] flypaw
Summary: There was a story that Arthur Pendragon carried with him until the day he died. It was the story of a boy who chose to use his own magic against himself than let Uther’s men slaughter him where he stood. Now, years later, Arthur comes face-to-face with that very same boy, now a man, who is Arthur’s guide to finding the remaining three treasures of Britain and uniting the land of Albion from the deadly war she has sunk into.

Word Count: ~13,500 (also on A03)

Pairing: Arthur/Merlin

Rating: NC-17

Warnings: mention of sort-of-suicide, violence, war-scenario and mentioned torture, main character temporary death (think end of Pan’s Labyrinth, but happy A/M ending for them).

Film Prompt: Pan’s Labyrinth

Written for 2011 [livejournal.com profile] reel_merlin


Ordǣl
Part Two
.




Venturing onto the outskirts of the camp was a dangerous task, especially when Arthur was the crown prince. He knew he shouldn’t be out by the edges of the camp, parts even the guards tended to shy away from due to the nature of the land, but if there was a place Merlin would show up, it had to be here.

Each night, Arthur made a point of stopping by the thick, bramble-coated part of the forest. He ventured only a little inside, but he knew he’d be sheltered enough from everyone else, even if he chose not to wear the ring of Eluned. As it was, the ring hid him from mortal sight and Arthur could wait patiently, taking a moment for himself in hopes Merlin would be there for the second task.

It was still in the first few days of this new routine that Arthur witness treason with his bare eyes. Though some might say Arthur himself was toeing the line of treason by aiding a sorcerer and empowering him, Arthur was doing it for the good of his kingdom. What he saw, on the other hand, wouldn’t be seen as such.

“You need to be careful,” a male voice whispered into the bracken and Arthur was alert at once, gripping to his hunting dagger and looking out into the gloom of the forest.

“I know it’s risky meeting like this, but I needed to let you know.” It was a woman’s voice, once Arthur could recognise even though he hadn’t spoken to the woman for a while. It was Guinevere, Morgana’s maid before she’d left for Urien.

Arthur wasn’t surprised she was here though; he’d noticed she’d signed on to help the scullery maids who would be providing food. Despite staying at the camp, it was still a dangerous job, but no one dared object the women who had offered. They’d offered for a reason, being incredibly resourceful and self-preserving. At the time, Arthur hadn’t fully understood why Guinevere had joined them, but it all made sense now.

“Whatever it is, couldn’t it have waited a few days? We all fear for your safety and meeting too often is going to put you in greater danger.” It sounded as though the man had had this conversation more than once and despite the treason in the air, Arthur smiled to himself.

“Morale is at an all-time low,” Guinevere persisted and Arthur closed his eyes against the betrayal. It made sense for her to follow her mistress, but she was still Gwen, a girl he had shared meals with and an occasional joke. Yet here she was, a traitor in Uther’s war camp.

“Everyone thinks Uther’s gone mad. He’s losing control and the knights are practically shouting that if Arthur were to call the war off then they’d follow him.” Guinevere paused and there was a rustle in the bushes. “We’re all tired. The only difference between Morgana’s side and ours is that we have more power. Everyone knows this, I’m sure even Uther himself does.”

Guinevere sighed. “I just want to go home.”

Where he sat, on a broken tree trunk, Arthur closed his eyes. That was what he wanted too, more than anything. He respected anyone who had the guts to admit that to another person, and he purposefully closed his ears as Guinevere discussed various weaknesses.

Before she finished, Arthur got up to leave, slipping the ring of Eluned from his finger and made his way back to the camp. His pace was slow and he’d just reached the outskirts of the forest when Guinevere stumbled out, covered in thorns and with her skirt torn.

She looked at Arthur with something akin to horror, but he simply tilted his head.

“A nice night for a walk perhaps,” he offered, turning his back –and a blind eye – to what she was doing. It wasn’t, after all, that dissimilar to what he and Merlin were doing.

They all just wanted what was best for their people. What was so wrong in that?

.


It was a week later that another battle flared up and Arthur grunted as he pulled his sword from a body, turning to the next enemy. The ring was on a string around his neck and while it would be so easy to slip it on and move silently through the field, killing all in his wake, it was dishonourable. His opponents were still people and they deserved a respectable death.

There was a roar from the other side of the field, and Arthur turned to watch a struggle between a group of knights and sorcerers. A jolt shot through him as he realised it was Morgana over there, clutching her arm as if she’d been wounded.

Another woman held her, trying to pull her from the battlefield – Morgause? – but Morgana kept trying to pull back, almost as if…

Arthur’s eyes widened. There was only one other person who was coveted as much as Morgana and Morgause. Rumours of a child sorcerer with enough power to bring Camelot to its knees with one look had flooded the camp and from then reports of seeing the boy had been sporadic. He existed, yes, but his powers hadn’t been seen, thankfully.

As Morgana was finally pulled from the battlefield, the rest of the sorcerers pulled back. Soon, Camelot and her allies were shouting victories and insults in the way of the fleeing sorcerers, but Arthur didn’t have time for that. He needed to get to the child before his father did something stupid. If they killed such a valuable hostage, there was even less hope that Arthur could bargain with Morgana and unite the land in peace.

“Arthur!” a voice called from the side as Arthur marched through the camp, and he started, turning around in shock.

“Merlin?” he questioned, frowning at the familiar brown cloak and dark hair. “I have to-“

“The second task is ready,” Merlin cut in, looking around before stepping into the open. “You need to come now.”

Arthur would be missed, he knew that, but if Merlin needed him to complete the task now, what did he have to lose?

“The boy-“ he began, but Merlin simply shook his head.

“Mordred knows enough to stay alive if it comes to that, though I highly doubt it. He’s too precious a bargaining chip.” The words were said with slight distain, as if there was a meaning to them that Arthur didn’t understand.

With one fleeting look at the war-meeting tent, Arthur swallowed and nodded, checking that his sword was at his hip and ring around his neck before following Merlin out into the woods. They walked back to the twisted tree ring, day turning to night, and Merlin made no hesitation in entering, Arthur following soon after.

Instead of the workroom they had entered into before, Merlin led Arthur out of a shallow cave and into the sun. An ocean lay before him and angry waves crashed against the cliff-face, frothy and rough. A few droplets, every now and again, flew up against Arthur’s face and he touched them absently, looking to Merlin for guidance.

“No harm will come to you,” Merlin promised. “I have magic and I will always save you.” He smiled so brightly and truthfully that Arthur immediately felt surer of himself. He straightened in his armour – still dirty from the battle he’d fought before coming – and rested a hand against the pommel of his sword.

“So what do I need to do?” he asked and Merlin looked around, pointing to a larger cave just before them, along a narrow ledge.

“The sword White-Hilt is in there somewhere. If anyone but you draws the sword, it will alight with fire. It will be loyal to you and you alone. A demon stole it a long, long time ago, but I know it’s here.” Merlin’s voice was confident and Arthur couldn’t help but nod.

As he began to shift along the edge of the cliff, Merlin caught Arthur’s arm. Arthur looked back, starting at the seriousness in Merlin’s eyes.

“The demon is in there. He’ll be sleeping now, in a form that will appear as vulnerable to you.” Merlin’s lips thinned and his frown deepened. “His name is Emrys.”

The name was said as if it belonged to an old friend; a far cry from the demon Merlin had called it earlier.

“What is Emrys?” Arthur asked, not understanding what a demon was, what it was to Merlin and why it had a name.

In reply, Merlin simply smiled, shaking his head in answer.

And though he wanted to pry, the words choked in Arthur’s throat and he let them die. Merlin continued, barely seeming to notice Arthur’s struggle to speak.

“Without him I’d be nothing, and even that is probably too much to say.” He smiled at Arthur, shrugging his shoulders. “But we’re only here for the sword. Emrys will let you take the sword and will slumber on, but should you take anything else, you will fail your task and all shall be lost.”

Arthur nodded, eyes leaving Merlin and tracking their journey along the ledge. They reached the cave in good time and stood on the edge before Arthur took the plunge, heading into the darkness of the cave.

Inside, far back, there was a glowing light. When Arthur’s eyes adjusted to the gloomy surroundings, he noticed that the light source was trapped between two hands, the hands of an old man. For a moment, Arthur was about to wake the sleeping man, tell him to get out while he still could, and then he remembered Merlin’s words. An old man was vulnerable and this man was the demon Emrys.

Making sure not to disturb Emrys, Arthur looked around the cave. Unlike Merlin’s home, there was no order to the objects scattered and pooled on the floor. For all Arthur knew, the sword he was searching for could be anywhere, under any amount of junk.

“You’ll be able to feel it,” Merlin whispered, suddenly at Arthur’s side. Arthur turned to him, about to say that he’d felt the warmth of the ring inside of the Beast when he noticed Merlin’s eyes firmly on the old man.

Shaking his head and using that same principle, Arthur closed his eyes and let his senses guide him, leaving Merlin to his thoughts. He moved around the room slowly, trying to feel for any sign of heat and was about to give up when he felt it, a tiny sport of warmth over to his left.

a pile of small books as he did so.

“Got it,” he said and looked down, frowning at the title of one of them. It was tiny, made to fit the palm of the hand, but the spiralled script on the front proclaimed it to be the name taking of Pendragon family and Arthur picked it up, wondering why Emrys would keep something like this. It should, by all accounts, be his.

“Arthur!” Merlin called suddenly, voice hurried and urgent. “We need to go, now!”

Arthur turned slowly and dropped the book. The glass containing the light in Emrys’ hands had shattered and was blazing around the old man. It glimmered and Emrys faded into it, becoming one with the light and vanishing. It made for Arthur, but Merlin got there first, letting the light hit him square in the chest. Though he struggled against it, and Arthur could see how badly Merlin wanted to be free of it, it seemed useless.

“Run now, get out!” Merlin’s voice was stilted, breaking with the force Emrys’ light was forcing on him. “If you get out, all might not be lost!”

Arthur couldn’t move though and he watched uselessly as Merlin began to dissolve, literally vanish before his eyes, the golden light coating him thickly. Merlin was scrabbling at his chest, as if trying to push something away, but it was far too late. The damage had been done when Arthur had thought of the little book as his own, and it had cost Merlin dearly.

“Merlin!” Arthur called out, lunging forwards to try and grip Merlin, to pull him back to existence. When he reached him, though, his hand fell through Merlin’s. There was nothing he could do; Arthur had failed.

The light exploded suddenly, burning too brightly for Arthur to see, and he raised his arm against it, shielding his eyes. The light surrounded his body, too hot and too cold at the same time, and Arthur could do nothing but curl up and hope that whatever happened, he’d end up with Merlin.

.


Arthur woke with a heavy head, as though he’d been drinking the night before. It was still dark and he could hear the sounds of celebration, the events of the past few hours catching up to him. There had been the boy – Mordred – and then Merlin had been there. What happened after took longer to catch up, and Arthur groaned.

He looked around, noticing a sword lying on the floor. It was a fine sword, finer than any he’d seen before, with a white hilt and a bright, shining blade.

That was when it hit him. Arthur shot upwards, grabbing the sword and pulling it to him, shaking his head. No, he couldn’t have failed. He had the sword didn’t he? Surely that meant he’d passed the task.

“Merlin?” he whispered into the tent, looking around as if words alone could summon his friend. He had the sword, but what use was it when Merlin wasn’t here? He hadn’t gone through all of that just to sacrifice Merlin.

He needed Merlin. He was useless as a king without Merlin, without his guide, and Arthur clutched the sword tightly, shaking his head in the dark. There was no way that Merlin wouldn’t return, that Arthur wouldn’t become king. Compared to Merlin, Emrys had to be nothing. Merlin was good and kind while Emrys was a beast, a creature of evil magic.

He climbed from his bed and fixed White-Hilt to his belt. Just as he was about to slip the ring of Eluned on, his squire charged in, head low and voice high-pitched.

“His Majesty wants to see you at once,” he squeaked, and Arthur looked to him, frowning. The boy was his squire, not a message bearer, and unless the situation had to be handled by those Uther could trust, any servant could summon Arthur.

“Did he say why?” Arthur asked, frowning as the boy shook his head ferociously. His squire wasn’t a boy afraid to question and only had a deferential nature when needed. He was inquisitive, bright-eyed and eager to learn, so to see him so demure was unsettling for Arthur.

“No,” the boy said, shaking his head from side to side. “Only that he’d have my hands cut off if I didn’t go straight away.”

Something cold and hard fell into the pit of Arthur’s stomach and he placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, shaking him ever so lightly.

“You can stay in here until I get back. I won’t let anything happen to you, okay?” Arthur smiled and felt the boy relax under his hand. He nodded once and then left the tent, hand resting on White-Hilt and the ring of Eluned pressed against the skin of his chest. Whatever Uther wanted, it couldn’t be good if he was threatening harm to squires now.

“You wanted me?” Arthur asked as he entered Uther’s private tent, knowing that his father would be there at this time of day. His father’s head snapped round and he nodded, face grave.

“The druid boy,” Uther began. “The dirty sorcerer won’t spill any of his secrets.” Uther’s mouth was a thin line. “He’s the key to finishing them off and he’s not responding!”

Arthur wondered how he’d missed his father’s descent into madness. Or rather, how he’d managed to convince himself that Uther was fit to rule when it was clear now that he wasn’t. He’d torture a boy to win a war they had no hope of winning unless Emrys himself suddenly announced he was on their side and blitzed the opposition.

“Sire?” Arthur questioned lightly, not wanting to alert Uther to his current thoughts, Merlin by his side or not. Even if Merlin wasn’t there just yet, he would be soon. He’d be back, but for now Arthur had to tread carefully alone. He’d done a lot of damage so far, but he wouldn’t mess this up.

Uther had to be kept as clueless as possible for as long as he could.

“Go speak to the boy,” Uther barked, waving an arm at the tent door. “Use any method you want. You can have him from tomorrow, there’s one last thing I want to try.”

A moment of silence passed, Arthur not committing himself to the request aside from inclining his head just so.

“Anything else, Sire?” he asked politely, as far away as a son could be. Uther looked at him sharply for a moment, eyes clear and worried, before the madness crept in once again and he shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Not yet.”

With that, Arthur bowed and spun on his heel, exiting the tent and gripping tightly to the sword at his side. White-hilt was a calming presence, reminding Arthur of Merlin and how much Merlin had been there.

It had started for Arthur as a child. Merlin had been his friend, an invisible presence that he’d kept secret simply because Merlin could do wonderful things, magical things. Arthur had never thought the boy – a ghost, a vision, he didn’t know – evil though, because he knew magic hadn’t always been bad.

Still, that was nothing compared to having Merlin next to him in the flesh. Merlin was real, not just an imagined boy from a story, but Arthur had ruined it all.

His squire was still there, as ordered, but there was another figure, shadowed in a dark cloak and tucked against the side of the tent that made Arthur’s heart skip a beat. He’d known Merlin would be okay, and here he was.

“You can have the night off,” Arthur said to his squire, trying to focus on the boy. “If anyone asks for you, come straight to me first, okay?” Arthur paused, realising how bad an idea that was. “On second thoughts, tell them that the prince has you under secret orders and you’re not to do anything that affects them.”

“What is that, my Lord?” the boy asked, voice still a little squeaky. Arthur smiled warmly.

“Orders to rest and have a night to yourself.” Arthur winked. “No one needs to know that though, make them think this war is depending on you!” He clapped a hand on the boy’s shoulder, watching the wide smile that spread across his face.

“Thank you!” the boy said, rushing out of the tent, leaving Arthur to face Merlin.

Neither of them said anything, Arthur feeling guilt weigh down on his chest and Merlin staying pressed against the tent. When it was almost too much to bear, Arthur opened his mouth to speak and Merlin stepped forwards.

“Arthur,” he said lightly, more a sigh than a name. Instantly Arthur froze and Merlin dropped the cloak. If anyone were to walk in now, they’d see Merlin. His last defence had gone, but Arthur wouldn’t wish it any other way.

“I’m sorry,” he said, moving forwards. “I didn’t mean to I-“

“It’s okay,” Merlin replied, stopping a bare pace before Arthur. “I’m here now, aren’t I?”

Arthur smiled, but when he looked closer at Merlin he could see dark circles under his eyes and noticed that he was shaking. He kept his eyes downcast, looking away from Arthur, until Arthur himself gripped his shoulders.

“What happened?” he asked, squeezing Merlin’s shoulders a little too tightly. Merlin flinched a little under his hands, but thankfully made no move away.

“Merlin, please,” Arthur said, wanting to know how badly his actions had hurt Merlin.

“It was an accident,” said Merlin suddenly, looking directly at Arthur. His eyes, which had been blue before, were now tinged with gold, the exact same gold that had bathed him in the cave. Arthur opened his mouth to say something, but Merlin got their first.

“I want you to remember that,” he said, moving his hands up to rest against the side of Arthur’s neck. “Okay? You have to remember that it isn’t your fault.”

Panic was starting to build in Arthur’s stomach. What on earth had he done that Merlin of all people was trying to reassure him that it was okay and not his fault?

“When I died,” Merlin began, colours dancing in his eyes. “When I died my magic pulled itself from my body. It took me a long time to find it again when I was trapped in the space between life and death.”

Merlin took a shuddering breath and Arthur wanted to pull him closer, say that he didn’t need to say anymore even though he knew it had to be said.

“It wouldn’t go back inside of me.” Merlin smiled somewhat bitterly. “Because I’d changed the course of destiny, chose to burn my village and kill myself rather than face execution.”

Merlin looked desperate at Arthur, tightening his grip on Arthur’s shoulders.

“How was I supposed to know that things would smooth out even if the king wanted my head? I was a child with a power that he’d been told to keep secret. When I saw my mother and the villagers trying to stop the knights, I lost control. I just-“ Merlin frowned, turning his head away and Arthur let him.

“When you needed me, I was there. I was still caught in the place between life and death, but an image, spirit if you will, of me came to you, just as it should always have been.” Arthur nodded, encouraging Merlin. “The reason I wasn’t there fully was because I hadn’t found my magic. When I disrupted the course of destiny, it was taken from me until I proved myself worthy of it.”

He shrugged, as if it was a conclusion he’d reached himself.

“I eventually found it, but there was something wrong with my magic. It… was used to being free.” Merlin gave a little laugh. “This sounds ridiculous, as if it’s a creature or person. In a way magic is another being, though I doubt anyone else can say their magic is like that.”

Merlin took in a deep breath, reaching for Arthur. “So I trapped what I couldn’t force back into the shape of an old man holding a jar.”

The smile Merlin gave then was empty and Arthur felt his stomach drop.

“When I-“ Arthur began, unable to finish his sentence.

“It overpowered me,” Merlin nodded, soothing Arthur’s guilt. “But it’s okay now. My magic is back where it should be, thanks to you.” Merlin moved closer, one hand moving to cup Arthur’s jaw.

After, Arthur knew he should have expected it. It was what he’d always wished for, what he’d always hoped for, but with Merlin real and by his side, Arthur had never let himself dream. Yet now, here Merlin was, touching him and wanting more than just a brief, chaste kiss.

As they moved back towards, the bed, Merlin kissed Arthur, hands gripping Arthur’s shirt tightly, pulling them close enough so that they could feel each other’s arousal. To know that he made Merlin feel like this sent a spike of pleasure through Arthur and he tilted his head back, letting Merlin have full access.

It was easy to fall back with Merlin and even easier to, later, fall asleep with him. A part of Arthur had always reached out to Merlin and now that he was here, full flesh and magic, it felt right.

This, whatever it was, was right.

.


Merlin was still there when the sun rose. Arthur woke first and lay staring at Merlin, inspecting every curve of his face every hair and inch of skin until he felt that he’d be able to recall Merlin’s face no matter what.

“Stop looking,” Merlin mumbled, rolling over and burrowing under the covers. Arthur smiled and lay back, closing his eyes and enjoying a rare moment of peace.

It couldn’t last though. They both knew that and Merlin was the first to rise. He dressed quickly, throwing on his brown cloak and looking back at Arthur.

“The third task,” he began, “will be to find the mantle Gwenn. We will need help tonight and you can free a child in the process.”

The wheels turned in Arthur’s head and he raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“Mordred?” he questioned and Merlin nodded.

“Bring him along,” repeated Merlin, to which Arthur simply nodded. At the very least, Mordred would be free. That was a good enough reason as anything, surely.

At midday, after Merlin had vanished and Arthur had tried to make himself busy so as to avoid going to Mordred, Uther stormed into Arthur’s tent.

“Why are you with the creature?” he spat, deep frown on his face as he stood before Arthur.

“Forgive me Sire,” Arthur replied, bowing his head slightly. “I had a few things to finish up this morning. I just ended lunch and was about to head over to its tent.” He was careful to refer to Mordred as a thing rather than a person and it seemed to reassure his father somewhat.

Uther nodded and left Arthur to it, most likely stalking the remainder of the quiet camp looking for people to take his simmering anger out on.

Though Arthur was dreading going to see Mordred, he knew there was no alternative. He strapped White-Hilt onto his side and made sure the ring of Eluned was around his neck before he moved across the camp, heading for the guarded tent a little way aside from the bulk of the camp.

“You’re dismissed,” Arthur said to the guards, planning to stay here until nightfall and then go on to meet Merlin, back at the twisted trees. When the guards hesitated, Arthur barked the order again, his voice sounding scarily similar to Uther’s.

The boy – and he was a boy, younger than Arthur’s squire and far more scared – was trembling when Arthur entered. He was chained to a post in the room, beaten and huddled in on himself. Arthur knew for a fact that the boy had been drugged with a tincture of nightshade, a usually deadly poison that Gaius had adapted to subdue sorcerers. It was used to tame them, to calm them and keep them from escaping.

Whatever label you posted on it, it was still barbaric and Arthur curled his lip in disgust. In response, Mordred shifted back, trying to shield himself even more.

“You don’t-“ Arthur began, but what could he say?

“Morgana’s my sister,” he tried out instead, and it appeared to be interesting enough for Mordred to look up. “I can take you back to her.”

He didn’t uncurl, but Mordred stopped trembling and looked at Arthur, inspecting him. For his part, Arthur sun to the floor, leaning against a supporting pole and stretching out. He would have liked to have brought a scroll or book with him, but it would have looked too suspicious considering he was supposed to be torturing Mordred.

Arthur didn’t fear that Uther would come. His father was too angry to make the journey and placed his faith in Arthur. Until now, Uther had had no idea that Arthur was committing treason and it would be too late when he realised it today. Arthur would be gone, securing his final treasure and would then help Morgana to free his people of Uther’s tyranny.

They spent most of the afternoon in silence, Arthur thinking of Merlin and what he’d do to save his kingdom while Mordred alternated between napping and staring at Arthur. Eventually, after what seemed like a lifetime, Mordred spoke softly.

“You have magic with you,” was all he said, even when Arthur tried probing for more. Never once did he lay a hand on the boy or raise his voice, knowing it was futile. If he hadn’t cracked under whatever Uther had thrown at him then he certainly wasn’t going to crack under what Arthur delivered.

They waited for nightfall, Arthur becoming increasingly agitated. He needed this to work and hoped that the guards had listened, his father hadn’t changed habits and that they could get away with this crazy plan.

“When we get out, you need to stay with me.” Mordred looked at Arthur with wide eyes, the scared eyes of a child. Though he should hate Arthur, Mordred had placed a small bit of trust in talking to him and Arthur needed him to depend on that. This plan had to work. He’d let Merlin down before and he couldn’t do it again.

They left the tent easily, Arthur having the keys to Mordred’s chains and setting the boy free. Without being told, Mordred slipped his hand into Arthur’s non-sword wielding one, clinging on for dear life.

Arthur knew they wouldn’t be able to get to Merlin’s tree-ring in time and so had to take his horse. It was risky, but it would ensure that they moved quickly through the land until they found Merlin’s forest.

It almost went to plan. They were so close, Arthur’s horse bridled and walking quietly from the stable when a stable hand called out, shouting for the guards and knights. There was no doubt that he’d seen Mordred for the next words bellowed were of sorcerers and evil, fingers pointing straight at Mordred and Arthur.

The only blessing was that it was dark in the stable and Arthur quickly threw Mordred up onto his horse’s back, swinging up after him and spurring his horse on. They had no saddle and so Mordred rode awkwardly, but they had no time to go back and get one. Already Arthur could hear sounds of the knights mustering their cavalry, no doubt thinking Arthur was some sorcerer’s lackey come to rescue Mordred.

They raced through the land, Arthur ducked low over Mordred as his horse galloped. They reached the forest that Arthur knew Merlin would be waiting in, but it was too dense for the horse. They set it loose, Arthur dragging Mordred through the thick forest as the king’s men joined Arthur’s horse, setting out the dogs they’d brought and searching for him.

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Arthur promised, squeezing Mordreds hand tighter as they drew closer to Merlin. He could feel the magic by now, the gentle thrum on his skin, and surged on, ignoring the people following him and trying not to notice his father’s shouts in amongst the knights.

The twisted trees looked far more intimidating that the light was gone from within. Merlin stood outside, looking directly at Arthur. He looked different, eyes the only light by the trees. He turned to Arthur and, for a terrible moment, Arthur was reminded solely of Emrys and the vicious magic, not of his Merlin.

“Your kingdom requires a blood sacrifice,” Merlin said, focused only on Arthur. “Mordred was brought here so that you could drain him of his blood as destiny calls for, for you to become king.”

Arthur shook his head, gripping tightly to Mordred.

“No,” he said, “no, Merlin, no!”

Merlin’s eyes were unfocused and he held out an ornamental knife hilt-first to Arthur.

“It’s the only way,” he said, voice low.

The group tracking Arthur and Mordred’s trail were crashing through the forest now, too close for comfort. Arthur knew it wouldn’t be long before they were in range to attack, but he couldn’t just kill Mordred. If his kingdom needed a child to die in order to claim it, then it wasn’t a kingdom he wanted.

Merlin leant forward as Arthur head the whistle in the air. He knew that sound, had been able to recognise it from such an early age, and instantly knew where it would hit. Merlin’s eyes narrowed as Arthur moved into the path of the cross bolt, shielding Mordred from harm and taking two more hits in the process.

Somehow, dying was easier when there wasn’t anything keeping you. It hurt, oh goodness it hurt, but Mordred was safe and Merlin was smiling down at him, his eyes fading to blue and magic swelling on his skin.

“Oh Arthur,” Merlin said, sinking to his knees. Arthur hadn’t even noticed that he’d fallen – that he’d let go of Mordred and push him behind Merlin even – but here he was, lying on a floor littered with leaves with three bolts from his father’s crossbow dug deep into his skin.

“It’ll be okay,” Merlin whispered, cradling Arthur’s head and rocking him gently. Arthur could feel Merlin kissing his hair as chaos exploded around them, Morgana’s screams littering the air when she stepped on the scene, no doubt to find Mordred, and Uther’s shocked, rattling breathing when he discovered who he’d hit.

Then there was nothing else left, only Merlin and his magic. It was warm and tingling as it spread all over Arthur, taking away the pain and all the thoughts, numbing everything and everyone but Merlin.

.


Arthur woke in a glade, sunlight streaming on his face. His head lay on Merlin’s lap and a hand was gently cording through his hair. Merlin was humming, eyes closed, but he opened them as soon as Arthur stirred.

“Arthur,” Merlin breathed, shoulder sinking in relief. He slumped over a moment later, burying Arthur’s head in his chest and holding him tighter. “I’m glad you made it through.”

Though he didn’t know what had happened between Merlin covering him with his magic and waking here, Arthur thought he could guess.

“You healed me?” he asked, shifting ever so slightly. There was no pain, not even from where the crossbow had pierced through him.

“I swore to always protect you,” Merlin said, voice low as he pulled back. His eyes were warm – blue – and he seemed different to before.

“Mordred?” was the next question. Arthur could remember seeing the boy’s shocked eyes as he’d seen Morgana run towards them, but couldn’t recall anything else. Had they survived or had Uther slaughtered them?

“I lied to you,” Merlin said, dodging the question. “The last task wasn’t to collect the mantle Gwenn. The mantle sits in a cupboard inside of my cave, but I needed you to think that it was.”

He didn’t look at Arthur, even though they were still pressed tightly together.

“There was a curse put upon this part of the forest, long ago. It was said that only the Once and Future King, the rightful King, could free the forest from its spell. The third task was to prove you were pure of heart.” Merlin looked at him, sadness and endless wisdom in his eyes.

“I asked you to sacrifice Mordred because I needed to see what kind of man you were. I knew you were the Once and Future King, but destiny changed because of what I did.” Merlin looked up, between the branches of the trees and to the cloudless sky. “It was your blood that was needed to break the curse and you chose to protect Mordred.”

Arthur bowed his head.

“Uther died,” Merlin continued, voice lacking in regret or sadness. Arthur couldn’t blame him – not after all that Uther had done, but he’d once been a father and Arthur would mourn him when he could.

“Morgana and her forces have over powered Camelot, though they do not know what to do with the Kingdom itself. Perhaps Cenred will take it, or Morgause… even Morgana.” Merlin looked at Arthur with a small smile.

“Or maybe you’d like to claim your kingdom yourself,” he said and pushed Arthur off of him, springing up and offering a hand.

“Legends tell of a sword more powerful than any other. I helped you reclaim White-Hilt, but that sword is only one weapon that belongs to you. It will not hold up in battle, but the forest has freed another gift for you.” Merlin took Arthur by the hand until they were in the very centre of the glade.

A stone sat firmly in place and Merlin smiled. It was then that Arthur saw the sword embedded in the stone, a gleaming-gold sword bathed in sunlight.

“Take her up,” Merlin said softly, letting Arthur’s hand fall from his. “Her name is Excalibur, the Sword in the Stone. She is the sword that marks you as king, the one that no one can refute.”

Arthur placed his hand over the hilt and closed his eyes. He thought of Morgana and Morgause, how they’d need him. He thought of Guinevere and her lover, the mysterious knight who was so sick of the war, just like the rest of them. He thought of Camelot with its gleaming turrets and smiling people.

He thought of Merlin.

And the sword pulled free.

.

Date: 2011-10-01 12:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] archaeologist-d.livejournal.com
Very epic feeling. I do love quest stories and this was lovely.

Date: 2011-10-04 08:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flypaw.livejournal.com
I loved the quests in the original film and had a lot of fun writing this. Thank you!

Date: 2011-10-01 02:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] paradox18.livejournal.com
Oh i really loved this, it had the feel of epic myths and legends but also almost fairytale like as well

Date: 2011-10-04 08:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flypaw.livejournal.com
I think the original film is very very fairy-tale-esque and I tried to keep that here. Thank you!

Date: 2011-10-01 05:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] reni-m.livejournal.com
This was a great Merlin spin on Pan's Labyrinth.
Great job! I enjoyed it a lot!

Date: 2011-10-04 08:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flypaw.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Date: 2011-10-03 11:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aerisdracoharry.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed this :)

Date: 2011-10-04 08:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flypaw.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Date: 2011-12-08 07:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] orion1432.livejournal.com
This was a great Crossover! There were so many interesting elements in this fic. I particularly liked Merlin's backstory and how his magic was the demon in the cave. I loved this, and I hope you write more amazing fics like this one in the future!

Date: 2011-12-09 03:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flypaw.livejournal.com
Thank you very much!
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