Characters: Arthur, Merlin, Uther, and Gaius
Beta: The forever amazing souleswanderer
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Merlin and no money was made from writing this story.
Summary: “You will win,” Merlin said, his eyes and his voice speaking with confidence and surety that Arthur never knew he possessed. “You will win,” he repeated. What was even stranger was Arthur found himself believing him.
The threat of impending battle did strange things to a man.
Arthur’s senses were heightened, he felt Merlin’s arms around his body as he tightened his belt, he smelled the salt on Merlin’s skin when he adjusted his armor, he heard the barest hitch in Merlin’s breathing when he passed him his sword.
“You’re outnumbered,” Merlin said quietly as he stepped away from the battle ready prince.
Arthur felt the weight of his sword at his side, taking a small measure of comfort in the familiarity of it. “Thank you, Merlin. I know.”
“Four to one,” Merlin continued.
“I was there for the scout’s report in case you’ve forgotten,” Arthur barked. “And the second one.”
Arthur spun on his heel and stalked out of his chambers with Merlin trailing behind him. “There was a second report?”
“Pity you missed it,” Arthur said over his shoulder. “Not only are we grossly outnumbered, but apparently they’re aided by sorcerers. Magical, isn’t it?”
“Sorcerers?” Merlin asked.
“You don’t have to sound so excited about it,” Arthur snapped, rounding the corner and to the massive chamber where they were planning their strategy. Where Arthur would tell his knights they would emerge victorious because God and country were on their side. They’d cheer, raise their goblets and claim allegiance to the throne. Then Arthur would lead to them to a battle they couldn’t win.
“I’m not excited,” Merlin said, sounding offended. “It’s just – doesn’t that change things?”
“All it does is increase my father’s dedication to the cause. It’s war, Merlin. We have to fight.”
“But you’re out numbered, and they have sorcerers.”
Every now and then Merlin could say something surprisingly intelligent and introspective, this was apparently not one of those times. If all he was going to do was state the obvious, he could go bother someone else for awhile.
“If you don’t have anything useful to say, go help Gaius prepare.” Prepare for the wounded if there were any wounded left to tend to.
“Arthur, Arthur wait,” Merlin said, reaching for his arm.
“Merlin, what on –"
“You will win,” Merlin said, his eyes and his voice speaking with confidence and surety that Arthur never knew he possessed. “You will win,” he repeated. What was even stranger was Arthur found himself believing him.
Arthur glanced at Merlin’s hand that was wrapped around the chainmail on his upper arm. His knuckles were white. “Go see to Gaius,” Arthur ordered.
Merlin glanced at his hand that was holding Arthur in place, his eyes widening as if he was surprised it was there. “Right, sorry. And good luck.” Merlin smiled at him, as if this conversation somehow solved everything and all was right with the world. Arthur shook his head and watched as Merlin disappeared down the corridor.
“It’s not possible,” Uther repeated as they rode through the gates of Camelot. “An army that large does not retreat.”
“Judging by all the tracks, they were there. The scouts weren’t wrong,” Arthur replied.
“But why would they retreat? They were aided by magic.” Uther rubbed his chin, his expression a mix of frustration and grimness. “What did they see that made them turn back?”
“There was no bloodshed. No bodies,” Arthur said. “The only thing that was exchanged was words.”
“Something happened there,” Uther continued. “Those tracks – the army fled. They were running away. Why?”
“Or they’re planning a better attack,” Arthur suggested.
“Victory was at their fingertips,” Uther muttered, his voice low so only Arthur could hear him. “They had no reason to retreat.”
Arthur made a noise in his throat, knowing whatever he said wouldn’t ease his father’s tension.
“We will continue to prepare,” Uther said. “Camelot will not fall.”
“Yes, father,” Arthur agreed.
Arthur let one of the stable hands take his horse and started for his chambers. After riding for nearly two days, he felt like he’d been to battle even though he’d never lifted his sword.
For whatever reason, he ended up Gaius’s chamber door. The door opened before he could knock.
Camelot’s armies weren’t due back for days, weeks even yet Gaius didn’t look surprised to see him. “Prince Arthur, are you well?”
“Yes, Gaius,” Arthur said, his eyes narrowing. What was Gaius hiding? “I was looking for Merlin,” he finally said. It was a good excuse, and not far from the truth. He actually felt like listening to Merlin blather on about nothing.
Gaius glanced at the closed door that led to Merlin’s bedroom. “I’m afraid he’s indisposed, sire.” Gaius shrugged. “Asleep.”
“Well, wake him up. It’s the middle of the afternoon!” Arthur started stalking across the room, pushing the wooden bench out of the way as he went.
“Prince Arthur,” Gaius said, his voice firm, as he managed to place himself between Arthur and door. Arthur had no idea Gaius could move that fast. “He’s not feeling well and needs his sleep.”
“Yes, very sick. And contagious. I would hate for you to fall ill.”
“I’ll take my chances. Move, Gaius.” He pointed away from the door and eventually Gaius relented, stepping aside. Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur saw his hands nervously clinching in front of his stomach.
Arthur opened the door slowly and stepped inside. He stood over Merlin’s bed and realized there was some truth in what Gaius was saying. Merlin was pale, extremely pale, and his chest barely moved.
“Merlin?” Arthur said softly. He picked up Merlin’s hand and squeezed. He got no response for his efforts. He held Merlin’s hand over his body and released it, watching as it dropped lifelessly back onto the bed. “He’s not asleep. He’s dead.”
“Sire, please,” Gaius pleaded. “He needs to rest.”
“Merlin,” Arthur repeated. “I’m the one that went to battle, you idiot, and now you’re the one that’s lying here half-dead.”
Merlin’s mouth opened as if he was moaning, but no sound emerged. His eyes opened to half slits, and was that gold? His eyes were gold? Merlin’s eyelids lowered, his head rolling to the side as if that meager effort sapped whatever energy he had left.
You will win.
As soon as Arthur told Merlin about the sorcerers, something had changed. It was as if Merlin now had cause, had reason to believe Arthur would emerge victorious. It was as if Arthur had somehow provided justification for action, as if the battle was over before it had ever started.
You will win.
Merlin hadn’t begged to go with him. Merlin always went with him when he thought Arthur was going to be in danger, but for whatever reason, he’d let Arthur go without a fight.
He heard Gaius shuffling in the doorway, his eyes wide and full of fear. “Prince Arthur, I can –"
“It’s fine, Gaius. I’ll wait.” He pulled a chair away from the wall and sat down, his eyes never leaving Merlin. “I’ll wait.”
He leaned forward, his lips close to Merlin’s ear. “When you wake up, we’re going to have a long talk.” Leaning back, he settled down to do exactly what he’d said – wait.