Right, sorry for the long update, again! I think there will be one, possibly two more chapters after this.
Merlin stood shivering, despite standing by a fire, watching Morgause's men tramp around, barking out orders to one another. It wasn't new to him. But without Arthur, he felt somehow more vulnerable.
Silly really, as he had magic.
He closed his eyes, allowing a small sway. When he opened his eyes again, his vision was clouded with black spots, and he had to blink several time to disperse them.
He watched a short, burly man approach, flinching instinctively when he halted before him. The smell of sweat and alcohol clouded his nostrils, making him feel even more queasy than before.
"Where's the prince?" the leader growled, a leer revealing black and yellow teeth.
"I don't know." Merlin replied, truthfully.
Then man gave a cackle, spraying spit over Merlin's face and making him pull away with a grimace.
"Tell me, or you'll suffer." he snapped, eyes loosing all mirth.
"I can't tell you, because I don't know." Merlin repeated coldly, allowing his blue eyes to bore into the wicked brown ones of the leader.
There were several beats of silence between them, then the man shoved him back, almost making him loose his balance.
"You had better tell me where the prince is, or I will kill you."
Merlin stared coldly back at him.
"I don't know where Arthur is." he said slowly, only a very slight tremor in his voice.
The second time he was shoved to the ground, feel a spike of pain wash up his arm as he landed heavily on it. A kick to the stomach forced him to stay put, helpless on his back. He closed his eyes and shivered slightly.
"Tie him up." the leader commanded, and immediately rough hands were pushing and pulling at him. "And then pack up, we'll go to the meeting spot.
Arthur crouched in the safety of the thicket for some time, listening to the rustle and crack of trees in the night.
His thoughts were on Merlin. What had happened? Was he alright?
Not that I should care.
But he did care. He did care that somewhere Merlin could be dead or bound. That he was alone. Just as alone as he himself was.
He had lost his horse in a moment of panic. And now he was in the forest, unsure of which way to go, and worrying about his manser- about a sorcerer.
There's nothing you can do in the dark. Wait until morning, he thought. The blackness seemed, if it were possible, to be growing deeper, and less penetrable. So he moved a little further into the thicket, and lay down, the sounds of night seeming amplified now he was lying amongst the leaves.
He slipped into sleep surprisingly easily, tired from the emotions which had flogged his heart all day.
Arthur woke just as the sun began to cast its light on the forest. It took him mere seconds to remember everything. Merlin's betrayal, and then somebodies capture.
He just prayed it hadn't been Merlin.
He had to get back to Camelot. That was all that mattered. He was tired, broken, and wanted nothing more than to stretch out in his bed and relax. If Merlin had been caught, that was his outlook.
But the knowledge he was abandoning his manservant, truly abandoning him, hurt. He stood, and without even hesitating, took Merlin's coat up. It couldn't do any harm to keep it. It might be some consolation to Gaius.
He didn't know if Gaius knew about Merlin's magic, but he wasn't going to tell anybody. He wouldn't have Merlin's legend ruined. Because even if he couldn't remember the faithful friend, everybody else could.
So he started walking, in the direction he hoped Camelot was in. It was a crisp morning, but he didn't feel the warmth of the sun on his back. In fact, Arthur didn't really feel anything. Not the cold, or the growing warmth.
Just a kind of numbness.
At least the steady goal he had distracted him slightly. He could just walk, knowing at some point he would come to Camelot, or get picked up by a patrol.
He wasn't sure exactly how far from the border he was, but it couldn't be more than a day's walk.
So he walked, and thought about Merlin.
Not the new Merlin. Not the sorcerer Merlin. But the friend Merlin. The one that would die for him.
It was midday when he smelt it. Smoke. Thick, slightly noxious smoke that could only come from burning damp wood.
There was somebody out there.
He immediately fell into knight mode, crouching down and letting his senses tell him where the fire was. Straight ahead as it turned out, and he crawled forward.
Eventually he got to the top of the small slope he had been climbing, and looked down. The slope dropped away even less steeply on the other side, but at the foot, there was a largish clearing.
Or it would be clear, except for a few tents, fires and men placed there. Arthur's first thought was slave traders, but then a banner caught his eyes.
Dread filled him, and he shuffled back slightly, keeping his eyes fixed on the bustling encampment.
There was only about twenty men, so either this was a temporary camp, or more men would be arriving soon. There were two tents, a large fire, around which most of the men sat. The tents themselves were ramshackle at most.
The smoke and chatter drifted up, though he couldn't catch any of the words spoken.
And then, as his eye swept over the camp once more, they landed on a small, huddled figure on the outskirts of the camp.
A small, huddled figure he would recognise anywhere.
Merlin was curled in a tight ball, head tucked between his arms, looking significantly worse for wear From where Arthur was, he could see a few large cuts, each spreading blood across Merlin's face.
He looked strangely vulnerable without his jacket. The very same jacket Arthur had clutched in his hands.
And that was when the dilemma struck him.
Ignore the plight of his friend, or save him.