Merlin woke up in pain. Which at this point, he should have been used to when you consider his job. He moved to sit upright in his bed and rubbed his eyes, almost as if to check if he was dreaming. When he realised he wasn't, the young warlock snatched a book from his bedside table and threw it to the floor as hard as he could, grimacing at the result.
He only heard a faint bump when he should have heard something a lot louder. Merlin's fears from the previous day came true as he sat there in bed trying to process it.
The ringing had gone, but he still couldn't hear anything.
The day before, he, Arthur and the knights had gone on a hunting trip. Straying not too far from Camelot, they went simply to hunt any animals they could find and bring them home. What Merlin hadn't anticipated was that he'd come home with a serious problem.
They'd been caught off guard. Bandits appeared from behind every bush in sight as the group was sat having a break from all their hunting. Of course, Arthur and the knights swiftly brandished their swords and crossed theirs with the enemies, whilst Merlin got out of the way and defended himself the best he could. He wasn't an idiot; he was perfectly capable of defending himself with a sword despite what Arthur thought. He just wasn't as skilled with one as the King and his knights.
Although, Merlin was much more skilled than all of them in another way.
In between defending himself and trying not to lose his footing, Merlin saved Arthur and Gwaine from what would have been devastating, if not fatal, blows, trying his best to conceal his help each time. This worked on his friends, who became none the wiser after the hunting trip. But it failed to work on one particular bandit who had spotted the sorcerer from behind.
As Merlin locked swords with a man who was at least twice the size of him, the other bandit crept up behind him with a malicious grin on his face. Before Merlin had a chance to turn around, he'd been hit hard on the side of his head with the handle of a sword.
With a sharp cry of pain, Merlin hit the ground. He lay on his side and pressed his hand to his head, trying desperately to numb the pain. He wished to God that he could use his magic to help him numb it ever so slightly, but couldn't concentrate enough to do it.
The dirty-playing bandit raised his sword on the now defenseless man, ready to take his life. That would have been so if it wasn't for Gwaine, who, ironically, came up from behind the larger man who stood over Merlin and ran him through. Sending him toppling backward and hitting the ground twice as hard as Merlin.
Gwaine then engaged with a few more filthy bandits, taking down each one with ease, unintentionally leaving Merlin alone and in pain on the dirt whilst everyone else fought around him.
Once Arthur had noticed the state of his manservant, he made a B-line to him. Leaving behind a trail of dead bandits in the process. Upon reaching Merlin, he helped him to his feet and took him to rest against a tree where the pair witnessed Elyan and Percival finish off the last of the bandits.
"Are you alright?!" Arthur asked him, trying to mask the concern in his voice. Even if he'd succeeded in hiding it, Merlin wouldn't have heard him. All he could hear at that moment was sharp ringing as he looked down at the floor with his hand still touching his head.
When Arthur didn't get a response, he grabbed Merlin's shoulder and shook it. "Merlin, I said are you alright?" He asked again in a slightly quieter voice now that Sir Gwaine had appeared next to him, also concerned for Merlin.
Merlin looked up and stared at Arthur after he shook his shoulder, just managing to catch the final word off of Arthur's lips. He had come to terms with the fact that he could not hear much at that moment and thanked his lucky stars that he had some lipreading ability.
"Yeah, I'm alright." His response garnered Arthur and Gwaine to look at each other in doubt.
"Princess, he was hit hard over the head. I don't think he's as 'alright' as he says." Gwaine said to Arthur, who then looked back to his friend with a worried expression. Merlin was staring at something in the distance looking disorientated.
"Then this hunting trip is over."
Arthur and Gwaine helped Merlin to his feet.
"I can walk myself you know."
"Don't be a fool, Merlin. You're injured. Let us help you."
Of course, Merlin had no idea what Arthur said to him. He assumed he threw some kind of jab in there like he usually did. Before he knew it the three of them were at Merlin's horse. He gestured the fact that he could mount the horse without help and did so under the careful watch of Arthur and Gwaine.
Sirs Leon, Percival, and Elyan could see that Merlin had been injured by how he was acting. No jokes, no snide remarks and no protests about the sudden change of plan. Usually, Merlin would want to push on with any quest he'd been a part of. With that, the knights collectively determined that it was best to return to Camelot at this time, not only for Merlin's sake, but for Arthur's too.
On their way back to Camelot, the knights figured out that Morgana was likely behind the attack. Their discussions went unheard by Merlin, who spent most of the ride home trying to diagnose his own problem. His head was ringing like nothing he'd ever felt before. Sure, he could always hear clanging after training with Arthur, especially at times when he was more agitated, but he'd never felt like this. At one point Merlin started to feel faint but caught himself in time to save the embarrassment.
Arthur rode at the front to lead the way and watch out for other bandits. Before leaving, he had a quiet word with Gwaine to ride next to Merlin to keep an eye on him. Arthur would have normally had Merlin ride next to him but he knew he couldn't focus on their surroundings and Merlin at the same time.
Without any further attacks, the group finally returned Camelot. As they rode into the courtyard Merlin took note of how his condition hadn't gotten any better since they left, which he expected. He thought that this new ringing was only temporary, so temporary in fact that it would disappear by the same evening. Although, he needed to get his head checked by Gaius.
After dismounting his horse, Merlin approached Arthur and asked him if he could be excused to see Gaius, hoping he would say yes or else he'd have to do some major lipreading.
Luckily, Arthur agreed. Merlin was pretty sure he had said something along the lines of "Yes, of course." But it was probably more of a "Yes, you idiot. Be back soon."
Arthur watched as Merlin walked up the stairs to the castle and noticed his slow pace. He put it down to the heavy blow his friend had received, which only Gwaine had witnessed. He was worried about Merlin, though he would never admit it. The idiot was always injuring himself in someway but usually just stood up and got on with life. Merlin's disorientation after the battle lingered in Arthur's mind after dismissing the knights and whilst heading to his chambers…
…Until Sir Gwaine came out from apparently nowhere and approached Arthur in the castle halls.
"Let me know how he is yeah? He took quite the hit." He asked of Arthur, not caring that he was basically showing concern for a servant. Gwaine knew that Merlin was his friend and didn't care if he showed it.
"I will, that is if he turns up at my chambers tonight." The King replied jokingly to his knight.
"Thanks, princess." With that, Gwaine took off to be with the other knights of the round table.
Merlin's walk to his own chambers was much more difficult. Everything looked as if it were spinning and the ringing was still going strong. Despite his idea from earlier about when it would stop, he couldn't help but think why it hadn't stopped yet, surely it had to stop by now? Or at least have gone down a little? Merlin was almost lost to his thoughts.
He'd finally reached the door to his and Gaius' chambers and extended his hand to open it, only for the door to open by itself. He jumped back slightly in shock as it opened more and Gwen stepped out of it clutching some tunics she had volunteered to wash for Gaius. Letting out a little yelp, which in turn made Gwen yelp.
"Oh! Merlin, I'm sorry! I didn't realise you were there! Or back even…when did you guys get back?"
Merlin could only comprehend the first few words that Gwen had said. Everything else was lost on him. Not wanting to upset Gwen, he put on a smile.
"S'okay, I'm fine. Uhm, I've got to go, sorry…" he said as honestly as he could, entering his chambers and shutting the door. "Damnit." He thought, knowing that he'd probably upset Gwen anyway. In truth, he didn't want her to become suspicious. He knew that if she did, she would tell Arthur.
Merlin didn't want Arthur to know at the time since he thought it was temporary. In other words, Merlin didn't think it was that big of a deal.
Gwen, on the other hand, was still outside, confused as ever. She thought of knocking and asking if Merlin was alright but then remembered that he seemingly had something to do. Gaius was inside, he would take care of him if something was wrong. She would pop by later and check on him then.
Upon hearing the commotion outside his door, Gaius looked up from his workbench where he was grinding herbs and watched the whole thing. When Merlin entered and shut the door on Gwen, he had some questions for his ward.
"Merlin? What was that about? When did you get back?"
After living with Gaius for years now, the young warlock had become accustomed to his mentor's usual questions whenever he got back from somewhere. All Merlin heard from Gaius was a buzzing sound, which in itself was faint.
God, he must have been hit really hard. He was surprised he wasn't knocked out during the battle.
"A few minutes ago, I think." Was all Merlin said.
"You didn't answer my other question."
Now, Merlin had no idea what Gaius had said. Then he remembered what he had come down for, to check his head. And so, decided to just be honest with him.
He shook his head. "I can't hear you. There's just this ringing…"
"What?" Gaius looked with a confused expression at his ward. As if he hadn't heard Merlin correctly. "What do you mean?"
Merlin tried to read Gaius' lips but couldn't. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with himself.
"I can't hear you, Gaius. I got hit over the head with a sword. Everything's all fuzzy and there's this ringing sound I can't get rid of." Merlin said as he threw his bag down in frustration. He wasn't sure how loud he had spoken but judging from Gaius' face it must have been pretty loud.
He sighed and shook his head. "Sorry." Was all he could say.
Gaius walked up to the door where Merlin was standing and put an arm around his shoulders, with the other highlighting his workbench. He spoke slowly. "Right young man, on that bench. Let's see what you've done now."