"Merlin!" a voice rang out into the distance.
"Merlin!" it repeated again, the distressed tone only increasing each time.
Arthur had repeated his manservant's name several times now and so far, he'd gotten no results. Safe to say, he was worrying his princely socks off. He firmly shook Merlin's shoulder, begging for him to wake up on the inside, but on the outside, he was just shouting his name.
"Merlin!" he yelled for the tenth time, the man who lay in front of him not responding.
'Well, of course he wouldn't,' the back of Arthur's mind told him. 'He's fallen off a cliff for God's sake.'
Even Arthur's own logic didn't stop him from trying to awaken his friend many more times by shouting his own name to him.
As soon as he saw Merlin fall, Arthur could've sworn he felt his heart stop dead in his chest. There was no time to waste, however, as he dashed to the other end of the cliff where it was safe to make his descent to Merlin. He more or less growled in anger when he realised that going down the cliffside would require a slow pace and not a frantic one as he was doing by then. The cliffside was full of loose rocks and slippery parts that would no doubt make the prince lose his footing if he wasn't careful.
So, Arthur begrudgingly went down it at a careful pace, his eyes finding it hard to focus on anything but the crumpled figure of Merlin on the rocks ahead.
When he finally reached his friend, Arthur knelt down at the side with Merlin's back facing him. He'd already decided in the run towards him that Merlin was not to be moved as he had zero doubts that something of his was bound to be broken. The last thing Arthur wanted to do was hurt him more.
That is if he was still alive.
In his panicked daze, Arthur forgot that looking for the slow rise and fall of Merlin's chest would have been a better option to find out whether or not he was breathing. After making sure his neck wasn't broken, he held out two fingers and felt for a pulse, noting to never admit to anyone that he felt absolutely terrified while doing it.
Because if Merlin was dead, Arthur wouldn't know what to do…with anything. With Merlin's body, with Merlin's things, and especially himself. It would be agony.
Before his thoughts devoured him, Arthur got his wish that he didn't know he was asking for.
He felt the steady beat of Merlin's pulse, his idiotic best friend was somehow still alive. At that moment, Arthur didn't care how he'd survived, he just cared that he had.
'Thank the God's.' Arthur uttered internally as a breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He felt himself calm down a little but then switched his focus on actually waking Merlin up and assessing the damage that the fall had done.
After Arthur called his name and shook his exposed shoulder several more times, Merlin finally began to stir. Arthur didn't know how, but he could somehow feel that Merlin's eyes had opened despite not being able to see them. He quickly moved to the other side and watched as his friend's eyes fluttered as they opened more, revealing a pained shade of blue behind his pale eyelids.
A bubbling feeling of nausea accompanied Merlin as he tried to gather his surroundings. At first, everything was blurry and his head was spinning as if he were in a tornado. He could see other rocks in front of him and felt that he was laying on one. His view, or at least the view with the vision he had, would be taken over seconds later by someone in chainmail fretting over him and calling his name.
It only took a heartbeat for Merlin to realise that it was Arthur and three more to remember what had happened.
He'd fallen off a cliff. Again.
As his vision became clearer, Merlin finally began to respond to Arthur, who at this point, was so close to Merlin that he could hear the prince's heart thumping in his chest.
The first thing that he uttered was a definitive groan.
"Ugh…" was the exact noise that came out of his mouth. He screwed his eyes tightly shut as he tried to bear the feeling of nausea in his stomach. With that motion came more from the rest of his body and Arthur moved as Merlin did, very minimally.
"Careful," Arthur spoke, worry still evident in his voice. "Don't move too much, you might have broken something."
Merlin had been too distracted by his blurry vision and nausea for the past…however long he'd been awake. It was only after Arthur mentioned the possibility of something being broken that he became painfully aware of the stabbing sensation radiating from his right arm. Now, it was that feeling that outshone everything else.
'Huh, at least it's the other arm this time.' he thought privately.
"Yep, I've definitely broken something." began Merlin, confirming Arthur's fear and suspicion. Already, the raven-haired man was starting to sound more like himself which pleased Arthur. Even if the man had survived something that technically should've killed him.
And it would've killed him had Merlin been like any other normal man in the land. It seemed that his magic came in handy when faced with life and death situations.
"Is it your arm?" Arthur asked, still not wanting to move Merlin in case he made it worse.
"Yeah, I think so. Help me up, will you?" Merlin responded as he tried to raise himself with his good arm.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" questioned the royal, nervousness racking his voice.
"I can't really lay here all day, Arthur." replied Merlin tensely, the pain of his arm now really getting to him.
Arthur still didn't think it was a good idea but he didn't want to argue with Merlin in his state. Besides, the rough ground he lay on didn't look very comfortable.
He helped Merlin to his feet and took extra effort not to touch his right arm, knowing that it would hurt.
"I cannot believe you're still breathing after that. You must have a guardian angel." Arthur claimed passively as the pair started to walk away from the scene, Merlin clutching at his right arm and Arthur close next to him. They walked slowly side by side.
It took Merlin a few seconds to respond, since he was trying to keep his nausea down and his dizziness as low as possible. Somehow, he managed to pull this off and not collapse into Arthur's arms. He looked up to the prince and smiled weakly.
"I've fallen off a cliff before, so you must be right." Merlin answered, not really grasping what he'd just said. He turned his attention back to his arm that now felt like it was burning. Merlin had experienced the sensation before, many years ago, but that didn't automatically mean he was used to it.
Arthur's face scrunched into confusion at Merlin's words as the pair kept walking, both of them not quite sure where they were going. A large part of Arthur hoped that what Merlin said was simply his deliriousness talking. Yet, a small part of him was rewinding every one of their adventures so far and trying to pinpoint if Merlin had fallen off a cliff during any of them. When he couldn't think of any, Arthur had a horrible thought cross his mind. Had this happened when he wasn't there? Why hadn't Merlin told him? The Prince had so many questions racing through his head but decided that now was the time to focus on sitting Merlin down and sorting out his broken arm.
He would come back to this dire matter later.
Not very long later and the two of them had found a small clearing where they could sit comfortably. Merlin sat on the grass, his back leaning against a rock, whereas Arthur sat on a log opposite him, citing that Merlin needed the back support more than he did. If anyone had walked by them, they wouldn't have known that Arthur was a prince and the Merlin was a servant.
Merlin winced as he clutched at his arm. Arthur wasted no time in getting up again after a few moments rest, his intentions perfectly clear.
"Right, I need to splint your arm. I take it you brought the essentials to do that with you?"
Merlin looked up and became confused at the word "I" coming from the prat's mouth, meaning that he was going to do it.
"I'm sorry, you?" Merlin uttered, the confusion reigning in his voice. "Sire, I can do it myself. I'm the physician's apprentice." he finished, adding an unintentional wince at the end due to another wave of pain from his arm.
Worry flashed in Arthur's eyes at the sight and he quickly decided he didn't want to see Merlin in agony anymore. He knew he couldn't make it go away entirely, but splinting his arm would help both Merlin and himself.
"Nonsense," he replied, his voice a little sterner than he intended. "You have one functioning arm, whereas I have two. I'll do it."
"Are you sure you know how?" Merlin asked unsurely.
"Yes, Merlin. I'm sure. Even if I mess it up, I'm sure you'll gladly correct me. You are the physician's apprentice, after all."
Merlin smiled at Arthur's statement as it was pretty damn true. "I suppose I could take you through the steps, if you need them, of course."
Arthur then smiled, relieved that Merlin was still himself despite the obvious pain he was feeling. "Perfect. Now, do you have the essentials or not?"
"Of course, you prat, they're in my bag." Merlin used his good arm to point to where he'd left his bag, only to retract it quickly to keep holding the other. It was enough for Arthur to go and grab what he knew he needed, kneeling once again next to Merlin once he'd finished.
He started splinting right away.
Several minutes and failed attempts later, Arthur finally secured Merlin's arm in a splint that would hold until they got back to Camelot. They'd been sent on a simple mission by Uther, to investigate a report of sorcery in a nearby village. Neither of them banked on Merlin getting injured and Arthur had already made his mind up on cutting the mission short for his manservant's sake as well as his own.
He was far too prideful to ever admit that seeing Merlin fall off a cliff had shaken him up so much that he wouldn't go through with a mission. Arthur didn't care, whatever sorcery had gone on in the village was probably a child harmlessly mending their broken toy. Nothing that would be worthy of execution in his eyes. He knew that his father, on the other hand, would not think as lightly.
His father's wishes were not Arthur's priority right now.
The clumsy idiot in front of him was. Not that he would ever admit that to anyone.
"I will say I'm impressed," Merlin started as Arthur moved back the log. "It's a good enough splint for now."
"Well, it's far better than anything you could've done in your state." cited Arthur as he adjusted himself to be comfortable. He then reached into Merlin's bag that he'd plonked next to the log and pulled out some bread.
"Here, you'll need this after today." Arthur stated as he softly chucked the bread at Merlin. For a brief second, he thought that Merlin would catch it, but instead watched it fall gracefully onto his lap. He cringed as he realised that passing the bread would've been more helpful but Merlin just smiled and picked up his food.
"Wow, medical treatment and food from you in one day?" Merlin spoke with a delicious hint of sarcasm. "Are you sure I'm not still out of it on those rocks?" he added as he tucked into his bread with his good arm.
Arthur had reached for another piece of bread from Merlin's bag for himself. "I mean, it's actually your food," he said knowing Merlin wouldn't mind if he ate some. "And no, you're not. Somehow, you managed to come out of it only with a broken arm,"
And some scratches to his face, tears in his jacket, trousers, and no doubt his shirt. Arthur had noticed these details but didn't say anything, figuring Merlin likely already knew.
Merlin went noticeably quiet at Arthur's remark; he didn't continue the small-scale banter that had ignited between them. Arthur interpreted this as Merlin probably remembering the fall and feeling shaken up about it.
"I'm not sure how you did that, Merlin. But you do amaze me." Arthur stated, taking a bite of his bread.
"I'm not sure either, I guess I just got lucky." Merlin shrugged as best he could with both his arms, wincing slightly.
"Or," Arthur started, intentionally separating his spoken thought. "You have a guardian angel like I said."
Merlin looked up from his food. "Somehow I don't think guardian angels let who they're protecting get hurt."
"True. But you must have someone watching over you." Arthur responded.
"Yeah, your pratty face from the second I opened my eyes." Merlin sassed.
"I was trying to wake your lazy arse up." Arthur defended but in truth, he didn't care if Merlin knew that he'd tried desperately to wake him. By now he hoped that Merlin knew that he appreciated him despite not always showing it.
"Yeah, and it worked, so thank you." Merlin said, hoping Arthur took his gratitude as seriously as he meant it. He knew full well that if Arthur hadn't been there, he wouldn't have woken up for a while longer, nor could he have stood up by himself. He'd even showed his less pratty side as Merlin could feel the distress in Arthur's voice when he called his name.
As much as Merlin wanted to tell him back when he was on the ground that he was definitely going to be okay, he knew that he couldn't. Merlin didn't know yet how Arthur would react when he found out he had magic, never mind the fact that he was immortal on top of that.
That conversation would come in time.
"You're welcome, Merlin. Though, I wouldn't expect such treatment again anytime soon."
Merlin chuckled. "No, of course not, Sire."
For a short while, the pair just sat and ate their food in each other's company. When it hit about midday, Arthur thought to enquire whether Merlin's arm still hurt.
"How's your arm?" he said, pointing at it as if his friend didn't know where his arm was.
"It certainly feels better than it did, no different from last time." Merlin responded, uttering the second part in an almost nostalgic tone.
Arthur's features quickly turned from neutral into mild worry. "Last time?" he uttered, looking directly at Merlin. "So it's true? You've fallen off a cliff before?" he finished, his manservant's previous words echoing in his head.
"Oh. Did I mention that?"
"Yes, you said it earlier." informed Arthur, once again a little sterner than he intended. Though, the young royal wanted answers as to whether or not this was true.
"Well, yeah, I have." Merlin confirmed, proving to Arthur that it wasn't his friend's deliriousness that caused him to say that earlier.
Arthur blinked in what was undoubtedly shock and confusion.
He had to know where this had occurred, and more importantly, when.
"When the hell did you fall off a cliff before today!?" he asked a little frantically. Merlin picked this up and decided he should probably calm the prince down.
"Relax, you clotpole. It was long before I met you." at Merlin's confession, Arthur felt himself calm a little. If that were true, it meant it wasn't Arthur just not noticing things happening to Merlin. Then another horrible thought occurred to the royal.
"Wait…did this happen when you were a child?" he asked, not realising he was moderately holding his breath. No child could've possibly survived such a height if a man could barely. However, at this point, Arthur was used to Merlin proving him wrong.
The latter nodded in response.
Arthur sat further back on the log like he was bracing himself for one hell of a story. For a second, he looked down to the ground, taking what Merlin had said in.
"Sire?" Merlin asked, squinting his eyes to see if Arthur was looking at anything in particular on the ground. He was also just trying to get the prat to say something.
"I think you may know what I'm about to ask you, Merlin." Arthur said as he looked up to meet his manservant's slightly concerned eyes.
Merlin relaxed a bit. "Let me guess. You want to know what happened, don't you?"
This time, it was Arthur's turn to nod in response.
Merlin repositioned himself to get comfier, a perfect red herring. "I don't know, I'm not sure if that's any of your business, your royalness." he mused, cocking his head and with a voice dripping in sarcasm.
Arthur couldn't help but smile at Merlin's remark, only he could get away with talking in such a way to the prince of Camelot. Yet, he tried his hardest to look unamused in order to get the man to talk to him. This, however, did not work, as Merlin was able to clearly see the prince's smile.
"Merlin." Arthur said in that usual tone he pulled whenever Merlin sassed him. It was like a warning that had no threat to back it, playful, and full of fondness.
The raven-haired man shifted his legs on the grass and looked at Arthur. "Fine, if you insist. Though, it's not very interesting. Pretty black and white in my opinion."
But Arthur didn't care. "I still want to know."
"Then give me a second to remember it all, prat."
"I think I was about seven… or maybe eight. I'm not quite sure…"
Arthur nodded and unwillingly pictured a seven-or-maybe-eight-year-old Merlin in his head. If he was as thin back then as he was now, he couldn't imagine what damage a fall would've done to him.
He motioned for Merlin to continue.
"…I was out with my mother; we were collecting herbs not too far away from Ealdor."
"Okay, so you were with your mother. What happened after that?" asked a very carefully listening Arthur, a rare sight indeed.
Merlin noticeably paused before answering, which Arthur took as him trying to recall the events. Which Merlin had already done but now he was trying to think of a way to…reword them.
It played crystal clear in his mind. Little Merlin was excitedly picking herbs with his mother being not too far away. Hunith had told her son to stay where she could see him as there was a high cliff nearby, not wanting the worst to happen.
Merlin could hear his mother's voice now. "Don't run off too far, Merlin. Stay where I can see you." he nodded to her, if only he'd listened.
As Merlin went to pick more herbs, a rabbit and fox suddenly emerged from the woods, the fox of course chasing its next meal. Younger Merlin, and even Merlin in the present day, was rather fond of animals, particularly rabbits, and so didn't like the sight of one being chased right in front of him.
So, as quickly as he'd spotted them, Merlin gave chase and dropped the herbs he'd collected in the process. As he ran after them, Hunith realised that her son was gone and she stood up to look for him, spotting him running after something from where she stood. She took off in pursuit but couldn't run as fast as the nimble boy.
She saw Merlin get dangerously close to the cliff's edge she'd told him to stay away from but couldn't catch up fast enough, she shouted for her son to be careful but for whatever reason, Merlin didn't appear to hear her.
Even whilst he was remembering the event, present-day Merlin still didn't know what little Merlin was thinking. All he remembered was knowing that he could do something to stop the fox chasing the rabbit…by using his magic.
Without realising how close he now was to the edge; the young boy held a hand out and waited for something to happen. Merlin didn't know any spells at the time and was mostly just hoping that something would happen. After all, he'd seen himself perform magic instinctively before.
He didn't even want to hurt the fox, just scaring it away from the rabbit would be enough. Unfortunately for younger Merlin, it didn't quite go as he'd hoped.
The usual gold that shone in his eyes when he performed magic encompassed them, but whatever trick he'd performed he wouldn't be able to see as it caused him to lose his balance entirely.
The loss of balance came with the loss of his footing, and before he knew it, Merlin felt himself falling and falling until he hit something and lost consciousness.
He'd be ever so glad in the future to have Gaius teach him how to gain control over his magic.
His mother sprinted down the cliffside just as fast as Arthur had and ran to her son, who had just woken up once she'd got there. Tears stained his cheeks as he held his left arm, which according to Merlin, felt like a thousand knives were stabbing him at once. She comforted him and splinted his arm on the spot, giving him the biggest hug ever once she'd finished.
Hunith knew that her son was different from other children as no other child would've survived such a fall. The magic that Merlin possessed came in handy whenever he was injured, it meant that he healed faster than most people.
Merlin remembered how particularly amazing his mother was that day. She carried him all the way home despite his arm being broken and not his leg along with the herbs she'd collected. That same night, she made Merlin's favourite meal and told him several enchanting stories that made his younger self smile greatly.
Merlin looked to Arthur who he could see was waiting for an answer. There was one particular element to his story that Merlin knew he would have to erase, the only consequence would be that he'd sound like a clumsy fool even from a young age.
Arthur thought he was a clumsy fool anyway so it wouldn't really make a difference.
"I saw a fox chasing a rabbit. I kind of…ran after it to stop the fox. I didn't realise how close I was to the cliff's edge and I guess I just lost my footing and went over," Merlin finally said, awaiting Arthur's response.
Arthur internally grimaced at the thought of a smaller Merlin going over the cliff's edge. He couldn't imagine what Hunith must've felt seeing that, though he did imagine it felt as scary to her as it did to him. He was about to respond to Merlin when the man spoke again.
"I broke my arm doing it, my left one," he motioned to his good arm. "My mother splinted it on the spot and took me home."
Arthur suddenly got what Merlin meant earlier when he said his arm didn't feel any different from last time. "Ah, so that's what you meant earlier then."
Merlin nodded at him. "Yeah."
Arthur felt himself physically relax now that he knew Merlin's full story. Once again, he had no idea how his friend had survived that fall at such a young age but he quickly decided that he didn't care. The fact that he'd survived was all the mattered, even though he already knew that.
Merlin may have been a clumsy idiot, but he was Arthur's favourite clumsy idiot. Though, he'd never let Merlin know that, as it would fill his head with more ridiculous things.
As Merlin reached to gently rub his injured arm, Arthur spoke again. "You're very lucky to have such a caring mother, Merlin." he admitted truthfully, thinking that if his own mother had still been alive, she would've been like Hunith.
Merlin felt a soft smile dance on his lips. "I know." he replied with thoughts of his mother. He decided he would write to her once he and Arthur got back to check how she was doing in Ealdor.
"Though that doesn't mean I want you falling off a cliff again, I'm sure she'd say the same." Arthur said, trying to get Merlin to see his concern with his safety without actually saying it, in true Arthur Pendragon style.
"I mean, I'll try not to, but you know how clumsy I can be." Merlin responded, knowing the prince would agree with him.
"Yes, I know that by now, Merlin." Arthur said with a smile, reflecting on his manservant's clumsy antics in his head. It was one of the reasons Arthur was fond of him since Merlin was unlike anyone else he'd met before. He wasn't proper, rarely used manners when addressing him, wasn't incredibly efficient considering he was a servant, and sometimes was downright incompetent.
And Arthur wouldn't have him any other way.
"We need to head back to Camelot, your arm needs to be seen to by Gaius."
"What about the King's orders? He said we were to go to the village to investigate a report of sorcery." Merlin said, repeating Uther's own words.
"I know, but there's been a change of plan." Arthur started, picking himself up from the log.
Merlin followed his movements. "Oh?"
Arthur looked at his friend. "When my father asks, we'll tell him we went and the report turned out to be false, understood?" the royal stated. He knew that Merlin was the only one to ever make him knowingly lie to the King.
Merlin smiled at the idea. "Whatever you say, Sire. If you think lying to your father is a good idea, then I'll go along with it." he said almost wickedly.
Arthur smiled back. "Perfect. Now, can you make it to the horses?" he asked whilst approaching Merlin to help him up if need be.
"I broke my arm, not my leg, clotpole." mused Merlin as he moved to stand. He found that Arthur was helping him anyway.
"Even so, you'll probably need the help anyway." Arthur replied in the playful tone that could be heard regularly between them. Merlin smiled and let Arthur help him, realising that the pain of his arm sometimes caused him to stumble.
The prince knelt down to pick up his servant's bag before they left the sight where Merlin had opened up to him. He'd never forget today for two reasons, the incident and Merlin's story.
Arthur hoped that in time, he'd unlock more secrets about the ever-present enigma that was Merlin. There was more in his head than he let on, Arthur knew that.
He just hoped that Merlin trusted him enough to open up more in the future.