DISCLAIMER: Still don't own Merlin. Dagnabit!
A/N: So, so sorry about the delay. Worst part is, this has been written for a long time, but I haven't posted it because I'm OCD and want to update my stories in order. It's pathetic. And I'm sorry! Next update will be up soon, never mind my OCD - if you'll just review! Please do! :D Love you all to pieces! Enjoy!
Arthur couldn't believe his eyes. His stomach curled and his head spun as he took in the scene before him. There was only one way he could think to describe the terrible vision – red. There was blood everywhere, or so it seemed – on Merlin's exposed back, his shirt ripped to shreds by the bloody, leather whip that was leaning casually against the wall beside Merlin's chained form. The sickening crimson, essentially Merlin's life, was splattered on the floor, flecks of it were on the wall. Merlin's back was literally a mess of welts and cuts – there was no telling how many times he had been struck with the whip. The captain of the guard was not in the cell, nor was Arthur's father. For the moment, they were alone.
"Merlin?" the prince tried again, not able to see the boy's face because he was chained to the wall with his front facing away from the door. He was slumped over, leaning against the wall as best he could, shackles around both his wrists and his neck, keeping him to the wall, and if he had magic, the chains would be confining that as well. Doubts, fears, and wild emotions flew around haphazardly in the prince's mind but at the moment he didn't try to sort through them. Instead, he focused his attention on his manservant, bloodied and beaten. "Merlin…" he said softly, anger growing like a wildfire in his chest. How could his father have done this? No, Uther hadn't whipped Merlin himself, but he had ordered the captain to do his dirty work. So while the king's hands were literally free of Merlin's blood, he still had the boy's blood on his hands.
Rushing forward, Arthur reached his servant and tried to find a clear place to put his hand, finding no unmarked skin on the man's back. Wincing, Arthur gently touched Merlin's shoulder and his servant gritted his teeth, apparently just coming to consciousness, and looked with pain and fever glazed eyes at his master.
"Arthur?" His voice was husky, terrified, agonized.
"Merlin," said Arthur, disgusted at what his father's order had done to him, "I'm so sorry."
Merlin coughed weakly, cried out weakly as the motion rocked his weakened body, and muttered, "Me too. I… lied."
Arthur's eyes widened. Merlin was admitting that he had lied? About what? His magic? But that would mean that he did have magic! Arthur shook his head. This wasn't the time. "It's fine," he lied, not even sure what he was talking about. All he knew was that he had to get Merlin out of here, to Gaius, unchained from the wall. Merlin shouldn't be here, he didn't belong in a hellhole like this. Whether or not the idiot had magic, hedidn't deserve this. "Merlin, are you…" He stopped himself. It was obvious that Merlin was far from okay and if Arthur asked him it would be obvious that Arthur was at a loss, no idea what to do. He didn't want Merlin to realize how shaken up he was by all of this.
A choked noise burst from Merlin's lips. "Merlin?"
Arthur felt his resolve to question Merlin himself – although through immensely less violent means – drain away at the pain in his servant's voice. Tears stung the back of his eyes as he watched the blood trickle in slow rivulets down his back from the cuts marring almost every inch of visible skin. Merlin gasped for air, trying to get a handle on the pain and Arthur closed his eyes, trying to get a handle on his emotions. "I know," he said softly, rubbing Merlin's shoulder comfortingly. He decided that he wasn't going to press Merlin for information while he was in this state. Whatever Morgana believed he had done, surely Merlin hadn't poisoned her. He would find out the truth later; sort all of this out between Merlin and Morgana after Merlin had been freed and was on his way to be healed. "I'm not going to let them hurt you anymore, Merlin," he said soothingly. Merlin didn't answer, slumping down into his chains. He had passed out again.
Arthur strode purposefully toward Morgana's chambers once more, livid. He had found Sir Leon and had told him and another knight, Sir Evan, that they were to guard the door to the dungeons and allow no one to enter. He knew that if the king ordered them to move, they'd have to, but the knights had more jurisdiction than the guards. Hopefully that held over the captain of the guards as well. He just needed to buy Merlin some time until he could talk some sense into Morgana and Uther. They couldn't go through with this. They just couldn't.
He knocked urgently on Morgana's door and she opened it, eyeing him in barely masked amusement. "So," she said with a half-smile that showed Arthur a whole other side to the girl he thought he knew. "What did Merlin tell you?"
Through gritted teeth, Arthur said, "I didn't ask him anything – Morgana, you wouldn't believe how brutal my father and the captain of the guards is being to him! They have literally stripped his back of nearly all its flesh." Morgana didn't look fazed at all, which only served to increase Arthur's anger. "Morgana – how could you have done this? You've betrayed Merlin!"
"No," she said coldly. "He betrayed me when he poisoned me."
Arthur regarded her coolly, no longer convinced by her façade. She was playing a dangerous game, that was for sure, but the prince was more convinced than ever that Morgana was hiding something big. He had seen the sadistic gleam in her eye at the news of Merlin's suffering. He had watched her smile as Merlin was dragged away. She was enjoying this – and the Morgana that he had known would have never acted this way. Even if Merlin had poisoned her… which he hadn't. Right?
"Morgana, you have to forget about the poison for a second! I don't know what happened, if it happened, or what! But what I do know is that Merlin has spent the last three hours being tortured and whipped almost non-stop and that he is going to die tomorrow – because of you. Even if he did poison you, do you really think that revenge is going to get you what you want? It's not justice, Morgana, it's murder."
"Hm, funny, you didn't seem to care about that when you were going to kill your father for your mother's death," his father's ward said flippantly, like she was talking about the weather or what she was going to wear to a banquet. Arthur snarled – he didn't know how long Morgana had kept up this act but it seemed that she was losing grip on it faster than she could keep her cool. It was like a monster had been unleashed inside of her and was roaring to get out – and succeeding even though it was obvious that she was trying to control it. She was angrier than Arthur had ever seen her (and bloody hell, had he seen her angry!), but this wasn't a just anger, trying to help someone in need – this was an uncontrollable rage brought about by betrayal, hurt, and loss. She was right about one thing, though – Arthur understood that fury that she was talking about; he had been consumed by it when he thought that Uther had been responsible for his mother's death.
But… no one but Arthur, his father, and Merlin really knew what had occurred. Then how…?
Morgana either realized her mistake or decided that she sounded too callous and smiled sympathetically. "I'm sorry," she said. "That was rude."
"Morgana…how did you know? About what happened between my father and I?"
"Morgana, what aren't you telling me?"
Morgana gave up her pretense, eyes brimming with tears as her face turned into a mask of pure hatred. "You have no idea," she snapped. "But I'm not going to help Merlin. He deserves every bit of pain he gets. And you're a fool if you are going to stand beside him and not me, who you have known all your life like a sister."
Arthur shook his head, mind reeling. "No," he said softly. "I don't think I do know you anymore, Morgana."
Morgana smirked. "Fine, Arthur. But Merlin is going to die. He will pay for poisoning me. And you will have to decide who you are going to stand with – me… or the man who tried to murder me. Your choice."
She slammed the door in his face. Arthur cursed, not able to comprehend all that had just happened. Morgana had had some kind of mental breakdown, it seemed – perhaps the stress and anger about what she thought had happened had caused her to snap. Whatever the reason for her outburst, Arthur felt like a part of him had been ripped out. Although they had always bickered, he and Morgana had always been close. To have that bond destroyed now, because of Morgana's insatiable thirst for revenge, hurt. And he still didn't know the whole story about Merlin. If he had poisoned Morgana? If he did have magic? If he was the one Arthur had been misjudging all this time?
Arthur shook his head and turned away, deciding that he needed to get back to Merlin now and hear his side of the story, no matter how hard it would be with Merlin's condition. He was being pulled in two opposite different directions and it was going to drive him crazy, if it hadn't already. He had just turned to head toward the dungeon when he saw the last two people he wanted to see at this moment in time walking hurriedly toward him.
"Leon. Evan. What are you doing here? Why aren't you with Merlin?"
"The king," said Leon, "ordered us aside. He's decided that he can't get Merlin to talk. So he has…" The knight hesitated.
"He has what?" Arthur snapped, trying to keep his head from spinning so crazily that he got sick. He felt like he was losing the battle.
"He decided to move up Merlin's execution," Evan finished for the grave Leon.
Arthur's mouth went dry and he could practically feel the blood draining from his face. "What? When?"
Leon winced. "Right now."
A/N: Dun dun DUUUN! You guys hate me now, don't you? As many of you have pointed out, I dolove my cliffhangers! And, you know, I don't even plan for them! Seriously! They just happen! Also, I'm hoping Morgana wasn't too OOC. I noticed, throughout the progression of series 3, that it became harder and harder for her to keep up her pretense. And for her to learn that Merlin had magic and didn't help her (you'll find out more about the reveal next chapter), I think it would really crack at her resolve. She's so bent on revenge and so hurt that she has had a kind of mental breakdown. She didn't mean to tell Arthur anything or to act all she-witchy to him, but she just… cracked. Even an evil lying she-witch of doom can't deal with so much deception, grief, "betrayal," and such forever. I think that there's a fine line between sanity and insanity, and sometimes… people just… snap.
Anyway, PLEASE review and I'll update soon, promise! :D (I can actually promise this one, 'cuz it's already written! Ha! :D )