Merlin’s head throbbed. The sides of his temples hurt so much that he couldn’t even lift his brow or open his eyes. His ears flickered at the sound of the gushing wind around him; making him shiver as he lay face down on the ground. He forced his eyes to snap open and stared blurrily ahead. His vision wasn’t clear, and to make matters worse, it swirled around, causing more headaches. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. Reopening his eyes, he slowly pushed himself up. His limbs ached as did his entire body. Biting his lips to contain his pain, he piled his weight onto his arms and pushed himself all the way up. He pulled his feet underneath him and rested on his knees. Something trickled down the side of his temple. He swiped with his finger and noted it was blood.
“Arghh …” he clutches his head, grimacing in pain.
The throbbing was painful and piercing. He had never experienced anything like this before, even when Arthur accidentally knocked him out during one of his training routines. The pain is so severe that it seeps through his head, cracks his skull open and plunges into his core, threatening to poison every cell that inhabits there.
“What … what happened?” he asks himself softly and looks around for the first time. He scans the perimeter until his eyes stop short on a figure, a person. His eyes froze. His knuckles turn white as he stares wide-eyed at the person laying unconsciously just a couple of yards from him. Arms sprawled, face down and blanketed by the red cloak with the crest of Camelot firmly sewn on it, Merlin doesn’t need a second guess as to whom the person is. He scatters to his feet and rushes to Arthur’s aid.
Turning the king around, Merlin calls to Arthur, whispering his name softly. “Arthur?” he calls and taps Arthur’s cheek. But to no avail. Arthur lay as if he was sleeping and Merlin quickly inspects the king. There are blotches of red on the chain mail meaning Arthur must be wounded, but how severely is yet to be known. Merlin presses his hand on Arthur’s chest and chants a verse of his magic. But as his eyes blazoned the throbbing in his head deepened, causing him to stop his chant midway.
“This isn’t happening” he tells himself in frustration and squints to stop the pain in his head. Arthur looks hurt and Merlin needs to know how severely. To do that, he first needs to remove Arthur’s chain mail. But they are in the middle of a forest, completely surrounded by Helios’ men, so inspecting the wound isn’t exactly a wise choice. He’ll have to do it later. First, he must get Arthur away to safety.
“Perc…” Merlin’s words stopped short in his throat as he looked beyond Arthur and noted all the other knights were all in same sorry state as Arthur was. Leon, Percival and Elyan were all sprawled on the ground, each one of them unconscious and beaten.
Merlin sighed and looked back at Arthur, crestfallen. He needs to get Arthur out as soon as he can, yet the other knights need help as well. And he can’t cure any of them without causing damage to his own head. There has to be another way. But how?
Sounds of horse hooves close in, reminding Merlin they are still being hunted and by nightfall the forest will be swarming with Helios’ men. They need to get away now, while they can, or risk being caught by Helios and Morgana. Merlin bites his lip and looks around frantically. If he can hide Arthur somewhere in the bushes and try to heal at least Percival with his magic, the latter would be helpful with the other two knights while he can deal with Arthur. He can then lead them to Ealdor, to his mother.
Horse neighs are heard in the distance. Merlin bites his lip again and scurries to his feet. Lifting Arthur by his arms, he drags the king with all his strength and makes his way to the nearest bush. A twig snaps on his left, the sound coming from inside on the bushes. Merlin stops short and waits. His breathing quickens. Slowly, he turns his head around to look for the source. The bushes remain unstirred, and thinking it may be just a wild animal, Merlin takes a step back, dragging Arthur along. Another couple of twigs snap and this time the sound comes from right behind Merlin.
‘No… not now,’ Merlin thinks as he lay Arthur back on the ground, ready for whatever may sneak through the bushes. The one on his left shook violently. Merlin raised his hand and waited. Whether the use of magic will worsen the throbbing in his head or not, he has no other means to save himself, Arthur and the knights. He has no sword, is not good with one anyway, and possesses no fighting skills, but he can still save the rest with the only way he knows how: magic. It’s what he is good at and will use it now, regardless how injured he is.
The bush shakes more violently now and Merlin readies himself, his eyes blazoning. Trembling and grimacing in pain, he watches as the bush parts and out steps a blonde woman with sword in her hand. The blazoning eyes resume their normal state and Merlin’s mouth falls open as the woman stares at him as he does her. Both their locked exchanges remained still a while until Merlin decides to open his mouth. She silences him with her finger on her lips. Merlin obeys, though he doesn’t know why is he taking orders from this stranger. The woman scans the perimeter and walks toward the other bush, the one right behind Merlin. Merlin watches her closely, as he doesn’t know her and wants to be ready for anything. The woman rattled the bush with her sword and out steps a man, blonde haired as well, also with a sword in his hand. His long coat flowing around him reminds Merlin of Arthur’s own coat, the one the king often opted to wear for his casual rides. The blond man tossed a quick look at Merlin and then back to the woman, as if Merlin didn’t matter to him at all. Merlin kept watching.
“Is everything clear?” he asked, his voice coarse. His eyes never leave the woman.
“Yes… shall I ask her to come?” the woman asks. The man nods. Merlin wondered who else is going to step out from the bushes. The woman walks to the bush from which the man emerged and rattles it with her sword once more. Merlin watches. Percival stirs from his unconscious state and Merlin turns swiftly at the knight and the sound he was making. The bushes parted and Gwen steps out, a sword in her hand. Merlin turns back to the bushes and his eyes widen in surprise.
“Merlin!” Gwen rushes towards Merlin and accepts the outstretched hand from her friend. They embrace.
“Gwen … what …” Merlin can’t get his words out. But not that it mattered anyway. Gwen’s attention was diverted onto someone else.
“Arthur!” She gasps and cups his face, her own immediately darkening with fear and worry. She looks back at Merlin, who notices her eyes welling with tears.
“What happened?” she asks. The man and the woman came to kneel beside Arthur. The man is still constantly on the look out.
“We were attacked, Gwen, by Helios and Morgana. They used the plans they obtained from Agravaine and caught us all when we least expected them.”
“But I thought you convinced Arthur about Agravaine?”
“I tried, to but somehow Agravaine got the original plans back into the vaults before Arthur could realise it was gone. Arthur would never believe anything against Agravaine until now.”
“I’m so sorry, Merlin. But how did Arthur get injured?” she asks as she cradles Arthur into her arms, her thumb softly stroking his cheek.
“We fought, all of us, but Helios’ army was huge and they out numbered us in many places. Morgana took hold of the throne and Helios of the castle. We had no choice but to flee. Arthur was stabbed while he was fighting and I had to do what I must to save Arthur’s life.”
“Did everyone make it?”
“No … Gaius and Gwaine were captured as hostages and I couldn’t save them,” Merlin hangs his head down. Gwen reaches out and touches Merlin’s cheek.
“They sacrificed their lives to allow us to flee, Gwen. If Gaius didn’t risk his life or Gwaine didn’t stop the men, we all would be dead by now. But … we are not and they both ...” Merlin’s words choked.
“I am sure they are all right, Merlin. We will get them both out from there. I promise,” Gwen assured him. But her face changed as her fingers came into contact with blotches of dried blood at the side of Merlin’s forehead. She looked at her finger and then at Merlin in horror.
“Merlin, you’re hurt!” she said.
“We all are, Gwen but he needs attention, not me,” Merlin replies. Gwen tries to argue, but he assures her he will be fine and she has to accept it, like it or not.
“We need to get Arthur out of here,” she says and looks to her left, to the blonde haired man.
“This is the man I spoke to you about … will you please help us?” she asked. The man smiles and nods. Gwen smiles, wiped her tears and turns back to Merlin.
“Merlin, I want you to meet my friends. Tristan and Isolde,” she introduces them. “They rescued me after I left you and took care of me all this while. I owe them my life and gratitude”
“Merlin … and thank you” Merlin offers his hand and the man called Tristan took it into his.
“Gwen spoke very highly of you, Merlin. She regards you more than a friend … she called you family,” Tristan said. Merlin tossed a warm look at Gwen and then back to Tristan.
“It is I who has the pleasure of knowing someone like her,” he tells them.
“Isode,” the woman says her name and shakes Merlin’s hand. Merlin smiles, but his smile fades as they hear the horses closing in.
“Quick … we haven’t a moment to lose,” Isolde orders.
“The other knights … they need help, too,” Merlin said. Isolde nods and gets to her feet.
“Hold on, Arthur … I will not let anything happen to you, I promise,” Gwen says and places a kiss on his forehead. Merlin smiled sadly and looked away.
“I will take Arthur, Isolde you get a knight, Merlin and Gwen each get one. We need to use the bushes to mask our route. Where are we going?” Tristan asked as he took Arthur from Gwen.
“Ealdor. My mother’s there and she can help.”
“Then come, let’s hurry.” Tristan finished.