Title: If You Ever Have Need
Rating: T for violence
Pairings: Mostly Merlin/Arthur friendship. There will probably be some Arthur/Gwen romance later on. ABSOLUTELY NO SLASH
Spoilers: Through the end of season 2
Warnings: Slight violence. No beta. All mistakes are my own.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of the characters or ideas. I just like to play with them. (Okay...that sounded wrong, but you know what I mean.)
Summary: When yet another creature attacks Camelot, Merlin is forced to reveal his powers. Unable to kill his closest friend, Arthur sends him away. What does that mean for their destiny.
Chapter 5: Wounds
A twig snapped, sending the deer Arthur had been hunting off into the underbrush. The prince grit his teeth, and turned around to berate his useless manservant. Only, there was no one there. He was alone. Cursing under his breath, he stomped off after the deer.
Despite the months that had passed, Arthur hadn’t been able to bring himself to get a new manservant. He should have been over the fact that Merlin was a sorcerer, or warlock, or whatever the hell he was. He should have accepted that the idiot was never coming back. But he hadn’t. Without fail, when the poor boy who was serving him came in to wake him, Arthur shot up in bed, thinking for one moment that Merlin was still there. Then the sleep would clear from his mind and he’d remember what had happened the night the wyvern attacked.
He hated that he still couldn’t figure out what to do about Merlin’s secret. Every time he tried to figure it out, all he did was go around in circles. It seemed that if he was ever going to figure it out he’d have to actually talk to Merlin, but that didn’t seem like something that would happen any time soon. As much as he wanted answers, Arthur didn’t want anything to happen to Merlin and the fact that he hadn’t been caught sooner was a miracle.
Arthur ducked beneath a low hanging branch. He pushed all thoughts of Merlin out of his mind and tried to focus on the forest around him.
Another twig snapped. The prince froze. Once was a coincidence. A small animal could have run over something. But twice, someone was following him. He knew that he wasn’t truly alone in the forest. Sir Leon was out there somewhere. He’d stayed behind to tether the horses and was supposed to be catching up any moment. Arthur knew that it wasn’t him. Leon knew better that to sneak up on the prince when he was hunting. Someone else was in the forest.
He cursed under his breath. He’d left his sword at the castle. The heavy metal weapon restricted his movement when he was hunting. All he had was a crossbow and a dagger. What was worse, while caught up in his thoughts he’d wandered into a sort of gully. He cursed himself again. It was the perfect place for an ambush.
Almost as if in answer to his thought, half a dozen sword-wielding bandits burst out of the underbrush. Arthur managed to get an arrow off, killing the nearest bandit. Backpedalling as fast as he could, he struggled to get another arrow set in the bow. They were closing in too fast. He abandoned the arrow, choosing instead to use the crossbow as a weapon. Dodging a clumsy stab, he knocked another bandit round the head, sending him to the ground, unconscious.
The four remaining men pulled back warily. Arthur’s trained eyes easily saw that they were not overly skilled with a blade, but they were determined. He may have been the better fighter, but he was also unarmed and outnumbered.
The crossbow was too cumbersome to use effectively against swords, so he tossed it aside. The bandits seemed to take that as a sign of weakness and rushed forward. By some miracle, Arthur managed to dodge around their blades. He grabbed the sword arm of the smallest man and twisted it behind his back, forcing him to drop the blade. Arthur dove for it. A vicious kick to the ribs sent him flying. He struggled to get his breath back and climbed to his feet. Disoriented, he barely managed to dodge another slash to his ribs. The blade grazed his side, tearing through fabric and flesh.
He stumbled backward until his back hit a tree, keeping one hand pressed to his wounded side. Arthur found himself, once again, wishing that Merlin was there. He’d have done something to deal with the bandits. A branch would have fallen on their heads, they’d have impaled each other, or something equally as unlikely. But he wasn’t there and nothing like that was going to happen.
Gritting his teeth, Arthur managed to pull the dagger from his belt. It wouldn’t do him much good against the bandits. He could barely stand. The wound must have been deep if he was losing blood fast enough that he was already lightheaded. Attempting to fight would be futile, but he was the crown prince of Camelot and he wasn’t going down without a fight.
A battle cry echoed through the forest and Leon appeared. The bandits spun to face the knight, correctly assessing that he was the greater threat. Despite the severity situation, Arthur couldn’t bring himself throw his knife at one of their backs. That was too dishonorable to even consider.
Leon easily took care of the bandits. They didn’t have the benefit of the element of surprise and he was far more skilled with a sword than they were. Not to mention, he was fighting for his prince and his friend. In a matter of minutes, they were scattered across the clearing. The threat taken care of, Leon immediately hurried to Arthur’s side.
“Good timing,” Arthur muttered. At some point during the battle, he’d slid down the tree at some point and was sitting on the ground.
Catching sight of the blood seeping through the prince’s tunic, Leon frowned. “Not good enough.”
Arthur waved him away and struggled to stand. “It’s not the bad.”
The knight started to retort -- when Arthur’s life was in danger, decorum could go to hell in his opinion -- but he was saved the trouble when Arthur’s legs buckled. Leon managed to catch his arm and lower him carefully to the ground.
“Okay. Maybe it is bad,” he mumbled.
Leon rolled his eyes and bent to examine Arthur’s side. The wound was long, stretching diagonally across his ribs. It was not overly deep, but it was bleeding profusely. Leon pulled the dagger from the prince’s limp hand and used it to cut a strip from the bottom of his cloak. With swift, sure movements, he wrapped the makeshift bandage around the injury.
“You’ve lost a lot of blood, sire,” he said softly. “We need to get to the horses.”
Arthur nodded grimly. It was taking every ounce of his concentration to stay conscious. Trying to stand up probably hadn’t been his best idea. He allowed Leon to heave him to his feet and begin the slow trek to the horses. The ground was uneven and the bracken was dense. It was the perfect place to hunt for deer, but it was proving dangerous ground to cover with an injured man.
It took nearly an hour to reach the path where they’d tethered the horses. Leon was all but carrying Arthur, who’d fallen into a state of semi-consciousness some time ago. Camelot was nearly three hours ride away. They would never make it in time.
Then, Leon remembered the conversation he’d overheard in the tavern, just a few nights before.
A pretty barmaid flashed Leon a smile and set his mug of ale on the table in front of him. He returned the gesture politely before turning to his drink. He stretched his aching legs out beneath the table. Training had been hard that day. The prince was obviously distressed by something. The knights had long since given up guessing what it was about. Only Leon knew the truth and that was only because he’d had the misfortune of being awake at the time.
He still couldn’t believe that Merlin had turned out to be a sorcerer. The boy didn’t look like he had enough strength in him to fell a small sapling, let alone wield the power of magic. But he had and he’d used that forbidden power to protect Camelot. Many things had become clear to Leon that night. Suddenly all the mysterious close calls over the years had been explained. Merlin might have had magic, but he certainly wasn’t evil. Leon was almost positive that the prince knew that on some level, but that he couldn’t actually accept it. He understood that Arthur needed time to come to terms with everything. He just wished that the prince would hurry up. The other knights were suffering because of his confusion.
Taking a long swig of his ale, he attempted to push the thoughts from his mind. He’d gone to the tavern to forget everything that was going on, not to dwell on it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to keep his mind from drifting back to the subject of Merlin.
“...might even be better than Gaius.”
Leon instantly perked up. Finally, something to distract him.
The man who’d spoken looked like a farmer who’d come in from one of the nearby villages for market day. He was sitting across from a guard, just a few tables away from Leon.
“No one is better than Gaius,” the guard scoffed.
The farmer just shrugged. “I’m telling you, this Emrys character is an excellent physician.”
“Then why haven’t I heard of him?” the guard challenged.
“He stays in his village,” the other man said. “Bardwell’s not too far from my farm. He came out with Alyian was sick with a fever. She’d been ill for nearly a week and he had her better in just a few days!”
The guard looked unconvinced, but he didn’t pursue the subject. Instead, they started talking about the harvest. Leon quickly lost interest and turned back to his ale.
Bardwell was only an hour away and the journey was far easier than the journey to Camelot. If this Emrys person was as skilled as the farmer had hinted, then he wouldn’t have a problem with tending to Arthur’s wound. Even if he wasn’t as skilled as the farmer had believed, surely Emrys would know enough to stop the bleeding so that they could make it to Camelot.
It was Arthur’s best option. Carefully, Leon laid him against a nearby tree and untethered his horse. The well trained beast knelt on the forest floor, allowing the knight to more easily lift Arthur into the saddle. Carefully holding onto the princes waist, Leon pulled the horse back into a standing position before mounting behind Arthur.
He kept one hand pressed to the still bleeding gash in Arthur’s side and held the reins in the other. Leon grabbed the reins to Arthur’s horse and tied them to his saddle. A light kick to his own steed’s ribs sent the stallion into a smooth trot.
“Change the bandage every couple of hours and reapply the poultice,” Merlin instructed, gathering up his supplies as he spoke. “The rash should clear up in a few days. Just try not to scratch.”
The farmer gave him a pained look. He’d someone managed to find his way into a patch of poison ivy while chasing down a stray pig. Every inch of exposed skin had soon been covered in a red, itchy rash. Fidgeting slightly, the man thanked Merlin tersely and left the little cottage. The warlock bit back a chuckle. The poor man was going to be in agony for days.
He was about to go to his back room to get a little magical practice in when he heard shouts from outside. Immediately, Merlin grabbed his bag and pelted out the door, ready to deal with whatever catastrophe had occurred. He stopped short, skidding to a halt like a frightened colt, when he saw the unmistakeable silhouette of the crown prince of Camelot.
It took Merlin a moment to get past the shock of seeing Arthur in his little village. Once he did, he realized that the prince was unconscious and that he only thing keeping him from falling out of the saddle was Sir Leon’s arm clamped across his waist. Arthur looked pale. With a jolt, Merlin realized that his side was stained red with blood. Someone had attacked Arthur. They’d wounded him. They’d almost killed him.
And Merlin hadn’t been there to stop them.
He cursed his stupidity. The prat got attacked almost every time he went into the forest. Merlin had put a spell on the castle gates that would alert him when Arthur left the city. He usually followed the prince to keep him out of trouble. But that day, he’d had too much to do and had opted to let Arthur fend for himself. Apparently, that had been the wrong choice.
“Where is the physician, Emrys?” Leon shouted, forcing his horse through the crowd of villagers. Several people pointed to where Merlin stood. He quickly shook off the worry and anger and guilt that threatened to overwhelm him. By the time Leon reached him, he looked every bit the confident physician he was supposed to be. The worried friend was no where in sight.
“What happened?” he demanded. He moved forward to help Leon lower the unconscious prince to the ground.
“Bandits,” the knight bit out. “We were hunting. The prince went a head while I tethered the horses. He was ambushed. I barely got there in time to stop them.”
Merlin nodded grimly. He supported Arthur while Leon slid of his horse and tied the reins to a nearby fence. Then the knight grabbed the prince’s other arm. Merlin ducked away, hurrying into the small house to gather any supplies he might need.
When he came back out, his arms were filled with bandages and bottles, Leon had already placed Arthur on the small bed in the corner. Merlin pushed the knight out of the way. He pulled the makeshift bandage from Arthur’s side. Grabbing a small knife from the table, he cut away the tunic that the prince was wearing. Leon watched in amazement as the thin, wiry man in front of him easily pulled the fabric from beneath Arthur’s body. Once everything was out of the way, Merlin examined the wound. It was clean and it was still bleeding slowly. No bone was exposed, but it was still deep. He was going to have to stitch it closed.
Merlin quickly set to tending the wound. He cleaned the dried blood away and packed a linen bandage into the wound to stop the bleeding. That done, he hurried into the back room and mixed a poultice that would stave off infection. Leon hovered all the while. Now the warlock understood what it must have been like for Gaius when Arthur or Gwen was injured and Merlin was the one pacing.
Gathering the bowl containing the poultice in one hand, Merlin grabbed a small box containing a needle and silk thread. He pushed past Leon and strode back to Arthur’s bedside. Moving swiftly, he removed the packing and carefully sewed the edges of the wound shut. That done, he gently rubbed the poultice over the closed wound.
“I need you to hold him up so I can wrap the bandages around his waist,” Merlin said quietly. He wiped his hands on a towel. Leon slipped his arm around the prince’s shoulders and lifted him into a sitting position, careful not to pull the stitches in the process. With deft movement, Merlin wrapped a long linen bandaged around Arthur’s waist. The moment he tied off the ends, Leon laid him down again.
“How long will he be unconscious?” the knight asked.
Merlin’s lips pressed into a thin line. “It’s hard to say,” he admitted. “With that much blood loss, it could be some time. His healthy physique will help some. I will give him something that should help with the anemia.”
He strode into the back room and returned a moment later with a small vial. Lifting Arthur’s head, the warlock carefully poured the tonic into his mouth. He swallowed reflexively.
Leon shifted he weight anxiously. “Once he wakes, will he be able to travel?”
Merlin leveled a piercing glance at the knight. “With the placement of the would, I would say not. Sharp movements would pull the stitches. He’ll be lucky if he can stand for more than five minutes. It will be at least several days before he can travel again.”
“Will he be safe here, then?”
“This is a peaceful village,” Merlin snapped. “No harm will come to him.”
“I did not mean to imply otherwise,” Leon apologized. “But I must leave to return to the city and tell the king of what had happened. I have the utmost faith in your skills, but the king will want to send the court physician to assess the prince’s condition.”
Merlin nodded, “Of course.” It’s a good thing Gais already knows about my new identity,” he added to himself. I won’t have to worry about him giving me away by accident.
He was jolted out of his thoughts by the sight of Leon bowing to him. That hadn’t happened to him even when he’d been the prince’s manservant. With a grateful smile, the knight left. After a moment, the sound of a horse galloping away drifted through the door.
The rest of the day went by quickly. Merlin did his rounds with as much speed as possible. Everyone wanted to know what had happened to the prince. He danced around the truth as much as possible, giving non answers as much as possible. Gossip spread like wildfire in Bardwell, just as it had in Ealdor and he didn’t want people to think that the situation was worse than it was.
He returned to his home in the late evening. Arthur was still unconscious. Blood had soaked through the bandage, but it was mostly dried which meant that the flow was slowing. Merlin closed the door and the windows. With no one to help him, he was going to have to use magic to lift Arthur up while he was changing the bandages. He couldn’t risk anyone walking in. The ward that would alert him to visitors was still in place, so he wouldn’t have to worry about on that front. However, there was a slight possibility that Arthur could finally come to. It would be better for both of them if he didn’t, so Merlin held one hand out over the prince and murmured, “Onswebban.”
Warm, golden light bathed the prince for just a moment before fading. There had been on noticeable change, but the warlock knew that nothing could wake the prince until the counter-spell had been performed. With a flick of his wrist, Merlin carefully magicked Arthur into a sitting position. He cut away the bandage, using the ruined linen to wipe away the old poultice. After checking to make sure that nothing had happened to the stitches, he reapplied the poultice and rewrapped the bandages. Arthur never even stirred.
Merlin laid the prince back onto the bed and muttered the counter-spell.
Once more, Arthur was surrounded by a slight glow. His brow furrowed slightly, but he didn’t wake. The blood loss and the wound were still weighing heavily on him. Merlin ran a tired hand through his hair. He was glad that he wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor. One of the other villagers had been kind enough to supply another bed for occasions just such as these. He wanted nothing more than to succumb to sleep.
He was stumbling across the room when a tingling sensation across his body stopped him short. He’d forgotten to take his nightly dose of potion. Seeing as Arthur was still unconscious, Merlin simply summoned the vial from the storage room. He was about to down it when the fire suddenly glowed purple.
Gwen was calling him.
Cursing under his breath, Merlin shoved the potion in his pocket and hurried outside, incanting spell as he did. No one would be able to enter or leave the house.
He slipped through the shadows to a nearby grove of trees. Closing his eyes, he pictured Gwen’s home. With that image placed firmly in his mind, he chanted the same words he had used to travel to Ealdor. He braced himself against the wind that lifted his feet off the ground. Seconds later, the tempest died away.
Merlin didn’t have a chance to get his bearings before someone threw his arms around his neck and his vision was obscured by bushy brown hair.
At least I made it to Gwen’s, he thought wryly.
When the woman in question pulled away, Merlin saw to his horror that there were tears in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asked gently.
“It’s Arthur!” she whispered. Her voice was thick with tears and she was clearly having trouble getting the words out. “Sir Leon rode into the city a few hours ago. I heard from Gaius that Arthur as badly hurt. This is the first chance I had to get away. I don’t know what happened, but--”
“He was ambushed by bandits,” Merlin interrupted quietly. Gwen stared at him. He smiled sheepishly.
“Usually, I follow Arthur when he goes out,” he admitted. “You know how much trouble he gets in. But today, I couldn’t get away without arousing suspicion. I don’t know how Leon knew about me -- or Emrys, I guess -- but he brought Arthur to the village. He lost a lot of blood, but the wound was clean and I’ve already taken care of it. He’s going to need a few days to heal before he can come back to Camelot, but he’ll be just fine.”
Gwen let out a sigh of relief. Her shoulders slumped as the tension left her body. Seeing that she was about to collapse, Merlin wrapped an arm around her waist and led her to a chair. He knelt beside her, his hand on hers. He didn’t want to leave with her still in such a state.
“I’m sorry,” she said after a long silence. “I didn’t mean to drag you out here for nothing, especially when it is so dangerous for you to be in the city.”
Merlin shook his head, squeezing her hand as he did. “Don’t be sorry. No on actually knows I’m a sorcerer except for Arthur so it’s not really that dangerous for me to be in the city.”
She shot him a clearly disbelieving look and he plowed on. “Besides, I knew when I asked you to keep an eye out that there would be false alarms. I’d rather you call me for no reason than wait until it is too late just be sure that there really is something wrong.”
Gwen nodded weakly, then blushed slightly. “You have no idea how much it helps to know that you’re out there watching over all of us.”
Feeling his own cheeks redden in response to the unfamiliar praise, Merlin just shrugged. “Camelot is my home and you, Gaius, and Arthur are my family. I would do anything to protect you.”
She offered him a small smile. “I know.”
They sat in silence for a moment before Merlin stood and pulled his hand away from Gwen’s. “Arthur could wake at any moment,” he said. “I have to go make sure that he doesn’t do anything stupid and that no one notices that I’m gone. Leon was pretty sure that the king would want Gaius to go check on Arthur and if he finds something wrong he’ll have my head.”
“I have no doubt,” she laughed.
Merlin grinned. Feeling lighter than she had in hours, Gwen watched as he muttered under his breath and his eyes glowed with molten gold. Wind whipped around him, touching nothing but him. Next thing she knew, he was gone. Gwen smiled to herself. She’d been too worried about Arthur to notice Merlin’s arrival, but she’d definitely noticed his exit. She didn’t think that she would ever get used to it.