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.
Previous: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5
Author’s Note: I’m back!!!! I think, lol. I am so sorry for the epic delay between postings. I have been so busy with moving and then school. I literally have had no time to write. Thank you so much to everyone who continued to read this and who asked me to keep up with this story. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep working on this a bit more regularly.
Chapter 6 Familiar Strangers
Awareness came to Arthur slowly. He knew almost instantly that he wasn’t in Camelot. He didn’t recognize the feel of his own bed or the cot in Gaius’ chambers. He was absolutely exhausted and his side was throbbing. The vague memory of being attacked by bandits and carried to the horses by Sir Leon swam foggily through his mind. He pushed them away tiredly. He didn’t want to dwell on how close a call that had been.
As his mind became clearer, he realized that he wasn’t alone wherever he was. A hushed conversation was taking place not far way. Arthur could just make out what was being said.
“Has he woken at all?”
Arthur almost opened his eyes in surprise, but he was still too tired and it was taking all of his limited concentration to stay awake. He’d recognize the voice of Gaius anywhere. But if he wasn’t in Camelot, and he was sure he wasn’t, where was he and why was the old man there as well?
Before the prince could even begin to unravel the mystery, another voice that he didn’t recognize answered the physician.
“He woke for a moment late last night,” the stranger said. “He wasn’t coherent. I don’t think he was ever fully conscious or aware of his surroundings. He just stirred a little bit and mumbled something about bandits.”
“But he succumbed to sleep, not unconsciousness?” Gaius pressed.
“So it seemed.”
The old man heaved a sigh. “In that case, there is little to worry about. You have done well. The wound shows no sign of infection, despite it’s placement and how deep it is. This sleep is simply a result of blood loss. The prince should recover nicely. Have you given him anything to help with the weakness and anemia?”
“I gave him a potion when he first arrived,” the stranger answered. “But I didn’t want to administer it again until he’d woken and I had a better idea of his condition. I know that those potions can be tricky.”
“A wise choice. It is lucky that you were so close by. By all accounts, Arthur never would have made it to Camelot without that amount of blood loss.”
Before Arthur could even fully realize the implications of that statement, the stranger scoffed bitterly. “I should have been there. It’s my destiny to protect him and because I was stupid enough to get caught, I can’t do that the way I’m supposed to. If I had just been by his side, none of this would have happened.”
“You cannot blame yourself,” Gaius said soothingly. “You have been in an impossible position since the day this destiny bother started. It is a wonder that you have been able to do as much as you have. And there is no guarantee you could have prevented Arthur from being injured even had you been by his side.”
The physician’s words were met with silence. Arthur was more confused than ever. The voice had sounded wrong, but based on what the stranger had said and what Gaius had said to him, he could have sworn that the other person in the room was Merlin. A strange, desperate desire to see his friend and get the answers that he so badly needed consumed him. But the exhaustion was too much. He lost the battle with the darkness and fell back into unconsciousness.
The court physician of Camelot stared at the man standing in front of him. Despite the spell masking his appearance, the old man could see the familiar features of his ward. They were well obscured, but clearly visible to someone who knew the boy well and who knew to look. Seeing his familiar blue eyes in the unfamiliar face was oddly comforting.
It bothered Gaius that Merlin was so distraught over Arthur’s injuries. The wound had not really been bad. It’s placement had been inconvenient and had led to the bleeding, and while it had needed immediate attention, no vital organs had been pierced and there had been no infection. Merlin had done an excellent job of tending to it. All had turned out well.
He wished that there was something he could say to raise Merlin’s spirits, but the boy seemed determined to blame himself for the prince’s current state.
Pursing his lips and sighing quietly, the physician began gathering up his supplies. It had been wonderful to see Merlin again and to see how well he was doing, despite the circumstances. He was hesitant to leave. Being around Merlin had brought a sense of normalcy that had been missing for so long. But he was needed back in Camelot. The king would want a report on Arthur’s condition and Gaius had duties to attend to back at the city.
“I know you think that you have to solve everything,” Gaius said softly. “But that is impossible, even for you, Merlin. As powerful as you are, even you cannot do everything.”
Merlin looked up sadly. “I’m aware of that, Gaius. I really am. But I still feel as though I’ve let him down somehow.”
“Well, you haven’t,” the old physician said matter-of-factly. “You’ve saved his life. No one can blame you for not being able to be everywhere at once. You have responsibilities here that you must attend to. Even you cannot hold that against yourself.”
For a moment, it seemed that Merlin would argue. Gaius smirked when the young man thought better of it and closed his mouth. Merlin would always care deeply for those around him, especially his friends. His kind heart was the one thing that kept the power he wielded from overwhelming him. But sometimes, he needed someone to remind him that he was only human.
Sighing quietly, Gaius pulled Merlin into his arms and gave him a brief, warm hug. “It was good to see you my boy. Camelot has not been the same without you.”
“I bet it’s a lot more boring isn’t?” Merlin teased, a true smile stretching across his face for the first time since Gaius had seen him.
“You have no idea,” the old man said fondly.
Regret flickered across Merlin’s eyes. “I’ll be back eventually,” he promised. “It’s destiny, after all. Camelot will never be rid of me,” he joked weakly. “Do you have the mirror, in case something happens?”
“Gwen gave it to me. It is hidden in my chambers and there are not many who would know it for what it is. Did you enchant it yourself?” Gaius asked curiously.
Merlin nodded. “When I was traveling, I managed to get my hands on some new books. One of them was mostly about scrying and communicating across distances. That’s where I found the spell for the powder I gave Gwen.”
“It is impressive magic. It is amazing how far you have come. Such a scrying spell usually requires water from a sacred well.”
“Um, I may have transformed water from the lake of Avalon into the mirror,” Merlin admitted.
The old man’s eyes rose so high in surprise that the disappeared into his hairline. He opened his mouth as though to speak several times before shaking his head and chuckling softly. “You never ceases to amaze me, Merlin,” he sighed. “I’ll tell the the king that Arthur is in good hands, but that it will be at least a week before he is fit to ride back into the city. Sir Leon will be remaining behind to keep an eyes on things, so take care of yourself, my boy and send word with Arthur when he returns.”
“I will,” Merlin promised.
It was with a heavy heart that Gaius walked out of the little house and mounted the docile old mare that was tethered outside. He knew that Merlin had had no other choice but to leave the city and seeing him again had shown the physician just how much good the time away was doing the young warlock. He finally had the opportunity to explore his powers. Access to more incantations would help him control his abilities so that he could better protect Camelot. But none of that changed the fact that Merlin had become like a son to Gaius and that he missed having him around.
The sound of something shattering, followed by several low oaths brought Arthur back to wakefulness. He was immediately aware of thepainful throbbing of the wound on his side. Grimacing, he shifted slightly in an attempt to alleviate the pressure on the injury. He succeeded only in making the pain worse.
“Lie still,” a voice said reprovingly.
A hand came to rest on the prince’s shoulder, holding him still with a gentle, but firm pressure. The touch was oddly comforting. Arthur forced his eyes to open and saw a man, slightly older than he was, leaning over him with a concerned expression. His first instinct was to pull away and demand to know who the man was, but a hazy memory Gaius speaking to a stranger flickered through his pain hazed mind and he realized that the man meant him no harm.
When he saw that the prince was truly awake, the man straightened and walked away. A few minutes passed before he reappeared. He sat down on the edge of the bed and slipped an arm beneath Arthur’s shoulders, lifting him up slightly, and pressed a cup to the prince’s lips. Realizing how thirsty he was, Arthur drank deeply. The cool liquid soothed the soreness of his throat.
When the cup had been drained, the man set it aside and slid his arm from beneath Arthur’s shoulders. The prince gazed at the stranger curiously, trying to remember what had happened after the bandits had attacked him.
“One of your knights brought you here,” the man explained. “A good thing he did too. The wound was bleeding heavily. I tended the wound and he returned to the city to inform your father.”
Arthur nodded slowly. His mind had cleared slightly. Another gentle touch on his shoulder drew Arthur from this thoughts. He looked up at the stranger.
“How is the pain, sire?” the man asked.
“Manageable,” Arthur answered.
The man gave the prince a piercing gaze, as if he knew that Arthur was lying and that the pain was intense. With an almost imperceptible eye roll, he snatched a small vial off a nearby table, pulled the cork out, and handed it to Arthur.
“It tastes vile,” he warned. “But it will help.”
Accustomed as he was to Gaius’ concoctions, Arthur downed the contents of vial without complaint. A pleasant feeing of warmth washed through his body, easing the pain that had been beating through him. Breathing a sigh of relief, he leaned back on the pillows and gazed up at the man who was still seated on the edge of the small cot. Arthur was sure that he’d never seen the man before. He looked to be about middle aged, with thin brown hair, lightly tanned skin, and pale blue eyes. But there was something familiar about him that the prince couldn’t place.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
The man froze for the smallest of moments, but quickly busied himself with something at a nearby table. “I doubt it, sire. I have never been to Camelot and have spent most of my life traveling.”
Arthur wasn’t buying that for a minute. He knew that this man was someone he’d met before. “What is your name?” he demanded. He almost winced as the words came out of his mouth and he realized how callous they sounded.
“Emrys,” the man answered without looking up from whatever he was doing.
The prince frowned. The name sounded familiar -- as did everything about this man, apparently. It stirred something in the back of his mind, a half forgotten dream. He should know who Emrys was but he just couldn’t remember.
Before he could make any progress in forcing himself to remember, the door swung open and Sir Leon walked in, relief clear on his face when he saw that Arthur was sitting up and coherent.
It took all of Merlin’s concentration not to lose his grip on his magic. His powers always reacted instinctively to his emotions and he was feeling sightly panicked. Arthur had recognized him. True it hadn’t been enough to know that he was actually him, but it had been enough to make the prince suspicious. Merlin had thought that it would be bad enough just being around the prince until he was well enough to return to Camelot. He’d never even considered the fact that Arthur would be able to see him through the disguise. Things were going to get awkward.
He half listened to Leon and Arthur’s conversation. Leon was explaining everything that had happened since the prince had lost consciousness. Arthur was looking pale, but better. He was leaning against the pillows, weight resting mostly on one hip to keep the pressure off his wound, paying close attention to everything Sir Leon said.
Merlin reached for a bundle of dried john’s wort to add to the poultice he was making. Without so much as a conscious thought, the bundle shot across the table and into his hand. He froze. But Sir Leon and Arthur kept talking as though nothing had happened. He risked a look over shoulder and saw that they were still deep in conversation and probably forgotten that he was even in the room.
He let out a sigh of relief and tried to regulate his breathing. His magic was a part of him and, as a result, was highly attuned to his emotions. If he was tense, his magic was tense, and when his magic was tense it sought a way to ease the tension, usually by acting on its own. He’d gotten better at controlling his wayward powers when the source of the tension was someone else’s well-being, but when it came to his own health, his magic had a mind of its own.
Mumbling something about water and henbane, Merlin hurried out of the house and darted into the trees. As soon as he was out of sight, he unleashed the magic that had been roiling inside him. When he opened his eyes, an oak that looked to be at least a hundred years old was standing in front of him. It hadn’t been there before.
Merlin rolled his eyes. It was both heartening and slightly ironic to be the only sorcerer who’s magic grew things rather than destroyed them when he just let loose.
He let off a few more bursts of magic, growing some flowers and creating some dancing lights, just to be sure that he had his powers under his control, before looking for the henbane he didn’t need, but had said he was going to get.
When he returned to his house, he found Sir Leon and Arthur still talking. They both glanced at him when he entered, but didn’t say anything. He quickly set to work finishing up the poultice.
It wasn’t long before Leon rose and left the house. He bowed his head slightly to Merlin as he left. Merlin returned the gesture. As he looked up, he could have sworn he saw a slight smile on Leon’s face, as though he knew something. But the knight ducked out the door before Merlin could be sure.
Gathering up the poultice, some bandages, and a small knife, Merlin walked across the room to Arthur’s bedside. He set his armload on the bedside table and fetched a rag and a bucket of water.
“I need to change the bandage,” he explained softly. “I’ll need you to sit up, sire.”
Arthur nodded. He tried to sit up, but grimaced when the movement pulled at his stitches. Merlin rolled his eyes. Trust the prat to do everything the hard way.
Suppressing the desire to make a snarky comment that would be all to Merlin-esque for the the situation, the warlock lent down and helped Arthur to sit up, shifting more of his weight onto his hip so that Merlin could more easily reach the wound. He deftly grabbed the pillows and stacked them up behind the prince so that he could lean back comfortably.
Once Arthur was situated, Merlin set to work, cutting away the dirtied bandages. He deftly pulled the the linen from beneath the prince and tossed them into a nearby bucket. He would burn them later.
“It is said,” the prince began, abruptly breaking the silence, “that many physicians have contact with druids and sorcerers.”
It took all of Merlin’s self control not to freeze in a panic. “I have heard that, sire,” he said carefully. “Even druids and sorcerers need medical treatment and their knowledge of the magical properties of certain plants is important.”
“What do you mean?” Arthur demanded.
Oh, damn it, Merlin groaned to himself. What the heck is the matter with me? Gaius had asked him that same question many times over. Neither of them had ever come up with a suitable answer.
“Many plants have magical properties,” Merlin explained quickly. “If a physician is not aware of them, he could easily mix ingredients that have adverse magical effects. I know that it is not approved, sire, but without a basic knowledge of magic and magical plants, it can be easy for a physician to harm his patients.”
To Merlin’s surprise, Arthur nodded. “That is understandable. I take it that it is not easy to gain such knowledge?”
With shaking hands, Merlin dipped the rag in the water and began wiping away the old dried poultice. He kept his eyes on his work as he nodded, not trusting himself to actually say anything.
“What is your opinion of magic, then?” Arthur asked, almost too casually.
This time, Merlin couldn’t keep himself from stiffening and looking up in surprise. Arthur was looking at him over his shoulder. “Sire?”
“Look, I’m not going to arrest you for give me your opinion when I’ve asked for it,” he said impatiently. “I’m well aware of the fact that magic is more common than my father admits. I just want some honest answers from someone.”
“But, why me, sire?” Merlin asked nervously. He half expected that Arthur would call him an idiot and say, “Why do you think, Merlin?”
That wasn’t what the prince said. He sighed and leaned his head back. “I can’t explain it, but you remind me of someone that I should have trusted, but didn’t. I want someone who isn’t obligated to tell me what I want to hear or who’s too close to everything to give me a straight answer.”
“And you think that I am that person?” Merlin said carefully.
Arthur nodded curtly.
Well that’s something, Merlin thought idly. Of all the people he could come to for help on this, he comes to me. Though I doubt he’ll see the irony when he realizes that I’m actually me.
To buy a little time and think through his answer, Merlin tossed the rag into the bucket of water and began applying to fresh poultice to the wound.
“I’d have to say, sire, that based on the knowledge of magic that I have for use in my healing, that perhaps it is not as bad as people think,” Merlin finally said carefully. “I am able to make more effective medicines by utilizing the magical properties of plants. I have never performed magic myself,” he said quickly. “But I manipulated the inherent magic of certain materials.”
Arthur nodded slowly, his brow furrowed slightly in thought, before asking, “Have you ever seen magic then?”
“Then where does your knowledge come from?”
Merlin almost groaned. There was no easy way to answer that question. This whole conversation was likely to end with him on the run again. He’d just have to do his best to answer without giving too much away.
“I have offered aid to certain magic users,” Merlin sighed. “As a physician, I believe it is my duty to offer comfort to anyone who asks for it. In return, they often gift me with some small knowledge that will help me in aiding others. They have never taught me true magic, though.”
“Not many would risk that,” Arthur said quietly.
“Perhaps, but I believe that it is what is necessary. They are people after all.”
Arthur nodded. “You’re right. Perhaps Camelot would be better off if more people thought as you do,” he added in an almost whisper.
It was a good thing that Merlin’s back was to the prince or Arthur would have seen the his magic catch the poultice that had slipped through the warlock’s nerveless fingers. Merlin hastily grabbed the bowl and set it on the table where it was safe.
“Sire?” he squeaked.
Arthur didn’t answer. Risking a glance back, Merlin saw that he was deep in thought. Willing himself to remain calm, the young warlock picked up the linen bandages and carefully began wrapping them around the prince’s torso. Neither of them spoke.
Merlin tied off the linen securely, but gently, and began quickly gathering up his supplies. He placed them back on the main table. Moving mechanically, he cleaned up. Still, Arthur didn’t speak. Still anxious and having nothing else to do, Merlin began prepping the other medicines he was beginning to run low on.
It as hours before Arthur spoke again. Merlin had finally managed to calm down a bit and stop panicking. He was hard at work on a particularly difficult potion that one of the older women in the village needed for her arthritis when the sound of a pained gasp broke through his concentration. He looked up to see Arthur shifting on the bed so that he was sitting up properly. Merlin hurried over to help him.
“You should be careful, sire,” he admonished respectfully. “You could pull your stitches and that will only make things worse.”
Arthur ignored him. “How much do you know about magic?”
“Sire?” Merlin asked, taken aback.
“Just answer the question,” Arthur said impatiently.
“I know the basics,” Merlin answered.
There was a moment of silence, then Arthur said, “Tell me everything you know.”
Author’s Note: So I tried to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about when it came to medieval medicine. Truth is, I really really don’t. This is the site I used for the uses of the plants mentioned in this chapter. I honestly have no idea how reliable it is. Because I am such a geek, I’ve decided to use the campus library to do a bit more research. We’ll see how that goes, but for right now, this is where I am getting my information.
And could I, by any chance, convince someone to make me a banner for this fic?? Pretty please???
Thanks for reading everyone! I'll try to post again soon.