The plan had been solid. And for once, Merlin hadn’t mucked it up. In fact, he seemed to enjoy his role playing a nobleman a bit too much. Arthur had a sneaking suspicion where the dollop head had drawn the inspiration for his performance and a mental note was made to punish his manservant when they got back to Camelot. There was no way he had ever sounded like that.
“Yes, you did,” Merlin had insisted when Arthur voiced the complaint on the way through Lot’s kingdom two days before.
Merlin gave him a patronizing look, before calling out for Gwen’s opinion.
“I’m staying out of this,” Guinevere had barely moved her eyes from the passing trees.
Arthur had considered appealing to the final member of their group, before realizing it was George. And it wasn’t worth the potential boring jokes to bring him into the conversation. Instead, Arthur huffed and reminded himself that at the end of the day he was still king and thus, in charge.
He just wasn’t in charge at the moment… not really at any rate. No, that role went to Merlin of all people. Arthur still wasn’t sure how he ended up agreeing to this plan. There might have been sorcery involved. Or it could have happened because, as Guinevere was fond of telling him, he had a soft spot for Merlin. If there were any soft spots for Merlin, they were in his gut because the idiot liked to feed him too much just so he could tease Arthur about being fat.
` There wasn’t time to dwell on that now, they needed a strategy. There were rumours that Morgana had entered Lot’s castle with a small battalion of men. Arthur bristled at running from her, but their mission was a sensitive one and called for a tactical retreat before his sister could get her hands on them, or more specifically, the items they carried.
“Over here! There should be some servant stairs to lead us down,” Guinevere called out, ducking into a room.
Merlin, George, and Arthur followed her in. While Guinevere and George searched the room for a way out, Merlin helped him barricade the door with furniture.
Arthur got a good look at his manservant for the first time since they had been recognized. The expensive quilted doublet was torn, and the matching blue velvet cloak seemed to trip him up at every turn.
“Here, let me help you,” Arthur forced Merlin to face him. His heart leapt into his throat as the sigil on Merlin’s right shoulder caught the light. It was a silver disk with a bird on it. His mother’s. Arthur remembered his heart stopping when he saw Merlin for the first time in his fancy clothes. Guinevere had tailored some of Arthur’s things to fit Merlin perfectly as he was meant to play a lesser nobleman. Arthur didn’t care much for the doublet on himself, it seemed a bit long and girly, however it suited Merlin just fine. But his shock hadn’t been so much for the clothes as it had been seeing him with the sigil sitting proudly, holding the cloak closed.
Merlin had blushed slightly and mumbled that they’d need a house symbol if they were to go through with it and Ygraine’s hadn’t been used in over twenty years so there was a good chance no one would recognize it.
With trembling fingers, Arthur unclasped the sigil and then placed it carefully in Merlin’s hand.
“Arthur, what? We don’t have time for this,” Merlin insisted.
This seemed to shake Arthur back into the present. “The cloak is too heavy. It’s slowing you down and is bound to catch on something. You’re better off without it.”
Merlin tried to protest but Arthur ignored him and drew out a knife. He slit the laces of Merlin’s doublet. “Take that off too. You still have your regular shirt on under that, yeah?”
His manservant nodded.
“We might be able to trick them. They’re looking for a nobleman and me. If we turn you back into a servant, and I wear plain clothes it might help. Plus, you’ll be able to move more easily.”
Arthur left Merlin to divest himself of the doublet and he set about removing his own blue cloak. The thing was heavy and cumbersome. It had served its purpose of hiding his face until now.
Once he and Merlin were reduced to simple tunics and trousers, Arthur looked at the rest of their party. Luckily Guinevere had changed from the noblewoman’s dress to servant’s garb to sneak around the castle earlier and George… well he was dressed like Merlin. Arthur still wasn’t sure why he did that, perhaps he thought Arthur considered Merlin’s blue and red tunics, scarves and brown jacket to be some sort of uniform. The idea was preposterous; if he was going to impose a uniform, it would look much better than that.
Arthur drew himself up, “So what’s our course of action from here?” He glanced around the room, seeing the ornate guest chambers for the first time.
“There’s a servant passage and some stairs out the back way here,” Guinevere reported.
“That’s a start. Do we know where they lead?”
Guinevere bit her lip and shook her head.
The movement caused the metal circle around her neck to catch the light. Uther’s wedding torc. The engraved scales seemed to dance and the dragon almost appeared to be alive. If the head at her throat and tail hadn’t stayed still, Arthur would have believed that more sorcery was involved then he knew there to be. It was too exposed on her neck like that; Morgana would see it in an instant. They needed a safer place to hide it.
Merlin had successfully hid Ygraine’s wedding torc for weeks now, finally giving that damn scarf a purpose. Even now, only the barest hint of metal was visible around Merlin’s neck. Unfortunately, the only other one to have a neck covering was George and Arthur wasn’t sure if he trusted him enough for this task. The torcs were the entire reason they were on this damn quest to begin with.
Arthur was tired of correcting his father’s mistakes. Although, he would never call them such to anyone else, not even Merlin, but that’s what they were. It was one thing to be expected to follow in your father’s footsteps and live up to the man he used to be, it was another thing to continue down a path Arthur felt to be wrong. Was it wrong to want to be a better man than your father?
Then again, it was it right to condemn a man for one mistake? Uther had done it all the time. And yet, his one mistake was far worse than a woman using sorcery to cure her ill son, or a man using it to help his crops grow. His mistake had now cost hundreds of lives and led them to stand at the brink of war. And that wasn’t even taking into account the Great Purge. But even the Purge could have been avoided had he not allowed his attention to wander for just one night.
Arthur could have forgiven Uther for bedding Morgana’s mother. Had Uther at least acknowledged her, there was a chance that they wouldn’t be in this mess. However, it went further than that.
Now that Arthur thought about it, his father had made two mistakes, but they went hand in hand. His second mistake had been to lay with Gorlois’ wife. His first mistake had been to do a unity spell at his wedding and trust the sorceress Nimueh to do it. Theoretically, the unity spell would have been harmless, and even good for their marriage. Arthur had been told that it was a common practice before the Purge to include a unity spell during a handfasting. All of that was well and good, except Nimueh sought power and performed an ancient and powerful spell uniting not only his parents together, but making them one with the land. The spell also made sure that the land would remain fertile, and the kingdom prosperous. Gaius had told him that the spell would not need to be performed again, as it would go to the natural heir of the King and Queen and continue down the line. All of this was contingent on the fact that his parents remained faithful to each other and to the land.
There were, however, two flaws with this. The first one was obvious. His father had not, in fact, remained faithful, and thus put things in jeopardy. Apparently, the spell would hold out for as long as one of the participants of the original spell were still alive. With Uther’s death, the spell had faltered and the land had begun to wilt. Rockslides, drought, forest fire, floods, and famine all plagued Camelot. It had taken Arthur months to notice the buildup. Things would remain so until the spell was reinstated, so the land could recognize the rightful King or Queen.
Somehow, Morgana had found all of this out and it became a race to find the two torcs that Uther and Ygraine had used during their handfasting. The torcs held the focus of the magic and they both would ne needed to reinstate the spell. Being almost complete circles, they were ideal to symbolize the marriage and how they were tied to eachother and the land.
Finding the first torc had been easy, it had been hidden in Ygraine’s crown. Arthur crowed to himself silently that Morgana had worn it for a period of time without even knowing she had it. He bet she was kicking herself now for not taking it with her when she fled. The second though, that was harder. Apparently, when Nimueh fled, in fear of prosecution, she stole Uther’s torc. It had taken weeks of searching, but some of Uncle Agravaine’s men had found a trail of it leading to Lot’s castle.
The second issue with the unity spell wasn’t known until they set out; Arthur, disguised as a personal guard to Lord William and Lady Elanore, as portrayed by Merlin and Guinevere respectfully, along with their servant George. Arthur still wasn’t sure why George was along, but Merlin and Guinevere had insisted that it would look odd for them to travel without a servant and apparently George was the most trusted one they knew. He had been assured that Merlin had put George though his paces to glean his loyalty to Arthur as well as his trust. From what Arthur gathered of the account, George’s devotion to Arthur was impeccable, however he’d sooner see Merlin tossed out on his arse then allow him to disrespect the king. Arthur had decided he couldn’t find fault with either of those traits.
What he could find fault in though, was how strangers seemed to know more about his family than he did. It was one thing for Gaius to know something because he was an old family friend. It was a completely different thing to be ambushed in the woods by a group of druids to be told there was more to the unity spell then they realised.
Arthur doubted he would ever forget that conversation for the rest of his days. He could still remember standing there, poised to attack, but knowing it wasn’t necessary.
The druid had spoken in calming tones, and that had been the most unnerving bit.
“Nimueh was power-hungry and foolish. She cast a spell without fully understanding what she was asking it to do,” the druid spoke.
“If you’re talking about uniting the land and staying faithful, I know all that,” Arthur said.
“There is more,” the druid paused, “It wasn’t just about uniting the land, it was allowing it to prosper, have fertile soil, hearty crops, strong trade routes. But, as I’m sure you’re aware, you can’t get something from nothing. There must be a balance.”
The silence stretched on and became almost unbearable.
“What price did Uther and Ygraine pay for this spell?” Merlin seemed surprised to have been the one to speak.
He wasn’t the only one.
Arthur stared at him, first in shock but that gave way to gratitude for his manservant. Merlin had asked what Arthur could not.
A heavy stillness settled over the clearing and the druid seemed to only have eyes for Arthur. They were filled with regret. “Queen Ygraine gave up her own fertility to ensure that the land of her people would flourish.”
Arthur had turned that moment over and over again in his mind. Had his mother willingly gone through with the spell or had his father forced her to it? Had it been her idea and she didn’t know the consequences? Had either of them known what they were getting into?
No matter how many times Arthur turned it around in his head, he kept returning to the fact that somehow his father was to blame for this. Deep in his heart he knew it to be true.
He cast a glance at Guinevere and wondered if he was about to make the same mistake his father made. If he forced Guinevere into the unity spell, she would become barren and there would be no hope for his linage. All of this had seemed so simple when they started out. How had it gotten so complicated in such a short time? It had been easy when they discussed the plan in his chambers all those weeks ago.
Merlin had stood in the centre of Arthur’s chambers wearing one of the king’s best tunics, his third best cloak and his mother’s sigil as he outlined the plan.
Merlin sighed. “If the torc is in Lot’s castle, you won’t be able to walk right up, knock on the door and ask for it, you’ll need a reason for being there.”
“Are you going to get to your point any time soon or should I make myself comfortable?” Arthur interrupted.
Merlin shot him a glance, but continued at his own pace. “So if you’re recognizable in Lot’s kingdom and on the road and you need a reason for being there, what about if there’s a lesser nobleman who needs to go to his king under some pretext. A noble who would need a guard, and a guard wouldn’t have to show his face.”
Arthur blinked at him for several moments. “Are you suggesting that someone dresses as a noble and that I’m a guard?”
Merlin looked sheepish. “That’s the general idea, yeah.”
“And who did you have in mind for the part? I highly doubt we can get what’s his name, the farmer who did it for the tourney a few years back.”
Merlin held out his arms, indicating the fine clothes he had stolen from Arthur’s wardrobe. “Well um… me.”
“You?” Arthur looked about ready to break into hysterics.
Merlin crossed his arms over his chest and looked every inch an annoyed noble.
“And what do you know of being a nobleman?”
Merlin shrugged, “It can’t be that hard. Just walk around like an arrogant cabbage head and think I’m better than everyone else and that anyone below me needs to do my bidding with a snap of my fingers. Oh, and I need to make sure I order things done in a timeframe that’s impossible to complete by.”
Arthur scowled. “Maybe George should be the nobleman.”
“He’s too submissive,” Merlin rejected, “you need someone outspoken, unafraid to order people around.”
“And what do you know about ordering people around?”
“I get you up in the morning,” Merlin said cheekily.
Arthur decided it was best to ignore the last comment. Guinevere was in the room after all. “Maybe Gwen should be the noblewoman. She’d be better at it.”
“We’d need a maidservant for her,” replied Merlin.
“Well you’re such a girl, I’m sure you’d look fetching in a dress. Don’t you think so, Guinevere? Think you could find something to suit him?”
Guinevere sighed. Arthur had the sneaking suspicion he had just done something wrong, but he was arsed to know what it was.
“Actually, I had a different idea for Gwen,” Merlin piped up.
“Oh?” Arthur prompted.
Merlin looked more nervous now than he had been before. “Well uh… we’re going to need Gwen right?”
Arthur crossed his arm. “How do you figure?”
“Well um…. That is…” Merlin cast a glance towards Guinevere. “The torc ceremony needs to be reinstated, right?” Now it seemed as if he couldn’t look at either of them. “So unless there’s something I don’t know, uh… that is…” He turned red and rubbed the back of his neck.
There was a long pause. “You’re saying I’m going to have to go through the marriage ceremony with the torcs?”
“It would be safest if you did it as soon as possible so Morgana couldn’t claim them. Once the enchantment’s done it’s set for life. Or well… unless one of you is unfaithful and then you both die.” He seemed to have realized what he said and his eyes went wide. “Not that either of you would do that it’s just well… it happened before. And well that’s why we’re in this mess and well, um… yeah.”
And that was how Merlin had forced his hand into proposing to Guinevere. Not that he wasn’t going to do it anyways… it just would have been nice if it had happened on his own terms and not Merlin’s. Come to think on it, how did everything end up being on Merlin’s terms anyway? Arthur was the king, damn it, he should have the final say so, not some scrawny annoying peasant.
Arthur ignored the part of him that reminded him how often Merlin’s good advice had worked in their favour.
Instead, he pulled himself back to the present and studied Guinevere. The torc looked wrong around her neck. Arthur couldn’t explain it, but it did. Maybe it was because she was wearing Uther’s and not Ygraine’s. Yes, that must be it.
God, he felt ill. Was the room hot? It felt hot. He was probably coming down with something.
“Arthur?” Guinevere prompted.
How long had he been standing there? He needed to get his act together.
Arthur shook his head to clear it, “I’m fine.”
She didn’t believe him.
Merlin didn’t either.
His manservant leaned in as if he could sense what was going on in Arthur’s head, “Everything all right?” he whispered.
Arthur clenched his jaw and nodded.
Yes goddamnit, he was sure!
“Good. Now, what ever it is, can it wait until we’re out of here? Morgana’s men are going to find us soon if we don’t move.”
Arthur pushed the sick feeling aside. Maybe if he ignored it, it would go away. “Let’s go.”
He ignored the odd looks everyone was giving him and they raced down the stairs. The servant’s passage opened up near the kitchens, where some guards were gorging themselves. Arthur found himself momentarily annoyed that Morgana didn’t have enough discipline in her troops to stop this sort of thing. She had received almost the same training he had, there was no reason for her to be this lax. However, it was something that worked to their advantage, so he found he couldn’t be too angry about it.
They slipped past the kitchens and ended up in a corridor that Arthur thought he remembered from their way in to the castle. But all of Lot’s tapestries looked familiar, so it was hard to tell.
They ground to a halt and ducked into an alcove as a group of men, led by Lot himself, thundered down the opposite end of the corridor. Arthur found himself chest to chest with Guinevere and he had to fight not to look down at her because it would be unbecoming if he did.
“Well what do we do now?” Merlin hissed. He was pressed into Arthur’s side, his bony elbow spearing Arthur’s gut. “That’s the way out.”
“There has to be another way. Perhaps an entrance near the kitchen? I mean deliveries must be made,” Guinevere replied.
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” George spoke up from his place next to Guinevere.
“That could lead us on a hunt with no guaranteed end. We don’t know this castle. It’s best to go out the way we came in,” Arthur said.
He found himself staring at Merlin. The two of them had gotten out of many tight spots before. Compared to an immortal army and a dragon, this should be easy.
“It’s not as if we can stroll out the front door as easy as you please!” Merlin snapped.
“Actually, if you go down past the washroom, you’ll find a grate about the size of a man and it leads to one of the outer walls,” George volunteered.
“And you know this how?” Arthur asked.
George pulled himself up a bit, “Because I helped get your rooms ready yesterday and that included locating more linens and I had to do it myself so no one would inquire as to why I needed the fine weave for the bed of a common soldier.” There was a challenging note in his tone, yet he still managed to sound respectful and deferential at the same time. Arthur was well aware he was being censured for the whole affair, but it had been done quietly, unspoken and without resorting to name calling and yelling. How come Merlin never mastered that particular technique?
“Is there a reason you didn’t tell us this before?” Arthur wanted to know.
George shrugged. Arthur read this as ‘you didn’t ask.’ It was a good job he was on the other side of the alcove because Arthur was ready to throttle him, and doing so would alert the guards to their presence.
“All right,” Arthur said in a forced tone, “How do we get down to the washroom?”
“Go back the way we came, make a left at the kitchens and follow the corridor until it makes a sharp right. The door will be on the left,” George recited.
All three of them stared at him with their mouths agape. Even Guinevere who had been a maid all her life wouldn’t be able to remember all that having just gone once.
“Shh!” Merlin shoved himself into Arthur and threw an arm around George pulling him in closer.
Arthur could feel his pulse throbbing in his ears and Guinevere’s heaving chest was twice as noticeable, and it was all he could do not to look down. At the moment he couldn’t decided if he liked or hated the dresses she had taken to wearing these days. The plunging neckline was nice but moments like this made him feel uncomfortable. Merlin’s heavy breathing on his neck wasn’t helping matters either. Right, they needed to get out of this alcove, being this close to people was far too distracting.
Once they had passed, Merlin said, “The only way we’re going to get out of here is with a distraction.”
Arthur nodded. “The only problem is that it’s probably locked. The question is, from which side? We might need someone on the other side to let us out.”
“How are we going to manage that?” Gwen asked.
“Easy. Someone creates a diversion, draws them away, leads them on a merry chase and then meets us on the other side of the door,” Arthur said. He wanted to look down at her and reassure, but it would be most improper. It was bad enough she was pressed so close against him. He tried angling himself away from her, but all that accomplished was getting Merlin’s elbow digging deeper into his side.
The moment was interrupted by Merlin, “Well you’re not going to do it.”
“And why not?” demanded Arthur. “Besides I never said I was going to.”
“You were thinking it,” Merlin challenged. “Stop being all noble for once and think for a minute, you dollop head. Morgana wants you more than anyone, if you die then she gets the throne. We have to keep you safe and not allow you to go charging off into danger like an idiot!”
“You really do want to die, don’t you Merlin? Is serving me that much of a hardship that you just want to throw your life away?”
Merlin mumbled something that sounded vaguely like ‘mucking stables’ and ‘arrogant pigheaded kings,’ but Arthur couldn’t be sure.
“What was that, Mer-lin?”
“Nothing, your highness.” Arthur hated when Merlin used his title. No good ever came of it. Not to mention that he made the word sound like pigswill. George might have mastered the art of censuring without censuring but Merlin had him beat with insulting without directly insulting. It was a skill. A very annoying skill.
Any further argument was cut off by a harsh whisper from Guinevere, “Boys!”
Arthur settled on glaring at Merlin. “Well he’s not going.”
“I never volunteered,” protested Merlin.
“You were thinking it.”
“So were you,” Merlin replied. “Anyway we need to make a decision fast. We can’t send Gwen,” Merlin ignored her protests and continued on, “and we can’t send you because you’re the king….”
“That’s right, I’m the king so I’ll decide who goes!”
“And what’s the life of a servant to the life of a king’s?” Merlin shot back.
“Will you both just stop it with the self sacrificing horseshit!” Guinevere hissed. “Whoever goes for the diversion has to stay alive in case the grate is locked on the other side. Or have you men forgotten that detail?”
Impropriety forgotten, Arthur found himself staring at Guinevere. He wasn’t sure he had ever heard her swear before. And by the looks of it, neither had Merlin or George.
She was breathing heavily and it seemed as if she’d pop right out of her dress. Arthur snapped his eyes back to her face and tried to take a step back, but there was no where to go.
“So somebody has to do it. Someone who won’t get himself killed in the process.” She glared at Merlin and Arthur equally.
“I’ll do it,” a voice cut in. “I’ll go.”
Arthur’s head whipped around and found George standing tall.
Before Arthur could even begin to protest, George continued, “Morgana wants you lot dead, right? Arthur so she could be Queen, and Gwen for betraying her and stealing her crown. But Merlin, she actively loathes him, doesn’t she?”
Merlin bobbed his head and wouldn’t look at anyone.
“Merlin? She hates Merlin?” Arthur blinked. No, that couldn’t be right.
Arthur felt Merlin shrug.
“Why on earth would she hate you?”
Merlin shifted beside him. “Guess I ruined her plans one too many times.”
Arthur felt Guinevere’s hand snake forward and gab Merlin’s. Why did Arthur get the feeling that everyone knew something that he didn’t?
“Anyway, she’d want the pleasure of killing him herself,” George continued.
“Or capture him to draw you out,” Guinevere added. “She knows how much he means to you.”
“Now hang on,” Arthur started to protest.
“It stands to reason that if she can’t get you, sire, she’d rather go after Merlin than anyone else.” Oddly enough, George made sense here. Arthur wasn’t sure he completely believed it, but it made sense on some level.
“Actually, George is the best one to go,” Guinevere said.
“How do you figure?” Arthur really needed to stop looking at her. Betrothed or not, it was highly improper.
“He knows the castle better than us. He has the best chance at finding the other side of the grate,” Guinevere supplied.
Arthur had to admit she had a point. The rest of them had been more interested in finding the torc than learning every nuance of Lot’s castle. But there was still one problem. “If the person she wants most is Merlin, how is sending George going to help?”
“He looks like me at a distance,” Merlin answered.
And with that, it was settled. Once again Mer-lin got the last say. How in God’s name did he do that? Maybe Arthur should just hand the crown over to him and have done with it. It’s not like it was helping him keep rank at all.
“Everybody ready?” Arthur asked after Merlin handed George his sword. It was better off with him anyway, Merlin was useless with it. Arthur and Guinevere still held onto their swords.
Guinevere was muttering George’s directions under her breath. She would have to lead their party.
Merlin caught his eye and gave a wan smile. Arthur nodded at him. They had been through worse scrapes before.
Arthur had the notion of counting down until they should move, but George ruined that plan by drawing himself up and running out of the alcove, giving a shout to draw attention to himself. Once it was more or less clear, the rest of them barreled out into the corridor, clearing the path.
In no time, Guinevere took over, leading them hurriedly though the twisting corridors. Merlin, the girl that he was, lagged behind. Arthur wasn’t sure what he was doing back there, but he seemed preoccupied and more than once had to double time to catch up. Arthur turned and tried to glare at him in a way that promised that there would be words later. Only, he didn’t have a chance to catch Merlin’s eye before a guard jumped out and attacked Merlin.
Merlin who was still weaponless.
Arthur watched in horror as the guard’s sword went for Merlin, only to have his manservant twist out of the way.
By then, Arthur was upon them, shoving Merlin behind himself. Afterwards, Arthur would admit to himself that he was a bit too heavy handed but it felt right at the time. He had almost lost Merlin a few months back. Until then it had never seemed like a real possibility that Merlin would actually give his life for Arthur’s. They made light of such things, but it had never struck a chord in him until now. Nothing had felt worse than sitting in the council room and hearing the report that there was no trace of his manservant had been found. So, Arthur thought he would be forgiven if he went a little too far against Merlin’s attacker here.
He stared down at the lifeless man, a sense of sick satisfaction curling up inside him. There was a warm hand on his arm. Guinevere.
Arthur looked up sharply and saw that Merlin was indeed still standing. That was enough for now. His moment of weakness had cost them, what guards George had been unable to draw away were now thundering towards them.
“Run!” He shouted. The fact that he didn’t know where he was going didn’t occur to him until Guinevere tugged his arm and led them down another hallway, this one narrower. It opened up to a large room filled with steaming tubs. The washroom. They made it.
The air crackled and somehow Arthur knew his sister had arrived.
“Find the grate!” He ordered as he scanned the wall himself for it.
Arthur’s mind was running at a thousand paces a minute. He scanned the room, noting anything that might be of use. There were no doors to barricade. But maybe there was a way to create more steam, disorient their attackers.
“Over here!” Guinevere called out.
Arthur looked in the direction of her voice and found he couldn’t see her… or at least not right way. Had the far end of the room been that misty a few moments ago? No matter. The cover would work for now.
When he drew close he could see Merlin leaning heavily against Guinevere, a red stain spreading across his side.
Arthur pushed aside the panic and forced himself to concentrate.
Merlin must have seen something in his face though because he said, “I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.”
Arthur didn’t believe him but he reached out and grabbed Merlin’s shoulder, “Just remember, you’re still a coward as long as you’re alive.”
“Well at least if I die today I’ll be a hero,” Merlin tried to jest.
“Nah, you’re too much of a girl for that, aren’t you?” Arthur was aware how forced his voice sounded. He tore his gaze away and looked at Guinevere. “Where is it?”
“Just behind us. But it’s locked. Even if George meets us there, he doesn’t have a key....” Guinevere bit her lip. Arthur wanted nothing more than to kiss her right now, let her know everything was going to be all right. He would take care of her, of both of them. He was king. He took care of his subjects. Why hadn’t they thought about how they were going to unlock the grate when they set this plan in motion?
There wasn’t much time left and they took their positions by the grate. It was as tall as a man, just as George had said.
“I can unlock it,” Merlin wheezed.
“Please,” Arthur snorted, “you can barley stand up. How are you going to unlock it?”
Merlin glared defiantly at him but said nothing.
The noise from the guards was getting closer.
“So is lock picking one of your many talents then? Didn’t have much else to do in the country?” Arthur goaded.
“Something like that.”
“Shh! They’re coming!” Guinevere interrupted. Arthur stood with his sword raised, Guinevere fell into a fighting stance, her sword aloft and Merlin… well he did whatever it was he usually did during battles, which meant he was probably cowering behind them.
“Spread out, FIND THEM!” Morgana’s voice echoed through the chamber.
They held still. Arthur barely dared to breathe.
The steam seemed to thicken and Arthur thought he saw Merlin reaching out for it out of the corner of his eye. He must have been further gone than Arthur had thought.
Arthur steeled his shoulders. Morgana wouldn’t get them without a fight.
There was a shuffling sound behind them followed by a harsh whisper. “I’m here.” George.
Great. Now it was a real party.
“Shh!” Arthur hissed, not looking away from the mist filled room where he could hear guards shuffling around.
“We need a key,” Guinevere added softly.
“Two minutes,” George shuffled along a bit.
Arthur really hoped that he hurried along, they didn’t have two minutes. Granted, he was fairly certain he could face Morgana with no question. Hell, he welcomed it. It was time they had a chat. Brother to sister.
He gripped the hilt of his sword tighter. He had no desire to fight her, but at the same time, Arthur knew that she didn’t feel the same. For the thousandth time, he wondered what had happened to her.
Arthur became acutely aware of everything in the room. Every step of the guard’s feet. Every potential swish of Morgana’s dress. Every clink behind him as George tried to open the lock. Every ragged breath Merlin took.
Arthur envisioned he could feel Morgana only two paces away. But that was impossible. She had stayed near the entrance way, he could still hear her dress as she paced impatiently. She could have dispelled the steam easily but Arthur knew she liked her cat and mouse games. Fear and manipulation were her two favourite tools.
The world stood deathly still, the tension settling around them like a heavy cloak.