He swam in and out of consciousness for some time, the gentle water lapping at his face and the dim awareness of a few birds singing in the willow trees.
Occasionally he would bump into a rock that would painfully remind him of his bruised body and jolt his sore limbs.
When he tried to move his muscles failed him and he could to nothing but lie, floating in the water, hovering on the mark of consciousness and unconsciousness.
He floated for days (or at least it felt like it) and eventually he was woken when his head gently nudged something solid. Groaning, he turned himself over only to get a mouthful of mud. He spat it out and whipped a tattered sleeve across his mouth.
Managing to lift his head he saw that he was on the edge of a riverbank that led gently up to a long winding track that went into a densely packed forest. He did not recall ever having seen the place before and he wondered just how far the river had brought him. He also wondered were Merlin was as there was no sign of him ether way up the river. He picked himself up; wincing as he found his leg was severely bruised. Apparently he must have hit a rock in the water on the way down from the cliff. Apart from that he seemed to be in one piece, if a little disorientated.
Slipping about in the mud he limped out of the water and made his way slowly into the forest. He found a track that followed the river and he walked down it, hoping to find Merlin ether on one of the banks or still floating in the rivers currant. When he found nothing however he started shouting, in hope that maybe his friend had already dragged himself from the river and was in the forest.
“MERLIN!” Arthur cupped his hands to his mouth. He listened for a response but none came.
He searched the river bank for a few more minutes and found nothing so he decided that he would go further into the forest to ether find Merlin or someone who could help. He continued to call every five minutes or so but still no one answered.
Thoughts began to emerge in his head.
Maybe Merlin had drowned. He had been unconscious after all. Or maybe he had cracked his head open on a rock when he had hit the water. Perhaps he was only injured but couldn’t move, waiting for Arthur to find him. He could be being torn to shreds by the bear for all Arthur knew.
He swallowed and shook the thoughts from his head. Thinking like that would only make him panic and that was one of the last things he needed.
Suddenly there was the sound of voices up ahead, carried to him by the breeze that rustled the trees tops above. For some reason (maybe it was a hunters instincts) Arthur hid himself in a bush near the path, where he waited to discover whether the voices belonged to those of friends or foes.
“Shut up Lenndred! The boss wants us on patrol so on patrol we go.” A gruff voice said and a burly, bald man rounded the corner. He was wearing a black animal skin coat, a necklace of what looked only too much like teeth and was covered from head to foot in an assortment of lethal looking weapons, one of which was a long stick in his hand.
“Shut it Tom. Stop calling me Lenndred! It’s Lenn!” An equally rough voice replied and another man appeared around the corner, looking more than a little annoyed. He was wearing similar clothes to the other man but he wasn’t quite as burly.
“Shut it the both of you! Or I’ll have Matt chuck you in the river!” Said yet another man who began to walk down the path. He had very little hair to speak of but what was there was a vibrant orange.
“Sorry Finnie.” The other two men said simultaneously.
“What say you to that Matt? Fancy chucking these two in the river?” Finnie called to someone who was apparently not on the track.
“Would I ever!” Matt replied, his voice coming from close behind Arthur.
Arthur jumped, to intent to on the others to notice the fourth man behind him. A twig snapped under his foot and he pulled a face, knowing that they would have heard it.
“What was that?” Lenndred asked and there was the sound of a sword being drawn.
Suddenly a large pair of hands were pulling the top of the bush apart and a stubbly face appeared. Before he knew it Arthur was being dragged out of the bush by the scruff of his shirt and thrown to the floor.
“Looky here Finnie! Looks like one of them from over the river!” Matt said, drawing a curved sword and scraping Arthur’s throat with it.
The three other men peered down at the bedraggled Arthur. The bald one kicked him in the side with a hobnail boot.
“Who are you then?” He growled.
“I am prince Arthur of Camelot.” Arthur growled back.
The four above him burst into laughter.
“Ha, yeah right!” Matt said.
“We don’t like liars. I would advise you not to do it again!” Tom said, leaning down over Arthur and prodding his forehead with a sword.
“Are you a spy?” Lenndred asked, narrowing his eyes.
“No! I-“ Arthur began.
“Shut it!” Finnie said, kicking a bit of mud onto Arthur’s face. “He’s a spy. Tie him up and take him back to camp. Tom, do you think you can make him talk?”
“I’ll make him sing.” Tom said, grinning evilly.
“Whoa, hang on! You four against me? That’s hardly fair! Don’t you want to call for back up?” Arthur grinned recklessly and shrugged off a hand that tried to pull him up.
Finnie just smirked and nodded to Lenndred who dragged him up and produced a rope from inside his coat. Arthur knew if they succeeded in tying him up then there was no escape. He leapt into action and kicked Lenndred in the stomach. The man staggered back and dropped the rope. Tom lunged at him and Arthur full on punch him in the jaw.
He made a break for it, wishing his sword was with him but it was still in the forest where it had been knocked from Merlin’s hand and no amount of wishing would bring it to him.
Suddenly someone bowled into him from behind, knocking him flat onto the floor. Arthur spun round onto his back and threw the man of him with his legs. He sprung up and ducked as a fist flew into view. The intended punch missed and Arthur kicked the man’s legs from under him. He tried to run again but suddenly Finnie was in front of him and the next thing Arthur knew he was whacked in the stomach from the stick he seemed to have picked it up from where Tom had dropped it.
Arthur stumbled back, clutching his stomach and coughing out a lump of phlegm, trying to breath, winded from the blow. Another whack to his head and Arthur was out for the count and groaning on the leafy forest floor.