“Glerr…” Merlin groaned as he woke up.
From what he could see he was once again back in the cave dungeon.
This was becoming a bit of a routine now.
A vague and blurred face appeared and he felt a pair of hands on his shoulder, shaking him roughly.
“Alright! I’m awake!” Merlin exclaimed as the hands shook him more violently.
His vision cleared and expected to see Arthur but instead found yet another bandit before him, brandishing a bristly rope.
His head throbbed as he was dragged to his feet and had his hands tied in front of him, the coarse rope digging deeply into his wrists.
He was led out into the blinding light of noon, which was surprising. He must have been out for the whole night and morning.
Arthur and his own squad of guards were waiting for him, as well as Almaric and Finnie. It was then that Merlin remembered that he and Arthur were to be put to death today. What was it that Finnie had said? Crow cages or something like that?
Everything was a little hazy for Merlin. He had been hit over the head pretty badly.
The worse was still to come however as he and Arthur were tied to separate horse saddles by the ropes around their hands and made to sprint after the horses, the dust from their hooves flying into their faces making Merlin desperate for a drink. It seemed as though he hadn’t drunk something since that soup the other day.
He could only imagine how Arthur felt since he had insisted that Merlin take his share of the stew. He must be ravenous.
They were led through a sandy plain with very little trees to speak of, the sun high in the sky, beating down on their backs relentlessly, making sweat bead down their foreheads.
Soon there was a change in the landscape in the form of a very huge and steep rock, jutting out from the flat plain like a giant spearhead. There was a faint shadow of some strange structure at the top that vaguely resembled a crane. Also there was an odd black cloud floating high above the summit that looked like a huge flock of birds.
Arthur was baffled at this because he had never been to this place before. The river must have carried them very far that was for sure. That meant that any search parties from Camelot would probably have no hope of finding them.
The horses were left with a few of the men at the foot of the hill and Merlin and Arthur were dragged like animals up the steep rock to the very top that was only a small platform, the very summit of the rock.
There was indeed a crane like structure with a strong oak frame sticking out over the edge of the rock. There were several cages hanging off the many poles of wood that the crane had, dangling right over the huge drop below and some meters away from the edge of the rock. The crates were just tall enough to sit in and about big enough to fit three people in size.
On the crane’s side there were a few cogs and wheels with a large handle that was designed to fold out when desired.
Three of the men left the party and took the huge handle, beginning to turn it, the crane slowly spinning round, closer to the edge.
As the cages swung closer Merlin could see what inhabited them and it suddenly hit him what this all about.
Browning skeletons sat in the cages in various different positions, some with their arms hanging out of the cage bars, desperately trying to reach safety and others with their arms covering their heads as if they died trying to keep something away from them. The something was no doubt the huge crows that whirled about in the sky, cawing ominously, their black bodies causing hundreds of shadows to dance across the platform, skimming over the people there in their thousands.
Merlin was absolutely terrified (rightly so) and a glance at Arthur showed him that the prince was just as horror stricken as he was.
Their execution was to be eaten by crows.
“This must be a joke!” Merlin hissed to him as the cages were dragged onto the platform and a pile of bones was thrown out.
“I don’t think these guys joke, Merlin.” Arthur replied.
“What are we going to do?!”
“Hit me! If we start a fight then they’ll come over and I can get one of their knives!”
This seemed a reasonable idea so Merlin promptly hit Arthur who retaliated with a shoulder ram.
“You idiot! This is all your fault!” The prince yelled, deafening Merlin.
“My fault? That’s rich! If it’s anyone’s fault its yours, you prat!” Merlin shot back and kicked him in the knee.
“Moron!” Arthur shouted back, knocking Merlin with his elbow.
The fight had the desired affect and a guard sprung over to attempt to drag Merlin off Arthur who had just exaggerated a fall after a hit. He grabbed the scruff of Merlin’s shirt and as his back was turned Arthur somehow managed to pull a small knife out of his belt, which he slid up the inside of his sleeve.
“Perhaps we should just leave them to kill each other, eh!” Someone sneered sarcastically.
That was good. It meant that no one had noticed Arthur had got the knife.
“Well, any last words?” Almaric growled with an accompanying smirk, coming to stand before them with Finnie just behind him.
“I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring.” Arthur grinned and raised a cocky eyebrow.
Merlin beside him stifled a grin at the prince’s recklessness.
“Ha, ha. Aren’t we witty.” Almaric curled his lips into what may have been a smile. He struck Merlin as the sort of man who didn’t smile a lot.
“No, just me.” Arthur replied with a brash grin plastered across his face. He certainly knew how to die in style.
Almaric shook his head, amused.
“It’s almost a shame to have you killed.” Almaric said and nodded to a few men who threw Arthur and Merlin into a cage and tied their hands behind them to the bars, which were made of some sort of very starchy and stiff rope.
Finnie closed the door to the crate and signalled for the handle to be turned.
As it was turned and the crane swung towards the precipice again, the cages scraping across the ground, Merlin couldn’t help but be frightened even if Arthur did have the knife. If something went wrong this would defiantly end badly.
Suddenly the cages swung off the edge and Merlin’s stomach flew to his ears as he looked down between his feet at the only too far away ground.
“Au revoir.” Almaric sneered and mock saluted before disappearing behind the rocks slope.